I love this photograph, which was taken this past weekend in Gettysburg during our panel discussion on the teaching of Civil War memory in the classroom. It was a real privilege for me to be seated in between the two historians (David Blight and John Hennessy), who have had the biggest impact on my understanding of historical memory and public history. Their passion for history is highly infectious. Both have encouraged me at different times and have helped to open new doors. I am certainly grateful and proud to call both friends. Continue reading →
Just returned from a weekend in Lake Placed, New York where I took part in a conference sponsored by a small grassroots organization called John Brown Lives! The conference brought together historians, teachers, students, and activists working to end modern day slave trafficking. It was an incredibly enjoyable and intellectually stimulating weekend. Many of you are no doubt aware that John Brown’s home and his burial site are in Lake Placid hence the name of the organization.
We talked mainly about the history and memory of emancipation from a number of different perspectives. David Blight talked about emancipation during the centennial and sesquicentennial; Margaret Washington focused on female abolitionists; and Franny Nudleman led a fascinating discussion about how the Emancipation Proclamation is discussed in history textbooks. I contributed by hosting a public screening of the movie Glory that was attended by roughly 100 people on Friday evening. We discussed how the movie depicts black soldiers as well as its interpretation of emancipation and the following day I led a discussion about specific scenes in the movie that went into much more detail.
The most interesting talk by far came from Ken Morris, who is the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington and the co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation. Ken’s presentation on modern day slave trafficking and his current campaign called “100 Days to Freedom” was incredibly inspiring. You can learn more about it in this cute video that was produced by his two daughters. I encourage teachers to get their students involved. It’s an incredible way to bridge the present and the past in the classroom.
Since many of us stayed at a beautiful private home on the lake the conversations went well into the wee hours of the night. Needless to say I am very tired, but I return home energized and with the mental juices flowing. Thanks so much to Martha Swan, who invited me to take part this weekend.
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 →
In his interview with Harvard president and historian Drew G. Faust about American Experience‘s new documentary Death and the Civil War, Stephen Colbert laments, “You are beginning to make the Civil War sound like a downer.” While it garnered a good laugh from the audience, the comment betrays an important aspect of how Americans have remembered the Civil War and the kinds of narratives that are celebrated.
Ric Burns’s latest film is based largely on Faust’s book This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, which addresses the vast landscape of death and suffering experienced during the war years and beyond. The airing of this important program comes not just on the same week as the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam — the single bloodiest day in American history — but at the end of two costly and controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is difficult to look at the way Americans confronted death 150 years ago without seeing just how far removed we’ve been from the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. We all remember the controversy surrounding whether photographs of flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base in 2004 could be shown to the American public.