The Information Boom and 90s Music Videos

By: Colleen vonVorys-Norton

The 1990s will be remembered for many things: sitcoms, Bill Clinton, the beginning of terroristic attacks. But probably most of all, the technological boom. Not only was the internet becoming a household object but with the new millenium, there was a general feeling of futurism. This is very clear in the music videos that came out during this time. Even though there was not a big of a focus on space, the culture still had strong space themes since space is seen as the final frontier.

This is very clearly seen with *NSYNC’s I Want You Back. This music video takes place in what appears to be another planet colony. Not only that, but they also have teleportation. Being released in 1996 the new millennium and futurism was a very strong pull line through the direction for the music video mixed with very boyband images. Having the singers with synchronized dancing while in a CGIed space colony mixed together the beginning of the decade with the feelings of the second.  

*NSYNC, I Want You Back, 1996, dir. Alan Calzatti


The information boom is seen more in TLC’s No Scrubs. This is especially visual with 9 seconds into the music video there is an email symbol. This was also right around the time that email was really taking off and having an electric envelope to represent the title of the album, FanMail shows the futurism. This idea is brought up again at 2:53 when one of the singers is shown being circled with a camera. With reality tv still being a novelty, having this image of her always being filmed shows the connection to the information boom.

TLC, No Scrubs, 1999, dir. Hype Williams


Not just in music videos, but also in song lyrics themselves were these ideals propagated. In Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity he has lyrics like:

Futures made of virtual insanity now

Always seem to, be governed by this love we have

For useless, twisting, our new technology

Oh, now there is no sound for we all live underground

This song can be seen as a warning to the public to be careful with the powers of technology. From changing virtual reality to virtual insanity it shows just how easily technology is taking over society. The music video is also filmed in a livecam type setup. This is interesting because it feels to the viewer that they are just watching the singer perform and not like a huge music production like many of the other music videos of the time. With having the camera at a slight tilt also adds to the creepy vibe that the director was hoping to get across.

Jamiroquai, Virtual Insanity, 1996, dir. Jonathan Glazer

Girl Power: Feminist Music of the 1990s

By: Alex Sutton

The 1990s saw the resurgence of the feminist movement, often referred to as the third wave of feminism. Emerging in the mid-1990s, the third wave was a reaction and opposition to the stereotypical images of women as passive, weak, and virginal figures. Rebecca Walker is credited with coining the term the third wave in her 1992 article, “Becoming the Third Wave.” Writing in reaction to the testimony of Anita Hill, in which she accused Clarence Thomas, a nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States, of sexual harassment, Walker sought to accomplish what the previous two waves of feminism had not. “So I write this as a plea to all women, especially the women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation serve to re-mind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger” (Walker). In her article, Walker also stressed the idea that the third wave of feminism was not only a reaction, but a movement in itself, “I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave” (Walker).

The third wave of feminism aimed to change the traditional view of women in society by redefining both women and girls as assertive, powerful, and in control of their own sexuality. The third wave paved the way for important social progress in the treatment of women and established the idea of girl power, which came to  permeate all types of media, particularly music. The music of female artists in the 1990s came to embody the third wave of feminism. With songs that challenged and confronted the traditional stereotypes of women, female artists played a key role in redefining what it meant to be a woman. “In this realm, female artists have ventured to celebrate girlhood as a means of fostering female youth subculture and of constructing narratives that disrupt patriarchal discourse withing traditionally male rock subcultures” (Wald, 588). The feminist music of the 1990s allowed for women to reject conventional stereotypes, take control of their sexuality, and challenge the patriarchy in American society. (“In Praise”).


4 Non Blondes, “What’s Up?”, 1993, dir. Morgan Lawley. 

The song, “What’s Up?”, by the band 4 Non Blondes was released in 1993. Since its release, the song has become an anthem for women against patriarchal oppression. In the song, the female narrator speaks of her struggle to succeed in a world dominated by men. The second verse of the song states, “I realized quickly when I knew I should that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man, for whatever that means.” The narrator of the song calls attention to the fact that males are the dominant gender in society, holding the power in their “brotherhood” while women are largely excluded. The song continues to narrate the challenges women face in trying to thrive in a world created for men, “I try all the time, in this institution. And I pray, oh my god do I pray. I pray every single day for a revolution.” This verse illuminates the song’s feminist-perspective and the hope for equality; the narrator prays each day that there will be a revolution to make a society where both genders are equal. Additionally, the use of institution implies that the way women are treated is systematic, and that the system is stacked against them.

The chorus of the song brings into question the futility of women’s struggle against the patriarchy, “and so I wake in the morning and I step outside and I take a deep breath and I get real high, and I scream from the top of my lungs what’s going on?”. In the chorus, the narrator releases her pent-up emotions and grapples with the question of what is going on in society. In this song, the 4 Non Blondes brazenly call out the patriarchy and the constraints it places on women. They also highlight the question of what women are to do about this issue and the ultimate futility of their actions.

No Doubt, “Just A Girl,” 1995, dir. Mark Kohr.

One of the most icon feminist songs of the 1990s was “Just A Girl,” by No Doubt.  Gwen Stefani, No Doubt’s front-woman, lead the band of men, promoting the cultural visibility of women within rock music. “Just A Girl” questions the antiquated gender roles that continued to torment women in the 1990s and the idea of girlhood.  In the song, Stefani takes on the persona of a “little girl” who needs protection, mocking the conventions of patriarchal girlhood. Sarcasm is employed throughout the song as a feminist strategy to combat the view of women as helpless and innocent. The chorus of the song states, “cause I’m just a girl, oh little old me. Don’t let me out of your sight. I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite, so don’t let me have any rights.” While highlighting the idea that women need to be protected, the song brings into question the cost of this safety. In order for girlhood to be protected, women must forfeit their rights and be subordinate to men. One of the reoccurring lines throughout the song is, “oh, I’ve had it up to here.” Stefani, representative of most women, is exasperated with conventional female stereotypes and is openly deconstructing them. (Wald).

In the music video for the song,  the band members arrive at a building where Stefani enters the ladies’ bathroom, while the rest of the band enters the men’s bathroom. The ladies’ room is clean, bright, and well decorated, with two older female attendants. In contrast, the men’s room is dirty, dark, and lacks any decorations. Stefani begins to sing in the ladies’ room while the men play their instruments in their bathroom. Other men and women begin to enter their respective bathrooms, with the men using the urinals and the women checking their makeup. The setup of the music video is illustrative of the gender divide in society. Women are kept separate from men in a dainty bathroom with attendants, seen applying makeup, a traditional stereotype about women’s femininity. 

Later in the video, the men make their way into the female bathroom, where everyone then begins to dance together. The fact that it is the men that are able to travel to the other bathroom is extremely important; it highlights the issue of women’s imprisonment and lack of mobility. The women were unable and restricted from moving around freely, however, the men were able to go wherever they pleased, illustrating the societal constraints placed on women’s freedom. Additionally, in the music video Stefani is seen defying the image of an innocent girl by wearing a cropped shirt and baring her midriff. Her decision to wear an outfit that is “sexual” gives Stefani control over her own sexuality and sexual agency, demonstrating that women are not simply virginal figures devoid of sexuality.

Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know,” 1995, dir. Nick Egan. 

Released in 1995, Alanis Morissette’s album Jagged Little Pill was a cultural earthquake. One of the singles from the album, “You Oughta Know,” was an aggressive, hard-rock song portraying Morissette as a vindictive and scorned ex.  In the song, Morissette is  bold and unapologetic, calling out her ex-boyfriend for his mistreatment of her and the fallout of their breakup. She asserts herself and does it bravely, defying the conventional stereotype that women are weak and passive figures.  The song is notable for the raw emotion that Morissette expresses. Unlike other female artists of the time that had feminine, gentle voices and sang melodic ballads, Morissette’s voice broke the mold. Her voice was unique and unpolished, full of energy and sincerity that more resembled bands such as Nirvana than traditional female singers. (Zaleksi). 

“You Oughta Know” was Morissette’s ballad that spoke out about and fought back against sexism and societal oppression. Instead of being portrayed as the passive scorned ex-girlfriend, Morissette unabashedly called out her ex, and men in general, “and I’m here, to remind you of the mess you left when you went away. It’s not fair, to deny me of the cross I bear that you gave to me.” Instead of letting her ex-boyfriend get away with his actions, Morissette openly admits that she was broken after their breakup, however, her boyfriend did not care. Throughout the song, Morissette wonders how important she was to her ex. Questioning how women are often treated as insignificant to men, Morissette sings “cause the joke that you laid in the bed that was me and I’m not gonna fade as soon as you close your eyes, and you know it.” Morissette makes it clear that she will not allow her ex-boyfriend to make a joke out of her, rather she will hold him accountable for what he has done. Rebelling against the stereotype of women as weak and passive, Morissette proves that women can be assertive and powerful, giving women a loud and proud voice.

Additionally,  Morissette is unapologetically in control of her sexuality.  Throughout the song there are several sexual explicit lines, “is she perverted like me? Would she go down on you in a theater?”. In opposition to the idea that women are non-sexual beings, Morissette unashamedly takes control of her sexuality and owns it. “You Oughta Know” demonstrates that women, like men, have sexual desires and needs, tearing down the sexual constraints placed on women at the time. Instead of being sexualized by men, Morissette, like other feminist artists of the time, took control of her sexual agency and proved that women were not the virginal figures they were perceived to be.


Additional Sources:

“In Praise of ‘90s Feminism That Was Before Its Time,” Huffington Post,  17 May 2015.

Wald, Gayle, “Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth,” Signs, vol. 23, no. 3, 1998, pp. 585–610. 

Walker, Rebecca, Becoming the Third Wave,” Ms. Magazine, Jan. 1992, pp. 39-41. 

Zaleski, Annie, “Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was a Powerful, DIY Feminist Statement,” AV Club, 5 May 2015.


J.M.W. Turner’s Painting, “The Slave Ship, 1840” Illustrates the Horrors of Nineteenth-Century American Slave Ships

By Kathryn Bauer

Illustrious painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner, though of British background, fittingly depicts the disturbing reality of the nineteenth-century American slave ships, along with the backlash America faced from Great Britain due to this adverse aspect of American culture.  Inspired by fellow English abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson’s “The History and Abolition of the Slave Trade”, focusing on the antagonistic nature of the slave trade, further the religious obligations to press for its end, Turner created his piece in order to stress the urgency of America to follow the British and abolish slavery.  Turner’s painting is vital to understanding this gruesome aspect of nineteenth-century American culture, as it provides a moving, deeply symbolic image centered around the horrors of a slave ship.

In his 1840 oil painting, done on a canvas background, Turner sheds light on the appalling culture of the slave trade from overseas to the blossoming country, through his thoughtful use of color in addition to evocative and detailed imagery.  To begin, Turner uses harsh, deep hues in contrast with light, bright colors to set the tone of the suggestive painting.  The use of rich purples, blues and blacks behind the sailing slave ship creates a sense of violence, trouble and death present amongst the crashing waves.  Viewers should take great note of these colors, commonly associated with the loss of hope, ultimately death.  These are most fitting for Turner’s painting’s purpose: portraying the unnerving darkness of slave ships.  In his novel, “Slave Ships and Slaving”, George Francis Dow illustrates the harsh conditions in which enslaved persons are starved, overcrowded, susceptible to various diseases, as well as violently beaten.  Dow continues: “Now, before they had an opportunity of selling [the enslaved persons] to white people, [captains and crew] were often obliged to kill great multitudes” (Dow xix).  These unnecessary mass killings are pictured below in Turner’s painting through his imagery of the countless drowning bodies in the bottom right.


Joseph Mallord William Turner’s The Slave Ship 1840, located at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,  imagery within the painting may be compact, nonetheless encompasses tremendous significance.  Present in the foreground of the paining, amongst the crests of the murderous waves, Turner illustrates numerous chained hands of the enslaved.  The enslaved may have been thrown overboard due to health issues, overcrowding or even just out of brutality are viewed reaching to the heavens in acts of salvation.  This scene is disturbing to any religious viewer, thus prompting them to join the abolishment movement, to better their own chances for salvation.

In contrast, the pure and holy descending strokes of yellows and whites, seem to fall from the top of the canvas to the part of the sea where drowning enslaved persons’ hands are pictured.  These somber colors, placed in juxtaposition to the dreamy, bright golds and whites, showcase the tragic ending of the enslaved still aboard the ship, while the souls of the drowning enslaved persons ascend to heaven.  This in turn, emphasizes the emotional and spiritual themes of the Second Great Awakening.  The Second Great Awakening, stresses the idea of creating one’s own destiny by acting in a way to rid the evils from the world, moving away from the ideas of predestination.  With regards to the slave ships, captains, along with crew members, partaking in the reprehensible activity of transporting enslaved individuals, will accordingly have a dark ending, as accentuated by Turner through the hellish colors enclosing the slave ship.

Through the somber and disturbing painting, Turner shocks his viewers to the reality of the horrors of nineteenth-century American slave ships.  This in turn, prompts his audience to become aware of the necessary change.  The fact that an outsider, a British painter, is arousing such change, hints at the world’s reticule of the new country’s ways.  It is true that the trading of enslaved persons was a global market, however it is often forgotten that the anti-abolishment movement was global, as well.

Works Cited

Dow, George Francis. Slave Ships and Slaving. Dover, 2002.

Rediker, Marcus. The Slave Ship: A Human History. Penguin, 2011.

Turner, Joseph Mallord William. The Slave Ship. 1840, Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Gangsta Rap in the 1990s

Dave Busch

Revisiting the 90s

Professor Urban

Gangsta Rap in the 90s: Hip-Hop

For my mixtape, I would like to analyze the coastal and inter-coastal warfare that is present during the 1990s rap sphere. Rappers and MCs employed a state of mind that embraced the idea of “if you aren’t with me you’re against me”. These rappers had a unique way of expressing their art which is vital when analyzing the zeitgeist of the 90s. Their art is often resembled in forms of “diss tracks”. These songs want to publicly slander and publicly embarrass another rapper. Sometimes this rapper would be from a different coast, and sometimes they would come from familiar territory. Robin Kelley, an American studies scholar, writes about the rise and storied history of hip hop. He writes, “Many of these violent lyrics are not meant to be literal. Rather, they are boasting raps in which the imagery of gang banging to challenge competitors on the microphone”(Kelly 189). These rappers rap about killing the opposition which is used metaphorically as a part of their art. 90s rappers also used their songs as awareness for cultural injustices that were present on the African-American society. To conclude, 90s rap is a lot more than lyrics behind a funky beat. These lyrics are well-nuanced and have a deeper and intellectual meaning in which they represent either pride or cultural awareness.

Song 1

Hit em up- Tupac

June 4, 1996

Tupac came out with this tack in the midst of an cross-coastal rivalry that was omnipotent in the 90s rap game. This track was directed towards Biggie Smalls who represented the east coast at that time while Tupac was a member of West Coast gang. To start off the song, Tupac starts the song by saying, “West side, bad boys killas” and then goes on to say “West side when we ride come equipped with game”.  He then takes on a masculine identity by rapping about being a father figure to Biggie and how he’s been with all his women. Kelley writes, “Indeed, it’s masculine emphasis and pimp-inspired vitriol toward women are central to gangsta rap” (Kelly 185). In the 1990s, many of these rappers took pride in where they came from and rapped heavily about their territory.

Song 2

Shoot em up- Biggie

December 30, 1994

To start off this diss track directed towards Tupac, Biggie says, “Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete. Hard to creep on them Brooklyn streets”. Again, to start off this track, he represents his coast with pride. The 90s was an era where rappers started to create this spectacle of a “east vs west” coastal rivalry which lead to a greater following for the gangsta rap culture.

Song 3 

The Message- Nas

February 3, 1997

In Nas’s song “The Message”, he takes pride in the East coast and starts and inter-coast rivalry with Biggie with this song. Nas wants to show Biggie how there can only king of New York and that he can’t compete with him. The music video also is significant here too. The video shows what a normal inner-city New York block would look like, and it starts off with a black teen getting harassed by the police. Nas wants to show the normalization of police brutality that is directed towards their culture. Kelly writes, “Of course, this is not unique of gangsta rap; all kinds of “b-boys” and “b-girls” have been dealing with and challenging police repression, the media’s decriminalization of inner-city youth, and the just-us system of the get-go” (Kelly 185).  Stuff like that is so uniform to Nas and the whole black community in America itself, which is what Nas wanted to exemplify.

The Civil War and the Black American Experience: A Disconnect

By: Jared Silverstein

Slavery cannot be discussed without observing the horror that it culminated in, that being the Civil War. Likewise, a discussion on the Civil War without full comprehension of the institution of slavery, and America’s economic dependence on it, is a one-sided discussion. In modern America, the nation is still struggling to reconcile the common devastation felt after the War with much subtler, and unfortunately ignored, aspects of Civil Rights and the Black experience. Although the harsh themes of death present in Faust’s book propose that there is a commonality to the suffering amongst all who fought in the war, and that it could be possible to unite as a nation in reverence for the human lives that were lost, the stark dichotomy of American beliefs during the time regarding the treatment of African Americans must not be obscured.

In the wake of the Civil War, Americans were forced to come to terms with devastation on such an unprecedented scale, to make sense of a seemingly futile battle waged for reasons that were not always apparent, that the very underpinnings of human psychology were rigorously tested. Drew Gilpin Faust, in This Republic of Suffering, redefines the image of the War through the perspective of death, and all that accompanies it. Whether it was the need to prepare oneself for an impending death, coming to grips with the loss of a loved one, or contemplating the presence of God’s will amidst such tragedy, people undoubtedly had to grapple with their own faith, beliefs, and perceptions of life

Going into the war as a divided nation, both psychologically as well as socially, Americans had a tendency to develop modes of rationalizing their losses that were in alignment with the prevailing sentiments of their regional culture. It is clear today that the prevailing form of southern commemoration is centered on sentiments of pride in those who fell fighting for states’ rights. While there is certainly much positivity to be found in a community that honors the valor demonstrated by their ancestors, pride must never prevent an objective and critical analysis of the War itself, in an attempt to arrive at a more empathetic and multi-faceted perspective on how the War affected all lives.

Faust depicts a story of the War in which dying soldier anxiously professed their faith in the hopes of salvation; where fathers carried the bullet that killed their sons until the day they too passed; where both Union and Confederate families struggled in vain to understand why their sons had perished for an unclear cause; and where human beings lost their personhood as they lay dead among the thousands, unburied. Perhaps the recognizing of this deep pain experienced by all families helps us to not approach commemoration form a point of nationalist pride, but from a perspective of human empathy and understanding, which then directly translates to the often avoided acknowledgment of the true Black experience during this time in America.

civil war graveSeen here in New Brunswick’s Elmwood Cemetery is the McIntosh family grave plot. John McIntosh served as a brigadier general in the Union Army during the civli war, while his brother Jame McIntosh served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. A memorial such as this grave plot that encapsulates this interesting story is one that allows someone to approach the War from a point of critical understanding. What was the underlying psychology in the family that tore it apart? What motivated James to fight for the Confederate Army? It is impossible to gloss over these questions under the spell of blind national pride because such a memorial compels one to seek further knowledge. (Photo by Jared Silverstein).

Faust illustrates how this Southern method of commemorating the war exclusively through the perspective of pride came to be:

Joseph Jones counted soldiers and their deaths both to demonstrate southern valor and to explain the defeat of the hopelessly outnumbered Confederacy. Regimental commanders counted to tell the story of “how well [their unit had] stood. 259

This gives one a sense that Confederate pride was arbitrarily established out of hopelessness in an effort to justify the incomprehensible deaths of such a massive scale of people. In the modern era, it must be realized that notions of pride somewhat serve as a crutch, allowing some to pay no mind to the harsh reality of the Confederacy: the war was being waged to uphold the institution of slavery. The reality of the true Black American experience becomes obscured and ignored when the method of commemoration is only at the surface level of pride. As Frederick Douglass is quoted in the book:

“I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery.” 269

The Confederate War memorials in the South are essential capsules of American history. For those who have relation or sentimental attachment to the figures in the monuments, Americans have every right to feel pride in those who fought for what they believed. The pain and discomfort that such memorials cause African Americans greatly outweighs the nostalgia for a better time felt by those in favor of the memorials.

confederate monumentThis Confederate memorial in North Carolina is one that romanticizes the bravery and honor of those soldiers who fought to defend their families and homes from the invading Union Army. To this day there is still strong feelings of pride associated with the confederacy among southerners, and even on the memorial there is language invoking the theme of love. But does this monument not leave further questions to be asked? It is as if an entire side of history, that being slavery during this time, is simply ignored when it comes to commemorating the War in the South. (The “Confederate Memorial” in Wilmington, NC depicting Gabriel James Boney Born Wallace courtesy of UNC).

While people should certainly be able to revere whomever they choose and for any reason, it is imperative that modern people, particularly the youth, stay informed about the total reality of the past. A proper form of commemoration involves recognition of all facets of history, even the harder ones to reconcile. Not only is this Confederate Memorial shown above a one-sided depiction of the past, but it is also offensive to those who are associated with this ignored history. America will not be able to come together as a nation until all people approach the past and the present from a point of empathy and informed understanding.

Faust’s approach to the Civil War through very humanizing themes such as death, killing, burying, and believing allows one to appreciate and grasp the magnitude and horror of the War as an entity in and of itself that deeply affected the nation. It is this newfound understanding that should be extended to the Black experience throughout the history of America, not kept separate from it.


Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. Alfred A.    Knopf, 2012.

Fashion! Full of Tension and Fear!

By Fallon Ward


History is not without bias or revisions. Despite the expectation that history and its institutions dedicated to preserving it should be unwavering, persistent truths that can be painful to comprehend or shameful to some countries and its people, the past can be interpreted, reinterpreted, regurgitated then mislead. Artifacts, text, transcripts, photos, art and art objects can be manipulated in presentation to make viewers to hate, sympathize, identify, appreciate, or admire the subject and the content depending on display. Fashion and clothing objects, probably the most glamorous remnants of the past, tend to be used in museum and historical sites to show the use of textiles or techniques, characterize fictional or real people, or show themes in history. One of the institutions that specializes in this is the Metropolitan Museum of Art with their yearly Met Gala exhibits and with the reopening the basement gallery as the Anna Wintour Costume Center in 2014 and one of the first shows exhibited was Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire (displayed Oct 2014 to Feb 2015). The exhibit is an example of manipulating historical items and its context to make the viewers see the subjects differently than they should have.

Admittedly I did not see this exhibit, but I was very interested in the title and the exhibit summary that I saw on the Met’s website. Met said that Death Becomes Her was an exploration of “aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the 19th and early 20th centuries”. As seen in the photos from the exhibit, 30 or so funeral and mourning ensembles were placed on white mannequins. The dresses came from 1830’s to the 1915 and were all contained in a black palette so the silhouettes that range from voluminous to pipelined and extraordinary details of textures were mostly featured. The Met wanted to show how women visually showed grief and mourning. However, I believe the selection of ensembles and the lack of historical attention is inappropriate and a clear example of revisionist history, particularly when it comes to the subject of the Civil War.

The ensembles that were on display were from the era of the Civil War, Victorian era, Edwardian periods, some were American while others were European. Some famous figures were also on display like Queen Victoria’s mourning dress for her husband Albert’s funeral as well as Marlene Dietrich’s dress for Edith Piaf’s funeral. But those non-famous people, the names of the owners to the clothes shown were not shown. Also, not shown, for the garments from Civil War America, which side of the war the dresses were associated with was also not given in the exhibit or from the Met’s website or other online reviews. It had failed to differentiate the visuals between the Union and the Confederacy women’s funerary and mourning wear if there were any and it pasted the two sides together in a sense which should never be allowed. According to some museum reviews, like Carolyn L.E. Benesh, the funeral dresses acted as some form of “self-reflection and identification” for the audience members  since the theme of death is universal.


But I can’t help but think that something is wrong with this display. To equate the deaths of the people of who these sometimes-anonymous women are mourning seems wrong especially when the Met put a famous actress and a former Queen next to women who lost their brothers, sons, fathers in a brutal war to then somehow connect it to 21st century female audience member. Death and grief is a universal understanding but taking out all the important context is doing these women a disservice, especially since some of these women are not unknown. In Drew Faust’s The Republic of Suffering, she gives historical accounts from Civil War era women who expressed their grief in writings, like Abbie Brooks who said that the sufferings of losing a loved one had “purified and petrified me. I care very little for anybody or anything, am neither sorry nor glad, but passive” (160) and Kate Foster whose brother died in the war said that her heart had become “flint” and she was “almost afraid to love too dearly anyone now” (160). Hearing accounts of women who described learning about the death of someone they loved in the Civil War as something akin to your heart being ripped out or losing all will to live is heartbreaking and, to me, makes the dresses the Met showed far more valuable. To gloss over these women and their stories is a horrible presentation of history, particularly women’s history in war time. As Faust said, mourning was a work largely allocated with women and they used their black dresses as a way to find solace in outward visuals (164). They were not flippant expressions of fashion. The dresses tell stories as much as Union or Confederate uniforms or weapons, battle plans, army correspondence letters, medical instruments, etc do.

The Met revised the history of the dresses and their owners to fit some narrative that celebrated design of clothes in a very specific time period but did nothing to inform viewers about what the women lost and what had occurred to cause them to wear such outfits. While they are visually appealing and one can appreciate the details of the garments, the Met as a historical institution that seeks to educate must do better when dealing with war history and with women’s lives in war.

Works cited:

Benesh, Carolyn L. E. Death Becomes Her. A Century of Mourning Attire. Jan 2015.

Faust, Drew. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008.

Online, Met. Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire. 2014.

—. Metropolitan Museum to Designate Renovated Costume Institute the Anna Wintour Costume Center. 14 Jan 2014.


The Imagination of the Civil War

by Chanina Wong


Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier, Beauvoir, Harrison Country Mississippi. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Civil War reenactments can produce imaginings to glorify the Confederacy and its racist causes instead of memorializing it. The practice of burying tombs of unknown soldiers, however, was conducted on the side of the Confederacy, too. Death touched both ends of the Civil War, but is it right to memorialize the Confederacy even if such memorial produces imaginings that are “beneficial” to remember death?

Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering discusses the Civil War’s common practice of disregarding the proper identification and return of bodies and remains of the dead. The notion that the state is required to properly name and return every deceased soldier from war is a fairly recent assumption that stemmed in World War I when soldiers began wearing dog tags for identification. The end of the Civil War only resulted in the state obligated to officially honor the military dead through national cemeteries. It was impossible to honor each deceased Civil War soldier due to the lack of proper policy of identification, especially when most bodies were disregarded and denied their proper burial rituals. The honoring of the dead became imagined for the deceased were unknown, lacking identification of a name:

“It was the Civil War, as Walt Whitman observed, that made the designation ‘UNKNOWN’ become ‘significant’” (Faust 103).

In 1868, a soldier who died in the Civil War unidentified was published in northern magazines. Unique to this unknown soldier was his possession of $360 and an ambrotype of a child, the circumstance allowing the body to not be forgotten like other unidentified corpses. There were those seeking the fortune of the unknown soldier, of course, but numerous letters by women replied to the publication in hopes that the corpse was their beloved husband, child, or father. “The absence of identifiable bodies left these women with abiding uncertainty and fantastical hopes, illusions that for them made the world endurable” (Faust 130). It was unlikely for the body to be a woman’s loved one, but the short time of imagining and hoping provided some sort of relief for those who’s deceased loved one has yet to return home.

Similar practice was utilized after the Vietnam War on Memorial Day 1984 with the burial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, with President Ronald Reagan hailing it “symbolic of all our missing sons” (Allen 90). A year before the Unknown Soldier’s burial, Benedict Anderson published Imagined Communities, which argued the boundaries of what is contained in a nation like the United States is a social construction, with rules constructing who belongs to create the “imagined community”. Nationalism and a strong devotion to one’s country is then produced by mere imaginings only. But those “imaginings” are strong enough to allow one’s self to do horrific things for their nation: to kill, go to war, even die in the name of their nation. Benedict Anderson believed that the Unknown Soldier greatly contributed to the imaginings of nation-states:

“No more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than the cenotaphs and tombs of Unknown Soldiers…Saturated with ghostly national imaginings” (Allen 92). 

Like religion, Anderson states nationalism provides eternity after life, memorializing those who died for their nation through the survival of the state. The remembrance of Unknown Soldiers produces a memory of war, focusing purely on its physical consequences. War provides death and losses in a family or a circle of friends, and tombs of unknown soldiers allows remembrance of such through imaginings. To walk past such tombs is to imagine what kind of life the unknown soldier had, the loved ones he cared for, and the life he could have had if not cut short due to war. To be unknown is to not define who one is imagining, because of the lack of identification of who the tomb represents.


The persistence of the glorification of the Confederacy has resulted in a culture of “Southern Pride” tying one’s beliefs to the sentiment of an older time. The actual cause of the Civil War has been bastardized to merely a disagreement of the state’s rights, which dangerously avoids the very racist (and very real) policies of subjection of a group of people. Instead, the cause is morphed into a celebration of the Confederacy “upholding” individual rights and liberty. Southern pride stems from ancestral history, but also allows white Americans to uphold their own type of imagined community that is purely white and asserts their comfort. Americans who have such pride in 2017 would usually vehemently deny such claim. It is not difficult, though, to find primary documents that describe the defense of the institution of slavery, what the Confederacy was purely fighting for, as fundamentally upholding white supremacy and culture. A popular part of that culture is Civil War reenactments.

The first Civil War reenactments are recorded from 1861 as “sham battles” as entertainment, advertising for recruiting new soldiers, and providing Americans what their loved ones experienced during the war. Mark Guarino of The Washington Post writes after 2017’s protests of Charlottesville and the revolt against the memorialization of Confederate statues:

“Since those days, reenactments have grown in scale, and instead of providing relief to the people whose lives would be irreparably changed by the war, the staged battles emerged as a novel form of ‘living history.’ In every part of the country almost every weekend of the year, participants push aside historic dates and names and instead concentrate on more tangential learning: how a soldier felt charging across grass into battle, down to what he ate at the campfire before forcing sleep to come while lying on a hard earthen floor” (Guarino).           

The tendency to romanticize death, especially death by honor through war when one sacrifices their life for their country, almost sacrilegiously glorifies war and its consequences, giving void to the sensitivity of death. There is no arguing that death has the right to stake importance and devastation when it occurs, especially when it can be avoided or happens in mass numbers. Thus, it must be questioned if it is right to reduce the significance of death and the consequences of war through reenacting it as a form of entertainment, reducing dying to “masculine play”. “Living history” can be argued as beneficial for purposes of education, but actual history, like dates and the actual causation of the war (slavery) is downplayed. It serves more as a purpose of immersion, requiring a degree of imaginative play. They do not provide relief anymore as originally intended through imaginings, rather they provide a little show to go and enjoy. There is a culture of authenticity in the reenactment community with focus on methodical details like uniforms and food of the mid-nineteenth century battlefield. But there is also disregard for the negative consequences and embraces common misnomers of the Civil War. Rather, types of artillery and uniforms are what is focused on instead. The Civil War was one of the U.S.’ deadliest wars, not for just the deaths of soldiers, but the deaths of Americans not even fighting on the battlefields. It also contributes to an environment that is willing to go to war constantly.

Imagination occurs constantly as a result of war, like providing relief when one’s loved one’s remains have yet to return home or as a symbol of all those who gave their lives for their country. But because reenactments are imaginary play, the severity of the actual war is not acknowledged. Different imaginings produce different memorializations of the war. There must be responsibility to choose which imagining to produce that is according and sensitive to historical fact.


Works Cited

Allen, Michael J. “‘Sacrilege of a Strange, Contemporary Kind’: The Unknown Soldier and the Imagined Community After the Vietnam War.” History and Memory: Studies in Representation of the past, no. 2, 2011, p. 90. EBSCOhost,

Guarino, Mark. “Will Civil War reenactments die out?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 25 Aug. 2017,

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Anger, Southern White Pride, and Confederate Statues

by Jimmy Lu

Symbols have the power to reflect meanings. Given context, people can get to a closer to the meaning of a symbol. Among the symbols in America, Confederate statues have been controversial, not only because they people who supported slavery and white supremacy, but also because they are in public places.


“Confederate Defenders of Charleston Statue” at Charleston, SC, courtesy of NYDailyNews. The statue presents the Confederate soldiers as valorous warriors and defenders of Charleston. The statue glorifies the Confederate soldiers by its inscription, “TO THE CONFEDERATE DEFENDERS OF CHARLESTON.” However, someone vandalized the statue by spray painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in front of the main inscription. This vandalism reveals the outrage of the person over the statue that glorifies the Confederacy, which supported the enslavement of Black people.  The statue reveals Southern white pride about the brave efforts of Confederate soldiers. However, the statue’s image could be unsettling to Black people who feel that enslaved Black people’s masters are being glorified as heroes. I do not advocate vandalizing these statues; instead, they should be removed in a proper and legal way.

People look at these statues and become upset or angry. They may think about white-supremacy and slavery. Thus, they may want the statues removed from public places.

Both sides of the debate over the removal of the Confederate statues ought to think about the differing ideological frameworks. While defenders of these statues feel that they need to protect their Southern white culture and history, they need to understand that their adversaries may oppose these statues, because of their visceral hatred of the Confederacy’s pro-slavery and white-supremacism, to make public places reflective of tolerant and inclusive values.

Regarding those who are upset about the removal of the Confederate statues, they are upset because these people see their Southern white culture and history reflected by the statues. They may feel that liberals or people who offended by the statues are too sensitive or “politically correct.” Under the Trump Administration, Confederate sympathizers may feel protected, supported, and emboldened by President Trump who tweeted,

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

His characterization of the statues as “beautiful” and his sadness shows how he is defensive about them, which could also resonate with his conservative, white working-class supporters. Ultimately, defenders may try to prevent their “Southern culture” from being “ripped apart” by their ideological adversaries.

In addition, the removal of Confederate statutes does not mean the removal of Southern history. Drew Gilpin Faust in This Republic of Suffering presents the theme of “Numbering” that allowed those affected by the Civil War to deal with the unprecedented loss of Union and Confederate soldiers. Numbers help to “grapple with the larger meaning of loss for society and nation” (Faust 250). We may never remember all of those who died, but we could remember how many approximately Union and Confederate soldiers died. Numbering allowed Americans to commemorate the slain in a more appropriate way. According to Faust,

“States in both North and South enumerated the dead to honor the slain. A name upon a list was like a name upon a grave, a repository of memory, a gesture of immortality for those who had made the supreme sacrifice” (259).

This information is a more appropriate form of honor because listing “names upon a list” is less controversial, yet it also commemorates the soldiers’ sacrifices. This gesture is a more personal and appropriate tribute for Confederate deaths, rather than through controversial statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders. People can still learn about the Civil War history and acknowledge the culture of the South even if Confederate statues are removed from public sight.

Confederate sympathizers should understand why the statues ought to be removed. Rational people who have studied the Civil War through mainstream institutions view the Confederacy as a lost cause that wanted secession and the enslavement of Black people. To put negative feelings into perspective, a statue defender should think about a hypothetical scenario in which a Holocaust survivor looks at a statue commemorating Nazism in her own hometown. Would she not feel angry or sad when reminded of her oppressors? In a similar way, the Confederate statues can trigger thoughts in people’s minds about slavery. Defenders of the statues should stop trying to preserve a toxic culture that reminds others of oppression.

In the post-slavery and post-Confederacy era, we ought to remove these statues in memory of the oppressed groups throughout American history. Removing these statues will require the teamwork and commitment of people to legally petition, protest the statues, and financially support their removal through formal procedures. This process requires seemingly large, but, relatively low costs to remove the statues. The removal of these statues will improve the image of American towns and cities as tolerant and inclusive places. In addition, “Southern white culture” will have to undergo significant ideological changes and find appropriate ways to commemorate their Confederate soldiers. America needs to uphold tolerance and kindness for all racial groups, and this requires people’s willingness to support the removal of Confederate statues.

Varying Perceptions on the Civil War Experience

By: Kyle Laguerre

When it comes to the commemoration of the Civil War, there has been a difference in realizing the varying experiences of the war, not just through death but life as well.  As a result conflict consistently arises when discussing what parts of the war deserve to be commemorated.  This conflict is primarily caused due to the varying experiences northerners, southerners, and people of color have had involving the Civil War and the impact it has had on their communities.   While many white southerners see statues as a way of preserving their southern culture, African Americans are reminded of a time when they were seen as less than human.  As a result conflict over Civil War commemoration has erupted into a protest in more recent years

During the Civil War, American citizens were forced to handle death and burial in ways that deviated from the norm prior to the war.  For many American families the remains of dead family members were buried together within close proximity to each other, but due to the brutality of the Civil War many soldiers’ bodies remained irretrievable and unidentifiable (Faust 212).  As a result people on both sides of the conflict decided it was appropriate to honor the soldiers who died on both sides of the conflict especially those they could not identify (135).  Despite this the northerners and southerners in power after the Civil War who were primarily white, left of many soldiers of color when it came time to honor soldiers with statues and monuments in recognition of their hardships.  The 180,000 black soldiers who fought in the Civil War faced discrimination, inequality, and were used as cannon fodder, because they were seen as less than on both sides (44).  Because of this, informed African Americans have taken offence and action in response to the lack of commemoration in the north and glorification of Confederates who fought to enslave them in the south.

In modern day, America has yet to find a way of commemorating the Civil War in a way where most people are satisfied with the result.  Many American southerners state the Confederate Army fought for freedom of rights and deny slavery was the main motivation of the Civil War.  As a result the racist foundation reinforced by the Confederates’ actions still affect the American south today, and the lack of acknowledgement limits discussion on how they should be properly commemorated.   Concerning the removal of Confederate memorials I think there is a place for them in society were more historical context can be provided like a museum.  Places like museums and cemeteries provide information through tours and historically recorded content. This is much more constructive in comparison to general public settings where many of these statues yield a blind devotion and reside without unbiased context.  While the leading motivation of the Confederate Army was to preserve the heinous practice of slavery, it would not be beneficial to simply pretend it did not exist.  Destroying Confederate memorials would be like covering up history and in turn could end possible conversations and acknowledgements of wrong doing.

Even though the Confederate monuments have been deemed offensive to African Americans, there are ways to utilize said monuments in order to appease them and Southerners who feel their history should be preserved.  Although it may not change everyone’s opinions on the Confederate figures, providing a proper historical context of their right and wrongdoings with their preexisting monuments allows for more openness towards the viewpoints on opposing sides.  With the understanding that can take place among the groups, dialogue can be opened to find new ways of respecting everyone’s history.

Works Cited:

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering : Death and the American Civil War. New York :Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

Statue, Memory, and the Imagined Community

By Jeremy Mahr

On a sleepy summer night in mid-August, I watched in amazement from the comfort of my home the destruction of a Confederate memorial. On a streaming YouTube video, protesters in front of a Durham, North Carolina courthouse had curled rope around a Confederate soldier memorial, and proceeded to topple the statue to the ground. The impact of the fall split the statue down the torso, though angry protesters continued to stomp on the fragments for good measure. Opinions on the Internet comments section predictably ran wild. Aside from the usual racist, pro-fascist tirades from edgy teenagers that one would normally find in the gangrenous armpit that passes for online discourse these days, several particular sets of talking points seemed to crystallize. ‘What compelled these left-wing lunatics to commit these acts?’ people complained. ‘Can’t they see that they’re erasing history?’ bemoaned upstanding American citizens.

These accusations of re-writing history are hardly new, and are a familiar staple among pro-Confederate apologists and so-called fence-sitting moderates. Such a statement, however, presupposes that these statues were ever honest attempts at presenting a neutral historical viewpoint to begin with. However, as comedian John Oliver cogently explained in his well-articulated segment, this is far from the case. As Oliver’s sketch shows, not only were these statues erected long after Robert E. Lee’s 1865 surrender to Union troops at Appomattox, they were primarily built in two particular time periods: the 1900s-1920s and the 1950s-1960s. The fact that these two time periods overlapped with the nadir of American race relations, and the height of the Civil Rights movement, respectively, are hardly coincidental. Far from being good-faith representations of the Civil War or harmless symbols of Southern pride, these Confederate statues are, as a whole, heavily ideological assertions of dominance that arose from Southern attempts to address historical meaning from the death and destruction of the war, resulting in a mythical elevation of the Lost Cause and Southern unity that ignored the larger issues of race and class brought about by the conflict.

As the deadliest war in American memory, the Civil War reshaped not only the political and racial landscape, but also the ways in which Americans thought about death and memory. Raised on the concept of ars moriendi, or the Good Death, 19th century Americans believed in death as an art, with ritualized performances surrounding rites such as last words, family witnesses, and the peaceful transition to the afterlife (Faust 10). The ensuing brutality of the Civil War, however, soon came to shatter those basic assumptions about death. As more than 600,000 soldiers became casualties of the Civil War, many of them dying away from home and family, and denied an easy path for ars moriendi, soldiers and civilians alike struggled with appropriate ways of processing the tragedies unfolding around them. Although many civilians turned towards religion, as evidenced by the growing number of postwar Southern churches as well as the popularity of spiritualism, others, particularly in the South, found their faith faltering. They wondered in particular why God would subject the former Confederate citizens to the humiliation and anguish that followed the South’s defeat (Faust 193). Many wondered if the death and suffering ultimately had any meaning. It was in this atmosphere that the cult of the Lost Cause would come into play.

What made this notion of the Lost Cause so appealing was that it pushed back against the dehumanization that was suggested by the mass bloodshed of raw, modern industrial warfare. It asserted that the war was meaningful, that the soldiers who died had fought for a good and meaningful cause. As Faust explains,

“The Cult of the Lost Cause and the celebration of Confederate memory that emerged in the ensuing decades were in no small part an effort to affirm that the hundreds of thousands of young southern lives had not, in fact, been given in vain” (Faust 193).

By offering the notion of a noble South that has been brought low by treacherous Northern carpetbaggers and people of color, this vision united white southerners in solidarity, gave meaning to what seemed to be nothing else but chaotic carnage, and re-affirmed the imagined community that drove Confederate nationalism to begin with. The idea of preserving the “Southern way of life,” against the perceived threat of outside forces, would animate nostalgia for paternalistic Confederate values, the desire for renewal, and hostility against anybody who seemed to stand in its way. The building of Confederate statues as backlash against Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement was just one manifestation of this imagined community, and the othering that it entailed.

This notion of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, however, was also fundamentally flawed. As suggested above, the imagined community of white Southerners relied on the simultaneous exclusion and marginalization of others, especially black Americans. Much of this treatment was along racial lines, and under further critical review, one would find the entire racial attitude to be contradictory. It required a disavowal that the Civil War had anything to do with slavery, while also embracing patently racist elements that tacitly or openly warned blacks to stay in their place.


Confederate Soldier Sculpture, Durham, NC. Erected in 1924, the statue stood in front of the old Durham County Courthouse until it was forcibly taken down in August 2017 by protesters. Its construction at the height of nativism and the KKK, and its placement outside a court of law is emblematic of how Confederate memorials are as much about racial domination over public space as it was about Southern pride. Its removal following the Charlottesville demonstrations can be seen as a reclamation of that space by minority rights activists. Courtesy of CNN.

Over the course of postwar memory, the deaths and sacrifices of the war became increasingly fetishized, even as people stopped thinking about what exactly these soldiers were dying and sacrificing for. As Frederick Douglass would declare,

“death has no power to change moral qualities…. I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty, and those who fought for slavery” (Faust 269).

Those who fought for liberty included runaway slaves who would end up joining the Union Army. Those black soldiers in many cases received the brunt of Confederate brutality through incidents such as the Fort Pillow Massacre, and so were denied the same ars moriendi that white Americans were incessantly preoccupied with. In putting up statues that celebrate Confederate soldiers and officers, Confederate apologists willfully ignore the institution of slavery over which the South fought for, and the promise of freedom that the war brought for enslaved blacks. In accusing others of re-writing history, supporters of the status quo forget that the Confederate statues have already done the same, effectively re-writing blacks out of their own history.

Nor were blacks the only group to suffer this treatment. In downplaying the slavery aspects of the Civil War, the Cult of the Lost Cause also ignored the class issues that plagued the Confederacy. Far from being a unified Southern bulwark against Northern aggression, the Confederate secessionists were plagued from the onset about the problem of convincing poor whites to fight against their economic interests, in favor of propping up a system of slavery that enriched the planter elite against the interests of the many. Although white supremacist propaganda worked to an extent, by the end of the war many working-class whites had come to reject Confederate ideology, under the belief that they were being taken advantage of by the slave-owning elites. Yeomen farmers may have constituted the bulk of the Confederate military, but they also made up the bulk of deserters and draft resisters as well (Zimmer). Pro-Union Southerners were also ruthlessly suppressed under the Confederacy. As Eric Foner states,

Throughout the upcountry, Unionists abandoned their homes to hide from conscription officers and Confederate sheriffs, who hunted them, as they had once hunted runaway slaves, with bloodhounds; some found refuge in the very mountain caves that had once sheltered fugitives from bondage” (Zimmer).

Clearly, these pro-Unionist Southerners defy the supposed solidarity among white Southerners that the Lost Cause demands. Because of their refusal to conform to elite demands, these white dissidents were marginalized from the Confederate imagined community, having also been written out of their own history alongside African Americans.

The Confederate statues, like all statues, do not exist to record history, but to celebrate it: to celebrate the Great Men, ideals, and mythos of the Conquered South. In doing so, they present a false, Disney-fied version of history in which a united South fought back against northern tyranny, while ignoring the race and class antagonisms that defined the Southern experiment in secession.


Stone Mountain, the largest Confederate memorial in the United States, was built in 1972 on the birthplace of the second Ku Klux Klan. Presenting bas-relief sculptures of three Confederate leaders (President Jefferson David, General Robert E. Lee, and General Stonewall Jackson), the monument contributes to the sentiment of the Lost Cause via the hagiography of its leaders. It is also the centerpiece of a hilarious online petition. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

So what do we make of the statues, and the ideas of the Lost Cause that underpin them? Despite the protestations of Confederate apologists, opposition to Confederate statues and memorials is not an act of rewriting history, so much as it is a correction to a history that has become distorted in public memory due to years of nostalgia and a need to validate seemingly-senseless wartime violence. It is a reaction to an ideological system that presents an erroneous vision of a unified South, historically undergirded systems of white supremacy and elite domination, and sidelined the impact of blacks and dissident, working-class whites. Whether the correct course of action is to remove all Confederate statues, or to put up more statues celebrating black figures, or any combination of actions, I do not know, and I invite people who are more learned than me to offer solutions. All I ask is that fence-sitting centrists examine more closely these statues, and the historical baggage and revisionism that comes with them, and ask themselves this: ‘which side is really rewriting history?’    


Faust, D.G. (2008). This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Oliver, J. [LastWeekTonight]. (Oct 8, 2017). Confederacy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) [Video File]. Retrieved from

Zimmer, T. (Aug 16, 2017). Tear Down the Confederates’ Symbols. Jacobin. Retrieved from