The cover story of the newest issue of Civil War Times asks, “Do we still care about the Civil War?” ECW is pleased to partner with Civil War Times to extend the conversation here on the blog. Today, we welcome the editor of Civil War Times, Dana Shoaf.
Thanks, Emerging Civil War, for running this series of blog posts that extend the conversation begun in Civil War Times. I had hoped that the article in the magazine would percolate to as large an audience as possible, and of course, it was not possible to ask as many people as I would have liked to about the matter. Your blog has allowed other important voices to be heard.
The article was a chance for the Civil War community to judge itself, instead of being judged by reporters from a variety of publications who were venturing opinions about the decline of interest in Civil War history. When I read their articles, they felt incomplete because they were primarily using one example, the decline of reenacting, as evidence interest in the conflict was waning.
I wanted the article to give people immersed in the field the chance to speak. I gave no guidelines other than they truthfully express themselves, whether positive or negative. I wrote my editorial on the subject, so I have voiced my opinion already, but I would like to reiterate a few points here.
It has been unsettling to see flags and monuments related to the Civil War become the focus of so much controversy and hate. The horrible incidents of the past few years, I must admit, gave me twinges of doubt about my interest in the period—even my profession. But, I took a deep breath, collected my thoughts, and observed.
Those disastrous events actually have a silver lining, in that they have helped to redirect the conversation about the Civil War. The war was a complex, horrible conflict. We know that, but the general public often saw in the simple terms of North vs. South. Recent scholarship has investigated the complex motivations of soldiers, the struggle of Contrabands, and interest in USCTs and their role has never been higher.
I also seemed to observe ample amounts of battlefield visitors, at every season of the year, no let up in books being published and consumed, increased sales of Civil War Times, and ringing cash registers at the relic shops I frequent in Gettysburg. Not to mention the phenomenal growth of digital sources of quality Civil War content, many of which were being prepared and organized by younger people. And aren’t we all concerned about the interest of younger people in the war?
Admittedly, much of what I perceived was anecdotal, but it sure seemed to me that what I was feeling in my gut went against the dire prognostications of reporters. The content in Civil War Times, however, reinforced by a very recent article from the American Battlefield Trust, factually reinforced that interest in the conflict is strong.
Yes, reenacting is declining in my opinion, but that hobby can be its own worst enemy. Large events have gotten stale and carnivalesque. And in a general sense, many reenactors, unfortunately seem to have become mouthpieces for outdated, romantic interpretations of the war. Younger people, well really most students of the Civil War of any age, want real discussions of this pivotal period. Not fake deaths and rants. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Civil War reenacting has peaked for the time being. (Full disclosure, I still participate in living history, though age and the lack of time has severely curtailed my participation.)
I haven’t said anything meaningful and momentous here, but what I have said comes from a deep sense of passion about this time period and its lingering impact. The Civil War and its causes and impact needs to be studied, analyzed, and never forgotten. Things are heading in the right direction.