Professor receives ACLS Fellowship to study Civil War memory in literature
Michael LeMahieu, an associate professor of English at Clemson University, has been awarded a 2018 Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).
The ACLS chose LeMahieu as one of 78 fellows out of a field of nearly 1,150 applicants this year. The prestigious award comes with $50,000 to support his full-time research on the topic “Post-54: Reconstructing Civil War Memory in American Literature After Brown.”
“A full year dedicated to research and writing seems too good to be true,” LeMahieu said. “I’m particularly grateful to the ACLS for the support because the topics I’ve been thinking and writing about for a number of years have become all the more relevant recently.”
“Dr. LeMahieu’s project is trenchant and timely, and his national recognition via the ACLS comes as no surprise. He interrogates easy historical interpretations and asks ever-harder questions about not just who we are or where we’ve been, but who we might be if we can imagine broader possibilities for ourselves as individuals and as a nation,” said Susanna Ashton, chair of the Clemson University Department of English.
“The research and scholarship conducted by faculty in English here at Clemson consistently seeks to understand the stories we tell about ourselves and why they matter; Dr. LeMahieu’s work is an example of that kind of work at its best,” Ashton said.
LeMahieu’s book project examines the role of Civil War memory in U.S. literature written from the time of the civil rights movement through the present day.
In 1954, the civil rights movement began in earnest after the unanimous Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down racial segregation in public schools.
LeMahieu said widespread Southern resistance to the landmark court decision was characterized by the revival of “Lost Cause” sentiment and Confederate symbolism in Civil War narratives of military valor and mutual sacrifice.
In his abstract LeMahieu wrote: “Whether embodied in public monuments or depicted in feature films, Civil War memory circulates through cultural narratives whose generic form often performs ideological functions: chivalric romance underwrites racial violence, pastoral elegy encodes agrarian ideology, alternate history invites Confederate apologetics, and concepts of tragedy undo narratives of emancipation.
“Through literary works that simultaneously inhabit and transfigure these generic forms, writers from the civil rights era and the contemporary moment advance counter narratives of Civil War memory that debunk Lost Cause mythology to intervene in what they portray as the unfinished and ongoing civil war over human rights and racial justice.”
The American Council of Learned Societies is a private, nonprofit federation of 75 national scholarly organizations, which supports American scholarship across all disciplines in the humanities and related social sciences. The group has distributed fellowships and grants to more than 12,000 scholars since 1957.
It has been nearly 25 years since an ACLS Fellowship was awarded to a Clemson University professor during their service here. Donald G. Nieman, now the provost at Binghamton University in New York, was named an ACLS Fellow in 1994 when he was a professor of history at Clemson.
Current ACLS Fellows were selected for their potential “to make an original and significant contribution to knowledge, resulting from research on cultures, texts, and artifacts from antiquity to the present, in contexts around the world,” said Matthew Goldfeder, director of the fellowship program.
LeMahieu joined the faculty of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities as an assistant professor in 2006, after earning his undergraduate degree in English and Spanish at Marquette University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
LeMahieu is the author of “Fictions of Fact and Value: The Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945-1975” (Oxford University Press, 2013), co-editor of “Wittgenstein and Modernism” (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and co-editor of the academic journal Contemporary Literature.