Discussion A Pernicious Waste of Scholarly Time

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Lubliner

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This is being represented as coming from the September 2019 issue of 'Civil War History'.

I was wondering if anyone subscribed and could tell me if the context of this paragraph does or does not reflect the overall tone of the article.
Okay, what is the purpose of Mr. Hess when frequenting the internet, or by posting a blog? I mean, why take notes at all, or develop ideas from them-is the absurdity I see in his statement. A multi-purpose function of communicating, coordinating, referencing to name a few and these are open to any that seek for them. It is like Mr. Hess doesn't like the taste of water-which again is absurd to those that thirst. So where did I put that notebook that holds that reference, that is needed for me to complete the exercise I desire to pursue. It won't be on Mr. Hess's site I assure you!
Lubliner.
 

byron ed

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...neither is anymore immune then the other to being hard to safely take at face value.........they both can be susceptible to having agendas or bias they are pushing.
So we agree: a few college professors are -- to now use the word susceptible -- to agenda-driven politicos driven by book sales.

Hess perhaps is a good example of that. Recall his "game-changer" idea that rifled muskets were not particularly revolutionary for their impact on CW combat (as compared to smooth-bores) as all conventional historians before him had concluded, and to spite all of the tactics we know by accounts had specifically changed because of rifled musketry; such as immediate infantry entrenchments and distanced artillery emplacements.*

But alas, to sell books one has to come up with a "novel" premise. If historically disingenuous, it is successful. Even a few here have succumbed to Hess' theories on long arms, which means they had either purchased or requested library purchase of Hess' books.


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* yes, as Hess indicates most combat took place either side of 100 yards or so, but he ignores that all combatants were in danger now from 300 yards -- meaning that rifled muskets were as revolutionary as traditional historians had told us. Hess himself has limited shooting experience, and it shows in his reliance on tables of data, which is why I'm surprised that even some shooters on this forum would embrace his "game-changing" view of long guns in the CW.
 
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byron ed

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...It is like Mr. Hess doesn't like the taste of water-which again is absurd to those that thirst...
...just had to take note of this amusing yet brilliant allegory. One reason I keep coming back to CWT is to admire such turns of phrase. Sorry to get off topic, carry on.
 

WJC

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I have only read the abstract at http://www.kentstateuniversitypress.com/2019/sep-2019-volume-65-no-3/
It gives six "categories" and findings for each:
"First, the web has made an enormous amount of published primary material available to historians."
We can all agree with that.​
"Second, staff members of archival institutions have encountered many limitations in their efforts to scan and place large amounts of unpublished primary material on the internet."
Of course. And this presents what could be a major problem with information on the web: decisions must be made about what is digitized and when it will be digitized. Leaving aside the issues of error and bias, there is certainly a possibility that everything available about a specific topic will not be made available at the same time. However, if I chose to search the Library of Congress stacks today, I would also be forced to make choices of what material to read first and what weight to give every piece of information. I conclude these limitations are natural and ought to be expected, regardless of the medium.​
"Third, there is no evidence that the internet has enhanced the ability of scholars to market and sell their books."
A problem only if one is concerned not with history, but with marketing one's own work.​
"Fourth, the internet apparently has not fostered increased collaboration among Civil War historians."
That is not the internet's problem. It is instead a comment on the inability of some historians to collaborate.​
"Fifth, and the most striking finding of this essay, most Civil War historians do not trust, like, or participate in social media."
Like all media, the information available on the internet should be considered with skepticism. As for "social media", I do not like or trust most outlets; I participate only in this and one other focused forum. In my view, I have better things to do with my limited time than participate in most popular social media.​
"Sixth, the multitude of informational websites concerning Civil War topics on the internet pose a daunting task for any scholar who wishes to assess, use, or criticize them."
Tough! Nobody said research would be easy!​
 

wausaubob

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There are many people, like myself, who have read many published works on the Civil War and comment here. But we do not compile a bibliography. The value for a historian, would be to see which published works have gotten attention and made an impression. James Oakes comes to mind.
 

wausaubob

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People on the internet are resistant to the facts of demographics. That is noticeable. Both the 1862 preliminary report and the final report of 1864 of the Census Commissioner are available on line. And other states found that census understated their population, when the began to do mid decade school censuses.
 

wausaubob

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The internet historians do concentrate on the news and the battles from the war. Authors like Stephanie MCurry have not gained much traction.
Its an interesting thread and I echo WJC's observations.
 

DRW

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Working through the Hess article online at Project Muse (through my library), I thought this paragraph well captured the condescension that I alluded to above:

p. 224
One respondent to the 2013 survey, who preferred to remain anonymous, suggested that the internet has had a tremendous effect on the publication of books written by nonacademic writers. It is certainly true that one can post a manuscript on a personal website, making it available to anyone who wishes to click on it, rather than going through the process of having it evaluated by a publisher before it appears in print. The internet can create a sense of fifteen-minute fame for someone who harbors a desire to become a historian without the years of academic training scholars have gone through to reach that stage. Moreover, the computer age has spawned a number of programs that make it easy for amateur authors to self-publish their work without going through what they often see as the intimidating process of peer review at academic presses. The survey respondent saw this in a negative light, because most people in the nonacademic reading public have relatively little incentive or ability to distinguish between good and bad history. They often consider a poorly researched, badly written, and nonanalytical work to be of the same quality as a book produced with rigorous standards of scholarship. The proliferation of amateur histories of the Civil War in the past quarter century tends to bear out this respondent's concerns. [emphasis added]
 

archieclement

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Working through the Hess article online at Project Muse (through my library), I thought this paragraph well captured the condescension that I alluded to above:

p. 224
One respondent to the 2013 survey, who preferred to remain anonymous, suggested that the internet has had a tremendous effect on the publication of books written by nonacademic writers. It is certainly true that one can post a manuscript on a personal website, making it available to anyone who wishes to click on it, rather than going through the process of having it evaluated by a publisher before it appears in print. The internet can create a sense of fifteen-minute fame for someone who harbors a desire to become a historian without the years of academic training scholars have gone through to reach that stage. Moreover, the computer age has spawned a number of programs that make it easy for amateur authors to self-publish their work without going through what they often see as the intimidating process of peer review at academic presses. The survey respondent saw this in a negative light, because most people in the nonacademic reading public have relatively little incentive or ability to distinguish between good and bad history. They often consider a poorly researched, badly written, and nonanalytical work to be of the same quality as a book produced with rigorous standards of scholarship. The proliferation of amateur histories of the Civil War in the past quarter century tends to bear out this respondent's concerns. [emphasis added]
Well it pretty much sums it up whosever's opinion it was...….prefers to remain anonymous...……they complain about "others" credibility while not even being willing to use their own name to attach any credibility to their opinion.......somewhat ironic
 

DRW

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More musings from Hess that entertain more than enlighten:

pp. 229-30
The basic problem is that the internet world is a different one than that which exists in academia, no matter how much one apologizes for it. We trained in an academic system that stresses oversight by professors who examined, suggested, and encouraged us to develop our thinking process, our research, and our writing along generally accepted codes of conduct to reach something that can be called an academic code. The internet cares nothing for this; it allows any person to have an equal say on any subject with that of a highly trained and academically admired scholar. Moreover, the tendency is that negative messages sell on the internet more readily than positive, truthful ones. In short, most people who read social media postings on the Civil War are not academically trained; they don't know the scholarly literature, and they too often tend to be swayed by emotional, simplistic explanations of complicated topics, especially if those explanations are laced with attacks on someone. This situation worsens when blog authors deliberately obfuscate, take things out of context, and present positions in inflammatory ways merely [End Page 229] to increase the reaction to their posts, as they sometimes do. Those who take a thoughtful, scholarly approach in a world like this are at a severe disadvantage in winning converts to their cause. To at least a limited degree, the world of academia and the world of the masses can unite on the internet; but one wonders if only other academics are reading the more thoughtful, scholarly posts that do appear on the web while the masses mostly read only the rabble-rousing ones. [emphasis added]

Forgive us amateurs history buffs for we know not what we do!
 

Joshism

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The internet can create a sense of fifteen-minute fame for someone who harbors a desire to become a historian without the years of academic training scholars have gone through to reach that stage.
As opposed the fame Ken Burns and Shelby Foote got?

There are a number of amateur historians on YouTube who use excellent history books as the sources for YouTube series that have much better reach and engagement than the source books will ever have.

The proliferation of amateur histories of the Civil War in the past quarter century tends to bear out this respondent's concerns.
Can someone give examples of these terrible amateur histories of the Civil War the article is worried about? I suspect most of the self-published fringe histories don't reach a very wide audience.

The survey respondent saw this in a negative light, because most people in the nonacademic reading public have relatively little incentive or ability to distinguish between good and bad history.
But as long as academic histories are mostly dull and expensive most readers will continue to read general histories written by non-academics. Catton, Foote, and Burns predate the internet.

Academic historians do important work, but the field needs to evolve.
 

NH Civil War Gal

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@DRW - I'm chuckling at the academic pomposity of it all! I remember someone in the far past who said he would never dine with anyone who split infinitives. Up yours buddy. And I have a very academic family, btw, at the university level who laugh and laugh over this sort of drivel.

edited to add: this is all about the inner circle - keeping the little people out - keeping the big men, off to do big stuff, in type of thing. Something that honest professors OR true teachers whatever their credentials or lack of them don't care about.

Blowing someone else's candle out doesn't make yours shine brighter.
 

byron ed

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regarding this:
...the multitude of informational websites concerning Civil War topics on the internet pose a daunting task for any scholar who wishes to assess, use, or criticize them." Tough! Nobody said research would be easy!
Contrary to that, imho research now is not all that hard. The internet or social media are only paths to some genuine article. You don't rely on or assess the internet reference itself, but rather the genuine article (original letter, log book or other paper record) the internet or social media hooked you up with. And as far as comments (forums, blogs or podcasts) on the internet, you quickly either accept or reject any perceived value they have on the first read. Cherry-pick them for any nominal value they might have as perspective or context, but what a waste of time to be "verifying" them.

So the internet and social media are merely a fast highway in the search for the real prize: authentic records, genuine articles. Way better and faster than even 20 years ago, when preliminary searches for material would involve physically travelling to courthouses, museums and university collections and sifting through many "maybe" connections to get even one "definite" connection.

Bottom line, it is now a much less-daunting task for any scholar who wishes to assess, use, or criticize material. duh.
 
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alan polk

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I do not know Dr. Hess and have only read a few of his books. I also have not read the article being discussed, except for the snippets provided by @DRW.

But I will have to say this in his defense: I contacted Dr. Hess out of the blue (via email) in regard to research I was conducting in respect to the Vicksburg Campaign. I felt he might have specific knowledge about aspects of my research.

In that email I told him I was not an historian but that I hoped to potentially publish something in the future in regard to my larger topic. In that initial communication, I asked if I could ask him questions for that purpose.

To my surprise, he responded to my email and gladly opened the way for further discussion. In fact, he and I corresponded with each other about my research for several months, wherein he gave me wonderful advice and suggestions. When I eventually asked him if he would read a rough draft of my work, he did not hesitate to do so. I received great feedback, including points of criticism that made my understanding even better.

He never once discouraged me or came across as a pompous academic holding disdain for my attempts at writing history without a pedigree.

So, without knowing the details of this debate, I nevertheless felt compelled upon reading this thread to at least share this aspect of Dr. Hess that I experienced.
 

DRW

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I do not know Dr. Hess and have only read a few of his books. I also have not read the article being discussed, except for the snippets provided by @DRW.

But I will have to say this in his defense: I contacted Dr. Hess out of the blue (via email) in regard to research I was conducting in respect to the Vicksburg Campaign. I felt he might have specific knowledge about aspects of my research.

In that email I told him I was not an historian but that I hoped to potentially publish something in the future in regard to my larger topic. In that initial communication, I asked if I could ask him questions for that purpose.

To my surprise, he responded to my email and gladly opened the way for further discussion. In fact, he and I corresponded with each other about my research for several months, wherein he gave me wonderful advice and suggestions. When I eventually asked him if he would read a rough draft of my work, he did not hesitate to do so. I received great feedback, including points of criticism that made my understanding even better.

He never once discouraged me or came across as a pompous academic holding disdain for my attempts at writing history without a pedigree.

So, without knowing the details of this debate, I nevertheless felt compelled upon reading this thread to at least share this aspect of Dr. Hess that I experienced.
Alan, you are 100% correct. This article is bizarre to me because while I do see that the academic skepticism toward "buffs" is very strong, as an amateur who has been academically published, I have enjoyed only encouragement and generosity from the many academics I have encountered in my Civil War and Reconstruction research.
 

Joshism

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Moreover, the tendency is that negative messages sell on the internet more readily than positive, truthful ones.
Cable news in a nutshell.

Those who take a thoughtful, scholarly approach in a world like this are at a severe disadvantage in winning converts to their cause.
This isn't a problem limited to the internet or the history field or even the 21st century.

To draw a parallel: if this article were about science instead of history, Hess' article would be saying that since there are trolls, loons, and simpletons claiming the Earth is flat and there is a conspiracy to hide this there should be no effort by scientists to explain to the public why the Earth is round(ish) and definitely not flat.
 

WJC

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it is now a much less-daunting task for any scholar who wishes to assess, use, or criticize material.
Thanks for your response.
You know that; I know that. Yet according to the abstract, the historians polled claim research is "daunting" because of the "multitude of informational websites".
Maybe they should buy a couple packs of 3x5 cards and attack the stacks the old fashioned way....
 

Lubliner

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Then again one should agree that even those of higher education and learning can have a bad day. It makes it worse when it cannot be erased from the memory of others. Has anyone ever heard an accredited academic admit of a blooper? Just wondering?
By the way @alan polk you made a very strong point of touching facts instead of my presumptive scale of judging.
Lubliner.
 

Dead Parrott

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I do not know Dr. Hess and have only read a few of his books. I also have not read the article being discussed, except for the snippets provided by @DRW.

But I will have to say this in his defense: I contacted Dr. Hess out of the blue (via email) in regard to research I was conducting in respect to the Vicksburg Campaign. I felt he might have specific knowledge about aspects of my research.

In that email I told him I was not an historian but that I hoped to potentially publish something in the future in regard to my larger topic. In that initial communication, I asked if I could ask him questions for that purpose.

To my surprise, he responded to my email and gladly opened the way for further discussion. In fact, he and I corresponded with each other about my research for several months, wherein he gave me wonderful advice and suggestions. When I eventually asked him if he would read a rough draft of my work, he did not hesitate to do so. I received great feedback, including points of criticism that made my understanding even better.

He never once discouraged me or came across as a pompous academic holding disdain for my attempts at writing history without a pedigree.

So, without knowing the details of this debate, I nevertheless felt compelled upon reading this thread to at least share this aspect of Dr. Hess that I experienced.
Thanks for conveying this. A very revealing and informative experience!
 

NH Civil War Gal

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@alan polk I deeply respect everything you write. As presented though, Hess' comments come off, to me at least, as deeply disrespectful to the historian who may not have all the bells and whistles of a straight historical academic career, AND to the reading public who may or may not be amateurs.
 
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