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Civil War center welcomes Broomall as new director

ISSUED: 7 August 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Running Shepherd University’s George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War is a dream job for Dr. James Broomall, the new center director and an assistant professor in the Department of History. Broomall has had an interest in the war since childhood that has continued throughout his academic career.

“I am very much invested in historic sites, how the past is remembered, and how it’s interpreted to different audiences,” Broomall said. “I still have a great deal of interest in academic history, but making history accessible, making history usable is something that intrigues me greatly and is something I constantly want to pursue. The Moore Center offers that opportunity.”

Completing the old mission and creating a new one

Broomall said he plans to continue the original mission of the center— working on a database of Virginia and current day West Virginia soldiers that so far contains 20,400 records. Information from the database is included on an interactive, multimedia CD the center produced in 2008 called “Mountaineers of the Blue and Gray, the Civil War in West Virginia” which was distributed to middle and high schools across the state.

“That database is ongoing,” Broomall said. “There are still a lot of records that need to be entered, and Tom White (research associate) will continue working in that capacity. I will do some of that work and I plan to have some students help.”

There are also plans to make the database more accessible to researchers, and Broomall would like to connect it to other databases throughout the country, like the University of Georgia’s Center for Virtual History. But Broomall also brings with him a new vision for the center. One of his first goals is to create an ad hoc advisory board to reexamine and broaden the mission statement, and to create one-, three-, and five-year goals.

“We need to think more about education and the public dimensions of the institution,” he said. “I want outside input to help make the Moore Center more accessible to Shepherd University and the surrounding community.”

The center has always offered a Civil War seminar series, which Broomall said fulfills that public role to some extent. He plans to continue offering the seminars, but is also interested in making stronger connections to other institutions, like the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, the National Park Service, and the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association. Another short-term goal is increasing the visibility of the center in the community and raising awareness of what it does. To that end, he plans to offer a brown bag lecture series once a month where the public can bring lunch and hear a talk or informal conversation about a specific topic.

Broomall points out the center is situated in the heart of Civil War country, not far from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield, and the Battle of Shepherdstown. He said it’s perfectly placed to play a major role in educating both students and the public.

“A lot of people have a continued abiding interest in the past, especially the Civil War. It’s this very contested era that shapes the discourse of today,” he said. “A lot of discussions are going on surrounding monuments, surrounding flags, and surrounding race relations, and they are very much grounded in events that are now 150 years plus in the past. It suggests to me how relevant the Civil War continues to be and how relevant a place like the Moore Center can be.”

A childhood interest becomes an academic pursuit

Broomall, who began serving as center director August 3, spent his childhood in the mid-Atlantic “not far from many Civil War sites,” and his parents cultivated his interest. Broomall grew up primarily in Delaware where his father is associate provost for professional and continuing studies at the University of Delaware. He also has a West Virginia connection. His mother is originally from Weston. The family lived in Cumberland, Maryland, when Broomall was in second and third grades, and moved to Delaware when he was in fifth grade. Broomall is also familiar with Shepherdstown. He’s visited off and on for the past 20 years as a tourist and spent time hiking and biking on the C&O Canal.

Broomall earned a B.A. in history from the University of Delaware, an M.A. in history and museum studies from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Florida. His doctoral dissertation focused on the 19th-century American south, specifically the experiences white southern men and their families had before, during, and after the war. Broomall has been working to turn the dissertation into a book, which will be published soon.

“The dissertation looks at how the Civil War experience transformed men’s emotional expressions and the ways they related to both their families and other men,” he said. “I’m very much interested in the question of how war changes men.”

Another writing endeavor involves working with his former advisor, Dr. William A. Link, Richard J. Milbauer professor at the University of Florida, on “Rethinking American Emancipation” —an edited collection based on a conference hosted at the university in March 2013. Broomall said the book includes contributions from scholars who attended the conference and some who didn’t. It’s slated for release in January or February of 2016 and will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Bringing Civil War history to the public

Broomall is also working on a report, to be distilled in interpretive programming, as a brochure, and in digital history format, looking at activities along the C&O Canal during the Civil War. The project, for the National Park Service, involves researching the Civil War history of the canal from 1860-1866 and the experiences of both civilians and soldiers. He’s been surprised by what he’s learned.

“I thought this was going to be kind of a dull sector of the war,” he said. “The main armies are usually hundreds of miles away, and the big fights are occurring in places like Fredericksburg (Virginia), Gettysburg (Pennsylvania), or Vicksburg (Mississippi). What is surprising is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was very active throughout the entirety of the conflict.”

He said the canal was a vital transportation link for union armies because they used it to transport everything from coal and limestone to flour, corn, and wheat.

“The Confederates knew this and so there was a whole host of raids and raiding parties that were constantly active all along the canal from just above Georgetown all the way to the terminus in Cumberland, Maryland,” he said. “So it’s 184.5 miles and you could easily say at any point in the war 125 miles were active.”

Broomall is working on the project with C&O Canal Headquarters, the National Park Service regional office in Washington, D.C., and the Organization of American Historians. The rough draft is due August 31 and the final report is due at the end of December. Broomall said the park will incorporate the research into tours and exhibits. He also hopes to present some of what he’s learned during the annual Society of Civil War Historians conference June 2-4, 2016 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Broomall hopes to begin the brown bag lunch events in late August and the first speaker is Shepherd University graduate Kevin R. Pawlak, who has just published the book “Shepherdstown during the Civil War: One Vast Confederate Hospital.” In addition, the center is hosting an open house for the campus and the community on Thursday, September 17, from 3:30-6:30 p.m. For more information, call the center at 304-876-5429.

Listen to the interview with Dr. James Broomall HERE.

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