tv [untitled] May 28, 2012 11:00am-11:30am EDT
from a range of scholars both on the panel and in the audience is wonderfully useful because you get all sorts of questions you would never think of yourself and, really, can help you conceptualize a project. >> do you go back into that dark room after being here and finish -- >> yes. chain myself to my desk. >> i quite agree. i think we get into patterns as individuals and disciplines. and you can work for a long time in isolation. and an obvious question or concern doesn't occur to you. and then as a discipline this is the first time i have been to a history conference. i am a political scientist. and no political scientist is talking about the role of violence in congress, although i know there is a huge audience so you will make a big splash whether you like it or not. and to simply be opened up to new empirical phenomena, things happening in the world, beyond simply thinking about things in
new ways but being shown things that didn't even -- didn't occur to you. >> we were just having a conversation he was suggesting basically political science tools that i can apply to my data and come up with some pretty interesting conclusions, so right there is the conference in action. >> in the field of political science regarding congress, what are some of the top issues that are coming out? what are some of the areas of discussion your students want to hear you talk about, are asking you about, or your colleagues are researching it? >> there is a lot of work on parties and people trying to make sense of a question that you raised earlier, which is why are the parties polarizing as much as they are? how strong are parties? what does it mean for a party to influence the behavior of a rank and file member? these are live questions among scholars and in many ways unresolved questions. >> the period you're writing about is we saw the decline of the wig party, correct, and then the birth of the republican
party. >> right. >> did that come out of some of this clash in congress, this violence, this emotion that was running? >> well, i would say they're related, right, because some of what's happening there is slavery related, and slavery is part of what's -- particularly in the 1850s -- fueling that violence, so i would say that they're related. the fact is, though -- i mean, i think it is tempting to think that the wig party which is kind of reform and morality and -- you would assume they're not fighters and that the democrats are the ones who are the fighters. there are wig bullies and democratic bullies, so you can't really connect it in that way. you can't say things got violent and the wigs took their marbles and went home because they're fighting the fight as well, but i think the slavery issue makes it all one bundle. >> on parties, does the tea party have legs for political power in congress?
do you see a day where there may be a tea party, quote, candidate? obviously there are republicans who follow the tea party but does that have any legs as a political party? >> as a separate third party. >> absolutely. >> i think unlikely, at least in the short-term. the tea party just for the republicans just as the occupy wall street, they're not sending candidates to office, but they're a disaffected wing and it goes back to how do parties maintain discipline given huge disagreements among them? the tea parties represent one more threat. we saw this with boehner trying to negotiate with obama over the debt ceiling and trying to maintain a single front when he has a whole bunch of rank and file members who are gunning for him and are not willing to compromise in any level. >> william howell and joanne freeman from yale, we appreciate
you stopping by here on american history tv. thank you for being with us. >> thank you for having us. this week on the civil war, historians and authors, including david blight and stephanie mccurry, discuss ongoing legacies of the civil war. the issues and controversies still being borne out today. yale university's guilder lehrman center hosted this event. it's about an hour and 45 minutes. good afternoon, everyone. good afternoon, everyone. >> good afternoon. >> i was in a bunch of southern churches recently. you either do it right or you don't do it. welcome. i am david blight, director for gilder lehrman center for slavery resistance and abolition. this is what we call the david
brian lecture series, which we founded, i don't know, at least six, seven years ago now in honor of my colleague david brennan davis, who is right here in the front row. david was the founder of this center, some 13 years ago. another way of putting it is the center was founded around david's work, which is still where everyone goes to understand especially the intellectual history of the problem of slavery in the world for that matter. david was doing a kind of trance national history of this before anyone ever used the word trance national. welcome, david. we have done this in many different forms, had a single lecture, go away with people for three or four days in a row. we have had panels, series of lectures and so forth. sometimes we produce a book. today, we are just going to hopefully produce a really lot
of interesting hot air on a subject on a subject that has i think some currency. this is of course the civil war sesquicentennial. if you haven't noticed, those of us in this field have more than noticed. we can't seem to help it. a year ago now, in the spring of 2011, some of you may remember just about this time, march and april, everyone in the press in major newspapers to magazines, to everywhere, had to do some kind of piece on the meaning and memory of the civil war at its 150th anniversary. at that point, as members of this panel will remember, it was often the first question from the reporter at some newspaper in north carolina or connecticut
was, so was it really about slavery? or what about that black confederate thing? it is as though there are some resonant quick stories out there for journalists, the president to grab on to when they need to. of course, our job was always to deepen that story in whatever two minutes they would give us. i want to quickly introduce the panel, as quick as i can. this is not a group that's easy to introduce quickly. i just want to say, we're doing c-span. we are going to try to keep this on time. we are also streaming live on the yale website, i think. i'm going to introduce everybody, and here is what we are going to do. i am going to offer a very brief definition of legacy, just one attempt at that word just briefly. it occurred to me that since i have asked everybody to talk
about legacies, before they ask me to define it, i will offer a definition. then, i have asked each member of the panel to take two minutes -- that's all they get -- to declare their favorite or could be unfavorite or least favorite -- legacy of the civil war. they get two minutes to state it and defend it. then, we will go from there. our first guess is ta-nehisi coates, immediately -- two people to my right. sorry. >> i would like to be ta-nehisi. >> you have been reading his blog. ta-nehisi is a senior editor of "atlantic" magazine. he writes for the magazine and a now quite prominent blog. he has many fans on his blog as i have learned. in fact, at least a few years ago, i started hearing from friends, tom thurston, my colleague is one of them, who kept saying, you have got to start reading this guy. he's talking about your books a lot. so i started reading him.
he is the author of a memoir called "the beautiful struggle" about growing up in west baltimore. that memoir is among other things a father and son story, a riveting father and son story. ta-nehisi's father was a black panther and also a vietnam veteran. it is a memoir that seems inspired by -- you can correct this if you want -- the era of hip-hop. and it seems to be in some ways a search for a kind of nonviolent masculine identity, if i could put it that way, in the '80s and '90s when he was on his way to howard university. he is a journalist who's worked for the village voice, "time" magazine, "washington post," a lot of other papers. he is also writing fiction about which he spoke earlier today in a student form. and most recently among the other kind of blogs he has done on the civil war, he wrote a
piece called "why do so few blacks study the civil war?" which the undergraduate seminar just recently read. also, quickly, i had one of the most interesting conversations by telephone with ta-nehisi late last fall about the idea of tragedy. maybe we will come back to that. andrew delbanco is a preeminent literary cultural historians of our time, professor of humanities at columbia. he was just awarded the national humanities award by president obama. once called by "time" magazine america's best social critic. he is the author of many books. whether you wanted that label or not apparently. among many books, i will just mention two brand-new ones both coming out this year. that's not fair, by the way. nobody should publish two books in one year. one is called "the abolitionist
imagination," which i read in manuscript. it is a long essay, a probing provocative essay about the reputation of abolitionists with four people responding and very soon to be reviewed by david brian davis and new yorker books. you two can deal with that later. then the book called "college: what it was, is, and should be," which andy was interviewed about on connecticut public radio yesterday, if any of you happened to hear it. probably most prominently, he is known for his great biography of herman melville. it is on my short list of biographies to model if you are trying to do a biography about a writer, which i am. and it's a great book. he also wrote the book called "the death of satan," which is a book about american culture in civil war. he edited the portable lincoln, et cetera, et cetera and commonly writes for the new york
review of books. gary gallagher is professor of the american civil war at the university of virginia. he taught for years at penn state before going to uva. gary grew up in colorado and california. he went to graduate school at texas. and i don't know what it is, but maybe the texas hook that makes the neoconfederates think he ought to be one of them until they find out he's not. at any rate, for years, he i had edited a series with the university of north carolina press, which has produced some of the best books we have about the civil war era. several of which he wrote himself. he is the author, editor of 30 books. i will just mention a few, "the confederate war," the book called "causes won, lost and forgotten: how hollywood and popular art shaped what we know about the civil war." he is the hollywood expert on this. "lee and his generals and war
and memory." a particular favorite of mine if you work on memory. just recently, the book called "union war," which my graduate seminar read and took apart as graduate seminars always do, yesterday afternoon. so who knows what questions may come from them, gary. watch out. gary is one of the most sought-after speakers on this subject in the united states, and his lectures are online or in many different places electronically if you want to look for them. stephanie mccurry, between andy and gary, taught for some years at san diego state and at northwestern and has been at the university of pennsylvania now as professor of history for eight, nine, maybe ten years by now. she was born in belfast. her family immigrated to canada. she went to high school in canada and then came to the u.s. to graduate school. she did her ph.d. at suny binghamton.
she's been one of the most imaginative historians we have on matters of gender, race, class, among other things, about southern history and about american history. she -- her first book called "masters of small worlds" about yeoman households was a multiple prize-winning book and still rests on almost everybody's reading list and graduate reading list. stephanie only writes books that end up on graduate reading lifts. her newest book called "confederate reckoning: power, politics, and the civil war tsao," just won the frederick douglass book prize. another prize-winning book. stephanie and i have done many things together in this business and most recently a conference in israel last summer, which we managed to scheme and get ourselves invited to, which was in jerusalem, a conference comparing the american civil war with other civil wars. that was an interesting
comparative moment. and finally john witt from yale law school. john is yale college b.a., yale law school, yale ph.d. in history, but he is actually a philadelphia phillies fan. >> that's true. >> he's the alan duffy class of 1960 professor of law at yale. they say he teaches torts but he is really a constitutional historian and a great one. several books, "patriots and cosmopolitans: hidden histories of american law," another entitled "the accidental republic: crippled working men, destitute widows" and "the remaking of american law," and now forthcoming soon, very soon, "lincoln's code: the laws of war in american history." this is a panel i put together to try to get obviously different perspectives on this huge problem of what is the civil war legacy. so i'm going to ask andy to go first.
andy. yeah. two minutes. your favorite civil war legacy. >> okay. thank you very much. delighted to be here. i am going to try to say two things in two minutes. david gave us a little bit of heads up. we got a chance to think about this. what popped into my head was a memory i hadn't thought of in a while. when i was about 10 years old, grew up in a suburb of new york from a more or less liberal democratic family, and i had a friend around the corner that was in a pretty strong republican family. we began to become aware that something that we now call the civil rights movement was underway. we found ourselves in a conversation about it. and he said to me at one point, -in those days, the terms were negroes, is that they are not grateful from having been freed from slavery.
and even to my 10-year-old ears at that time, there was something off about that statement. so the first thing i would say to keep it very succinct is, i think one of the legacies we deal with is that that sentiment is still around, that is, who bears what responsibility for what happened in those years? what does it mean to be a full-fledged member of our culture, of our society? those questions still are obviously unresolved, and i'm sure we will be talking about that as the afternoon goes on. and unfortunately, there are still a lot of people in this country that would agree with that 10-year-old sentiment. the second thing i wanted to say, because i'm an unabashed presentist, as those of you who know a little bit of my work will know, i can't help but think about the past in terms of the present.
and i think we are in an era where the current president of the united states and a number of other people are rather desperately trying to find some middle ground on which we can proceed forward into a collective future. so i find myself, when i look back at the era of the civil war, trying to imagine what it would have been like to be a person looking for the middle ground in a situation that retrospectively there was no middle ground. but thought i'm not a bona fide historian, exactly, i think one of the cardinal principles of thinking about the past is that one wants to remember that the people that one writes about in the past did not know the future. they were living ignorant of the future. and one of the things i have tried to stress in my recent work is that some decent people who were appalled by slavery but
couldn't see a way out of the impasse were trying to find a middle ground and, in fact, that's a fair, i think, description of what lincoln was trying to do for a certain period in his career and many others. so i find myself thinking about that a lot. that for me is a sort of personal intellectual legacy of the period. i'll stop there. thanks. >> thank you. my graduate seminar yesterday afternoon may have spent half the period, i think, discussing what was good presentism and what was bad presentism. it came out of your book, gary. they loved it. >> at least andy and i can get into a discussion. >> i hope so. i hope so. >> stephanie. >> want me to go? >> sure. >> okay. so i want to be a little bit contrary and say that i think there is a distinction for me as a historian of the civil war between the historical legacy, how i think about the most
important historical legacy, and what i might think of as the most important living legacy. memory is history but the memory of the civil war is not the history of the civil war. it is the history of reconstruction and of the jim crow south, the civil rights era, resistance to it, the lost cause, all of those things. but the history of the war has to do with events and their meaning in that time and place and it requires us as historians to go back to the documents, to the historical record, and see what those events -- what caused those events in time and place and consult the record of 1860 to 1865. and for me the questions that that brings up that still require urgent answer are, you know, what kind of country the confederacy wanted to build. what was succession for? these versions of the questions of the causes of the civil war. so the history of the war is to use contemporary evidence from the period to talk about the causes, the dynamics, the
consequences. so, to me, the historical legacy and the living legacy seem at odds. the civil war was, you know, in many ways the simplest way to understand it, i think, to me at least, it was a profound crisis of legitimacy in american democracy. you know, a war that tried to resolve by military means a political -- to settle something that could not be settled legislatively or electorally about the legitimacy of human bondage and about the power of the government to restrain it in a democratic society. that was the heart of the fight. and the way that was settled was definitive. the confederacy was beaten into total and unconditional surrender. so, to me, the most important historical legacy of the war has to do with the profound and lasting significance of confederate defeat. and it's really easy to forget that in all the disappointment of the postwar period. the violence, the disappointment, the violence and
betrayal of african-american hopes in the post-war period. you could lose sight of what was so profound about what was accomplished. after their failure in pro-slavery nationalism, after they were beaten, slavery could never be reinstated or rehabilitated as an institution in american life. the hubris of the plantar class was confirmed in their total -- in the total and uncompensated emancipation of 4 million african-american men, women, and children. in other words, the most important historical legacy to me is the simple fact that because they were defeated slavery was gone and it would never come back. but that doesn't answer the question of the living legacy. there, to me, may be not surprisingly, since i write about the confederacy, is the most important living legacy to me shocking and bewildering at the same time is the never-dying power and appeal of the
confederate story, continually taken up, revised and retold in every postwar generation. why this is escapes me. i have ideas. they are just as valid as the hundred in this room. i will say slave holders have always been the organic beating heart of american conservatism. that was true in the period between the founding and the civil war. and i'm a person who thinks it is just as important to think about the power of conservativism in american life as the power of radicalism and progressive forces. so in that sense, it maybe shouldn't surprise us the confederates quixotic quest became the very template for every other subsequent conservative protest. but how confederates, a people openly convicted in public opinion of treason and thoroughly defeated, retain the cultural power and speech rights to do what they did remains for me one of the most important historical questions of the
postwar period. david has written a lot about this, but it's still kind of bewildering to me how they managed to do it. many postwar societies struggle with the problem of memory. in franco, spain, the victors dictate the terms, right? they gag the opposition and the defeated people struggle to keep alive a buried, censored, and publicly dils gralsed version of their civil war. in the united states, there were no treason trials. there were no systematic attempts of political repression. there was no suspension of speech rights. so where else besides the united states did the defeated retain such power, not just to keep alive their version of the war but to commercially peddle it? and to do that from the moment the war ended if not before and to find a ready and even expanding audience for that, what they thought of as heroic script, the confederate epic,
even up to 150 years after the ancestral -- that ancestral class of people had been forced into surrender. that question about the contrast between democracy and fascism and its treatment of a defeated enemy looms really large but not very clearly in my mind when i think about the living legacy of the civil war which is the troubling question of why treason and defeat seem to make a better story. >> i think we got to come back to that one. >> gary? >> just coming down the line. i am going to keep this really short. because i think we're going to have a lot of fun this afternoon. i am going to mention two legacies very quickly. >> you're allowed to. >> the very large number of people who were drawn to the civil war i suspect some people in this room may fall into that category. i do.
i grew up -- i'm from los angeles. i lived in southern colorado and the civil war has nothing to do with los angeles and southern colorado. it captivated me as a young person. and i've been in a rut now for more years -- you can guess how many years just with a glance -- a very long time. it is such a stupendously expansive topic that there is endless opportunity to go in different directions. it never becomes stale. it never becomes boring. the sheer size of it. the importance of the issues that were at stake, they don't get more important. the questions are not any more important than they were in the civil war. and the cast of characters, of course, is very difficult to beat. a president in the united states who wrote his own speeches and didn't last two hours. think about that for a minute. so there is a lot going on that simply engages people and always has. but i think the most obvious long-term legacy of the civil war, it is so obvious we don't think of it very often, even though as a guild, we historians want to place everything into
world context. what does it mean within a world context? quit naval gazing as historians of the united states. the obvious, most important outcome of the american civil war is that the american republic maintained its status as a single increasingly powerful republic and went forward in a way that economically, militarily and cultural it wielded an enormous amount of influence, which would not have been possible had the confederacy succeeded. had the confederacy succeeded, you would have had at least two republics in north america. we all love canada. but you would have had two republics in north american that were vying for a greater part on the world's stage. but those two together could not possibly have wielded the
influence the united states wielded, and it didd and has wielded and continues to wield for good or for ill. it does because the united states triumphed during the civil war and the confederacy did not. i think that's the greatest legacy. >> so union victory was important? >> i do believe it was, yes. some people don't. and sometimes they send you e-mails. i got one last fall wishing that i would develop a case of virulent pancreatic cancer because i'm mean to the confederacy. virulent. not just regular pancreatic cancer. the virulent kind. >> they're right, but the prescription is terrible, but they're right. >> i'm finished. >> okay. okay. good. ta-nehisi? >> the best way for me to illustrate this -- i don't have a particularly objective answer. i have an entirely subjective answer. >> well, none of us are subjective so. >> all right. irthink modern black america is
the most important legacy. it's my favorite of the civil war. frankly, it is virtually impossible for me to think about my very existence without the civil war. i grew up in a household that was suffused with political struggle of african-americans. i didn't know it at this time. it is quite clear that political struggle dated back to the civil war. my father, as david mentioned, was a black panther in baltimore. the most -- probably the most radical wing of the civil rights black power struggle. my parents met there. had they not met there, i would not be sitting on this panel today. so it is very easy for me to say that in the most subjective way. but i think even more importantly than that, when you think about this in a sort of bigger way, when you think of african-americans, the entire people, what i didn't understand until i started taking this path
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