You’ve read the books. You’ve watched the films. Maybe you’ve played the drinking games that go with those films (and perhaps you’ve discovered that the narratives offered by those films aren’t so accurate after all.) What next?

As part of “Now Do Not Let Your Courage Fail: Voices From the Civil War,” an exhibit currently on display at the University of Iowa, 3,011 pages from letters and diaries have been scanned and put online. To echo Elisabeth Grant, the scanning of these documents is a major accomplishment in and of itself, but there’s still work to be done. Many of the entries have to be transcribed so they can become readable and searchable. Because transcribing eats up an enormous amount of time, and the project’s small staff don’t have the time or the resources to do it all themselves, they’ve decided to invite the internet to assist them.

Transcribing these letters and diaries could be a uniquely personal way of experiencing history (I sound like a Park Ranger!) Because commemorating the Civil War is really important to me, I’ve decided to pledge a couple hours a week to work on the project. You should join me! It’ll be fun.

Bonus: My favorite books about The Civil War

The Reintegration of American History by William J. Freehling: A collection of essays relating to the nature of slavery and the origins of the war.

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution by Eric Foner: We abolished the sin of slavery, but we’re still dealing with the aftermath of Reconstruction. This is a phenomenal history of the period.

The Strange Career of Jim Crow and The Burden of Southern History by C. Vann Woodward: Two of the most important books I’ve ever read. Essential for understanding post-bellum white southern identity.

The Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson: Simply the best broad overview of the conflict.

This Republic of Suffering: Death and Dying in the Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust: I just finished reading this book, a history of our reaction to unprecedented carnage, for the second time and it remains one of the most powerful and interesting non-fiction books I’ve ever read.

As for fiction, I tend to favor the somewhat surreal over the “authentic.” Stephen Wright’s The Amalgamation Polka is fantastic, as are Barry Hannah’s “Knowing He Was Not My Kind Yet I Followed,”  “Dragged Fighting From His Tomb,” and “Bats Out of Hell Division.” The first two are in Airships; “Bats Out of Hell” is in Bats Out of Hell.

 


 

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