Category Archives: People

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.

Podcast S5E2: Dayton Duncan

Dayton Duncan has worked with Ken Burns for more than 30 years writing and producing some of the most important and critically acclaimed documentaries in history. In this podcast he talks about his career with Burns and Florentine Films, living part-time in Georgia, and what comes next.

Visiting Scholars: Dr. Alisa Luxenberg

With the reopening of the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center, GHS is again getting visits from scholars, students, and researchers from all over the world researching and studying a wide variety of topics. Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of these visiting scholars and share with you what they’re working on and what they’re finding at GHS.

This week we’ll spotlight Dr. Alisa Luxenberg, Professor of 18th- and 19th-Century European Art at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art. She is the author of two books: The Galerie Espagnole and the Museo Nacional, 1835-1853: Saving Spanish Art, or The Politics of Patrimony (Ashgate, 2008); and Secrets and Glory: baron Taylor and his ‘Voyage pittoresque en Espagne’ (Centro de Estudios Europea Hispánica, 2013). She is the co-editor, with Reva Wolf, of Freemasonry and the Visual Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward (Bloomsbury, 2020).

Tell Us About Yourself: I was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. My public high school was superb and allowed us to apply to an off-campus AP course in art history taught at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Each week for the entire year, we visited its world-class collections to examine works of art from the culture and period we were studying—I was captivated. When I matriculated at Duke University, I wrongly thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, and eventually gave in to my love of art history and double majored in French literature. I went on to do a Master’s in Art History at Boston University, took a year off to work for an art dealer in New York, and then continued in the PhD at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. The variety of voices in those art history departments, the superb museums in New England, and the real-world experiences with auction houses were essential to my formation as an object- and archive-based scholar open to the multiplicity of scholarly interpretation.

I have been teaching at the University of Georgia since 1999 and will be stepping down at the end of this academic year. I was fortunate to have taught elsewhere: Princeton, the American University in Paris, Washington University in St. Louis, Ohio State, Case Western Reserve, the University of Kentucky. I learned so much about teaching from having created so many different courses and interacting with diverse student bodies. A good thing, too, since I had no training in pedagogy! At UGA I mainly teach a rotation of eight courses in 18th- and 19th-century art, with some special topics sprinkled in. My research has focused on French and Spanish artistic interactions and early French and American photography.

Art history has always fascinated me for the rich fabric that one can weave around the work of art, which performs at the intersection of language, materiality, aesthetics, and often too, of politics, religion, gender, and class. I love the adventure of embarking on a research project, not knowing what I will find, forming questions no one has thought to ask, and the sheer thrill of opening manuscripts and books that no one has touched for generations or even centuries.

I’m convinced that I chose European art because of my own family history. Europe seemed very close to me; both of my grandfathers were immigrants who, along with one grandmother, spoke with strong foreign accents. The calamities that they and their families suffered during the Holocaust and behind the Iron Curtain weighed heavily on them and gave us sobering glimpses of their European past. 

Tell Us About Your Current Project: This project represents a real break with the bulk of my career as it examines material culture in the U.S. However, it also enlarges upon my last major publication, a co-edited volume on the relationships between freemasonry and the visual arts (with Reva Wolf, Freemasonry and the Visual Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward,Bloomsbury, 2020). I dove into freemasonry through the baron Taylor, a major figure in French 19th-century culture, high-ranking Mason, and the protagonist of my first two monographs.

After finding intriguing masonic objects in the Special Collections Libraries at UGA, I realized that I could parlay my knowledge in freemasonry into new research that fulfilled the land-grant mission of UGA and related more directly to Georgians. To that end, I am curating an exhibition of masonic materials (mostly) from Georgia that will open in January 2023 and writing a scholarly catalogue to accompany it.

Through these items we can perceive the pervasiveness and impact of freemasonry on life and culture in Georgia, from the State seal to the emblem of UGA, from college fraternities to other masonic and para-masonic groups like the Order of the Eastern Star, Knights of Pythias, and Gridiron Club. Although largely segregated, freemasonry provided Blacks in Georgia a safe place through which to help their fellow men and communities endure Jim Crow laws and advocate for their civil rights. Freemasonry left its traces everywhere in Georgia, once we are prepared to recognize the signs. Most of us have probably had a Mason or two in our families at some point. I know I was surprised to learn of some in my family! They were Jewish, Catholic, or immigrants, and serve as instances of the religious and class tolerance professed by masonic bodies. In these and other ways, freemasonry offers us an example of how, during quarrelsome times, people overcame their differences and met as equals, “on the level,” to try to improve themselves and reduce suffering in the world.

What Are you Finding at GHS? In general, it is difficult to do research into freemasonry for numerous reasons, but primarily because it is a secret society and, in the U.S., limited to men, and many lodges closed, or their records were lost over time. Some states have Grand Lodges that offer a masonic research collection; Georgia does not. At the beginning of my project, I thought the GHS would be my main research source, but it closed for renovation before I had my grant in hand, so I have been waiting more than three years to come! It forced me to find other resources, which allowed me to fine tune my research at the GHS.

The most significant collections for my project are those related to the eminent Savannah lodge, Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 (GHS 940), one of the first three recognized masonic lodges in the British North American colonies. These records have been microfilmed and contain 18th- and 19th-century minute books –a rarity, as so few have survived, due to fire, war, or neglect—that provide an idea of the membership, practices, and concerns of the lodge, as well as the masonic lives of specific members. For example, we hope to include a portrait painting of the Savannah Mason, John Habersham (Georgia Museum of Art), in the exhibition. Little research has been done on the painting or on Habersham’s masonic life. Now I will be able to provide documentary evidence of his freemasonry and possible readings of the portrait in relation to it.

Visiting Scholars: Molly Nebiolo

With the reopening of the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center, GHS is again getting visits from scholars, students, and researchers from all over the world researching and studying a wide variety of topics. Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of these visiting scholars and share with you what they’re working on and what they’re finding at GHS.

This week we’ll spotlight Molly Nebiolo, a PhD candidate at Northeastern University in Boston, and a 2021-2022 Friends of the APS Predoctoral Fellow in Early American History at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

Tell Us About Yourself: I grew up on Long Island Sound in the town of Milford, Connecticut, but I attended college in the Midwest at Butler University. I was always drawn to history as a subject, even though I was exhausted by the colonial New England and Pilgrim history that was found all over Connecticut. At Butler, I double majored in History and Biology and wrote a senior honors thesis attempting to disseminate why socio-cultural feelings towards English surgeons evolved in the early modern period. After college, I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to be a researcher at MIT and an IT technician at a nearby school before starting my PhD program at Northeastern University. I am a 5th year, so the end is in sight!

Tell Us About Your Current Project: I have continued my interest in the history of medicine in the early modern period, now studying the era I grew up disliking: early American history. Opinions really can change with age! My dissertation looks at the ways in which health influenced the planning, settlement, and growth of early American cities that followed the “Grand Modell” scheme of construction: Savannah, Charleston, and Philadelphia. I argue that public health was a central agenda to settlement and city infrastructure in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. With my background in computers, I also dabble in the digital humanities and have used digital tools for various projects, the most relevant being an ongoing project to 3D model parts of colonial Philadelphia to better understand early American urban space. All of this is for my dissertation and, hopefully, a book.

As many people can attest when getting their PhD, I stumbled upon my research topic. I was initially interested in women and medicine in the early American period, but when I began research, I noticed how no one had written much on the role of health in early urban spaces, even though “cities” dotted the Atlantic coast. I also noticed that when health has been written about by scholars, it was often the history of the big epidemic outbreaks or political influences on health, not a deeper analysis of early American conceptualizations of healthiness and disease. My project tries to provide a more comprehensive history of urban public health that exemplifies the diverse ideas of healthiness that existed in these cities.

What Are you Finding at GHS? The GHS has been integral to my research on colonial Savannah. I’ve examined a wide range of items to best understand how Proprietors and Trustees planned and settled the town, and how inhabitants thought about their health and the healthiness of the city. This includes the letters of Oglethorpe and other colonial inhabitants in Savannah in the eighteenth century. I also looked at some of the early nineteenth-century texts written by doctors to explain the 1820 yellow fever outbreak to see how terms and ideas remained or changed over time. Maps of early Savannah have been useful (and there are more I will check out on the Digital Images catalogue!). On my last day, I looked through some of the colonial laws and records of early Savannah that are housed in London but are in microfilm at the GHS.

One collection that stood out to me was the Walter Charlton Hartridge, Jr. Collection (MS 1349). The breadth of information that Hartridge collected and wrote about regarding Savannah’s history has been surprisingly useful to me. While his papers are from the twentieth century, his notes on the mortality records found in the Georgia Gazette, from 1763 to 1802, and documents on early Savannah architecture were a surprisingly useful find!

Visiting Scholars: Dr. Robert Stephens

With the reopening of the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center, GHS is again getting visits from scholars, students, and researchers from all over the world researching and studying a wide variety of topics. Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of these visiting scholars and share with you what they’re working on and what they’re finding at GHS.

This week we’ll spotlight Dr. Robert Stephens, a Professor of World Music at the University of Connecticut.

Tell Us About Yourself:  I was born in Savannah and spent my formative years there, graduating from A. E. Beach High School and Savannah State, where I received my B.S. degree. After graduation, I spent several years teaching public schools in Florida and Georgia, intersected by a tour in Vietnam. Who could have known that Army service would alter the trajectory of my career path? I certainly did not, because my service allowed me to pursue an M.A. in music education and M. Ed. in Educational Administration from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Indiana University in Music and Ethnomusicology.

My teaching career ranges from public school marching bands, the introductory course in World Music, guided student research experiences on the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona, Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago de, Cuba. I have taught various graduate courses and courses exploring African-American History and Culture. My teaching at Montclair State University and the University of Connecticut helped forge my research interest in the sacred drumming of Santeria, spending some ten years studying and writing about the tradition in Cuba and the United States.

My current interest includes collaborating with the Balinese scholar Dr. I. Made Bandem on a work focused on the Balinese Gamelan. My most recent research on sound, movement, and word, looks to tie Gullah expressive culture to divine contact, social commentary, and psychological battles won during enslavement, not with force but with the most potent tools available, resilience and creativity. This work grows from five competitive awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Landmarks in American History funding “Gullah Voices: Traditions and Transformations,” a workshop for elementary-secondary school teachers I led with my colleague Dr. Mary Ellen Junda.

Tell Us About Your Current Project:  My work explores new ground using creative expression. My role is to examine the history, stories, beliefs, and creative practice of the Gullah, critical antecedents to a subsequent African-American culture, and its role in the broader American mosaic. 

A barbershop on West 45th street operated by Mr. Ulysses Davis sparked my interest in a culture widely known in the area but rarely discussed in depth. Other young men in our community and I received the “scriptures from a Savannah Barbershop.” He was the storyteller/ artist, and we, the listener/learners. This was not an ordinary barbershop. But getting a haircut was one piece of the pie. Other tasty slices include the stories he told of Africa, its kingdoms, rulers, and beauty supplemented by his hand-carved sculptures. It was a remarkable contrast to the Africa portrayed in Tarzan movies. My friends and I always looked for the same thing in his stories, to learn new things and bask in the pride of an Africa we could barely imagine. Mr. Davis knew that. And he was always ready to reveal his carefully gathered evidence for doubters at a moment’s notice. Mr. Davis lit my Gullah/Geechee fire, and for that, I will forever be grateful.

Research at the Georgia Historical Society has helped me probe connections between context and function in African and Gullah creativity. To put it another way, as my investigation unfolds, I am beginning to see how external factors fueled seen and unseen changes in Gullah life. For instance, how expressive space built around sorrow, joy, hope, and fear fades the line between the real and imagined; how sound, image, gesture, movement, and material objects communicate their interrelatedness and give voice to the emotions of the lived experience. There is little doubt that the relationship between sound structure and social structure is key to understanding Gullah’s expression, a point that has not received wide scholarly attention.

Cultural survival relies on compliance with the authority of customs, ways of life, and tradition. A heavy responsibility hangs over those who use sound to translate customs and life depicting feeling into expression. Because “words under words,” as the poet Naomi Shihab Nye describes them, carry meaning resting in meaning and can instigate or change decisions. Material culture—where people create objects and images and attach importance—like words, unravel the complex lives of those who make them. No matter the tool, the creative voice of the Gullah community is as encompassing and as powerful.

Cornelia Bailey, the matriarch of Sapelo Island, was fond of saying, “if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” That “come from” history informs my interest. Knowing “where you’re going” not only prevents getting lost on the way, but it also explains religion, art, music, and movement, prescriptions for living. At the same time, the imagination creates alternative geographies in mind-broadening perspective and informing practice. These collected factors are the foundation for the book that will emerge from this research. The uniqueness of this approach, in my view, not only explains how different we are but also how much we are alike while simultaneously encouraging a fuller understanding of the American experience.

What Are you Finding at GHS? Tell us here what collections you’re looking at, what you’re finding in them, and how it relates to your project. The Lydia Austin Parrish Letters, 1947-1952 (MS 607) have been informative and allow today’s readers to visit another place differently. They paint a picture of a woman of means fascinated by old songs of the enslaved. The letters reveal many Parrish relationships whose backstories wander into the conversation, often with their sentimental views. Particularly fascinating is the structure of these conversations and what they tell about the writers and their social interactions. But Parrish is best known for her work with “The Spiritual Singers Society of Coastal Georgia” in the 1920s, later known as the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Parrish’s actions enabled the singers and others to transmit ordered bits and pieces of memory to those who follow both inside and outside the Gullah community. Generational inheritance.

Her research efforts began when she heard her housekeeper, Julia Armstrong, singing one of the old songs. That experience prompted Parrish to visit former plantations searching for other people who knew similar old songs. These efforts led to the formation of the group. The letters offer a fascinating insight into Parrish, what motivated her, and how she used the group in her social settings.

Another essential collection is the archives of Muriel Barrow Bell and Malcolm Bell Jr. (MS 1283). The Bells are best known for their work with the Works Progress Administration in 1939, documenting African Americans in coastal Georgia through photographs. These files provide essential detail on the people interviewed for the writer’s project. Malcolm Bell published important work on “Major Butler’s legacy,” where his interest is not academic categories but stories of people.

Also, the Dancy and Woods Family Papers, 1836-1940 (MS 1305), and the Keith M. Read Collection, 1770-1907 (MS 648), both provide insight into life in the compounds. William Brown Hodgson’s Notes on Northern Africa (1844) for language, and the Richard Leake Plantation Journal and Business Records, 1785-1802 (MS 485), have all been beneficial.