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Many Wests Workshop Explores the Link Between Scientific Exploration and Imperialism

Many Wests Workshop Explores the Link Between Scientific Exploration and Imperialism

Dr. Amy Kohout

Dr. Amy Kohout, assistant professor of History at Colorado College, will deliver a public talk and participate in a manuscript workshop as part of the McCabe Greer manuscript workshop and Many Wests book series. The public talk will be held on February 28, followed by the workshop the next day. Both events will take place at the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus. Dr. Kohout is a cultural and environmental historian, and her talk will be titled, "Taking the Field: the Collecting Work of Dr. Edgar Alexander Mearns." Mearns was a US Army surgeon and naturalist who served in the US West and the Philippines around the turn of the last century. In her talk, Kohout will use Mearns's career to examine the intersection of scientific and military work and explore the interplay of ideas about nature and empire in this period.

The talk is drawn from a book manuscript that will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in their Many Wests series. During the workshop, Dr. Kohout, the editors of the book series, and workshop participants will critique her manuscript in preparation for its future publication. The forthcoming book is tentatively titled, Taking the Field: Soldiers, Nature, and Empire on American Frontiers. The talk and workshop are sponsored by the McCabe Greer Professorship, the Richards Center, the Department of History, and the University of Nebraska Press.

Interested participants can register for the event by contacting the Richards Center at by February 20.

Zander Publishes Article with Civil War Times

Zander Publishes Article with Civil War Times

PhD candidate Cecily Zander

Cecily Zander, a PhD candidate affiliated with the Richards Center, recently published an article that will appear in the April issue of Civil War Times. The article also is available online at The HistoryNet website. Zander’s essay reconsiders the three memoirs that Libbie Custer published about her life on the frontier with her husband, General George Armstrong Custer. Zander argues that these memoirs have been dismissed unjustly by historians. Following the Civil War, several widows of prominent officers published memoirs and biographies of their late husbands. Historians generally have characterized these works as self-serving exercises in mythmaking by so-called “professional widows.”


When Libbie Custer began publishing her memoirs following her husband’s death in 1876 at the Little Big Horn, her works were seen as additional entries in the “professional widow” genre. Zander notes, however, that Custer’s memoirs “were not designed to provide an embellished biographical sketch of her husband” like most widows’ memoirs. Rather, she sought to depict life in military installations on the American frontier through a woman’s eyes. In these works, she also offered her perspective on the causes and legacy of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and western expansion. Zander argues that historians should revisit Custer’s memoirs to hear the unique voice of a “perceptive observer and active participant” in the signal events of the Civil War and its aftermath.

New JCWE Editors Selected, Will Assume Position January 15 by Rachel Shelden

The Journal of the Civil War Era and the Richards Center at Penn State are thrilled to announce our new JCWE co-editors, Greg Downs and Kate Masur, who will assume the position effective January 15, 2020.

Gregory P. Downs is Professor of History at University of California-Davis. He studies the political and cultural history of the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Particularly, he investigates the transformative impact of the Civil War, the end of slavery, and the role of military force in establishing new meanings of freedom. He is the author of three monographs on the Civil War era and Mapping Occupation, an interactive digital history of the U.S. Army’s occupation of the South (

Kate Masur is Associate Professor of History at Northwestern University. She specializes in the history of the nineteenth-century United States, focusing on how Americans grappled with questions of race and equality after the abolition of slavery in both the North and South. Masur, a faculty affiliate of the Department of African American Studies, is author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. (2010) and numerous articles on emancipation and black politics during and after the Civil War.

In 2015, Downs and Masur co-edited The World the Civil War Made, a collection of essays that charts new directions in the study of the post-Civil War era. The two also co-authored The Era of Reconstruction, 1861-1900, a National Historic Landmark Theme Study published in July 2017. Downs and Masur wrote about their NPS work in The Atlantic Online and The New York Times, and they co-edited a Reconstruction special issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era that includes a forum on the future of Reconstruction studies and a roundtable conversation on Reconstruction in public history and memory.

We are truly excited to have them join our team, and we extend thanks to everyone involved in the search process—including the Richards Center Academic Advisory Board, which reviewed applications, interviewed candidates, and made their recommendation—as well as the other excellent applicants for their dedication to the field of Civil War studies.

Congratulations to Rachel Shelden!

Congratulations to the Richards Center director Rachel Shelden! Her article, “The Politics of Continuity and Change in the Long Civil War Era,” appeared in the December 2019 issue of Civil War History and she edited a special issue on “Federalism in the Civil War Era” in the December 2019 issue of the Journal of the Civil War Era.


2020 Emerging Scholars Summer Mentoring Program Call for Applications

2020 Emerging Scholars Summer Mentoring Program Call for Applications

2019 Emerging Scholars Summer Mentoring Program Participants

The Richards Center Emerging Scholars Summer Mentoring Program exposes students to doctoral study in the discipline of history. During a one-week summer residential program (June 22–27, 2020), Pennsylvania State University faculty and staff demystify the graduate school admissions process and educate participants about the academic profession. Students will participate in a simulated doctoral seminar and attend workshops on a variety of topics, including writing, digital research, and graduate student life. All expenses including travel, housing, meals, and course materials are provided by the university. Penn State’s Richards Center, the Department of History, the Latina/o Studies program, and the Department of African American Studies sponsor the program in a collaborative effort to attract and enroll students from underrepresented populations.

Program Benefits

  • Advising about graduate admissions, research methods, and more
  • Professional development workshops
  • Simulated doctoral seminar with outstanding faculty
  • A behind-the-scenes look at Penn State's history graduate program
  • Exposure to a community of scholars committed to diversifying the academy

Eligibility Requirements

  • Applicant must be a U.S. citizen
  • Applicant must be a rising junior or senior in a degree-granting program at a U.S. college or university during the summer of 2020
  • Applicant must be from a racial or ethnic group that is underrepresented in the discipline of history or in the history graduate program at Penn State
  • Applicant must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Applicant must have a strong interest in pursuing a PhD in history

How to Apply

  • Submit a letter of application stating your academic/career goals and research interests, an unofficial transcript, and two letters of recommendation to the
  • Complete the on-line application.

Deadline - March 16, 2020


More info –

Deirdre Cooper Owens - Making Sense: Examining the Haptic In Slavery and Medicine

The History Graduate Student Association's invited scholar Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, will be presenting a talk on medicine in slavery, particularly the ways doctors approached their patients as objects, on Friday, Jan. 17, 4:00 p.m. in Foster Auditorium.

How did violence, in all of its manifestations, affect the mental state of enslaved people? To be situated in slavery studies and medical history is to sit at the center of haptic studies. In order to understand the medical lives of enslaved people through “the perception and manipulation of them as objects by doctors who used their sense of touch,” we are confronted with how these physicians’ actions created another ethic of being in the world for doctors and patients.

Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Linda and Charles Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer and has won a number of prestigious honors that range from the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies to serving as an American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fellow in Washington, D.C.

Cooper Owens earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in History and wrote an award-winning dissertation while there. A popular public speaker, she has published articles, essays, book chapters, and think pieces on a number of issues that concern African American experiences and reproductive justice. Recently, Cooper Owens finished working with Teaching Tolerance and the Southern Poverty Law Center on a podcast series about how to teach U.S. slavery and Time Magazine listed her as an “acclaimed expert” on U.S. history in its annual “The 25 Moments From American History That Matter Right Now.”

Her first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (UGA Press, 2017) won the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH as the best book written in African American women’s and gender history.

Professor Cooper Owens is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731.

She is working on a second book project that examines mental illness during the era of United States slavery and is writing a popular biography of Harriet Tubman that examines her through the lens of disability.

Dr. Cooper Owens talk is sponsored by the Department of History, the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Department of African American Studies, the Africana Research Center, the Richards Civil War Era Center, and the University Libraries.