Black Confederates in the Journal of the Civil War Era

Looks like the latest issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era is being mailed to subscribers. The Professional Notes section features my essay, “Black Confederates Out of the Attic and Into the Mainstream,” which briefly explores the evolution of the myth, its diffusion on the Internet, and why academic and public historians ought to care. Even if is the case that the number of news stories has peaked it is still out there on hundreds, if not thousands, of websites waiting for the next poorly conducted search.

Thanks to Aaron Sheehan-Dean for the invitation to contribute to the journal. I am thrilled to finally see it in print. Those of you with access to Project Muse can read it online.

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

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7 comments… add one
  • Dan Weinfeld Nov 11, 2014 @ 9:52

    Nice essay. One would hope that your solution (teaching students to critically analyze sources) is a standard part of the jr/high school curriculum. I would assume, for example, that high school English teachers introduce the concept of the “unreliable narrator” in literature. But as the spread of the BCM demonstrates, skepticism toward sources isn’t sinking in. Maybe schools need to add a “how to use the internet” curriculum expanding on your suggestion. It’s also interesting that despite your appeal to “professional historians,” you demonstrate that the heavy and effective lifting in battling the BCM is done by bloggers (e.g., Andy) correcting other bloggers. What do you think of the Gallagher/Meier essay? Do you see parallels between academic historians’ failure to get involved in issues like the BCM and the academic resistance toward military history as described by Gallagher/Meier?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 11, 2014 @ 11:20

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for the comment. I would like to believe that digital media literacy is now being emphasized, but I have my doubts. One of the reasons that I wanted to see this essay in the JCWE is because I do believe the college history professors have a role to play in educating students on how to responsibly use the Internet for their classes and beyond.

      I don’t see much of a connection with the Gallagher/Meier essay. The resistance that I’ve heard personally from academics is that the BCM is not something that need be taken seriously. It’s not a debate that falls within the purview of historiography, but one that lives outside academe so why bother. As I point out in the essay I believe there are larger issues at stake.

    • Pat Young Nov 11, 2014 @ 14:09

      Don’t be too optimistic. Most kids go to non-elite schools. My gf is a librarian at a large NYC high school. When she helps students with their essays and asks them what the source of a paragraph is, they are likely to answer “Google”.

  • Gdbrasher Nov 10, 2014 @ 15:43

    Nice work, Kevin. (And thanks for the shout-out in footnote #12). I especially like how you turned it into a broader (and ultimately more important) discussion about the role of historians in the internet age.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 10, 2014 @ 16:07

      Thanks, Glenn. I hope the essay helps to point out where we as historians and educators need to be focusing our attention as the study of history moves further into the digital age.

  • Andy Hall Nov 10, 2014 @ 14:37


    • Kevin Levin Nov 10, 2014 @ 14:49

      Thanks, Andy. It includes a couple of references to Dead Confederates.

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