Constructing the Enemy's Past: The Federal Archives Bureau and the Road to Sectional Reconciliation

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:20 AM
Ontario Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Yael Sternhell, Tel Aviv University
For the past two decades, historians of the United States have paid a great deal of attention to the ways in which the memory of the Civil War has been preserved, adapted, and manipulated for various political goals. This paper will attempt to expand the  framework of recent discussions and make a contribution from a different point of view. Instead of focusing on how Americans remembered the Confederacy, it will ponder how  Confederates wanted to be remembered. What actions did they take, while the war was still raging, to preserve a historical record of their deeds? What did they do to ensure that future generations would have access to it? How did they attempt to influence what would be written and said about them down the road? This paper, part of a larger project, will focus on archiving practices and their cultural, ideological and political significance as well as on the efforts to save the repository in the last days of the war. It will explore the acute historical consciousness of Confederates, the means they used to create a written record of their struggle, and the ways in which that record has shaped future discussions of the Southern endeavor in the Civil War. Was the ascent of  a Confederate, or reconciliationist vision of the conflict, a product not merely of late nineteenth century social and political agendas, but of Confederates’ own deliberate efforts?  Is the story of Civil War remembrance not entirely one of ex-Confederates gaining ownership of the past, but of real-time Confederates striving to own the future?