THINKING BACK: The Perils of Writing History by C. Vann Woodward
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THINKING BACK: The Perils of Writing History

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Part autobiography, part textual exegesis, a gracefully-written, generous-spirited reminiscence of more than 50 years of scholarship by one of America's foremost historians. During his long career, Woodward has focused his attention on the American South. Here, he reveals how he came to be interested in regional history, what factors determined his choice of subjects, what felicities and frustrations he discovered along the way to becoming Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale. The tale is filled with thought-provoking insights; amusing, often ironic, anecdotes and provocative speculations about the future of the South, the US and the world. From the beginning, Woodward has been something of a maverick. His analyses of the formation of the industrialized post-Reconstruction South in Origins of the New South and of the promulgation of segregationist laws during the late 1800's in The Strange Career of Jim Crow overturned the commonly held ""truth"" that Southern history displayed a unique social, economic and political continuity from antebellum days to the mid-20th century. Instead of a smooth-flowing continuum, Woodward perceived ""breaks and fissures and conflicts"" in the story. The concept elicited Rebel yells of outrage from many Southern traditionalists. Although controversy frequently surrounded the publication of his Findings and criticism was often intense, Woodward does not engage in recriminations here. Instead, he salutes his critics as colleagues rather than vilifying them as adversaries. In his refusal to settle old scores and in his acknowledgment that many of his critics' barbs were justified, Woodward reveals his professional and humanistic mettle, his personal attractiveness. In one of the most compelling sections of the book, the author compares the post-Civil War South and post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America. The two periods, a century apart, shattered the ""peculiar legends and myths"" of the South's and the nation's self-righteousness, self-confidence and invincibility--a healthy awakening, Woodward feels. He is less optimistic about what has followed. The Reagan Administration's ""fatuous complacency"" and ""innocence. . .restored by fiat"" are possible sources of future disasters, according to Woodward. Both as a personal narrative and as a summary of a half-century of historical investigation, a worthy capstone to a distinguished career.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1986
ISBN: 0807113778
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ. Press