Civil War Archives: A New Social and Cultural History

National Endowment for the Humanities seal

An NEH Institute for Higher Education Faculty at Gettysburg College from June 5–18, 2022. Directed by Jim Downs, Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Studies and History.

Note: Depending on public health guidelines related to COVID-19, plans for a residential offering are subject to change.

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About the program

Drawing on the rich special collections at Gettysburg College, the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, and the Gettysburg community, this two-week residential institute for higher education faculty places Civil War and Reconstruction history within the context of the “the archival turn,” a scholarly intervention that explores how ideology, politics, bias, and history itself shapes the contents of archives. While scholars from Asian to European history have examined this question in relation to their fields, few Civil War and Reconstruction historians have probed this question, despite the overwhelming abundance of Civil War archives throughout the country. This new Level I institute provides an opportunity for 36 historians to investigate how the archival turn can generate new ways of looking at old documents in an effort to breathe new life into the social and cultural history of the Civil War Era, which spans 1830–1877. This Institute will pay particular attention to issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality.

We plan to hold this program in person at Gettysburg College in accordance with the College’s policies. This is subject to change based on the pandemic.

Learn about the project’s history

Painting of a cemetery with its gates open
An original oil sketch by artist George Leo Frankenstein of the Evergreen Cemetery Gate painting during the summer of 1866.


Civil War Era Studies NEH Summer Institute Application

In accordance with NEH guidelines, applications will be due by March 1, 2022. Applicants will be notified via email of their acceptance status on Friday, March 25, 2022. Those accepted may only accept one NEH Summer Seminar or Institute offer. Successful applicants must accept or decline their offer by Friday, April 8, 2022 by 11:59 Pacific Time. Participants are required to submit a project evaluation.

Project applicants who accept an offer to participate are expected to remain during the entire period of the program and to participate in its work on a full-time basis. If a participant is obliged through special circumstances to depart before the end of the program, it shall be the recipient institution’s responsibility to see that only a pro rata share of the stipend is received or that the appropriate pro rata share of the stipend is returned if the participant has already received the full stipend. Once an applicant has accepted an offer to attend any NEH Summer Program (Seminar, Institute, or Landmark), they may not accept an additional offer or withdraw in order to accept a different offer.

Workshops and Lectures will be given by a dynamic group of interdisciplinary scholars who will provide information that will inform participants’ research goals and teaching agendas. In addition to the scholarly aspects of this endeavor, there will be sessions entirely devoted on how to make your research available to a wider public—from writing for nonacademic audiences to designing curricula.

Endowment programs do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or age. For further information, write to the Equal Opportunity Officer, National Endowment for the Humanities, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. TDD: 202-606-8282 (this is a special telephone device for the Deaf).

Visiting scholars

  • Stephen Berry, Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era Co-Director, Center for Virtual History, University of Georgia
  • Catherine Clinton, Denman Endowed Professor in American History, University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Peter Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies, Gettysburg College
  • Andrew Dalton, Executive Director, Adams County Historical Society
  • Crystal Feimster, Associate Profess or African American Studies, History and American Studies, Yale University
  • Sarah Gardner, Distinguished University Professor, Mercer University
  • Joseph Schmidt, Senior Instructional Specialist, Social Studies Department, Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning, NYC DOE Central Office
  • Martha Hodes, Professor of History, New York University
  • Jennifer L. Morgan, Professor of Social & Cultural Analysis & History; Chair of the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis, New York University
  • Carolyn Sauter, Director of Special Collections, Gettysburg College
  • Yael Sternhell, Department of History, Tel Aviv University
  • Ann Stoler, Willy Brandt Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and History, New School for Social Research New School

Descriptive schedule

Week 1: Learning about the Archival Turn

June 5–11, 2022

The program will begin with a discussion organized by Institute Director Jim Downs on Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft. Downs will focus attention to Bloch’s sections on evidence and his descriptions of the archive. In the afternoon, Carolyn Sautter, Director of Special Collections and College Archives, will provide a workshop on the Gettysburg Archives. Her discussion will not only feature the impressive holdings but also, more importantly, provide insight on the operation of the archives (including undergraduate teaching), its politics on acquisition, and its history. Ann Stoler, Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research, one of the world’s leading scholars on the archival turn, will be featured as the guest faculty early in the week. Downs will interview her about her scholarship and how her ideas can be applied to Civil War History. As follow-up, Downs will lead a discussion that places Stoler’s comments in conversation with Steedman’s Dust. This session will provide a crucial theoretical context to further explore the meaning of the archival turn in Civil War history.

Mid-week, Stephen Berry, Gregory Professor for the Civil War Era and Co-Director, Center for Virtual History at the University of Georgia, will provide a lecture and discussion on how he created an award-winning archive based on coroner’s reports. This unit is purposely sandwiched between some of the more theoretical discussions in order to ground participants in the material realities of archival collections and to provide them with access to a database of Civil War documents.

On Thursday, we will return to our discussion of theory of the archives. Downs will lead a morning discussion on Marissa Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives. This will provide a useful historiographical context to the afternoon faculty presentation, which will be an interview with historian Jennifer Morgan, Critical Analysis, New York University. Morgan is at the cutting edge of blending deeply theoretical ideas with social archival practice. Her first book, Laboring Women: Gender and Reproduction in New World Slavery, is brilliant examination of how to read archival sources and how to uncover the lives of enslaved women in the surviving primary sources. The interview will be an opportunity for Downs to discuss with her both the meaning of the archival term as it relates specifically to race and gender, but also how it can be applied to Civil War history.

To wrap-up the first week, Downs will lead a discussion of Carol Reardon’s book, Pickett’s Charge, which explores how ideology led to the creation of specific archives in the South and the emergence of the history of the “Lost Cause.” We will also get off campus to include a tour of the battlefield with Pete Carmichael, Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. This tour will focus on two different areas: the location of Pickett’s Charge as well as the recently discovered area of Black participation during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Carmichael will highlight the virtual silence of Black people in the archives during the battle but highlight the actual areas on the land where enslaved Black people lived and labored during the battle. We will also offer an optional experience at the Adams County Historical Society.

Week 2: Applying the Archival Turn

June 12–18, 2022

To start the second week, Yael Sternhell, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, will provide a morning lecture based on her forthcoming book, War on Record: The Archive and Making of Civil War History. Sternhell’s research draws directly on the theoretical interventions surrounding of the archival turn and applies to the making of Civil War archives. She focuses particularly on the creation of the multivolume series, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records, as well as other government collections housed at the National Archives.

Downs will also lead a workshop that will promote collaborative research and encourage discussion of undergraduate teaching. Participants will be divided into small groups to examine major published archival sources, namely The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records; Military Order of the Loyal Legion; The Confederate Veteran Magazine Rare Civil War Book Set; and the Freedom Series volumes from the Freedmen and Southern Society Project. Downs will also lead a discussion of the anthology, Beyond Freedom: Disrupting the History of Emancipation, which includes his essay on the archival turn, “Emancipating the Evidence: The Ontology of the Freedmen’s Bureau Records,” which employs the archival turn in the study of these documents. Tuesday will focus on Martha Hodes’ book, Sea Captain’s Wife. This book provides an excellent example of how to incorporate one’s research methods into the actual writing of a book. Further, this book brilliantly highlights how family members may have purposely destroyed letters in order to erase any evidence of an interracial relationship within a family’s history. Using this book, participants will grapple with the purposeful erasure of records and the concerted efforts to create silence within the archives.

Mid-week, Crystal Feimster, Yale University, will provide a morning lecture on how to read military records for evidence of race and gender. This talk will draw on her forthcoming book and published articles. Discussion sessions will include how to submit proposals and articles to academic journals, particularly Civil War History, which Downs and Feimster edit. On Thursday, Sarah Gardner, Mercer University, will provide a lecture on how novels function as archives, particularly how literature can be mined as a repository of clues about the Civil War. While literary scholars and historians have engaged this subject in the past, Gardner not only reminds us of the significance of sources and adds new important ones to consider but she also applies newer theoretical tools to uncover historical meaning from published sources. In the afternoon, Joe Schmidt, New York City Department of Education, will host a workshop on how to turn research into educational videos and lesson plans for high school curricula. To conclude the Institute, Catherine Clinton, University of Texas at San Antonio, will discuss her many efforts in making archival history available to the public, particularly her work as an author, children’s book writer, historical consultant for film, curator, and public history expert. Clinton will explain how to make academic research legible to journalists, filmmakers, editors, public historians, and others. Finally, participants will offer short presentations about their research and how they plan to incorporate the archival turn into their research, undergraduate teaching, and public interactions.

View the full schedule


Housing is available in the Quarry Suites on Gettysburg College’s campus.

Principles of civility for NEH professional development programs

NEH Seminars, Institutes, and Landmarks programs are intended to extend and deepen knowledge and understanding of the humanities by focusing on significant topics, texts, and issues; contribute to the intellectual vitality and professional development of participants; and foster a community of inquiry that provides models of excellence in scholarship and teaching.

NEH expects that project directors will take responsibility for encouraging an ethos of openness and respect, upholding the basic norms of civil discourse.

Seminar, Institute, and Landmarks presentations and discussions should be:

  1. firmly grounded in rigorous scholarship, and thoughtful analysis;
  2. conducted without partisan advocacy;
  3. respectful of divergent views;
  4. free of ad hominem commentary; and
  5. devoid of ethnic, religious, gender, disability, or racial bias.

NEH welcomes comments, concerns, or suggestions on these principles at

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.