Virginia Historical Society Interprets the Civil War’s Aftermath

If I were heading back into the classroom to teach my course on the Civil War and historical memory I would begin by showing this video from the Virginia Historical Society’s exhibit, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia.  If you haven’t seen it you are missing one of the more innovative exhibits to emerge early on for the Civil War 150th.  The choice of Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation of the “Star Spangled Banner” is the perfect accompaniment for this collage of images that covers both the short- and long-term consequences of the Civil War.

Teachers can use this video to explore how images, text, and music come together to form a historical narrative.  Encourage students to critique the video by pointing out strengths and weaknesses.  Which images are out of place or missing?  What other musical choices could be utilized as well as choice of text?

What do you think of this video?

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15 comments… add one
  • Will Hickox Aug 24, 2011 @ 4:03

    Some of the images seem out of place. What does the moon landing have to do with the Civil War in Virginia or any other state?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2011 @ 4:10

      I guess that is where interpretation comes in. 🙂

      • Keith Muchowski Aug 24, 2011 @ 8:12

        Wow. What a video.

        The moon landing resonated with Americans North and South for several reasons. First, the Space Race was part of the Cold War. Americans were very afraid after the 1957 Soviet launching of Sputnik that the U.S. was falling behind. The moon landing also resonated because it took place in the tumult of the late 1960s. MLK Jr’s assassination, with the rioting immediately afterward, had only taken place the year before. Also, Cape Kennedy and the Johnson Space Center are located in Florida and Texas, two former Confederate states that were transforming into the Sunbelt when NASA was created. This would not have been lost on the people of the time.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2011 @ 9:26

          It looks like what they tried to accomplish was point to the kinds of conflict and tension that resulted from the war, but within a narrative of the gradual expansion of freedom. The choice of Hendrix suggests such a reading as well.

    • Rob Baker Aug 24, 2011 @ 4:14

      One of truly terrific things about that open ended interpretation. Connecting links. Some may be irrelevant to others, non-existant to others but it is all about the interpretation. After reading your statement my guess would be something to do with connecting events in American history that are immortalized or nearly a thing of legend.

      • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2011 @ 4:30

        The moon landing is an obvious symbol of nationalism or an accomplishment that the entire nation can take pride in.

  • JMRudy Aug 23, 2011 @ 19:56

    Thank You for finding this video, Kevin! This is the mystery video which was playing in an out-of-the-way tent outside the Historymobile at Manassas (and which I was told by the staff was not available online)…

    Such a powerful piece of historical interpretation. It brings tears to the eyes… A far better bookend, with far more conflict and open-endedness than the video they actually chose to end the exhibit.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2011 @ 2:22

      The video was just uploaded yesterday.

  • Ray O'Hara Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:43

    A good idea and anything that gets kids to watch is good
    Billy Joel’s ‘We didn’t start the fire” and video is good too.

    A kid I know said her HS teacher used it.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 23, 2011 @ 15:56

      It definitely has a Billy Joel quality to it.

      • Ray O'Hara Aug 24, 2011 @ 12:34

        Billy Joel and quality don’t belong in the same sentence.
        but it has a lot of historical references presented in the collage/short attention span style kids these days relate to.

    • Rob Baker Aug 23, 2011 @ 16:11

      Thanks Kevin, I just added it to a Unit Plan. Also, Ray is definitely right about Billy Joel. Especially with any connection to the Cold War.

      • Kevin Levin Aug 23, 2011 @ 16:21

        Glad to hear it, Rob. Make sure you have your students analyze the debate that surrounds Hendrix’s version of the SSB. It adds an additional layer to the analysis of the interpretation. Man, I am so jealous. 🙂

        • Rob Baker Aug 23, 2011 @ 16:30

          Definitely, I’ll let you know how it goes. I am also having them watch certain parts of “Birth of a Nation.” For interpretation, when we get into the 20th century. It’s usually interesting to see the reaction before the interpretation begins.

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