Civil War Series

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The Wyoming Humanities Council  is offering the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) co-sponsored program  Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War, a scholar-led reading and discussion program, to Wyoming communities as part of Reading Wyoming.

The program is designed to present sesquicentennial programming that probes meanings of the Civil War that are “hidden in plain sight” behind the key questions and main characters so familiar to us. Program participants may be surprised to encounter in the readings such a large cast of characters, so broad a range of perspectives, and so dense a web of circumstances. After considering the vast sweep and profound breadth of Civil War experience, readers will understand that the American Civil War was not a single thing, or a simple thing. And yet they will also see emancipation—the end of the most powerful system of slavery in the modern world—take its place as the central story of the war

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The texts include works of historical fiction and interpretation, speeches, diaries, memoirs, biographies, and short stories. Readings also include an introductory essay, which provides context `for the entire Making Sense of the American Civil War series and for each of the five sessions. The essay was written by the national project scholar who devised this project: Edward L. Ayers, President of the University of Richmond, historian of the American South, and digital history pioneer. Professor Ayers also selected the reading materials and topics of conversation for the program.

 

Books

The following books will be read and discussed in this program:civil-war-music

  • March, by Geraldine Brooks;
  • Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, by James McPherson; and
  • America’s War: Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries, a new anthology edited by Edward L. Ayers and published by NEH and ALA, which will serve as the focus of three of the five discussion sessions.

TOPICS OF CONVERSATION

The program is designed as a series of five conversations exploring different facets of the Civil War experience, informed by reading the words written or uttered by powerful voices from the past and present, as listed below.

  1. Imagining War
    • Geraldine Brooks, March [2005]
  2. Choosing Sides
    • selections from the anthology:
      • Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” [1852];
      • Henry David Thoreau, “A Plea for Captain John Brown” [1859];
      • Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address [March 4, 1861];
      • Alexander H. Stephens, “Cornerstone” speech [March 21, 1861];
      • Robert Montague, Secessionist speech at Virginia secession convention [April 1-2, 1861];
      • Chapman Stuart, Unionist speech at Virginia secession convention [April 5, 1861];
      • Elizabeth Brown Pryor, excerpt from Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through his Private Letters [2007];
      • Mark Twain, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” [1885]; and
      • Sarah Morgan, excerpt from The Diary of a Southern Woman [May 9, May 17, 1862].
  3. Making Sense of Shiloh
    • selections from the anthology:
      • Ambrose Bierce, “What I Saw of Shiloh” [1881];
      • Ulysses Grant, excerpt from the Memoirs [1885];
      • Shelby Foote, excerpt from Shiloh [1952];
      • Bobbie Ann Mason, “Shiloh” [1982]; and
      • General Braxton Bragg, speech to the Army of the Mississippi [May 3, 1862].
  4. The Shape of War
    • James M. McPherson, Crossroad of Freedom: Antietam [2002]
  5. War and Freedom
    • selections from the anthology:
      • Abraham Lincoln, address on colonization [1862];
      • John M. Washington, “Memorys [sic] of the Past” [1873];
      • Frederick Douglass, “Men of Color, To Arms!” [March 1863];
      • Abraham Lincoln, letters to James C. Conkling [1863] and Albert G. Hodges [1864];
      • Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address [1863];
      • James S. Brisbin, report on U.S. Colored Cavalry in Virginia [Oct. 2, 1864];
      • Colored Citizens of Nashville, Tennessee, Petition to the Union Convention of Tennessee Assembled in the Capitol at Nashville [January 9, 1865];
      • Margaret Walker, excerpt from Jubilee [1966];
      • Leon Litwack, excerpt from Been in the Storm So Long [1979]; and
      • Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 1865.

Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War is funded by NEH as part of its We the People initiative, which promotes scholarship, teaching, and learning about American history and culture.

As with all programs funded by NEH, discussions should be characterized by an ethos of openness and respect, upholding the basic norms of civil discourse. Specifically, they should be conducted without partisan advocacy; respectful of divergent views; free of ad hominem commentary; and devoid of ethnic, religious, gender, or racial bias.

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