Monday, June 26, 2006

Am I a Centennialist?

Another day and yet another Centennialist rant. Does the fact that somebody reads and is inspired by a populist publication like American Heritage make one a Centennialist? If so I must be one because my first exposure to the Civil War came from the pages of AH and their picture history. If I am one does that mean so are Gary Gallagher and Gerry Prokopowicz? I heard them both say that AH was one of their first exposures to the Civil War. Maybe I should clean out my book case and fill the holes with some good quality anti-centennialist writings. I am still under forty so maybe there is time for me to purge my soul and get rid of the albatross around my neck.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Harry said...

I'm not going to pretend to understand just exactly what Dmitri means by "centennialist." But I've found something that I can bend to apply to the term, and it works for me. It comes from a post made by Mark Grimsley on Civil Warriors, "Think Anew, Write Anew":

"One of the characteristics of much (although not all) writing on the American Civil War is the tendency to rehash the same old arguments and repeat the same old narrative lines. To be sure, novelty for novelty’s sake is not always a good idea, in that the outrageous and the outlandish often become mere distractions. But in a career marked by reading and writing, it is interesting how at time(s) we spend so little time thinking … and I mean thinking long, hard, and deep about what we do and how we do it. I fear that at times we’ve lost the ability to look at sources with fresh eyes, to read them or look at them freed of as much baggage as we bring to our work."

Massaging this quote, I view a centennialist as someone who basically rehashes or builds upon the narrative established during the period surrounding the centennial, without questioning the validity of that basis. Someone who starts at square 100 instead of square 1.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Harry, thank you. Your view of Centennilist is straight forward and easy to understand. If this Dimiti's view I would like to see him spell it out as to how McPherson and others are rehashing. Maybe they are in some areas but I don't see it. Is his crime that he wrote a good book about the Civil War that received critical acclaim and won an award or is that he tried to bring an understanding of history to the masses? I don’t get what the issue is.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Harry, -- I agree with your point, but it seems to me that an honest overview of the historiography over the past 30 years suggests that this is the case. You can only make Dimitri's point if you confine your focus to the Lincoln-McClellan relationship, which is all Dimitri seems to know or care about. You won't find a working definition of a centennialist because the category is a fiction of his own apparent narrow reading.

5:46 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Harry, -- Who would disagree with the idea of thinking anew? Surely you don't need a new category of interpretation to make that point. The problem - as I've pointed out more than once - is you can't define a school of thought by focusing on one narrow theme. Enough already with the Lincoln-McClellan relationship and Antietam. Dimitri's post suggest that he either doesn't care or doesn't really understand the way the historiography has evolved. Any real grasp of it would lead you to the conclusion that there is plenty of innovation. Even his most recent post on Mark Neely focuses on McClellan and Lincoln. Neely has much more to say in that book.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

I do moderate the comments on this blog only becuse I have recived a few off color remarks. Sometimes there is a delay before the comments get posted.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Harry said...

Kevin,

I can't speak for Dmitri. I don't know him any better than I do you. But as for his comments on Neely's book, you might check out the CWBN entry on 6/20/06 titled "Glaciers and Icepicks". I don't think McClellan is mentioned in that post.

Harry

8:48 PM  

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