Duke Commemorates 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War

Even historians admit that the issues that drove the Civil War are more than legacies of history: They remain very much present in contemporary America.

"After the war and Reconstruction, the country still views the South as a different voting block and a unique political body," said Margaret Humphreys, Duke professor of history and co-organizer of a March conference on "Another March Madness: The American Civil War at 150."

"If you look at the current [presidential] election and the last election people still see ‘the South' as a separate political entity in the United States. The issue of race, which is so tied to the Civil War, is such a persistent issue that understanding the war and what it did to the country is still very important.

Approximately 100 visitors and members of the Duke community gathered in the Gothic Reading Room of Perkins Library for a conference that marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Lectures, led by historians from Duke, Ohio State University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explored different, and at times conflicting perspectives on topics such as the role of Native Americans in the Civil War, the war's effects on the advancement of medicine, and the ways in which Reconstruction served to prolong the war.

Humphreys, Josiah Charles Trent Professor in the History of Medicine, and Shauna Devine, a visiting assistant professor at Duke, were co-organizers of the symposium.

The symposium highlighted Perkins Library's Civil War exhibit, "I Recall the Experience Sweet and Sad: Memories of the Civil War." The exhibit, open until March 30, features memoirs from the war held in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library's extensive Civil War collection.

"A lot of people are interested in the war, and we hope to build on that interest, but we also want people to see the wide variety of ways historians can approach the topics in the Civil War," Humphreys said.

Devine spoke about how the American Civil War transformed the practices of medical schools in the United States. A large number of Americans sacrificed in the Civil War produced bodies that were later used to practice surgical skills.