Analytical v. Narrative History

The other day one of my readers inquired as to whether I “only acquire books from university presses.”  I’ve addressed this issue in the past, but it is worth spending a few minutes revisiting.  It’s a fair question given that the overwhelming majority of Civil War titles that I list in these posts are from university presses.  By extension, the same holds true for my Civil War library as a whole.  That fact alone, however, won’t tell you much about my reading habits.  I am going to tread lightly here given that some of us can get pretty defensive when it comes to our reading preferences and interests.  While I love a good history narrative my primary interests in the area of Civil War studies are books that are analytically driven.  Yes, I want it to be readable, but I also want to be engaged and challenged by a good argument.  I prefer books that are heavy on theory and conceptual analysis and light on traditional narrative.

I gravitate toward historians who are going to add something significant to my understanding of the period or challenge what I already believe.  In the area of military history I prefer a Glenn David Brasher or George Rable over a Stephen Sears.  If I am going to read a biography I prefer something along the lines of Keith Dickson’s new book about Douglas Southall Freeman.  Yes, most of these folks have gone through graduate programs in history and tend to teach in a college or university.  No, you don’t necessarily have to have proceed in such a fashion, but for those who do the result is an understanding of a subject and possession of a skill that is unlikely to occur elsewhere.  This is not meant as a slight to anyone in particular or to anyone’s preferences.  I happen to love the work of Sears.  In the end, it comes down to what one is hoping to learn from the inquiry itself.  I’ve been reading Civil War studies long enough to have a pretty good grasp of the historiography and my interests tend to revolve around certain questions that I find intriguing and that have shaped the field over time.  When something new comes out I can evaluate it based on the quality of the interpretation as well as where it fits into the broader field.  Quite often a well argued book shows me something important beyond the Civil War period and even beyond the study of history itself.

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A Representative Crater Letter

I spent part of today organizing some digital files related to the battle of the Crater.  Included is the following letter written by H.A. Minor to his sister just after the battle.  I can’t remember if it made it into the book because I have so many rich letters written by soldiers in William Mahone’s division. For anyone familiar with these post-battle letters, what stands out are the patterns that emerge between the many soldiers who took pen to paper to share the highlights of the battle with loved ones back home.  I detail this in the first chapter of the book, but here is a little taste.

Papers of Henry Augustine Minor [manuscript] 1864-76
Minor, Henry Augustine, 1835-
Personal Author: Minor, Henry Augustine, 1835-
Title:Papers of Henry Augustine Minor [manuscript] 1864-76.
Collection: Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

Field Hospital, 9th Alabama Regiment near Petersburg, Va., August 1, 1864
H.A. Minor to sister, M.A. Moseley: Minor was the surgeon of the 9th Alabama Volunteers.  Collection

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New to the Civil War Memory Library, 04/23

Here is a list of recent acquisitions, including a few titles that I picked up while in Milwaukee for the annual meeting of the OAH.  I probably should refrain from accumulating more books at least through the middle of the summer.  More on this later. :-)

Mark H. Dunkelman, Marching With Sherman: Through Georgia and the Carolinas With the 154th New York, (LSU Press, 2012).

Allen C. Guelzo, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Christian McWhirter, Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

Megan Kate Nelson, Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2012).

Mark J. Stegmaier ed., Henry Adams in the Secession Crisis: Dispatches to the Boston Daily Advertiser, December 1860-march 1861 (LSU Press, 2012).

Yael A. Sternhell, Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South (Harvard University Press, 2012).

Brian Steel Wills, George Henry Thomas: As True As Steel (University of Kansas Press, 2012).

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Civil War “Hip-Hop” in the Classroom

I think you are going to find this to be quite entertaining and perhaps even appropriate for some of your classrooms depending on how you choose to use it. Unfortunately, I was only able to embed a preview, but you can watch the full video here, which also includes the lyrics.

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Am I Really A Confederate Apologist?

I can’t tell you how often I receive emails from folks who believe that my blog reflects a personal assault against the Confederacy and all things southern.  Yesterday I received the most bizarre email from a Frederick Douglass impersonator who took issue with my blog’s banner.  I should point out that the banner was part of a redesign back in 2009 by a custom theme developer.  I supplied the images of Lincoln, Lee, and Douglass.

Pray, tell me why the HELL is the great Frederick Douglass’ portrait positioned BEHIND the left shoulder of the traitor, CSA General Lee? Lee was not only a traitor but a flawed mistake prone popinjay who as a man and a military strategist and intellect would be on no par with Douglass…

I have portrayed Douglass since 197- and am now producing a series about him. I find your mural and the positioning of FD’s portrait to be distasteful and historically inaccurate! FD should be on more of a par with Lincoln. If any military commander should be there, it should be the supreme Union commander at the end of the war or a cabinet member. FD’s advice to Lincoln brought an end to the war and severed Lee’s armies in half…. Please remove one or the other. And if you keep FD, and decide not to anyone else there then place Douglass closer to Lincoln where he belongs… This was a war to end slavery and property in man… please respond…

I took the time to respond and encouraged this individual to spend some time with the content assuming that this would give him a very different perspective on what it is that I am doing here.  That apparently did not work.

Thank you for returning with a response. I have spent plenty of time on your FB site. The banner is problematic for one who is the direct descendant of those who were held as slaves here in North America and who is from two root wings of a family of black people here on the American continent since 1730. Evidently, “Civil War Memory” is really about the greater glorification of the South’s aim in that war which was property in man. All over the South and in many parts of the midwest there are memorials to Confederate veterans and none (though one is planned somewhere in VA, I imagine!) to the slave or bondmen and women. Lee in front of FD on your banner IS an insult. I am sorry to see you won’t do anything about it.

Oh well.

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