Mercy Street, episode 2; A call-to-arms to public historians; hard winter of 1779-80; sunken German U-boat discovered

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So how about that second episode of Mercy Street? It was another winner, especially in how it dealt with the precarious status of the contrabands and slaves during this part of the war. I was really impressed with how they handled it (I won’t give any spoilers) and look forward to seeing the complexities of the situation shift and evolve as the war progresses and Union policy changes. For more on this, see the discussion over on Civil War Memory. Meanwhile, the episode also featured a battle of wills between Phinney and Hastings over ventilation/fresh air in the hospital. This post seems to miss the point a bit on the dynamic involved in the disagreement between the characters, but provides a good lesson on Florence Nightingale’s thoughts on hospital ventilation. Another interesting post comes from the Gettysburg Compiler, where they have started a “Mercy Monday” series to discuss each episode. (Although the author is a bit too simplistic when she writes “Victorian society . . . regarded intercourse solely as a means of reproducing and building families.” Maybe in principle and in “proper” appearance, but the enormous amounts of brothels and prostitutes in cities and in camps during the war would tend to suggest otherwise). Lastly, the Journal of the Civil War Era has a revealing and interesting interview with one of the historical consultants on the show.

Today’s best reading comes to us from professional public historian Ashley Whitehead Luskey (she’s also a fellow alumnus of Richmond National Battlefield). It is a well constructed and thoughtful piece that supports the reinterpretation and contextualization of Confederate monuments, rather than their removal. More importantly, it is a call for historians to aggressively get involved in the community discussions taking place around the South in regards to the fate of these symbols of the Confederacy/tools of the Lost Cause. I’m on record for supporting reinterpretation, contextualization, and counter monuments, and she is dead on about the role that public historians need to play in all this (the piece is basically an impassioned call-to-arms to public historians). However, I do think that contextualization has the major limitation that small new signs will still be overpowered by the visual message of the larger monuments, and that only a small percentage of people will actually take time to read paragraphs on the new contextualization signage. She also argues that relocation of the pieces to museums or separate parks where they can be contextualized in less public spaces is problematic, in that taking them out of their original surroundings does not allow for a full understanding/appreciation of their original intended purpose. Further, it would reduce the number of people that could potentially learn from the reinterpretation and contextualization. An excellent point, and for the most part I agree. Yet I am still concerned about how the larger size and visual power of many of these enormous monuments would always overpower any efforts at contextualization. Don’t get me wrong, I am still on the side of contextualization rather than removal, but maybe not in every case. I’m starting to believe that counter monuments is the best way to go.

With the huge snowstorm that struck the east coast over the weekend came lots of posts and stories about the harsh winter of 1779-1780. None were better than this one from Mark Maloy, because he turns it into a call for visiting the historic site of Washington’s encampment at Morristown. “As you dig out your driveway or your car over the next few days,” he writes, “take a moment and imagine what the soldiers in Washington’s army had to endure . . . [to]  keep the light of liberty alive through an extremely “hard winter.”

Sad story here from Virginia’s Middle Peninsula: the snow was so heavy that it collapsed an historic theater that was built in 1946. The loss is total, as the debris will have to be cleared away. Such a shame.

The British have discovered a sunken German WWI U-boat off their coast. It was long reported as missing, so the fate of its sailors is now definitive. It will remain at the bottom of the sea, however, as it has been officially declared a maritime military grave.

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