A College House Divided

A tale of the North and the South—and Harvard Yard.


Six months after becoming Harvard’s president, historian Drew Gilpin Faust is releasing This Republic of Suffering, her tome about the aftereffects of the Civil War. We were curious, though: Does this story of a nation recovering from internal strife mirror Harvard after its own turmoils? Faust declined to comment, so we connected the dots.

Lack of Foresight
At the outbreak of hostilities, Faust writes, neither side anticipated much carnage. So when things got ugly, leadership foundered. And there it is: the Larry Summers imbroglio.

Survivor Instincts
During the war, a committee was formed to study the conflict with scientific rigor, but soon caved to “pressing human needs” and focused instead on helping survivors. Likewise, Harvard’s new undergrad curriculum shifts from dry academics to an emphasis on understanding and culture. Humanitarianism isn’t dead yet!

Onward and Outward
After the war, Faust argues, the country harnessed its collective experience toward a “new and elevated destiny.” In that light, Harvard’s expansion into Allston couldn’t have been timed better. (Allstonians: Just be thankful it’s not a smallpox-laden manifest destiny.)