University of Richmond President Offers History Seminar
University of Richmond President Ed Ayers is meeting for the last time today with a group of teachers who have spent a week as part of a history seminar.
Dr. Ayers is a well-known historian. His seminar that began Sunday, has turned out to be a real eye-opener for students of American history.
Ayers: Well, we're fortunate to have 28 teachers from 17 states; the largest single contingent's from California, and others from Oregon and Michigan and Minnesota, and they've come here to understand the role of the South in American history.
A lot of people have certain preconceptions about the South.
Ayers: How do we infuse a deeper understanding of all the people who've lived in the South over all this time, no matter where we’re teaching.
As an example:
Ayers: What if we looked at the Civil War through the eyes of African-Americans, say, or through the eyes of Unionists, who went into the Condederacy reluctantly, but then gave themselves over to it entirely. Or what if we looked at it from the viewpoint of pulling the camera back and seeing how it compared with other struggles of the 19th century, so part of what I'm trying to do is shake people loose from whatever preconceptions that they came into the class with.
The seminar students hit the road on their first day, beginning with a visit to the Citie of Henricus.
Ayers: It was news to a lot of people that there had been this bold experiment in 1611; they'd not heard of it in California or Connecticut, and then the next day we went to Berkeley and Shirley plantations to see how the things begun on the James a hundred years later, what they looked like there. Then we've been to the Observation Deck of City Hall and looking at how Richmond has grown and expanded all these ways; we went to Petersburg battlefield. The idea is to really look at how, on the same piece of land, all these things unfolding now for four hundred years. We took yesterday the walk with Elegba Folklore Society on the Slave Trail, there underneath the roar of I95 and under Mayo Bridge, thinking about all that, people have told me, is a very powerful experience.
Virginia is a little like heaven for history lovers. There are dozens of places and things to experience.
Ayers: I think one thing they're beginning to see is, boy, compared to wherever I live, there's a lot of history around here and it's kinda piled on top of each other and trying to understand how when we went down to Berkeley and Shirley, that we're also traveling across the landscape of the Peninsula campaign of McClellan in 1862, so it takes a little while to process how many things had happened just on this piece of real estate around here. We're covering everything from the American Indians who were here before the Europeans arrived til yesterday. The first day on the founding and the Colonial period, the antebellum period and the Civil War, Reconstruction and the New South and the civil rights movement; today was gonna be the contemporary South and where is the South going?
Students say their first-hand experiences and the discussions they’ve provoked have helped to improve their perspective.
Ayers: The South, between Reconstruction and World War I, is completely absent from our books, but that was the time and place that created the greatest unique contributions of America to world culture, being jazz, blues and country music; it was the time when the most rapidly-spreading religious denominations in the world today, Pentecostalism, came from; it was the time of the largest political revolt in American history, a populism, happened and it was a time when the most visible trademark in the world was developed, of Coca-Cola. And you can see people kinda going, well, you know, you're right. All that stuff did happen there and it just doesn't fit on the usual grid of American history.
John Ogle, WCVE News