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History Professor David Goldfield Offers New Perspective on Civil War at American Library Association Meeting [VIDEO]

Posted on 02/01/2017

"History is messy."

That’s the lesson David Goldfield, the Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at University of North Carolina, Charlotte, taught at the Readex breakfast presentation at the 2017 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta. Prof. Goldfield supported this short declaration with several poignant examples.

While our minds tend to enjoy simple, clear-cut, good-versus-evil narratives, the reality is much more complex, Goldfield argued.  He used his research surrounding U.S. religious and Southern history to provide a new look at the causes and outcomes of the American Civil War, first explaining why he finds the often-told story of the war “woefully incomplete.” He asked his audience of academic librarians to entertain a very different perspective on the war.

Throughout his presentation, Goldfield challenged the usual chronicle surrounding the war—the familiar debate of states’ rights and slavery—and instead focused on the consequences of righteousness and the effects of removing the barrier between church and state. According to Goldfield, the Civil War represented the failure of our political system, caused by the injection of religion.

That assertion follows years of primary source research in which Goldfield collected detailed, nuanced views of the Antebellum Period. His review of church sermons, newspaper editorials and other original documents led Goldfield to put forth this thesis: The cost of the Civil War was not worth the outcomes.

Watch the full presentation to make your own determination. Was the cost of the Civil War—the lives of 750,000 men—worth it? Or would it have been, as Goldfield asserted, a greater tribute to our nation if they had lived?

In a survey after the presentation, 100% of attendees reported that their expectations for the event were met. They shared:

"The speaker provided details and rationales for the Civil War that I had not been presented with previously."

"A thought-provoking presentation. I also liked how he expressed his appreciation for libraries and Readex resources. Nice to see a scholar make that connection."

"Your past two conference speakers have allowed the audience to step into the past...Great speakers and topics!"

We hope to see you at a future Readex breakfast presentation! Please let your Readex account executive know you would like to receive an invitation.

To watch previous ALA breakfast presentations hosted by Readex, visit our Event Talks page.

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