Thursday, May 26, 2011

NC Civil War Sesquicentennial Symposium - May 20

I'm finally getting around to writing my reflections on the two Civil War symposiums that I attended last weekend. I'll start with the first of three programs being held in North Carolina throughout the commemoration, this one dealing with the topic of Memory, held at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh.

The keynote speaker for this conference was David Blight, and as you all know I am a big fan of his. I could listen to him talk all day long and he did not disappoint in Raleigh last Friday. His address was thought provoking, timely, and humorous.

I can only evaluate the speakers that I heard (sessions ran concurrently throughout the day), but generally I heard plenty of good remarks about all the sessions. Shannon SanCartier, soon to embark upon her Ph.D. work at Penn State gave an excellent historiographical presentation tracing the field of Civil War memory from the centennial in the 1960s to the present. Her presentation was very good and I felt she really separated herself from her co-panelist who clearly was nearing the end of his career. I won't say anything much about him except to say that I was not impressed.

John Coffey of the NC Museum of Art did an interesting presentation on the history of a marble bust of John C. Calhoun in the museum's collection. While his presentation was nice and quite humorous, he went way over his allotted time. Tom Vincent of the NC Office of Archives and History did an excellent presentation on his specialty, North Carolina Confederate soldier monuments. Chris Meekins of the NC Archives wrapped up this session with a discussion of the NC sarcophagus/monument at Appomattox and the controvery it stirred when it was originally placed and unveiled on the battlefield.

Historian and blogger Michael Hardy did an excellent presentation on Civil War monuments in western North Carolina. This is the first time I've had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hardy in person and I really enjoyed his presentation. He was followed by Leonard Lanier, a doctoral candidate at LSU, who presented a talk about the opposing memories of eastern North Carolinian Gen. Bryan Grimes and the attempts to secure his legacy by his son and wife in the wake of his untimely murder after the war. I didn't stick around for the entire presentation, but what I heard sounded pretty good.

Finally, I got to hear one of my mentors speak at the end of the day. Dr. John Haley gave a presentation called "Risky Remembrances: African American Accounts of the Civil War and Reconstruction." Click the link to see this presentation on YouTube. Dr. Haley, though he went past his allotted time and was not at his best, was still very good. I really enjoyed hearing him speak again and remembered how great it was to sit in his classes at UNC-Wilmington.

As an aside, many of the presentations were videotaped and will be uploaded on YouTube. I really hope that David Blight's keynote address is available soon. Go to YouTube and look up the channel "ncculture" for more. All in all, I think this was a very successful effort for the North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, especially considering they had almost no budget to speak of. The next symposium will be on the topic of Freedom and will be held in 2013 at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem.

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