It’s 2:30am here in Charlottesville, I am awake and dealing with some back pain and a cold. I went around the horn and reread the posts dealing with this silly little distinction and had a few additional thoughts that I thought I might share. The one piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing is the extent to which this distinction serves to reinforce assumptions about the motivations of the individual "historian." I recently changed the subheading of my blog back to "Reflections of a High School History Teacher" so that my readers would understand that I am not an academic/college professor. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but many of the comments on my blog are premised on the assumption that because I research topics that fall into categories that are more closely aligned with academic interests and publish in places that are identified with college professors that I must be one myself. It’s even worse for someone who specializes in the history of the South and the Confederacy. I am automatically stuck with labels that connect me with the Ivory Tower not because of where I work, but because of the questions I ask.
A few people have pointed to the supposed "snubs" that have been leveled in their direction by academics, but my experience suggests that the overwhelming bias (bordering often on paranoia) comes from those who rush to politicize what some historians do. Part of my problem – which I assume is unique – is that while I identify myself as an amateur I don’t have much in common with what we would probably describe as the interests of the amateur historian. I assume we can all agree that most "amateur historians" are interested in strictly military aspects of the Civil War while "academic historians" tend to focus on questions about economics, politics, culture, and to the extent that the battlefield fits in it does so in a way that connects with one of these categories. Of course I am stretching things a bit here, but just to make a point.
In a way I envy historians like Eric and J.D as they don’t have to worry about being described as a revisionist or neo-liberal historian or even worse. They are not accused of trying to "tear down" the heritage of this country or "tarnish the good names" of historical figures. Only in Civil War circles can the idea of revision come to mean something negative as if I wake up in the morning with a personal vendetta as opposed to a curiosity that drives me to challenge and better my understanding of the past. There is a strong streak of anti-intellectualism in Civil War circles which I suspect has little to do with historical interests and everything to do with politics. No need to address that issue here. The defensiveness and/or insecurity of some of my readers is disturbing to say the least. I suspect that most – if not all – have never read a single word of my published work; and why would they have to if they start off on the assumption that I am an "academic" who is bent on tearing down everything that is good and sacred.
I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but it’s time to go back to bed.