I had a wonderful time at the Civil War Trust’s annual Teachers Conference in Nashville. Garry Adelmann and the rest of the staff did an incredible job of putting together a first-rate group of speakers. It was a bit hectic having to give three talks in two days, but the chance to interact with my fellow history teachers made it all the more enjoyable. The feedback on both my talk on Internet literacy and using Glory in the classroom were very positive. As many of you know I used the black Confederate myth as a case study for the first talk and I was pleased that we did not get hung up on the subject as opposed to remaining focused on the crucial issue of how to effectively judge websites. I got the sense that most of the teachers who attended the session had not given the issue much thought, which leads me to believe that much more attention needs to be given in workshops and seminars.
Yesterday I took one final trip up Rt. 20 to Fredericksburg. Apart from a few select pieces I was able to sell the remainder of my Don Troiani collection to a Marine officer, who is going to auction them off to help raise money for the Wounded Warrior project. [More on this at a later date.] It’s one of my favorite drives and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on just how much I am going to miss this place.
We, in contrast, are almost constantly engaged in presenting ourselves to others, and to ourselves, and hence representing ourselves–in language and gesture, external and internal. The most obvious difference in our environment that would explain this difference in our behavior is the behaviour itself. Our human environment contains not just food and shelter, enemies to fight or flee, and conspecifics with whom to mate, but words, words, words. These words are potent elements of our environment that we readily incorporate, ingesting and extruding them, weaving them like spiderwebs into self-protective strings of narrative. Indeed. . . when we let in these words, these meme-vehicles, they tend to take over, creating us out of the raw materials they find in our brains. (Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained 1991)
Yesterday Brooks Simpson offered a brief reflection on why he spends time at Civil War battlefields. He also asks of his readers why they visit these places. Back in 2008 I was invited to give the keynote address at the National Park Services’s [FSNMP] annual commemoration in Fredericksburg. I took the opportunity to share why I bring my students to Civil War battlefields.
Stepping onto the bus in the early morning hours with my students, bound for one of the areas Civil War battlefields, is still my favorite day of the year. For me, it is an opportunity to reconnect with a history that has given my life meaning in so many ways. It’s also a chance to introduce this history to my students, many of whom have never set foot on a Civil War battlefield. Visits to battlefields such as Fredericksburg provide a venue in which to discuss what is only an abstraction in the classroom and offer students and the rest of us a chance to acknowledge a story that is much larger and more remote compared to our individual lives and yet relevant in profound ways.
One of the things that I am looking forward to with my upcoming move to Boston is the opportunity to meet new people and join new organizations. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of historical institutions in the Boston area as well as the wide range of programs and workshops that are available to the general public. I’ve already joined the Massachusetts Historical Society and I can’t wait to dive into their incredibly rich archival collection and attend some of their programs. Over the past few weeks I’ve been scrambling to read as much Massachusetts history as possible. I am currently reading Richard D. Brown’s, Massachusetts: A Concise History, T.H. Breen’s, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, and Michael Rawson’s, Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston.
I am also hoping to set up as many speaking engagements as my calendar will permit, which should also give me the chance to meet some new people. With that in mind I ask that you consider me for a presentation to your Civil War Roundtable, historical society seminar, and especially teaching workshops. I’ve set up a page with additional information. I look forward to hearing from some of you.