History Department
Melinda Lawson

Melinda Lawson

Job Title
Senior Lecturer in History
Director of the Public History Program
Lippman Hall 105
History, Africana Studies

Research interests

My areas of specialization include Nineteenth-Century Political Culture, the Civil War and Reconstruction, African-American History, and Public History. My book, Patriot Fires: Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North examines the making of the American cultural and ideological nation state. My most recent article, “Imagining Slavery: Representations of the Peculiar Institution on the Northern Stage, 1776-1860,” explores the changing image of slavery in theater and minstrelsy, and is part of a larger project on verbal and visual representations of slavery in the antebellum and Civil War North.

Teaching interests

I have taught such courses as Civil War and Reconstruction, African American History, the Civil Rights Movement, Race in American Memory, and Public History, as well as a Civil Rights Public History miniterm, which takes students on a three week journey to the sites of the major Civil Rights actions in the South.


Patriot Fires: Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North
by Melinda Lawson
University Press of Kansas, 2002
Paperback edition 2005

The Civil War is often credited with giving birth to the modern American state. The demands of warfare led to the centralization of business and industry and to an unprecedented expansion of federal power. But the Civil War did more than that: as Melinda Lawson shows, it brought about a change in American national identity, redefining the relationship between the individual and the government.

Though much has been written about the Civil War and the making of the political and economic American nation, this is the first comprehensive study of the role that the war played in the shaping of the cultural and ideological nation-state. In Patriot Fires, Lawson explains how, when threatened by the rebellious South, the North came together as a nation and mobilized its populace for war.

With no formal government office to rally citizens, the job of defining the war in patriotic terms fell largely to private individuals or associations, each with their own motives and methods. Lawson explores how these “interpreters” of the war helped instill in Americans a new understanding of loyalty to country. Through efforts such as sanitary fairs to promote the welfare of soldiers, the war bond drives of Jay Cooke, and the establishment of Union Leagues, Northerners cultivated a new sense of patriotism rooted not just in the subjective American idea, but in existing religious, political, and cultural values. Moreover, Democrats and Republicans, Abolitionists, and Abraham Lincoln created their own understandings of American patriotism and national identity, raising debates over the meaning of the American “idea” to new heights.

Examining speeches, pamphlets, pageants, sermons, and assemblies, Lawson shows how citizens and organizations constructed a new kind of nationalism based on a nation of Americans rather than a union of states–a European-styled nationalism grounded in history and tradition and celebrating the preeminence of the nation-state. Original in its insights and innovative in its approach, Patriot Firesis an impressive work of cultural and intellectual history.
This book is part of the American Political Thought series.

“Imagining Slavery: Representations of the Peculiar Institution on the Northern Stage, 1776-1860,” Journal of the Civil War Era (forthcoming.)

“Jay Cooke and the War Bond Drives”, Major Problems in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor, eds., (Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011) 231-245.

“Making it Fit: Liberal Individualism, the Federal Government, and the American West”, in Manisha Sinha and Penny Von Eschen, eds., Contested Democracy: Politics, Ideology and Race in American History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007)

“A Profound National Devotion”: The Civil War Union Leagues and the Construction of a New National Patriotism,” Civil War History 48 (December 2002): 338-362

“Let the Nation Be Your Bank: Jay Cooke and the Civil War Bond Drives”, Paul A. Cimbala and Randall Miller, editors, An Uncommon Time: The Civil War and the Northern Homefront (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002)

Academic credentials

B.A., State University of New York at Albany; M.A., Ph.D., Columbia University