Bowdoin did its part in honoring the Civil War’s sesquicentennial through a memorable Alumni College in August. Sixty-one participants came from near and far to immerse themselves in a three-day extravaganza of Civil War history, art, music, and culture — and to enjoy a refresher course in what it’s like to be a Bowdoin student.
Selected lectures from the Alumni College are now available in five videos on Bowdoin Talks.
Martha Hodes ’80, professor of history at New York University and author of several books of 19th-century history, gave a thought-provoking talk to kick off the proceedings, sharing with fellow alums some recent discoveries she made while combing archival sources to research her forthcoming book, Mourning Lincoln: Personal Grief and the Meaning of the American Civil War. Hodes recounted the ways in which a variety of people — from former slaves to southern women to the first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln — responded to Lincoln’s shocking assassination.
The following evening, keynote lecturer Nina Silber of Boston University delved into the heart of this year’s Alumni College theme with an address on ‘The Afterlife of the American Civil War.’ In light of the message “that freedom was one of the Civil War’s most important and lasting objectives,” Silber traced America’s evolving memory of the war in the years following Gettysburg, particularly during during the turn of the 20th century, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights era — each a period of resurgent interest in the war.
Throughout the weekend Alumni College participants had the chance to attend events hosted by current Bowdoin faculty members from a wide range of disciplines. Associate Professor of Art Michael Kolster, Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History Dana Byrd, Associate Professor of Art History Emerita Linda Docherty, and Bowdoin College Museum of Art Co-Director Frank Goodyear each gave talks related to Civil War art and photography. Historian Patrick Rael spoke about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the challenges of historical research, and Professor of English Peter Coviello explored Walt Whitman’s connections to the war. Recent alum David Thomson ’08 teamed up with Bowdoin College Library Director of Special Collections Richard Lindemann to analyze the papers of Civil War hero O. O. Howard (himself a Bowdoin alumnus from the class of 1850).
A rainy start turned into beautiful summer weather over the weekend, allowing participants to get outdoors for a walking tour with organizer Tess Chakkalakal and John Cross ’76. “Everything was a success,” Chakkalakal said. The proceedings closed with a special exhibition tour and book launch at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art on Saturday evening, followed by a lobster bake. Besides taking part in workshops and discussions, alums enjoyed the opportunity to interact one-on-one with faculty members during receptions and between events.
“It was a rare and valuable opportunity for alumni to not only explore the legacy of Civil War arts and culture, but also to revisit the complexities of its often oversimplified history,” said Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. “The participants came away with a rich portrait of the war and its continued influence on our country.”