Discussing Confederate Iconography at Annual Meeting of AASLH

Although it was organized last minute, I thought some of you would like to know that I will be co-moderating a discussion on the ongoing controversy surrounding Confederate iconography at the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Louisville, Kentucky next month. The other moderator for this discussion will be Bob Beatty, who is the chief operating officer for the AASLH. A few years ago I took part in an AASLH roundtable discussion on the Civil War sesquicentennial and had a wonderful time.

The discussion will be geared specifically for historical organizations that are looking for ways to address these issues in their own communities, including the display of the Confederate flag and presence of Civil War monuments. I envision this as an opportunity for public historians of various stripes to share what they perceive to be the challenges in their respective communities as well as strategies to help move forward. You certainly do not have to live in a community that is currently working through these tough questions. Anyone interested in questions about how communities collectively remember their pasts should consider attending.

As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about this issue all summer and while I admittedly still have more questions than answers, it should be a spirited and hopefully helpful session. Since this is a last minute addition to the conference schedule we don’t as of yet have a time or room, but we are shooting for Friday, September 18.

I arrive late afternoon on Wednesday and will be in town until early Friday evening. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to network over drinks and/or good food. See you in Louisville.

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14 comments… add one
  • Rob Baker Aug 31, 2015 @ 15:35


    Do you have any idea if the discussion will be filmed?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 31, 2015 @ 15:36

      No idea. Will ask.

      • Rob Baker Aug 31, 2015 @ 15:39

        Good deal. As you know, I’ve got an on going project with the display and perception of the Confederate Battle Flag. I would definitely like to see discussion. Having been to academic conferences, I realize that isn’t always possible if one is not in attendance.

  • Craig L. Aug 29, 2015 @ 13:30

    Actually I think Koerner would have first met Mary Todd at Transylvania University in Lexington rather than Louisville, probably in about 1836. Koerner, at age 27, was brushing up on American law and doing some teaching or tutoring. Mary Todd was eighteen, studying French and literature in her home town as part of her finishing school studies.

  • Craig L. Aug 29, 2015 @ 10:20

    I think it’s difficult to appreciate who August Willich was without taking Gustav Koerner into account. Koerner’s memoir is now easily accessible online. Run a Google search on Gustav Koerner and you’ll see several links to the complete text of his still unpublished memoir, written for his descendants around 1890 in the last years of his life. He was run out of Europe for participation in a student movement nearly twenty years prior to the 1848 Revolution and resettled in Belleville, Illinois, across the Mississippi from St. Louis in 1832. By 1856, when most of the ’48ers were still retooling for new lives in America, he was already Lieutenant Governor of Illinois and in 1860 he was president of the Republican Party convention that nominated Lincoln as its candidate. I believe Louisville played a key role in the resumption of his legal career in America and I’m fairly certain that’s where he first made the acquaintance of the future first lady, Mary Todd, substantially before she took on the challenge of managing the career of Abraham Lincoln.

  • Andrew Raker Aug 25, 2015 @ 10:14

    I hope you’re planning on checking out while you’re out here, if you get the chance, the new-ish interpretive park that the University of Louisville built next to the city-owned Confederate Monument, as well as the 32nd Indiana Monument (either the original at the Frazier History Museum or the replica at Cave Hill National Cemetery, where it stood from 1867-2010), the oldest extant Civil War monument, which, of course, is in German.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2015 @ 10:59

      Thanks for the recommendations, Andrews.

      • Pat Young Aug 25, 2015 @ 13:49

        32nd was commanded by the German communist August Willich, a rival Karl Marx.

      • Andrew Raker Aug 27, 2015 @ 14:21

        You are most welcome, Kevin. I also remembered an exhibit at my county’s history museum (just across the river) about Lucy Higgs Nichols (http://www.carnegiecenter.org/exhibit_lucy.html) who happened upon a unit from our county when she escaped from her plantation in West Tennessee in 1862, and served with them through to the Grand Review in DC. Besides being an amazing woman, the exhibit, along with one on the Underground Railroad, shows how a small county museum can be on the cutting edge of public history.

        I did not know the story of August Willich until you inspired me to look him up, Pat. As a descendant of various Germans who fled in 1848 and ended up in the Ohio Valley, I’m not surprised by his political leanings.

  • M.D. Blough Aug 25, 2015 @ 4:04

    Kevin-Congratulations at being chosen. I’m pleased that the topic was added. I think it has the potential to be extremely useful in finding ways to deal with this issue constructively. One concern that I’ve had for a while is that I don’t want the removal of Confederate iconography to become a (comparatively) easy “fix” without addressing what these monuments, etc. represent, both when they were erected and over the years since.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2015 @ 4:15

      Hi Margaret,

      One concern that I’ve had for a while is that I don’t want the removal of Confederate iconography to become a (comparatively) easy “fix” without addressing what these monuments, etc. represent, both when they were erected and over the years since.

      I agree completely. In fact, I think it is presumptuous to go into this discussion believing that it is a museum’s job to fix anything. For communities that are dealing with this issue the approach should be to encourage dialog through a careful look at some of the points you raised. More specifically, historical organizations need to find ways to help school communities which are now facing questions about students bringing Confederate flags to school on their vehicles or wearing clothing bearing the symbol. From what I’ve seen schools are making decisions one way or the other, but there is no evidence that they are educating students about what is at stake.

      In the next week or so I am going to write a post that outlines some of the questions I hope to raise in this session.

      • M.D. Blough Aug 25, 2015 @ 8:37

        “In the next week or so I am going to write a post that outlines some of the questions I hope to raise in this session.” I’m looking forward to that. Now that it’s opened up, I think it’s important to keep the dialogue going in constructive directions and use it to educate.

      • Bob Beatty Aug 27, 2015 @ 11:27

        I hope we’ll think about the subject very broadly and beyond just the bounds of museums but of history organizations of all shapes and sizes. I would agree it’s not a museum’s job, per se, to fix anything, but these organizations are a powerful, on the ground force to put monuments and other items in context. As someone much wiser than I once told me as we planned for Civil War 150, “Commemorations are more about the people commemorating than the past.” It is certainly true about iconography.

        Looking forward to having you participate Kevin. Thanks for keeping the discussion at the forefront.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 27, 2015 @ 11:39

          I agree completely, Bob. This promised to be an enlightening discussion for everyone involved.

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