Drew Gilpin Faust: Interviewed about her new book

Historians in the News

Any interview with the author of a new scholarly book inevitably includes the question what's next? Drew Gilpin Faust, whose This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War is just out, has pondered the question quite a bit. Always direct (after all, she grew up the only daughter among three sons, often at odds with her mother about the dictates of femininity), she says: "I don't expect to be writing a lot more Civil War history."

That may not be surprising coming from the new president of Harvard University, especially when fewer presidents are scholars, and more of their time is taken up with fund raising and business decisions. But for a prize-winning historian, author of numerous works on Southern history, it comes at a cost — one Faust has obviously thought hard about. She clearly enjoys the opportunity to talk about her book, rather than what it's like to be Harvard's first female president or recent controversies over the size of the university's endowment. But she says she faced the decision to leave her 25 years as a scholar behind when she agreed to move from the University of Pennsylvania to become, in 2001, the first dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, then undergoing the final transition from what had once been the women's annex of Harvard to a research center on women.

She had begun thinking about the topic of her new book, how the Civil War transformed America's collective experience of death, almost as soon as she finished her award-winning Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, published in 1996. There, recording the feelings of Southern women, who feared the carnage their menfolk more often saw as glory, she was struck by how little Civil War historians — mostly men — had considered the war's confrontation with death as a cultural watershed....

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