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"Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War", has been made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.


A variety of special events and lectures will be scheduled throughout the upcoming months, including the following:

Wednesday, December 16th, 7 pm
Tony Horwitz, author of Midnight Rising, will present a book discussion on John Brown and the beginning of the war.

Tuesday, February 28th, 7 pm
Susan Strane: A Whole-Souled Woman: Prudence Crandall and the Education of Black Women

Susan will discuss her book on Prudence Crandall, who opened the first boarding school in America for African-American girls in Canterbury, Ct. in 1833. She advertised her school as a seminary for "young ladies and little misses of color." The town, however, was not pleased and their presence led to boycotts, intimidation, and the poisoning of their well. The school had become a cause celebre among abolitionists. Its defense was one of the first campaigns of the great William Lloyd Garrison.

Wednesday, March 14th, 7 pm
Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society : Civil War Era Poetry

During the Civil War, thousands of poems about the conflict were written by everyday citizens from the North and the South. These poems appeared in a variety of print formats, including newspapers, periodicals, broadsheets, and song sheets. These poems enable us to better understand the role of poetry during the war years and how poetry helped unify citizens, inspire troops, memorialize the dead, and bind the nation's wounds in the aftermath of the war. Drawing from the well-known poets of the period, including Walt Whitman, John Greenleaf Whittier, Herman Melville, Francis Orray Tickner, and George Henry Boker, the Martha's Vineyard Poetry Society will present an evening of poetry readings. Library of Congress Poetry Resources:

Sunday, April 22nd, 4 pm
Sparky and Rhonda Rucker: The Blue and Gray in Black and White

Sparky & Rhonda Rucker's presentation will include stories from the American Civil War portrayed through music and in narrative and will focus on the war's impact on the different regions of our country. The stories, some sad and some humorous, reflect personal insights from the various personalities who participated in the war. Since more songs came out of the Civil War than any other war in history, they will have a large repertoire of music to draw upon. They will sing slave songs, and songs from the Underground Railroad, while accompanying themselves with finger style picking and bottleneck blues guitar, harmonica, old-time banjo, slide guitar, piano, spoons, and bones.

As much a folklorist and community historian as a performer, Sparky Rucker has combined his love for blues and songs from the Black ballad tradition with a desire to both educate and entertain. Rhonda, a versatile performer, joins Sparky playing blues harmonica, piano, banjo, and adding vocal harmonies. They have been featured tellers at the International Storytelling Center and Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and on NPR's On Point. Join us for an afternoon of fun, history and songs for the whole family. This program is free of charge with a reception to follow.

Wednesday, April 25th, 7 pm
John Hough Jr. Seen the Glory: a Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg

John Hough tells the story of Luke and Thomas Chandler, who grew up on Martha's Vineyard, raised by their abolitionist father and Rose, their headstrong and beautiful Cape Verdean housekeeper. When a recruiter comes to the island, the boys, who have already witnessed their father and Rose helping a runaway slave to freedom and who are determined to join the fight against slavery, eagerly enlist in the storied Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Tuesday, May 1st, 7 pm
John Sundman: Lincoln at Gettysburg: the Words That Remade America

John Sundman will present a discussion of Gary Wills’, Pulitzer Prize winning book, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America. Wills’ thesis is that the Gettysburg Address came to define not only the meaning of the war, but the meaning of America. Subjects under discussion will include the rhetorical devices Lincoln used and his implicit arguments about the nature of the Union and its relationship to freedom.

Tuesday, May 22nd, 7pm
Jim Thomas
, founder of the U.S. Slave Song Project, will talk and the interpretation of codes used in the slave songs for the underground railroad

Wednesday June 13th, 7 pm
Patricia Sullivan: “One Hundred Years of Freedom?”

When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961, the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War loomed larger in the national consciousness than the emerging Civil Rights Movement. Historian Patricia Sullivan will discuss how rising black protests in the South converged with the Civil War centennial, challenging public memory and historical accounts of the war, its meaning, and its legacies.

Also in May, Robert Hayden, President of The Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, will trace the history of his family, the battles they were involved in, and their journey to Martha’s Vineyard as freed slaves.

Visit this page or the library event calendar for details on future programs.

This five-part reading and discussion series led by Dr. Sheldon Hackney, Boies Professor of U.S. History at the University of Pennsylvania, will probe meanings of the Civil War that are “hidden in plain sight” behind the key questions and main characters so familiar to us. Each session will begin with a short lecture followed by a discussion of that session's topic and readings. Discussions will be held monthly on Tuesday evenings at 7pm and reading materials will be provided to registered participants. Course size is limited and preregistration is required.

Session One (January 10th)"Imagining War"

Readings: March by Geraldine Brooks, and a selection from the anthology America's War

Session Two (February 7th)"Choosing Sides"

Readings: selections from America's War

Session Three (March 6th) "Making Sense of Shiloh"

Readings: selections from America's War

Session Four (April 17th) "The Shape of War"

Readings: Crossroads of Freedom by James M. McPherson, and selections from America's War

Session Five (May 8th) " War and Freedom"

Readings: selections from America's War

Download the list of reading selections from America's War


Course Selections

Reading selections will be provided to registered participants and include the following texts:

March, by Geraldine Brooks

Viking, 2005
In a story inspired by the father character in "Little Women" and drawn from the journals and letters of Louisa May Alcott's father, a man leaves behind his family to serve in the Civil War and finds his beliefs challenged by his experiences.

Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, by James M. McPherson
Oxford University Press, 2002
In a vivid and incisive narrative, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian delves deeply into the furious twenty-four-hour battle that had reverberations far away from the battlefield, changing the outcome of the Civil War.

America's war : talking about the Civil War and emancipation on their 150th anniversaries, edited by Edward L. Ayers
American Library Association ; National Endowment for the Humanities, 2011

For Further Reading

A selection of books on the American Civil War may be found on display throughout the library.

For additional suggestions, click here for a list of recent fiction and nonfiction titles on this topic.


The following list of websites related to the American Civil War has been compiled by the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities, to complement the "Let's Talk About It" program.

What’s New

• New York Times – Opinionator’s “Disunion” series
Exclusive online commentary revisiting and reconsidering America's most perilous period -- using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.

• National Park Service - The Civil War: 150 Years
(National Park Service Sesquicentennial Commemoration)
Features include: Nationwide calendar of CW150 events, information about Civil War Parks, access to database of Civil War Soldiers, more in-depth information about the War

Pioneering Digital History Resources

• Valley of the Shadow
Edward L. Ayers

• Hidden Patterns of the Civil War
Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond

Online Exhibitions

• Library of Congress - From Slavery to Civil Rights: A Timeline of African American History

• Library of Congress - Variety of collections on: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877

• Virginia Historical Society - An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia

• National Underground Railroad Freedom Center - Online exhibit of Frederick Douglass’ documents

• Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - Online Exhibition: John Brown the Abolitionist and His Legacy

• Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - Slideshow: Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

• National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) - America’s Historical Documents: The Emancipation Proclamation

• Frederick Douglass National Historic Site - Virtual Museum Exhibit

• Boston College - First-Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection

General Information – To Learn More

• EdSITEment - The American Civil War

• EdSITEment - Literature of the Civil War

• EdSITEment - K-12 lesson plans on Slavery, the Crisis of the Union, the Civil War
and Reconstruction

• Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History -History by Era: The Civil War Era

• Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - Civil War 150th


• Civil War Trust

• Civil War Animated

Poetry of the Civil War

Library of Congress Poetry Resources

"Let’s Talk About It: Making Sense of the American Civil War", has been made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.



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