Update on Crater Manuscript

Crater I recently received the reviews of my manuscript from the publisher and there is both good and not-so-good news.  As for the latter I still need to make some changes to the manuscript before I am given a contract.  The good news is that both reviewers offered first-rate comments and criticisms that will no doubt improve the overall quality of the manuscript.  I am no stranger to the peer review process; the care that academic presses take in ensuring that their publications are solid is the main reason I went this route.  So, over the summer I will address the comments of the reviewers and put everything else on hold that I am currently working on.  This was the first time that the entire manuscript had been reviewed since I submitted an earlier version for the M.A. in history at the University of Richmond back in 2005.  All in all my prospects look good.

One thing that I need to do is distance my study a bit more from the work of David Blight who stresses the extent of consensus achieved nationally and among white Southerners regarding memory of the war.  My work suggests that this is anything but the case as both ex-Confederates debated over who could claim credit for success and the Crater and during the Readjuster years which witnessed bitter debates among veterans of Mahone’s brigade surrounding their commanders foray into politics.  The chapter on the creation of the Petersburg National Military Park in 1936 also needs to be refined in a way which reflects local economic concerns rather than the broad theme of national reconciliation.  I tend to agree with one of the reviewers who suggested that while the first five battlefield parks created at the turn of the twentieth century may have been the result of reconciliation the Crater came much too late.  Northerners may have been involved, but were probably not the prime movers. 

The most interesting suggestion and one which will involve a substantial amount of work involves writing a brand new chapter on the post Rally the High Ground/NPS changes in battlefield interpretation.  The goal of the chapter would be to explore the relationship between the city of Petersburg and its large black population and the NPS.  At one point in the manuscript I speculate as to why black Americans have not taken more of an interest in the Civil War.  From the manuscript review:

While I agree that there has been and continues to be resistance to including the black story in Civil War history, the fact remains that academics and the National Park Service have reached out to all people in attempt to tell a more complicated and inclusive story.  NPS frontline people that I have spoken to are bewildered and confused by the lack of black reaction to this interpretive shift.  It is controversial to question why so many African Americans are reluctant to embrace their Civil War past when there are so few impediments in their way as had been the case prior to 1970.

Since most people interested in such issues fall back on educated guesses (as I did) the plan is to conduct extensive interviews with former and current NPS staff as well as members of the local community.  This would be the first time that anyone has taken such an approach and it has the potential to steer dialog in a more promising direction.  I’ve already contacted a few NPS personnel and the archivist at Virginia State University and all are willing to help.  If Park Service personnel are indeed confused by the lack of response from the black community six years after the Rally Initiative than it would be important to know why. 

On the one hand it would have been nice to get a contract, but given the time that went into the reading of the manuscript and the constructive criticism that resulted it is difficult not to feel positive about the final product. 

Now I need to look into a decent digital recorder.  Any suggestions?

8 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin May 15, 2007 @ 13:20

    I appreciate the enthusiasm, but at this point I am not going to make any predictions. First and foremost I want to get the story right and try to make a real contribution to the literature. There is a great deal of leg work in putting together the interviews that will help flesh out this story.

    Stay Tuned

  • Stephen keating May 15, 2007 @ 13:17

    Good news on your progress. I know that with the university presses the release of the final product will take time, so do you have any idea when I might see your book. I am assuming we’re still a year out.

  • Kevin Levin May 15, 2007 @ 12:05

    Matt, — Thanks for the suggestions. Looks like our summers will have much in common.

    Al, — Thanks for the comments. I agree with the overall thrust of your suggestions. I am going to make every attempt to contact black community leaders to gauge the apparent lack of interest or “apathy.” The NPS interviews should shed light on the steps taken to bridge this divide and their perspective on relative success of various programs.

    As to your point that the history of Petersburg is “sad” and “tragic” I would only point out that the story of the Crater and the presence of black soldiers can be seen in a very positive light. After all, black Union soldiers were given the opportunity to fight for their freedom as opposed to more menial forms of labor that had defined their experience in the Army of the Potomac up to that point.

    Of course I will keep readers informed of my progress as the summer progresses.

  • Al Brophy May 15, 2007 @ 10:19


    Thanks for your posts on your Crater manuscript. I’m enjoying them and am really looking forward to reading it. Love the idea of exploring the complexities of memory.

    Couple of thoughts on the proposed new chapter. I would think that most of the work of that chapter should be interviews with community members (rather than the NPS). When consumers aren’t buying Ford cars, Ford needs to look at what consumers are buying. What Ford’s engineers think is somewhat less important (though I agree the NPS interviews could be most interesting, for why they think the African American community isn’t interested.)

    Now, if I might be permitted to speculate on why the African American community isn’t embracing Petersburg’s history. First, it’s a sad and tragic history and one that the community would rather not talk about. (There are some important divergences here from the now-common argument in some circles that say African Americans embrace a “cult of victimology”). Second, Civil War history is perceived as the domain of those who celebrate the lost cause. And there’s no interest in that narrative in the African American community. Third, this is an issue that’s been resolved for the African American community. Their side won and there’s no need to continue to talk about it. But these are just rank speculation on my part; I’ll be interested in what the data show.

  • Matt May 15, 2007 @ 10:16

    I just bought a new recorder–the Olympus VN3100-PC. You can transfer files to the computer to save them and/or burn them onto CDs. I haven’t used it a lot, but it seems to work pretty well so far. It cost me about $65 at Radio Shack, if I remember correctly, but you might be able to find it cheaper online. Also, there’s a microphone (Olympus TP-7, $20) that you can use for telephone interviews that works surprisingly well.

  • Kevin Levin May 14, 2007 @ 18:24

    Andrew, — Thanks for the positive response. I think this additional chapter could prove to be incredibly important for public historians who are looking to forge closer ties with the black community. I’ve already set up a couple of interviews and am looking forward to getting started. You can rest assured that I will report on my progress throughout the summer.

  • Jim Schmidt May 14, 2007 @ 11:48


    I have to agree with your comments about the helpfulness of comments that come from “readers” at the publisher. A few years ago, my proposal for my forthcoming book **Lincoln’s Labels** (Edinborough Press, Spring 2008) went through the rounds at Univ Press of KY. In the end, I didn’t get a contract, but the detailed suggestions and comments I received made it clear they did a very thorough review (and not just a cursory read) and it made the revised proposal I sent to subsequent publishers that much better.

    Good luck on your project and best wishes for its ultimate success.

    Jim Schmidt

  • Andrew Duppstadt May 14, 2007 @ 10:49

    It is interesting and timely for me to read this post, especially the sections dealing with interpretation and the NPS. One of the projects we are working on here in North Carolina is to revamp the interpretation at our Civil War sites leading up to the sesquicentennial. We are not copying what NPS did, but I have been keeping that in the back of my mind. I just received in the mail today a copy of “Rally on the High Ground” and have been reading other NPS documents related to Civil War interpretation. It has definitely helped focus me a bit better on what we are trying to accomplish here. I look forward to reading more about your project, especially your interviews with NPS staff, as your project continues as I think you will be able to offer some very valuable insight for me as well.

    Andrew Duppstadt
    Asst. Curator of Education
    NC Historic Sites

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