Drew Gilpin Faust: What Reviewers Have Said About Her Scholarship

Historians in the News

Mr. Elrick is a History News Network intern.

The appointment of historian Drew Gilpin Faust as Harvard’s next president has drawn a considerable response since the University’s official announcement on Sunday. Dr. Faust will be the first woman to head the prestigious institution in its 371-year history. Her appointment comes on the heels of the controversy generated by previous president Lawrence Summer’s remarks about the academic aptitude of women. Faust was a professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Pennsylvania before becoming the founding Dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 2001.

“I am a historian,” Harvard’s newest leader declared during her presidential announcement. “I have spent a lot of time thinking about the past, and about how it shapes the future.” A Civil War scholar and expert on the American South, Faust has written five books on 19th century Southern society. Praised for her thorough research, analytical depth, and sophisticated approach to historical scholarship, Faust’s work is highly regarded by other historians in her field. Her last book, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South, is considered a major contribution to the study of women, gender, and society during the Civil War.

Below are excerpts of reviews of her work:

An Ambitious Book

“Faust has set an ambitious agenda for those who would pursue in depth the many topics she has addressed which range from confederate popular culture to confederate religion to a more detailed treatment of the south’s ‘inner Civil War.’”
-John McCardell (Middlebury College) on Faust’s The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South (Journal of Southern History, Vol. 56, No. 3. 1990).

On Women

“As with her treatment of male slaveholders in peace, Faust’s portraits of confederate women in wartime illustrate the interplay between ideas and reality and place the slaveholders securely in the context of their own society. The result is a historically grounded and intellectually sophisticated approach that is rarely adversarial or dismissive of differing viewpoints. Rather, Faust’s strategy has been to elaborate and deepen understanding of the South’s slaveholders. Out of the subtle analysis and expanding scope that she is bringing to the task, the world the slaveholders made, and then managed to sustain during their struggle for independence, is becoming much better known and understood.”

-Michael Perman on Faust’s Southern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War (Reviews in American History, Vol. 22, No. 1. March, 1994).


“Faust provides an elegant analysis of how the Civil War both undermined and sustained traditional patriarchal attitudes among elite white women.”

“Mothers of Invention is an important book that will be the formation for future interpretations of the meaning of the Civil War to women. Faust has added complexity and ambiguity to our vision of southern women, and historians will hereafter have to contend with many of the issues she has raised.”

-Virginia Laas (Missouri Southern State College) on Faust’s Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (H-Net Reviews. September, 1997).


Drew Gilpin Faust uses journals, letters, essays, poetry, and fiction left behind by the women of the Civil War South to create a collage of female perspectives on the war's impact on the domestic front. She finds that women tended to become disillusioned with their traditional roles once they found themselves forced to take on responsibilities that Southern convention had previously denied them and began fending for themselves as slaveholders, providers, and mothers.”

Faust’s masterly portrayal of these women makes vivid the difficulties they faced, which left one describing herself as ‘nothing but a poor contemptible piece of multiplying human flesh tied to the house by a crying young one, looked upon as belonging to a race of inferior beings.’”

-On Faust’s Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (American Heritage, Vol. 47, Issue 3. May/June, 1996) .


“This beautifully written and deeply researched book could hardly fall to engage the attention of any reader. Faust uses the stories of individual women to build a powerful and controversial argument about slaveholding women's experience in the Civil War and their role in Confederate defeat.”

-On Faust’s Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Women’s Review of Books, Vol. 14, No. 6. March, 1997). 

As Biographer

“Faust’s excellent biography covers Hammond’s fairly despicable prominence, and intellectual respectability. The author places Hammond’s aggressive struggle to build a profitable plantation well into the context of recent slavery studies. She organizes the many facets of Hammond’s life around a sensitive, sophisticated, and yet understated, analysis of his peculiar psychology.”

-James Oakes (Princeton) on Faust’s James Henry Hammond of the Old South: A Design for Mastery (Journal of American History, Vol. 70, No. 3. December, 1983).

On the South

“Faust’s deft and accurate portrait of proud men loathing an allegedly mindless and materialistic southern mobocracy helps explain why seething reactionaries led the southern revolution. In a new and purified republic, these scornful stewards did indeed hope to prevail. In the context of secession rather than proslavery, Faust’s superb information tells, if not quite what she thinks, still much that is illuminating about the sacred rage of the old South.”

-William Freehling (Johns Hopkins University) on Faust’s A Sacred Circle: The Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840-1860 (Journal of American History, Vol. 65, No. 3. December, 1978).

As Storyteller

“Southern Stories is an excellent collection of essays that illustrates all Faust’s own storytelling genius that has made her one of the most widely read and insightful southern historians of our age.”

-On Faust’s Southern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War (Georgia Historical Quarterly at www.umsystems.edu/press/otherbooks/faust.htm).

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Colin P Barr - 2/13/2007

I'm sure Prof. Faust is an excellent scholar, as the review extracts attest. But wouldn't a selection of reviewers' criticisms also prove interesting? I find it hard to believe that any scholar could produce five books without some substantive criticism. Why not show us that, too?