Instructor: Dr. Jill St. Germain
It’s said that the victor writes the history, but the experience of the American Civil War suggests otherwise. In the war of words that began well before the shooting started at Fort Sumter in April, 1861, and then consumed the generation that grew old in the shadow of the surrender at Appomattox in April, 1865, defeated Southern Confederates proved as capable of advancing and defending their perspectives on the war as the victorious Northern Unionists. Leading figures and ordinary individuals, civilians and military men, and black and white Americans took up pen and paper to vindicate their actions and attitudes. The result was a torrent of diaries, memoirs, tracts, articles, and early histories, the beginning of the flood that has made the American Civil War the most written-about era in American history.
In HIST3904 “Fighting Words,” we will examine in depth some of the major questions and problems of the American Civil War through the words of those who lived through, observed, and participated in the events themselves. Developing a deeper understanding of the war will go hand in hand with a critical appraisal of the sources as tools for historical inquiry on the American Civil War. These “fighting words” established the first layers of interpretation on the major questions of the American Civil War, among them slavery and secession, loyalty and emancipation, victory and defeat on the battlefield, and political and military reputations, and created the foundation “myths” of the American Civil War, including the “Lost Cause.” Some classes will focus on specific historical topics, while others will begin with a source and investigate aspects of the historical experience through that lens. These sources may include diaries, memoirs, the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Century Magazine’s “The Century War Series,” and the Southern Historical Society Papers. Historians have been debating the same questions, arguments, and sources ever since the fighting stopped.
Class format will combine lecture and discussion. The lecture component will set up the individual problem or question and provide essential contextual information for those students with a limited background in the history of the American Civil War. Class discussion will revolve around selected readings that will provide contemporary perspectives on the topic of the day.
Required Readings. There will be assigned readings for every class. These may consist of excerpts from primary sources, short documents, and in one case a journal. Students are expected and required to complete the assigned reading before each class so as to be able to understand and participate in class discussion. Written commentaries on each group of readings, submitted via email, will be required.
Most of the readings will be available through electronic means.
Assignments. These will include brief commentaries on readings, 1 analytical essay based on primary sources, and a final exam set during the formal exam period in December.