By now you must feel quite embarrassed by your little interpretive mishap over at the Southern Heritage Preservation Group. Just think about it, an entire unit of “Negro Cooks” in the Confederate army. Well, on one level it is amusing, but on another it is incredibly disturbing and indicative of the work you have done at your website, Black Confederate Soldiers. Your expressed goal has been from the beginning to educate and share what you believe are stories that have been ignored for far too long. While that is a laudable goal your commentary/analysis clearly points to a lack of understanding surrounding the larger issues related to African Americans and the Confederacy and you clearly do not understand how to conduct primary source analysis. Having access to Footnote.com is a wonderful thing, but without the proper background knowledge the rummaging through documents looking for what you already believe must be there is a walk on the slippery rocks. Unfortunately, you are being encouraged by a group of people who applaud your every “discovery” but make no mistake, they are equally misinformed and ill-equipped to do the heavy lifting of interpretation. How do I know this? Because they would have continued to applaud your discovery of “Negro Cooks” had Andy Hall not come across it. Your cheer leading squad does not constitute any type of peer review of your methods and interpretation and you desperately need this.
A few of my readers have requested that I comment on ongoing and recent exhibits in my new neck of the woods that concentrate on the history of slavery and the slave trade. I assume they are planning family vacations north of the Mason-Dixon Line so I am more than happy to comply. Their requests, however, seem to be couched in the assumption that historical institutions in New England and elsewhere are actively ignoring this dark and complex subject in American history. Nothing could be further from the truth so I hope this short post will alleviate their concerns and perhaps even serve as a catalyst for an exciting and educational trip north.
This guest post is by Adam Arenson, assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at El Paso and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War, about the Civil War Era as a battle of three competing visions — that of the North, South, and West. More at http://adamarenson.com.
This is the second in a series.
[The Civil War] was not a fight between rapacious birds and ferocious beasts, a mere display of brute courage and endurance, but it was a war between men of thought, as well as of action, and in dead earnest for something beyond the battlefield. Frederick Douglass, “Speech in Madison Square,” Decoration Day, 1878
Unfortunately, even with all of the changes that are currently being implemented we have a long way to go…[E]ven most white Americans who claim to be interested in the Civil War for whatever reason fail to come to terms with its importance to our broader history. I sometimes think that our colorful stories of Lee and Lincoln are more of a threat to our sense of national identity as [than] no memory or connection with the war. We would all do well to take a step back. Kevin Levin, “History Through the Veil Again”: A Response to Ta-Nehisi Coates, August 2009
Last week, through Kevin’s generosity, I jumped into a post about the missing Robinson House at Manassas to catch the sesquicentennial, before I had a chance to provide a little context.
Thanks to Garry Adelman and Nicole Osier of the Civil War Trust for sending along reviews of my two presentations, which I gave at their annual Teacher Institute in Nashville two weeks ago. I assume they took out the negative reviews so as not to upset me. All kidding aside, I couldn’t be more pleased with the feedback. I gave two presentations. The first was a tutorial on digital media literacy in the classroom – specifically the need to teach our students how to access and assess online information. I used a couple of black Confederate websites as a case study. Here are a few reviews.
“Excellent presentation. I have been waiting for a session like this.”
“As a new teacher, I am still grasping how to teach using the internet. This was very helpful!”
“Can’t wait to share this talk with my fellow teachers.”
“I have never had any formal training on evaluating sites – this was so helpful.”
My second talk focused on how to use the movie, “Glory” in the classroom. I focused specifically on the kinds of questions that can be raised in class that asks students to think critically about the intersection of Hollywood and history. Here is what the participants had to say.
“Fascinating presentation – will take a lot of this into my classroom. Well done!”
“Kevin Levin was a good presenter who responded wonderfully to participant questions and comments. This workshop will certainly impact how I use Glory and other movies in my classroom.”
“Entertaining and thought-provoking. Let’s have more like this good give and take between presenter and attendees.”
“Absolutely stellar session. We need more of this type of session!!”
This is one of my favorite talks to give. I am currently working on an essay on Civil War movies for an upcoming issue of the OAH’s Magazine of History, which is being edited by Carol Sheriff.
Please let me know if I can help with your teacher workshop or any other event that involves k-12 history educators. Sharing with my fellow teachers is the most important work that I do professionally. Click here for a list of upcoming talks.
There is an interesting moment in this talk by Peter Carmichael where he fields a question by a woman, who is apparently concerned that he is being overly critical of the South and the Confederacy. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to hear the question. I know a little something about being accused of holding the Confederacy and all things Southern in contempt. It’s a strange accusation that I will never truly understand.