U.Va. Doctoral Candidate Awarded History Fellowship

March 3, 2009 — Kathryn Shively Meier, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Virginia, has received a research fellowship from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

The fellowship gives Meier, 27, of Arcadia, Calif., the opportunity to conduct research in archives of Civil War soldiers' papers at the New York Public Library. Meier is writing a dissertation on the interaction of the environment and Civil War soldier's mental and physical health in Virginia in 1862.

"I was very excited when I heard," said Meier, one of 29 candidates chosen for the first half of 2009. "This is the first fellowship I have received."

Meier, whose grandfather fought in World War II and whose cousin is a Civil War re-enactor, said she has always been drawn to military history. She received an undergraduate degree in English from the University of California at Berkley and was initially interested in studying the works of William Faulkner from a historical perspective. However, she was drawn more to teaching history.

Once at U.Va., Meier also took some courses in environmental history from Edmund P. Russell, who teaches in the Department of History and the Department of Science, Technology and Society.

"I became intrigued at the idea of combining environmental and military history," she said.

Her research studies the effect of the environmental conditions under which the soldiers fought — such as weather conditions and the presence of vermin — on their physical and mental health. She is also looking at how these soldiers adapted to the environment.

The archives at the Gilder Lehrman Institute will give her access to collections of soldier's personal papers. "I can also research civilian perspectives on soldier health in the field," she said.

History professor Gary Gallagher, who advises Meier’s dissertation, praised her work in merging two fields of history, and said it is rare for a woman to study military history.

"She is breaking new ground in examining the environmental conditions during the Civil War and studying their physical and psychological impacts on the soldiers," he said.

Meier plans to work at the Gilder Lehrman Institute this summer and finish her dissertation next year. She will also be teaching a course at U.Va. about American soldiers and the environment from 1600 to 1865.

"She has good rapport with the students," Gallagher said. "She is an excellent scholar and teacher and she combines them in ways we really hope to see in graduate students."

The Gilder Lehrman Institute awards short-term fellowships to doctoral candidates, postdoctoral scholars and independent scholars to conduct work in archives in New York City. It has funded a total of 550 fellowships since 1994.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History promotes the study of American history, serving teachers, students, scholars and the general public. Daniel P. Jordan, president emeritus of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and a scholar in residence at U.Va., is a member of the institute's advisory board.

The institute conducts awards, including the Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and George Washington book prizes, as well as offering fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection and other archives.

— By Matt Kelly