Sometimes, I think we are dealing with a more general problem than just the sheer awfulness of Civil War history.
In the May 2003 issue of the Atlantic magazine, there was a stunning piece on Hitler’s personal library, or at least that part of it housed in US archives. One substrand of the article was the lack of scholarly interest in the collection: “Why, with hundreds of Hitler biographies, had not more scholars visited the Third Reich Collection? It is referenced by none of the leading Hitler biographers – not Alan Bullock, not John Toland, not Joachim Fest.” Clue: these are pop historians. And if they are working within a very constrained story framework, new data is simply not going to matter at all.
The symptom that tells us we have a very sick discipline here is that in 2001 some scholars documenting Hitler's collection to publish a resource for other scholars failed to take any note at all of Hitler’s marginalia in various books. Hitler’s own comments in the books of his own library? Yawn.
The Atlantic was at it again in its July/August issue in its Travels column where we have a piece that unwinds like standup comedy.
There’s this guy, see, and he’s doing genealogy research at a courthouse in a little town in Louisiana. And on his way out of the courthouse, he happens to notice a prominent monument and goes to read the plaque. Confused by what he reads on the plaque, he starts asking locals what this is all about. It’s about the Colfax Riot, which the Louisiana State Museum calls “the bloodiest single instance of racial violence in the Reconstruction era…” Except no one who reads history has heard of it.
Here’s the punchline to this joke: the author “found nothing about the Colfax Riot in any number of encyclopedias, and at the time only one reference to the event on the entire Internet…”
The joke is on us, buyers and readers of Civil War and Reconstruction histories. Have a good reading weekend, but be awfully careful about that reading.