"Music & The Civil War": Next Week in The Art League Gallery!

Christian McWhirter, PhD in US History

Plenty of public panels and lectures have been given on the arts and on The Civil War; both crucial topic in our national rhetoric. But how are they related? 

That’s exactly the question Christian McWhirter aims to answer in his upcoming seminar on July 23rd at 1pm in The Art League gallery. His focus will mainly be on music and its place in war-torn America in the mid-nineteenth century. 

“I will focus on three main themes,” says McWhirter. “The high popularity of music during the war, the characters of the most prominent songs, and, most importantly, how people used these songs throughout the conflict.” 

McWhirter got his doctorate in US History from the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa. His dissertation focused specifically on music during the Civil War era and how it affected culture and morale for the people living through it. Since graduating, he has written a book called The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War, being published this spring by The University of North Carolina Press. He currently works as an assistant editor for The Papers of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. 

His fascination with the era and its music stems from an interesting historical fact: “The Civil War was the first war fought to music,” he says. “Music was already an important part of American popular culture before the war but the heightened emotions and strong opinions fostered by the conflict inspired an unprecedented amount of song production and performance.” It’s a specific kind of song, however, that McWhiter says sets the era apart. It’s more what we would hear at a 4th of July celebration than at a wedding. “Although romantic and sentimental tunes were most prominent before the war, political and patriotic songs dominated the war years,” he says. “These songs were powerful ways to communicate ideas and influence listeners. Nineteenth-century Americans understood this and used music effectively and often throughout the conflict.”

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