At last, a topic.

I've chosen my topic for my research paper, or I should say one of my research papers, for LIS 639 Information Literacy Pedagogy.

Instead of feeling a sense of freedom I felt scared to death I could choose anything. It froze me in my tracks for a good couple of weeks as I listed out topics both related to a professional library career and topics of interest to me personally, ones I could feel interested in enough to maintain fascination through the process. But now, finally, I've decided.

The topic of my paper is women during the Civil War – the Confederate side to be exact - and their experiences back at home, as seen through their diaries and letters. I'd be ecstatic if I found something written by one of my own ancestors, though the likelihood isn't all that high. Still, what I find will probably be typical of the general experience of women during this time in history.


I chose the topic mostly because my ancestors were on the southern side during the Civil War, and I've always been curious about what their lives would had been like. A part of me wonders how many of them rejected the idea of slavery, how many were torn between the patriotism of their fighting friends and relatives, and the fact the South was decidedly in the wrong.

The amount of material on the subject is staggering. I didn't expect that, but apparently a lot of women felt compelled to keep a journal of their experiences during the war. I've interlibrary loaned several books, and from checking the Newberry Library collection I found they have a wealth of possible sources. A trip downtown may be in order before this is all said and done.

I still need to come up with more of a specific, pinpoint focus, using one or two questions I'll answer within the paper. For one, I'll probably go with what I mentioned previously, where their sentiments lay – did they believe in the Confederacy or did their consciouses tell them the North was in the right. I suspect the greater majority will stand by the South, but it's possible that wasn't universally true. I plan to find out.

As for the second question (because there should be more than one, to create a more interesting and provocative paper) I'm not as sure. I've started a list, including things such as: what were the hardships they endured, what support systems did they have, how often did they communicate with their loved ones in the military, etc. But I haven't chosen anything yet. Any suggestions for a second, possibly related, research question would be more than welcome. So don't be shy if you have any ideas. Believe me, I'd appreciate any help I can get.

I'm looking forward to this paper, though finding time to read the sources – in addition to sources for other papers I'm working on – won't be easy. Most of these diaries are quite long. That's why I chose something I can really dig into, something highly interesting to me.

I'll post on my findings, since I suspect I'm not the only person interested in this subject. But don't be surprised if I take a while. I'll be drowning in research over the next couple of months. And this is one of the few cases in which drowning is actually a good thing.

And so it begins.

4 thoughts on “At last, a topic.

  1. Hi, Lisa. What an interesting topic. I hope you’ll share your findings with us as you do your research. As a quilter, I have read several books about that craft during the Civil War. Women in the north held many quilting bees and organized fundraisers, often auctioning off quilts, to benefit the Union Army. Many quilts of the period reflect Northern sympathies and have overtly political themes. I believe I even read that Lincoln himself had autographed some blocks within one quilt that had been auctioned off. Southern women, however, did not participate in such activities, perhaps because sewing/quilting was considered slave work. Also, there is one school of thought that runaway slaves were guided to safe houses in the north by through the displaying of quilts with particular block patterns, many of which were traditional patterns easily recognizable to people of that day. Abolitionist sympathizers would hang these quilts outside on the line to denote a safe haven for members of the underground railroad. There is some debate on the issue. “The” authority on Civil War era quilts is Barbara Brachman, and she has written several excellent books on the subject. Well, that’s my 2 cents off the top of my head, just from my esoteric perspective.


  2. I love diaries and in the past have found quite a few on-line ones by women on the Southern side in the Civil War. I cannot recall any of them discussing the rights and wrongs. They simply saw the North as the enemy who would kill, destroy rape if they got too close. I suspect that once one’s area is involved in a war the rights and wrongs become less relevant for the women – defence of the home involves less worrying about right and wrong than actually fighting for a cause does. Possibly a simplistic view but that was what came across from my reading.


  3. S.S., thanks for the information. I Googled around yesterday and bookmarked some sites, but I haven’t had time to read any of them yet. I also found some interviews and short statements from former slaves, outlining their experiences. I’ve been trying to find some connection between the two in order to contrast the women from each end of the spectrum, something focused enough to fit within a maximum of 10 pages. So it’s still an exciting project but I haven’t worked out the details.


  4. Carolyn, that’s fascinating to know! That would be another great area to research.
    Just a short update on the research, I read a brief slave narrative about a woman and her children who’d attempted escape, then were recaptured. Before the men could take her daughter the mother of the slave family cut the child’s throat, preferring she be dead than return to slavery. They stopped her before she could do the same to her other children and herself. An agonizing story.


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