Derek is an assistant professor of history at Genesee Community College (GCC) in Batavia, New York. As part of his work there, he is coordinator of the college’s Civil War Initiative, which earned him the State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities in 2013.
GCC’s Civil War Initiative, coinciding with the commemoration years, has hosted over 50 public lectures on the Civil War in more than half a dozen locations. “We have hosted three large encampments—one in Lima, New York, and two in Medina,” Derek explains. “We have also sponsored essay contests, period concerts, special library exhibits and much more.” In support of the CWI, Derek created a blog, www.civilwaratgcc.wordpress.com.
“For the Spring 2015, we are gearing up for our last Civil War encampment in Medina, April 24-26, and will be hosting free public lectures in Batavia, Medina, and Albion,” he adds.
Batavia, as it happens, is the home town of Union war hero Emory Upton (a favorite of ours here at ECW). “I know the outlines of his story, but have not done any research on him,” Derek admitted when we put him on the spot. “But, I do have SIX great-grandfathers who served in the Civil War—most from NY. Four of the six survived the war. One is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. So the Civil War is very personal to me.”
Derek “vividly remembers” his introduction to the Civil War. He was about eight. “I had an uncle that lived nearby that owned a nice collection of National Geographic books,” he says. “One of those was The Civil War. I was captivated by the uniforms and the descriptions of the battles. I borrowed that book over and over.”
Fast forward twenty years. “I was a student at SUNY Cortland when I met Dr. Ellis Johnson—a venerable history professor. His passion was the Civil War,” Derek explains. “After being a student in one of his survey classes, he invited me to work with him on his own Civil War project. Over the course of three years, we spent countless hours together working on that project. It was an incomparable three year one-on-one tutorial on the Civil War. Johnson died my senior year, but left me with a base of knowledge and a passion that will never die.”
Derek holds a Bachelors of Arts degree from SUNY Cortland and a Master of Arts degree from Villanova University. He is also a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Buffalo, where he is ABD (all but dissertation). Among Derek’s research interests are 19th century politics and culture, especially Victorian death ways and the Civil War.
Derek lives in Churchville, NY, with his wife, Christine, two children—Quincy, 13, and Jesse, 11—a basset hound, three cats and a tortoise.