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. 

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