Books by Nina Silber

Released: Dec. 10, 1993

Changing views of gender, as well as fluctuating race relations—as evidenced in society and culture both north and south when Civil War chaos gave way to efforts toward reconciliation— form the crux of Boston University historian Silber's provocative study. In Silber's analysis, northern postwar derision of southern masculinity arose from a victor's mentality, given form in cartoons and dubious anecdotes that had Jefferson Davis trying to escape capture by dressing in skirts, while southern women were similarly slighted as unrepentant, vengeful harridans. More romantic notions eventually held sway in which the regions were symbolically reunited through marriages between men of the North and women of the South, with increasing economic and social hardship spawning movements—such as the Populists and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union—that provided political impetus for a national identity. Labor unrest and waves of immigration prompted a renewed appreciation of autocratic southern slaveholders; indeed, the ethnic influx and limited, often negative exposure of white northerners to black culture prompted a valorization of Anglo-Saxon purity in Appalachia, exacerbating racial tensions—especially fears of miscegenation—and fostering acquiescence when the number of lynchings in the South rose as the century drew to a close. By the time of the Spanish-American conflict, the tarnished image of southern chivalry and gracious, submissive femininity had been restored almost entirely—a process, Silber contends, that added significantly to America's imperialistic impulses and full-blown patriotism. Informative, persuasively argued, and offering valuable insight into cultural shifts that helped shape the US at a critical moment in its history. (Thirteen illustrations) Read full book review >