Renaming Public Spaces

Looks like another local conflict is looming in Birmingham over a proposal to rename a public park.  The proposal calls for changing the name of Caldwell Park – named to honor a Confederate general and slaveowner – to recognize the contributions of former City Councilwoman Nina Miglionico, a social progressive who was appointed in 1963 and served for twenty years. 

William Stewart, University of Alabama political science professor emeritus,
said conflict persists in the South where tributes to Confederate soldiers and
segregationists abound.  "These were established at a time when the electorate was overwhelmingly
white and people didn’t have to be sensitive to African-American feelings to the
naming of facilities after the people who fought to keep them in slavery,"
Stewart said.

On the other hand, according to D’Linell Finley, professor of political science at Auburn University:

At some point even though the city may be overwhelmingly black, there is a
realization that Confederate history is a part of our past too," Finley said.
"Don’t make it a loss of one history for the other.

Just one question for Professor Finley: Why do we have to frame this debate along mutually exclusive lines?  Seems to me that there is plenty of opportunity to balance the way in which a city chooses to remember its collective past.  More importantly, given the monopoly that white Southerners have enjoyed in regard to public spaces, there is obviously a deep need to do so.

A Couple Things

Sorry for the constant change in blog themes.  I was experimenting with different looks and realized in the end that simplicity is a virtue.  This theme provides plenty of horizontal room for postings as opposed to the more confined formats.

I should have mentioned this earlier, but there is an excellent blog that focuses on Boston and the American Revolution that I recently listed on the blogroll.  It is called Boston 1775 and the posts are intelligent and entertaining.  Definitely check it out.

I don’t know how many of you are tennis fans, but I am totally psyched for the Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal.  Nadal is clearly a thorn in Federer’s side, but it should be a close and exciting match as they are playing on grass.  Federer is an absolute pleasure to watch.  His shots are clean and his moves are so graceful.  There is a certain beauty in watching him perform.  He is obviously very comfortable with his body.  I do love team sports, but singles tennis hinges on the individual’s endurance and mental toughness.  It is an exercise in all-around discipline. 

Fridays With Jeb and Felix

Today is the first installment of a new series called "Fridays with Jeb and Felix."  Of course, Jeb and Felix (a.k.a. "The Boys") are our cats.  Friday is a pretty relaxed day so the subject matter seems appropriate.  I am still trying to learn my way around the digital camera, which explains the red-eye.  I will eventually fix it.  For some hilarious photos of cats in sinks, check out Cats in Sinks [via Rebecca Goetz].  It’s a great place to "procatinate."

A New Civil War Blog

I recently discovered a very interesting blog that falls very close to my own reading and research interests.  The blog is called "not in memoriam, but in defense," which as many of you know is a reference to the 1930 Agrarian manifesto, I’ll Take My Stand.  Here is a bit from Sarah’s first post:

Beginning on June 14, I will begin my
thesis research on Confederate monuments in three Southern cities: Richmond,
Stone Mountain, and the tiny town of Moulton, Alabama. From this research I hope
to understand how myths of the South have changed in recent years. Specifically,
I want to figure out how Confederate monuments have fared in cities in which
there has been a dramatic demographic shift. According to the 2000 census,
Richmond is almost 60% black. Stone Mountain, a city outside of Atlanta, is
nearly 70% black. Both of these cities are home to two of the most famous cites
of Confederate memorializing: Monument Avenue in Richmond, and the face of Stone

Entries catalog both her travels and research.  You will find a link to this site with the other Civil War bloggers. 


Publishing and Peer Review: Part 2

Eric Wittenberg was kind enough to post a thorough response to my last post on the place of peer review in smaller publishing houses which specialize in Civil War history.  In doing so he offered his own thoughts about the academic presses and their concentration on publishing studies that fall under the heading of the "New Military History" or social history.  According to Eric:

Second, the other issue with academic peer review is that it perpetuates a
tendency toward continuing to churn out books that are of little interest to
anyone other than those with a heavy academic bent. It’s groupthink. If the
manuscript doesn’t fit the template for the “new military history” (whatever
that is), then it will be rejected. Thus, the tendency in the university presses
is to perpetuate the unhappy tendency to downplay military history in favor of
social history.

While he does concede that studies by Gordon Rhea, Ken Noe, and Frank O’Reilly fall outside this tendency of academic publishers, Eric has little interest in their concentration on social and cultural histories.  Let me add to Eric’s list: Harry Pfanz, Joe Harsh, Earl Hess, William Marvel, and Brian K. Burton.  It is interesting to note that Eric characterizes this new trend as "groupthink" and as fitting a "template."  Seems to me that the traditional military history falls more closely along these lines.  This is not necessarily a criticism as we must know what happened on the battlefield; it was after all a war.  That said, taken as a whole, however, these studies are locked in a predictable mold or pattern.  It can be argued that the offerings from the university presses over the past few decades are in fact much more interesting in terms of their methodologies and the types of events analyzed.  While Eric may be correct that the academic presses and their cultural/social studies appeal to a select audience, it seems to me that they give us a much richer view of the war that addresses specific themes and events in a way that the more traditional military narratives cannot.  And from a broader historiographical perspective they may in fact be more important to the continued advance of the field.

Step outside of the Civil War and take a look at recent studies of the American Revolution in the southern colonies.  While many of us know the details surrounding the battles of Yorktown, Cowpens, Kings Mountain, etc. historians have given us a much richer account of how the fierce civil wars between Whigs and Loyalists shaped the way both Clinton, Cornwallis and especially Nathaniel Greene managed their affairs.  We could just stay on the battlefield and follow the movements of troops and then pick up and follow the men to their next stop, but this would not really give the student of history what they needed to know.  In effect our knowledge would be incomplete.