From the Editor: A Follow-Up to a Review of The Civil War Battles of Macon

It’s been a while since ECW has published a barn-burner of a post, but Book Review Editor Steve Davis’s piece yesterday on Niels Eichhorn’s The Civil War Battles of Macon seems to have lit some fires.

We take a “big umbrella” approach at Emerging Civil War, which is the only way we can accommodate a community of writers with such a variety of perspectives, opinions, interests, and voices. Our writers fall on both ends of the political and interpretive spectrums and everywhere in between. ECW, as an organization, keeps a neutral stance on issues so we make room for all those voices.

As a community, ECW strives for factual and grammatical accuracy at all times, and we prohibit vulgarity and name-calling (see our guidelines here). We also try to be sensitive to current trends in the field of Civil War public history (see Jon Tracey’s post this afternoon on nomenclature as an example). Otherwise, we give wide latitude to our authors to express themselves. As a personal advocate of the First Amendment, free speech, and freedom of expression—I do, after all, teach in a School of Communication with a strong journalism tradition—I abhor censorship, which can come from the left and the right, so as editor in chief I intervene as little as possible in what people write so long as it meets those first two criteria.

In turn, we hope the wide variety of material our writers produce gives our readers much to consider so they can make up their own minds about things. This is the very model of critical thinking and liberal education. A different reader might read Eichhorn’s book, for instance, and come to different conclusions than Steve did, just as readers have come to different conclusions about Steve’s review.

Readers may take issue with any piece at ECW (and often do!), and that’s fine. The discussion, debate, and even disagreement are all part of the point. That’s how the marketplace of ideas functions. Even within the ECW community itself, we don’t always agree with each other—but we do always respect each other’s right to expression. The multitude of diverse voices produces a well-rounded whole.

All of us at ECW appreciate your willingness to be part of the conversation. At a time when so much of society suffers from historical amnesia, keeping Civil War history fresh and relevant remains more vital than ever.

— Chris Mackowski, Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Emerging Civil War

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P.S.—If you’d like to participate in the conversation as a contributor to Emerging Civil War, we’re always looking for fresh talent and “emerging” voices. See here for our submission guidelines.

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P.P.S.: I also appreciate all those folks who reposted Steve’s review—even if they did so out of indignation and outrage—and drove so much extra traffic to us. Thanks!

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31 Responses to From the Editor: A Follow-Up to a Review of The Civil War Battles of Macon

  1. Donald Smith says:

    Well, hell’s bells! I go on vacation for one week, and all hell breaks loose! 🙂

    • Grego says:

      Haha… me too. I looked at the posts after reading this, expecting to see venom and “outrage” from the woke cultists, but saw.. nothing. Guess it must be on Twitter, where woke cultists and leftists dominate.

      • Chris Mackowski says:

        Yes, it’s a Twitterverse brew-ha-ha. But I don’t play in that sandbox at all.

      • Lyle Smith says:

        I just went on twitter. There are several prominent academics saying you shouldn’t have published Steve’s review. How anti-intellectual is that? They are rallying around him like he’s a child who had their ball stolen. Their lack of respect of free speech damns them and their profession.

  2. Adam D says:

    Sarcastically ending with “I also appreciate all those folks who reposted Steve’s review—even if they did so out of indignation and outrage—and drove so much extra traffic to us. Thanks!” is a super professional and respectful take. It isn’t at all what a troll would say.

  3. Sean Michael Chick says:

    In an era of where free thought and expression is under a lot of fire throughout the world, and most sadly in America, I am glad you have stuck by Davis. I did not like his review. I also did not like many of the responses to it, but at least here the views are present. That might seem to many “wet” or not “based” to use Internet speak, but societies and nations promoting free thought have time and again proven superior to those that do not. The same is often true of intellectual endeavors. How many ideas unchallenged and taken for truth have floundered the moment they go unquestioned? Sometimes they do not even need to fail. The sheer boredom of dogma is sometimes enough to inspire rebellion.

    • Grego says:

      I hope you are right. America’s future as a freedom-loving constitutional republic might depend on it!

    • Dan says:

      And sometimes the most tepid and bland defense of confederate apologism is the most nauseatng.

  4. Lyle Smith says:

    May your commitment to free speech long continue. Stay strong in this hour of peril!

    • Al Mackey says:

      It’s not a question of free speech, Lyle. No one is saying Steve Davis doesn’t have a right to express his opinion. It is a question of standards. Being published on the blog, and also being the Book Review Editor of the blog means he is representing the blog, and he reflects the standards of the blog. Chris has already said if he felt Steve demeaned Niels due to his adjunct status he would not have allowed the review to be published as is but would have had Steve change his review. That sets the precedent for not publishing something that doesn’t meet the standards. Now the question is what are the standards the blog has regarding reviews. Obviously, the review met the blog’s standards, whatever they are, and that is what the controversy is about. A large number of respected scholars have expressed disappointment that the standards were low enough that the review met them. Chris has written that it’s possible to review and perhaps revamp the standards, which looks like it would be a good thing.

      • Lyle Smith says:

        It is Al, because people are telling Emerging Civil War what they should and should not publish.

        And it’s very interesting that not one person on twitter or here, including the author of the Macon book himself, has come down into the comments and specifically challenged any of Steve Davis’ points about the book. On twitter it is just people poo pooing Stephen Davis, calling him names and a Lost Causer (so very academic and deceitful), and saying ECW shouldn’t have published his harsh review.

        I for one am grateful that ECW has a higher standard of free speech than you do Al. May it long continue!

      • Al Mackey says:

        No. People are telling ECW that if it wants to have a scholarly reputation it should have higher standards for its reviews. No scholarly publication would have published that review. Instead, they would have returned it to the reviewer, which is what these scholars are saying ECW should have done. It’s not a question of free speech at all. It’s a question of standards. It seems the standards of these scholars are higher than the current standards at ECW. I look forward to their review of their standards and hopefully the raising of them.

        Additionally, two scholars have responded directly to what they object to in the review in the comments sections of this post and of the review. On Twitter there are scholars who have addressed why this was a bad review and have detailed what makes a good review and have even provided an example of a negative review that was done in a scholarly manner:

        https://www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf/davis-what-the-yankees-did-to-us-2012

        One wonders if Mr. Davis has an axe to grind against academic historians.

    • Lyle Smith says:

      Al,

      You’re idea of scholarly isn’t very scholarly, but I guess you and I have differing views on what “scholarly” actually means.

      If you only want to read what the Civil War Monitor has to say about the Civil War by all means only read the Civil War Monitor. However, I think America and the internet are big enough for more than one voice. That’s what freedom of speech is all about… celebrating everyone’s voice, no matter what their credentials or titles are. I like to read what you or Kevin Levin have to say as much as I like to read what Stephen Davis has to say, and I heartily thank the ECW for that.

      • Al Mackey says:

        Lyle, I’m sorry but you don’t seem to understand what a scholarly review is. That’s okay, though, because it’s something one has to be taught. There’s no shame in not having been exposed to that information. It does not in any way reflect badly on you. I have to say, though, your idea of scholarly seems to also disagree with just about the entire population of Civil War scholars. You certainly don’t appear to realize why I posted the link to the Civil War Monitor review. I’m in no way saying that should be the only thing someone should read. I don’t understand how you could even come close to thinking that’s what I was saying. That was an example of what a scholarly review looks like. It’s a review that talks about what is good and not so good about the book, it tells the book’s basic thesis, it tells you enough about the book that you know if you want to read it or not, and it respects both the book and the writer, not delving into personal invective, all unlike what the Davis review did. The Davis review was a terrible review, not because it was negative, but because it disrespected the author, the book, and it disrespected the readers because it didn’t give us much information about the book. He brought up a specious claim about confederate monuments, which has nothing to do with the book, and he disingenuously complains about partisanship when he’s more partisan in his own writings and when Niels’ word choices were all fine. As the example I posted shows clearly, it is possible to write a negative review of a book while still adhering to scholarly standards.

  5. Nick Sacco says:

    Chris, I’ll have to politely disagree with much of your statement.

    I am not an expert on the Civil War in Macon, Georgia, and cannot speak to the wisdom of Davis’s criticisms of Eichhorn on this score. I will also defend Davis’s mentioning of Eichhorn’s status as an adjunct professor, which I don’t think came from a place of malice.

    Having said that, the issues with Davis’s review lie in his excessive focus on nomenclature, his invocation of Confederate monuments (which have nothing to do with the substance of Eichhorn’s book), and claims that Eichhorn has a biased view that prevents him from offering a fair, accurate interpretation of the history under discussion. In other words, Davis shifted the discussion from the content of the book—the Civil War in Macon—to claims about Eichhorn’s merits as a scholar. Given that Davis has written a book titled “What the Yankees Did to Us,” this point comes off as fairly disingenuous and opens the door for claims of bias against Davis himself. That’s what people are getting wrapped up about.

    So the issues at play here are not censorship, indignation, and outrage, but a line of argumentation that many readers viewed as petty, small, and unfair towards Eichhorn, even if some of Davis’s criticisms towards the content were fair. When things get personal, we should not be surprised to see emotions escalate.

    • Lyle Smith says:

      Why is Davis’ book titled “What the Yankees Did to Us”? What is that book about?

      • Nick Sacco says:

        The book is about the bombardment of Atlanta by Sherman’s forces during the war and how people in the city reacted to those events. The “Us” in that title is very debatable, of course.

        At the beginning of the book, Davis argues that “in summer 1864, civilian residents still in the city—white, black, free and slave, male and female, young and old, native born or immigrant—all endured the same frightening ordeal of Yankee bombardment, occupation, and eventual expulsion.” A rather charged statement that’s highly questionable and that uses nomenclature such as “yankee” that could easily lead to the same debate about bias that Davis invokes in this review.

      • Lyle Smith says:

        And didn’t many of the people in Atlanta think of the Union Army as Yankees? That’s historical accurate. Those people have their own perspective of what Sherman’s army did to them. Oh the horror!

      • Edward S. Alexander says:

        But doesn’t that invalidate Steve’s whole nomenclature argument, as they were very much saying rebel, rebellion, and War of the Rebellion from 61-65.

      • Lyle Smith says:

        Not completely, because they also referred to themselves as Confederates, which is Steve is saying. It’s the tone of the nomenclature that Steve is getting at.

    • Chris Mackowski says:

      I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts, Nick, and I don’t disagree with your general premise.

      I’ve talked about this in the context of the marketplace of ideas, but perhaps another lens to view it through would be academic freedom. I don’t have to agree with what any of our writers say or how they say it, but I have to respect that fact that they have the freedom to say what they want within community standards, and I have to ensure they have the space in which to do that.

      A larger question might be, should we, as a writing community, reexamine our standards. A discussion like this is a good impetus to do so. But that’s a process, not a knee-jerk reaction to a Twitterstorm, and it requires the constructive input of a lot of stakeholders.

  6. Melissa says:

    Nowhere on Twitter did I see any instances of people trying to limit free speech, or arguing about the article being “political.” If anything, the reviewer himself seemed to lean that way with his surprising preoccupation with nomenclature.

    Much of the criticisms the post faced was that the review was unnecessarily cruel, in bad faith, and frankly did not tell us much about the book that was supposed to be reviewed. We do not wish to limit that free speech, but surely you must know that, by posting this on ECW, it is an implicit endorsement of such a review on one’s platform. This response does not seem to tackle any of the main concerns I’ve seen expressed about the review.

    It was rude and disrespectful to a historian who deserved better. it’s perfectly fine if Davis didn’t like the book! I just would expect him to express that in a way that shows he respects the author as a peer.

    • Lyle Smith says:

      Academics on twitter literally said ECW shouldn’t have published Stephen Davis’ review.

      Niels Eichorn himself has labelled Stephen Davis a “Lost Causer”.

      • Melissa says:

        Yes, they expressed surprise that an editor of this review would allow something that clearly didnt respect the book or author to be published on their platform. In almost all other places it would’ve been flagged. Of course, it didn’t, because the author WAS the reviews editor. We were surprised that ECW would want to stand by something that doesn’t actually tell us much about the book at all.

        There’s a difference between “why did you post something so clearly disrespectful and often petty” as compared to “how DARE you say you dislike a book, you aren’t allowed to say such things.” I’ve read a lot of reviews critical of a book and never asked they be taken down unless they seemed unnecessarily rude to the author.

        Also, if anyone has a right to be mad, it’s Niels! And his point isn’t completely invalid—many wondered why the author brought up Confederate monuments in the review (which had nothing to do with the book) and why he was so upset with “Rebels” over “Confederacy.” Especially after his own work in “What the Yankees Did to Us”

      • Lyle Smith says:

        Or maybe Neils Eichhorn and his fellow travelers should learn how to handle criticism.

        I also look forward to someone going point by point and refuting what Stephen Davis wrote about the book.

        Heck, all this may turn out good for the book. People might be more likely to go out and buy it now if it is so controversial, but then again that might be bad if the book is actually a work of mediocrity. As I haven’t read it, I haven’t a clue… yet.

  7. “fellow travers”?

  8. I live on Long Island, but I still get into Brooklyn most weeks. It is doing very well.

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