Internal Seminar: Alessandro Saia

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

  • Date: 03 March 2021 from 13:00 to 14:00

  • Event location: Microsoft Teams

Abstract

We study how the spread of the Lost Cause narrative – a revisionist and racist record of the US civil war – shifted both opinions and behaviors toward reunifying the country and alienating African-Americans. Drawing on a large set of archival data over the 1910-1920 period, we reconstitute at a monthly level the staggered screening across US counties of “Birth of a Nation”, a blockbuster movie that popularized the 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 words related to post Civil War nation-building; (ii) a surge in patriotism with an increased enlistment rate in the US military; (iii) a cultural convergence between former confederate and unionist states with an increased adoption of first names traditionally associated with the former enemy’s regional identity. Then, we document how the racist content of the narrative contributed to foster reconciliation in a common enemy type of rhetorical argument. While we find that the movie strengthened discrimination against African-Americans in public discourse and in the labor market, our quantitative estimates suggest that 55% of the total effect of the movie on reconciliation was indirectly mediated through this rise in discrimination. All our findings are detected both within former confederate and unionist states.

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