150 Scholars Gather for “Melville and Whitman in Washington: The Civil War Years and After,” June 4-7, 2013

Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 Inauguration
Library of Congress – Civil War photos – Item 96511712
More than 150 scholars and students from a dozen countries assembled last month on the George Washington University campus for the Melville Society’s Ninth International Conference, focusing on the Civil War poetry of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, two giants of the nineteenth century who traveled to Washington, witnessed the war, and wrote about the trauma of the American nation in conflict.  Sponsored by the Melville Society, the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman, the English and History Departments, the University Writing Program, as well as the Mickle Street Review at Rutgers University-Camden, and the Literature Section at MIT, the conference was timed to coincide with the ongoing Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War (1861-1865).   The conference featured plenary talks by internationally recognized Melville and Whitman scholars, Elizabeth Renker (Ohio State University), Ed Folsom (University of Iowa), Kenneth Price (University of Nebraska), and John Bryant (Hofstra University), and the work of nearly a hundred other experts, teachers, and graduate students writing on a wide variety of topics related to the Civil War, including slavery, race, and trauma; nationalism, division, and union; hospitals and military medicine; gender and class, women of the war; sexuality, bodies, and the wounds of war; mourning and memory; and such important historical figures as Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.  Participants were treated to a gala opening night reception hosted by Dean Peg Barratt; a special showing of Walt Whitman manuscripts and memorabilia at the Library of Congress; an art exhibit at the Luther Brady Art Gallery featuring contemporary art by Matt Kish and Douglas Paisley inspired by the writings of Melville and Whitman; a walking tour of Walt Whitman’s Washington; and a concluding banquet and choral program based on poems by the two authors at the nearby Arts Club of Washington.  GW organizers of the conference included Joe Fruscione, a GW Ph.D. currently teaching in the University Writing Program, and Christopher Sten, Professor of English and American Literature and a former President of the Melville Society.

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