The Future of [Civil War] History

Washington DC_Moments in History_2This is very true, and quite interesting. I fell in love with civil war history during the centennial, back in the early sixties, originally through the American Heritage Pictorial History of the Civil War, with its text by Bruce Catton. It was one of the seminal books in my love for history. It spread first to World War II, both from books, and my parents and the generation that had lived through it. Then it spread through, partially, the historical novels of Thomas B. Costain, which ran from biblical through pretty much modern history.

It included Kenneth Robert’s books on colonial (to be) Maine, including Arundel, as well as others. And yes, it also involved some very good teachers (and coaches) when I was in junior and senior high school, and it likely didn’t hurt that dad was interested, and mom was an English teacher. What that legacy does is this, when I look at current events, my mind almost always can find an analogous situation. Amongst other things, that is why I rarely completely despair. Mark Twain was right, you know, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it surely rhymes.

My worries about the future of Civil War history are much broader and much larger than those cited in the articles in Civil War History. I spend a lot of time on the road, speaking to Civil War Roundtables and other similar groups. I’ve traveled to a lot of places—Ann Arbor, Michigan and Bloomington, Indiana in one recent week—and have met a lot of people along the way. One alarming trend that I have spotted in recent years is the graying of the audiences that come to hear me speak or attend my tours. The audiences get older and older, and I see fewer and fewer young people in the crowds. When I first started doing this almost 25 years ago, the crowds were much younger, and I saw many more younger people in the audiences.

via The Future of Civil War History: Eric Wittenberg | Emerging Civil War with a hat tip to Practically Historical

Jessie Childs recently published some thoughts on Elizabethan England and how certainty can become uncertainty. Here is a bit of that.

Unfirm ground is what makes history so thrilling: that sense that the plates are always shifting and that one discovery might change everything. I have not experienced a seismic swallowing up of a once-cherished opinion, but, researching my last book on Catholic dissidents in Elizabethan England, I felt as though I was changing my mind almost every day. I agonised over the relative lenience of Elizabeth I in religious matters. I was kept awake by the nagging feeling that the Catholic family I was writing about was not quite as loyal as it claimed to be. I drew a spider diagram, of the kind used in modern intelligence, and was thrown by the family’s links to the Babington Plot of 1586, even though I could not quite pin them to it. I veered between revulsion at the persecutory practices of the Elizabethan state and sympathy for its operatives, who had to deal with sophisticated terror networks and some very slippery language.

via Shifting Sands: Historians Change Their Minds. Note that the other short articles in the linked article are also quite good.

Not all that different, really, from today, with our problems with terrorists, is it.

And that’s the thing, we can infer lessons from the past, and we should, and I think, must. But we must remember with Hartley that:

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there,” as well.



About NEO
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5 Responses to The Future of [Civil War] History

  1. TheEnglishMajor says:

    “Certainty is an enemy of history.”


    Thanks for the links; these got me thinking about how to approach my history classes this fall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Quite welcome, of course. There are some good ones there, and of course, I enjoy doing these sorts of posts.

      Here’s a video from one of my favorite British historians that’s on the point as well.

      Suzie is Convenor at University of london if I remember correctly. Yes, I do have problems remembering the titles in British higher education 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • TheEnglishMajor says:

        Thank you! I’ll watch it on my lunch break 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I think you’ll like it. She was a lecturer at UEA under a friend of mine, which is how I ran across her. Good historian, a Tudor specialist, easy to look at as well, which gets her on Brit TV a good bit.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: History and changing your mind | The Reeducation of an English Major

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