Yesterday my wife and I spent part of the afternoon in Richmond at the Virginia Historical Society. We attended the Annual Meeting where I was presented the William M.E. Rachal award for best overall article in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography in 2005. A number of people were honored, including a high school student for excellence in research, a teacher from Northern Virginia, and various employees and volunteers at the historical society.
My award was presented by John R. Pagan who serves on the editorial advisory board for the journal. I greatly appreciate his kind words about my article. Apparently he thoroughly enjoyed the piece. This was a very important day for me. When I started writing about the Civil War more seriously about 5 years ago I set my sights on publishing something in a respected history journal. I actually remember thinking to myself that if I could get something in the VMHB than I will know that I am on the right track. Winning this award is basically icing on the cake.
I was particularly impressed with the presentation made by the President of the VHS, Charles F. Bryan, who touched on the importance and role of the organization According to Bryan, one of the more important freedoms that we enjoy in this country is the freedom to think and write about the past. It sounds simple, but I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it in these terms. He mentioned the Taliban’s attempt to destroy the history contained in various archives throughout Afghanistan and the destruction of Buddhist Temples. We have the ability in this country to "learn the lessons of history freely and without censorship." The moral component expressed here is so important to me. I often think of this in the context of my work on Civil War memory. We are free to study the past without censorship, but unfortunately we often do for any number of reasons. Perhaps my work falls into a second-order idea of a freedom to think about the past. On a more practical level, Bryan shared a remarkable statistic on the connection between history and democracy. There are over 15,000 historical societies throughout this country – more than any other nation.
Following the meeting we made our way over to the Virginia House for a reception. There were over 700 people in attendance and by the look and sound of things represented Richmond’s "High Society." Needless to say I felt like a fish out of water, but I still had a good time. All in all it was a great day.
Photograph: The photograph is of Paul Levengood who is the Managing editor of the journal in the center and Nelson Lankford who is the Chief Editor on the right. I am obviously the one on the left.