Civil War Memory: Reflections of a High School History Teacher and Civil War Historian
Aside from a new address and a clean new theme, the newly overhauled blog Civil War Memory provides new features, including “threaded comments,” which allows readers to append their comments to a specific reply. What remains the same is blogger Kevin Levin’s fierce commitment to examine how Americans “remember and commemorate the Civil War.”
As we enter the war’s sesquicentennial, we are faced with a new challenge to define a collective narrative for the war years. Levin reminds us that how we remember the war is just as important as what we remember. His battlefield tours with students are more than just the chess notation of advances, retreats, captures, forks and pins, they transcend to the experiential via an active re-imagining of history rooted in facts. The following excerpt from his 2008 keynote address commemorating 146th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg is a good example: “We all know there are aspects of battle that are best left to the individual, and silent contemplation is often instructive. When positioned below Marye’s Heights I give my students a few moments to reflect on the bravery and steadfastness of the men who marched roughly 600 yards over open ground to what was almost certain death. Following lunch on Telegraph Hill I ask my students to sit alone and think about Robert E. Lee’s poignant words about the nature of battle as he contemplated the bloody scenes unfolding in front of him.”
Levin is a fearless scout in the internal landscape of the collective memory. He challenges his students as well as his readers “to stretch the traditional definition of the battlefield.” Levin asks hard and unconventional questions such as, “Why did the local African-American community here in Fredericksburg discontinue celebrating Memorial Day just a few short years after Appomattox?” Levin expects any battlefield visitor “to struggle with these and other questions. We ought to feel just a bit uncomfortable when confronted with so much bloodshed and sacrifice.”
Levin hopes all Americans “come to see themselves as part of a much larger narrative” shaped by the Civil War. Civil War Memory continues to be a great mirror of our past and present conceptions of who we are as Americans.
Originally published in the May 2009 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.