Reconciliation Narratives: The Birth of a Nation after the US Civil War

108 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2021

See all articles by Elena Esposito

Elena Esposito

University of Lausanne

Tiziano Rotesi

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Alessandro Saia

University of Lausanne

Mathias Thoenig

University of Lausanne; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: March 1, 2021

Abstract

We study how the spread of the Lost Cause narrative -a revisionist and racist retelling of the US Civil War- shifted both opinions and behaviors toward reunifying the country and racially alienating African Americans. Drawing on a large set of archival data from between 1910 and 1920, we reconstitute a monthly record of the staggered screenings across US counties of The Birth of a Nation, a blockbuster movie that popularized the Lost Cause narrative across large segments of the population. Our empirical analysis shows that the movie induced (i) a semantic shift in the public discourse toward more patriotic and less divisive language on post-Civil War nation building; (ii) a surge in patriotism with an increased enlistment rate in the US military; and (iii) a cultural convergence between former Confederate and Unionist states with a rise in the adoption of first names traditionally associated with the former enemy's regional identity. We go on to document how the racist content of the narrative helped foster reconciliation through a common enemy rhetorical argument. While we find that the movie strengthened discrimination against African Americans in public discourse and the labor market, our quantitative estimates suggest that 55% of the total effect of the movie on reconciliation was indirectly mediated precisely through this rise in discrimination. All of our findings are detected within both former Confederate and Unionist states.

JEL Classification: D74, N92, Z1

Suggested Citation

Esposito, Elena and Rotesi, Tiziano and Saia, Alessandro and Thoenig, Mathias, Reconciliation Narratives: The Birth of a Nation after the US Civil War (March 1, 2021). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP15938, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3816811

Elena Esposito (Contact Author)

University of Lausanne ( email )

Quartier Chambronne
Lausanne, Vaud CH-1015
Switzerland

Tiziano Rotesi

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Alessandro Saia

University of Lausanne ( email )

Quartier Chambronne
Lausanne, Vaud CH-1015
Switzerland

Mathias Thoenig

University of Lausanne ( email )

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
1
Abstract Views
315
PlumX Metrics