Book Review: Civil War Washington: History, Place, and Digital Scholarship


by Susan G. Lawrence, editor

Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 220. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $55.00. ISBN: 0803262868

Digitization Throwing Fresh Light on Wartime Washington

Prof. Lawrence (Ohio State) is the author of Charitable Knowledge and Privacy and the Past, which drew upon extensive resources of digitized records to offer new insights into medical history. In this collection, she presents nine essays by various scholars that draw upon the digitization of masses of data from the census, local directories, publications, official documents, hospital records, and more to create a digitized “picture” of Washington during the Civil War (, helping to expand our understanding of life in the period.

The work opens with two essays explain the project, with an overview of Washington in the war and a look at the available resource. There follows an essay on population patterns, offering some interesting insights into racial distribution, revealing a surprisingly integrate city, despite clear racial divisions. Two papers draw upon available records to examine the experiment in “compensated emancipation” in the District in 1862. Another pair of essays looks at the operation of military hospitals in the capital and the types of medical cases which were treated. Surprisingly, the final two essays deal with poetry, one on works published in the local newspapers and the second on Walt Whitman’s service as a hospital steward and writings while in Washington.

Civil War Washington is a valuable book for anyone working in race relations in the nation’s capital, genealogy, military medicine, and poetry, and should also be of interest to any serious student of the war – and of history in general – for the insights it offers into the potential value of mass digitization of data for research.

Note: Civil War Washington is also available as an e-book.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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