A Book Dedication That is ‘Altogether Fitting and Proper’

My collection of essays, Interpreting the American Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites, took a big step closer to publication yesterday with the return of the independent review. I don’t mind admitting that I have been a bit stressed out over it. This is my first stab at editing a collection of essays solo. Do the essays cover a sufficient range of topics? Has my editing of the essays helped to improve the individual chapters and do they work well together? You get the gist.

It’s encouraging to know that the independent reviewer confirms what I have come to believe about this collection:

This well-conceived and timely manuscript should appeal to a broad range of museums and historic sites—not only those intimately associated with the American Civil War, but also those that wish to engage more productively, and thoughtfully, with difficult history. I strongly recommend publication of the manuscript…

I think I see the makings of a book jacket blurb. A few minor revisions to a couple of chapters is all that is left before the manuscript goes to the copy editor. I will pass on the publication date as soon as it is announced from Rowman & Littlefield.

With that I want to share the book’s dedication. For a book geared to public historians this was a very easy choice for me and one that I hope all of you will agree is entirely appropriate.

No one has taught me more about public history and the challenges of interpreting the Civil War for the public than John Hennessy, who as you all know is Chief Historian/Chief of Interpretation at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

I first met John while researching my book on the Crater. While I was familiar with the secondary literature on the National Park Service and Civil War history, I was very interested in talking with NPS historians on the front lines in hopes of gaining a more nuanced understanding of the challenges associated with opening up interpretation to broader issues concerning slavery and race.

We’ve been friends ever since.

From the preface:

John is one of those rare triple threats among public historians in the National Park Service. He is a master storyteller, who has never shied away from engaging his audiences around the most controversial topics related to Civil War history. Throughout the Civil War sesquicentennial John was relentless in pushing the park service to think anew about traditional topics of military history and to explore uncharted territory related to race, slavery, and the home front in both new exhibits and programming. Finally, John’s scholarship over the years has added immensely to our understanding of Civil War history and has helped to bridge the divide between scholars and general readers. I can think of no one who more fully embodies the virtues of what it means to be public historian.

I could go on, but I have no doubt that John is going to be just a little embarrassed by this post and the attention that it will bring his way. That’s OK. It is important to me that John’s commitment to public history is recognized, especially at a time when the NPS’s budget is under assault. John and everyone else in the NPS is entrusted to care for some of this country’s most important physical and cultural assets and they do an incredible job with little recognition and appreciation.

Thanks to John for all he has done to advance the field of public and Civil War history as well as for his friendship and support over the years. If I could do it all over again, I would want to be John Hennessy. 🙂

4 comments… add one
  • M.D. Blough Apr 11, 2017

    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting John Hennessy in person, but my first exposure to him was reading his classic work, “Return to Bull Run”. It was around the time that I started becoming fascinated by how the historic record of James Longstreet during the Civil War had become distorted beyond recognition by Lost Cause politics. I think one thing that was really special about the interest in Longstreet that began around that time was that, for the most part, people advocating for Longstreet were not interested in substituting one hagiography for another. That’s where “Return to Bull Run” comes in. Hennessy wasn’t coming at it from the perspective focusing on Longstreet. What I realized, rather quickly into the book, that he wasn’t uncritically accepting the Lost Cause take on Longstreet, even when they came from other Confederates after the postwar political wars began. He examined Longstreet’s actions, etc. EXACTLY as he did everyone else’s, with meticulous scholarship. Where the Lost Cause was wrong he said so, but, in some cases, even when the Lost Cause was wrong, he didn’t hesitate in saying Longstreet had been wrong, too. I realized I’d finally found what I was looking for: fairness.

  • Shoshana Bee Apr 11, 2017

    Rats! I wish I had read this yesterday! I may have held off a bit on referring to John Hennesey’s favourite hockey team as “Flightless Birds”. He would still admire me 🙂 Well, I still admire you, John Hennessy and you make the world a better place. Oh, and if I could do it over again and got to be John Hennessy, he would be an enourmous Sharks fan 😉

  • fundrums Apr 11, 2017

    John has been an invaluable resource to me and I feel very fortunate to live in Fredericksburg where his, and other great NPS staff have spoiled us with their insights and events. – Michael Aubrecht

  • Patrick Young Apr 12, 2017

    I agree Kevin. What a great force in the field of public history.

Leave a Comment