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Unit information: The American Civil War in 2020/21

Unit name The American Civil War
Unit code HIST20123
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Ms. Tricha Passes
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Over 650,000 soldiers were estimated to have died in the American Civil War fought between the Confederate Army of the South and the Union Army of the North from April 1861 to May 1865. The pivotal issue of slavery followed by Abraham Lincoln’s election as President in 1860 were key factors that ignited this conflict that was to claim more American lives than in both World Wars of the Twentieth Century.

Contextualizing the growing industrialization of the North compared to the plantation South the unit will examine the economic as well as political frameworks that led to war. The theatres of war from Virginia and Tennessee to Texas and New Mexico will be considered alongside key battles such as Fort Sumter, Fredericksburg, Antietam and Gettysburg. The military tactics of leading Generals such as Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant will also be a prime focus of our study as well as both class and racial divisions in both armies and civilian populations. The use of new technologies such as the telegraph, ironclad warships and submarines will also be analysed alongside an incredible array of photographs that have contributed to our visual analysis. The role of women such as Harriet Tubman, who spied for the Union army and Clara Barton who was instrumental in developing nursing care will be assessed and contextualised within the gendered constructs of the period. The American Civil War which began over a hundred and fifty years ago commands a central place in the modernist historical imagination not only of the United States but internationally. The history of that legacy will also form the basis of our study.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Identify and analyse key themes in the course and consequences of the American Civil War in various contexts
  2. Understand and use historical methods specific to the study of the American Civil War.
  3. Discuss and evaluate the historiographical debates that surround the topic
  4. Understand and interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical
  5. Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level I.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1 x 3500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Blight, D. Confederate Reckoning- Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Harvard, 2010)

Cashun, Joan (eds) The War Was You and Me – Civilians in the American Civil War ( Princeton, 2002)

Clinton, C. & Silber N., ( ed) Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War (New York : Oxford University Press, 1992)

McPherson, J., M. Battle Cry of Freedom – The Civil War Era (Oxford, 1988)

Mark Neely, The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America (London: Harvard University Press, 1993