My scholarly agenda reckons with the Civil War’s intertwined social, health, and cultural consequences in the nineteenth-century United States. When the war’s carnage shattered veterans’ bodies and ruined their health, it upended deeply-rooted social norms and cultural ideals. Opiate addiction among injured and ailing Union and Confederate veterans, my current avenue of research, powerfully illustrates this trend. I enjoy writing about this research for public and scholarly audiences, and I’ve published widely in peer-reviewed and popular outlets. (Scroll for a comprehensive list of publications)
My book manuscript, “Opium Slavery: The Civil War, Veterans, and America’s First Opioid Crisis,” uncovers the hidden history of an opiate 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, I investigate the causes and tragic consequences of opiate 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. I am currently revising this manuscript for publication. It is based on my doctoral dissertation.
My next book, tentatively titled “A Great American Fraud: The Civil War and the Rise of Medical Capitalism,” investigates a notorious, but forgotten case of medical fraud committed by a Civil War veteran in the 1860s-70s. This epic fraud, I argue, illuminates how the heathcare demands of millions of sick and injured Civil War survivors sparked rampant medical fraud in the Gilded Age, pitting entrepreneurial medical capitalists against established physicians in an all-out battle for medical 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. 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’s Department of History.
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 opiate addiction caused overwhelming suffering for veterans’ in their postwar lives, largely because “slavery” to opiates 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 a chapter on Gilded-Age patent medicine “cures” for opiate addiction in an edited volume, Buying and Selling Civil War Memory in Gilded Age America (University of Georgia Press, 2021, edited by Caroline Janney and James Marten, link); A microhistory article in North Carolina Historical Review (July 2021) that uses the troubled life and death a Confederate veteran to illuminate broader patterns in the Civil War era; an article in Psychiatric Times (February 2021, link) that documents historical racial inequalities in access to prescription opioids; and an in-progress book chapter analyzing the portrayal of slavery, the Civil War, and Jim Crow in the blockbuster 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption 2.
Public Writing and Appearances
In addition to my academic scholarship, I’m committed to producing high-quality writing on flashpoint historical topics for public audiences. Like the sciences, historical research can be difficult to translate for readers outside the academy and unfamiliar with historians’ lingo. That’s why I practice “History Communication,” the subfield dedicated to translating complex historical scholarship for public audiences.
Some of my favorite popular essays explore the portrayal of slavery and Jim Crow in Red Dead Redemption 2 for Slate, the history of Civil War America’s opioid crisis for Vice, the deep origins of negative stereotypes about people with substance abuse disorders for Nursing Clio, the U.S.’s long history of pharmaceutical fraud for The Conversation, and the history of white supremacist police violence by the Texas Rangers for the Washington Post. My research on the history of opioid addiction has aired on C-SPAN, NPR, and podcasts like The Rogue Historian and History Hack.
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 (link)
“Race and Opioids: Lessons From the Civil War-Era Opioid Addiction Crisis,” Psychiatric Times (February 25, 2021) (link)
“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. (link)
“The Life and Death of Frank Clewell, Confederate Veteran: Microhistory and the Civil War-Era South,” North Carolina Historical Review (forthcoming July 2021)
Popular Magazines & Websites
“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
- Republished in Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Undark Magazine, and 12+ outlets
“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
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
Coeditor, Binghamton Journal of History, Vol. 16 (2015), Vol. 17 (2016), Vol. 18 (2017)
Books reviewed for H-CivWar, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Journal of Military History, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, and The Civil War Monitor
Digital Humanities Projects
Creator and host, What are the Public Humanities?, podcast, season 1 (2020-21), sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, Binghamton University