Let’s slide up the time line to World War II for just a bit… a blogger’s indulgence, if you may allow:
But hey… he spends much of the presentation discussing the finer points of the Sherman tank, named after General William “Uncle Billy” Sherman. So I claim a Civil War connection on that basis.
This is a lengthy video (just over 45 minutes). But worth the listen. Nicholas Moran turns what would normally be a bland discussion of olive drab minutia into an entertaining presentation.
I’ll admit to envy of Moran’s job. He works for Wargaming.net and gets paid to go around doing research in promotion of the company’s products… which include the World of Tanks game. I usually keep aloof from wargame discussions, for several reasons. But I do find many of the analysis models used with wargaming (speaking to the hobby in general, not just the company with their fancy video games) to be most useful tools for the historian’s trade.
At any rate, Moran asks us to call into question “common knowledge” about historical events. He’s not saying something is wrong. He’s asking us to challenge what is often accepted as fact. That common knowledge, he contends, should be supported by sources.
Furthermore, we should put those sources in context. Fast forward to the 14 minute mark and you see Moran mention Belton Cooper’s Death Traps. A fine read. Cooper’s memoirs are on many professional reading lists, for good reason. But, when used as source material, a memoir must be placed into context. In this particular case, the writer of the memoir was not an authoritative source for a specific piece of “common knowledge.” Again, this is not to say Cooper is all wrong or should be discounted in whole. It is to say we must weigh each component equally with other sources.
For those of us who study the Civil War, doesn’t that sound familiar? It should!
How about this – Sherman, the general, didn’t go about spontaneously burning everything across Georgia and the Carolinas. The real story is more complex. And we know of that complexity from thorough examination of the source materials.
Likewise, Sherman, the tank, was not more prone to catching fire than any other armored fighting vehicle of its time. The real story is, also, more complex. And we know of that complexity… you guessed it… from examining the source materials.
Good history is the product of proper analysis of source materials, to include understanding context. The time period in focus does not change the rules about sources.