Historians from around the country gathered on Friday, March 22, to explore the intersection of race, gender, and war in a one-day symposium on military service in 19th & 20th-Century America. With more than sixty registered attendees, presenters discussed the role and place of African Americans and women in the American military experience during the past two centuries. There were three panels with multiple speakers, followed by Q & A sessions with the audience, a keynote address, and a closing reception.
Session one focused on race, the Civil War, and military service. Fay Yarbrough (Rice University) gave her presentation, “Choctaw Confederates: Native Soldiers in the American Civil War.” Afterward, Caroline Wood Newhall (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) presented, “’The best disposition of such men was to sell them’: Black Prisoners of War and the Intersection of Race, Property, and Law in the Confederacy, 1862-1865.” This session opened discussion of the realities that racial minorities faced during the Civil, sparking a lively conversation analyzing the reasons why Choctaw Indians and African Americans volunteered to serve (and why some deserted), and the fact that military service was not what they had anticipated.
Session two focused on citizenship and military service. Kevin Adams (Kent State University) spoke on, “The Best Black Men in the Country’: Race and Region in Postwar U.S. Army Recruiting.” Following Adams was Gregory Mixon (UNC-Charlotte/Fulbright Scholar at York University, Toronto, Canada) who discussed, “Creating the South Carolina Militia: Robert Brown Elliot, Assistant Adjutant General.” Next, Amanda Bellows (Lang College at The New School) discussed, “Black Citizenship and Military Service in the United States, 1861-1918.” Audience questions expanded on the implications of post-Civil War black military service.
For session three, Patrick T. Troester (Southern Methodist University) spoke on, “Gender, Race, and the Nation-State in Anglo-Texan Military Mobilization, 1835-1877.” Charissa Threat (Chapman University) discussed, “African American Intimacies at War: Homefront Lives, Military Service and the Second World War”; and Heather Stur (University of Southern Mississippi) presented “Military Pragmatism vs. Public Imagination: Women in the US Armed Forces.” This final panel led to questions on gendered assumptions about the military that linger today.
As the day came to a close, Chad Williams (Brandeis University) gave the symposium’s keynote address: “African Americans, World War I, and the Boundaries of Military History.” Dr. Williams touched on the important question of what is military history and who has the authority to write about it. The day ended with a reception held at the Gorgas House. This symposium created a day full of scholarly engagement between presenters and attendees. This was a great turnout for the department and it was an honor to have these speakers come to UA! Special thanks to the symposium’s co-sponsors: The Charles G. Summersell Chair of Southern History, The Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South, the Departments of History, American Studies, and Race and Gender Studies, and the College of Arts & Sciences.