Amid the Monument Wars, a Rally for ‘More History’Historians in the News
tags: Civil War, memorials, monuments, public history
On Saturday, a group of about 30 mustered under drizzly skies at the edge of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa. The site of one of the bloodiest and most important battles of the Civil War, Gettysburg has seen its share of clashes over the memory of the war in recent years. But this group was there to make a stand of a different kind.
They carried signs with quotations from 19th-century newspapers, passages from the Confederacy’s constitution extolling slavery, and facts (some of them footnoted) about Robert E. Lee’s treatment of his human property. Some in the group wore T-shirts emblazoned with a social media-ready battle cry: #wewantmorehistory.
Scott Hancock, a professor of history at Gettysburg College, urged the group to be “polite” to anyone who challenged them and reminded them they were not at a protest — or not exactly.
“Our job is to do something a bit more constructive by telling a fuller story,” he said.
The group was part of a “Call to Action” organized by the Journal of the Civil War Era, a scholarly publication. For two hours on Saturday, at about a dozen Civil War-related sites across the country, from New York to Nashville to St. Louis, historians simultaneously gathered with signs highlighting distortions in existing plaques and memorials, or things that simply weren’t being spoken of at all.
“Historians have different views on taking down statues,” said Gregory Downs, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and one of the organizers. “But that debate doesn’t really capture what historians do, which is to bring more history.”
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