As the sesquicentennials of the Civil War approach, and as we pass the anniversaries of Southern secession (and as I finally, finally read Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic!) I’ve been wondering how all of you and your colleagues are approaching the causes of secession and war with students. There have been plenty of articles in recent months on the causes of secession, noting the importance of slavery as the war’s cause. Have you discussed any of these articles with your students? How do your colleagues approach the topic? Have you used the “declaration of causes of secession” from South Carolina or any other states of the Confederacy (as mentioned by Edward Ball and in the post from Teaching Tolerance below)? What other primary sources do you use to teach this topic?
Here are a few samples of recent articles and blog posts:
E.J. Dionne: Don’t Spin the Civil War
Edward Ball: Gone with the Myths
James Loewen: Five Myths About Why the South Seceded
Teaching Tolerance: What to Do About the Civil War?
A member of our group, Jim Beeghley, recently wrote a blog post about Civil War digital archives and how teachers use primary documents from this era. As he notes: "Some pre-service teachers did not allow students to have unrestricted access to documents about controversial or potentially inflammatory issues such as race and slavery. Rather than deny students access to these types of documents, many teachers chose to 'mediate' their experiences by having them examine what were perceived to be controversial documents within a certain context or with prior warning (Lee, 2001)." You can read the rest on his blog, Teaching the Civil War with Technology. How do you introduce difficult sources and topics with your students?
I realize I've put a lot of questions out there, but I hope to hear your thoughts about if/how you use these recent articles and primary documents on secession with your students.
National Museum of American History
As a follow up, I came across an interesting lesson from our partner EconEdLink, The South's Decision to Secede: A Violation of Self-Interest --has anyone used this resource?
I love what E.J. Dionne says in his column about the need to be honest about the causes of the Civil War. One way to do this properly is to have your students read the words and arguments of the participants through primary sources and try to understand them as they understood themselves.
EDSITEment is gearing up for the commemoration of the Civil War by collecting over 33 lessons on the causes, the course and the consequences of the Civil War. These lessons are written by history and government teachers and make use of primary sources.
On the twin subjects of slavery and secession, I would recommend our curriculum unit on the Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: the House Dividing http://edsitement.neh.gov/curriculum-unit/growing-crisis-sectionalism-antebellum-america-house-dividing
which begins with the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and goes up to the Election of 1860. The emphasis is answering these questions
After doing this unit, you could move on to teach Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address (1861)—Defending the American Union in which the president elect explains why he thought his duty required him to treat secession as an act of rebellion and not a legitimate legal or constitutional action by disgruntled states.
We also have another lesson for younger students (grades 3-6) on the same subject Lincoln's First Inaugural Address: We Must Not be Enemies http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/lincolns-first-inaugural-address-we-must-not-be-enemies which may be useful to you as well
As I said at the top, EDSITEment has a rich collection of 33 lessons on slavery , the course of the war and its terrible aftermath. Here's the link to the complete listing
Hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need further resources.
Thanks for sharing all of the great resources EDSITEment has to offer on this topic! This is really a rich list of materials. I should add that our museum has some helpful resources on this, including our online exhibition The Price of Freedom: Americans at War and artifacts related to secession, including a broadside announcing South Carolina's secession.
I noticed that the curriculum unit you mentioned is fairly new, and in my original post, I was wondering if or how the national conversations about Civil War memory might be changing the conversations teachers are having about these issues with students. Have students picked up on the comments in posts like the ones I first listed, or on the debate around public events like the secession ball in Charleston or Virginia's Confederate History Month proclamation? For those teachers who live in these areas, what conversations are you having about the topic? Are the anniversaries affecting the way you and/or your students discuss this history?
National Museum of American History