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BOOK REVIEWS173 No matter how many gruesome photographs one examines, one can only be so naked and dead in the abstract. The whole field of American military history is populated with two generations of scholars who began their intellectual interest in their specialty as Civil War buffs. For them—as well as the loyal legion of Civil War devotees— TraveL· to Hallowed Ground is a welcome remembrance of the centrality of this one war to the American historical experience , especially for those Americans whose forebears—likemine—still rest at places like Antietam and Marietta, Georgia. Allan R. Millett The Ohio State University Lincoln in Text and Context: Collected Essays. By Don E. Fehrenbacher . (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1987. Pp. x, 364. $37.50.) Reading (and re-reading) these essays on Abraham Lincoln and his times, written by Don Fehrenbacher over the past thirty years, is an exercise in nostalgia. In a day of narrow monographs, rampant (and often silly) specialization, and interdisciplinary faddishness, Fehrenbacher remains the master historian at work. Over the years his books and articles have exemplified the classical virtues of the craft—critical weighing of evidence, imaginative interpretation, and narrative drive, all produced in a graceful style. Along with his late colleague David M. Potter, Fehrenbacher has displayed an uncanny ability to creatively reexamine overworked questions and periods. The nineteen essays in this volume also reveal the range of Fehrenbacher 's intellect. From the close reading of texts to thoughtful historiographical pieces, many characteristics of the virtuoso scholar appear. In a field of study still littered with myths and half-truths, Fehrenbacher relentlessly combs the evidence for the best source for a quote or anecdote , probes familiar Lincoln documents for new meaning, and offers many surprises even for historians who think they havelittlenew to learn about most aspects of Lincoln's career. Take, for example, the essay on the election of 1860. Here is surely a topic where the last word has been said, but Fehrenbacher thoughtfully plays with the idea of this election as a "crucial event" and offers a series of striking comparisons to other presidential contests. Fehrenbacher remains convinced that even in the 1980s historians must be concerned with both events and structures because the two are so intertwined. But rather than launching a rearguard defense of traditional methods, he offers a more sophisticated evaluation of, and some appreciative comments on, recent scholarship. In a fine piece on thenew political history and the coming of the CivilWar, he skillfully dissects the assumptions and conclusions of several historians. Although I think he 174civil war history gives far too short a shrift to thework ofMichael Holt, his analysis ofJoel Silbey's attempt to downplay sectionalism in the study of antebellum politics is devastating. Forhistorians who wouldworship at the shrine of Fernand Braudel, he wisely observes that a historian who wishes to understand a people's mentalité cannot afford to ignore Thistorie événementielle . He is equally critical ofvarious psychobiographical studies of Lincoln but also recognizes their unique, albeit limited, contributions to the study of the middle period. Although Fehrenbacher stakes out clear and forceful positions in his essays, he gives competing viewpoints their due and is especially evenhanded on the most contentious and controversial issues. In dealing with Lincoln's racial views, he appears undaunted by the conflicting evidence , strong passions, rigid ideologies, and present-mindedness that have hampered other writers. He recognizes Lincoln's caution and conservatism on racial matters but at the same time notes the capacity for change and growth. More sensitive to context than manyhistorians, Fehrenbacher shows how useless it is to brand Lincoln a racist without taking into account either the views of his contemporaries or the specific occasions on which Lincoln spoke and wrote. Much like Lincoln, Fehrenbacher prefers to express himself in a thoughtful and calm manner about complex issues that have all too often been treated with more polemical than analytical skill. In a perceptive and highly philosophical piece on Lincoln and freedom, he meditates on the various meanings of freedom—especially during a civil war. Because individual liberties and the survival of the republic did not always go hand in hand, inevitable constitutional dilemmas arose. Yet...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 173-174
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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