KKK was not just a southern thing; Obama gives another history lecture; a better way to deal with controversial monuments; Rable on Fredericksburg

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VCU history professor John Kneebone has unveiled a digital interactive map that pinpoints areas of the US that had some form of KKK “klavern” from 1915-1940. It is a powerful reminder that the organization of hate was not exclusive to the south or midwest, or to rural areas. (And let me just take another opportunity to add that its another reminder of the widespread advocacy of violence in the name of white, protestant, fundamentalism here in the US).

Obama gave a history lesson to the nation today (and was on firmer ground than a couple of days ago), reminding us that we are a nation of immigrants. Anyone that has ever had a history class should know this, but sadly current events seem to indicate otherwise.  “How quickly we forget,” he said. “One generation passes, two generations pass and we don’t remember where we came from and suggest that there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them’ — not remembering that we used to be ‘them.’ ”

We saw something like this happen on the William and Mary campus, and now it seems to be spreading to Harvard and elsewhere; students are engaging with historical monuments and buildings on their campus not by desecrating them, but by posting sticky notes that provide a little context. This is a MUCH better way to handle this than some of the defacement we saw earlier this year. At Harvard they have even created a walking tour for the campus that details the institution’s slave history. Outstanding. I hope that this kind of student engagement leads to more permanent contextualization than just sticky notes.

The last few days have been the anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. The folks at We’re History have had a lot of fine pieces by noted historians, but today they take it up a notch by featuring one from one of our most preeminent Civil War historians, George C. Rable (full disclosure: he was my dissertation director and mentor, but don’t hold that against him). His book on the battle won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, and here he offers a short essay on the event and its significance in the popular and political culture of the time.

And while we are on exceptional history books, here is something depressing: Entertainment Weekly has posted some book gift ideas for the history lover . . . And not one of the books is by a professional historian. :Sigh: May I recommend the one mentioned above? Oh, and this one. 🙂

And for my Christmas season posting for today: the Atlantic has started a series devoted to revealing the history behind some of our more popular holiday songs. Today,  they report on ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,” revealing that the words of the song depend on what side of the Atlantic Ocean you are on. Surprisingly, however, the American version is the original one.

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