Tag Archives: Civil War memory

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,

Keith

 

On the Books

158046-bestsellers-lrgGreetings all!

I have just been listening to historian Edward L. Ayers interview fellow blogger Kevin Levin on NPR’s Backstory  concerning his recent post on Civil War Memory. The topic: history bestsellers in 2014.

In the post, Kevin offers his observations on a few salient characteristics shared by the authors on the list. Among those enumerated, notable is that most of the authors are journalists – not academic historians.

Kevin’s reasons behind this? Well, for one, it’s because journalists tell an entertaining story (which implies that academics don’t…but more on that later). And ultimately, that is what the reading public wants: entertainment. But more importantly, these authors have much more far-ranging influence than your garden variety academic. They benefit from exposure on television, in the press, and they have a strong social media presence. With this I think Kevin is pretty much right on the money. Take it from me, I know a robust Internet presence helps sell books (see what I did there?). In a follow-up post, he counsels academics, and I would agree: if you want to keep up, you had better get to work.

Get to work indeed. Many (though certainly not all) academics are missing out on an enormous opportunity to engage with the general public precisely because they do not take advantage of the instantaneous and world-wide connections provided by social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Let’s take the journalists…I can assure you that they have things covered in the exposure department.

But popularity aside, are these journalist-author-personalities up to the challenge? I suggest that not all best-selling journalists – even Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists – are created equal, at least when it comes to writing history. While the American public thirsts for a good historical tale, many would-be historians fall short in their efforts to rise to the occasion. The well-read, and might I add informed public, certainly get the entertainment they desire. What they often do not get is engaging history – but rather, shallow reports of historical events. So let’s not be confused here. Entertaining stories and history are not necessarily the same thing. Though first-rate journalists may have a flair for the written word, I am not convinced that they stand up to the rigors of academic research. And I do not want to sound snotty – but much of their work fails to match the standards set in academia. Some just write bad history well – and that is a damn shame.

Case in point. I recently read journalist Dick Lehr’s book on the controversial film, The Birth of a Nation. The book was not without virtues.  The writing was vivid, punchy, and yes, entertaining. But the history didn’t cut it for me. Lehr’s book was full of pretty obvious historical errors. His analysis was one dimensional and the book lacked depth and insight (spoiler alert: the film is racist…and black people didn’t like that).  I can only surmise that this is because the man is not a trained historian – so I forgive his shortcomings. And let’s be honest – if I tried to be a journalist, I would most likely blow it. So I will stick to doing what I know how to do – and keep writing history.

On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed journalist Rick Atkinson’s WWII Liberation Trilogy. This series was exhaustively researched and beautifully written. And yes, it too was entertaining. So I guess you never know. Like in any profession (even academia…) some are just better than others.

So while Kevin might call for academics to get on board with the 21st century and reach out to a world of potential readers, I would add that journalists should up their game as well – perhaps hit the archives and the historiography a little harder. And as a side note or a story for another day, I would be thrilled if academic historians would not only reach out to but also write for a broader audience. To my friends in the hallowed halls – dial down the esoteric language. It sounds so…academic. You’ll just wind up writing a better story, and that’s a good thing.

As always, feel free to weigh in here.

With compliments,

Keith

 

Confederate Memorial Day

I was going through some Harristorian archival video footage today and came across this: the Confederate Memorial Day commemoration at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.  This is from a couple of years back but the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy hold the ceremony every May. The video (a shade over four minutes) is worth the watch. A few of the participants make some very interesting observations.  By the way, the event is not advertised. According to to one representative, the UDC did not want any unfriendlies attending. I inquired about this (naturally) and she said, “the neighborhood has gotten a little dark…if you know what I mean.”

True story. And yes…I knew what she meant.

With compliments,

Keith

Longstreet’s Beard

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 11.26.48 AM

On this, the anniversary of the Pickett-Pettigrew assault, I offer you a few words on unsightly faux whiskers:

You know, sometimes things are just plain ridiculous. I mean……asinine. Case in point – Tom Berenger did a fair enough job playing Confederate General James Longstreet in the Film Gettysburg. But the beard….really?????

Whoever did the hair and makeup for this film should be tarred and feathered. Or at least, never allowed to work in the motion picture business. I have heard that wretched looking thing compared to squirrels, beavers, brooms, coon-skin caps, and any number of other things that all would look equally ridiculous glued to a man’s chin.

My God people, did anyone think this thing looked like a real beard? Couldn’t Berenger have just grown one? It would have been worth the time. It is really really distracting.

But here is another problem. To a whole lot of people, the film Gettysburg is what the  battle – and those whoScreen Shot 2014-07-03 at 11.29.36 AM took part in it – looked like. So now, to my horror, when people think of James Longstreet – many of them think of Tom Berenger as Longstreet.

Don’t believe me? Take a trip to the battlefield sometime. You will find a very odd (dedicated post Gettysburg) monument to – James “Tom Berenger” Longstreet – beard and all. The power of the motion picture is simply remarkable – despite the sometimes hideous use of fake facial hair.

 

With compliments,

Keith

 

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What’s With the Irish Brigade? (Obligatory St. Patrick’s Day Post)

Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 9.26.16 AMSince today is St. Patrick’s Day,  I thought that I would simply make a few observations and pose some questions – or rather, one big question: What’s with the Irish Brigade?

The thing is this. In terms of  Civil War imagery appearing here and there in popular culture and visitor center gift shops, the Irish Brigade seems to get more than its fair share of face time.

Now I am not in any way denying that these guys deserve accolades – they did…and still do. But I am interested in why people today find them so compelling among the many units of distinction.

Points of possible discussion include, but are certainly not limited to:

1) the fantastically maudlin scene in the film Gods and Generals, where the Irish Brigade face their Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 9.26.35 AMIrish Confederate counterparts at Fredericksburg. You remember….they burst in to tears as they blaze away at each other – oy.

2) the imbalance favoring the Irish Brigade in the broader collection of popular Civil War artwork. Having a look at paintings by Dan Nance and Don Troiani would be a good place to start. And as a side note – I have always wondered why these paintings show the regimental and national colors flapping furiously in the wind…while none of the soldiers’ hats are flying off.

Screen shot 2014-03-17 at 9.26.50 AMThe truth of the matter….I have more questions than answers. I suppose that is what keeps this blog going.

Fág an bealach!!

Keith