The University of Mississippi Press was kind enough to send along a review copy of James Loewen’s and Ed Sebesta’s new book, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”. It looks like an interesting collection of primary sources related to our collective memory of the cause of secession and the importance of slavery to the Civil War. I look forward to delving into it more deeply in the coming weeks. No doubt, I will take advantage of a few of these documents next trimester in my course on the Civil War and historical memory.
What I find troubling, however, is the title of this book. I’ve learned quite a bit about the evolution and contours of our collective memory in the course of my reading and blogging. One thing that struck me early won as the futility of lumping people together around vague labels. Such an attempt is almost always ahistorical, but more importantly, it tends to function as a non-starter. In other words, it tends to embolden certain folks and reinforce feelings of fear and suspicion. If you peruse the first year of this blog’s archives you will notice that I casually employed the label ‘Neo-Confederate.’ In more recent years I’ve become much more careful with my choice of words and only on rare occasions will I reference Neo-Confederates.
Much of this ongoing dialog about Civil War memory has little to do with historical scholarship; rather, for many folks it is about “heritage,” “a sense of place,” and an emotional hold on certain narratives. We can probably attribute the cover and title to the publisher, whose primary goal is to grab the attention of potential readers and sell books. I just have to wonder whether such a combination will turn off readers even before cracking the cover.