A chance meeting with a colleague created the impetus for me to return to the University of Alabama’s Hoole Library, a place I haven’t been since I taught a course on antebellum America. What was special about this visit was relearning how to use machines that let me study old documents. It’s been years.
Even as I continue my research on racial and spatial politics in Florida from the Seminole Indians’ encounters with the U.S. Army through the rise of the UM Hurricanes, I pressed pause to return to a diary of a Union soldier who spent some time in Tuscaloosa as a prisoner of war. Students in two classes tracked his movements via a steam boat and a train. I am interested in the books he read and how they unveil a changing America. The essay may be part of an edited collection on our campus as we approach the bicentennial for Alabama and Tuscaloosa, both founded in 1819.
This visit to Hoole coincided with me writing two new lectures. One concerns Alabama on the eve of the Civil War as revealed in the story of the Clotilda, the supposed last boat to illegally bring in Africans in 1860 following the 1808 ban on the international slave trade.
The other lecture concerns the Irish and the draft riots in New York City in 1863. Both lectures are for my “American Civilization to 1865” class. I haven’t done a case study in this particular course in a while. This has also been interesting and dovetails nicely with the quick research project that extends earlier work.
Along with the foregrounding how Union soldiers torched UA’s campus in April 1865 just before the war ended, I get to return to studying our complicated past where power is always in flux no matter the ongoing oppression for certain individuals. I also invite my students to think again about the varying positions that powerful people had on the issue of slavery. My Am Civ students and I just addressed that with the tumultuous 1850s in view.
Meanwhile, I juggle both the new lectures and this brief return to an old topic and my ongoing research on Florida as the weather changes.
I also do as much with Alabama and the University of Miami possibly meeting at the national championship. Wouldn’t that be something?
As I have said before, talk about a divided household. My alma mater and my employer. All this as the temps dropped below freezing last night. It will be an interesting winter. Roll Tide! And it’s all about The U.
PS The “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” class and I watched the American Music Awards by remote last night and discussed this show using the GroupMe app. It’s been a couple of years since I tried that approach to teaching. Like using the machines in Hoole (one of them was permits you to crop a portion of a microfilm image and email it to yourself!), technology has thrown me for a loop in just a short window. Most of my students didn’t even own a television and had to follow the event via live tweets or, if they could access it, a third party app – and not the one for ABC, the network showing the awards.
I did get to see Diana Ross and her family who was honored with a lifetime achievement award (what took so long?) Oh, memories. I used to sing to the Supremes in my mirror when I was a child. She’s still so beautiful! I especially love her in The Wiz. It was great seeing her sing “Ease on Down the Road,” a song from that 1978 motion picture.