Historians to debate Civil War at Kauffman Museum
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Kauffman Museum on the Bethel College campus continues with a theme of Abraham Lincoln and Civil War history with a debate by two historians who invite audience input.
The Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum program is July 7, beginning at 2 p.m. (NOTE special time), and is free and open to the public.
The debaters for “Point-Counterpoint: Was the Civil War Necessary?” are William Juhnke, Lamoni, Iowa, professor emeritus of American history at Graceland University, and Tom Morain, Graceland’s director of government relations.
As the United States commemorates the 150th anniversary of the conflict that tore the nation apart, the two historians will ask hard questions about the inevitability of the conflict, the options available to leaders and why each side underestimated their opponents’ determination to fight.
Juhnke and Morain will invite the public into the debate as they explore the tense political climate of 1860-1861 and demonstrate how historians can disagree without being disagreeable.
“For me, the Civil War debate project is the outgrowth of nearly 40 years of teaching issues of the American Civil War at Graceland,” Juhnke said. “My general teaching approach has been to focus on critical decision points in the historical narrative, endeavoring to encourage students to rethink the alternative possibilities of history.”
Juhnke has taught courses on slavery, the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. He also developed and taught in the peace studies program at Graceland.
“In the Civil War debate,” he continued, “we have chosen to focus on the issue of whether the Civil War was inevitable or avoidable. With my peace background, which also includes membership in the Mennonite Church, I argue the case for avoidability, for the wisdom and viability of nonviolent resolution to the great conflicts of the age.”
“The highlights of my career as a historian have been in public history,” said Morain. He taught Iowa history at Iowa State University for five years before serving 13 years as director of history and community relations at Living History Farms in Des Moines.
“In 1995, I became administrator of the State Historical Society of Iowa and, through that, a good friend of my counterpart in Kansas, Dr. Ramon Powers, when Iowa was celebrating its sesquicentennial. In 2001, I returned to my alma mater, Graceland University, as a teacher/administrator.”
Commenting on the debate project, he added, “I have the easier role, defending Abraham Lincoln and articulating the difficulties that anyone in 1860 would have encountered in trying to avoid an armed conflict.
“But I am convinced the public learns more from listening to Dr. Juhnke than from me. The historian is the one who ‘keeps alive historical alternatives,’ who encourages us to stretch to find solutions to conflicts other than war. It is in Dr. Juhnke’s revisionist perspective that we explore the ‘What if…?’ questions too often overlooked.
“The Civil War, in my opinion, is the most significant event in American history and its sesquicentennial encourages us to revisit and to learn from it.”
Over the course ofseven previous debate presentations in Iowa, Juhnke and Morain have refined their format and questions. Audience members receive a printed sheet with a timeline of significant events relating to slavery and race relations before the Civil War, and three debate questions: Was compromise possible in 1860-61? Should the North have let the South “go in peace”? What would have happened to slavery without the war?
“The debate format, including audience participation, provides opportunity, through alternative viewpoints, to see the complexities of these enduring issues,” said Juhnke. “Hopefully, the project will challenge traditional views about the Civil War and help the audience think more critically and creatively about war in general.”
For more information about the Kauffman Museum debate event, contact Rachel Pannabecker at 316-283-1612.
Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.