For the first installment of our new My ECW Story series we have Paige Gibbons Backus, or as we like to call her at ECW, “Notorious PGB.” Just kidding…we don’t really call her that. As you’ll see, Paige wears several hats for us at ECW. She’s also in good company at her day job, working with the likes of ECW’s own Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak. Even her husband, Bill Backus, authored a title in the Emerging Civil War Series. She can’t get away from us!
PGB: My name is Paige Gibbons Backus and I am originally from Wisconsin and currently living in Virginia. I am fortunate enough to make history my career! I currently serve as the Historic Site Manager of Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre (an 19th century county seat with a Courthouse and Jail) and Lucasville School (a one-room African American Schoolhouse) in Prince William County, Virginia. I’ve always been interested in history growing up as a child, from going on vacations with family and field trips in school. The Civil War became just one piece of that as I visited battlefields and historic sites all throughout the United States. I am particularly interested in women’s history, social history, and the more morbid side of history such as death, disease, medicine, murder, and scandal.
ECW: How did you find out about Emerging Civil War? How did you get your foot in the door?
PGB: Several of my friends were already contributing to Emerging Civil War and I was asked to participate in a few different posts for the organization, including one highlighting women in history during Women’s History Month. I also got involved with #ECWWeekender posts whenever I visited a historic site and provided a review about the PBS miniseries Mercy Street.
ECW: What was your first article for Emerging Civil War, and what made you want to contribute?
PGB: As a guest author I had written several posts about the Hospitals of First Manassas and different events that were taking place at Ben Lomond Historic Site in Manassas, Virginia. But one of the first posts that I wrote for Emerging Civil War under my own name was “A Review of Mercy Street: The Miniseries That Could Have Been Worse”. When it first came out in 2016, it was a show that everyone was talking about (including me) so I was happy to talk about it even more for Emerging Civil War!
ECW: What are your day-to-day/week-to-week duties with Emerging Civil War?
PGB: In addition to contributing articles for Emerging Civil War, I serve as the social media coordinator posting to our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. I am also chair of the Recruitment Committee, looking at different ways to get history enthusiasts and public historians to contribute to Emerging Civil War as guest authors. Interested in contributing an article? Let us know!
ECW: What do you find fulfilling about your work with Emerging Civil War?
PGB: Emerging Civil War provides an opportunity for new historians to publish original work. It offers the chance for rising historians to expand their knowledge base, hone their networking and writing skills, and helps to foster a relationship within the Civil War history community. I enjoy helping new professionals advance their career, as well as serving on the Recruitment Committee, where we are working on new ways to promote the ECW brand and bring new authors and voices under the ECW umbrella. There are so many opportunities to add your own voice here!
ECW: How many ECW Symposiums have you attended? Why would you encourage everyone to attend a symposium?
PGB: I’ve been attending the symposium every year since 2017, including the virtual symposium in 2020 and I enjoy going every year. Not only is it a great opportunity to catch up with friends and talk history, but it’s also a great place to network and explore new historical sites with the yearly tours. It’s a great time!
ECW: How has your involvement with ECW made a difference in your Civil War career? Has ECW furthered your interest, or opened up any new avenues of research/writing/work for you?
PGB: I am very fortunate to be involved in Emerging Civil War for it has allowed me new opportunities that I never would have imagined. I have been able to write for the American Battlefield Trust and speak at numerous conferences, symposiums, and Civil War Roundtables. I’m even working on a book that will one day hopefully be published through Emerging Civil War. I have never been a military historian – I’m more of a social historian – but through Emerging Civil War I have been able to gain a greater understanding of the Civil War era.
ECW: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to become involved in Public History or Civil War History?
PGB: I have been in the public history field for 10 years, starting as a student and volunteer and now as a Historic Site Manager. Some of the best advice that I was been given and that I always pass on to others is to get involved and meet new people. Get involved with the organizations that you want to work for. Work as a volunteer so they get to know you. Get involved with organizations that are there to help you, such as Emerging Civil War or museum organizations for your state. For example, I became an active member of the Virginia Association of Museums, where I’ve attended conferences and trainings, networked with other museum professionals, and have had my resume reviewed. The public history field is so small, you can’t be reactive. You have to be proactive and put yourself out there.
ECW: What are you working on now?
PGB: I’m currently working on several projects, including books about the medical field and women’s history during the Civil War. I’m also developing a few new talks for the Emerging Civil War Speakers Bureau, including the civilian experience at the Siege of Vicksburg and women in the medical field during the war.
Next month we’ll sit down with the wearer of many ECW hats and the purveyor of Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes, Dan Welch.
Are you interested in writing for Emerging Civil War? Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information!