Welcome to The Civil World: A Global “War Between States.” This is my attempt at broadening and reorienting our historical approach to the American Civil War. Before I define the site’s objectives further, allow me to explain its origins.
In The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons, C.A. Bayly proposes a new, more international definition of “modernity.” Citing the “uniforming” effect of improved travel and global trade, Bayly argues that “domestic” events had increasingly international implications during this time frame. He also perceives a growing “emulation” taking hold among disparate nations as common ideas about religion, science and philosophy follow global trade routes.
In the chapter “Between World Revolutions, c. 1815-1865,” Bayly addresses the American Civil War not as a strictly American conflict, but rather as a global event. The most immediate impact, he argues, was economic. As the Union navy began blockading the South’s cotton, Britain, its greatest consumer, needed to find new producers—leading to massive investments in Egypt, Ottoman Anatolia and India. Militarily, Lincoln’s preoccupation with Southern secession created an opening for French intervention in Mexico, previously regarded as firmly within the American sphere.
Bayly frames this chapter by asking the following: is it possible to examine “the ‘war between states’ in the same interpretive framework as the European and Asian events we have been discussing?” (Bayly, 161) This is an excellent question. And it is so compelling because so few historians have truly addressed it. Why do we regard the Civil War as an exclusively American event? What is there to gain by contextualizing this great conflict within Bayly’s interpretive framework? What are we missing by neglecting this approach?
The Civil World: A Global “War Between States” responds to Bayly’s question with a resounding yes. As a source for primary documents, secondary literature and my own analysis, The Civil World will offer a forum—to historians and non-historians alike—for a more international approach to the American Civil War. Of particular interest to me will be political, economic and ideological impact this ostensibly national conflict wrought upon the world. I am also interested in the characters of this period—such as the gentlemen pictured above—and exploring the ways in which they challenged, contradicted or transcended the boundaries of their national identity.
However—in keeping with Bayly’s integrative approach—this site will ideally transcend even the boundaries I have established as readers challenge, deepen and generally engage the material. Therefore, I will welcome any and all contributions to this humble effort.
I hope you will find The Civil World to be useful, relevant and engaging.
Henry A. Wiencek
Graduate Student, Department of History
University of Texas-Austin