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Abe Lincoln, the Civil War and Social Media

One hundred and fifty years ago, America’s citizens were wrapped up in their own election excitement. An Illinois Congressman named Abraham Lincoln was locked in a tight race with three other candidates including Southern Democrat John Breckinridge and Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas.

With the majority of northern counties in his pocket (despite any campaigning or speeches,) Lincoln easily won the electoral vote. “But as we approach the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s election and the long conflict that followed,” says author Tony Horwitz

it’s worth recalling other reasons that era endures. The Civil War isn’t just an adjunct to current events. It’s a national reserve of words, images and landscapes, a storehouse we can tap in lean times like these, when many Americans feel diminished, divided and starved for discourse more nourishing than cable rants and Twitter feeds.

In an electronics-saturated age, (we’re forced) to exercise our atrophied imaginations. There’s no Sensurround or 3D technology, just snake-rail fences, marble men and silent cannons aimed at nothing. You have to read, listen, let your mind go.

And the New York Times just started a pretty cool way to read, listen and let your mind go. Using a blog called Disunion, the NYT will tell the story of the Civil War in a series of weekly roundups and analysis, by Jamie Malanowski, of events making news during the corresponding week 150 years ago. Written as if in real time, this dispatch will appear every Monday. Additional essays and observations by other contributors, along with maps, images and diaries, will be published several times a week.

It looks like a great way to engage students with actual content. I like the way that the story of the period

revisits and reconsiders America’s most perilous period — using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.

Add the RSS feed and you’ll get Disunion delivered straight to your news reader. Use a variety of primary source analysis worksheets to help kids break the information into manageable chunks and develop some essential questions to guide instruction. You might even pick and choose your favorite posts and create your own document reader for next spring when you hit the Civil War in your curriculum.

If nothing else, use Disunion as your own private professional development to increase your content knowledge of a specific period. This week I learned more about Head-Stompers, Wrench-Swingers and Wide Awakes. Pretty sweet stuff!

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(hat tip to honorary historian Jerry Butler!)
One Comment Post a comment
  1. glennw #

    Joe Phelan over at EDSITEement suggested:

    “I thought to let you know EDSITEment has a lot of teaching resources on the causes, course and consquences of the war:”

    http://edsitement.neh.gov/tab_lesson.asp?subcategory=21&grade=0&Display=Display

    November 3, 2010

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