OT: Back soon

Last week of school, then comprehensive exam; can return to posting in about eight days.

p.s. Try wrapping your head around reverse synthetic aperture radar followed by some ACW blogging. Doesn't work.


The blight on nonfiction

Had lunch with a fellow whose intense interest is outside of Civil War history. In his own field of interest, he's writing a book to bring a whole new perspective on a famous episode in U.S. history. In the meantime, he's publishing reviews of other people's books on his favored subject. These other books are making him crazy.

As I shared with him the typical sins of the Civil War writer, he matched me story for story, sin for sin. I was a little surprised but not a lot.

He had an author's work in hand that almost reached ACW levels of malpractice. I said, call her out.

(1) She belongs to a specific school of history and interpretation and she failed to disclose that to the reader.

(2) Her citations are selectively derived from that school of thought's truncated bibliography.

(3) That makes her own bibliography woefully incomplete.

(4) Her work is entirely derivative but she fails to acknowledge her inspirations.

(5) I bet money she has phrases, sentences, maybe paragraphs lifted from her readings.

(6) Publish tables showing her "borrowings."

(7) Point out all the new research, evidence, and analysis that has been excluded from her work.

(8) Point out all the arguments that counter hers that she fails to address or acknowledge.

(9) Suggest that she has entered a field of controversy while pretending controversy does not exist and contested issues are "settled science."

(10) Suggest that a fresh approach, such as in your forthcoming book, is the approach that is needed.

If you set number 10 aside, how many of these points apply to any of your recent ACW readings? Too many, probably.


And now a word from our sponsor

The historian who speaks of cause, and not of causes, should be fired immediately.

To write honestly for the rest, one must write fundamentally for oneself.

Every strict classification of an historical event distorts it.

Educating the individual consists in teaching him to distrust the ideas that occur to him.

It is not to increasing our knowledge to which we may aspire, but to documenting our ignorance.

When the dust raised by the great events of modern history settles, the mediocrity of the protagonists leaves the historian dumbfounded.

History clearly demonstrates that governing is a task that exceeds man’s ability.

Reason, truth, justice, tend not to be man’s goals, but the names he gives to his goals.

History shows that man’s good ideas are accidental and his mistakes methodical.

Contemporary man admires only hysterical texts.

The peddlers of cultural objects would not be annoying if they did not sell them with the rhetoric of an apostle.

The fragments of the past that survive embarrass the modern landscape in which they stand out.

Only the defeated come to possess sound ideas about the nature of things.

Museums are the tourist’s punishment.

No writer has ever been born who did not write too much.
- Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Digitizing medieval books

All 25,000 of them.

Amateur medievalists may someday enjoy the kind of source-rich world the ACW reader currently inhabits.

OT: You can buy an historic German church on eBay

No kidding. More than one, actually.


That's entertainment (OT)

Seen this evening on "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" A fascinating show if you can hack it.

Host: For $25,000, Budapest is the capital of which European country?

Contestant: This may sound stupid but I thought Europe was a country.

Host: No, (repeats question).

Contestant: Wait a minute, I know they speak French there. But isn't France a country?

Host: (Tries to be helpful)

(Lots of back and forth)

Host: And the answer is, HUNGARY!

Contestant: Hungry? I never heard of Hungry! I've heard of Turkey.

Note: Private Eye used to round up game show contestant answers in a column called "Dumb Britain." Would be worth doing that stateside. Here are some choice selections from the column read in a revue of six minutes.

And from issue 1333:

Perfection, BBC1
Nick Knowles: Tennessee Williams wrote Death of a Salesman. True or false?
Contestant: False. I have a lot of his records, but I can’t remember him singing that one.

The Chase, ITV
Bradley Walsh: In the Bible, Noah’s three sons are called Japheth, Shem and… what? Ham, Lamb or Spam?
Contestant: Lamb.
Walsh: The correct answer is Ham.
Contestant: Who’d call their son Ham?

BBC Radio Merseyside
Presenter: Name an instrument which can be found hanging on the wall in many households.
Caller: A piano.

Revoking McPherson's Pulitzer - not so easy

Yes, we do take questions here and... revoking McPherson's 1989 Pulitzer would appear to be a long shot.

Philip Nobile raised this revocation matter in connection with three other of the most egregious history plagiarists in 2002 and came up with answers from the Committee that amounted to "We don't look back."

The Committee's decision on the Duranty reporting case is also instructive.

Whatever you may hear, bureaucratic inertia provides a measure of safety to even the worst of the winners. McPherson is likely safe.


Proclamation porter

Brewer's Alley in Frederick has issued its Proclamation Porter, available in stores hereabouts. An interesting collaboration with the Museum of Civil War Medicine, to be sure.

Wainwright says porter (along with ale, cider and wine) was always available at Burnside's headquarters during Grant's Richmond campaign.

This one is balanced, a little sweet but nicely offset by the right measure of hops. I can imagine drinking it in the heat of early summer, in the shade of Burnside's tent, as my heavy woolens soak up sweat and the dull itch of a thousand insect bites gives way to the pleasure of the moment.

"So Burn, tell me, where do you get stuff this good?"

Shiloh battlefield, also a baseball field

An interesting survivor of the battle...

"The Curse of History"

Hey, if it weren't for "distorted and monolithic" interpretations, the ACW would have very few interpretations at all.

Black's paradigm has been out there for four years but I see little of it in ACW "memory" writing.

The Harrisons as hipsters

President William Henry Harrison had a grandson whom we know as President Benjamin Harrison. He was the last Civil War general elected president and he was, of course, a Republican. His attempt at a second term was frustrated by the great (I am tempted to say very great or all time greatest Democrat) Grover Cleveland.

It was my pleasure to work in an exotic locale with a friend named Benjamin Harrison III. His father had been an army general of the same name (but II) and it intrigued me that this distinguished presidential family did not harken back to their more ancient and eminent predecessor William Henry in naming conventions.

Ben and I had a friendship based on hard laughter. Our employer provided the material and it was up to us to come up with the punchlines. We were pretty good at crafting the required boffo.

Somehow, the Harrisons had become Texans and Ben II, before he became a MG acted as the first ever manager for Mose Allison. I would list that above major general on my resume.

After Ben III married a beautiful Irish stewardess, he visited me stateside. We were on our way from Philly to New York on some roads located under overpasses in the city of brotherly love. Remember the French Connection chase scene and you'll have the idea. This was the early 1980s.

Our one-way street was blocked off with primitive barricades manned by children. The children were armed with toy guns. They challenged us and wanted baksheesh to allow passage.

Ben's comment was "Druze militia." Indeed. We knew what to do - we went into action mode, high speed backup, squealing tires, escaping turnoff, lots of laughs. Take that Walid Jumblatt. Through negligence or incompetence the children failed to kill us.

I hate when that happens.

Ran into some videos on YouTube of the band Benjamin Harrison III and I were on our way to see way back when. This appears to be the show we saw. Perk up if they pan the audience. If it's not to your taste, I would just say that the memories of old age can become a nuisance.

And you never know where presidential progeny may end up.


The answer is yes - but it's not a good answer

Our friends at the Washington Examiner ask if Lincoln would have droned Robert E. Lee. If they read their Eric Wittenberg, they would know that yes, of course, because Lincoln droned Davis. He droned the bejeezus out of Davis!

Lincoln was not a boundaries sort of guy. He was not afraid of the odd precedent. His trailblazing made him a victim of some sic semper tyrranis. In other words, he got droned himself and Davis successfully disavowed any knowledge.

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "disavowed any knowledge?" It seems to have entered popular jargon in 1966.

Kushner lays out the meaning of "artistic license"

If you missed it, this is worth reading.

The movie "Lincoln" changed the 13th Amendment votes of Connecticut congressmen. Screenwriter Tony Kushner says no big deal and lays out the rules for artistic license over historical material.


Hugh Trevor-Roper, Whig historian

Also, forensic historian in a field full of storytellers.

But man do I loathe Whig historians.

In my dream, I was ruined

This is true: I dreamt that my pen name was Chester Hearn and that I wrote these terrible Civil War books for a fast buck.

I dreamt that the readers of this blog discovered my secret identity and exposed me as being Chester Hearn. It was a scandal on the Web. The ridicule was painful.

Fortunately, it was just a dream.


How to start over

We need to start over in Civil War history.

What does that mean?

Take all the new research and analysis since the Centennial together with the complete record of source material and build anew.

Some authors are doing that; it's happening topic by topic. But it's not happening broadly enough. And the old guard is shouting "stop the madness." The old guard is bypassing new research and new analysis to reconstruct history from selected old source material to reach conclusions our granparents would be familiar with.

In doing so, they can present old, incomplete source material as representing the best thinking of today when it was the best thinking of 60-80 years ago.

As readers, it's our job stop this. It's job one for us.

When an author cites no secondary sources but goes back to the OR to write an account of this or that, when the OR cited is selective and dishonest, when the author claims no influence from major recent books (or if that influence is not visible in the work), put that author's book down, ignore it, and mark the author as unworthy of further reading.

Mark the author no matter how big the name, how impressive the prizes.

You may not want to shame them but you can certainly ignore them.


Study the losers

Under the right strategy, losers might be gainers.


The uninformed reader

The uninformed reader is as much a menace as the uninformed voter. His bad choices drive a market to endlessly satisfy a low information state.


Analysis is doing

Without analysis, history can do nothing. The storyteller borrows his analysis in order to pretend to do something.


"New writing" from James McPherson (cont.)

From the current issue of the New York Review of Books. (This is from the print edition, which is behind the website paywall.) Some authors can really turn a phrase. The same phrase.

Henry Clay, a three-time loser as a presidential candidate...
- James McPherson, New York Review of Books, February 7, 2013

Henry Clay a 3 time loser for the Presidency...
- 2012 comment posted on David S. Heidler's Henry Clay, the Essential American

As a three-time loser in presidential contests, however, Clay ...
- James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 2003

Asserting that three-time loser Clay could not win...
- David S. Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler, Favid Coles, 2002, Encyclopedia of the American Civil War

... his [Clay's] record as a three-time loser ...
- Michael Holt, 2003, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party

... another three-time loser for the presidency, Henry Clay.
- Aubrey Sher, 2008, Presidential Hopefuls (1788-2008)

... Henry Clay, a three-time presidential candidate (if a three-time loser)...
- Stephen Berry, 2009, House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, a Family Divided by War

... Henry Clay, three-time presidential candidate (if a three-time loser).
- Frank J. Williams, Michael Burkhimer, 2012, The Mary Lincoln Enigma

Political generals

What if every single Civil War general was a political general?