Category Archives: Teaching

Legacy of the American Civil War at the Library of Virginia

A few months ago I was invited by the Library of Virginia to participate in a panel discussion on the legacy of the American Civil War and the release of the New York Times’s collection of Disunion essays in book form. I think they still thought I lived in Virginia and unfortunately I was unable to attend. They asked for a recommendation and I immediately thought of Robert Moore, who blogs at Cenantua. Given his research interests in Southern Unionism I thought his perspective would add an important perspective, which it did. So glad he was able to make it.

Seth Godin and Tom Peters on Blogging

I came across this short video yesterday of Seth Godin and Tom Peters expounding on the virtues of blogging. It perfectly sums up why I continue to find it to be such a powerful medium and I couldn’t agree more with Tom Peters’s summation of how it has changed his life. This November will mark my eighth year as a blogger and I am not in the least bit tired. The decision to start a blog back in 2005 was the single best career move I’ve ever made.

Ha Jin, “The Past”

The new school year is right around the corner. Today we started our first history department meeting with the poetry of Ha Jin, which beautifully reflects how we shape and are shaped by the past.

I have supposed my past is a part of myself
As my shadow appears whenever I’m in the sun
the past cannot be thrown off and its weight
must be borne, or I will become another man.

But I saw someone wall in his past into a garden
whose produce is always in fashion.
If you enter his property without permission
he will welcome you with a watchdog or a gun

I saw someone set up his past as a harbor.
Wherever it sails, his boat is safe–
if a storm comes, he can always head for home.
His voyage is the adventure of a kite.

I saw someone drop his past like trash.
He buried it and shed it altogether.
He has shown me that without the past
one can also move ahead and get somewhere.

Like a shroud my past surrounds me,
but I will cut it and stitch it,
to make good shoes with it,
shoes that fit my feet.

I am definitely going to use this on the first day of classes. All the best to those of you anticipating a return to the classroom.

Reza Aslan and the Search for the Historical Jesus (…and Robert E. Lee)

lee-jackson-in-prayerIt should come as no surprise that following FOX News’s debacle of an interview with Reza Aslan his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, shot up to No. 1 at Amazon. I decided to pick it up as well and finished reading it yesterday. It’s beautifully written and provides an excellent introduction to the subject. As a graduate student in philosophy, with a concentration in philosophy of history, I studied the debate over the Synoptic Gospels as a case study of how historians formulate and revise their interpretations. That was a long time ago so reading Aslan’s Zealot felt fresh.

As I was reading I couldn’t help but be reminded of the extent to which the controversy surrounding Aslan’s book (or any attempt to critically explore the historical Jesus) reflects some of the same dynamics in our Civil War community. The FOX interview itself represented the worst in the virulent strain of anti-intellectualism that ignores any attempt to engage in serious critical thinking in favor of discrediting the author. We see this quite often when the scholarship of academic historians who write Civil War history is dismissed based on assumptions about their politics, regional affiliation, etc. rather than engaging the argument itself. Many view academic scholarship as a threat to stories that have been accepted without question. Continue reading

Why Teach the Civil War

One of the museums that I visited last week was the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. I didn’t have many expectations going in, but overall I enjoyed my visit and I learned a great deal. What stood out more than anything else was a number of explicit references to recent violence. Executive Director, George Wunderlich, addressed our group by drawing direct connections between developments in medicine and care of the wounded with the recent terrorist attack here in Boston. Even more surprising were the references made by our museum guide to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the exhibit.

It was the first time that any such reference was made during our ten-day trip from Nashville to D.C.

During our final debriefing of the trip I asked the teachers to think about how we teach our civil war. Here was a war that affected an entire nation and in ways that few could have anticipated in 1861. We talked extensively throughout the trip about the life of the Civil War soldier, the home front, the horrors of battle, the political aspects of war, and they ways in which individuals and the nation worked to properly commemorate the war. Again, it was a war that few could ignore and yet over the past ten years our students and much of the country have been able to comfortably ignore two wars. Continue reading