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The Future of Civil War History–Some Questions

On 14-15 March, I will be in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, participating in a three-day conference on “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th”. (The program can be found here.) My former comrade in Chancellorsville staff riding Christian Keller and I will be leading a few dozen participants around the Gettysburg Battlefield for about two-and-a-half hours in what is billed as “Rethinking the Staff Ride Model” before I high-tail it down to DC to catch a flight to New Orleans so I can participate in the Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History.

A look through the program for the Gettysburg conference, though, has raised a couple of questions in my mind. The session of the program on the evening of 14 March is billed as “Popular Misconceptions about Civil War Military History”. Other sessions are dedicated to such questions/issues as How Can Civil War Sites Offer a Usable Past during a Time of War? Strategies in Educational Programming, Exploring Violence in the Classroom and in a Museum Setting, and Building a Dialogue among Museum Professionals, Academics, and Civil War Re-enactors. These matters and others addressed at the conference are naturally of interest to those of us who work in the professional military education system, teaching today’s makers of military history–who also happen to be perhaps the Civil War’s most committed audiences of scholars and students. Thus, one would think that our perspectives would as a matter of course be considered of value and interest to anyone else wrestling with these issues.

And yet, of all the participants in the program, only Chris (who teaches at the Army War College in Carlisle) and myself, are members of the professional military education system, which invariably raises the following questions:

1. What place do those of us who work in professional military education, our perspectives, and our real and potential contributions as educators and scholars have in the “future of Civil War history”?

2. Why, if this program is any indication of where the thinking of those who presume to be determining the “future of Civil War history” rests, does the answer to the first question appear to be “rather marginal”?

The floor is open. If you do not have answers to these questions now, perhaps someone at the opening session on Thursday afternoon (which I expect to attend) will.

Comments (3) to “The Future of Civil War History–Some Questions”

  1. At the risk of sounding defensive, you have overlooked a hard fact. The Society of Military Historians is meeting the same week as The Future of Civil War History. We had, as a result, a number of military historians from the professional military education system who were previously committed and could not come to Gettysburg. I am sorry for that but our vision did include then despite your speculation. And I think we need to be more careful about using the word marginalization, which has become the hobby horse of too many. This event welcomes all people and it is structured to be highly conversational and open ended with the audience. What this conference shows is an integration of so many different ways that we engage the Civil War past and it is a testament to how far we have come in field. The program affirms that we are quite comfortable in talking across the aisle with a wide range of professionals and audiences. Again I apologize for sounding defensive and look forward to seeing you Thursday

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Pete. The bad timing vis a vis the SMH is not insurmountable, as with some effort it looks like I will be able to make it work. (In anything involving air travel these days it is best to wait until after the egg is laid to cackle.:)) But I don’t think it is unreasonable to wonder why the conflict could not have been avoided ahead of time.

    Moreover, concern about “marginalization” (however well-founded your words of caution in use of that term are), is a real one among military historians, especially those who work in PME. It is also one that your conference offers a particularly good forum for discussing. Thus, my raising the issue ahead of time.

  3. We could only hold the event during spring break so that we could access to classroom space. We just didn’t have any wiggle room on our end. Safe travels and look forward to seeing you tomorrow.