Teaching Civil War Memory

n1572390066_30165736_1118Today is the first day of the new trimester and I am once again teaching a course on Civil War Memory.  I have two sections with a total of 12 students.  Hopefully, the small sections will make for even more interesting discussions.  This is a reference sheet that I put together for one of my Teaching American History talks from a few months back.  It includes a few of the scholarly materials that I’ve utilized as well as some ideas for the classroom.  Let me know if you try out any of my proposed classroom projects and please feel free to share what you do in your own courses. 


David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
Thomas J. Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration (New York: Bedford-St.Martin’s, 2004). [I use this in my own course.  It includes a nice selection of primary sources as well as concise introductions to various themes in the field.  Contact publisher for a review copy: (http://www.bedfordstmartins.com/newcatalog.aspx?isbn=0312397917).
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).
Robert J. Cook, Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007).
David Goldfield, Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002).
Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished War (New York: Pantheon, 1998).
Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Nineteenth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

Other Publications

I highly recommend three recent issues [Jan. 2009, Oct. 2007, and Jan. 2007] of the Magazine of History that focus on Lincoln, one of which is devoted to Lincoln’s legacy: (http://www.oah.org/pubs/magazine/)  I also recommend getting a subscription to this publication.


Civil War Memory (www.cwmemory.com): Here you will find much more information on the various topics touched on in my presentation.  You can search by category, which includes one for “teaching” as well as my “Civil War Memory Course.”  Feel free to use some of my ideas and I encourage you to take part in the discussion.

Dixie Outfitters (http://dixieoutfitters.com/): Here you will find a treasure trove of clothing and other items that use the Lost Cause as well as other enduring Southern themes as part of their image.  I used this site to teach the Lost Cause: (http://dixieoutfitters.com/p/southern-history).

Civil War Art Essay by Jonah Begone (http://wesclark.com/jw/cw_art.html): Jonah’s essay includes a nice sample of Civil War art.  It is very useful as a way to continue to think about the Civil War in popular culture.  Some of his captions are quite funny.

Civil War Artists: John Paul Strain (http://johnpaulstrain.com), Mort Kunstler (http://www.mkunstler.com/core.htm), Don Troiani (http://www.historicalartprints.com/), Dale Gallon (http://www.gallon.com/)

Civil War Videos: Check out my own YouTube page for a number of useful videos that can be used in the classroom.  Not all of them are suitable for viewing, but they are all worth considering. (http://www.youtube.com/kevlvn)

There are quite a number of sites on Lincoln.  Start with Gilder-Lehrman: (http://www.gilderlehrman.org/institute/lincoln.html); History Now Issue on Lincoln (http://www.historynow.org/12_2008/index.html); the recent PBS documentary, “Looking for Lincoln” is available online and perfect for classroom use: (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/lookingforlincoln/)

Civil War Statues: Confederate Monument at Arlington (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/csa-mem.htm), R.G. Shaw/54th Massachusetts Memorial (http://www.nga.gov/feature/shaw/home.shtm), Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond (http://www.hollywoodcemetery.org/), African American Civil War Memorial, Washington, D.C. (http://www.afroamcivilwar.org/),

Suggestions for the Classroom

Commemorative Speech: Have students write their own commemorative speech.  The assignment will involve choosing a place as well as a theme.  Have your students look for photographs and other images for a visual backdrop to the speech. (PowerPoint Presentation)

Poem: Students can choose a topic and write a poem.  This can be theme-based or focused on a specific monument, individual or event.  The student should be asked to explain both the poem’s content and meaning.

Design your own Monument: Have your students design and build their own Civil War-related monument.  They can use any number of mediums depending on what is available in your classroom or at home.

Civil War News: I make it a point to check Google News on a daily basis.  Do a keyword search for “confederate”, “American Civil War”, “Robert E. Lee”, etc. and you will likely come across some piece of controversy related to our memory of the war.  Recent news items include the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, court cases involving public schools and the Confederate flag, and the changing of the names of school buildings and other structures.  They make for lively class discussions.

Video: A number of my students are currently making videos that explore Civil War music and imagery.  Students can also film local monuments and interview willing participants about their own perceptions of these sites.

Websites: Students can examine various Civil War related websites like Dixie Outfitters, Museum of the Confederacy (http://www.moc.org) American Civil War Museum at Tredegar (http://www.tredegar.org) as well as the Sons of Confederate Veterans (http://www.scv.org/) for their interpretation of memory and the Civil War.

Local Monuments: Send students out to analyze any local Civil War monuments that may be in your community.  It’s a great way to connect course content with the local community.  I recently took my students on a day-long trip to Monument Avenue and Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.  Consider the following questions pulled from a student field trip handout:

Think about the following questions in reference to all of the monuments you see today, but take the time to respond specifically to one of the sites along Monument Avenue, the Lincoln-Tad statue at Tredegar, and one of the graves or commemorative sites at Hollywood Cemetery.

  1. What do you see?  Describe the details of the monument.  What features are emphasized and in some cases exaggerated?
  2. Is the monument effective and, if so, how?  Name the statue.
  3. What do you feel?  If you have trouble feeling anything, imagine the intent of the sculptor and/or how someone may have felt when the statue was unveiled.
  4. Does the statue do justice to the individual/people it honors/remembers?
  5. Consider its location.  How does the statue reflect the values of the people who live in its immediate vicinity and those who organized and dedicated it?
  6. Imagine yourself as a visitor to Richmond for the first time.  If you were to tour these sites what would you learn about the Civil War and what lessons would you take away with you?  Whose history would you have been exposed to?
  7. Do you identify in any way with the statue or site?  If so, how?
  8. If you could add one monument to Richmond’s Civil War landscape what would it be and why?
  9. The Big Question: What did you learn today?  Help me out here as I am very interested in your thoughts.

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13 comments… add one
  • Denise Spivey Oct 26, 2014 @ 4:52

    Thanks so much for this excellent guidance. I’ll definitely be using it in my classroom.

  • Ed Dec 2, 2009 @ 19:44


    If you ever have a chance take a look at the book “The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation: The Decade of the 1890's and the Establishment of America's First Five Military Parks.” It has some very good information about how the veterans wanted those parks to be interpreted for future generations.


    • Kevin Levin Dec 2, 2009 @ 20:29

      It' an excellent book and one that I've used extensively in my own research.

  • toby Dec 1, 2009 @ 3:21

    Wonderful resources.. thanks. The only one of them I have read is Blight.

    What do you think of C. Vann Woodward's “The Burden of Southern History”? I read it a few years ago … my memory of it is sketchy, but as it is here somewhere on my shelves, your list makes me feel like reading it again.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 1, 2009 @ 5:43

      That book is always worth picking up. Over the years I've read most of the essays in that book. Does anyone know more about the history/culture/memory of the South than Woodward?

  • Jared Frederick Nov 30, 2009 @ 21:35

    Looks like a great course! I wish you could come to my campus next semester to teach it!

  • davidsilkenat Nov 30, 2009 @ 15:29

    This is nitpicking, but the title of Brundage's book is The Southern Past, not Southern Pasts.

    Otherwise, this looks like an excellent resource.

  • dylan_h Nov 30, 2009 @ 14:29

    Kevin – As a recent graduate of history who is very interested in Civil War myth and memory, I'd like to thank you for posting these excellent resources. I'm very glad your students have a teacher who chooses to really engage them in these ideas, and who challenges them to explore and express their own thoughts. While I realize it's impossible to include everything in one syllabus, have you considered assigning any of Tim Smith's works regarding the creation of the first battlefield parks? Thanks again for your informative post! -Dylan

    • Kevin Levin Nov 30, 2009 @ 14:53

      Thanks for the feedback. Tim Smith's work on the first battlefield parks has been incredibly helpful in my own research on Petersburg, but I haven't really spent much time on this particular issue in class.

  • msimons Nov 30, 2009 @ 12:44

    Looks like your ready to go.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 30, 2009 @ 12:51

      I would say so. Excellent first day. Started off with some basic questions:

      1. Why do we have a need to remember our collective past?
      2. How do we remember/commemorate our collective past?

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