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Jack Temple kirby was a staunch supporter of the union—the union, that is, between Civil War studies and environmental history. in 2001 kirby, a historian at Miami University (and later the Bancroft Prize–winning author of Mockingbird Song, an environmental history of the American South) penned an online essay for the National Humanities Center in which he wondered why the two academic fields had never gotten together . Environmental history had, at that point, at least two decades of impressive growth behind it. Civil War historians, meanwhile, had spent those same twenty-plus years marching away from a narrow focus on battlefield events and sectional crises to explore the lives of individual soldiers , freed slaves, women, the home front, motivation, memory, and a host of other topics. Both fields were doing interesting and even provocative work but doing it separately. Why?1 it was not because there was nothing new to say about the Civil War. “My graduate school mentor [had] joked that the Civil War era was overcrowded ,” kirby recalled, and that there was nothing left to write about but “‘The Sex Life of Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.’” it was not actually true, of course, as his mentor well knew. “The African-American experience of the war was only then getting sympathetic attention,” kirby observed, “along with political issues both large and local. Women and the war awaited eager scholars and readers, later.” Yet in 2001 the environment had somehow failed to make it onto the list. kirby blamed geography. While the Civil War was an eastern topic, he said, environmental history was a child of western history, born and raised across the wide Mississippi , and simple physical separation went a long way in explaining iNTRoDUCTioN New Fields of Battle Nature, Environmental History, and the Civil War B R iAN A LLE N D RAk E 2 Brian Allen Drake why neither discipline was doing much reading in the other’s books and articles. The rest of the essay offered suggestions for how a marriage between environmental history and Civil War studies might proceed and what it might look like. The cornerstone of any good marriage is familiarity, and one can imagine both sides looking a bit warily at the partner that kirby the matchmaker intended for them. Civil War history has always had something of a reputation for confirmed historiographical bachelorhood, and although its interests are far more diverse than they were twenty years ago, that diversification was long in coming. Social historians, meanwhile, have until relatively recently tended to avoid “mere” military history, devoting themselves to labor, class, race, gender, and the broader civilian “subaltern ”; historian Maris Vinovskis famously called them out in 1989 for “losing the Civil War” in particular. Now, here was kirby issuing another call for setting up house. Who, exactly, his readers might have asked, was this spouse-to-be?2 it’s a good question, especially from the Civil War side, because environmental history is nothing if not an eclectic and sometimes even enigmatic field, and historians of the war would not have been the first to be confounded by it. The short answer would be that environmental history is the study of the interactions between humans and nature across time. Like the social history turn that influenced it greatly, environmental history seeks to give voice to actors whom our historical narratives have traditionally ignored. Unlike with social history, however, those longignored voices do not belong to humans alone. Geography, climate and weather, natural resources, flora, fauna, microbiology, and the like have also shaped human history, environmental historians argue, and people have in turn shaped them. History, in other words, unfolds within a larger web of dynamic ecological connections, and to ignore that is to miss a good chunk of the human experience. it is also true that few, if any, human experiences in American history were as profound as the Civil War and its aftermath. The statistics delineating the war’s human carnage are a kind of historical mantra, as are the moral and political debates about race, economics, and freedom that brought the two sides to blows in 1861 and dominated their reunion after 1865. The work of a phalanx of historians, some of them among the profession ’s best, has left few stones unturned in those particular historiographical patches. indeed, there is perhaps no period in American history that has received more and better attention than the Civil War era. Why, Introduction 3 then, should its scholars care...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820347752
Related ISBN
9780820347141
MARC Record
OCLC
898770323
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-23
Language
English
Open Access
No
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