You know, it’s just been six months since the story of a reported forgery of a Lincoln document broke. So here we go again …
I confess to having never heard of Barry H. Landau before today. Indeed, “presidential historian” as a category within the profession has been circulating for only a few decades: I have not seen it as a field in graduate programs, although it have found it a useful label for those of us who study multiple presidents (writing on a single president should not make one a “presidential historian,” any more than writing on one war makes one a “military historian” as opposed to, say, a “Civil War historian”). Just over a week ago, Mr. Landau was holding forth with CNN on how presidents employ the United States flag. Now he’s in a bit of trouble … charged (with another person) of attempting to steal documents from the Maryland Historical Society, including documents bearing the signature of … you guessed it … Abraham Lincoln (you mean you didn’t guess it?).
I’m always waiting to hear the outrage that would follow from someone trying to make away with James Buchanan’s little black book or Chester Alan Arthur’s clothing inventory.
Beware of researchers bearing cupcakes and cookies, apparently. No word on whether scotch or brandy would be more effective.
Back in 1994 I became dimly aware that people liked to discuss the American Civil War in internet discussion groups. These groups were somewhat different from the group sponsored by H-Net, H-CivWar, which has evolved over the years into a bulletin board featuring book reviews. There were various forums (I’m sure some commenters have their favorites and their memories) associated with those early days of the internet, as well as usenet’s “alt.war.civil.usa” and a moderated usenet group in the soc. hierarchy: the former group features in the neighborhood of a hundred posts of month (it once had several thousand a month) and can be reached through Google Groups, while the latter no longer functions due to a host of problems that proved impossible to resolve.
Yahoo’s groups feature also gave rise to the creation of a number of discussion groups, several of which still thrive. Among them is the group “StudyoftheCivilWar,” where yours truly remains as a (now) largely passive moderator (there are other moderators and an owner); many of the posters who were once essential to the usenet group have migrated there. Then there is “civilwarhistory2,” where, as we’ve seen, many posters with Confederate sympathies (so to speak) hang out in a community with its own charm; a series of smaller groups (group owners and members are free to publicize those groups in the comments), as well as a number of once-active but now slumbering groups such as “civilwarwest” and “LeeandJacksoncivilwarclub.” It appears that the recently-created “civilwardebate” has not really gotten off the ground.
Other websites host their own discussion groups, including civilwartalk.com, which seems rather lively at times. Over the years I’ve visited other groups, but not stayed long, and now is the chance for people from those groups to get a little publicity for themselves. One group, the Gettysburg Discussion Group, is really rather impressive in a number of ways, and is well worth your while.
The persistence of some groups is frankly remarkable, because in other groups a number of patterns of discussion emerge that over time become rather predictable; without membership turnover the same discussions are reenacted over and over again, and interest dwindles (this also happens when moderators become too heavy-handed, as in the case of civilwarwest). In some cases groups morph into little virtual communities with easily-understood relationships and interactions that sometimes resemble a reality show (I dare say that’s why some people remain interested in those groups, just to see what will happen next). Those professional historians who dabble in the internet tend to be drawn more to blogs and much less to online discussions: an effort to make H-CivWar a more active discussion group failed in the 1990s, and the experiment’s never been tried again as a conscious ongoing endeavor.
Again, if you know of groups that I’ve overlooked and that you want to bring to everyone’s attention, the comments section is open.