More than Historiography

Although it is a book review, Foner spends little word space actually discussing the David Blight book. Instead, Eric details his own short historiography of the Civil War, explaining the different schools of scholarly thought and how events after the war’s end echoed so loudly of political implications, not only for Civil War historical interpretation, but also, of course, for the contemporary situations. Personally, I wouldn’t find this book interesting. I am not a big Civil War guy so it follows that I wouldn’t devote the time and effort to reading not only a Civil War history but one which goes into detail about post-bellum historiography. However that may be, one planning on concentrating in American history might find this book fascinating. Foner sounds like he is generally contented with Blights analysis, although his praise rarely comes through very strongly. More importantly, however, the author illustrates how relevant, emotional and debate-worthy historical memory is, especially with a topic as hot as the civil war and all its racial implications (which, even today after 150 years, is still significant). Southern historians generally tended to ignore the crucial role of African-Americans and slavery when reconstructing the Civil War, although Northern historians, at least for the first few of decades, were also quite stubborn in this regard. The ‘reconciliationist school’, which tended to be the dominant historical view, north and south, for much of the 19th and even early 20th centuries, glossed over or ignored the fact that slavery was pivotal in the causes, events and outcome of the war while the emancipationist school, the overwhelmingly dominant today, sought to clarify slavery’s role in the war. The interesting thing about the Civil War, from a 21st century historian’s perspective, is that the debates are not merely confined to academia, as are many historical debates (100 years war, etc.), but are still very much alive in the eyes of many southerners and even some of us yankees. The state of race relations in the South can still be traced back to the fighting in the 1860’s and that issue is much larger than the American Historical Society.

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