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The American Civil War

This course is not yet available for enrollment.

Course Description

In this course we will investigate the "felt histories" of the American Civil War -- the personal experiences of Americans (northerners and southerners, slaves and freed people, European immigrants and Native Americans, men and women) who fought its battles and bore its consequences. These histories, as Robert Penn Warren notes, are an "index to the very complexity, depth, and fundamental significance" of the conflict. In addition to military and political dimensions we will also examine constructions of Civil War memory (photography, film, and other media) and the dominant narratives that have shaped our understanding of the war since 1865.

Covering the period roughly from 1850 to 1877, this course examines the American Civil War as a case study to understand three larger subjects: the effect of war on society, the relationship between law and war (with special attention to the laws of war), and the impact of war on national and community memory. Although there will be some discussion of military events, the military experience of some of the participants, and military law, this is not a course in military history. The course assumes no background in American history and is meant to serve those students interested not only in history but in law, international relations, and cultural studies. The course could serve as a closer examination of a historical topic for those already interested in history, but it should serve just as well as a gateway course to history, international relations, political science (especially American law), and cultural studies.

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Write short, analytical papers based on both scholarly readings and original writings and graphic arts.
  • Understand historical precedents that inform modern-day domestic laws involving security and civil liberties.
  • Understand historical precedents that inform modern-day international law (treaties, security, norms of warfare).
  • Be comfortable and expert at oral presentation and taking part in scholarly discussion.

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