Dare To Ask Questions

Somehow I became a topic of concern over at Michael Aubrecht’s blog because I dared to comment on the Richard Kirkland story during the same week that a new website and film preview were introduced.  I find it funny that both Aubrecht and Richard Williams make a point of minimizing my influence even as they spend their time worrying about what I write.  Anyway, this little gem of a comment from Williams made my day:

“Outside of his classroom and blog, he has very little influence.”

Precisely Michael. Dana Shoaf of Civil War Times said in an interview a while back that, “The problem with academic historians is they are not reaching a wide popular audience.” I’ve personally noticed that academics, particularly those like Levin, talk mostly to themselves. Shoaf further noted, “people often are reluctant to read social history because they think it is boring.” Levin is a “social historian” and a self-proclaimed “activist historian.” That limits his influence and impact.  Moreover, Levin’s (and many of his followers) constant impugning and mocking of Confederate heritage and history turns a lot of people in the “popular audience” category off, which even further narrows his influence.

In reference to the Richard Kirkland documentary that is slated for release in the near future, let me just say that I wish the people involved all the success in the world.  No doubt, they put a great amount of time into this project and I am sure that it will find an enthusiastic audience.  As I stated in my first post in the series, I decided to write about it after reading Peter Carmichael’s recent Fredericksburg commemoration talk in which he referenced Kirkland.  That led me to what I thought was an interesting essay on some of the sources for the story that I featured as a guest post.  That, in turn, led to a pretty good discussion.  I guess I never realized that raising questions about a popular story in our collective memory of the Civil War would be such a problem.

By the way, Richard, Dana Shoaf is featuring one of my articles in the next issue of Civil War Times.  😀

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12 comments… add one
  • debbierusso Jan 5, 2010 @ 7:26


    do you have any info on the Director's Cut of the movie god's and generals, which has the antietam scene in it. my husband and i would love to see it, as we just visited antietam in may. i understand the director shows it around the u.s. in churches as he is a born again christian. the majority of this movie, as you know is about stonewall jackson, who was very religious. my email is debbienynj@aol.com
    thanks again,

    debbie russo

    • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2010 @ 10:50

      It's difficult enough to watch the film as is so I've never inquired. Perhaps someone else on this forum can be of assistance.

  • margaretdblough Jan 5, 2010 @ 1:57

    Kevin-How does discussing the questions over Sgt.Kirkland serve as evidence of some sort of bias against “Confederate heritage.” That one fits in a genre of stories about shared common humanity overcoming, at least temporarily, the horrors of war. Most modern wars seem to have an assortment of them (WW I had the soccer game and Christmas carols ones). I think their importance is to serve as a safeguard against total despair at man's inhumanity to man.

    In Scottish jurisprudence, there's a verdict “not proven.” According to the Scotland Guide at http://www.siliconglen.com/Scotland/1_8.html, “The verdict of not proven is essentially one of acquittal. In all respects the verdicts of not guilty and not proven have exactly the same legal effects. In practice it is thought that a verdict of not proven simply means that the judge or jury have reasonable doubt as to the accused's guilt. It is interesting to note that the not proven verdict is used in one third of acquittals by juries, and in one fifth of acquittals in non-jury trials. Because of the higher number of non-jury trials ninety per cent of all not proven verdicts are returned in such cases. It is generally thought that the verdict gives juries, and judges, an option between not guilty and guilty where they feel that the charges have not been proved but they equally cannot say the accused is “not guilty” because of its moral connotations.” In time of war, obtaining reliable evidence can be difficult at best. In some cases, there may be a grain of sand of truth that repeated telling and retelling has built a pearl around. In other cases, the deed may have occurred as told but any witnesses might not have survived the battle and/or put their recollections to paper which survived and reached scholarly hands. In many of these cases, “not proven” may be the only reasonable verdict.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2010 @ 2:04

      You are absolutely right. What is sad is that I assume Aubrecht has spent considerable time looking at the NPS files on Kirkland at Fredericksburg. Although I no longer allow him to comment on this blog he could have taken the opportunity to address some of the questions raised here on his own blog. Instead he chose to be defensive. Perhaps it's a reflection of the level of sophistication that he brings to the subject.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 5, 2010 @ 0:05

    “Outside of his classroom and blog, he has very little influence. Therefore, I don’t worry about him anymore. He’s harmless.”

    Which is why Richard and Michael talk about you all the time. It's a sign of just how little they worry about you. Really. Get over it. They don't worry about you, and they'll tell us that every day of the year and twice on Sundays. 🙂

    See, I don't get this line of argument at all. If you had very little influence, you would not be on panels, giving talks, getting awards for the blog, and so on. Actually, were it not for your blog, I would have never heard of Richard or Michael. How ironic.

    The only way for them to justify their continuing interest in you (or other bloggers) is to say that you are a threat to our understanding of history on a par with Eric Foner, James, McPherson, or Howard Zinn. 🙂

    • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2010 @ 1:09

      I still don't quite understand how I've become the face of academic historians. Even more bizarre is this strange suggestion that I've tried at any time to exaggerate my importance or influence. I write a blog and people decided to read or not – end of story.

      • margaretdblough Jan 5, 2010 @ 1:58

        Ah come on, Kevin!<g> Be flattered. It's like being on Nixon's enemies' list.<g>

      • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 5, 2010 @ 6:24

        I think you have a tremendous amount of influence on Richard and Michael. 🙂

        • Kevin Levin Jan 5, 2010 @ 10:51

          I think you are right. 😀

          • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 5, 2010 @ 19:12

            Then again, our good friend Richard Williams has had this to say about me recently: “But your biases against Southerners who look at Lee, Jackson, et al as Christian heroes is evident in your blog posting and comments, particularly on Levin's blog.”

            When pressed on the need to cite evidence as to any reference I've made to those southerners who look at Lee and co. as “Christian heroes,” Mr. Williams could present none. Indeed, he changed his charge, dropping all reference to “Christian heroes.” Instead, he claimed:

            “You and Levin have much in common when it comes to mocking and making fun of those who honor their Confederate heritage and ancestors.”

            In my reply, I pointed out to Mr. Williams that it's properly “Levin and you,” but I don't see that the reply has made it onto his blog. Doubtless I'll hear that it was a personal insult to ask him to provide evidence for his assertions.

            Must be my influence. 🙂

            Of course, Mr. Williams won't read this, because I'm posting it on your blog, and you're insignificant. For him to respond would be to admit that you are indeed significant, and that he keeps an eye on you because he's worried about your influence.

            • Marc Ferguson Jan 5, 2010 @ 23:48

              You have some nerve, Brooks, asking Williams to actually provide evidence for his accusations and assertions. After all, he simply cannot waste his time proving the obvious.


              • Brooks D. Simpson Jan 6, 2010 @ 0:56

                Every time Mr. Williams fails to provide evidence he proves the obvious … that he has none. For a man who's all about celebrating Christian heroes, that surely isn't the right path to salvation.

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