BLOG, or DIE. Author Bio
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Getting to the 'more'

The hardest part of being a historian is accepting the fact that you may not like the answers you find.

I like to think that I’ve evolved into a more objective historian over the last few years. Ever since “Blog, or Die.” debuted back in 2009, I have become increasingly critical when analyzing the lives of our forefathers. As a result, my blog has become more popular and respected at a professional level. This has led to bigger gigs and better books. In many of my previous works (2000-2009), especially those written for the religious genre, I intentionally focused on the positive aspects of history believing it could be both educational and inspirational. I always believed that history was among our most cherished treasures, but learning about it meant nothing if we couldn’t apply it to our lives in some tangible, positive manner.

I still believe that. However, what I am learning nowadays is that “applying history to our lives in some tangible, positive manner” doesn’t always translate into a ‘DO.’ Many times it translates into a ‘DON’T’. In other words, there are many times when we should not admire or emulate these men. Far too often people try to separate the good from the bad when discussing our nation’s legacy. We don’t want to acknowledge that George Washington was a slaveholder, or that Mickey Mantle was a womanizing alcoholic. We only want to remember George’s honesty and Mickey’s homeruns.

Unfortunately looking through rose-colored glasses is NOT the way to preserve and present proper history. We must come to terms with the fact that many of our icons, like a Washington, Jefferson, Jackson or Lee, viewed women as inferior and African-Americans as property. We must accept the reality that they were often erroneous in their beliefs and conduct.

I used to get angry at other historians who were considered by many to be ‘naysayers’ or ‘overly-negative’ in their work. I now understand exactly where they are coming from. Historical figures have always been presented to us on a pedestal. For us to simply ignore their wrongs in favor of their rights does a great disservice to their memory. Worse off, we are being dishonest to ourselves and our readers when we only present the histories that we are comfortable with.

Admittedly, I was once guilty of this myself. When the vast majority of my work moved over into the secular realm, I immediately became conscious of my own preconceived notions. It was difficult at first, but I had to accept the darker sides of my idols. I also had to accept that they weren’t necessarily idols. I had to look at them honestly as men who could be both applauded and lauded. Only then did I truly see them.

That is what separates a historian from a history enthusiast. Removing our own personal attachment is the challenge. We become historians because we grow up loving history. We are star-struck by the men and women and events that we learned about. As we mature, we realize that there is usually more to the story. As historians, it’s that ‘more’ we should labor to find. After all, that's part of the story too.

Image source: PunditKitchen

ADDED 4/7: Yesterday’s post generated some interesting conversations between a few historian friends and me. The general consensus was that we can acknowledge historical figure’s flaws and weaknesses while honoring their accomplishments, character qualities, and positive contributions to our nation's history. At the same time we must be conscious not to allow our own personal biases influence how we analyze them. That’s a given. We also agreed that selective memory or hero worship distorts scholarship and inflates historical figures to mythical-like proportions. The reality is that most of our so-called “heroes” would never live up to our expectations. The strangest part of it all is that we will never meet any of these people, yet we often feel some kind of personal connection to them. So here you have the dilemma of the impersonal becoming personal. Finally we acknowledged that what may have been acceptable then may not be acceptable now and therefore we must keep things in context. I have a friend in the National Park Service who is considered a leading authority and penned one of the most critically-acclaimed Civil War books ever published. He once told me that he had absolutely no historical heroes and that he looked at people simply as they were. That puzzled me at the time, but now I get it.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 10:53 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 7 April 2011 8:28 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Save the date(s)

As April is the official kick-off of the Civil War Sesquicentennial I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to do some shameless self-promotion. On April 30th I will be presenting a lecture on the gallant boys of the 123rd Pennsylvania Volunteers and hosting a screening of “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” (*both events twice) at the CarnegieCarnegie’s annual Civil War Weekend (See schedule). On May 15th I will be hosting another screening of “The Angel...” and providing producer comments at Manassas Museum (Details here). I am also pleased to share that my book The Civil War in Spotsylvania County (VA): Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads has been selected as the book of the month on the Rappahannock Regional Library’s Sesquicentennial website. (For all of my Civil War books, please visit Amazon.com.) Finally, I am very happy to announce that I will be returning to the Gathering of Eagles at historic Winchester Courthouse on June 4th, where I will be selling/signing books and DVDs in the author’s area.


Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 2:23 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 5 April 2011 10:11 PM EDT
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Monday, 4 April 2011
Saint or Sinner?

Often referred to as the most venerated preacher of the 18th-century, Reverend George Whitefield helped spread the “Great Awakening” in both Britain and the North American colonies. As an Anglican Protestant minister, he is also credited with founding the evangelical movement that would lead to the establishment of Methodism. Rev. Whitefield’s reputation as a fiery preacher drew great crowds throughout the colonies to include both non-believers and devout followers. The largest churches in these towns could not hold the 8,000+ citizens who came to see him, so Whitefield began delivering his sermons outdoors in order to accommodate the masses. Sometimes the audience would swell to outnumber the town’s population. As a result Whitefield became one of the most widely recognized public figures in colonial America.

Coming from a poor background, Whitefield managed to get free tuition from Oxford University by acting as a servant for a number of high-ranked upperclassmen. While there he joined an organization known as the “Holy Club” along with the brothers John and Charles Wesley. It was during this time that he became fervently religious and began preaching incessantly about his new-found faith. Impressed with Whitefield’s passion for prayer, the Bishop of Gloucester recruited and ordained him before the canonical age. After preaching in his home of Gloucester, Whitefield departed for the colonies where he was made the parish priest of the church in Savannah Georgia. Af