Confused About Courses? Select Civil War

As course selection is due at the end of this week, I come to offer a little advice on the best classes to take. There is one class I took this year that I cannot recommend enough: American Civil War. A semester course with History Department Chair Steve Kramer, it’s only offered in the fall this year but could be during both semesters next year depending on numbers. (Hint: do your best to take it in the fall—senioritis is all too real.)

In front of the Federal Reserve at Harper’s Ferry. Photo provided by Megan

This class was the best mixture of work and fun. We wrote a total of four five-page papers plus a few one-page single spaced papers. If that sounds daunting to anyone, take a few deep breaths. Yes, that is half the length of the junior research paper (also known as JRP), but by the time you get to January of your senior year, you can whip out five pages like you wouldn’t believe. The homework load is extremely manageable; each night usually consisted of reading only. Kramer heavily uses James McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom,” which is possibly the best history textbook I’ve read, along with some other books and multiple handouts on various topics. The classes were generally lectures about different aspects of the war or discussions over the readings. Most of the second semester was spent watching films, including “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone with the Wind.”

Charging Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam. Photo provided by Megan

Though sophomores and juniors could absolutely take it and do well, I think this class is probably best for seniors. Kramer maintains a semi-laid back atmosphere but also demands a high quality of writing that comes with age (and taking APUSH.)

Of course, you cannot talk about Civil War without discussing the trip. In October, 10 girls from the class travelled with Kramer, Middle School history teacher Darin Jeans and third-grade teacher Karen Roberts (her grandfathers fought in the war and left behind diaries about their experiences) on a three-day trip. We toured Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia, Antietam in Maryland and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. All three were incredible places, and it helped so much to understand the battles and logistics of the fighting when we were actually at the site rather than reading about it them in a textbook. We had great tour guides and made so many fun memories traveling around to all these sites.

The group gets ready to walk Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Photo provided by Megan

One last thing—I took both AP Euro and Civil War this year and for any history lovers considering it, it is absolutely possible to take both. Yes, it is stressful at times and there is a lot of reading and writing involved, but that’s expected and you will manage and come out a much better writer from it.