The American Civil War:
Waging a War in
History and in Memory
As much public as professional property, the Civil War has had many owners, it has assumed many shapes, and it has been put to many uses since General Pierre Gustav T. Beauregard began lobbing shells across Charleston Harbor. It is a war that has never quite ended. It marches in marble form through downtown Richmond, Virginia. It anchors countless town squares. It can be found at the top of any number of flag poles and plastered on the bumpers of even more cars. T-shirts sport Civil War images, so too do coffee mugs and battered pick-up trucks. We sing about the Civil War, its origins, its aftermath, and its implications. Some people re-enact it. The Drive-By Truckers call it a “Southern Thing.” Billie Holliday thought it a vile thing. Above all, we use the American Civil War—a thing of the past—to know who we are in the present. In film, in fiction, in museums, and in parks, a war that left approximately 620,000 dead and freed 4,000,000 others continues to provide meaning and metaphor for a nation still uncertain about who it is, and who it should be.
Starting in the archives and ending in Hollywood, this course considers a range of those Civil Wars, their authors, the meanings they ascribe to the war, and the meanings they take from the war. Drawing on period accounts, fiction, poetry, and film, as well as historians’ ever evolving interpretations, we will explore the war’s continuing hold on the American imagination.
Lectures: Monday and Wednesday, 10–11 a.m. in Emerson Hall 101
Films: Monday 6–11 p.m. in Fong Auditorium