The Confederate Flag

Patrick Cox's picture

This was the first H-Amstdy Wayback, posted on July 15 before the Wayback was made into a blog. It is being re-posted here in the blog to keep these H-Amstdy retrospectives together.



I have to admit it: I sometimes think historicizing has become a little overrated. At the same time, though, we all have access to over 20 years of academic discussion in H-AMSTDY’s Discussion Logs (and all the other H-Net logs, too) so we may as well use it to see if we can glean any perspective on today’s issues.

A search in H-AMSTDY’s Discussion Logs for the phrase “confederate flag” turns up these 13 posts .They include some reviews and CFP’s (I’d like to know how Jonathan R. Smith’s panel turned out.) Let's take a look at a few of the gems.

The first comes from a discussion on museums of atrocities, particularly the Holocaust, that took place in 1993. In this post Rich Berkley speculates, “In a modern context, if a discussion about a confederate flag flying over a statehouse in the South can reach deep acrimony and threatened violence, what would happen during the discourse over a museum whose exhibits would cast a deep shadow over the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Founding Fathers, etc?” That’s 1993 and folks have just now been consigning South Carolina's flag to a museum without seeming to ponder what Rich was thinking: does museumizing such a object still present troubling questions? As far as I've heard, there has been no discourse beyond "That thing belongs in a museum," which always sounds to me like someone saying "Out of sight, out of mind," as if museums are truly the dustbins of history and objects placed there will never trouble us again.

Here, E. Nelson Griffin offers a little history in response to a 2004 query on Mississippi’s state flag and how it connects to the confederate flag, specifically South Carolina’s. I have to plead ignorance on state flags, but it now seems hard to believe South Carolina’s statehouse flag is the only one that came under fire on a national scale. Here’s the Mississippi flag Griffin mentions.

In 2000, then editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education Scott Jaschik invited us to join their discussion on academic boycotts, including boycotts against states that fly the confederate flag over their statehouses.  This historical digital document on boycotts perhaps has a double resonance today for members of the ASA. Unfortunately, the link to The Chronicle discussion has not lived as long as all of ours.  To re-new it, would the OAH (or the ASA) boycott Mississippi for its flag? (Or Alabama, where, as I learned while writing this, the confederate flag flies on state troopers' badges and cars?)

Richard A. Reiman posted a query  in 1995 about “incidents in which historical sites, monuments, rites or commemorations stirred controversy between opponents and proponents of civil rights during the twentieth century.” Deborah R. Greyson’s response (the third in this collection) cites, “fights in Georgia, and Miss. over whether or not the confederate flag should be hung over state buildings.  At Ole Miss. I believe there was some objection to the waving of the flag at football games.”

And in international football, in 1997, then H-AMSTDY Editor (now Advisory Board member) Sarah E. Chinn cross-posted a query from H-Italy about the use of the confederate flag in the Italian Mezzogiorno, including "on T-shirts and team flags at football matches in Napoli.". Erudite H-AMSTDY-ers were seemingly stumped while erstwhile H-Italy only offered some speculation. Here's a photo I found of the confederate flag flying over a restaurant in Napoli.

The flag and the questions it raises have long been with us on H-AMSTDY. (And on H-South, where a post like this one inspired my search). Cultural permutations and re-appropriations--whether by other countries or museums or websites or the groups they each represent--only raise more questions. Everything old is new again.

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