Presenting back home and in class

As the semester nears its end, I decided to take a few moments to share what I have been up to in the last two weeks. On April 13, I departed Grand Forks for my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. It was a well-timed trip in light of the tornado that hit Lambert St. Louis International Airport on Good Friday, which is where I fly into. I had been selected to present a paper at the 2011 Illinois History Symposium in Carbondale. My advisor, Dr. Kim Porter, who also presented, informed me of the conference last fall, so I happily submitted, as it coincided with my mom’s birthday. I presented on the physical transition from civilian to soldier in Illinois Civil War camps of instruction, which was one chapter of my thesis. The panel was awesome, though I forgot my camera and have no pictures of it. I was also approached by a couple of folks from SIU Press who asked me to keep them in mind when I get around to writing the book on the subject. After the presentation, my dad and I traveled to Murphysboro, seven miles from Carbondale, and took in a reception at the John A. Logan Museum. It was quite fun, as Logan was the creator of Memorial Day, a past Commander-in-Chief of the GAR, which is special for me being in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Murphysboro was also fun to visit, as it was impacted by the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, where almost 700 people across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were killed in a single tornado. The town still holds the record for most fatalities in a single city from a tornado at 234. This crosses into one of my other quirky historical interests, which is natural disasters. The trip allowed me to visit my folks for a few days and relax a bit from the demands of teaching and class, as well as network for future job and publishing opportunities. Plus, I met James Swan, author of Chicago’s Irish Legion:  The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War, who came to my panel. I took the opportunity to purchase his book and have him sign it (the dust jacket tore a little in transit back to North Dakota, thanks Delta). I fielded a few good questions that opened up areas of inquiry that I had not considered before, so the rewards go beyond a line on the CV. All in all, it was a great trip and I encourage those in Illinois to consider the next symposium April 26-28, 2012 in East Peoria, with the theme “Contested Lands:  1673-1840.” The deadline for submission is October 15, 2011. For more information, contact William Furry at 217-525-2781.

Upon my return to Grand Forks (it snowed while I was away), I presented my lecture on Creating Armies in my History 103 class. I broke from the usual form of lecture and team-taught with my friend and fellow reenactor Stuart Lawrence. We used some of our reenacting equipment to conduct a object-based presentation on the lives of soldiers and what training was like for them, which allowed me to combine a bit of material culture and dress up in period attire. Whether it was effective in helping them understand remains to be seen, but I figure it is a nice change of pace and helps the visual and tactile learners anyway. I am working on some book reviews and will be again appearing on local talk radio to chat about the war on the same day as the next meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Round Table, where I will present on the Camp Jackson Affair and Civil War Missouri. If you are in the Grand Forks area, come to the E. Grand Forks VFW at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, May 3 and join our group and listen to my talk.

Finally, I have joined the 21st century a bit more. Those of you with smart phones, which does not include me, can now access my blog via the QR that I placed in the sidebar. Until next time, keep researching and I will leave you with the paper that I presented in Illinois.

It is done, well almost

Exciting news for myself. My thesis is finished, at least for the most part. I received preliminary approval on Thursday, which means that no significant changes will be required by my committee on the draft. I only have a couple of steps left to complete my MA. I defend the thesis on Friday, July 11 at 11:00 AM (I will let you know how that goes on Friday). I also need to make any last-minute changes to the draft before submitting the draft to the Graduate School for a format check. Sometime early next week, I will submit a final copy to the graduate school for approval by the dean and if all goes well, I graduate on August 1.

Needless to say, I am quite happy that I am finished with this project. Illinois camps of instruction have been a passion of mine for four years. I began the research into Camp Carrollton, near my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. That camp was used by the Sixty-first Illinois Infantry from late-September 1861 to the end of February 1862. The camp was located on the Greene County Fair Grounds, which was similar to almost all other camps in the state. Eventually, the research became my senior paper as an undergraduate. Since then, I have presented a paper on Camp Carrollton twice at history conferences, as well as a paper dealing with the overall topic at the Northern Great Plains History Conference.

My thesis focuses on the transition from civilian to soldier, which the camps facilitated. The transformation took on three forms: physical, mental, and social. The physical transition encompassed the entrance into camp and the world of the soldier, with events like the medical examination, receipt of the uniform, and the beginning of drill. The mental transition focused on increased emotional expression in the soldiers’ writings as well as the learning of increased self-discipline. Finally, the social transition, which I found to be a more significant part of the transition, dealt with the soldier learning to become part of the unit. Soldiers engaged in many social activities in camp that brought them together as comrades. In addition, the soldiers ventured into the neighboring communities for attending church, dining out in local restaurants, and touring the sites. These activities, as well as the men leaving their camp, served to distinguish the soldier from the rest of society as a distinct social group.

Overall, the story of camps has been largely ignored by scholars. Most works I have encountered by historians that deal with soldiers focus on soldiers once they were in the field. I concluded that most scholars focus not on a civilian to soldier transition, but a soldier to veteran transition. Studying camps is important because to fully understand soldiers we need to know their story before they face their first battle.

In conclusion, I am quite relieved to have my thesis mostly done. I am a bit nervous about my defense, but am confident that all will work out. I plan to start my doctoral work in the fall and am currently not sure what I will write my dissertation on, but am looking forward to the challenge. As for whether I will have my thesis published in some form as a journal article, I will let you know when that comes about.