Civil War Institute, 2014

Back in Boston after 5 days at Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute. I am exhausted and recharged. All of my presentations went well and I heard some wonderful talks, a few of which you can find on C-SPAN 3. Here are just a couple brief observations about the conference, which focused on the war in 1864.

There were over 400 people in attendance of which around 250 were new attendees. That’s incredible. It bodes well for the future of the institute and from what I can tell many of these new attendees were relatively young.

What I was most pleased to see was a number of talks that stretched our understanding of the war in 1864. No one better exemplified this than Ari Kelman, who talked about the massacre of Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek in 1864. Rather than view the war as a question of emancipation and freedom Kelman encouraged the audience to consider the conflict as part of a broader war of empire – a continuation of the process of westward expansion.  Crystal Feimster took as her case study the rape of black laundresses by Union officers at Fort Jackson in Louisiana as part of a broader interpretation of a mutiny by black soldiers that took place in 1864. Feimster also noted that this was the first time that black women were able to use a court to address their grievances. Finally, Antwain Hunter explored the threat that armed blacks posed in the Confederate South.

I applaud Peter Carmichael and the rest of the staff for bringing in speakers who push audiences to think anew and challenge old assumptions. There is already talk that in 2016 CWI will focus on Reconstruction. That is certainly good news. The big challenge will be in figuring out what sites to tour since a big part of the conference is on-site education.

Next year the Institute will focus on the final year of the war [registrations form] and to do this participants will spend two days in Petersburg. At this point I will not be joining the faculty, but I certainly will be doing whatever I can to promote the important work of CWI.

With that I want to thank Pete and the rest of the CWI staff for including me on the faculty for the past three years. It has been an incredible experience and a true honor to be included among such fine historians and educators. I can’t think of another place that I would rather be during the third week of June.

Finally, a quick shout out to the Dreamweavers. You guys rock.

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7 comments… add one
  • Christopher Shelley Jun 26, 2014 @ 7:08

    I very much enjoyed Ari Kelman’s lecture, and I had no objection to its place among these CW lectures, but I don’t agree with his thesis that Sand Creek fits into a larger CW narrative as “war for empire.” If anything, I think Elliot West’s notion is a better framework (although it too is problematic). Prof. West fits the Nez Perce War of 1877 (and, by extension, the Indian wars in general) into Reconstruction–that the United States had to reconstruct both the South and the West into its new Republican/capitalist vision of itself. I think both theses are a stretch–I think the subdual of the West is its own deal, and is better understood as an extension of the Gilded Age–but between the two (Kelman and West) the Reconstruction model is a better fit.

    Prof. West also points out in his excellent book _Contested Plains_ that the encampment at Sand Creek was “ethnically sloppy”–that it was not just Arapaho and Cheyenne, but many so-called “half-breeds,” like William Bent’s sons and grandchildren, who were all living as Cheyenne. West hints that this helped make Sand Creek a target (as opposed to the Dog Soldiers, who were encamped just a few miles east of Sand Creek), although this is rather speculative.

  • Christopher Shelley Jun 26, 2014 @ 6:47

    Kevin, I must say I was bummed that you didn’t get a “CSPAN” moment, like Brooks and Peter Carmichael. I’ve only been reading this blog for a few months, but I already know I want to hear your Crater lecture.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 26, 2014 @ 7:39

      I appreciate that, but I’ve had a couple of CSPAN moments through CWI. Emmanuel did a good job with his talk and I am thrilled that he will reach many more people through CSPAN. He definitely deserves the exposure.

  • stampdxer Jun 26, 2014 @ 4:54

    Brooks Simpson gave excellent talk on grant in 1864. The bigger picture.

    As an aside , Foner is hosting a MOOC this fall ..

    >>>One theme throughout the series is what might be called the politics of history — how the world in which a historian lives affects his or her view of the past, and how historical interpretations reinforce or challenge the social order of the present.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 26, 2014 @ 6:06

      Brooks is one solid historian.

  • Pete Carmichael Jun 25, 2014 @ 11:15

    Kevin: you are a very important part of what we do at CWI. Your presentations, the break out sessions that you lead, and your work with the high school scholarship students is always well received. In 2016 we will explore the legacy of the war as you noted, concentrating on Emancipation and Reconstruction. Eager to see your ideas about issues deserving of our attention.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 25, 2014 @ 11:34

      Thanks, Pete. I appreciate the kind words.

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