HEI: University of Edinburgh
Funding: AHRC DTP
Title: The Culture and Sentiments of Irish American Civil War Songs
Supervisors: Prof Edna Delaney and Dr David Silkenat
What was your research about?
My PhD research assessed the culture and sentiments of songs produced by and about the Irish who fought in and lived through the American Civil War (1861-1865). Analyzing the songs about their experiences, the context in which they were written and what they sung about, the musical tunes they were set to, and the ways in which they were disseminated through United States Union and secessionist Confederate societies, my doctoral thesis assessed the ways in which Irish American Civil War songs and music revealed diasporic identity changes, transnational dissemination of ethnic culture, and the importance of song to sing cultural identity messages at a time of conflict.
What made you apply for the SGSAH AHRC DTP?
I always wanted to do a PhD, even from the earliest days of undergraduate study – I have a deep love of History and American Studies, and I knew I wanted to take that further through learning in academia.
Which aspects of your PhD did you enjoy the most?
Definitely the research! It is always exciting looking at primary sources – whether through incredible digital archive holdings or going to libraries and archives in the UK, Ireland and US. Highlights have to be sitting in the New York Public Library looking at the signature of one of my main case study individuals at the bottom of letters I didn’t know he had written, and getting to wander American Civil War battlefields and hum the songs written about the Irish who fought there.
I also loved getting to know my fellow SGSAH buddies in the 2018 intake and catching up with them regularly through residentials and workshops. Along with the History PhDs at Edinburgh, it was always great to know other people who were going through the same stuff and who were there to have a good laugh and catch up with.
How has your PhD helped you to decide on a career path?
I’m still in academia – the PhD has definitely helped with getting more seniority in lecturing and tutoring roles even in a tough employment market that the humanities is currently experiencing.
I’m currently an Associate Lecturer in American History at the University of Kent, where I teach American History and American Studies. I’m also an Associate Editor of a project called ‘Irish in the American Civil War’ which shares and generates new understandings about the Irish in the war across lots of subject areas and factors. I’ve just started work on a chapter article about enemy encounters between Union and Confederate soldiers (and possibly civilians if the sources lead me down that path! as reported in fictional stories and first-hand accounts. I’m putting the finishing touches on another article that should be published later this year about the way in which retreat at one Civil War battle was sung about in 1861, and most importantly I’m indexing and doing final proof-reads for my first monograph! Irish American Civil War Songs: Identity, Loyalty, and Nationhood is coming out with LSU Press in autumn 2022, and it available for pre-order now – SGSAH get a big mention in the acknowledgments! Once some of that is out of the way, I’m aiming to get started on my next properly big post-PhD project relating to the 25th anniversary of the American Civil War. The to do list is always long!
One piece of advice you would give an incoming PhD researcher?
Remember why you wanted to do a doctorate – lots of things will come up over the three/four (or longer if you’re part-time) period and sometimes you can forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. Let the research guide you through things – it’s the most important part of the job, the joy of finding sources, critically assessing them, thinking thoughts, having permanent half-sentences notes of ideas written on the phone. Getting back to the research was always (and still is) my work comfort blanket. Also remember to go for walks and take a break – if you’re based in Scotland then head out into the hills and get away for a few days, it’s incredibly restorative.
Where can people find you?
Website for Irish in the American Civil War: https://irishamericancivilwar.com
This article was published on 1 June, 2022