Smithsonian’s “The Civil War and American Art” Exhibition

A new exhibition on Civil War era paintings opens today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

“The Civil War and American Art” examines how America’s artists represented the impact of the Civil War and its aftermath. The exhibition follows the conflict from palpable unease on the eve of war, to heady optimism that it would be over with a single battle, to a growing realization that this conflict would not end quickly and a deepening awareness of issues surrounding emancipation and the need for reconciliation. Genre and landscape painting captured the transformative impact of the war, not traditional history painting.

The first video is an overview, but the embed used here includes six more videos on individual paintings that follow automatically.  Enjoy.

The Gettysburg Semester at Gettysburg College

What follows is a guest post by Allison (Herrmann) Jordan, who is currently an administrative assistant at the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.  Allison shares her experience as a participant in the college’s “Gettysburg Semester,” which is a semester-long immersion in Civil War studies.

I remember sitting in my freshman dorm room in Worcester, Massachusetts.  As a recently declared history major with a newfound passion for the Civil War, I passed spare moments thumbing through a tattered copy of James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. I was still two years away from taking my college’s Civil War & Reconstruction course (it was only offered every three years).  A simple Google search for “Civil War” + internship” + “Gettysburg,” however, led me to the website for something called The Gettysburg Semester. Instantly intrigued, I discovered a study-away program hosted by Gettysburg College.  It invites undergraduates from around the country to spend a fall semester studying the American Civil War at the Civil War buff’s Valhalla – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

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Flipping the Civil War Classroom

Like many of you who teach history, I am always looking for new ways to convey the subject to my students.  The move toward e-textbooks offers an exciting opportunity to expand the traditional textbook in a way that takes advantage of new digital technologies, including the community-building potential of social media.  The possibilities are limitless, but unfortunately we have yet to see much.  The large textbook companies such as McGraw-Hill and Cengage have done little more than to place their textbooks online.  Supplemental materials that can enhance the text are limited.  What we have may alleviate future back problems for today’s students, but they do little to advance pedagogy and historical understanding.

Over the past year I’ve been working with a small start-up called Flip Learning.  The company is run by Christian Spielvogel, who teaches communications at Hope College in Michigan.  Those of you who teach the survey course in World History likely use a textbook authored by his father, Jackson Spielvogel.

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John Brown Lives!

This event has been a long time in the making and I signed on to take part when I was still living in Virginia.  John Brown Lives! is a small organization led by Martha Swan, which focuses on public and educational outreach around issues related to freedom and oppression in history and in our world today.  Freedom Then, Freedom Now offers a little something for teachers, students, and anyone else who is interested in the history and legacy of emancipation.  The list of speakers and subjects to be discussed looks very interesting and David Blight will deliver the keynote address.  I am going to host a screening of Glory for the community and then work with a group of teachers on how they can use it in the classroom.  It promises to be a fun weekend. Continue reading “John Brown Lives!”

The American Paradox of Slavery and Freedom

Today in class we finish up reading a selection from historian Edmund Morgan on the evolution of slavery in Virginia.  Friday’s discussion on why early in the seventeenth century many blacks enjoyed the same freedoms as other Virginians went well as did our discussion of the challenges of managing a growing and increasingly discontented population of indentured servants.  Today we need to wrap it up by following the landed gentry in their gradual realization that black slavery could not only meet their labor demands, but also assuage class tensions between landless whites and the landed gentry.

Morgan concludes with the following:

It was slavery, I suggest more than any other single factor, that had made the difference, slavery that enabled Virginia to nourish representative government in a plantation society, slavery that transformed the Virginia of Governor Berkeley to the Virginia of Jefferson, slavery that made the Virginians dare to speak a political language that magnified the rights of freemen, and slavery, therefore, that brought Virginians into the same commonwealth political tradition with New Englanders.  The very institution that was to divide North and South after the Revolution may have made possible their union in a republican government.

and

Thus began the American paradox of slavery and freedom, intertwined and interdependent, the rights of Englishmen supported on the wrongs of Africans.  The American Revolution only made the contradictions more glaring, as the slaveholding colonists proclaimed to a candid world the rights not simply of Englishmen but of all men.  To explain the origin of the contradictions, if the explanation I have suggested is valid, does not eliminate them or make them less ugly.  But may enable us to understand a little better the strength of the ties that bound freedom to slavery, even in so noble a mind as Jefferson’s.  And it may perhaps make us wonder about the ties that bind more devious tyrannies to our own freedoms and give us still today our own American paradox.

I am well aware that Morgan’s thesis has been challenged, but my goal in discussing this with my high school students is to introduce them to the process of historical reasoning and to move them beyond the traditional textbook as much as possible.