Museum of the Confederacy's Fish
Update: James Loewen responds…well…sort of.
Since Edward Sebesta recently came up in a previous post I decided to check out his blog earlier today. Some of you may remember that not too long ago Sebesta publicly declared that he would not accept an award from the Museum of the Confederacy for his co-edited book with James Loewen, titled The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, which had been submitted by their publisher for the Jefferson Davis Award. Why? According to Sebesta, the MOC’s mission is to further the”Neo-Confederate” agenda. By accepting their award Sebesta believes that he would be legitimizing the museum as a legitimate historical institution. Yes, this is quite bizarre, but it gets even better. At the time Sebesta promised that he would explain his stance in a more detailed essay, which is exactly what I came across at his blog today. The post includes a link to a 4-part essay that was published at the Black Commentator. I am going to leave it to you to read through as I simply do not have the patience to do it. It is an incredibly incoherent rant and as far as I can tell there is no indication that Sebesta has ever visited the MOC or talked with its museum staff.
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The University of Mississippi Press was kind enough to send along a review copy of James Loewen’s and Ed Sebesta’s new book, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”. It looks like an interesting collection of primary sources related to our collective memory of the cause of secession and the importance of slavery to the Civil War. I look forward to delving into it more deeply in the coming weeks. No doubt, I will take advantage of a few of these documents next trimester in my course on the Civil War and historical memory.
What I find troubling, however, is the title of this book. I’ve learned quite a bit about the evolution and contours of our collective memory in the course of my reading and blogging. One thing that struck me early won as the futility of lumping people together around vague labels. Such an attempt is almost always ahistorical, but more importantly, it tends to function as a non-starter. In other words, it tends to embolden certain folks and reinforce feelings of fear and suspicion. If you peruse the first year of this blog’s archives you will notice that I casually employed the label ‘Neo-Confederate.’ In more recent years I’ve become much more careful with my choice of words and only on rare occasions will I reference Neo-Confederates.
Much of this ongoing dialog about Civil War memory has little to do with historical scholarship; rather, for many folks it is about “heritage,” “a sense of place,” and an emotional hold on certain narratives. We can probably attribute the cover and title to the publisher, whose primary goal is to grab the attention of potential readers and sell books. I just have to wonder whether such a combination will turn off readers even before cracking the cover.
This is an interview with James Loewen, who is the co-editor of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” About the “Lost Cause” published by the University Press of Mississippi. I already use most of the documents that are included in this reader, but it is nice to have such a collection available to high school and college instructors. It will definitely come in handy for my course on Civil War Memory next trimester.
A talk with James W. Loewen from University Press of Mississippi on Vimeo.