Greetings Cosmic Americans!
The other day, I tweeted what I thought would be a sort of "throw it out there and see what happens" tweet. My command, if you will: Civil War historians and buffs unite!!
I got the most intriguing response from my Twitter friend @josephaswanson. A straight forward question, really...he asked: is there a middle ground between the two, and if so, what is it called?
That is such an excellent question and one that I thought deserved a little attention. For starters - my position...as a credentialed Civil War historian (meaning: I have a lot of fancy pieces of paper hanging in my office and some people call me "Dr. Harris"). I think that scholars have a tendency to sort of look at so-called "buffs" or rather, those to whom popular history appeals, with a sense of superiority. Now this is not true of all scholars, so don't get the wrong idea. But I have run across many who speak of buffs in a dismissive tone. This is a very bad idea. Very bad indeed.
Here is the situation as I see it. 1) Civil War buffs and historians have an unquenchable thirst for war history. I think that point is well established. 2) A whole lot of Civil War era scholars publish books loaded down with esoteric language and academic jargon, which are thus inaccessible to the majority of the population. 3) Both groups tend to be insular. One seeing the other as either "drums and bugles" or academic claptrap.
But Joseph asks: what is the middle ground? I think the answer is apparent. Social media provide the platforms through which historians and buffs can engage in thoughtful conversation, debate, sharing of knowledge, etc. Oh sure - my experience tells me that you will come across plenty of crackpots, wingnuts, and knotheads along the way - but that is just life. Get used to it.
What you will find more of are people - those who hold advanced degrees and those who do not - with an interest in engaging with one another...speaking about, writing, and publishing Civil War history online. And there are may outlets. Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and a host of others provide free places to say whats on your mind. trust me - go on the web and start talking and people will respond. Lots of people.
I am writing an article as we speak on the value of social media and Civil War history. I (naturally) think it is of the utmost importance. I also accept the fact that there is a ton of information out there - some of it is just plain ridiculous. But that's OK - those of us with sense will see through it. I hope anyway. Another problem could be the sheer volume of historical documentation that we all have at our disposal. How do we begin to wade through the mountains of information currently being digitized a put on the Internet? I suppose our problems could be worse - and the answer(s) remain to be seen.
But of course, the historian/history buff nexus, from where I sit, are social media. Embrace, explore, publish. Who knows what we might figure out together.
btw - the guy in the picture is a random Civil War relic collector with his buckle display. He was the among the first in an image search for "Civil War Buff."