Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Informal Online Civil War Learning

Television features a lot of commercials about various online learning opportunities, usually for-profit institutions, though not always, but formalized schooling is not the only way the wonderful world wide web can help a person increase his or her knowledge.

I have been blogging for almost 7 years now (started in 2009, but took a break in 2013-14) and part of my blogging has been reading other blogs and sites. The development and growth of Facebook and Twitter in this same time frame has help me with that.

In the past, I had often heard about the many Civil War fanatics out there, but did not really meet many or see this phenomenon for myself. Volunteering at the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum in 2006 helped me start to see some of this, but it wasn't until I got more involved in reading online sources that I realized how true it was.

Personally, I have always felt slavery was the unquestioned main cause of the war - perhaps the only one that mattered. I still strongly feel that slavery was the key issue, but in the past few years, I have seen stories of others who disagree with that. Completely. Some deny slavery had any role in the coming of the war, while others say it was only one piece of the puzzle and they include other pieces like "taxes," "big government," 'states' rights" and other subjects that they believe contributed to the war as much or more than slavery did. I have, of course, found many others who do emphasize slavery's role in the coming of the war, but the debate is bigger than I had known. The web has opened my eyes to this and helped me better understand how much passion for the war exists.

I've also seen arguments over other topics such as "Black Confederate," a topic that likely would never have crossed my mind if not for the information superhighway (there's a term you don't hear much anymore. Maybe I show my age by using it. :)  )

Of course, a very common and popular topic online, especially in the last year, has been the Confederate Battle Flag and other symbols of the Confederacy. When I was young, I attended a middle school called "South Campbell County" Middle School and the nickname was the Confederates. When you walked into the school, you walked over a large, rubber welcome mat, with a large CBF surrounded by gray. The school sold buttons, at least once, saying "the South will rise again" and at least one of my yearbooks had a drawing of a Confederate soldier holding a CBF on the cover. None of this was a big deal then, but I was just 13 or 14 years old and not paying attention to stuff like that. As I left the school to go to high school, the county renamed the school for a long-time superintendent. That is the explanation I heard and I never did hear anything about the mascot or any Confederate controversy. Of course, the school was (and still is) located in an area not especially diverse in terms of demographics, but I sometimes wonder what would have happened in the last year around here if it still had the same name and mascot as when I attended it.

Sorry for getting off topic there, but that is my main background with the CBF. I did not grow up in a  major Confederate are or with Confederate family heritage. It was just a school I attended, so when the recent controversies around this symbol popped up, I had a lot to think about (as did many Civil War enthusiasts, I suppose.) I don't like seeing statues and other objects destroyed or removed, but I understand why they may bother some people. It's a very complicated topic, but I think the flag does belong in museums, at re-enactments, in historical places, even cemeteries. The recent story about a Washington D.C. travel magazine refusing to publish an ad for a Civil War museum because the logo featured a CBF in it bothered me. That is an appropriate use for the flag, and helps show the museum's mission.

Of course, I do recognize misuses of the flag as well. Anyone who tries to intimidate others with it is a fool, and only reinforcing stereotypes of those who like the flag. Denying how it has Bernie used in that way is also a mistake. Of course, this online experience has shown me that there are more than a few people who love that flag but do not see how their own behavior hurts their cause, while others do not recognize any negative connotations with its past usage. That is one of the things that my online experience has shown me. People who say they support and love the Confederacy are real, not just some story or theory I have heard, and I see that more than ever now, thanks to the access the Internet provides. This is a bigger world than I had previously realized.

Anyway, it is obvious there is a lot of bad information online, but there is also good information and even the bad information can be enlightening. People who post incorrect information do exist and that is important to remember. Why do they do that? Do they really believe what they say? Do they honestly. Percy others to believe it?

Another point is how modern political belief can affect a person's interpretation of history. It seems like some people interpret the past in a way that attempts to validate their current views, especially of politics. Or maybe they go the opposite - take modern views that match what they see as their heritage. I do not personally understand why something that happened so long ego should determine what I believe is right in the present. Some of my ancestors owned slaves, for instance, but that has no nfluence in my political views. Other people take different approaches, perhaps not always consciously, and that is something else this "online classroom" had shown me,. 

I still enjoy reading books, and need to do more of that, but the online world certainly has given me new perspectives on the Civil War and the people who study and/or enjoy it. There are a lot of people and beliefs in this world and the past few years has made that obvious to me. My small personal world has certainly grown in the past few years. 

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