Spring 2019 HC 424H/431H: Civil War Narratives

Spring Term, 2018-2019

Professor: Tim Williams

4.00 credits

  • CRN 36224: Tuesday & Thursday, 14:00 - 15:20 @ CHA 301

Graduation Requirement: This class will fulfill both of the following requirements: a Social Science Colloquium and an Identity, Pluralism & Tolerance (IP) Multicultural class. If the student has already taken a Social Science Colloquium, this class will fulfill an Elective Colloquium and an IP Multicultural class.

The Civil War is the most studied event in the history of the United States. Often described as the American Iliad, the Civil War appears in popular memory as both a war of devastating carnage and as a watershed in the long freedom struggle for African Americans. In this colloquium, we will consider the various ways in which Americans have told stories about the Civil War—its causes, conflicts, and consequences—from 1861 into the present day.  Of particular interest is the question of how a conflict that ended in decisive military victory for the Union, the consolidation of an indivisible nation, and the triumphant liberation of enslaved African Americans produced so many conflicting and false stories about the conflict in scholarly and popular literature. We will study recent scholarly literature that challenge us to consider critically the narratives Americans have told and still tell today. In the process, we will also discuss the impact of genre—of written form and meaning—on individual and social efforts to come to terms with the conflict. 

This is a research-based readings course with regular discussion in weekly seminars. Course materials include, letters and diaries from the years of war and Reconstruction, information wanted advertisements for members of formerly enslaved families, poetry and music, film, and fiction. Foundational course texts include Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman’s Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War (2015); Christopher Hager’s I Remain Yours: Common Lives in Civil War Letters (2018); Steven M. Stowe’s Keep the Days: Reading the Civil War Diaries of Southern Women (2018); and George Saunders’s recent novel, Lincoln in the Bardo (2017).  In addition, students will complete a final research project of their own choosing based on work in the Civil War materials held in UO Special Collections and on the website Last Seen: Finding Families After Slavery (Informationwanted.org). This project will naturally build on the core questions and assigned readings.