Monday, October 23, 2006

Britain and the Confederacy

Right now I'm slowly drafting a "plan of study" for fellowship applications. In the highly unlikely event that I'm actually selected for a fellowship, I will be studying at Cambridge during the 2007-2008 academic year.

Much has been made of Britain's relationship with the Confederacy during the war years. Though Britain never officially recognized the Confederacy, the rebel state nonetheless drew support from much of the British media and aristocracy during the war years.

Indeed, all of the major newspapers in England, including the pretigious Times of London, supported the Confederacy. RJM Blackett, in Divided Hearts: Britain and The American Civil War, notes that:

"The editors of the London Times, no lovers of the Union, were adamant that very few people of social or political standing had allied themselves with the Northern cause. The newspaper labeled members of the executive committee of the London Emancipation Society as a “few struggling obscurities,” a “half dozen nobodies,” who believed that Robespierre was right."

This speaks to a fundamental question surrounding the Confederacy: to what extent was the South considered unique by outside powers? In addition to being a question of economics and international relations, British (unofficial) recognition of the Confederacy is a question of identity. Was the South considered culturally distinct by outsiders?

But as Blackett's study is a testimony to, there already exists much scholarship on the question of British-Confederate relations during the war years. My proposal is to study British perception of the demise of the Confederacy from 1866-WWI. My searches have yielded very few papers devoted to that topic.

So right now, I'm trying to convince a fellowships commitee that it is imperitive that I go to England to study late 19th century British public opinion on the South in order to ultimately better understand questions of Southern identity. Seem like a stretch?

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