I had not heard of Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson before I read her 2014 book To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party and subsequently interviewed her about it for The Arts Fuse.
The high profile that she has maintained in the intervening six years has solidified her presence on my radar. Richardson has been the co-creator and co-host of the podcast “Freak Out and Carry On,” a contributing columnist for Salon, The Guardian, and We’re History, a prolific tweeter, and author of the diurnal rumination “Letters from an American.”
In 2016, the Maine native had what she called the “dubious honor” of being included on Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist, which aims “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
This may have caused her to temporarily freak out, but she has indeed carried on. Oxford University Press published Richardson’s sixth book, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, in April.
The Arts Fuse: How the South Won the Civil War sews together elements of several of your previous books: the Civil War era, Reconstruction, the American West, and the Republican Party. What new information and insights will longtime readers of your work take from it?
Heather Cox Richardson: This is a good catch. My books all build on each other, not consciously but because they reflect the changing of my own understanding of American history. There are three main points in the book, each of interest to a different audience. For people who don’t read much history, there is the big argument about the “American Paradox,” the idea that our history has been shaped by the fact that in America, equality for some has always depended on inequality for others. For 19th-century historians, there is the argument that the West needs to be understood as a political bloc. We have studied it as a cultural region, a colonial project, an environmental entity, and an idea. But How the South Won says we must grapple with it as a distinct political bloc that affected the nation, and that intended to change the national power structure.