Social media have become platforms for attaching new meanings to the past. On Reddit, the community known as r/ShermanPosting has critically reexamined General William Tecumseh Sherman and the political meanings of the American Civil War, a conflict in which he played a major role. Content on r/ShermanPosting positions the general as a unionist and an accidental champion of civil rights. Redditors have employed this image to combat far-right rhetoric from other corners of social media. This article analyzes the content of r/ShermanPosting, particularly the user comments and popular memes that circulate on this site, to argue that netizens are reinterpreting the past and using digital history to make sense of the highly partisan political environment of the 2020s. Deeper collaboration with modern scholarship on the Civil War could enhance the meanings of content produced on this platform to offer an even more robust form of digital history. Above all, r/ShermanPosting demonstrates that memes, images paired with humorous captions, can make the past accessible online in humorous but meaningful ways.
Recasting Uncle Billy: r/ShermanPosting, Digital History, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in the Twenty-First Century
Benjamin Jenkins, MLIS, PhD, is archivist and associate professor of history at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California. He teaches classes in American and public history and directs the Public History Program. Jenkins also directs Archives and Special Collections at the university’s Wilson Library. He received his PhD in Public History at the University of California, Riverside, in 2016. Jenkins is the author of two books: California’s Citrus Heritage (Arcadia Publishing, 2021), and Octopus’s Garden: How Railroads and Citrus Transformed Southern California (University Press of Kansas, 2023).
Benjamin Jenkins; Recasting Uncle Billy: r/ShermanPosting, Digital History, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in the Twenty-First Century. The Public Historian 1 February 2024; 46 (1): 43–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2024.46.1.43
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