Friday, April 8, 2011

Union Veterans, Westward Migration, and Nationalism....a Few Starting Points

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Since I’ll soon be looking at how Union veterans who migrated to the western United States commemorated the war from a new sectional perspective along an East-West orientation, rather than a North-South. I thought I would revisit some of the literature on the movement away from localism to nationalism in the broader commemorative ethos.

Analyses of a shift to an era defined by a new sense of national unity frames scholarship concerning the broader period of intensified national commemoration. Two examples of works outlining this cultural shift away from celebratory traditions steeped in localism are Michael Kammen’s Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture and John Bodnar’s Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century. While Kammen admits that many Civil War veterans for a time remained “unreconciled” due in large part to “regional chauvinism” and “spasmodic bursts of Northern aggressiveness,” he suggests that, in time, “selective memory helped eventually to facilitate reconciliation.”  Bodnar frames his work in part around late-nineteenth century divisions between a growing class of entrepreneurs and ordinary people that trumped the sectional divisions embedded in disunion. Ultimately, argues Bodnar, this contest would reconfigure national traditions away from localism and ensure the “political and cultural power of the nation-state.” Further, illuminating the selective nature of memory, many scholars have amplified how people in the present shape the vestiges of the past through today’s predilections. David Lowenthal, for example, in The Past is a Foreign Country, argues that Civil War remembrances illustrate how “past discord [was] simplified or played down, making times of violent strife seem remarkably benign and orderly.”

Ideas regarding individuals’ selectivity in crafting commemorative traditions, especially in public settings, remain extremely influential. At the Southern Historical Association conference held in Richmond, Virginia, between October 31 and November 3, 2007, papers delivered by Karen L. Cox, Alisa Harrison, and Joan Marie Johnson all suggested a historical “redevelopment” at sites of historical memory along reconciliatory lines saving southern tourism from embarrassing tributes to anything recalling the contentions of war. After a brief question and answer exchange, members of the panel agreed that sectional divergence was negligible. Rather, suggested one presenter, significant resonant sectional antipathy is merely a creation of scholars who mistakenly deem post-war sectionalism important.

These are my starting points – and the literature from where I sit is problematic – to say the least. Section was profoundly important to veterans' nationalistic views in the East. My principal inquiry: how to they transpose their views in an entirely new regional setting? I think I am going to really enjoy this new project.



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