Category Archives: GHS Research Center

Dooley Distinguished Research Fellows: Tracy L. Barnett

The Georgia Historical Society welcomed the inaugural class of Dooley Distinguished Research Fellows to the GHS Research Center in May. The Research Fellows Program, part of the larger Vincent J. Dooley Distinguished Fellows Program, honors Vince Dooley for his lifelong commitment to history and higher education.

The Research Fellows Program is designed to mentor the next generation of historians by giving younger scholars the opportunity to conduct research for a specific period of time in the vast collection of primary sources at the Georgia Historical Society Research Center. The research is expected to lead to a major piece of scholarly work, such as a dissertation, a book, an article in a refereed scholarly journal, a chapter in an edited collection, or an academic paper presented at a scholarly conference. Click here to learn more about the Dooley Fellows program.

For the next several weeks Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to the 2022 Dooley Research Fellows to learn about their work, their research at GHS, and the experience of being a Dooley Distinguished Fellow. This week we’ll focus on Tracy L. Barnett, a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia.

Tell Us About Yourself: I grew up near State College, Pennsylvania and completed my BA in History at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. Despite growing up in the northeast, I developed an interest in southern history and, in 2015, I moved South. First landing in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, I completed an MA in American History at the University of Southern Mississippi. Currently, I’m a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Georgia.

I aspire to bring well-researched and compelling-written scholarship to the general public. My research on the history of firearm advertising recently appeared in an article in The Washington Post. Likewise, my column on Civil War Era language is published quarterly in the Civil War Monitor, a popular magazine devoted to mid-nineteenth-century America. In addition to my studies, I work as a graduate assistant at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

While I now reside in Washington, D.C., I’m slowly but surely writing my dissertation. The pandemic, no doubt, slowed the research process, and I’m thrilled to be back in the archives finishing my research! I hope to finish the dissertation in the next year or two.

I’m passionate about historical research and want to pursue a research-oriented career after graduation. Ideally, I would like a career in academia as a professor. That said, I’m also considering careers in policy, consulting, or public history.

What Interested You in the Dooley Distinguished Fellowship? What has your experience been like here at GHS?

The Georgia Historical Society (GHS) had a number of manuscript collections relevant to my research. And I sought a way to access these materials, so I applied for the Dooley Distinguished Fellowship.

My time at GHS has been exceptionally productive and inspiring! In addition to accessing so many helpful sources, I’ve loved discussing my project with GHS archivists and librarians. It was also great to bounce ideas off Dawn Wiley, who was also on fellowship at GHS. Savannah is such a beautiful and historic city, and I’ve enjoyed exploring and visiting some local historic sites while in town.

Tell Us About Your Current Project: Rifles—their meaning to men and their availability in nineteenth-century America—are at the center of my academic scholarship. My dissertation, “Men and Their Guns: The Culture of Self-Deputized Manhood in the South, 1850–1877,” analyzes the historic origins of America’s gun culture and its mutually constitutive relationship to White supremacist ideology. 

Having spent considerable time in both the Northeast and South, I was eager to consider the connections between both regions during the nineteenth century. Firearms were central to the South’s system of racial control and violence, but by the middle of the nineteenth century most of these lethal objects were produced above the Mason-Dixon Line. Northeastern gun manufacturers—including, but not limited to, the Colt Manufacturing Company, Remington Arms Company, and Winchester Repeating Arms Company—began mass producing firearms using industrial machinery. Mass production, however, created its own problems for these manufacturers: to be profitable, weapons needed to be produced and then sold in large quantities.

The South offered a market for these guns, and manufacturers aggressively marketed them to White southern men. The amorality of American gun manufacturers and the banality with which they sold their products to southerners directly contributed to the South’s gun violence and the deaths of African Americans.

In the nineteenth century, White men were a uniquely empowered population in the South. At the pinnacle of the region’s racial and gender hierarchies, these men held almost total control over society—they decided who was free and who was not. And as armed men, they held even greater authority—a type typically reserved for courtroom judges or law enforcement officers. The South never needed a robust, professional police force because they had an informal, civilian one comprised of armed White men. In order to protect and control White women and extract Black labor, White men considered it their rightful duty to regulate the behavior of enslaved people at gunpoint. Acting as judge, jury, and executioner, armed vigilantes policed and patrolled at the South in the form of slave patrols, militias, and the Klan. This custom of “self-deputized” manhood, I argue, originated in the South as a direct result of slavery and the inherently unequal power dynamics present in a slave society. Within this self-empowering climate, a White man with a gun was more than simply a citizen or voter; he was the unofficial lawmaker and law enforcer. His plantation was his jurisdiction; his whiteness was his badge. This self-deputized ideology proved deadly to Black men, women, and children.

What Are you Finding at GHS? I examined diverse collections while at GHS, and I’ll highlight a few specific sources.

The Joseph P. White Collection (GHS 0860), in particular, was a source I was eager to examine at length. It contains an account book from a Reconstruction-era gun and locksmith business in Savannah, Georgia. For years, Joseph P. White diligently recorded his work—repairing a lock at a Freedman’s bank; mending a double-barrel shotgun; replacing a flintlock pistol mechanism. The collection also contains several artifacts—a few pistols and several gun parts. Interestingly, two of these pistols were originally manufactured in Middletown, Connecticut, during the 1840s and, then at some point, repaired in Savannah.

The Mercer Family Papers (GHS 0553), likewise, proved a significance source of information on firearm usage in the American South.George Anderson Mercer had a fondness for hunting. On the first page of his journal, an ominous message loomed large: “Don’t read the contents of a page, For fear that you’ll provoke my rage.” Below the text, George Anderson Mercer had carefully sketched a haversack, powder horn, and hunting rifle. A dead bird, with rope noosed tightly around its neck, lay at the image’s center. Mercer, with a gun by his side, spent most of his boyhood days roaming through the plantation’s cultivated fields and dense forests. Arriving at the edge of an old corn field, Mercer saw birds circling overhead. “I brought Sweet Lips to my shoulder, but relying upon the mettle of my piece I touched the trigger; the sharp crack, and the passage of the fatal lead, seemed to produce no other effect on the bird than to quicken his velocity.” He, like many southern boys, learned to shoot and developed an attachment to his rifle.

I also mined the Savannah City Directories for references to “gunmakers” and “gunsmiths.“The nineteenth century was a critical epoch for manufacturing,and especially the production of firearms. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, highly-trained gunsmiths carefully crafted customized weapons at the behest of individual civilian buyers. In localized shops across the county, artisans built and assembled rifles by hand; they drilled the barrel, forged the lock, assembled the trigger, and engraved the stock—a time consuming endeavor. As expensive products, few households purchased more than one gun. For well into the 1840s, small shops with under 20 employees supplied most southern and frontier households with weapons. This, however, gradually changed in the 1850s and 1860s as more firearms were produced in large, centralized factories in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Savannah city directories reflects this trend—the earlier years contain a longer list of gunmakers than the 1880s and 1890s.

In short, I found numerous useful sources at GHS, and they will feature prominently in my dissertation. It was a great privilege to pursue and complete my research with the support of the Dooley Distinguished Fellowship! Thank you!

Visiting Scholars: Matthew Kelley

Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of the scholars researching in the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center. This week we’ll spotlight Matthew Kelley, the Graduate Project Coordinator at the Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Tennessee, and a Ph.D. candidate in the University’s History department.

Tell Us About Yourself: I was raised in Corbin, Kentucky, a small town in the eastern and Appalachian part of the state. Though the town is surrounded by natural beauty, it is probably better known as the “Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken,” where Harlan Sanders first tried his luck in the restaurant business during the Great Depression.

I attended the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, for my undergraduate degree and graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in History and Political Science. I went on to attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and completed my M.A. in Modern European History. I am now working towards my PhD, specializing in World War I, nationalism, and civil society. I am currently writing my dissertation under Dr. Vejas Liulevicius.

I also currently serve as the Associate Director for the University of Tennessee’s Center for the Study of War and Society. Our mission is to preserve and research the stories of the people in our region and their experiences with war from 1700 to the present day. We have one of the oldest oral history projects dedicated to interviewing military veterans in the United States. Along with working on my dissertation, I am completing a digital memorial project with the Center, including biographical profiles of all UTK students, alumni, and staff killed in action from the First World War to the present day.

Tell Us About Your Current Project: My dissertation investigates German agitation within Swiss civil society during the First World War. Whereas the Swiss state stayed defiantly neutral over the course of the war, the public of the country was alive with activity. Pro-German and pro-French sympathies ran throughout the country to the point that many officials feared open, civil confrontation from 1914 to 1918. Germans, whether members of the imperial government or private individuals aligned with it, sought to capitalize on this situation for the benefit of their war effort. My research particularly focuses on Swiss voluntary civic associations as an arena for this agitation. From alpine hiking clubs to the Red Cross, I am looking at a diverse range of organizations that the Germans attempted to sway. In addition, I am curious about how their tactics and rhetoric changed over the course of the war, especially as the tides began to turn against them in 1917.

As an undergraduate, I developed a passion for service leadership in my community and often spent my spare time volunteering with organizations. One such group was called Mountain Outreach, a Habitat for Humanity-type organization that was specially focused on my region of central Appalachia. This area is one of the poorest in the United States, and I observed first-hand how these civic associations stepped up to provide aid and fill gaps in ways the government had either failed at or simply ignored. This background, along with my interest in the story-telling and methodology of history, has informed my research.

I chose this topic initially out of a curiosity that there must have been more to the story of Switzerland’s role in the war than it simply being an aloof neutral country. Though the state was pledged to neutrality, an investigation of the activities within civil society yielded evidence that civic associations were an active force in shaping the nature of the war. They also worked through social networks that crossed political boundaries even at a time when borders were physically marked with trenches and fortifications. I hope that my finished project will offer a fresh, transnational approach to World War I and the role of neutrals and might even leave readers with some food for thought in regards to the important role that civic associations hold in society and the power they are able to wield.

What Are you Finding at GHS?: “Why is a scholar in Modern European History at the Georgia Historical Society?” It is true that most of my research is European centered, in the German or French language, and seems to have nothing to do with Georgia history. However, the coronavirus has placed unusual limitations on international research, and I have spent the time looking for creative avenues for research until restrictions begin to ease. One of these paths has led me to the Georgia Historical Society, which houses the papers of Pleasant Alexander Stovall, who was the United States Ambassador to Switzerland during the war (MS 1021). Ambassador Stovall grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and started the Savannah Press newspaper. A boyhood friendship he developed with President Woodrow Wilson led to his appointment as Wilson’s trusted eyes and ears in Switzerland in 1913, just before the beginning of the war. When he returned home from his post at the end of the war, Stovall brought back wartime documents from the US embassy in Berne and placed them in his personal collections.

My research at GHS focuses on these documents brought back by Ambassador Stovall to see what information the US embassy collected on German agitation in Switzerland during the war and how serious a threat they gauged it to be. Stovall was a staunch, pro-Entente sympathizer from the beginning of the war in August 1914, while the United States itself was still a neutral country. He had a keen interest in German agents and kept Washington informed of these activities. His collection preserved several communications with President Wilson on German activity, and he made careful notes on the movement of Swiss public sympathies throughout the war. This was what I was expecting to find, but there were many surprising sets of documents that I discovered in his papers that has since sent my research in entirely new directions.

Ambassador Stovall wrote a book after the war titled Switzerland and the World War. Though I am sure he meant it as a historical account, the book is really a rather biased, autobiographical recollection of his time at the embassy in Berne. In the book, Stovall mentions as an aside a case where a German spy was caught in France with forged documents that were supposed to mimic ones that were given out by the American Embassy in Berne to American travelers seeking access to France from Switzerland. He labels it an odd mix up and leaves it at that. However, a folder of documents tucked away in his private collections proves an entirely different story. The truth behind this case reveals a network through which the German Espionage Department used the International Red Cross to move agents masking as convalescing wounded officers to enact agitation. What I have yet to determine though is to what degree American officials might have succumbed to the agitation to be persuaded to directly help these agents along their route.