I am currently working on The War for the Common Soldier, which will be part of the University of North Carolina Press’s Littlefield History of the Civil War series. How did ordinary men resist a military regime – backed by a powerful centralized government – that demanded unwavering obedience? The complex, contradictory, and fluid nature of soldier loyalty requires us to examine how ordinary men understood the war through emotion, thought, and action. With a focus on these cognitive processes, I examine how emotions figured into resistance to military authority, expanding upon what soldiers thought by exploring how they thought. I am also tackling issues of gender and race in a concurrent project entitled I Am a Man: African American Freedom Struggles in the Nineteenth-Century South. This book confronts long-held assumptions about the experience of slaves who were forced into the ranks of the Confederate armies. The notion that African Americans and whites served together out of mutual fidelity, not coercion, resonates with large segments of the American public who desire a sanitized Civil War. My narrative centers on the relationship between black men and their owners, its radical reconfiguration during the Civil War, and the creation of new identities of manliness and race after Appomattox. This interdisciplinary study will be the first scholarly treatment to frame the experience of the Confederate slave within the broader struggle for black freedom during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
In an effort to make my scholarship accessible, I have conducted public presentations, teacher workshops, as well as exhibit consultations, and serve as an OAH Distinguished Lecturer. Since serving as Gettysburg National Military Park’s first Scholar-in-Residence in 1999, I have developed a lasting relationship with the National Park Service. In addition to overseeing multiple interpretive workshops for National Park Service staff, I directed a three-day seminar in March 2010 at Gettysburg NMP to discuss new interpretive approaches to the Civil War sesquicentennial. These connections have proved invaluable to my students, many of whom have worked as seasonal historians at National Park Service sites along the east coast. My students have developed podcast walking tours, heritage tourism events, and flat panel exhibits, and their involvement in the field continues to energize my own work.