9 thoughts on “Today For the First Time

  1. Brooks Simpson

    I’ve been pondering whether to ask this question for a few weeks, but the series of posts you have offered in the last several days helped make my decision to ask, and to ask here …

    Kevin, you were very critical of “Historians for Obama”; then you got on Sean Wilentz’s case for injecting himself into the “experience” discussion. How do you reconcile that with your own posts that very clearly express a political view on contemporary issues and mention an endorsement-by-contribution?

    My understanding, after all, is that Civil War Memory is a history blog: aren’t you doing what you complained about others doing? If not, what’s the difference? Help me out on this.

    Note: this is not an attack on the positions you have taken, or a dissenting view, or anything like that. It is to ask whether you’ve contradicted in practice what I thought you had preached. Maybe you can help me understand this, because I’m confused.

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  2. Kevin Levin

    Brooks, — You’ve asked a very reasonable question and given the posts which you reference it is incumbent upon me to explain my position. My problem with “Historians for Obama” and more specifically with Sean Wilentz’s stance was the emphasis on their positions as historians as some kind of justification for the endorsement. Their positions as historians seemed to me to be completely irrelevant to their public support for one candidate over another. In other words, it seems to me that their politics shaped their view of the past as opposed to the other way around.

    My public support for Obama has nothing to do with my position as a historian. I agree with much of his political platform and I believe that he is qualified for the job.

    I realize that I am running the risk of alienating certain readers as a result of using my blog to showcase my politics, but I have to assume that most people are able to distinguish between politics from history. Perhaps I am too naive. Please let me know if I’ve explained myself sufficiently. I have to teach a class in 10 minutes.

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  3. Brooks Simpson

    Kevin — I can see your perspective, but you might ponder the degree to which politics and history are not separated on the blog as clearly as you might claim they are (as in the post about the War Birthday Song, in which you make specific reference to the ACW in the post title). Politics (or religion) and history also crossed in the recent controversy over the Rev. Wright and Obama, especially when you highlighted your differences with another blogger who is on the other side of the fence from you in both historical perspective and political philosophy. Maybe those topics headings might help the sorting process.

    I suspect people read your blog because it is a well-executed and thoughtful history blog that discusses a number of matters of interest to researching and teaching historians. So when you use your blog to showcase your politics, as you put it, you can see where confusion might result. And I mean politics in the narrower sense, not in terms of operating principles or beliefs or the need to be a public intellectual.

    Personally, while I have no problem revealing rooting allegiances for professional sports teams (so long as I can fit them into a Civil War context), I’d shy away from making some of the posts you have offered, in part because I do believe that my position as a commentator/analysis is different from my position as an advocate, and I need to keep them as separate (if imperfectly so) as much as possible. But that’s my choice, not a rule of thumb for all. I have opinions on these issues, including historically-informed ones, but if I wanted to go in that direction, I’d start another blog on American politics, past and present.

    On the other hand, Arthur Schlesinger had no problem whatsoever, because he saw his historical activity and his political activity as explicitly linked. So there are other models.

    I’m bringing a critical insight to bear on all this, which, as I think you appreciate, is different from negative criticism. Far be it from me to tell anyone what to say/not say on their blog. Otherwise I’d tell Eric to drop all the anti-Yankees/pro-Flyers/Eagles claptrap. :)

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  4. Kevin Levin

    Brooks, — I really appreciate your comment. You’ve given me quite a bit to think about and perhaps I will address it more completely when I have time. For now, let me just say that for the first time in my adult life I feel a sense of urgency about the future of this country along with a profound sadness surrounding the war in Iraq. I want to speak out even if I fail to do so with the same sophistication that I hopefully bring to my history posts. The blog is a natural vehicle for this, although I agree that this has created some confusion regarding the issues you raise. At times I feel no sense of regret for steering the blog in this direction and at others the apparent contradiction is all too apparent. Thanks again for your honesty. It’s much better than being written off as some “liberal-academic” atheist.

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  5. Chris

    Kevin, though I utterly disagree with you politically, I truly respect you as a teacher and therefore congrats! I am glad you’re happy.
    Chris

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