One year later: a history professor looks back at the Jan. 6 insurrection

Published: Jan. 9, 2022 at 5:26 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - January 6 was a defining moment of 2021. Most of us witnessed American history, live on TV and online. Now, educators have to figure out how to teach about this historical event to their students.

University of Alabama Huntsville Modern history professor, Dr. John Mohr says there are several advantages and challenges to teaching such a recent event. He says he can really interact with the students about how this major event impacted them: like how they felt and how it influenced their political beliefs. He also doesn’t have to explain its context because his students lived through it.

However, he says with any historical event there will always be a conflict of interpretation, especially when these moments are racially motivated. Dr. Mohr says part of the frustrations of people who rioted at the capitol is the demographic shifts happening in the United States. He says talking about race always comes with its challenges in his classroom. “Teaching something like the history of race in America is always a thorny subject in America. You just have to go into it with the assumption that you will get pushback and students who bring up erroneous information.”

He says he’s actually dealing with less and less misinformation from his students because each year they become more tech-savvy and know how to distinguish fake news from real content

Dr. Mohr says his students are pretty interested in learning about the insurrection. He says he’s able to fit it into his lesson plan with relative ease. He says that’s because the history of political violence is more common than you think in American history.

He points to instances like the violent opposition to the civil rights movement, reconstruction and even the Whiskey rebellion just after the end of the revolutionary war.

Dr. Mohr says we find it rare and surprising now because we’ve had decades of relative peace and calm. But, Dr. Mohr says he believes growing political dysfunction has people at the end of their rope. ”With the backdrop of America in crisis especially since the great recession followed by the defeat in the global war on terror combined with economic stagnation at home dusts of despair, rising inequality and now the climate crisis. I think we’re exiting the era in which the political violence was not common for one it is much more pronounced.”

Dr. Mohr explains that the political violence coming from the right is complex. He says t’s underpinned by the growing frustration with politicians in D.C. being dysfunctional and not getting much done but, since trusting American institutions is a value of the right, they don’t blame it on the government. Instead, they turn to social media, partisan news websites and conspiracy theories, like QAnon, to explain the dysfunction. He says many of these fueled the Jan 6 attempted insurrection.

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