It seems as if comments by Gary Gallagher regarding the state of Gettysburg historiography have upset quite a number of people. Historians and fellow bloggers Eric Wittenberg and J.D. Petruzzi feel singled out based on Gallagher’s assertion that recent studies of Stuart at Gettysburg or other micro-histories of the battle are unnecessary or fail to tell us anything significant. I haven’t read the interview in which the comment was made nor do I plan on doing so. To be honest, based on the excerpts from J.D. Petruzzi’s post I can’t even tell if Gallagher has Plenty of Blame in mind because he never mentions a specific title. I’ve heard Gallagher use that Gettysburg/Stuart line for a couple of years now to make broader points about the field as a whole. If you are interested in his talk to the Society for Civil War Historians that was mentioned in the interview you can find it reprinted in North and South Magazine (Vol. 4, No. 4 [May 2004]). In it Gallagher lays out some of the assumptions that drive his thinking on this issue. Obviously, you don’t have to agree with him, but it goes into the kind of detail that you simply can’t get in an interview.
What I don’t quite understand is why everyone seems to be getting so bent out of shape about this. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me that the last thing we need published right now is another study of Civil War memory. It’s not the most encouraging comment to hear as I work through the research and writing. What I usually do (assuming the individual in question is even interested) is explain as clearly as possible why my research is in fact relevant. And then I move on. For the life of me I don’t understand why anyone would take a comment like this so personally. J.D. actually did a fine job of explaining why their book on Stuart’s ride is so important. The book is selling well and customers seem to be enjoying it and that’s all that matters. More importantly, the book is getting excellent reviews.
Unfortunately, both Eric Wittenberg’s and J.D.’s posts have unleashed some of the most irrational comments that I’ve seen in some time. Gallagher’s comments have stirred up the old Amateur v. Professional debate (as if there even is a debate to be had here); others have suggested that his comments are reflective of a deep-seated elitism that infects the academy. Others commented on Gallagher’s scholarship and another suggested that such comments are inappropriate given the declining interest in the Civil War and history generally. Here is my favorite comment in response to Eric’s post:
Where does he teach? Why he teaches in the school of the interested as opposed to those schools whose ’students’ take courses in order to fulfill some obligation relative to their major. The person who talks to the devotee has got to mind his ‘p’s and q’s’ because HIS audience knows their business. The professor in some college classroom could tell most of his students that the Wicked Witch of the West took Atlanta and Glinda the Good Witch led the Army of Northern Virginia – and they would neither know nor care whether or not the information was accurate.
And all of this because of one comment about one moment during one battle during the Civil War. What a world.