Listen In! ECW’s Women Talk About The History

Last week all the ECW women were invited to a Zoom call to chat about research, ideas, and a variety of other topics related to historian/researcher experiences. As part of the meeting, they answered a few questions with the willingness to share the answers on the blog for Women’s History Month.

We hope you enjoy reading the results of the Q&A with Sheritta Bitikofer, Meg Groeling, JoAnna McDonald, Kristen Trout, Cecily Nelson Zander, and Sarah Kay Bierle. We also want to give a quick shout-out to Caroline Davis and Paige Gibbons-Backus who were not able to join the call, but have been sharing their research or digital expertise in a variety of ways.

Sarah took and transcribed notes while hosting the meeting. With one exception, all answers are written in the order they were shared, and everyone took turns answering in various orders on the Zoom screen.

Who is someone you considered a role model as you were growing up?

Sheritta: I didn’t have one specific role model. I saw lots of good qualities to emulate. For example, Clara Barton’s compassion or Harriet Tubman’s perseverance. It’s really a medley of people that influenced and inspired me.

JoAnna: I had a professor who could swear and was feminine and awesome! Historically speaking, though, I saw Ulysses S. Grant as a role model — hard hitter, winner.

Kristen: My Dad is one of my role models with his love of Civil War history, especially in Missouri. Grant and Sherman…because they overcame great challenges. Clara Barton and female soldiers also inspired me. How women were so courageous and fearless and broke stigmas of the era—getting to the battlefield to support and fight for war.

Cecily: Laura Ingalls Wilder through the Little House books was definitely a role model when I was growing up. Also, my parents who willingly took me to historic sites. Professionally, I see Carol Reardon and Caroline Janney as role models.

Meg: I didn’t really have “role models” in the traditional sense while growing up. There weren’t females doing things I was interested in. There weren’t professional female baseball players or sports writers that I knew about. No one was telling a story I was interested in. I want young women today to realize how lucky they are to have role models in so many areas of life and professions. Later in life, Drew Gilpin Faust became a role model for me. Thank goodness it’s different now and there are so many role models and more women’s stories being told from the past.

Sarah: Laura Ingalls Wilder. I always wanted to be a writer and sometimes thought “I want to be an author like Laura and write good stories.” Looking back, I can see that was really important in my childhood and gave me a sense that, yes, as a girl and woman, I could write books that people would read.

Whose work in the field do you particularly admire today?

Meg: Megan Kate Nelson. Caroline Janney. List goes on and on. So many people writing about slavery. So many people transcribing and publishing diaries and such. John Grinspan and Adam Goodheart have been very kind to me recently, too.

Cecily: I’d like to give a shout-out to some of the women in graduate school with me. Mallory Huard, Courtney Buchcoski, and Carolyn Levy. They are emerging scholars in academia and I’m excited to see their work!

Kristen: Steven Woodworth, William Garrett Piston, Michael Fellman, and Albert Castel are writers who trailblazed writing on the Civil War in the Trans Mississippi and Western Theater, and I think it’s inspiring to see their work. Patrick K. O’Donnell, Bruce Catton, and Adam Makos have been inspiration for my writing as I work to move away from academic style and into accurate storytelling styles.

JoAnna: I tend to read books and studies based on subjects instead of particular authors. Recently, I’ve been watching HBO’s War Torn 1861-2010 which is about PTSD and suicide among combat veterans; a lot of good scholarship there. Oh, and I always read the ECW posts by all of you (gestures to the ladies on the Zoom screen); you’re my friends and I want to see and support your work, too!

Sheritta: I also read by topics and follow many authors. I really appreciate speaking ability and historian work and looking for good examples to follow in this area.

Sarah: I really admire Dr. Caroline Janney for her research, writing, speaking, and people skills in large crowds. I’ve appreciated the brief interactions I’ve had with her and have tried to copy some of her professionalism in certain situations. Nathaniel Philbrick is one of my all-time favorite authors; his Revolutionary War books and Maritime History books are nonfiction but read like novels.

What’s a must have in your research bag?

Kristen: Apple airpods for soundtrack music. Massive binder of research. The Missouri Civil War Compendium. Perfect Bars or FitCrunch, and a lot of water, since I always seem to get very hungry while researching!

Sheritta: When I’m at home: cup of tea or coffee, laptop with many tabs open, journal, books, highlighter. In the field: pen, mini in the field journals, camera, and I used to bring handmade haversack to carry my items!

Cecily: Sweatshirt (it’s cold in the archives).Dictation app (perfect way to capture ideas while walking the dog).

Sarah: For an archive research trip: water, pencils, snack, cellphone for archive photos, umbrella, and tennis balls. (Why tennis balls? To ease tight neck and shoulder muscles at the end of the day.)

JoAnna: Notepad, pen, Douglas S. Freeman’s multi-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, laptop, and gaming keyboard which is really helpful for long typing sessions.

Meg: Pen with gel ink, lawyers’ pads notebook, phone.

Favorite historic site…that is not a battlefield? Why? 

Cecily: Fort Abraham Lincoln and Fort Laramie for their living history and Native American History. I got to go these sites with my family while I was growing up. Theodore Roosevelt Medora Park is also a favorite; every summer they have an outdoor musical. Once upon a time, I told my mom that I work there…and I did, one summer as a Rough Rider in the performance. The park is near Theodore Roosevelt National Park which has unploughed sections of prairie which are amazing. Definitely put North Dakota on your travel list!

Meg: Grant Cottage National Historic Landmark. It is beautiful and fulfills my needs…chairs to rest, surrounding forests, great bookshop. The cottage is wonderful and to just sit there and look at the Hudson. Just incredible.

Sheritta: Whitney Plantation near New Orleans. It’s the only historic plantation site in Louisiana that focuses on the history of slavery, and it was a huge eye-opener and very moving experience to visit. The Louisiana Rural Life Museum has preserved and interpreted history and artifacts from early settlements through the industrial era. There’s even a whole warehouse filled with carriages!

JoAnna: Carter Grove Plantation in Williamsburg, Virginia, is one of my favorites. So many family trips there and the history of so many eras to explore. I also really like Cambria, California.

Kristen: The Missouri Civil War Museum is part of my family’s passion. We also recently rediscovered a Civil War ancestor’s farm…it’s so special when history comes to life in that way. I also like Arrow Rock State Historic near the trailhead of the Santa Fe Trail and along the Missouri River. And, of course, Lincoln’s home in Springfield – a favorite for family visits

Sarah: Cabrillo National Monument – beautiful location in California and the 1850’s lighthouse was the first place I started doing formal historic interpretation. Winchester, Virginia – a town that I studied while still living across the country; it is always amazing to me to take a stroll through the historic district and see the places where so many tragic or humorous civilian/military interactions took place during the Civil War. Rock Fish Gap – one of my all-time favorite, easily accessible vantage points to look into the Shenandoah Valley. Dallas Holocaust Memorial and Human Rights Museum – definitely one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. Berkeley Plantation/Harrison Landing – a particular story connected to the U.S. Sanitary Commission at this site has a lot of meaning to me.

What change (small or large) do you want to see for women in the history field?

Meg: Women’s Conference or Evening at Emerging Civil War. I want to formally thank the guys for letting us do history with them.

Sarah: I would like to see more women leading large battlefield tours and be taken seriously in that role for their knowledge and competence. Maybe I can help with that?! I’d also like to see a little more gentle questioning of the historiography and if there are more opportunities to ask how events or incidents affected women personally. Sometimes we’ll never know, but other times, the historiography has clearly only told the men’s side of the story.

Sheritta: We’re lucky to see that there isn’t a lack of women writing Civil War books. I would like to see more women feeling truly welcomed and included at Civil War Round Tables and other public history discussion settings.

Kristen: Personally, I have always felt included in the Civil War circles, even as a woman passionate about the Trans-Mississippi West and military history. When someone assumes that I may know little about the military history of the Civil War because I am a young woman, I usually just talk in detail about the subject and they do acknowledge that. I feel that confidence, knowledge, and professionalism go a long way. I hope to see more women tackling the military history side of the war and, as Sarah said, leading battlefield tours. We are very capable of studying, researching, and contributing to the subject. We continuously see women tackling Civil War military history, particularly Carol Reardon, Caroline Janney, Lesley Gordon, and many of us here at ECW.

JoAnna: $10,000,000 grants so we could all have time to research and write. Let the historians have some money!

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