What a Popular War: The Whys and Ways We Remember the Civil War in Popular Culture, An Exhibit Public

This thesis accompanies an exhibit on the Civil War in American popular culture that will be hosted by the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Civil War itself- the battles, generals, soldiers, armaments, and politics- is a subject which has received countless examinations and endless scrutiny over the years. Indeed, the purely historical study of the Civil War is largely what has been present in both current and past exhibits at the National Civil War Museum. However, just as important as the historical depiction of the war are the memory and impressions that are created and influenced by this important historical event. In this vein, exhibits at this institution have looked at the war and its subject historically. This exhibit attempts to fill this gap at the museum and discuss the Civil War for its presence and influence in the national culture and memory. More specifically, I examine popular culture. Popular culture plays a significant role daily in American society and is not only a producer but also a consumer of products of the American people. As a highly impactful historical event, the Civil War shares a relationship with this equally influential popular culture. Taking the form of an exhibit at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this thesis documents and discusses the relationship between the Civil War and memory through the medium of popular culture. This thesis-exhibit explores and defines the relationship which the Civil War and popular culture share as individuals and groups apply their own meanings and interpretations, altering the memory of the war. On the surface, specific popular culture representations of the Civil War such as holidays, monuments, flags, movies, anniversaries, and reenactments are highlighted and discussed. Going deeper, however, this exhibit-thesis showcases the different motivations and agendas which lead Americans to create and support certain popular culture representations of the Civil War. This thesis examines popular representations of the war through a political, social, entertainment, and historical lens. Using these four unique approaches helps to explain and classify many of the popular culture representations of the Civil War.

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