Calling All American History Teachers

I know it’s only January, but I know some of you out there are already thinking about professional development workshops for this coming summer.  I strongly encourage you to consider the Civil War Trust’s (formerly known as the Civil War Preservation Trust) annual Teachers Institute.  This year the gathering will take place in Nashville, Tennessee from July 14-17.  I attended and thoroughly enjoyed last year’s meeting in Hagerstown, Maryland, where I took part in a roundtable discussion on how to use social media in the classroom.

I will be leading two sessions this year.  The first one will be made available to all participants, though it will cost a bit extra.  The title of the talk is, “Cutting and Pasting Black Confederates On the Internet and In Our Classrooms”.  We are going to discuss the textbook debacle here in Virginia, but my overall goal is to use this incident as a case study for how to both search and assess Online information.  Participants will have the opportunity to evaluate some of the most popular black Confederate websites currently available.  Instructors need to be committed to teaching their students how to intelligently access digital information; unfortunately, this has been almost entirely ignored by the media and other commentators in the wake of this scandal.  [Tomorrow the New York Times will publish my Op-ed piece on just this issue on their Disunion blog.  I will post the text and a link when it becomes available.]

The second session is titled, “Separating Fact From Fiction: Teaching Glory”.  I love showing this movie to my students, but all too often teachers fail to introduce it as a popular interpretation of the 54th Massachusetts and the experiences of black Civil War soldiers.  While the movie does function as a useful entry point to numerous issues concerning slavery and race there are factual and interpretive problems.  More importantly, however, the script offers a highly selective understanding of the unit’s importance to the Civil War that, in the end, may more closely reflect our collective need for a certain view of the legacy of the Civil War.  I explored this in a previous post on the movie and how I use it in the classroom.  Participants will discuss the roles of individual characters and we will examine specific scenes from the movie.  I also plan on distributing a collection of primary sources that challenge some of the interpretive decisions made in the movie and that can hopefully be used in the classroom.

I am looking forward to this trip.  I’ve only been to Nashville once and I have never had the opportunity to explore the many Civil War sites in the area.  Information about individuals sessions and presenters will be added in the near future so check back.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

6 comments… add one
  • Nicole Osier Jan 28, 2011 @ 6:40

    Hi Kevin,

    Thank you for this post, we really appreciate it! I wanted to let your readers know that the Teacher Institute registration is now live at Also, we are hosting a small professional development this March in partnership with the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. During the event we will release our new Civil War Curriculum and kick-off the 150th Anniversary. Teachers can learn more and register at

    Thank you again for all of your support,

  • Sherree Jan 21, 2011 @ 6:58

    You’re welcome, Kevin. Thank you. It looks like it is going to be a very good year. Congratulations on the NYT piece and your Crater ms.

  • Sherree Jan 21, 2011 @ 6:52

    Thanks for the link, Kevin. I probably got the idea to watch the movie from your blog, and just didn’t remember.

    In the post, referring to the final scene, you said the following:

    “The scene is punctuated by Holt taking control of his horse and doffing his hat. No doubt, I am making too much of it, but it reminds me of some of the most popular images of Civil War generals. At that moment Holt embodies the glory that has traditionally been attached to these men.”

    I don’t think you are making too much of this gesture, and I agree with you. I would add that in tipping his hat to Sue Lee, Holt also redefines the concept of honor. That is, Holt honors Sue Lee’s growth that was brought about by her interaction with Holt himself. At the beginning of the movie, Sue Lee sees Holt as a white southerner brought up in a slave society would see a black man–as a slave. By the end of the movie, she sees Holt as he is–a man. Such a brilliant scene.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2011 @ 6:53

      Now that is an excellent point and one that I completely missed. Thanks, Sherree.

  • Sherree Jan 21, 2011 @ 6:06

    Good luck with this, Kevin. I am sure you will do a tremendous job. I just reread your post on “Glory” and it is excellent, as is your work on the “Black Confederate” issue.

    I recently watched “Ride With the Devil” and found it to be a compelling movie. I am not certain of the historical accuracy, however.

    I am waiting for your post on the Huck Finn issue, if you decide to address it. Perhaps your father will join in the discussion. I found his comments to be concise, to the point, and full of humor–all qualities I personally admire.

    I am still trying to figure out what it means when one generally does not identify with either side of an issue, as Arleigh astutely pointed out in one discussion. I don’t want to dwell too long on this, though, or else Brooks Simpson might bring in the drill sergeant therapist and I will have to abandon my Hamlet like stance. Regards to you and your readers.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 21, 2011 @ 6:15

      Hi Sherree,

      Thanks for the kind words. I absolutely love working with my fellow teachers. My goal with these workshops is to introduce teachers not just to content that they can use in their classrooms, but to historical analysis as well. I’ve avoided the Huck Finn controversy because it’s nothing new. I’m not sure I can add anything to this discussion that has not already been said.

      Ride With the Devil is a wonderful film and one that I’ve used in my class on Civil War Memory. Here is an old post on the film:

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