Editors’s Note for June 2024 JCWE

Editors’s Note for June 2024 JCWE

This issue demonstrates the ongoing methodological breadth of the Civil War Era, as scholars bring numerous different ways of approaching history to reckon with the turbulent mid-nineteenth century in all its facets. This issue includes one research article, a book award talk, a roundtable, and a historiographic review essay, along with the sterling book reviews that anchor the journal and the field.

In her Tom Watson Brown Book Award address, R. Isabela Morales approaches the Civil War era through family history. Drawing from her prize-winning book, Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom, Morales discusses the relationship between family history and the broader political and economic dynamics that influence them. Demonstrating the sterling prose and eye for detail that the award committee noted, the essay is also a reminder of how narrative writing and individual human stories can bring the past to life.

In “‘We Died Here Obedient to Her Laws’: The Reception of Sparta in the Lost Cause and Confederate Memorialization,” Jase D. L. Sutton explores how white southerners turned to classical analogies to make sense of the Civil War and to develop the myth of the Lost Cause. Delving into under-studied but relatively common references to Sparta, Sutton argues that memory-makers utilized the Battle of Thermopylae to deflect blame for the Confederacy’s losses and defend the honor of Confederate soldiers. Lost Cause purveyors also explored Spartan analogies for Confederate women’s loyalty and sacrifice. He argues that such references not only advanced a specific Lost Cause narrative but also buttressed white southerners’ ongoing use of classical analogies to support their conservative vision of southern values.

Sarah Handley-Cousins moderated “Disability in the Civil War Era: A Roundtable.” Here, several historians and literature scholars discuss the growth of interdisciplinary disability studies and how scholars have brought insights from that field to the study of the Civil War era. They argue that the disability history framework helps us better understand the Civil War era by casting new light on critical issues such as slavery, emancipation, military service, federal bureaucracy, the home front, and veteran-hood. They also point toward areas for future research in material history and disability during the postwar era.

In our historiographical review essay, Brian P. Luskey analyzes scholarship on the cultural history of the North during the Civil War. In “The Union’s Culture Industry,” Luskey helpfully discusses recent work that has emphasized the wartime production, circulation, and consumption of products like newspapers, magazines, songs, minstrel shows, and pornography. More could be done, he argues, to investigate both how mainstream cultural producers operated (for instance, by marketing directly to soldiers) and also how people and organizations with relatively little economic power—for instance, enlisted men, or Black women who worked for the US war effort—became cultural producers in their own right. In the end, the essay reveals a great deal about northern cultural production during the war and urges historians to continue the work with an emphasis on how “culture” was constituted not just by words, images, and performances but also by material relationships.

This issue also includes the run of excellent book reviews that make the journal a crucial part of the field. As always, we are grateful to the editorial staff and our readers for making the issue a reality. 


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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