Slavery and the Civil War in Cultural Memory

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Slavery and the Civil War in Cultural Memory

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Title: Slavery and the Civil War in Cultural Memory
Author: Adkins, Christina Katherine
Citation: Adkins, Christina Katherine. 2014. Slavery and the Civil War in Cultural Memory. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: That slavery was largely excised from the cultural memory of the Civil War in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly by white Americans, is well documented; Slavery and the Civil War in Cultural Memory moves beyond that story of omission to ask how slavery has been represented in U.S. culture and, necessarily, how it figures into some of the twentieth century's most popular Civil War narratives. The study begins in the 1930s with the publication of Gone with the Wind--arguably the most popular Civil War novel of all time--and reads Margaret Mitchell's pervasive tale of ex-slaveholder adversity against contemporaneous narratives like Black Reconstruction in America , Absalom, Absalom!, and Black Boy/American Hunger , which contradict Mitchell's account of slavery, the war, and Reconstruction. Spanning nearly seven decades, this study tells the story of how cultural productions have continued to reinterpret slavery. Focusing primarily on novels and films but also drawing on interviews with ex-slaves, private journals, and court records, each chapter explores how slavery is represented in a particular historical epoch and highlights each narrative's contribution to the creation of cultural memory, particularly its conformity to earlier works or its revision of antecedents. In addition, Slavery and the Civil War in Cultural Memory traces representations of slavery through recurring themes such as hunger, disease, marriage, and madness and seeks to understand how the narratives in question comment directly on the concept of memory. Among the topics discussed are the Civil War centennial; how Margaret Walker's Jubilee relates slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction to the civil rights movement of the 1960s; the controversy over The Confessions of Nat Turner; the Roots phenomenon, and the copyright lawsuit filed against the publisher of Alice Randall's unauthorized parody, The Wind Done Gone. The study concludes in 2005, with March, Geraldine Brooks's reimagining of Little Women, and E.L. Doctorow's The March, about Sherman's campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas. A pattern emerges in the final chapters that shows recent authors conjuring, in order to revise, elements of Absalom, Absalom! and Gone With the Wind.
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