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Reconstruction Books

David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001)

Charts the course by which southerners waged a "propaganda war" for the memory of Reconstruction and the Civil War; one that altered the course of historical scholarship and American history itself. The end notes run to almost 100 pages; a very thoroughly researched study on the conscious struggle to control collective memory, one fought by both blacks and whites, but ultimately won by the latter until the Civil Rights Movement and, in some respects, beyond.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward A History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in America, 1860-1880 (1935)

Not the first work of revisionist scholarship on the period, but certainly one of the earliest and most prominent, Black Reconstruction was largely ignored in its own time. Du Bois—the first black man to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University—sought to turn the dominant historiographical school on its head while using much of their research work for his own sources (as a black man, he was not admitted into most manuscript archives at the time). The work wove a credible narrative that presented black people as human beings, neither inherently inferior nor superior, but exhibiting instances of intelligence as well as ignorance. His final chapter, on "The Propaganda of History," surveyed the extant scholarship and divided it into a series of depressing categories: "standard-anti-Negro," "propaganda," and "historians fair to indifferent on the Negro." The last category indicated the scholars who wrote sympathetically about blacks. His somewhat unorthodox employment of Marxist ideology created problems for the history, however, as when Du Bois tried to argue that the black exodus from plantations in the wake of emancipation amounted to a "general strike," and that slaves could be termed members of the proletariat.

Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution (1988)
Kenneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877 (1965)

Not a comprehensive work on the various aspects of Reconstruction, but a very good summary of the revisionist scholarship that approached the time period from a radically new perspective in the context of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Includes critiques of the old "Dunning school" of racist historiography, but also of the first revisionist: W.E.B. Du Bois.

Steven Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (2003)

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize, this exhaustive study catalogs modern black political traditions and communities as they emerged out of slavery. Hahn reinterprets traditional notions of what constitutes political involvement and action, and the result is a history that emphasizes the direct action and initiative of black people, rather than their previous portrayals as submissive or dependent figures.

Leon F. Litwack, Been In the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (1979)

A Pulitzer-Prize-winning triumph of historical scholarship. Litwack was one of the first historians to carefully examine the aftermath of the Civil War from a black perspective, utilizing the invaluable interviews conducted by the Federal Writers Project during the Great Depression, but also an exhaustive list of accounts from newspapers, letters, and transcribed testimony from both whites and blacks.

Dorothy Sterling, We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the 19th Century (1984)

An impressive primary-source collection of diaries, oral histories, letters, and autobiographies of black women from 1800 to the 1880s, compiled by the former curator of the Research Collection at Howard University.

C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (1951)

Without question one of the finest works of American history ever composed. Vann Woodward charts the specific circumstances under which the southern states embarked on a radically new course of leadership, government, and social structure that ultimately coalesced into the modern South of the early twentieth century. Yet he traces the significant commonalities between the states and their broader connections to the distribution of power in American government at all levels, as well as the influence of business interests and the propertied classes on the ultimate composition and orientation of southern governments.

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