The reissue of Arming America in a less than fully revised edition has reignited the Bellesiles history and integrity issue ... and there is a lot in this of great import for Civil War readers.
The very first thing a reader should understand is that a good read is not good history. Yes, pop history has something to do with history just as the World Wrestling Federation has something to do with the sport of wrestling.
Here is public discussion of "good" Civil War historians in which no distinction is made between entertainment and the underlying discipline.
I imagine some TV wrestling fans riding a college wrestling team tour bus to a college contest surrounded by honest athletes and trying to discuss which World Wrestling Federation personality is the greatest wrestler of this generation. An athlete's objection to this obvious absurdity could be met by reference to all the prizes and awards won by the "professional wrestlers." The trophies. The big belts. The acclaim. Given, of course, by industry organizations and an adoring but ignorant public.
We are lucky that standards for historians are still published and that we readers can hold our authors to a professional code. Here's a handbook to keep near the bedside and refer to when reading your next ACW tome.
Bellesiles' individual specific failures in Arming America were publicly highlighted in a way that forced his publisher, his university, and the Bancroft prize board to consider his sins. We may have some wait before this same scenario plays out among the worst ACW historians - the ones who leap from the ropes and break chairs over facts.
For as his new publisher has correctly pointed out, few pop historians (and Bellesiles is such) could withstand the scrutiny he endured. In the next few days I will map specific failures in MB's work against certain beloved, prize-winning Civil war histories.
What happened to Bellesiles is a reality, and we are going to bring that reality home to the Civil War History Writing Federation through the week.