The Historiography of Virginia, 1861

Volume in the Blackwell Series

One of the projects that I am currently working on is a historiographical piece for the Blackwell Companion to the U.S. Civil War edited by Aaron Sheehan-Dean and published by Wiley-Blackwell.  This is going to be released in two volumes, the first includes 34 chapters on “Battles and “Campaigns” with the remaining 30 divided between “Leaders”, “Politics and Society”, and “The Civil War in History”.  It looks like a great line-up of contributors, a few of whom stop by Civil War Memory on occasion.  This is my second project with Aaron.  Some of you may remember that I published a piece in The View from the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, which examined the competing memories of Confederate veterans surrounding their experience at the Crater.

My assignment is to examine the historiography of Virginia in 1861.  I am still in the early stages of my reading, but I have developed a chart that breaks down the various themes that I believe need to be addressed.  Still, I thought it might be interesting to get your feedback as it has assisted me so many times in the past.  Here is the question: In your view what is the most important interpretive development in our understanding of Virginia in 1861 and which book[s] are responsible for it?

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13 thoughts on “The Historiography of Virginia, 1861

  1. James Harrigan

    Edward Ayers’ book contrasting Staunton, VA and Chambersburg, PA from 1859 to 1863 taught me a tremendous amount. His analysis of the secession debate in Virginia was particularly illuminating.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi James,

      You are referring to In the Presence of Mine Enemies and yes it is an excellent book. Your referencing of this book also brings up the importance of the digital scholarship on which it is based. Although the Valley of the Shadow database is not itself an interpretation it has assisted historians in better understanding key subjects related to Virginia before, during, and after the war.

      Reply
      1. James Harrigan

        right, that’s the book (I was blanking on the title last night…). Do you know if Ayers has any plans to finish the promised follow-up?

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I believe he is working on it, but his responsibilities as president of University of Richmond have no doubt limited the amount of time he has to write and research.

          Reply
  2. Doug didier

    Well

    Examine phd or masters thesis written on war in Virginia.. Or civil war..

    Attempt to document changes over time..

    Similar to blights observation that cataton captured historical memory of civil war at centennial ..

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Well, that would probably take much longer than looking at published books and articles. I have to operate on the assumption that the majority of the best dissertations ended up in published form. Thanks.

      Reply
  3. Scott A. MacKenzie

    I’d advise covering events in West Virginia in your book. It might not be apparent in some Virginia histories because they only cover the Commonwealth. Fortunately, books like William A. Link’s Roots of Secession, Alison Freehling’s Drift towards Disunion, and William Freehling’s Road to Disunion (2 vols) and South versus the South, handle the topic well. The principle works on WV are Charles Ambler’s Sectionalism in Virginia (1910) and Richard Curry’s A House Divided, and whatever I come up with in the near future.

    Reply
      1. Scott MacKenzie

        Yes I’ve read it. It’s more of a military history with some social analysis thrown in, particularly the soldiers’ backgrounds. I don’t think it alters much of what Ambler or Curry state, but it will be the standard military history for years to come.

        Reply

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