The Future of Civil War History: Suggested Reading

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Our series on “The Future of Civil War” history heads into its final stretch this week with a few posts to round out June. We’ll take a couple days off to commemorate Gettysburg, then we’ll cap of the series with extended conversation with Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf. We hope you’ve been enjoying it thus far.

Our series was inspired by the June issue of Civil War History, published by Kent State Press: “The Future of Civil War History.” The issue was based on a conference held at Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute back in the spring of 2013, organized by Pete Carmichael. (For more on that, see our interview earlier this month with one of Pete’s co-editors on the journal, ECW’s Jim Broomall. Jim also gave us a preview of the conference as he prepared to attend.) In the spirit of carrying on the conversation started at the conference and continued in the journal, we’ve been riffing on the topic here.

Emerging Civil War was barely a year and a half old at the time of the conference, hardly on anyone’s radar screen and hardly deserving of a seat at the table. (Guest posters Andrea DeKoter and Becky Oakes reported for us from the conference, though.) One blogger who had earned a place at the table—deservedly so—was Brooks Simpson of Civil War Crossroads. Aside from his exceptional and highly readable scholarship, Brooks is one of the sharpest voices in the Civil War blogosphere: he has strong opinions, pulls no punches, and is unafraid of controversy. He’s smart and sharp, though. We realize he might not be for everyone, but we’re fans, and we think you should check him out.

On his blog, Brooks offered an excellent recap of the “Future of the Civil War” conference in one, two, and three parts.

But in reviewing those recaps, and in looking at a few other posts he shared on social media this week, we were also reminded that Brooks offers as keen a view of the current “state of the union” in Civil War history as anyone is bound to get. He has, over time, dissected many of the so-called divides in the field: public/academic, professional/amateur, military/social, etc. “For a field so concerned about whether it will survive and thrive beyond this short period of commemoration,” he said during the Sesquicentennial, “you would think that folks would concentrate on what unites people interested in the Civil War rather then spend so much time drawing dividing lines.”

If one is to fully consider the future of Civil War history, one must also consider its present. Civil War Crossroads is an ideal place to start. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:

The Question of Status in Civil War History

Open Season on Ph.D.s?

How Has Blogging Changed Scholarship? Has It?

Gary Gallagher and the Continuing Civil War

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6 Responses to The Future of Civil War History: Suggested Reading

  1. John Foskett says:

    As a daily reader of Crossroads, it’s good to see it mentioned here (on another blogsite to which i am “addicted”). One may disagree with Brooks on a specific topic but you are well-advised to come prepared with facts and logic if you intend discussion . Except, of course, when he’s reminiscing about those ancient Cups the Isles won back in the day of wood sticks, one referee, and “Peter Puck”. 🙂

  2. Bob Ruth says:

    Simpson’s way-too-long criticism of Gary Gallagher is over-reach, to say the least. It’s often difficult to discern the main point of Gary Gallagher and the Continuing Civil War, Simpson’s rambling – and often disjointed – essay. But from what I gather, Simpson takes umbrage at a 15-second throw-away line in Gallagher’s 45-minute talk.

    During those 15 seconds, Gallagher opines that historians who take the Long Civil War view are probably influenced by America’s more recent conflicts that seem to have no end.

    One can debate the accuracy of these 15 seconds. But to do so at such length, as Simpson does, misses all the main points of Gallagher’s excellent presentation.

    And to dismiss almost the entire second half of Gallagher’s talk with snide, below-the-belt comments is extremely disrespectful to Gallagher, one of today’s most perceptive and respected Civil War historians. Such characterizations of the second half of Gallagher’s talk as “There’s nothing exceptional about this observation” and “(It’s) the sort of discovery usually reserved for first year graduate seminars,” says far more about Simpson than Gallagher.

    • John Foskett says:

      Lighten up, Francis.

    • This seems a rather passionate overreaction to what I wrote, which was simply to reflect that the notion of a continuing war was much longer than Gary suggested in his comments. Much of what I wrote was about my thinking on the subject, not about Gary’s rather superficial observation. I note that the commenter doesn’t disagree with the content of the blog entry. He’s just unhappy about it, perhaps explaining the tone of his observations.

      Let’s also quote the entire paragraph that sent this commenter into a declaration that I was being “extremely disrespectful” to Gary:

      “As I understand it, Gary’s argument is that present concerns shape our inquiry of the past, framing the questions and suggesting the answers we seek. There’s nothing exceptional about that observation: it’s often at the core of many a historiographical essay, the sort of discovery usually reserved for first year graduate seminars and for the occasionally perceptive undergraduate.”

      That happens to be a true statement. If to point out the obvious says more about me than it does about Gary, I wonder exactly what it says, period.

      Gary Gallagher and I are friends. But that friendship should not preclude honest disagreement. He’s openly disagreed in print with some of my interests, and at times he’s been rather sharp.

      See https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/a-response-to-gary-gallagher/ and https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/gary-gallagher-on-bloggers/

      Moreover, in the past several years Gary has become more explicit in conveying his disagreement with other historians. You see signs of that in *The Union War* and in his 2015 commentary (with Katy Meier) on Civil War military history in *The Journal of the Civil War Era*. Not everyone agreed, as one blogger suggested. See

      http://www.megankatenelson.com/civil-war-military-historians-are-freaking-out/

      Indeed, over the last year, at several conferences and meetings, several historians have taken marked exception to arguments Gary’s offered, in part because of the way Gary offers them.

      So if this is a case where turnabout’s fair play, I don’t see why someone should be so defensive. If Gary’s going to dish it out, Gary’s going to have to take it, and I can assure you that my response is far more gentle than what I’ve been hearing elsewhere. But Gary likes give and take. His admirers need to recognize that … and they need to be fair.

  3. I’ve known Brooks since the mid-90s. He can be brilliant, with a sharp wit he is not the least bit afraid to use. I wish he spent less time on the follies of the modern Confederate heritage crowd, and more on historical/academic issues, but that is perhaps just me. It is a good blog.

  4. Bob Ruth says:

    James:

    You’re right about Simpson’s wit and brilliance. I recently viewed a presentation he gave in which he discussed Grant’s defense of Reconstruction. Simpson sprinkled his extremely informative talk with plenty of humorous observations. And I loved his admiration of Grant.

    Ironically, Gary Gallagher is also a great admirer of Grant.

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