Dissertation Information for Sarah Elizabeth Gardner
MPACT Status: Incomplete - Inspected
Title: "Blood and irony": Southern women's narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1915
Abstract: This dissertation argues that in the wake of defeat, history assumed a preeminent importance for southern women who sought to reconsolidate their own identities through a reconstruction of the public presence of their region. Turning variously to fiction and non-fiction, southern women acting independently or through organizations contributed to a new and compelling collective memory of the Civil War. As that memory took shape, it never offered a single, static representation of the war, but rather multiple and constantly evolving versions that stretched from 1861 to the national debut of D. W. Griffith's 1915 epic Birth of a Nation. These women actively combated northern accounts of the war. Significantly, they did not, until the twentieth century, pay any attention to potential African-American claims upon that collective memory, and their texts effectively erased the African-American presence, which had figured prominently in antebellum southern culture and would attain growing importance throughout the twentieth century. To the winners of this cultural struggle went the assurance of popular acceptance and influence--authorship of a culturally sanctioned representation of the past. Through their efforts to secure that authorship for themselves, southern women helped to fashion a new cultural identity for the postbellum South and, increasingly, the nation as a whole. By the debut of Birth of a Nation, and especially the publication and film debut of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind in the late 1930s, their version had largely prevailed.
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