25 March 2013

One Set Of Rules For Academic Historians, Another Set For Everyone Else

This is so typical and so instructive. Some time ago Professor Brooks Simpson, along with some of his readers, pointed to a Salon Magazine article that, among other things, was described like this in the post's comments:

"contrived to fit his political views"

"[an] attempt to link today to the Civil War is really just an attack on the other people that do the same thing but write for a different political ideology."

"a clownish article."

"That article is absurd."

"the writer . . . is a moron who is totally ignorant of American History. Except to skew it his own way."

After reading the Salon piece, I made the following observation:

Frankly, I don’t see a whole lot of difference between what O’Hehir writes and what Professor David Blight has written:

“The Civil War is not only not over, it can still be lost. As the sesquicentennial ensues in publishing and conferences and on television and countless websites, one can hope that we will pursue matters of legacy and memory with one eye on the past and the other acutely on the present.”

See here.

“Why doesn’t the Confederacy just fade away? Is it because we are irresistibly fascinated by catastrophic loss? Or is it something else? Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history?
See here.

To which an educator responded:

Those two quotes need to be read in context. They both deal with the memory and study of the war, not it’s political projections.

To which I responded:

You must be reading two different articles. The two pieces are about as political as one could get:
“And, ideologically, many of the issues of 2011 are much the same as in 1861.”

“Today, states’ rights claims are advanced by many governors and Republican-majority legislatures in the very language of “secession” and “nullification” made so infamous in antebellum America. They are aided and abetted by a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, although the justices have not justified “nullification” by name.”

“The conservative movement in America, or at least its most radical wing, seems determined to repeal much of the 20th century and even its constitutional and social roots from the transformative 1860s.”

And that’s just the first article.

I challenge anyone to read the Salon piece and Professor Blight's articles and convince me that they're not both singing from the same songbook - each serving as an echo chamber for the other.

Isn't it quite instructive that Professor Blight and Mr. O'Hehir are saying pretty much the same thing about the Civil War and modern politics, yet the Salon author is depicted as a political hack while the guru of Civil War academic historians gets a complete pass? Not only does Professor Blight get a pass, but he was the headliner at a recent conference where academic historians discussed the future of Civil War history. Oh boy, I can't wait to see what they have planned for the rest of us.


ropelight said...

I can't accept your challenge, you're correct. They may not know each other or be in cahoots, but they're sisters under the skin alright.

Andrew O'Hehir and David Blight are singing from the same hymnal and they're tap dancing to the same tune, but only one of them is paying the piper.

O'Hehir gets hammered by most of Simpson's commenters for twisting history, but Blight's use of the same Procrustean claptrap motivated by the same wrongheaded misconceptions is met with silence or even denial from the same sharp tongued critics even when the evidence is put right under their noses.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Rope - you sum it up rather nicely. Thanks for commenting.