Good Blogs with Good Stuff

30 09 2007

 

Brian Downey at Behind Antietam on the Web has a great post on Antietam personality John Moulder Wilson.  The post features an 1862 Gardner Gibson (thanks Brian) photo that is part of my round table program.  At First Bull Run, Wilson was a lieutenant in Capt. Carlisle’s Battery E, 2nd US, which was attached to Schenck’s brigade of Tyler’s division.  At least, I think he was.  Brian’s post is a good illustration of why we must be careful to nail these IDs down and not take or make them at face value.  He does some great detective work, and I don’t say that just because he points out some shoddy scholarship by – and a resulting faulty conclusion of – a notorious chronicler of the Battle of Antietam.

Jennie Jenny Goellnitz of Draw the Sword weighed in on my post on History as Narrative.  She has some interesting thoughts on the subject which are worth a look.  However, I should clarify that my point was not so much that the narrative form is deficient in its ability to convey what it was like to be present at a historical event, but rather that the form itself creates an orderly story which may be, and is quite likely, very different from what really happened.  That can be, and is quite likely, true even when the narrative is of the highest quality.

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3 responses

30 09 2007
brian

Thanks for the play, Harry, but the detective work ain’t that deep – it was a joy to pull the threads. I had the advantage of easy web access to otherwise obscure sources, too, which made it easy to check on that famous author.

But, then, you’d like anything poking at he-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned … :)

1 10 2007
Jenny

Hi Harry,
I just meant to use your post as a “bouncing off” point to go rambling off in my own direction. :)
I see what you’re saying about the narrative form creating an orderly story that may not actually reflect reality. Trying to create an orderly story out of something that was total chaos (a la a battle) does likely distort what “really” happened. However, I’m not really sure there is a good alternative. It seems to be human nature when experiencing an event to try and shape it into some sort of order — put it into a sequence (even if it doesn’t really fit), make some sort of sense of it. As you said, that seems to be how our brains work and process things.
I enjoyed your post and like I said, I do think these are good things to think about. They are the type of questions that go to the very heart of why we study history and what history should be.

1 10 2007
Harry Smeltzer

Brian,

Don’t sell yourself short: you’re a tremendous slouch! Thanks for the info on Wilson, Wilson, and that other guy, Wilson.

Jennie,

Thanks for the thought you’ve given to the subject of History as Narrative. I really enjoy your blog. Also thanks for the analysis of lawyers as historians. While the attorney’s training in the evaluation of evidence is certainly applicable to the study of history, their primary role as advocates must also be kept in mind when considering the similarities and differences between the professions.

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