Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
America is obsessed with its Civil War. Within months of its end, those who won and lost the war began fashioning their own mythologies as to its cause and the reasons for its outcome. Of these, the Myth of the Lost Cause is, perhaps, the best known Civil War myth. Lost Cause mythology provides a framework which both explains or refutes the acknowledged causes for the American Civil War and disputes the causes for the war's end. Lost Cause mythology deifies the Southern soldier and idealizes the Southern way of life including its "peculiar institution" of slavery. The Myth of the Lost Cause and other Civil War mythologies are not confined to dusty shelves and arcane historical studies, however. In fact, the Civil War is a part of every-day American life. It influences the American zeitgeist with its pervasive presence in popular culture, literature, film, and television. The effects of this influence, however, and their extent, have changed over the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. The Lost Cause mythology, so popular at the beginning of the twentieth century, has faded from prominence. While many continue to cling to its beliefs, Lost Cause mythology is waning in popular culture. It has been replaced in two ways. First, the Civil War has become a trope, a storytelling device used in everything from car chase movies to cooking shows. Second, the "what if' question that wonders why the South.lost-the hidden core of the Lost Cause mythology-has become mainstream. The Civil War is, now, as much an exercise in speculative and alternative history as it is an example of traditional historical study.
Latella, David, "The American Obsession: The Continuing Influence of the American Civil War on Popular Culture and the Evolution of Lost Cause Mythology" (2009). History Master's Theses. 13.