Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Are True Southrons Actually Hobbits?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 21, 2014

In the introductory lecture to his course on the coming of the Civil War, Eric Foner discusses the nature of historical revisionism, and why so many people are deeply uncomfortable with it:

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In one of my favorite books of history of a kind, The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien, he writes about the hobbits quote “hobbits like to have books filled with things that they already knew set out fair and square with no contradictions.” Of course this is a joke. The hobbits didn’t actually know anything. They knew virtually nothing about the world around them but they were satisfied because they had a familiar view of their own history. People like familiar stories. That’s why the term revisionist historian is a term of abuse out there in the public.
 
Didn’t Governor Christie the other day accused his critics of being revisionist historians? But to us that’s what we do. That is our job as historians to be revisionist. That is to say, to rethink the past, to think about new perspectives, to add new approaches. That’s what historians are supposed to do. But the point is familiarity is not the measure of the truthfulness of historical accounts.

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One needs always to keep in mind that the whole secession-wasn’t-about-slavery thing is itself revisionist, deliberately nurtured and embedded in the public consciousness in the decades after the war as the foundation of Lost Cause orthodoxy by people like Jubal Early and Mildred Rutherford. But the fact that it existed long before its modern-day advocates were born doesn’t make it any more true.

“Familiarity is not the measure of the truthfulness of historical accounts.” That kinda gets to the core of things, doesn’t it?

___________

GeneralStarsGray

 

 

 

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14 Responses

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  1. Jimmy Dick said, on September 21, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    The lectures are worth taking the class. I do not like the way the discussion boards are set up, but I have been going through some of them and have found some interesting conversations underway. I figure this may be the best way to study Foner on Foner and the Civil War than any other method. Plus, I really want to go through his Reconstruction materials with him. That is an area that needs a lot of development in the public consciousness.

    • Christopher Shelley said, on September 22, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      “Reconstruction…is an area that needs a lot of development in the public consciousness.”

      Yea, verily! And with the Sesquicentennial of Reconstruction coming, it seems a perfect time for us all to prep ourselves. I’m actually thinking of trying to get my school to do some sort of celebration of the 14th Amendment.

  2. OhioGuy said, on September 21, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    “One needs always to keep in mind that the whole secession-wasn’t-about-slavery thing is itself revisionist, deliberately nurtured and embedded in the public consciousness in the decades after the war as the core of Lost Cause orthodoxy by people like Jubal Early and Mildred Rutherford. But the fact that it existed long before its modern-day advocates were born doesn’t make it any more true.” — More profound truth packed in one short paragraph than I’ve seen in quite some time!

    • eshonk said, on September 29, 2014 at 7:28 pm

      OhioGuy, like so many others, support the theory that “secession was only about slavery,” even though the truth is that “secession was about much more than the one issue of slavery.” It’s fine if people want to cling to what they believe to be the truth, but they also must open their minds to the fact that what they believe is not necessarily the entire truth. As the old adage says, “There’s more than one side to every story,” and all sides of all stories must be acknowledged, if a person hopes to understand the issues involved. In other words, secession, as all aspects of the War for Southern Independence, is not a simple, one-note issue, but a complex and complicated topic, that takes time to do the research surrounding the issue. If a person is satisfied with being “spoon-fed” the one, “acceptable” answer to a question, then that person deserves to wallow in his own, self-imposed ignorance.

      • Andy Hall said, on September 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

        This is passive-aggressive trolling. You’re better than that.

        • eshonk said, on September 30, 2014 at 8:29 pm

          “Passive-aggressive trolling?” There is nothing “passive-aggressive” about my comments. I stated the need for people to be familiar with all aspects of the subject matter, before insisting on only one interpretation of the information available…in the interest of “intellectual honesty.” Do you have a problem with “intellectual honesty?”

          • Andy Hall said, on September 30, 2014 at 8:33 pm

            Let it go.

            • eshonk said, on September 30, 2014 at 8:44 pm

              Perhaps I was under the wrong impression re: the purpose of your blog. I thought it would be a site where I could interact with others who find the War for Southern Independence a compelling subject, and one that continues to be relevant in contemporary American life. From your replies to my postings, I was evidently incorrect to believe your blog would be of value in my pursuit of “intellectual honesty,” as it relates to the War for Southern Independence, and its causes. Apparently, you support only those who conform their comments to your narrow interpretations of the subject matter. In face of such conformity, there is no place for “intellectual honesty,” or for people like me. BTW…have you ever heard of “freedom of speech?”

              • Andy Hall said, on September 30, 2014 at 8:56 pm

                Yes, I’m familiar with freedom of speech. But your freedom of speech doesn’t obligate me to host it — yours or anyone else’s.

                As I said, let it go. You’ve made your point.

              • eshonk said, on October 1, 2014 at 5:30 am

                Thank-you.

  3. Ken Noe said, on September 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    According to the main speaker at the 2011 Davis inaugural reenactment/parade, the proper comparison is to Harry Potter.

  4. chancery said, on September 22, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks for highlighting Professor Foner’s witty and shrewd quotation from a book that’s also a favorite of mine, as well as for your own good comment expanding the point.

    After hearing about the course on Levin’s blog, I’d been wavering about signing up. I know Foner’s reputation and stature; I’ve read “Fiery Trial”, and my “read soon” list contains several more of his books. But there are plenty of good scholars whose lectures are painful to listen to; the web interface confused me at first look; and all along I was wondering doubtfully whether Foner’s lectures could possibly match the towering heights of Professor Blight’s outstanding course recorded several years ago at Yale.

    Your hobbit post pushed me over the edge, for which I’m in your debt. After taking the first lecture I’m securely hooked. Professor Foner is obviously an accomplished lecturer: clear, captivating, thoughtful, and prepared. The style (so far) is different from Blight’s, less magically evocative and elegiacal, but these are differences of taste more than anything else.

    I also treasured the vigorous and unapologetic way Foner discussed the politics of civil war history. This invigorating medicine may not go down so easily in certain quarters.

    Andy, thank you.

  5. Reed (the original, accept no substitutes) said, on September 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Prof. Foner is also one of several expert “talking heads” in the PBS “American Experience” documentary “Reconstruction: The Second Civil War.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reconstruction/index.html

    Like many “American Experience” documentaries it seeks to illuminate a complicated segment of American history by giving a general outline of events, while adding depth and texture to the larger overview by focusing on a handful of individuals and their personal stories. The film uses period photos, documents, and news reports mixed with filmed re-enactments of events and modern footage of some of the places involved, along with commentary from historians and sometimes, as it the case here, interviews with descendants of persons involved in the historical events.

    Our high school uses it as part of the US History curriculum and I’ve seen it several times when substitute teaching there. It’s quite effective and, because of that, it’s pretty depressing. The dvd is available through Amazon and others.

    And as a footnote, one of the on-camera interviews is James G. Marston III, the direct descendant (great-grandson, as I recall) of B. W. Marston, a planter in N.W. Louisiana and an ardent and violent anti-reconstructionist. In his closing statement in the film, James Marston proudly states: “The North won the war. In northwest Louisiana, we won Reconstruction.” Ugh.

    • Andy Hall said, on September 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      I’d argue that Marston is largely right. It’s whether that’s a good thing, is where he and I would differ. It’s not something to be proud of.


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