Blogs > Cliopatria > Divided By A Common Passion

Jan 26, 2007 1:58 pm

Divided By A Common Passion

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

A vigorous exchange is underway in the U.S. Civil War blogosphere about the relationship between"amateur" and"professional" historians: essentially meaning non-academic and academic historians, respectively. It reminds me of that song from the musical Oklahoma:"Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends." And it reflects a perennial issue when it comes to historical periods that interest both academics and lay people.

To follow the conversation, start with non-academic historian Eric Wittenberg's musings about whether to bother getting a graduate degree in history (and scroll through the numerous comments), then go to academic historian Brooks Simpson's thoughtful response (which has also generated a lot of comments). Eric replies and provides links to other blogs that have entered the conversation; e.g., J. D. Petruzzi and Kevin Levin. The tone is that the division between"professional" and"amateur" historians is unfortunate and leads to needless friction.

Ethan Rafuse offers a dissenting view to the"love fest" and attracts his share of comments, most of them critical of his insistence that there really are important distinctions between academic and non-academic historians. Among the commenters is Brooks, who promises -- and delivers -- a follow-up post.

The debate is still in full cry, and well worth checking out.

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Daniel Watkins - 1/26/2007

I grew up in Virginia, a state that pretty much requires your devotion to its history as an attempt at a guarantee against your ever criticizing it. But listen to this: my 7th grade history book actually said that prior to the civil war "..negroes were relatively happy being so taken care of.." God only knows what else the professional historians of the day wrote that I can't believe or don't remember. Such outrageous remarks served as part of the motivation I used for writing my own historical novel, a book that takes place a hundred years before the American Revolution. One thing that's evident in this experience so far is that I shouldn't expect support from any of today's professional historians. (Not that they haven't been approached.) Too bad. It's a well researched book that can only gain them more interest by its success. My favorite comment comes from a reviewer for Writer's Digest who said; "I felt as though I'd been transported back in sent me to my college American History book, and I appreciate the fact that I learned something heretofore unkown to me about America's past."

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