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Views from the Dark Side of American History, by Michael Fellman

March 2, 2012

Views from the Dark Side of American History, by Michael Fellman. Louisiana State University Press, 2011. I received this book through Netgallery and read it on my Nook.

Michael Fellman, a respected historian, reflects on what it has meant to be an historian in last third of the twentieth century in this collection of previously written articles and his discussion of the context in which each was written.

Like many of his generation, Fellman discards any claim to complete objectivity for historians. Without the jargon of post-modernism, he explains that at best objectivity is an impossible goal and at worst it is an excuse for not admitting the forces and influences that go into historical research and writing. He argues forcefully tha historians are responsible for treating their sources fairly and honesty, but such a practice is totally compatible with strongly held convictions.

Going to college and grad school during the Civil Rights and anti-War Movements, Fellman was and remains shaped by values of social justice. After a general discussion of historical methodology and commitment, he takes four articles he wrote in the past and discusses them, putting each in the context in which they were written and the personal values each revealed. The articles Fellman discusses look at the shift to violence by the antiwar movement in the 1960s and at debates among historians about whether slavery left African Americans helpless victims incapable of resistance. He considers his own scholarship on the guerilla warfare and terrorism of the Civil War. Consistently, Fellman speaks out against the “glittering abstractions” and the “perpetually naïve idealism” with which the United States has defined itself as exceptional and superior to other nations. We too must face our dark side.

I recommend Fellman’s Views from the Dark Side of American History for historians and those who enjoy reading history. If you have ever wondered how passion and concern for accuracy can exist together, read this book.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2012 1:37 pm

    Hmm, that sounds really interesting. I like that he frames it as self-examination and shows how it works for him.

  2. March 4, 2012 7:53 pm

    Yes. His comments about the articles especailly.

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