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Edward Linenthal
Editor, Journal of American History

Last modified: Monday, October 1, 2012

History journal examines recent scholarship on causes of Civil War

Oct. 1, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Historians may agree that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War, but that doesn't mean the debate has ended over why the war was fought. So writes Michael E. Woods in the latest issue of the Journal of American History.

The quarterly journal is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington.

Journal of American History cover, September 2012

Protesters link preacher Gerald L.K. Smith to fascism in this Journal of American History cover photo from the 1940s. An article in the journal looks at working-class religion and politics in Detroit.

Print-Quality Photo

Woods, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of South Carolina, analyzes the extensive literature on causes of the war that has been published since 2000 in his article "What 21st-Century Historians Have Said About the Causes of Disunion." He analyzes three trends: The extension of scholarship to include international and colonial-era causes; attention to Northern sectionalism and Southern nationalism; and increased awareness of the role of class and class conflict.

As America observes the sesquicentennial of the war, Woods writes that "recent students of Civil War causation have not merely plowed familiar furrows. They have broken fresh ground, challenged long-standing assumptions and provided new perspectives on old debates."

In other articles in the September 2012 issue:

  • Matthew Pehl, assistant professor of history at Augustana College, argues that the cultural politics of World War II were shaped by ideas about working-class religion, with activists on the left supporting industrial unionism and ministers on the right warning of communism.
  • Eithne Quinn of the University of Manchester in England examines racial politics in Hollywood during the 1960s, uncovering the movie industry's role in anti-affirmative-action lobbying and its propagation of an ideology of color-blindness for achieving racial equality.
  • Lila Corwin Berman, associate professor of history at Temple University, explains how the Jewish population of Detroit was able to take part in "white flight" while attempting to remain invested in urban life.

In the Journal of American History Podcast for September 2012, Ed Linenthal, editor of the journal and professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of History at IU Bloomington, speaks with Pehl about his article "'Apostles of Fascism,' 'Communist Clergy' and the UAW: Political Ideology and Working-Class Religion in Detroit, 1919-1945."