Editorial: Nathan Bedford Forrest Day: A Failure of Morality, History, and Politics

Editorial: Nathan Bedford Forrest Day: A Failure of Morality, History, and Politics

Today is Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee.

Like many Southern commanders, he enjoys a prominent place in Civil War memory. And however regrettable, the celebration and veneration of Confederate commanders isn’t particularly unusual even today, circa 2019. After all, Tennessee also recognizes Robert E. Lee Day and Confederate Decoration Day.

Yet we cannot divorce military commanders or their abilities from the causes for which they fought, at least not when it comes to deciding who gets a pedestal and who gets a proclamation. Confederate generals chose to renounce their allegiance to the United States to join in a rebellion whose raison d’etre was slavery. They fought for an immoral, terrible cause, the world is a better place because they lost, and they are not worthy of veneration. Why are we still celebrating them?

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Confederate Iconography, The Next Steps: On Shared Authority, Historical Stewardship, and the Role of the Public Historian

Confederate Iconography, The Next Steps: On Shared Authority, Historical Stewardship, and the Role of the Public Historian

As the debate over the purpose and future of Confederate monuments and iconography in public culture continues, discussions concerning the role of the public historian in these debates have similarly intensified.  Central to these debates has been the question of the proper role of the public historian in community-based, emotionally and politically charged discussions about historical memory and contemporary society...it is hardly inappropriate or overstepping for public historians to make suggestions to communities as to what to do with their public memorial landscapes, nor is it at all intrusive and imposing to try to help communities learn about the educational value of their historic monuments and memorials or about the complexities of historical memory.  Additionally, pointing out to communities who are in the midst of debates about the future of memorial landscapes all that is gained AND lost if such landscapes were to be destroyed or removed is hardly “historian-centric” or merely “historians doing historian things.”  Is this not the very nature of our jobs as public historians?

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