American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

Seeing the Civil War—ASHP/CML Hosts an NEH Summer Institute

Published September 21, 2012
Institute faculty member David Jaffee discusses a Civil War print
Institute faculty member David Jaffee discusses a Civil War print with NEH summer scholars.

During two weeks last July, the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning hosted a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on “The Visual Culture of the American Civil War” at the CUNY Graduate Center and cultural institutions in the New York area. Attended by thirty NEH Summer Scholars from colleges and universities across the country, the institute featured presentations, discussions, visits to local archives and museums, and hands-on workshops that focused on the era’s visual media to assess how information and opinion about the war were recorded and disseminated, and to consider ways visual media expressed and shaped Americans’ understanding on both sides of the conflict.

NEH summer scholars and faculty at the New-York Historical Society
NEH summer scholars and faculty at the New-York Historical Society.

The institute featured talks by seventeen noted historians, art historians, and archivists representing the range of current work in the field. The topics included Civil War photography and images of African Americans, the illustrated press, political cartoons, Emancipation and prints, the paintings of Winslow Homer, scrapbooks, and public monuments (the full schedule of activities and speakers is available here). Building on the information and resources discussed and viewed at the institute, the participants also worked independently on their own research and teaching projects utilizing visual evidence to enhance understanding of the history of the war.

Thanks to a supplementary NEH grant, many of the institute’s resources and activities will be available online in a special section of our Picturing U.S. History website. The Visual Culture of the American Civil War site will feature the institute’s illustrated lectures, complemented by contextual presentations, and related picture galleries, primary documents, bibliographies, and webographies. Watch for the announcement of the launching of this site later this fall on the ASHP/CML website.

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