- Bill Blair's Wonderful Life
It's a bit of a trope on long-running television programs that at some point a character will face a personal crisis or moment of doubt, which leads to some sort of far-fetched plot device in which the beloved It's a Wonderful Life is played out. Eventually, the character realizes their positive impact on their family and community, and comes to understand the richness of their own lives.
None of us want to think about the SCWH and our tribe of Civil War era scholars without Bill Blair. He is, of course, a great friend, generous colleague, and upstanding man. Former presidents of the SCWH described Bill as wise and kind, indispensable and professional, purposeful and energetic, humble and classy. He is all of those things, but he also believes not only that our field matters, but that there are many "rooms in our mansion" for imaginative and varied approaches to deepening our understanding of the nineteenth century.
As far as I know, Bill has never needed an angel named Clarence or anyone else to convince him that his life matters, but I'm sure his characteristic modesty prevents him from recognizing the extent of his contributions. So, to extend this possibly tortured metaphor a little further …
Perhaps someone else would have stepped up to the challenge of shaping the field of Civil War history for a generation by editing two different flagship journals of the Civil War Era. Perhaps someone else would have raised well over $10 million for the Richards Center to support everything from undergraduate internships to postdocs for young scholars of color to cutting edge symposiums and the Brose Distinguished Lecture and Book Series. Perhaps someone else would have directed resources and hard work toward the growth and development of the Society. Perhaps someone else would have written an exhaustively researched, persuasively written, and nuanced examination of loyalty and treason.
But it's hard to imagine any other person with the vision and work ethic and commitment to accomplish all of these things. So, thanks, my friend. You've made all of our professional lives better. [End Page 1]
William Blair, the founding editor of this journal, retires at the end of this month after a distinguished career as a historian. In recognition of his many contributions to the historical profession, we include this tribute from his friend and colleague, James Marten.