16
Feb 18

Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South: Scholarship on Catastrophe, Risk, and Resilience

I grew up in Miami, Florida – a town that is no stranger to the effects of natural hazards – and for most of my life, the ever-present threat of disaster was never far away. In some ways, life in South Florida revolves around a cycle of annual hurricane seasons. Every year around May, the local supermarkets put out the information leaflets about the importance of preparing for the big storms that form in the warm waters of the North Atlantic Ocean from June through November (and nowadays, even later). In my experience, most of these tropical storms or hurricanes – and the strong winds, floods, storm surges, and tornadoes that can accompany them – would either bypass us, or cause relatively little damage (that “Never Forget” meme of a knocked-over yard chair comes to mind; it emerges each time a city is met with a weaker storm than expected). But this would not be the case on the night of August 24, 1992, when Hurricane Andrew barreled toward my hometown, eventually making landfall as a category 5 hurricane in Homestead, about 30 miles south from where I lived. To this day, that remains the scariest night of my life.

As a professor of history, my research usually focuses on the study of disaster and crisis in the eighteenth-century Atlantic World, but one of my objectives, both in my research and in the classroom, is to tie my work to the present as much as possible in order to emphasize the relevance and significance of historical study in the modern world. This volume, Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South, was thus born of these efforts, and of my personal experiences growing up in one of the world’s most disaster-vulnerable regions. The Gulf South region of the United States – which encompasses Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas – has a long history with environmental disasters, including not only sudden-onset hazards like hurricanes, floods, or disease outbreaks, but also slow disasters, like rising sea levels, disappearing wetlands, deteriorating infrastructure, among others. So my objective in compiling the collection of essays that make up this interdisciplinary volume is to draw lessons from the Gulf South’s experience with its environment, lessons that are applicable across the globe, as regions all over the planet struggle with the effects of climate change, coastal erosion, population growth, urbanization, poverty and environmental injustice, and so on.

Of course, this volume could not have been possible without the important work of scholars – historians, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, and others – whose work has contributed to the quickly expanding field of disaster studies. If you would like to learn more about this field, or more specifically, about the history of disasters in the Gulf South and beyond, here are some of the books that inspired me to compile Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South.


John M. Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Craig E. Colten, An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (Louisiana State University Press, 2005).

Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (Metropolitan Books, 1998).

Kevin Fox Gotham and Miriam Greenberg, Crisis Cities: Disaster and Redevelopment in New York and New Orleans (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Susanna M. Hoffman and Anthony Oliver-Smith, eds., Catastrophe and Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster (School for Advanced Research Press, 2002).

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador, 2007).

Scott Gabriel Knowles, The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister, eds., Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History (Lexington Books, 2009).

Ted Steinberg, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America (Oxford University Press, 2006).


Cindy Ermus, assistant professor of European history at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, specializes in the history of disaster, crisis (including revolution), and the environment in the eighteenth century. A native of South Florida, she has also published on the history, culture, and environment of the Gulf South. You can find her on twitter as @CindyErmus.

Buy Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


09
Feb 18

Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans

Writing is often a solitary and tedious process with innumerable hours tapping on a keyboard. But the journey to create Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans was a joyous purpose. I was driven to tell the truth with Eric Waters (photographer) about an African-American ritual and that both of us loved and knew well. The energy of SAPC members kept us working for years as we pored over thousands of photos to capture the beauty and communal joy of a Second Line parade. We pursued culture-bearers for interviews so that their voices could be heard.

The work was necessary because people from across the U.S. and around the world have witnessed or participated in a Second Line but didn’t know the rich and stunning history.   A Second Line is so much more than Black residents dancing in New Orleans streets just for kicks but is a direct line back to Africa; tribal memory by generations of those who have endured enslavement in America. The color and movement through neighborhoods are about maintaining a cellular connection – communitas – that bolsters people enduring the ‘new Jim Crow’ through systemic oppression, low-paying jobs and mass incarceration. It might be only a few hours on a designated Sunday parading with fellow club members, but this cultural phenomenon feeds psyches to face another day. It is truly a dance that is freeing for SAPC members and the community.

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Here are seven books that will assist bibliophiles interested in gaining more insight on SAPCs in New Orleans, one of the most African-retentive cultures in the United States.

Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans by Freddi Williams Evans (2011, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press). This area just outside New Orleans’ famed French Quarter – now designated as a historic location – is where slaves would gather every Sunday to meet, dance and sell their wares. It is the place where the precursor to the Second Line occurred, a showcase for African tribal dances. Congo Square details the resilience of those who were enslaved, determined to maintain Africa’s rituals in a foreign land and keep a sense of ‘self.’ Evans is a featured essayist in Freedom’s Dance.

Black Skin, White Masks (Peau Noire, Masques Blancs) by Frantz Fanon (1967, Grove Press). I read this book when I was in junior high in the early 1970s. As a child of integration raised on the East Coast by Southern parents, Black Skin illuminated some of the racial issues I faced at a critical point in my development. I witnessed segregation traveling south in the 1960s and when I saw my first Second Line in the mid-1970s, there was an immediate sense of belonging and being ‘home.’

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans by John Hope Franklin (1970, Knopf). Franklin created this comprehensive, academic view of being Black in America. The book outlined what it took for a race of people to rise above being treated as less than human and battle to thrive in a country that needed their bodies for economic development. An eye-opener read in my freshman year of college.

Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (1992, LSU Press). Hall detailed every aspect of an African’s life in the ‘New World’ but ensured that the enslaved weren’t nameless or faceless, toiling in a field picking cotton or cutting sugar cane. She offered a list of tribes, their origins in Africa, their tribal attributes and how that became the fabric of New Orleans and Louisiana.

Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina by Leonard N. Moore (2010, LSU Press). Moore’s book shows the continuum of resistance that began in Congo Square and continued unabated into the disaster that nearly wiped out New Orleans. African Americans in the city were never collectively docile or accepting of mistreatment. The warrior spirit from African tribes lives on in the city’s Black citizens.

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson (2005, Basic Civitas-Perseus Books). Dyson was one of the first nationally recognized academics to look at the decimation of a predominately African-American city. He delved into issues of class, caste and culture, and these same issues are explored in Freedom’s Dance.

Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny (2013, Duke University Press). Sakakeeny focused on a specific aspect of the Second Line culture – music delivered by brass bands. There cannot be an SAPC without the driving beat of a band comprised of – at minimum – a snare drum, trumpet, saxophone and tuba. It is a comprehensive look at a music culture that could only have been born and nurtured in New Orleans.

Freedom’s Dance offers a holistic view of a beloved ritual that screams ‘you are in New Orleans!’ The book honors a pure demonstration of dedication, pride and spirit.


Karen Celestan is executive writer and editor in University Advancement and adjunct professor of English at Texas Southern University in Houston. She is the co-author and editor of unfinished blues: Memories of New Orleans Music Man with Harold Battiste, Jr. (2010, Historic New Orleans Collection). unfinished received a BCALA Literary Award (Black Caucus of the American Library Association) for Contribution to Publishing. Celestan’s work has appeared in Carve Magazine, New Orleans Advocate, The Times-Picayune, Gambit Newsweekly and other publications.

Buy Freedom’s Dance today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


26
Jan 18

The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920

One of my earliest Mardi Gras memories—I was five years old or so—is of my family costuming on Mardi Gras day and heading down to the French Quarter to claim a spot at the old police station. There, the convivial spirit was especially rich and we celebrated by drinking in the fabulously costumed revelers walking by and by dancing to the music wafting through the streets. The crowning moment was when my mother gifted me with my annual Mardi Gras treat: Italian fig cookies from Central Grocery, complete with sprinkles. Another memory from around the same time takes me to our other family Mardi Gras spot: Rampart Street. While waiting for a parade amidst a throng of spectators, I eagerly looked up and down the street and caught a glimpse of something amazing far in the distance: a man, dressed head-to-toe in magenta feathers, emerged out of the adjoining neighborhood and danced out onto Rampart. After the briefest of moments, he disappeared. I blinked and he was gone, but for a second I had seen a Mardi Gras Indian!

As I grew older, the details of my Mardi Gras festivities shifted but the customs themselves remained firmly in place. Whether I was celebrating Carnival with friends or family, watching a parade on the street or a krewe court at a bal masque, to me Mardi Gras meant costuming, community, and dancing.

While writing New Orleans Carnival Balls: The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920, I came to understand that my experiences echo the transatlantic, multicultural nature of New Orleans Mardi Gras, one that is both unique to the city (its geographical location, history, and people) while also global in scale, infusing ideas from Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean. And while masking and parading are central to these traditions, an often overlooked—but highly visible—Carnival ingredient is dancing. In New Orleans history, even in colonial histories, a main highlight of the Carnival season was dancing at masked balls (both private and public). In fact, the mighty trio of masking, parading, and Carnival balls pervaded each Mardi Gras history I read, but over and over I encountered the same predicament: while most histories discussed balls as important to Mardi Gras, there was little mention of actual dancing.

I trained in dance for over twenty years before studying history. I loved every moment I spent in technique class, in rehearsal, performing on stage, creating movement in my head, and dancing through life at every possible moment, in every possibly way. Dance is a lens through which to see the world and ask questions. The way we move carries information about our worldview and the physical choices we make crystalize those views, even if for a moment. Taken together, our movement practices create identity and, when we look closely at the dance and movement practices of Carnival balls, we see that there’s a whole untapped landscape of information and history at our fingertips. This is the world that I wanted to dive into with New Orleans Carnival Balls—picturesque tableaux vivants productions, regal grand marches and quadrilles, debutante call outs, and romantic ballroom dancing (from waltzes to ragtime).

The carnival balls I investigated existed in a private social sphere—an opulent, secret realm only accessible to the urbane men who belonged to the oldest New Orleans Mardi Gras organizations (krewes) of Comus, Proteus, Momus, and Rex, as well as their family, and equally prestigious friends. While being a dancer equipped me with useful tools for this project (especially movement description), my training as a historian ensured that I could delve deep into archival detective work to solve the main mystery: how do you investigate a secret? Among many diverse types of sources I perused, from court cases to costume sketches, the most revealing, pertinent materials I found were handwritten letters, diaries, and handmade scrapbooks. These sources were the ones that provided a rich foundation from which to understand the static customs or shifting rituals embedded in old-line secrecy. They described what old-line Carnival balls were like a hundred years ago or more and are their own magical Mardi Gras memories chock full of dancing adventures.


In celebration of Mardi Gras, here are six diverse books that focus on Carnival, history, and customs:

Brian J. Costello, Carnival in Louisiana: Celebrating Mardi Gras from the French Quarter to the Red River (LSU Press, 2017). Costello’s new book is a comprehensive look at Carnival history and mores throughout Louisiana. While New Orleans Mardi Gras history, including balls, comprise the first part, it’s exciting to learn about the rich and varied Carnival traditions, like Courir de Mardi Gras in Acadiana, or historic moments, like New Roads’ 1911 African American parade, led by King Snowball and his consort on the first float while a second float carried a brass band. From the Florida and River Parishes to Shreveport and Monroe, Costello not only provides historical accounts in accessible prose, but also suggests Mardi Gras exhibits around the state where you can immerse yourself in each area’s unique way of celebrating.

Samuel Kinser, Carnival, American Style: Mardi Gras at New Orleans and Mobile (University of Chicago Press, 1990). Kinser’s cultural history explores the historical ties (and tensions) between New Orleans and Mobile’s Carnival celebrations, but also links Mardi Gras to Caribbean, European, and African festivals. This multicultural approach highlights the contributions of Congo Square dances and quadroon balls or discusses commonalities with eighteenth-century Afro-Caribbean John Canoe maskers (among other cultural practices) to understanding Carnival culture in New Orleans. Kinser discusses a range of topics, from parades and balls to tourism and cultural codes.

Reid Mitchell, All on a Mardi Gras Day: Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival (Harvard University Press, 1999). Out of all the books on this list, Mitchell’s work was most inspirational to me when writing New Orleans Carnival Balls. His ability to weave together diverse perspectives into a synthesized narrative urged me to consider the multiple forces at play—and the seriousness of play—within the realm of old-line ritual. His work also encouraged me to open my chapters with historical vignettes. All on a Mardi Gras Day juxtaposes revelry and racism, elitism and immigration, as it crafts a nuanced social history that delves into the centrality of Africans, Creoles, and gay rights to Mardi Gras narratives. From American annexation and the emergence of old-line krewes to Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, and drag, Mitchell’s writing is a remarkable New Orleans history. Unsurprisingly, dance plays a key role.

Robert Tallant, Mardi Gras…As it Was (Pelican Publishing Company, 1989 reprint). To me, this book represents the “glossy” New Orleans histories: romantic, mysterious, slightly fantastical—everything that Mardi Gras is, for sure, but definitely written in a different era. Tallant continues to be one of the best-known Louisiana writers—his work on the Louisiana Writers’ Project of the WPA and publication of Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folktales (with Lyle Saxon and Edward Dreyer) in 1945 remains a cultural cornerstone. This work is no different; it persists in the canon of Carnival history. I recommend it for its tone and the evocative picture it creates: historical vignettes of nighttime parades, ball romances, and the like, but also advice of “how to get into a ball” or “become a queen.” Mardi Gras…As it Was is part history, part memory, all magic.

Henri Schindler, Mardi Gras Treasures: Jewelry of the Golden Age (Pelican Publishing Company, 2006). In this beautifully illustrated volume, Schindler explores the same period in Mardi Gras history—the Golden Age—as my own work. Mardi Gras Treasures moves through each of the old-line krewes (and the tableaux societies collectively), providing a brief history along with general ball descriptions. Sumptuous images of krewe court crowns, scepters, and other fine jewels, as well as an array of ducal badges, ball favors, costume sketches, and dance cards pepper the book. For me, though, the most exciting parts are the photographs of the people themselves—krewesmen in business suits or costumed as kings and court queens (sometimes with their attending maids) resplendent in their full dress, with trains, crown, and scepter. The past comes alive in these photographs and we have a chance to peer into the secret world of old-line balls for ourselves. The photographs are well worth lingering over. This is but one book in the Mardi Gras Treasures series, which also includes individual publications focusing on invitations, costume designs, and floats.

Kim Marie Vaz, The “Baby Dolls”: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Traditions (LSU Press, 2013). Except for Schindler, all of the books mentioned above touch in some way upon the Baby Dolls, a group of African American women from the red-light district, Storyville, who began costuming as baby dolls around 1912 and took to the streets during Mardi Gras with vivacious dancing. The original Baby Dolls dressed in short satin dresses with bloomers, bonnets, and garters (stuffed with money). They smoked cigars and “walked raddy” through the streets as they sang songs, drank, and claimed their turf through salacious taunt and boast dance battles. Today’s Baby Dolls, while still focusing on women and community, use dance to cultivate community education and outreach. Vaz’s book compiles remarkable primary historical documents alongside interviews with current Baby Doll maskers, detailing a tradition of spirited innovation, community bonds, ancestral survival, and of course, amazing dance.


Jennifer Atkins is associate professor in Florida State University’s School of Dance.

If you are interested in learning more about Mardi Gras Balls, buy New Orleans Carnival Balls: The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920 today! Jen Atkins and Brian Costello will also be speaking at the Barnes & Noble at Citiplace in Baton Rouge on Saturday, February 3rd at 1:30 p.m.


22
Dec 17

Looking Across Vast American Spaces: Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter in Conversation

Recently, Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter shared with us what inspired them to write Images of Depression-Era Louisiana. Here is an excerpt of their conversation.


Bryan: The origin story of Images of Depression-Era Louisiana: The FSA Photographs of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott begins in another book, actually. I was writing a new introduction to E.P. O’Donnell’s Depression-era novel, The Great Big Doorstep. It’s a minor classic of humor writing, set in Plaquemines Parish, and Eudora Welty was very fond of it.  I wanted to show what the place looked like, and turned up a series of contemporaneous photos straight out of the novel’s world, right down to the Boothville orange groves that the author lived among!

I had to marvel at my luck. It’s unusual to land on such an exact match. The outer reaches of Plaquemines Parish weren’t exactly a densely populated area in the 1930s—O’Donnell writes about a flotsam-and-jetsam culture of cast-off people on the margins of nature, industry, and the waterways. It was sort of astonishing to find that they had been photographed at all at that time.  There was a variety about the subjects, places, and people that was unusually intimate and arresting.  Naturally I wondered, “Who took these? Where did they come from?”

I wondered if the photos were as striking to others as to me. It didn’t take me long to realize, from the reactions of others, that they were indeed something special.

Maria: I was also amazed when I first viewed the photographs. I was born and raised in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and as soon as I saw them I recognized the subjects captured on film. Even if I didn’t actually know their names, I had seen folks like them before. They are the people of Louisiana—then, now, and always.

So Bryan and I started to unravel the backstory and to literally map the byways and pathways that the photographers took. We had to untangle the Louisiana chapter from the bigger story, because some of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers’ work is well known. For example, Walker Evans worked with James Agee on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), and Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is perhaps the most famous of the images in the FSA-OWI collection. Both of them took a few photos on their way through Louisiana, in fact.

But it’s easy to forget that Evans and Lange were just two of the photographers Roy E. Stryker sent across the nation to record the need for and, later, the results of the Resettlement Agency (RA) and the FSA programs between 1935 and 1943. Stryker brought together an amazing group of photographers who not only shot federal programs in action but also documented on film the folkways, traditions, and customs of the areas they visited.

We realized that the three principal photographers that worked Louisiana for the FSA needed to be examined as a set. Images of Depression-Era Louisiana specifically addresses the work of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott and the incredible photographs they took in the state. The local culture of Louisiana has a texture and variety set apart from other parts of the south and the country, and they had captured some part of it. A series of Russell Lee’s negatives of the 1938 Crowley Rice Festival are preserved, along with Marion Post Wolcott’s images of Spanish muskrat trappers and their families in St. Bernard Parish. And those are but two series among the 4,000 Louisiana negatives still protected by the Library of Congress.

Bryan: My question is, What is like the FSA project today?  Can we imagine similar projects that help us to really see one another, across the vastness of American spaces, divisions, and social classes? Public policy is fundamentally about making choices, and the only way to make informed choices is with good information. In our image-saturated world, we forget that a picture is worth a thousand words, and there were a lot fewer pictures in the 1930s. The FSA photographers rendered invisible people and places suddenly visible. The boldness and vision of it are still inspiring.


To appreciate more thoroughly the FSA-OWI collection, its unprecedented achievement, and the remarkable dedication and vision of Stryker and the photographers, we recommend the following books:

Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan, eds, Documenting America, 1935–1943 (University of California Press, 1988). This book includes a general history of photography at the time, along with suggestions regarding how to read the larger FSA-OWI file. The editors focus on each photographer by choosing significant series they took and discussing these series in more detail, along with including memorable photographs from it. For example, they describe and explain Russell Lee’s photographs of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans in 1942.

Gilles Mora and Beverly W. Brannan, eds. FSA: The American Vision (Abrams, 2006). This book will prove especially useful for readers who want a more general history of the RA, FSA, and OWI. It also includes brief histories of Stryker and the individual photographers, along with some of their memorable photos.

Jack Hurley, Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties (LSU Press, 1972). Hurley’s focus specifically on Stryker allows for a more thorough account of the photographers’ fearless leader and his motivations for creating this unprecedented photographic collection.

Howard Greenfeld, Ben Shahn: An Artist’s Life (Random House, 1998). Greenfeld records Shahn’s life from childhood, including his family’s immigration to America, through his RA and FSA years and beyond. This book explains why Shahn, a painter, took photographs that are included in the FSA-OWI collection.

Jack Hurley, Russell Lee, Photographer (Morgan and Morgan, 1978). Hurley provides a more comprehensive biography of Lee, who continued to work with Stryker even after the FSA years.

Paul Hendrickson, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott. (Knopf, 1992). Hendrickson includes Wolcott’s responses to certain photos since he interviewed her decades after she took them. This book offers interesting insight into her personality and her experiences as a woman photographer at the time.

P. O’Donnell, The Great Big Doorstep, with an introduction by Bryan Giemza and an afterword by Eudora Welty (LSU Press, 2015). This Depression-era comic novel set in Louisiana inspired Images of Depression-Era Louisiana and our more in-depth inquiries into the photographers and the photographs they took of the state during this time.

John H. Scott with Cleo Scott Brown, Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana (University of South Carolina Press, 2003). This book is a must read for those interested in how the federal projects affected the Louisiana people as it records an African American’s experience of Separate but Equal policies as they pertained to federal projects in the South during the FSA years.

Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices (1941; Basic Books, 2002).  Edwin Rosskam curated from across the FSA collections the photographs in this collection reflecting black experience in that time and place.  The accompanying text from famed African American writer Richard Wright makes the volume even more memorable.


Bryan Giemza is director of the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Libraries. He is the author of Irish Catholic Writers and the Invention of the American South.

Originally from Thibodaux, Louisiana, Maria Hebert-Leiter teaches at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke.

Buy Images of Depression-Era Louisiana today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


15
Dec 17

How Memory Alters History: Books on Heroes, Villains, and the American Past

When I heard John McCain invoke Theodore Roosevelt as his “favorite philosopher” during the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, it got me thinking: who else has praised Roosevelt as an inspiration? It turns out that countless politicians from both sides of the aisle summon Theodore Roosevelt as a political lodestar, but so do advertising agencies, artists, comedians, and impersonators. Over the last century, Roosevelt has inspired poets, architects, motion picture producers, theatre directors, and presidential biographers. Each representation of Roosevelt differs, not only in the actual depiction, but in the remembrance of the past and the rationale for doing so. Theodore Roosevelt’s Ghost: The History and Memory of an American Icon examines the portrayals of Roosevelt, the agency of memorializers, and the historical contexts that underpin commemoration. What emerges is a complicated portrait of a many-sided former president, created by successive generations of memorializers. Roosevelt’s legacy is not his own; it belongs to us because through the act of remembering the past, we create it.


Merrill D. Peterson’s work on legacy in American history drew me to this study of Roosevelt. His treatment of Jefferson, Lincoln, and John Brown as figures of changing meaning has defined the field. Since Peterson’s groundbreaking work,Roessner, Amber. Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America (LSU Press, 2014). several other historians have illuminated the prism of American history through memory studies of key individuals. Here are five recent works:

Roessner, Amber. Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America (LSU Press, 2014). Memorialization takes place in all walks of life, not least in sports, where athletes become deities or devils to fanatics. The American pastime has its share of characters and Roessner demonstrates how baseball’s sportswriters created public images of the games’ early heroes and villains. Like presidential biographers, Roessner shows the essential subjectivity of writers.

Greenberg, David. Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004). As for the leading books on presidential images, Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow ranks as a favorite. Eloquently written, and intensively researched, it depicts the changing portrait of Nixon from California populist to global statesman. What Greenberg adeptly explains is how dependent our modern political system rests on image construction and hero-worship.

Lengel, Edward. Inventing George Washington: America’s Founder, in Myth and Memory (Harper, 2011). While Nixon languishes at the bottom of most rankings of American presidents, Washington usually tops the same lists, yet his legacy has undergone as turbulent a time. Editor of Washington’s Papers Edward Lengel sketches the first president’s legacy and agents of commemoration in Inventing George Washington. From the “marble man” almost unblemished in early biographies, to the efforts of debunkers that knocked the Founder’s greatness, Lengel explains that even the most revered American heroes have their detractors and mythmakers.

Cook, Robert. Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (LSU Press, 2011). This book provided some inspiration around anniversaries. His examination of the Civil War centennial in the 1960s, during the ongoing civil rights movement, demonstrates the power of the present on the historical past.

Carwardine, Richard and Jay Sexton. Global Lincoln (Oxford University Press, 2011). Finally, American history exists in a wider, global context and the essays in Global Lincoln show the rail-splitter from an international perspective. In the twentieth century, Lincoln had meaning for Latin Americans, Russians, and Irish people, reminding us that American narratives of leadership go far beyond its own shores.


Michael Patrick Cullinane is a reader in modern U.S. history at Roehampton University, London, and the author of Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism, 1898–1909, and coauthor of The Open Door Era: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century.

Buy Theodore Roosevelt’s Ghost today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


08
Dec 17

Another Kind of Fiction: Ed Falco and Wolf Moon Blood Moon

Wolf Moon Blood Moon is a debut poetry collection, but I’ve been reading and writing poetry since I was a teenager. It wasn’t until grad school at Syracuse University, in my mid- to late- twenties, when I came under the influence of the writer George P. Elliott, that I fell deeply in love with the short story and started focusing most of my writing energy on fiction. Even during those years, I wrote very short stories—pieces ranging from a paragraph to a few pages—and much of that work was published in literary journals as prose poems. For a long time, I thought of fiction as writing that emphasized characters living through, and usually being changed by, a significant moment or event or series of events in their lives; and I thought of poetry as writing that emphasized the use and arrangement of language in patterns of meaning, with the focus on language and meaning rather than on character and event. I still find that largely true, but these days I’ve come to think of all writing as one kind of fiction or another.

For me, the act of writing is always an act of invention shaped by a set of constraints, is a daily meditation, a way of thinking about my relationship to the world. Always, I’m trying to say something that’s true by listening to what I’m writing as I’m writing, by discovering the direction of the writing and being directed by my discoveries. And when things are going well, this seems to come from someplace below the level of consciousness. That’s the great pleasure of writing, the immersion in that creative space. Truth in that space, for me at least, is never the truth of what actually happened, but rather the truth that evolves out of the relationship between invention and design. A play has one kind of design (or set of constraints), poetry another, short fiction another, the novel another, etc., and each genre, each form, leads to a different kind of dreaming and another kind of fiction. Poetry is an especially intense kind of dreaming, which is why I read it with exponentially greater regularity than I attempt writing it.

I have scores of favorite poets and favorite poems, and I read them first of all for the experience I find in the reading, and second for what I can learn from them about how to write. The great poets are, of course, also the great teachers. (I don’t know how many times I’ve read and reread Theodore Roethke’s The Lost Son, but I’ve worn out a least a couple of editions.) The list below, however, is made up of ten contemporaries, all of them, with the exceptions of Ai and Claudia Emerson, still living and writing. They’re poets I read because I admire their work, and because I like trying to figure out just how they achieve such powerful effects with such regularity. I’ll highlight one of their books, but in every case the whole body of their work is worth exploring. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room or time to list every contemporary poet I admire, let alone even a smattering of the magnificent voices that still speak to us across the ages, but hopefully this will be a good starting place.


Ai, Sin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986). A magnificent story teller, Ai’s poems are daring explorations of the complex and often troubling recesses of the self, told through the appropriated voices of others. She’s a poet to read for her riveting dramatic monologues as well as the forthright, powerful, and convincing use of plain, austere language.

Denise Duhamel, Two and Two (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). It’s hard to pick one collection of Duhamel’s to single out for praise, but I’ll go with Two and Two for the stunning 9/11 poem, “Love Which Took Its Symmetry for Granted.”  Duhamel’s mastery of poetic forms, received and invented, is on display in this poem’s weaving of multiple voices into a chaotic narrative that captures the essence of that shocking moment and its effect on the American psyche. Duhamel is a wonder, and this is one of her best collections.

Stephen Dobyns, Black Dog Red Dog (Carnegie Mellon UP, 1990). Another terrific story teller, Dobyns is a writer to read for his use of the long line in poems that straddle the boundary between poetry and prose. With language that is subtly musical and bold, Dobyns’ poems speak with the power of the best, most concise, fiction.

Claudia Emerson, Late Wife (LSU Press, 2005). Late Wife is a book of poems that somehow manages to harness the narrative scope of a novel and the precise, compact language of a sonnet in chronicling the dissolution of a first marriage and start of a second. This is a book I’ve returned to again and again both for its imagery and its insight, for the way it speaks about the personal and makes it universal.

Alice Fulton, The Powers of Congress (Sarabande Books, 2001). Fulton is a magician who writes complex, multifaceted poems that explore a daunting range of subjects in a variety of poetic voices. There seems to be absolutely nothing she can’t do or won’t try. One hardly knows where to start praising the poems or the striking intelligence that informs them. I’m singling out Powers of Congress because it was my introduction to Fulton’s poetry, but since that collection she has continued to produce a body of stunning work. Start anywhere.

Stephen Gibson, Self-Portrait in a Door Length Mirror (University of Arkansas Press, 2017). I haven’t yet encountered a formalist poet more accomplished than Stephen Gibson. In this, his most recent collection, selected by Billy Collins as winner of the Miller Williams Prize, he writes carefully constructed poems of stunned outrage at the violence humanity has always endured and commonly condoned.  The deep interest of Gibson’s poetry through all his collections is the chaos of the human heart; and here, in Self-Portrait in a Door-length Mirror, he writes in full command of his subject and its formal expression.

David Kirby, House on Boulevard St. (LSU Press, 2007). Kirby’s big, inclusive, generous voice is irresistible. I love what the National Book Award committee wrote about Boulevard Street and happily repeat it here: “Digression and punctiliousness, directed movement and lollygagging, bemusement and piercing insight are among the many paradoxical dualities that energize and complicate the locomotion of his informed, capacious consciousness.” I especially like the use of “locomotion” in describing Kirby’s work. His poems often move like a locomotive rumbling across some new territory: you never know what you’ll see next out the window, but on Kirby’s train you can bet it will be entertaining and informative and you won’t be able to turn away.

Sharon Olds, Satan Says (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980). With a frankness that can at times be shocking, Olds explores states both emotional and sexual with great intensity. Her control of language, her magisterial manipulation of the line and image, her powerful figurative language as well as her direct, forthright speech, her skills both narrative and lyric—all are impressive and moving.

Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard (Mariner Books, 2007). In Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner wrote his two most commonly quoted sentences: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” He might well have been talking about Natasha Trethewey’s poetry, a body of work that explores the historical and personal in meticulously constructed, deeply affecting poems. These are poems to read for their craft, their power, and their insight into the many ways in which the past clings to the present.

Robert Wrigley, In the Bank of Beautiful Sins (Penguin Books, 1995). Wrigley’s sensual language is often so exact and accurate in its depiction of the natural world that the experience of reading feels visceral. I first read In the Bank of Beautiful Sins more than twenty years ago, but I return to it often to remind myself of the immense power of carefully chosen words to render a story unforgettable.


Ed Falco lives in the mountains of Blacksburg, Virginia. He teaches in the MFA program at Virginia Tech and edits the New River, an online journal of new media writing. A poetry contributor to the Southern Review, he has also published novels, short stories, and plays.

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17
Nov 17

Finding Promise in Poetry

It’s rare that I write a poem that doesn’t in some way draw upon the work I have read by other poets, writers or artists, be they living or dead, famous or lesser known. Throughout the house, small stacks of books and magazines of poetry, essays, art catalogs, fiction and non-fiction, entice me to spend time with them every day.  While reading, I keep a running list of words and phrases that inspire me, spark my interest or look like they might be good source material for one of my own poems.

In my third collection, Promise, the titles of several of my poems owe debts to other writers’ works. For instance, “Housewife as Poet” came about after I read “Poet as Housewife” in a 2009 issue of Poetry magazine written by contemporary Dutch poet Elisabeth Eybers. For another poem title, I borrowed the phrase “The Book of Usable Minutes” from the first line of the poem, “Train Rising Out of the Sea” by late great John Ashbery. After reading the artist Jenny Holzer’s truisms in her “The Living Series” and “Laments,” I re-purposed her words and phrases in two of my poems. As Trent Brown noted in his recent LSU Press Blog post, Tennessee Williams is a vibrant source and my poem “The Kindness of Strangers” lifts its title and other diction from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It feels often like I’m making word collages as I add layers of text and images that I have discovered through reading others.

Over the years of building my poetry library, my gratitude has increased for the many presses committed to publishing poetry, LSU Press being one of them. In graduate school, I was introduced to the work of Jay Wright in his collected poems Transfigurations (LSU Press, 2000) and continue to be intrigued by his distinctive depictions of the poet in place and time. I have earmarked about half the pages in Liesel Mueller’s Alive Together (LSU Press, 1996) in admiration for her deft ability to describe living lyrically and unabashedly. In Bonneville, from Elixir Press (2007), Liesel’s poet daughter, Jenny Mueller offers poems of introspection in varied landscapes. In Matt Rassmussen’s Black Aperture (LSU Press, 2012) I was jolted from the comfort of my morning reading chair into these bold and tender variations on a sibling’s suicide.


In addition to reading poems in books, magazines and online, I also rely upon anthologies and collections of essays about poetry and art to support the creation of my work and broaden my knowledge and experience. Here are just a few of the many resources I hold dear.

Mary Oliver, Upstream (Penguin, 2016). Encouraging essays about writing and paying attention.

Carl Phillips, The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (Graywolf, 2014). Chock full of compelling reasons to write poetry with emphasis on assertion and resistance.

Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr, American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan, 2002). Excellent revelations about craft and theory from the perspective of ten featured writers.

J.D. McClatchy, editor, Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth Century Poets (University of California Press, 1989). Intoxicating essays about art from diverse poetic points of view.

Ed Hirsch, How to Read a Poem and Fall In Love With Poetry (Harcourt, Brace 1999). An engaging love to song to poetry in all its forms with an indispensable Glossary.

Molly Peacock, How to Read a Poem . . . and Start a Poetry Circle (Riverhead, 1999). Illuminating lessons on how to look, hear and make poetry part of your life.

Susan Stewart, The Open Studio: Essays on Art and Aesthetics (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Lucid examinations of the creative process in contemporary art.

Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperPerennial, 1998). Exacting and sensitive accounts revealing the magic, mystery and power of poetry.


Sally Van Doren has published two previous poetry collections with LSU Press: Sex at Noon Taxes (2008) and Possessive (2012). Her poems have appeared in many literary journals, including American Poet, Boulevard, the Cincinnati Review, the New Republic, and the Southern Review. She has taught poetry at the 92nd Street Y in New York and curates the Sunday Poetry Workshops for the St. Louis Poetry Center.

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10
Nov 17

Understanding the Televisual South

It’s hard to turn on the television and not think about the U.S. South. From reality shows such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Southern Charm, and Duck Dynasty, to fear-inducing thrillers like The Walking Dead, True Blood, and True Detective, and bingeable shows including Atlanta, Ozark, Queen Sugar, and Dexter, the U.S. South seems to be broadcast everywhere, functioning on the small-screen as a spectacle of fascination, ridicule, danger, and desire.

Even when the South isn’t the central setting of the show, it somehow manages to work its way into the frame. Take, for example, HBO’s latest David Simon and George Pelecanos venture The Deuce, set in Manhattan in the late seventies. Not even five episodes in, and there we are outside a barbeque restaurant on the outskirts of Charlotte as one of the main characters—a prostitute named Darlene—lures an unsuspecting “country cousin” back with her to the city and into the sex-industry of 42nd street. It’s not hard to think of other examples of shows harnessing the South’s signifying powers, often engendering the region in the process—Charlotte as “southern belle” on Sex in the City, or Detective Amanda Rollins’ role as southerner on the long-running Law and Order: SVU. The premise and pleasure of these series emerges in part from their play with foundational myths of southern womanhood and ideas about region in relation to nation.

Yet this “southern programming” is hardly a new phenomenon. From 1960s favorites The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies to the 80s and 90s series Dallas and A Different World and the 2000s teen drama One Tree Hill, the U.S. South has managed to hold on through multiple TV turns. Of course, some of the recent proliferation of the South on television is a result of the numerous tax incentives the industry has received from southern states and cities eager to bring new business into their borders. Regardless of one’s geographical home, there’s a good chance a TV viewer has been watching some version of the South for years—and in turn people in the South have been watching themselves imagined on the small screen.

While recent collections such as Deborah Barker and Katherine McKee’s American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary have stirred interest in visual representations of the region, the role of television, we noticed, was largely neglected, despite a proliferation of programming set in and about the South. Our work in Small-Screen Souths: Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television seeks to fill in this gap and to raise meaningful questions about what it means to watch the South across the domestic intimacy and public ubiquity of the televisual medium. As the first book-length study broadly dedicated to the relationship between television and the U.S. South, our collection considers the region and its televisual archive from the classical network era to our contemporary “post-broadcast” era, focusing on how the televisual South speaks to national and transnational transformations, including changing ways of thinking about race, class, gender, and regional identity itself.

We worked consciously to solicit work from contributors from diverse fields, so as to emphasize the variety of intellectual approaches that are possible at the intersections of television, regionalism, nationalism, and globalization, and to reflect a nuanced vision of place. The result, we think, is an intensely readable and teachable collection of sixteen essays that offer dynamic new ways of thinking about the televisual South.


A few key texts functioned as foundational scholarship for our understanding of the relationship between the U.S. South and mass media in Small-Screen Souths: Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television.

Deborah Barker and Kathryn McKee, American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary (UGA Press, 2011). This book is a key inspiration for our collection: we admire its scope, its readability, and the way in which it persuasively makes the case that that, far from being a marginal or merely regional set of tropes and images, the South has been integral to the development of filmmaking on a national scale. Barker and McKee’s concept of “the southern imaginary,” which they define as “an amorphous and sometimes conflicting collection of images, ideas, attitudes, practices, linguistic accents, histories, and fantasies about a shifting geographic region and time,” was influential for our development of our central concept of the “televisual South.”

Karen L. Cox, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture (UNC Press, 2013). Cox traces the history of the U.S. South in popular culture from the late nineteenth century through World War II, drawing attention to the establishment of key southern icons—the mammy, the belle, the plantation—in film, popular music, radio, and literature, while emphasizing the connections between regional and national identity.

Allison Graham, Framing the South: Hollywood, Television, and Race during the Civil Rights Struggle (Johns Hopkins UP, 2003). Graham brilliantly surveys the ways in which the media, particularly television and film, presented southerners during the period of the civil rights revolution, with a special emphasis on how films have confronted—or avoided—issues of racism.

Jack T. Kirby, Media-Made Dixie: The South In the American Imagination (UGA Press, 2004). Kirby’s study develops a portrait of how “Dixie” comes into fashion through popular culture from early cinematic sensations such as The Birth of a Nation to the plays and cinematic adaptations of Tennessee Williams to Jimmy Carter’s presidency. While we offer a different portrait of the South and popular culture than Kirby, his book is an early touchstone text in a developing conversation about the interplay between mass culture and regional identity.

Amanda D. Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized (NYU Press, 2007). Lotz persuasively details how the television is not dead in the age of digital media and the “post-network” era; rather, she argues, it is being “revolutionized” by portable viewing devices and digital recording.

Anna McCarthy, Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Duke UP, 2001). Arguing against the ways that television studies has long focused on domestic spaces, McCarthy examines how television is a pervasive phenomenon outside the home, filling our time in airports, sporting events, and waiting rooms. She also discusses the different roles that television plays in these contexts, focusing on how “ambient television” mobilizes us into captive audiences for ideas about gender, class, and consumption.

Tara McPherson, Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South (Duke UP, 2003). McPherson’s masterful book reinvigorated southern studies through inventively drawing on a diverse archive—fiction, film, television, southern studies scholarship, journalism, music, tourist sites, the internet, and autobiography—to reveal how the “lenticular logic” that has dominated the U.S. South’s remembering of its past has also shaped our national identity.

Scott Romine, The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction (LSU Press, 2008). Romine examines what it means to understand the U.S. South in the “age of cultural reproduction,” wherein cultural identity must be understood within the broader context of mass media, global corporations, and the logic of commodification. Romine’s compelling arguments about artifice, authenticity, and “reality” resonate throughout our collection.


Lisa Hinrichsen, associate professor of English and director of graduate studies at the University of Arkansas, is the author of Possessing the Past: Trauma, Imagination, and Memory in Post-Plantation Southern Literature.

Gina Caison is assistant professor of English at Georgia State University.

Stephanie Rountree is a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Department of English at Auburn University.

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03
Nov 17

Five Howard Chaykin-esque Contemporary Comics

In Neon Visions, I discuss the ways in which Howard Chaykin’s work, once routinely hailed as groundbreaking in its themes and innovative in exploiting the unique properties of the comics medium, has in recent years been underappreciated or mis-understood in academic comics studies and comics fandom alike. But what about within the world of comics artists and writers? How have comic creators both within and beyond the mainstream responded to the work of an artist who expanded the boundaries of the possible in monthly adventure-genre comics? Here are five works indirectly or directly shaped by Chaykin’s influence.


Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon, Casanova (Image Comics, 2006-). Superstar indie comics writer Matt Fraction is an avowed Howard Chaykin fan and a frequent collaborator, most notably on Satellite Sam, an unblinking look at the seamy underbelly of 1950s children’s television that Fraction has frequently described as “Howard Chaykin fan-fiction.” But I tend to think of Casanova as the true spiritual successor to Chaykin titles such as American Flagg! or Time2. With Brazilian artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon trading art duties on alternating story arcs, Casanova is a series in which Fraction transforms a deeply personal and idiosyncratic set of obsessions and preoccupations into a crypto-autobiographical thrill ride.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Fatale (Image Comics, 2012-2014). Brubaker and Phillips have carved out a distinct niche for themselves doing sophisticated crime comics in a marketplace dominated by superheroes, expanding the territory that Chaykin helped to establish with series such as The Shadow and Black Kiss. Like Chaykin, Phillips is clearly an aficionado of classic twentieth century American illustration, and his elegant, moody art calls to mind the work of illustrators such as Robert Maguire or Robert McGinnis. I could have picked just about any of their collaborations for this spot – their anthology series Criminal, their supervillain crime caper Incognito, their blacklist-era Hollywood mystery The Fade Out – but their supernatural noir Fatale seems to owe a clear debt to Black Kiss, picking up its themes of obsession, identity, and the place of women in genre entertainment and taking them in a new direction.

Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov, Fury MAX: My War Gone By (Marvel, 2012-2013). Chaykin’s Blackhawk drew acclaim and controversy for taking DC Comics’ stalwart, square-jawed, and slightly dull World War II aviator and putting him in a carefully researched, richly imagined historical context, eschewing “greatest generation” rhetoric for a nuanced look at the interlocking political forces and ideological fantasies that characterized the immediate pre-war years. Written by Garth Ennis – another sometime Chaykin collaborator, most notably on the WWI flying ace series War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle – and beautifully cartooned by Goran Parlov, My War Gone By makes a similar move with Marvel Comics’ World-War-II-hero-turned-superspy Nick Fury, transporting the character to (somewhat) more realistically imagined post-war hotspots like Vietnam and Cuba for a tale about the follies of American empire. (Side note: Goran Parlov is also the artist for Marvel’s The Punisher: Welcome to the Bayou by Baton Rouge’s own Victor Gischler, a story in which the Punisher dresses up in an LSU tracksuit.)

Ho Che Anderson, King: A Comics Biography (Fantagraphics Books, 1993-2003, 2010). Chaykin is one of Anderson’s oft-cited inspirations, and the evidence is all over his monumental graphic biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. – not only in the clashing patterns and textures and disorienting page layouts that recall Black Kiss and Time2 but also in Anderson’s consideration of both the value and danger of American mythology, in his attention to the place of human failings and foibles in grand political narratives, and in his unsettling depiction of the ways in which mass media shapes our response to and understanding of history.

Michel Fiffe, Copra (2012-). Fiffe’s one-man showcase – long available only through his Etsy store, now available digitally – began as a love letter to titans of 1980s comics such as Chaykin, Frank Miller, and Bill Sienkiewicz, filtered through an affectionate riff on John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s classic Suicide Squad. As the series evolved, however, it became clear that the series was something purely his own, an eye-popping visual delight whose sketch-on-the-back-of-a-notebook energy was the expression of an original and uncontainable vision. Taking secondhand scraps of genre entertainment and making them truly your own – I can’t think of anything more Chaykin-esque than that.


Brannon Costello, associate professor of English at Louisiana State University, is the editor of Howard Chaykin: Conversations and Conversations with Michael Chabon; and, with Qiana J. Whitted, coeditor of Comics and the U.S. South.

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20
Oct 17

Writing Hood’s Texas Brigade: Books on Civil War Soldiers and Families

Over the last fifteen years, historians have increased their focus on the indelible link between Civil War military units and their families and home communities. This connection played a defining role in soldiers’ decisions to volunteer, to continue or abandon their military service, and veterans’ ability to adapt to postwar life. While historians have recognized the influence of regional and cultural traditions, class, and age in shaping enlistment or desertion patterns, it is only recently that scholars have come to appreciate the significance of Civil War units as communities in their own right that reflected the values of the families and towns in which they were raised and to which many of them returned.

As a war and society scholar by training, my research and writing were first influenced by this new approach to Civil War unit histories about ten years ago. Early drafts of my book Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit focused on traditional questions of military service: Why did these men volunteer? Why did they continue to serve? What drew them to this unit? What motivated them in combat? What made this such an elite brigade? How did the war change these men? I came to realize, though, that while I was studying the men in battle, in camp, and on campaign, they focused instead on events at home. They worried about their wives managing their farm, the diseases that plagued their children and livestock, and economic devastation that could follow poor crops and worse weather. Texas Brigade soldiers certainly discussed the war and what it meant to them, their families, and their communities. They struggled to describe the horrors of a battlefield and the fear and exhilaration combat inspired. But this was only a part of their wartime experience. To capture the full picture, I realized that I had to study their families and home communities too. Not just their socio-economic backgrounds, but rather the familial and community connections that I saw reflected in their companies, regiments, and brigade. I noticed references to men on neighboring farms in letters home, and how casualty lists often predicted long term economic as well as personal hardships for entire communities. Only by incorporating these issues could I understand the Texas Brigade’s full experience in the Civil War.


Seeking the help of other scholars, I turned most often to these books (and sometimes to conversations with manuscripts in progress) while writing Hood’s Texas Brigade:

Ward Hubbs’ Guarding Greensboro: A Confederate Company in the Making of a Southern Community (University of Georgia Press, 2003) and Richard M. Reid’s Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). Ward Hubbs and Richard Reid were models of the argument that, when analyzing a Civil War unit, scholars must examine soldiers and their home communities as one entity. Companies and regiments become their own communities, but their families constantly pulled on them, supported them, and inspired them. A volunteer’s civilian roots, Reid and Hubbs remind us, could infect soldiers with petty grievances, but they also offered a much-needed support structure and could inspire a tremendous willingness to sacrifice.

Lesley J. Gordon’s A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2014) examines a unit known during the war for their failures rather than their successes. But through the veterans’ and their families’ efforts to reclaim their honor and redefine their service, a broken unit became a celebrated regiment.

In Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era (Fordham University Press, 2017), Ryan W. Keating rightly argues that it was connections to soldiers’ home communities, more than their ethnic traditions, that proved their strongest motivating influence.

In General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (Free Press, 2008), Joseph T. Glatthaar analyzes the socio-economic influences, political connections, and relationships between officers and men that helped make the Army of Northern Virginia so successful but that also sowed the seeds of its defeat.

These works influenced my conclusion that when we study Civil War soldiers’ military service, it’s not just their service that we need to understand. Units raised from neighborhoods and small towns were reflections of their families and the entire community. When regiments were celebrated or castigated in the press or long after the war, so too were the families and communities from which they came. Sweeping studies of Civil War soldier service and motivation like James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades or Kenneth Noe’s Reluctant Rebels were path breaking, but historians are right to now argue that service in specific units and a man’s home community could have just as much influence on a soldier’s wartime behavior than the more commonly studied factors of age and socio-economic background.

In the Texas Brigade, for example, men volunteered to serve over a thousand miles from home despite the fact they could have fought much closer to their homes without dishonor. They returned to their brigade after capture or wounds despite the unusually high casualty rates their regiments suffered, and they made these dangerous decisions when desertion rates in the army overall were rising. The officers and men of the Texas Brigade expected much from each other and gave much to each other, they came from families who were able to sustain that level of sacrifice. These men returned to communities where the brigade’s veterans and families continued to support one another long after the war ended. They remind us that this new approach to writing unit histories — which examines the interconnected experiences of soldiers, families, and home communities — is essential to more fully understanding the Civil War generation.


Susannah J. Ural, Ph.D. is author of the forthcoming Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit with LSU Press. She is professor of history and co-director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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