The Past in the Present

Am still shaking my head over the new administration’s discriminatory ban on Muslims entering the United States. It was no surprise after the hateful rhetoric of the election season, but announcing it on Holocaust Remembrance Day? And not mentioning Jews in a statement about the Holocaust? I wish I could call these actions tone-deaf, but they feel more intentional and sinister than that, even if the more apt historical parallels are the U.S. rejection of Jews fleeing Nazism and the internment of Japanese-Americans as an entire class of people during the Second World War.

Sand Creek

In the New York Times, Ned Blackhawk reminds us, “It’s the 150th anniversary of one of the most appalling massacres of Indians ever.”

In terms of sheer horror, few events matched Sand Creek. Pregnant women were murdered and scalped, genitalia were paraded as trophies, and scores of wanton acts of violence characterize the accounts of the few Army officers who dared to report them. . . .

Sand Creek, Bear River and the Long Walk remain important parts of the Civil War and of American history. But in our popular narrative, the Civil War obscures such campaigns against American Indians. In fact, the war made such violence possible . . .

See the full article here. There are more details in the Smithsonian Magazine, and a few sources from the time here.


Hat tip: @myHNN and @wcronen.

The Politics of Identity and How We Learn History

There is an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about how Texas is changing the content of its American high school history textbooks. Instead of taking potshots at its clear abuses of history, however, the author locates it in a broader context of history curricula and identity politics over the past few decades. See Sam Tanehaus, “In Texas Curriculum Fight, Identity Politics Leans Right.”

Kevin Levin of the blog Civil War Memory thinks that the focus on textbooks in this newest episode of America’s culture wars misses the point, however. He points out that much history teaching is no longer focused on textbooks. He has a point. Even those of us who still sometimes use textbooks and do not rely as heavily on the internet see history education in terms very different than those of the Texas Board. See “Texas, Textbooks, and the Battle For Our Children’s Souls” and “If I Should Teach American Exceptionalism . . .

Blogging and Myth-Busting

Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory has posted good material to his academic blog under the category, myth of black Confederates. Several recent posts include criticism of efforts by modern-day Confederate patriots and would-be historians who want to appropriate Weary Clyburn, a slave, as a defender of Southern liberty. In one he points out that writing good books to debunk myths is all well and good, but on the subject of black Confederates “the real fight must take place on the web.”

In the same post he points to an earlier one he made in late March: “Should Civil War Historians Blog (academic that is)?” In it he observes how vast the public discourse about the American Civil War is, while the discourse in which professional historians participate is relatively narrow. Historians need to continue their current research and publishing mission, but they also have “a responsibility to engage a wider audience and contribute to the public discourse.” Since much of the public turns to the internet for ready answers, historians need to offer these answers in an accessible format, especially for highly sensitive questions that shape American identity.

I agree with Kevin about the need for Civil War historians to blog. I have also observed a similar need with respect to Holocaust denial, since I have found that Google can get it wrong. Until now I have used this blog mainly to reflect on what I do and to communicate with other historians, but as Kevin points out, Google brings him search engine traffic for important topics such as black Confederates, so his blog posts reach a wider audience. I have written a few of my posts with that awareness, but his arguments make me think I could do much more. So could other historians.


This piece originally appeared on this day on my old history blog, Clio and Me. The links have been updated.