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stancoc said in January 26th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Beginning a syllabus with a opinionated quote is not the best way to start a syllabus. At the start of a course, students may not have enough background information to form their own opinions or to recognize the bias in a quote. However, once a student has adequate background information here is nothing wrong with choosing a side and defending it. History is more than just mere facts, and debate is an important part of its study.

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J. Hirsch said in January 26th, 2010 at 10:37 pm

The challenge of education is being objective and fair. Even though being completely unbiased is impossible, it is not our place to judge the past with the norms of the present. By presenting Frederick Douglass’ quote without a rebuttal, it violates this objectivity. Presenting one side gives off the false notion that everyone involved in this time period shared Douglass’ views. I obviously agree with Douglass in the sense that slavery is evil and that all humans should been treated with respect and civility. However, I am being educated in a time period where human rights are emphasized much more than they were during the 1800’s. While it is hard to defend something so inhumane as slavery, it is also hard to judge a society without even seeing their side or hearing their story. Slavery was integral to the South’s economy, and in an objective academic class we cannot assume that everyone shared the views of Douglass. Two-hundred years from now historians will be able to highlight many faults of our present-day society. However, if no one from our society is presented to defend what was occurring, it is a biased and unreliable account.
I have never had a class that has dealt with this issue, but one of the main points I got out of History 204 was to be as objective as possible. I agree with the Faragher quote, and think that as students of history, it is important to understand both sides of an argument. For example, even if I think that one argument makes a lot more sense than the other argument, it does not mean that one is “right” and one is “wrong.” Many times this concept is hard to comprehend because people tend to see their way as the right way. Just because your view makes sense to you does not mean it makes sense to everyone else. Your view may be seen as outlandish to the opposing party. It is bias to vilify people without presenting their view of the issue and without allowing them to defend their beliefs.

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skessler said in January 27th, 2010 at 11:49 am

I think by starting the course with a quote like this we as students could react two ways: either automatically take the side Douglass, or be sparked by the underlying conflict of those words. In my previous history classes we were always challenged by both viewpoints in order to make our own moral judgement about conflicts. This quote could be seen as controversial because of its ovbious bias, but should also spark an interest in us to explore the details which this quote simplifies and make our minds up for ourselves.

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JTF said in January 27th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I believe that people may react differently to this quote by Douglas. It depends on where they are form first North or South and how they feel about the war in general and what they were taught. Personally I believe that Douglas is only speaking as a former slave and not a normal civilian. This is because the South saw themselves following the Founding Fathers and fighting for their Independence from the Federal Government. They believed they were being invaded and it was their right to defend themselves and try to free themselves. So technically both sides saw they themselves as trying to save the Republic and fight for liberty. The South didn’t see themselves as fighting for slavery, they saw freedom. Douglas believes otherwise and that’s why he states that in his quote. I believe that we as students must decide for ourselves what the Civil War was really about.

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Nathan Hale said in January 27th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Douglass’s quote is heavily biased, immediately placing blame on the Confederacy. Being an advocate for the abolishment of slavery, Douglass would obviously construe the basis of the Civil War as slavery, just as figures today focus on one aspect that supports their cause while ignoring other relevant facts. While the quote holds bias, it is not necessarily a bad one to start with because it incites such controversy. Being a student of history, I am instantly intrigued to dig deeper. Knowing already that the waning political power the South possessed compared to the rapidly increasing power of the North was a large factor leading to secession, I can rule out the assertion that the American Civil War was clear cut between liberty and slavery. On a final note, because I am beginning to think this sounds more like a rant than a response, I feel that this quote puts what many high school history classes teach in a nutshell, that being the South supported slavery and was wrong and the North was against slavery ans was right. Thought provoking way to start off what looks to be an interesting semester.

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jacobsca said in January 27th, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I think starting the syllabus with such a powerful and one sided quote is a good thing. Because it demonstrates how emotional people were during and after the Civil War. And it shows that mistakes can be fixed but never forgotten. Also for those who take offense for not starting the class of objectively the quote will spark these students to think critically and argue that history classes must remain objective. But I think it is close to impossible to stay completely objective while teaching especially with topics like slavery because it was immoral and a disgusting business which should invoke emotion from all who study it. I completely agree with starting the class off with the quote from the Lion of Anacostia

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chobanim said in January 27th, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Beginning the Civil War Era history course with such a bias quote is dangerous. If students fail to understand the quote’s context and the quoted person’s background information, they acquire an incomplete and partisan perspective of the disputes of the Civil War. However, by discussing and further exploring the quote, as we are so doing, students gain a more thorough understanding of the arguments the American people experienced during the Civil War era. What did each side believe and why? Why did someone like Frederick Douglass, or even someone who was not a former slave, perceive the war, and the South, in such a way? How did the two opposing sides perceive each other’s objectives? In accordance to Faragher’s statement, written history is ultimately a variety of different perspectives on the same historical facts. As I learned in History 204, each historian collects and arranges the facts in a dissimilar way, therefore one is reading a historian’s own personal interpretation of the facts. Furthermore, although the goal in historical writing is to achieve objectivity, subjectivity is inevitable. So, although it may seem unwise to begin a class with a quote from one side of the argument, by examining its meaning, context, and background, it is safe to say it effectively introduces the controversies regarding the Civil War in a throught-provoking way. Also, the use of Douglass’s quote gives the students an immediate and initial understanding of where the professor’s opinion lies since it was he or she who chose the quote and to print it on the syllabus.

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pg said in January 27th, 2010 at 6:40 pm

One of the central tasks of the historian is to decipher the inherently partial accounts of the past, and produce a record that does not favor any side in its retelling of those bygone events. That said, however, I take no issue with the use of biased sources in providing context for learning to take place. The quotation above grants us, as students, access into the sentiment shared by many Americans post-Civil War. It does not seek to formulate our opinions about this time period for us. As learners we must be wise enough to garner the knowledge about the events that took place before the quotation and learn how they inspired it. It is my assumption that this learning is exactly what is going to take place over the course of this semester in our history class.

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KTC said in January 27th, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I disagree with Faragher that history is ultimately a moral art. Being moral to one can be immoral to the others. We can argue that the A-bottom massacred Hiroshima, but at the same time we can say it saved thousands of American soldiers. History class should pursue a relative objectiveness rather than preaching an opinionated morality. This quote on the syllabus is meaningless to history students if it solely meant to make students take pity on Douglass and condemn slavery. However, the quote is useful if it meant to reveal the hidden controversy of the story. Since the instructor mentioned such controversy in class, this quote is therefore a good one.

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obrienbr said in January 27th, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Why can’t a history class incite a controversial debate? I believe that it is the teacher’s job, especially in a history class, to get students thinking and discussing the opposing sides of a topic like this. As long as we are aware of the bias in the sources we look at, there is no harm in studying them. We form our opinions based on both sides of the argument.

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KN said in January 27th, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I agree with Cameron – I think that starting the course with such a powerful quotation is a good idea but I certainly understand why some may find it too powerful or too bias for potentially setting a precedent at the very beginning of the semester. I think the quotation is appropriate because although it is one persons opinion, it emphasizes a point of view that was held by plenty of people during the period. I think that all history is bias in some way or another depending on who is presenting the information. Of course it is important to consider history objectively, but being objective comes from evaluating different points of view – like Frederic Douglas’s. I think if anything, the quotation urges us to be critical and cautious when evaluating different peoples opinions regarding the war.

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Takehiko Takahashi said in January 27th, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I believe having Douglass’s quote at the top of the syllabus is a good way to begin this course. One reason is the timing of this quote, which was almost thirty years after the surrender at Appomattox. Douglass’s quote is a reflection which reveals that even after three decades, emotions between both sides were still high. Many veterans of the war on both sides remained adamant about their positions and reasons for fighting. Former CSA President Jefferson Davis maintained up until the day he died that the South’s course of action during the war was the correct one. The fact that Douglass’s quote contains bias should not be an issue so long as we analyze the quote and even challenge it with data and statistics from the time period. By challenging the quote, I do not mean to say that Douglass’s remarks are wrong but instead that it is our task to view the other side before deciding which side/argument has more credibility.

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Tim Smith said in January 28th, 2010 at 1:51 am

It is clear that starting the course off with Douglas’ quote was designed to be controversial. It is certainly hard to discredit what Fredrick Douglas had to say about the horrors of slavery, but in this case I think it serves as a warning to the way we go about looking at this issue. All of the experience I have had studying the Civil War has revolved around the institution of slavery and the Southern States’ supposed desire to preserve it by destroying the Union. But there is clearly more to it than that. Our first class was the first time that I really thought about the virtues of the Southern States – not for slavery obviously – but for the characteristics for which they proudly, and in many cases rightfully, fought and the country we would see today if some of those were still a part of who we are.
The danger of starting off with a quote like this one, especially from someone so passionate and widely respected, is that it could close our minds off to the other side. Throughout grade school, at least from the standpoint of someone educated in the northeast, the impression has been that the North was good and the South was bad. This comes from seeing only the issues of slavery and the destruction of the Union, but this is inconsistent with a liberal arts education.
I think that this was a good way to start off the course because of the warning that it does convey. By reading the bitterly harsh words of Fredrick Douglas, a man who is so widely respected today, we cannot help but be alarmed. It makes me realize how much more there is to the story and it serves as a motivator to look at the South in a different way – unlike any positive quote about the South probably could.

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tkacyon said in January 28th, 2010 at 11:52 am

I believe that by starting the syllabus with this quote was neither wrong nor right. It was a way to challenge us to think about what we knew of the civil war and to show us that there are different sides and view points about the war, and that it was not only about slavery. Sure, picking this quote is slightly controversial, but there are also probably a number of a quotes that are more suggestive than this one. For me, the quote means that Douglass truly believe the war was just about the south wanting to keep slavery and that it fought to succeed from the Union in order to keep it. But, it also means, there are more reasons- underlying and surfaced reasons- that this war came about.

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G. Mazzoli said in January 28th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

At first glance, I must admit that I gave this Douglass quote fairly little thought. Only after Prof. Pinsker brought the statement into question did I realize that careful consideration was needed, as Douglass is heavily biased. What can I attribute this to? Most certainly it would be the fact that I was born and raised in New England, taught history in a Northern school system, and have essentially been conditioned to think that the North won the Civil War, and to believe that the South was absolutely wrong in seceding from the union. Only recently have I discovered that those from the South are taught to consider the Civil War in a different light.
So is it wrong to begin a Civil War class, which by nature should be as objective as possible, with a biased quote like this? I don’t believe so. Frederick Douglass was one of the premier intellectuals of that time, and has every right to echo his sentiments about the frustrations of Jim Crowe laws. After all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, just as we will likely find from different authors on the same subject throughout the course. I do think that using this quote right from the beginning is an effective teaching tool in that it forces students, like me, to think in a different way than they ordinarily would. I realized that I must try to leave all my preconceived notions about this war behind, in order to fully understand its impact from all angles. Although I may agree with Douglass’ statement, it is important to realize that it is dangerous to make a war as large as this into two clear-cut sides. Perhaps using this quote puts the Professor at danger of conveying a bias of his own to the class, but I think the discussion that it sparked was an important step in learning the history of the Civil War.

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mike mo said in January 31st, 2010 at 7:03 am

Its interesting to see how this post has generated a large amount of discussion.

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Michael Hait said in February 4th, 2010 at 11:50 am

One question that no one seems to be asking, but that appears to be at the center of this question, is whether or not presenting a biased quote — which Douglass’s statement obviously is — necessarily implies the bias of the historian.

In my opinion, as historians we are required to present the facts objectively, that is, to not purposely misrepresent or withhold facts to support any bias that we may hold. Clearly, presenting a quote like this and implying that it is representative of anything other than the opinion of one man would be misrepresenting and withholding facts. However, if the quote is presented in context of who Frederick Douglass was and why he may have believed as he did, does this remove an accusation of bias on the part of the historian?

In shorter terms, does “unbiased” necessarily equal “present all sides”?

In keeping with the example here, is it really necessary to balance Douglass’s statement with quotes from the leadership of the Republican party, the leadership of the (loyal) Democratic party, the leadership of the secessionists, the leadership of both militaries, poor Southern non-landowners, the Southern yeomen, women on both sides of the conflict, free blacks on both sides of the conflict, etc.?

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Mark Douglas said in October 14th, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Teach the truth –tell how the Southern leaders for 40 years had pushed, by any means, slavery further and further. Teach how the South violently supressed freedom of speech and even control what religions could preach, from 1820 on.

Teach how Lee kept a “Hunting List” of slave girls in his own handwriting, for example, and paid six times the normal bounty to get one young girl back, who had a very light skinned child. He screamed at her while he had her tortured, then sold her infant for extra punishment, and a nice profit, since the child could pass for white.

Teach how Davis ordered all blacks ever freed to be re-enslaved “forever” and promised to enslave all the blacks in the North, and said he would reunite the nation as all slave states.

Teach how Southern leaders bragged that they were just the first nation to actually be FOUNDED on the “Holy Word” of God to enslave blacks. Other nations allowed slavery of different types — but only the SOUTH, they bragged, would do slavery according to God’s word, and enslave only the black race. They predicted the entire world would follow this Godly example, as surely as the world followed other great truths, like Galileo and Adam Smith.

We have hid all the vile truth about the South, which is a huge mistake.

Teach about the insane demands by the South, after seven states seceded — the “Five Ultimatums” as reported in the Richmond Newspaper of March 23, 1861. Each of the five ultimatums were about slavery — specifically, to SPREAD slavery. Incredibly, they issued an ultimatum that Lincoln would have to SPREAD slavery into the territories.

This was an ultimatum to the USA from the CSA. It was not an ultimatum the insisted on to remain in the Union — it was what they demanded for them not to go to war. Spread slavery into the territories — by force, or the South would go to war.

This is like HItler issuing an ultimatum for USA to attack Britan, or he would attack USA.

But it made perfect sense to the Southern Leaders who issued the ultimatum.

Its time we taught the truth about the Civil War, and the period of terror and violence leading up to it.

This politically correct nonsense about teaching “both sides” is a farce. Both sides? Teach the truth.

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