Three distinguished scholars will share their perspectives on the power of images to shape our understanding of war through analyses of photographs, monuments, literary texts and historical documents in a special Lawrence University program that examines the Civil War.
Lawrence presents “New Approaches to the Civil War: An Interdisciplinary Symposium” Saturday, April 16 in the auditorium of the Wriston Art Center. The half-day program begins at 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Yale University historian and award-winning author David Blight opens the symposium with the address “Has Civil War Memory United or Divided America?” Following Blight’s presentation, Franny Nudelman, associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, presents “’This Guilty Land’: Black Soldiers, Military Discipline and the Wartime State.” At 3:15 p.m., Kirk Savage, associate professor and chair in the history of art and architecture department at the University of Pittsburgh, delivers the talk “Civil War Photography and the Vilification of the Male Body.” An audience question-and-answer session with each speaker will follow their individual talks.
The symposium concludes with a 45-minute round-table discussion beginning at 4:15 p.m. in which the three guest speakers will entertain questions from Lawrence University faculty members Faith Barrett, assistant professor of English, Alexis Boylan, assistant professor of art history and Jerald Podair, associate professor of history.
“The purpose of the symposium is not only to showcase the excellence of these individual scholars’ achievements, but also to provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary conversation and exchange,” said Barrett. “All three of these scholars write lucid, engaging prose and all three re-examine the ideologies and events of the war in ways that transcend the disciplinary boundaries of history, literary studies and art history.”
Blight, widely regarded as one of the country’s leading experts on the U.S. Civil War and its legacy, will discuss how whites and blacks struggled to determine the meaning and memory of the Civil War in America during the following 50 years and more and how that memory reunified the country, but at a great cost in terms of race relations. He also will explore the role “race” and “reunion” and the challenges of “healing” and “justice” between the North and South and among whites and blacks played in shaping Civil War memory.
Blight has written three books on the Civil War, including 2001’s “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory,” which was recognized with the Frederick Douglass Prize, the Lincoln Prize, the Bancroft Prize and three awards from the Organization of American Historians. He also is the author of “Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War,” published in 2002 and “Frederick Douglas’s Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee.” In addition, he co-wrote the American history textbook “A People and a Nation.”
A one-time high school history in his hometown of Flint, Mich., Blight taught at North Central College, Harvard University and Amherst College before joining the history department faculty at Yale in 2003. He earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin.
Nudelman, whose research interests include Civil War culture, will explore the concept of punishment and its use as a historic mechanism for barring black advancement. The emancipation of slaves brought new freedoms for African Americans, but with it came new kinds of coercion by the federal government, including drafting newly freed men into the army, refusing to pay them equal wages and sentencing an inordinate number of them to death. She will argue that the treatment of black soldiers in the Union army during the Civil War is a largely untold chapter in the evolving history of punishment as an instrument of racial oppression in the United States.
Nudelman, who earned her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees at the University of California, Berkeley, joined the English department at Virginia in 1997.
Savage, whose scholarship includes issues of traumatic memory in historical terms, will discuss battlefield photographs that began to appear in late 1862 that overturned the heroic conventions for representing death in battle by showing
male bodies as little more than carcasses without any signs of moral or spiritual redemption.
Focusing on a particularly gruesome photograph by Alexander Gardner entitled “War, Effects of a Shell on a Confederate Soldier at Battle of Gettysburg,” Savage will contrast Gardner’s Confederate photograph with that of a photograph of dead Union soldiers he also took, drawing parallels between the desecrated Confederate body and images of tortured male slaves and explaining why images of Union soldiers held a privileged status in photographic representations.
In the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Savage’s research interests in public monuments and art in the public sphere have focused on the “therapeutic memorial,” with special attention given to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and the World Trade Center competition.
Savage earned his Ph.D in art history at the University of California, Berkeley and is the author of the 1997 book “Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America.”
“This symposium is an extraordinary opportunity to hear three leading Civil War scholars speak about their current projects, as well discuss the larger issue of Civil War memory in American society,” said Barrett. “The issue of the representation of war is particularly timely in our current historical moment. The United States is conducting multiple wars on foreign soil as the American media and scholarly community grapple with the most effective ways of representing and understanding these conflicts.”
The Civil War symposium is sponsored by the Marguerite Schumann Memorial Lectureship, Main Hall Forum, Fine Arts Colloquium and the departments of art history, English, gender studies and history.