tv The Civil War Reflections on the Civil War CSPAN May 26, 2019 7:15pm-7:55pm EDT
next, historian edward ayres analyzes the difference between history and memory, and explores the important role that scholarship plays in public history. he also examines how the american public remembers the civil war. this 25 minute talk was part of the american civil war museum's annual symposium at the library of virginia, and cohosted by the university of virginia center for civil war history. >> welcome back everyone, and thank you for being with us. i would be remiss before i go into our final presenter if i did not actually thank two more people. we usually save this one to individual toward the end. i ask you to join me in giving a round of applause to dr. john coski, the heart and soul behind the symposium. [applause]
john plans, works out the details, coordinates with all the partners, he runs up and down the aisles. he loves doing that during the q&a sessions. thank you, dr. john coski, staff historian at the american civil war museum. the other person i have to thank unfortunately is not with us today. her name is kathy wright. she is wright.e she is the chief curator on the exhibition a people's contest. she has owned this project for at least four years now. working with everyone on staff, she has been an extraordinary , extraordinary force to make sure not only that we got the stories right and the narratives rich and full, but worked with
myto help articulate sometimes inarticulate ideas about the vision, what i wanted to see, what i didn't want to see when it came to this exhibition. what i knew is that i wanted to create something different. what i knew is i did not want this to look like everybody else's civil war museum exhibit. what i knew is i didn't want to see the same colors, the same images. i wanted it to have power to move people. and from the beginning, kathy got it. and she has worked tirelessly again on this exhibit. and why is she not here? well, she nearly gave us a heart attack. you see, one of these very interesting young men came in, wanting to do some research in our collections and archives. a lovely fellow from edinburgh, scotland. the next thing we know, he
has whisked her off and they are living happily married together in scotland. she has been working remotely . she has been working remotely for the last almost year. she will be back to help load in all of the artifacts for the exhibition. she'll be coming in another few weeks and be with us as long as her visa allows. now that she is the spouse in an n e.u. nation. kathy, if you're watching on c-span -- i don't know if it's even available to you -- we just want to say thank you and i ask you to join me in thanking kathy on an extraordinary job done. [applause] now, our last speaker of the day is ed ayers. we at the american civil war museum are fortunate to have as
our founding chairman of trustees one of the nation's most prominent and insightful historians of the american civil war. we not only -- quite frankly, we're not shy about taking advantage of ed's expertise. [laughter] at all. he has proven leadership skills. he has proven vision. he has been a phenomenal, phenomenal leader of our organization, doing some pretty extraordinary -- during some pretty extraordinary times over the last six years. you try being the founding board chairman of a newly merged institution. well, he did it. and he did it extraordinarily well. although we claim ed as our own, we also acknowledge that other institutions can do the same.
his day job is tucker boatwright professor of humanities and professor emeritus of the university of richmond. he has also served in the leadership or advisory positions for the library of virginia, virginia historical society, now the museum of history and culture, and other local institutions. and he recently served as president of the prestigious organization of american historians. yeah. his several books, which are listed in the program, have been nominated for and received many awards, including the bancroft prize, lincoln prize and the avery craven award. even his scholarly articles have become important contributions to the field of civil war history. his essay, "worrying about the civil war," published in the book, "what caused the civil war," is credited with launching the, quote, "new civil war revismism," end quote, and was the subject of a special session of the 2018 society of civil war historians conference. ed is so active and in such demand that he was unable to be present in person for that session, because he was in japan. but he prerecorded a videotape response.
we're happy to have him in person here today. to share final thoughts about a people's contest, a symposium and an exhibition. gentlemen and ladies, dr. ed ayers. [applause] dr. ayers: thanks, everybody. you know, kristi and i get along well, but announcing that there is wine at the museum struck me as perhaps misplaced. [laughter] slippage of information. but forget about all that. it's not open yet. you couldn't get in if you were there now. so let's just focus on all this. i don't have to tell you what a pleasure and honor it is to get ristyrk with kristi -- ch and all my friends and members of the board here, making this all happen. and my friends, the historians as well. and i want to focus on them, because they have made so many contributions to us. and i want to understand, they've all pioneered in different ways for us to understand the american civil war.
they've written books about the persistent problem of disunion from the very founding of the nation all the way up to the times the war broke out. they've written about the very idea of nation, what would it take to create a new nation. they've written about the struggles of enslaved people in the very place where slavery first took root in the united states, in eastern virginia, and the generations thereafter. and they helped us understand what it was like to try to stay alive in the fatal disease environment of the american civil war. so all of the people you've heard today have those other stories to tell you, when you get a chance to hear them at other times. but characteristically, they helped us with our purpose. thanks to them as well as the expert historians at the american civil war museum, kathy and john and others, every word in the museum has been held up several times to the light of the very best scholarship, scrutinized, discussed and
sometimes politely debated. is that exactly the right verb for that? is that what you would call that, those people? and we're fortunate to have such excellent scholars in virginia. that is one thing to think about. all these folks have come across the commonwealth to richmond to pore over all these documents with us, to share their passion, their dedication, to getting things right. and our friend, gary gallagher, was also part of this team with his clear eyed vision and vast knowledge. now, to some people, this deployment of scholarship in a museum's realm might seem misplaced. museums, as we've seen in the pictures that paul showed us, are filled with evocative artifacts. we shamelessly say we're trying to evoke emotions. we are trying to make you feel
this war, this immense, this awe-inspiring struggle that too often has become domesticated to make it real, to make it new. so what are we doing with a bunch of people who live among footnotes and monographs? we're just going to slow the thing down, drag it down into our concerns? museums exist for their emotional capacity. for the presentation of objects that speak beyond the literal words of monographs. and someone wrote me an amusing e-mail last week in fact about this. and it read, i once heard you say that as a historian, you're in the confusion business. you are a successful historian, as i am confused. [laughter] "i've heard you and others say that there's a difference between history and memory. i also heard you and others say that historians are revisioners, that history is not static but that it is always changing. if this is so, isn't it true there is no difference between history and memory or perhaps that only memory and not history
exists?" that's a good e-mail. and thank you, sir, for sending it to me. and here's how i replied. get off of -- no. [laughter] noted, "thanks for your and for your good question. the short answer is that history is based on evidence that other people can examine. memory is not. history is revised, therefore, as the evidence changes. either because there is more of it, as there always is, or because we come to see old evidence with new questions and methods. memory is powerful. but it's often wrong. if history is wrong, it will be corrected. i hope this helps reduce some of the confusion." he did write back. so i assume that it did. [laughter] but it was a useful question that he asked. it reminds us that scholarship
is time release. it's a cumulative effect of little monographs that slowly move our understanding. it takes effect through classrooms, through television documentaries. thank you. through c-span, through talks at national park service sites. often one conversation at a time. the very strength of scholarship, expertise, evidence, patience, careful language, attention to what has been said before, limits its reach. it's easy to make fun of the scholarship as talking to itself, as being read by few people. but that misunderstands what it is. and what its purposes are. scholarship is meant to be focused and original rather than broad and synthetic. scholarship is meant to deal with one issue carefully rather than many things in a shallow way.
scholarship is meant to be read, discussed, debated, and reread over decades, in seminars and by scholars rather than over one season that it might happen to be a best seller. it's meant to be revised, improved. you might even go to give a talk and hear yourself quoted from 16 years ago. it's an alarming concept. i'm sure i've had at least one idea in 16 years. but there you are. [laughter] dr. ayers: this invitation to revision, as they say in silicon valley, is not a bug. it's a feature. the fact that we don't claim we've nailed that, what caused the civil war, we're done, is not a failing. it's not a limitation. it is what we do. and as i sometimes say, but i'm challenged on this, i want revisionist history, just like i want revisionist medicine. i want us to deploy the latest thing that we've learned
collectively, that we put our minds together and discovered. that's what revisionist history is. it's history that has been revised because it's better in alignment with what we're learning and we're learning new things all the time. and scholarship takes place in museums. a critical point of contact between the world of scholarship and the world of memory. so i'm not a museum professional. i'm not sure how many years i have to work at this before i can claim such. but six years, every time i go to a medicine, i go, well, i -- to a meeting i go, well, i , didn't understand that. i didn't know that. why, this museum stuff is hard and it's exciting. you can make something and then people of all ages and backgrounds can come in and see this, and you get one shot, in the relatively few seconds they're going to give reading these words, to get it right. and they're coming in with memories. some are according to evidence and some are not. museums do things scholarship
can't. but they must rest on scholarship or they're not doing their job. making claims, and claiming -- they are out in public, making claims, and claiming authority. in fact, museums are among the most respected institutions in the united states. and for good reason. they earn it every day. i don't know about you folks, but i don't want to ruin that. i want the museum that i'm associated with to be a part of that same civic good, to be the place that you can go and know you can trust it. that people are showing you the full story. now as we have seen in recent years, memory lives outside of museums. memory lives in families, in communities, in churches and organizations. it lives online. it lives in demonstrations. people with a vested interest in their own memories, which often happen to serve purposes beyond
historical understanding, don't seek out scholarship that challenges those memories. they seek out -- or they don't seek out scholarship at all, frankly. they often look for other people to tell them you are exactly right. don't pay any attention to the people who studied this for decades. you know what is right. and few of us, as paul was saying, ask me to explain anything other than the civil war, and i will give you a very simple explanation for it. what does evolution look like? not what you think it is. how does a car run? it's not you turn the key and the wheels go. but we don't have the bandwidth to think about all of the complexity of all the things we deal with all the time. the civil war is too important to have it sit on a bumper sticker. it is too important to have a pat answer. you need to have a museum where you can see the feel the full humanity of it, the full complexity of it.
some things that one time seemed to aid memory now seem to impede memory. the statues of the south, the statues to the confederacy, that masked slavery and defeat. the united states said nothing of the million the of men who refused to vote for abraham lincoln in 1864 or who rioted against the draft. as we heard today, there are few moments who played an important role in the war that have been intentionally forgotten, who have been effaced. we can't count on the monuments to tell us the story. cities of carriages soon became cities of automobiles.
people raced past the monuments. as new wars demanded new sacrifices and new monuments, the civil war faded from view. imagined as a more humane, smaller scale, more brotherly kind of war. juxtaposed to the mechanized and anonymous slaughter of the modern times. fortunately, we had museums. fortunately we have our museum. our new american civil war museum is built on the most inclusive, most evocative and most up to date scholarship across the entire range of civil war era scholarship. scholarship on slavery, reconstruction, nationalism, technology and medicine as well as military mobilization and events and consequences. we have worked hard to integrate this new scholarship into every facet of our museum.
we began our museum, and kathy helped us make arthur that we did, with the assumption that military history of the broad, inclusive, innovative and exciting version that she told us about. we began with assumption that we can't tell the story of a war without knowing it was a war. we began our understanding that the causes of the war were complex and we tried to ♪ dramatize it. we began with the assumption that we had to include the stories. you will see her smiling as you as you get ready to walk in the front door. and we had to understand the stories of the enslaved people
who moved to fort monroe with such hope and determination, and who enlisted in the army and navy of the united states, and helped safe the united states, the powerful stories that cassandra told us. our logo reminds us that we are telling multiple stories. we are telling three interwoven stores. you cannot understand the civil war as one story. rather it is a braid of three major plot lines. they twist around each other, shape each other, but they are distinct stories that have to be understood as their own series of challenges and struggles. the first plot line is that of the would be confederacy, who initiated much of the action. without white southerners attempted succession, there is no war and there is no emancipation. the states of the confederacy, they clearly announced wanted to establish their own nation where the future of slavery could never be infringed upon or
threaten. it was their right, they asserted to leave the united states, and create a new presence. they did not foresee the united states willing and able to fight a war to force them to stay within the nation. they did not foresee a four-year war that would kill a quarter of the military aged men among the white population. they did not see the end of slavery for four million enslaved people, overnight and no compensation from their former masters. they destroyed slavery in the only way it could have died so quickly, thoroughly and without compensation. it was, as one contemporary put it, the colossal suicide of world history. that is one plot line. the second plot line is that of the united states, which went to war to defend its very existence.
it discovered almost immediately despite resisting that knowledge that it could not do so without undermining and then destroying slavery. the white people of the north fought bitterly over that recognition, nearly half insisting until the very end that emancipation was a diversion from the true purpose of the war, of holding the country together. that emancipation was driven forward by disenfranchise sized women and african-americans who flooded congress with petitions. the conversion of public opinion to that new cause of emancipation was the greatest political accomplishment in american history. it was not automatic. it was not hard-wired at the beginning. it was not just waiting to rise to the surface. abraham lincoln managed to use a political party to mobilize millions of voters to be better than they were before the election. to think about someone other than themselves, to devote the
enormous power of the united states to freeing people held in perpetual bondage. and as katie's reminds us, even that great victory at the electoral box was made possible because of vehicle drills in the battlefield in atlanta and in the shenandoah valley. you need to remember abraham lincoln manages to persuade 1% more people to vote for him than they had in 1860. that is how close this was and why the events on the battlefield, in the south, north, men, women, black people, white people are the same story. pull them apart to see what people are doing, but they all come back together. but neither union victory nor emancipation that came as a result of that victory was preordained by numbers, or manufacturing or moral superiority.
we are fortunate that the united states survived, and we should be grateful for that deliverance rather than smugly certain that it was destined from the outset because they were modern like we are. the third plot line is most the most straight forward and the most powerful of all. there the most moments of is he session, as cassandra showed us today, enslaved did everything they could to escape and destroy slavery. they escaped and went to the united states within three weeks of virginia's is he session. after 200 years of slavery in virginia, with three weeks to be the enemy of the enemy. 200,000 african-american men played crucial roles in preserves the united states as well as winning black freedom. others, women as well as men, young and old, sometimes far from the battle front created opportunities from the smallest openings, making emancipation
conceivable, and then possible and then real. they freed themselves over and over again with the aid of the united states army. enslaved people's actions drove the political purposes of the united states independent on those. and enslaved people's actions to make themselves free grew greater, ironically, the longer the confederacy fought. the stories keep intersecting in ways that you would not have expected. you can't under them apart, but you can understand them all together as a series of battles. the fights against great odd does not diminish them, but heightens them. union victory does not tarnish with confederate skill. we realize how desperately the
northern democrats resisted them. union victory is not dimmed by knowing how many black americans freed themselves and built on that freedom. it has been a long road on this museum. there have been obstacles that we didn't anticipate, opportunities that we couldn't have imagined. i think that when you see it, though, you are going to be struck, a, that we are so fortunate to be at that remarkable place down by the james river. the industrial site, the bricks themselves speaking of all the suffering that went into that. you can imagine standing there in front of that and hearing the ships exploding in the james as the united states army is
closing in on richmond. the fires right behind that building as the city is consumed. the confederate leaders fleeing across the james river. the shutouts of the enslaved people in richmond who never could have imagined that they would be free in their life times, that they would help bring about. the unless colored troops that help extinguish the fires when they came into the liberate the city. to build this museum, to gather all those things, to take what was best about the museums that fed into it, to keep the remarkable talent of the people working in both those museums, to honor the purposes of the people who entrusted us with those artifacts, to make something that is going to take richmond, which was the center of the civil war for every day there was a civil war, to be in the place that was the center of the domestic slave trade, to be in the place where the largest number of enslaved people became free, remarkable responsibility.
there were nights i couldn't sleep thinking about oh, gosh, is this going to work out or not? apparently it almost has. the beauty is you get to go see before the final debut. i think it is only fitting that the people who come to this symposium, who give us a day, a saturday, when i hear there is a pretty good ball game coming up a little bit later, to come here and think this hard subject, to listen to these new perspectives, to be challenged maybe from what you thought before, it seems only fitting
that you folks should be among the first to see that museum. thank you for coming tonight. see you down there. thanks, everybody. [laughter] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] takeerapy program, we will your phone calls, tweets, and facebook comments. monday, memorial day, starting at 8:00 a.m. eastern. the house will be in order. been providing
america unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events from washington dc and around the country, so you can make up your own mind. is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. >> tonight, a yell university historian on her book about violence in congress and the road to civil war. up with scores of congressman and a mass brawl. it is germanic. guys throwing punches and spittoon's. at the time looked at it and what they saw was a group of northerners and a group of southerners, lots of them armed, running at each other in the
house of representatives. several of them say, this does not look like a normal congressional fight. this looks like north against south. like a battle. that is striking. it did look like a battle. it is not that long before the civil war. >> tonight at 8:00 eastern. >> the atlantic wall has been penetrated. there after the first assault, the allies clung precariously on a few beach respect. men and material have poured on to the newly won beach hits with favorable tides. the allied command has announced that it was. the nazis knew that each passing hour diminished their chance of throwing the allies back into the seas.
but the american, english and canadian troops went forward and make contact with the french people. this was no pushover, driving the germans back. some of our troops dropped within yards of the water's edge. there were two enemies, the germans and the heavy seas. german prisoners were taken almost at once. american and british aircraft supported the shock troops magnificently, preventing the germans from marshalling reinforcements. american marauders plastered peaceful looking forests, hiding places of nazi forces.
doughboys and tommies pushed forward into the villages and small towns. and more and more prisoners fell into their hands. some were still arrogant, reluctant to raise their hands in defeat. landing craft carried the captives back to england. this, then, is hitler's invasion of britain. they come now defeated men to the confinement behind barbed-wire. the united nations onslaught is smashing ahead on many fronts. here in rome, general clark watched his men march into the city. the allies were able to view the work of their mighty air support. some of these rail yards were bombed months ago, but repairs for the germans were out of the
question. this is the same devastation being brought to nazi transport throughout the whole of europe. in their triumphal entry, they moved past moments of antiquity. the long history of the ancient city has seen few more joyous events. the liberators were acclaimed with fervor. rome was the first great capital to be freed from the enemy. the flags of united nations were
unfurled at once, heralding the end of four years of nazi tyranny for the people of rome. and here is the balcony where musolini once harangued his people. but suddenly there is excitement in the square. a bomb has been thrown into the former german headquarters. the italian people discovered that some were hiding inside. and soon they smashed their way in. the traitors who collaborated with germany find little forgiveness in the hearts of the people. as general clark rode through the capital, american flags found their way into hands of liberated italians. the brilliant commander of the victorious french armies went up to the familiar balcony with the
american commander. then the drama shifted to st. peter's. his holiness the pope was about to speak, and nearly half a million packed the historic square. the pope had this to say. thanks be to god. rome has been spared the horrors of war. we should show our gratitude by good works and charity and cease from hatred and rancor. [speaking italian]
pinpoint shooting put numbers of nazi tanks out of action. in the skies, bombers and fighters maintained cover for the ground forces below. the allied troops are received as long-awaited friends. peasants show them the way, warn them where to expect mines and give all possible help. the allies have found firm
resistance and are prepared for even stronger contests. less than a week after the initial landings, we had taken 10,000 prisoners. there is much hard fighting ahead, but the germans are now faced with a three-front war. in the northern reaches of russia, in the mountains of italy, and here against this most tremendous military operation in history. among those witnessing the beach head operation was the supreme allied commander, general eisenhower. here he meets with admiral ramsey and general montgomery. the supreme commander is on hand to learn first-hand how the offensive is going. what he learned was good indeed. the meeting of these brilliant leaders symbolizes the unity of the united nations forces they represent. the conference over, the british leader returns to the normandy headquarters to get on with the business at hand.
♪ >> this memorial day, american history tv marks the 75th anniversary of the world war ii invasion of normandy, france, which took place june 6, 1944. starting at 8:00 a.m. eastern monday, alex kershaw, author of the first wave, joins us live from the national d-day memorial in virginia to take viewer questions. that is memorial day monday here on c-span 3.