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Too good to be true?

July 31, 2009, 12:49 pm

Given that I haven’t had a chance to read the book in question, I don’t know what to make of the ongoing, and increasingly nasty, fight over John Stauffer’s and Sally Jenkins’s new history of the Free State of Jones. But it seems like the struggle over the book is pretty interesting, as it raises all kinds of questions about the intersection of historical narratives and big-time entertainment. I also think there’s probably something to be said here about the nature of scholarship. But again, without having read the book, I’m not the one to say it. At least not yet.

Anyway, the fight started here and here and here, I guess, when Victoria Bynum, who’s written her own history of Jones County during the Civil War, posted a scathing review of The State of Jones. Take a look. See what you think.

Update: Stepping back a bit, it seems to me that there are other interesting questions raised by this case. For instance, as Kevin points out in his post (linked above), how does the advent of blogging change the way that “scholarly”* books are reviewed? How do “historians”** change their writing, particularly what*** they choose to write, given the audience they want for their books? And is it okay to find motivation for scholarship in the pursuit of a big payday?

* Yep, those are scare quotes. Deal with it.

** And again. Feel free to fill out a comment card, if you’d like.

*** As opposed to how they write. Content rather than style, in other words.

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