(Re)Constructing the Past in George Saunders’ “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline”

The American Civil War (1861-1865), which cleaved the country into two halves, the North and South, is known as one of the most violent, tumultuous, divisive events in American history. Yet, instead of reflecting the actual brutally violent realities of the country’s past, the war is reconstituted in America’s collective… Continue reading

Book Review: The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery by RJM Blackett

In his new book The Captive’s Quest for Freedom, Richard Blackett isolates the Fugitive Slave Law as not merely a prerequisite for Southern agreement to the compromise but one of the most crucial political and legislative decisions in US history. The Fugitive Slave Law nationalized the recapture of escaped slaves and clearly implicated Northerners in the institution of slavery. He shows how the law politicized the escape of enslaved people to the North. Continue reading

Using primary sources from ‘American History 1493-1945' - an Adam Matthew collection: Charles J.C. Hutson and Confederate Flag Culture

The letters of Charles J.C. Hutson, a former student of South Carolina College and a soldier in the First South Carolina Volunteers, provide insight on various topics pertaining to the American Civil War era. Held at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and accessible via Adam Matthew Digital’s ‘American History 1493-1945’ collection, the bulk of the materials pertain to the war period (1861-1865). Continue reading

‘The speed of every incident is unbelievable’: Writer Muriel Rukeyser and the Spanish Civil War

Having been awarded funding through the AHRC International Placement Scheme, I arrived in Washington DC in early October 2014 to begin research in the Muriel Rukeyser Papers held at the Library of Congress. Rukeyser’s diary and notes from Spain at the Library of Congress furthered my understanding of how the article was produced. The sense of speed that characterised ‘Barcelona, 1936’ was even more evident in her diary, which she wrote in short phrases, punctuated by dashes as though she was keen to capture events as they unfolded. As well as her diary, the archive contains lists, maps, sketches and even another passenger’s diary from Spain. I had a sense that Rukeyser had chosen a camera-like aesthetic but the archive revealed just how far Rukeyser had gone to document what she had seen. Continue reading

“When We Knew No North Or South”: Veterans of the U.S.-Mexican War at the 1876 Centennial

To mark 4th July, Alys Beverton (University College London) discusses the 1876 celebrations in Philadelphia marking one-hundred years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Amongst the heat and noise were over two hundred veterans of the U.S.-Mexican War 1846-48. They had travelled from thirty-three different states and territories, and were weary from their journeys. But the Centennial was not what had brought these veterans to Philadelphia on that sunny July day. For them, the real event – the third annual reunion of the National Association of Veterans of the Mexican War – would take place the following day. Continue reading

Storify of our #bookhour twitter chat on CAPE COD by Henry David Thoreau

During May’s #bookhour discussion Dr. Ben Pickford, Dr. Michael Collins, Dr. Thomas Ruys Smith and Joanne Mildenhall discussed the practical and literary economies of Thoreau’s Cape Cod (1865), the role natural and human histories play in the narrative, and the book’s place in Thoreau’s canon as well as in the larger arena of American literature. Catch up on the chat here. Continue reading

Conference Review (part two) of BAAS 2015, with Saturday Plenary

On the third evening of BAAS 2015 we were treated to an eloquent and passionate plenary from Professor Dana Nelson (Vanderbilt). Best known for her work on race in the nineteenth century (The Word in Black and White, National Manhood), Dana’s lecture ‘A Passion for Democracy: Proximity to Power and the Sovereign Immunity Test’, drew from her most recent work Bad for Democracy (2008). Continue reading

“The Land Entire Saturated”: Commemorating the Civil War Dead at 150 years

  April 9th, 2015 marked the sesquicentennial commemoration of the surrender of the General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to the Army of the Potomac under the command of General Grant. The surrender sounded the death knell for the shattered Confederacy. Appomattox was no cause for outpourings of joy; the… Continue reading

Conference Review: Sixteenth Annual Conference of the Scottish Association for the Study of America

While SASA is first and foremost a Scottish-based organisation, it is by no means dominated by academics from Scottish universities. Indeed, attendees and speakers travelled north from Newcastle, Coventry, Warwick, London and Dublin, highlighting the Association’s inclusiveness. Continue reading

Songs about Rebels: The American Civil War in modern country music

Each of these songs link into what Geoff Mann has called country music’s ‘narrative of loss,’ in that they recall and reconstruct what has allegedly been lost in history – on material, emotional and personal levels. The power of these four songs lies primarily in that sense of loss, rather than in any particular political or martial themes. Perhaps then, these songs form part of what has been called a ‘mild version’ of the Lost Cause, in that they present the memory of the Civil War as a way of both commemorating their ancestors and of supporting the United States. Continue reading