Calling All Civil War Memory Enthusiasts

I received the following email a few days ago from an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, who is planning to write her senior thesis on Civil War memory.  While I am flattered that this student is asking me for my advice, it seems silly not to tap the interests and experiences of my many readers.  Your responses will serve as a helpful guidebook, not only for this student, but for anyone looking to explore this fascinating topic.  Feel free to suggest readings, subtopics, questions, and anything else that you believe is relevant to this student’s project.  Thanks everyone.

I am an avid reader of your blog, which I stumbled upon several months ago subsequent to some cursory online searches for information on contemporary Civil War memory. I am currently an undergraduate soon-to-be senior at UC Berkeley and am intending to write my senior thesis project on topics in contemporary Civil War memory, particularly the memory of slavery as an institution. I’m planning to look at historical societies and museums, NPS coverage and interviews, art, literature, reenactments, the timely sesquicentennial commemorations, politics and public discourse, and popular culture (from TV to YouTube) in both the North, South, and West. As part of a follow-up on this project, I plan to spend the year subsequent to graduation (and prior to applying to graduate school) writing high school, middle school, and elementary school curriculum as both a corrective to and an exploration of problems in Civil War memory. I know you do a lot of this in your classroom.

As you would know very well, has a comprehensive project like this yet been undertaken — am I being redundant or offering something valuable to this growing field of Civil War memory? If not, is there any literature that you know of on issues of contemporary Civil War and slavery memory (other than Blight, and, well, Tony Horowitz’ Confederates in the Attic)? I hope to contribute something meaningful that bridges the gap between academic and popular discourse on the Civil War and slavery generally — and memory in particular.

I apologize for asking these questions of you, as I know you are busy and this is perhaps asking a great deal — but you are certainly a flagship for a more popular discourse on Civil War memory, and you have certainly raised questions seeking a more academic approach. I hope with a comprehensive senior thesis that I plan to turn into a Ph.D. dissertation that I can start to open that academic discourse, even at the undergraduate level.

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8 comments… add one
  • abpow Apr 19, 2010 @ 16:51

    Hi! This is the student featured in this post. I just wanted to say thank you to Kevin and all of you for your contributions so far — I have read quite a few of the books listed, but many I have never heard of. This is going to be an extremely helpful resource as a move forward in developing this project! Thanks again.

  • Bob Pollock Apr 19, 2010 @ 15:31

    In 2007 I did a readings course in lieu of a proseminar in grad school on Civil War memory. I think that’s when I found your blog, Kevin. Anyway here is my book list:

    Nina Silber, The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1861
    Robert J. Cook, Troubled Commemeration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965
    Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture
    Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920
    David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
    Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh, The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture
    Eric Foner, Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World
    John R. Neff, Honoring the Civil War Dead: Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation
    Cristopher Waldrep, Vicksburg’s Long Shadow: The Civil War Legacy of Race and Remembrance
    Thomas A. Desjardin, These Honored Dead: How the Story of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory
    Carol Reardon, Pickett’s Charge in History and Memory
    John M Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem
    Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan, The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War Memory
    Susan-Mary Grant and Peter J. Parrish, Legacy of Disunion: The Enduring Significance of the American Civil War
    Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the Centennial

    Also, for more on the NPS, look for Rally on the High Ground: The National Park Service Symposium on the Civil War, ed. by Robert K. Sutton
    You can also find great articles on NPS interpretation in CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship.

    Hope this is helpful.

    • Bob Pollock Apr 19, 2010 @ 15:47

      oops! That first one by Silber is 1865-1900.

  • Larry Cebula Apr 19, 2010 @ 15:12

    Another possible research topic is the rediscovery of slavery outside the states of the Confederacy. There have been public controversies of late in places like Yale and Brown when it was discovered that some of those ivy-covered buildings are named after colonial slave holders. If you dig hard enough you find slavery nearly everywhere, including the Oregon Territory and in states of the Northwest Territory.

  • heidic Apr 19, 2010 @ 11:48

    I am currently enrolled in A Civil War Memory Seminar class at Shepherd University…so I’ll rattle off the books we have been reading — all which have so far proved to be excellent resources in looking at how the Civil War is rembered. David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory; John Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag; Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration; Gary Gallagher, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War.
    In addition, if she is developing a curriculum for K-12 I have been told the New York Public Library (I believe, don’t quote me on that) has good resources.

  • Boyd Harris Apr 19, 2010 @ 7:21

    I suggest you look at Paul Shackel’s book Memory in Black and White: Race, Commemoration, and the Post-Bellum Landscape. It looks at different historical sites and the struggles that have occured to incorporate race and slavery. Good luck with your project!

  • Marc Ferguson Apr 19, 2010 @ 4:12

    Go right to _Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory_, edited by James O. and Lois E. Horton!

  • Jim Beeghley Apr 19, 2010 @ 3:50


    If she is planning on developing curriculum, then I would suggest that she research how the Civil War is currently being taught in a K-12 classroom. This would entail a review of the National Council for Social Studies standards, the National History Standards and a review of her state standards.

    There is very little research out there on how the Civil War is being taught (trust me, I looked), but there is some.

    I also suggest:
    Robertson, J.I., & Davis, W. C. (2002). Bringing the civil war to the classroom: A guide for teachers. Blacksburg, Va: Virginia Center for Civil War Studies.

    Lipscomb, G. B. (2002).Eighth graders’ impression of the civil war: Using technology in
    the history classroom. Education, Communication & Information. 2, 51-67.

    Mason-Bolick, C., & Mcglinn, M. (2004). Harriet jacobs: Using online slave narratives in
    the classroom. Social Education. 68, 198-204.

    I have some more that I can dig up if needed, but most of what I have is geared toward using technology. These 3 are from dissertation notes.


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