Why Does a College Dropout Focus So Much on College Life?

I’ve always enjoyed visiting the blog from which this screenshot was taken. On occasion a post thoughtfully addresses some aspect of Southern/Civil War history or memory, but most of the time it’s more of what you find below – a response to writers such as myself who dares to research or comment on a specific region of the country in which they were not born or raised.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 4.09.35 PMI can’t speak for anyone else, but having lived in Alabama and Virginia, I find the history of this region to be absolutely fascinating. There are important historical questions to address and it goes without saying that I find the many challenges of how the history is remembered to be worthy of serious attention. Ultimately, it’s part of American history. The title of the post is an attempt to challenge the legitimacy of what someone like myself, who currently lives in a Northern state, writes about another part of the country. It ought not to be a concern. One could make the same argument about a Northerner who chooses to focus on the history of the West or an American who writes about another part of the world entirely.

To illustrate just how absurd this post is, let’s take this one step further and re-write it to drive the point home. Anyone who has visited the above site over time is aware of this blogger’s deep-seated mistrust of college education. Let’s just say there is a good deal of frustration and mistrust.

Have you noticed how many posts on the current state of college education have been written by an individual who, during the course of his life, has spent a minimal time in college, and ultimately never graduated? From examining specific courses to the political profiles of college professors he is absolutely obsessed. He seems to be more obsessed with the current state of college education than even those of us who actually have spent considerable time on campus and have earned college degrees. It’s quite curious to observe. What’s even more curious is his often clueless, narrow-minded perspective. Is he envious or what? I think his obsession reveals much more about himself than it does about the topic.

Of course, this is an entirely unfair faux post. The blogger in question has every right to comment on the state of college education. Whether he has a college degree is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the quality of what is written.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

10 comments… add one
  • TFSmith May 14, 2015 @ 16:38

    Because the history of the United States turns as much on the Civil War as it does on the Revolution?

    It’s like a Italian historian being criticized for a focus on the Renaissance or Risiorgimiento because they’re from Savoia or Sicilia…

  • Dudley Bokoski May 13, 2015 @ 16:16

    I’ve always thought the differences in how the wars were remembered in the two regions was equally interesting. At the risk of failed humor, maybe the reason Northerners are interested in the south and the Civil War is because at least they’ll have someone else to talk to. I just don’ t see, and not living there I could be wrong, the degree of interest in the Union Army and the Civil War in the north.

    Sometimes I think the simplest explanations are the right ones. There was more mobility and immigration in the North after the war and less in the south. The more cohesive the society the more likely a common narrative would be to emerge. If you immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 1900’s (as my grandparents did) you would have lived in a neighborhood where English was not always spoken and the tales of days bygone were from other countries. The Civil War didn’t register. But my other grandparents’ families had been in Virginia and North Carolina since the 1700’s as had the families of a good many of their neighbors.

    I don’t think there was a conscious shaping of a “Lost Cause” narrative by my southern ancestors (although I would never deny many writers did do just that). For them it was more just oral history extending itself across generations and informing a world view that didn’t see too far over the horizon. And my northern family connections just arrived too late to have an interest.

    All of which is to say I’m grateful when anyone takes an interest in history, no matter what the subject. History is context and we become better citizens and more interesting people when we understand our past better. So here’s to everyone who cares enough to be engaged, wherever they are from and whatever they study.

  • Will Hickox May 13, 2015 @ 12:55

    I don’t agree with Mr. Williams that many “yankee” bloggers are “obsessed” with Southern topics. I suspect that he was trying to turn the tables on Brooks Simpson and his frequent references to Southern heritage enthusiasts’ obsession. But I certainly agree that the South (whatever that is or ever was) and Southern history are sources of fascination. I think part of it lies in the very obsessions of Southern heritage advocates. Whether it’s calling those who make counter arguments “yankees” (in the year AD 2015), or quixotic pro-CBF demonstrations, or absurd claims that the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery, these folks are clannish (no pun intended), feel a deep personal connection to and ownership of the events of 150 years ago, and verge on ancestor worship. For people born outside the traditional South or not part of their culture, the antics of the heritage set help to make them the “other.”

    It’s a shame (and I think most of here would agree) that to some extent the rhetoric and actions of Southern heritage folks obscure the actual history of the American South, which is about so much more than white rebels and their 4-5 year heyday in the 1860s. *That* South is much more interesting to me than those who claim ownership of it today.

    • Kevin Levin May 13, 2015 @ 13:03

      Good points, Will. I definitely think he had Brooks in mind as well. It’s unfortunate. If you visit his site you will notice that the discussion has turned to the issue of dropping out of college, which suggests that he completely missed the point of my post. The central point is that it doesn’t matter if he does or does not have a college degree. I could care less about it and I don’t think less or more of him one way or the other. He doesn’t need to possess certain credentials to comment on college education. What matters is the content of his arguments, which are usually built on cherry-picking examples from a select number of websites. Unfortunately, he believes that it is justified to dismiss with the back of his hand others simply because they don’t have certain credentials. It’s a double standard that he will never acknowledge.

  • Hugh Lawson May 13, 2015 @ 5:53

    Although Richard’s question is acerbic in tone, it is worth considering. Why are northerners attracted to critique of southern errors, which they consider from the standpoint of an outsider, with respect to the US south? (For northerners of course, their own standpoint is Standard US National, or even universal, and not “northern”.)

    I suggest Jennifer Rae Greeson’s _Our South_ (Harvard UP), and geographer David Jansson’s articles findable on google scholar with the phrase “internal orientalism.” Greeson shows that northerners looking at “the South” as an alien, semicolonial zone goes back to the foundation of the United States. So the answer to Richard’s question is, “They do this because they have always done it; it’s the way they are taught to understand the the United States and their own place in it”.

    Greeson’s a historical literary study, while Jansson’s work is more contemporary. As I understand Jansson the northerners possess a sense of themselves as the standard-model Americans, and define their excellence and virtue by a contrast with “the South”, conceived as imperfectly American, and in need of revision. Jansson illustrates this theme in a series of articles on some interesting topics, like the movie “Mississippi Burning”.

    I found in both these studies helpful explanations of why they are like that.

    • Kevin Levin May 13, 2015 @ 6:47

      Although Richard’s question is acerbic in tone, it is worth considering.

      I couldn’t agree more. For me it was a visit to battlefields in Maryland and Virginia that helped to connect or ground me to a particular place. There is also that sense of the South as ‘the other’ that animates curiosity. Of course, you don’t have to be from the North (whatever that means in 2015) to be interested. Nina Silber includes a chapter in _The Romance of Reunion_ that focuses on Northerners looking for signs of the “Old South” during tours in the early twentieth century.

      Gary Gallagher has written about growing up in Colorado and being fascinated with the Lost Cause.

      Thanks for the references.

  • London John May 13, 2015 @ 3:04

    I suspect that this is just a part of a widely based attempt, co-ordinated by mutual understanding, to subsume history into “Heritage”, so that objective investigation of the American past becomes impossible and even unthinkable. But you’d be much better placed than me to assess this suspicion – what do you think?. Generally it seems that the word “heritage” almost always means “Danger – Poison”.

    • Kevin Levin May 13, 2015 @ 3:25

      It definitely comes from a sense of feeling under assault by those that are perceived to be outsiders. The writer in question clearly has a problem with history as analysis as opposed to narrative that is handed down from one generation to the next. Analytical history is dominantly about personal/political agendas and leaves little room for examining historical claims based on analysis and interpretation.

  • Will Hickox May 12, 2015 @ 14:20

    “Have you noticed how many Yankee history bloggers focus on Southern themed topics when it comes to the War Between the States?”

    Have you noticed that the war was fought mainly in the South?

    • Kevin Levin May 12, 2015 @ 14:29

      Well he is obviously making a broader point about who has a legitimate claim on the history of the American South. It’s a milder version of Connie Chastain.

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