The Centennial lives on

Mea culpa. Andy's gentle chiding reminds me to make distinctions.

Good people doing good work have been inspired by dogmatic Centennial literature. Without that inspiration, we might not have this new work. Certainly Gerald Prokopowicz is one of those and I intend to talk about his book soon. It is fundamentally non-Centennialist in its methods, by the way, fundamentally non-literary, fundamentally analytic.

In one way, at least, Gerald remains true to his Centennial inspiration - in trying to develop public history as a discipline, in looking for ways outside of publishing that can bring history to the broad masses, an enterprise dear to Nevins and McPherson but which they confined to book writing. Can public history be done without resorting to a "party line"? Nevins and McPherson's careers shout "no" but Gerald seems to be finding a different way, an open way sensitive to and interested in contrary views and new thinking.

On the radio, Professor P. is the antithesis of the Centennial historian. He is open, engaging, Socratic, and capable of broad discussion of uncongenial opinions. For the flip side of this coin, read the notes provided by Allan Nevins to Charles Wainwright's A Diary of Battle where every comment the diarist makes that does not pass American Heritage's editorial policy tests is corrected via footnotes.

Corrected, not challenged. And yet, we would not have Diary if not for Nevins.

So Andy has a good point if he invokes Gerald Prokopowicz as an example of Centennial inpiration followed by positive transformation. There are other examples, too. An enormous number of people have been inspired by Bruce Catton, for instance, without buying into the Nevins-Catton dogmas.

Recently I picked up a copy of Burton's Extraordinary Circumstances and read the acknowledgements . It was an honor roll of Centennial authors: the snide, the dogmatic, the obtuse, the suppressors of sources, the avoiders of contradiction, the authors of career killing book reviews. To store staff, I must have looked like I was having an asthma attack. And yet leafing through the book, I found Burton himself straining to be fair, openminded, and clearheaded. Bravo - I'm going to enjoy reading this.

So, to have been inspired by Centennialists is not necessarily to be a Centennialist, to follow their doctrines, nor to have acquired their dark penchant for control of the discussion.

Andy brings up the name of Gary Gallagher in connection with Gerald Prokopowicz's. This is a little confusing. If Gallagher is intended to represent the continuation of American Heritage thoughts and writings into the present day, good - point taken. But if he is supposed to represent Centennial inspiration followed by new directions in research and publishing
I would like to disagree and ask that his name not be linked to Prokopowicz's in any career typologies.

Let me further raise here the possibility (I could be wrong) that in Gallagher's management of his editorial duties at UNC Press and in his assembly of various anthologies we can discern shadows of partisanship, for it is very difficult to find in these publications views contrary to Gallagher's or to that of the 1960-1965 status quo. (There is the exception of Brooks Simpson's essay in Gallagher's second Antietam collection, but that is "too late, too little.")

If you are anthologizing articles on the Maryland Campaign, for instance, and you are excluding work by Harsh, Clemens, Reese, and others, you have created a doctrinal artifact on the first try. On your second try, you have issued a very public, very flamboyant statement. Not a scholarly one, either.

Obviously, I object to the Centennialists relying on literary technique to solve historical questions; I despise their selective use of sources; I don't appreciate being told how to think about Civil War controversies; I cringe at the incessant invitations to emotionally identify with historical figures; and I don't appreciate cheap, wise-guy comments about generals or politicians in my historical reading.

Having said that, please understand that I have no quarrel with anyone's enjoyment of any Civil War literature - this blog is a record of my own dislikes and likes strongly stated, even overstated. Further, liking this or that author does not prevent anyone from doing good work or honoring my own values of research, curiosity, and flexibility.

The very "spirit of the times" demands openess and inquiry so as to doom rigid, unchanging doctrines. A literary and historical milieu like than engineered by Allan Nevins then is impossible today. ACW publishing is breaking wide open and (paradoxically) much of the change is coming from people inspired by American Heritage and its stable of Civil War writers.

More power to the new thinkers inspired by Centennial work ... and grudging thanks to those who inspired them.