This interdisciplinary course examines the American Civil War from Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831 to the legendary history film, Birth of a Nation, in 1915, which coincided with the Jubilee of Appomattox. We reframe traditional understandings of the conflict by suggesting that civil war in the United States lasted much longer than the four years from 1861-65: it began with guerrilla war between masters and slaves, and between Northerners and Southerners in various states and in the U.S. Congress; it evolved into a military war after Fort Sumter; and it became a terrorist war during and after Reconstruction. We highlight the importance of slavery and race and suggest that although the Confederacy was destroyed and the Constitution amended, Southerners nevertheless won the war by creating a new order of black unfreedom. Along the way we look at how Europeans understood the conflict. And throughout the course we explore how the war transformed literature, art, politics, history, and memory, while also revealing how these cultural forms shaped society and the war itself.
Readings range from fiction, film, letters, and speeches to poetry, pamphlets, prints and photographs, songs, and history.