Preview: Ayers, “The Thin Light of Freedom”

1 12 2017

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The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America is Edward Ayers’s follow-up or companion to 2003’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Both works benefit from and are in part a product of Ayers’s groundbreaking Valley of the Shadow project (watch a video presentation of it here).

The Thin Light of Freedom follows the story of the people of The Great Valley, basically that area of Virginia and Pennsylvania comprising the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys, through the latter stages of the Civil War and Reconstruction to Virginia’s return to statehood in 1870.

The focus here is not just on military voices but on those of the people of the area, who lived through the war and its privations and the social upheaval attendant to emancipation. Diarists and letter writers north and south are featured, with a heavy reliance on manuscript sources. Follow all the links I’ve given you above and you’ll get an idea of the extent.

You get:

  • 501 pages of text in 11 chapters plus prologue and epilogue, starting with “The Great Invasion” of 1863 and ending up in 1902 (though we go from 1868 to 1902 in one chapter)
  • 25 maps and illustrations
  • No bibliography but rather “A Note on the Documentation”
  • 45 pages of end notes
  • A full index

It’s a big honkin’ book.

Edward L. Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond

 

 

 

 

 


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