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Center Succeeds in NEH Challenge Grant

Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts and the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center have exceeded an ambitious fundraising goal of $3 million, after securing a $1 million challenge grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). With the support of one of the NEH's largest We the People Challenge Grants and alumni philanthropy, the Richards Civil War Era Center has become a national leader in the study of not only the Civil War era, but also the larger struggle for American freedom ranging from slavery to civil rights.

''The Richards Center and the college are thrilled at the enormous enthusiasm and the support that the liberal arts alumni and friends have contributed over the last five years to help us meet the challenge’s deadlines,'' said William Blair, liberal arts research professor of American history and director of the center. ''Our Board of Visitors showed outstanding leadership in making gifts and soliciting other alumni and friends of the University to assist in the NEH challenge. The overall total raised to meet the challenge is more than $3.4 million, which supports top-ranked faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and programs for school teachers and the public. Our faculty and graduate students continue to find new insights and make discoveries on the importance of the Civil War era and its impact on our history and on our society today.''

George Richards, a 1954 Penn State graduate, who with his wife, Ann, endowed the center in 2002, played a key leadership role in the fundraising efforts of the center and the college.''We are so proud of the pathbreaking research and teaching being done by the center’s faculty and graduate students,'' Richards said. ''Less than half of NEH Challenges are successful, and the center’s achievement is even more significant because they had to conduct the final phase of the fundraising during one of the worst economic recessions in the U.S. Therefore, the philanthropic success is a great testament to the highly committed alumni volunteers on the center’s Board of Visitors and the college, who fully immersed themselves in this cause.''

Among the Richards Center activities supported by NEH funds and alumni gifts include a new academic journal for Civil War historical scholarship, a teachers institute offering ways to incorporate the latest scholarship about America’s struggles for freedom into classrooms, social media sites to share center scholarship and research with the public, a new kind of society for Civil War era historians with an ongoing national conference, a 2007 symposium on the Emancipation Proclamation that resulted in a published book, and an annual national conference for graduate students studying the Civil War, who will become the future teachers and scholars in the field.

Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, said ''I congratulate the Richards Center and its faculty and alumni volunteers on this success. Even beyond the ways that this will promote understanding of the Civil War, the NEH Challenge Grant provides a unique opportunity to better advance the public’s understanding of the humanities overall and to more effectively reach all of our constituencies: the scholarly community in the discipline, our undergraduate and graduate students at Penn State, school teachers and their students, and the public at large.''

Penn State Live


Distinguished Lecturer

Congratulations to Lori Ginzberg who has just returned from serving as Distinguished Lecturer at Suffolk University's College of Arts and Sciences.

Lori GinzbergDistinguished Visiting Scholar Lori D. Ginzberg discussed Women’s Rights in 19th century America with "Musings of a Feminist Historian" on October 13 and “Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life” on October 14, 2010, at Suffolk University.

Lori Ginzberg is a professor of history and women’s studies at Penn State and is the author of several books on nineteenth century women’s intellectual lives and political identities. Her most recent book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life, offers a view of the complicated life and legacy of the nineteenth century’s foremost feminist thinker. Professor Ginzberg’s other books include Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman’s Rights in Antebellum New York (2005) and Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (1990). Professor Ginzberg teaches courses in U.S. history, women’s history, lesbian and gay history, and feminist theory.

Lori Ginzberg visited the College as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar from October 12–15 and during her time on campus, Ginzberg talked with students and faculty about the Suffrage movement, Women’s Rights, and the intersections of gender, race and class in 19th century America.

The Forgotten War

Congratulations to Amy Greenberg whose current projects are profiled in a two-page spread in the latest Research Penn State (volume 31, pp. 34-35).

According to the book "Game Change," when political advisers sat down with Sarah Palin “to give her a potted history of foreign policy,” they began with the Spanish-American War, which, in fact, was not this country's first foreign war.  The omission of the U.S-Mexican War from the list of U.S. engagements—in popular nonfiction, history books, or "Jeopardy!" questions—does not surprise historian Amy Greenberg, who seeks to bring this pivotal conflict into the frontal lobe of the American consciousness.

The U.S.-Mexican War of 1846 was a horrific, bloody, 16-month battle predicated on greed, expansion Amy S. Greenbergand imperialism, said Greenberg, Penn State professor of American history and women’s studies. “Though both its justification and consequences are dim to us now,” she said, “this, our first war for empire, decisively broke with our past, shaped our future, and, to this day, affects how we act in the world.”

In a book she is writing on the subject, with the support of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, Greenberg points to four key players who initiated, mediated and ended the war. President James K. Polk rallied for war against Mexico, claiming that our southern neighbors had killed American soldiers on American land. Senator Henry Clay publicly denounced the war, sparking what Greenberg calls “America’s first national anti-war movement.” Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln, who admired Clay and also opposed the war, learned invaluable lessons in power and morality. Nicholas Trist was a diplomat who disobeyed an executive order to leave Mexico and instead brokered the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which, effectively, ended both the war and his diplomatic career.  (full Research Penn State article)


Debuting March 2011

The Journal of the Civil War Era

The University of North Carolina Press and the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at the Pennsylvania State University are pleased to announce the 2011 launch of a new publication, The Journal of the Civil War Era. William Blair, of the Pennsylvania State University, has agreed to serve as founding editor.

The new journal will take advantage of the flowering of research on the many issues raised by the sectional crisis, war, Reconstruction, and memory of the conflict, while bringing fresh understanding to the struggles that defined the period, and by extension, the course of American history in the nineteenth century.

The Journal of the Civil War Era aims to create a space where scholars across the many subfields that animate nineteenth-century history can enter into conversation with each other.

The journal is determined to publish the most creative new work on the full range of topics of interest to scholars of this period. Besides offering fresh perspectives on military, political, and legal history of the era, articles, essays, and reviews will attend to slavery and antislavery, labor and capitalism, popular culture and intellectual history, expansionism and empire, and African American and women’s history. Moreover, the editors mean The Journal of the Civil War Era to be a venue where scholars engaged in race, gender, transnational, and the full range of theoretical perspectives that animate historical practice can find a home. By bringing together scholars from areas that now intersect only sporadically, the publisher and editor hope to galvanize the larger field of nineteenth-century history intellectually and professionally.

In addition to peer-reviewed, cutting-edge scholarship, the journal will offer a variety of other elements designed to engage historians, sharpen debate, and hone practices in the profession, in the classroom, and in theory and method.

  • Review essays that analyze emergent themes and map new directions in historiography.

  • Book reviews by experienced, published scholars that offer critical perspectives on key works in the field and the discipline.

  • Reviews of films, digital archive collections, websites, museum exhibitions, and interventions in other media. 

  • Columns on the profession that alert readers to recent issues in the job market, teaching, and technology and help historians of the Civil War Era find the leading edge of these trends.

The work of drawing scholars together in this enterprise is under way. Associate Editors include Judith Giesberg of Villanova University, who coordinates book reviews, Anthony E. Kaye of the Pennsylvania State University and Aaron Sheehan-Dean of the University of North Florida. Karen Fisher Younger of the Pennsylvania State University is the Managing Editor. The Journal of the Civil War Era has recruited an editorial board whose members span a wide range of specialties and theoretical engagements. We will be trying to recruit scholars whose expertise spans these kinds of approaches, to name a few: military, politics, culture, social, slavery, antislavery, emancipation, gender, environment, and antebellum U.S.

The editors are also reaching out to historians to contribute articles, reviews, and essays for the first issues of the journal to appear in 2011. We invite interested scholars of all fields, methods, and orientation to submit manuscripts, proposals, and the names of other scholars who might contribute to the journal.

'A People's Contest'

The official blog of the Richards Civil War Era Center

A People's Contest provides regular information about the state of scholarship and debate on the American Civil War era, both online, in the professional academy, and at public historical sites.

The blog will also spotlight events in the upcoming celebrations of the Civil War Sesquicentennial and showcase powerful online resources for Civil War researchers.

In coming months, we will be developing a variety of other tools and features: including interviews and podcasts with leading Civil War-era historians, updates and insights from the Richards Center's graduate researchers and undergraduate interns, and tools for organizing conference panels and discussion forums electronically.

Gift to University

McCourtneys endow history professorship with $1 million gift
Gift to University

Ted and Tracy McCourtney announcing the Professorship to Carol Reardon

Penn State alumna Tracy Winfree McCourtney and her husband, Ted, have made a $1 million gift to the University to endow a professorship in American history in memory of Tracy's great-grandfather, who served in a Virginia regiment of the Confederate Army and who took part in Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Tracy McCourtney, a 1965 Penn State graduate in English, and Ted McCourtney are creating the George Winfree Professorship in American History in memory of Tracy’s great-grandfather, who served in a Virginia regiment of the Confederate Army and who took part in Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. The couple, who are also previous donors to the Richards Center, had attended one of the Center’s earlier executive tours to Gettysburg.

“The seed of our gift was planted by the talk on Pickett’s Charge given by Penn State military historian Carol Reardon,” said Tracy McCourtney. “After the tour, I conducted research on my family, along with my brothers, to learn more about my ancestor’s role in the Confederate Army, including his capture and imprisonment in a camp near Chester, Pa. My great-grandfather was released and fought in two more battles, but signed his allegiance to the United States at the end of the war and returned to live in Chester. Ted and I are very excited to support the nationally prominent faculty who create such cutting edge scholarship at the Richards Center."

Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, said the Winfree Professorship will be awarded to Carol Reardon "in recognition of her incredible accomplishments as an award-winning teacher of undergraduate and graduate students and as a nationally prominent scholar in Civil War era and military history. I am grateful to the McCourtneys for providing the wonderful gift to enable us to recognize Carol in this way.”

Reardon has published five books on military history, has taken part in developing a PBS TV series on West Point and an A&E TV series on Ulysses S. Grant, and has appeared in book lectures for C-SPAN TV. She was the first woman to serve as president of the Society for Military History and as a member of the U.S. Secretary of the Navy’s advisory subcommittee on naval history.

“This exciting gift from the McCourtneys will not only enhance the national leadership stature of the center, department and the college, but it also will secure a major challenge grant of $1 million from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Welch added. “As part of the NEH challenge grant, the college and Richards Center needed to raise over $3 million, and that goal was surpassed through the generosity of our alumni and friends who have committed over $3.8 million since 2005.”

After her graduation from Penn State, Tracy McCourtney worked with foster children and their foster parents and birth parents as a social worker in New York City. Ted McCourtney is an engineering alumnus of the University of Notre Dame and a member of its Board of Trustees. He embarked on a 30-year career as a venture capitalist with Venrock Associates after earning an MBA from Harvard Business School. Today, he remains an active independent investor and serves on several company boards.

The McCourtneys are longtime supporters of the College of the Liberal Arts. They have established three undergraduate scholarship funds, two endowed professorships, a graduate scholarship and three graduate fellowships, and an endowed fund to support humanities research. They also have supported the Moore Building project and the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center at Penn State. The couple received the Arthur Welsh Award for Outstanding Support of the Richards Center in 2007-2008.