On more than one occasion I’ve recommended John Coski’s wonderful book, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem. There is nothing else like it. Coski offers a very readable and balanced view of the history of the flag. Toward the end, Coski offers his own interpretation of how to move forward with the debate over the public display of the Confederate flag. It involves compromises from all parties with a stake in this ongoing drama over history and heritage. Continue reading
This morning neo-Confederate crusader Edward Sebesta posted the third of his four-part series on the Museum of the Confederacy. Sebesta is convinced that the museum stands at the center of the neo-Confederate cause: “The 3rd installment covers how the MOC creates Confederate identification amongst its supporters, visitors, and others by being a shrine and reliquary.” This most recent entry displays the same shoddy analysis and research that can be found in the other parts. According to Sebesta, this is clearly reflected in the museum’s flag conservation program:
National flags are by definition national identifiers. Confederate flags are those flags adopted by the Confederacy in its quest to be a nation and were intended to serve as a symbol of the Confederate nation. The conservation of flags, like the conservation of any historical artifact, is a legitimate activity for a museum. However, flags are powerful instruments of national identity and act as such – it is the purpose for which they designed. The MOC uses Confederate flags as symbols that both assert and reinforce Confederate national identity.
Sebesta seems to think that the financial support for this project by the Sons of Confederate Veterans implies that the flag’s restoration is for their benefit only and that its purpose is to keep alive the Confederate cause. This is absurd. First, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the SCV offering financial support to the museum nor is there any conflict of interest for the MOC in accepting and publicizing it. The flags belong to all of us.
It should come as no surprise that the Sons of Confederate Veterans attributes yesterday’s unanimous decision by the Texas DMV as another attack on Confederate symbols and “Southern Heritage” more generally. It may surprise you to learn, however, that the leadership of the SCV at the turn of the twentieth century likely would have viewed yesterday’s decision as a victory.
As many of you know I am a big fan of the Museum of the Confederacy. In recent years the leadership of the museum as well as their staff have done an admirable job of steering the institution from one of advocacy for a traditional view of the Confederate past to one that promotes and awards the latest scholarship about the history of the Confederacy. So, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that, if chosen, Edward Sebesta would refuse to accept the MOC’s Jefferson Davis Award for Civil War scholarship. You can read Sebesta’s post for yourself, but here is the letter:
I am writing you to tell you that I do not want any book of mine to be considered for any award by the Museum of the Confederacy. More specifically I don’t want “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader,” co-edited by Edward H. Sebesta and James Loewen, University Press of Mississippi considered for an award by the Museum of the Confederacy either for 2010, or in the future.
Not to be presumptuous that the “Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader,” would win any award from the Museum of the Confederacy, but if the book did win some type of award, I would reject the award publically and use the occasion to criticize the Museum of the Confederacy. Finally, I should let you know that in debate with James McPherson, noted Civil War historian, I have spoken out against the Museum of the Confederacy on Pacifica Radio Network.
The link that Sebesta provides laying out his theory of “banal white nationalism” fails to yield much of anything that addresses the Museum of the Confederacy specifically.
I have to say that I am at a loss as to why Sebesta has taken such a strong stance against the MOC. Over the past ten years I’ve visited the museum on multiple occasions. I’ve conducted research in the library and have even brought my classes to explore its impressive collection of artifacts. One of my former students is currently working as an intern in the research library. I am good friends with a number of its staff and I have nothing but the highest respect for the difficult work that they do. A few weeks ago I shared a stage with CEO, Waite Rawls, whose Confederate lineage is deep, but who understands that his role is to further historical understanding and not mythology. I would recommend any of their professional programs, including their annual Teachers Institute. It is impossible for me to imagine a more impressive line-up of scholars who have shared their knowledge in various public symposia. Finally, it is impossible for me to imagine a serious scholar, who would not be honored to join the prestigious list of previous Jefferson Davis book award winners.
It would be interesting to know what James Loewen, who is the co-editor of the The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause, thinks of this stance. To be honest, it looks like this book has much more of Loewen’s imprint on it than Sebesta’s.
Thanks to Ed Sebesta for reminding me that I need to renew my membership with the Museum of the Confederacy.
I just booked my room and registered for this year’s meeting of the Southern Historical Association, which meets in Charlotte, North Carolina from November 4-7. It’s by far my favorite conference of the year as it comes at just the point when I can use a couple of days away from school and it gives me a chance to catch up with good friends. Perhaps I will even be able to check in with the publisher to get an update on my Crater manuscript. The panels are always interesting but I am especially looking forward to one on Joseph Glatthaar’s General Lee’s Army. I’ve blogged about it here at Civil War Memory over the past year and I can’t say enough good things about it. Not only is it an excellent synthesis of recent scholarship, but Glatthaar’s analysis of key topics such as slavery, morale, discipline, religion and even black Confederates make this volume indispensable. An independent study with one of my students has given me the opportunity to go through it again.
POINTS OF DEPARTURE: REFLECTIONS ON JOSEPH A. GLATTHAAR’S GENERAL LEE’S ARMY
Presiding: John Coski, Museum of the Confederacy
General Lee’s Army and General Lee: How Does Glatthaar Fit into a Contentious Historiography on the Rebel Chieftain? — Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia
The High-Water Mark of Social History: The Methodology of Glatthaar’s “General Lee’s Army” — Peter S. Carmichael, Gettysburg College
“They Are One in Reality & All of the Country”: Blending Battlefront and Home Front — Jacqueline Glass Campbell, Francis Marion University
Author’s Response: Joseph A. Glatthaar, University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill
Update: Check out the follow-up post on this issue over at Past in the Present]
[Hat-Tip to Greg Rowe]
Many of you are familiar with our friendly black Confederate toy soldier. Brooks Simpson suggested that it would make a nice gift for me over at Civil Warriors a while back. It’s easy to make too big a deal about a toy soldier, but I have to say that I am disappointed to see that it is being sold on the online gift shop at the Museum of the Confederacy. I don’t know whether it is being sold at the museum itself, but I must assume so. Let me point out that I have nothing but the highest respect for the staff at the museum. It’s a Virginia treasure and their projects reflect the best in public history. Most importantly, they do this with a limited budget and the suspicion of many who fail to distinguish between a museum for- as opposed to a museum about the Confederacy.
I know for a fact that the history represented by this toy soldier is not endorsed by the museum. John Coski has authored a number of excellent essays on the subject that have appeared in North and South magazine and elsewhere. It seems reasonable to ask that museum officials pull these items from their shelves. Let’s take a stand on this insidious myth.
It’s nice to see the Museum of the Confederacy taking advantage of YouTube as a form of outreach. A few months ago they started a series of short videos on various subjects that feature their talented staff as well as the museum’s extensive collection of artifacts. This video focuses on Turner Ashby and includes interviews with Robert Hancock, Teresa Roane, and John Coski.
Click here for the other videos.
Richard Williams recently posted a short article by historian John Coski on the relationship between Jim Limber and the Davis family, which appeared in the winter issue of the Museum of the Confederacy’s newsletter. While Coski does point to mutual bonds of affection between Jim Limber and the Davis family, he also suggests that there are many questions that cannot be answered. This, of course, could change in the future. While Coski does not address the debate surrounding the proposed statue of Limber and Davis, his analysis does bring the question of whether such a statue is justified based on the available evidence into sharp relief. Is the Sons of Confederate Veterans justified in proposing a statue based on such limited evidence? If so, why? What precedent would this set in terms of the way we go about commemorating and remembering other moments in American history in our public spaces? Finally, I hope Mr. Williams is not operating under the assumption that Coski’s essay ought to be interpreted as tacit support for this proposed statue. If anything the essay highlights the wide gulf between what serious historians can legitimately conclude about this relationship and the message that a marble statue will no doubt communicate. You will find Coski’s essay below.