By Amanda Higgins, community engagement administrator
The Research Fellowship Program at the Kentucky Historical Society consistently allows our staff to interact with some of the best minds working on U.S. history. While the research the fellows conduct while here is important, KHS excels at connecting fellows to people, places and resources they didn’t know about before coming to Frankfort.
Last week, Katie and Andrew Fialka, doctoral candidates at the University of Georgia, completed their fellowship visit. Katie’s dissertation project investigates and reconstructs the reading and writing habits of Victorian women, including Kentucky’s own Emilie Todd Helm. While at KHS, Katie spent time in our Emilie Todd Helm Collection, as well as reading the Wallace and Starling Diaries.
Andrew is using Arc-GIS software to map Civil War guerilla violence in order to understand the war on the ground and to show guerillas “as they were – organized, opportunistic, and bent on destroying the Union army and its resources.” Andrew spent time at the Kentucky Military History Museum and working in KHS’s Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition (CWGK) database, collecting incidents of guerilla violence in Kentucky.
For all of us, though, a Friday afternoon excursion to Lexington was the highlight of their research visit. Andrew and CWGK project director Patrick Lewis took a Kentucky guerrilla “driving tour,” stopping to see the birthplace of Frank and Jesse James’s mother, as well as the routes guerilla raiders Sue Mundy and William C. Quantrill took through the Bluegrass. Along the way, Andrew was amazed at the stone fence work, thriving thoroughbred farms and rolling hills that make our little slice of Kentucky so wonderful. Andrew and Patrick met Katie and other KHS staff in Lexington to enjoy a meal before one last treat of their visit – a tour of Emilie’s home, Helm Place, by assistant director of the Mary Todd Lincoln House, Jonathan Coleman.
At Helm Place, Katie saw where Emilie lived out her final years, was able to view Emilie’s book collection and a number of scrapbooks, and to talk with Coleman about the preservation of the home and the artifacts within it. Because of KHS’s connections to local history organizations throughout the state, Katie was able to see the fireplace in which Emilie famously burned her Civil War diary and where Emilie wrote and read, surrounded by the memory and artifacts of her long-dead Confederate husband. Through conversations with Coleman and KHS staff, Katie and Andrew also found new possibilities for archival research and another resource for understanding central Kentucky.
Thanks to Jonathan Coleman and the Mary Todd Lincoln House for the generous time and attention he gave to the Fialkas and us and for indulging our desire to share our connections and knowledge. We may not always be able to provide fellows with a guerilla “driving tour,” but we strive make sure every fellow leaves KHS with a stronger understanding of their research and of our institution – and an appreciation for fine Kentucky cuisine!