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Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War

New in 2012!

About the Program

Making Sense of the American Civil War is a scholar-led reading and discussion program for public audiences, presented by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association's Public Programs Office.

Organizations in 36 states and the District of Columbia have agreed to administer a statewide reading and discussion program for libraries or other programming sites in their states. In South Carolina, the administering organization is The Humanities CouncilSC.

Beginning January 2012, The Humanities CouncilSC will make this program available to libraries and non-profit organizations around the state.  At least four programs will take place in South Carolina during 2012, with additional programs to be offered in subsequent years.   To reserve this exciting new series, interested libraries and organizations must contact our office at (803) 771-2477 prior to completing the application form.

Each site will host a series of reading and discussion sessions over a four- to five-week period. Sessions will take place every two to four weeks, depending on program site preferences, and feature group discussion led by a qualified humanities scholar (a different scholar for each discussion). At each session, the conversation will focus on a different facet of the Civil War experience, using one or more common texts as a foundation and touchstone.  

The Humanities CouncilSC has identified a humanities scholar with expertise in the Civil War to serve as the statewide project scholar for the first year of this program. The state project scholar will serve in an advisory role, offering advice and consult to applicants, host sites and potential applicants. In addition, the state project scholar will lead and facilitate the opening session/discussion at each of the four host sites. Host sites are responsible for scheduling all scholar-led discussions (4-5), including the opening session, and will work with the state project scholar directly to schedule the opening session/discussion. The Humanities Councilsc is pleased to name Dr. T. Lloyd Benson, Walter Kenneth Mattison Professor of History at Furman University, as the state project scholar for this program. Applicants may contact Dr. Benson by phone: (864) 294-3492 or by email: lloyd.benson@furman.edu. Dr. Benson has prepared a bibliography of selected readings related to South Carolina and the Civil War.

Selected bibliography prepared by Dr. T. Lloyd Benson

The reading list includes works of historical fiction and interpretation, speeches, diaries, memoirs, biographies, and short stories. Readings also include an introductory essay, which provides context for the entire Making Sense of the American Civil War series and for each of the five sessions. The essay was written by the national project scholar: Edward L. Ayers, President of the University of Richmond, historian of the American South, and digital history pioneer. Professor Ayers also selected the reading materials and topics of conversation for the program.

Reading Selections

Making Sense of the American Civil War is designed as a series of five conversations exploring different facets of the Civil War experience, informed by reading the words written or uttered by powerful voices from the past and present.

The series focuses on three books: March by Geraldine Brooks, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam by James McPherson, and America’s War: Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on Their 150th Anniversaries, edited by Edward L. Ayers. A complete list of readings for the five-part series appears below.

Session One: Imagining the War

Geraldine Brooks, March [2005]

Selection from the anthology America’s War [2011]

            Louisa May Alcott, “Journal kept at the hospital, Georgetown, D.C.” [1862]

Sessions Two: Choosing Sides

Selections from the anthology America's War

            Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" [1852]

            Henry David Thoreau, "A Plea for Captain John Brown" [1859]

            Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address [March 4, 1861]

             Alexander H. Stephens, "Cornerstone" speech [March 21, 1861]

             Robert Montague, Secessionist speech at Virginia secession convention [April 1-2, 1861]

             Chapman Stuart, Unionist speech at Virginia secession convention [April 5, 1861]

            Elizabeth Brown Pryor, excerpt from Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through his Private Letters [2007]

             Mark Twain, "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed" [1885]

            Sarah Morgan, excerpt from The Diary of a Southern Woman [May 9, May 17, 1862]

Session Three: Making Sense of Shiloh

Selections from the anthology America's War

            Ambrose Bierce, "What I Saw of Shiloh" [1881]

            Ulysses Grant, excerpt from the Memoirs [1885]

            Shelby Foote, excerpt from Shiloh [1952]

            Bobbie Ann Mason, "Shiloh" [1982]

            General Braxton Bragg, speech to the Army of the Mississippi [May 3, 1862]

Session Four: The Shape of War

James M. McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam [2002]

Selections from the anthology America's War

            Drew Gilpin Faust, excerpt from This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War [2008]

            Gary W. Gallagher, “The Net Result of the Campaign was in Our Favor: Confederate Reaction to 1862 Maryland Campaign” [1999]

Session Five: War and Freedom

Selections from the anthology America's War

            Abraham Lincoln, address on colonization [1862]

            John M. Washington, "Memorys [sic] of the Past" [1873]

            Abraham Lincoln, Emancipation Proclamation [1863]

            Frederick Douglass, "Men of Color, To Arms!" [March 1863]

            Abraham Lincoln, letters to James C. Conkling [1863] and Albert G. Hodges [1864]

            Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address [1863]

            James S. Brisbin, report on U.S. Colored Cavalry in Virginia [Oct. 2, 1864]

            Colored Citizens of Nashville, Tennessee, "Petition to the Union Convention of Tennessee Assembled in the Capitol at Nashville" [January 9, 1865]

            Margaret Walker, excerpt from Jubilee [1966]

            Leon Litwack, excerpt from Been in the Storm So Long [1979]

            Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 1865.