David Blight on the Civil War Sesquicentennial

In the following commentary published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Blight reflects on the first major event of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, which took place in Richmond, Virginia back in March.  Blight comments on the purpose and significance of the day-long symposium and how it reflects a fundamental change with the way the war was remembered during the Civil War Centennial (1961-65).  The final paragraph caught my eye:

Legacies can take endless forms — physical, political, literary, emotional. This time, we must commemorate our Civil War in all its meanings, but above all we must commemorate and understand emancipation as its most enduring challenge. This time, the fighting of the Civil War itself should not unite us in pathos and nostalgia alone; but maybe, just maybe, we will give ourselves the chance to find unity in a shared history of conflict, in a genuine sense of tragedy, and in a conflicted memory stared squarely in the face.

[Check out Blight’s Online Civil War/Reconstruction course at Yale.]

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9 comments… add one
  • Naim Peress Jun 3, 2009 @ 8:39

    I think Blight is absolutely right in seeing emancipation as the most enduring challenge of the war. The North and South fought over the results of emancipation for over a century.

    He is also right at emphasizing our common experiences. It is so easy for both sides to get caught up in the conflicting narratives and viewpoints. We were all Americans when we fought each other. It was an enormous human tragedy for so many individuals on both sides.

  • Sherree Tannen Jun 3, 2009 @ 8:15

    I have enjoyed David Blight’s lectures as well. It is a privilege to have access to lecture and research material of the quality of Blight’s course offered online, and also of the quality of many Civil War blogs. The doors to universities were closed to most everyone but those who entered the academic community as either students or faculty in the past. Now that is changing, and it is a good change. An educated electorate is an invaluable national resource.

  • Greg Rowe Jun 2, 2009 @ 18:27

    I really have enjoyed the Blight lectures I have seen and enjoyed his comments in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s “Finding Lincoln.”

  • Mike Jun 2, 2009 @ 11:10

    He is very well balanced and in depth as he is presenting a holistic panorama of Historical data and facts as it pertains to the Civil War.

  • Mike Jun 2, 2009 @ 10:59

    I have watched 3 class lectures so far and this guy is GOOD!

    • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2009 @ 11:03


      Glad to hear that you are enjoying the lectures. As far as I am concerned Blight is one of the brightest in the field. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from his scholarship.

  • Mike Jun 2, 2009 @ 6:24

    We are on 1/2 days for finals and I was going to run them threw my classroom media system. If I can’t finish them this week I will watch them on the Laptop this summer.

    Thanks for posting this Kevin.

  • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2009 @ 6:03


    The lectures are free. Just go to the left sidebar and click on “Class Sessions” or “Downloads” and you should be set. I haven’t listened to all of them, but what I have viewed is first rate. You are getting the entire lecture series from one of the preeminent historians in the field.

  • Mike Jun 2, 2009 @ 5:55

    “but maybe, just maybe, we will give ourselves the chance to find unity in a shared history of conflict, in a genuine sense of tragedy, and in a conflicted memory stared squarely in the face.” Boy I sure agree with the Dr. on that point.

    Kevin can anyone download that course and what if any cost is it for watching the videos?

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