The Author’s Corner with Paul Escott

53299415Paul Escott is Reynolds Professor of History at Wake Forest University. This interview is based on his new book, Rethinking the Civil War Era: Directions for Research (The University Press of Kentucky, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: I was invited to take on this project by the editors of the New Directions in Southern History series at the University Press of Kentucky. As part of the invitation we agreed that this book would have a slightly different format. Instead of writing in an entirely historiographical style, I have used a more personal tone and have thought of each chapter as an essay focused on both the extant scholarship and on questions or interpretive issues that interest or puzzle me.

Frankly, writing this book was not something I had ever imagined myself doing, and the challenge was more than a little intimidating. There are a great many very talented and energetic historians working in the field of the Civil War Era, and to master all the important and recent work is virtually impossible. I have read as widely as possible, within the practical constraints of producing a book within some reasonable period, and I have tried to comment on important new directions or possibilities for research. In the Preface I comment on the immense talent at work in this area and apologize that I could not cite all the deserving recent studies.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: This book identifies important questions, issues, and new directions of research in the Civil War Era. Its chapters cover the roots of war, the challenges to wartime societies North and South, the war’s consequences, and important work or questions in African American history, military history, environmental history, and digital research.

JF: Why do we need to read Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: The Press and I hope that this book will be useful both to established scholars and to younger historians who may want to survey opportunities in the field and target their own work. Books such as this one often serve a purpose in a rapidly developing field.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PE: I was in college during the Civil Rights Movement, and the stirring events of that era naturally stimulated one’s curiosity about the roots of our nation’s racial problems. As a result, I entered graduate school eager to learn more about southern history and the era of the Civil War. I was extremely fortunate to have outstanding professors and mentors at Duke University, namely Robert F. Durden and Raymond Gavins.

JF: What is your next project? 

PE: After many years of focusing on the South and the Confederacy, I more recently shifted my attention to the North. I now am working on a study of racism and racial attitudes in the North during the Civil War.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

Joint Issue of the *The William & Mary Quarterly* and the *Journal of the Early Republic*

This is a really interesting topic for such a joint issue.  Here is the call for essays:

The William and Mary Quarterly and the Journal of the Early Republic invite proposals for a special joint issue, “Writing To and From the Revolution.”

“Writing To and From the Revolution” aims to approach the American Revolution as a series of unresolved historiographical and methodological questions, asking what it means that colonialists with an interest in the eighteenth century often find themselves writing toward the Revolution while scholars of the early Republic typically find themselves writing away from it. The assumption that American independence forms a watershed— perhaps the watershed—has had remarkable staying power, especially given the ways in which the histories of colonial North America and the early U.S. republic have been and are being transformed.

Our goal is less to craft a new interpretive synthesis or unveil a novel paradigm than to explore a series of questions: How and why does it matter that many of us still write to and from the Revolution? Are there better ways to conceptualize change and continuity—not only with regard to periodization, but also with regard to geographies, social structures, polities, economies, and cultures? How has writing to or from the Revolution shaped the ways in which we have written about the Revolution itself?

We will consider essays that are case studies or historiographical pieces, but we are especially eager to see work that marries the characteristics of those genres to those of a more open-ended think piece.

Although the WMQ and the JER will publish separate sets of articles speaking to each journal’s particular concerns and constituents, the two issues will share an introductory essay, written by Alan Taylor, and a concluding essay, written by Serena Zabin. Arrangements will be made to ensure that subscribers to one journal are able to access the essays in the other journal.

Contributors to both issues will convene at Mount Vernon as guests of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington on March 18 and 19 for a workshop to discuss pre-circulated drafts. Travel expenses up to $500 will be reimbursed; lodging will be provided, as will most of the participants’ meals.


Final articles, running c. 8,000 words, will be peer reviewed. The journals project a publication date of late 2017.


250–word proposals are due by Oct. 15. Proposals to the WMQ should be submitted to kscraw@wm.edu. Proposals to the JER should be sent to jer@shear.org. Please direct inquiries to Joshua Piker (japiker@wm.edu) or Catherine E. Kelly (cathykelly@ou.edu).