Editor’s Note: March 2018 Issue

Editor’s Note: March 2018 Issue

As we do with each issue, below you will find the editor’s note for our forthcoming March 2018 issue. You can access these articles by subscribing to the journal, or through a Project Muse subscription.


The essays in this volume testify to the vibrancy and vitality of social history. To put it another way, social historians haven’t “lost” the Civil War, as Maris Vinovskis suggested thirty years ago; they may just be getting started. So, too, are those interested in culture. In the pages of this issue, readers will find a reassessment of the class explanation for Confederate substitution and will listen in as St. Louis washerwomen and seamstresses police wartime loyalty in their neighborhoods. Some may be surprised to see how soon after the Civil War British scholars began to rewrite the history of Anglo-American relations during the period. Others will never look at a watermelon the same way again.

Patrick Doyle extracts Confederate substitution policy from scholarship on loyalty and situates it in an evolving wartime debate about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship—or, perhaps more accurately, the rights versus the responsibilities. Doyle uncovers persistent defenders of substitution within the Confederacy, even after Jefferson Davis’s endorsement of its repeal, who defended substitution as a contract and hence a right of citizenship. Focusing on arguments for and against substitution, Doyle’s essay traces the entrenchment of martial manhood that by war’s end covered over this debate which had once stood at the heart of Confederate nationhood.

Questions of loyalty lie at the heart of Elizabeth Belanger’s innovative essay proposing a new way of exploring the Civil War’s home fronts. Situated in St. Louis, Belanger’s work examines how, in filing complaints against their neighbors, working-class women sought to “assert political identities, to advance personal agendas, and to create ethnic boundaries.” Using geographic imaging systems, or GIS, and complaints filed with the provost marshal against disloyal neighbors, Belanger reveals how women staked out the boundaries of neighborhoods that, more than the official city wards, reflected the lived realities of their lives. Here, women came in contact and conflict with neighbors over what they said about the war, the flags they flew outside their homes, and other such evidence of loyalty and respectability—or a lack thereof.

William R. Black’s, essay, “How Watermelons Became Black,” reveals that, beyond “the court, the ballot, and the noose,” cultural tropes became powerful tools to counteract black citizenship. This essay represents cultural history at its best; in it, Black uncovers the roots of the racist watermelon trope in the immediate postwar South, as whites sought to limit the freedom of, and deny political power to, former slaves. Once shared among antebellum blacks and whites, watermelon became associated with the perceived childishness, laziness, and dependence of the free blacks who grew and sold them and deigned to enjoy them in their leisure. Once established, this powerful racist myth was hungrily consumed by northern whites—and it still persists today.

For years after the end of the Civil War, those who fought on either side of the conflict agreed on one thing—Great Britain had deceived them. This bitter memory became an obstacle in 1914, when Britain sought American support in World War I. In his essay, Nimrod Tal uncovers the British effort to revise history in order to smooth over these tense relations. From 1914 onward, a number of British authors offered explanations for elite Britons’ flirtation with the Confederacy, lukewarm reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation, and rough treatment of Lincoln. The “embers of resentment” stubbornly burned on, though, and in the process of trying to explain them away, early twentieth century writers laid the foundation for modern historiography on the topic.

We wrap up this issue with Kate Jones’s survey of the rich literature on gender and Reconstruction. Since the 1990s, scholars of this period have sought to understand how—or perhaps, whether—the end of slavery shifted the gendered balance of power. Whereas one thread of scholarship has concluded that continuity, more than change, characterized the period, Jones reminds readers of the importance of keeping in mind how “women cultivated the era’s democratic potential and its exclusions.” Keeping this as the focus of scholarship means that gender scholars are not yet done with “agency” and that we are likely not headed to a new synthesis—and this seems fine to Jones.

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