Blight probes the interrelationship between the two broad themes of race and reunion in American culture and society from 1863 to 1915. Blight is primarily concerned with the ways that contending memories clashed or intermingled in public memory. Blight’s Race and Reunion is considered the opening salvo in memory studies related to the Civil War.Bare summarizes several other books that have contributed to understanding the processes by which what we could call hegemonic memories of the Civil War and its aftermath formed. And he writes:
Blight posits three overall visions of Civil War memory that collided and combined over time. One, the reconciliationist vision, which took root in the process of dealing with the dead from so many battlefields, prisons, and hospitals and developed in many ways earlier than Reconstruction. The second vision, the white supremacist articulation embodied in the Lost Cause, took many forms early, including terror and violence, locked arms with reconciliationists of many kinds, and by the turn-of-the-century delivered the country a segregated memory of the Civil War on Southern terms. The third vision Blight articulates, the emancipationist vision, was embodied in African American’s complex remembrance of their own freedom, in the politics of radical Reconstruction, and in conceptions of the war as the reinvention of the republic and the liberation of blacks to citizenship and Constitutional equality. For many Americans, the Civil War is a defining event upon which we have often imposed unity and continuity; as a culture, we have often preferred its music and pathos to its enduring challenges, the theme of reconciled conflict to resurgent, unresolved legacies.
Scholarship regarding southern memory of the Civil War saw the greatest paradigm shift in its historiography. Recent scholarship from the late 1980s on focuses on the Lost Cause as a catalyst for the acceptance of southern nostalgia and mythology regarding the war. Uniquely, gender appears more frequently in this scholarship than it does with the historiography of the North. Women in the South played a leading role in fostering the Lost Cause at an ideological level and in popularizing the pathos through print media. We also see how spatial arrangements of landscapes of the dead added weight to the enunciation of the Lost Cause. Finally, scholarship regarding the civil religion aspect of the Lost Cause foregrounded the South’s racist hierarchy. Memory in the South closely aligns with Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined communities. In the South, the mythos of the Lost Cause bound southerners to a shared heritage with rituals that only those from the South could understand.I assume in that last sentence, he means that it bound white Southerners together. But it could also mean that the dominant Lost Cause narrative among white Southerners - a narrative that also dominated the national historical conventional wisdom during much of the 20th century - provided the basis for dissenting counter-narratives by African-American and other dissenters.
David Brion Davis writes of Blight's 2001 book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (The Terrible Cost of Reconciliation New York Review of Books 07/18/2002):
More convincingly than any other historian I know of, Blight explains one of the most troubling questions for the understanding of American history: why it became accepted wisdom from the 1870s to the 1960s, among American historians as well as white students from grade school through college, that states’ rights, not slavery, was the cause of the Civil War or, as many Southerners have long insisted on our calling it, “the War Between the States.” As late as 1947, as I can clearly remember when I was a GI Bill veteran in an Ivy League college, an aging professor of history could teach us that slavery in the American South was a benign and civilizing institution, but uneconomical and thus of minor importance in American history; that the Civil War was a preventable but heroic tragedy, fomented by a few extremists in both North and South; that the war led to the “emancipation” of a people wholly unprepared for such sudden freedom and thus easily manipulated and corrupted by opportunistic “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags”; and that only such groups as the Ku Klux Klan, who played upon the superstitious fears of the “half-savage, half-childish Darkies,” could begin to restore order.