… although this one is about writing history and biography. It appeared on C-SPAN 2 this past weekend.
Nearly a month ago the Twitterverse tweeted with commentary on a lecture delivered at the University of Virginia by Gary Gallagher. Apparently Gary was determined to take on current understandings of the American Civil War, namely the emphasis paid to emancipation and the debate over when the Civil War ended. Gary took several authors to task concerning the first point, which received most of his attention, before turning to the second point at the 40:45 mark of the video below:
As I understand it, Gary’s argument is that present concerns shape our inquiry of the past, framing the questions and suggesting the answers we seek. There’s nothing exceptional about that observation: it’s often at the core of many a historiographical essay, the sort of discovery usually reserved for first year graduate seminars and for the occasionally perceptive undergraduate.
A friend of mine recently passed on to me a still from this season’s House of Cards (I don’t view the seasons via Netflix or Amazon; I wait for the DVDs/BluRays to come out). I understand that there’s a story line about Civil War reenactments at Spotsylvania involving the central character, but I didn’t quite expect this image:
That’s right: Vice President Francis Underwood is reading Gordon Rhea’s book on the battle of the Wilderness. One can also see works by Andy Trudeau, William Matter, and a volume edited by Gary Gallagher on the Wilderness Campaign that contains essays by Gary, John Hennessy, yours truly, and others.
I wonder how this will look on my annual Faculty Activity Report … under public outreach, I guess.
Here’s what Elizabeth Varon has to say about my latest book, The Civil War in the East. I’ll soon have something to say about her latest book on Appomattox.
Last year I admit to pondering why I was blogging. It seemed to me that at that time the experience had lost some of its initial attraction. Aside from reacting to certain events, I was not sure whether blogging had any other concrete purpose for me. Those considerations contributed to my decision to leave Civil Warriors (and yes, folks, I’m no longer there, regardless of what I still read … some people need to update their information), although I must confess that I did not anticipate what would happen next with Crossroads.
I have two reasons to celebrate this December 20th. First, it’s the day I first became a father 19 years ago. Nothing quite like the delivery room to remind you what’s real. So happy birthday to Becca.
The other reason is that after pulling an all-nighter, I have sent off the pre-copy-edited text of my next book on the Civil War in the Eastern theater. We’ve not finalized the title (the title presented on Amazon was a stand-in). Writing can be a lot of fun, but the wrapping up of a manuscript can get tedious. The experience was somewhat new in that I spent more time than I ever have looking at the Confederate as well as Union high command. I’ve worked on the Yankee side of things for some time, so I was struck in reading Lee’s correspondence that we still don’t have a solid one volume biography of the Confederate general that’s grounded in a study of Lee as commander. Yes, there’s Elizabeth Pyror’s wonderful book and Emory Thomas’s provocative biography, as well as a concise study by Brian Holden Reid, but not the kind of book that ties together Lee as a general and sets that in a broader context.
One reason I like Pryor’s book, much as I liked Joseph Ellis’s biography of Thomas Jefferson and Jane Leavy’s recent look at the life of Mickey Mantle, is that in each case the author’s attempting to look at someone through a biographical prism without taking the usual birth-to-death trek. That said, there’s still room for that kind of book in Lee’s case.
I’m also intrigued that we really don’t have for any Union army (or, one might argue, any other Civil War army) the kind of book that reads like Douglas S. Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants, a set I prefer to his biography of Lee. I also came across some books, some old, some new, that I might want to discuss in future entries. But enough for now. Tomorrow I have to return to finishing up another manuscript. I am looking forward to a good night’s sleep, however. How the heck did I ever pull these all-nighters before (and I’m actually feeling pretty good right now)?
After several years as a member of a team of bloggers over at Civil Warriors, I’ve decided to embark upon my own adventure in blogging. I felt it was time to strike out on my own and discuss things I wanted to discuss using a forum that was unmistakably my own. I’m still pondering exactly what that means, what I want to discuss, and how I want to discuss it, and I’ll be taking the better part of December 2010 to do that before formally launching the blog in January 2011. For thew moment I’m so involved in preparing several manuscripts for publication that it seems a good time to step away from what I was doing, assess what I want to do, and then make preparations for doing it. At the same time, I’ll be pondering the ins and outs of blogging in terms of hosts, format, etc., so please bear with me on that score.
I want to thank Mark Grimsley, who introduced me to the world of blogging and who managed Civil Warriors, taking care of all the technical stuff, as well as the people who also blogged at Civil Warriors, especially Ethan Rafuse. Other bloggers, notably Eric Wittenberg and Kevin Levin, have also been sources of help, advice, and insight.