View single post by aphill
 Posted: Tue Jul 25th, 2006 03:53 pm
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Lee's forgotten general

Joined: Fri Jun 9th, 2006
Location: Ohio USA
Posts: 12

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I have found the Wikipedia fairly useful as an encyclopedia. I would never cite to it for a scholarly work, but as far as providing general background information on a topic or as a starting point for research, I think it’s a decent source.
As far as other websites go, of course they are going to vary widely. Anyone who wants to do so can publish a Civil War website. On the one hand, I think this is good. Folks who might not otherwise ever get published have the chance to share their views and research. Professional historians and authors are not the only ones who make sharp insights; sometimes a person coming from a different perspective or profession can offer a different and intriguing twist. The web provides an avenue for the “common person” to get involved in historical research and writing. I think it may also provide a place for authors to write and share information on topics – such as an obscure regiment, for example – that might not otherwise be able to fly commercially.
Of course, given that anyone can publish a site, the quality is going to vary widely. You have to be careful and evaluate the source. Then again, the quality of what you find in print also may vary and just because it is published in a book does not mean you should take it as the almighty truth. As Allan Nevins noted, “Every historical work of any scope contains inaccuracies; the scrupulously careful Douglas Freeman once told me with pardonable pride that he had found only about fifty slips in his four-volume Lee.” Along these lines, I recall a recent book on Gettysburg had Stonewall Jackson dying on the wrong day. Just an example.
You always should be careful and evaluate your sources – whether they come from the web or print. You need to consider who the author is (background, other writings, etc) and what they based their work on (primary sources, other published works). Equally important though, I think, is also trying to figure out a particular author’s biases. History is written by human beings and once you step away from just the recitation of cold facts and into the realm of interpretation, biases become a factor. No one is perfectly objective. It’s just not possible – we are too affected by what we’ve read in the past and our own up bringing. For example, to pick on Southall Freeman, it is well-known that he absolutely revered Lee. That does not mean we should throw out Freeman’s work or completely discount his interpretations and opinions, but I think it does mean that anyone reading Freeman should give that due consideration.

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