Friday, April 2, 2010

American Pictures Series at Smithsonian Features Civil War Historian James M. McPherson

CHESTERTOWN, MD – On Saturday, April 10, Civil War historian James McPherson will kick off the 2010 “American Pictures” series with a discussion of Alexander Gardner’s stirring 1862 photograph “Confederate Dead by a Fence on the Hagerstown Road, Antietam,” one of the first pictures to bring the shocking realities of war before the eyes of the American public.

            A joint program of Washington College, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the “American Pictures” series offers a highly original approach to the visual arts, pairing great works of art with leading figures of American culture. This spring's all-star line-up features a trio of Pulitzer Prize-winners: McPherson, cartoonist/author Jules Feiffer (who appears on April 17), and cultural historian David Hackett Fischer, who will appear on Saturday, May 1. Each speaker chooses a single powerful image and investigates its meanings, revealing how artworks reflect American identity and inspire creativity in many different fields. The series director is historian and essayist Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the college's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

            James McPherson is America’s leading historian of the Civil War. He won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, which was a New York Times bestseller and is widely acclaimed as the best single-volume history of the Civil War ever published. The success of Battle Cry of Freedom helped launch an unprecedented national renaissance of interest in the Civil War. McPherson served as an historical consultant on two PBS documentaries, Ken Burns’s The Civil War and Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided, and on the 1993 film Gettysburg. In 1991, the United States Senate appointed him to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, which determined major battle sites, evaluated their conditions, and recommended strategies for preservation.

McPherson is George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of American History, Emeritus at Princeton University. In 2007, he received the first Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for lifetime contributions to the field of military history. In addition to Battle Cry of Freedom, he is the author of several other important books on the Civil War, including For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution, all published by Oxford University Press.

            All “American Pictures” events take place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, located at 8th and F Streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C.  McPherson’s talk will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the museums’ Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium. Tickets are available in the G Street lobby, beginning at 3:30 p.m. No reservations are necessary for the general public.

Students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Washington College may reserve tickets to this and the other American Pictures events on a first-come, first-served basis. The Starr Center is also running free buses from Chestertown to Washington for each talk. For details, please call 410-810-7165 or e-mail For more information on the American Pictures series, visit


About the Sponsors

            Founded in 1782 under the personal patronage of its namesake, Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, upholds a tradition of excellence and innovation in the liberal arts. The American Pictures series is a project of the college’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and its Department of Art and Art History.

            The National Portrait Gallery tells the stories of America through the individuals—poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists—who have built our national culture. It is where the arts keep us in the company of remarkable Americans.

            The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation’s first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience. The collection captures the aspirations, character and imagination of the American people from the colonial period to today.

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