American Studies Seminar - 2015

The North's Civil War: Union and Emancipation

Between 1861 and 1865 Americans made war on one another. By the time the killing had ended upwards of 750,000 were dead and much of the South lay in ruins. In the process the United States was transformed in ways that few people could have anticipated in 1861. Through service in the United States army, participation in various patriotic organizations, or just by following the war's progress on the home front Americans debated central issues related to the survival and maintenance of their Union. Most importantly, the war forced Americans to debate the gradual unwinding of the institution of slavery and the eventual emancipation of four million African Americans by 1865.

This course will explore how the loyal citizenry of the United States struggled to come to terms with the war's meaning. How did Americans understand the importance of Union? How did emancipation and the recruitment of former slaves and free blacks into the army re-shape the goals of the war? How did communities throughout the North support the men who went off to war and how was that service remembered and commemorated during the immediate postwar period? These are just a few of the questions that will be addressed.

While the course will explore these questions in a broad manner by considering the North as a whole, close attention will be paid to Massachusetts and the Worcester area. The state of Massachusetts was committed early on to supporting the war effort through the raising of numerous regiments, which was accompanied by an outpouring of patriotic sentiment. It was also the first state to raise African-Americans soldiers in 1863. After the war, cities such as Worcester were very active in commemorating the service of their white and black soldiers and in remembering the war through the construction of monuments and the dedication of other public sites.

Students will explore these themes through a selection of readings as well as a substantial research paper that they will undertake during the semester. The American Antiquarian Society's rich holdings in manuscripts, newspapers as well as various forms of print and material culture will support essays on a wide range of topics.

The seminar was led by Kevin M. Levin.

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