"Comfort reads"

As someone who reads books only once (very, very slowly) I had never heard of "comfort reads" before this. I suspected there were people who read a book twice due to memory failure but this is wild stuff...


Sesquicentennial kick off

Virginia could not wait another moment and kicked off its Sesquicentennial program in Winchester this weekend with some 1859 re-enactors (!) in attendance (shown right).

I don't want to be too hard on "Bud" Robertson because I am relying on a third party - a reporter - to translate what he said into one and two syllable words for a mass audience. If, however, you read the linked story carefully you'll get a full measure of the kind of damage public history can do to the public and history.

This is the subject for a symposium, not a truism to be handed out to newspaper readers:
...the Shenandoah Valley proved to be crucial in the outcome of the war...
It gets worse:
Winchester alone changed hands between the Union and Confederacy more than 70 times, making it focal point of the war, he said.
We should rename it "The Winchester War" I suppose. Look at the phrasing in this whopper:
“The Shenandoah Valley was important because of location. It was the western flank of all military operations.”
All military operations. And does he know what a flank is?

Is it Robertson's own interest - as a specialist - in the Valley that skews his thinking this badly? Or is there more to it, something out of the public historian's public usefulness (emphasis added):
Robertson said the celebration of the war should be a time for enjoying history, building on visits by citizens to boost the economy of various towns and counties throughout Virginia.
Eventually every town in Virginia will be declared "crucial to the outcome of the war/tourist industry." Meanwhile, enjoy your celebration of war.

"For diligence in genealogical research..."

West Virginia has 4,000 unclaimed ACW medals awaiting an owner.

They found an angle

The New York Times ran a re-enactment story, believe it or not. Seems to have a Mason vs. Mason angle...


John Brown's Raid

John Brown will have died in vain if his end cannot be made to serve heritage tourism:
Harpers Ferry officials claim they have serious standing in the national celebration because the Civil War actually began when Brown and his men raided the arsenal that saw the first shot fired in the “War Between the States.”

They maintain Brown’s raid is the real jumping-off point for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and not the shot that was fired by the infant Confederacy on Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., in April 1861.
Freshman dorm arguments apparently make good history (for some).

Speaking of which, this freshman dorm argument was inevitable:
"John Brown was, in effect, a terrorist. Whether you agree that what he was doing was right or not," says Gerry Gaumer, spokesman for the Park Service in Washington, D.C. "There are people in the Taliban who believe what they're doing is right. Can you separate John Brown from what's going on in Iraq or Iran or Pakistan or Afghanistan? "They fervently believe what they're doing is right," he says. "But is there a better way?"
Can we get some historians into the National Park Service and over to Harpers Ferry? The freshmen are running the seminar.

Professor demands Republicans apologize for slavery

Your children are in good hands at Vanderbilt:
Carol M. Swain, a professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University who had pushed for the Bush administration to issue an apology [for slavery], called the Democratic-controlled Senate's resolution "meaningless" since the party and federal government are led by a black president and black voters are closely aligned with the Democratic party.

"The Republican Party needed to do it," Swain said. "It would have shed that racist scab on the party."
Republicans = slavery?

Also interesting how some modern administrations are more responsible for events 150 years ago than others.

Intriguing, too, this legal scholar's idea that a (legal) party without (legal) standing can "shed" crimes committed by other (legal) parties through the simple issue of a legislative resolution by this or that political party.

Dr. Swain is a breakthrough thinker who offers us a whole bag full of historiographic bones to chew on.


Touring Wheatland

You would think that the "inevitability of war" doctrine would work in favor of Buchanan's reputation:
I asked Patrick Clarke, director of James Buchanan's Wheatland, what he thought of Buchanan's being on the worst-president list. Clarke said that nobody elected in 1856 could have averted the war.
Despite the iron grip of the inevitables on Civil War historiography, Buchanan reaps no gain.

U.S. Senate considers slavery apology

At last, I can be reconciled to my fellow man, thanks to a Senate resolution:
... a formal apology to African-Americans will help bind the wounds of the Nation that are rooted in slavery and can speed racial healing and reconciliation...


ACW publishing: trending up

After an astonishingly weak first quarter, the number of Civil War titles released in April-May-June has exploded.

Prize heaven

The list of recent Savas Beatie prizes.

You've just been insulted

From Publishers Weekly:
...one wishes for more rigorous, subtle analysis ... Still, McGinty's engaging account ... will delight history buffs.


Battle Hymns

A new choral/dance work, "Battle Hymns," will use Civil War texts and premier in a working armory. Pulitzer-winning composer David Lang says,
"The Civil War was different from the Revolutionary War, which was so clearly 'us versus them.' There's something inherently introspective about the Civil War, because it's about us."


Ayers kicks off Sesquicentennial in Virginia

Interesting account of the Sesquicentennial kickoff in the Chronicle of Higher Education by a slavery historian from Yale.

For a motif in his article, David Blight (right), despite his pedigree, sophomorically grabs onto so-called "Lost Cause history" and tells how he would like to stamp out this imaginary school of thought and re-educate its purported proponents. Deleriously waving this red herring, handed to him by respected Centennialists, he completely misses the up-to-date, historiographic struggle occurring under his very nose in realtime.

Agitating against "Lost Cause" historiography invites one into a fantasy struggle against a pretend school of thought invented out of scraps of writing and speech and then built into a menace. Centennialism dresses up as Don Quixote to tilt against this windmill while its real foes line up for hard jousting.

Edward Ayers' symposium, "America on the Eve of the Civil War," did something dramatic to grab the attention of the Centennialist's inevitability-of-war advocates.

Ayers immersed attendees in his system of "deep contingency" analysis, then he enforced that system throughout the event (apparently with rigor). The "inevitables" - if any attended - had to evaluate and discuss events as contingent in origin with multiple possible outcomes. Can you imagine the discomfort of the "inevitables" at this event?

Inevitablility vs. Contingency. How do you split that difference? How do you pretend the difference does not exist?

Blight's solution was to paper over the stark differences "deep contingency" bares: let's all unite to attack the French in Mexico - er, "Lost Cause History."

Nothing to see here folks. Keep moving.

The cost of war in Missouri

To right the wrongs, 11,200 lawsuits were needed.


The prizes are accumulating at Savas-Beatie, starting with Darrell Collins' Rodes bio.


Prepare to overreach

Prepare to exhibit!

Pretentious pseudo-biblical title ready?

Check, "Illinois Stories: 'How Vast and Varied a Field' ... The Agricultural Vision of Abraham Lincoln."

Tangential and irrelevant artifacts ready?

Check, ox yoke and John Deere tractor prepared for show.

Rationale ready to explain how a farmer who abandons the land remains an agronomist?

Check, all Whigs are actually agronomists:
He recognized how technological and industrial advancements could improve agricultural productivity; how improved roads and canals and new rail lines could tie outlying markets to burgeoning cities; how national banks and a new currency system could help both farmers and businessmen.


Civil War coiffure (cont.)

Lane - again with the hair.

CWPT redesign

Civil War Preservation Trust has redesigned its website. Maps steal the show.