January 29

Blog #164 – Reconstruction Historiography

As a refresher on historiography, in essence, it’s the history of the history of a topic or time period.  Historiography analyzes how history has been written in the past and how different interpretations of events.  For instance, historians in the 1850s would look at the events of the American Revolution differently than historians in the 1950s and differently than those living in 2024.  Each historian is shaped by their own biases and time period – for instance, if a historian wrote during a time period where there was economic turmoil and depression, those current events might likely shape how that historian views older events.  Also, the study of American history before the 1950s had been predominantly a white male enterprise which only focused primarily on political, economic, and diplomatic topics, but since the 1950s and the Civil Rights Movement, more and more female historians and historians of color entered the field who showed a light on peoples’ stories that hadn’t been told before by white male historians.  They also expanded the field of history to include social, cultural, and women’s histories.  Here is a quote on the importance of historiography:

“Historiography allows us to understand the wide range of historical interpretations and how differing perspectives have shaped the representations of historical fact. It helps us adopt a more critical lens in understanding history as relative, as a subject that has been manipulated by those telling it and reclaimed by those who have participated in it. It encourages to seek out the biases in historical accounts and understand the subjective nature of historical writing.” (citation).

So, the period of Reconstruction is one that had been dominated by a racist view of the leading historians of the time period until the 1950s.  Essentially, it was written from a white Southerner point of view, and Reconstruction was seen as a tragic era where Southern whites were the victims of incompetent Blacks and corrupt white Republicans.  Early Black historians like William Wells Brown and George Washington Williams writing in the 1870s and 1880s saw the period as tragic because the freedmen had been elevated beyond their previous status without proper preparation: “The government gave him [the freedmen] the statute-book when he ought to have had the spelling book; placed him in the Legislature when he ought to have been in the school-house.” (Williams).  They thought that the establishment of public schools in the South was one of the only good things to come out of Reconstruction.Opinion | The Lost Promise of Reconstruction - The New York Times

One fictional work that influenced the upcoming Dunning School of Reconstruction (see video below) was the popular novel, The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon in 1905.  It was an “unabashed celebration of the Ku Klux Klan” that saved the South from Radical Republicans’ attempt to “Africanize” the South.  This novel served as the basis for the hugely popular film, Birth of a Nation, released in 1915 to wide acclaim and massive audiences.

In the old school or William Dunning interpretation, Reconstruction was a miserable failure that blundered in giving freedmen their rights (which they weren’t ready for for a variety of reasons, but usually racist theories about intelligence and human nature), but Andrew Johnson and the Klan were portrayed as the heroes of the era because they tried to ease the country back together painlessly (Johnson) and pushed for restoration of home rule (Klan).   Reconstruction governments were filled with scalawags and carpetbaggers who corrupted the states and raised taxes.  The true victims here during this period were Southern whites.  In this old school, we see a major critique of the federal government’s expansion and exercise of federal power over the states.  Behind much of this interpretation is the opinion that was popular at the turn of the 20th Century that white people of Anglo-Saxon (English) or Northern European descent were superior to the rest of the world.  We see a lot of this nonsense in the previously mentioned silent blockbuster from 1915, Birth of a Nation and the epic Gone With the Wind in 1939.  Part of the reason that this Dunning School of Reconstruction had such a lasting impact was that there was a huge push towards reconciliation in the late 19th Century, and William Dunning’s book on Reconstruction was full of heavily researched details which set the standard for Reconstruction histories going forward.

In the 20th Century, Black historians like W.E.B. DuBois depicted Reconstruction as a tragedy because of its failure to secure civil rights for African Americans throughout the country in his 1935 book, Black Reconstruction (link to the audio book on YouTube here).  While he stated that there were minor successes like education for Black Americans, he lamented the violence that racist whites inflicted upon Black Americans – lynching had reached peak numbers in the 1890s, and white society attributed this to inherent Black criminality (but we all know the real story).

Later on in the mid to late 20th Century, under some of the new interpretations, especially the Progressive and Neo-Progressive / New Left historians in the 20th Century, the Dunning interpretation is flipped on its head.  Andrew Johnson was a racist who stood in the way of the idealist Radical Republicans who wanted to give freedmen their full and equal rights.  The Klan was not the protector of the South but a haphazard terrorist organization that kept blacks from voting and intimidated both whites and blacks in the South.  And the Southern state governments, Republican by nature, may or may not have helped out the freedmen.  One thing is certain: the governments, from the local (Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall) and state all the way up to the federal level (see the Grant administration) were corrupt.  Moral standards were low during this time period and many people (as we’ll see in one of our next units) are in it to make a quick million or two.  Here is an extended interview with historian Eric Foner on Reconstruction who wrote the most influential book on Reconstruction in the past 40 years (also one of my favorite living historians).

Please watch the following Crash Course on Black American history to use as additional evidence for your opinions on Reconstruction:

Your job: Briefly discuss the importance of historiography, and explain which historians’ interpretation of Reconstruction you either agree or disagree with the most and why.  Use your notes, readings of primary sources and the textbook, articles and videos (Amend, episode 2 among others) to back up your thoughts on this topic.

Due Monday night, January 29th, by midnight.  Your response should be a minimum of 350 words. 

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Posted January 29, 2024 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs

66 thoughts on “Blog #164 – Reconstruction Historiography

  1. Hannah Martens

    Historiography is important because peoples’ outlook on historical events can change as more outcomes become apparent. For example, if you based your opinion on the Civil War purely on the immediate outcome, which was an economic depression and a lot of violence during reconstruction, it might differ from someone later on who sees that it eventually led to freedom for African Americans and the new amendments increasing equality in the United States. It’s also obviously important to analyze history from different perspectives in order to perceive the effect it had on everyone, so that we can learn from our mistakes and successes. I disagree the most with William Dunning’s interpretation of reconstruction and its failure. I do believe that reconstruction was not successful, but for the opposite reason that Dunning states. He portrayed a belief that the Radical Republicans provided civil rights for African Americans too quickly, and didn’t think they were educated enough to be trusted with decisions in politics. First of all, the abolitionist movement had been at large since the 1830’s, so to say that freedom and equality for Black people was a quick brisk operation is an exaggeration to say the least. Not only that, the movement was still progressing during Dunning’s lifetime, as segregation and racism were still extremely prominent throughout the United States. Another argument was that Black people were not literate enough to vote, which seems once again like an excuse to promote white supremacy. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created with the intent of educating Black people who were previously not able to attend school due to expenses and segregation. To say that Radical Republicans provided too much too quickly because Black people were uneducated, while one of the things provided was access to education, is clearly contradictory. Also, there were elections in the south that required voters to take literacy tests, but they were manipulated to “legally” keep Black people from voting, so it doesn’t appear that literacy was the true concern. Lastly, the praise and appreciation of terrorist violence, and claiming it was for good cannot be defended. The only thing these terrorist groups of White Supremacists did, was scare, hurt, and kill people. Southern whites were not the ones who needed saving.

  2. Aaron H

    Briefly discuss the importance of historiography.
    Historiography is important as it allows future generations to understand how a historical event was understood at different points in time. Varying historians can already have differing opinions, but changing the time period said historian lived in can change everything. It changes their background, biases, etcetera & it most likely will change their beliefs. How history is written severely affects how it is viewed, take the Southern ‘lost cause’ for example. This combined with movies like Gone With the Wind change how people view history, and historiography allows us to understand that.

    Explain which historians’ interpretation of Reconstruction you either agree / disagree with the most & why.
    I most closely agree with the historians’ views from the 20th century, specifically from Black historians (like W.E.B. Du Bois) & New Left historians. I agree with most of their views as they recognize the terrors & accomplishments of Reconstruction (mostly terrors). During Reconstruction, there were many failures: Civil rights for Black Americans were not secured, (a terrorist organization) the KKK was created, lynching reached peak numbers, with it so did violence against Black Americans, all (or almost all) levels of governments were corrupt, and ethical codes were in the dumps. Starting off with the failures surrounding Black Americans civil rights, all 3 of the amendments passed in attempts to secure their rights ended horribly. They either had loopholes, were later ignored / rendered useless by the supreme court, or had Southern states enact new laws to battle them, not to mention the KKK’s effects on them. The 13th amendment had a loophole, that was if Black Americans were wrongly imprisoned they could be forced back into slavery. Then the 14th amendment, firstly ignored by 11 states, was practically stomped over by a few separate cases decided on by the Supreme court. And the 15th amendment was stomped on in two ways: by the states employing a voting tax, with it the voting receipt, and the KKK’s efforts to make Black Americans fear for their lives should they go and vote. Then theres the KKK’s original lynching’s that then led to the commonality of them, which in turn brought about public lynching’s. People would gather together and sometimes even have picnics around the hanging person. Some would take home ‘souvenirs’ by cutting off pieces of the person they hung, and others would take photos of the event, some even making said photos into postcards. Postcards with a hanging body in the foreground. Not to mention, no-one was held accountable for these executions as they were normally attributed to “inherent Black criminality”. With these hangings came regular violence against Black Americans, violence that quickly spread outside of the south becoming nationwide. Lastly, there’s the fact that so many were attempting to make quick money, and just ignoring the consequences that may follow. Corrupt governments combined with political & personal schemes were an effect of that. Once again, Black Americans’ lives were falling apart before their eyes. Taking a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois, “…the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” Of course, there were some successes like the new availability of education for Black Americans. But, in my opinion, the existence of all these other factors overpowers the good.

  3. Mamy Diop

    Historiography is incredibly important. A common saying in history is, “history is written by the winners’ ‘. although many people will argue that there isn’t always a winner, there is always a dominant group. This is why most of American history is white, because black people were never given the chance, this is why historiography is so important. It allows for the parties involved that may not have gotten the chance to not only tell their stories but to also react to other parties views and share their knowledge and understanding of the topic. As for reconstruction, I completely disagree with the idea that it failed. There was A LOT more that could have and should have been achieved during reconstruction but what we did complete was amazing. For the first time America began to view black people as human beings and not “glorified pets”, yes many people opposed this idea but the introduction of the idea alone shows how much america had grown. Black people began learning to read and write, not many, but they began to own land. Reconstruction instilled a new sense of hope in african americans, I dont think black people would have fought for their rights the same way they did had it not been for reconstritons, it showed them what could be. As a black person in America I think, although not disregarding all the negative things, I am more inclined to look at all the good things that happened and how far black people moved. It’s all about perspective, for example the difference between saying only 5% of black people own land versus saying although black people originally were seen as property and therefore they couldn’t own land, during reconstruction time almost 5% of black people owned land. I choose to see the positive of reconstruction, a lot of bad happening during and after and im not disregarding that but saying reconstruction failed completely disregards all the black people that made it into the government locally AND federally and all the black kids that were finally allowed to learn to read or the families that were able to live without the free of being separated.

  4. Chloe Nemeth

    I believe that historiography has a huge importance on how we interpret and analyze the past. Without the study of old newspapers, letters, diary entries, etc. many of the questions we had never would have been answered. Historiography is the study of historical writing, this can include the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, plus any document or letter written in the past. Without studying these texts we would never know how the country developed after the civil war or even how the civil war started. All we know about the past has been passed down through stories or writings. The study of historiography is very important when interpreting the reconstruction era after the Civil War. After reading about the different interpretations of reconstruction I agree more with the mid-late 20th century interpretation or the Progressive and Neo-Progressive / New Left historian’s ideas of reconstruction. Their interpretation of reconstruction is that Johnson was a racist and that the years after the Civil War were awful and hard for African Americans in the South. The old-school interpretation portrayed the South as being the victims of the Civil War, and Andrew Johnson and the Klan were heroes who tried to fix the country. This view changed in the early 20th century when historians started to discover more about what went on after the Civil War. In the years following, white southerners started to retaliate against African Americans in the South when federal troops were removed from Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. White southerners would retaliate by lynching African Americans, by the end of the 19th century around 2,500 Black people would be lynched throughout the South. Along with the violence in the South, the Freedmen’s Savings Bank lost 3 million dollars used to help the freed slaves after emancipation. The new interpretation of reconstruction is not all bad thighs though, states started recognizing black marriages and the right for black men to vote. I believe that once historians were able to uncover more information on the Civil War and have more unbiased opinions on what really happened the interpretation of the Reconstruction era was changed to show the true side of things.

  5. Juliette Shebib

    The importance of historiography is that it shapes the way people view the past, and allows us to see and understand multiple different point of views on historical events, not just from one specific perspective. Without historiography is when the danger of having single stories about a situation or historical event is introduced. Single stories are essentially the main perspective of something that everyone sees or is told/taught about, which ends up leaving out other important factors that are there that go unseen. For example, in English we learned and read about some of the Native Reservations in the U.S, and how everyone sees them as just poverty stricken and run down. When most people think of those reservations, thats what they think of, and what they leave out is many important factors such as the childrens aspirations, the religions and traditions, as well as anything else that makes those who live on the reservation who they truly are.
    In the historical perspectives shown to us in the amsco 2016 book, I agree with the third perspective, which is the perspective in which hey believed that congress wasnt being radical enough in helping the African Americans after they were freed. One reason why I agree with it is because the book mentions how those historians argued that they failed to give the freedmen land which could help provide them gain economic independence. I agree with this because without the land, many of those who were trying to earn money had to go to sharecropping to try and earn funds, but the problem with this is that they often ended up in debt or they heavily relied on the landowner, so they werent independent. I also agree with the thought that they should have kept military in the south longer to protect the freedmens political rights because even though there was the 14th amendment, it wasnt always necessarily equally enforced. You also have to consider the emergence of the Klan in the south, and how the freedmen didnt have protection against them.
    Sorry if this isnt very good, I wrote it with a migraine.

  6. Sofia A

    As time passes, histories and their interpretations evolve alongside the society that created them. While historians may initially have a perspective on an event that was common at the time, their views could be challenged and rewritten in a matter of decades. Being able to study not only a historical event, but also the way it has been recorded in history, is what makes historiography such an important factor in getting to know the truth about what took place centuries in the past. If we were only focusing on what we learn from the present, we would only share the opinion of those who have written about it in the present. For example, when learning about the Reconstruction era of the mid-1800s, it is important to look into the varying opinions of each historian’s retelling in order to better understand how people’s criticisms were shaped in the decades following the era’s end. After learning more about these different interpretations, I definitely agree with W.E.B. Dubois’s retelling and more Progressive views over those such as William Dunning’s. I believe that they help to bring to light the failures of the Reconstruction, not because it ruined South and its economy but because it failed to protect those basic human rights which had been so long fought for, even turning a blind eye to the violence and murder which had quickly become commonplace. When looking at similar opinions to those, it seems to me that they’re simply pointing out so many obvious conclusions which had been denied or ignored by previous retellings. For instance, it took until the mid-late 1900s for historians to realize the terrorism of the Klan, despite knowing that they had incited violence and preached ideas of white supremacy throughout the entire country, especially the South. Additionally, they acknowledge how political greed and politicians’ personal battles for wealth and power resulted in the government withholding protection from people facing racial prejudice and mob violence, allowing white supremacy and racial supremacist organizations to flourish. In my opinion, I view the older histories as ignorant versions which intended to glorify the South and make up for their loss in pride and economic stature after the Civil War, falsely idolizing their pro-slavery leaders for their efforts to “save the South” from Northern corruption. In contrast, modern historians tend to focus on how Reconstruction and the fight for civil rights shaped the country both positively and negatively, and are unafraid to point out the injustices which occurred under a an irresponsible government and a society directed by their own hate.

  7. Ashley Glime

    Historiography is so important in many ways. It shapes the very way people nowadays learn history and fall under different opinions of what was written about certain events from the past. Historiography takes the information about historical events that we already know and gives us a more deeper meaning and perspective of what happened during these periods of time of unfair rights and punishment for doing aboslutely nothing wrong. The reconstruction was such an extraordinarily racist and unfair time to those of the african americans. A person who I researched was a man named Eric Foner. He wrote many different books; one of his most notable works was, “reconstruction america’s unfinished revolution, 1863-1877.” and, “The fiery trial:Abraham Lincoln and the American Slavery.” Both of his books talk about topics from before, during, and after the Civil war touching on topics of the struggle for civil rights and the social changes during htis time. He wrote many valuable insights towards African americans. He talks about within his books the experiences for them at the time. He discusses their hardships to gain freedom and how equal treatment was lawfully and humainley deserved. He also talks about leaders during this time period and communities who really helped to shape reconstruction and fighting against discrimination. I agree with his works heavily because it can help readers truly feel for the african americans at this time and get a better understanding of the history that has happened in this country and how it is so wrong. Another historian who I agree with is W.E.B Du Bois. He wrote the book, “Black Reconstruction in America.” He writes about how African Americans shaped the post Civil war in the south. He gives the true gruesome details of what happened within the south. He also notes how we still are severely struggling with racial equality even to this day. I like his writing because it not only tells readers what happened back then but also gives us insight of the brutality of racism even to this very day. Historiography shapes the way I feel about history I learn within this class.

  8. Lauren Goins

    The study of historiography is important because, without it, the bias potentially caused by passions resurfaced due to certain events that took place during varying historical interpretation periods would be looked over otherwise. For example, the recollections of historical events during and after reconstruction can have hints of white supremacy or opposition to the reconstruction amendments, simply because those were the opinions floating around at the time. Along with bias caused by exclusivity to a certain environment or group of people, bias can also be caused by one’s stronger opinion on the social, economic, or political aspect of whatever event or development that they chose to document. Such bias breeds critical thinking in specific areas, rather than having an open mind about the opinions of both parties involved in documented events or developments.
    I agree most with the revisionist historiographical perspective. This is because historians like John Hope Franklin and Kenneth Stamp recognized the efforts from both the President and Congress on reconstruction efforts, while emphasizing that although change was the ultimate end goal, the short-term goal for African-Americans was to allow them their rights in full, regardless of the state that they resided in. As made clear through the 13-15th amendments, the goal was to protect African-Americans without capping the outcome of future court decisions on the basis of the federal protection issued to African-Americans in the confederate south, when the union troops began to inhabit said states. I also strongly agree with W.E.B. Du Bois’s position on reconstruction efforts, as it fully recognized the collective push from freedmen to enable their own to become political seat holders, and their voices in political environments. Others must have also done some reconsidering, as works such as W.E.B. Du Bois played a part in directly causing the rising revisionist age.
    Although I partially agree with historian Leon Litwack, I interpret his take on Reconstruction as one that glorifies the process of African-Americans trying to establish themselves in both southern and northern cities. Yes, the freedmen took it upon themselves to establish non-segregated churches and were able to force the creation of a new labor system but they were still being cheated by the system.

  9. Hangyul Kim

    Historiography is important because it explores people’s different perspectives and how they change over time. It allows us to comprehend why certain events happened, why certain beliefs existed, and why they might have changed or stayed the same for a time. Without historiography, we wouldn’t be able to see the perspectives of the U.S. citizens during Reconstruction and historiography helps us better understand the state of the people at the time. Studying history’s history helps us complete the puzzle of history.

    One of the perspectives of Reconstruction at the time was that the Republican majority government wasn’t radical enough. I agree with this statement. When William T. Sherman put freemen on raided Southern plantations to work, it gave opportunity to the newly emancipated slaves. Type of freedom that they had never experienced before. Blacks were finally able to work their land and were given a generous amount of land to work on through the Sherman Field Order. But this freedom was not protected and this first step towards equal opportunity for African Americans was taken away by Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, and pro-slavery opinionated President who lacked the leadership and beliefs of Lincoln, took away the opportunities for African Americans and slowed down progress toward equality. The Congress simply was not radical enough and should have succeeded with their impeachment of Johnson, which failed with only a single vote. Though the Republican dominant congress had passed amendments to protect the newly emancipated African Americans, they did not accomplish it with enough rigor to ensure that horrifying acts such as lynchings would be prevented. They had allowed African Americans to vote through the 15th Amendment, but even so, African Americans were intimidated and threatened by the looming danger of the Ku Klux Klan. Republicans had failed to protect those who fought in mind with emancipation, those who were a large portion of their voters. Though they were considered radical even for their time, with more effort into their beliefs, I truly believe that life for Blacks and all Americans could have been different if the Republicans were even a bit more radical.

  10. Rhian Dansby

    History is an essential part of human understanding and growth. Histography is the study of how history is interpreted and written. Histography also plays a crucial role in forming our understanding of past events. Histography helps us realize when there are biases and questions about existing narratives. In the circumstances of the Reconstruction after the American Civil War, histography has been a vital component in evaluating and reevaluating this critical era in American History. As we know Reconstruction occurred during the time period between 1865 to 1877, which was positioned to rebuild the United States after the Civil War. (reconnect the Southern parts of the United States to the Union and the emancipation and civil rights for African Americans) This time period showed significant changes in political, social, and economic, which formed the nation today. Historians throughout the years have provided many interpretations of the Reconstruction of the United States, and all have reflected their own perspectives, opinions, biases, and historical context. An influential historian who offers a momentous interpretation of the Reconstruction is Eric Foner as shown in the video above. Foner argues that the Reconstruction was a revolutionary time that pursued bringing about racial equality and modifying the nation’s social and political structures. He sees Reconstruction as a missed opportunity due to the removal of federal support and the increase of white supremacy groups, which led to the violence of racial segregation and discrimination in the South. Foner’s view of the Reconstruction reverberates with me the most because it emphasizes the radical goals and achievements of the Reconstruction of the United States. Foner’s view also acknowledges the roles of resistance and opposition to Reconstruction and the failure of the Reconstruction. He talked about the backlash and violence that was released by white supremacy groups such as the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) which led to the crumbling of black political power and the emergence of a segregated society. His analysis captures the difficulty of the Reconstruction period, acknowledging the failures and achievements due to internal and external forces. I agree with Foner’s perspective since he does overall feel that the Reconstruction was a failure with just a few achievements as do I. Another person’s perspective is William Dunning (the Dunning school for the video above). According to Dunning the Reconstruction was a total disaster full of misrule, and social chaos. He argued that blacks were not ready for political power, and their presence resulted in the crash of social order and the increase of incompetent and corrupt governments. The Dunning school’s interpretation used to be influential but now it is often criticized because of its racial biases and the idea of white supremacy. I disagree with Dunnings on the idea that blacks were unable to hold government power. In conclusion, histography plays a crucial role in forming and broadening our understanding of the past.

  11. Isabella Franco

    Historiography, or the study of historical writing, is an essential part of our development as a society, and helps educate us on the past. Historiography is a good way to see how people’s opinions change on a subject over time, and get a (mostly) accurate understanding of the time period. Most importantly, it gives us an understanding of different perspectives on subjects, some of which we disagree with. This can be seen in the many interpretations of the Reconstruction Era. Black historians such as W.E.B. DuBois saw the reconstruction as a tragic failure, as it failed to secure African Americans the civil rights they fought for. These interpretations are more accurate, and usually display the harsh truths of reconstruction, however, there are other sources that spread different ideas. The Anglo-Saxon view of reconstruction spread loads of nonsense, or “Lost Cause” views. Through movies such as “Birth of a Nation (1915)” or “Gone with the Wind (1939),” white people romanticized the old south in a way, making it seem like a time long gone, permanently destroyed by the north. These movies portray the old south as “beautiful,” and portray enslaved individuals as happy people who enjoyed their work. By making the south seem nostalgic, the views of many US citizens were changed, which was extremely concerning . Harmful depictions of the pre-war era further amplified stereotypes of enslaved people, and created harmful caricatures. For example, Hattie McDaniel’s character in “Gone with the Wind.” McDaniel’s character is basically a walking stereotype; her name is “Mammy,” and she is portrayed as if she enjoys being enslaved (however, McDaniel became the 1st black woman to win an Oscar!). Sources like this do offer us a peek into the minds of southerners, and it is interesting to realize that this nonsense is truly what they believed. Historiographers can use these films as evidence to show how opinions change and vary over time. However, it’s harmful depictions like these that alter people’s views and opinions about issues such as reconstruction, which is why historiographers must be extremely selective and careful while doing their research.

  12. Carl

    Historiography refers to studying how history is written and constructed over time. The importance of historiography is that it provides insight into evolving historical interpretations and highlights the influence of cultural, social, and political contexts on historical accounts.
    The interpretation of Reconstruction includes many varied perspectives on this complex period following the American Civil War. One key debate revolves around the question of if Reconstruction as a success or failure and the role of race and civil rights in the process. For instance, W.E.B. Du Bois, an African American historian, challenged prevailing racist interpretations of Reconstruction in “Black Reconstruction in America”, he argued that the period was a revolutionary moment where African Americans actively participated in shaping their own destiny.
    Additionally, historians like Eric Foner have argued that Reconstruction aimed to establish racial equality in the aftermath of slavery. Foner emphasizes the accomplishments of Reconstruction, such as the establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments, and the brief period of political empowerment for African Americans. He argues that the failure of Reconstruction was not inevitable but resulted from the abandonment of these ideals in the face of white supremacist backlash.
    On the other hand, historians like William Dunning and his followers presented a more negative view of Reconstruction. They portrayed it as a period of corruption, mismanagement, and ineptitude, arguing that the attempt to integrate freed slaves in the South was a misguided experiment that ultimately failed.
    Similarly, the Lost Cause narrative, perpetuated in the post-Civil War South, romanticized the Confederacy and portrayed Southern society as noble and chivalrous, downplaying the role of slavery in the war. This interpretation sought to justify secession and framed Reconstruction as tragic and oppressive.
    Personally, I find Eric Foner’s interpretation compelling. Foner’s emphasis on the achievements made during Reconstruction, and the impact of subsequent white supremacist resistance aligns with a perspective that acknowledges the agency of African Americans and the significance of the civil rights advancements.

  13. Zoe b

    Historiography is important. It gives us the foundation and helps us to understand the objectivity of past historians as they passed through time periods and events. Was their portrayal of events written without bias? We will never know. So, we accept the writings of these ‘knowledgeable writers’ and accept their writings as ‘truth’. As we continue the study of historical events, we will eventually come up with our own objective conclusions. As we look back to the Reconstruction Era, the United States was left in a quandary. I do agree with various aspects of the historian’s views. The historian in the video expresses that the United Stated was “attempting to remake itself through a series of provisions, programs and amendments that were, ostensibly, meant to ensure that Black people had civil rights.” As the United States realized, this would be a massive undertaking. The country at this time was not willing to accept Blacks as their socially accepted equal. White people would not easily exchange their ‘white supremacy’ label to what they felt was an inferior race. The Confederates lost the war. But did their mindset change about Black people. No. As stated by Clint Smith, he reflects upon words from W. E.D. DuBois, “…the slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then moved back again toward slavery.” This quote could mean a multitude of things. I think the main take away of this quote is that people of color experienced emotional freedom at the onset of the Reconstruction Period but, because of the opinions of other and the unsuccessful Reconstruction period it caused people of color to move back into the shadows of slavery and continued to be treated like they were not humans. Yes, there were some positive things about the Reconstruction period such as black people getting the right to own land and the right to vote as well. Honestly, how can we agree or disagree with the historian about whether or not the Reconstruction period was successful or not if there was no yard stick, If there was no way to measure the outcomes? So, in the end there are great points to disagree on why it failed and agree on it as well.

  14. Henry M

    Historiography is immensely important. Historiography is the study of how history is written and interpreted. The study of historiography allows us to understand how certain biases and perspectives in historical materials led to changing perspectives in the people exposed to it, and how those changing perspectives may have led to events.
    An example of how different perspectives in historical materials can affect a group of people can be seen after the reconstruction period ended, when viewpoints like the Dunning school of thought emerged. The Dunning school of thought was an idea that said that the reconstruction failed due to black southerners’ getting too involved in politics. This idea was developed by William A. Dunning in the early 1900s, a while after the reconstruction movement had ended. William A. Dunning was a professor at Columbia University, where the idea was spread to many students. Many of these students would go on to write their own papers in which the school of thought was included, spreading the idea across the
    country. These white supremacist ideals would find their way into many textbooks, planting these ideas into multiple generations of children. The Dunning school of thought is often credited as a contributor to racist sentiments across America being maintained.
    The dunning school of thought is the historical interpretation of the reconstruction period in america that I researched that I disagree with the most.
    The dunning school of thought is extremely racist, stating that black people are incapable of governing themselves. It romanticized antebellum times, stating that many of the issues in the country were freed black people’s fault. It completely ignores the democratic opposition to the reconstruction. The reconstruction actually failed because of the Supreme Court’s changing of laws that led to growing segregation. Black people had more rights in 1867 than they had in 1880, especially in the south. These rulings led to anti-black intimidation and violence, especially at polling places. The increase in intimidation and violence, unchecked by government, led to much less black representation in politics. As a result, anti-black legislation was able to pass. Because of its complete disregard for the real reason the reconstruction failed, all in the name of promoting white supremacy, I disagree with the Dunning school of thought most.

  15. Ian Whan

    Historiography is the study of historical writing and the evolution of historical methods. It is crucial for understanding how historical narratives were made, interpreted, and influenced by the thoughts of different historians and societies. By looking deeper at the ideologies in historical works, historiography gives us a very critical, and thought provoking evaluation of the past, that we would not be able to have prior to. It helps everyone recognize how historical events have and can shape our collective understanding of events, cultures, and societies. Through historiography, one gains awareness of the power dynamics, cultural influences, and societal values that shape how we see historical events, and can help us further analyze them. It promotes a reflective approach to history, making a deeper appreciation for the past, and encourages more informed education globally. Overall, historiography is essential for reviewing historical literacy.
    I lean a lot closer with the perspectives of the black 20th-century historians, those who are recognised to be more liberal, or radical, like W.E.B. Du Bois. Their thoughts stay with me as they not only acknowledge the challenges and achievements of the Reconstruction era, emphasizing its numerous setbacks, as we discussed in English class this year, it is important to acknowledge both sides of history, and not to just sweep it under the rug. The failures during this period were extensive: Black Americans’ civil rights were not effectively gaurenteed, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan led to widespread violence and lynching, government corruption prevailed at all levels, and ethical standards plummeted. The amendments that were made to protect Black rights, faced loopholes, Supreme Court neglect, and opposition from Southern states. The KKK, with its voter intimidation tactics, undermined the 15th Amendment. Lynching incidents, initially carried out by the KKK, became disturbingly common, accompanied by public spectacles and the wicked practice of souvenir-taking. The lack of accountability for these actions further elevated violence against Black Americans, spreading nationwide. The pursuit of quick wealth without considering consequences contributed to corrupt governments and personal schemes, elevating the challenges faced by black amercians. While there were positive aspects, such as increased access to education, the overwhelming impact of these negative factors cannot and should not be overlooked

  16. Bella Curry

    Historiography represents how history was researched or written, historiography plays a significant role in the understanding of our history. It played such a big part because it showed historians’ perspectives throughout the years, provided a vision into the different perspectives that the historians would bring, and also other people’s perspectives on the whole Reconstruction Era. With Reconstruction in the United states, historiography becomes a very big factor in examining this time period and on. One historian who contributed to the understanding of reconstruction was Eric Foner, Foner’s view corresponded with my view the most because his view took on that the goal of establishing equal right for African Americans was just as deserving as the whites as well as showed how the “promises” of Reconstruction were really left unfulfilled. He published a book named “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution” which talks about the depths of Reconstruction. This book emphasizes the challenges faced in achieving racial equality, as well as the political and social transformations of 1863-1877. He argued that Reconstruction was an attempt at redefining the American society by describing issues about race, citizenship and equal rights. He also goes into some good parts of the reconstruction that benefitted African Americans including how Radical Republicans saying how they had sought to reshape the South to make it better for African Americans(wanting to establish civil and political rights.), as well as such things as the Freedmen’s Bureau, ratification of 14th amendment granting protection under the law & citizenship, and 15th amendment with granting the right to vote. But he also goes over some over some of the bad sides of reconstruction that cancelled out some of the good factors including the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, violent resistance from white supremacists, and political factors that weakened the impact of federal policies and laws. The reason I personally agree with Foner’s argument is because though later on eventually equality started to improve, at the time, most of the resistances cause by mostly white southerners or just the federal government were very impactful to African Americans(and cancelled out things like the Freedman’s Bureau, 15th amendment, etc.) including things like black codes which limited African Americans behavior and opportunities, Jim Crow Laws which encouraged racial segregation, and other things such as sharecropping that would put African American’s in debt. I enjoy his view because he provides the readers with a better understanding on reconstruction, not only good, but also its downsides. These factors led us to historiography, which helps us get a better view on our different opinions without seeing only the biased opinions but both sides of the stories told during this time.

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