Nurturing the Individual and National Body from Sickness to Health in Images of the U.S. Civil War
1st prize winner of the Friends of Fondren Library Graduate Research Awards, 2013.
The visual culture of the U.S. Civil War is as vast and varied as the approximately 6.3 million soldiers who served in the conflict. This paper examines one specific dimension of imagery produced during the War: representations of convalescent soldiers being nursed back to health by concerned, female caregivers. Arguing that the injured soldier frequently operates as a stand-in for damaged nation, the paper considers how, at this moment in U.S. history, depictions of healing soldiers served the larger project of mending a wounded civic corpus. The argument poses that many artists represented injured soldiers in a state of childlike innocence after the alienating trauma of war, with the rebuilding of their fragmented bodies dependent upon a compassionate and engaged citizenry often visualized in maternal terms. Analysis of the images draws upon Baudelaire’s mid-nineteenth Romantic century discourses on illness, childhood, and alienation, as well as on Elaine Scarry’s more recent work on pain and Jacques Lacan’s writing on the so-called “mirror phase.”