Much Ado About Revisionist History

storyAs you must surely know by now (as I mention this often), I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet for people discussing America history – usually of the 19th-century variety – but I will have a look at nearly anything that piques my interest. Youtube and Twitter are of course my favorite virtual forums – they never disappoint.

I have noticed something that, as a historian, I find really really really disconcerting. The word “revision” seems to carry a negative connotation. And individuals all over the place hold the so-called practitioners of “revisionist history” with the greatest contempt.

Now this comes from both ends of the political spectrum. Those who finger point and accuse don’t necessarily fall into any easily defined category.

But the way I understand things, people who are screaming about revisionism are kinda missing the point. The words “revision” and “revisionist” have simply been reduced to a code for analytical conclusions that disgruntled would-be historians disagree with. (Bitter??? Table for one).

Here’s the deal my angry f-bomb dropping friends. Revision is what historians do. If we didn’t revise, there would be one history book that would cover the whole enchilada. We would all read it, and that would be it.

Oh sure – historians can write with a bias, and what they write can certainly be a reflection of the times in which they live. But is this by definition a bad thing or something that we simply must come to terms with and be aware of? What we learn about history and historians can tell us a lot about ourselves as interpreters of the past. If you really want to impress your friends at parties – get in to historiography. Now that’s some revision we can talk about. Are there noticeable differences in books written before and after the Vietnam era (to use one sorta obvious example)? You betcha.

But all of that aside, I believe that revision is the essential ingredient to reconstructing the past. New evidence always surfaces somewhere, differing analysis produces thoughtful conversations, new insights lead us to reconsider something we may have thought we knew…but didn’t.

In other words – you can get all bent out of shape if someone challenges your precious beliefs. But instead of dismissing that person as a “revisionist” in derogatory fashion, why not just have a look at what they are saying, weigh the arguments in terms of credibility, see if their evidence holds water. Do you really want to learn anything – or do you just want to hold fast to what could very well be long outdated?

I am open to critique…so fire away.

With compliments,

Keith

Gone With the Wind and the Battle of Atlanta Wounded

Yesterday, after a lively exchange between historians on Twitter, several of us decided to have some sort of Internet discussion concerning part or all of the 1939 blockbuster Civil War era film, Gone With the Wind. Many of us in the teaching/historian professions have used this film as a teaching tool. It packs quite the educational punch – for any number of topics.

I plan on figuring out some sort of way to host a live Gone With the Wind panel discussion and broadcast it for anyone to see and join in the conversation. But for now we can talk here.

Today I offer a compelling scene – one that was intended to demonstrate the tragedy of the Confederate war. The scene touches many Lost Cause bases, including a score infusing southern patriotic songs with a minor note here and there. Subtle, I know.

At any rate, feel free to discuss at length in the comment section below.

With compliments,
Keith

Reflections

BPI spent part of my weekend re-reading chapters from Stephen Cushman’s Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle. This volume is among my favorite Civil War titles. It is not a narrative of a battle; in some ways it is not a history at all.

These are a poet’s reflections on a momentous few days in early May, 1864. In Virginia. In the Wilderness.

I have read this book many times. Once or twice from cover to cover. More often I read the chapters out of order. Not because I find the author’s arrangement flawed – but because they speak to me in a particular manner on a particular day. There are few selections in my library that I find myself returning to over and over…

and over again. So,

a review? No, I do not think I will, thanks for asking. But I will provide an enthusiastic endorsement.

With compliments,

Keith

Hush’d be the Camps To-day

97r/36/vica/8084/03As we hear so much these days about the death of one president, I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s reflections on the death of another.

HUSH’D be the camps to-day;
And, soldiers, let us drape our war-worn weapons;
And each with musing soul retire, to celebrate,
Our dear commander’s death.

No more for him life’s stormy conflicts;
Nor victory, nor defeat–no more time’s dark events,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.

But sing, poet, in our name;
Sing of the love we bore him–because you, dweller in camps, know it
truly.

As they invault the coffin there;
Sing–as they close the doors of earth upon him–one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.

With compliments,

Keith