2021 NEH Summer Institute – The Visual Culture of the American Civil War and Its Aftermath

September 16, 2021

This summer twenty-five scholars participated in the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning’s fifth National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute Visual Culture of the American Civil War and its Aftermath. Participants met virtually, with pre-recorded video presentations by seventeen noted historians, art historians, and archivists representing the range of current work in the field. Scholars led presentations, discussions, and hands-on workshops that assessed how information and opinion about the war were recorded and disseminated, and considered ways visual media expressed and shaped Americans’ understanding on both sides of the conflict. Several live “Q&A” sessions featured nationally renown cultural institutions: American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, MA), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY), and New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York, NY).

In addition, a team of three institute faculty (Joshua Brown, Sarah Burns, and Gregory Downs) guided the participating scholars in ways to use visual evidence to enhance their research, writing, and teaching about the war and its short- and long-term effects. Topics discussed during the institute included Civil War photography, visualizing slavery and anti-slavery, the illustrated press, maps, Native America, Emancipation, the Black press, and commemorative sculpture and public monuments (the full schedule of activities and speakers is available here).

Thanks to a supplementary NEH grant, many of the institute’s resources and activities will be available online on The Visual Culture of the American Civil War website. The site, which currently includes sessions from past institutes, features video lectures and related picture galleries, primary documents, and print and multimedia bibliographies.