Print Project Proposal: Online Debates on the Civil War

For my project I would like to research the debates, discourses, and book selections of online hobby historians of the Civil War. I intend to look at various blogs regarding the Civil War as well as websites about the Civil War created by hobby historians, and also  discussion boards that foster an online scholarly community for hobby historians. I intend to compare the debates and major issues that non-professional historians talk about to those debated by professional scholars within the academic community. I expect to find that professional historians incorporate a broader historical context regarding the Civil War and its carnage but I am curious how non-professionals construct their views about the Civil War.

I expect to find many debates over military tactics and strategy from the war. Because many hobby historians have military backgrounds, I expect to find a wealth of information regarding major battles like Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Antietam. I will also closely study the literature that these hobby historians are reading to construct their views and opinions about the battles.

For example, non-academic historian Shelby Foote wrote a three volume behemoth of a work about the entire Civil War. I am curious to find out if non-professional history students and buffs imbibe Foote’s monograph collection or are they more likely to absorb James McPherson’s classic narrative, Battle Cry of Freedom? One website I looked at included a poster’s top twelve history books about the Civil War and the list included two books by the late professor Bruce Catton and current professor James McPherson. This interplay between non-professional hobby historians and professional historians is a key focus of my project because I am in part trying to answer the question: “how much influence does academia have over the non-professional community in a topic like the Civil War?”

Another website I examined lists a blogger’s favorite publishers, which include both the University of North Carolina Press and another, smaller online publisher for e-books for non-professional historians. I expect to find a messy, convoluted relationship between non-professional and professional historians in which some non-professional hobby historians sometimes resort to professional academic works while others do not.

Lastly, I am interested to look for examples of contentious, heated arguments that amount to cyber bullying regarding Civil War debates. Professional scholars on discussions boards like H-Diplo might give an occasional jab at a fellow colleague on his or her views but they do not resort to name calling or other vituperative behavior. I am interested to look at online debates held by hobby historians and to look for examples of cyber bullying to see if they can hold civil debates about controversial, divisive topics.

2 Replies to “Print Project Proposal: Online Debates on the Civil War”

  1. I think this looks like an awesome project idea! I am a big civil war buff and focused on the Civil War for my undergraduate thesis. I have read all the books you have mentioned and would be very interested. I think it would be neat if you referenced The Civil War, Ken Burns’ documentary somehow because I bet there is some great discussion on that. I hope you write this project, because I already want to read it!

  2. Online debates about the Civil War is a great topic area. If you decide to go with this as your project there are two primary things you are going to want to pin down.

    1. What literature can you draw from to help illuminate this situation? I’d suggest reviewing some of the works we read, like Cohen and Rosenzweig, and Can history be open source, for some ideas to hang this project off of.

    2. The scope here is very broad. You would want to focus in on a very specific site or conversation to really dig into. Further, you are going to want to make sure that the very focused scope is in conversation with the literature you hang the project off of. For example, I wrote an article we will read later this year that is entirely about one discussion thread in the Civilization forums. You might also check out some of the very neat work that Robert Glenn Howard does on the vernacular web.

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