Ted Savas can’t seem to let things go. Now he is upset that I don’t consider reader feedback on the Amazon page for his new book on John Bell Hood to constitute a “real review.”
Sorry, but I am looking for a little something that goes beyond paraphrasing the dust jacket to actually evaluating the interpretive structure of the book itself. I don’t care whether that takes place in an academic journal, popular magazine or even a blog post. I also don’t care whether the author is a Ph.D in history or a high school dropout.
My original post and Ted’s response have touched off another round of this utterly useless debate about whether a Ph.D constitutes a necessary condition for being considered a historian. What is with this guy’s obsession with academia and what exactly does it have to do with me? I don’t even have a Ph.D in history. Apparently, my interest in a more formal review is evidence of a broader problem.
Lo and behold, a reader posted THIS OPINION on Amazon recently. I wonder whether this qualifies as a “real review” in the mind of those who follow such things? I am assuming the poster is a real reader. (Eric Wittenberg shot me a note that he knows “Dan” and he is a serious CW student. If memory serves, Eric has written a few books and has actually had some of them evaluated in “real reviews.”) I am thus assuming that “Dan” thinks, breathes, reads, evaluates, checks sources, and reaches conclusions. Or is this simply an opinion tossed up by one of the great unwashed because it did not originate from one of the holy esteemed publications of academia or flow from one who pontificates armed with a Ph.D.? (The publishing stories I could share with you gleaned behind the scenes on this score would keep you from wasting some of your money on a college education.)
What does it say about our society when the head of a publishing house devoted to the study of history questions the value of a college education. I assume that most of Savas’s authors not only have a college education, but place great value in having done so. What exactly do Ted’s “publishing stories” have to do with the value of education anyway? I am sure his stories transcend those involving academics.
I have a number of Savas books on my shelves going back to the 1990s. In recent years I’ve read Lance Herdegen’s regimental study of the Iron Brigade [BTW, this book made my "Best of 2012" list.] Darrell Collins’s biography of Robert E. Rodes and Brian Matthew Jordan’s study of the South Mountain Campaign. All are quite good. Brian is close to finishing a Ph.D in history from Yale. I assume that did not constitute a reason to reject Brian’s manuscript. How did we get from my questioning a dust jacket blurb to the implication that academic historians ought to function as the official gatekeepers of any kind of historical writing – even reviews?
Let’s get real for a moment. This is a purely manufactured cultural battleground conjured up by Ted Savas. In my experience it reveals very little about how the history profession and broader historical community interact, especially in the area of Civil War studies. If there is a battle to be fought it’s the one that many of us are engaged day in day out. It’s the one that I am getting ready to fight next week in my classroom. I’ve never questioned the value of what Ted Savas does. Not once.
Ultimately, I assume that both of us share the same hope that what we do will ultimately excite and enrich the general public’s interest in history.