Perhaps it is because I have spent so much time with people for whom the Civil War is a life choice, but I confess, there are times when I wonder if we—myself included—sometimes get carried away by our fierce and noble passion for the past. The Civil War is, of course, incredibly important both in its own right and in the long context of American history. But I do wonder if an overly-zealous fascination with the Civil War, especially if it becomes too single-minded, can distract us from other important moments in history, as well as from other types of worthy understandings from other fields of study.
Many people have probably seen that video where college students are unable to say who won the Civil War. A frequent joke among Gettysburg College students is that a surprising number of people in other parts of the country can’t even identify the state where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. Adequate money cannot be found to preserve historical artifacts, or even to fund social studies education programs. As seriously concerning of those examples are, I’m not willing to criticize those who lack the rich conception of history that I am fortunate to have developed during my time at Gettysburg. I can’t hold anything against someone who doesn’t know as much as I think they should know about the Civil War, not when there are so many things in this world worth knowing.