Archive for category Civil War

American Civil War and Reconstruction at the PCA-ACA Annual Conference April 1-4 2015 New Orleans

The American Civil War and Reconstruction

 

Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

National Conference 2015

 

April 1-4, 2015

New Orleans Marriott

555 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA  70130  USA

 

The Civil War and Reconstruction Area of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association is calling for papers on the American Civil War and Reconstruction for its national meeting, April 1-4, 2015 (Wednesday through Saturday) at the New Orleans Marriott in the French Quarter.  Papers are welcome from a range of disciplines, and may explore any topic or “reading” of the War.  Past presentations have included such diverse subject areas as literature, photography, art, newspapers and journalistic history, counterfactual history, battle reenactments, music, politics, battle narratives, guerilla warfare, film, historiographical issues, women’s narratives, war games, secession politics, African-Americans at war, modern pop culture, memory and memorializing, battlefield preservation, and material culture.  Suggested special topics for this year could include slavery and politics, Northern intellectuals at war, military politics, New Orleans at war, The 150th Commemoration and the Politics of Commemoration, and the cultural legacy of the War.

 

Acceptance of your paper obligates you to appear and make an oral presentation of your paper.  Sessions run for ninety minutes, and each presenter receives fifteen minutes, depending on the number of papers in each panel.  Please plan to stay within this time limit.  Graduate students are welcome to submit proposals.  Whole panel proposals are also welcome

 

Please send an abstract of 100-250 words to:

Dr. Randal Allred,

Department of English,

Brigham Young University Hawaii,

55-220 Kulanui St.,

Laie, HI 96762

randal.allred@byuh.edu ,

phone (808) 675-3633, and fax (808) 675-3662.

 

Deadline:  Nov. 1, 2014

 

Please include in your proposal your address, school affiliation, e-mail, and telephone number.

Also, please submit your proposal online at http://ncp.pcaaca.org/

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Searching for the Right Metaphor: Veterans in Popular Culture

My research on veterans has been driven by a number of questions.  Foremost among them has been how we as a culture choose to represent veterans in the United States.  Naturally the answer to this question depends upon the war discussed.  Conflicts far distant in our imagination take on a mythic status.  Minute Men and the civilian militia dominate our mental portrait of The Revolutionary War while Johnny Reb and Billy Yank still loom large over the United States Civil War.  World War Two remains framed by the “Greatest Generation” label associated with it by former news anchor Tom Brokaw.  The Vietnam war is only slowly beginning to mythologize as its veterans advance in age and the war fades from living memory.

Part of the reason I chose to write a book on veterans of the Civil War was the challenge associated with attempting to recover the actual lives of veterans who fought in one of our nation’s most mythologized conflicts. Moving beyond the statues of Johnny Reb and Billy Yank that stand in town squares throughout most of the United States, I wanted to know: What had soldiers of the Civil War survived?  How did they understand it?  How did non-combatants understand them? What I discovered was that the Civil War served as a turning point in the way veterans were understood in American culture.  It set in motion ways of understanding former soldiers that remain influential today.

We tend to take for granted that veterans are different from civilians.  This assumption was not widely shared until the late nineteenth-century.  Military service was a skill or craft and participation in a war one of the many events that took place in a man’s life.  The unique nature of the Civil War, which nearly destroyed the country, marked the soldiers who survived this conflict differently from their forebears.  In the last years of the war, the pace of combat also changed leaving soldiers psychologically scarred by events they did not have time to process until much later in their lives.

Civilians viewed the growth of the veteran as a distinct social category with apprehension.  On the one hand, they were viewed as wounded warriors in need of civilian care and sympathy.  On the other, veterans were a potentially destabilizing force to society.  For every image of a pathos laden amputee returning to his family in Civil War era newspapers and magazines there was also a tramp, addicted to alcohol and drugs and never quite able to get his life together after the war.  In spite of the gender assumptions of the era, it did not seem clear at all that war made men.  Instead it seemed to unman them or remake them into something vaguely monstrous.

Time passes and the details change, but the Janus-like figure of the veteran as victim or threat remains.  They are two different ways of looking at soldiers and yet they are inextricable from each other.  Perhaps the best example in our own times remains the film First Blood (1982).  John J. Rambo is a special forces veteran of the Vietnam War.  Most viewers of the film will readily remember the action sequences as Rambo unleashes his military training upon a small town in the pacific northwest.  What often gets forgotten, however, is the somber way in which the film begins.  Rambo is a tramp.  We first see him hitchhiking with his battered field jacket and pack.  He is looking for fellow survivors from his unit in the war.  His travels bring him to the pacific northwest where he discovers that another comrade has died since the war, this one of cancer.  Not long after this depressing discovery, Rambo is confronted with a Sheriff who attempts to get him to leave his town.  He rebuffs the Sheriff’s attempts to push him back on the road and gets arrested.  Rambo is mistreated in prison and memories of the war emerge.  Suddenly he sees himself as a P.O.W. in North Vietnamese captivity.  Rambo escapes and engages in an epic battle with local law enforcement and the national guard.  It is only when his former commander comes to “take him home” that the violence ends and peace is restored to the small town.

One doesn’t often expect to find a parable contained in a popular film, but First Blood is the veteran parable as we’ve inherited it in perfect form.  Initially an object of pity, it takes very little effort for Rambo to become a threat. He has brought the war home with him and disrupted the lives of those far removed from it.  Only by removing him can peace be restored.  A soldier once, he is a soldier forever.

A better film in many respects than First Blood, winning six Oscars, The Hurt Locker (2008) nonetheless helps to perpetuate the “soldier once, soldier forever” theme.  Bomb technician Sergeant William James is the protagonist of this film.  Far from being a tramp, he is instead presented as a reckless adrenaline junky.  James pushes the limits with each mission and in the process risks getting himself and his team blown up by a bomb.  When he returns from his combat rotation, James attempts to readjust to civilian life with his family.  We see him cleaning the leaves from the gutters of his home, helping his wife chop vegetables for dinner, watching the baby, and helping his wife shop at grocery store.  In most of these tasks we see James attempting to feign some interest. We even see him filled with greater terror at the overabundance of the U.S. supermarket than he ever exhibited on the war-torn streets of Iraq.  Uncomfortable at home, James re-enlists and the last we see of him he is leaving a troop transport at the airport for his new base.

Surprisingly, few have noted the significance of the name William James being used for the protagonist of this film.  Nineteenth-century U.S. psychologist and philosopher William James was a proponent of a “moral equivalent of war.”  Like most of his contemporaries, James wanted to believe in the man-making power of military service.  At the same time, however, he had seen how the Civil War had scarred his younger brothers Wilky and Bob.  James wondered if the uplifting aspects of the soldier’s life could be separated from the ugliness of war.  The Hurt Locker has no such interest in war’s moral equivalent.  Nevertheless, it does, like James’s research, remind us that war is not the soldier’s problem.  It is a shared concern for the society that creates armies and sanctions war. In the end, this is what our current metaphors seek to evade.  War is many things, but at its heart it is a social pathology rather than an individual malady.

No image can do justice to the full range of experience in any person’s life.  Veterans are people with all their faults and virtues.  They are also complex texts for a society to read and interpret.  Unlike dead soldiers they talk back.  Their stories bend and twist down many roads, assaulting our assumptions about ourselves and our world. That’s one reason why we continue to search for the right metaphor.

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Colorizing Civil War Photographs

This morning a post showed up on the C-19 Listserv for nineteenth-century Americanists that linked to a Daily Mail article on the efforts of two technicians to colorize Civil War era photographs.

You can read the article and see samples of their work here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2446391/Amazing-Civil-War-photographs-created-colorist-bring-eras-heroes-characters-life-color-time.html

I have to admit that seeing these well-known photos in color was fascinating.  Especially interesting was the ability to see the color of the landscape (indicating season) and also the tint of the uniforms.  We talk so much about the “blue” and “grey” and yet most of the imagery we have of them is black and white.

But I am also wary of the notion of improving history through technological advances rather than simply using it to store documents in an alternate format for preservation purposes.  This is something that could potentially be a lot more damaging to the archive than Ted Turner’s ill-fated effort years ago to colorize classic cinema.

 

Postscript:  A Civil War scholar responding to the C-19 listserv post a few minutes ago reminded me in his comments that photographs were hand colored in the 19th century.  So again the technology is not the issue here.  It’s the motive.  Why color these photographs?

Have any scholars commented on the theoretical implications of color in historical documents? What is the real psychological difference between a document in color vs. one in black and white?

I know when I teach film in my literature courses, black and white films tend to be perceived by some students as boring and other as more authoritative (cinema rather than film).  I call it the “black and white” effect.  I wonder if this is true of print documents and photos?

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Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North (Newberry Library Symposium 10/17-18)

Newberry-Terra flyer-page-0

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Call for Papers: PCA/ACA Civil War and Reconstruction Section

Call for Papers:

The American Civil War and Reconstruction

Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

National Conference  2014

 

April 16-19, 2014

Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile

Chicago, Illinois

 

The Civil War and Reconstruction Area of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association is calling for papers on the American Civil War and Reconstruction for its national meeting, April 16-19, 2014 (Wednesday through Saturday) at theMarriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile.  Papers are welcome from a range of disciplines, and may explore any topic or “reading” of the War.  Past presentations have included such diverse subject areas as literature, photography, art, newspapers and journalistic history, counterfactual history, battle reenactments, music, politics, battle narratives, guerilla warfare, film, historiographical issues, women’s narratives, war games, secession politics, African-Americans at war, modern pop culture, memory and memorializing, battlefield preservation, and material culture.  Suggested special topics for this year could include slavery and politics, Northern intellectuals at war, Lincoln and the Spielberg film, military politics, The 150th Commemoration and the Politics of Commemoration, and the cultural legacy of the War.

 

Acceptance of your paper obligates you to appear and make an oral presentation of your paper.  Sessions run for ninety minutes, and each presenter receives fifteen minutes, depending on the number of papers in each panel.  Please plan to stay within this time limit.  Graduate students are welcome to submit proposals.  Whole panel proposals are also welcome

 

Please send an abstract of 100-250 words to:

Dr. Randal Allred,

Department of English,

Brigham Young University Hawaii,

55-220 Kulanui St.,

Laie, HI 96762

randal.allred@byuh.edu

phone (808) 675-3633, and fax (808) 675-3662.

Please include in your proposal your address, school affiliation, e-mail, and telephone number.

Also, please submit your proposal online at  http://pcaaca.org/national-conference-2/proposing-a-presentation-at-the-conference/

 

Deadline for submissions is November 1, 2013. For more information, go to http://pcaaca.org/national-conference-2/

 

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NEMLA 2014 Call for Papers: The Battle of Gettysburg in Fiction and Film

Call for Papers

High Water Mark of War: The Battle of Gettysburg in Fiction and Film

 

45th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NEMLA)

April 3-6, 2014

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Host: Susquehanna University

 

 

Often regarded by scholars as one of the major turning points in the United States Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg has attained an iconic status in American literature and culture. Twentieth Century southern writer William Faulkner claimed in his novel Intruder in the Dust (1948) that “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863.”  Living with the legacy of defeat, white southern males imagined (in Faulkner’s view) a time when General Pickett had yet to lead his charge and the South still imagined it could win the war.  Northern writers such as Michael Shaara also turned to Gettysburg for a wide variety of reasons.  In Shaara’s case, the struggle at Gettysburg provided moral clarity that was sorely lacking in the Vietnam War era.

 

This panel will address the question of what actually happened at Gettysburg and how those events were reshaped over time to create distinct ‘legacies’ of that battle and the war of which it was a part. Questions to consider include but aren’t limited to:  How is race addressed (or not) in portrayals of the battle?  What role do civilians play in representations of the battle?  Is battlefield heroism portrayed in a straightforward or ironic light?  Does a particular narrative of the battle seem to say more about its own times than the Civil War era?

 

Film scholars are encouraged to submit proposals for this panel. Papers that examine the civilian experience of the battle are also sought.

 

Please send your abstract of approximately 250-300 words along with a one page CV to jcasey3@uic.edu.

 

The deadline for submissions is September 30, 2013

 

 

Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however, panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.  For a full list of NEMLA 2014 conference sessions visit:

 

http://www.nemla.org/convention/2014/cfp.html

 

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“I Returned To My Tree In The Rain”

My research has had me reading a lot over the past few months about trauma, specifically combat related trauma.  As I prepared my remarks for a presentation at the New England Modern Language Association (NEMLA) conference a few weeks ago on this subject, I was particularly struck by the conundrum presented to scholars by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).

On the one hand, PTSD has now made a vast field of study possible in non-medical and non-scientific disciplines that simply was not there prior to the 1980s.  Without PTSD’s seemingly stable foundation, it’s hard to imagine “trauma studies” finding much ground in academic and public circles.  Yet, on the other hand, PTSD prevents us from seeing and understanding a wide range of responses to horrific events that simply do not fit within its paradigm.

These thoughts came to me most strongly in relation to Ulysses S. Grant.  The former President and Union General’s Personal Memoirs (1885) played a minor though significant role in my dissertation.  His experience of combat was so different from that of front line soldiers such as Ambrose Bierce and Sam Watkins that I hesitated to include him in the same chapter with those authors.  Our current conception of trauma seemed to exclude him from the kinds of troubled and troubling memories that marked much of Watkins’ and Bierce’s work.

Nonetheless, I persisted in my curiosity at what impact (if any) combat trauma had on Grant’s narrative.  What I found in his chapter on the battle of Shiloh rewarded my persistence.

On the night after the first day of battle Grant says:

“During the night rain fell in torrents and our troops were exposed to the storm without shelter.  I made my headquarters under a tree a few hundred yards back from the river bank.  My ankle was so much swollen from the fall of my horse the Friday night preceding, and the bruise was so painful, that I could get no rest.  The drenching rain would have precluded the possibility of sleep without this additional cause.  Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank.  This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering.  The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.”

Throughout most of Grant’s memoirs, he maintains a firm hand on the narrative.  Even though Grant wants his readers to see him as a man driven by the dictates of fate (“Man Proposes God Disposes” are the first words of his text), his narrative technique is strictly controlled by the author.  It is only in rare moments such as the one above that Grant drops his public persona and we gain a glimpse at the ordinary man behind that name.

What we see is a man who may not fit the paradigm associated with PTSD.  However, he is clearly touched by what he has witnessed, so much so that he writes about it over 20 years later.  Grant is confronted in that log-house with the consequences of military command.  He doesn’t like what he sees.

Would it cheapen what soldiers at the front line experience to consider this trauma rather than simply garden variety guilt or regret?  I don’t know.  It’s still an issue I’m puzzling over as I consider the traces of war in Civil War veterans’ writing.

What I do know is that it’s time for scholars to find a way to talk about trauma that doesn’t automatically gravitate towards PTSD.

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Review of Recent Scholarship on the Civil War

It should come as no surprise with the Sesquecentennial of the Civil War upon us that a flurry of scholarship is currently being published on the conflict.  Each publication tries to outdo the other in its assertion that we misunderstood the war itself or missed the true import of its legacy.  Two of these recent works that attempt to shed new light upon America’s most written about war are Randall Fuller’s From Battlefields Rising:  How the Civil War Transformed American Literature and Barbara Gannon’s The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic.

The first of these books, a winner of the 2011 Christian Gauss Award, attempts to illustrate how the Civil War changed the way American authors understood themselves, their nation, and their craft.  Fuller uses biographies and selected passages from the works of well-known northern authors of the antebellum period as the main sources of evidence for his argument.  Arguing primarily by implication, Fuller places each literary figure alongside the historic events taking place during the war.  From here he lets the reader draw his own conclusions.

Although the book is well-written and engaging, From Battlefield’s Rising unfortunately adds very little to our understanding of the war’s legacy for American fiction.  Fuller’s introduction prepares the reader for a narrative that will engage the much earlier scholarship of George Fredrickson’s Inner Civil War, Edmund Wilson’s eclectic but authoritative Patriotic Gore, and Daniel Aaron’s The Unwritten War.  Regrettably, rather than engage these earlier authors he simply adds new data to the framework of their earlier arguments.  Perhaps this helps explain why his narrative technique favors argument through implication.

One of the most interesting tasks he accomplishes in this work has little to do with the impact of the Civil War on American literature.  Fuller manages in this book to shift blame for the ideological fuel of the war from Harriet Beecher Stowe and the northern abolitionist movement and places it instead on the transcendentalist philosophy championed by Emerson.  His idealist philosophy, in Fuller’s view, was the volcano that set the nation on fire from 1861-65.  Any examination of the war’s legacy on American fiction, he implies, must therefore start with the hangover left behind by the Boston Brahmins.

An interesting idea, but a new critique of Emerson hardly qualifies as a transformative reading of the Civil War’s impact on American literature and Culture.

Barbara Gannon’s book is more modest in scope while at the same time providing the reader with a truly paradigm shifting narrative. Winner of the 2012 Wiley-Silver Prize for Civil War History, The Won Cause challenges the idea held by historians of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) such as Mary Dearing and Stuart McConnell that the GAR was a racist organization that only grudgingly allowed the participation of African-American veterans.

Gannon argues that “Black and White veterans were able to create and sustain an interracial organization in a society rigidly divided on the color line because the northerners who fought and lived remembered African Americans’ service in a war against slavery” (Gannon, 5).

A shared sense of sacrifice on the battlefield and a common cause, the abolition of slavery, brought together black and white union veterans, Gannon contends, in an era where the color line was more like an impenetrable wall.  Their belief in the “won cause” created an egalitarian space (i.e. the GAR post room) in a society where blacks were hard pressed to find any.

Where the GAR fell short, in Gannon’s view, was that their attitudes did not extend much farther than the post room and they had little if any interest as an organization in African-Americans who had not served in the Union army.  This, however, she contends is not as grievous a fault as 21st century observers might think.  For Americans living in the post-Civil War era, the choice was either between racism or color blind relations with African-Americans.  In trying to remain color blind, GAR members were unable to any other way than they did.  They along with their black comrades had ended bondage, the rest was up to the African-American race.

One of the few areas where this work disappoints is in the writing.  It is often difficult to determine how chapters relate to each other and I had little sense of a narrative trajectory as I read the book.  Each section felt like a vignette that lightly joined the ones before and after.

Aside from their intention to provide a new perspective on the Civil War, these works share little in common.  They do, however, reveal a conundrum facing scholarship on the Civil War and (one might contend) humanities scholarship in general.  With so much written on this conflict, what more is left to say?  Fuller’s book shows that the age of grand gestures is all but dead while the task of the micro-historian has yet to begin.  The future it seems is in the details.

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Civil War Prison Camp Discovered in Georgia

The archaeological remains of an Annex to the notorious Confederate prison camp Andersonville have been discovered in Millen, Georgia. You can hear an overview of the discovery in this CNN news clip.

More in depth information on the project is available through this Georgia Southern University website.

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Booth Family Drama

Nora Titone’s My Thoughts Be Bloody (2010) provides an interesting new perspective on the Lincoln assassination.  Unlike most books on the topic, Nora begins with the colorful exodus of the Booth family patriarch, Junius Brutus Booth, from England in 1821.  Fleeing his first wife and a three-year old son back in London, Junius Brutus Booth sought to begin a new life in the United States with his mistress Mary Anne Holmes.  He would eventually sire ten children with Mary Anne, including Edwin and John Wilkes Booth.

The first portion of the book is largely devoted to the life of Junius Brutus Booth who was not only a Romantic in every sense of the word, he considered himself a pantheist and was fiercely vegetarian, but also a drunkard.  By doing so, Nora strives to illustrate the environment from which the president’s assassin emerged.

John Wilkes Booth was forced to live as a boy with great economic privation and shame as his father’s first wife found out about Mary Anne and moved to Baltimore expressly to taunt and expose her through the courts as an adulteress.  The first Mrs. Booth would follow the family around the city’s streets screaming “whore” at the family as they went about their daily chores.

Nora also exposes a Oedipal struggle of sorts between the father and his two most famous sons, Edwin and John Wilkes, which later metamorphosizes into a struggle between the two brothers.  Edwin was by all accounts the son who inherited his father’s theatrical talents while John Wilkes merely obtained his old clothing and stage props.  Yet John Wilkes refused to concede that he would forever be outshone by his older sibling.

By the time that Nora reaches the last chapter of the book and the fateful night of Lincoln’s death at Ford’s Theater, we are already prepared to see this horrendous tragedy as in fact another dramatic play in the struggle for ownership of the Booth name.  Through killing the president, she implies, John Wilkes did not so much seek to influence the southern cause as he did to win the struggle that began between him and his father and then continued with his older brother Edwin.

Hindsight suggests that John Wilkes won the contest that Nora outlines as his name remains far better known than that of his brother Edwin or his father.  The great tragedy, however, that becomes apparent in this book is that John Wilkes could no longer distinguish between life and life on stage.  The two had merged towards the end of his days into one tragicomic stream.

My only complaint with the work is how long it takes the narrative to begin.  In her quest for proper contextualization, Nora runs the risk of losing the reader in the early sections of the book.  Nonetheless it is refreshing to see that “well-researched” popular history is alive and well as a genre.  Here is a work that is both authoritative as well as fun to read once you get past the first 30 pages.  Who would have imagined that in killing the president John Wilkes was actually killing the image of his brother?

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