Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South

Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South

Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South

Confederate Minds: The Struggle for Intellectual Independence in the Civil War South

Synopsis

During the Civil War, Confederates fought for much more than their political independence. They also fought to prove the distinctiveness of the Southern people and to legitimate their desire for a separate national existence through the creation of a uniquely Southern literature and culture. In this important new book, Michael Bernath follows the activities of a group of Southern writers, thinkers, editors, publishers, educators, and ministers--whom he labels Confederate cultural nationalists--in order to trace the rise and fall of a cultural movement dedicated to liberating the South from its longtime dependence on Northern books, periodicals, and teachers. During the Civil War, Confederates fought for much more than their political independence. They also fought to prove the distinctiveness of the Southern people and to legitimate their desire for a separate national existence through the creation of a uniquely Southern literature and culture. In this important new book, Michael Bernath follows the activities of a group of Southern writers, thinkers, editors, publishers, educators, and ministers--whom he labels Confederate cultural nationalists--in order to trace the rise and fall of a cultural movement dedicated to liberating the South from its longtime dependence on Northern books, periodicals, and teachers. This struggle for Confederate "intellectual independence" was seen as a vital part of the larger war effort. For the Southern nationalists, independence won on the battlefield would be meaningless as long as Southerners remained in a state of cultural "vassalage" to their enemy. As new Confederate publications appeared at a surprising rate and Southerners took steps toward establishing their own system of education, cultural nationalists believed they saw the Confederacy coalescing into a true nation. Ultimately, however, Confederates proved no more able to win their intellectual independence than their political freedom. By analyzing the motives driving the struggle for Confederate intellectual independence, by charting its wartime accomplishments, and by assessing its failures, Bernath makes provocative arguments about the nature of Confederate nationalism, life within the Confederacy, and the perception of Southern cultural distinctiveness.

Excerpt

This book examines Confederate cultural nationalism during the Civil War. It explores the rise and fall of a cultural movement among white southerners dedicated to liberating the South from its intellectual “vassalage” to the North and to creating an autonomous and distinctly Confederate national culture. In the years leading up to the war, southern nationalists had continually decried the South’s dependence on northern print literature, but they were unable to convince southern readers to shun northern importations and support their own native productions. Secession dramatically altered the situation, however. Separate nationality and the coming of the war provided southern cultural nationalists with a new sense of purpose and urgency as well as a unique opportunity to actually achieve their long-cherished goal of southern cultural autonomy. With the Confederate reading public shut off from northern publishers and at last awakened to the dangers of northern culture, these nationalists found a receptive audience for their ideas and a captive market for their literature. As a result, the Confederacy witnessed a period of dramatically accelerated literary and cultural production during its short life. At its birth, the Confederacy lacked many of the cultural prerequisites for true nationhood, but Confederate writers, editors, publishers, teachers, and ministers were determined to write and publish their own books, periodicals, and textbooks, train their own teachers, and educate their own children, all amid the distractions and shortages of civil war.

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