My worries about the future of Civil War history are much broader and much larger than those cited in the articles in Civil War History. I spend a lot of time on the road, speaking to Civil War Roundtables and other similar groups. I’ve traveled to a lot of places—Ann Arbor, Michigan and Bloomington, Indiana in one recent week—and have met a lot of people along the way. One alarming trend that I have spotted in recent years is the graying of the audiences that come to hear me speak or attend my tours. The audiences get older and older, and I see fewer and fewer young people in the crowds. When I first started doing this almost 25 years ago, the crowds were much younger, and I saw many more younger people in the audiences.
I fear for the future of Civil War history because I am genuinely concerned that the ranks of people interested in these events are rapidly thinning without a lot of younger people coming up from behind to take their places in line. I am concerned that there will be fewer and fewer young people who can tear themselves away from their video games long enough to be interested in history. I fear that they won’t buy and read books. I fear that, unless their parents drag them along unwillingly to visit places like Gettysburg, they will never set foot on a Civil War battlefield where the spirit just might move them to be interested in the events that occurred there. And most of all, I fear that there will be no one to take our places at the table of Civil War scholarship when our time to step away from the table comes.
These are the things that keep me awake at night, worrying about the future of Civil War history. I view questions such as why some people refuse to study Civil War memory as just a subset of the bigger question of precisely where we go from here, and who will follow along in our footsteps. I’m 55 years old now, and I’m not getting any younger. Shortly, my 19th and 20th books on the Civil War will be published. My legacy is secure, but I worry a great deal about who’s going to come along behind me and pick up my cudgel when it’s time for me to ride off into the sunset.
I have no answers. I wish I did, but I do not. I just know that unless something changes, the future of the serious study of the Civil War may turn very bleak indeed.