The Citadel

The Military College of South Carolina

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Professor Kyle S. Sinisi

It is a remarkable series of events that places us here today. It is something best described not as a tempest within a teapot, but rather a tempest within a tea cup. The department of history has never faced a situation like this, and I dare say it is the same for the college as a whole.

 I have been at this college for eighteen years. When the department hired me on a tenure track, it hired me specifically to teach HIST 304, Disunion and the War for Southern Independence. The very title of the course struck me at the time. It did not strike me because I was a southerner with an emotional axe to grind about my heritage or that I was some slavery denying crank. It struck me instead as a representation of academic freedom. Here, after all, was a place that allowed its faculty the intellectual freedom to title a course and engage in any classroom debate that might descend from the title. In a significant way, this made me want to work at The Citadel. I was therefore surprised that several years later, and while still an untenured member of the faculty, Professor Bo Moore tried to get me to change the title of the course.   I did not want to make the change and a majority of the faculty supported me at the time, although no formal vote was taken within the department.

The issue lay dormant for several more years as I developed two special topics classes that dealt with the war. Because I was either untenured or not yet a full professor during this period, I deliberately chose not to get into a contest with the then department head—Bo Moore. The ramifications for my tenure and promotion were obvious, and I did not wish a fight of that nature.  

Things changed not only with my promotion to full professor, but also with the desire to standardize the naming of the war within our offerings. I therefore proposed the course that you have before you. I should say that at the time I submitted the course, I believed a majority of the department would support me. I was not wrong in this regard. What I did not consider possible was the degree to which Professor Keith Knapp, who is a historian of Ancient China, would embrace Professor Moore’s cause, while seeking to squash a departmental vote.

Consequently, Professor Knapp engaged in an astonishing and unprecedented attempt to solicit external opinion on an internal matter of the college.   It was an inquiry that I knew nothing about until one of those queried copied me on his response just a few days before our scheduled departmental meeting on the subject.

It was an inquiry that provided no context and or sense of what I thought the course title meant, how I taught the course, or how I viewed the issues the respondents imputed into the title of the course.

It was an inquiry that alerted 99 percent of its recipients to an issue they did not know existed, and this was despite the fact HIST 304 Disunion and the War for Southern Independence was on the books for nearly forty years. During this time, The Citadel frequently occupied a prominent place in the study of the war, and not once did a course title provoke a blot upon the college’s honor or reputation. That prominent place was reflected in:

  1. Numerous Conferences on the South, which drew hundreds of scholars on a near biennial basis
  2. The edited collections of essays that flowed from these conferences

No less important, the issue of the course title has never come up—to my knowledge—with any search for tenured or distinguished faculty over the past eighteen years. Even more to the point, when I applied for my position at The Citadel that search generated over 130 applicants—none of whom seemed to have any problem with teaching a class called War for Southern Independence.

Parenthetically, the issue of the name of a course in the catalog never arose when I was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Fort Sumter Trust (I sit on this same board with Bo Moore). Similarly, this issue never arose when I was appointed to the Advisory Council of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA.

All of the above illustrates my original point that this is a tempest in a tea cup.

I’d like to make a few other points regarding Professor Knapp’s two-question survey of the profession.

First, and given the secretive nature of Professor Knapp’s polling which seemed designed to create a “gotcha moment,” it is not surprising that he did not observe standard survey procedures. He designed a survey that would not provide any statistical correlations to better explain certain answers or variations within answers.

 Second, his sample population was heavily biased as he inexplicably avoided important and active historians who would probably dissent from his thesis. This list of historians included distinguished academics such as James I. Robertson, Kevin Gutzman, Jay Langdale, Brion McClanahan, William H. Freehling, Albert Castel, Robert Valentine, W. Kirk Wood, Sean Busick, David Hackett Fisher, and William K. Scarborough. Also missing from the list would be distinguished authors and specialists on the war such as William Marvel, Robert Krick, Walter B. Cisco, and Richard McMurry.

 Third, and finally, Professor Knapp’s survey was in contravention of college regulations in that he used human subjects for his research without convening a departmental Institutional Review Board to actually review his methodology and address the issue of informed consent. I have no way of knowing if a DRB would have exempted Professor Knapp’s research, but College regulations are explicit in this regard: “All research conducted by faculty or students that involves human subjects must be submitted for review. No research project which involves human subjects may begin before receiving approval.”

 So, let’s cut to the chase and watch a full professor—and a two-time recipient of the Citadel’s James A. Grimsley Award for Excellence in Undergraduate teaching--justify how he teaches a class or indeed what he wants to label a class.

 As there is a fear that the course I propose is an ode to Neo-Confederatism, neo-secessionism, or the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I guess I need to assure you that I am not a member of the SCV. I don’t advocate secession. And I don’t advocate a return to a Moonlight and Magnolia’s interpretation of southern history. What’s really troubling is that the terminology can be so demonized simply because isolated chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans use it. Really, has it come to this? The same can be said about the association of the League of the South with the terminology. A more peripheral group I cannot imagine, although it certainly plays into the agenda of the ultra-liberal Southern Poverty Law Center to demonize those people, too.

 No matter. Just as I assured the department of history, I guess I need to assure you that I see, and teach, slavery as the proximate cause of a war that can’t speak its name. I guess I need to assure you of this to let everyone rest easy that I don’t hold views that have been erroneously attributed to groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Where I seem to deviate from the orthodoxy is that I can see it as a war for independence that involves slavery as well as host of other issues that created a bona fide sense of southern nationalism.

 I insist on labeling the course a war for independence because that’s exactly what it was. It is the same choice that other historians make when they the label a course either a History of the American Revolution or a History of the War for Independence.   This sort of thing goes on with countless wars; there are countless names for just about every war known in the history of man. I welcome debate over these names in my classes and use them as touch points to discuss history and historical memory. I welcome the scholarly debate over how to name things and title courses. I don’t welcome censorship. I should also note that the name game occurs with battles. Will I thus be prevented from calling Antietam, Sharpsburg because Confederates named battles after places and not rivers? Will I be prevented from calling Bull Run, Manassas? Or how about Stones River, Murfreesboro?

 What is truly odd is that significant numbers of historians will acknowledge the correctness of the terminology of War for Southern Independence in their letters to Keith, use the terminology on the cover of their books and in the pages of their books, but are essentially told you can’t put it in the course catalog.

 Let’s take a look:

Richard McMurry, John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence (U of Nebraska Press, 1992)

 Carl Degler in Out of our past: the forces that shaped modern America   (1984; 3rd edition)     (Pulitzer Prize winner: Neither Black nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States.)

 “The Civil War was actually the War for Southern Independence.” (198)

 Stephen Sears, Landscape Turned Red   (1983)  

 “The enemy was demonstrating a grim determination to turn a war for Southern Independence into a revolution against Southern institutions.” (59)

 William Pencak, ed. Encyclopedia of the Veteran in America, vol 1 (2009) ABC Clio            

 When looking at the contributions of Hispanics noted “Equally important were Hispanic sons of the South and their respective contributions during the War for Southern Independence.” (222)

 Howard Jones in Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War (U of Nebraska Press, 1999)

 “South Carolina’s dramatic announcement of secession from the Union in December 1860 ultimately led to a war for southern independence.” (3)

 Edwin Davis, Heroic Years: Louisiana in the War for Southern Independence (1964)

 John Shelton Reed, ed. , Regionalism and the South: Selected Papers of Rupert Vance (UNC Press, 1982)

 “The Taylor family came from east Tennessee, dark and bloody ground of the War for Southern Independence.”

Eugene Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery (Wesleyan UP; 2nd ed., 1989)

 “Neither of the two leading interpretations, which for many years have contended in a hazy and unreal battle, offers consistent and plausible answers to recurring questions, especially those bearing on the origins of the War for Southern Independence.” (14) and 11 other such references in the book.

 Leon Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (Knopf, 1998) and

Pulitzer Prize winner for Been in the Storm so Long: The Aftermath of Slavery

 “With the ‘surrender,’ as blacks called it, the War for Southern Independence and the enslavement of black men and women both came to an end.” (2)

 James Green in Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America (Random House, 2006)

 “His brother, a wealthy, influential landowner, sent Albert to school in Waco and then to Galveston, where he served as an apprentice “printer’s devil” in a newspaper office until the War for Southern Independence captured his soul.” (56)

 Marc Wortman, The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta (Perseus Books, 2009)

 “The War for Southern Independence ate men up, and the enrollment terms for many state and Confederate soldiers….” (155) 6 other mentions

 Elizabeth Fox Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders (Cambridge University Press, 2002, 2005)

 “The exigencies of the War for Southern Independence raised the disagreeable possibility that the modern world might need a Cromwell after all.” (688) 22 other mentions; Heck, she even has a chapter named “From the Reformation to the War for Southern Independence.”

 Thomas Bailey and David Kennedy, The American Spirit (Houghton Mifflin, 1987).

 Chapter 23 is “The War for Southern Independence.”

 David Hackett Fisher, Liberty and Freedom (Oxford UP, 2005). Pulitzer Prize winner, too.

 “South Carolinians combined old symbols of the Revolutionary War with new emblems of the War for Southern Independence.” (308)

 All of this without going into a literature as old as the war, which documents the birth, growth, and death of southern nationalism: Anne Rubin’s recent book, John McCardell’s recent book, and a host of others.

 Having said all this, I do want to address the issue of reputation for a moment. Problematic course titles are not new to academia. Let’s pause for a moment and look at other colleges and funky course titles. Are any of these colleges worried about their reputations when they use course titles that, to some or many, are far more provocative than my War for Southern Independence? Did any of these department heads seek input from academics across the country when a professor sought to include them in their catalog?

 Have the reputations of any of these colleges been damaged by the following titles?

 Gender Jihad, Duke

Queer Theories: Activist Practices, UC Berkeley

 Cultural Representations of Sexualities: Queer Lite,UC Berkeley

 Interpreting the Queer Past: Methods and Problems in the History of Sexuality, UC Berkeley

The Simpsons and Philosophy, UC Berkeley

The Strategy of StarCraft, UC Berkley

 The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie, Occidental College

The Phallus, Occidental College

Stupidity, Occidental college

Sociology of Fame and Lady Gaga, University of South Carolina

"Oh, Look, a Chicken!" Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing, Belmont University

Things That Go Bump in the Night, Hampshire College

Zombies in Popular Media, Columbia College Chicago

 Cyborg Anthropology, Lewis & Clark College

 The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur, University of Washington

Goldberg's Canon: Makin' Whoopi, Bates College

The Joy of Garbage, Santa Clara University

Philosophy and Star Trek, Georgetown University

Cyberporn and Society, State University of New York at Buffalo

The Science of Harry Potter, Frostburg State University

Zombies in Popular Media, Columbia College, Chicago

 Zombies! The living dead in Literature, Film and Culture, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa,

 Maple Syrup: The Real Thing, Alfred University

 Underwater Basket Weaving, University of California, San Diego

 Learning from YouTube, Pitzer College

 The Science of Superheroes, University of California at Irvine

This is not about the ideal of a neutral-course title. “Civil War” is itself ideologically loaded so as to express the Unionist idea that the war was a struggle for control of the one government. No sane person argues that the Confederacy formed to initiate a takeover of the United States government. It desired to form an independent nation. The issue before you is the freedom to explore ideas. When you proscribe terminology in the course title, you proscribe a discussion or support of the idea within the course. There is no protestation to the contrary that will refute this.

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