Category Archives: Public History

The Face of Public History

The group of teachers that I have been working with over the past seven days has experienced the best in Civil War site interpretation from Nashville to Washington, D.C. At the same time, however this trip has reminded me of just how important it is that our public historians reflect the gender and racial profiles of their audiences.

This group of teachers is overwhelmingly white and female. Throughout Tennessee and Virginia our guides were almost all white and male. Let me stress that site interpretation was sophisticated and clearly based on the latest scholarship. Eric Jacobson did a fabulous job of interpreting the Carter family and the battle of Franklin that touched on gender and slavery and NPS Ranger, Christopher Young at Chickamauga, led one of the best battlefield tours that I’ve ever experienced. Continue reading

 

Where Are All the Black People?

Emancipation Day Parade, Richmond, Va

Emancipation Day Parade, Richmond, Va

One question that often comes up when discussing the scope of the current Civil War Sesquicentennial is why so few African Americans appear to be taking part. The question arose this past June at the Civil War Institute and the previous year as well. I’ve also heard it in connection to battlefield commemorations such as the Gettysburg 150. The question itself is packed with assumptions about the kinds of events and activities that define this sesquicentennial.

One thing that folks who worry about this issue most likely need to get over is that African Americans will never flock to battlefields in significant numbers. And whether we like it or not, the reason has everything to do with the Confederate flag. It is packed with meaning (much of it from the civil rights movement) that sends a clear message to the African-American community: You are not welcome here. Continue reading

 

Where Should We Commemorate Reconstruction?

4-reconstruction-cartoon-grangerOne reason why the final two years of the Civil War is so difficult to commemorate is that it offers little in the kinds of dramatic battles that still captivate the imaginations of so many. Many of us are seduced by the success of Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia and how close they brought the Confederacy to independence. Whether we acknowledge the inevitability of Confederate defeat or not and with the benefit of hindsight, the final two years of the war appear to be a gradual deterioration of all things Confederate.

The other factor is that it becomes much more difficult to ignore the challenges and messiness of Reconstruction, which is well under way during those final two years. While it can be argued that our popular memory of the war has undergone a positive shift in recent years, our understanding of Reconstruction remains in the dark ages. It will be very sad indeed if the Civil War 150th ends in 1865. Continue reading

 

Georgia Historical Society Interprets Cleburne’s Plan

Thanks to Eric Jacobson of the Battle of Franklin Trust for sending along this image of the GHS’s new marker interpreting Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves for the Confederate army. This should give you some things to think about as you compare this marker with that of the Georgia Historical Commission’s which I posted earlier today. I shared a short video of the marker’s dedication back in 2011. Given my criticisms re: the GHC’s text you can probably surmise which one I prefer. How about you? What goes into an effective historical marker?

cleburne marker, black confederates

Eric also pointed out in a comment re: the marker to Clark Lee (previous post) that the text is verbatim to what is on the Find-a-Grave website. It would be interesting to know which came first. No doubt there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. :-)

 

The Future of Civil War History Is Not On the Battlefield

think-digital brainTomorrow I hope to finish up an essay that I was asked to write for one of the Civil War journals over a year ago about the the influence of digital technologies on how we write and research history and how that has fueled the myth of the black Confederate soldier.  At the end of the essay I take a moment to suggest ways that academic and public historians as well as history educators generally might address this myth, not by jumping head first into the very places where these emotional debates are taking place, but by re-considering what it means to educate the public at a time when everyone can be his/her own historian on the Web. Continue reading