Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Timely Reading on the Civil War

History book discussion study groups have been part of History Connected programming since the grant’s inception in 2009. Working with Bob Forrant, a professor of history at UMass Lowell, our teachers come together in monthly meetings to discuss a range of books related to our yearly theme of “War, Society, State, and Citizenship.”

Professor Forrant’s work with our teachers in the History Book Discussion Study Group was recently featured in the online “e-news at UMass Lowell.” Read the full article “Professor, Alum Lead History Book Club” online at

Our most recent book group meeting focused on a discussion of Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. While Faust’s book is ranked as #1 on Pulitzer Prize winning historian James McPherson’s list of the “Five Best Books about the Civil War Away from the Battlefield,” teachers engaged in serious discussion regarding how to utilize this book’s content with students in ways that evoke historical empathy and a greater understanding of the impact of the Civil War on soldiers, their families, and the nation as a whole.

Our online discussion forum featured thoughtful replies that illustrated teachers’ attempts to make meaning of Faust’s important text. Teachers addressed selections and strategies that could be used in teaching this grim, yet humane and important subject in the U.S. history classroom.

"Faust's work on the American Civil War is in all respects depressing, brutal, and a period of our history that most of us would prefer to comprehend with statistical relevance," commented one of our teachers, "but teh deeply painful truth is that death is very real. The struggle to understand death was unavoidable." As was written in the 1864 Daily South Carolinian, "Who has not lost a friend during the war? We are a land of mourning. As another teacher summarized, "The study of these ordinary soldiers is important for our students' learning and understanding of the intense impact of this war on American society, economics, politics, and culture."

With this year marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, many history organizations are providing updated websites and increased access to a variety of Civil War resources. The History Connected wiki ( site contains a variety of online resources related to teaching about the Civil War. Highlights include:

One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America's most perilous period -- using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.

Timeline: The Civil War Interactive, The New York Times
An unfolding history of the major events of the Civil War using contemporaneous coverage from the New York Times' article and photo archives.

See the Table of Contents to access a variety of images from every year of the Civil War. Additional links provide access to images of Women's Activities during the Civil War and African Americans during the Civil War.
Virtual Museum Exhibit at Clara Barton National Historic Site
This exhibit showcases the extraordinary life, tenacious personality, remarkable leadership, and humanitarian contributions of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. Visitors can explore Clara Barton's rich professional work and honors, engaging personal life and letters, and take a virtual tour of her Victorian-style Glen Echo, Maryland home and American Red Cross headquarters.
New York Historical Society Podcasts
Two renowned Civil War historians – Drew Gilpin Faust and David W. Blight – examine the lives that were irrevocably changed by the Civil War and the mental and physical suffering of a nation. Scroll down the site to access.

“New Interpretations of the Civil War.” History Now, American History Online. December 2010. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
The “Interactive History” component provides images of selected Civil War letters. Along with transcripts this site provides audio narrations of the letters along with a lens that changes the script writing into type making it easier to read.
Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War
Digital archive with letters, newspapers and other documents pertaining to two communities – one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia – during the Civil War

Toward Racial Equality: Harper’s Weekly Reports on Black America, 1857 - 1874
In an age before radio, television, and the Internet, print publications ruled the news business and Harper’s Weekly was king, capturing the lion’s share of the nation’s newspaper audience. This site provides access to rich primary sources (though some of which would be deemed very offensive today, teachers should use care in presenting these valuable resources to students). This site is a valuable resource which provides an important perspective on the history of African Americans.
Not Just a Man’s War: Women in the American Civil War 1861-1865
This site provides a simulation for students in which they take on the role of a young woman in 1862 who has recently left her girlhood home to join the war effort for your side in the Civil War or War Between the States. Through work with primary sources, a cyber scavenger hunt and historical letter writing, students work to present new learnings in a class presentation.

1 comment:

  1. Kara:
    I agree that this book was difficult but powerful. I also blogged about it from the perspective that the stories of these young soldiers can teach us about the value of our own lives. I also talked about how I planned to use knowledge gained from the book to help my students understand how the nation had to change its understanding of death during and after the Civil War.

    Feel free to read my post at

    Thanks for providing the opportunity to read the book!