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.

Project Ideas

I am interested in creating a website that describes/highlights/distills the experiences that visitors of World War I French battlefield sites have posted online. As I would expect to find many visitor experiences written in French, I see my potential project as a method for the translation of stories, experiences, and World War I battlefield histories by French visitors into English so that curious online viewers can better understand how visitors of French World War I battlefields reacted to their experiences. I would expect to delve into French online tourist sites and hopefully improve my francais during the project.

My second idea pertains to researching online blogs and discussion boards from nonacademic websites regarding people’s views and debates about either the American Revolution or the Civil War. I am interested in finding out the discourses that hobby historians are having online outside of academia and finding out their points of view and hopefully their sources. I would expect my project to feature many debates surrounding military battles as many American military veterans enjoy reading and posting about historical battles, tactics, and strategy.