Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial

Article excerpt

Remixing the Civil War: Meditations on the Sesquicentennial * Edited by Thomas J. Brown * Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011 * xii, 238 pp. * $50.00 cloth; $25.00 paper

Beginning with editor Thomas J. Brown's reassessment of Robert Penn Warren's 1961 decree that the war constituted the "great single event of our history," Remixing the Civil War's eight contributors attempt to explore and "remix" how Americans remember the Civil War in settings and venues "beyond the framework of professional scholarship" (p. 2). Regardless of whether or not Warren's centennial dictum requires renovation as the sesquicentennial unfolds - and the jury seems split on the matter, as it probably was in 1961 - the book stands as an achievement of interdisciplinary collaboration among scholars of history, southern studies, art, and English. Nuanced interpretations of visual art, literature, reenactment, photography, poetry, and film collide to fashion an eye-opening, though sometimes eclectic, aggregate of high political meanings and even higher cultural significances rooted in late twentieth- and early rwenty-first-century representations of the Civil War.

The level of sophistication consistent throughout Remixing the Civil War is, to some extent, double-edged. On one hand, thoughtful contributions like Elizabeth Young's "Lincoln and the Civil War in Twenty-First-Century Photography" or Gerard Brown's "Reenactment and Relic: The Civil War in Contemporary Art" are not only absorbing but also connect the war, often provocatively, to current political events. Young probes the war's visual legacy to arrange an in-depth accounting of race in Civil War photography. Brown explores how memories of the war inform social and political issues ranging from America's War on Terror to gay culture and gender mores. To their credit, both authors push analysis of Civil War remembrance and the war's continued cultural traction past lines Warren never could have imagined possible in 1961. On the other hand, these essays, along with others, move rapidly through the channels of an unavoidably lofty and artistic intellectual realm - one that may occasionally prove inaccessible to general readers. …