This coming trimester I will be teaching two sections of a course I am calling Civil War Memory. This is the first time that I’ve taught an elective course on the subject, and, as you can imagine, I am very much looking forward to it. Most of the students who are taking the course just completed a trimester elective on the Civil War while the others took either my survey or AP course in American history last year. Although the syllabus is not finalized I have enough that I can share it with you. You will notice that I have not included any assignments or a description of the final project as I am still working on it. Please keep in mind that this is a high school elective course.
“The Civil War is our felt history—history lived in the national imagination” wrote Robert Penn Warren in 1961. Indeed the Civil War occupies a prominent place in our national memory and has served to both unite and divide Americans. This course will explore the various ways in which Americans have chosen to remember their civil war through literature, monuments and memorials, histories, film, art, as well as other forms of popular culture. We will examine how memory of the war changed over time as well as the political implications for Civil War memory. Specific subjects to be addressed include the role of reunion and reconciliation in shaping memory of the war, the place of slavery in our national narratives of the war, public disputes over the display of the Confederate flag, changing perceptions of such notable figures as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as other controversies surrounding the way in which the war has been remembered in public spaces. We will pay particular attention to the way in which the war has been remembered and commemorated here in Charlottesville in such places as the Confederate cemetery at the University of Virginia, Lee and Jackson Park, and Courthouse Square. Additional field trips may include the Museum of the Confederacy, American Civil War Center at Tredegar, and Hollywood Cemetery – all in Richmond, Virginia. Students are encouraged to take the Civil War course, which will be offered in the first trimester.
David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
Thomas J. Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration: A Brief History With Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’ Press, 2004). [Please note that much of the course is structured around this book.]
Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh, eds., The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).
Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War (New York: Vintage, 1999).
Week 1: Introduction to the Course
Questions: What is memory? Why do we find a need to remember and what is the difference between individual and collective memory? Why are Americans interested in their civil war and where can we find examples of civil war remembrance?
Readings: In Brown, read pp. 1-15; Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Woodrow Wilson’s Gettysburg Address (1913); In Blight, read pp. 6-15.
Week 2: Monuments and Soldiers – analysis of the evolution of civic monuments, including their designs, and inscriptions. Why were they built, where, by whom and for what purposes?
Readings: David Blight article on soldiers and memory from North and South Magazine; William Henry Trescott, Inscription on South Carolina Soldiers Monument, 1879, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Soldier’s Faith, May 30, 1895[We will take our first field trip to observe and analyze Civil War monuments in the Charlottesville area.]
Week 3: Contemporary Commemorations – Analysis of recent debates surrounding the legacy of Civil War soldiers and battlefield interpretation. Students will search the news for examples of controversies surrounding the Confederate flag.
Readings: NAACP resolution on Confederate flag (2000); Charley Reese editorial (1997); Fredericksburg commemoration talk by Kevin Levin; John Coski article on the history of the Confederate flag from North and South Magazine.
Week 4: Women of the War – Analysis of the roles that women played throughout the postwar period from grave dedications to textbook oversight.
Readings: In Brown, pp. 57-74; Primary sources by Clara Barton, Howard M. Hamill, and Laura Martin Rose; in Fahs and Waugh, read James McPherson’s “Long-Legged Yankee Lies: The Southern Textbook Crusade”.
Week 5 and 6: Confederate heroes and the Lost Cause – Analysis of the evolution of the memory of Lee and other notable Confederate figures. We will pay particular attention to monuments, including the Lee equestrian statue in Richmond.
Readings: Primary sources by John W. Daniel, Abram J. Ryan, Charles Francis Adams Jr., as well as commentary from both white and black newspapers. In Brown, pp. 79-105 and Blight selections from Race and Reunion.[We will take our second field trip to Richmond to tour Monument Avenue and Hollywood Cemetery.]
Week 7: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment – Analysis of the most famous black regiment from the Civil War, including the monument by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Readings: Primary sources by Anna Quincy Waterston, Frances E.W. Harper, William James, Booker T. Washington, Paul L. Dunbar, Robert Lowell; read chapter 9, “Black Memory and Progress of the Race” in Blight’s Race and Reunion.
Week 8: Lincoln Legacies – Analysis of the evolution of Lincoln’s place in American memory and culture with particular focus on recent comparisons with Barack Obama and Lincoln.
Readings: Recent newspaper articles and editorials; primary sources by Henry M. Turner, Frederick Douglass, F. Wellington Ruckstull, George B. Shaw; In Brown, pp. 139-65 and article by Harold Holzer and Gabor Boritt, “Lincoln in ‘Modern’ Art” in Gabor Boritt, ed., The Lincoln Enigma.
Week 9: The Civil War in Contemporary Culture – Analysis of reenactments and other forms of popular Civil War memory.
Readings: Selections from Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic and Gary Gallagher’s Causes Won, Lost, & Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War. We will also watch scenes from Gods and Generals, Cold Mountain, Shenandoah, and C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America
Week 10: Final Projects (TBA)