Race, Masculinity and Citizenship: A Dialogue on the American Civil War

Wednesday, 16 March 2016 from 17:00 to 18:30

Please join two Civil War experts for a discussion of race, masculinity, and citizenship during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

This event will focus on those African Americans who, despite their arduous service and unflinching commitment to the Union war effort, remain neglected in many conventional histories of the conflict. During the nineteenth century, white Americans believed that African American men bore the responsibility of proving themselves as soldiers, and by logical extension, citizens too. Though African Americans resided in a white-dominated society in which they endured unceasing oppression, black soldiers rallied to the cause of the nation and proved themselves to be capable, dedicated warriors in the preservation of the Union and in claiming their own liberation.

In a dialogue that combines textual and visual history, Pinheiro and Brookes will explore how African Americans employed the federal pension system and mainstream visual culture in order to assert their place as rightful citizens in the tumultuous nation. The awarding of a federal pension for military service recognised the black combatant’s contribution to the U.S., whilst African Americans employed visual culture in order to challenge the white-fashioned, overwhelmingly-racist depictions of blackness in popular visual media. Through these significant social and cultural mediums, black individuals were able to redefine notions of race, gender, and national-belonging in pursuit of the benefits of recognised citizenship in the post-war United States following its “new birth of freedom.”

Overall the dialogue will show that participation in the Civil War offered black men the opportunity to not only save the Union and show their patriotism but also to challenge how American society defined citizenship and manhood through the usage of visual culture and the federal pension.

Holly Pinheiro, Jr. (University of Iowa) focuses in his research on how Northern black men and women attempted to used Civil War military participation to redefine nineteenth-century conceptions of race, gender, and citizenship. He is working on a book-length project titled “Men of Color To Arms!: Race, Gender, and Citizenship during the Civil War era.” He is the recipient of the University of Iowa Dean’s Fellowship, The Library Company of Philadelphia’s Mellon Scholars Program in African American History Short-term Fellowship, and numerous other honours.

James Brookes (University of Nottingham) focuses in his research on the visual culture of the Civil War. He is working on a book-length project titled “Picturing the Civil War: Visual Culture of the Rank-and-File” that positions visual culture more centrally in the study of the Civil War. It shows that soldiers, including black soldiers, contributed to a watershed in American self-representation; when the U.S. transitioned from being a textual nation to a visual one. He is the recipient of the BAAS Essay Prize 2015 and recently delivered a keynote at the Emerging Civil War Conference/154th Descendents Reunion held in New York.

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