Are you tired of the continued attack on American culture by liberal academic and public historians who present history in a way that conflicts with your cherished notions of the Civil War and Southern history? Well, head on down to Jacksonville, Florida to the Museum of Southern History. Although it claims to be a museum of Southern history, from the looks of the photographs there is nothing on display beyond the Civil War years. What you will find, however, are exhibits that just present the facts with no accompanying interpretation. Incoming board president, Ben Willingham, put it this way: “We’ve been fed political correctness[.] We’ve dumbed down society. It’s all in the Congressional Record. The facts are there. It’s not about beliefs.” Although it is not attributed to Willingham, it looks like he also suggested: “The men said the Civil War was about money, not slavery, and that African-Americans owned slaves. The first slave owner was a black man in Virginia.”
Well, I am pleased to see that some of the most important questions within the fields of Civil War and Southern history have been put to rest. Given that the Sons of Confederate Veterans hold their meetings in the museum, I have no doubt that other important questions will also be answered.
By the way, is that a little black Confederate doll in the display case next to what appears to be a naked Confederate soldier? What’s that about?
It could have been one of those “teachable moments” where the authors of two very different studies of Civil War Mississippi discuss the problem of competing historical interpretations. Instead, the authors of The State of Jones have done all they can to avoid addressing what are clearly serious problems with their book. You can find Sally Jenkins responding to negative reviews over at Amazon and various other sites. More curious is the disappearing act performed by Harvard professor, John Stauffer, who as far as I know has said nothing since his personal attack against Victoria Bynum that was posted here a few weeks ago. Stauffer’s silence has not worked to their advantage since it has placed Jenkins in the difficult position of having to respond to questions of interpretation and historiography – questions that she is completely incapable of handling.
In the pages of the New York Times we can see the continued fallout from the way Jenkins and Stauffer have chosen to respond to legitimate interpretive challenges. While David Reynolds is not the first academic historian to review The State of Jones, his review reads more like a synopsis of the debate that played out at Bynum’s Renegade South and here rather than a thorough analysis of the argument. In fact, while I have no reason to believe that Reynolds did not read the book, he doesn’t critique anything that hasn’t already been raised by a host of readers. This does not bode well for future reviews of the book and suggests that the blogosphere is now shaping the way even academic historians are viewing this controversy. Of course, it didn’t have to turn out this way. As I’ve suggested before, this unfortunate result has as much to do with feelings of defensiveness and pride as it does with not understanding how to engage bloggers and Online readers. Hopefully, it will serve as a lesson for future authors.
If you’ve blogged history (and especially the Civil War) long enough than you should be familiar with the following email form:
I work for [Insert Publisher Here] and we recently published a book I think you might be interested in, [Insert Book Title Here] by [Insert Author Here], a fascinating narrative account about [Insert Civil War Subject Here]. Because of your passion for the Civil War, I thought that you and your readers might like to see this. Also, if you were interested in seeing a copy of [Book Title] yourself, please send me your mailing address and I would be more than happy to send you a copy.
I get these emails on a regular basis and, for the most part, I don’t mind them. They clearly reflect the prominence and popularity of the blogosphere and represent an attractive avenue of advertising for book publishers. And best of all, who doesn’t mind the free books. I’ve established a fairly rigid book review policy and it goes something like this: I am more than happy to review a book, but I make no promises that it will be mentioned on my site and the acceptance comes with the possibility that it may in fact receive a negative review. In short, I want to be treated like the book review editor for an academic journal. It seems to me that as long as the blogger maintains complete editorial control and is capable of evaluating the book along the lines that he/she deems acceptable than there should be no conflicts of interest or ethical questions.
For those of you who have never seen the movie, Gods and Generals, here is your chance to view a slightly shorter version. In just under five minutes you pretty much cover all the bases and the inclusion of theme music by Frank Wildhorn adds just the right touch. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to finish balling my eyes out.