Spent a few hours earlier today at the Massachusetts Historical Society looking at letters and diaries of Northern soldiers who fought at the Crater. As happens so often during the research process what turned out to be the most interesting discovery was unrelated to my immediate project. After reading his wartime letters I decided to go through the G.A.R. materials in the William M. Olin collection. Included is the John E. Gilman Camp’s Record Book that Olin joined after the war.
I don’t have any information on the backstory, but apparently in 1936 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology accepted a portrait of Robert E. Lee. This did not sit well with the veterans in the Gilman Camp and I suspect they were not alone. Continue reading
I want to take this opportunity to thank Dexter Bishop, Al Smith and the rest of the Civil War Round Table of the North Shore for a wonderful evening. It was as enjoyable a speaking engagement as I can remember. The audience was receptive, asked engaging questions and kindly bought up most of the books I brought for sale. I am looking forward to working with this group again in May, when I will help to run a workshop for area teachers at the G.A.R. Hall. Continue reading
One of my favorite places to take students in Charlottesville was the University of Virginia’s Confederate Cemetery. It was a short walk and it allowed me to talk about wartime hospitals as well as postwar mourning and the evolution of the Lost Cause. I encouraged my students to look at and think about the headstones and to pick up trash. The men were buried in long trenches and when the cemetery was dedicated there were no individual headstones. That gradually changed and in recent years the local SCV has organized to order new markers from the federal government. The project continues, in part, with the financial support of the federal government. It’s a program that I contributed to on more than once occasion while in Charlottesville. Continue reading
I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching others at the Shaw Memorial. Visitors marvel at Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s beautiful bronze relief of Shaw and his men marching to their glorious deaths outside of Charleston, SC, but few walk down the steps to take a look at the reverse side. They miss a great deal of what gives this beautiful monument its meaning. Continue reading
First, a bit of good news. Today I learned that my essay, “Black Confederates Out of the Attic and Into the Mainstream” has been accepted for publication in The Journal of the Civil War Era. I suspect I will have to wait some time before I see it in print. I argue that as historians and teachers we need to be thinking harder about how the Internet has changed not only how history is written, but more importantly, how it is being consumed and shared. From the essay:
The success of the black Confederate phenomena can be traced directly to the expansion of the Internet, including access to rich databases of primary sources and the availability of digital tools such as blogs, wikis, and other platforms that allow practically anyone the opportunity to publish a website and engage and influence a wide readership. This has led to a sharp increase in the amount of history published online by individuals and organizations with little or no formal training in the field. As a result, the democratization of history through online publishing continues to blur the distinction between professional and popular historians and challenges any presumption of who has the right to research and publish history. While professional historians assume the responsibility of critically assessing the work of their peers they have yet to explore their role in responding to and evaluating online content. The black Confederate narrative provides academic and public historians with an opportunity to reflect on how they might engage history enthusiasts and the broader general public in an environment that promotes an unregulated marketplace of ideas.
Next week I am heading to Gettysburg College to take part in this year’s Civil War Institute. It’s always a blast and this year is extra special given that is the 150th anniversary of the battle. I hope to be able to soak up some of the sesquicentennial vibe without having to be there in the middle of all that craziness the following week. This year I am going to be working with a group of high school students, who will be taking part in the conference. It’s nice to have a chance to be filmed for C-SPAN, but I much prefer a classroom setting where I can interact with students.
I am going to use the opportunity to introduce students to the subject of Civil War memory by having them compare Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address with Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 address from the 50th anniversary. The text is below, but as you read it think about how you would introduce this speech to a group of students.
- What questions would you ask to frame the two documents?
- What sentences, phrases, or words stand out to you and why?
- What was Wilson’s goal in addressing his audience in 1914?
- What events would you reference to frame the historical context of this speech?
Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts. Continue reading