Saturday, January 25, 2020

Booknotes: Death at the Edges of Empire

New Arrival:
Death at the Edges of Empire: Fallen Soldiers, Cultural Memory, and the Making of an American Nation, 1863-1921 by Shannon Bontrager (Univ of Neb Press, 2020).

From the description: "Hundreds of thousands of individuals perished in the epic conflict of the American Civil War. As battles raged and the specter of death and dying hung over the divided nation, the living worked not only to bury their dead but also to commemorate them. President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address perhaps best voiced the public yearning to memorialize the war dead. His address marked the beginning of a new tradition of commemorating American soldiers and also signaled a transformation in the relationship between the government and the citizenry through an embedded promise and obligation for the living to remember the dead."

My reading on this topic is negligible, but books like this one and the equally recent Thomas Brown book Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America seem to agree that the post-Civil War period was the watershed moment in America's permanent public memorialization and commemoration of military leaders and ordinary soldiers, a time when statuary and architectural war memorials located in prominent common spaces began to transform in number from rare to ubiquitous.

In Death at the Edges of Empire author Shannon Bontrager "examines the culture of death, burial, and commemoration of American war dead. By focusing on the Civil War, the Spanish-Cuban-American War, the Philippine-American War, and World War I, Bontrager produces a history of collective memories of war expressed through American cultural traditions emerging within broader transatlantic and transpacific networks. Examining the pragmatic collaborations between middle-class Americans and government officials negotiating the contradictory terrain of empire and nation, Death at the Edges of Empire shows how Americans imposed modern order on the inevitability of death as well as how they used the war dead to reimagine political identities and opportunities into imperial ambitions."

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