2024 Conference Call for Proposals: “Archives in the Atlantic”

Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program at the College of Charleston
May 16 -18, 2024

Scope of Conference

Archives and related memory keeping institutions such as museums, libraries, and archaeological repositories have a collective mandate to document and preserve cultural heritage objects such as oral histories, textual records, artifacts, images, and textiles. In recent years, cultural heritage institutions responsible for collecting and preserving evidence of a shared past are confronting, re-examining, and in many cases making efforts to repair harmful, exploitative, or exclusive policies, practices, and norms. These include disrupting the widespread tendency for privileging, preserving, and reproducing a history that is predominantly white and further silencing the voices and histories of marginalized peoples and communities. 

The “Archives in the Atlantic” Conference will explore the ways archives and related cultural heritage institutions throughout the Atlantic World are confronting shared legacies of imperialism, slavery, and Indigenous dispossession through decolonizing traditional standards, developing liberatory practices, and expanding networks of belonging and representation. 

How can archival and curatorial institutions and the people who use them employ ethics of care when working with or studying communities affected by historical injustice, plunder of material culture, or erasure from the historic record? How can archivists, curators, and memory workers create more inclusive and representative holdings and build trust with members of historically marginalized and disenfranchised communities and groups? How has the landscape of repatriation transformed and how have these processes evolved in the tension between institutions, those who work within them, and stakeholder communities? Within the confines of those institutions, how do we confront and correct the curatorial decisions of past stewards of collections who perpetuated historical violences via their practice?

Other Potential Topics Include:

  • Reparative and Inclusive Description and/or Metadata Remediation
  • Ethical Collecting
  • Repatriating Collections 
  • Working with Indigenous Communities
  • Historic Preservation-National Trust-Saving Places
  • Working with Descendant Communities 
  • Black Memory Workers
  • Community Archiving 
  • Digital Archives and Digital Exhibits
  • HBCUs and Tribal Archives and Libraries 
  • Interpretation 
  • Developing Authentic Partnerships 
  • Cultural Humility in Archives and Museum Settings 

To submit a proposal and learn more, visit https://claw.cofc.edu/conferences/2024-conference-archives-in-the-atlantic/.


Afro-Brazilian Activist Vilma Reis Visits CofC

Contributed by John Thomas III, PhD
Department of Political Science, College of Charleston

On March 20, 2023 the College of Charleston hosted renowned Afro-Brazilian activist and scholar Vilma Reis. Ms. Reis was visiting the United States as part of a tour of Afro-Brazilian feminists organized by Dr. Gladys Mitchell-Walthour of North Carolina Central University. Her visit was arranged by CofC Political Science Assistant Professor John Thomas III as part of his “Politics of Latin America” course. In addition to CLAW, support for Ms. Reis visit was provided by African American Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Political Science Department, the Portuguese Program and Women’s and Gender Studies.

A reception was organized for Ms. Reis with CofC students, faculty, staff, and local community representatives before the lecture. Due to weather delays, Ms. Reis arrived shortly before her talk was due to start. After a brief introduction by Political Science Chair Hollis France, Ms. Reis addressed the packed Stern Ballroom. She spoke on the topic “Race, Gender, People’s Democracy and Political Participation: Political parties and racial and gender (under)representation.” In her lecture, she highlighted the unique political environment that Afro-Brazilian women face and the challenges they face in garnering political representation. Ms. Reis also noted how Black academics and activists from the United States and Brazil have had a series of interchanges that have proven mutually beneficial and reinforcing.

Even after fielding several questions from the attendees, multiple students and faculty members engaged with Ms. Reis up until she returned to the airport to continue her tour. A group of CofC students will return the visit with Ms. Reis this summer in her home of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.

2023 Hines Prize Winner Announced

Headshot of Evan Turiano smiling with pink and green botanical features in the background

The Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program is pleased to announce the winner of the 2023 Rachel Hines Prize. This year’s winner is The Politics of Fugitive Slave Rendition and the Coming of the Civil War by Dr. Evan Turiano. Turiano received his Ph.D. from the City University of New York Graduate Center in 2022. His dissertation, “‘Secession’s Moving Foundation’: Fugitive Slave Renditionand the Politics of American Slavery” also received the 2023 St. George Tucker Society Bradford-Delaney Dissertation Prize. He is currently the 2023 Walter O. Evans Fellow at Yale University, sponsored by the Beinecke Library and the Gilder Lehrman Center.

The Rachel Hines Prize is awarded to the best first book-manuscript relating to any aspect of the Carolina Lowcountry and/or the Atlantic World. The prize carries a cash award of $1,000 and preferential consideration by the University of South Carolina Press for the CLAW Program’s book series. Funded by a generous donation by retired professor, Dr. Sam Hines in honor of his mother, Rachel Hines, this award support early career scholars.

Port Cities in the Atlantic World Conference Cancelled

Dear scholars and friends, 

Thank you for your interest in the 2020 Port Cities in the Atlantic Conference May 14-16, 2020 sponsored and organized by the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program here at the College of Charleston.  We had a wonderful schedule prepared and were very excited to hear more about your research. Unfortunately, given the global pandemic of COVID-19 and the various restrictions imposed by the College of Charleston, the state of South Carolina, and the nation, the conference has had to be cancelled.  This decision was not made lightly. As disappointing as the cancellation may be, health is of the utmost concern. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and are happy to answer any questions that you may have.  Our hope is that you’ll continue to support the mission and programming of CLAW and keep an eye out for future opportunities to visit us here in Charleston.  Next Spring CLAW is partnering with the French Colonial Historical Society for a conference in Charleston. 

All of us at the College of Charleston send our sincerest wishes for your continued health and well-being. We are grateful to have connected with you and your research.  Thank you. 

Warmest wishes,

Dr. Sandra Slater 
Director, Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program 
Associate Professor of History 

Call for Papers: Port Cities in the Atlantic World Conference

Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program (CLAW) at the College of Charleston

May 14-16, 2020

**Individual papers and prepared panels are welcomed through
September 1, 2019**
Please send proposals along with brief individual CVs to Dr. Sandra Slater slaters@cofc.edu

In order to mark the 350th anniversary of the settlement of Charles Towne, and the simultaneous 250th anniversary of the establishment of the College of Charleston, and the 25th anniversary of the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program, CLAW will hold a major international conference entitled “Port Cities of the Atlantic World.”

The conference will commemorate the city of Charleston’s international maritime links, examining cultural, economic, and historical connections between and among Charleston and other Atlantic World port cities. In addition to extending the usual academic style call for papers, the CLAW program will invite universities, museums, historic sites, and municipal authorities from other Atlantic World port cities to send delegates to attend the conference. These delegations would be able to describe their own cities’ and institutions’ histories and missions, but more than that will be able to make connections with the College of Charleston and the city in general that extend well beyond 2020. We would like, for instance, to feature plenary sessions during the conference that give snapshots of the Atlantic World in 1670, 1770, 1870, and 1970, with a final plenary that looks to 2070 and the issues, notably of sea-level rise, that confront Atlantic World port cities. These plenary sessions would be models of global intellectual and cultural exchange.

In many ways the planned conference is the logical culmination of all that we have been doing with the CLAW program over its 25 years of existence, drawing public attention to the circulation of people, things, and ideas around the Atlantic World. It would allow us to discuss all aspects of the Atlantic World—trade, migration, race and ethnicity, religion, foodways, material culture, political developments, gender, slavery, resistance, and freedom–in one fell swoop. It will be the biggest, most ambitious conference we have attempted and will make a significant contribution to the overlapping celebrations of the city’s 350th anniversary and the College’s 250th.

Ships, the sea, and their ports of call have long stood as “paradigms of human existence.” In his classic study of the African diaspora, The Black Atlantic, Paul Gilroy used the metaphor of a ship to show the importance of movement in the shaping of modernity, especially in relation to the black experience in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. “The image of the ship,” Gilroy argued, is “a living, micro-cultural, micro-political system in motion.” Likewise H. Stuart Hughes’s classic study of Jewish emigrants to the US in the 1930s is entitled “Sea Change,” and the Puritan settlement of New England is always bound up with the legacy of a single vessel The Mayflower.

Our 2020 CLAW conference will trace the maritime routes and the historical roots that link port cities around the Atlantic World. Ships carrying people, goods, and ideas have been traversing the Atlantic and transforming the world at least since the Columbian exchange began in the fifteenth century. They still circle the globe today with cargo, tourists, and diverse sailors. In the spirit of this ongoing port history, “Port Cities of the Atlantic World” will bring academics and community leaders together to share their research on the history and culture of their respective ports of interest, whether it be Charleston, Savannah, New York, Havana, New Orleans or further afield – Panama, Cartagena, Bridgetown, Rio, Cape Town, Luanda, Freetown, Dakar, Cadiz, Lisbon, Nantes, Bremen, Hull, Liverpool, Bristol, etc.

Possible topics for discussion include:
* Migration* Maritime History* Travel & Mobility* Transportation Networks* Shipping and sailing* Tourism * Racial identities *Gender and Sexualities * Religion * Slavery * Urban planning *Science and Medicine * Infrastructure Development *Environmental History *Hurricanes *Cartography *Labor practices * Food and Drink *Crime and punishment *Education and literature *Art and Cultural Institutions* Public sites of memory *Rebellion and resistance *Indigeneity *History of the book *Religion and the sacred 

**We welcome individual papers and prepared panels through September 1, 2019**
Send proposals along with brief individual CVs to Dr. Sandra Slater slaters@cofc.edu

Register for the 2019 Conference: The Vesey Conspiracy at 200

Black Antislavery in the Atlantic World

Image: “Sustenance Rice” by Jonathan Green (used with permission)

February 8 – 10, 2019
College of Charleston
Addlestone Library

 Cosponsored by the Carolina Lowcountry in the Atlantic World Program at the College of Charleston and by Soka University of America

Remarks Delivered on the Occasion of the Unveiling of Historic Marker Commemorating the 1868 South Carolina Constitutional Convention

Remarks Delivered on the Occasion of the Unveiling of Historic Marker Commemorating the 1868 South Carolina Constitutional Convention

2:30 pm, March 16th, 2018
Corner of Broad and Meeting Streets, Charleston, South Carolina

Ehren Foley, historian with the National Register of Historic Places Program
I am extremely gratified to be here today and to remember the events that occurred on this spot 150 years ago. I am not sure if this marks the end of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War that began here in Charleston some eight years ago, or if it marks the beginning of a new public memory of Reconstruction, one that will find voice at this conference and at the newly established Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort. Maybe a bit of both.

It is fitting that we meet here in Charleston, not only because this is where the convention met, but also because this is a city with a long tradition of remembering its past. We look around the city and we are confronted constantly with stories about the past. Or, at least, certain stories about the past, because Charleston also has a long history of forgetting, and the stories left untold are at least as abundant as the ones that are. It would be untrue, however, to say that the story of Reconstruction has simply been forgotten these past 150 years. For much of that time white South Carolinians remembered Reconstruction too well, or, at least, a certain narrative about that period, and used that story as a justification for racial segregation and the disenfranchisement of more than half of the state’s population. There was no room in that memory to celebrate the Constitution of 1868 or the promise that it held for racial and social progress.

Today we take one step to insert that story into Charleston’s public memory. But we fool ourselves if we think that we exist outside of history or that our monuments can speak for all-time any more so than can the monuments of past generations. If we had less hubris perhaps we would make our monuments of lesser stock than granite or aluminum, so that they would fade slowly from the landscape, as we all are destined to do, and leave future generations less encumbered by our words, if not our actions. Absent that, we can at least do our best to be honest and act as good stewards of our past, because we know, Charleston knows, better than most places, the power of the past to encumber; to spur division, hatred, and violence. As we stand in the shadow of the federal courthouse where Dylann Roof was recently convicted of the murder of nine souls, we remember the power of bad history to produce evil outcomes.

But the past can empower, as well as encumber. It can remind us that, 150 years ago, Black men across South Carolina, nearly all of them former slaves, cast ballots for the first time. That 150 years ago, those newly enfranchised voters elected a group of delegates, the majority of them Black, who met on this spot to rewrite the state’s fundamental law. That 150 years ago, South Carolina embarked on an experiment in biracial democracy that held out the promise of civil equality and access to education for all, regardless of race.

There is promise in that story. If so much progress was possible 150 years ago, then we can know that progress is also possible in our time. But we are also reminded that after 1868 came 1895; that history is not linear; that revolutions can go backwards; and that the road towards progress is a long and trying one. But if Charleston can make room in its public memory to include a celebration of the Constitution of 1868, then I will take that as a small measure of progress for this day. Thank you.


Dr. Bruce Baker, history lecturer at Newcastle University
Constitutional conventions are an important part of democracy. They embody the basic idea that, as Thomas Rainsborough said in 1647 during the English Civil War, “every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government.” That is exactly what a constitutional convention does: it allows those who are going to live under a government to take part in shaping the basic principles of that government.

South Carolina has had a number of constitutions. Those of you who have lived in South Carolina or followed South Carolina politics for some time will not be surprised to learn that it has not been a steady march of progress towards ever greater freedom. The Provincial Congress of South Carolina adopted the state’s first constitution in 1776 but did not submit it to the people for ratification. While the 1776 constitution had allowed all men who owned land to vote, the 1778 constitution that replaced it required that they own at least fifty acres of land. Another constitution was adopted in 1790, and that one stayed in place until South Carolina left the United States in 1860 and adopted a new constitution to fit in with its new place within the so-called Confederate States of America on April 8, 1861. After four years of education about the difficulties of setting up a new nation courtesy of the United States army and navy, and those within South Carolina who had previously been enslaved and those who continued to consider themselves citizens of the United States, there was a need for a new constitution. President Andrew Johnson wanted to bring the states of the so-called Confederacy back into normal relations with the United States government and to end the war powers which had the capacity to effect radical changes in the South, so he appointed provisional governors. A new state constitution was written in 1865 to acknowledge the end of slavery, but it did little to change the aristocratic nature of South Carolina’s government, and its provisions tried to ensure that as little as possible changed in the lives of black South Carolinians.

All this changed after the Radical Republicans gained a huge majority in the Congressional elections of 1866. In March 1867, the Reconstruction Acts were passed, requiring southern states to create new constitutions in order to be readmitted to Congress. What was different this time was that former Confederates were disfranchised and the constitution had to be written by “a convention of delegates elected by the male citizens of said State, twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition.” The election for the South Carolina constitutional convention was held on November 19 and 20, 1867. For the first time in South Carolina’s history, black men voted in an election. Most whites registered to vote but then stayed away from the polls, trying to defeat the constitution by making sure that fewer than 50% of the registered voters participated in the election. But over 90% of black men who were registered voted, and the convention was held from January 14 to March 17, 1868. 49 of the delegates were white, with two thirds of those being originally from the South. The remaining 72 delegates were African American, and over half of them had been enslaved at the beginning of the war. It was by a very long shot the most democratic political body ever assembled in South Carolina, though it would be another fifty years before women were allowed to vote.

The Constitution that they wrote created modern South Carolina. It gave women much greater freedom than ever before by being able to control their own wealth and to get divorced. It created a public school system that was open to all students, whatever their race. It shored up support of the university and mandated the creation of a normal school for educating teachers and an agricultural college for education farmers and mechanics. It provided support for citizens who were blind or deaf or mentally ill. No one could be imprisoned for being in debt, and people could hold public office whether or not they owned property.


Dr. Bernard Powers, professor of history at the College of Charleston

William Faulkner’s now famous quote : “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” has special application in Charleston.  This is a city where visitors and residents constantly, usually effortlessly and even thoughtlessly move between past and present routinely.  Sometimes we’ll step away from our routines and this applies particularly to people such as yourselves, and in moments of reflection we will take note of some of the more striking places where this connection between past and present appears with poignancy.  For example right here we stand proximate to St. Michael’s Church, an iconic  building in the Charleston landscape.  But it is a building partially constructed by slave brick layers.  One of the men who rang the bells here for decades, Washington McLean Gadsden, began doing so as a slave.  I love to hear the bells of St. Michaels but in the antebellum years, when they rang in late evening those bells sounded the curfew for slaves to be off the streets.  Knowing that history doesn’t diminish the music’s beauty; it gives the listener even greater appreciation for it.  It is an argument for telling the whole story.

There are special places in this city that allow you to hear and feel things that you cannot in other places.  Every year in the fall we have a MOJA Festival in Charleston which celebrates the African Arts of the Western Hemisphere.   One of the special locations is behind the Customs House on East Bay Street.

During MOJA some of the celebrations occur back there and when the musicians begin to play the conga drums and you look toward the water and that rhythm begins to touch you and you begin to feel something akin to the thrill the young W. E. B. DuBois felt when he first heard the spirituals.  And you recognize the sound and the feeling as the siren call of the African ancestors who still long for recognition, veneration and a proper place.

As you move about the city to other places and you stop, look and listen; you will readily observe that something is missing.  You’ll maybe experience not voices but deafening silences from other parts of  Charleston’s landscape and those silences must be filled.   Fortunately I can say that substance has replaced some of the absences.  I can remember in the mid-1970s taking house tours in the city where if they were referred to at all, slaves were typically called servants and out at Fort Sumter you learned more about tariffs as the cause of the Civil War than about slavery.  Fortunately, these things have changed dramatically over the decades.  In recent years a collectivity of public institutions, individuals, community groups, preservation oriented organizations and elements in the city government itself, have mounted an effort to give voice to those silences, to tell a more comprehensive story about Charleston’s history.  There are various markers in the historic district identifying important sites from the slave trade, to the Civil War to the civil rights era.  The city now runs the Old Slave Mart Museum and is an important force behind the International African American Museum.  It hasn’t been easy; there have been many discouraging moments, even years.  It took a broad coalition of people almost 20 years of protracted effort to finally get the Denmark Vesey Monument erected at Hampton Park, a place where over 200 Union soldiers were once buried.   The CLAW Program has always been in the avant garde of these efforts providing support and encouragement.  Now the conference “Freedoms Gained and Lost” devoted to Reconstruction continues in that same vein to address one of the city’s most deafening and important silences.   The marker will permanently recognize the era’s bold experiment in interracial democracy and let it encourage us to continue the struggle to achieve its highest ideals and that “new birth of freedom” for which so many lived and died.


Michael Boulware Moore, president of the International African American Museum
Robert Smalls participated in the South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1868, most notably, by offering legislation that created here in SC the first, free, compulsory, statewide public school system in America. It is legislation that, to this day, stands as the prevailing law. There are many stories passed down through the generations of our family that speak to Robert’s fundamental commitment to education. It is said that it pained him deeply that he was legally prevented from learning to read and write as a youngster. After he won his freedom, one of the very first things he did with his reward money was to buy the services of two tutors who taught him: one, first thing in the morning and then another when he returned home in the evening. Beyond that, he ensured that his children were also exposed to the best education available. In fact, my great grandmother, Elizabeth, was sent all the way from her home in Beaufort, SC to The Allen School in West Newton, Massachusetts as a young girl in the early 1870’s in search of the best education available to her. In an event that, incredibly, people are still talking about, on July 4, 1872 – Elizabeth read the Declaration of Independence in the public square in Beaufort. 2,000 freedmen – it is said – were in awe of this little girl and, at that moment, understood the power of education. At a time when most could not read, and when it was exceedingly rare for a young girl to be able to do so, Elizabeth read that document with pristine diction and clarity – an attribute that she became known for throughout her life. This reading was a testament to the focus on education that has been in my family for generations, and continues to this day. After Robert – who was the first in our family able to access education of any kind, all of my parents and grandparents were educators who earned PhD’s – three from Ivy League institutions, and my great grandfather – Samuel Jones Bampfield from Charleston – earned a law degree from Lincoln University in 1872. Perhaps the smartest of them all was my maternal grandmother who did so well throughout her college career that she was exempted from taking finals her last year. DNA testing tells us that we are descended from Mende people in Sierra Leone. They are known to have a focus on education. Who knows if what drove Robert and what has become a part of our family to this day is a literal part of our DNA – flowing through our veins from our days in Africa but Robert certainly activated that predilection at the earliest opportunity. The Constitutional Convention of 1868 was a time when Robert Smalls gave voice to his aspirations around education – desperately wanting to instill in others what he aspired to himself. At a time when formerly enslaved people were coming out of the cocoon of slavery, 1868 was an early time when the laws – at least for a while – provided a more even societal platform. Robert Smalls had an indelible hand in that effort.

Review: Lang on Gleeson and Lewis, ‘The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War’

David T. Gleeson, Simon Lewis, eds. The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War. The Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World Series. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014. viii + 308 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-61117-325-3.

Reviewed by Andrew Lang (Mississippi State University)
Published on H-War (January, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

The World of the American Civil War

The previous two decades have showcased a remarkable revolution in American historiography. No longer can scholars look exclusively at the national past within the protective and isolated confines of the United States’ seemingly secure borders. While rich texts continue to focus on the national experience, almost all historians today accept that the United States never evolved independent of its connection to the broader world. Indeed, as Thomas Bender reminded us in 2006, the United States lived—and lives—as “a nation among nations” (A Nation among Nations: America’s Place in World History [2006]). By linking American history to its hemispheric, Atlantic, and international pasts, the literature has uncovered extraordinary new insights into the studies of place and nation, slavery and abolition, revolution and restoration. Long burdened by an exceptionalist bent to its historical narrative—the notion that the United States had evaded the corrupting evolutionary tendencies of the Old World, charting altogether a distinct path of history—the transnational turn in American historiography has disrupted a sense of uniqueness to the national story.

Fewer places in the literature have experienced this historiographical transformation more than the field of Civil War studies. Long a product of exceptionalist writing, the United States’ signal mid-nineteenth-century conflict was often written as humanity’s most profound shift from premodernism immediately into the dawn of modernity. Such an unprecedented revolution, this older scholarship argued, irrevocably realigned the citizenry’s relation to the state, brandished a kind of total war that foreshadowed the terrible conflicts of the twentieth century, and centralized the United States altogether. This exceptionalist veil suggested that no other civil conflict had been as bloody, had been as revolutionary, or had been as sweeping in scope as the United States’ own internal struggle. Indeed, this was our war, just as American history was our past.

The transnational turn fundamentally altered how historians considered the American Civil War. A new wave of literature now places the domestic conditions of the conflict—why it came, how it was waged, and what it meant—alongside the United States’ place in an Atlantic world embroiled in similar disputes over the meanings of liberty, democracy, and republicanism. Myriad nations in both the Old and New Worlds had already experienced the impossible problems of democratic-republicanism’s fate, slavery’s destiny, emancipation’s promise, and the destructive power of modern industrialized war. If anything, the United States came late to a party long underway.

And that is where David T. Gleeson and Simon Lewis’s fabulous anthology comes into focus. Functioning at once as a tight synthesis of the transnational premise and as a departure point for new areas of study, the volume of thirteen wholly unique essays unveils the interpretative power of framing the American Civil War within its global context. The book’s overriding purpose is to understand the war transnationally, but the editors and authors are careful to recognize the multifaceted ways in which a transnational history of a national event can look. The volume never strips away the commanding influence of the nation-state. In fact, the various authors acknowledge that transnational history is not necessarily world history. American history and the Civil War in particular were contingent on relations to the world, the international exchange of ideas, the efforts to demonstrate behavior acceptable to a global audience, and even fears of the world impinging onto the nation itself. The nation-state is very much alive in this book. But it, like all intricate and evolving systems, was subject to complex, complementary, and contradictory influences both from within and without its immediate orbit. What we therefore see is an event that is simultaneously domestic and global. The Civil War, the authors suggest, was not exclusively a local moment, nor was it an amorphous global occurrence. The world was connected intimately to matters in the United States, just as the United States erupted in war due to conditions nurtured by global dynamics.

The book unfolds as a broad series of meditations on the war’s causes, its many interested parties, its conduct, and its consequences and memory. Edward B. Rugemer and Matthew Karp open the anthology, engaging the complicated antebellum connections that American abolitionists and slaveholders alike forged with the Atlantic world. Both authors conclude that the delicate evolution from slavery to freedom in the United States and in the Western Hemisphere played central roles in the formation of American identities on the eve of secession. Indeed, the United States’ mid-century emergence as one of the world’s few remaining slave societies—and unquestionably its largest—directly influenced how the 1850s developed at home, how slaveholders viewed themselves in relation to the nation-state, how American slavery related to a world increasingly hostile to human bondage, and how a post-emancipation United States differed dramatically from other former slave societies.

In dealing with the war itself, Hugh Dubrulle, James M. McPherson, David T. Gleeson, Alexander Noonan, and Niels Eichhorn all shatter the simple notion that “northerners” and “southerners”—esoteric identifiers that now carry such little meaning—cared most about the course and meaning of the conflict. Each author instead agrees that the world watched this war carefully, that diplomacy was shaped by contingencies forged on the field of battle, that Americans themselves practiced war in ways to legitimize their belligerency and to seek international approval, and that mid-century nationalism underwent a crisis over its very sources. One of the anthology’s profound leitmotifs is the question of nationalism itself, its ingredients, and its meaning. The American Civil War was one of many nineteenth-century conflicts waged as a terrible, enduring struggle about nationalism as a mystical idea or as the ethnic makeup of a nation’s people. Were all humans truly created equal, as European and Unionist liberals would have it, endowed with the capacity of democratic self-determination? Or, were nations conceived in the image of the Confederacy, a state built on racial and ethnic hierarchies that promised to secure liberty only for those of privileged classes? These various essays thus reveal that the fate not only of the United States but also of the Atlantic world hinged on answers to these questions. The Civil War was not the first nor the last conflict imbued with these difficult dilemmas. But by the 1860s, the authors conclude, it was among the most recent to take up the same questions that had plagued the world in the long wake of the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions.

The conduct of the war itself depended on similar questions. Burdened with self-imposed exceptionalist identities, Unionists and Confederates worried whether their conflict would deteriorate into what Abraham Lincoln called a “remorseless revolutionary struggle.” A pair of essays by Aaron Sheehan-Dean and Jane E. Schultz demolish any argument favoring the old Civil War-as-total war thesis. As Sheehan-Dean explains, each belligerent embraced the limiting tendencies and careful restraints of international law in shaping policies of retaliation, surrender, and prisoner exchange. Both nations avoided the most brutal passions and truly merciless conduct that so often scar societies engaged in civil war. Schultz’s treatment of British nurse Florence Nightingale, whose efforts during the Crimean War transformed nursing into a formal profession, demonstrates that both Unionist and Confederate women envisioned themselves in roles similar to the English icon. Understanding wartime nursing to be a source of virtue and humanitarianism, but also as a gateway into women’s public professionalization, American nurses understood their wartime place as a testing ground for a new postwar world.

The volume concludes with a series of essays by Aaron W. Marrs, Christopher Wilkins, Lesley Marx, and a sizeable roundtable, which all deal with the problem of the war’s aftermath and historical memory. Similar to the war’s significant transnational revision, the postwar period is also undergoing profound reevaluations. The closing essays discourage, some more explicitly than others, the use of “Reconstruction” when labeling events in the wake of Appomattox. “Reconstruction” seems to impose a limiting quality to the boundless events that took place both in and outside of the United States, as the nation, hemisphere, and world grappled with the stunning changes wrought by Union victory and American emancipation. From uncertain diplomatic relations, to American efforts to annex Santo Domingo, and even to the powerful international processes of remembering and forgetting forged on the silver screen by Gone with the Wind (1939), each essay instructs that because it was an international event, the American Civil War created more uncertainties and fostered bolder questions than those that it answered definitively.

The anthology not only encompasses an expansive temporal scope but also touches on a prodigious array of subjects. Both of these qualities make the book truly worthwhile. In fewer than three hundred pages of text, more than thirteen authors explore their subjects with painstaking precision and careful comprehension. Each essay, written with brevity and confidence, models the finest type of historical writing. The proof is in the way the book is conceived and executed. There is little doubt that each of these essays will either revise existing historiographical debates or spawn new areas of inquiry. That is the mark of a fine anthology, and this one succeeds admirably.

Continue reading Review: Lang on Gleeson and Lewis, ‘The Civil War as Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War’

Series: “When the War Is Over: Memory, Division, and Healing”

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
-William Blake, “A Poison Tree”

“When the War is Over”: A series of public events dedicated to thinking about building Community After Periods of Slavery, Persecution, Genocide, or War.

In much the same way that trauma in an individual’s past causes psychological damage, communities that have experienced traumatic violence also bear psychological scars from that experience. Psychiatrists have for many years asserted the value of the “talking cure,” arguing that healing comes from addressing, not suppressing, the memory of the traumatic event. In the US military, for example, treatment of PTSD is generally informed by the work of psychiatrist Judith Herman, author of the now-classic 1992 study Trauma and Recovery. In the cases of traumatized communities, the tendency in recent years has also been to attempt “talking cures”; numerous countries have opted to establish truth commissions as a way to stabilize post-conflict situations. Hoping to avoid the potentially endless cycle of tit-for-tat vengeful “justice,” countries as diverse as Chile, Sierra Leone, and South Africa have used truth commissions to deal with their violent pasts not by repressing memories but by bringing them into the open.

Despite the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, the scars of slavery and of institutionalized racism in the United States are still present, manifesting themselves in a variety of ways, including continued systemic discrimination as well as individual acts of violence. In the latter case, the mass murder of nine of our fellow citizens while at prayer in the Mother Emanuel Church in June 2015 reminded us all that Charleston, our beautiful home city, is also a site of trauma, suffering from the suppressed memories of native genocide, two centuries of racialized slavery, and a century of legalized racial discrimination. Although contemporary historians have put the story of these traumas into print, the visible, material landscape still suppresses the trauma: public memorials and the demographics of urban space still render Native American and African American experience virtually invisible.

Elsewhere in the world, communities that have experienced similar trauma and racial, ethnic, or sectarian division have begun to address the effect of statues, monuments, and memorials honoring eminent historical figures whose ideologies and policies are out of step with contemporary assertions of universal human rights. In perpetuating a positive memory of leaders like Cecil Rhodes, for example, these memorials enshrine and set in stone attitudes we now consider to be anathema. Campaigns to remove statues honoring Rhodes from places of honor in South Africa and in his native England have led to wider campaigns for social justice, including equal access to education for all.

In the US, the last year has seen a wave of local initiatives to remove or modify statues and memorials honoring Civil War generals and politicians, as well as efforts to rename buildings named in honor of post-War politicians who advocated for and/or profited from racial segregation. These initiatives have in turn spawned renewed violence, notably in Charlottesville, Virginia last August. Here in Charleston, confusion still reigns over how to handle the memory of John C. Calhoun, whose statue towers above the city in Marion Square.

As an academic institution, dedicated to the notion that wisdom itself is liberty, we at the College of Charleston feel called upon to use our expertise in the humanities and social sciences to provide an intellectual framework to negotiate these contentious issues. “When the War Is Over:  Memory, Division, and Healing” thus brings together in a loosely unified series, a collection of public lectures and forums that address historical trauma and the ways in which sites that have experienced such trauma have moved, or might move towards building sustainable, peaceful community. In broadening the discussion from Charleston and the US to include the Northern Irish “Troubles” and the Holocaust, the series aims to provide a discursive context within which a fundamental commitment to human rights governs policy decisions that lead toward peaceable coexistence, the eradication of racism and other forms of discrimination, and the prevention of genocide.

We warmly invite the public to attend these events as we strive to move toward a better, more inclusive understanding of our common but divided history. A full list of the events will be available at https://live-carolina-lowcountry-and-atlantic-world-program.pantheonsite.io/events/

Hand painted copy B of William Blake’s “A Poison Tree”, 1794 currently held at the British Museum.