J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists
Volume 1, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 259-284 | 10.1353/jnc.2013.0026
In both material and conceptual ways—from survey courses and anthologies to scholarly projects and narratives of literary history—the year 1865 dominates American literary studies. This essay examines the history of the antebellum/postbellum divide and considers archives of ninteenth-century literature this divide tends to misrepresent, including the long careers of several major writers, the motley genealogies of literary realism, and the florescence of late nineteenth-century poetry. We seek not to dimish the importance of the Civil War—indeed, the war looms large in the rethinking we advocate—but rather to trouble the before-after narratives of literary and cultural history the 1865 divide fosters. The Civil War and emancipation, we contend, are less important as endpoints than as nexuses of transition and extension in nineteenth-century literary history. Reconsidering them as such represents a new dimension of the ongoing project of rescaling American literary studies.