What’s a girl/woman to do?? In honor of Women’s History Month, I thought I would editorialize for a few minutes here at ECW, the blog that gave me my break. Military History is not always a comfortable place for a female to be, although I feel just fine here.
At present, the narrative of the American Civil War is changing. Instead of just white guys fighting white guys, who are the bread & butter of most Civil War buffs, nuanced views concerning slavery, women, emancipation, international concerns, societies both North and South, Reconstruction, memory, mental health, and ecology have emerged as vital ways to examine “our” war. This is good! Those men existed in a real, fleshed-out world. They ate, drank, dressed, loved, worked, and worried–just as humans always have. Getting to know these folks is not only fun, it is hugely important to an understanding of the war in situ, which leads to a better understanding of the nineteenth century, which leads to a better understanding of everything–or that is what I believe. The Civil War did not happen in isolation. One look at the headlines of the last year should be evidence of the effect America still feels from those four blood-soaked years. I love the opportunity to look at, read about, think and write about those things. It is a great time to be a Civil War historian.
Personally, I love battle analysis. I suspect it is the mathematics involved–numbers, amounts, arcs, distances, time. The grace of pure analysis, the elegance of the equations help to mask the facts that actual human lives were lost and battle is messy. I also love the politics, and the poetry.
I have very little interest in the love lives of generals, beautiful spies of either side, cross-dressing soldiers, or the myriad number of selfless women who volunteered to care for the wounded. I don’t necessarily love women’s history simply because it is about women. I want to know about how people lived–men and women–both, together. I want to know about the world they inhabited before, during and after the war. I want to know why wars are worth fighting because, so often, they are. And if, along the way, I discover that there is something quirky and human hiding in among the carnage, so much the better. I want to tease that out and examine it. Then, I want to tell other people about it.
Ultimately, we all have to be true to ourselves. If I agree to spend years working on Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, there had better be a good reason. My gender has little to do with it. He represents so many young men who left home in the middle of the 1900s to make their own way. Whether “home” was Ireland, Germany, or Malta, New York, our ancestors created the world we now inhabit. If battles are the centerpieces in military history, they need to be surrounded by a good understanding of their times. I try to write to that. Writing to what draws one to write in the first place is the best we all can do, and “we” is a genderless personal pronoun. Those who are passionate enough to do the work should write women’s history, military history, political history, social history, or any type of history.
Here’s to passion.