Aaron Sheehan-Dean

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Biography

Aaron Sheehan-Dean is the Fred C. Frey Professor of Southern Studies at Louisiana State University and the chairman of the History Department. He is the author of the 2019 American Civil War Museum book prize-winning The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War, Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia, and Concise Historical Atlas of the U.S. Civil War and is the editor of several books.

 

 

 

 


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The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War

“A work of deep intellectual seriousness, sweeping and yet also delicately measured, this book promises to resolve longstanding debates about the nature of the Civil War.”—Gregory P. Downs, author of After Appomattox

Shiloh, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg—tens of thousands of soldiers died on these iconic Civil War battlefields, and throughout the South civilians suffered terrible cruelty. At least three-quarters of a million lives were lost during the American Civil War. Given its seemingly indiscriminate mass destruction, this conflict is often thought of as the first “total war.” But Aaron Sheehan-Dean argues for another interpretation.

The Calculus of Violence demonstrates that this notoriously bloody war could have been much worse. Military forces on both sides sought to contain casualties inflicted on soldiers and civilians. In Congress, in church pews, and in letters home, Americans debated the conditions under which lethal violence was legitimate, and their arguments differentiated carefully among victims—women and men, black and white, enslaved and free. Sometimes, as Sheehan-Dean shows, these well-meaning restraints led to more carnage by implicitly justifying the killing of people who were not protected by the laws of war. As the Civil War raged on, the Union’s confrontations with guerrillas and the Confederacy’s confrontations with black soldiers forced a new reckoning with traditional categories of lawful combatants and raised legal disputes that still hang over military operations around the world today.

In examining the agonizing debates about the meaning of a just war in the Civil War era, Sheehan-Dean discards conventional abstractions—total, soft, limited—as too tidy to contain what actually happened on the ground.


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Civil War Places: Seeing the Conflict through the Eyes of Its Leading Historians (contributor)

Much has been written about place and Civil War memory, but how do we personally remember and commemorate this part of our collective past? How do battlefields and other historic places help us understand our own history? What kinds of places are worth remembering and why? In this collection of essays, some of the most esteemed historians of the Civil War select a single meaningful place related to the war and narrate its significance. Included here are meditations on a wide assortment of places--Devil's Den at Gettysburg, Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, the statue of William T. Sherman in New York's Central Park, Burnside Bridge at Antietam, the McLean House in Appomattox, and more. Paired with a contemporary photograph commissioned specifically for this book, each essay offers an unusual and accessible glimpse into how historians think about their subjects.

In addition to the editors, contributors include Edward L. Ayers, Stephen Berry, William A. Blair, David W. Blight, Peter S. Carmichael, Frances M. Clarke, Catherine Clinton, Stephen Cushman, Stephen D. Engle, Drew Gilpin Faust, Sarah E. Gardner, Judith Giesberg, Lesley J. Gordon, A. Wilson Greene, Caroline E. Janney, Jacqueline Jones, Ari Kelman, James Marten, Carol Reardon, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Brenda E. Stevenson, Elizabeth R. Varon, and Joan Waugh.

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