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Conscripting masculinity

Topic: Armed forces tend to rely heavily on ideologies of masculinity to attract recruits and to anchor martial identity. Soldiering and 'manliness' have often appeared closely entwined. At various moments, US civil society has valorised soldiers as embodying preeminent attributes of manliness, whether as warrior, protector or 'Christian soldier.' But normative ideas about what kinds of men soldiers should be-- and how masculinity could best be mobilised in support of war-winning purposes-- have historically been unstable, conflicted, and contested. In other words, the military's ideas about the sort of men it aimed to engineer through conscription, indoctrination and wartime service were frequently at odds with the aspirational notions of manliness that American men of different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds aspired to realise by serving in uniform.

In this week's seminar we explore some of the paradoxes of martial masculinity in the US Civil War (1861-65) and the First World War (1917-18). As you study the readings, think not only about shifting ideas of masculinity but how they intersect with notions of femininity, understandings of sexuality, race and class.

Seminar questions:

  • in the Civil War Union Army, who were the 'roughs'? How did 'roughness' manifest itself? Was this form of masculine self-assertion functional to the army or a disciplinary problem?
  • why did a significant number of young African American men envision enlistment in the American Expeditionary Force in WWI as an opportunity to be 'made men'? Were their aspirations warranted?
  • over the period from 1860 to 1918, how much do you think US gender ideologies-- and ideas about martial masculinity in particular-- changed? How should we account for these changes?

Required reading:

Lorien Foote, The Gentlemen and the Roughs: Violence, Honor, and Manhood in the Union Army (2010), ch.3, '"A Regular Old-Fashioned Free Fight:" Physical Prowess and Honor,' pp. 67-91, e-book

Andrew Byers, The Sexual Economy of War: Discipline and Desire in the US Army (2019), introduction, 'Society, Sexuality, and the U.S. Army in the Early Twentieth Century', pp.1-20, e-book

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I (2010), ch. 3, 'Men in the Making,' pp. 80-108, e-book

Supplementary reading

Listen to a podcast with Lorien Foote:

Aaron Belkin, Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Facade of American Empire (2012) e-book

Allan Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II (1990) e-book

Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (2009), ch. 2. '"We Are Merely Concerned with the Fact of Sodomy": Managing Sexual Stigma in the World War I-Era Military, 1917-1933,' pp. 55-90

Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber (eds), Battle Scars: Gender and Sexuality in the American Civil War (2006) e-book

Judith Giesberg, Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of American Morality (2020) e-book

Joshua Goldstein, War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa (2001), esp. ch. 5, 'Heroes: the making of militarized masculinity'

Douglas F Habib, 'Chastity, Masculinity and Military Efficiency: The United States Army in Germany, 1918-1923,' International History Review 28, 4 (Dec. 2006), pp. 737-57

Ellen Herman, The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts (1995), ch. 'Nervous in the Service', e-book

Robert Nye, 'Western Masculinities in War and Peace,' American Historical Review 111, 2 (2007), pp.417-38

Khary Oronde Polk, Contagions of Empire: Scientific Racism, Sexuality, and Black Military Workers Abroad, 1898-1948 (2020), ch. 4 (e-book)

Mary A Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of US Imperialism (2002), ch. 3, ‘Paternalism,’ pp.89-130, e-book

Kimberley A Reilly, '"A Perilous Venture for Democracy": Soldiers, Sexual Purity, and American Citizenship in the First World War', Journal of the Gilded Age & Progressive Era, 13, 2 (April 2014), pp. 223-55

Gerald E Shenk, Work or Fight! Race, Gender and the Draft in World War One (2005) e-book