Recently two “think pieces,” coincidentally dealing with pretty much the same topic, appeared in the major professional journals concerned with the American Civil War:
Gary W. Gallagher and Kathryn Shively Meier, “Coming to Terms With Civil War Military History,” Journal of the Civil War Era (Volume 4, Issue 4):487-508.
Earl J. Hess, “Where Do We Stand?: A Critical Assessment of Civil War Studies in the Sesquicentennial Era,” Civil War History (Volume 60, Number 4, December 2014):371-403.
Both articles depict, to varying degrees, the increasing marginalization of traditional military history (strategy, operations, tactics, etc.) within academe. Actually, I would place the word “seemingly” immediately before the word “increasing.” But I’ll explain that in a future post. For now, I’d just like to call attention to the response to these two pieces by Historista, the nom de blog of Megan Kate Nelson, author of Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (2012), which, according to the description on the back of the soft cover edition, is “the first book to bring together environmental and cultural histories to consider the evocative power of ruination [that is to say, the destruction of cities, houses, forests and soldiers’ bodies] as an imagined state, an act of destruction, and a process of change.” Which is to say, one of the books forming part of the phenomenon that is causing Civil War military historians to freak out.
Her post, entitled “Civil War Military Historians Are Freaking Out,” appeared on her blog on December 10, 2014. I self-identify as a military historian, and I’m freaking out so badly that I assigned Ruin Nation as a supplemental text in an undergraduate readings course I taught last summer and as a required book in my upcoming graduate readings course (it starts next week).
For now, I simply refer you to the post, with comment to come on the articles that prompted it:
Let’s imagine that you wake up one morning after many years of writing and speaking and teaching in your academic specialty. You have tenure, you have written a lot of books and articles and book reviews, and colleagues across the profession (and sometimes, complete strangers) know who you are. But you wake up one morning convinced that it has all been for nothing. Nobody cares anymore about your research topic or your methodologies or your arguments. You wake up and think, “Oh my god! My field is dying."
So what do you do?
Find out by reading Civil War Military Historians Are Freaking Out
It turns out that Megan isn't the only writer in the blogosphere to comment on these two articles, and I'm not the only one to comment on her post.
Over the holiday break, the staff of Civil War History compiled a list of online blogs and articles that relate (both directly and more indirectly) to the think piece by Earl Hess. The staff has shared the list on the CWH Facebook page "in hopes that it continues to inspire a thoughtful and productive dialogue." With that hope in mind, here's the list as they have it thus far (leaving aside the link to my own post, reprinted above):
Kevin Levin, Civil War Memory, What Do We Need to Know About Traditional Military History? (December 7, 2014)
Megan Kate Nelson, Historista, Civil War Military Historians Are Freaking Out (December 10, 2014)
Claire Potter, Tenured Radical, And the Dead (Fields of History) Shall Rise Up (December 11, 2014)
Kevin Levin, Civil War Memory, In Defense of Hess, Gallagher and Meier (December 11, 2014)
Kathleen Logothetis Thompson, Civil Discourse Blog, "Coming to Terms With Civil War Military History": A Response (January 5, 2015)
Kevin Gannon, The Tattooed Professor, Taking a Walk on the Civil War’s "Dark Side" (January 6, 2015)
(NB. Actually, it's no longer accurate to refer to the "blogosphere," at least not as a self-contained entity, because when links to posts are shared on Facebook or Twitter (as they frequently are), most of the ensuing dialog takes place on those sites, especially FB. The update on the Civil War History Journal Facebook page is itself a case in point. The resulting dynamic is worth a post in its own right--something I'll have to place on my long list of things to blog about. In the interim, it's time to write part 2 of my own response.)