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American Studies Lecture Series: The American Civil War after 150 years: An Unfinished War?


Admission Requirements



The election of Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican president in 1860 prompted eleven southern states to form a slaveholding republic, the Confederate States of America, sparking a four-year war that came close to destroying the United States. Long considered the last “gentlemen’s war,” the Civil War was nonetheless bloody: almost as many soldiers lost their lives between 1861 and 1865 as were killed in all America’s other wars combined. Moreover, the Civil War had a savage underside that was far from chivalrous. Savage guerilla warfare ravaged parts of the South; black soldiers were routinely killed when taken prisoner; armies deliberately laid waste to farms and private homes. Although the Civil War preserved the Union, it also created psychological wounds and political problems that persisted well into the twentieth century. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the United Sates today – its politics, its racial divisions, its North-South differences – without studying the Civil War.
This interdisciplinary course, which will consist of a series of guest lectures by international experts, will examine various political, social and cultural-historical aspects of the American Civil War. We will look, for example, at the military side of the war, which produced generals such as Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant, and which is often characterized as the first “modern” war. The course also looks at how the war affected civilians, especially women, and how the war eventually destroyed the institution of slavery. Moreover, we will study how the Civil War is represented and remembered in American literature, for example, in Walt Whitman’s and Herman Melville’s Civil War poetry, Stephen Crane’s novel The Red Badge of Courage, and short stories by Ambrose Bierce, Thomas Nelson Page, and Charles Chesnutt. Finally, we will consider how Hollywood portrayed it in movies such as Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, and Glory, how the war is commemorated in battle reenactments, and why, even today, the Confederate flag is still a politically-charged symbol that provokes furious controversy. A number of documentaries will be shown alongside the lectures, including a number of episodes from Ken Burn’s popular 1990 series on the Civil War.

Course Objectives

The aim of this course is to enable students to analyze the place of the Civil War in American history, literature, and culture by examining the conflict from an interdisciplinary perspective. Students will gain insight into the political, social, and cultural dimensions of the war through the study of both literary and documentary texts. They will also learn how to approach the cultural significance of the war in terms of myth and memory, literary engagement and popular entertainment (e.g. film).


Tuesdays 15.00-18.30h. (videos/tutorials 15.00-17.00; guest lectures 17.00-18.30h) in Lipsius 003.

Mode of Instruction

Guest lectures and a few tutorials.


Written exam (50%) and essay (50%)


This course is supported by Blackboard.

Reading list

  • James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford UP)

  • Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic (Vintage)

  • Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (Penguin)

  • Texts on Blackboard


Students can register through uSis.

Contact information

English Department, P.N. van Eyckhof 4, room 103c. Phone: 071 527 2144.


Students can take this course as part of the minor American Studies or as an elective course (keuzevak).