Reflections on the 150th Anniversary of Reconstruction

Lecture Description

Despite a rich and rewarding academic literature on Reconstruction in the past half century, popular knowledge of the period following the Civil War remains very limited or flawed. This is in part because media and popular literature since the 1960s have focused on the Civil War and largely left the troubling story of Reconstruction untouched. Ken Burns’ The Civil War may be the most famous example of this phenomenon, but one could say the same thing about films such as Glory, Cold Mountain, and Lincoln. By comparison, Reconstruction was central in the early twentieth century films such as The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. Capitalizing on the ongoing 150th anniversary of this era, this lecture discusses the reasons for this popular retreat from engagement with the Reconstruction era, focusing on three “myths” held by many entering college students, namely that Reconstruction is a regional story only about the South, that Reconstruction’s failure was inevitable, and that Reconstruction was less radical and revolutionary than the Civil War.


Civil War and Reconstruction Public History and Memory

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