Alumnus Adam Petty Working with Joseph Smith Papers

Image of Adam PettyDepartment alumnus Adam Petty (PhD 2018, MA 2014) has recently accepted a position as a Historian and Documentary Editor for the Joseph Smith Papers.

Petty completed his doctorate under George Rable last year, with a focus on the Civil War era. His dissertation “Virginia’s Wilderness: Investigating the Landscape of War,” focused on the interaction between the environment and three military campaigns in Virginia. After earning his BA at Brigham Young University, Petty chose Alabama because he was “looking for a program with a strong Civil War historian.”

He had been interested in the Civil War since he was a young boy when he saw the movie Gettysburg and began visiting battlefields with his father. “It was these types of experiences that drew me to study the war,” he says. In addition to the funding available from the department, he was drawn to attend The University of Alabama by now-retired Professors Rable and Larry Kohl, Civil War historians, as well as Professor Steve Bunker, the Department’s Mexicanist. Petty was interested in studying Mexican history after he served a mission there.

Petty is part of a multi-volume project assembling documents connected to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Petty is helping to compile a volume consisting of “sources ranging from discourses to letters to land deeds to political tracts,” working as part of a larger team to annotate and draft introductions for each document.

Petty never expected to get a position working with Latter-day Saint history, although it is one of his interests. “As a member of the Church myself, Joseph Smith is a historical figure that has been very important in my life,” Petty says. “The opportunity to work on his papers and learn more about him and the early Church is a real blessing.” He says that although it has been a big switch from his research focus on the Civil War, “I have relied on the skills I learned in graduate school, such as the ability to master a field’s historiography or learn a narrative, in order to help me acclimate to my new topic.” Petty also benefited from a directed readings course on the early Latter-day Saints with Professor John Giggie. An article he wrote on the early Latter-Day Saints in Alabama also served as his writing sample for his current job. “I think this paper showed the search committee that I had the ability to write this type of history.”

Adam is publishing his dissertation with LSU Press and plans to continue to “learn the ropes” of Latter-day Saint history and documentary editing. His advice to up-and-coming history students: “The job market is very difficult. You need to be open to new and unexpected opportunities that arise.” He also suggests to graduate students “to publish early and often,” as his own publication record was an asset when he applied for his current position, and to pursue funding to present at conferences and conduct research. He recommends that UA students “get involved with the Southern Historian, the department’s journal of southern history. Write a book review for them or serve on the journal’s staff. You will learn a great deal.” Finally, Petty emphasizes “how important it is to be kind to everyone, especially people who think very differently than you.”

Congratulations Adam from all of us at the History Department!