Do We Need a Confederate Monuments Reader?

One of the projects that I have been contemplating is a Confederate Monuments reader based on my Confederate Monuments Syllabus page, which I have used over the past year to track a wide range of sources related to the ongoing debate. It was inspired by the Charleston Syllabus, another crowd sourcing project that ultimately resulted in a reader published by the University of Georgia Press.

This debate shows no signs of slowing down. My recent attendance at a history educators conference around the theme of “Myth, Memory, and Monuments,” demonstrated that teachers are in desperate need of reliable primary and secondary sources on this subject.

The only book on the horizon that remotely addresses this is a volume in the University of Georgia’s new “History in the Headlines” series, which is edited by Catherine Clinton and Jim Downs. The first volume in the series is Confederate Statues and Memorialization, edited and moderated by Catherine Clinton. The book will feature discussion with historians Karen Cox, Gary Gallagher, Nell Irvin Painter, and Fitz Brundage. It will certainly be a welcome volume, but it follows a different path compared to what I envision.

I envision a reader that tracks the evolution of Confederate monuments over three periods, including the immediate postwar period, the Jim Crow-era through the Civil Rights Movement, and finally the events that have led us to this most recent debate. One of the reasons why I favor a historical approach is that all too often the historical context provided concentrates solely on the Jim Crow-era, which misses the dedication of monuments both before and after this crucial period.

Each chapter will include the most insightful op-eds written over the past few years and excerpts from a select number of accessible books along with a wide range of primary sources, including dedication speeches, monument inscriptions, and photographs.

I believe that such a book will appeal to high school and college level teachers as well as general readers looking for both a reliable narrative explaining the history and memory of these monuments as well as access to the primary sources themselves. More importantly, I can see such a book as a valuable tool for the leaders in communities that are facing tough questions about their Confederate monuments.

Over the next few days I am going to flesh this out, but what do you think? I would love to hear your suggestions about what such a book should include, especially if you are a history teacher on the high school or college level.

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13 comments… add one
  • Bonnie Montgomery May 8, 2018 @ 12:22

    Have you read James W. Loewen’s book, “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong”? He crosses the whole country, noting the monuments that illustrate how wrongly our history has been memorialized. This book was my first introduction to the DAR practise of foisting Confederate bs monuments on a historically ignorant populace all over the U.S.

    • Kevin Levin May 8, 2018 @ 13:10

      Yes, I am familiar with it.

  • Rob Baker May 4, 2018 @ 6:43

    I would definitely be interested in a reader. As you are aware, I had my U.S. students dig into the Confederate Monument debate using the 60 minutes segment on NOLA and Richmond. It might have been the most engaging assignment students had this year; the feedback and critical responses to the questions were impressive. Granted, I had to provide some context using other resources, such as a VOX video on the Lost Cause which featured you. To have a rich resource such as a reader would give me another tool in the arsenal to teach the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights in a more engaging way as well as make those real world connections.

  • Reader May 3, 2018 @ 6:33

    It would be interesting to see the evolution of Virginia’s current war memorial law from its origin in 1904 as a protection for Confederate monuments at county seats.

  • EJ May 3, 2018 @ 5:53


    I am a high school history teacher and for the past few years I have been teaching (and thoroughly studying) the Civil War era. While my students do tend to be quite interested in the subject, the topic that stirs the most debate in class is the monument issue. For the most part I only get to discuss this topic on a more “current events” level, and a reader like you are describing would go a long way in helping put the issue in a deeper historical context that would allow more elaboration on the part of the teacher in a setting more aligned with the study of history. I think it is a fantastic idea and will be on the lookout for any progress on the project.

    Side note: I am also looking forward to your upcoming book on black Confederate soldiers. Along with Bruce Levine’s book, hopefully it will be the final nail in the coffin of this wildly persistent myth.


    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2018 @ 6:00

      Hi EJ,

      This is exactly what I need to hear. What I have in mind would allow you to dig much deeper into the historical context. I have already heard back from a publisher and am working on a book proposal. Stay tuned. Thanks again.

  • Ken Burchell May 2, 2018 @ 16:26

    There is need for it. This debate/movement isn’t going away any time soon and it needs accurate, accessible context.

  • Shoshana Bee May 2, 2018 @ 15:28

    My opinion only: as a person who knew nothing about monuments, their true intention, and their legacy, I found that Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (New Perspectives on the History of the South) by Professor Karen Cox covers this topic splendidly. I am not sure if this book is part of any curriculum, but if teachers are interested in this topic, this is the go-to book. It is my hope that Professor Cox will do a follow up to it that reflects the most modern issues that have unfolded over the last year.

    • Kevin Levin May 2, 2018 @ 15:39

      It’s an excellent book. What I have outlined is, of course, a very different kind of book. Thanks for the comment.

  • Mike Furlan May 2, 2018 @ 14:20

    One day we can hope to call that book “Empty Plinths across the South.”

    • Kevin Levin May 2, 2018 @ 14:23

      OK, but that’s not very helpful. 🙂

    • CliosFanBoy ne woodrowfan May 9, 2018 @ 5:14

      They need not be empty. They can be filled with new statues of the white Unionists and USCTs from the local area.

    • Ken Burchell May 9, 2018 @ 7:31

      Right on the mark, Mr. Furlan.

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