Calling All Public Historians

Yesterday’s post about my good friend John Hennessy left me wondering what, if anything, has taken place or is being planned in museums, historical societies and other institutions to help their communities make sense of the relevant history behind our ongoing and very emotional discussion about Civil War memory.

It’s an opportune moment for public historians, who focus on the Civil War Era and the history of race relations. Folks who have never thought about the American Civil War are giving it a good deal of thought. No doubt, some of that reflection is based on bad history. Continue reading “Calling All Public Historians”

John Hennessy Leads the Way (Who Will Follow?)

There is no public historian that I respect more than John Hennessy, who is currently the National Park Service’s chief historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. John has led the way in pushing the boundaries of battlefield interpretation and our broader national discussion over the course of the Civil War sesquicentennial. As Brooks Simpson put it in a recent post, John “is one of the jewels of the National Park Service.”

It would be easy to lay low over the last few weeks given the strong emotions exhibited by so many over the public display of the Confederate battle flag and the place of Civil War monuments on our many commemorative landscapes, but if ever we needed the NPS to educate and challenge the general public and foster constructive debate it is now. Continue reading “John Hennessy Leads the Way (Who Will Follow?)”

Farewell to Paul Reber

Paul ReberI am incredibly sad to report the news of the death of Paul Reber. Paul was fatally injured yesterday in a cycling accident in Westmoreland County, Virginia. As many of you know, since 2006 he served as the executive director of Stratford Hall – the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee.

I didn’t know Paul all that well. On more than one occasion, however, we found ourselves at the same dinner table or throwing back a few drinks at a conference. Paul was always very easy to talk to as our scholarly interests overlapped in a number of places. He was an avid reader of this blog. You can find his comments scattered on posts stretching back to 2009. I received just as many private emails in response to posts, which always left me with something to think about.

Paul’s last comment posted just three days ago.

My thoughts go out to everyone in the Stratford Hall community and, especially, to Paul’s family. To all my fellow runners and cyclists, please be safe out there.

Visualizing Charleston’s Memorial Landscape

It is somewhat amusing to listen to people who have suddenly awoken to the fact that there are monuments to Confederate politicians, generals and common soldiers in their own communities. Many have chosen to voice their outrage by calling for monuments to be torn down and/or removed from public land. Since my recent trip to Europe I’ve become more sensitive to these concerns, though I still maintain that the preferred course ought to be the addition of signage that explains the relevant history of both the object of commemoration and the monument itself. More importantly, a number of communities have already moved to add to their memorial landscapes. Such is the case in Richmond, Virginia. Continue reading “Visualizing Charleston’s Memorial Landscape”

Where Should the National Park Service Interpret Reconstruction?

It’s been noted on this blog more than once that we currently do not have a historic site devoted to Reconstruction. Today in the Atlantic Greg Downs and Kate Masur announced that the National Park Service has undertaken a study to rectify this oversight. As the authors note, this project is fraught with challenges associated with the complexity of the history itself and the many myths that still influence how we remember this period in our history. The larger problem is that Reconstruction has largely disappeared from our collective memory.

So, where should such a site be located? Given the time period that needs to be covered (roughly 1863 to 1877) the site needs to be flexible in its potential to cover more than just an event. It needs to be able to convey change over time and multiple narratives. The site will also need to convey both the successes and setbacks of Reconstruction.  Continue reading “Where Should the National Park Service Interpret Reconstruction?”