Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cannons discovered near St. Augustine

This story is a follow-up to my post on American Loyalists (Liberty's Exiles, 6/30/11). 

For years, there have been several shipwreck excavation projects off the coast of St. Augustine.  Two of the cannons recently discovered off the coast of St. Augustine illustrate a link to the Loyalist history of Florida.  See today's article from the Florida Times-Union:

For further interest, see the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Civil War at 150

The 150th Commemoration of the Civil War began last December (2010) with the first 150th anniversary, the anniversary of South Carolina's secession.  Obviously, the Civil War is of large importance to United States History.  It truly is a critical turning point in our nation’s history and can be seen as a second American Revolution.  American politics, society and the economy, even geography in some places, were drastically changed through four years of bitter war.  Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered by their own countrymen and millions of lives were affected.  As I mentioned in a previous post, civil wars are usually the least civil of wars and the trauma of this war rattled a generation and shaped the future of the nation.

Even though this is a pivotal event in history textbooks, the understanding of it is not limited to textbooks, websites or the published works of historians.  A century and a half later, this event is still debated today.  It still hooks the interest of ordinary people around the world.  The Civil War is the most written about single event in world history.  Walk into any bookstore and you will find volumes of recently published works all about this one war 150 years ago. (See my previous post)

One popular topic of debate, and one of the many reasons this event is still so thoroughly studied today, is the root cause of the war: the debate on slavery.  The Civil War simply cannot be understood without understanding slavery as the core issue.  As I write this, I know that some disagree on this point.

Since I will most likely be gone on “paternity leave” when we discuss this topic in class, I leave you with the following items:

1. Viewing slavery as a cause for secession is still controversial today.  Here’s an example from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.  (I’m not usually a fan of this show, but it does bring forth some valid discussion)

2. Why is there such a controversy?
Here are some historians on this point:
(sorry about the advertisement, wish I could help that! be sure to stop the clip at the end)

3. Questions for Class Discussion:

  • Why does naming slavery as the main cause of the Civil War (though there are others) create so much controversy today?
  • Why do some high school history teachers find it difficult to teach about slavery? (some teachers I have encountered at conferences are very uncomfortable even discussing slavery)
  • How is this commemoration of the Civil War (the 150th) different from previous commemorations (50th, 100th, etc)?
  • Why does the Civil War still receive such attention, by historians, by ordinary people, by Hollywood?
  • Is it appropriate for states to allow the Confederate flag to be displayed in public buildings?

For further interest, here are a few additional resources on this topic:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rules for History

In Summer School, the students and I began this list... "Broach's Rules for History."  Maybe "theorems for history" would be better?

Of course, these are general statements and with anything in history, nothing is ever 100% correct and there is never a clear right answer... so here it goes:

1.       Watch out for those backcountry folk! They love to rebel.  And sometimes play banjos.  (Ex: Bacon's Rebellion, Shays' Rebellion, Whiskey Rebellion, etc.)
2.       Geography affects everything.
3.       Politics is always personal, regardless of what they tell you!  Just ask Andrew Jackson.
4.       Civil wars are the least civil of wars.
5.       When you split a traditional group of voters, the other side wins. (not always, but often)
6.       When people are poor and starving, they’ll listen to any radical idea (well, depends)
7.       In ideological struggles, symbolism is important.
Can you think of anything else?  Please let me know.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9-11 Remembered

This week, I heard so many Americans recount where they were when they learned of the attacks on September 11th or how this national tragedy touched their lives.  The various media outlets have replayed broadcasts from that day or have aired special programs to commemorate the upcoming anniversary.  In many ways, the entire world was touched by this single day and it begs the question, "where were you?"

So, here's my story:  On the morning of September 11th, I was sitting at my desk at St. Joseph's Catholic Church.  At the time, I worked for the parish as Director of Activities and my office was adjacent to the school's gym.  A co-worker called to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  Immediately, I turned on the television and within minutes, several of my colleagues and friends gathered in my office to watch the coverage.  We watched in horror as the second plane struck the south tower.  About 30 minutes later, we learned that another plane crashed into the Pentagon.  After that, I drove across the street to the Rectory and spent time with our pastor, Fr. Dan Cody and his family from Ireland to watch the news coverage.  I left after the second tower collapsed and drove to the University of North Florida for my class on Early America.  That day, the professor began class by discussing the tragedy and then allowing anyone who wished to leave to do so.  For those of us who remained, he asked that we continue on with our studies so as not to give in to terrorists hoping to disrupt our way of life.  Shortly after class ended, we learned that the campus would close and that classes for the day were cancelled.  I returned to the parish, cancelled all parish meetings scheduled for that day and contacted ministry directors and the media to inform them that a Mass of Remembrance would be offered that night.  Like any American, the day was filled with so much emotion and disbelief.  Only in my early 20s, I had not experienced a national tragedy such as this.  Given the technological advances of modern media, this tragedy was not transmitted just by simple news reports as was the case with Pearl Harbor.  Ordinary American citizens were witnesses to the destruction and carnage experienced by their fellow Americans in New York, Washington and on Flight 93.  With advances like cellular phones, family members were able to speak with some of the victims before they perished.  This is what makes this tragedy so different and why this anniversary touches each of us.

This ten-year anniversary is a time for remembrance and for healing.  I imagine that in forty years when we commemorate the 50th anniversary, more time will be spent discussing and writing about the significance of September 11th and how it was a critical turning point in American History.  Right now, the political debates since 9/11 are still too relevant to present a true, un-biased history of the responses to the attacks.  Instead, now is the time to tell the story of that day - a day of despair, but also a day of courage, heroism and sacrifice especially for those that gave their lives so that others might live. I hope that with this anniversary, we reclaim that sense of unity we had as Americans in the days following these attacks and join together to remember, to pray for those affected and together, to heal.

So that we never forget what happened that day, I close this post with links to pictures, stories and information about the attacks.  These are the primary sources that we as historians must gather to understand this event better.  As with any historical event, and especially a tragedy such as this, these sources serve as the artifacts of our human story - our experience.  Without understanding the human story, we cannot truly appreciate the event.  As historians, now is the time to lay the ground work so that future generations truly "remember."

"We Remember."  "We Shall Never Forget."

As I find more of the resources, I will post them to Twitter.  Follow me @michaelbroach

Saturday, July 30, 2011

End of Summer and New Beginnings

The end of summer break draws near and I have finished my summer reading with Edward J. Larson's 1997 book, Summer for the Gods.  In this text, Larson gave an in-depth analysis of the famed Scopes Monkey Trial, the events leading to the trial, the trial itself, its immediate aftermath, legacies and historiography.  This particular case truly was the "case of the (20th) century" and marked a key moment in America's ongoing debate on science, religion and education.  Furthermore, it was a key event in the early-1900s emergence of modernism and reactions to modernism, an ideology that the Catholic Church responded to under the leadership of Popes Pius X, Benedict XV and Pius XI (*).  It is also an event that is often misunderstood today, especially with erroneous "histories" written decades later and the popularity of the fictitious and certainly not historically-accurate play turned film, Inherit the Wind

*Note: I try to include some Catholic history whenever possible.

As I turn my attention to a new school year and another journey through American History, I look forward to my eighth run of reading, analyzing and discussing the history of our people and our nation with bright, young minds.  This year in particular will bring some important developments in the field of United States History:

1. The continuation of the 150th Commemoration of the Civil War which I have already written about here
2. The 10-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11th.

The Organization of American Historians has dedicated this quarter's issue of the Magazine of History to 9/11.  In reading the first few articles, it is evident that at least the opening historians have a very negative view of the consequences of September 11th and the responses of President George W. Bush.  While I will avoid discussing or challenging those opinions here, it does bring to light this point (or opinion): It is simply too soon to give true historical analysis without the temptation to include one's political beliefs.  I hope that this tenth anniversary will be a time to properly remember those who lost their lives that day, to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty and to remember those soldiers who gave their lives in the years that followed.  Certainly, the legacies of September 11th are still with us and I hope that a genuine commemoration will take place.

I look forward to a new school year of conversation on these and other issues in our nation's past, present and future.

As always, I conclude with a few links:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The war has begun

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the first major battle of the Civil War at Manassas, Virginia (or as more commonly known, Bull Run).  It was this battle that served as the first sign that this would not be a short and limited war, but one of overwhelming destruction and one that would become a second American Revolution.  My goal was to finish John Keegan's book, The American Civil War: A Military History by today.  I accomplished that goal last night.

I learned so much from Keegan's book that it would be too much to recount here.  The military history of this four-year national saga is one of logistics, of using and overcoming geography and as a human story, of engaging ordinary citizens in shear horrific battle.  Here are just a few examples that prove how massive and traumatic this four-year-struggle was for the ordinary American citizens who lived through it or perished by it:
  • Approximately 10,000 battles were fought, 237 were named (Keegan, 362, 77).
  • Death toll: Approximately 620,000 - 360,000 Union and 260,000 Confederate; Total casualties (dead, wounded or missing) rank much higher than that (Stats: Keegan, 77).
  • There was no large professional army in the United States in 1861 which meant that ordinary citizens had to learn as they fought which only increased the casualty numbers.
  • Given the horrors of battle, lethal technology and the spreading of disease, one would expect high amounts of desertion and surrender.  However, whether through loyalty to comrades, to cause or out of a desire to preserve one's dignity, most of these ordinary citizens continued to fight courageously.
Of course, when studying the Civil War, we are left with the question of why.  Why did this war begin and linger so long? Why did Americans fight and continue to fight?

Studying the evidence, it is irrefutable that the debate over slavery and its extension west was the root cause of the secession crisis.  Certainly, most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves and many had very few encounters with African-Americans.  It can be said that for the ordinary citizens of the Confederacy, they fought to preserve the rights of their state.  For many northerners, the cause for which they fought was the preservation of the national union and though some were fervent abolitionists, most in the North were not.  However, the question of race and slavery remained at the core of the national discussion on both sides and it simply cannot be ignored.  Yet, making these statements today is still controversial, especially in the South.

Why is this?  For the southern perspective, many of the memoirs and histories written in the fifty years after Appomattox were intended to redeem the image of the South, a people recovering from the defeat of a traumatic and passionate conflict.  The arguments of these "Lost Cause" historians as well as the depictions in the famous novel turned film, Gone with the Wind, made their way into what historians refer to as "American Memory," the collective knowledge of history by ordinary people.

This is just one aspect of the controversy.  It is my hope that over the next four years of this 150th commemoration, we can reopen the national discussion of the Civil War and truly understand the war, its causes and consequences for what they truly were.  I hope that the distance of 150 years can provide some objectivity to the discussion and that we have an opportunity as Americans to truly learn from and appreciate our shared national heritage.

As always, I will conclude with links for further reading and review:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Since this week began with our celebration of Independence, I thought I would share my notes from a book I read last year on the leaders of the American Revolution.  The "founding era" is my favorite time period in U.S. history.  Last summer, I read Jack Rakove's Revolutionaries.  Here are some basic themes and lessons I learned from this book (from a Power Point I used in class to discuss the book with students):

- Must distinguish between 2 generations:
Older: Independence (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, etc.)
Younger: Constitutional government (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, etc.)
- "The revolution made them as much as they made the revolution”
- New England: lack of diversity = a people united
- Middle Colonies: diversity = potential for more civil disorder
- Radical or Conservative? (Ideas, what changes and doesn’t change)

- This revolution affected the world (inspiration for other revolutions, changing the geo-political relationship among nations, effects still evident today with our founding documents and ideas)

One segment of the book I personally enjoyed was the story of Henry and Jack Laurens of South Carolina and the personal trauma both endured.  I remember being so aggravated at Jack Laurens for how he treated his wife.  There's a brief discussion about Laurens on the Amazon page for this book (linked here). 

Here are some other notes regarding the social history of the Revolution that I use in class:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists

Whew, what a month. As mentioned in my last post, I usually read several books in the summer. With the busy schedule of summer school, household tasks to prepare for our next child and keeping up with a two-year-old, I have not had much time in June to read. I did finally finish Liberty's Exiles, a thorough account of the other side of the American Revolution - the Loyalists. What I enjoyed most about this text was that Maya Jasanoff analyzed the overall history of loyalists and examined the personal stories of a handful of historical characters.

Here's what I learned from this impressive work:

1. Telling the story of American Loyalists is not as simple as mentioning that there was a substantial section of the American population that chose to remain loyal to King George III and that many of these people left after the war. In fact, once these loyalists left America, defining them by shear "loyalty" to the King became difficult to define, especially as some struggled with the local governments they encountered in their new homes, or for blacks who failed to receive the fulfillment of the true freedom they were promised (either in Africa, Nova Scotia or in other places) or for the Indians who lost their British allies and protection in the early 1800s and permanently after the War of 1812. Despite the disappointments, the British government did make great efforts to care for those who remained loyal during the war. Some of these efforts produced great results, some failed.

2. Often history textbooks (including one I have used for class) represent loyalists as mostly rich, well-educated and Anglican. While plenty do fit this stereotype, the term "loyalist" transcends every demographic barrier in the Thirteen Colonies.

3. The American Revolution was truly "our" first civil war - pitting neighbors against each other and exposing factions within American society. Just as declaring independence from Britain was no easy decision for the patriots, as many of them still considered themselves British in the early years of Revolution, deciding to stay loyal and uphold that loyalty in the face of violence was even more challenging and for many, devastating.

4. The major groups of "loyalists" include:
  • White, British subjects (including the stereotype: well-educated, Anglican, or slaveholders, etc and those not included by the stereotype: merchants and small farmers)
  • Free blacks and former slaves offered emancipation for serving in the British Army. For former slaves, their evacuation from America represents the largest mass emancipation of slaves until the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865.
  • Indians who allied with the British in order to protect their lands
5. Once the war had ended, or at least the last major campaign had ended at Yorktown in 1781, many loyalists held out hope that a complete split could be avoided and instead some type of "home rule" would be established for American within the British system. Instead, the Treaty of Paris of 1783 evaporated any hope that they could remain in their homeland.

6. Evacuation from America was a complicated process, especially in dealing with "runaway slaves," and on a personal level, it was traumatic for those who had lost everything and faced further separation from family and friends.

7. Those who left or those who stayed must be viewed with a global and diverse perspective. Some were able to restore loses, gain compensation and rebuild some sort of livelihood. Some lost everything: property, families or their very lives. Some joined the military, some gained fame and some sunk into obscurity. The major recipients of the "Loyalist diaspora" include:
  • Great Britain - some returned to their mother land or settled in the mother land for the first time. The work of the Loyalist Claims Commission was not only a noble attempt to compensate those who remained attached to the crown, but for historians today, it provides a wealth of documentary evidence for understand the scale of migration.
  • Nova Scotia (and later New Brunswick) - many chose to remain in British North America and make these maritime provinces profitable. Free blacks and former slaves who settled here did not always find the harmony they were promised while Mohawk Indians who remained loyal to Britain worked to carve their own autonomy and maintain protection.
  • Africa - The first "back to Africa" movement was sponsored by the British on the banks of the Sierra Leone River. The first settlement was an immediate failure, while the second had some promise but eventually failed as well. Ironically, this settlement hailed by abolitionists as a seed of freedom (even by its name, Free Town) was just down river from the largest slaving station in the British Empire.
  • India and Australia - Some loyalists, many through military service, moved to the far reaches of the empire. In fact, India replaced the original Thirteen Colonies as the economic engine of British imperialism.
  • Native Americans and hopes for an independent state - Some loyalists, including John Cruden, Joseph Brant and William Augustus Bowles, hoped to carve out territory in North America. These hopes were lost to a rapidly expanding United States, especially for Brant and Bowles who hoped for protective territory for Mohawks and Creeks, respectively. The link between British (or loyalist) ambitions and Indian resistance to the westward settlement of Americans was one of the causes of the War of 1812, a conflict that ended the great hopes of Indian confederacies in the trans-Mississippi and Ohio Valley regions.
  • East Florida (St. Augustine) - A few thousand loyalists, including some former slaves, evacuated out of British-occupied Charles Town (now Charleston) and Savannah for St. Augustine. The governor, Patrick Tonyn, hoped to grow the East Florida colony and worked on plans for land grants around the St. Johns River (local history!). The Treaty of Paris that formally ended the American War for Independence ceded Florida back to Spain, completely stunning the loyalists who were already in St. Augustine trying to reestablish their lives and create a sense of livelihood.
  • Bahamas, Jamaica and the Caribbean - Other loyalists, especially after St. Augustine and East Florida was returned to Spain, settled in the British West Indies. In Barbados and Jamaica, former plantation owners hoped to tap into the lucrative sugar business. In several cases, struggles between the British government in these colonies and the existing inhabitants with the refugees became evident.
8. The dynamics of settlement and changing demographics in what remained of British North America laid the foundations for the eventual commonwealth of Canada. These loyalists became the founding fathers of today's Canada.

9. Not all loyalists were perfect British subjects. In fact, while in conflict with local governments over land disputes and representation in government or other issues, some loyalists seemed more like the American patriots that they had opposed in the war years. The dynamics of this relationship will be tested even more during the French Revolution and the very long conflict between the British and the French in the 1790s and early 1800s.

10. Loyalists do not have the same "loss complex" as other "losers" of wars. As Jasanoff points out, after the War of 1812 (which marks the end of this era) most loyalists had absorbed into the British empire. There is no "lost cause" movement as is seen with those in the American South after the U.S. Civil War.

Here's a link to the book on Amazon, should you feel compelled to read more.

My next target: In honor of the 150th commemoration of the Civil War, I am now reading John Keegan's military history of the war. Military history is not always my favorite, but I am hoping to expand my horizons.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Welcome to my blog!

Since graduating college and beginning my teaching career, I began a tradition of "pleasure reading" in the summer when I'm not so inundated with student papers and planning for six classes. Of course, pleasure reading for me is reading history. I am fortunate that my profession is also my hobby. During the break, I usually select a particular time period or a range of topics and then further my knowledge.

This summer, I've spent so much time working on new technology for the classroom and keeping up with my two-year-old, I have not read as much... yet. I recently started Liberty's Exiles, a book that gives a voice to the thousands of "Loyalists" in the American Revolution, an often forgot-about group of historical figures.

One improvement I hope to make this summer is to blog about what I read and what I learn from books, articles or other discoveries. Check back soon for my thoughts on Liberty's Exiles.

I started something similar to this project a few years ago when I published my notes on the First Amendment and "separation of church and state" debate based on a series of readings. Here's a link to those notes:

Other topics I hope to pursue with this blog are the various discussions among historians and everyday Americans regarding the Civil War. This past December, we as Americans began the four-year commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. How is the Civil War remembered today? Why does it still evoke controversy in classrooms and among everyday people?
Here's a few resources I have referenced in class or found online (from my links page).

I hope you enjoy this blog and I look forward to this new experience.
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