Wars are rarely started by those who fight and suffer in them. This panel explores the experiences of people caught up in wars they did not start.
When countries go to war, the people who get to declare it and who get to write the history textbooks about it, are generally not the people who have to experience it. These papers upend the usual perspectives on familiar wars by looking through the eyes of the people who insist on being more than victims.
Moderated by Caitlin Smith. Caitlin recently finished her Ph.D. in American Literature, where she focused on doubt in early American conversion narratives.
“Gilded Misery”: Reconsidering Emotions and Community during the American Revolution, by Patrick O'Brien
Reading the private correspondence and personal journals of loyal British subjects during the American Revolution reveals unmistakable grief and hardship. Between 1775 and 1784, between 60,000 and 100,000 British colonists fled the rebellious colonies for protection elsewhere in the Empire leaving behind homes and families. More than 30,000 of these loyalists landed in Nova Scotia, quickly overwhelming the colonial government’s ability to feed, clothe, and shelter them. Poverty and disease plagued refugee settlements. Historians have used the humanitarian disaster in Nova Scotia to explain why the northern colonies never fulfilled the founders’ dreams of becoming “the envy of the American states.”
My research pushes back against the idea that this suffering was completely isolating. To the contrary, I suggest that in loyalist Nova Scotia, shared suffering—or what one refugee called “gilded misery”—served as the glue that united a diverse group of refugees. Collective hardship became the backbone of a new community. More broadly, I examine the loyalist revolutionary experience to suggest that in the midst of upheaval and change, marginalized people stand at a unique position to use shared emotions—even sadness, grief, and suffering—to affect important societal changes.
G. Patrick O’Brien is a Limited-Term Assistant Professor of History at Kennesaw State University. His current book project, “‘Unknown and Unlamented’: Loyalist Women in Nova Scotia through Exile and Repatriation, 1775-1800,” explores how women experienced exile and repatriation the Era of the American Revolution with special attention to the history of emotions. His first peer-reviewed article was published in Acadiensis: Journal of the History of the Atlantic Region in June 2020. He contributes to r/askhistorians as u/irishpatobie and can be found on Twitter @historia_passim.
The Rupture Between the South and North: The Diary of Nancy Emerson and War Discourse, by Hediye Özkan
As a middle-class woman living in Augusta County, Virginia, fifty-six-year-old Nancy Emerson began writing a journal in May 1862 and continued until November 1864 to record the war from a Southern woman’s perspective. Participating in the debate and contributing to the perception of war in her journal allow Nancy Emerson to problematize the boundaries between the South/North, freedom/enslavement, public/private, subject/object, and feminine/masculine. Emerson conveys a dramatic socio-political rupture in American history by resisting rhetorically, physically, and politically to the freedom of enslaved African Americans and endeavors of Northern abolitionists who, according to her, go against God’s will.
I argue that Emerson’s personal narrative problematizes the voice and place of women along with the institution of slavery within war discourse. On one hand, Emerson demolishes and crosses the borders set against women, yet on the other, she supports the idea of preserving racial boundaries reinforcing through slavery. Analyzing her journal entries, each of which constitutes a unique text and historical document, this paper examines how Emerson justifies the preservation of slavery drawing a parallel between religion and propriety of slavery, yet she challenges traditional gender norms of the nineteenth-century society through the act of writing.
Dr. Hediye Özkan is an Assistant Professor of English at Aksaray University. Her areas of specialties are 19th-Century British and American Literature, Social Justice, Activism, Intersectional Feminism, and Life Writing.
Crossing Sect and Race: Civilian Ingenuity during the Lebanese Civil War by Edwin Tran
When the Lebanese Civil War erupted on April 13, 1975, government structures and formal institutions broke down. As militias drew battle lines and brought destruction to the country, millions were caught in the crossfires. Hundreds of thousands were displaced, many became refugees, and stories of tragedy and hardship became commonplace. From the Shia-dominated Bekaa Valley to the Druze homeland of the Chouf Mountains, it became clear that the civilian experience during the civil war crossed ethnic and religious lines. As such, many narratives imply that the civilian experience was one of hopelessness. This perspective negates the ingenuity and autonomy of the many individuals that stepped into the void as government institutions collapsed. This paper seeks to highlight the many ways civilians created their own institutions and social services in order to bring some semblance of stability in this period of turmoil and bloodshed. Even in areas held by warlords and rogue militias, informal civil society groups emerged to aid the wider community. By illustrating specific experiences from different parts of Lebanon, this paper hopes to combat preexisting narratives and to highlight what individuals can do in even the bleakest of times.
Edwin Tran is a political analyst focusing on the Levantine region. He is an editor for the International Review and a contributor for the Encyclopedia Geopolitica and Caspian Report. He focuses on civil society and the relationship between politics and social services.