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Race, Citizenship, and a Search for Intellectual Honesty by Martha S. Jones

Race, Citizenship, and a Search for Intellectual Honesty by Martha S. Jones

Image of the blackboard notation at SIUE. Courtesy of the Belleville News-Democrat.

Perhaps I’ve been wrong about African American citizenship.

The anniversary year of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification is upon us. 2018 marks 150 years since birthright citizenship was constitutionalized. I’ve told this story many times, even recounting it in an article for the Journal of the Civil War Era.[1]

The Fourteenth Amendment established black Americans, and indeed nearly all those born in the United States, as its citizens: “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” In 1868, the legal force of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which deemed all black people non-citizens, was overcome. The new Constitution removed all doubt about African American claims to belonging, even as the content and the character of their rights would remain (and continue to be) subject of debate.

I have regarded this interpretation as ironclad, approaching something like a truth. Unlike their Chinese American counterparts, after 1868 black Americans did not face state-sponsored schemes of exclusion. Nor did African Americans confront schemes for their removal or threats to their sovereignty, as had Native Americans. The long history of citizenship shows how people of color have not been on equal footing before the law.

But perhaps I’ve been wrong; perhaps black citizenship is not a sure thing after all.

For me, a seed of doubt was sown by a recent incident at Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville (SIUE). A professor reported entering a classroom to find this message written on the blackboard: “NO PERSON OF AFRICAN Descent shall be Citizen of the U.S.… NOR were they ever intended to be.” Dred Scott Decision <– GOOGLE IT. What’s YOUR NATIONALITY? Million dollar ?[2]

Nineteen members of SIUE’s Philosophy faculty issued a denunciation in an open letter to the SIUE community: “What was written on the board, which referred to the Dred Scott case, expressed white supremacist propaganda that is intellectually dishonest.”[3] Here, they suggested that intellectual dishonesty lies not in the characterization of the decision in Dred Scott, which did indeed draw into serious question the citizenship of black Americans. The dishonestly lies in the failure to add that Dred Scott was rendered inoperable by way of the Fourteenth Amendment’s birthright provision. It is intellectually dishonest to draw into question the citizenship of black Americans.

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

JCWE Author Interview: Marise Bachand by Kristen Epps

Today we share an interview with Marise Bachand, who published an article in our December 2017 special issue, titled “Disunited Daughters of the Confederations: Creoles and Canadians at the Intersection of Nations, States, and Empires.” Marise is an associate professor at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. An Americanist trained in Canada, she holds an M.A. from Université du Québec à Montréal and a Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario. She is completing a book manuscript on the urban lives of plantation women based on her dissertation and she is researching two projects—one on white Creole women and the Americanization of Louisiana, and one on the Whig intellectual circle of Madame Le Vert from Mobile, Alabama.

Thank you so much, Marise, for talking with us. I’d like to start by hearing a little bit about how you got interested in this topic. What inspired you to undertake this project?

It started with the Creoles. In my dissertation, I included a number of francophone sugar planting women to add nuance to my study. I was puzzled to discover how little historians had written about these white women, although they were fascinated by Creole women of color. This historiographical silence, I realized, was not so much the result of some language barrier, but of the exotic and colonial place Louisiana occupies in the American imagination. I thus decided that my postdoctoral project would be dedicated to document these women’s lives as they Americanized.

Then the Canadians came in. When I was hired at UQTR in 2011, a research university with a strong tradition in Quebec studies, I was asked to develop comparative projects. I was intrigued by the fact that women were almost excluded from the Canadian political narrative of the nineteenth century, while so much work had been done in the United States to integrate them. As a feminist historian, I advocate alternative chronologies, yet I feel that there are many stories to be told within the traditional chronological framework. This project also stems from a personal experience, as is often the case with women’s history. How would my daughter, born of the marriage of a French Canadian and an English Canadian, self-identify as she grew up?

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

Robert Morss Reflects on his 2017 Richards Center Digital Humanities Internship

Robert Morss Reflects on his 2017 Richards Center Digital Humanities Internship

An entry from Adam Pickel's diary, recording his wounding at Gettysburg

Robert Morss is a second year student pursuing an undergraduate degree in Penn State’s College of Education. This fall, he was the Richards Center’s digital humanities intern with the People’s Contest digital project. During his internship, Robert, a veteran of the U.S. Army, chose to transcribe the diary of Adam Pickel, a Philadelphia native who served in the 68th Pennsylvania volunteer infantry during the Civil War and participated in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg (you can view Pickel's diary here). During the Battle of Gettysburg, Pickel was mortally wounded. Robert learned to use ArcGIS mapping software to create an online digital exhibit that maps Pickel’s travels as a soldier and narrates his experiences in the Army of the Potomac. This online exhibit, still under construction, eventually will be linked to the People’s Contest digital collections page. Robert plans to become a Social Studies teacher at the middle or high school level upon completing his degree. At the conclusion of the internship, Robert participated in a brief interview, reflecting on his experiences as a Richards Center intern.


1. How did you become interested in Penn State and what made you decide to attend school here?

When deciding upon Penn State, I had looked for Veteran-friendly schools in Pennsylvania, and a close friend of mine with whom I served in the Army was planning on attending here, so I decided to apply and go to college with him. Penn State is the perfect school for me. It has lots of school spirit, incredible history, a large student body providing opportunities to make new friends, and honorable traditions to contribute to. It was an easy decision to come to Penn State.

2. During your internship, you transcribed the diary of Union soldier Adam Pickel and created a digital exhibit about his experiences in the Army of the Potomac. What do you hope people will learn about Pickel from your online exhibit?

It’s my hope that people will learn that Adam Pickel was one of us. He was an ordinary man who had a family, friends, hobbies, but answered his nation’s call in a time of crisis. Adam was a good man whose faith and love for his country and his family appears on every page of his journal. It is my hope that my digital exhibit about his life can be a vehicle to teach people not just about Adam but about the Civil War. I especially hope that this exhibit shows people what the war looked like through the eyes of an ordinary volunteer soldier.

3. What were the most challenging and, conversely, the most enjoyable aspects of this internship?

I can say that the most challenging part was deciphering Adam Pickel’s handwriting when the writing was faded or unclear. Without some historical context or a cursive reference by your side, it could be painfully challenging to decipher what Adam is trying to tell us.

The most enjoyable aspect of the internship was being exposed daily to Adam’s thoughts, what he valued, and his struggles as a private in the Civil War. With each new journal entry, I became more interested in who Adam was and what he had to say. When he wrote his last journal entry, I felt like I had said goodbye to someone I had a deep acquaintance with, someone who “spoke” to me on a daily basis through his diary.

4. Is there anything else you'd like to say about Adam Pickel or this internship experience?

Adam Pickel was a great guy, and my one regret was that I never got to see his face. I tried, to no avail, to track down a picture of him. I wish I could put a face to the name that I have known for a semester now. I have appreciated every word he wrote in his journal. This was a fantastic experience. Hopefully my transcriptions and Story Map do Adam justice for his sacrifice in serving our country with honor.

I would recommend this exercise, transcribing a journal from the past, to any and every history student. This not only made the history I stumbled upon within Adam’s pages more authentic and personal, but this was a completely different approach to learning that I thoroughly enjoyed. Now moving forward, I am thinking about introducing a transcribing requirement in my future classes when I teach history. I know for a fact that I will use the ArcGIS Story Map program in my classes to teach history in a visually innovative way.

5. How did you decide to pursue a career as a social studies teacher after college?

I want to become a history teacher because it combines my attributes, my passions, and my desires, all in one job. I love public speaking, and I’ve been told that I’m good at it. And I love connecting with people, too.

I also had a high school history teacher named Mr. Bowers who taught my world history class in my sophomore year at Spanish Springs High School in Sparks Nevada, where I am from. He had served in the 82nd Airborne and had travelled the world. He was calm, collected, encouraging, inspiring, passionate… I remember watching him as he taught, thinking that “One day that could be me.”

My passion is history, any and all of it; I love to learn about the past. My historical appetite isn’t limited to famous characters in American history, I enjoy learning about history on a global scale. I guess I’m just a sucker for a good story, something that stirs the soul, or answers questions about why we do things or how come “that” is the “way it is”… Understanding history helps me value our country more…

My desire is to help people, especially the youth. If I can guide them as a mentor, while teaching them our shared history… I will have achieved my goal of contributing to the future and leaving a positive mark on the world. I believe I can make learning history fun, interactive, and worth a student’s time. I plan on being a teacher like Mr. Bowers, someone who will be remembered for the rest of a student’s life due to the positive impact I made.


-Robert Morss Class of 2020

George and Alva Go to War: Fatherhood, Childhood, and the Civil War by James Marten

George and Alva Go to War: Fatherhood, Childhood, and the Civil War by James Marten

Thomas Nast’s “The Drummer Boy” offered readers scenes that became part of the stereotypical narrative of drummer boys’ experiences. Harper’s Weekly, December 19, 1863.

"I am with my youngest son George compelled for the love of our Beloved country to take up arms in defense of that liberty that our for Fathers fought to establish. May Heaven grant a speedy restoration of the hapy [sic] days once enjoyed & a safe return to our beloved ones at home.” So wrote Alva Cleveland on his birthday, a few months after he followed his twelve-year-old son George into the First Wisconsin, where George served as a drummer and Alva as a nurse. He was nearly sixty years old and a master painter. He and George lived in Racine, Wisconsin, with their wife and mother, Mary, an older brother, and two older sisters (another young woman and two young children also lived with them).[1]

This rather unusual situation says a lot about the ways that Civil War-era Americans thought about parental duty, military service—and childhood.

A modern version of childhood had begun to emerge a couple of decades before the war started. It envisioned an extended, nurtured childhood free of economic responsibility. This was beyond the reach of most families, and older traditions of work prevailed for most children. Young boys had for centuries been expected to begin working as apprentices, as farm laborers, or as helpers to their fathers when they were nine or ten years old; by the nineteenth century, the decline of the apprenticeship system and the rise of the factory system led to more boys working in mills and mines. (Girls, of course, dominated the child and youth labor markets in many factory systems.) During the Gilded Age, as many as one quarter to one half of all industrial workers were teenagers, and boys and girls as young as twelve or thirteen worked in mines or with dangerous machinery. And those statistics did not include the millions of boys and girls who performed sometimes dangerous work with livestock and machinery on farms and ranches.[2]

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

Graduate Students Present Research at Major Conferences

This past November, Richards Center affiliated graduate students presented their research at two major conferences in the U.S. and Canada. Cecily Zander, a third year graduate student in the department of history’s PhD program, presented the paper, “Improvised Warfare: The United States, Canada, and the Sioux in a Civil War Borderland,” at the 57th annual conference of the Western History Association in San Diego. Drawn from her dissertation research, Zander’s paper explored how conflicts between U.S. troops and Native Americans in the borderlands both reflected and reshaped official attitudes toward warfare and notions of just war.

While Zander presented her research in San Diego, Mallory Huard and Carolyn Levy traveled to Montreal to present papers at the international Social Science History Association’s annual conference. Huard, a third year graduate student, presented the paper, “Haoles in Honolulu: New England Whaling Wives in Mid-Nineteenth Century Hawaii.” Her paper examined the experiences of New England whaling captains’ wives who sailed with their husbands to Hawaii and helped shape the growth of the multicultural community of Honolulu as it became an important stop in the late nineteenth century trans-Pacific trade. The paper traced how questions of race, gender, and culture informed these women’s perceptions of the diverse society they encountered in Honolulu.

Levy, a second year graduate student, presented the paper, “Constructing a Legitimate Family: State Control of African American Marriages and Families in the Post-bellum United States.” Using under-explored Freedmen’s Bureau records, Levy’s paper argued that the federal government’s first order of business following the destruction of slavery during the Civil War was to regulate and legalize African American marriage and family practices. The Freedman’s Bureau crafted compulsory, legal regulations that forced freedmen to conform to a system of marriage created by white lawmakers that discouraged (or banned) “miscegenation” and sought to model supposedly respectable forms of marriage.

Zander, Huard, and Levy’s papers were selected by these conferences through a competitive submission process. Earning acceptance to major conferences and presenting research to the broader scholarly community is an important part of graduate students’ professional development in a competitive field. These students’ successful conference presentations is a testament to the strength of their research and their acumen as young scholars.

2017 Brose Lectures Examine Mortality in the Nineteenth Century

2017 Brose Lectures Examine Mortality in the Nineteenth Century

Dr. Stephen Berry

Steve Berry, Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era at the University of Georgia, delivered the 2017 Brose Lectures, November 2-4. Dr. Berry’s lectures examined what he called the most important event in human history: the doubling of human life expectancy from 1840 to 1940. For thousands of years human life expectancy hovered around 30 years. In the West, this number dipped slightly in the early nineteenth century due largely to the effects of industrialization, but then life expectancy rocketed upwards beginning roughly in the mid-nineteenth century. This unprecedented increase typically has been explained through developments in science and medicine. Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine in 1796. John Snow advanced the germ theory of disease in 1854. Joseph Lister developed his system of antiseptic treatment following surgery in 1868. The subsequent increase in human life expectancy owed much to these advances, but Dr. Berry argued that it was due equally to advances in government bureaucracy. Over the course of three lectures, he argued that the decision to view mortality as a public health concern led to the creation of statistical methods to track mortality and its causes and to the development of government policies that would mitigate premature mortality and improve people’s lives.

Berry’s interest in the rapid growth in human mortality grew out of his study of thousands of southern coroners’ reports from the antebellum period. Those reports recorded the circumstances behind citizens’ deaths and revealed that alcohol, poverty, and lack of sanitation figured prominently in many people’s deaths. In the Civil War era the state’s interest in the public health and mortality intensified. Lemuel Shattuck convinced the Massachusetts legislature to undertake a sanitary survey of the state in 1849 to probe possible links between lack of sanitation and premature death. Shattuck’s survey inspired Joseph Kennedy to collect mortality data in the United States census of 1850. During the Civil War, the public demanded news of soldiers’ deaths. Newspapers regularly published death lists, and Clara Barton created the Office of Missing Soldiers in Washington, D.C. to try to determine the fate of Union soldiers whose status was whereabouts were unknown. During Reconstruction, coroners’ offices and the Freedmen’s Bureau recorded political assassinations and outrageous crimes committed against freedpeople, building a massive record of the murderous violence that returned unreconstructed southern Democrats to power in the former Confederate states.

Counting the dead was the first step in creating new public policy. Rapid postbellum advances in numeracy and statistics allowed government authorities to tally and render death data in ways that allowed them to highlight public health concerns. During the Progressive Era public officials marshaled mortality statistics to push for a variety of reforms to make industrial work safer and to secure the purity and safety of processed foods and drugs. The growth of the insurance industry and its increasing reliance on sophisticated actuarial tables informed by mountains of statistical data illustrated the beneficent effects of postbellum public health policies on American mortality.

Dr. Berry’s lectures tell a new story of the incredible growth in human life expectancy from the Civil War era into the twentieth century. It places government bureaucracy and public policy alongside developments in science and medicine at the heart of this story. The University of North Carolina Press will publish the lectures as part of the Brose Book Series.