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The Civil War in International Perspective

23 Feb Posted by in International, Region | 5 comments
The Civil War in International Perspective

In May, Mason will host a one-day conference on the international context and impact of the American Civil War, as part of the Commonwealth’s impressive series of gatherings to commemorate the conflict’s sesquicentennial. I offered to organize the conference some time ago, and it’s great to see it nearing fruition.

My qualifications for my role were minimal, except in terms of my work on global contexts more generally and a desire to see US history reworked toward greater emphasis on global connections. (My paternal great-grandfather was involved as an infantryman, but this has not drawn me in.) I had and have no expertise concerning a War that has elicited tremendous historical passion and a detailed historiography. Frankly, I did not know what a call for contributions on the international angle would yield.

The results have, I think, been extremely interesting. The conference will see commentary on the relationship between the War and developments in Europe, including diplomatic constraints and concerns on both Union and Confederate policies. Elements of these connections are familiar – even to me – but there have been some important new findings. Even fresher are perspectives coming from historians of Asia and Latin America. The War connects with an impressive number of battles over political legitimacy and nationhood, in various parts of the world. It also had wide impacts, for example changing British policies toward China and giving some breathing space for Japanese reforms that might otherwise have been stifled by American pressure.

The War occurred, in other words, in an increasingly globalized context, which helps explain some of its key features and certainly accounts for its far-flung consequences. Looking at the War from these perspectives in no sense challenges the regional and national meaning of the struggle or its distinctive specific features. But international contexts, comparisons and assessments do shed new light, making the War a significant part of a global story, and not just the more familiar national one.

I look forward to the presentations and the discussion that will form the heart of the upcoming conference, and I think others will find the event stimulating in a number of ways.

Details are: “The American Civil War in a Global Context,” George Mason University, Center for the Arts, Saturday May 31, beginning at 9:30 am, with the final formal session ending at 4:15. The evening before will feature a presentation on the local history of the war’s early years (7:30 p.m. in Mason Hall), for interested “buffs”.

Further details including registration information on the website