Civil War America, 1848-1877 - HIST6102

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This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


Between the founding of the republic and the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the United States came of age. The nation's population increased tenfold; its territory more than doubled. Driven by the high-minded ideals out of which the country had been founded, and the restless energy that saw a nation of thirteen colonies grow into a territorial republic of immense size, the United States became a symbol of a tumultuous century. In time, however, the republic would become a casualty of its own success. As the 1850s wore on, a battle over slavery and its place in a rapidly changing nation unraveled into sectional conflict, secession, civil war and a decade's long struggle after the war ended. The result was the largest forced emancipation of slaves in world history, and a conflict of barely calculable carnage. For better and for worse, the Civil War and its aftermath would become the great crucible into which a modern United States was born.

This module surveys the origins, conflicts and outcomes of the Civil War by not only understanding how the war altered the United States but understanding the Civil War and its aftermath in a broader context. Students will examine the causes and consequences of the conflict, by looking backwards to the roots of sectionalism and secession, and forwards into the postwar period, known as Reconstruction. The purpose of this module is to understand how all of these historical forces sowed the seeds of the republic's demise, while at the same time examining what kind of new nation Americans created in the ashes of the old one. Out of the war would come not only a new nation, but a fundamentally different United States. The violent collapse of slavery and the destruction of the plantation system brought profound change and innumerable conflicts, long after the South capitulated and two national armies laid down their weapons. In the wake of the war, Americans would attempt to construct a new republic, born as Abraham Lincoln urged in 1864, out of a 'new birth of freedom.' The problems with that birth, and the contradictions that would endure, would mark the country right up to the present-day.


Contact hours

This module will be taught through one 1-hour lecture and one 2-hour seminar each week, with the exception of Enhancement Week and one week that will be dedicated to coursework feedback.

Method of assessment

This module will be assessed by:

- Essay (4,000 words) - 45%
- Portfolio (2,500 words) - 35%
- Seminar Presentation - 5%
- Seminar Participation - 15%

Indicative reading

Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism (London, 2014).
Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York, 1988).
Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge MA, 2003).
James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (New York, 2013).
Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Cambridge MA, 2010).
James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, 1988).
David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York, 1976).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Appreciate the main themes of American history across the middle decades of the nineteenth century.
- Critically understand key concepts and developments in the period, including the sectional crisis of the 1850s; the reasons for the secession of southern states from the Union in 1860-61; the wartime development of total war policies by both the Confederacy and the United States; the evolution of emancipation during the war, and the development of Reconstruction policy (1863-77).
- Critically understand the range of causal factors that brought about the Civil War, and the factors that both encouraged and limited the development of post-war Reconstruction, both in high politics and on the ground.
- Appreciate the significance of both continuity and change across the Civil War and post-war periods.
- Critically understand the impact of the Civil War on both the shape and future direction of the United States, including the republic's politics, its culture, its economy and the structure of American society in the later decades of the nineteenth century.
- Critically understand the broader significance of armed conflicts as not only military events in history, but as opportunities to uncover social, economic, cultural and political change as well.
- Critically understand key historiographical debates and approaches relating to the study of the coming of the Civil War and its outcome, as well as the broader approaches of scholars who set the war and its aftermath against a broader global canvas.

The intended generic learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Demonstrate their ability to present ideas and arguments in oral and written form.
- Demonstrate their ability to present ideas in written work in both essays and in smaller assignments, as well as critically reflect on their work and the development of their transferrable skills.
- Demonstrate their ability to analyse, synthesise and precis secondary literature.
- Demonstrate their ability to work both independently and as part of a team, through individual preparation for seminars, as well as group work during seminars.
- Demonstrate their ability to produce work for a deadline.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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