Confederate Exceptionalism

Civil War Myth and Memory in the Twenty-First Century

Nicole Maurantonio

Along with Confederate flags, the men and women who recently gathered before the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts carried signs proclaiming “Heritage Not Hate.” Theirs, they said, was an “open and visible protest against those who attacked us, ours flags, our ancestors, or our Heritage.” How, Nicole Maurantonio wondered, did “not hate” square with a “heritage” grounded in slavery? How do so-called neo-Confederates distance themselves from the actions and beliefs of white supremacists while clinging to the very symbols and narratives that tether the Confederacy to the history of racism and oppression in America? The answer, Maurantonio discovers, is bound up in the myth of Confederate exceptionalism—a myth whose components, proponents, and meaning this timely and provocative book explores.

The narrative of Confederate exceptionalism, in this analysis, updates two uniquely American mythologies—the Lost Cause and American exceptionalism—blending their elements with discourses of racial neoliberalism to create a seeming separation between the Confederacy and racist systems. Incorporating several methods and drawing from a range of sources—including ethnographic observations, interviews, and archival documents—Maurantonio examines the various people, objects, and rituals that contribute to this cultural balancing act. Her investigation takes in “official” modes of remembering the Confederacy, such as the monuments and building names that drive the discussion today, but it also pays attention to the more mundane and often subtle ways in which the Confederacy is recalled. Linking the different modes of commemoration, her work bridges the distance that believers in Confederate exceptionalism maintain; while situated in history from the Civil War through the civil rights era, the book brings much-needed clarity to the constitution, persistence, and significance of this divisive myth in the context of our time.

“Maurantonio’s unique approach to the study of Civil War memory and her strong authorial voice make for an engaging read. She successfully incorporates the historiography of Civil War memory while condensing complex theories about memory, identity, politics, race, and place into what is ultimately an informed, entertaining, and relevant work. This book is a timely reminder that Confederate exceptionalism is not a passé philosophy that can be dismantled along with its memorials; rather, it is an active movement in the process of extending its influence.

—Journal of Southern History

“If we’re to understand why, in the wake of murderous events in Charleston and Charlottesville, significant numbers of Americans embrace the contentious symbols of an aborted proslavery nation, we must subject their worldview to high-caliber critical scrutiny. In a series of compelling case studies Nicole Maurantonio skillfully uncovers the mind-set of neo-Confederates in the contemporary United States. This opportune study is truly a book for our troubled times.”

—Robert Cook, author of Civil War Memories: Contesting the Past in the United States since 1865

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About the Author

Nicole Maurantonio is associate professor of rhetoric and communication studies and American studies at the University of Richmond. She is the coeditor, with David W. Park, of Communicating Memory & History.

Additional Titles in the CultureAmerica Series