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Joan Waugh: How should the country mark the sesquicentennial?

By Joan Waugh

Professor of history at UCLA


By encompassing and commemorating the whole of the war in its political, military, social, and economic impact. By educating and if necessary, introducing American citizens to their country’s heritage and exciting them to further knowledge and study. I am a little bit disappointed that the Congress did not create a commission to commemorate the Civil War sesquicentennial. There are so many important issues of the era that find powerful resonance today – state versus federal rights; the controversial expansion of the federal government in both the U.S.A. and the C.S.A.; the incredibly divisive and bitter electoral political culture; the stresses of war on soldiers and civilians alike. It would have been great to have a national forum that directed and funded some interesting events on those and other issues.

On the other hand, federal support will be seen in conferences, speeches, and other types of activities in most Civil War national parks and sites. The Library of Congress will have a splendid exhibition on the Civil War scheduled to be opened in 2012 that emphasizes recent interpretative trends in the scholarship, especially the effects of emancipation. Individual states such as Virginia and Pennsylvania have impressive conferences planned (some already have taken place) that seek to examine the variety of meanings of this most incredible and shattering war. I am also looking forward to the many history books that are scheduled for publication throughout the sesquicentennial years revising and revisiting what we know about battles, leaders, politics, and home front.

Finally, I am ready to view Hollywood’s latest entries in Civil War film. Supposedly, Steven Spielberg’s project on Lincoln is still viable, and so is Robert Redford’s film about the Lincoln assassination plotters, “The Conspirator.” Two movies I would love to see!

By Joan Waugh  | November 15, 2010; 2:33 PM ET
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