Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War"


"Let's Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War" is designed as a series of five conversations exploring different facets of the Civil War experience, informed by reading the words written or uttered by powerful voices from the past and present, and complemented by related programming before and during the series. These conversations include both short introductory lectures and small discussion groups led by facilitators.

The group will meet the following Tuesday evenings at 7pm:

Session One (January 10th)"Imagining War"

Session Two (February 7th)"Choosing Sides"

Session Three (March 6th) "Making Sense of Shiloh"

Session Four (April 17th) "The Shape of War"

Session Five (May 8th) " War and Freedom"

The program is designed to probe meanings of the Civil War that are “hidden in plain sight” behind the key questions and main characters so familiar to us. Program participants may be surprised to encounter in the readings such a large cast of characters, so broad a range of perspectives, and so dense a web of circumstances. After considering the vast sweep and profound breadth of Civil War experience, participants will understand that the American Civil War was not a single thing, or a simple thing. And yet they will also see emancipation—the end of the most powerful system of slavery in the modern world—takes its place as the central story of the war.

The discussions will be led by Dr. Sheldon Hackney, PhD., David Boies Professor of History, Emeritus and retired president of the University of Pennsylvania. As part of the program, group discussions will be held once per month from January through May on the following works:
  • March, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Island resident Geraldine Brooks
  • Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, by James McPherson
  • America’s War: Talking about the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries, an anthology of historical fiction, speeches, diaries, memoirs, biographies and short stories edited by national project scholar Edward L. Ayers.
  • Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War, Essay by Edward L. Ayers, President, University of Richmond.
Each session will include an introductory talk by Dr. Hackney, sometimes followed by a guest speaker, after which smaller groups will be formed to discuss suggested open ended questions. Each discussion group will have a facilitator. At the end of each session, the entire group will reconvene to share insights.

Program participants will be given packets of information, including the three books. The library hopes this series will be on the order of a college symposium. This means that homework is important and expected. Everybody is welcome, of course, as long as they’re willing to do the homework and read the assignments before the discussion sessions.

For additional information, including a list of reading assignments, online resources, and suggestions for further reading, visit the library's "Let's Talk About It" webpage at

Packets for "Let's Talk About It" may be picked up at the library on December 15th.

"Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War", has been made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.

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