Digital Mapping of Military Occupation in the Reconstruction South

This April marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. The sesquicentennial of the war has enabled an explosion in Civil War related scholarship. Indeed, dozens if not hundreds of new works have been released within the last four years. Frankly, it has been an exciting time to be a Civil War Era scholar. However, with the impending end of the sesquicentennial, historians have to grapple with how to build on this new scholarship. The coming years can provide us with an opportunity to rethink and challenge the periodization of the war. The Civil War did not neatly end on April 12, 1865 and Reconstruction did not automatically start on April 13, 1865. Over the last twenty-five years, scholars have argued about almost every aspect of the Reconstruction period. For instance, historians have debated when Reconstruction began, if it truly reordered Southern society, and why Reconstruction failed. By connecting these old questions with the knowledge gained over the last few years, Civil War Era historians may be able to present a clearer picture of what it is arguably the most misunderstood period of American history.

Gregory Downs, Associate Professor of History at CUNY, and Scott Nesbitt, Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Georgia, have created the opening salvo in what is hopefully a fruitful reexamination of Reconstruction. Their digital humanities project entitled, Mapping Occupation: Force, Freedom, and the Army in Reconstruction, was recently released for our viewing pleasure. Mapping Occupation tracks the development of the Union Army’s occupation of the South following the Civil War and shows us how deeply the Army penetrated Southern society. Not only do Downs and Nesbitt offer an intriguing way of spatially examining military occupation, they also create a digital platform that is easy to manipulate. And if all else fails, it always fun to play with maps.

PHA Student Poster Session

On Saturday November 8, the Pennsylvania Historical Association held their Annual Meeting at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City Philadelphia. As a part of the Annual Meeting, undergraduate and graduate students from across the Mid-Atlantic presented research relating to the history of Pennsylvania. Spanning the spectrum from an analysis of German calligraphy to understanding the one room school house, the poster session had an eclectic yet stimulating mix of scholarship. By trading in sweatshirts for their finest threads, the student presenters proved that when history students are placed in the right circumstances they can look quite dapper.

On a more serious note, students elicited comments and questions from an informed audience. Scholars from across the state attended the poster session and took a genuine interest in the student’s work. The poster session gave students the opportunity to present themselves and their work to potential employers and advisers. However, perhaps the most valuable aspect of the poster session was the discussions that took place between the student presenters. Whether lamenting the difficulty of creating a poster for history (science has all those cool graphs) or discussing the intricacies of Ancestry, students were able to make connections with their peers.

Villanova grad student Jim Kopaczewski with his poster

Villanova grad student Jim Kopaczewski with his poster

Finally, yours truly was a presenter at the poster session and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. I would like to thank the PHA and, specifically, Dr. Allen Dieterich-Ward of Shippensburg University for running the session, making the atmosphere so collegial, and giving out free water bottles.