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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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8. Civil War Memories: Untangling the Long and Difficult History of the Causes of the Civil War (Kevin Caprice, Ricky Dale Mullins / David Hicks)


Kevin Caprice, Ricky Dale Mullins and David Hicks

Some history can be difficult because it is traumatic; because it is difficult for most people in the present to fathom; or because it raises issues of identity, marginalization, and oppression that are more easily ignored than addressed for many students and teachers. (Stoddard, Marcus, & Hicks, 2016, p. 4)

Sentiments and discussions surrounding the Civil War are not typically “civil.” Teaching about the Civil War can be difficult; and in many ways the above quote effectively captures the reasons why teaching about the causes and history surrounding the Civil War is hard/difficult history to teach and learn. The Civil War is pedagogically challenging because it is both affectively and conceptually difficult. Affectively difficult history is “when events dealing with conflict, violence, death, identity loss, and personal social trauma are perceived by some students as too personal, sensitive, unfair, disturbing, uncomfortable, shameful, emotive, or culturally controversial” (Walsh, Hicks, & van Hover, 2016, p. 18). Conceptually difficult history is difficult because history as a discipline is a “dynamic, fluid discipline: complex, conceptually challenging, contested, counter intuitive, and academically controversial” (Walsh et al., 2016, p. 19). To teach such histories requires focusing on the goals of educating students for historical literacy through an evidence-based and carefully structured approach (Walsh et al., 2016). The C3 Framework (NCSS, 2013), as well as scholarship within the social studies (see Grant, Lee, & Swan, 2014; Grant, Swan, & Lee, 2016; Lee &...

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