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Name: James Brookes

PhD: American Studies

Thesis Title: Picturing the Civil War: The Visual Culture of the Rank-and-File 

Thesis Description: 

My thesis argues for the first time that both northern and southern soldiers employed visual culture to represent themselves and their experiences during the American Civil War. A rapidly expanding postal service and readily available technology permitted the mass production and circulation of imagery in a conflict that saw unprecedented literacy levels and that predated military censorship. I argue that visual culture reimagined the ‘citizen-soldier’: a non-professional volunteer who fuses martial and civil identities in times of national crisis to embody republican values. This thesis will prove that citizen-soldiers soldiers forged and employed innovative ways of representing both their temporal martial identities and the unfamiliar circumstances of the conflict in which they were engaged. Visual culture aided Civil War soldiers in managing and comprehending the unparalleled traumas of conflict during a transition in military history towards impersonal and dehumanising modern warfare.

The thesis will examine various aspects of the Civil War soldiers’ experience of the conflict. These include their initial enlistment, their experience of battle, their detachment from the home-circle and domesticity, their experiences as prisoners of war, and their often awkward readjustment to civilian life. In order to achieve this, I will examine visual culture, including photographs, paintings, sketches, and ephemera (envelopes, stamps, letter-heads, etc.) in conjunction with textual sources, such as letters, diaries, and post-war memoirs. Whilst scholars have examined the representation of conflict in journalistic sketches, memorials, and conventional battlefield photojournalism by professional artists and photographers, there is a notable dearth on how soldiers themselves visually represented their circumstances. I will also engage with visual sources created by African American and immigrant soldiers, who are often rendered in a peripheral position in our understanding of the conflict.

The project will position visual culture more centrally in the study of the American Civil War. As these common agents represented their circumstances, they contributed to a watershed in American self-representation; when the U.S. transitioned from being a textual nation to a visual one. 

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

  • Doctor Robin Vandome
  • Professor Zoe Trodd

Other Research Interests:

  • 19th century military history
  • 19th century U.S. visual culture
  • 19th century U.S. social culture
  • Death culture
  • Epistolary studies
  • U.S. slavery and emancipation 

Research Institutes and Clusters

  • British Association for American Studies
  • British Association for Nineteenth Century Historians
  • Print and Visual Culture at the University of Nottingham, since September 2014
  • Race and Rights at the University of Nottingham, since September 2014

Primary Funding Sources

  • Midlands3Cities (M3C) PhD Studentship, 2015-18
  • School of Cultures, Languages, and Area Studies (CLAS) MRes Studentship, 2014-15

Research Activities:

  • MRes thesis archival research trip to St. Bonaventure University, NY and the Brooklyn Historical Society, NY, August 2015, funded by CLAS Postgraduate Research Fund, University of Nottingham.
  • PhD thesis archival research trip to the Virginia Historical Society, the Richmond National Battlefield Park Historical Archive, and William and Mary’s SWEM Library Special Collections, April-May 2016, funded by M3C SDF.
  • Research Fellowship at the Library of Congress, February-May, 2017, funded by the AHRC International Placement Scheme.


  • ‘“The Last and Most Precious Memento:” Portrait Photography and the Union Citizen-Soldier,’ paper delivered at Emerging Civil War Symposium, St. Bonaventure University, New York, 2015, funded by CLAS Postgraduate Research Fund, University of Nottingham.
  • ‘Introduction/Chairing: Professor Don Doyle’s The Cause of All Nations Lecture,’ lecture delivered at University Park, Nottingham, 2015.
  • ‘The American Civil War, 1861-1865,’ paper delivered to the Rushcliffe PROBUS, Nottingham, 2015.
  • ‘“Who Would Be Free Must Strike the Blow:” African American Visual Culture in the Civil War,” paper delivered at public panel, Race, War and Imagery, Waterstones, Nottingham, 2015.
  • ‘“An Eagle on His Button:” African American Photographic Portraiture of the Civil War,’ paper delivered at public lecture, ‘Race, Masculinity, and Citizenship: A Dialogue on the American Civil War,’ the University of Nottingham, Nottingham, 2016.
  • “The Last and Most Precious Memento:” Portrait Photography and the Union Citizen-Soldier,” paper delivered to the BAAS/IBAAS Conference, Belfast, 2016, funded by M3C Student Development Fund (SDF).
  • ‘“A Decade Behind Her Northern Sisterhood:” Visual Culture in the Civil War South,’ paper delivered to the BrANCH Conference, Cambridge, 2016, funded by M3C SDF.


  • Review of African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War, for the Journal of American Studies (published), Volume 50, 2016.
  • Cover photograph appendix for Daniel T. Davis; Chris Mackowski; Kristopher D. White, Fight Like the Devil: The First Day at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Emerging Civil War Series (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie LLC, 2016), published.
  • Cover photograph appendix for Daniel T. Davis; Chris Mackowski; Kristopher D. White, Don’t Give an Inch: The Second Day at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, Emerging Civil War Series (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie LLC, 2016), published.
  • ‘“The Sentimental ‘Green-Backs’ of Civilisation:” Reemphasizing the Portrait Photograph’s Significance,’ The Civil War in Popular Culture (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press), forthcoming.
  • ‘“The Last and Most Precious Memento: Photographic Portraiture and the Union Citizen-Soldier,” for the Civil War History Journal (accepted), forthcoming 2019.

Professional Activities:

  • Winner of the British Association for American Studies Postgraduate Essay Prize 2015 – ‘“Enclosed I Send You My Likeness: Tintype Portraiture and the American Civil War,’ April 2015.
  • Co-organiser of Nottingham’s Department of American and Canadian Studies academic retreat, 2015, 2016, and 2017 (CLAS Student Experience Fund, University of Nottingham, 2015 & 2016; M3C Cohort Development Fund (CDF), 2016).
  • Reviews Editor for 49th Parallel: An Interdisciplinary Journal of North American Studies – 2015/2016.
  • Outreach and Engagement Coordinator for American Studies Department, Nottingham – 2015/2016.
  • Exhibition advisor/contributor for ‘Picturing Frederick Douglass: The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century’ at the Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket, U.S., 2016.
  • Preliminary Submissions Editor for the Emerging Civil War Blog.
  • Research Assistant for WW1 Hidden Histories Project with the Nottingham Black Archive/The Centre for Hidden Histories, 2017.


  • 2-hour Race and Rights Research Cluster seminar on race, slavery, and Ferguson with Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University, 26 March 2015.
  • Teaching Affiliate on American History 1 (Q41101), American and Canadian Studies Department, CLAS, University of Nottingham, autumn semester, 2016/2017.

“I never did anything grand or startling as a soldier, but I did a whole lot of walking, talking, starving and looking on, and in these points I feel that I am a full fledged historian.” - William A. Johnson (2nd S.C. Inf'y).

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