JCWE Editors’ Note, June 2021 issue

JCWE Editors’ Note, June 2021 issue

This issue, like many since the journal’s inception, reflects the chronological and thematic breadth of the field of the Civil War Era. It includes three original research articles, the Tom Watson Brown Award essay, a review essay, and the usual complement of incisive book reviews.

The Tom Watson Book Award honors the finest book on the “causes, conduct, and effects, broadly defined, of the Civil War” and is presented by the Watson-Brown Foundation and the Society of Civil War Historians. In 2020, the award went to Thomas J. Brown for his excellent study Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America (2019). At a virtual gathering, to replace the in-person banquet at the Southern Historical Association annual meeting, Brown delivered an intriguing analysis, titled “Iconoclasm and the Monumental Presence of the Civil War.” Brown’s essay places the debates about memorialization (up to November 2020) within a longer trajectory of critique and iconoclasm. Brown adroitly analyzes works by artists and writers An-My Lê, Kehinde Wiley, Natasha Trethewey, and Krzysztof Wodiczko and concludes with a stirring examination of the community takeover of the Robert E. Lee Monument on Memorial Avenue in Richmond. The essay is a terrific example of how historians can help contextualize and clarify the terms of contemporary public debate.

The issue’s three research articles are just as stimulating and wide ranging. In “‘Sustaining the Truth of the Bible’: Black Evangelical Abolitionism and the Transatlantic Politics of Orthodoxy,” Joel Iliff examines James W. C. Pennington’s effort to combine orthodox Bible scholarship and abolitionism, against abolitionists who advanced more heterodox biblical interpretation and against slaveowners and European theologians who insisted that the Bible sanctioned slavery. Grounding Pennington in a transatlantic world of biblical scholarship and debate, Iliff offers a fascinating intellectual and religious history and also significantly expands the conversation about the relationship between religion and black abolitionism.

Lesley J. Gordon likewise combines biography, intellectual discourse, and political practice in her “‘Novices in Warfare’: Elmer E. Ellsworth and Militia Reform on the Eve of Civil War.” Gordon shows that Elmer Ellsworth was more than just the dynamic leader of the Zouave movement and a prominent early casualty of the war. He was, in addition, an ambitious and serious participant in 1850s debates about militia reform and the future of the “citizen soldier.” The demands of war itself ultimately outmatched Ellsworth’s vision, but his ideas offer an intriguing window into longstanding debates on how best to make soldiers of citizens.

Marcy S. Sacks examines the roles of pets and other domesticated animals in “‘They Are Truly Marvelous Cats’: The Importance of Companion Animals to Union Soldiers during the Civil War.” Focusing on soldiers’ drawings and letters, Sacks explores how northern soldiers observed, nurtured, and described domesticated animals, and she analyzes the meanings of those relationships. Cats, dogs, mice, pigs, and other animals, she argues, helped soften the experience of wartime and, just as crucially, enabled soldiers to communicate through discourses of sympathy and sentimentalism, thus projecting their own humanity. Through their representations of animals, particularly in letters to women and children, soldiers showed that they remained capable of experiencing emotions and thus of returning safely home at war’s end.

In an expansive review essay, noted transnational scholar Enrico Dal Lago examines the role of the Civil War Era in the discipline’s global turn. In “Writing the US Civil War Era into Nineteenth-Century World History,” Dal Lago analyzes works of scholarship that have attempted to embed Civil War Era history into world history and the relationship between a once-domestic-facing field and an increasingly globally focused discipline.

As always, this volume includes excellent, informative reviews of books that address the Civil War Era. Book Review Editor Kathryn Shively works assiduously to broaden the coverage and participants in these reviews. In the process, she and we depend on the professionalism of our writers, on view in this issue. We also depend on publishers to provide the books that we review, an increasing challenge during the pandemic. Shively and our book review authors continue to offer heroic and largely selfless service in sustaining this crucial aspect of our professional life.

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