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Kessler Earns M.A. degree

Kessler Earns M.A. degree

PhD candidate Megan Kessler

Megan Kessler, a second-year graduate student in the department of History affiliated with the Richards Center, earned her M.A. degree at the end of March. Kessler will continue her research toward her PhD degree. Her M.A. paper was titled "'This young Lady…is what all you ladies [should] be': Roman Catholic Sister Nurses and Gendered Hierarchy in the American Civil War.” Her dissertation will consider Roman Catholic nuns’ interactions with immigrant populations in the nineteenth-century United States. In this period, nuns founded and staffed hospitals, orphanages, schools, and asylums in nearly every major American city. Quite often, their patients and charges were immigrant women and girls. Their missions usually incorporated training based upon ideals propagated by the nineteenth-century ideology of domesticity. Her project will explore and question the contradictions between the ideology of domesticity promoted by nuns and their own lived experience as unmarried and childless Catholic women engaged in public work. It also will explore how immigrant women and children responded to the contradictory messages their nun caregivers propagated.

Congratulations to Sarah L. H. Gronningsater, winner of the George and Ann Richards Prize!

Sarah L. H. Gronningsater has won the George and Ann Richards Prize for the best article published in The Journal of the Civil War Era for the 2017 volume year. Three members of the editorial board selected her article, “‘On Behalf of His Race and the Lemmon Slaves’: Louis Napoleon, Northern Black Legal Culture, and the Politics of Sectional Crisis” for the $1,000 prize. The article appeared in the June issue.

Gronningsater’s essay offers a new perspective on the famous Lemmon Slave case, in which New York courts freed eight enslaved people brought to New York by Virginia slaveholders while in transit to Texas prior to the Civil War. The article recounts the little known story of African American legal activists, like the abolitionist Louis Napoleon who petitioned a New York court for the writ of habeas corpus that eventually freed the Lemmon slaves. In the words of the prize committee, Gronningsater shows how African American abolitionists like Napoleon “developed tactics to free slaves who were in transit through New York, pressed New York’s leaders to challenge the expansive property rights of southern slave owners, and creatively influenced the national debate about sectionalism. This article, in sum, is a model of legal, political, and social history told with enviable élan.”

Gronningsater is assistant professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. Her current book manuscript, The Arc of Abolition: The Children of Gradual Emancipation and the Origins of National Freedom, is under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press. It explores the long, legal transition from slavery to freedom in New York from the first widespread Quaker emancipations in the 1750s to the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments at the close of the Civil War.

Awarded annually, the Richards Prize recognizes the generosity of George and Ann Richards, who have been instrumental in the growth of the Richards Civil War Era Center and in the founding of The Journal of the Civil War Era.

For more information, visit https://journalofthecivilwarera.org/.

 

McCabe-Greer Manuscript Workshop with Dr. Patricia Marroquin Norby

The Richards Center is excited to partner with Dr. Christina Snyder, McCabe-Greer Professor in the American Civil War Era, to host an annual manuscript workshop for the Many Wests book series. Dr. Snyder serves as one of the editors of this new series, which will be published by the University of Nebraska Press. The interdisciplinary series will publish work on environmental, indigenous, borderlands, gender, social, public, and legal history of the American West. The first manuscript workshop will take place April 5 and 6, featuring Dr. Patricia Marroquin Norby, former director of the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies at the Newberry Library. She will deliver a public talk, Water, Bones, and Bombs: Twentieth-Century American Indian Art and Environmental Conflicts in the Southwest on Thursday, April 5 in the Nittany Lion Inn’s Alumni Fireside Lounge. The talk will explore how Native American artists have sought to draw attention to environmental injustice through their artwork. A workshop for Dr. Norby’s book manuscript will follow on Friday, April 6.

 

For more information, or to register for the event, please contact the Richards Center at RichardsCenter@psu.edu. Attendees must register by March 30.

 

Exit Through the Gift Shop: Historical Memory and Gift Shops at Civil War Historic Sites by Nick Sacco

Exit Through the Gift Shop: Historical Memory and Gift Shops at Civil War Historic Sites by Nick Sacco

Two Confederate kepis for sale at the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in 2014. Photo courtesy of the author.

When I was a graduate student living in Indiana, I made a point of visiting historical sites connected to the Civil War throughout the state. One of my favorites was the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville. Situated in a quiet neighborhood in northwest Indiana, the site preserves and interprets the study where Wallace maintained his personal library. Built between 1895 and 1898, the $30,000 structure was constructed from royalties Wallace earned through his 1880 book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, one of the most popular works of Christian literature since its release and the subject of a famous 1959 film starring Charlton Heston. Visitors to the site learn about Wallace’s life as a Civil War general in the United States Army, his stint as Governor of New Mexico territory, and his talents as a writer.[1]

 

During my most recent visit to the site a few years ago, something struck me while going through the museum gift shop. As I peered through a selection of books and other assorted items, I saw two Civil War kepis with Confederate flag stickers stuck onto the front of the hats. Even stranger, the label on top of the hats described them as “enlisted” hats, and not a single item associated with the United States military—the one Wallace actually fought for—could be found in the gift shop. What were these items doing at the museum of a U.S. General? More specifically, what did mean to see these hats at a museum dedicated to General Wallace, whose efforts at the battle of Monocacy delayed Confederate General Jubal Early’s unsuccessful march to Fort Stevens, a mere five miles from the nation’s capital?[2]

Perhaps these items reinforce Wallace’s desire for sectional reconciliation, a theme he frequently discussed as a popular speaker at Civil War veteran commemorations. Through these speeches he popularized a common belief that battlefields and blue-gray reunions were places for discussing military strategy, not politics. At the dedication of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefield National Military Park in 1895, for example, Wallace complained that “I am truly unable to understand the Northern soldier who would persecute a soldier of the Confederacy. If there is one such in this assemblage, this is the place above all other for introspection . . . Remembrance! Of what? Not the cause, but the heroism it invoked.”[3]

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

New Field Correspondent at Muster by Kristen Epps

The Journal of the Civil War Era editorial staff and board are excited to announce a new field correspondent at Muster–please join us in welcoming Angela Esco Elder to the team! Dr. Elder will be writing dispatches on gender and women’s history topics.

Christopher Hayashida-Knight, our previous correspondent who focused on such issues, has had to leave our team due to other commitments. We wish him well, and please feel free to drop him an email or comment on one of his posts to say thanks.

Dr. Elder is an Assistant Professor of History at Converse College. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a PhD in History, she became the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Tech. Her dissertation, which explored the experience of Confederate widowhood, won the Southern Historical Association’s C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize and St. George Tucker Society’s Melvin E. Bradford Dissertation Prize in 2017. She is currently revising it for publication.

In addition to book chapters, encyclopedia articles, and book reviews, Dr. Elder has published a co-edited collection, Practical Strangers: The Courtship Correspondence of Nathaniel Dawson and Elodie Todd, Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln. She has previously written for Muster, authoring a post in December 2016 on how Confederate widows coped during the holiday season. She has also presented her research at numerous conferences, including the American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Society of Civil War Historians, and Southern Association for Women Historians. Dr. Elder can be contacted at angela.elder@converse.edu.

Welcome, Angela!

The Life He Should Have Thrown Away: Ambrose Bierce and Soldiers’ Complicity by James Marten

The Life He Should Have Thrown Away: Ambrose Bierce and Soldiers’ Complicity by James Marten

Ambrose Bierce. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In “Still Life: From the Notebooks of Ambrose Bierce, 1862,” twentieth-century poet R. T. Smith presents a sketch artist who, despite being surrounded by the sights and smells and sounds of the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, chooses to draw a still life of a peach. An “Illinois corporal” peering over his shoulder can’t believe it: “Fellow, can you see all them soldiers blown apart or in pain right here? . . . Peaches, what the hell.” The artist replies, “peaches, maybe are what I need to see, what my weary heart yearns to remember . . . . I know the bloodbath we inhabit, sir against which I can offer only a fragile moment as counterpoint.” He goes on to theorize about art and death. Bierce, the mostly silent observer in the poem, thinks, “Just a witness, I held my tongue but had no more appetite for the taste of his beautifully rendered fruit.” But the corporal puts it more bluntly: “Mister, get yourself a rifle, see if you can still puke out them jackass lies.”

Although written more than a century after Bierce died, “Still Life” offers the kind of hard-edged but slightly off-kilter vignette the legendary veteran, journalist, and cynic would have enjoyed. Bierce’s fiction typically undermines the “drums and bugles” narratives of battles that had dominated war literature during the last third of the nineteenth century. Almost all of his stories show men doing their duty against their better judgment, being manipulated by cowardly or glory seeking officers, or experiencing deep ambivalence about the war in which they found themselves. But a deeper reading of some of Bierce’s works betray a more nuanced attitude toward the men who fought the war.

In one of Bierce’s most famous stories, “The Coup de Grâce,” a young officer puts his horribly wounded friend out of his misery by plunging a sword through his breast. In the story, this act of harsh kindness propels a plot line revolving around misplaced compassion, duty, human cruelty, and hatred. But it echoed a scene he had witnessed at the actual Battle of Shiloh, when his unit was working their way through a ravaged portion of the battlefield. They came across a man, still alive, but with the top of his head sliced open by a bullet. As his brain spilled onto the ground, he “lay face upward, taking in his breath in convulsive, rattling snorts.” One of Bierce’s men asked if he should end his struggles with a bayonet. “I told him I thought not; it was unusual, and too many were looking.”

The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.