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Ural Leading Collaborative Research Initiative Studying Papers of State's Civil War Governors

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 11:32am

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is a partner in the newly-formed Civil War Governors of Mississippi Project (CWGM), a collaborative, open-access digitization effort, working in conjunction with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) and the Mississippi Digital Library (MDL), to examine a wide range of topics with the goal of helping researchers better understand this era of the state's history.

Dr. Susannah Ural, professor of history at USM and director of the CWGM, said the project is a wonderful opportunity for scholars, teachers, students, and anyone interested in Mississippi history and preservation.

“Mississippians wrote to their governors about wide-ranging issues throughout the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction,” Dr. Ural said. “Governors' papers offer us insights into military campaigns, political affairs, home front issues, and the everyday concerns that defined this state from Abraham Lincoln's election through the end of Reconstruction.”

CWGM is inspired by a similar, award-winning project — the Civil War Governors of Kentucky — launched in 2010 and directed by Dr. Patrick Lewis of the Kentucky Historical Society. CWGK, CWGM, and other digital project teams across the U.S. have partnered to learn from each other – what has worked and what has not – and to share a structural model that will allow Civil War governors' collections to reveal lessons not just at the state level, but at regional and national levels as well. This approach will offer insights into larger political issues affecting both the Union and the Confederacy throughout the Civil War and Reconstruction.

“The Civil War Governors of Kentucky project has been a huge boost to the entire history community in Kentucky. We have found thousands of unheard voices who are now appearing in classrooms, exhibits, and publications throughout the state,” said Dr. Lewis. “Our audiences see people like themselves, from their hometowns, in history for the first time. I couldn't be more thrilled to see another state launch a project like this to unearth and share relevant, important, and relatable history with their citizens.”

CWGM is designed to unveil its work in phases, rather than at the end of the project, to ensure early and open access to scholars, teachers, and the public. “It will require significant work as Lisa Jones and Elizabeth La Beaud at MDL direct the creation of descriptive data (metadata) of the governors' papers, and as David Pilcher and Preston Everett at MDAH direct the scanning and proofing of the remaining original records to create high-quality, readable images,” Dr. Ural said.

“At the same time, I will be directing a team of USM history graduate students as we transcribe and write narratives about these sources, so they can be easily used in K-12 classrooms and in cutting-edge scholarship. Despite the intimidating scope of this project, which covers nine administrations and includes nearly 50,000 images, the team is enthusiastic.”

“We're excited to continue our partnership with the Mississippi Digital Library and Southern Miss, and to share our governors' papers with a wider audience through this collaborative effort,” said MDAH's Pilcher.

Project partners Jones and La Beaud, director and assistant director, respectively, of MDL concur. “We're thrilled to be collaborating on this project and providing access and discoverability to the governors' papers at MDAH,” Jones said, “especially as these particular papers showcase such an important time in our state's and country's history.”

USM College of Arts and Sciences Executive Associate Dean Eric Tribunella voiced his excitement as well, observing, "Dr. Ural's CWGM project represents innovative work by College of Arts and Sciences faculty to develop digital initiatives that make important humanities research available to a wider audience through collaborations with university and agency partners."

Dr. Ural emphasized that “while the papers are grounded in Mississippi's executive office, they shed light on all Mississippians: white and black, male and female, soldier and civilian, free and enslaved, urban and rural, young and old, and secessionist, anti-secessionist, or Unionist.”

“These collections — spanning the administration of Gov. John J. Pettus in 1859 through Gov. John Marshall Stone in the 1880s — allow us to learn more about how Mississippians functioned as a state at war, during the transition from slavery to emancipation, and under military occupation,” Dr. Ural said. “Also, our partnership with other governors' projects allows us to consider these themes across state lines, offering broader regional and national insights.”

Visit the Mississippi Civil War Governors Project at

About the University of Southern Mississippi History Program & CWGM Project Director, Dr. Susannah J. Ural: The History program at Southern Miss, housed in the School of the Humanities, is one of the strongest programs on campus and known for its faculty expertise in in the study of war and society/military history and in southern history. Project Director Susannah J. Ural is also co-director of USM's Dale Center for the Study of War & Society, a scholar of the U.S. Civil War era and American military history, and the author of numerous books and articles on the Civil War. Dr. Ural has directed several digital history endeavors, the largest of which was the Beauvoir Veteran Project, a study of the Mississippi Confederate Home.

About the Mississippi Department of Archives and History: The Mississippi Department of Archives and History was founded in 1902. A comprehensive historical agency, the department collects, preserves, and provides access to the archival resources of the state, administers museums and historic sites, and oversees statewide programs for historic preservation, government records management, and publications. David Pilcher is the director of the MDAH Archives and Record Services Division, where he leads numerous projects focused on preservation, organization, and access for scholars and the public. Preston Everett is the director of the MDAH Archival Reformatting Unit, leading all digitization projects.

About the Mississippi Digital Library: Mississippi's rich abundance of cultural and historical resources is held by institutions and repositories all across the state. Our mission at the Mississippi Digital Library (MDL) is to provide an online space to search and explore the wealth of materials available in Mississippi. For researchers, we are committed to providing convenient, open access to digital collections throughout the state. For partners, we place an emphasis on collection building and discoverability. Lisa Jones serves as University Libraries' Head of Technology and has directed the MDL since 2011, where she works to build a vibrant, sustainable digital collections community throughout the state. Elizabeth La Beaud, a certified Digital Archives Specialist and manager of the USM Digital Lab, is responsible for digitizing and preserving historical and academic digital items held by USM and making these readily accessible to the public.