I am currently reading an excellent account of the Red River Campaign titled, Little to Eat and Thin Mud to Drink: Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs from the Red River Campaign, 1863 -1864. The book, part of the Voices of the Civil War Series, is edited by Gary D. Joiner. I will be writing a review of it for The Southern Historian next month. Joiner gives a perspective of the campaign from a very personal level using both civilian and military sources. I’ll have more on the book once I’m finished.
On to another matter that vexes me, this is my second semester teaching history at two local community colleges. This past summer I taught a Civil War and Reconstruction class; currently, I am teaching two America since Reconstruction classes. This past Wednesday, 17 September 2008, I asked a class of twenty-five students if they could tell me what took place on this day – even offering not to give a quiz if one person could respond. Not one student could answer the Battle of Antietam or America’s bloodiest day. A couple of weeks ago a student commented that she never knew Lincoln was assassinated. Now I understand that history is not for everyone, especially in community colleges where most students take history as a mandatory elective rather than an interest in the subject. However, this lack of basic American history knowledge must stem from the grammar/high school level. Are high school students still required take American history? Are students just being pushed through?
Coincidentally, this week I was lecturing on J.P. Morgan and the rift between capitalists and the labor force that formed in the late nineteenth century. I was able to tie this in with the current crisis on Wall Street. I could not think of a better example as to how history is so relevant to today’s world. History needs to become a more integral part of our education system perhaps that is an issue the current presidential candidates should be debating.