The Future of Civil War History: A Look Ahead and a Recap


In June, we riffed on the topic of “The Future of Civil War History,” inspired by that month’s issue of the journal Civil War History. As part of the series, we promised you a conversation with Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf.

Perhaps you’ve wondered where that is. Mea culpa!

Dana and I actually had that conversation on June 1. Plenty of time to get that transcribed and ready for the blog, I thought. But the series itself turned out to be so intense, and I had to usher a couple Emerging Civil War Series books through the production process, too, that I wasn’t able to get Dana’s piece ready.

And then before I knew it, June was over. Then came vacation. And then some Symposium-related deadlines.

But now, finally, our interview with Dana Shoaf is ready to rock and roll. Look for that conversation to run beginning this week here at Emerging Civil War.

In the meantime, in case you missed any of our other entries, here’s a quick rundown:

June 1: We offered context for the series.

June 2: We kicked off the series with a four-part interview with Dr. James Broomall, occasional ECW contributor and co-author of the special issue of Civil War Journal that got us all riffing on the topic in the first place.

June 9: Kevin Pawlak: “The next several years will only continue the rise we have seen in recent years in the interest of the field. Call me an optimist, but now has never been a better time to be involved in this field.”

June 10: Steve Davis: “The War still matters.”

June 12: Chris Kolakowski: “We have to face two very important truths: schools are not teaching history as they did before, and the demographics of this country are changing in such a way that many people don’t have a direct connection to the Civil War or even understand why it is relevant.”

June 13: Ted Savas: “‘Is the book industry a dying business? Digital has taken over everything, right? Do people still buy history books?’ No, No, and Yes.”

June 14: Rob Orrison: “I know I run the risk of bringing on judgment from my colleagues who feel that every interpretive program should be a life-changing experience for their visitors. But I will argue that majority of our visitors are looking to be entertained.”

June 15: Kelly Mezurek: “The rapidly growing availability and analysis of online primary resources, along with the use of social media to make connections with other researchers, will help to increase our awareness of the variety and diversity of Civil War experiences.”

June 16: Phill Greenwalt: “Facilitated dialogue and controversial relevancy”

June 17: Eric Wittenberg: “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.”

June 19: Joe Owen: “If historians and teachers are not vigilant and watchful, American history that doesn’t suit the political climate of the future will be ignored and, at worst, erased. . . .”

June 20: Sarah Kay Bierle: “We are losing our respect for the past.”

June 21: As a postscript to Ted Savas’s first post, we offered a link to a recent column of Ted’s about publishing trends in the Civil War world.

June 21: Sam Smith: “The future of Civil War history should be accessibility.  The land will always have meaning, but for the land to impart meaning, it must be understood by its modern witnesses.”

June 22: Dwight Hughes (part one): “Younger people absorb a great deal of misinformation from bad history, distorting that projection onto their screen of the future, coming to inappropriate conclusions, and making poor choices. Perhaps we can help them; perhaps we must.”

June 23: Brian Matthew Jordan: “We are on the cusp of a new narrative—an intimate, human history—that will once again defy those who dare to ask, “what new can be said about the American Civil War?”

June 24: Dan Davis: “One way to continue to garner and build interest in the Civil War is to continue to examine the individuals, both large and small, who participated in and influenced it.”

June 26: Suggested Reading on “The Future of Civil War History” on the blogosphere

June 27: Julie Mujic: “Civil War historians in the coming generations need to learn to teach outside of the classroom.”

June 28: Meg Groeling: “The future of Civil War History–the future of any history–is to see it as still relevant to today. We are faced with at least two generations who were purposefully not taught war history in public school K-12, due to curriculum decisions made post-Vietnam. If we continue to talk only about ‘battles & leaders,’ we will continue to see Civil War buffs get older and older, and finally die off–much like the SCV and GAR vets themselves.”

June 29: Dwight Hughes (part two): “Understanding perspective is a vital part of the process. To think about how to think about those under study, it is necessary to put them in their own context, then draw judgments for their time, for our time, and for all time.”

June 30: Chris Mackowski: “But if we don’t connect audiences with our material—if we don’t demonstrate that it somehow matters to them—they’ll stop reading, tune us out, turn us off, unfollow, and move on to something else. After all, they have a million other things vying for their attention, time, and money. We have to look for ways to reach them in that noisy environment and invite them into our stories.”

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