Category Archives: Teaching

“Each Section Preserved White Supremacy Differently”

Aaron AstorSince I don’t use a textbook in my U.S. History survey I am always on the lookout for relatively short excerpts from secondary sources that help me to pinpoint a specific historical question or problem. I’ve said before that one of the more challenging topics to teach is the distinction between race and slavery in nineteenth-century America. For most of my students (Virginia and Massachusetts) the lack of slavery in the North by the late antebellum period makes it difficult for them to appreciate the extent that racism permeated the region. They tend to see racism and slavery as two sides of the same coin, which is reinforced by their limited understanding of chattel slavery in the South.

This excerpt from Aaron Astor’s, Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri does a brilliant job of teasing out this important distinction. Wish I had come across it last week.

At the heart of Kentuckian and Missourian values was white supremacy, or more specifically, a belief that Western civilization was a product of characteristics unique to the white race and that all interracial relationships must protect the white race from subjugation or degradation by the black race. Failing to hold the line against attempts at racial equality would yield nothing less than complete reversion to barbarism, which whites believed inevitable wherever blacks lived without white authority. Most white northerners and southerners agreed with this racial order, but each section preserved white supremacy differently. Northerners simply excluded African Americans outright–states such as Indiana and Illinois legally banned black people from entering those states in 1860, and many other states placed onerous taxes on blacks who could not prove employment or property ownership–or failing that, segregated blacks and whites in all facets of social and economic life. White northerners protected white supremacy by monopolizing the property, power and labor force of the northern states. White southerners, living amid populations that often included large majorities of African Americans, embraced slavery as the natural system of racial and social control. Without slavery, white southerners feared, blacks would literally overrun and destroy white civilizations, re-creating either Haiti or Africa itself. (pp. 29-30)

I can’t help but think that this paragraph helps to frame – in so many ways -  the problem of race that our nation faced following the Civil War right down to the present day. This is a book that I’ve been wanting to read for some time and I am so glad I am finally getting around to it. Highly recommended.

 

Are We Coming to the End of Civil War Memory?

When I learned that an essay on teaching would be included in the Common-place project I immediately thought of my friend, Chris Lese, who teaches history at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Chris and I met at an OAH conference a few years ago and have stayed in touch ever since. We’ve exchanged ideas and on a few occasions I joined his class discussion via Skype. Chris’s efforts to introduce his students to the subject of Civil War memory as well as his use of digital tools and social media sit at the forefront of classroom innovation and creativity.  Continue reading

 

Common-place Marks the Civil War 150 with Special Issue

I couldn’t be more excited to share Common-place’s latest issue on the Civil War sesquicentennial that I had the pleasure to edit with Megan Kate Nelson. We are confident that each of you will find something of interest in this issue. The essays cover a wide range of topics and will hopefully both enlighten and entertain. Special thanks to all the contributors to this issue. We had the pleasure to work with an incredibly talented group of historians and educators, who were both committed to producing their best work and patient with our suggestions and numerous emails. Thanks also to the wonderful editorial staff at Common-place, especially Paul Erickson and Trudy Powers. Continue reading

 

“A People’s Contest” and a Classroom Discussion

Yesterday I commented on my Facebook page about a pretty intense discussion in my Civil War class on what motivated northern men to volunteer for the army in the spring of 1861. We talked about about a collection of letters as well as a short selection from James McPherson’s book, What They Fought For 1861-1865.  I’ve commented on the challenges of teaching the importance that northerners attached to union, liberty and their close identification with the founding generation in contrast with Confederates. The latter’s claims to defending hearth, home, and a “way of life” tend to resonate more with my students. Continue reading

 

Psychosis of a Civil War Soldier: An Online Course

I know a few of you are currently enrolled in Stephanie McCurry’s online course on slavery and the Civil War. I will be very interested to see how that goes. In the mean time here is another online offering from something called the Center For Historical Research Studies. The following course is being offered by Tim Daniel, who is the center’s director of history.

I don’t think I will be taking this course.