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Protests against a confederate monument in Murray, KY. ©Robyn Pizzo

Casting a Long Shadow: The Myth of the 'Lost Cause' and U.S. Society Today

Friday, June 7, 2024, 6 p.m.

A persistent myth informs the lines that divide U.S.-society today: the so-called ‘Lost Cause’ narrative. In its original rendering, the ‘Lost Cause’ referred to the fraught assumption that the Confederate States’ cause during the American Civil war was just – that it was an honorable disagreement over the rights of states. This racist mythology, which dismisses the enslavement of people as a core reason for the Civil War, was internalized by the South and, to help re-unifying the nation, eventually accepted by the North. Perpetuated in popular culture during the first half of the 20th century, the myth gave rise to a dangerously flawed understanding of history and white supremacist ideology. A flawed understanding that persisted over time and has once again become particularly apparent when Donald Trump lost the U.S. Presidential Elections in 2020 and insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, exhibiting ‘Lost Cause’ rhetoric and symbolism.

In this podium discussion, Prof. Dr. Sarah Churchwell (University of London) and Prof. Dr. Heike Paul (FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg) will discuss the persistence of the ‘Lost Cause’ narrative: the myth’s roots, its development over time, and its manifestations in the current moment – in the months leading up to the U.S. Presidential Elections 2024. The short documentary Ghosts of a Lost Cause (USA 2023, 30 min.) will follow the discussion and the film’s producers, Sherman Neal II and Gerry Seavo James, will join the conversation virtually.

Photo: Protests against a confederate monument in Murray, KY. ©Robyn Pizzo

Sarah Churchwell ©Sarah Churchwell

Sarah Churchwell is professor of American literature and public humanities at the University of London, where she directs the UK’s national festival of humanities research, the Being Human Festival. She is the author of Behold, America: A History of America First and the American Dream (2018) and The Wrath to Come: Gone with the Wind and the Lies America Tells (2022). She comments widely on arts, culture, and politics in print, television, radio, and film, and has judged many literary prizes, including the Booker Prize. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, New York Times, Atlantic, Washington Post, Guardian, FT, and Prospect, among many others. She has been a winner of the Eccles British Library Writer’s Award, named one of Prospect magazine’s Top 50 World Thinkers, and longlisted for the Orwell Prize for Journalism. Her latest book project, Federal Street: A Forgotten History of America is under contract with Scribner’s (U.S.) and Bloomsbury (UK).

Heike Paul ©Heike Paul

Heike Paul holds the Chair of American Studies at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Since 2017, she is the director of the Bavarian American Academy. Her publications include The Myths That Made America (Transcript, 2014) and Amerikanischer Staatsbürgersentimentalismus (American Civil Sentimentalism, Wallstein, 2021). She was a visiting scholar at Harvard University, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Dartmouth College, and the Thomas Mann House. Her research interests include the sentimental in literature, culture, and politics; gender studies; contemporary American literature; cultural mobility; tacit knowledge; and African American and African Canadian literature and history.

Ghosts of a Lost Cause is a documentary that offers a profound look at how the stories we tell about history impact how we live together today. The film is an intimate portrayal of small-town Murray, Kentucky’s battle to relocate a Confederate monument during the Black Lives Matter movement, and what has happened in the years before and since. The documentary challenges viewers to confront the ghosts of the American Civil War and the Lost Cause narrative, and the lasting impacts they have had on American communities. From forgotten battlefields to enduring symbols, Ghosts of a Lost Cause explores the connection between history, memory, and belonging, hoping to spark conversations and inspire change.

Sherman Neil II ©Robyn Pizzo

Sherman Neal II is a decorated US Marine Corps veteran, attorney, filmmaker, and social justice advocate. His work is centered on leading equitable, ethical, and innovative campaigns that build more resilient communities. At present, Sherman committed to doing that work as the Deputy Campaign Director for Sierra Club Military Outdoors in addition to serving as an agent and advisor for college athletes. Sherman resides in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.
 

Gerry James ©Lauralee Crain Estill

Gerry Seavo James is a versatile storyteller skilled in both visual and print storytelling. He is known for his captivating narratives that explore the relationship between landscapes and people. Alongside his creative endeavors, Gerry also serves as the Deputy Campaign Director for the Sierra Club's Outdoors For All Campaign, where he advocates for outdoor access and equity on a national level in the United States. He is the founder of the Outdoor Recreation Design Lab, which focuses on creating inclusive outdoor spaces, preserving biodiversity, and supporting the just transition of rural communities. Gerry's portfolio also includes creation of the Explore Kentucky brand, participation as a consultant for the EPA's Recreation Economies for Rural Communities program, the creation of an outdoor equity grant initiative, and the development of the Inclusive Outdoors Resource Hub. He is a graduate of Campbellsville University and a US Air Force Veteran. Currently, Gerry resides in Kentucky with his wife, Allison, and their dog, Everest.

The documentary was sponsored by Kentucky Rural Urban Exchange, Kertis Creative, Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky Foundation for Women, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Project Say Something.
 

Admission is free. Please register via the following registration form. Please click the button "Load external content" if the form is not displayed directly. 

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