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By: David Tisdale
The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Dale Center for the Study of War & Society wants to help make Lucas Somers’ career dream a reality.
Lucas Somers, a doctoral student in history from Bowling Green, Kentucky, is recipient of the Dale Center’s Margaret Boone Dale Fellowship for the study of Women and War, which funds three research trips. These research experiences give him the opportunity to gain the perspective of women about how emancipation and education for African Americans affects their local communities, including white and black women, in particular teachers, mothers, and interested observers.
Somers earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Western Kentucky University. He entered the USM history doctoral program in the fall of 2016, and has completed the coursework for his program, passed its comprehensive exams and is now in the process of researching and writing his dissertation, which examines the local struggles in Tennessee and Kentucky during Reconstruction to establish schools for the formerly enslaved population in those states, where military occupation and Reconstruction policies had less power to enforce change.
In October, Somers spent a week in Tennessee conducting research for his dissertation. This included visits to the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville and the Williamson County Archives in Franklin, Tennessee, where he collected many letters written by Tennesseans to their governors during the post-Civil War years, which include their concerns about local matters.
Somers also found a collection of letters written to John Eaton, the Tennessee Superintendent of Public Schools from 1867 to 1869. These letters describe the creation of free public schools for black and white children across the state during these years.
“I collected many other primary sources including personal diaries, minutes of local conventions and masonic groups, court records, and probate records,” Somers said. “Along with finding valuable documents, I also had the opportunity to speak with multiple local historians in Franklin about my research to provide me with additional perspectives.
In the spring 2020 semester, Somers will travel to Kentucky, where he will visit the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and the Kentucky Historical Society’s Military Records and Research Branch in Frankfort, as well as the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky. His final trip, also in the spring 2020 semester, will be to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.
“I count myself extremely fortunate to have support from the Dale Center to cover the expenses for my dissertation research, and to the extent to which they have provided myself and fellow graduate students opportunities to advance our research, attend academic conferences, and ultimately allow us to make significant contributions to the study of war and society, and help us succeed on the competitive job market.
During his time at USM, Somers has worked closely with both Dr. Susannah Ural and Dr. Kyle Zelner, who serve as co-directors of the Dale Center.
“Dr. Ural is my primary faculty advisor and oversees my dissertation research. She has been there every step of the way as I have developed this project to help pull me back from dead ends and push me in the right direction,” Somers said. “Dr. Zelner has also helped me stay on track to complete my degree in a timely manner, and has been a constant source of advice and support.”
Somers’ ultimate goal after graduation is to pursue a tenure-track position teaching U.S. History at the college level. Along with a Ph.D., he will also have a Certificate in Public History from USM, qualifying him for positions outside of academia.
“I’m grateful to have been able to open multiple career paths while working on my degree at USM,” Somers said. “My dream is to continue researching, teaching, and studying history, and would be happy doing so in various capacities.”
The USM History program is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences’ School of Humanities. For information about the USM History program, visit https://www.usm.edu/graduate-programs/history.php. For information about the Dale Center, visit https://www.usm.edu/dale-center-war-society/index.php.