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CWGK Symposium Gives First Look at New Information on Civil War Era Kentucky

“Microfilm changed my life,” Ed Ayers, history professor and digital history pioneer, told a group recently at the Kentucky Historical Society when he provided the keynote address for the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWGK) symposium.

Ayers explained that seeing microfilmed images of newspapers from the 1800s made history become real to him and started him on his career. That being the case, one could say that microfilm indirectly shaped the future of how historians disseminate information.

Valley of the Shadow, a project Ayers started at the University of Virginia, provided digital access to historical records in the early 1990s, before the pervasiveness of the Internet in life. It collected information about two towns during the Civil War and made that information searchable, allowing researchers to pull from one source information they otherwise would have had to seek in multiple places.

That project “set the stage for CWGK—in its commitment to open access to historical information, the incorporation of young historians in the production of the material, and the writing and telling of readable and influential history books and articles,” said Patrick Lewis, CWGK project director.

CWGK is making available in one database the documents the Kentucky governor’s office generated or received in the Civil War era.

To test how the database functions for scholars and what it might yield, KHS asked 12 scholars from across the globe to delve into CWGK to find interesting stories and identify big questions that other historians need to hear, then share their findings at the symposium.

“We couldn’t possibly have hoped for more from the symposium,” Lewis said. “The research was of the highest caliber, and we received some very useful feedback from these participants who are both skilled researchers and innovative teachers. We have a much better sense of how those two key audiences are using CWGK and what we can do to improve that user experience,” he said.

As the CWGK team tries “to digest everything we learned,” two steps are certain.

“First, we go into print,” Lewis said. Over the next year, the CWGK team will work with the symposium participants to refine their research into articles for the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. After KHS publishes the special issue, the team will use it to show historians how CWGK can fit into their research.

The scholars also will share their results in public programs, lesson plans and digital media. Lewis will start on July 19 when he tells the KHS Food for Thought audience about a Civil War hero and his struggles to leave the war behind him.

“We are here to help address the challenges of our future through the lens of the past,” Lewis said. “CWGK and this symposium have proven to be excellent laboratories for exploring these issues, and we are excited to start sharing our results.”

Symposium participants and topics

Luther Adams, University of Washington, Tacoma Tipling toward Freedom: “Petitions to Your Excellency”

Carole Emberton, University at Buffalo Searching for Caroline: “Disciplined Imagination” and the Limits of the Archive

Lesley J. Gordon, University of Alabama “Deeds of Brave Suffering and Lofty Heroism”: Public Rhetoric and Kentucky Soldiers

David T. Gleeson, Northumbria University The Irish in Civil War Kentucky

Kenneth W. Noe, Auburn University “Disturbers of the Peace”: The Kidnapping of John D. Hale

Anne Sarah Rubin, University of Maryland Baltimore County “Literally Destroyed as a Housekeeper”: Hunger and Hardship in Civil War Kentucky

Amy Murrell Taylor, University of Kentucky Text and Textiles in Civil War Kentucky

Crystal Feimster, Yale University Rape and Prostitution in Civil War Kentucky: Petitions for Pardons, Remissions, and Respites, 1861-1865

Diane Miller Sommerville, Binghamton University “The Exciting Circumstances of the Rebellion,” or The Civil War Made Me Do It: Civil War and Emotional Trauma in Kentucky Governors’ Petitions

Mark W. Summers, University of Kentucky The Uncivilest War of All

Stephen Berry, University of Georgia Dwelling in the Digital Archive: A Meditation on the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Project

Patrick A. Lewis, Kentucky Historical Society The “Most Notorious” Mr. Jennings: Coal, Transatlantic Capitalism, and Guerrilla War


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