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  • Sectional Economies
  • Jim Downs

While their treatment by scholars has changed drastically in the last six decades, African Americans still tend to either make cameo appearances in synthetic histories of the war and Reconstruction or be isolated as the main subjects of books in which they are too often romanticized. Neither approach has done much to revitalize or deepen understanding of the period. New research ought to more rigorously interrogate the forces of racism in shaping the African American experience, examine the suffering and challenges former slaves confronted, and fearlessly admit that some slaves made problematic decisions that need to be contextualized, not used to prop up racist assumptions made a century ago.

Two current approaches offer comparatively larger frames of reference and particularly promising avenues forward: public health history and transnational studies. Since the late nineteenth century, the history of medicine has been a major theme in the study of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Yet, with the exception of studies of nursing and sanitary reform, the medical history of the war has barely penetrated our wider social, political, economic, and cultural understanding of the period. For all the talk of transnationalism in other disciplines, it has yet to take serious hold in Civil War studies. Undergirding the move toward global and transnational histories has been the effort to reveal that national borders are porous, and that national histories do more ideological than historio-graphical work. Historians of the Civil War are starting to think beyond the borders of the North/South binary. Steven Hahn, Elliot West, and Heather Cox Richardson have each in recent and forthcoming books engaged the West in the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. This move needs to be the beginning of a larger effort to think beyond the borders of the Confederate nation and the United States. [End Page 10]

Jim Downs
Connecticut College


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