Course 118: Crucible of Illusion:
Why They Fought in The U.S. Civil War
Leader: Karl H. Purnell
Description: This course examines a new interpretation of what motivated Americans from the North and South to fight in the Civil War. Utilizing recent discoveries by neuroscientists on how the brain reacts to violent imagery, racist propaganda and graphic predictions of impending doom, we see why highly aroused emotions can easily subscribe to illusions and consequently formulate the irrational decision of going to war. The initial class session will be devoted to the traditional arguments about the causes of the war, such as states' rights, slavery, the Union and tariff laws. James McPherson's view of slavery, Gary Gallagher's beliefs about the Union, and soldiers' letters and memoirs will be cited. Subsequent sessions will examine how the new media tools of the mid-nineteenth century, such as the telegraph and rotary press, were used by politicians, the clergy, newspapers, novelists (Uncle Tom's Cabin), and musicians ("Maryland, My Maryland") to propagate lies and distortions overnight in which graphic predictions of slave rebellions and military invasions by a barbaric enemy would result in murder and rape of wives and daughters as well as a loss of freedom and liberty. These illusions, promoted by the use of instant propaganda appealed to the most primitive part of the brain (amgydala) and were an important reason, if the not the key cause, why so many people chose to leave their homes and fight in a war against their fellow Americans. The teaching style will be a mix of lecture, dramatic readings by the class, YouTube videos, Civil War music, open, critical, lively student discussion all organized via a Google Drive (PowerPoint) program.
Biography: Karl Purnell is a writer and playwright who has written and lectured extensively about the U.S. Civil War. He holds a B.A. from Harvard University in English Literature and more recently studied at the University of Pennsylvania Summer Institute for Neuroscience & Society. He is a founder of Teach The World Online, a charitable organization which delivers free online education taught by volunteer American teachers via Skype to indigent students around the world.
Materials for Course: Will include an optional short, companion book, The Crucible of Illusion, written by Mr. Purnell, readings from or references to Purnell's book on Civil War doctors, The Doctress, his Civil War stories, Going a Soldierin' and video clips from his musical drama, "Mr. Lincoln, Miss Chase."
Number of Participants: Minimum: 6; Maximum: 16
Location: Public Library for Union County - Small Meeting Room
Meeting Time: Thursdays, February 28 through April 4, 10 - 11:30 a.m.