Civil War – Isolationism – Trumpism: Challenges to Democracy in American History and Politics

28.05.2024 | Podiumsdiskussion | GHI Washington | online

Online Panel Discussion | Speakers: David Blight (Yale University), Susan Herbst (University of Connecticut), moderated by Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson (Universität Augsburg)

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Against the backdrop of present-day challenges to American democracy, this panel discussion will explore how the histories of sedition and isolationism continue to reverberate in American politics today. To what extent does the memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction inform the tone and the direction of political conflicts in the US today? What can we learn from debates sparked by war and isolationism during the 1930s? What are the continuities, what are the differences? Both periods witnessed a polarized public, the emergence of “lost causes,” and legal consequences that continue to frame present-day political developments. But how exactly do these key periods in American history impact today’s political discourse? When compared to the presidential elections of 1860 or 1936, what is at stake in 2024? How has the US been able to move on from periods of severe polarization, and what does this imply for American democracy today?

With support by the German Association for American Studies (DGFA), this panel will bring together three leading scholars of American history in an attempt to answer the above questions. David Blight is the Sterling Professor of History and African American Studies at Yale University and President-elect of the Organization of American Historians (OAH). His publications include an annotated edition of Frederick Douglass’s second autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom (2013), and the monograph American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (2011). Susan Herbst is University Professor of Political Science and President Emeritus of the University of Connecticut. She is the author of A Troubled Birth: The 1930s and American Public Opinion, (2021) and Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics (2010). The panel will be moderated by Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson, Professor of Transatlantic History and Culture at the University of Augsburg. Her books include The Transatlantic Sixties: Europe and the United States in the Counterculture Decade (2013) and Dreams and Nightmares: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and the Struggle for Black Equality in America (2011).

This panel will kick off a new online series exploring current events against the backdrop of American history. “The Bigger Picture: American Politics and Culture in Historical Context” is jointly organized by the German Historical Institute Washington (GHI) and the Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA). Panels will bring together experts in American history and culture to help shed light on current events and developments.

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