The Virginia Forum

I am looking forward to next week’s conference in Winchester, Virginia at Shenandoah University. This is the first meeting of the Virginia Forum, which has been organized by Warren Hofstra and Brent Tarter. The conference brings together scholars from different fields to explore various themes in the history of Virginia. My session is on memory – as if I even had to tell you. Here is a list of participants and brief descriptions of their papers. I am totally psyched for next weekend.

Session: The Continuing Civil War

Marie Tyler-McGraw, Research Historian, presiding and commenting

James J. Broomall, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, “Beyond the Big House: Interpreting and Remembering Slaves and Slavery in Fredericksburg”

James J. Broomall is currently a Master of Arts candidate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for a degree in history with a concentration in museum studies. He received his Bachelor of Arts in history with a concentration in American history from the University of Delaware in 2000. Last year, he completed an internship at the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park where he worked with staff members to construct and implement a slave-based tour of Chatham Manor—18th century plantation located north of Fredericksburg, Virginia. During this experience, he uncovered fascinating yet troubling stories concerning the plantation’s slave community. He is utilizing portions of this research for the paper he will present at the Virginia Forum. Slave resistance, external representations of the slave past, and notions of remembrance are compelling topics, which have influenced his historical interests to date.

Program Overview:

Two remarkable episodes—exposures of slavery’s tenuous position 19th century society—occurred at Chatham Manor, located in Stafford County, Virginia. In January 1805, a number of slaves revolted against their overseer leaving four people dead, forcing the transportation of two others, and striking fear into the hearts of local Virginians. Forty-five years later an enslaved women, Ellen Mitchell, purchased her freedom and that of her children. How can these dramatic moments of resistance be successfully incorporated today into museum tours and reveal the complex and often-contradictory bonds between master and slave?

This paper will focus on 19th century Virginia slavery with the goal of exposing pivotal moments in Chatham’s past that can be integrated into museum interpretive tours. Slavery’s meaning then and how it should be viewed and used today are important considerations for the historical community. The politics of historical memory, moreover, twist public representations of slavery. These distortions in turn obscure interpretive opportunities that are intimately connected to the world that slaves at Chatham made. My findings not only reveal new dimensions of life at Chatham; they also speak more generally to the rich possibilities available when interpreting the institution of slavery at any house museum or cultural institution in Virginia.

Kevin M. Levin, St. Anne’s–Belfield School, “Landscapes and the Lost Cause: An Analysis of the 1903 and 1937 Crater Reenactments”

Kevin M. Levin teaches American history and the Civil War at the St. Anne’s – Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia. His most recent publication is titled, “William Mahone, the Lost Cause, and Civil War History, which appeared in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (December 2005). He is currently working on a book-length manuscript on postwar commemorations and memory of the Battle of the Crater.

Presentation Overview:

This paper explores the 1903 and 1937 reenactments of the battle of the Crater fought in the city of Petersburg, Virginia on July 30, 1864. On both occasions the general public was presented with a version of the famous fight at the Crater, shaped not only by the experiences of the veterans’ own subjective memory but also by the Lost Cause tradition and its accompanying political outlook. Evidence for this can be seen in the blatant omission of African American participation from the 1903 reenactment, even though United States Colored Troops played an important role at the Crater and were a prominent feature in the letters and diaries of Confederates immediately following the battle and later in postwar recollections. Reenactments performed the vital function of connecting memory to landscape, which solidified a narrow view of the Civil War well into the twentieth century. Understanding this process, its outcome and consequences sheds light on the creation and maintenance of public memory. A closer examination of the evolution of public memory surrounding Civil War battlefields is indispensable to the goal of providing necessary correctives to the way these sites are interpreted.

Sarah Selvaggio, Chemical Heritage Foundation, “The Loathing of Lincoln: Understanding the Lost Cause in a Popular Culture Context”

Originally from Wilmington Delaware, Sarah received her BA in History from the University of Delaware in 2003. She continued on and received her MA in American History with a certification in Museum Studies in 2005 from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Currently, Sarah is working at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia Pa. As a program assistant in the Collections Department Sarah is working on the building of an archival, object and research collection based on the life of Intel’s co-founder, Gordon Moore.

Sarah has also completed internships at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia Pa, The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro North Carolina and Altapass Historic Apple Orchard located in Little Switzerland North Carolina. She has presented at the North Carolina Museum Council Annual Conference on Digitalizing History and has received the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference scholarship to attend the Modern Archives Institute in Washington DC.

Presentation Overview:

My paper, “The Loathing of Lincoln: Understanding the Lost Cause in a Popular Culture Context” examines the modern perpetuation of the Lost Cause and southern memory by using the 2003 protests in Richmond Virginia against the Lincoln statue as a case study. While pro-confederate groups and their actions do not directly connect with the historical idea of what constitutes the Lost Cause, currently some groups are re-interpretating the Lost Cause ideals in order to regain and reinstate Confederate pride. By using the protests against the erecting of the Lincoln statue in Virginia, I suggest that these public actions and discussions insinuate that there is a degree to which the Lost Cause, however distorted, remains a part of the modern landscape.

Because this is a mostly a study of the Lost Cause in a popular culture I have combined sources used in historical and ethnographical studies in order to examine current sources on memory. For example, my paper relies heavily on internet websites that are run by or hosted by neo-Confederate activist groups. By examining these websites I conclude that these groups refashioned the Civil War from a battle over actual space to a battle waged over virtual space. I also use neo-Confederate conferences, Web blogs, as well as recent and historical writings about the Lost Cause.

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