Dimitri’s Popper

Thanks to Dimitri for the Karl Popper reference. Popper is best remembered for his argument that a scientific theory, by definition, must be falsifiable. Someone should remind the Intelligent Design clan of this, but my guess is that they are not really interested in furthering science anyway.

Unfortunately, Dimitri uses his Popper passage to set up another one of his straw-man arguments that pits his centennialists (or as he puts it, “the class of ’65-i.e., Catton and later McPherson) against a growing tide of crusaders set on correcting their mistakes. We are to believe that the field of Civil War history is filled with “cliques” and “pressure groups” that perpetuate certain generalizations and stifle innovative thought. While I do agree that the institutionalization of any discipline has the potential of creating such a scene, it seems to me that Dimitri has taken it too far. As I’ve stated before there have been plenty of important changes on the historiographical landscape that are central to our understanding of the Civil War. One need only look at the history of slavery, the resurgence of political history in recent years(just look at recent studies by William Freehling and Michael Holt) and of course the growing influence of social history. Part of the problem is that we have too narrow a definition of the Civil War. Should we measure the field by simply looking at how historians have interpreted the big shots of the war including McClellan, Lee, Lincoln, Davis, etc. and the popular battles or should we cast our net wider? Take a look through the table of contents of the journal Civil War History over the years and you will see plenty of significant change in the way that historians have understood the war. The publication’s subtitle is a “Journal of the Middle Period” which implies that the years leading up to and through the war are essential to understanding the war itself. From this perspective the changes are even more apparent.

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