Misery loves company and given the state of ACW publishing over the last 60 years, it's interesting to look across the aisle at antebellum social histories and see troubles there as well. If a John C. Tidball can get his ACW biography before Irvin McDowell, then there is a reference point, a sanity check for the fact that ...

Amazingly, until this year, the most recent adult biography of [Harriet] Tubman appeared in 1943, written by a left-wing labor organizer named Earl Conrad.

In other words, since 1943 no acquisitions editor had sought an author for a Tubman bio project; no author had sold a Tubman bio on speculation; and no academic in the field of antebellum American history noticed anything wrong to the point of wanting to do something about it. “Suddenly, three new books written by academic historians have appeared.”

What is odd about this is that there was no Tubman "establishment" whose interpretations would have been threatened or whose work would have been superseded.

One of these "academics" is actually a financial services worker who went into history late in life, following her enthusiasms. Kate Larson “thought she would eventually discover why no one had ever applied rigorous scholarship to Tubman's story. Ten years later, she has produced the most thoroughly researched account of that life … Nonetheless, Larson still can't quite fully answer her original question.”

Note that the point is not to discover some individual's error that caused this biographical void. The point is to ask whether there is a systemic problem in the field of antebellum social history. This is a great question to be asked in a mass medium like newspapers and the article's author does well to pursue it.

Would that it were pursued across the aisle to Civil War history, where the voids are as awful.

[P.S. Let me add that Larson is published by Ballantine, a trade (mass-market) house – thus leapfrogging the academic presses with a large first run; this is a very unlikely event absent pent-up demand. Market tastes and lack of interest in Tubman cannot be blamed for this publishing failure.]