Why The Civil War Still Matters

The nation's leading authority on the conflict explains why the Civil War still fascinates us

One hundred and fifty years after the guns began shelling Fort Sumter this April, Americans remain fascinated with the Civil War. Why do we care about a war that ended so long ago? Read more »

Truth And History

Some capricious and discontented artists have affected to consider portrait-painting as unworthy of a man of genius. Some critics have spoken in the same contemptuous manner of history. Johnson puts the case thus: The historian tells either what is false or what is true: in the former case he is no historian: in the latter he has no opportunity for displaying his abilities: for truth is one: and all who tell the truth must tell it alike. Read more »

History And Knowing Who We Are

Learning about history is an antidote to the hubris of the present, the idea that everything in our lives is the ultimate.

Former President Harry S. Truman once remarked that the history we don’t know is the only new thing in the world. Picking up on a related theme, the late Daniel Boorstin, an eminent historian, Librarian of Congress, and griend of mine, wrote that planning for the future without a sense of the past is similar to planting cut flowers and hoping for the best. Today, the new generation of young Americans are like a field of cut flowers, by-and-large historically illiterate. This does not bode well for our future. Read more »

The Writing Of History

An English Authority Compares British and American Viewpoints

As I write this, crowds of sidewalk superintendents are peering down at the foundations of a great new office building to be erected on a bombed site in the heart of the City of London. What has drawn the crowds is the discovery, in the excavations, of a Second Century temple to Mithras, the God of Light so widely worshiped in the Roman army; the discovery not only of a “Mithraeum” but of the fragments of a fine statue. It is safe to say that few Londoners had heard of Mithras a week or two ago, and that what draws them is not any very scientific spirit. But their sudden wave of curiosity, the sudden, possibly a little artificial, indignation at the impending bulldozing of the site, reflect very well the English attitude to history: that is, a deep, reverential sense of unity with a remote past. This was Londinium; this is London.Read more »

What They Did There

The sun goes down every evening over the muzzle of a gun that has been a museum piece for nearly a century, and where there was a battlefield there is now a park, with green fields rolling west under the sunset haze to the misty blue mountain wall. You can see it all just about as it used to be, and to look at it brings up deep moods and sacred memories that are part of our American heritage.Read more »