As an author and working public historian, I try to make the past engaging, insightful, real, and relevant.
Growing up in western Kentucky, I saw the historical world all around me. The ramparts of abandoned Civil War forts were my playground. Old Cumberland River hotels held ghosts of gamblers, tobacco merchants, and entertainers. The road in front of the family farm was the scene of horseback chases and shootouts between tobacco-burning night riders and lawmen.
History was people and places. It was real and rough around the edges, with peeling paint and rusty old iron. History was never clean, simple, and academic.
Going to work for the National Park Service after college, I learned to communicate my enthusiasm for experiencing history. My tours not only took visitors across battlefields but led them on winding adventures through the mountain tops, coves, and backroads of North Georgia and East Tennessee. Accounts of the fighting at Chickamauga and Chattanooga contained armies of individual soldiers—with lives, families, backstories, and promising futures that were fulfilled, forever changed, or cut tragically short.
After completing graduate training at the University of Kentucky, I came to the Kentucky Historical Society. There, I helped develop an award-winning traveling exhibit that places Kentucky K-12 students inside a full color, graphic novel world of Civil War Kentucky where they face the same impossible choices that confronted eight real Kentuckians as their state tore itself apart.
I now lead a cutting edge digital history project that mines the papers of Kentucky’s five Civil War Governors (three Union, two Confederate) to extract the voices of tens of thousands of common people whose lives have not been accounted for in modern history writing. The goal of the project is no less than reconstructing a social network of Civil War Kentuckians found in these papers. Scholars, teachers, students, genealogists, and local historians will be able place themselves inside the real 19th century.
Thieves, heroes, bushwhackers, statesmen, self-liberating slaves, prostitutes, and widows—the people traditional history forgot—will have their stories told once again.