American History · British History · Civil War



Still coming down from Alabama’s wonderful win over LSU last night and the passing of trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Also, still strengthened by the brief research trip to Smathers Libraries. All of these things in some way point to various freedoms that I am compelled to not take for granted, among them the freedom to ask questions and pursue leisurely moments on sports and music fronts.

Freedom is an idea my “Antebellum America” students and I will think about this week as I do my final lecture in this class for this semester. ErieCanalMap.jpg

Indeed, the following week, they have their Second Exam and the week after that we have Thanksgiving Break, Nov. 28 we head to the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum to see the P.O.W. prison exhibit, and Dec. 5 finds us offering our cumulative map making presentations.

Speaking of which, this blog entry starts with a map. It is a map of Buffalo, a city that sits on the Lake Erie which connected to the Erie Canal, an important waterway that brought the eastern seaboard closer to the western waterways. How much will the students remember about the significance of western steamboat navigation before the Civil War while they read and learn about interactions between Germans and people of African descent in this city via Hartmut Keil and James Oliver Horton’s article? Are they still thinking about why some Germans fleeing a failed revolution had empathy for African Americans in this country?

Are they still thinking through why the German dentist in Quentin Taratino’s Django Unchained resonates with such a query?



Such thoughts give way to additional thoughts about freedom as revealed in earlier assigned readings including David Cecelski’s study on black men and waterways, but also  Yael Sternhell’s study on movements through the South during the Civil War, one of three assigned readings for this week. Sternhell’s study resonates with historian Ann Taylor’s presentation on slave refugee camps at 5:30pm Wednesday in 30 tenHoor, our classroom building. 514Z1I7PetL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_What do those enslaved people have in common with whites also on the run during the war, among them Maria Howard Weeden, whose family had to leave their Huntsville home and head first to the homes of their servants, presumably enslaved people, before running to her sister’s home in Tuskegee?

After the war, she earned money by attempting to restore humanity to the lives of the newly freed via her portraits. She’d been angered by the depiction of people of African descent during a visit to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. How does she trip up the better known narratives about power in the years surrounding this country’s most important war?

I hope some students will take advantage of the extra credit opportunity and attend Taylor’s presentation. It begins after our class ends. There is plenty of room to explore what freedom means for varied people including Nathaniel Kenyon, the Union Col. in the 11th Illinois Infantry who was a P.O.W. in the earlier mentioned Tuscaloosa prison. A typescript of his diary, which is available in our Hoole Special Collections, is their third reading.

What does this man have to say about the Confederate cause and what it means to him, a white man born in New York State? How does he resonate with the Union officer who is an imagined character in Dolen Perkins-Valdez’ Balm, the assigned reading for the essay portion of their second exam? They may sub out Balm for Octavia Butler’s Kindred, another fitting book to push their thoughts about freedom.


No matter which book they select, there will be room to see what freedom looks like with Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray as revealed in Amma Asante’s 2013 motion picture Belle in mind.


Excerpts from that movie will be shown in class this coming Wednesday. We have a lot before us as we press on to the finish line. All this as the sounds of autumn are heard in the rustling of the trees out back. I hope to see it really showing off when I take the students enrolled in my “American Civilization Since 1865” class up to the dome of UA’s Bryce Hospital with the guidance of hospital historian Steve Davis this Wednesday. If it’s a clear day, we can see all the way up toward north Alabama. From this dome, UA President Landon Garland and his wife Louisa saw Union soldiers approach campus with the intent to burn it down. That class will be thinking about what freedom looks like as the government increasingly intervenes in our lives even before the Civil War as evident in the construction of this institution for the mentally challenged. It is said Confederate war vet patients here used their canes to taunt orderlies wearing blue jackets with gold buttons. The “Antebellum America” students are invited to join us at 12 noon sharp on the hospital’s front porch. They must join the GroupMe for my Am Civ class so I can keep track of every person entering this historic structure, which is currently being renovated.


Meanwhile, another song from Roy Hargrove in honor of his passing. This one is titled “Another Time.” Indeed. I exchanged a brief Facebook message with my dear friend Diane DaCosta, stylist extraordinaire. I met her through my friendship with a record producer for Roy’s label. So many rich moments in New York with Diane and other dear friends who are still in my life before I left for grad school. We are so blessed to do the things we do. May I never forget this.

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