History and the YouTube Generation

You can learn just about anything on YouTube.  There are thousands of “how-to” videos for fixing things in your house, setting up the Bluetooth in your car, or solving complicated math problems.

There is also a lot of historical content, some of it very well done and surprisingly popular.  Well, surprising to me, but probably not the generation who has grown up looking for short-cuts to history lessons, which is why historians like me should be involved in their creation by providing reliable content and expertise.  Very recently, I did just that.

A video producer named Coleman Lowndes contacted me and asked me to Skype with him and talk about the “Lost Cause.”  It’s a term that I often have to explain to students and even public audiences. That interview, along with one given by historian Kevin Levin, were then incorporated into the video Lowndes produced for Vox, an online news media outlet that reaches a large millennial audience.

Here is the end result:

Now, while I might take issue with the title, the content was spot on.  And entertaining. It’s also not a lecture, although many of those exist online, too.  At least one lecture I found had been viewed over 400,00 times.  Not bad at all.  But the video above?  It’s closing in on one million views.  ONE MILLION.

I credit this to the video producer who made it, Coleman Lowndes.  He knows his audience–the millennials of the YouTube generation who want to learn and be entertained at the same time.  Please understand: I’m not saying that this generation is limited to one learning style, but if they are going to seek out a video explanation of a historical idea or an event then it’s important to grab, and hold, their attention.  Lowndes did that well.

Even we, historian/teachers, appreciate an entertaining history lesson, which is why so many of us like Drunk History, which began as a YouTube series.  Students like them, too.  One of my favorites is about Harriet Tubman, played by Octavia Spencer.

They get students’ attention and instructors can use them to enhance lectures and prompt discussion.  Just like those Vox videos.

There’s much more out there in YouTube land.  There is history in song (here’s one on the Declaration of Independence), traditional documentaries, and restored historical newsreels.

YouTube videos aren’t the only way to reach the latest generation, of course. But maybe, just maybe, they can spark a real interest among those viewers to go beyond the video in search of more information.  For historians, that’s a win-win.

Seasons Bleatings!

Seasons Bleatings!

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

Dear Friends and Readers,

I have so much to be grateful for this year, especially with the publication, in October, of my book Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by UNC Press.

My travels to promote the book took me to Chicago, IL, Spartanburg, SC, Greensboro and Charlotte, NC, Mobile, AL, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA, and several towns in Mississippi, including Greenwood, Oxford, Jackson, and, of course, Natchez!  I did so with the support of family, friends, and my press–especially Brandon Proia (my editor) and Gina Mahalek (my publicist).

 

Along the way, I wrote some essays about the research that went into Goat Castle for Publishers Weekly, the Organization of American Historian’s blog Process, and an essay that linked my research to today’s incarceration of women of color for TIME magazine.  I appeared on several podcasts, and did a number of Q&A interviews for book bloggers and even VICE magazine.

What I had not expected was Charlottesville.

In the midst of promoting my book, I got caught in the public whirlwind about Confederate monuments. That began in August after white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville under the pretense of defending the Robert E. Lee monument there. In response, I wrote op-eds for the New York Times (twice), The Washington Post,  and CNN (twice), while also being interviewed by numerous media outlets including the BBC, i24 Israeli television, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Slate (France), the Los Angeles Times, and newspapers in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Japan.  To be honest, I lost count of the interviews, because this issue became a global one overnight.  I was also reminded of the fact that people don’t always appreciate what a historian writes. And yet, I also believe that historians must continue to write on issues for which they have expertise.

But, back to the goats.

Writing Goat Castle was the most rewarding endeavor of my career.  I met wonderful people in Natchez, got to know descendants of one of the principals in the book, and was able to write a book that most people have found accessible.  Everyone from my Aunt Wilma to my hairdresser seems to like it, and not just because they know me.

I’m frequently asked “what’s next?” I’m still trying to figure it out.  When I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, Goat Castle has only been out a couple of months.  And, it still has a future.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October Happenings with Goat Castle

The Goat Castle tour has begun!  Here are the October events:

October 3rd:  Radio Interview with Cat Smith on KSVY’s Hollywood & West Napa, on 91.3 KSVY Sonoma at 1:05: EST.

October 4th:  Interview with Author’s Voice in Chicago. Listen in to this virtual book signing!

October 10th:  Reading and signing at Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC

October 15th:  Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, TN

October 18th:  Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, NC

October 19th:  Interview with NC Bookwatch (Airtime TBA)

October 25th:  Talk and signing at Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

October 28th:  Louisiana Book Festival, Baton Rouge, LA

Then, it starts all over again in November!

 

 

 

 

 

Naked and Afraid: One rare week in this historian’s life

dixiedaughtercover
It almost didn’t get published. (University Press of Florida, 2003)

Yes, yes, I’ve absolutely been excited about what happened to me this week. After 25 years of plugging away, and nearly 15 years after publishing Dixie’s Daughters, the national media decided that I “might” be an expert on the subject of Confederate monuments and so I finally got the opportunity to say something about a subject that has long been assumed to be the purview of male historians.

But guess what?  A lot of folks didn’t like it.

I posted enthusiastically on my personal Facebook page (to the tsk tsk of some), because nothing like this has ever, ever happened to me in my entire career. My bone fides include a PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi.  That alone made it hard enough to break into academia, much less write for newspapers with a national reach.  So, I got a little excited.  And as anyone knows, Facebook does not tell one’s entire story.  It’s always the curated version.

So let me tell you what I didn’t post about.  I was a little scared as the time approached for the op-ed to go online. I worried for my safety after what I saw unravel in Charlottesville over the weekend.  I took measures to notify my chair and my dean about my concerns.  I worried my mother who, I will state for the record, does not always agree with my public writing.

I also took a lot of heat online and via email for having dared to place these objects of southern heritage in their proper historical context.  And I say heritage, because heritage is about memory and memory is not history.  That is a hard point to make with diehard defenders of Confederate memorials. The fact that they are memorials, which by their very nature are about memory, ought to make that point clear.

On the very first day that my op-ed in the New York Times appeared, I received this from a man named Edward Just:

FullSizeRender
This is what it is like when you tell the truth about Confederate monuments.

 

 

While this vile, sexist, and racist email was the worst of the bunch, there were others  who emailed to tell me I was an “opportunist,” “naive,” and that I had done nothing more than engage in a “pompous rant,” “unhinged hyperbole,” and “feminist agitprop.”  “I find your NYT article repugnant and your views are Orwellian,” wrote another, and most perplexing of all came the question “when did white lives cease to matter?”  In short: never.

There were also the more than 1300 online comments for the Times, which I barely looked at, because one should never look at the online comments.  But there, as in emails, I still did not garner the respect of a professor.  I was addressed as “Ms. Cox,” and complete strangers spoke to me and offered history “lessons,” calling me by my first name as if I was their neighbor from down the street.

To be fair, there were those who offered their thanks for my perspective and understood that while I was not on the front lines in Charlottesville, speaking truth to power in the context of our times takes some courage.

monument inpalingI say that knowing that whatever courage I showed pales by the courage it takes to simply be black in today’s America. I benefit from and am protected by white privilege. What I wrote about Confederate monuments cannot be equated with how black southerners must feel in seeing these tangible reminders of their treatment at the hands of people who did not, and still do not, care about their humanity.

14xp-heather-master315.jpg
Heather Heyer. Photo credit: New York Times.

And I never for one second forgot about the tragedy that befell Heather Heyer, and those still recovering from their injuries after a devastating act of domestic terrorism.

I’m simply a historian and I got a chance to write about something I know and have studied for more than two decades.  And yes, I was honored that I could add my voice to something that is not only a national conversation, but an international one.

Because the world is watching.