Thursday, October 8, 2020
October 8, 2020: Recent Reads: Civil War Scholarship
[Last October I had a lot of fun sharing and AmericanStudying some of my recent reads, and it brought out great responses and nominations for a crowd-sourced weekend post. So this year I wanted to do the same, and would love to hear what you’ve been reading for another weekend list!]
On three great books that reflect the breadth of contemporary Civil War scholarship (along with Adam Domby’s The False Cause, on which more as part of next week’s series).
1) Searching for Black Confederates (2019): I’ve been writing about Kevin Levin for nearly the whole of this blog’s history, and with good reason: his blog Civil War Memory was and remains one of the most potent inspirations for own public scholarly blogging. But while I’m thus clearly a fan of all of Levin’s work, I would say without qualification that Searching is his best work to date, a deeply researched, convincingly argued, compellingly written investigation into and dismantling of what he calls in his subtitle The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth. This is public scholarly writing at its finest, and the best argument for the evolving field of Civil War memory studies that I can imagine.
2) How the South Won the Civil War (2020): I honestly didn’t plan for this post to be an acknowledgments for my own online writing, but I have to be honest, historian Heather Cox Richardson (and especially her wonderful We’re History website) has been another hugely influential figure in the evolution of my public scholarly work and identity. Richardson’s own public scholarly profile has exploded this year, thanks to her hugely popular, nightly “Letters from an American” posts. But to my mind her best work this year, and quite possibly the best work of her very distinguished career to date, is How the South Won the Civil War—a book that is partly about the post-Civil War West, partly about 20th and 21st century white supremacy, and entirely an example of how the best Civil War scholarship is both revelatory about the Civil War and profoundly relevant to our own moment.
3) Dr. Mary Walker’s Civil War (2020): While both of those books are about the Civil War’s aftermaths, legacies, and memories at least as much as the war itself, it’s important to note that there is (as there will always be) still a place for scholarly writing focused centrally on wartime histories and stories. The best such book I read this year is this one, by recently retired history professor (and my longtime Twitter friend) Theresa Kaminski. Kaminski has been writing about what she calls “fascinating, scrappy women” for many books and projects now, and Walker is a great example: a Civil War physician who became the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor, and a lifelong women’s rights activist to boot. I could tell you more, but Kaminski tells it better than I could—so check out this great book, and all three of these models of Civil War scholarship!
Last recent read tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Recent reads you’d share for the weekend post?