So You Want To Be a Civil War Historian

Presentation of M.E. Rachal Award at the Virginia Historical Society (2005) w/Paul Levengood and Nelson Lankford

The other day I received an email from a reader looking for advice on writing and publishing in the field of Civil War history.  I thought it might be a good idea to respond on the blog so as to allow the rest of you to add your own perspective.  First the email:

I’m emailing to seek advice on writing and publishing.  I’ve always been what I guess one would call a Civil War “buff” and am now trying to take my understanding of the period to a higher, more serious level.  I think the sesquicentennial is an opportune time to do so. Last month I joined the Society of Civil War Historians.  In the past 1 1/2 years I’ve published a book chapter on library instruction, spoken at a few on-campus events here at my college, and presented at a few conferences as well.  Later this year I have four articles being published in a woman’s history encyclopedia published by Facts-on-File.

I’m emailing because I have what I feel are some strong ideas for both academic journal articles and the general interest ACW magazines.  My focus is more on the immediate postbellum period than the war itself.  My position is somewhat unique because though I don’t hold the PhD, I have faculty status.  (I have two masters degrees.)  In a way the pressure is off because this past semester I was given tenure.  (I’m thinking about starting my own blog this coming fall when my tenure becomes official with the new academic year.)  Anyways, I’m emailing to see if you might be able to give me some advice on breaking in.  A few questions I have are:

Again, please feel free to add your own thoughts based on your own experiences.  I don’t have any hard and fast answers.  That said, I do see my own story reflected in this email.  I do not have a PhD in history, but I did manage to work my way to a point where I can maneuver between a number of different communities.  [click to continue…]

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Lee – Jackson…what?

Today in Virginia is Lee-Jackson Day, but according to the The News Leader in Staunton you are going to have to look hard to find anyone celebrating it.  State offices are closed, but it looks like most government offices are open as well as public schools.  I will be in my classroom today as well.  While the public acknowledgment and celebration of Lee, Jackson, and all things Confederate may be on the decline, citizens of this great state will have plenty of opportunity over the next few years to study and come to appreciate the lives of these two men as well as the broader history of the war.  Their stories are absolutely essential to understanding this beautiful state that we call home so I encourage everyone to embrace Lee and Jackson during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

On a related note, the state of Virginia has officially rejected the notion that thousands of slaves fought as soldiers in the Confederate army.

Oh…and a reminder to the city of Norfolk: NO PARKING TICKETS ON LEE-JACKSON DAY!

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Celebrity Deathmatch: Grant v. Lee

I’m not quite sure what to make of this video, but is incredibly creative and somewhat entertaining.  If you are a fan of claymation and the Civil War than this little video is right up your alley.  Enjoy.

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Civil War Memory in the Classroom

One of the most surprising aspects of blogging has been the ways in which Civil War Memory has found a place in high school and college classrooms.  Though I never anticipated this development it has allowed me to think of my blogging as an extension of my classroom teaching.  In the past I’ve hosted a short series of guest posts by graduate students at West Virginia University and Skyped with an America Studies class at Skidmore College.  You can find links to this site on a number of high school history class websites and blogs and I remain in contact with a number of teachers throughout the country.

This semester Civil War Memory has shown up on Professor W. Caleb McDaniel’s American Civil War Era class blog at Rice University.  It looks like Prof. McDaniel started the course off by addressing a number of recent public controversies, including the black Confederate narrative.  Their first assignment is to read a series of posts from the blog on the Virginia history textbook controversy as well as older posts on Silas Chandler and Weary Clyburn:

Then, leave a comment here responding to these questions: What other arguments do defenders of the “black Confederate” thesis make about the Civil War era or the history that has been written about it? Do these other arguments shed any light on the question of why Confederate heritage groups are interested in finding supposed “black Confederates” like Weary Clyburn and Silas Chandler?

I went back and perused the Clyburn post, which now includes over 100 comments.  One of the things that I did hope for was that this blog might be of interest to historians and teachers interested in public history and memory.  Getting beyond the emotion of many of these comment threads it is possible to see it as a catalog of various perspectives – an archive of America’s evolving and rich Civil War memory.

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This Is Not a Southern View of the Civil War

The Washington Post’s popular A House Divided blog has welcomed Brag Bowling as its newest member.  It will be interesting to see whether Bowling can move beyond advocacy and actually formulate an argument.

As I was perusing the site I noticed an announcement for the upcoming annual meeting of the Stephen D. Lee Institute, which happens to be the “educational arm” of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  What concerns me is that Linda Wheeler chose to characterize it as offering a “southern view of the Civil War.”  Well, it’s doesn’t.  Wheeler goes on to include what I must assume is the organization’s own rhetoric of “presenting the true history of the South.”  Again, it doesn’t.  It is a fundamental mistake to assume that the Institute speaks for anyone other than their members.  To casually suggest that they speak for “the South” is inexcusable and irresponsible.  If we’ve seen anything over the past few months is that there are a number of competing narratives of the Civil War in the South.

They surely don’t speak for fellow southern bloggers, Robert Moore and Andy Hall. They don’t speak for the many professional historians who were born and raised in the South and who now work hard researching and teaching the history of this beautiful region of the country.  We can safely assume that they do not speak for the vast majority of African Americans in the South.  It’s not even clear that the Institute speaks for the majority or even a substantial minority of the region.  In fact, it’s insulting to suggest that just because you live in the South that you necessarily hold firm to a certain narrative of the past.  It would be nice if we could move beyond this naive view of Civil War memory.

Finally, I find it just a little troubling that Wheeler chose to announce this event at all.  Of all the forthcoming events in the next few weeks why would anyone publicize a conference that has almost nothing to do with history and everything to do with advocacy?

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