My research agenda reckons with the Civil War’s intertwined social, health, and cultural consequences in the 19th and early-20th-century United States. I’m interested in uncovering the intimate personal costs of the war for survivors that added up to unexpected, broader changes in postwar America. When the war’s carnage shattered survivors’ bodies and ruined their health, it upended deeply-rooted social norms and cultural ideals. Postwar Americans were left to sort out these complex legacies.
Drug addiction among injured and ailing Union and Confederate veterans, my current avenue of research, powerfully illustrates this trend. I enjoy writing for public and scholarly audiences, and I’ve published widely in peer-reviewed and popular outlets.
(Scroll for a comprehensive list of publications)
My first book manuscript, Opium Slavery: The Civil War, Veterans, and America’s First Opioid Crisis (forthcoming with UNC Press), uncovers the hidden history of an opioid addiction epidemic that plagued veterans in aftermath of the Civil War–America’s first opioid crisis. Employing the approaches of gender, social, and medical history, the book investigates the causes and tragic consequences of drug addiction for Civil War veterans and their families, as well as the radical responses by the American medical community and government authorities to the addiction crisis. This project is adapted from my doctoral dissertation, which was awarded the Anne J. Bailey Dissertation Award by the Society of Civil War Historians in 2021, the inaugural Chancellor Distinguished PhD Graduate Dissertation Award from SUNY in 2021, and Binghamton University’s Distinguished Dissertation Award in 2020. The dissertation was also a finalist for the 2021 C. Vann Woodward Prize from the Southern Historical Association.
My next book project, tentatively titled “A Great American Fraud: The Civil War and the Development of Medical Capitalism, 1861-1914” (under advance contract with UNC Press), investigates several notorious, but forgotten cases of medical fraud committed by Civil War veterans against other veterans in the postwar decades. These epic frauds, I argue, illuminate how the healthcare demands of millions of sick and injured Civil War survivors overtaxed and ultimately transformed American medicine in the Gilded Age. To meet the surge in medical demand, entrepreneurial medical capitalists, including patent medicine sellers and pension lawyers, clashed with established physicians in an all-out battle for profit and professional power. This is a story of sick, desperate old soldiers, savvy and unscrupulous con-artists, and beleaguered, outmatched physicians, scientists, and sanitarians. It’s also a story of change over time, in which the Civil War’s medical frauds provide unique insight into the maturation of American medicine into a capitalistic enterprise during the late 19th century. This history has surprising and disturbing relevance in today’s internet age, when wellness influencers, anti-vaxxers, and scam artists peddle miracle cures and medical disinformation on social media, reaping huge profits and challenging the dominance of established medical professions.
My research has been supported by a postdoc from The Pennsylvania State University’s George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center, and fellowships and grants from The Huntington Library, Yale University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, William & Mary, Binghamton University’s Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, Virginia Historical Society, Kentucky Historical Society, New-York Historical Society, the New York State Archives, and the North Caroliniana Society, in addition to several competitive grants and fellowships from Binghamton University and Virginia Military Institute.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles and Book Chapters
My article “Opium Slavery: Civil War Veterans and Opiate Addiction” appears in The Journal of the Civil War Era‘s June 2020 issue. The article investigates the traumatic experience of opiate addiction for Civil War veterans, the first new work on the topic published in a major scholarly journal in decades. The article argues that “slavery” to opiates caused overwhelming suffering for veterans in their postwar lives, largely because addiction violated prevailing Civil War-era ideals of manhood, morality, and health. The article suggests that many veterans never “got over” the personal legacies of the Civil War, which dominated their day-to-day lives even decades after leaving the army.
Additional peer-reviewed publications include an essay on Gilded-Age patent medicine “cures” for drug addiction in Buying and Selling Civil War Memory in Gilded Age America (UGA Press, 2021, edited by Caroline Janney and James Marten, link). My recent article in Psychiatric Times (June 2021, link) documents longstanding historical racial inequalities in access to prescription opioids. A microhistory article in North Carolina Historical Review (July 2021, link) uses the violent life and untimely suicide of a Confederate veteran to illuminate broader social and cultural patterns in the Civil War era. A forthcoming book chapter analyzes the portrayal of slavery, the Civil War, and Jim Crow in the blockbuster 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption 2 (in Playing at War: Identity & Memory in American Civil War Video Games, ed. Patrick A. Lewis and James Welborn, LSU Press, forthcoming 2023).
Public Writing and Appearances
Complementing my scholarship, I’m committed to producing accessible writing on flashpoint historical topics for public audiences. Like the sciences, historical research can be difficult to translate for readers unfamiliar with historians’ lingo and methodologies. I aim to break down these access barriers for public audiences, with the ultimate goal of fostering historically informed conversations about current events, politics, and public policy.
Some of my favorite popular pieces explore the portrayal of slavery and Jim Crow in Red Dead Redemption 2 for Slate, the history of white supremacist violence by the Texas Rangers for the Washington Post, and the history of Civil War America’s opioid crisis for Vice. My research on the history of opioid addiction has also aired on C-SPAN and NPR, featured in the Washington Post, HISTORY, and BBC, and spotlighted by podcasts like History Hack and The Rogue Historian.
Opium Slavery: The Civil War, Veterans, and America’s First Opioid Crisis (forthcoming with University of North Carolina Press
“A Great American Fraud: The Civil War and the Development of Medical Capitalism, 1861-1914” (under advance contract with University of North Carolina Press)
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles and Book Chapters
“Opium Slavery: Civil War Veterans and Opiate Addiction,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 10, no. 2 (June 2020): 185-212 (read here)
“Race and Opioids: Lessons From the Civil War-Era Opioid Addiction Crisis,” Psychiatric Times 38, no. 6 (June, 2021): 41-2 (read here)
“Buying and Selling Masculinity: Civil War Veterans and Opiate Addiction Patent Cures,” in Buying and Selling Civil War Memory in Gilded Age America, ed. Caroline E. Janney and James Marten (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2021), 31-47 (buy here)
“The Life and Death of Frank Clewell, Confederate Veteran: Microhistory and the Civil War-Era South,” North Carolina Historical Review 98, no. 3 (July 2021): 249-282 (read here)
“‘Still Raging in These Fools’ Minds’: Civil War Memory in Red Dead Redemption 2,” in Playing at War: Identity & Memory in American Civil War Video Games, ed. Patrick A. Lewis and James Welborn, (under contract with Louisiana State University Press, forthcoming spring 2023)
Magazines & Newspapers
“Russia is suffering from the same problems that doomed the Confederacy,”Washington Post, October 21, 2022
“Covid-19 had killed more Americans than the Civil War. How do we remember them?” Washington Post, December 2, 2021
“America’s Forgotten History of Supervised Opioid Injection,” Undark Magazine, April 29, 2021
“Lessons learned — and forgotten — from the horrific epidemics of the U.S. Civil War,” STAT, April 18, 2021
“America Has Been Through an Opioid Crisis Before,” Vice, April 9, 2021
“Though often mythologized, the Texas Rangers have an ugly history of brutality,” Washington Post, September 21, 2020
“Opiate Addiction in the Civil War’s Aftermath,” Virginia History and Culture 7 (Spring/Summer 2020): 18-21
“Gov. Cuomo is wrong, covid-19 is anything but an equalizer,” Washington Post, April 5, 2020, co-authored with Bethany L. Jones
“Purdue Pharma taps a Gilded Age history of pharmaceutical fraud,” The Conversation, March 4, 2019
“Red Dead Redemption 2 Confronts the U.S.’s Racist Past and Lets You Do Something About It,” Slate, February 4, 2019
“Then and Now: How Civil War-Era Doctors Responded to Their Own Opiate Epidemic,” The Civil War Monitor, November 3, 2017
“The ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ Kind of Addict: Iatrogenic Opioid Addiction in Historical Context,” Nursing Clio, July 25, 2017
“Invisible Wounds: PTSD, the Civil War and Those Who ‘Remained and Suffered,’”WSKG, February 12, 2016
Digital Humanities Projects
Principal investigator, “Locating Slavery’s Legacies at VMI,” locatinglegacies.org, forthcoming 2023
Creator and host, What are the Public Humanities?, podcast, season 1 (2020-21), Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, Binghamton University
Scholarly Blogs & Websites
“There Has Always Been a Thin Line Separating the United States’ Jails and its Mental Healthcare System,”Clio and the Contemporary, January 10, 2021
“The ‘Great Risk’ of ‘Opium Eating’: How Civil War-Era Doctors Reacted to Prescription Opioid Addiction,” Medical History Library, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, Yale University, December 1, 2020
“Drugs and Digitization: Investigating Opiate Addiction in the U.S. Civil War Era in the Age of Mass Digitization,”Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society, November 10, 2020
“The ‘Worst Species of Inebriety’: Opiate Addiction in Antebellum New York City,”Gotham: A Blog for Scholars of New York City History, March 12, 2019
“Gilded Age Cures for Soldiers Suffering from Opiate Addiction,” The Devil’s Tale: Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, February 20, 2019
“Elusive Consensus? War Trauma and the American Civil War at the Southern 2018,” H-CivWar, November 26, 2018
“‘A Mind Prostrate’: Physicians, Opiates, and Insanity in the Civil War’s Aftermath,”Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, November 6, 2018
“What Can (and Can’t) We Learn From 19th Century Physicians’ Account Books?,”Fugitive Leaves blog of The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, September 12, 2018
“A School Divided: The Civil War Era in the Secondary Classroom,” Muster blog of The Journal of the Civil War Era, July 19, 2016
Books and digital history projects reviewed for Journal of American History, H-CivWar, Journal of the Civil War Era, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Journal of Military History, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Nursing Clio, and The Civil War Monitor
Coeditor, Binghamton Journal of History, Vol. 16 (2015), Vol. 17 (2016), Vol. 18 (2017)