I was unable to attend the most recent biennial meeting of the Society of Civil War Historians back in June so I missed the keynote address by Gary Gallagher and Ed Ayers. Luckily, C-SPAN was there and recorded the entire session. I am particularly interested in Gallagher’s talk since it encompasses much of what will be included in his forthcoming book, The Union War. Gallagher argues that the role of Union forces must be acknowledged in any attempt to understand the progress of emancipation during the war. In doing so he challenges the self-emancipation thesis as well as the more popular image of Lincoln as the “great emancipator.” Here is a short clip of Gallagher’s talk while you can find the entire session here.
Check out these short videos at Gilder Lehrman’s YouTube site, which include interviews with Gary Gallagher, Ed Ayers, Allen Guelzo, Thomas Bender, and Ira Berlin. Search the full list of videos and you can view interviews with James and Louis Horton and David Blight. They can be used in the classroom, though they range in usefulness.
I am counting down the days for Wednesday’s much-anticipated inaugural event of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Virginia is far ahead of the pack in organizing events for this 4-year commemoration. In fact, we are so far ahead that we extended the time line to include events marking the lead up to the war. On Wednesday, April 29, 2,000 people from all over the country will converge on the University of Richmond for a day-long conference that addresses various aspects of life in the United States on the eve of the war. Edward L. Ayers, who is the president of the university, as well as the organizer of the event, promises lively discussion along the lines of a format that we’ve come to know all so well in his scholarship:
We have the opportunity to look at this with a fresh eye. Let’s enter into a conversation with these people of the past and understand just what they were thinking. How was it they could end up killing people that were their neighbors?
As I mentioned before, I will be attending this conference as something along the lines of an official blogger. I will have full media access and will view the day’s proceedings from a media booth with the Washington Post, AP, Richmond Times-Dispatch, etc. You will have a chance to view a live webcast and ask questions of the panelists through my blog. [I recently read that VMI is also organizing a live webcast of the event on their campus.] My plan is to live blog, Twitter, and take some video so you should expect constant updates in the form of commentary, interview, and images. I will also be hosting The Educator’s Affinity Group Lunch for teachers who are interested in networking and discussing the morning sessions. This promises to be an educational and fun day and I encourage all of you to take part.
I leave you with some thoughts from a few of the panelists:
Charles B. Dew, professor of American history at Williams College in Massachusetts, said southerners have been unwilling to confront a prewar economy based on slavery while northerners have sought to blot out memories of their own “profoundly racist” society. “Americans, like most people, want a usable past. They want it to make sense,“ Dew said. The conference, he said, is an opportunity “for shining some light in some of the darker corners in Virginia, and by extension, Southern history in a very critical moment.”
As president of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, Christy S. Coleman makes it her mission to offer a more complex, layered view of the conflict. The roles of women on the homefront and suffragists who began their activism in the anti-slavery movement are rarely told, she said. “These women not only advocated for freedom of the enslaved, but began to tie the issue to the lack of freedom that women had in the nation,“ she said.
Manisha Sinha, an associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said the role of black Americans is especially overshadowed in the “whitewashed version — literally and figuratively — of the war itself and its consequences.“ “It’s about time when we talk about the Civil War in the South that we take into perspective not just the views of white southerners but also of black southerners,“ she said.
While other states are still in the beginning stages of organizing sesquicentennial commissions Virginia is getting ready to host a major event on Wednesday, April 29 at the University of Richmond’s Robins Center. This is the first of a series of Signature Conferences that will be held throughout the sesquicentennial. This first conference is titled, “America on the Eve of the Civil War” and will include four sessions, which will place participants in a position where they must take stock of the nation following John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry and anticipate its consequences as a presidential election loomes on the horizon. The participants make up a who’s who list of Civil War historians. They include, among others, David Blight, Gary Gallagher, Manisha Sinha, Nelson Lankford, Charles Dew, and Ed Ayers. Well over 1,700 people are registered to date, coming from all over Virginia plus 23 other states. Registration is still open, though I urge you to reserve a seat now as it looks like it will eventually sell out.
I will be live blogging throughout the day. In fact, I will be located in a special section with the rest of the media – should be a blast. In addition to blogging, I will be hosting a luncheon for educators, the goal being to give teachers a chance to network and discuss the session topics. I do hope that additional states can muster the political will and organize commemorative committees to better our understanding of this crucial period in American history. For now, sit back and watch as Virginia sets the standard.
Update: The Q&A sections of the panels will include questions submitted electronically. It looks like you will be able to submit a question to me through the blog that I can relay to the Question Manager. I will provide more details as we get closer to the conference.