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HarpWeek is indebted to Professor Kathleen Diffley, Associate Professor of English at the University of Iowa, for selecting and assembling the 15 Civil War stories and their related news, illustrations, and cartoons that appear on this website.  She used the HarpWeek Index and HarpWeek literary synopses to prepare a 31-lesson syllabus from which the items on this site are drawn.

Professor Diffley is currently completing the second volume of a projected trilogy on Civil War stories in the popular wartime press. Supplementing her initial focus on Constitutional reform in Where My Heart Is Turning Ever, her second book examines the literary market place in the years following Appomattox when national recollection was furthered in the South and West as well as the culturally dominant Northeast. Professor Diffley’s essays on nineteenth century magazine culture have appeared in American Quarterly, Prospect, American Literary History, and Books at Iowa.

Her comments follow.

John Adler, Publisher

"The war stories that unsettled Americans discovered in the pages of Harper's Weekly were among the first efforts to narrate the Civil War, much like the wood engravings that made the newspaper famous.  Verbally and visually, storytelling helped shape the meaning of the war's battlefields and regimented life, its roadside thickets and broken homes, its glory and longing.

"HarpWeek makes it possible to match unillustrated stories to wood engravings on similar subjects that routinely helped readers "see" the war, even in wartime camps and even across enemy picket lines.  For example, students have searched 'prisons' in the HarpWeek database and read In the 'Libey;' or searched 'Black Americans' and come across Tippoo Saib, an early tribute to the military service at Fort Wagner that was celebrated in the movie Glory.  HarpWeek makes it keyboard-simple to tie such stories to the reports of wartime events and illustrations and commentary, on Sanitary Fairs, or prison cruelty, or reorganizing the Union army after emancipation.  Such archival poking around has made striking semester essays and original seminar papers on their way to conference presentation and publication.  For some years now, HarpWeek has helped turn unsophisticated students into primary researchers with enviable passion and purpose.

"Frankly, it is not just the stories Harper's Weekly circulated by the hundreds, decade after decade, that makes HarpWeek such a gold mine for students of literature.  It is the total context - electronic access to contemporary news, to reports of events around the world, to advertising six ways from Sunday, and to illustrations that make prejudice and desire and even fashion suddenly easier to see.  What begins with an interest in prose or poetry can be swept up in a wider recovery and a keener sense that literature has rarely been a still point of sequestered grace.  Instead, even the most familiar literary texts become again part of a contemporary conversation they reorient in turn.  HarpWeek makes that rich sense of culture just a few clicks away..."

Kathleen Diffley, Associate Professor of English
University of Iowa

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