Who is Christopher Graham?
Born in 1971 and raised in the mid-Atlantic post-WWII suburbs, Christopher pursued a passion for American history—perhaps too far—through a Ph.D and a career as a history museum curator. He drinks too much beer, is a dog person again, yearns for North Carolina, and loves and cherishes his wife more than anything. Christopher recognizes how history and historical narratives—about individuals, communities, and nations—shape us today. To that end, at his work and at a racial truth-telling project at his church, Christopher works to develop a historical understanding about the centrality of race, slavery, and segregation that can explain our present—and offer guidance for the future.
Excerpt from interview with Christopher Graham by Whitney Dow, 2018
Every generation asks new questions of the past, and every generation comes up with new answers, and that’s how history works, and that’s fine. I tend, probably a little too often, to approach it from an academic angle. And in the academic world, many of the things that the general public is learning and knowing about the Civil War now is something that we’ve known for a long time. The academics are not very good at communicating current scholarship, right? And so, the popular realization that the Confederate experience is completely and utterly tied up in the perpetuation of slavery is something that we’ve known for—that’s not a surprise to me. That’s been churning through historiography for a couple of generations now.
But one of the challenges that I have—I was mentioning it on the way over here—is recognizing that, obviously, in academic study, the Civil War is not the only way of experiencing it or any history. And that so much—like we’ve just spent a long time talking about my personal identity, and how it’s tied up in my pursuit of history, and how I understand my own place in the world. That’s true for everyone, right? A lot of people just learned it differently, and they learned to think about history and people in monuments in the way that perhaps—I’m not rooted in a place, so I never had anyone say, “Oh, your great, great-granddaddy was a faithful soldier for Robert. E. Lee.” And so, I never grew up thinking that that was an important part of my identity. So many people have, all right.
And there are so many spectrums of how people interact with the war. So, obviously, there’s a lot of people who don’t care, and a lot of people who think about the Confederate experience and say, “I don’t want to have anything to do with that because that was bad for me, and my family, and in my own history.” And—I don’t know where I was going with that. [laughs]