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CLS 114 H — The American Civil War: A Visual and Literary History

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: On-campus (About Formats)
Duration: 8 weeks
Date(s): Apr 11—May 30
Time: 5:30—7:20 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Apr 13
Unit: 1
Grade Restriction: No letter grade
Tuition: $465
Instructor(s): Alexander Nemerov
Limit: 250
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
5:30—7:20 pm (PT)
Apr 11—May 30
8 weeks
Refund Date
Apr 13
1 Unit
Grade Restriction
No letter grade
Alexander Nemerov
ACCESS THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville—so much great poetry and prose came out of the American Civil War. In the visual arts, the same was the case. Winslow Homer painted sharpshooters poised amid leafy branches. Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan shockingly photographed the dead at Antietam and Gettysburg. In the theater, the famous actress Charlotte Cushman wowed an audience as Lady Macbeth in a one-night charity performance of Shakespeare’s play in Washington, DC, in 1863.

And beyond these art forms, there was the daily round of life, the experience of soldiers and slaves, of women in Richmond, Washington DC, and elsewhere—all art forms of their own kind, descended to us in diaries, medals, and uniforms; in cemeteries, fragments of shrapnel found in fields; in the haunting space of Ford’s Theatre, where John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

Together, all these places and pictures and poems and stories create a mosaic of life between 1861 and 1865 and beyond—a mosaic that’s made to this day, in the war’s ongoing political and poetic aftereffects, including most recently, the defacing and removal of Confederate statues in Richmond and other places in 2020 and the melting down of the city’s Robert E. Lee equestrian sculpture in 2023.

Focusing on poems, paintings, and photographs, but also on the lived experience of Americans during the war, the course is a personal and poetic journey into the past, told by Alexander Nemerov. More than that, it is a chance for students to reflect on their own personal and emotional connection to the American past.

This course is designed for the entire Stanford community, and Continuing Studies students will be joined by Stanford undergraduates and Stanford graduate students. Students can choose to attend this course on campus or online. Sign up for Section H if you think you might attend class on the Stanford campus at least once. There is no commitment—you can still choose to attend via Zoom for any session. Sign up for Section Z if you know you will exclusively attend via Zoom.

Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Stanford

Alexander Nemerov is an art historian and a distinguished scholar of American culture. He explores our connection to the past and the power of the humanities to shape our lives. Through his research and close readings of history, philosophy, and poetry, Nemerov reveals art as a source of emotional truth and considers its ethical demands upon us in our moment. He has been named one of Stanford’s top 10 professors by The Stanford Daily. He is the author of many books on art and cultural history. His most recent book is The Forest: A Fable of America in the 1830s.

Textbooks for this course:

There are no required textbooks; however, some fee-based online readings may be assigned.