The Great Heart of the Republic
St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War
Adam Arenson
352 pages
6.125 x 9.25
22 illustrations, 2 maps

Formats available:
Paperback   $25.00 SH
ISBN: 978-0-8262-2064-6

About the Book

The Civil War revealed what united as well as what divided Americans in the nineteenth century—not only in its deadly military conflict, but also in the broader battle of ideas, dueling moral systems, and competing national visions. Adam Arenson focuses this cultural civil war in St. Louis, the largest city along the border of slavery and freedom. From this vantage point, the Civil War era looks less like a fight between North and South over slavery or the West as a prize, and more like a messy struggle between northerners, southerners, and westerners, a clash among three incompatible regional visions, whose leaders argued about the definition and importance of Manifest Destiny and slavery politics. Arenson weaves this political history with analyses of paintings, architecture, and other cultural products, paying particular attention to institutions such as universities and railroads. The result is a vibrant history of the Civil War era from the heart of the Republic that enriches our understanding of America at a crossroads.


Adam Arenson is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Urban Studies Program at Manhattan College in the Bronx. He writes about the history and memory of North America and the global nineteenth century, concentrating on the cultural and political history of slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, as well as the development of cities. Arenson has also written for The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic.


“In this short book, Arenson manages to identify an overwhelming array of issues that defined the American cultural ethos between the years 1848–1877. Arenson produces a highly provocative thesis that captures and explains regional alliances through a cultural prism. Arenson has something new to add to the literature of the Civil War, and he does so with a wonderfully nuanced argument and deft pen. Sure to have an enduring impact, this book delivers.”--The American Historical Review

“Arenson does an excellent job of showing the underlying ethnic, class, and gender dimensions of loyalty and disloyalty in this divided city. Throughout the book, Arenson deftly weaves national political history with analyses of paintings, architecture, and other cultural products.”--Journal of Southern History

“A beautifully written and strikingly original interpretation of the causes, conduct, and consequences of the war. From the perspective of St. Louis, the Civil War was not simply a political struggle between North and South over the future of slavery in the territories. Instead, it involved the aspirations, prejudices, and tensions between rival ethnic, racial, and regional groups.”--H-Net Reviews


Winner, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies-Phi Alpha Theta Book Award, 2011

Named one of the Best Books of 2011 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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