Category Archives: US History

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.

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: Julia Carroll

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 Julia Carroll, a PhD candidate in American and New England Studies at Boston University.

Tell Us About Yourself: Until moving to Massachusetts for graduate school in 2015, I have lived in Georgia all my life. I was born and raised in Atlanta, then the summer before I entered the tenth grade my family relocated to Tybee Island. After finishing high school at Johnson (go Atom Smashers!), I limped through a few semesters at Armstrong but eventually gravitated back to my hometown to pursue a music career. In 2009, I decided to try my hand at college again and applied to Georgia State University, which was close to where I was living at the time. My original intent was to take only a couple of courses, just for fun, but within a year my part-time coursework turned into full-time, one major turned into two, and the next thing I knew it was 2014 and I was graduating summa cum laude with B.A.s in History and Religious Studies. Some folks need a gap year; I needed a gap decade.

In May 2017 I earned a History M.A. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and that fall I entered Boston University’s American & New England Studies Program. At present I am a doctoral candidate specializing in histories of the Atlantic world, specifically in intersections of religion and race. My dissertation committee is led by professors Joseph Rezek and John Thornton.

Tell Us About Your Current Project: My dissertation looks at eighteenth-century proslavery Protestant itinerants and their influence on public policy and the development of racial and religious identities. I am specifically researching how the enslavement of African-descended people by Anglo-Protestants living in the Lowcountry in the 1740s-1790s, during what might be referred to as the “long Great Awakening” era, influenced wider socioeconomic and cultural developments. This is a close examination of a much larger picture, that being the emergence of the United States as a slaveholding society dominated by adherents of Protestant Christianity.

When we think of America’s founding period, we tend to think of throwing tea into Boston harbor, armies of redcoats, and George Washington. But this late early modern period is also when we start to see American Protestantism take on a life of its own, with various denominations taking root and forging larger communities of believers, a transformation that also coincided with the peak of the transatlantic slave trade. Why did some Protestants arrive at the proslavery positions they did, while others rejected slaveholding altogether? And what are we to make of marginalized individuals who promoted ideals and beliefs espoused by proslavery religious networks? This era is full of paradoxes and contradictions, and for this it is a fascinating, if sometimes terrible, period to research. But it is an important one, I think, because a lot of the widespread societal inequities we’re reckoning with today have roots that can be traced back to this time.

What Are you Finding at GHS? At the GHS I was looking for documents related to the slaveholding practices of the era’s most renowned religious itinerant, George Whitefield, and his British patron, Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon. After Whitefield’s death in 1770, the Countess inherited all his Georgian properties, including Bethesda Orphan House (today’s Bethesda Academy), its adjacent plantations, and its enslaved people. For years James Habersham oversaw much of Bethesda’s growth, and after Whitefield’s death he was relied upon by the Countess for providing accurate estate inventory. The GHS has many relevant documents, including first-hand accounts of Bethesda during its founding decade, the 1740s, through the tumultuous period after Whitefield’s death and beyond the revolution years. My aim is to locate any documents associated with the purchase and sale of enslaved individuals who lived at any of Whitefield’s properties—their names, ages, skillsets—anything that might help me tell a story of what life at Bethesda (or Whitefield’s earlier South Carolinian plantation, “Providence”) might have been like. While at the GHS I was able to find enough supporting documentation to connect some dots I’d begun drawing elsewhere, and this provided some very exciting developments for my project.

The James Habersham papers (MS 337) and Habersham Family papers (MS 1787) include letters to Whitefield and the Countess of Huntingdon, plus other prominent individuals, and also offer material that will provide a backdrop to my colonial-era narrative. For example, besides helping run Bethesda, Habersham’s primary interest during the 1750s was silk cultivation. His papers feature not only a wealth of practical information about this process, but also exchanges he had with members of a nearby German-Protestant settlement, whose priority was also silk cultivation but without the use of enslaved labor. The Marmaduke Hamilton & Dolores Boisfeuillet Floyd papers (MS 1308) have a wealth of handwritten transcriptions of important events, including William Stephens’s notes on the 1739 Stono slave uprising, early impressions of Whitefield, and discussions of bringing slavery to then-anti-slavery Georgia. This element of the Floyd collection also acts as a handy guide to materials published in the Colonial Records of Georgia, whose printed volumes are conveniently located on a shelf in the GHS’s reading room. Perhaps the most exciting and useful discovery from my visit was John Johnson’s journal and letters (MS 430). Johnson was the last minister sent to Bethesda by the Countess, and his writings describe his experience in Georgia and the state of things there during the early 1790s.

My favorite part about visiting archives, and to me the best part of studying history in general, is learning to make mental space for new ways of looking. Often this means seeking out histories of people, places, or ideas that were left out of the history books many of us grew up with, so doing this sort of work requires mining the archives for more than meets the eye. Sometimes this means paying special attention to the spaces, the things not said; sometimes it is taking note of a name that seemed insignificant until you happened upon it again in an unexpected place. When you’re seeking the voices of those who have been marginalized (which in an archive may be quite literal!), this sort of heightened awareness is what is required. One of the biggest lessons my dissertation is teaching me is that it is entirely possible to tell a story about something that at first glance seems impossible to tell, you just have to know where to look. I am grateful to the GHS for providing such an excellent space, support staff, and resources to do this work.

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.