Editors’s Note for June 2023 JCWE

Editors’s Note for June 2023 JCWE

Our June issue reinforces our sense that the field of the Civil War Era remains a wide-ranging, creative site of engaged scholarship. The pieces in this issue span from slavery to the present day, delving into concrete historical details and the persistent narratives that shape our encounters with the past.

In his Tom Watson Brown Book Prize address, Sebastian Page explains the origins of his book, Black Resettlement and the American Civil War, relating his discomfort with many aspects of the historical profession. He concludes with a discussion of how received narratives of Lincoln’s presidency and of abolition itself continue to shape the questions historians ask and, by extension, the scholarship they produce.

The participants in a roundtable on studying slavery on campus are likewise engaged in challenging received narratives. Historians Hilary Green and Adam Domby assembled a group of scholars who are researching and publicizing their campuses’ relationships to slavery, bringing forward histories of people and events that have been either covered up or forgotten entirely. Contributors offer reports from the field and a call to press forward with work that should, Green and Domby write, include not just research and writing but also “working with constituent communities (descendants of enslaved people, local black and other marginalized communities affected by the campus, alumni, students, faculty, et cetera) to ensure equity in admissions, scholarships, hiring, and future campus planning.”

In a research article, John Quist analyzes the career of Michigan editor Theodore Foster, a Liberty Party supporter who became a Republican in the late 1850s. Quist contributes to an ongoing conversation about how to characterize the politics of white antislavery Northerners, particularly as their views changed over time. He argues that Foster shifted during wartime and its aftermath from abolitionism to an accommodation with political antislavery and racism, concluding that Foster’s evolution should lead us “to reexamine white abolitionists’ long-term commitments to racial equality, to reevaluate the distinctions between abolitionism and the Republican Party’s antislavery message, and to recognize that abolitionists could be more easily transformed than the society they hoped to change.”

Frank Towers rounds out this eclectic issue with a wide-ranging historiographical essay on cities and Reconstruction. Adopting an expansive chronological frame, Towers reminds readers of interdisciplinary scholarship in urban history that developed from the 1960s to the 1980s and suggests that historians of the Civil War Era could fruitfully return to that body of work for insights and ideas. That scholarship suggests, in particular, that cities can be viewed as agents in their own rights. They are not simply places where things happened but also a particular kind of human formation that, itself, produces novel dynamics, solidarities, and structures of power and inequality.

We are as always indebted to associate editors Hilary Green, Luke Harlow, and Katy Shively, who are constantly soliciting essays and reviews, editing writing, and helping produce this journal, as well as to Matt Isham and Heather Carlquist Walser, who keep the wheels turning under challenging circumstances.

Kate Masur and Greg Downs

Kate Masur is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery. Greg Downs, who studies U.S. political and cultural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a professor of history at University of California--Davis. Together they edited an essay collection on the Civil War titled The World the Civil War Made (North Carolina, 2015), and they currently co-edit The Journal of the Civil War Era.

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