Prior’s advice that I would have to scan “all of human history” to show that no two events were so “substantially similar” that they can be “fairly be called repetitive” changes the definition of “repeat itself” into “similarities” across events. I used “repeat itself” advisedly in my preface, not as a synonym for “similarities,” which of course we can find across the eons of human behavior, but as a foil for my real point: that historians do repeat themselves. But I’ll take the hit for not making that clear enough. I think that whether we’re talking about “similarities” or exac
Allow me to add some thoughts here. Since I have an advanced degree in digressions, some of them will drift from the core subject.
My thanks to Professor Gallman for taking the time to reply; this kind of discussion is what H-Net is really about. All that I ask of him is that he try to apply the same skeptical and critical eye to his punditry that he applies to his research, especially if he decides to “seamlessly slip from historian to faux pundit.” Gallman introduced this analogy between the historical and the contemporary, between Trump and Vallandigham, and the only connection I can see is that they gave incendiary speeches. Both qualify as demagogues whose outlandish behavior attracted some pretty outlandish be
Thanks to Peter Knupfer for his extended remarks on my H-CivWar essay. As he notes, I have recently completed a book on the North’s wartime Democrats: The Cacophony of Politics: Northern Democrats and the American Civil War (forthcoming, University of Virginia Press, fall 2021). I set out to write that book largely because I was interested in attempting a study of wartime politics. I also thought it would be challenging to write about historic figures whose opinions I found unpleasant.
After reading and thinking about Matthew Gallman’s message, I remain at a loss to determine whether the words of historians in times of crisis are more misleading (or irrelevant) than informative. After all, the past doesn’t repeat itself, only historians do — constantly. Steeped as we are in the past (or our own versions of it — one of my colleagues once chortled at a faculty meeting that “the problem with historians is that we’re too concerned about the past”), we are so tempted in stormy times to pose as the public’s guide (therapist? Aeneas?
Prior to this posted material, I have attempted to refrain from commenting upon current political matters, on lists generally. With H-CivWar's Editors allowing this material re: Vallandigham, etc., I assume that it is possibly due to the importance of current events, I am finding this precedent may serve as a further wish, to explore and comment upon such matters as presented in this post, rather than strictly adhering to history and historical matters.
Wyatt Reader MA
US Govt. ret.