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.
From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, prisoner of war camps may appear to be an innate feature of war. Some system of incarceration for enemy captives has been a practical necessity in most military endeavors. Yet, by assuming that prisoner of war camps are a fact of war, we too easily overlook the innovation that the Civil War camps represented. Prison pens, as they were initially referred to then, were not the product of a gradual evolution. The Civil War prison camps were, until the prison and internment camps of World War Two, the largest experiment in creating closed, total institutions in American history. The prison pens became unprecedented laboratories for the calibrated treatment of prisoners.