- Forging a Confederate Tradition in Kentucky: Memory, Politics, and Place:Review Essay
The publication of Anne Marshall's work is a milestone in the maturation of historical-memory studies. A brief survey of the antecedents of her Creating a Confederate Kentucky situates it within the ongoing reevaluation of the recalled past in the United States and, especially, the American South.
Scholarship on the topic of "historical memory" has exploded in the past two decades. A less-than-scientific survey of articles published in historical journals, and archived on JSTOR between 1900 and 1980, reveals fewer than forty references to "historical memory." Most of these are devoid of any sustained or theoretically informed application of the term. During the subsequent two decades, in contrast, there are nearly two hundred articles in which "historical memory" is discussed, and the majority of these are either deep investigations of specific instances or extended methodological discussions of the concept of collective memory. Historians working on all regions and eras have taken up the question of the social [End Page 575] construction of historical identity, and, at least for the foreseeable future, interest in historical memory appears to be robust.
Scholars, of course, were writing thoughtfully about how the communities recalled and used the past long before "historical memory" became a commonplace concept. During the 1950s and 1960s especially, scholars drew upon theories of myth, then influential in functional anthropology, as well as interest in symbols in literary and American studies. Among the enduring exemplars of this work are John William Ward's Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age, William Taylor's Cavalier and Yankee, and Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden.1 This scholarship focused on the various manifestations of enduring cultural archetypes, but, unlike more recent scholarship on historical memory, it had comparatively little to say about the processes through which they were replicated.
Scholars of the American South, who were attuned early on to the import of the remembered past for virtually all facets of the evolution of the region, anticipated some of the concerns that have occupied scholars of southern historical memory. As far back as Thomas J. Wertenbaker's 1910 thesis, "Patrician and Plebian in Virginia; or, The Origin and Development of the Social Classes of the Old Dominion," historians began to explode the South of myth. Wertenbaker, for instance, delivered body blows to the notion that the colonial South had been populated by aristocratic cavaliers.2 Subsequent historians took it upon themselves to puncture the myths of the region, which were perceived as especially tenacious and destructive. This impulse found especially cogent expression in W. J. Cash's The Mind of the South, C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and George B. Tindall's essay, "Mythology: A New Frontier in Southern History."3 [End Page 576]
Although this scholarship on the mythic South shares certain themes and concerns with the more recent scholarship on historical memory, it differs in important ways. Scholars of the southern mythos were oriented toward exploding southern myths and replacing them with historical truths garnered through scientific methods. These scholars were, in short, participants in the twentieth-century pursuit of the objective historical truths that historian Peter Novick has detailed.4 They also tended to see southern myths as tools of elites intent on manipulating, controlling, and oppressing the southern masses. In other words, the motivations for and the creators of the mythic past were easily identified and explained. Moreover, the architects of southern myth were the usual suspects: reactionary white elites. Finally, the scholars of southern myth viewed Southerners' penchant for a mythic past as a marker of southern distinctiveness. Southerners, we were told, had a proclivity for reconfiguring the past to suit their prejudices. Recent scholarship on historical memory, in contrast, has cosmopolitan origins and concerns. It has been, so to speak, imported to the region. After all, early work in the theory of historical memory drew inspiration from the historiography of...