Yale Historian to Examine Civil War in Civil Rights Era

Posted on: January 4th, 2012 by benita

David Blight

OXFORD, Miss. – A Yale historian will visit the University of Mississippi Nov. 16 to share his insights on Civil War remembrance as part of the Gilder-Jordan Speaker Series in Southern Cultural History.

David Blight will discuss his latest book, “American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era,” (Harvard University Press, 2011) in a free, public lecture at 7:30 p.m. in Nutt Auditorium. He plans to focus on the hold that the Civil War still has on American imagination, with his lecture, “American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era in Our Own Time.”

“I’ll do this in part by focusing on some or all of the writers I delve into in-depth in this new book: Robert Penn Warren, Bruce Catton, Edmund Wilson and James Baldwin,” Blight said. “Each of these important writers, who worked in very different forms and all came from very different backgrounds, were major voices of how Americans remembered the Civil War during the era of the civil rights movement.

“Above all, I will discuss the connections and conflicts between the Civil War centennial commemoration of the 1950s and 1960s and the civil rights movement, which as everyone knows, was so deeply and famously pivotal in Mississippi.”

Blight is a Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University. Before joining the Yale faculty in 2003, he taught at Amherst College for 13 years. In 2010-11, he was the Rogers Distinguished Fellow in Nineteenth Century American History at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif.

As director of Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, Blight has written and edited works about Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois and the underground railroad. In 2013, his biography, “Frederick Douglass: A Life,” will be published by Simon and Shuster.

Blight is a leading historian writing on the subjects of emancipation, the Civil War, Reconstruction and how people remembered and interpreted all three. His 2002 book, “Race and Reunion,” is a crucial work on Civil War memory, said Ted Ownby, director of the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“It traces three ways different groups of Americans remembered the Civil War – some thought primarily about emancipation, some about North-South reconciliation, some about white supremacy. It’s part social history, studying parades and organizations and the like; part intellectual history, studying the thought of historians and social theorists; and part political history, studying how memory mattered as parts of the political disputes of the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

That book was the winner of the Bancroft Prize and Merle Curti Prize, among several others.

Blight also has been active in writing about and editing the work of abolition leader Frederick Douglass.

“His latest book, ‘American Oracle,’ addresses two topics the University of Mississippi is making particularly strong efforts to study in 2011 and 2012, the Civil War and the civil rights movement,” Ownby said. “We’re delighted he can discuss that book as part of the Gilder-Jordan Speaker Series.”

In a review of “American Oracle,” filmmaker Ken Burns said, “The ghosts of the Civil War never leave us, as David Blight knows perhaps better than anyone, and in this superb book he masterfully unites two distant but inextricably bound events with insightful dissection of the works of our best writers, writers obsessed with coming to terms with our original sin.”

Blight, who has visited UM twice, said that he loves Oxford and Square Books.

The Gilder-Jordan Speaker Series, organized through the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the African American Studies Program, the Center for Civil War Research and the Department of History, and made possible through the generosity of the Gilder Foundation, Inc., honors Richard Gilder and his family, as well as his friends, Dan and Lou Jordan.  Gilder, one of America’s leading philanthropists, has supported the study of American history through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, and other organizations.  The Jordans are UM alumni living in Charlottesville, Va., where Dan Jordan, during his time as president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns Jefferson’s Virginia home, Monticello, revolutionized the organization’s efforts in fundraising, historic preservation, scholarship, education and community outreach.  Lou Jordan, an accomplished artist, also contributed significantly to Monticello’s programs and activities.

Gilder, Chiles and the Jordans will all be in attendance at the event.

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