Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States

Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States

Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States

Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States

Synopsis

The pivotal era of Reconstruction has inspired an outstanding historical literature. In the half-century after W. E. B. DuBois published Black Reconstruction in America (1935), a host of thoughtful and energetic authors helped to dismantle racist stereotypes about the aftermath of emancipation and Union victory in the Civil War. The resolution of long-running interpretive debates shifted the issues at stake in Reconstruction scholarship, but the topic has remained a vital venue for original exploration of the American past. In Reconstructions: New Perspectives on the Postbellum United States, eight rising historians survey the latest generation of work and point to promising directions for future research. They show that the field is opening out to address a wider range of adjustments to the experiences and effects of Civil War. Increased interest in cultural history now enriches understandings traditionally centered on social and political history. Attention to gender has joined a focus on labor as a powerful strategy for analyzing negotiations over private and public authority. The contributors suggest that Reconstruction historiography might further thrive by strengthening connections to such subjects as western history, legal history, and diplomatic history, and by redefining the chronological boundaries of the postwar period. The essays provide more than a variety of attractive vantage points for fresh examination of a major phase of American history. By identifying the most exciting recent approaches to a theme previously studied so ably, the collection illuminates the creative process in scholarly historical literature.

Excerpt

Once likened to a dark and bloody ground, scholarship on Reconstruction now thrives less as a form of combat than as a collective building on a solid foundation. the making of that foundation is one of the most familiar chapters in the history of American historical literature. Many historiographical essays have recounted the rise and fall of the view of Reconstruction associated with William A. Dunning, one of the few renderings of the national past developed so systematically and comprehensively that it is customarily called a school of interpretation. the Dunning school studies that began to appear around the turn of the twentieth century featured assiduous research and an impressive breadth of attention to political, social, and economic transformations. But the critical perspective of the work was often badly distorted by

Bernard A. Weisberger, “The Dark and Bloody Ground of Reconstruction Historiogra
phy,” Journal of Southern History 25 (November 1959): 427-447. Other accounts of the rise and
fall of the Dunning school include A. A. Taylor, “Historians of the Reconstruction,” Journal
of Negro History
23 January 1938): 16-34; Francis B. Simkins, “New Viewpoints of South
ern Reconstruction,” Journal of Southern History 5 (February 1939): 49-61; Howard K. Beale,
“On Rewriting Reconstruction History,” American Historical Review 45 (July 1940): 807-827;
T. Harry Williams, “An Analysis of Some Reconstruction Attitudes,” Journal of Southern His
tory
12 (November 1946): 469-486; John Hope Franklin, “Whither Reconstruction Historiog
raphy?” Journal of Negro Education 17 (Autumn 1948): 446-461; Vernon L. Wharton, “Recon
struction,” in Writing Southern History: Essays in Historiography in Honor of Fletcher M. Green,
ed. Arthur S. Link and Rembert W. Patrick (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press,
1965), 295-315; Richard 0. Curry, “The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877: a Critical
Overview of Recent Trends and Interpretations,” Civil War History 20 (September 1974): 215
238; Eric Foner, “Reconstruction Revisited,” Reviews in American History 10 (December 1982):
82-100. Surveys of Reconstruction historiography since the mid-1980s are cited in the essays
in this collection.

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