Nationalism and Commemoration: The US Civil War and Nationalist Festivals in the Atlantic World

AHA Session 97
Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom A (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Brian Schoen, Ohio University
Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg College

Session Abstract

In the past two decades, with the advent of the transnational turn in U.S. historiography, scholars have begun to think more rigorously about the international dimensions of the U.S. Civil War. In addition to reexamining citizenship, state formation, and emancipation in transnational perspective, some scholars have begun analyzing the international roots of U.S. nationalism and considering how events in other countries helped form and strengthen both southern and U.S. nationalism. However, scholars have not considered in any depth U.S. nationalist festivals held in non-U.S. areas. This panel, “Nationalism and Commemoration: The U.S. Civil War and Nationalist Festivals in the Atlantic World” does exactly that. By analyzing celebrations held by the descendants of Confederate emigrants to Brazil, Fourth of July celebrations put on by U.S. citizens in Europe, and Fourth of July celebrations brought about by Mexicans in Mexico, this panel reveals how these celebrations illustrate new patterns of nationalism and commemoration in the Atlantic World. Furthermore, they also highlight the profoundly complex ways in which the U.S. Civil War influenced the rest of the world while the rest of the world simultaneously influenced the U.S.

In “Commemorating American Independence Day in Mid-Nineteenth Century Europe” Paul Quigley surveys celebrations of U.S. independence in Europe. Quigley argues that these celebrations functioned like their counterparts in the U.S. However, because of the context in which they occurred, they became an important part of U.S. foreign relations. These celebrations not only provided an important window into cultural diplomacy, but they became a way for northerners and southerners in Europe to fight over the meaning of the U.S. Civil War. In “‘The anniversary of our National Independence, was duly celebrated in Guaymas’: Fourth of July Celebrations in Mexico, 1860-1880” Evan C. Rothera discusses Mexican celebrations of the Fourth of July to complement Quigley’s paper. Rothera highlights how Mexican-led celebrations of U.S. independence featured a Mexican interpretation of the U.S. Civil War as equivalent to the War of the Reform and the French Intervention. Thus, celebrations facilitated rapprochement between the U.S. and Mexico and influenced U.S. nationalism. Finally, in “Civil War, Reconstruction, and Commemoration: The Confederate Community in Brazil” Karina Esposito explores Confederado festivals in Brazil. As Esposito illustrates, many of the descendants of the Confederados consider themselves Brazilian, but they nevertheless celebrate a Confederate heritage and, in so doing, also stake a claim to their own vision of the U.S. Civil War.

Taken together, these papers highlight an important, if understudied, element of the Civil War Era. They insist that nationalism and commemorations were not simply national phenomena, but, rather, were contested and transformed in an international arena. In making this argument, each paper connects to the theme of the conference: historical scale. These papers illustrate both the impact of the U.S. Civil War on the broader community of nations as well as how the Atlantic World influenced patterns of nationalism and commemoration in the U.S. and thus highlight the important interplay between the transnational and the local.

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