There are a number of things that make Drew Gilpin Faust different from those who've come before her as head honcho of America's flagship university.
Faust is, for example, the only president of Harvard known to have produced an academic paper titled "Equine Relics of the Civil War," the research for which included attending a solemn burial ceremony for the cremated bones of Stonewall Jackson's horse.
She is, it seems almost certain, the only one among the anointed to talk about what inspires her by calling herself "an archive rat."
In the 21st century, we "shy away from death," she says, and we tend to think of a good death as a sudden one. Not so in the 19th century. Dying well meant having time to assess your spiritual state and say goodbye -- which is difficult to do if you're killed in battle.
What's more, there were so many dying: some 620,000 soldiers in four years. As a percentage of population, Faust says, that's "the equivalent of 6 million Americans today."
How could the culture not be changed?
... Her early work centered on the intellectual arguments of slavery's prewar defenders. She wanted to understand how whole classes of people can get caught up in a shared worldview, to the point that they simply can't see.