Unfortunately, Keith Poulter Still Doesn’t Get It

Update: A reader was kind enough to pass on a link to one of Bradley's SCV presentations.  He essentially reads the N&S piece which is why I am doing this.  Believe me when I say that I hate having to link to one of these sites. 

The latest issue of North & South magazine arrived today and I was looking forward to reading the reactions to Michael R. Bradley's article, "In the Crosshairs" (vol. 10, no. 5.).  I was both pleased and profoundly disappointed by what I read.  [See here for my own critique of this piece.]  Three letters were published and all of them were critical about some aspect of Bradley's research.  Dwight Pitcaithley, who is a former chief historian with the National Park Service, went furthest in pointing out the most egregious oversights in the article. Along with one of his graduate students, Pitcaithley checked all ten of Bradley's endnotes that referred to the Official Records and found that not "one of the listed sources reveal an official policy to target civilians with violence.  To the contrary, we discovered that Mr. Bradley omitted portions of the letters he cites that demonstrated the officers involved were concerned about the violence perpetrated against Confederate civilians and wanted to stop it."  He then goes on to explore three examples in detail.

I agree with Pitcaithley that the issue here is not whether violence occurred against southern civilians; of course it did.  Informed readers of N&S are not sitting around rooting for one side over the other.  We want to read entertaining history that is well-researched and honestly written.  Pitcaithley concludes by stating that, “Mr. Bradley knowingly violated the most fundamental practices of our profession and in the process has failed North & South, its illustrious board of editors, his readers, and most importantly, himself.” 

So far, so good..right?  Wrong!  The editor, Keith Poulter, responded with the following which I quote in full:

When I asked Mike for his article, he indicated that it would [be] rather more hot-blooded, more partisan, than our usual fare.  And I said go right ahead, yours is a perspective that needs to be aired.  I too disagreed with many of the points in the article, but decided to let readers respond rather than interjecting my own thoughts.  Having raised the subject, albeit in controversial form, we can now look at in greater depth and hopefully all learn something. The discussion article in next issue on irregular warfare will involve seven or eight historians, and Mike and I will both be taking part.

Whether the article is “hot-blooded” or “partisan” has nothing at all to do with the question of whether it should have been published in the first place.  You can’t have an argument about Bradley’s conclusions, in comparison with other studies, if there are reasons to discount it based on his handling of the sources.  That said, what bugs me even more is that after everything is said and done we are told that Bradley is going to be on a panel of experts to discuss irregular warfare in an upcoming issue.  Does Poulter expect us to give a crap about what this guy has to say given the fundamental problems with his article?  I am sure Keith is going to invite some talented scholars on board to discuss this subject, but Bradley has no place on it.  Here is my short list of scholars whose thoughts matter on this subject: Daniel Sutherland, Michael Fellman, Ken Noe, Noel Fisher, John Inscoe, Nicole Etcheson, Robert Mackey, Mark Grimsley, Kenneth C. Barnes, Robert T. McKenzie, and Anne J. Bailey.  I’m sure my readers have an even longer list of qualified participants. 

2 comments… add one

  • Brooks Simpson May 28, 2008

    Kevin, this is a simple issue: Mr. Poulter wants to sell magazines. Why we buy them is the real question. I don’t.

  • Kevin Levin May 28, 2008

    Hi Brooks, — Of course, I agree with you, but Keith has been selling magazines for close to ten year now and has been able to maintain a first-rate publication. It’s hard to imagine how lowering the editorial standards would be good for sales.

    I just want to take the opportunity to point out that I have the utmost respect for Keith’s work with N&S. His publication has raised the standards for what a popular Civil War history magazine can be. I am willing to bet that most of the academic historians who have published in its pages have reached more people than all of their professional publications put together. And I have used it many times in my own classes. I guess that is why I am so sensitive about this. This is not meant as a personal attack against Keith, but simply an expression of concern from one of his loyal readers who has been on board since day one.

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