On Monday, April 2 the Southern Studies Program on Civil War Memory featured a lecture by author Robert Cook, from the University of Sussex, in the Medical School Auditorium.
The author of Troubled Commemoration hosted a lecture entitled Civil War Centennial: Historical Commemoration in the Age of Civil Rights and the Cold War.
Cook highlighted how the Civil War commemoration never lived up to its promise, while addressing key historical figures who contributed to the council started by President Dwight Eisenhower.
“The most sanguinary event in America’s history…How on earth could a commemoration of this conflict be conceived as a means of fostering American unity in the place of being communist threat?,” said Cook during his introduction.
“The second thing I want to do is to show why the centennial failed to live up to its initial promise…Lastly, I will try to assess the deeper significance of an even that has been neglected by historians,” added Cook.
“So the first question. Why did many Americans in the middle of the 20th century consider a particularly destructive conflict a source of potential unity in the midst of the Cold War? What on earth is going on here?” said Cook.
This lecture is part of a series entitled the Lamar Lectures, which is presented each year.
The Lamar Lectures are made possible by the request of the late Eugenia Dorothy Blount Lamar in 1957.
The lecture series seeks to promote the preservation of Southern culture and history.
The Lamar Lectures is recognized as one of the most important series on Southern history and literature in the United States.
Past speakers have included nationally and internationally known scholars, some of which include Cleanth Brooks, James C. Cobb and Eugene Genovese.
All of the lectures are original and are published as books by the University of Georgia Press.
Two years ago, the board selected Gary Gallagher to be the keynote speaker for the lectures this year.
The committee wanted to build around the Lamar Lectures in order to create a broader conversation about the contemporary memory of the Civil War.
“We approached the Georgia Humanities Council about sponsoring a series of lectures, and Lauren McCarty at the Humanities Council suggested Robert Cook in particular, and we followed her suggestion and arranged for him to speak at Mercer, Georgia College and State University,” said Dr. David Davis.
Davis believes that overall the lecture fared well.
He hopes that the lecture served to examine the way federally appointed Civil War Centennial Commission hosted the public commemoration of the Civil War and then the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.
Davis said that the commemoration was one “that came and racialized a solidified event that polarized the public as much or more than it unified it.”
“Overtime, the commission was revamped to feature the work of several historians, but by that time America had mostly lost interest in the centennial commission. Which, the fascinating story about the way memory, commemoration, America’s Civil War past and America’s racial past interacts with the needs and ambitions of life,” said Davis.
On April 14, the Southern Studies Program will feature Ernest Gaines, winner of the Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern literature.
Gaines will give a public reading in the University Center on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.