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Michigan Historical Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Editor's Page


There's no use looking for a common theme. This issue's first three articles present Michigan in war, peace, and controversy. Anyone forgetting that the Civil War was in aggregate the nation's most costly need only read Thomas Sebrell's account of "The 'Fighting Fifth': The Fifth Michigan Infantry Regiment in the Civil War's Peninsula Campaign." It is a story of courageous and successful regimental charges paid for in heavy casualties and ultimately rendered futile by the Army of the Potomac's cautious commander, George McClellan. It is also a story of the wear and tear of combat on even those individual soldiers lucky enough to remain alive and unwounded. The bewhiskered gentleman whose photograph graces our cover, Dr. Moses Gunn, left a particularly articulate record of complaints in letters to his wife, mixing accounts of hardship and horror with cranky attention to his own career and status. Was he really worse off than Private Jim Foreman, who learned of deaths at home while burying his comrades in Virginia? On the other hand, who could perform endless amputations in rain and mud? While the regiment won renown, individuals paid the price.

Ted Moore's article, "Creating an Idyllic Space: Nature, Technology, and Campus Planning at the Michigan Agricultural College, 1850 to 1975," tells a gentler story, one of paradox more than conflict. The campus at what is now Michigan State University has always centered on a pastoral, parklike setting, carefully preserved down through the years as a "sacred space." Yet alongside that space, for many years the college maintained a powerful symbol of modernity, a large power plant that generated both electricity and heat for the campus and marked the institution's devotion to the advancement of modern technology and science. Although in recent years the power plant has been relocated to the periphery of campus, suggesting a growing concern that smokestacks and greensward do not mix easily, commitments to both the preservation of natural amenities and power-driven technological progress remain central to American culture.

Keith Dye's discussion of "The Black Manifesto for Reparations in Detroit: Challenge and Response, 1969" describes a cultural conflict, sharp though nonviolent, that echoes down to the present. As the more radical edge of the black freedom movement pushed for action, not just discussion, white Protestants felt caught in the middle between good intentions and limited action, often with the more liberal clergy leaning one way and many of the laity leaning the other. Dye explores the complex conflicts and crosscurrents during a turbulent couple of months in 1969 as Detroit-area churches faced assertive demands that they furnish reparations for the injustices of slavery and racism. Not surprisingly, there was no neat resolution. But Dye's article furnishes a lively case study of the issues in conflict.

The two research notes in this issue each offer something a bit quirky and different. Although historians fairly commonly challenge other historians' broad interpretations and major theses, they often just write past books with which they disagree. And seldom do they undertake to refute a point of detail in a published book, especially one as well received and generally valuable as Nell Baldwin's Henry Ford and the Jews. Nor do journals commonly publish such refutations. This may be unfortunate, as it hampers the ability of historians to be a self-correcting group of scholars. On the other hand, too much of this sort of detailed disputation could exhaust the patience or simply lose the interest of most readers. Why then did we make an exception in the case of Ronald Stockton's "McGuffey, Ford, Baldwin, and the Jews"? …

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