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.