Saturday, October 16, 2021

Booknotes: Contesting Commemoration

New Arrival:
Contesting Commemoration: The 1876 Centennial, Independence Day, and the Reconstruction-Era South by Jack D. Noe (LSU Press, 2021).

From the description: In Contesting Commemoration: The 1876 Centennial, Independence Day, and the Reconstruction-Era South, historian Jack Noe "examines identity and nationalism in the post–Civil War South through the lens of commemorative activity, namely Independence Day celebrations and the Centennial of 1876. Both events presented opportunities for whites, Blacks, northerners, and southerners to reflect on their identity as Americans. The often colorful and engaging discourse surrounding these observances provides a fascinating portrait of this fractured moment in the development of American nationalism."

This study builds upon an extensive modern literature of postwar reunion and reconciliation, a nice rundown of which can be found in the sample text from the book's introduction available for your perusal through the title link above.

At its heart, the book juxtaposes black and white southern participation with and reactions to postwar reconciliation in the context of the Centennial Exhibition (The US's first world's fair, held in Philadelphia May-November 1876) and other public commemorative events referenced above. In discussing their meaning to white southerners, Noe explores the "economic, social, and political aspects of reunification and the tensions that lay behind the development of a post-Civil War American identity." The volume's "parallel narrative focused on African Americans" in turn examines their contrasting "engagement with national identity and their use of commemoration to stake a claim to full citizenship and American identity in the post-Civil War era" (pg. 2).

Contesting Commemoration invites readers to look beyond the "magnificent exhibits and revolutionary technology" on display during the Centennial Exhibition and explore what that celebration and Independence Day events across the South "meant to people and how they reflected the concerns of the day" (pg. 178).

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