Discussion Are "Civil War Military Historians Freaking Out"?

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David Knight

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I have not looked at this thread for sometime and I have only looked through the last page or two..

Slave armies, regiments of the negros in the CSA Armies with no records. All sounds a bit far fetched to me. Who who the leader of this mass of troops - Sparticus?
 

Pat Young

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I deleted a comment that I'd written yesterday before posting that most of us here didn't spend quite so much money as on a Harvard degree, but the threads posted here generally have more documentation on Black Confederates--from both sides--than in Stauffer's article.

I'm neither a historian or a Civil War expert, but I've researched the family legends about selling goods to the Confederacy--and believe them to be true. But that's because I found actual invoices online at Fold3. Seems like one would expect at least that from a Harvard historian writing about the era.
Yeah, I think you are right. If you are making the claims Stauffer is making, you need to bring the docs.
 

DanF

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They can't develop their new theories and exciting methodologies if they are going to accept the unreasonable demands of evidence being required to support them.

They have to abandon such old fashioned notions to blaze new and exciting trails.
 
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Pat Young

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They can't develop their new theories and exciting methodologies if they are going to accept the unreasonable demands of evidence being required to support them.

They have to abandon such old fashioned notions to blaze new and exciting trails.
Ok to blaze new trails and to develop new sources, but you have be transparent about them, explain them, and defend them.
 

DanF

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Ok to blaze new trails and to develop new sources, but you have be transparent about them, explain them, and defend them.
And make sure they meet a reasonable standard as to what constitutes evidence.

So far this guy Downs seems barely above claiming "gone with the wind" as a historical document.
 
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Pat Young

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From his blog:

"In any case, the question scholars should be asking is why this issue cannot be put to rest?"
 

Pat Young

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From Simpson:

Armies get to determine who are soldiers in those armies. Other people may perform tasks akin to those performed by soldiers, but that does not make them soldiers–except, I guess, in the eyes of Jim Downs and many of the proponents of what we’ve come to call the myth of black Confederates. We do not know when the Sons of Confederate Veterans will ask Downs to share his embrace of their reasoning that any service performed by enslaved blacks in Confederate military service makes them black Confederate soldiers, but we know that many of them read this blog, so the idea’s now out there.
 
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Pat Young

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Simpson on M. K. Nelson's focus on Kevin Levin:

But what Nelson found even more objectionable was Levin’s statement that Stauffer’s mishandling of evidence “ought to be seen as a warning to anyone who makes the decision to wade into a new field of historical inquiry”–a claim Nelson asserted resembled notions of gatekeeping. That touched a nerve, as Nelson made clear. She chose to remind us of recent work by several able scholars that “bring new methodologies to bear on long-standing questions; they use print, visual, and material sources in addition to the OR and soldiers’ diaries and letters in innovative ways. They heed no warnings.”


All of this seemed to make much out of little and to take Levin’s invocation of Gallagher and Meier to a place that I did not recognize, an impression reinforced by the overwrought title. Levin was neither gatekeeper nor traditional military historian, and he was not “freaking out” in the manner ascribed by Nelson to such people. Many of these issues were hashed out on Facebook pages and thus were not apparent to readers of the comments section of Nelson’s blog. In response to those observations she toned down the title of the entry but otherwise stood firm. Nevertheless, it was very clear that she was not endorsing Stauffer. She stated that his “essay is on the extreme end in terms of its massive leap from evidentiary base to argument — and military historians should not use it as representative of Civil War cultural history more broadly.” In other words, don’t use Stauffer as a strawman to take shots at cultural historians writing about the era of the American Civil War.
 

Pat Young

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Levin writes:

Rather than approach this debate narrowly as historians we ought to think of ourselves as educators. I’ve maintained from the beginning that this debate offers the perfect window for historians to engage the public on a number of related issues. We may not be able to “suppress this myth” but as someone who has approached the debate in just this way, I am quite satisfied with the tiny difference I have made.
 
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Sarah Handley addresses the original Gallagher/Hess articles that launched the military historians' supposed counter-offensive against the "cultural" historians:

This plea for the preservation of military history isn’t what caused the uproar. Instead, it was the authors’ frustration with social and cultural history, or “war studies,” which have helped bring the experiences of women, children, blacks, and Native Americans into the study of the war era. That’s a good thing. But in addition to broadening the field, the authors suggest that these historians, probably influenced by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, take an anti-war stance in their work, making traditional military history unpopular inside the academy. An important aspect of this turn — and the one that raises the most ire with Gallagher, Meier, and Hess — is a move toward so-called “dark history,” which focuses on the disturbing and less glorious aspects of the war. In recent years, historians of the “dark side” have challenged our beliefs about the realities of emancipation for freedpeople and reminded us of the rape and torture perpetrated by Confederate and Union soldiers alike. Others — myself included — have started to investigate the lives of Civil War veterans, particularly those with physical and mental wounds. This, at least according to the defenders of military history, is “marginal” work that is at best misleading and at worst, presentist and ahistorical. As Gallagher and Meier put it, “the analytic risk of overemphasizing the dark side is that readers who do not know much about the war might infer that atypical experiences were in fact normative ones.”
 

James B White

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As Gallagher and Meier put it, “the analytic risk of overemphasizing the dark side is that readers who do not know much about the war might infer that atypical experiences were in fact normative ones.”
That reminds me of a similar mindset among reenactors. Some say that research of atypical things shouldn't be brought forth, because the less careful reenactor will use it out of context and wear/carry/do it where it wasn't historically. There's emphasis on keeping everything typical and generic.

My argument has been that stifling information is never a good thing, and the worst or least-interested people shouldn't be leading the direction of research. If a person with new information presents the context accurately, it's not their responsibility if someone else takes it out of context.

Similarly, if something makes war look bad, trying to stifle that information won't work in the long run, and is against the very purpose of studying history. If the information is presented in context, it's not the fault of the researcher that others take it out of context, whether it's "those people" claiming every servant is a black soldier or every failed freedman's camp is a sign that slavery was a superior institution. Or whether it's anti-war people claiming that a certain inevitable level of PTSD or rape of civilians is too high a price to pay for war. (I'd hope pro-war people are aware of the costs as well as the benefits and have decided it's worth the price, rather than trying to remain unaware.)

Telling researchers not to research and write about their findings just won't end well. And if some people are interested in a topic but uneducated about it, then we need to educate them, not keep information from them like slaveowners confiscating abolitionist literature.
 
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Pat Young

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That reminds me of a similar mindset among reenactors. Some say that research of atypical things shouldn't be brought forth, because the less careful reenactor will use it out of context and wear/carry/do it where it wasn't historically. There's emphasis on keeping everything typical and generic.

My argument has been that stifling information is never a good thing, and the worst or least-interested people shouldn't be leading the direction of research. If a person with new information presents the context accurately, it's not their responsibility if someone else takes it out of context.

Similarly, if something makes war look bad, trying to stifle that information won't work in the long run, and is against the very purpose of studying history. If the information is presented in context, it's not the fault of the researcher that others take it out of context, whether it's "those people" claiming every servant is a black soldier or every failed freedman's camp is a sign that slavery was a superior institution. Or whether it's anti-war people claiming that a certain inevitable level of PTSD or rape of civilians is too high a price to pay for war. (I'd hope pro-war people are aware of the costs as well as the benefits and have decided it's worth the price, rather than trying to remain unaware.)

Telling researchers not to research and write about their findings just won't end well. And if some people are interested in a topic but uneducated about it, then we need to educate them, not keep information from them like slaveowners confiscating abolitionist literature.
I think you are on to something.

I also appreciate the fact that the scholar who wrote about disabled soldiers, Sarah Handley, is young and exploring an area that has not received the attention that it deserves. I like the fact that she is using a collective blog to share her research and analysis, and that she responds to questions in the Comments section. It is good for anyone presenting "atypical" material to understand the necessity to serve as a guide for the perplexed.
 

Pat Young

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Simpson says of Stauffer and Downs:

It’s been nine days since Harvard historian John Stauffer raised a ruckus with his commentary about black Confederate soldiers... and six days since Jim Downs used his platform on Huffington Post to add his two cents (adjusted for inflation). Other than Downs, the only people who have commended Stauffer’s article are select Confederate heritage advocates, which proves that sometimes poor scholarship makes for strange bedfellows. Neither historian has chosen to respond to the specific criticism leveled at their contributions to the discussion … and I no longer expect that either one will. This suggests that neither historian was interested in engaging in serious discussion, but perhaps just wanted to offer something sensationalistic to make a splash.
 
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Pat Young

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Simpson also takes to task those academics who disapprove of people like Kevin Levin contradicting someone like Stauffer who makes Black Confederate claims. Simpson writes:

Historians soon learn that the job of correcting misconceptions is a never-ending one. I’m always puzzled that it is the people who correct the misconceptions and not the people who perpetuate them who come in for the most scrutiny from third parties...
 
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