21 July 2008

An Elite Education (& Worldview)

Many modern Civil War historians and academics suffer from this same type of disconnect and are, as this writer points out, inculcated with "a false sense of self-worth."

Many of these same individuals make fun of reenactors, SCV members, amateur and local historians, those proud of their Southern heritage, and anyone else who has anything other than a purely academic interest in the Civil War--or who--God forbid--happens to disagree with their interpretation of events. They impugn and insult them at every opportunity. They stereotype, condescend, assume motives, misquote, misunderstand, misinterpret, they contradict their own statements and, yes, they lie. They demonize the South in one sentence and deny they're doing it in the next, while all the time claiming "scholarly objectivity." They write of the South's burden regarding the slavery issue while ignoring the North's and then become defensive if anyone calls them on it, claiming it's irrelevant. And they write (poorly) boring books and commentary that not even Mensa members could make sense of, thinking that using 20 words, when 10 would suffice, makes them sound smarter.

They've convinced themselves that their "scholarship" and pronouncements are original and that no one else has ever considered their angle. They enviously criticize popular styles of historical narrative (i.e. David McCullough) that far outsells anything they could ever produce. They become especially condescending and emotional when anyone (even credentialed historians) challenges their politically correct orthodoxy. That's when the ad hominen attacks begin - the last refuge of those who can't answer an argument.

And then they wonder why they have so little influence among the general public and those who study the conflict casually, as a hobby, or as "entertainment" - to use their word. They believe that their "profession" is on the same level as a brain surgeon's and only they have the "sophistication," training, and intelligence to research, read, study and come to conclusions and interpret for the great unwashed masses. "How dare anyone challenge us!" How laughable. (Many of these same elitists do not, themselves, possess advanced degrees in history, but they do subscribe to the orthodoxy. That's what's important.)

Their self absorption and arrogance is so unappealing, but they do so enjoy talking to themselves.

And thus concludes this week's rant.


Robert Moore said...

Interesting post for July 21, considering the significance of the date in context with a major event of the war.

Nonetheless, I agree with you on some things... and don't agree on others.

Yes, there are those who poke fun at all things Confederate, and then there are those who, like myself, are frustrated... not with the people who lived 150 years ago, but with those who live today and give poor representation of the truth... and ALL of the facts in a particular argument. There seems to be a "holier than thou" attitude (not limited to academians or one side of an argument) out there among a select few that inhibits any possibility of an open mind.

That aside, when it comes to academia, you also have to understand the nature of academia. In academia, the Civil War is pretty much played-out. Try applying to a doctoral program while mentioning an interest in focusing on Civil War era studies... in many circles, it might as well be the kiss of death (and perhaps rightfully so, considering the saturation of the field). Those who have taken on the Civil War have to look at the subject from different angles (which isn't so bad really, or else we'd be faced with the same old stories over and over again). Sort of like looking at a Rubics Cube and coming up with new ways to solve the puzzle. Some "new" views are repetitious and end up weeding themselves out. Others are original in their approach and the student ends up sticking out his/her neck in defense of a thesis... and, depending on their ability to argue their point, they either fall or stand and move on to bigger things. And so, the cycle begins. Pretty much academians addressing academians and seeking approval among peers for their innovative viewppoints. So, a little self-absorption is expected from time to time. I think the real test for academians is in platforms such as blogs, when they step out of the conventional academic role and engage those other than academic peers. Of course, that isn't so easy either (and it counts "zip" toward published works to be considered for tenure). Nevertheless (to get back to my point), original work is necessary if one wants to hold the line on Civil War era studies.

As for popular history... depending on the source, there can be good reason to be critical. Yes, they might be raking in the dough, but that doesn't mean that what they are saying is correct. David McCullough (or perhaps his scripts from time to time) have had errors. He might be popular, but I think you would agree that being popular doesn't necessarily mean being correct (no matter how much money they bring in).

Personally, I like to merge a little popular history with academic history... entertainment with true history is possible (though frowned on by some academians).

I think a lot of what you said is true, but also applicable to some people on both sides of historical arguments.

Robert Moore said...

I forgot to add... regarding those that you mention who "enjoy talking to themselves." If you mean history bloggers, actually, stats show that people are not only reading posts and rants (to include yours and mine), but when good enough, the same people are returning time and time again to read more. It's convenient history in what I consider to be microwaved portions - quick and just enough to leave somebody hungry for more.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

All points well-taken Robert.

"Personally, I like to merge a little popular history with academic history... entertainment with true history is possible (though frowned on by some academians)."

I try to do the same.

"Holier than thou atttitude" (on both sides). Again, I agree.

Thanks for reading and thanks for the thoughtful input.

Michael Aubrecht said...

I agree with much of Robert's comments too Richard (as well as yours), but have to add that 'tearing other people down' in the process is what I have a problem with.

Challenging the material, seeking out new perspectives, and pushing the limits are all admirable goals that I can completely support. I also understand the need to find new angles, especially in the academic world.

It is when someone makes it a point to trash other people (who are not taking that course), or do so in order to cover up their own limitations, that I find fault. One historian comes to mind who has built his 'reputation' by taking pot shots at those who do not think they way he does.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Credibility is a big part of the issue. I could add additional comments, but I think my post pretty much sums it up. The piece I linked to was written by an academic who has seen this attitude from the inside.

pcarmich67 said...

I agree with some of your initial comments (Richard) about academia and professional history in general. But I would like for us to move away from classifying one group in any particular way and focus on the sources, both primary and secondary. If you have the time and inclination, I would be very interested in your response to my paper on Confederate slaves that is posted on Civil War Memory. I would appreciate it if we could keep the focus on my argument and use of evidence. I don't like stereotypes of academia and I don't care for stereotypes of the SCV---I have friends in both. Let’s try to get back to the history

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Dear Dr. Carmichael:

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and write. I was hoping someone of your stature from inside academia would comment.

I would be happy to read your post on Confederate slaves and respond. And, yes, I will focus my comments on your argument and use of evidence. I wish others would do the same.

I don't particularly care for the stereotypes either. I, too, have friends in both circles. Please understand I was just responding--in defense--to a recent barrage of attacks against those interested in Southern heritage.

It will be later tonight before I can read your comments and respond. Please be patient.

Thanks again,

pcarmich67 said...

Please call me Pete! Thanks for reading the piece and I welcome your feedback

pcarmich67 said...

Please call me Pete and thanks for taking the time to read my piece

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Pete" it is, sir!

Anonymous said...

In reply to the original post:

Amen brother!...Amen!...