Category Archives: Civil War Culture

Civil War Memory Stats or Why Blogging Matters

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I am collecting some basic statistics about Civil War Memory for my upcoming talk on Civil War blogging and thought I would share them with my readers.  Compared to political blogs and other high-profile sites the number of visits and page views is trivial, but within the history blogosphere I assume it ranks somewhere in the middle.  Right now this site attracts around 450 unique hits a day.  As a military history blog (broadly defined) it ranks very near the top.  This blog's Technorati ranking is 62, 589 with an Authority of 96, which measures the number of links from other blogs over the last six months.  The smaller the number, the better. 

One of the points that I hope to make is that the battle for Civil War memory or how we approach the history will be won or lost in cyberspace – including blogs, listservs, message boards, etc. – and not in books, conferences and other traditional forms of public outreach.  This is a tough sell since my goal is not in any way to instill feelings of guilt in my audience.  My purpose is not necessarily to convince one person in the audience to pick up blogging, but to share my experiences engaged on the front lines and how that experience reflects a changing public discourse about what it means to talk meaningfully about a crucial moment in this nation's past. The numbers speak for themselves.  Of course, the numbers don't tell us anything about what readers have learned – if anything – or whether they will return at some point in the future.   For me the numbers reflect the potential or promise of blogging.  It's a powerful tool that can expand a historian's ability to reach out to fellow academics as well as, more importantly, to all corners of the general public.

Blogging has given me the opportunity to join public debates about some of the most controversial subjects within the Civil War community such as black Confederates.  Hopefully, my posts have helped to clarify the complexity of the subject as well as the broader questions of memory that have come to shape our national and regional narratives.  More importantly, I've heard from countless readers that the focus of this site on issues surrounding memory and public history – subjects that are typically discussed only in academic circles – have not only enriched their understanding of the Civil War, but of history in general.  

With the Civil War Sesquicentennial right around the corner I think it is crucial that state commissions and other professional organizations think critically and imaginatively about how to use the Internet to educate the general public.  The number of Americans who will attend a conference, museum exhibit or read a book between 2011 and 2015 will pale in comparison with the reach of various websites – much of them filled with myth and propaganda.  Let's reach out.

A Few Words About the so-called Academic Liberal Elite (whatever that means)

I am working diligently to finish my conference paper for next week's meeting of the Southern Historical Association in New Orleans.   I'm looking forward to spending time with some friends and hopefully some intense discussions about a subject that all of us care deeply about.  If you were to read the recent comment quoted yesterday,  in addition to other postings around the blogosphere and elsewhere, you would think that I am headed off to some kind of political convention of liberal academics whose primary mission is to attack religion, overturn all that is sacred in our collective past, and bash conservatives.  [By the way the individual who authored that passage is the same person who once accused academic presses of being anti-religion (see comments) and recently suggested that Brooks Simpson's decision to post his session comments was nothing more than a reflection of academic historians' "tendency to try to tear people down."

I've attended somewhere around 25 academic conferences over the past ten years and this is not my experience at all.  I can honestly say that I have absolutely no idea where the overwhelming majority of historians, which I've become acquainted with over the years, stand on the bread and butter political and social issues of our time.  In addition, I can't tell you where they stand in terms of religious affiliation.  And to tell you the truth, I don't care where they stand on any of these issues. 

In all of the sessions that I've taken part in, either as a presenter or as a member of the audience, I can't think of a single moment where a discussion of modern politics ensued or the conversation degenerated into a religious-cultural-social bashing free-for-all.   What I do remember are countless discussions that broadened or deepened my understanding of a subject.  In the cases where I presented a paper I almost always left with a clearer sense of my research's strengths and weaknesses.  No one ever accused me of belonging to the wrong religion or political party, and I can't remember the last time someone asked for my stand on abortion.  My guess is that the overwhelming majority of participants attend these conferences to discuss and learn about history. 

My experience as an undergraduate and graduate student in history are also reflective of these observations.  I attended classes in history at William Paterson College (now university), the University of Maryland at College Park, and the University of Richmond.  All of my professors were professional and not once can I remember them engaging in the kind of behavior described in the media and blogosphere.  I even worked as a teaching assistant for Jacques Pluss at WPC and never had any inkling that he was a member of a neo-Nazi organization.  

I would love to ask the authors of these claims the following: (1) When was the last time they attended a college-level history course?  (2) Have they ever attended an academic conference or took part in a workshop with academic historians? (3) Have they ever submitted an essay to a professional journal which would provide insight into how the vetting process works? (4) Have they ever witnessed the kinds of behavior that they describe?  If so, did it occur enough times to warrant such generalizations?  

There is nothing wrong with employing generalizations in an argument.  However, all of us are able to detect a poorly-constructed generalization, and the difference usually boils down to whether a sufficient number of particulars have been properly employed.  The problem in this case is that the authors of these claims have, for the most part, soaked up this critique from the mainstream media and passed it off as if they understand what it means, as if they themselves have experienced the behavior.  In the end, these accusations are nothing more than a product of a defensive posture that views intellectual activity as a threat.  Just below the surface you find ignorance and a whole lot of fear.

We Will Pick Up a Bible As Soon As You Pick Up a History Book

Getting to the heart of the matter:

Matthew 11:27 clearly states "no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son has revealed him." Jesus himself said, "No one comes to the Father except through Me."

Therefore, according to what believers consider to be biblical truth, our fellow Christians such as Thomas Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and every other sinful Confederate (which BTW is all of them) were forgiven for their transgressions that they committed on this earthly plain against their fellow man, and are now in Heaven worshipping in the circle of the Lord.

On the other hand, many of these anti-religious academics, agnostics, and atheists who fervently preach against Christ and His followers (including born-again historical figures) may be headed to a much-much darker place. I suggest that these professors put down their history books and pick up a bible.

I just want to reiterate that it is a very, very, dark place. In all seriousness, this was written by an individual who knows absolutely nothing about academic writing or analytical history in general.  It's the worst kind of hate speech because it is born of ignorance and fear.  Who are these academic historians who hate religion and "preach against Christ and His followers?"  Have you ever heard of such insanity?  Not once has anyone cited an example of this.