CWGK Profiled in Hallowed Ground

Hallowed Ground, the magazine of the American Battlefield Trust, profiled CWGK in its Winter 2018 issue.

A digital version of the piece can be read here.

“I have developed a profound empathy for both the plaintive citizens bringing horrifying tales of death, crime, sexual violence, destitution and starvation, as well as for the representatives of government at all levels who are chronically unable to muster sufficient resources to address the systemic problems they saw,” said program director Patrick Lewis. “It is easy to see the Civil War as a crisis of elected government — at a legislative, gubernatorial, Congressional, and especially Presidential level — but I have come to appreciate the war as it drug down an underprepared and underpowered civil service under the weight of modern, total war.”

“History has too few characters. We don’t know enough names. We don’t know enough stories. This limits what we can say about the past,” said Lewis. “The Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition proposes a bold new solution to this problem. We find the characters, hidden in archives across the country. We publish their stories in the form of 30–40,000 historical documents. And we treat every individual — man or woman, free or slave, Union and Confederate — as an historical actor worthy of study.…This is the closest thing we can get to a time machine.”

“The Union as it Was”

What expectations did people have of local, state, and federal governments? Who were the faces of governance in their communities? How did they conceive of justice and equity? How did they understand the interaction of branches and levels of government, and how did they play governing institutions off of one another to secure the outcomes they desired?

In the Fall 2018 issue of The Federalist, the newsletter of the Society for History in the Federal Government, CWGK Project Director Patrick Lewis reflected on the important and relevant questions that the project has raised — both in the materials that it has found, published, and annotated and also in the process of managing a program within state government.

From using social networking to discover local power brokers operating outside the formal channels of power to appreciating the inability of antebellum institutions to cope with the overwhelming crisis that secession and Civil War brought to Kentucky society, CWGK provides a new research path forward for historians. How did people understand their government before the war and, when the conflict came to their doorstep, what expectations did they have for government intervention and assistance?

I have developed a profound empathy for both the plaintive citizens bringing horrifying tales of death, crime, sexual violence, destitution, and starvation as well as for the representatives of government at all levels who are chronically unable to muster sufficient resources to address the systemic problems they saw. It is easy to see the Civil War as a crisis of elected government—at a legislative, gubernatorial, Congressional, and especially Presidential level—but I have come to appreciate the war as it drug down an underprepared and underpowered civil service under the weight of modern, total war. The antebellum systems buckled underneath the crisis. That book is far more complicated to write than a conventional political history and far less marketable than a new battle history. That book about the slow collapse of governmental systems under unforeseen external stress might also b far more relevant to a moment when the national coffers have been drained by years of military conflict and faith in the capacity of electoral politics to address the day-to-day issues facing the citizenry is critically low.

Access a PDF of the full article here, or read the full issue at The Federalist.

The Trials of Robert Buffum

Recording of a July 2017 talk at KHS on the postwar struggles of Medal of Honor winner Lt. Robert Buffum.

Buffum’s story of mental health problems, substance abuse, domestic trouble, and suicide echoes the struggles that many veterans face today. CWGK has developed an online exhibit and document reader suitable for the classroom and community group discussions. Link here.

Lincoln Papers Review & Planning Team

I am honored to have been included in a stellar group of editors and scholars on the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Review and Planning Team. The PAL assembled the team to advise on next steps as PAL, one of the most ambitious digital editions ever imagined, looks to convert over 15 years of editorial work into its first digital publications.

Read more in the State Journal-Register

Alan Lowe, executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, said the new team has worked on similar projects and will assist with the current staff to help publish these documents onto the museum’s website.

“These folks that were brought in have worked on different projects around the country, and have many years of experience in different areas,” Lowe said. “They’re all quite skilled in documentary editing and understand that world.”

SHA Grad Council #TakeoverTuesday

Some thoughts about public history work and graduate education, compiled for the Southern Historical Association’s Graduate Council with my good friend Mandy Higgins

#TuesdayTakeover Storify Link

My #publichistory thesis:

Public History requires creating your classroom before you get to teach in it.

Building a public history classroom means attracting your audience and delivering a lesson in an engaging form that retains them over the short and long term.
As grad students, we’re trained to convert new scholarship into undergraduate instruction.

This is entirely transferable to public history. What isn’t taught to history grads are soft skills and administrative follow through to create that teachable moment outside the university setting.

Public history is the work of fundraising, exhibit and program design, marketing, project management, networking, event planning, etc. to bring learners into your non-traditional classroom.

So, students need to learn the skills it takes to create opportunities to use our training as researchers and teachers and how to stay motivated and engaged when bureaucracy, funding, and politics make it tough to build and sustain the classrooms you want.


LongStoryShort: Caroline

Working with the LongStoryShort podcast team at the University of Kentucky, the Civil War Governors of Kentucky team recorded a long-form piece of audio journalism that explores race, emancipation, murder, and justice.


It’s 1862 and an ex-slave named Caroline has been convicted of infanticide in Louisville, KY. Some argue that she deliberately killed the child whereas others believe that the father’s reckless use of poison to kill nuisance animals resulted in the death of the toddler. Caroline’s future hangs in the balance as an all-white jury and pro-slave governors consider whether to execute or pardon her from the crime. Join Long Story Short as we speak to historians at the Kentucky Historical Society who are investigating this story as a part of their Civil War Governors of Kentucky project. You can find out more about the project by visiting this site: