Research & Writing

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)

Research

My book manuscript, “Opium Slavery: Veterans and Addiction in the American Civil War Era” investigates the opiate addiction epidemic that plagued veterans in aftermath of the Civil War–America’s original opioid crisis. Employing the approaches of gender, social, and medical history, I uncover 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. You can read a précis of my manuscript outlining its argument, chapters, and significance hereI published some of my early findings in The Journal of the Civil War Era, which you can read here.

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, 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.

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Postcard advertising for S.B. Collins’s Painless Opium Antidote, a patent medicine that purported to cure opiate addiction, 1873. Image courtesy of Siegel Auction Galleries.

Scholarly Publications

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 to appear 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. I also have a book chapter on Gilded-Age patent medicine “cures” for opiate addiction in a volume titled Buying and Selling the Civil War, forthcoming from University of Georgia Press, edited by Caroline Janney and James Marten. Both publications are derived from my dissertation.

Recent works in progress include a book chapter on the portrayal of the Civil War, slavery, and Jim Crow in the blockbuster 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption 2, and a microhistory journal article tracing the troubled life and death an individual Confederate veteran in the Civil War era.

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Silas Weir Mitchell (left), a famous 19th-century American physician and expert on opiate addiction, examines an aging Civil War veteran at the Philadelphia Orthopaedic and Nervous Hospital, c. 1900. Wellcome Collection.

Public Writing and Appearances

Alongside my traditional 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 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’s American History TV, NPR’s Boston affiliate WBUR, and has been featured on The Rogue Historian and History Hack podcasts. I also created the podcast What Are the Public Humanities? during my time at Binghamton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in 2018-19. 

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Civil War-era hypodermic needle kit. Bartholomew’s Manual of Hypodermic Medicine (1869).

Publications

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

“Buying and Selling Masculinity: Civil War Veterans and Opiate Addiction Patent Cures,” in Buying and Selling the Civil War, ed. Caroline E. Janney and James Marten (forthcoming 2020 with University of Georgia Press)

Popular Magazines & Websites

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 Magazine, 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

“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

Editing Coeditor, Binghamton Journal of History, Vol. 16 (2015), Vol. 17 (2016), Vol. 18 (2017) Book Reviews Books reviewed for H-CivWarJournal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Journal of Military HistorySocial History of Alcohol and Drugs, and The Civil War Monitor