Thursday, May 12, 2016

Booknotes: The Rivers Ran Backward

New Arrival:
The Rivers Ran Backward: The Civil War and the Remaking of the American Middle Border by Christopher Phillips (Oxford Univ Pr, 2016).

Historian Christopher Phillips knows the Civil War-era western border states as well as anyone. His new book The Rivers Ran Backward looks at the so-called "Middle Border" — the slaveholding states of Kentucky and Missouri and the free states of Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio — and finds an area with vigorous growth during the decades preceding the war and with much more overlapping political ideology and identity than popularly believed. Less caught up in radicalized sectionalism than other regions, Middle Border residents instead thought of themselves as part of the American West, a people hoping to bridge the differences between North and South and lead a united nation to an ever more prosperous future. The book "sheds light on the fluid political cultures of the "Middle Border" states during the Civil War era. Far from forming a fixed and static boundary between the North and South, the border states experienced fierce internal conflicts over their political and social loyalties. White supremacy and widespread support for the existence of slavery pervaded the "free" states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, which had much closer economic and cultural ties to the South, while those in Kentucky and Missouri held little identification with the South except over slavery. Ultimately, the pervasive violence of the Civil War and the cultural politics that raged in its aftermath proved to be the strongest determining factor in shaping these states' regional identities, leaving an indelible imprint on the way in which Americans think of themselves and others in the nation."

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