It’s hard to say what’s more appealing: Harvard President Drew Faust’s captivating perspective on the profound effects of the Civil War or sushi on little napkins and free drinks. But fear not: This isn’t an either-or. Apparently the two go hand in hand.
On Wednesday evening, students, Morningside residents, and members of both Columbia and Harvard faculty convened at the Columbia Faculty House to hear Faust discuss her latest book, “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.” A book signing and reception with free food followed.
“This Republic of Suffering,” published in 2008, earned Faust a Bancroft Prize—given annually by Columbia for works on American history—and was a 2008 National Book Award Finalist. Many works have been penned on the Civil War, but Faust’s newest book, which examines the war’s lasting political and philosophical effects, manages to provide a new perspective and has garnered substantial critical acclaim. “Historians are interested in change,” she said.
In her talk, Faust explained that the carnage of the Civil War forced America to examine itself and the realities of war and that even those affected indirectly were forced to confront death on an unprecedented scale.
She discussed the changes in how America viewed citizenship, grieving, mortality, and a benevolent god, describing the bloody, indelible stain the war left on America.
Faust’s speech was generally well received. Asheesh Kapur Siddique, a graduate student of history, expressed his excitement after the event, saying, “I thought it was terrific. It’s really a privilege to hear a leading historian speak.”
An undergraduate who had read the book was similarly pleased. “The question and answer [session] was very illuminating,” said Parker Fishel, CC ‘10.
Faust is acclaimed for her vivid historical prose, but when appointed Harvard’s 28th president, she found herself not writing but making history. She is Harvard’s first president, since 1672, without a Harvard degree, and she is the first female in the line of 27 that have come before her.
To wrap the evening up, Faust read the last two paragraphs of her book, which concludes: “We still work to live with the riddle that they—the Civil War dead and their survivors alike—had to solve so long ago.”