The bad news is, LMU’s Homecoming had to switch to a virtual format this year because of COVID. The good news is, since we recorded a lot of the programming, you folks can watch the ALLM staff’s panel discussion about our big museum renovation. Here it is:
…and it’s as captivating and vivid as his narration of battles from 150 years ago.
It seems like we’ve lost so many towering, venerable historians over the past year or two. On September 15, the eminent Civil War authority Ed Bearss passed away at the age of ninety-seven.
Bearss began his career with the National Park Service at Vicksburg in the 1950s, where he helped discover the wreck of the gunboat Cairo. In 1981 he became the NPS chief historian and occupied that position until 1994. He was the author of a number of books on the Civil War (particularly the war in Mississippi) and received nearly every accolade there is for battlefield interpretation and preservation, including the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Battlefield Trust.
His battlefield tours were legendary. Over the course of his career, he guided thousands of visitors across the ground where the Union endured its ordeal by blood and fire, and continued to do so at an age when most public historians are decades into retirement. His vivid, dramatic, and eloquent style of narration brought these landscapes to life, and made him one of the most memorable commentators from Ken Burns’ Civil War series.
Bearss was not only a student and interpreter of military history, but a combat veteran himself. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 and fought in the Pacific Theater, where he was badly wounded by machine gun fire.
He inspired and influenced generations of students, scholars, and enthusiasts, and I doubt we will see his like again.
Last night, Lara Trump carried on a venerable American tradition: misquoting the sixteenth president.
“Abraham Lincoln once famously said, ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside,’” she told viewers. “‘If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.’”
Well, no. He didn’t say that—at least not in those words. But he did express the same basic idea in 1838:
At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
More history flubs popped up in congressional candidate Madison Cawthorn’s remarks. “James Madison was just twenty-five years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence,” Cawthorn said. Madison didn’t sign the declaration at twenty-five or any other age.
Cawthorn also noted that George Washington received his first commission at a young age, although I’m not sure accidentally starting a world war is something one should aspire to.
We’ve lost another eminent scholar of early America—indeed, he was a titan of the field. Bernard Bailyn passed away on August 7 at the age of ninety-seven.
It would be hard to overstate Bailyn’s importance to the study of colonial and Revolutionary America. His work was wide-ranging; he wrote about New England merchants, the Revolutionaries’ ideology, Loyalists, colonial migrations and demographics, and Atlantic connections. A two-time Pulitzer winner, he was also a recipient of the Bancroft Prize and the National Humanities Medal, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was an innovator, both methodologically and conceptually.
Bailyn’s book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution was one of the most transformative studies of the American founding ever written. It’s one of those rare historical works that makes you feel as if you’ve seen its subjects’ world from the inside out; a work so profound in its implications, so persuasive and elegant in its presentation, and so saturated with source material that you can’t help but see the past differently once you’ve read it.
He trained some of the most acclaimed American historians of the twentieth century, including Pauline Maier, Gordon Wood, Mary Beth Norton, Jack Rakove, and Peter Wood, and he was himself a student of Perry Miller, the seminal scholar of Puritanism. For that reason, his death almost feels like a sort of trans-generational rupture, as if we’ve lost a flesh-and-blood link between the field’s modern foundations and some of the finest practitioners still working today. But his own body of scholarship and the ongoing contributions of his students (and their students) should ensure that we’ll continue to feel his influence for a long, long time.
Here’s a little sneak peek the folks in LMU’s University Advancement division put together for us.
It’s called “Lincoln Log,” a series of conversations with Lincoln scholars. They’re also uploading the interviews to Youtube. Here’s the first episode, featuring David Blight and his work on Frederick Douglass.
In the seventh installment of Civil War Connect, the ALLM‘s own Natalie Sweet and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine‘s Jake Wynn discuss health (or the lack thereof) in Civil War prisons.
We lost one of America’s finest historians this year.
Some time ago word went around on Twitter that Charles Royster had passed away, but I didn’t see anything official until somebody passed along this obit from the AHA. Royster was Boyd Professor of History at Louisiana State University.
He completed his Ph.D. at Berkeley under Robert Middlekauff, writing a monumental dissertation—monumental both in its importance and its size—on the Continental Army. The dissertation became the basis of his book A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783, which won the Francis Parkman Prize, the National Historical Society Book Prize, and the Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award.
That volume alone would have been sufficient to establish him as one of the premier scholars of American history, but his Civil War study The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans was just as acclaimed as his first book, winning both the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize. He was also the author of Light-Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution and The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company: A History of George Washington’s Times.
I first encountered Royster’s work when I was fresh out of college. At that time I was a newly-minted aspiring historian who had decided to study the American Revolution. On a family trip to Williamsburg I found a copy of A Revolutionary People at War in a bookstore. It probably had a bigger impact on me than any academic book I’ve read, whether at that time or since. It was one of my first experiences with a work of history that asked such probing questions and constructed such meaningful answers.
Sometimes, when you’re just beginning to engage with a field, a book will smash its way into your intellect like an asteroid, but then you revisit it later when you’re more seasoned and find the magic’s worn off. You decide it must have made a big impression only because you read it when you were green and had a narrow frame of reference. That’s never been the case with me and A Revolutionary People. Every time I take it off the shelf, it’s as powerful and insightful as it seemed before I started graduate school. To this day, I think it’s an unparalleled analysis of the Continental Army and its role in defining what the Revolution meant.
The SMH devoted a panel to A Revolutionary People at the first academic history conference I ever attended. I heard Royster himself would be there, and brought my copy to ask if he’d sign it. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. I regret that I never got to meet him and thank him for his body of work. But that body of work remains. I’m sure people will be turning to it for as long as there’s an interest in the American past.
Those of you who are hip to Twitter might already be familiar with Historians at the Movies. If you’re not, here’s how it works: A bunch of history folks crank up the same Netflix offering at the same time, and then tweet along using the hashtag #HATM. The brainchild of Jason Herbert, it’s become quite the phenomenon.
People have been clamoring for HATM to take on The Patriot, and this Sunday night it’s finally happening. You’ll want to start the movie at 8:30, but the Twitter commentary usually gets going closer to 8:00.
I’ll be one of many tweeting along, using my professional-ish account @mlynchhist, which I reserve for subjects historical and museological. Anytime there’s an excuse to talk Southern Campaign stuff, I’m all in.