Monday, July 31, 2006

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new [military history] under the sun.

Of course, that's not to say it can't be told in a more interesting, and accurate fashion. A couple of entries ago, I mentioned that in perusing the Ayers, et. al., textbook, American Passages, I noticed that some Civil War-era, chapter ending recommendations for further reading included both James McPherson's expansive Battle Cry of Freedom, and David Eicher's strictly military narrative, The Longest Night. I see that Professor Grimsley weighed in on the subject again today as well.

I queried Professor Ayers, Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia, about these recommendations, and the value of military accounts. He was gracious enough to reply, and gave permission to post his comments in the blogosphere. He wrote:

To answer your question about narratives (and your eagle-eyed analysis of the bibliographical notes in Passages!): I do think there is a need for close analysis of military history AS military history. Just as we cannot understand law or literature without specialists' knowledge, so we cannot understand actions on a battlefield. I have enormous respect for those who can comprehend the complexity of armies and battles, a respect only increased by working with my colleague Gary Gallagher. That said, my own particular passion in all my work is seeing how the various parts of life connect. I approach military history from the perspective of someone who is very much a social and cultural historian but who recognizes the centrality of warfare in a war. In Presence I did my best to do justice to military events within a larger context. I'm not sure there is a new military history, but people do seem more interested in bridging, from both directions, long-standing divisions in the writing of history. And that can only be welcome.

Dr. Ayers will be our guest in The Civil War Forum on October 7th, 4:00 p.m. E.S.T., to field questions for an hour on all manner of things, from his booksincluding In the Presence of Mine Enemies, and What Caused the Civil War? Reflections on the South and Southern History, to his work on the fascinating digital venue, The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War.

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