Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Pick of the Week: Burying the Dead but not the Past

A decade or so back, the theme of historical memory had developed into a Juggernaut among academics. Well count me in - if there is anything more fascinating than an analysis of how people come to terms with - and remember - their history I don't know what it is. No joke. I have been elbow deep in this corner of scholarship for the better part of ten years, and I don't plan on slowing down at all.

A handful have suggested that the theme has run its course - that there may not be much left to talk about. Perhaps...just looking at all the book subtitles (i.e. "fill in the blank" in History and Memory) one might arrive at the conclusion that the topic has been drained dry.


I am happy to report that historical memory is alive and well. Thankfully so. But the literature is crying out for a set of revisions - CRYING. From where I sit - there is no final word on memory, so I applaud those who travel down well worn analytical paths to...I don't know, maybe find a few new ones.

Which brings me to the book pick of the week. Burying the Dead but not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause by Caroline E. Janney. If you thought you couldn't possibly learn anything new about the Lost Cause - well then you can just think again.

This is a wonderful book about the origins of the Lost Cause and Confederate memorialization. Janney suggests that rather than the much better known Daughters of the Confederacy in the late 19th century, earlier groups - Ladies Memorial Associations - were the designers of powerful Lost Cause mythology. What's more....and here is the real nugget folks - while upper and middle-class southern white women were not considered political actors in the traditional sense, their work with burials and Confederate Memorial Day activities suggests that they were indeed intensely political, and in fact were some of the chief proponents in keeping Confederate memory alive.

So have at it. And if you are ever in Richmond, be sure to visit Hollywood Cemetery and check out some of the LMAs finest work. They were instrumental in the reinternment of the Gettysburg Dead.
If you want to follow historian Kevin Levin's fantastic blog concerning Civil War Memory, click HERE.


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