Is the Title of This Magazine a Misnomer?

I’ve seen Civil War Historian on the newsstand and recently came across its website while conducting a search.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the subject of the publication, but the title seems strange.  Given the goal of the magazine perhaps Civil War Living Historian would have been more appropriate:

Civil War Historian magazine was founded to promote knowledge of Civil War-era life in America. Civil War Historian accomplishes its goal by producing a high-quality publication that supports those who reenact the lives of Americans who lived in this era. The nature of the publication is both informative and entertaining. Civil War Historian contains after-action reports of reenactments, reprints of period publications, and historical research articles, all of which are supported by exceptional color images and artistic page design. Civil War Historian’s guiding principle and belief are the need to protect, preserve, and share accurate information about this momentous period in our history.

The pieces related to reenacting are quite interesting and I suspect are very useful for those in the field, but those that examine the history of the war are the weakest and don’t stack up to magazines such as North and South and Civil War Times Illustrated.  I have no intention of getting into another drawn out discussion about semantics, but the title and the magazine’s content minimizes and distorts what is involved in writing and researching history.  Sometimes distinctions do matter.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

6 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Jul 24, 2007 @ 9:24

    I don’t disagree with you re: the popularity of Michael Shaara’s book, but that of course doesn’t make him a historian. In fact, as much as I am willing to acknowledge the positive impact the book has made on so many there is also a downside. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into who believe that the characters in the book (including the younger Shaara’s work) have some basis in serious scholarship. They should be judged as historical fiction.

  • Michael Aubrecht Jul 24, 2007 @ 9:15

    Kevin, Oops! I realized after I posted this that I meant to reference his father Michael. Jeff is a great guy and we have corresponded in the past. I personally enjoy his work, but I meant to cite Michael’s “The Killer Angels” as an important work that reignited an interest in the Civil War with the general public. I understand that this is a novel piece, but it impacted the masses in a way that few “non-fictional” studies have. Re-enactors in that way, also provide a tremendous service through their efforts.

  • Kevin Levin Jul 23, 2007 @ 22:51

    Andrew and Michael, — Thanks for your comments. Both of you acknowledge that there are reenactors who happen also to be historians. I agree entirely, especially in the case of Brian Pohanka who combined his interest as a scholar/writer of history and living historian. In making this point, however, it seems reasonable to suggest that both can be understood as preserving the past through different techniques.

    On a different note, if Jeff Shaara is a historian than I am heading for the hills. If I am not mistaken his focus has been on historical fiction and very poor historical fiction at that. I’ve seen his Gettysburg guide, but please don’t suggest to me that the writing of it involved anything original or historically interesting. Sometimes it is unwise to go into the family business.

  • Michael Aubrecht Jul 23, 2007 @ 22:38

    I’m sorry guys, but I have to respectfully disagree with the restrictions that appear to be implied here in regards to the term historian. According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, a “historian” is simply defined as a writer, student, or scholar of history. That definition sounds pretty broad to me. I always think about the ‘amateur’ historians that made the subject of the Civil War popular again without possessing any kind of official “pedigree” in the field of study. These include writers like Jeff Shaara, and Shelby Foote. And who doesn’t respect the work of Brian Pohanka, who was also an avid re-enactor. In my opinion, these amateur authors, and/or living-historians may not have the same academic background as their scholarly counterparts, but their contributions to sharing history with the general public certainly deem them worthy of the term “historian.” Just my opinion, but I like to think that we’re all historians with the same goals in mind – to preserve and present our past.

  • Andrew Duppstadt Jul 23, 2007 @ 10:24

    While I realize the stereotype that reenactors have acquired over the years (and most are deserving of that stereotype) I must also point out that there are many fine historians in the reenacting community. The unit to which I belong boasts no fewer than five members with at least a BA in history, and a few (myself included) with MAs. Aside from that, the rest of the members in the unit are all what I would consider very intelligent and skilled amateur historians, though their credentials are in other fields. I realize that our unit is the exception, but many of the other units we associate with can make the same claims as we can when it comes to having degreed historians in the ranks. Our goal is education, and to that end we only accept the most qualified members into our group. If there were more units like ours, folks may start changing their opinion of the reenacting community. Thanks for hearing me out.

    Andrew Duppstadt

  • Sean Dail Jul 23, 2007 @ 0:34

    I agree, Kevin. The first time I saw the magazine on a newstand I was quite disturbed to see that what I at first thought was a new CW history magazine was nothing but reenactor news and information. I have nothing against reenactors, but they are into something quite different from what interests me. And I have a problem with the whole concept of referring to them as “historians”. Some of them are, of course, but many of them come nowhere close to measuring up to the term historian, as much as they might aspire to that description…

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