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Course Category:

Program Start Date:
April 4, 2022

Maximum Participants:

Program Price:

Program End Date:
May 2, 2022

Program Time:
Mondays at 6 p.m. ET


This course explores how Americans have dealt with the memory of the most seismic conflict in the nation’s history. Crucial themes include the importance of distinguishing between history and historical memory, the need to acknowledge sometimes frustrating complexity in the past, and the ways in which politics and social attitudes from one era can affect how earlier periods are remembered and understood. The class will examine four interpretive traditions created by the generation that experienced the war—the Union Cause, the Emancipation Cause, the Lost Cause, and the Reconciliation Cause—and how those traditions dominated subsequent popular debate and understanding. In investigating the ebb and flow of memory traditions, the course will address the importance of literature and films, the development of a contentious memorial landscape, and the continuing power of the Civil War to spark heated debate.


Monday, April 4, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

Remembering a Massive Conflict

This lecture surveys the devastating demographic, economic, and social impact of the Civil War that left participants determined to formulate what would become foundational memory traditions. It closes with a brief overview of the four interpretive traditions created by the wartime generation, each of which used a selective approach to evidence to place wartime actions in the best possible light.

Monday, April 11, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

Winners Frame the War: The Union Cause and the Emancipation Cause

This lecture explains why the Union Cause, which saw preservation of the nation as the war’s most consequential outcome, was by far the most widely held of the wartime generation’s four traditions. A system of national cemeteries, Decoration Day (now Memorial Day), monuments to Union soldiers and leaders, and a large retrospective literature all contributed to the Union Cause memory. The Emancipation Cause focused on the end of slavery and celebrated the service of United States Colored Troops (USCT) veterans. Black Americans established their own version of Decoration Day and staged public events relating to the war and emancipation at cemeteries and elsewhere.

Monday, April 18, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

Losers on a Grand Scale: Former Confederates and the Lost Cause

This lecture examines how former Confederates, who had suffered a human and material loss on a scale far beyond what any other white Americans have experienced, sought to find something positive in their catastrophic wartime failure. Their version of the war, which they hoped would resonate with future generations of white southerners, played down the importance of slavery, celebrated Robert E. Lee, and insisted Confederates fought for constitutional principles in a war they never could have won.

Monday, April 25, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

Uniting Across Sectional Lines: The Reconciliation Cause

Many historians emphasize the degree to which former antagonists reached out to one another as the 19th Century drew to a close. This lecture explores conciliatory gestures from both sides but questions the degree to which most of the wartime generation set aside animosities and achieved genuine reconciliation.

Monday, May 2
, 2022 - 6 p.m. ET

An Evolving Legacy: The War’s Long-Term Reverberations

This lecture traces the arc of Civil War-related memory with an eye toward the shifting importance of the four great wartime traditions. The Lost Cause proved immensely influential for much of the 20th Century but gave way to the Emancipation Cause as the 21st Century approached. While elements of the Reconciliation Cause always have remained present, the Union Cause has disappeared almost entirely. Hollywood, literary figures, U.S. governmental actions (postage stamps, coins, and battlefield sites), and conflicts over the memorial landscape all figure in this story of a shifting popular understanding of the war.

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