Peter Carmichael Holds Forth

In this interview with the Civil War Monitor, Peter Carmichael discusses Gettysburg College’s Civil War Institute, which he directs, and comments on recent discussions about Civil War military history, black Confederates, and blogging.

I’m sure some of his comments will provoke discussion.

14 thoughts on “Peter Carmichael Holds Forth

  1. Patrick Young January 25, 2015 / 4:54 pm

    He says that you are smart, but we aren’t

  2. Christopher Shelley January 25, 2015 / 6:16 pm

    The Civil War Monitor is great. But I’ve learned things on this blog (and Kevin’s and Andy’s and Al’s, etc.) from people like Patrick, John Foskett, Jimmy Dick, Margaret Blough and many others that I just wouldn’t have found in the CWM. Also, sparring with both the smart commenters here and the RomCons has helped me integrate and articulate ideas I’ve been mulling for a long time. These blogs and their expert commenters have also been exceptionally helpful with my own blog (as well as scaring the crap out me–I’d freakin’ better know what I’m talking about!).

    In short, Prof. Carmichael is very learned, very charismatic, and insufferably smug.

    • Ira Berkowitz January 25, 2015 / 8:44 pm

      That about sums it up.

    • Jimmy Dick January 25, 2015 / 9:08 pm

      The ability to converse online via the blogs is invaluable. I agree with you in that this allows us to integrate and articulate ideas. It used to be you had to battle to get published. Blogs allow for an exchange of information without the difficulties of getting published. Plus, we can be wrong (no surprise there) and be unsure. We can learn through the conversations. I love the idea of being able to converse with people that I would not have access with otherwise. Peter states that point and hits a home run there.

      I’ve met some very interesting people via these blogs. It is really a sense of community where students of history (and those who are students of mythology) can meet and exchange all kinds of thoughts on history just like we would if we were students in a classroom. This is a synergy which is absolutely critical in the advancement of the field of history and its many subfields.

      Now, Peter may not like the conversations that occur and for some of them I think he is quite correct. However, I think he misses some of the value blogs can take, but then that is his perspective. Quite a few historians do not blog and they do not miss it at all.

      I do wonder though if Brooks discusses the blog in his classes or in casual settings. Some of what gets posted here has to make him laugh.

    • Al Mackey January 26, 2015 / 1:20 pm

      I have to come to Pete’s defense here, Chris. Pete has been very kind and generous to me in sharing his expertise and in encouraging me in my own blogging efforts. That someone as busy as he is takes the time to read even a few of my posts every now and then is very gratifying to me. He’s done a fantastic job as the Director of the CWI, in the face of some real grousing from old-time attendees. My first year attending was his first year as the Director, and there were quite a large number of negative comments among attendees regarding some of the changes. Many of the changes he made were extremely unpopular with the “old guard,” but he addressed their concerns with humility, explaining why he believed they were absolutely necessary, and in my opinion he’s made the conference the best Civil War conference in existence. Some of the older folks stopped attending in protest and their places were quickly filled and the conference has sold out multiple years now. He encourages others to contribute to the discussion in a positive way. Witness how he doesn’t just answer questions in this interview, but engages with David and gets his input as well. That’s the way he is in conversation also. He’s interested in what you think. Also, he oversees as student blog that is really well done called the Gettysburg Compiler, mentioned in the interview. I think he took some bloggers to task, without naming them, rightly for some of the comments they made. Not all of the comments made in reaction to posts on blogs really advance the discussion in a meaningful way, and I think his negative remarks on blog comments were geared toward comments of that stripe. I’m really hard-pressed to disagree with his comments in the interview. He has some high standards in what he personally wants to read, and I can’t really blame him for that.

      • Christopher Shelley January 26, 2015 / 7:03 pm

        Thank you, Al, for the corrective. Please know that I’ve certainly got nothing against Prof. Carmichael (nor his scarf), and I have heard mostly good things about the CWI. I’m very glad he took what you describe as a rather moribund conference and made it vibrant. And I can see his point that wading through comments by ConRoms on a blog would be tedious and time-wasting for scholars who have other things to do. My gripe here was his evident dismissal not of bloggers, but of the conversations they generate–and by extension the commenters. So, for me, his tone and answer were quite smug and superior. Perhaps he didn’t intend it that way, and he certainly went out of his way to say that blogs in and of themselves aren’t bad (especially if Brooks is the blogger), and that’s all fine. I’m not bent out of shape over it. I’m sure he’ll give a talk soon and you’ll put it on your blog and I’ll go “Wow! What a great talk!” like I do with so much of what you post.

        But there? In that interview? That’s one smug sumbitch.

        • Al Mackey January 26, 2015 / 8:51 pm

          Chris, I didn’t mean to imply the CWI conference was moribund before Pete took over. In my estimation, based on talking with people who were there before me, it was pretty good then and is great now. You can do a search on “Carmichael” and find the videos posted at my blog already. 🙂

  3. Lyle Smith January 26, 2015 / 4:01 pm

    I love blog comments and I don’t feel like I’m slumming it here at Civil War Crossroads, Civil War Memory, or elsewhere.

  4. Brooks D. Simpson January 27, 2015 / 4:11 pm

    I note that everyone focused on Peter’s comments about blogs and the comments section. Peter and I have had some pointed discussions about blogging before (and they can be viewed at the C-SPAN website). I was most surprised about his notion about some (unnamed) historians needing therapy because of a lack of self-esteem, because I thought that observation could be with equal justice be made about the people who commenced the discussion about the place of military history in Civil War history. In this case, by equal justice I mean equally unjust to all possible parties. Having recalled long-standing discussions about the place of military history in the realm of historical scholarship in the academy, I really don’t want to rehash that argument among a group of people who all agree that the Civil War is worth study for various reasons.

    • Peter Carmichael January 30, 2015 / 5:53 pm

      Thanks Al for bringing perspectives andcontext to my comments in the interview, As you point out the CWI conference is about creating conversation and getting everyone at the table.I said many good things about blogs and that they can be a productive force but I sm struck that criticisms about blogs generates such heatthe hackneyed lines about elitism. I loathe the academic Journal of Americsn History. I guess that slso makes me anti intellectual. and I am especially surprised that Brooks keeps mentioning the CWI blog session on C Span My job as moderator is to stir debate. At any rate anyone who knows me also knows that I have devoted my career to public history. I would encourage people go look up the Pohanka Intern program. It comes from a good place and dies great things for young historians. We can all rally around such a program. I feel great about the state of the field and how old barriers have been knocked down. Maybe. I need to stop wearing scarves. I admit they make me look smug and pretentious. But I love them so much😉

      • Brooks D. Simpson January 30, 2015 / 6:05 pm

        Wait a moment. You say that your job at the CWI at the blogging session was to stir debate. I am simply paying tribute to your success in doing so. What I wanted to point out elsewhere is that the answer I gave in 2015 to Gary is about the same as the one I gave to you in 2012, even if the contexts are slightly different. Given that the 2012 session happened in the immediate aftermath of Gary’s commentary on blogging, I knew what was coming, and no, I don’t confuse Gary and you.

        The truth (or at least my version of it) is out there.

        Aside from your fascination with scarves, you’re no elitist. How can anyone call a fan of the Indiana Pacers an elitist?

        I appreciated your comments in the video. But I am now tempted to pair “anti-intellectual elitist” with “unhinged gatekeepers.”

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