Why Is It Important To Study How We Remember The Civil War?, Brooks D. Simpson, Civil Warriors Weblog's URL
In the last two decades the scholarly study of how Americans remember the American Civil War has become something of a cottage industry in the profession. I admit that at times I grow a bit skeptical about it, even as I am intrigued by some of the findings. It’s not as if other historians have not written about memory before: the work of Merrill Peterson and Norman Cantor comes to mind. At times some studies simply employ in rough fashion the process of deconstruction evident in literature studies, and at times the conclusions reached in some of these studies seem to belabor the obvious. Indeed, it may well be time to take a step back in order to see how this field is progressing, and to do so with a little care and discernment, instead of rushing heedlessly ahead to find something else to dissect. That said, what I thought was obvious may strike others as new, and in any case I like that more people are approaching sources with a critical eye.
That said, there’s still a good reason to study how Americans remember the Civil War era, including the decades leading up to the war and the Reconstruction period. That’s because today we see people engaged in the misuse of the past to justify present political beliefs and some rather deplorable prejudices. Take, for example, this little affair, which Kevin Levin brought to my attention on Civil War Memory.
CWL:The instance that Levin [Civil War Memory] brought to the attention of Brooks is a controversy generated by a Sons of Confederate Veterans speaker and an communities heritage celebration
Brooks' phrase ". . . some studies simply employ in rough fashion the process of deconstruction evident in literature studies, and at times the conclusions reached in some of these studies seem to belabor the obvious" underscores CWL's understanding and feelings on much of academic literature being presented today to the educational and public marketplace.
Authors will defend their conclusions drawn from their deconstruction of evidence as being the only obvious conclusion that can be made from the evidence. Indeed, they see their conclusions as definitive because all other conclusions before their's have been generated by the climate of the times in which they have been written. Every historical interepretation is conditional on the era in which it was written. There are no exceptions.
A fine example are Jefferson Davis' and Alexander Stephens' writings before, during, and after the Civil War. Davis, the president, and Stephens, vice president, reflect climates of opinion unique to the pre-war and post-war South as lived by committed Confederates. It appears that neo-confedates have accepted the post-war but not the pre-war statements.
Image Source: Sons of Confederate Veterans