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it is usually the job of a concluding chapter in an essay collection such as this one to sing the praises of the volume’s achievements. So i should say up front that i judge The Blue, the Gray, and the Green to be one of the most important explorations of the environmental history of the American Civil War to date, and one undertaken by an adept expeditionary party. While this volume is not a systematic or thorough survey of the full possibilities of Civil War environmental history, reliant as it is on the specific research interests of a diverse group of authors, it nonetheless succeeds at sketching many of the landscape’s major features. it has done commendable work, and i will hit on some of the highlights. Having led with praise, however, i also want to play the skeptic and ask what is missing from this volume and where it might fall short in its proselytizing mission. This is not to suggest that i am skeptical of bringing environmental approaches to the study of Civil War history; to the contrary, i am an enthusiast. Rather, it is to recognize that skepticism about such approaches—sometimes mixed with apathy or wariness—remains among the broader historical community, and that overcoming said skepticism requires that we seriously plumb its causes. This is not the first effort to wed Civil War history and environmental history, and the impetus for such efforts has usually come from environmental historians. That may be one cause of skepticism. To flog the wedding metaphor to near-death, it is the father of environmental history that is holding the shotgun at this wedding, and most of the guests are sitting on environmental history’s side of the church. Even the task of writing an epilogue to this volume has fallen to an environmental histoEPiLoGUE Waving the Muddy Shirt” PAU L S. S UTTE R “ 226 Paul S. Sutter rian. Thus, i have tried to imagine what a Civil War historian unfamiliar with or suspicious of environmental approaches might conclude from this volume. Would the evidence contained herein be sufficient to give her a clear and thorough sense of the larger environmental history project? Would the analytical attractions of this volume be sufficient to woo her into a sustained relationship with environmental approaches to the Civil War? Why, this historian might ask, have environmental historians been so enthusiastic about the consummation of these two fields? What is it that environmental historians see in the Civil War, and why have Civil War historians been colder to the union? one reason for skepticism might be the features of the Civil War that seem to most attract environmental historians. Surprisingly, environmental approaches to the war often have focused on traditional military history topics. This volume is no exception. if, as Brian Drake rightly suggests in his excellent introduction, Civil War historians have spent the last several decades “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,” many environmental historians of the Civil War seem intent on returning to, or at least beginning with, that older narrow focus and reviewing it through an environmental lens. it is a slightly odd way to begin what is supposed to be a cutting-edge historiographical maneuver, but there are a couple of good reasons for doing so. The first—as Drake intimates—is that environmental historians came to the Civil War as part of a larger effort to make sense of the environmental dimensions of war and militarization, a foray meant to push American environmental history beyond its early preoccupations with the transformative powers of capitalism and the rise of state conservation. Environmental historians thus arrived at the field of battle just as many Civil War historians were retreating from it. Second, to the extent that environmental historians have been on a mission to prove that “nature matters” to explanations of historical causation, the battlefield has seemed like fruitful ground, for environmental forces were at play there in many obvious ways. For these reasons, a focus on traditional military topics has appealed to environmental historians interested in the Civil War. Nonetheless, i wonder how well such a focus has worked to sell environmental history as a novel approach to the Civil War. Despite this concern, i do think environmental history brings important new questions to this traditional focus on battlefield events...

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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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