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History > U.S. History > 19th Century

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Awaiting the Heavenly Country Cover

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Awaiting the Heavenly Country

The Civil War and America's Culture of Death

"Americans came to fight the Civil War in the midst of a wider cultural world that sent them messages about death that made it easier to kill and to be killed. They understood that death awaited all who were born and prized the ability to face death with a spirit of calm resignation. They believed that a heavenly eternity of transcendent beauty awaited them beyond the grave. They knew that their heroic achievements would be cherished forever by posterity. They grasped that death itself might be seen as artistically fascinating and even beautiful."-from Awaiting the Heavenly Country

How much loss can a nation bear? An America in which 620,000 men die at each other's hands in a war at home is almost inconceivable to us now, yet in 1861 American mothers proudly watched their sons, husbands, and fathers go off to war, knowing they would likely be killed. Today, the death of a soldier in Iraq can become headline news; during the Civil War, sometimes families did not learn of their loved ones' deaths until long after the fact. Did antebellum Americans hold their lives so lightly, or was death so familiar to them that it did not bear avoiding?

In Awaiting the Heavenly Country, Mark S. Schantz argues that American attitudes and ideas about death helped facilitate the war's tremendous carnage. Asserting that nineteenth-century attitudes toward death were firmly in place before the war began rather than arising from a sense of resignation after the losses became apparent, Schantz has written a fascinating and chilling narrative of how a society understood death and reckoned the magnitude of destruction it was willing to tolerate.

Schantz addresses topics such as the pervasiveness of death in the culture of antebellum America; theological discourse and debate on the nature of heaven and the afterlife; the rural cemetery movement and the inheritance of the Greek revival; death as a major topic in American poetry; African American notions of death, slavery, and citizenship; and a treatment of the art of death-including memorial lithographs, postmortem photography and Rembrandt Peale's major exhibition painting The Court of Death. Awaiting the Heavenly Country is essential reading for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of the Civil War and the ways in which antebellum Americans comprehended death and the unimaginable bloodshed on the horizon.

Ballykilcline Rising Cover

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Ballykilcline Rising

From Famine Ireland to Immigrant America

Mary Lee Dunn

In 1847, in the third year of Ireland's Great Famine and the thirteenth year of their rent strike against the Crown, hundreds of tenant farmers in Ballykilcline, County Roscommon, were evicted by the Queen's agents and shipped to New York. Mary Lee Dunn tells their story in this meticulously researched book. Using numerous Irish and U.S. sources and with descendants' help, she traces dozens of the evictees to Rutland, Vermont, as railroads and marble quarries transformed the local economy. She follows the immigrants up to 1870 and learns not only what happened to them but also what light American experience and records cast on their Irish “rebellion.” Dunn begins with Ireland's pre-Famine social and political landscape as context for the Ballykilcline strike. The tenants had rented earlier from the Mahons of Strokestown, whose former property now houses Ireland's Famine Museum. In 1847, landlord Denis Mahon evicted and sent nearly a thousand tenants to Quebec, where half died before or just after reaching the Grosse Ile quarantine station. Mahon was gunned down months later. His murder provoked an international controversy involving the Vatican. An early suspect in the case was a man from Ballykilcline. In the United States, many of the immigrants resettled in clusters in several locations, including Vermont, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, and New York. In Vermont they found jobs in the marble quarries, but some of them lost their homes again in quarry labor actions after 1859. Others prospered in their new lives. A number of Ballykilcline families who stopped in Rutland later moved west; one had a son kidnapped by Indians in Minnesota. Readers who have Irish Famine roots will gain a sense of their own “back story” from this account of Ireland and the native Irish, and scholars in the field of immigration studies will find it particularly useful.

Baptized in Blood Cover

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Baptized in Blood

The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920

Charles Reagan Wilson With a new preface

Southerners may have abandoned their dream of a political nation after Appomattox, but they preserved their cultural identity by blending Christian rhetoric and symbols with the rhetoric and imagery of Confederate tradition. Out of defeat emerged a civil religion that embodied the Lost Cause. As Charles Reagan Wilson writes in his new preface, "The Lost Cause version of the regional civil religion was a powerful expression, and recent scholarship affirms its continuing power in the minds of many white southerners."

The Baron in the Grand Canyon Cover

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The Baron in the Grand Canyon

Friedrich Wilhelm von Egloffstein in the West

Steven Rowan

 

In The Baron in the Grand Canyon, Steven Rowan presents the first comprehensive look at the life of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Egloffstein, mapmaker, artist, explorer, and inventor. Utilizing new German and American sources, Rowan clarifies many mysteries about the life of this major artist and cartographer of the American West.
This revealing account concentrates on Egloffstein’s activity in the American mountain West from 1853 to 1858. The early chapters cover his roots as a member of an imperial baronial family in Franconia, his service in the Prussian army, his arrival in the United States in 1846, and his links to his scandalous gothic-novelist cousin, Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein.
Egloffstein’s work as a cartographer in St. Louis in the 1840s led to his participation in John C. Frémont’s final expedition to the West in 1853 and 1854. He left Frémont for Salt Lake City where he joined the Gunnison Expedition under the leadership of Edward Beckwith. During this time, Egloffstein produced his most outstanding panoramas and views of the expedition, which were published in Pacific Railroad Reports.
Egloffstein also served along with Heinrich Balduin Möllhusen as one of the artists and as the chief cartographer of Joseph Christmas Ives’s expedition up the Colorado River. The two large maps produced by Egloffstein for the expedition report are regarded as classics of American art and cartography in the nineteenth century.
While with the Ives expedition, Egloffstein performed his revolutionary experiments in printing photographic images. He developed a procedure for working from photographs of plaster models of terrain, and that led him to invent “heliography,” a method of creating printing plates directly from photographs. He later went on to launch a company to exploit his photographic printing process, which closed after only a few years of operation.
Among the many images in this engaging narrative are photographs of the Egloffstein castle and of Egloffstein in 1865 and in his later years. Also include are illustrations that were published in the PRR, such as “View Showing the Formation of the Cañon of Grand River[today called the Gunnison River] / near the Mouth of Lake Fork with Indications of the Formidable Side Cañons” and Beckwith Map 1: “From the Valley of Green River to the Great Salt Lake.”

The Battle of Lake Erie and Its Aftermath Cover

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The Battle of Lake Erie and Its Aftermath

A Reassessment

Few naval battles in American history have left a more enduring impression on America’s national consciousness than the Battle of Lake Erie, September 10, 1813. Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry’s battle flag emblazoned with the message “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” now enshrined at the U.S. Naval Academy, has become a naval maxim. His succinct after-action report—“We have met the enemy and they are ours”—constitutes one of the more memorable battle summaries in American history.

This splendid collection celebrates the bicentennial of the American victory with a review of the battle and its consequences. The volume is divided into three sections.  The first deals with “Military Operations” in the upper Great Lakes, 1812–14, and provides an overview of the War of 1812 in the Old Northwest and western Upper Canada. The second, “Consequences,” assesses the long-term impact of this campaign upon the Native Americans and Euro-Americans who lived in the region and three individuals whose lives were changed by the American recovery of the upper lakes in 1813. The final section, “Memory,” examines two ways the United States keeps the legacy of its first squadron-to-squadron victory alive by maintaining the fragile battle flag that flew on Perry’s flagships and by sailing the replica of US Brig Niagara on the Great Lakes and the East Coast.

Collectively these essays allow the general reader, the military history enthusiast, and the professional historian to take a fresh look at this significant naval engagement and its impact on subsequent historical events. 

Before Harlem Cover

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Before Harlem

The Black Experience in New York City Before World War I

By Marcy S. Sacks

In the years between 1880 and 1915, New York City and its environs underwent a tremendous demographic transformation with the arrival of millions of European immigrants, native whites from the rural countryside, and people of African descent from both the American South and the Caribbean. While all groups faced challenges in their adjustment to the city, hardening racial prejudices set the black experience apart from that of other newcomers. Through encounters with each other, blacks and whites, both together and in opposition, forged the contours of race relations that would affect the city for decades to come.

Before Harlem reveals how black migrants and immigrants to New York entered a world far less welcoming than the one they had expected to find. White police officers, urban reformers, and neighbors faced off in a hostile environment that threatened black families in multiple ways. Unlike European immigrants, who typically struggled with low-paying jobs but who often saw their children move up the economic ladder, black people had limited employment opportunities that left them with almost no prospects of upward mobility. Their poverty and the vagaries of a restrictive job market forced unprecedented numbers of black women into the labor force, fundamentally affecting child-rearing practices and marital relationships.

Despite hostile conditions, black people nevertheless claimed New York City as their own. Within their neighborhoods and their churches, their night clubs and their fraternal organizations, they forged discrete ethnic, regional, and religious communities. Diverse in their backgrounds, languages, and customs, black New Yorkers cultivated connections to others similar to themselves, forming organizations, support networks, and bonds of friendship with former strangers. In doing so, Marcy S. Sacks argues, they established a dynamic world that eventually sparked the Harlem Renaissance. By the 1920s, Harlem had become both a tragedy and a triumph—undeniably a ghetto replete with problems of poverty, overcrowding, and crime, but also a refuge and a haven, a physical place whose very name became legendary.

Before the Manifesto Cover

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Before the Manifesto

The Life Writings of Mary Lois Walker Morris

Melissa Lambert Milewski

Mary Lois Walker Morris was a Mormon woman who challenged both American ideas about marriage and the U.S. legal system. Before the Manifesto provides a glimpse into her world as the polygamous wife of a prominent Salt Lake City businessman, during a time of great transition in Utah. This account of her life as a convert, milliner, active community member, mother, and wife begins in England, where her family joined the Mormon church, details her journey across the plains, and describes life in Utah in the 1880s. Her experiences were unusual as, following her first husband's deathbed request, she married his brother, as a plural wife, in the Old Testament tradition of levirate marriage.

Mary Morris's memoir frames her 1879 to 1887 diary with both reflections on earlier years and passages that parallel entries in the day book, giving readers a better understanding of how she retrospectively saw her life. The thoroughly annotated diary offers the daily experience of a woman who kept a largely self-sufficient household, had a wide social network, ran her own business, wrote poetry, and was intellectually curious. The years of "the Raid" (federal prosecution of polygamists) led Mary and Elias Morris to hide their marriage on "the underground," and her to perjury in court during Elias's trial for unlawful cohabitation. The book ends with Mary Lois's arrival at the Salt Lake Depot after three years in exile in Mexico with a polygamist colony.

Before They Could Vote Cover

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Before They Could Vote

American Women's Autobiographical Writing, 1819–1919

Edited by Sidonie A. Smith and Julia Watson

The life narratives in this collection are by ethnically diverse women of energy and ambition—some well known, some forgotten over generations—who confronted barriers of gender, class, race, and sexual difference as they pursued or adapted to adventurous new lives in a rapidly changing America. The engaging selections—from captivity narratives to letters, manifestos, criminal confessions, and childhood sketches—span a hundred years in which women increasingly asserted themselves publicly. Some rose to positions of prominence as writers, activists, and artists; some sought education or wrote to support themselves and their families; some transgressed social norms in search of new possibilities. Each woman’s story is strikingly individual, yet the brief narratives in this anthology collectively chart bold new visions of women’s agency.

Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House Cover

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Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

Elizabeth Keckley

###Behind the Scenes# is the life story of Elizabeth Keckley, a shrewd entrepreneur who, while enslaved, raised enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son. Keckley moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker for the wives of influential politicians. She eventually became a close confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. Several years after President Lincoln's assassination, when Mrs. Lincoln's financial situation had worsened, Keckley helped organize an auction of the former first lady's dresses, eliciting strong criticism from members of the Washington elite. ###Behind the Scenes# is, therefore, both a slave narrative and Keckley's attempt to defend the motives behind the auction. However, the book's publication prompted an even greater public outcry, with the added racial subtext of white society's disdain for Keckley's audacity in publishing details of the Lincolns' private lives. Keckley's dressmaking business failed, the Lincoln family cut all ties with her, and she lived out her final days in a home for the indigent. Scholars have acknowledged the book's valuable account of slave life as well as its intimate view into the Lincoln White House. Biographers of the Lincolns have quoted extensively from Keckley's text.

The Best Specimen of a Tyrant Cover

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The Best Specimen of a Tyrant

The Ambitious Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand and the Wisconsin Insane Hospital

Thomas Doherty

In 1847, young Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand left Vermont to seek his fortune in the West, but in Wisconsin his business ventures failed, and a medical practice among hard-up settlers added little to his pocketbook. During the Civil War he organized and ran one of the army’s biggest hospitals but resigned when dark rumors surfaced about him. Back home, he accepted with mixed feelings the one prestigious position available to him: superintendent of the state’s first hospital for the insane.
            Van Norstrand was a newcomer to the so-called “Hospital Movement,” perhaps the boldest public policy innovation of its time, one whose leaders believed that they could achieve what had long been regarded as impossible, to cure the insane. He was a driven man with scant sympathy for those he considered misfits or malingerers. Even so, early observers were impressed with his energetic, take-charge manner at the hospital. Here at last was a man who stood firm where his predecessors had weakened and foundered. But others began to detect a different side to this tireless ruler and adroit politician. It was said that he assaulted patients and served them tainted food purchased with state money from his own grocery store. Was he exploiting the weak for personal gain or making the best of a thankless situation? Out of this fog of suspicion emerged a moral crusader and—to all appearances—pristine do-gooder named Samuel Hastings, a man whose righteous fury, once aroused, proved equal to Van Norstrand’s own.
            The story of Abraham Van Norstrand’s rise and fall is also the story of the clash between the great expectations and hard choices that have bedeviled public mental hospitals from the beginning. 

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