Category Archives: Ask Dr. Harris

History Buff Holiday Top Ten Reading List

Have a buff in the family? Are you a buff yourself? Have you found yourself with some extra time over the holiday season? Looking for that perfect gift. I got you, homie.

Here’s a list of ten history book winners in no particular order that should make you – or someone close – happy for the holidays.

The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand – One, reading this will make you seem smart to your friends at parties. Two, it will give you a sense of American thought…yes that’s right – ideas. We have had some in the past, perhaps we will again in the future.

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz – This is actually the only thing I assign my students in my advanced course on the Civil War that is not a war era first-hand account. Horwitz’s adventures in the post war “Confederacy” should shed a good deal of illumination on our current situation, if you know what I mean.

The Legacy of Conquest by Patricia Nelson Limerick – The West is an American thing, y’all. Or at least, our West is. Does that not make any sense…? Maybe if you read the book then…

An Army and Dawn, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson – The so-called Liberation Trilogy…I swear, I have read every word of all three volumes…TWICE. This is military history at it’s finest.

With Their Bare Hands by Gene Fax – Speaking of military history, a student gifted me this book…her grandfather wrote it. And I was very pleased. The author really brings WWI to life, tracing an American regiment from the beginning to the end in vivid and exhilarating detail.

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Because the country is a mess…and the legacy of slavery is with us in all respects. Progressive or conservative, I do not care…read this and read it with an open mind.

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen C. Guelzo – I know, I know…there are a million books on Gettysburg and here I am recommending another one. And to be honest, I take issue with a few of the author’s conclusions. But…the man can tell a story better than pretty much anyone I have ever read on the subject. We can argue about the book later.

Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love by Peter Guralnick – ELVIS! The King of Rock…love him or really love him, no one can deny the man’s influence on music. And to make things even better…the guy was just plain weird. I mean really weird. (bonus: read the chapter “I’m All Stopped Up” in Mary Roach’s Gulp…I dare you).

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin – Yes, I am willing to forgive past accusations of plagiarism. Whatever…to err is human. I think Ms. Goodwin is a hell of a writer, and this dual biography of TR and Taft is a great look at the power of political relationships. For better or worse.

The Mind of the Master Class by Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth-Fox Genovese – this is a dense book that may require an advanced degree to get all the way through…but even so, it will most certainly keep people from talking to you on airplanes. It’s deep, my friend – just try and explain it to your chatty neighbor. You’ll quiet them down fast enough.

BONUS!! To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – because F YOU Biloxi, Mississippi School Board for taking this off your required reading list.

And Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and all the rest –  with my compliments –

Peace be with you all…






My Offer to the Students of Biloxi, Mississippi

A couple of days ago I learned that a Mississippi school district including the city of Biloxi decided to pull Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird from its summer reading list. District powers-that-be claimed that the book made some people uncomfortable.

Suffice it to say, I find this decision to be ridiculous, to say the least. For one, the book is supposed to make people uncomfortable…that was kinda the point. And as I see things, it makes more sense to read books than ban them.

So here’s my offer to the students of Biloxi – let’s read the book together and assemble a virtual book club. I’m a high-school teacher and though I teach American history, I have included in my course curriculum detailed discussions of this book and its significance. In other words, I can handle it.

For real – we can post it on Youtube. I’ll sort out some dates, assign some pages, and pose some questions.

Who’s in?



American Civil War Web-Course

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 8.04.38 PMGreetings all! I have been posting updates on Twitter of late chronicling the progress of my next web-course: The American Civil War. I am very pleased to announce that the launch date is May 14, 2016. The course includes nearly forty video lectures and other projects covering military, social, political, and economic aspects of the conflict.

I am most excited to offer this course to my founding web-students for a 50% discount off the already reasonable price. You won’t find this deal anywhere but through this site – and the offer goes away on launch day. So you had better get on the stick. Here’s what you need to do:

ONE – be a current student or enroll now in either my Gettysburg or Reconstruction Era web-course for the regular discounted price available only from Keith Harris History.

TWO – sign up to be part of the Keith Harris History CREW so I can be sure to get you the info you need.

Get that all squared away and on launch day you will receive your discount code via email. And that’s it. Easy right?

With compliments,



Was the Battle of Gettysburg the Turning Point of the Civil War?

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.48.41 AMI got an email recently from a Battle of Gettysburg  student (Mike B.) asking me to clarify something I said about the battle on the Interwebs.

I mentioned something along the lines of “Gettysburg is not as important as you might think it is.” Thanks for the note, Mike – lets see if I can clear things up a bit.

When analyzing history from the vantage point of the present (as I have warned people not to do), one could surmise that the battle was indeed the turning point. The Confederates never again could claim a decisive victory along the lines of Chancellorsville or Fredericksburg. But the Union victory here was not by any means the stepping off point towards guaranteed victory.

The participants and citizens of their respective countries certainly didn’t think so. Just read a newspaper from the period. The Confederates, with Lee at the helm the Army of Northern Virginia, still firmly believed that victory was within their grasp – Gettysburg or not. The Union Army was bogged down in Virginia, the northern civilian population was growing increasingly weary of the war, and even Abraham Lincoln thought he was going to lose the election of 1864 and perhaps the war along with it.

Sure as shit – the letters home from the Confederate Army indicated that morale was up. I have read them myself…tons of these letters are housed at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Go there yourself and check them out if you don’t believe me.

So all this “High Tide of the Confederacy” stuff is a postwar creation. Sure, the citizens of the North and South thought the battle was important to be sure, but perhaps for different reasons than many Americans believe today.

And…if you read all the way to the end of this post I have a got a surprise for you – you can get the super-uber-deep- discount on my Gettysburg web-course HERE. You’re welcome 🙂

With compliments,


Racism in Reconstruction Politics

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 4.47.54 PM Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 10.24.11 AMI often show images such as these to my APUSH students when we discuss the racism embedded in Reconstruction Era political discourse. While nearly all white Americans (from both sides of the political spectrum) endorsed what we, from a twenty-first century perspective,  would consider racist assumptions and stereotypes, the conservative Democrats (especially in the former Confederacy)  did so with a particular zeal. This does not seem to surprise my students at all. It makes sense that the people who had fought to preserve slavery would be racists.  What they have trouble with is the notion that white Republicans – those who championed emancipation and eventually equality before the law for all Americans – could just as readily embrace the shared racist proclivities of white America. For example, they might support civil,  but not social equality; suffrage, but not political determinism.

One of the greatest challenges for students is to distance historical actors from neat and tidy categories. Though we have have a tendency to compartmentalize things for the sake of simplification and easy explanation – seldom does history unfold with clean edges. I am working on a web-course right now that will address the complexities of this era – tailored specifically for APUSH and college students. Expect the launch this month….just in time for test prep. See how that works out?

With compliments,