Academic Stick in the Mud

Glenn W. Lafantasie is a historian at Western Kentucky University… who made a name for himself in Civil War circles with the respectable study Twilight at Little Roundtop.    Professor Lafantasie now feels qualified to instruct all Americans in how to honor the  sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  From his lofty perch in academia, the good Professor cannot not bring himself to understand the historical value of living historians (reenactors is the term he prefers.)  On the pages of the snooty Salon magazine   reenactors are called “foolish” and openly mocked with half-truths and innuendo.  The Professor speaks out of both sides of his mouth in his misguided critique, on one hand he chastises reenactors and their inability to accurately portray combat and for being, “overweight baby boomers who are trying, despite their huge girths and hardened arteries, to portray fit, young soldiers”; yet he warns readers that no one except experts (like him) can accurately convey the harrowing experience of Civil War combat.  What interpretive standard is being used here, Professor?

Living historians from Sykes’ regulars

Civil War reenactors are knowledgable and devoted… hobbyists who volunteer their time to educate the public about the lives of Civil War soldiers.  They are not over-grown children playing soldier, nor are they right-wing extremists out to rekindle lost secessionist fires.  Professor Lafantasie obviously has failed to apply his impeccable research skills to this article.  There is no proof that one reenactor (or living historian) was consulted for the piece.  It is difficult to see how the article could be useful to anyone outside the most secluded academic circles.  Large crowds attend reenactments of all sizes (no, Professor, not all events involve “pretend battles.”)  Rather than talking to spectators, the Professor belittles them as well.  Academics wonder why the public is losing what little faith it had in them; it is clear that intellectuals like Professor Lafantasie have no faith in the American people (even those who bought his book.)  There are historians who disagree with you, Professor.  It speaks volumes that this rambling line of tripe appeared in a petty partisan rag like Salon. 

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3 Comments

Filed under Ephemera, News, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Academic Stick in the Mud

  1. Donna Sheaffer

    Bravo!!!! Great post

  2. Here here! Nothing reaches a wider audience better, nor impacts them more, than experiencing living and breathing history, so to speak. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing these re-enactments myself, but I’ve heard great things. I love the term “living historians” too, I think I prefer it far more. Many people assume that such historians are only doing this as some trite hobby. But from what I’ve read, many of them devote a l ot of their time and money to do the research, maintain the uniforms, practice their roles, etc. It’s a public service that is so woefully misunderstood, especially with the way it’s usually portrayed by people like that professor.

  3. Very well said. Reenactors are the most vivid way we have of connecting with events in history, I haven’t read the professor’s book, from what you say, it’s quite good. But it is a rare writer who can make you feel the cold, hear the rattle of musketry, and such. Bruce Catton could do it, very few others that I have read. I think the reason Catton could is that he knew the men who had been there.

    Nothing against Professor Lafantasie but I’d bet money I couldn’t afford to lose that he has never seen the look on a ten year old’s face when Billy Yank or Johnny Reb bursts out of the trees, true to life, That’s a moment that will instill a love of history for a lifetime.

    Sound like the historians version of clinging to their God and guns to me.

    Carry on, Reenactors, including you my friend.

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