I’ve been upfront in my conviction that it is too early to write off the overall impact of the sesquicentennial. We ought to resist drawing uninformed comparisons with the centennial and conclusions based on attendance alone will not get us very far. There are a broad range of factors that need to be taken into consideration. Continue reading
Thought I would take the opportunity to share this announcement given that the deadline is fast approaching. This is an award that I am chairing so do me a favor and please pass it along. Of course, let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.
The Society of Civil War Historians solicits nominations for the $5000 Award for Excellence in Public History. The award recognizes an outstanding public history project completed and made available to the public in 2012 or 2013 that enhances public awareness and understanding of the Civil War era, including the events leading to the war and its direct consequences. Continue reading
This morning I voted online for the next president of The Society of Civil War Historians. I’ve been a member for a few years now and even had the opportunity to address the organization back in 2008. The SCWH recently established a new book prize, a new journal, as well as a biennial conference. I think these are all positive steps, but nothing here reaches beyond the traditional activities of an academic organization.
There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, but it is worth remembering that we are in the middle of the sesquicentennial. I remember hearing rumblings from various folks in the SCWH at the first biennial meeting in Philadelphia that the organization would be active throughout the commemoration of the 150th. So far, I’ve heard nothing. It’s disappointing especially given the fact that so many members are engaged in a wide range of activities that involve the education of the general public. I have no doubt that given the talent in the SCWH that it can take the lead on any number of projects. Perhaps a partnership/collaboration with another organization is the way to go.
I wish the online ballots included vision statements from the candidates rather than the standard brief resumes that pretty much blend into one another. They are all top notch scholars. I am much more interested in the direction they want to steer the organization and whether they believe that this direction includes anything to mark the sesquicentennial and public education.
I will continue to look forward to each issue of the journal as well as the next conference, but it seems to me that this organization is capable of doing more, especially NOW.
I am usually pretty good about staying on top of new Civil War titles. Many of the university presses send me advanced copies for the blog, which helps to save money and keep me on top of the historiography. Somehow, this title fell through the cracks. Not only did it escape my attention, but I just learned that Mark W. Geiger’s book, Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865 (Yale University Press, 2010) has been selected by the Society of Civil War Historians as this year’s Tom Watson Brown book prize winner. The award comes with a check for $50,000.
Above you will find a short video of Professor Geiger discussing his new book. Geiger will accept his award and give a talk at the SCWH dinner, which takes place as part of the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association. It’s always a good time.
One of the highlight of this weekend’s meeting of the Southern Historical Association was the annual dinner for the Society of Civil War Historians. This year we awarded Professor Daniel Sutherland with the first Tom Watson Brown Book Prize, which came with a nice fat check of $50,000. The prize was for his book, A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (Civil War America), which is a must read. A few years back I had the opportunity to work with Prof. Sutherland while he was a visiting instructor at the University of Richmond. He gave generously of his time and offered to give one of my seminar essays on Confederate military executions a thorough review. This award couldn’t have been given to a nicer guy. In addition to the award itself, Prof. Sutherland was expected to give a talk, but rather than focus on guerrillas during the Civil War he chose to reflect on the Civil War Sesquicentennial.
Sutherland offered a rather gloomy view of the Sesquicentennial in comparison with the excitement that clearly animated him as a child during the Centennial. Even with all of the media attention surrounding this commemoration I tend to share his skepticism, but our agreement ends with the assessment itself. Sutherland seems to believe that the lack of- or waning interest in the Civil War can be attributed to a failure of our generation. At one point he commented on the seeming lack of interest in history among our students as well as the increased distraction attributed to the Internet. I cringe when I hear such uninformed analysis that adds to our tendency to blame everything on our kids. Sutherland acknowledges that much of the early excitement during the Centennial was a function of the narrow focus on battlefield heroics and larger than life personalities that were completely cut off from any concern about broader issues of race and slavery. At the same time, however, he seems to continue to grasp at the child whose imagination was spurred to action by American Heritage with its glossy maps and images. At one point Sutherland asked whether whether the nation will take the time to commemorate the Civil War Bicentennial.
One of the first posts that I wrote on this blog was a brief reflection on the graying of our Civil War Roundtables, which flourished in the period following the Centennial. It’s safe to say that their days are numbered. The Centennial clearly had an influence on a generation of white Americans, but let’s not jump too quickly to a conclusion that sets them aside as some kind of “Greatest Generation.” We would do well to understand the broader cultural and political forces that shaped the Centennial narrative and we should also remember their proximity to the war itself. In the early 1960s there were plenty of people who had grown up listening to the stories of the veterans themselves. That closeness matters. We should also keep in mind the long-term consequences of the Vietnam War on our understanding of the nature of war and government. Perhaps the excitement that Sutherland continues to recall about his childhood is a product of a unique moment in American history that is impossible to repeat.
I suspect that we won’t see the kind of resurgence of interest in the Civil War that we did in the 1960s and perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps that kind of excitement wasn’t so good four our collective understanding of the war. We should be thinking more critically about what the Civil War means to this generation and at this specific point in time. And in 50 years I hope the nation does the same from its unique perspective and place in time.