Instructor: Lloyd Benson
213-A Furman Hall (294-3492)
have passed since the end of the Civil
War. For historians, however, the battle rages on. Traditionalists
still contend with Revisionists who fend off attacks from Modernizationists,
who debate with Marxists, who challenge Agrarians, and so on.
Ironically, there seems to be more argument now about the Civil
War than in the first few generations after Appomattox. These contests
over secession's meanings can be as dramatic and compelling
as the events themselves. New technology and new interdisciplinary
approaches to the period promise to make the debate even more
lively. The goal of this seminar will be to use these competing
viewpoints to re-introduce participants to the major events of
the secession crisis of the 1850s.
A unique feature of the course will be the use of a computerized anthology and almanac of primary documents. This database will allow participants to evaluate interpretive theories of Civil War causation using the words and following the boundaries of the participants themselves. We will address as a matter of course the standard questions about secession such as what role slavery played, what impact did political leaders have in stirring up conflict, and to what degree was secession rooted in fundamental economic, social, and cultural differences between the sections. Because the course is explicitly interdisciplinary, though, we will devote much of our time considering questions such as how the vocabulary and language patterns of antebellum Americans affected their perception of events, how subtle the differences both between and within regions could be, and how constructs of family and community motivated the behavior of the secessionists and their opponents. Participants are expected to use the issues raised in course readings and discussions to formulate their own interpretive questions to be explored in a research project.
FORMAT AND ASSIGNMENTS:
This seminar will meet once a week for approximately two hours. Attendance at all meetings is mandatory, and all assignments will be due at meeting time. Because the format will be discussion and document-exploration, oral participation will be especially important. A one page research proposal and preliminary bibliography will be due in week three, and a research paper of 1700-2000 words based on your own selection and transcription of original sources will be due at the end of the semester. Participants will be expected to make use of the computerized 1850s document database or an appropriate substitute in some aspect of their own research. Instruction in the use of the database will be provided and no prior computer experience beyond familiarity with Netscape, minimal typing ability and an e-mail account is required. During the second half of the course participants will be asked to distribute one or two of their own primary sources to the class for discussion during each meeting. Participants will be required to contribute substantively at least once a week before our class meeting to the electronic discussion groups that have been established for each topic.
Topic and Assignments:
|Week One: (Mar. 4)||
On-line discussion topics: (Due by Monday March 8) Compare and contrast the two South Carolina secession documents. Which of the causation theories discussed in the seminar meeting seems to best explain these texts? What explains the differences that exist between the two documents, as well as the resolutions discussed in class?
|Week Two: (Mar. 11)||
How Different Were Northern and Southern Communities?Reading Assignment:
On-line discussion topics: How effectively (if at all) did the local leaders in each of these communities set the tone of public discussion? How distinctive were the midwestern communities described by William Cronon and Don Doyle from the middle class world of Utica as described by Ryan or the South of Ford and Olmsted? Were the northern communities more or less internally fractious and contentious than the Southern communities? Were the economic structures, or the cultural antecedents of each community more important in shaping its regional identity?
3-5 page essay due in class.
|Week Three: (Mar. 17)||
Southern Households and the Gendered Language of Secession.Reading Assignment:
On-line discussion topics: Look through the editorial collection for examples where the writers express their political positions using family or gender as expository devices. How important were differing conceptions of household, women's place in society, and the domestic order to the political conflict between Northerners and Southerners? You may also want to re-examine the South Carolina declarations in this light. What exactly do the authors mean when they talk about domestic institutions? How would you compare these treatments of regional and and partisan differences with interpretations found in last week's books?Session Log
Presentation and discussion of participant's preliminary research proposals. These should be one page plus bibliography, submitted to the On-line discussion system at least 24 hours before the seminar meeting time.
|Week Four: (Mar. 24)||
The Unity of the South.Reading Assignment:
On-line discussion topics: Assess Freehling's claim that there were many Souths, each suspicious of the others. Based on the readings from the last two weeks and your general knowledge of the period, how accurate is he to describe the region as a "democratic despotism?" Is he correct to claim that actions by the slaves themselves were the most important cause of the secession crisis? To what extent did the Secessionists "manufacture" Southern identity to advance their own ambitions? He highlights several lesser-known events and personalities as being the most pivotal things about the period. What are the most important of these, according to the author, and do you agree with his assessment?
|Week Five: (Mar. 31)||
Religious Dimensions of Sectionalism.Reading Assignment:
On-line discussion topics: Assess the role of religion in party and sectional politics. To what extent were criticisms of each region by the other perceived to be moral and spiritual failings rather than economic or political conflicts? What does the religious geography of the nation in the 1850s tell us about sectional differences? In what ways did quasi-religious concepts (honor, virtue, truth, and providence, for example,) play out in these political debates? How consciously does the language of the editorialists echo Biblical passages and themes? (Post your choice of significant editorials to the On-line Discussion Assistant. )
3-5 page essay due in class.Session Log
|Week Six: (Apr. 8)||
Kansas, Sumner, and the Emergence of Sectional Parties.Reading Assignment:
On-line discussion topics: Was the ultimate success of the Republican party inevitable? Why did the Republicans fail to build a successful party in the South? How important was the lens of party in focusing perceptions of events such as the Nebraska bill, bleeding Kansas, and the caning of Sumner? Did Southern political leaders have a distinctive rhetorical and political style that was incompatible with those of Northern leaders? Was the only serious partisan division in the South over which party would best defend the institution of slavery? Discuss how at least two of the editorials combined region and party in an interesting way. Do the editorials tend to sustain or contradict the basic theses of these books? (Post your choice of significant editorials to the On-line Discussion Assistant before class. )
|Week Seven: (Apr. 15)||
Race Relations and Race Control.
On-line discussion topics: Was Harriet Beecher Stowe racially prejudiced? Why was Uncle Tom's Cabin so offensive to Southern political and cultural leaders? What was her political agenda, and why did she pursue it by addressing the book predominantly to women? How directly did the book affect discussions of black citizenship? On what basis does Stampp claim that 1857 was the pivotal year of the secession crisis? How did the events he describes change popular opinion in each section? Had the Buchanan administration been more adept in its leadership would the crisis been prevented? How important was racial subordination to the worldview of Southern leaders? Were northern reactions to Dred Scott more concerned with the impact of the decision on blacks, or its potential effects on whites? (Post your choice of significant editorials to the On-line Discussion Assistant before class. )
2-3 page essay on Stowe or Stampp due in class.
Week Eight: (Apr. 22)
|Causation Theories Debated.
Each team will make a 3-4 minute opening statement, have 2 minutes to question any of the other teams, and have 3 minutes to offer a summation of why their arguments were the most persuasive.Session Log
Week Nine: (Apr. 29)
|The Election of 1860 (month by month)
On-line discussion topics: What effect did John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry have on editorial opinion? Specifically, how did the reactions of each party differ? Were the conservative (ie: Opposition and Douglas Democratic parties) or the sectional parties more affected by the incident? Did the incident render any further compromise impossible? (Post your choice of significant editorials to the On-line Discussion Assistant before class. )
|Week Ten: (May 5)||
The Secessionist Moment.Reading Assignment:
On-line discussion topics: Analyze the relationships among local economic and demographic conditions, party competition (or lack thereof), and the defense of slavery and racial subordination as forces in how the secession crisis unfolded. Why was South Carolina first, and why did the upper South hesitate? Was a Northern military response to secession inevitable, or could the North have just "let the South go?" What were the most important reasons advanced by Northern anti-secessionists for maintaining the Union by force?
|Week Eleven: (Apr. 12)||
Combat Motivations.Reading Assignment:
On-line discussion topics: What connections, if any, existed between the soldier's reasons for fighting and the causes of secession? How different were Northern and Southern soldiers? How did the experience of the war itself change these motivations?
|Week Twelve: (May 19)||Presentation of Participant's Final Research Results
1700-2000 word primary source essay with transcriptions of associated documents, in web format, due in class.