Category Archives: Teaching

Another Perspective on the SPLC’s Report on Teaching Slavery

Last week the Southern Poverty Law Center released the results of a survey it conducted on the current state of how the history of slavery is taught in our nation’s schools. The report is well worth reading and offers a number of important insights into the challenges of teaching what is one of the most difficult subjects, especially at the pre-collegiate level. I am certainly not in a position to challenge the SPLC’s findings, but I do believe that the report as a whole needs to be placed in a broader historical context. Continue reading

Using Statuary Hall in D.C. to Teach Historical Memory

History teachers that work in communities that include Confederate monuments enjoy a big advantage in their ability to introduce this ongoing debate about history and memory to their students. But even if you don’t have a Confederate monument close by there are other ways that you can bring the debate home to engage your students about the moral significance of how we remember our collective past and how those choices speak to our understanding of who we are as a community and a nation. Continue reading

Some Thoughts about Public History, Monuments, and Teaching

Last summer I took part in an NEH summer workshop at the Georgia Historical Society called “Recognizing an Imperfect Past: History, Memory, and the General Public.” In addition to delivering a lecture on monuments and Civil War memory I sat down for a brief interview with the GHS staff. We covered a lot of ground related to the subject of my talk and other themes addressed during the workshop. Continue reading

What To Do About Confederate Monuments? Ask the Kids

I recently returned from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, where I spent time with a group of high school students contending with the ongoing debate over Confederate monuments. Over the past two years I have worked with teachers and students from all over the country, but Charleston presented its own unique challenges. This is the city where the fire of secession was first kindled. Roughly 40 percent of the enslaved Africans brought to what became the United States arrived on nearby Sullivan’s Island. The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, overlooking Charleston. Monuments celebrating the Confederate cause define the city’s commemorative landscape. They include a monument to John C. Calhoun, who famously boasted that the institution was nothing to apologize for, that it was a “positive good.” About a block away from the Calhoun monument on June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine people during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

You can read the rest of my latest op-ed at Bunk History.

A Civil War Historian’s Talking Points

Yesterday historian Aaron Astor posted a list of talking points on his Facebook page that he utilizes when discussing the Civil War with the general public. It is well worth reading in its entirety and I thank Aaron for permission to publish it on my blog.

I want to push back a little bit on #11. Certainly we need to understand the spectrum of motivations that propelled men into the Confederate army, but this is often brought up by people who want to disconnect the army from the broader goals of the Confederacy entirely. I remind audiences that Confederate soldiers functioned as the military arm of a government committed to protecting slavery. In that sense they all fought to protect slavery. Every victory brought them one step closer to achieving that goal. I find it helpful to reference the rounding up of fugitive slaves during the Gettysburg campaign or how the Emancipation Proclamation and the presence of black Union soldiers on the clarified what was at stake for the men in the army.

I speak and write regularly about the causes of the American Civil War, to both academic and popular audiences. Engaging with different people who hold different assumptions about the Civil War and its legacies today has forced me to develop a set of priming points that I use to begin the conversation. Here are some of the key ones. If you find them useful, feel free to share them. Continue reading