by Allan Branstiter

It has been twenty years since my dad received a box of magazines from a truck driver outside a plastic pipe factory in Muncy, Pennsylvania. Not every dad would accept a beaten box of glossy mags from a trucker, and even fewer would bestow said box upon their 12-year-old son. But my dad did, and in doing so kicked off what became a life-long interest in the history of the American Civil War. I remember the event vividly: Dad pulling up in his Ford Ranger just after dinner, the soft sides of a heavy cardboard box straining to contain its contents, and the colorful images of soldiers fighting and dying upon the shining covers of the innumerable issues of Civil War Times Illustrated staring back at me as I deposited them all over my bedroom floor.

Cpl. Joseph Pierce, 1862
Cpl. Joseph Pierce, 1862

Of the thousands of pages I would eventually read about the Civil War as a boy, a single page stands out in my memory more than the rest. On the final page of many issues of Civil War Times Illustrated during the early 1990s, the editors would dedicate a page to the life of individual veterans of the Civil War. One was set aside for Joseph Pierce, the adopted Chinese son of a sea captain who served in the 14th Connecticut Infantry at Gettysburg. Pierce’s image currently hangs in the Gettysburg Museum; however, few people knew about him twenty years ago. When I first discovered him, Joseph Pierce’s existence unsettled me for reasons that took me years to understand. I remember that moment clearly. Pierce’s Asian face stared up from the page at my Asian face—two brown bodies surrounded by a sea of white culture and white history.

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(Cross-posted from Southern Miss Now, 12/05/2014)

The learning process never really stops, especially for the Department of History at The University of Southern Mississippi. History professor Dr. Susannah J. Ural and history doctoral student E. Allan Branstiter recently attended a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) workshop to advance their knowledge of digital methods for studying military history.

The “Digital Methods for Military History” workshop featured a partnership between the NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks at Northeastern University, the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities, and the Society for Military History.

The two-day workshop introduced war and society scholars to digital tools and methods, focusing on network analysis and mapping, which are particularly suited to the study of connections between and the experiences of soldiers, leaders, and communities at war. The event highlighted the NEH’s new dedication to “explore war and its aftermath, promote discussion of the experience of military service, and support returning veterans and their families.”

Generous support from Dr. Gordon Cannon, Southern Miss’ Vice President for Research, and the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society made it possible for Ural and Branstiter to attend the workshop.

These tools, Ural and Branstiter know, are not a cure-all. Some of their data is still best presented in traditional charts and graphs. But Ural is busy, with Branstiter serving as research assistant, using the workshop lessons to map Confederate veterans’ journeys home from their surrender through the period of Reconstruction (part of Ural’s forthcoming book Hood’s Boys: John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade and the American Civil War (LSU Press)). Similarly, Branstiter is already mapping the connections between local leaders — Southern white Republicans, African-American politicians, Mississippi Democrats, the Ku Klux Klan — in Reconstruction-era Mississippi.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for Allan and me to learn new research tools that we can bring back to Southern Miss to share with our colleagues and students, and use to improve our scholarship,” Ural said. “I haven’t been this excited about new historical methods since my first semester in grad school.”

Ural is also working with Branstiter to create a digitize and map the data that Southern Miss history students are collecting on the Confederate veterans, wives and widows who lived in the Beauvoir Veteran Home in Biloxi, Miss., from 1903-1957 (formally known as the Beauvoir Veteran Project).

Ural is also in discussion with the Society for Military History and the NEH as the Dale Center considers hosting a future workshop at Southern Miss.

For more information about this event or other events in the College of Arts and Letters, visit http://artsandlettersnow.usm.edu.


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It’s official: Callie and I are engaged! Thanks go out to everyone who has supported us and sent us there love over the past few months, weeks, and days! We’re planning on a wedding sometime late in 2015, but more news is coming.



Congratulations are in order for the best girlfriend in the world and the love of my life, Callie Wiygul! Today’s she’s walking to the stage and pickin’ up an Master’s in Library and Information Sciences! Big things are in store for her, I can’t wait to see where life takes us! I’m so proud!


Bill De Blasio Sworn In As New York City Mayor

For me, the past few weeks have been marked by anger, guilt, sadness, and disappointment. In 2007, I hoped (naively perhaps) that the the election of Barack Obama would make it possible to discuss the realities of race in the United States. In him, I saw myself. A mixed-race child of an American and an immigrant, I was inspired by his speeches and comments regarding his American experience. He spoke of loving family who gave voice to terrible prejudices and enduring the pain of silently swallowing such bigotry and feeling the guilt of not speaking up. He spoke of being native to two worlds, while never truly feeling comfortable in either. His was an American from my own perspective; an America of my generation.

And yet, he has had to fall silent. Don’t get me wrong, the President speaks out about race in the U.S. in ways that makes people confront the racism in their hearts. However, what he said to us after the killing of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and after continuing the dehumanizing campaign of drone strikes against brown people abroad reflects very little of that picture of America he once spoke about. What he offered feels tired, emotionless, and scripted.

I believe he is not entirely to blame for this. Perhaps American racism has become tired, emotionless, and scripted. I thought about exploring why Bill de Blasio (the father of mixed-race children) could speak about race in a way the President could not; however, Ta-Nehisi Coates beat me to it. I couldn’t say it more precisely that he did in this article.