We’ve spent the week sharing an interview I did with historian Ted Alexander, a thirty-year veteran of the National Park Service at Antietam National Battlefield. Ted retired at the beginning of this year. During the course of the conversation, I had asked him about his writing projects—a topic he came back to later in the interview.
TED: By the way, one other thing I like and I’ve done a couple other books for the Park Service on is the involvement of ethnics, not only in the Civil War but at the battle of Antietam. I’ve co-authored a book for the Park Service on Hispanics in the Civil War, and I contributed to another book the Park Service put out on Asians and Pacific Islanders in the Civil War.
CHRIS: What got you interested in that?
TED: My wife is from the Philippines. And I’ve just always been interested in different peoples, ever since I was a kid, different peoples of the world and meeting them and all. In particular, the Hispanic culture to me has always been very interesting. The stories of Cortez and all that. The Alamo. But then I decided to get more interested in it in college. I did several papers on American Indians in the Civil War, and I eventually did a major article for the now-defunct Civil War magazine.
At first, it seemed like the Left had hijacked ethnic studies, and it was always about victimization and ‘these evil people against us good folks’ and bub-bub-bub. I got a little tired of it, because I thought, “Well there’s more to it than that.” And that’s why I got into it—another reason I got into it.
Let’s look at it another way: that these are human beings and they’re more than victims. They’ve accomplished—and I’ve found stories. Many. They accomplished a lot. They weren’t always victims. So I was trying to get away from victimization and tell the rest of the story. And there’s a lot to tell in ethnic history, for all ethnic groups.
One of the problems—this goes along with the ethnic history, and you can quote me on this—is advocacy history. And sometimes, because the person wants to advocate, the story gets sometimes exaggerated and goes to the other extreme, and they’re doing everything. So I’ve tried to do my small part, and do it in a balanced way, showing the good, the bad, the ugly.
CHRIS: What other changes have you seen in the field of history?
TED: In the field of history I think this study of Civil War memory in the Civil War field. There’s a big thrust in ethnic history and the study of slavery. And the post-Civil War years, looking more at that. I’ve seen more of that. That’s been a big thing.
The Park Service, they had a program some years ago where they wanted to show—I think it was driven in part by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., who’s no longer in there, with some other people—they were saying we should focus more on slavery at all these battlefields. Well, my argument was here at Antietam we’d been doing that for a long time. We’d been talking about the Emancipation Proclamation. But it’s okay to do that if it fits, but there has to be a balance, and I think it got a little out of balance.
They’d want us to—sometimes, some suggestions sounded like they just wanted us to all of a sudden just talk about slavery. Well, no, that’s not what we’re about. But we will talk about the Emancipation Proclamation, which comes about partly as a result of this battle. So, see, where things are appropriate, but not just, “Let’s do this all of a sudden” without any context.
CHRIS: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
TED: I would say that it has been a great and exciting ride at Antietam. I have had the opportunity to work with and meet many good people, from all over the world and the United States. Now in my retirement I am looking forward to additional years as a volunteer at Antietam as a foot soldier in the war for battlefield preservation, and as a speaker and writer.