My Experience at the Northern Great Plains History Conference

Well, I presented my research yesterday in Duluth and I am pleased. Two fellow graduate students (John Wickre and Travis Cormier) and I presented our papers dealing with the Civil War and antebellum periods to about 10-15 persons and they seemed to receive the papers quite well. Travis started the panel with his paper dealing with the views of George Fitzhugh and how his views on slavery related to the argument of American exceptionalism. I presented second, examining the impact of camps of instruction on Illinois soldiers and communities. Finally, John, who has been fighting a cold, presented on William Seward’s views on slavery with regard to the sectional crises of the antebellum period.

Dr. Eric Burin, associate professor of History at UND was our chair and commenter, as well as serving as chair or a member of our thesis committees. Dr. Burin provided us with very helpful comments, suggesting that we both broaden out and narrow our paper topics. Specifically with my paper, he suggested examining the demographics of the soldiers (their age, politics, occupations, etc.) to better understand the soldiers in camp in context with their world. He also suggested looking at the same attributes for the communities to get a sense of how the communities viewed the war, the camps, and why certain places were used for camps. Overall, it involves placing the camps into the bigger picture, but he said that all three of us have good topics that with work have great potential.

After Dr. Burin’s comments, we had the opportunity to field questions from the audience. Most questions were directed to myself, but all questions were very good and John and Travis answered the questions posed to them quite well. The questions posed to my topic revolved around if camps of instruction existed in other states, to which I answered that I believed that they did, and, one gentleman asked if the soldiers had been propagandized into taking an anti-slavery view. This question really delighted me, as I had never considered that, but I chatted with the gentleman after and stated that I had not encountered any sources that led me to believe this, but that I felt that since my sources were early war and Illinois based that many of the men may not have held strong views on slavery at that  time, and that they may have as the war progressed.

Overall, I had a great time presenting at NGPHC and would present there again if given the opportunity. I would like to thank John, Travis, and Dr. Burin as they helped make the panel successful. I would also like to thank those in attendance, as you made us feel that our research was worth something and posed great questions. The only problems we encountered were a lack of tables and a podium for the panelists, which is important. To those of you reading who are considering presenting at a conference, I strongly recommend it, as you will have a lot of fun and will not regret it, but make sure that you prepare for bad weather, as I was prevented from presenting at a conference in March because of a blizzard (long story). Look for the conference paper to be posted here soon. Until next time, keep researching and remember those wearing blue and gray that went before us.

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