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Undergraduate Researchers

Abigail Bratcher, History and Russian

Reclaiming Maryland: Confederate Nationalism in Popular Print Culture

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Anne Rubin


During the Civil War, Maryland occupied a unique position as a divided state in a divided nation. President Lincoln needed to keep Maryland in the Union because otherwise Washington, D.C. would have been surrounded, and the industrial powerhouse of Baltimore would have fallen to the South. At the same time, Confederates claimed Maryland as their own, using Maryland’s plight as a powerful symbol of national aspiration. This research will focus particularly on the Southern reaction to Maryland’s position as seen in popular print culture of the time: broadsides, editorials, political cartoons, and other manifestations. Rather than conducting a literary analysis of these artifacts on the micro-level, I will research how these broadsides reflected Confederate nationalist propaganda on the macro-level. An analysis of popular print media contributes to an understanding of the civil culture of nationalism in the Confederacy, and how Confederate ideals permeated beyond military or political actions. I will also investigate the relationship between Southern identity and Confederate Nationalism as manifested by pulp writers during the Civil War. Understanding how these broadsides functioned in Confederate states reveals how nineteenth-century Americans consciously viewed their powers of persuasion.

How did you find your mentor for this project?

Dr. Rubin is one of my professors for my Humanities seminar on Abraham Lincoln’s America. I researched a smaller version of my topic for the term paper in the class, and she suggested that I could expand it and apply for an Undergraduate Research Award.

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?

For the Humanities seminar, we could write our term paper on anything relating to Abraham Lincoln or nineteenth century America. I knew I wanted to do something on Maryland during the Civil War, but historians have thoroughly documented the politics behind the secession crisis in Maryland. I talked with Dr. Rubin about other viable options for the term paper, and she directed me to a particular collection of broadsides that she used during the research for her book. When I investigated the Wake Forest Confederate Broadside Collection, I noticed that so many of dealt with Maryland, so I focused particularly on those 58. This project is the perfect fusion of politics and culture. 

Is this your first independent research project?


Do you get course credit for this work?

I got credit for the portion of my research that has to do with broadsides. 

How much time do you put into it?

I have spent a considerable amount of time in the library reading. This summer, I plan on spending a week in Richmond in the archives researching. I think the most time-consuming process will be writing and rewriting an article, though.  

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award program?

I heard about the Undergraduate Research Award program when I was applying for the Humanities Scholar program as a high school senior. I remember older students describing their research grants in the humanities, but I never seriously considered a URA until this semester. 

What academic background did you have before you started?

I researched the Pratt Street Riots for a high school Maryland History Day project. 

Was the application difficult to do?

Not particularly. The hardest part was balancing specificity with brevity. 

How much did your mentor help you with this?

Dr. Rubin was especially helpful in estimating the amount of time and money I would need in Richmond. She did a lot of the research for her book in the Virginia Historical Society and Library of Virginia, so she was familiar with the logistics of conducting research there. She also reviewed my application and helped me set a realistic goal for the culmination of my research (submitting an article for publication in the Maryland Historical Magazine). 

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

Just do it!  This is a wonderful opportunity for undergraduates to experience researching as a professional academic. Other universities don’t have the money or faculty support for this kind of program. Start off by simply talking to other professors in your field. 

What are your career goals?

I am torn between being a Russian spy, history professor, fashion designer, and housewife.  

What has been the hardest part about your research?

The 24-hour-a-day system the world is running on. 

What was the most unexpected thing?

Abraham Lincoln only received 2.1percent of Marylanders’ popular vote in the presidential election of 1861. 

How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

I think the broader questions of my research can be applied to any nation and any time period, and that is what’s so great about history. How do ordinary people express themselves politically and form an identity?  What is the relationship between identity and nationalism, culture and politics?  Specifically, a lot of the broadsides use the spirit of the American Revolution to illustrate Maryland’s virtue during the Civil War. I am currently in a class on the Revolutionary generation, and many of the broadside poets that I studied use the same rhetoric of the American Revolution.