Civil War Education in High School and College

December 12, 2018 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Civil War Education in High School and College

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Thomas Fangmann

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3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Teaching the Civil War in High School and College Classrooms

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5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 For this project I have selected three articles from the journal The History Teacher on the theme of Civil War education. I chose this theme because memory of the Civil War and the Confederacy are salient themes within current political debates in the US. The representative sample of articles addresses different topics related to teaching the Civil War at the K-12 and college levels. The articles evaluate common resources used in education at the K-12 level including the movie “Glory”, the Ken Burns documentary “The Civil War”, and secondary sources. These articles discuss the intersection of scholarly knowledge about the Civil War and the common resources used which are largely in the popular history genre. Although the articles identity several issues with the common resources, they still recommend their use. I believe this information is very important to educators who use these resources because an understanding of their drawbacks can enhance opportunities to teach critical thinking.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The first article explores the conclusions of a study from 2008 that attempts to collect a representative sample of readings assigned in undergraduate history courses in the US on the topic of the Civil War. The study found that forty percent of courses used a book that focused on the experiences of ordinary soldiers in the war while only twenty-one percent used a book that dealt with topics of conventional military strategy. The study revealed that Gettysburg was the most commonly studied battle while Abraham Lincoln was the most popular individual to study. James McPherson’s works were popular for books on the experience of soldiers, including African-American soldiers, as well as an overall text book for the courses. The study found that in the college classes few books were assigned discussing the causes of the Civil War or the Reconstruction period. According to the authors, William B. Rogers and Terese Martyn, the lack of focus on causes was attributed to a consensus about the war’s causes revolving around the issue of slavery. The study shows that there is a substantial focus both on individual contributions as well as large events like Gettysburg and influential figures like Lincoln. The other two articles will show that the focus on individual contributions and bottom-up change is not always emphasized.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The second article is an assessment of the movie “Glory” by Joseph T. Glatthar about the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Infantry and how it can be used in the classroom. This film is a popular movie shown in high school classrooms to explore the experiences and contributions of African-American soldiers. The author identifies several issues with the film. First, while the commander of the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Infantry is depicted simply as a staunch abolitionist in the film (which is mostly true), letters that he wrote show that he still harbored many of the racial prejudices of his day. A more balanced account could also explore these less than ideal elements of his character.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Secondly, the film portrays the regimental sergeant major as a white man, while is reality the unit had an African-American sergeant major who was Fredrick Douglas’s son. Also, another African-American sergeant from the regiment who does not appear in the film was the first black medal of honor recipient. The author laments that the film opted to focus more on fictional African-American figures than the no less extraordinary ones of history. Thirdly, the author points out that while the unit in the film is shown as consisting of mostly former slaves, the actual unit composition was seventy-five percent African-American men who were born in free states. While this is a historical inaccuracy for the 54th, overall many former slaves did fight for the Union in general.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The last historical inaccuracy in the film that the author identifies is the lack of portraying African-American soldiers as possessing active agency to stand up for their rights such as equal pay, proper supplies, and equal disciplinary treatment. In the film the white officers are the heroes who secure supplies and lobby for equal pay Also, there is a scene in the movie where an African-American is whipped by the unit for desertion when the actual crime would have been considered absent without leave. The author asserts that whipping as a punishment for soldiers was banned in 1861 and that there is only one documented instance of it occurring in colored units. Furthermore, the author writes that African-American soldiers routinely stood up for their comrades when they received disciplinary punishment and even mutinied on “numerous occasions” when they thought that they were being treated unjustly. The author, however, still recommends the film but identifies crucial areas that a teacher could identify for further discussion.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The third article is by high school teacher Kevin M. Lavin who explores his use of the Ken Burns documentary “The Civil War”. One issue with the documentary that Lavin identifies, like the criticism of “Glory, is that it does not highlight the agency displayed by African-Americans in securing their freedom. The decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation is depicted in the documentary as a decision made solely by Abraham Lincoln as the “great emancipator”. In his classroom, Lavin provides students with additional primary and secondary sources about the Emancipation Proclamation and the role that slaves and activists played in bringing about their emancipation.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Overall these articles show different ways that the Civil War is taught in college and high school classrooms. In both settings there is an emphasis on the decision of powerful individuals, but also an effort to highlight the contributions of ordinary people. What these articles show is that in both cases a better effort could be done to properly show the contributions of African-Americans to the Union and emancipation, and not just through their service, but also through their agency and activism in the army as well as in society.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 REFERENCES

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Kevin M. Levin, “Using Ken Burns’s ‘The Civil War’ in the Classroom”. The History Teacher, Vol. 44, No. 1 (November 2010), pp. 9-17

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 William B. Rogers and Terese Martyn. “A Consensus at Last: American Civil War Texts and the Topics That Dominate the College Classroom”. The History Teacher, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Aug., 2008), pp. 519-530

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Joseph T. Glatthar. “’Glory,’ the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, and Black Soldiers in the Civil War”. The History Teacher, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Aug., 1991), pp. 475-485


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