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?Read More
With all the discussions in recent months about eliminating Confederate symbols such as the Confederate flag, some have called for the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials as well, everything from the local monument in the town square to the Stone Mountain carving. How far go we go in deleting Confederate memory from American soviety?Read More
When asked why the American Civil War still holds such power over the American imagination, author Shelby Foote once observed, “because it’s the big one. It measures what we are, good and bad. If you look at American history as the life span of a man, the Civil War represents the great trauma of our adolescence.” More recently, at the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox, historian David Blight reflected, “The Civil War is a place we go to ask who we are and what are we becoming…it is our oracle.” The debates that tore the nation apart for four bloody years are eternal questions of the American condition, Blight explained. It is no small wonder then that the symbols of those conflicts remain contested as well, suspended in our national consciousness without a singular definition that holds true over time.Read More
Last week, twenty-one year old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. An act of violence and racial hatred, the tragedy has sparked a nationwide debate over racism and, in particular, the symbolism of the Confederate flag. The flag of a now-dead nation dedicated to the defense of slavery, the flag that appears in photographs with Dylann Roof, and the flag that today floats free over the South Carolina Capitol grounds.
I suspect, owing to public outcry and political pressure, the flag in Columbia will come down. The governor of South Carolina has called for its removal, and yesterday Alabama removed its Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. Yet while the flag faces greater scrutiny, the current debate cannot merely rest on the Confederate flag. The discussion instead needs to encompass the Confederacy’s legacy in the United States—what the Confederacy stood for, what it means today, and the place (if any) it should occupy in 21st-century America.Read More