Thursday, March 3, 2011

Adam Arenson

Adam Arenson is Assistant Professor of History, University of Texas at El Paso.

From his interview at the St. Louis Beacon about his new book, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War:

Why did you become so interested in St. Louis' Civil War history?

Arenson: There are two answers. The flip answer is that TWA gets credit. I hadn't thought a tremendous amount about St. Louis, but growing up in San Diego and going to college in Boston, all my TWA flights stopped in St. Louis. So I had a chance to think about the city and in my last year of college I actually left the airport and went to places like the Mercantile Library and realized the deep resources for history that there are in St. Louis.

A slightly more serious answer is that I really wanted to think about how the American West interacts with the Civil War story we normally tell. St. Louis -- being on the border of slavery and freedom and also being the gateway to the west -- seemed the perfect place to think about all three regions of the country together.

The historic timeline in your book will be familiar to St. Louisans who have studied the city's history. What fresh perspectives might they find in your work?

Arenson: I came to understand the Civil War history of St. Louis as an outsider and that allowed me to view certain events -- like the Great Fire, the establishment of Washington University, the establishment of Forest Park, the World's Fair -- through a different lens.

It allowed me to see different stories with more authentic 19th-century understanding. I see the Great Fire as something that turns out to be quite good for the city. And I place the establishment of Washington University amid the firestorm of nativism -- and those are stories I haven't seen told much in standard histories of St. Louis.

Why did you conclude the book with the 1876 election that split St. Louis city and county?

Arenson: I end there because...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Great Heart of the Republic.

--Marshal Zeringue