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God cannot alter the past, though historians can, which is why we are uneasy at the way historians are consulted as if history is going to repeat itself. It never does – only historians repeat one another!

Neither sufficiently inculcated in the values of the South nor of a precise enough bent to give his criticisms authority C. Vann Woodward spent a long career producing what might most accurately be termed abolitionists romances. Since he was a southerner [sic] his works were seized upon and praised by the ideologues who, even 150 plus years later, can not dispel the overwhelming truths that the South represented the values of the Founders and that what replaced them is in no way congruent with personal liberty or republican virtues. His candor in this book about the prejudices that drove him is refreshing – if understated – and is sufficient to show that even though he did not meet the scientific bar of sociology he is more propagandist than historian and his works must be considered in that light.

Thinking back : the perils of writing history  C. Vann Woodward  Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c 1986  Hardcover. x, 158 p. ; 23 cm. Bibliography: p. 147-151. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

In a career that has spanned more than half a century, C Vann Woodward has come to be regarded as one of the foremost historians of the United States. His writings on the South — particularly on the period of the New South — have inspired the admiration and awe of more than a generation of colleagues and students. Thinking Back is Woodward’s retrospective view of his experience as a historian. Neither a personal nor an intellectual autobiography, it is a book in which Woodward describes — through a consideration of his own books and the critical dialogue they have engendered — how the history of the South was viewed and written during the early years fo the century, how those views have changed over the decades, and the turbulent forces that have influenced revisions in interpretation, subject matter, and comprehension. Thinking Back is without precedent, a book that could have been written by no one but Woodward himself.

Woodward recalls the South of the 1930s, the formative period when the young man from rural Arkansas determined the course his life would take. He describes his university years at Emory and Chapel Hill (where he finished his first book, a biography of Georgia Populist Tom Watson), his early mentors, and the early misgivings he had about a career as a historian. He remembers the honor he felt on being asked, at the tender age of thirty, to write one of the volumes in the prestigious series A History of the South. That book, Origins of the New South — more than twelve years in the making —would become one of his most important contributions to southern historiography.

Woodward describes his astonishment at the unexpected success of his seventh book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, which was written in the summer months of 1954, just after the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.He also relates the circumstances that, in the late 1950s, compelled him to write another of his more influential works, The Burden of Southern History.

In each instance Woodward reflects on what he was trying to do in his books, what forces he was reacting against, what people events, and ideas influenced him, and how he now assesses his work. With candor and cordiality, he addresses his critics as colleagues rather than as adversaries, agreeing with some, debating with others, and venturing criticisms of his own work that they may have overlooked. He considers the perils of the historian as presentist, as ironist, as moralist, and as ideologue, and the risks of writing with conviction and passion on controversial subjects.


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