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Revisiting Southern Women and the American Civil War

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | October 3, 2018 | No Comment |

This post is by Kristen Brill, research fellow for the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture,

Author’s photo of Ft. Sumter

My research examines the interplay between gender, race and nationalism on the Confederate home front. This summer, as a research fellow at the Center for Southern Jewish Culture, I extended my frame of analysis to include religion in my study of the wartime South. Specifically, I took a closer look at the role of religion in shaping relations between Union soldiers and southern Jewish women in the occupied South. Then, I adopted a wider-angle approach, using a diverse range of Jewish women’s first-person accounts, to examine the role of Judaism in the social construction of Confederate nationalism and wartime gender identity.

This research interrogates the relationship between Judaism, gender and nationalism on the Confederate home front: How did relationships between Union soldiers in occupied cities and southern Jewish women shape Jewish women’s definitions and experiences of Confederate nationalism? To what extent did Jewish women’s definitions and experiences of Confederate nationalism differ from those of non-Jewish southern women? This is an undeveloped area of the historiography of the Civil War; its inclusion will extend and complicate understandings of marginalization, power and belonging in the Confederacy.

Ladies’ Gunboat Handbill, 1862, South Carolina Historical Society

At the College of Charleston, I also had the opportunity to expand my collection of teaching materials. In my experience teaching in the UK, students better connect with the theoretical concepts and secondary historiography through a thorough engagement with primary source materials. I found several compelling first-person accounts and images that will structure my seminar sessions in the upcoming academic year. In particular, this image of a program benefitting the local Ladies’ Gunboat Association is a rare piece of documentation from the ladies’ gunboat associations that sprung up around the South in early 1862. This image will bring these mid-nineteenth-century organizations into the classroom and allow students to engage with issues surrounding women on the Confederate home front in a more tangible way.

In Charleston, as a researcher interested in southern history, I was *living the dream.* The chance to visit iconic sites in American history, from Fort Sumter to the Lowcountry plantations, complemented my work in the archive and allowed me to fully immerse myself in the landscape and narrative of the history of South Carolina. The opportunity to experience southern culture in Charleston, from the people to the food, was the highlight of my trip. I was met with warmth and hospitality everywhere I went, from the archive to Home Team BBQ. As an academic based in the UK, this research fellowship afforded me a rare opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in the US and complete essential archival research for my project. I am grateful for the generous support of the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture at the College of Charleston, especially the invaluable guidance of both Dr. Dale Rosengarten and Dr. Shari Rabin. This was the highlight of my summer and I hope very much to return soon!


under: Civil War, Research Projects, Southern Jewish History, Uncategorized

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