HST6077: The U.S. Civil War in Global Context

15 credits (Semester 2018-19: Spring | Semester 2019-20: Autumn)

Module Leader: Dr Andrew Heath

Module Summary

The U.S. Civil War of 1861-65, which culminated in the victory of the ‘free labor’ and the emancipation of four million slaves, has often been read as a purely American story. Yet as historians have shown, the effects of the conflict reverberated around the world, silencing the Manchester mills that ran on the fruits of slave’s toil, remaking the rural economies of countries as far flung as Japan and Egypt, and inspiring European nationalists, liberals, socialists in their own revolutionary struggles for unification and liberty.

Abraham Lincoln understood as much at the time. His Gettysburg Address moved gracefully between the particular circumstances of the United States and the universal propositions that the Civil War had put to the test. At the outset of the conflict he had offered Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of the struggle to make an Italian nation state, a command in the Union army. Pro-slavery Confederates too sought Old World allies: rumours even abounded after 1861 that they were ready to replace their president with a Habsburg prince. Probing such connections between developments in the U.S., Europe, and beyond, we will explore where the Civil War sits alongside contemporary struggles for national unification, how it reshaped a global economy that rested heavily on the production of slave-grown cotton, and whether its revolutionary outcome – the annihilation of slavery and extension of voting rights to black men – imprinted society and politics beyond the Union’s borders.

The module will introduce you to two methods – one transnational, the other comparative – for studying global history.

Module aims

This module aims to:

  1. Introduce students to the global history of the American Civil War;
  2. Introduce students to the practice of comparative and transnational history, encouraging in the process reflection on historical method and its relationship to knowledge;
  3. Develop students’ capacity to move between local events and broader themes and trends;
  4. Develop students’ fluency of expression in speech and writing.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Explain some of the global ramifications of the American Civil War (Aims 1, 3);
  2. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the literature on the global dimensions of the conflict (A1, 3);
  3. Apply transnational and / or comparative methods to the subject, and show an awareness of the strengths and limitations of each approach (A2);
  4. Demonstrate confidence in expressing ideas verbally (A4);
  5. Express ideas and evidence through clear and perceptive prose (A4).


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes. Seminars will provide you with an opportunity to discuss methodological issues (LO3) while also exploring events and historiography (Learning outcomes 1, 2). You will be expected to participate in class discussion and undertake independent research on comparative and transnational subjects, which you will be asked to share through informal discussion and (depending on numbers) group-led sections (LO4). Some time in seminars will be given over to considering how to turn the issues explored into strong written work (LO5). You will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss your written work for the module.

Draft Seminar Schedule:

  1. The U.S. Civil War in global context
  2. Before the special relationship: Britain and the United States
  3. Cotton makes the world go round: The Civil War as global shock
  4. The Civil War in an 'Age of Nationalism'
  5. Globalising the 'New birth of freedom'



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a 3,000-word paper on a topic agreed with the tutor. The paper will be expected to draw critically on relevant secondary sources in exploring a historiographical debate or a new area of historical inquiry, and, if appropriate, will also involve scholarly analysis of primary sources (LO2, 3, 4, 5).


Selected reading

  • Beckert, Sven, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism (New York, 2015).
  • Blackett, Richard J. M., Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War (Baton Rouge, 2000).
  • Doyle, Don H., The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (New York, 2015).
  • Foreman, Amanda, A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided (London, 2011).
  • Forster, Stig, and Jorg Nagler, On the Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, 1861-1871 (Cambridge, 1997).
  • Osterhammel, Jurgen, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century, trans. Patrick Camiller (Princeton, 2015).



*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.