The Civil War: Past and Present
65 4th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217
“Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.” So spoke Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, which he gave only a month before the war’s end—and his tragic death—in April 1865. Weary from the war’s burdens yet hopeful for a future in which the cancer of slavery had been cauterized from the nation’s body, Lincoln sought to bring the two halves of the nation back together, “with malice towards none; with charity for all.” As our own struggles today with enduring racism and fierce ideological differences suggest–from debates about the status of Confederate memorials to arguments for and against reparations to attitudes towards institutionalized violence—the legacy of this division has still not been overcome.
In this course, we will seek to understand the events of the Civil War within a broader social and political context, analyzing the two societies that broke apart under the weight of “the peculiar and powerful interest” of slavery, and the failed reconstruction of this schism in the postwar world. We will also consider the ideological legacy of the war in the Civil Rights Movement, modern conservatism, and popular culture. How do the ways we have chosen to remember the war, in both commemoration and repression, mobilize contemporary political beliefs? In what way is the Civil War constitutive of American political culture? Using numerous primary sources and a selection of secondary readings, students will consider major themes including: the causes of the war in the 1850s; the economic transformation of North and South due to the war, in particular the rise of capital in the North; implications for the global capitalist system; the role of slaves and women in undermining the Confederacy; and the momentous moral and political questions involved in Emancipation and Reconstruction. Special attention will be given to lived experience of the war as represented in memoir, fiction, and poetry (Whitman, Dickinson, Bierce, Mary Chesnut) as well as narratives collected from freedmen after Emancipation. Secondary readings will be drawn from Richard Hofstadter, Eric Foner, James McPherson, Drew Gilpin Faust, Barbara Fields, and Ira Berlin among others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 14 — December 12, 2017
4 sessions over 5 weeks