After studying lynching and racial violence in the South, W. Fitzhugh Brundage's interests shifted to the study of historical memory and American mass culture. In The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (2005), he traces the contests over memory that divided white and black southerners during the past century and a half. In Beyond Blackface: African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930 (2011), he brought together musicologists, cultural historians, literary scholars, and drama historians to explore the role of African Americans as creators and consumers of popular culture. His most recent book, Civilizing Torture: An American Tradition (2018), examines debates about torture, democracy, and civilization from the age of contact to the twenty-first century. He is currently completing a book on Civil War prisoner of war camps.
With mounting certainty after 1820, opponents of American slavery asserted that torture was innate to slavery. This contention acquired particular resonance at a time when other forms of violent coercion were under scrutiny in the United States. Associating torture with slavery was essential to the delegitimization of the institution as well as the articulation of nascent notions of human rights in the United States.