Re: The Society of Civil War Historians

I too received the mailings from the new and improved Society of Civil War Historians and think it is really making some great strides forward as an organization. For what they are worth, I do have some questions regarding the decision to organize yet another academic conference.

One is a practical consideration. Doing a separate conference just on the Civil War makes it three academic conferences in 2008 for students of the Civil War and military history—the Southern Historical Association, Society for Military History, and SCWH. My institution only provides travel funds for one conference a year and for a variety of compelling reasons I have chosen the SMH. Consequently, I have only attended the SCWH annual dinner once in the past few years and then only because I was on the program at the Southern. Although one of the cheapest of skates myself, I can’t imagine I am the only one who, facing constraints on travel time and budgets, is wondering how they can work in yet another conference into their schedule.

It seems to me that it might be a better use of resources to instead sponsor sessions that are part of the overall program at the Southern, OAH, AHA, regional conferences, or, as was recently done, at the SMH. I see the virtue in creating more targets of opportunity for participation in an academic conference, but this could be done by sponsoring additional sessions at the aforementioned meetings. This would also create more opportunities for the interaction and advancing of the dialog between military historians and Civil War historians and the rest of the historical profession that Mark has written so much about. Moreover, it is not like there is a shortage of academic conferences. Within reasonable driving distance of Fort Leavenworth, for example, every year there is the Mid-America Conference on History, the Missouri Valley History Conference, an OAH regional meeting, and the Northern Great Plains History Conference, as well as meetings of the various state historical societies/associations.

Comments (3) to “Re: The Society of Civil War Historians”

  1. I’m not sure it’s an either/or so much as a both/and. The SMH has its own conference and also sponsors sessions at many regional conferences (e.g., the Northern Great Plains mentioned in Ethan’s post). The SCWH could do the same.

  2. I’d have to agree with Ethan on this one: While it would be great to go to more conferences, the finances–not to mention the work schedule–won’t allow it. In several trips to the Southern, I have found that my area of research (the Trans-Mississippi) really isn’t considered “Southern” and therefore has no place at the Southern. The SMH would be a much better venue for a sub-conference. Having SCWH-sponsored sessions at smaller, regional conferences would scatter Civil War historians. Isn’t the whole point of a SCWH conference is to get Civil War scholars to congregate in one place?

  3. It seems to me that you historians are beginning to deal with an issue that we mathematicians have struggled with for years — the segregation of the discipline into sub-areas, and how that affects conferences. In the old days, everyone would just go to the annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society in January, and that was it, maybe going to a regional meeting if one was close by. But now there are meetings of myriad specialty societies in addition to the AMS, and we all have to decide where to spend our precious travel dollars. Personally, I find the annual meeting of the AMS less and less satisfying from a professional point of view, because the AMS does a poor job of serving applied mathematicians like myself. To the extent that this kind of thing might be true within the history community, I would welcome a group like the SCWH which better served my particular interests.

    JFE