Research paper: Ken Burns’ The Civil War and American history

Twenty five years after its debut, a digitally restored “The Civil War” returns to PBS in September 2015. This award-winning documentary will be shown over five consecutive nights, giving viewers a unique experience of the most pivotal event in American history. Burns used Civil War photos and readings from letters and diaries written by those who lived it to bring Civil War history alive.

Discuss the Civil War in your next research paper. (Credit: FOX News)

Discuss the Civil War in your next research paper. (Credit: FOX News)

Coming as it does at the end of a summer that has seen racial tension and controversy over the Confederate flag, this film series may inspire your next research paper.

Ken Burns’ “The Civil War”

Although it ended 150 years ago, the Civil War continues to echo through American history and politics. The United States of America, founded on the idea of equality, broke apart nearly a hundred years later in 1861 because of its failure to live the ideal. One could make a case that we’ve been fighting the Civil War ever since.

In his series on “The Civil War,” Ken Burns created a new style of documentary by using Civil War photos, diaries and letters along with commentaries from noted historians. Now, the newly restored version will allow viewers to see the film with the same fidelity and framing that Burns saw when he first shot it more than 25 years ago.

You can learn more about the film, its restoration and local show times at PBS.orgThe Civil War.” You’ll also find photos, maps and historical documents along with interesting details about the war.

A few interesting Civil War facts include the following:

  • The war was fought in over 10,000 locations ranging from Mexico to Vermont
  • 185,000 black Americans fought to support the Union and free their people
  • 620,000 people, two percent of the U.S. population, died in the war

According to, “In two days at Shiloh on the banks of the Tennessee River, more Americans fell than in all previous American wars combined.”

Civil War influences

The Civil War continues to exert an influence over American literature, film, music and performance culture.

Themes that reflect this influence include:

  • Confederate revivalism
  • Centrality of race
  • The War’s destabilization of gender norms

A discussion of the Civil War in its many cultural contexts can be found in the book, The Civil War in American Culture, by Will Kaufman. In this book, Kaufman illustrated the cultural legacy of the Civil War in literature, film, music, computer games, the Internet, role play and civic demonstration.

“Its central characters have been appropriated, fetishised and demonised, its two-dimensional images recycled in 3-D and the results of its battles gleefully overturned in a host of alternative scenarios. The Civil War is moveable property across the boundaries of time, space, cultural form and genre,” Kaufman said.

Research paper resources

In addition to the many resources at Questia, several online sites also provide useful information and resources. The Civil War was the first war that was extensively photographed. According to, “Nearly every Civil War soldier had his photograph taken by one of the more than 5,000 American photographers active at the time, and a select group of documentary photographers took thousands of images on the battlefields and in the army camps, often in 3D.”

You’ll find photos of the war along with history and analysis at sites such as:

  • Civil War Trust []: an organization devoted to the preservation of battle fields houses data and photos
  • Library of Congress: Civil War: houses many photos and eyewitness drawings from the war
  • National Park Service: information on causes, consequences and reconstruction along with specifics on key locations such as battlefields
  • National Archives: contains Civil War records about military units along with lists of resources to be found at your public library

Go to Questia to find relevant sources for your history research papers.

Do you think that the study of the U.S. Civil War is relevant for us today? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

1 reply
  1. Larry (Lorenzo Bernardotto - It.) says:

    Civil War, is STILL important, in the United States. It has been a great event in American history, and it is still “felt”, especially in the South. As an Italian, I have American friends who usually take part in the so-called “re-enactments”, and many of these are about the Civil War. Thus, I think, it must be studied again. Civil War, has changed the economic and social look of the United States. Many, nowadays, still think the South and her economy was destroyed by the Union army, and they still consider the Union an “invader”. I also read something about the “slavery” and its “myth”, that is, “black slaves were treated badly only in the South”. According to new studies, it is, by now, only a myth, because the Blacks were also treated badly in the North, that is, in the factories, especially in New York and Maryland. Conversely, some slaves were also treated well in the South by their masters. Thus, Civil War, was not only “fought to free slaves”, as we were taught in early 1970’s when we attend school, but also for “economic grounds”, that is, the North wanted to impose its model to the South.


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