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This War Ain't Over

Fighting the Civil War in New Deal America

By Nina Silber

248 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4654-1
    Published: November 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4655-8
    Published: November 2018

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The New Deal era witnessed a surprising surge in popular engagement with the history and memory of the Civil War era. From the omnipresent book and film Gone with the Wind and the scores of popular theater productions to Aaron Copeland's "A Lincoln Portrait," it was hard to miss America's fascination with the war in the 1930s and 1940s. Nina Silber deftly examines the often conflicting and politically contentious ways in which Americans remembered the Civil War era during the years of the Depression, the New Deal, and World War II. In doing so, she reveals how the debates and events of that earlier period resonated so profoundly with New Deal rhetoric about state power, emerging civil rights activism, labor organizing and trade unionism, and popular culture in wartime.

At the heart of this book is an examination of how historical memory offers people a means of understanding and defining themselves in the present. Silber reveals how, during a moment of enormous national turmoil, the events and personages of the Civil War provided a framework for reassessing national identity, class conflict, and racial and ethnic division. The New Deal era may have been the first time Civil War memory loomed so large for the nation as a whole, but, as the present moment suggests, it was hardly the last.

About the Author

Nina Silber is professor of history at Boston University and author of The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900.
For more information about Nina Silber, visit the Author Page.


“Offers a stimulating look into Civil War memory's evolution and insight into the reverberations that continue to the present.”--H-Net Reviews

“In this brisk, engagingly written book, Silber charts the way that disparate Americans used the Civil War to frame important engagements with contemporary issues, especially with federal power, during the depression. Silber’s chapters include analyses of artists, writers, filmmakers, government officials, monument builders, trade unionists, and scores of others, both black and white.”--The Annals of Iowa

“Silber moves seamlessly from political memory to cultural memory, and the cultural memory she discusses spans a wide gamut of film and literature. . . . A necessary addition to the historiographies of both the Great Depression and memory writ large.”--Journal of Southern History

"Nina Silber's This War Ain't Over is the best book yet written on how politics and culture mix to forge the historical memories we live by in times of national crisis. This is a sizzling account of how profusely Americans from all perspectives used Civil War memory to fight for power and policy during the Great Depression and World War II. The verdicts of Appomattox were never gone with the wind; many people only wished them so."--David W. Blight, author of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

"In this imaginative, wide-ranging work Nina Silber masterfully guides us through essays, novels, plays, and films to reveal how creative artists and public figures across the political spectrum sought to fashion a usable past. The result is an eye-opening work that not only deepens our knowledge of the Civil War in American memory but also breaks new ground in our understanding of New Deal America."--Louis P. Masur, author of Lincoln's Last Speech

"In this lively meditation on the memory of the Civil War, Nina Silber has much to tell contemporary Americans that is relevant to our current circumstances. In these pages we see politicians, filmmakers, playwrights, and authors in a time of economic uncertainty and political rancor struggling to draw lessons from the nation's most dire previous crisis. Some drew the wrong lessons, but others were prophetic in using the memory of the Civil War to imagine a more democratic and inclusive nation."--W. Fitzhugh Brundage, author of Civilizing Torture