Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why being a historian can, occasionally, be useful

There we were yesterday, during my Civil War survey, going through The Gospel According To Uncle Shelby (Ken Burns's The Civil War, Episode Three, "Forever Free"). And towards the end of the episode, when it becomes obvious that preliminary Emancipation is going to take effect, one of the comments made by a Northerner used the phrase "original sin of slavery." And I saw one or two of my students perk up ears at that point.

So when the episode ended, I said, " 'Original sin of slavery,' huh? Have we heard that anywhere recently?" And several students laughed.

I'm not going to comment on politics just at the moment. But occasionally this history stuff comes in useful. It's like when I teach the JFK assassination. I always tell my students, "No matter who you are, or where you go, or whom you hang out with, at some point in your life, you will end up in a conversation about who really killed JFK. I'm about to give you the info so that you hang tight with any conspiracy nut that you come across, and even give him or her a few more for consideration." That always get a laugh.

History: for when you really need to be both witty and accurate.

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