Making sense of the past

Things I’m thinking about….

Because I’ve been dunked in the current national fascination with the Civil War (thank you, Ken Burns, for the documentary), I’ve been following discussions about how to make sense of it all.  I’m intrigued by this essay on Civil War perspectives, with potential readings to learn more: Edward L. Ayers, Making Sense of the Civil War. I’ve tried reading Geraldine Brooks’ book, March, but couldn’t “get into it”. I have read the Red Badge of Courage, and frankly — I just can’t do it ever again. But the Imagined Civil War by Alice Fahs and Cold Mountain by Charles Frasier both sound interesting. The University of North Carolina Press has a feature where you can read a bit of Fahs’ book here: I enjoyed the quotes in the first chapter, talking about a shift in the demands of people for daily newspapers and their dismay at due to blockades in the south that stopped shipments of books and periodicals from the north.

Reading habits changed dramatically with the onset of war, a fact that numerous observers noted both north and south. Newspapers suddenly became an urgent necessity of life, with readers eagerly gathering at bulletin boards outside newspaper offices in order to read the news as soon as it was printed. (p. 19, Fahs)

Today’s red-faced confession: When I heard about North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, I avoided it like the plague. All I could think was that it was on the US Civil War, and memories of an oral exam (with tiny tents and soldiers on a map of Gettysburg) in 7th grade. I still can’t remember all the different placements of units in Gettysburg, even with help from the History Animated website (a brilliant website with animations of battles). Those of you who have read the book or seen the BBC series know how far off I was.

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