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The Civil War Dead and American Modernity$
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Ian Finseth

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190848347

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190848347.001.0001

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the civil war dead in visual culture

(p.78) 2 Body Images
The Civil War Dead and American Modernity

Ian Finseth

Oxford University Press

This chapter shows that the visual archive of the Civil War—photography, painting, lithography, and illustration—was engaged in a complex undertaking of both directing viewers’ attention to the dead and displacing that attention. The argument is threefold. First, it challenges the conventional wisdom that photographs of the dead made the war more “real” for Americans and served to disrupt their communal grief; rather, these images have the potential to nurture an abstract and open-ended condition of national mourning, evoking a feeling of mutual belonging and of citizenship itself. Second, lithographic prints of battle scenes aestheticize mortality in a way that suppreᶊes the political meanings of the war while creating an allegory of national progreᶊ. Third, some Civil War painting thematized the power of silence, reflection, and contemplation, thereby encouraging a different form of viewing and the exercise of independent critical thought in relation to the waste of war.

Keywords:   Civil War, death, photography, painting, lithography, illustration, psychology of attention, visual culture, empathy, iconography, allegory, aesthetics

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