Current Projects

Visions of Glory: The Civil War in Word and Image (co-edited collection, with Kathleen Diffley, forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press)

Visions of Glory Cover Image

In the early days of the Civil War Centennial, now more than fifty years ago, Robert Penn Warren acknowledged the simultaneous appeal and difficulty of writing about civil upheaval. For Warren in The Legacy of the Civil War, such writing encapsulated “the glory of the human effort to win meaning from the complex and confused motives of men and the blind ruck of event.” This collection of essays offers a fresh look at how the war’s men and women, black and white, northern and southern and western, struggled to render confusing events meaningful.  Employing an innovative format, Visions of Glory explores the relationship between historical events, the clutch of words, and the summons of what can be seen.

This volume collects twenty black and white images and twenty brisk essays, each essay connecting an image to the events that unfolded during a particular year of the war. Focusing on images that range from a depiction of former slaves whipping their erstwhile overseer distributed by an African American publisher, to a census graph published in the New York Times, to a cutout of a child’s hand sent by a southern mother to her husband at the front, these essays reveal how wartime women and men created both written accounts and a visual register to make sense of the world around them. Their responses help give now distant developments a sharper edge, especially as the twenty scholars included here examine “the human effort” that still shapes the upheaval we inherit.

Here the spreading conflict emerges chronologically, with several chapters investigating each year of the war, along with a prelude and a postscript. Such an organization provides a nuanced history by highlighting the multiple meanings that a diverse group of writers and readers could discern from the same set of circumstances. An image of the firing on Fort Sumter printed in Harper’s Weekly, for example, presents a far different picture of 1861 than the frontispiece of William and Ellen Craft’s slave narrative Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, especially when their account was published in London. The front page of a hand-drawn prison paper from Union soldiers in Texas reveals a livelier rescripting of 1864 than the frontispiece of a British novel that circulated among hospitalized Confederate soldiers, particularly in the letters a wounded veteran who wrote to his fiancée about four recent suicide attempts in the ward. As various as the lived experiences of so many, the images on page after page suggest their makeshift efforts to comprehend both sudden disruptions and unexpected opportunities.

While this volume assembles contingent and fractured visions of the Civil War, its multiplying perspectives also reveal a set of overlapping concerns. A number of chapters, for example, consider African American engagements with visual culture. In addition, several essays foreground the role that women played in making, disseminating, or interpreting wartime images. While every essay explores the relationship between image and word, several contributions focus significantly on the ways in which Civil War images complicate an understanding of familiar writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. With its attention to their celebrated work, this volume also builds literary histories that explore the relationship between verbal play and the war-writ-large. By contrast, Visions of Glory reads literary works in relation to particular events and circumstances. As a result, these essays offer a finer-grained analysis of how wartime prose and pictures responded locally, even jaggedly. This book’s emphasis on images also dovetails with work on photography during the Civil War era, though our contributors take up a wide range of visual material. Such a focus on visual culture reveals how Civil War literature and images engaged not only with the war itself but also with wide-ranging audiences, even across the Atlantic. Alive with scenes and portraits, illustrations and charts, stereographs and material objects that never quite spoke for themselves, this is a book about memory’s triggers, then and now.

African American Literature in Transition, 1830-1850 (edited collection, under contract)

The two decades between 1830 and 1850 were pivotal not only for the African American literary tradition but also witnessed a series of defining events in the lives of black and white Americans who lived within and beyond the boundaries of the United States. The period is bracketed by two of the formative events in the history of freedom and slavery: Nat Turner’s 1831 insurrection in Virginia and the 1850 passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in Congress. The intervening years saw a host of events closely related to the struggle against tyranny and oppression. These included the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies and the events leading to the emancipation of the enslaved in Jamaica; Indian Removal in the southeastern United States; the US-Mexican War; the uprising aboard the Amistad and the subsequent US Supreme Court case; the La Escalera conspiracy in Cuba and its aftermath; the Irish Potato Famine; and the 1848 revolutions in Europe. Focusing on the importance of lived experience to black writing, this volume explores the interplay between the African American literature of the period and these sorts of world-historical events.

But African American literature did not simply respond to historical happenings. On the contrary, black writing and publication was itself an event that shaped the lives of women and men throughout the world. David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, a work that not only called for violent resistance to slavery and framed that resistance as a global affair, terrified southern state legislatures into passing laws quarantining black sailors. The government of Georgia went so far as to formally offer to pay for Walker’s assassination, thus offering official sanction for the murder of a man who at the time supposedly enjoyed the protection of US citizenship. In 1845 the publication of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative brought slave catchers swarming to New Bedford and forced Douglass to embark on an eighteen-month sojourn through the British Isles. There, Douglass not only built a network of international allies that would support his efforts for years to come, but also witnessed the devastation wrought by British imperialism in Ireland, including the 1845 Potato Famine, and began to explore environmental connections between the oppressed at home and abroad. The fifteen essays in this volume move beyond the binary of text and context, and instead explore how African American literature and lived experiences shaped one another.

This project is volume four in the eighteen volume African American Literature in Transition series, edited by Joycelyn Moody.