Keep the Days

Reading the Civil War Diaries of Southern Women

By Steven M. Stowe

228 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4096-9
    Published: May 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4095-2
    Published: May 2018
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4097-6
    Published: April 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5428-5
    Published: April 2018

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Awards & distinctions

A 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Americans wrote fiercely during the Civil War. War surprised, devastated, and opened up imagination, taking hold of Americans’ words as well as their homes and families. The personal diary—wildly ragged yet rooted in day following day—was one place Americans wrote their war. Diaries, then, have become one of the best-known, most-used sources for exploring the life of the mind in a war-torn place and time. Delving into several familiar wartime diaries kept by women of the southern slave-owning class, Steven Stowe recaptures their motivations to keep the days close even as war tore apart the brutal system of slavery that had benefited them. Whether the diarists recorded thoughts about themselves, their opinions about men, or their observations about slavery, race, and warfare, Stowe shows how these women, by writing the immediate moment, found meaning in a changing world.

In studying the inner lives of these unsympathetic characters, Stowe also explores the importance—and the limits—of historical empathy as a condition for knowing the past, demonstrating how these plain, first-draft texts can offer new ways to make sense of the world in which these Confederate women lived.

About the Author

Steven M. Stowe is Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University, Bloomington.
For more information about Steven M. Stowe, visit the Author Page.


“Stowe’s discussion of diaries as texts should be required reading for anyone interested in the challenges of reading published versions of primary sources like diaries.”--Journal of Southern History

“By focusing on how to understand the women's often-unsympathetic sentiments and words, he paradoxically invests these ethereal authors with profound humanity. His profiles of the diarists and his pithy analyses throughout add meaningful depth to this excellent study.”--Choice

“Interspersing his own insights with the words of poets and philosophers, novelists and literary critics, Stowe offers an extended meditation on what can be gained from close readings of women’s diaries as diaries. The result is a compelling, thoughtful, and deeply personal book. It is essential reading for any Civil War scholar.”—Anya Jabour, University of Montana

“Deeply compelling and thought-provoking. Beautiful and evocative. With incredible sensitivity, Stowe uses the diary to explore how slaveholding women kept reframing their sense of self, as well as the world around them. His insights will force historians to think much more carefully about how they approach diaries.”—Margaret Abruzzo, University of Alabama