Dimitri Rotov Wants To Know

From Dimitri Rotov’s blog Civil War Bookshelf, which is starting to show some signs of life again …

The passing

A friend writes,

Just saw news of Pfanz’s death, and was thinking about Civil War history and generations of historians:

I guess you saw Harry W. Pfanz just died (age 93). Albert Castel died in November (age 86).

Stephen Sears is 82. McPherson is 78. James I. “Bud” Robertson is 84 or 85. Ed Bearss is 91. William C. Davis is a spritely 68, but just retired.

Are we now, fully and finally, in the age of Simpson, Rafuse, Grimsley, Symonds, Woodworth, Carmichael, Hess, et al.? And if so, what will they do as they seize the wheel? With their power to shape history? Will we see new and powerful analyses of battles and leaders and logistics and politics, or just blog posts about social history and latter-day “controversies” like the Confederate flag? How many of those guys are working on major books at this point? Do we have anything to look forward to?

(Then there’s the threat of Michael Korda and the like. Don’t get me started.)

Your thoughts, dear reader?

Of course, as Dimitri’s blog has no comments section, there’s no place to put answers to his question. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share your thoughts here.

As for me, certainly I’m working on various projects, but they aren’t all limited to the period of 1861-65. As to what those projects are, I like keeping some things a surprise.

I didn’t know that I was entitled to have an age named after me, individually or with others. Well, as Taylor Swift says, some people love the players, while I love the game.

24 thoughts on “Dimitri Rotov Wants To Know

  1. Al Mackey February 7, 2015 / 6:30 pm

    A biography of Bryan Trottier and an analysis of how his playing style was derived from Grant’s Overland Campaign?

    • John Foskett February 8, 2015 / 8:39 am

      Actually, Al, that was Clark Gillies. I’m wondering if our host is ready to spring for a no. 27 jersey on the current team. 🙂

  2. Mike Crane February 8, 2015 / 12:11 am

    I would contend that we are still in the Age of McPherson until 1) He stops publishing books and articles and 2) A new tome appears that surpasses Battle Cry of Freedom as the best big book overview of the Civil War. I still refer to it as the Bible.

    • Norm Crosby February 8, 2015 / 12:56 pm

      Don’t let Dmitri Rotov hear you say that. From what I can surmise from his blog he despises McPherson. For what it’s worth, I agree with you. Battle Cry of Freedom is not only the finest book on the American Civil War, but the single best book on history I have ever read.

      As to the question, I worry about the further splintering of the study of the war between academic and general audiences, and the further splintering into niche studies that recognize “only” the social, or “only” the military, or “only” the economic fields, etc. to the detiment of the whole. And I worry about spats such as “blogs” vs. “academics” (see Gary Gallagher, et. al.). But then that is a whole other issue.

      • John Foskett February 8, 2015 / 2:25 pm

        Dimitri has made an interesting case about certain practices by McPherson in his publishing over the past decade or so. Whether one agrees with his conclusions is, of course, a completely separate issue. As for ” the finest book on the American Civil War, but the single best book on history I have ever read”, everybody’s entitled to an opinion. I’d wager an awful lot of knowledgeable folks would view that as hyperbole given the numerous other excellent works on the ACW and other aspects of history by so many other scholars. .

      • John Foskett February 11, 2015 / 11:53 am

        And on cue, Dimitri put this up yesterday. I’d be interested in the rejoinder…..

    • John Foskett February 8, 2015 / 1:28 pm

      I’d suggest you read some of Dimitri’s past postings regarding what McPherson has published over the last decade or so. The book you refer to is nearly 30 years old. An awful lot of equally (if not more) excellent, significant work has been produced in the ensuing span, including works by the host of this site, by the other names mentioned by Dimitri. and by several others. McPherson was good but he wasn’t Orr or Gretzky.

      • James F. Epperson February 8, 2015 / 3:53 pm

        McPherson takes a traditional view on McClellan (i.e., critical), that is why Dimitri is dislikes McP.

        • James F. Epperson February 8, 2015 / 3:54 pm

          Poorly proofread; my error. Shouldn’t be multi-processing.

        • John Foskett February 9, 2015 / 9:33 am

          That may be but he has also appears to have backed up some of his points regarding attribution and recycling of earlier material. I firmly disagree with much of McClellan “revisionism” – at least to the extent its proponents use the details about this or that event to try to alter the overall impression of Mac’s achievements and fitness for field command. But Dimitri serves a very worthwhile purpose when he challenges views and conclusions which have become uncritically accepted over the years or attacks attempts to make money by publishing work which really adds nothing new and fails to drill down to the facts. In McPherson’s case, he appears to make some valid points.

      • Christopher Shelley February 9, 2015 / 11:01 am

        John, I generally agree with you on specific studies. But I don’t think anyone has written a best single volume of the Civil War era (Sectional Crisis + Civil War) since McPherson. If there’s a better one-volume work on the period, I sure don’t know of it (suggestions welcome). I suspect that’s what Mike and Norm above are suggesting.

        • John Foskett February 9, 2015 / 1:32 pm

          Christopher: Words matter, I guess. “]T]he finest book on the American Civil War” – so much has been written about the ACW, and so much of that is very good/excellent, that a little more precision is in order. Hence your version: “[B]est single volume of the Civil War era (Sectional Crisis + Civil War)”. One area where I think Dimitri has made an interesting case – that McPherson has become a bit of a “legend” off a book which now is nearly 30 years out. Some of his his subsequent publications, to one degree or another, have been criticized by Dimitri as skimming the surface or restating things already said elsewhere ( by him or by others. Yet every new one is hailed as if Moses has returned bearing tablets.I would defer to Dimitri for the details/supporting facts.

  3. rortensie February 8, 2015 / 11:00 am

    Or a study on why pitchers smear pine tar to their necks….

  4. Brad February 9, 2015 / 6:20 am

    I’ve never gotten this fascination with Rotov.

    • Ray February 9, 2015 / 9:08 am

      Me neither. Never had much time for McClellan apologists.

      • John Foskett February 9, 2015 / 3:23 pm

        He’s a bit more than a McClellan “apologist”. I see him as a practitioner of Socratic dialogue. He raises valid questions about long-accepted views of the ACW which have never been thoroughly scrutinized. McClellan ends up being a frequently-used vehicle for obvious reasons. If you’ve seen my comments on various posts on this blog you’ll know that I would have zero tolerance for anybody who is simply a “McClellan apologist”.

    • John Foskett February 9, 2015 / 9:43 am

      I’m unaware of any “fascination”. I am aware that he makes some worthwhile points about Civil War scholarship.

      • John Foskett February 10, 2015 / 8:06 am

        As I’ve posted, I think he uses a provocative style to force people to question things which have never been questioned. I don’t always agree with him – possibly never on McClellan – but he’s made me look anew at some long-held “facts” which tain’t necessarily so. Based on isolated samples, I think that he respects those who do good work and don’t simply generate royalties by recycling their own/others’ material. The Simpsons and Wittenbergs of the Civil War planet appear to come off well, for example.

        • Lyle Smith February 10, 2015 / 7:25 pm

          Yep, I enjoy reading him too.

  5. Dimitri Rotov February 11, 2015 / 4:01 pm

    Thanks for the mention Brooks and to the commentators for their thoughts.

    I think the views of this generation will live on in the form of “general context” provided within newer, more specialized histories. There is a generally tendency to try to fit new research into the established narrative rather than to fashion a new general history from new research.

    It initially upset me to learn that Brad Gottfried was basing his lovely map books on secondary sources. However, I have come to recognize that is the best way as people are looking for maps to supplement their secondary source reading. This is a more specific example of how the old views will enter into the future through new work.

    (Here I am violating my own blog rules … better stop.)

  6. Gordon rhea February 12, 2015 / 5:54 pm

    Don’t count us old folks out yet. I turn 70 next month and have another book in the works, with several more planned. Gordon Rhea

    • John Foskett February 13, 2015 / 8:33 am

      Gordon: Then get to work. 🙂 We are looking forward to the post-Cold Harbor book.

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