Memory Symposium . . .

Major Conference Commemorates Anniversary of Beginning of the Civil War in North Carolina

A daylong conference dedicated to "Contested Past: Memories and Legacies of the Civil War" drew 223 registrants to the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh on Friday, May 20. Planning and execution for the symposium were undertaken by the Civil War 150 Committee of the Office of Archives and History with the assistance of other volunteer staff members. Providing financial backing for the program were the North Caroliniana Society, the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association, the North Carolina Civil War Tourism Council, and the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

In keeping with the overall theme of the four-year commemoration—"Freedom, Sacrifice, and Memory"—the initial conference dealt with memory. Projected for 2013 is a symposium in Winston-Salem dedicated to freedom and in 2015 a program in Wilmington about sacrifice. The Raleigh event, with a mix of history professors, graduate students, staff members, and a blogger, set the template for the future efforts. Feedback after the event was uniformly positive and overall the day was judged by Deputy Secretary Jeffrey J. Crow to be a "smashing success."

The occasion for the gathering was the 150th anniversary of the vote in the State Capitol on May 20, 1861, to secede from the union and affiliate with the Confederate States of America. Committee co-chairman Keith Hardison drew attention to the anniversary as the actual moment grew near and promoted a program at the Capitol where the events of that day would be recreated. A new exhibit dedicated to the events of 1861 opened in the Museum of History concurrent with the symposium.

Secretary of Cultural Resources Linda A. Carlisle welcomed the group and John David Smith of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte introduced the keynote speaker, David Blight of Yale University. Author of the award-winning study, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Blight addressed whether memory of the war divides or unites the nation today. Drawing upon his forthcoming book American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era, Blight revealed that his own personal oracle was Bruce Catton, best-selling mid-twentieth century Civil War historian.

The balance of the day was devoted to concurrent sessions, with attendees having the choice of remaining in the museum auditorium or moving to a classroom in the basement of the museum. Each of those panels followed the same protocol. After introductions by the moderator, panelists presented papers of thirty minutes length. The moderator then presented his or her formal response or critique followed by questions from the audience.

Following Blight's presentation, the focus in the auditorium remained on writers and the literature about the Civil War. Novelist David Madden, formerly of Louisiana State University and now retired to Black Mountain, surveyed how creative writers have used the war in their books. In a complementary presentation Shannon SanCartier of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington presented an overview of historiography of the era. At the same hour, in the other session, Elizabeth King of Archives and History and Erica St. Lawrence of North Carolina State University analyzed the roles of women through explications of homespun cloth and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Memory Symposium
Fitzhugh Brundage, history professor at UNC-Chapel, commented on papers about statuary presented by (left-right) John Coffey, Tom Vincent, and Chris Meekins.

After boxed lunches concurrent panels examined commemorative activity and the dual legacies of prisons and desertion. In the first, John Coffey of the North Carolina Museum of Art detailed the story of the state's acquisition in 1859 of a bust of John Calhoun and the consequent power of symbols. At the same session Tom Vincent and Chris Meekins, of the North Carolina State Archives, looked at Confederate monuments and the appeal of the Lost Cause. James Gillispie of Sampson Community College and Adam Domby, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, were speakers at the second panel.

Presentations on guerilla warfare in western North Carolina by John Inscoe of the University of Georgia and the epidemic of suicides among Civil War soldiers and veterans by David Silkenat of North Dakota State University followed. At the same hour independent historian Michael Hardy of Crossnore talked about memories of the war in the Appalachian region and Leonard Lanier, a graduate student at Louisiana State University, examined the circumstances around the death of Confederate General Bryan Grimes.

The day closed with panels on race and Albion Tourgee counterposed with Thomas Dixon, featuring John Haley of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Mark Elliott of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and on southern claims after the war, featuring Jaime Martinez of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Barton Myers of Texas Tech University.

Moderators (also acting as commentators) for the sessions were Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Raymond Gavins of Duke University, Susanna Lee of North Carolina State University, and Archives and History staff members Keith Hardison, Donna Kelly, Debbi Blake, Rob Boyette, and Michael Hill.

Memory Symposium
Participants in the May 20 memory-themed Civil War conference were (left-right) Chris Meekins, John David Smith, Rob Boyette, John Inscoe, Tom Vincent, Barton Myers, Adam Domby, Fitzhugh Brundage, Jaime Martinez, Mark Elliott, James Gillispie, Keith Hardison, Michael Hill, Susanna Lee, David Blight, John Haley, Leonard Lanier, Michael Hardy, John Coffey, Raymond Gavins, Jeffrey Crow, Elizabeth King, David Silkenat, Donna Kelly, Shannon SanCartier, David Madden, and Erica St. Lawrence.

Memory Symposium

Memory Symposium