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Teaching the Causes of the American Civil War, 1850-1861


Edited By Michael E. Karpyn

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865, killing nearly 700,000 Americans and costing the country untold millions of dollars. The events of this tragic war are so steeped in the collective memory of the United States and so taken for granted that it is sometimes difficult to take a step back and consider why such a tragic war occurred. To consider the series of events that led to this war are difficult and painful for students and teachers in American history classrooms. Classroom teachers must possess the appropriate pedagogical and historical resources to provide their students with an appropriate and meaningful examination of this challenging time period. Teaching the Causes of the American Civil War, 18501861 will attempt to provide these resources and teaching strategies to allow for the thoughtful inquiry, evaluation and assessment of this critical, complex and painful time period in American history.

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Foreword (Caroline R. Pryor, Erik Alexander, James Mitchell, Charlotte Johnson / Whitney Blankenship)


Caroline R. Pryor, Erik Alexander, James Mitchell, Charlotte Johnson and Whitney Blankenship

In his introductory essay to this volume, editor Michael Karpyn notes the importance of historical analysis about which teachers might reflect as they examine the pedagogical challenges of their teaching. This foundational challenge begins when we question—as suggested by the first essay in this volume—the objectives of our teaching:

Why do we as a nation struggle so much to understand the cause of the American Civil War? There is no simple answer to this question, but our lack of understanding is at least partially due to both sides contesting the memory of the war before the guns had time to cool. (Caprice, Mullins and Hicks, Chapter 1)

This volume continues to explore the enduring question of this book series: How have we as a nation addressed our civic life and, provided—over time—for the liberties we envision. In this volume Michael Karpyn leads contributing authors to grapple with this question.

Karpyn’s remarks in his opening preface foreshadow his own essay on the causes of the civil war explaining that “causes” is no simple matter. His preface begins with a scenario familiar to many, the story of brothers separated by familial circumstances in the early 19th century and told to us in part by letters that provide us with insight into and the prediction of the “imminent secession” and coming of the war. Here Karpyn reminds...

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