Newspapers and the Civil War

I wonder how dreadful it must have been for Sam Wilkerson to write his story while sitting next to his dead son. Here was a journalist communicating with the most powerful medium available at the time. He illustrated courage and conviction by doing his job. Journalism was an endearing profession and during the Civil War. Citizens waited for the delivery of newspapers in apprehension.

While teaching the students about the Civil War, I believe we must remind them that newspapers were the medium of communication. Our students live in a world that has always had the internet. Society has changed from newspapers to social networking. Call me old fashioned, but I still get home delivery of newspapers. How long will printed news continue to survive? The number of newspapers and periodicals going out of business alarms me.

The following links share my concern:


I struggle with the social network!  I made my first blog a few days ago, as a requirement for this course. My blog was only three paragraphs long and I was hoping that was’t too much. I thought blogs were supposed to be short, until I found out blogs can be long but “tweets” must be short. Who knew? And what is a “tweet” anyway? I miss the days of going to the library and searching the periodical index! There was nothing better than searching on microfilm and micro fiche!

What has happened to society? Too much. Too fast. I recently bought a “smart” phone that I don’t know how to use. I just learned how to “attach” an email five years ago. I guess you can say I am a little behind the curve.

I’ll give you my newspaper when you take it from my cold, dead hands.

Posted in Discussion, Primary Sources

Layers and Fusion Tables: the future of historical research?

Chris Bunin boldly led us into the world of GIS yesterday, and he has provided a number of documents to help you make the technology a part of your teaching.

Toward the end of his presentation, Chris noted that he was excited to hear that no one had explored GIS just yet — because that meant everything he presented was new.  And yet, he wishes the technology were more widely used and embraced.

What do you think?  Will GIS shape some of your lessons next year?  Are there particular aspects of our course that would be easier or more difficult to illustrate using GIS?

Posted in Discussion, Mapping

Memphis – 2009

Reconstruction was about many things, but it’s hard to separate from the word, “legacy.” We talk about legacies in terms of current effects of past behaviors… history’s hand-me-downs. Reconstruction left legacies, of course, Jim Crow among the most prolific. One fine morning I found myself in Memphis, experiencing the irony I would later ‘anecdotalize’ on the eve of Obama’s inauguration. I share this brief story as a way of tipping my hat, in acknowledgment of the background radiation of the legacy of Reconstruction that permeates the South.

Posted in Discussion, Memory

on history and memory

I am a big fan of iTunes University, especially the many items found in the Gilder Lehrman section. The process is simple and I really don’t need to just watch someone talk… I’d much rather pop in the earbuds and get moving.

A few months ago I came across a talk by David Blight that is similar to the video on the syllabus. The talk is about the Civil War in American Memory, but the part I find most engaging comes at 17:10, when he discourses on the differences between history and memory. Some people may consider it a matter of parsing words, but he makes a great case for considering them separately and cautiously.

An immediate difference that comes to mind is the naming of the conflict itself. I grew up in Detroit, where an intrepid person can find statuary and memorials of the ‘Civil War’ and Michigan’s importance in it. I have friends my age, 47, who grew up in Tennessee, and heard nothing except of ‘The War of Northern Aggression’ and didn’t realize the South lost until they had long departed middle school.

Blight asserts that memory is “owned,” not necessarily shared. My travels in Northern Ireland and Central Europe in the mid-1990′s pointedly drove home the violent power of collective memory. What I saw were the festering, amorphous resentments of many decades of real and perceived abuse. These seventeen years later I hear Blight and I  wonder about resentment, the accumulating emotional plaque that hardened the hearts of the non-planter class in the South in the wake of the Civil War and helped make Jim Crow so widely mainstream.

I want to reread Faust and McPherson with an eye toward Blight’s points. As I do so I’ll add some asides to this, or perhaps add posts.

What follows:

1. my annotation of Blight’s talk, simply tabled to help generate talking points. I’ve quoted him directly… none of the words are mine, although I’m only as exact as the toddler in my lap will allow.

2. a screenshot of the page where the lecture can be found in iTunes.

This is all quoted as carefully as I could manage. These are David Blight’s words, not mine.Where he directly sets one point against another, I have placed them side-by-side on the table.

“Although history and memory are often conflated, keeping something separate and distinct… is valuable.



is what trained historians do – a reasonable reconstruction of the past rooted in research.
is critical and skeptical of human motives and actions.  can be a safe place to escape to, or sometimes it just plays romantic, sentimental tricks on us.
is more secular than memory. is often treated as a sacred set of absolute meanings and stories, possessed as the heritage and identity of a community.
can be read by, and belong to, everyone. is often owned.
just gets interpreted.
is more relative – it depends on place, chronology and scale, and a host of other factors.
gets revised. is passed down through generations.
seeks to understand contexts in all their complexity. That’s why it’s harder. often coalesces in objects, sights, monuments and places.
Historians assert the authority of academic training, of canons of evidence, of authority. often carries the more immediate authority of community membership and some kind of personal experience.
Historians study In reference to Bernard Bailyn’s writing, Blight quotes: “Memory’s appeal is in its relation to the past as an embrace, ultimately emotional, and not intellectual.”
Historians these days study memory because it has been such an important modern instrument of power.”

where to find this on iTunes:

Posted in Discussion, Memory

Lincoln, vampires and too much freetime on my hands

Ok, this is just silly … but I had a moment and wanted to play with the Google Ngram viewer. Is it a coincidence that we are seeing both an uptick in Lincoln books at the same time books about vampires gain in popularity? … maybe Seth Grahame-Smith is onto something

Lincoln and vampires

Posted in Discussion, Memory

Kansas and the Civil War:Unit Plan

Standard: Kansas History

Benchmark 3: The student understands individuals, groups, ideas, events, and
developments of the territorial period and the Civil War in Kansas.

This student will:
1. explain the concept of popular sovereignty under the Kansas-Nebraska Act. 2. explain why control of the Kansas territorial government was affected by the fight over slavery. 3. describe the influence of pro-and anti-slavery ideas on territorial Kansas (e.g., Bleeding Kansas, border ruffians, bushwhackers, jay-hawkers, the Underground railroad, free state, abolitionist). 4. describe the causes and consequences of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence during the Civil War

These are just parts of some of our 7th grade standards in Kansas for my unit I thought I would concentrate on the time period between the Kansas-Nebraska act and Quantrill’s raidLincoln Tagxed Kansas

William Clarke Quantrill


Leader of perhaps the most savage fighting unit in the Civil War, William Quantrill developed a style of guerrilla warfare that terrorized civilians and soldiers alike. Quantrill was born in 1837 in Ohio, but little is known of his early life. It appears that after being a schoolteacher for several years, he travelled to Utah in 1858 with an army wagon train and there made his living as a gambler, using the alias of Charles Hart. After a year, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he was again a schoolteacher from 1859 to 1860. But his past and predisposition soon caught up with him and, wanted for murder and horse theft, Quantrill fled to Missouri in late 1860..

This is obviously a work in progress but my plan is to have two google maps one of Quantrill’s entrance into Kansas from Missouri and of his masterful escape out of Kansas, the other would be a google map of Lawrence, ks and the location of the murders and destruction maybe even a virtual tour.

Posted in Discussion, Lesson Plans, Mapping, Word Clouds

On-line courses

As with some of my colleagues in this course, this is one of my first on-line experiences. Since we spent much of Day 4′s wrap-up session talking about this topic, I thought I would share my impressions about how technology is changing the face of education.

This summer, I have engaged in a number of on-line learning experiences in an attempt to catch up to the tide. I am hoping to offer an on-line “course” this coming school year to both my students and possibly, to my teaching colleagues as part of a professional development course. I have taken an “Introduction to the Constitution” on-line course from the Center for the Constitution at Montpelier (James Madison’s home in Virginia, not the capital of Vermont). I have also participated in two webinars from the Center for Civic Education, one on the purpose of government and another on constitutionalism. And I was lucky enough to be selected for this course on the Civil War and Reconstruction through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

A quick comparison of the experiences seems necessary here. First, the Center for the Constitution’s course is “asynchronous” (a word I learned from a friend who teaches on-line courses at the local community college). In other words, there is no interaction between the participant, the instructor, and/or the other participants. You watch videos of instructors, read through information provided, and take quizzes on-line at your own pace and without any interaction. As an “old school” learner, I found this to be the least satisfying experience, largely because of the inability to discuss ideas, ask questions of the scholars, or get feedback. However, I am not so sure that my students would not love this form of teaching. Even in my classroom, they are very passive learners and it is difficult to draw them out to have satisfactory discussions about their ideas and opinions. I, of course, blame the modern technology that has people sitting next to each other “texting,” rather than having a conversation and the countless hours of video games and “facebooking.” However, I do recall older people complaining about my generation sitting in front of the television for hours on end. The more things change, etc.

The webinars were “synchronous,” listening to the instructor in real time and having the opportunity to ask questions. It should be noted that these were not intended to be courses, in the traditional sense, but rather hour-long introductions to the topics. I note that because my greatest criticism of these on-line experiences was the inability to go deeply into a topic and truly, just their brevity. My instructors did not have nearly enough time to impart even a fraction of their vast knowledge of the topic. This is not their fault, but the nature of the webinar.

“Ahhh, this porridge is just right.” I have been very pleased with the nature of this on-line experience. There are a variety of reasons for this and I will try to highlight the most important. Clearly, the combination of the live instruction (with all of the glitches) over multiple days addresses my major concerns about my other experiences. And before I go on, let me emphatically state that I am not saying that I did not learn anything from nor did not enjoy my other on-line experiences. In fact, quite the opposite. I guess that I am saying that this course most mirrors my previous education and I find more comfortable. I am not sure that is true of the coming generations.

One of the features I most enjoyed was blogging. I have written a blog entry once before (for the Center for the Constitution), but I had a substantial time to think about it and edit it, so it was more like an essay than a blog post (I guess, since I am still not an expert on blogging). However, the pressure to write these relatively quickly is something I haven’t really experienced since writing for my college newspaper decades ago. Deadlines! I also enjoyed reading, at my leisure, the thoughts of the other participants, both commenting on my posts and, more importantly, writing their own. I love this feature so much that I am going to school tomorrow to see the school’s computer resource specialist to see what I can do to set up a blog for my classes this year. Our school system, like most, I guess, is struggling with how to incorporate technology into the educational process. Make sure they use technology, but make sure they do not say anything “bad” or go to “bad” websites or …

I must also confess that I will be stealing the image of the day and document of the day ideas. I certainly have used images and documents before (quite often, actually), but I think that making it a regular part of my lesson planning (learning planning, if any of my supervisors are reading this) will help focus my daily teaching.

I also want to commend Professor Pinsker and Lance for the great website and the tremendous amount of preparation that went into this course. As teachers, we understand the effort that goes into a successful class and I am impressed with all of the links on the website to the readings, documents, images, resources, etc. I was able to use all of that information to have a much more successful experience with this course.

Posted in Discussion, Online Learning

Others Like Me…?

This course has been a wonderful experience in many ways.  At first I was unsure of how I could keep up with the gurus out there in online course world.  I still prefer the classroom setting with direct human interaction, but I feel much more empowered having taken this course and will very likely take another online course in the future.  The vast amount of information that has been given is at first glance overwhelming as I know many others have stated in other blogs.  In my notes I’ve tried to keep track of what will be useful in a 4th and 5th grade classroom.  As an elementary teacher, much of the information will not make it to students but expanded my knowledge of the civil war which helped build my background knowledge on the subject.  The variety of technology possibilities has really excited me.  I can’t wait to dive into each of these over the next coming weeks.  My school district has undergone a major curriculum change and my school has a new principal that also brings about changes.  Change is good.  So my goal for this year is to expand my use of technology with the changes.  I of course will take baby steps.  Watching Chris demonstrate the amazing things that can happen made my head swirl but I am not one to shy away from a challenge or anything new.  One of the best parts to this online community has helped me connect with others who are like minded.  I don’t know about the other participants but in my school I’m known as the resident history geek and most people just don’t understand what I find so fascinating about historical documents.  Having collaborated with others at Monticello while working on the Liberty Today project and now blogging with others about the Civil War confirmed my belief there really are others like me.  Those who have a love for history, a desire to dig deeper, and to find the true human stories behind all the dates and dead people.  So to that… I say, Thank You! for all of the great information, wonderful ideas, and I hope to continue this line of communication on teaching the Civil War.

Posted in Discussion, Online Learning

Trailer for Slavery by Another Name (peonage)

Posted in Digital Storytelling, Discussion, Secondary Sources

A monument to slave traders or emancipation?


I showed the Freedman’s Monument to my students for the first time last year. It is one of the few monuments I have been to over and over again this past year. It’s probably a mile behind the Supreme Court building and so out of the National Mall loop. I have been struggling with the monument from the moment I saw it.

Lincoln Park as seen by Google Maps.

A freedman inspired, freedman funded moment which looks more like a monument to slave trading than emancipation. The first time I saw it it looked like Lincoln was a slave trader. I haven’t been able to shake that image.

I’ve studied the Fredrick Douglass dedication speech.

I’ve read part of Lerone Bennett Jr.’s Forced Into Glory which suggests that the Proclamation ‘never freed anybody anywhere’ (quoting a reporter of Lincoln’s era). Bennett goes on to say:

“There, then the secret is out! Political history never happened. Sandburg wrote tens of thousands of words about it. Lindsay wrote a poem about it. Copeland wrote a musical portrait about it. King had a dream about it. But the fact is that Abraham Lincoln didn’t do it.” Bennett’s first chapter is here.

I’ve read Dr. Guelzo’s book on the Emancipation Proclamation and listened to both him and Dr. Pinsker and follow their logic and agree with their insights and observations.

And yet I still struggle with the monument.

I’ve come to decide that my job is to show my students the images and then shut up. Let them marinate on the messiness and realities of Reconstruction. Of politics. It helped to create a shorthand in discussions as well as a reality of the old saw about good intentions.

While researching newspapers of the Civil War, one of my student’s found this Thomas Nast drawing. I knew the moment I saw it I had to put it with the pictures of the Freedman’s Monument. A explanation of the Nast image can be found here.


Posted in Discussion, Memory
House Divided Project

Course Professor
Matthew Pinsker:
Dickinson College
Carlisle, PA 17013

Course Producer
Lance Warren:
Gilder Lehrman Institute
New York, NY 10036