Formal vs self education

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TimR

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As a new member and someone newly interested in the Civil War, I've been trying to figure out the most effective way to immerse myself in deeper learning while maintaining that pesky full-time job.

I was considering the Civil War graduate certificate from AMU. From what I read in other postings on the forum, it appears to be a good program (but a lot of work possibly.) I have a Bachelor's and a Master's in an unrelated field, but I was also thinking some of those credits could transfer and apply towards an Associate's or Bachelor's degree in history (unless it was at AMU, it would be more of a general US history as I couldn't easily find any others with Civil War concentrations.)

I'm doing it for personal enrichment only and would be interested what you would suggest to someone who has read only about 5 books on the subject and watched Ken Burns repeatedly. For someone like that would a structured approach from schooling be most appropriate or at this level am I able to learn on my own, possibly from piggy-backing off reading lists and syllabi from courses on the topic.

Looking forward to your suggestions.

Thanks

Tim
 

MaryDee

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I went through the free Open Yale Course on the Civil War and Reconstruction by Dr. David Blight, plus the associated readings. http://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-119#overview

There are also the Dr. Eric Foner lectures from Columbia University: http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/portfolio/history/cwr_mooc.html
I haven't tried this one, but it covers the same period (1845-77) with the same number of lectures (27). I really would like to watch these as well!

If it's just for personal enrichment to increase your own knowledge, and unless for some reason you need degree credentials in history, there's no need to spend the money. While there will be money spent for books and time spent reading them, most of those in the Yale class are available used from amazon, and most of those original to the period (Frederick Douglass, Louisa May Alcott) can be read online. The books make an excellent foundation for your Civil War library.
 
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1stMN

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Put the money towards books... And then read them.

Look at it as being the ultimate self-paced program, and you can 100% pick your own curriculum.

Life is way too short to have to sit through all the fluff you may not have an interest in just to get to the parts you are.

Just my 2¢.

Oh, and welcome to CWT!
 
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cash

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The very best thing to do is to take a course first. That gives you a framework and guideposts from an expert. Once you do that, then you continue with reading. The framework from the class organizes everything in your head and helps you retain more of your reading. The online courses are nice, but there's really no comparable substitute for being in a classroom with an instructor with whom you can interact and ask questions. If you can get in a classroom, do that. If you can only do an online course with an instructor, do that. Failing those, take the MOOC courses online. But having that organization will make things easier later on.
 

photoman475

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I have a "formal" education with a master's in U.S. history. While it was ever so hard work to get, and I did get to read McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom as part of that class, the degree did not help me long run with what I wanted to do.

I'd rather have the time back and the book money back to spend on Civil War books and reenactment items I need. I'd argue for self-education in this matter. I've learned more from fellow reenactors and reading and this forum than from any formal classes I've taken. I've discovered reenacting is a far better way of reaching the public to talk about my passion and maybe educate someone along the way than the classroom ever was. I wish I'd started in this sooner and younger.
 
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Old_Glory

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Looking forward to your suggestions.

Thanks

Tim
The biggest problem with courses is potential bias of the instructor and the material they use. If you want to teach history, then you have no choice but to take the courses. If you just want to do it for fun, buy books that interest you from both perspectives of the War. You will learn a heck of a lot more that way.
 

huskerblitz

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The one advantage to going the 'classroom' route is things will be streamlined and more organized as well as giving you a broad look at the era. While this can be done by oneself, it's easy to come too focused on one area and miss out on a lot of great sub-topics that you might miss otherwise.
 
The one advantage to going the 'classroom' route is things will be streamlined and more organized as well as giving you a broad look at the era. While this can be done by oneself, it's easy to come too focused on one area and miss out on a lot of great sub-topics that you might miss otherwise.
This is coming from a teacher, correct?

:wink:
 
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I have a "formal" education with a master's in U.S. history. While it was ever so hard work to get, and I did get to read McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom as part of that class, the degree did not help me long run with what I wanted to do.

I'd rather have the time back and the book money back to spend on Civil War books and reenactment items I need. I'd argue for self-education in this matter. I've learned more from fellow reenactors and reading and this forum than from any formal classes I've taken. I've discovered reenacting is a far better war of reaching the public to talk about my passion and maybe educate someone along the way than the classroom ever was. I wish I'd started in this sooner and younger.
Agreed!!.....If possible, start reenacting with a GOOD unit, dedicated to teaching and authenticity! My son started reenacting when he was 6 (he is 14 now). After his second year, a Pard told my wife "He is getting a better education sitting around the campfire listening to us talk, than he ever will in a classroom!" That has proved true, as he knows every part of our cannon, how to load/fire it, he knows the history of our unit and the battles it was in and he knows what soldier life is like (camping in the heat, rain and snow. Eating period correct rations, marching, etc). With everything he learns, he teaches the "public" that comes up to talk with him, as well as corrects his 8th grade History teacher!
 
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huskerblitz

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I should clarify as well. Just because I think the most effective way may be a formalized format, that doesn't mean one should have to pay for it. As mentioned above there are plenty of free courses one can take that will help keep focus.
 

Scotsman

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Agreed!!.....If possible, start reenacting with a GOOD unit, dedicated to teaching and authenticity! My son started reenacting when he was 6 (he is 14 now). After his second year, a Pard told my wife "He is getting a better education sitting around the campfire listening to us talk, than he ever will in a classroom!" That has proved true, as he knows every part of our cannon, how to load/fire it, he knows the history of our unit and the battles it was in and he knows what soldier life is like (camping in the heat, rain and snow. Eating period correct rations, marching, etc). With everything he learns, he teaches the "public" that comes up to talk with him, as well as corrects his 8th grade History teacher!
Reenacting does not provide a "better" education overall. It does provide a fun way of experiencing a historical topic and will help develop knowledge in some parts of the past.

For instance, loading a cannon is an interesting technical issue of Civil War history. It is also an arguably limited piece of knowledge. I knew many reenactors who could describe with great detail the process of loading a cannon, or the steps of the bayonet drill, but had extremely shallow knowledge of things like the Kansas-Nebraska Act or the social aspects of slavery in the 1850s or the legal technicalities of the Emancipation Proclamation.

In fact, the historical conversations around the campfire of the reenacting unit that I joined as a young high school student many years ago were almost textbook Lost Cause tripe. I didn't know that at the time, and took it as gospel. I had a rude awakening during an interview for a history scholarship my freshman year of college, when I confidently announced to the panel of professional and scholarly historians before me, "And I know that the Civil War was not merely about slavery, but was about states rights and tariffs." One professor stopped me cold and said, "No. The reasons for secession, the sectional conflict, and the Civil War come down to slavery." Talk about a splash of cold water. The next few years of school after that opened my eyes to just how poorly many of the reenactors in my old unit understood the past.

Reenacting is a great way to learn about aspects of the Civil War, and a fun way to share knowledge. But it should encourage and supplement a more comprehensive study of the past, preferably through some sort of coursework or group study--in which a person is pushed to read and think about topics, concepts, and arguments they would not experience through self-study.
 
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Hunter

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As a new member and someone newly interested in the Civil War, I've been trying to figure out the most effective way to immerse myself in deeper learning while maintaining that pesky full-time job.

I was considering the Civil War graduate certificate from AMU. From what I read in other postings on the forum, it appears to be a good program (but a lot of work possibly.) I have a Bachelor's and a Master's in an unrelated field, but I was also thinking some of those credits could transfer and apply towards an Associate's or Bachelor's degree in history (unless it was at AMU, it would be more of a general US history as I couldn't easily find any others with Civil War concentrations.)

I'm doing it for personal enrichment only and would be interested what you would suggest to someone who has read only about 5 books on the subject and watched Ken Burns repeatedly. For someone like that would a structured approach from schooling be most appropriate or at this level am I able to learn on my own, possibly from piggy-backing off reading lists and syllabi from courses on the topic.

Looking forward to your suggestions.

Thanks

Tim

All of the suggestions above are good ones. I think you ought to begin by reading two or three general books on the Civil War, beginning with Freehling's two volume Road To Disunion and McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. Then focus on your state's history by reading newspapers published during the era. Some shun newspapers because they believe they are biased, but in truth they reflect what people were thinking and saying at the time, as well as their disagreements with each other. Others avoid them because the process of reading them is time consuming, but if you want to insert yourself in the period, there is no better way. Good luck!
 

kel1985

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Welcome to the boards from Pittsburgh.

I would think that if you were planning to USE the degree then by all means pursue it. But if you are looking towards personal enrichment (as you have said), develop your own course of study. This will allow you to focus on those areas that are of the most interest to you. That is the route I'm taking in my middle age, while a degree would be nice, I can't justify the cost of something that will not benefit me financially. The money I'm saving in tuition, I use to buy books and visit battlefields.
 
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