Introducing “Detailed: A Semi-Occasional Series within the Muster Blog”

Introducing “Detailed: A Semi-Occasional Series within the Muster Blog”

On August 26, 1861, soldiers of the Seventh Iowa Volunteers announced that Lauman’s Own would be “published Semi-occasionally” for “the benefit of the Regiment.” Similarly, the men of Morgan’s Brigade launched The Vidette to be “published semi-occasionally” in Springfield, Tennessee in late 1862, a member of the Twenty-First Mississippi promised that The Grape Shot would be  printed semi-occasionally in Virginia in 1864, and the Campaign Hornet introduced itself in March 1862 as “a Semi-Occasional Journal” by Arkansas soldiers that would be “devoted to the war, agricultures, commerce and the development of the resources of  the Southern Confederacy.” In each of these “semi-occasional” publications, voices from the trenches brought unique perspectives to the Civil War, offering a slightly different view from the one offered by an individual’s letters or a single person’s diary. These quirky newspapers do not tell us everything about the Civil War, but they sometimes shift the framing and reveal familiar aspects of the war in fresh, new ways.[i]

Alfred Waud, “Soldiers Wells,” 1862, Library of Congress ppmsca-21300-21319

In like fashion, we introduce this new semi-occasional series within the Muster blog, in which new perspectives from scholars in disciplines outside of history cast new light on the Civil War era. In response to growing political attention to the security and legitimacy of elections, voting rights, racial inequality, police brutality, and health disparities, scholars in the social and biological sciences have turned their attention to this pivotal time in U.S. history. We envision political scientists, sociologists, biologists, economists, and others using this space to share and discuss their research on the Civil War era with interested historians.

Readers of the Muster blog will benefit from this proposed series by gaining familiarity with both new evidence and new perspectives.

In terms of evidence, social and natural scientists create and analyze data about the Civil War era using tools and techniques that are uncommon in history. Thus, some of the conclusions these scholars reach may be opaque and inaccessible to historians unfamiliar with methodological debates or practices in those fields. Conversely, social and natural scientists often work with a thin or narrow grasp of the history of the Civil War era. We see these blog posts as an opportunity to overcome this divide and foster greater interdisciplinary dialogue to mutual benefit.

Lauman’s Own images from personal collection of Chandra Manning

Introducing and explaining novel evidence, much of it statistical, to historians of the long Civil War era may bring new traction in long-standing debates, generate new questions for historical research, or lead to reinterpretation and reappraisal of historical evidence. At the same time, historians may use their deep knowledge of the political, economic, and social contexts of the Civil War era to interrogate, sharpen, or sometimes even challenge the assumptions and conclusions that social and natural scientists make in their analyses.

African American Laborers, Northern Virginia 1862 or 1863, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-10400.

Engaging with the work of scholars in other disciplines provides an opportunity to see “our” era from new perspectives. This intervention may prove very helpful in breaking up some of the field’s stubborn impasses because the broader questions that motivate scholars in other disciplines to investigate the United States during this era differ from those that have preoccupied the historiography of war and emancipation.

For example, in political science, much of the research on the Civil War and Reconstruction examines the United States from a comparative perspective in order to illuminate processes of democratization, the political economy of land reform, state formation, and the dynamics of civil conflict. Dendrochronologists, botanists, and climatologists are more invested in fluctuations in water levels and air temperature than in arguments about territorial expansion or popular sovereignty. The questions that practitioners of other disciplines ask, therefore, have the potential to break historians’ scholarly conversations free from some of the well-worn grooves in our debates. At the same time, historians are well situated to inject humans—with all their messy and contradictory motivations—and contingency back into the theories of social scientists.

Not all scholarly work looks the same, and neither will all entries in this series. We can envision at least two broad formats that posts in the series might take. Some pieces might be single-authored pieces in which scholars explain their research and how their findings might interest historians of the Civil War era.

Political scientist Michael Weaver’s piece, for example, documents the evidence he has collected on enlistment and Reconstruction voting patterns that shows that wartime service turned Union veteran voters into a critical part of the coalition that enacted civil rights legislation and passed the 14th and 15th Amendments.

In other instances, posts may take the form of a dialogue between a scholar and a historian who work on a related topic, in which they discuss their own approaches to the material, as well as what they see anew thanks to the interdisciplinary conversation.

We hope that readers of the Muster blog will share this new semi-occasional series with their colleagues in other disciplines and encourage them to submit work for consideration, or will suggest scholars who might be invited to post. Potential authors can pitch a post idea to either Chandra Manning or directly to Hilary Green, the current JCWE Digital Media Editor.

Camp of 31st Pennsylvania Infantry near Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, cph 3g07983 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g07983

The Campaign Hornet pledged itself to “endeavoring to speak the truth” unburdened by the compulsion to “court popularity from any clique or faction” and promised that its tone would remain “courteous though firm and decided, independent in all things, neutral in nothing.”[ii] We share those aspirations and hope that this new, semi-occasional series will become a dynamic forum that stretches our minds, enlivens our work, and benefits all who are soldiering away in the study of the long Civil War era.

[i] Lauman’s Own, 7th Iowa Volunteers, Aug. 21, 1861, Ironton, MO, Chicago Historical Society; The Vidette, Morgan’s Confederate Brigade, Nov. 2, 1862, Springfield, TN, Tennessee State Library and Archives; The Grape Shot, 21st Mississippi Volunteers, May 1864, VA, Eleanor S. Brockenbrough Library Museum of the Confederacy; Campaign Hornet, 2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles, March 1862, Jonathan Callaway Civil War Letters and papers, University of Arkansas.

[ii] Campaign Hornet, March 1862, p. 1.

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