For most folks teaching the U.S. survey, just getting to Reconstruction can feel like an accomplishment. The convention of dividing U.S. history surveys at the Civil War often means the postwar period ends up wedged into the last distracted days of the term. Calls to integrate women more fully into how we teach Reconstruction to undergraduates can sound like an invitation to add complexity and scope at precisely the moment in the term when it is least welcome. Even in courses dedicated to the Civil War era, Reconstruction’s messiness can feel like a frustrating sequel to the narrative coherence of the war’s progress and resolution.
Despite the constraints, I want to suggest that it is both vital and possible to help students explore women’s roles in the era’s redefinition of citizenship and sovereignty. As my historiographical survey in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of the Civil War Era demonstrates, putting women at the center of our study of this period doesn’t just enrich the narrative; it reveals different registers of political action and raises important questions about we understand historical change. What follows are two suggestions for how teachers might introduce students to some of these insights, even with limited time.
The full article including Dr. Jones’ suggestions can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.