Call for applications: NEH summer institute "America's Reconstruction: The Untold Story"

J. Brent  Morris's picture

Dear Colleagues,

I invite you to submit an application to participate in the summer institute, “America's Reconstruction: The Untold Story,” for K-12 teachers. Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, hosted by the University of South Carolina (USCB) at its Historic Beaufort campus July 9-29, 2017, this institute will offer an engaging summer workshop on the historical dimensions and significance of the Reconstruction in the Lowcountry and United States for 25 educators from across the country.

The Reconstruction Era was quite literally a period of rebuilding—it entailed the reshaping of the ideologies of the defeated Old South and the physical re-construction of the region so desolated by the ravages of war, and, as a nation, developing policies that thoroughly remade and modernized America and laid the foundation for the "Second Reconstruction"—the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 60s. The ending of slavery not only brought freedom to African Americans but also inaugurated a complex reshaping of the very definition of American citizenship itself. Indeed, in one of final acts as president, Barack Obama designated a new national monument to the Reconstruction Era in Beaufort, citing the critical need to “preserve the vibrant history of the Reconstruction Era and its role in redefining freedom.”

On November 7, 1861 (long remembered by former slaves as the “day of the big gun-shoot”), just months after the fall of Fort Sumter, the Union Navy recaptured the Port Royal Sound area of the South Carolina Lowcountry. This prompted the panic and mass exodus of the region’s plantation owners, who left behind thousands of their slaves. This provided an opportunity for a dress rehearsal of sorts for Reconstruction known as the “Port Royal Experiment.” Northern strategists saw the newly freed people of the Sea Islands as an ideal test group for experiments in education, citizenship, and land ownership for potential implementation after the war. The experience there prepared participants and observers for the more widespread, future implementation of truly revolutionary changes in education policy, civil rights, and democracy, and importantly showed that these policies could succeed in longer-range plans for the reconstruction of the South once the war could be brought to an end. Still, sandwiched as it is between the dramas of the Civil War and the Jim Crow era, Reconstruction suffers as one of the most understudied and misunderstood periods in American history.

Part of this misunderstanding is due to the history’s complexity—scholars’ interpretations of the period have ranged from 12 years of abject failure where unprepared, vengeful, and corrupt former slaves nearly ruined the South and a period of excessive punishment of the defeated former Confederacy by the victorious North, or, alternatively, as a bright age of hope that ultimately failed, but only insofar as it did not go far enough or achieve its lofty goals. Recently, scholars have agreed with W.E.B. Dubois’ conclusion in his 1913 study Black Reconstruction in America that its overthrow was a tragedy, a “splendid failure,” whose revolutionary agenda could not overcome the overwhelming forces set against it.

USCB and distinguished visiting faculty will provide engaging and hands-on instruction throughout your three-week stay. I am quite excited about serving again as director of this institute, and I hope you are equally excited about the possibility of attending. We plan to have an intellectually-stimulating and fun-filled three weeks in the Lowcountry. Please explore the information on our website http://www.uscb.edu/americasreconstruction/ and do not hesitate to contact us with your questions.