I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post about public memory, the Civil War and Robert E. Lee with some more discussion and documents from the year’s just after the Civil War.
One of the things that all historians do is look for the earliest sources and those closest to events and facts we are seeking to understand. In some ways, this core imperative is more clear in ancient history or any period more than a few hundred years ago because historians of the distant past must cope with what is often the extreme scarcity of sources whereas modern historians often have the opposite problem: the sheer volume of source material that is impossible ever to fully digest and process. But the fundamental task is the same: recapturing the past on its own terms before subsequent events, needs, agendas and memory packaged them for use or simply distorted them for subsequent ages. This isn’t a matter of uncovering lies in most cases. We are constantly in the process of reshaping our history to serve our present needs. Indeed, we are constantly in the process of doing this in our own lives, reshaping our own personal story into a coherent backdrop to the person we are in this moment.
Read More →