Sylvia Broeckx

School of History, Philosophy and Digital Humanities

Research student


Thesis title: Sexual Violence and Rape during the American Civil War.




Thesis abstract:

The current consensus regarding sexual violence and rape committed by Union soldiers during the American Civil War asserts that this was a 'low rape' war.

A lack of mentions of rape in memoirs, few reported cases, and the assumption that soldiers would not commit rape due to gentlemanly restraint are the main explanations given to support this claim. References to rape in official records, newspapers or letters, are often dismissed as hearsay and propaganda.

My PhD aims to contribute to this area of research in Civil War history. My research starts by interrogating the widely held belief that the Civil War was a low-rape war and whether it is meaningful to classify the Civil War in such categories.

I will continue with an investigation of the 1863 introduction of the Lieber Code, which militarised felonies such as rape. Why, if according to the current consensus rape was not a widespread problem, did the Senate institute new laws?

To situate the Civil War within the wider context of wartime sexual violence studies, I will explore whether the Union Army’s various methods of dealing with sexual offences served as an effective deterrent to sexual violence or whether its culture was conducive to a higher rape propensity.

My research will consider the implications on occupied women and its impact on US society. Of particular interest in this study will be how sexual violence and its prosecution may have challenged traditional power dynamics of race and gender in the South especially as black women were hitherto unable to seek legal redress for rape or attempted rape.

  • PhD History, University of Sheffield, 2016 - present
  • MA American History, University of Sheffield, 2015
  • BA (Hons) Film Studies, Sheffield Hallam University, 2002


  • Bryan Marsden American History Prize
  • Peter Parish Postgraduate Research Award, British American Nineteenth Century Historians
  • Abraham Lincoln Award, British Association for American Studies
Teaching activities

University of Sheffield Teaching Assistant: 

  • HST118 American History: From Settlements to Superpower
Publications and conferences

Conference and seminar papers:

  • "Race, Rape and Justice During the American Civil War", Subaltern Women's Narratives Conference (Sheffield University, June 2017)
  • "Race, Rape and Justice During the American Civil War", Sex, Sexuality & Reproduction: Historical Perspectives, Irish Conference of Historians (University of Cork, Ireland, April 2018)
  • “‘Let him suffer a while’ (Abraham Lincoln): Sexual Violence and Military Justice during the Civil War”, Scottish Association for the Study of America Conference (University of Edinburgh, March 2019)
  • “Sexual Violence and Military Justice”, Department of History PGR Colloquium (University of Sheffield, May 2019)
  • “Sexual Violence and Military Justice during the American Civil War”, Violent State Network, Research Seminar (University of York, May 2019)