Irish History Students’ Association Conference, 2016

Hello again!

Last weekend I attended the Irish History Students’ Association (IHSA) conference in Galway, Ireland. This is the second time that I’ve presented at this particular conference and I really enjoyed it. Unlike some of the major academic conferences, the participants at the IHSA are all students so the atmosphere is really relaxed, informal and supportive. It’s a great opportunity to present your work, get good feedback and meet some interesting people. I would definitely recommend presenting at this conference because everybody is so supportive and there’s very little chance that your work will be slated by someone in your field!

This year, I presented a paper on black teachers. In particular, I looked at what qualified southern black men and women to teach the freed people and their experiences of post-Civil War southern society.

Essentially, I found that most of the southern black teachers in North Carolina’s schools for the freed people received their education in some of the first freedmen’s schools. This explains why most of the black teachers did not enter the classroom until the fall of the Confederacy in 1865.

Some of the southern black teachers attended northern schools during the antebellum period. Mary Jane Patterson from Raleigh, North Carolina, was one such teacher. Around 1852 the Patterson family either bought their freedom or escaped from slavery and relocated to Oberlin, Ohio. In 1862 Mary Jane graduated from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts degree – she was the second black woman in the country to accomplish such an achievement. In 1869 Mary Jane began teaching the freed people in Washington, D.C.

Some of the formerly enslaved teachers in North Carolina acquired an education during slavery, mostly through surreptitious means. This is particularly significant considering that North Carolina prohibited slave education in 1831. Although few of these enslaved people acquired anything more than a rudimentary education, they eagerly passed on their knowledge to other members of the slave community –  a tradition that continued during Reconstruction.

As you can imagine, life in post-Civil War North Carolina was challenging for southern black teachers. Poverty and white hostility were two of the greatest challenges these teachers faced. Most of the southern black teachers were not employed by an aid or missionary society so they received very little funding. Generally, these teachers worked in schools that were supported by a combination of aid from the Freedmen’s Bureau and private tuition fees (which often did not amount to very much).

White opposition to black education caused many problems – schools were frequently burned down and teachers and students were often attacked by hostile members of the white community. These issues became more prevalent as the Reconstruction era progressed with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

In addition, many southern whites refused to lease or sell land or property for the use of a school, making it very difficult to grow and sustain a viable system of black education.



AHA 2016

Hello there! Last week I attended the American Historical Association (AHA) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I was presenting at the poster session on Saturday and you can read more about that here. I had an amazing time at the conference. I really loved it! Being an Americanist in Ireland can be difficult at times because there are very few people with whom I can discuss my work or new research. However, going to the conference gave me the opportunity to do all that. Over the course of three days, I attended some really interesting panels about race, Reconstruction, the Civil War and black education. I also got to meet some really interesting people and we’re already in talks about possible collaborations.

AM Brosnan Poster

My poster

Many of the panels that I attended discussed broadening the Reconstruction timeline. Generally, historians concede that Reconstruction began in 1861 and ended in 1877. However, more and more historians are beginning to argue that Reconstruction lasted well beyond 1877 and some are even suggesting that it started before 1861. It was a really interesting topic that emerged in many of the panels that I attended and it’s something that I will definitely consider going forward.

There was also a great social aspect to the AHA. On Friday evening I attended the Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill reception. That was fun because I got to meet up with a lot of the grad students that I met while studying at UNC. On Saturday, after a day of attending panels and presenting my research, I met up with two other Fulbrighters, Aditya from India and Jemilla from Sierra Leone. I met both Aditya and Jemilla at the Gateway Orientation Program in August last year – you can read more about my orientation experience here. Aditya invited us to his home and he cooked us Indian food. It was delicious! Jemilla brought two of her classmates as well as some margarita mix along with her so it turned out to be a great night!


Atlanta at night

All in all, I had a thoroughly enjoyable and productive experience at the AHA. I met many interesting historians, learned about new research and reunited with some old friends. The Fulbright Award definitely helped to make the AHA as enjoyable as it was. Without it, I would not have been in a position to attend the UNC reception, I would not have known so many grad students attending the conference and I would not have known anybody living in the beautiful city that is Atlanta. I’m really looking forward to the next meeting!