Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

8/1/2011 - 7/31/2012

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Aberration of Mind: Suicide, the Civil War and the American South

FAIN: FB-55859-11

Diane Miller Sommerville
SUNY Research Foundation, Binghamton (Binghamton, NY 13902-4400)

While historians have vigorously studied many aspects of the Civil War and Confederate loss, scant attention has been directed to the personal and psychological impact of loss and suffering on southerners. Yet given the wide swath of physical devastation, economic calamity, and pervasive death that was the legacy of war, personal suffering surely took a devastating psychological toll on southerners. This project takes a two-pronged approach to the study of suicide and the Civil War. Part one is a social history of suicide, a perspective that examines the everyday lives of southern men and women, how they dealt with suicide, and how their family and neighbors responded to incidents of suicide. The second part of the project is a cultural study of suicide. It encompasses the discourse of suicide in political, religious, medical and literary arenas. The Civil War, I argue, played a crucial role in transforming the way southerners regarded suicide, from taboo to heroic sacrifice.

Associated Products

Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War South (Book)
Title: Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War South
Author: Diane Miller Sommerville
Abstract: More than 150 years after its end, we still struggle to understand the full extent of the human toll of the Civil War and the psychological crisis it created. In Aberration of Mind, Diane Miller Sommerville offers the first book-length treatment of suicide in the South during the Civil War era, giving us insight into both white and black communities, Confederate soldiers and their families, as well as the enslaved and newly freed. With a thorough examination of the dynamics of both racial and gendered dimensions of psychological distress, Sommerville reveals how the suffering experienced by Southerners living in a war zone generated trauma that, in extreme cases, led some Southerners to contemplate or act on suicidal thoughts. Sommerville recovers previously hidden stories of individuals exhibiting suicidal activity or aberrant psychological behavior she links to the war and its aftermath. This work adds crucial nuance to our understanding of how personal suffering shaped the way southerners viewed themselves in the Civil War era and underscores the full human costs of war.
Year: 2018
Primary URL: http://
Primary URL Description: Jstor subscription
Secondary URL: http://
Secondary URL Description: google play
Access Model: open access (JSTOR, Project Muse, Google Play, kindle, oapen, internet archive),
Publisher: University of North Carolina Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9781469643304