Drew Gilpin Faust: With New Book Out, Faust Shows Historical Side

Historians in the News

Only days before she was installed as Harvard’s 28th president, Drew G. Faust received a message from the past.

It came in the form of a letter written in 1951 by then-President James B. Conant ‘14, who sealed it with instructions that it should be opened by the first Harvard president of the 21st century. The letter was lost in the Harvard Archives during the tenure of Lawrence H. Summers—or maybe it was just waiting.

The letter resurfaced just in time for Faust, a historian by training, to read from it during her installation speech, in which she argued that universities are uniquely accountable to the past.

“This is my life. My life has been, as a historian, the voices across generations, the voices from the past that have spoken to me in primary sources,” Faust said with palpable excitement on the eve of the installation. “To have something directed this way, to me at this moment, seemed almost supernatural somehow.”

A Civil War scholar raised in Virginia, Faust has written extensively on the experience of white slave-holding women and Confederate nationalism.

“She’s established herself as probably the foremost historian of the antebellum South in terms of cultural and gender history,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian James M. McPherson.

“This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War,” Faust’s fifth book, was released yesterday by Knopf to largely positive reviews. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

The book—an analysis of the cultural impact of the Civil War’s 600,000 casualties—is the latest work in a remarkably broad scholarly career that has stirred praise and some controversy in academia.

And Faust is poised to bring the skills that she honed in her academic career—not least a dedication to provoking discussion about contentious issues—to bear on the presidency, infusing the office with a respect for and understanding of the past. ...

CORRECTION: The Jan. 9 news article "With New Book Out, Faust Shows Historical Side" incorrectly stated that "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" is Drew G. Faust's fifth book. In fact, it is her sixth.

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