Ph.D student Francis M. Curran III was invited by the Monongalia Historical Society to present his research on Southern sectionalism prior to the Civil War at their quarterly dinner meeting Friday, September 16, 2016.
The talk titled, “Unintended Consequences: William Gregg, Leading Southern Industrialists, the Sectional Crisis, and Southern Nationalism,” told the story of William Gregg, a Virginia native (now West Virginia) who operated and partly owned the Graniteville Manufacturing Company in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the largest textile mill in the South. Gregg advocated for a more industrialized South before the Civil War, serving to widen the chasm between the North and South by adding to the rhetoric of sectionalism.
Curran used William Gregg as a “window through which to explore the relationship between leading southern industrialists and the coming of the Civil War.”
This paper will become a chapter in Curran’s dissertation. He has been revising and refining the argument since Spring 2013 when he first envisioned his dissertation.
This was not the first time Curran presented at a public forum. He gave similar presentations at the Morgantown Civil War Roundtable in October 2014 and to the Clarksburg (WV) Civil War Roundtable in April 2015.
According to Curran, engaging with the public is an important part of the historian’s job.
“Many Americans are hungry for historical knowledge, especially that which has some kind of personal connection to them, or anything that has to do with military history,” he said.
Curran laments that many U.S. historians are reluctant to engage with the public, or even frown upon it. He wonders if this developed “…because advancement in the field largely comes through gaining the respect and admiration of their academic colleagues, not the general public.”
“In addition, American history, especially southern history, can be a snake pit where popular myths clash with historical knowledge produced by historians. Many historians, sadly, would rather not fight those fights, especially if they are seen as lost causes or professionally unnecessary,” Curran said.
The Monongalia Historical Society exists to further awareness about local history, focusing on the Monongalia County area. Last spring when the society was actively looking for a speaker for their fall dinner, WVU faculty connected Curran to the society.
Curran’s studies appealed to the society because William Gregg was a native son and served an important role in the industrialized South, of which Monongalia County was a part before the Civil War.