Mixed Feelings: The Politics of Emotions, Race, and Gender in Civil War-Era America

AHA Session 17
Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Diplomat Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Sarah Hand Meacham, Virginia Commonwealth University
Sarah Hand Meacham, Virginia Commonwealth University

Session Abstract

Few events in American history have engendered more debate than the Civil War. In advance of the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War this panel will explore the war not as a military, political or economic struggle, but as an affective conflict waged over collective emotional norms and practices, and fought in the hearts of individuals. The panelists will discuss the different and vital roles that sentimental rhetoric, affective expressions and emotional norms played in secession and reconciliation, mourning and Jubilee, Emancipation and Reconstruction. As the panelists are all intervening in Civil War history and the history of emotions they will not only be arguing about the broader affective implications of the war’s end for enslaved and free people, northerners and southerners, men and women, Democrats and Republicans, they will be debating the recent emotional turn in history. In doing so, they will discuss how their focus on affective history complicates and differs from earlier scholarship on the history of emotions.

Professor Michael Woods will analyze the affective landscape of Civil War-era America, and how both emotional and national bonds were severed by secession and war. The rhetoric of national love and sectional hate was used to defend and oppose war, and he’ll examine partisan debates over how the south could be emotionally and politically restored to the nation.  In her paper on the activities of Confederate widows during and after the Civil War, Angela Elder will focus on mourning as a gendered political tool and possible avenue to social power. She’ll consider how widows engaged in debates over the public and political role of widows, and how individual widows reconciled their own experience of mourning with popular (and politicized)  idealizations of Confederate widowhood. Professor James Broomall will delve further into the specific affective language of depression and sorrow being employed by white southerners who sought to both describe Confederate loss and come to terms with it. He will argue that what ensued was a collective imagining of an emotional community forged in “despair” and defeat that would assist white southerners in their response to Reconstruction and their creation of Lost Cause ideology. Finally Professor Erin Dwyer will grapple with the conflicts that arose between former slaves and white southerners over what the emotional norms of the post-Emancipation, post-war south would be. She will assert that while free blacks saw Emancipation as an immediate affective revolution, white southerners worked to restore the emotional strictures of slavery through legal and extralegal means. The chair and commenter will be Professor Sarah Meacham, whose recent research explores the history of emotions in colonial America, and tackles some of the theoretical challenges with writing affective history.

By uniting the fields of Civil War History and Emotional History this panel will offer new perspectives on the history of the Civil War, Emancipation and Reconstruction, while also examining the ways that emotions are constructed and learned in relation to race, gender and power.

See more of: AHA Sessions