H-Civil War: Scholarly Resource or Just Another Message Board?

I´ve been meaning to comment on this for some time, but wanted to see how long it would take the editor to jump in and cut-off the message thread which started with the excellent review of John Coski´s study of the Confederate flag.  While late is better than never, clearly this discussion (if you can even call it a discussion) went on much too long.  The review should have led to a discussion of the merits of Coski´s interpretation and/or the reviewer´s contribution.  Instead we got the all-too-common nonsense that failed to go beyond one´s own opinion as to the proper display of the flag or the author´s own historical interpretation that indicated no understanding of the secondary literature.  Very few of the messages (I stopped reading after 10) contained anything which indicated that the author had actually read the book.  The message thread reads like any of the current crappy message boards that you can waste your time reading. 

H-Net was created as a forum for scholars to share research projects, ask questions, and engage in serious dialog that contains analysis rather than an airing of one´s opinion.  My guess is that most of the other H-Net forums do not suffer from this problem.  However, in the case of the Civil War everyone is an expert.  I am tired of hearing from people who wish to share their views of whether Sherman´s and Sheridan´s marches were immoral or whether they believe the Confederate flag is a racist symbol.  This has little to do with serious research.  And as I just mentioned there are plenty of forums that will eagerly embrace this shallowness. 

I call on the editors of this particular forum to exercise tighter control over the kinds of messages that can be posted to the listserv.  If individual parties continue to abuse the forum then they should be temporarily suspended or permanently banned.  H-Net is a valuable resource, but you know that something is wrong when you begin to think of their emails as SPAM. 

Blog Hiatus

I am going to take a few weeks off from this blog to finish up my Crater manuscript.  It’s been a fairly productive summer thus far, but I need to take advantage of my remaining free time before the new school year starts.  I still need to look at a few archival collections which involves a little traveling and I still have large sections to write.  In short, I really need to get off my ass and finish.  Those of you who are relatively new to this blog may want to browse the archives.  You can still comment on posts and I may even respond.  See you in a few weeks.

Civil War Books: The State of the Field

The most recent newsletter for the Society of Civil War Historians includes an overview of their dinner and special session at the upcoming meeting of Southern Historical Association in Birmingham, Alabama.  Once again I will be unable to attend as their meetings take place during the worst month for a high school teacher.  I am, however, looking forward to the following year, which will take place in Richmond.  Please contact me if you are interested in putting together a session on Civil War memory and/or public history and the National Park Service for the 2007 meeting in Richmond.  The session will look at the state of Civil War publishing and the presenters include Dan Ross, Director and Editor-in-Chief of the University of Alabama Press; David Perry, Editor-in-Chief of the University of North Carolina Press; and Sylvia Frank Rodrigue, who runs Sylverlining, an editorial consulting business. 

Here is an excerpt from Dan Ross’s abstract:

[M]y discussion will be an attempt to produce indications of the level of serious Civil War book publishing in three five-year periods, 1960-64, 1980-84, and 2000-04, and the level of professional review of such works during the same periods.  The first period was chosen as matching the Civil War centennial, when presumably the publishing industry foresaw a market for books on the conflict and encouraged and perhaps even provided support for the preparation of books during that period.  With the centennial of the war established as the benchmark, the recent past of 2000-04 would test the evidence for a sense that we are now in the most active period ever seen by the Civil War book industry.  Finally the period 1980-84 was chosen as midway between the two others and to provide an equivalent span for comparison with them.

The examination of the frequency and proportion of book reviews in the two leading professional journals that would view attention to Civil War history as a significant requirement–but not as their sole obligation–permits examination of another oft-repeated bromide, although one not usually heard from Civil War specialists.  This usually appears at the rhetorical question –"How can there be anything new to say about the Civil War?"–which can be a legitimate question, or perhaps sour grapes from those who have selected such topics as the Glass-Steagall Act as their specialty.  Therefore to undertake a test to attempt to determine both newness and freshness of topic and treatment, an examination is made of the rate of reviews of Civil War books in the same periods in those professional journals that would feel obliged to review a work that had pretensions to say something new about that event.

This promises to be an interesting session – definitely something Dimitri might be interested in. 

A Michigan High School’s Black Confederate Mural

As if our national love affair with Confederate imagery couldn’t get any more bizarre, a high school in Michigan is having trouble dealing with its historically inaccurate namesake.  What exactly do I mean?  Lee High School has adopted various aspects of Confederate symbolism over the years, including a dedication to R.E. Lee in the 1936 yearbook, and in the 1960’s the battle flag appeared as part of the marching band’s uniform, and another much larger battle flag graced the school’s hallway wall.  According to the principal the school’s name has nothing to do with the Confederate general:

According to Britten’s research, the school took its name from the street on
which it stands. It was renamed Lee Street from State Street in 1914, possibly
because the first family to live there was named Leyla. The district was named
for the high school and the Godfrey School that preceded it.

Wait, the story gets better.

The board and the high school sports boosters commissioned former student Arturo
Araujo to paint the Lee High School Rebel mascot on a gym wall.  The board
of education threatened to withhold payment because the artist painted the
Confederate Rebel with a dark skinned face, unlike the sketch he provided when
he was hired.

Here is the artist’s justification of his work:

I was shooting to represent the whole student body," says artist Arturo Araujo.
"75 percent colored, 25 percent caucasion. That was the whole idea of painting
the mural. So the whole school is represented by it’s mascot.

Don’t you just love the idea of a multi-cultural Confederate rebel?  I hope they don’t remove this mural, though I am just a bit concerned that those who are pushing the black Confederate story will use this as just another piece of evidence.  I can hear it now: "You see, even some Yankees in Michigan have acknowledged the existence of the black Confederate.  What more evidence do you need?"