Yesterday a kind of man-in-the-street question was asked of six "expert panelists" in the print edition; today a seventh opinion appears online.
Also, the online edition collects and aggregates Civil War news on an ongoing basis.
The "names" and "opinions" featured are those of the inevitables - writers and teachers without historical sensibility, without a feel for new work, and without curiosity. That being the case, I was intrigued to see four out of the six panelists say that Lincoln's election started the war; a fifth went further saying actually many more contingencies than that were at play; a sixth waffled. Is the beloved Centennial theme of the inevitability of war dead now?
The paper edition featured prominently a piece about Edward Ayers (buried in the online edition) and tried to convey, in a few hundred words, Ayers' respect for complexity and the underlying data. Recognizing this to be the inverse of Centennialism, they set Centennialist-in-chief James McPherson on him and McPherson's comment speaks volumes - about McPherson:
"I was never able to grasp what he was driving at there," McPherson says. What else is history but the imposition of pattern, order - in short, a story - on a universe of seemingly random and interconnected events? McPherson asks.This is quite a good mission statement for hamfisted hackery and when you consider that the "order" referred to here is being surmised from secondary sources, you have a vivid picture of this genre of "historian" at work.
The WaPo's normal audience is a frivolous bunch, skimming the topics of the day, revelling in "what's hot," collecting restaurant recommendations, and investing great credit in whatever approved authority tells them about the events of the day. It helps to think of the WaPo roughly as the newspaper equivalent of a Ken Burns documentary and I expect the two share the same audience.
Therefore, I'm curious as to whom the editors think (and you think) comprises the audience for a section like this. My guess is buffs rather than WaPo regulars. Civil War 150 hangs on the answer, and it will be interesting to see this section evolve.