Alumni

The 5th New Hampshire Project Studies the Experiences of Civil War Veterans

As Professor Masur mentioned in his February post, the History Department has started an intermittent lecture series to “reach out to the campus community and give students a chance to learn about history outside of the classroom.” On March 25, it was Professor Dubrulle’s turn to deliver a talk about what he calls “The 5th New Hampshire Project” and some of the research he’s done recently to support a student project about the life outcome of 5th New Hampshire veterans after the Civil War was over. What follows is a shortened version of what he discussed.


The Origins of The 5th New Hampshire Project

I started the so-called “5th New Hampshire Project” (so-called by me) in the summer of 2017 when I knew that I’d be teaching History 352: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the spring of 2018. I wanted to create a New Hampshire-focused research project for students in that class. I eventually settled on the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry as an object of study for two reasons. First, it is notorious for having suffered more combat fatalities than any other regiment in Union service during the Civil War. Second, although it was by no means a “typical regiment,” its experiences provide an ideal vehicle for exploring a wide variety of topics associated with the war. I eventually amassed a large collection of primary and secondary sources associated with the 5th New Hampshire so my students could research a number of different subjects.

As time went on, though, I realized that the project could do more than merely support the students in my Civil War course. For one thing, it could provide other students with opportunities to do research projects great and small. For another, as maintaining this collection and overseeing student research became more time-consuming, I realized that it would be increasingly difficult to keep a separate research agenda of my own. So I started thinking about making the 5th New Hampshire the subject of my next book. As it stands now, my general idea is that the book will use the regiment to explore various dimensions of the Civil War soldier’s experience. These dimensions would include subjects like recruitment (which itself would cover issues like the draft, substitution, and the use of immigrants), military leadership, discipline, the experience of combat, tactics, desertion, medical care, politics, relations with the home front, and so on. The plan also envisions tracing the experiences of men in the regiment from the antebellum period all the way through to their lives as veterans. Throughout, I will rely on the latest historiography to illuminate these experiences to produce a book that could be used in undergraduate courses.

Student Research and The 5th New Hampshire Project

So far, this project had relied on student research, and I hope to continue that tradition in the future. Back in the fall of 2017, the department kindly allocated four research assistants to assist me. Two of them, Caitlin Williamson ’19 and Lauren Batchelder ’18, transcribed soldiers’ letters for students’ use. Two others, Greg Valcourt ’19 and William Bearce ’19, took soldiers’ abbreviated service records that appeared in The Revised Register of the Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion. 1861-1866 (1895) and transferred them onto a sortable, searchable Excel file. This work was enormously helpful for me and the students in the Civil War class. Later, Josh Pratt ’22 transcribed more letters, Emma Bickford ’22 used various records to tabulate the casualties the 5th New Hampshire suffered at Antietam and figure out what happened to these men later on.

In addition, several students have approached me asking to use the material for larger research projects. Emily Lowe ’19 obtained a summer honors research fellowship in 2018 so she could use the regiment as a case study in the treatment of combat trauma. And Katherine Warth ’21 has approached me about doing a statistical study of the life outcomes of veterans of the 5th New Hampshire. It’s this last project I’d like to spend the remaining time discussing.

Veterans, Trauma, and the 5th New Hampshire

To quote Benedetto Croce, “All history is contemporary history.” Among scholars, interest in the experiences of Civil War veterans has really taken off in recent years. That interest probably has something to do with where the United States finds itself ourselves today; as a result of the two wars we’ve recently fought, we have large numbers of veterans with recent combat experience, and the American public seems especially aware of these veterans’ difficulties in adjusting to civilian life. So Katherine’s interests are congruent with those of contemporary scholars.

Using the 5th New Hampshire for this kind of study is especially interesting because the regiment lost a great number of men due to illness and combat. It suffered large numbers of casualties at five important battles: Fair Oaks, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. As the chart below indicates, of the original 1000 volunteers, very few emerged from the war unscathed.

Figure 1. (click for larger image): These figures cover the original thousand-some-odd volunteers who were mustered in around the middle of October 1861. The numbers are based on an Excel spreadsheet that was compiled using The Revised Register of the Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion. 1861-1866 (1895). The men mustered out in June 1862 belonged to the regimental band; they were sent home after the Seven Days’ Battles. Those mustered out in October 1864 had completed their three-year term of service and had not re-enlisted. Note that 30% of the original volunteers did not survive the war. Moreover, almost half of them received disabled discharges due to wounds or illness. 

For a variety of reasons, I think these numbers, which come from the Revised Register, undercount the number of casualties. Whatever the case, the question Katherine and I have is, what effect did this kind of physical and psychological trauma have on veterans’ lives after the war?

The Data and the Sample

First we had to figure out how to go about doing a study of this sort. Over the course of the war, 2500 men served in the 5th New Hampshire, and we just don’t have the man- or woman-hours to look through all of their lives, so we had to make our pool of soldiers manageable. I decided to that we ought to look at the original 1000 volunteers. First, it was a good way of limiting our task and, second, this group would be easier to trace than the substitutes who flooded the regiment in 1863 and after (many of whom were foreign-born and many of whom deserted).

I then asked Professor Tauna Sisco in the Sociology Department, the Queen of Statistics, how big of a pool I would need to get a representative sample. She said 300. So I decided I’d have to select every second man on an alphabetical list, knowing I’d have to skip a large number who died in the service (roughly 270). I’m happy to report that as of the date of this talk, I’ve collected biographical information on 100 men, and I have some preliminary findings to share. At the rate I’m going, I’ll end up looking at about 380 men.

You might well ask, what kind of data are you using, and how do you get access to it? I’ve got a free Family Search account, and using that, I can find the following documents: census records, enlistment papers, pension index cards, pension payment forms, marriage records, birth records, records of town payments to the families of soldiers during the war, death records and certificates, records from the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, and so on. I can’t find every type of record for every man, but I’ve been able to piece together pretty decent biographies on just about everyone.

For this talk, I mined the biographies for three types of information: lifespan, cause of death, and crude social mobility as measured by occupation upon enlistment versus terminal occupation. I have far more information than that, but I thought these three topics would be interesting. The following, then, are raw data coupled with some very sketchy hypotheses. And, of course, more questions.

The first question worth asking is: “How representative is our sample so far?” The sample seems fairly representative of the regiment. To name one example, the percentage of native-born Americans among the original 1000 volunteers was 88%; in my sample, it’s 92%. And as you can see from the graphic below, in some important ways, the sample actually seems representative of Northern soldiers in general. For those who are interested, by the way, the average age of my sample upon enlistment was 24, and the average height was 5’8”, both of which are pretty much in keeping with Northern norms.

Life Outcomes: Lifespan

So let us take a look at lifespan. The average lifespan of the men in my sample was 65.6 years. It’s hard to understand the significance of that figure. There is a debate among demographers over the life expectancy of the Civil War generation, so I can’t quite place this figure. On the one hand, it sounds impressive when you take into account that almost two-fifths of these men had been shot and around half of them had obtained a disabled discharge from the army. On the other, it doesn’t sound quite as impressive when you consider that life expectancy for men in this period was dragged down largely by infant mortality—if you made it to 20, you had a good chance of living to your 60s.

We should remember in this context, too, that lifespan is only a very crude measure of health. It says nothing about the quality of life. The Veterans Census of 1890 reveals a number of veterans then in their 50s living with painful old wounds or chronic illnesses contracted in the army.

Life Outcomes: Death

And that brings us to death—what killed these men, and what do their deaths say about their lives? Out of the 100, I found 61 causes of death.

We’d have to compare this list to normal causes of death at the turn of the century, but several things stand out. The number of deaths related to alcohol looks rather high. It’s hard to nail down a precise figure because in addition to the veterans who clearly died from the effects of alcoholism, you have a number who may have died of diseases associated with the overconsumption of alcohol or expired under circumstances that may lead one to think they were alcoholics (e.g. deaths from liver cancer, congestion of the liver, a five-day drinking spree, and so on). The number of suicides also seem fairly high, and I have a sense that such causes of death may have been underreported.

It is interesting to see the number of old people’s diseases on this list—a reflection of the fact that a fair proportion of the sample died in old age (38 of the 90 men for whom I found both birth and death dates lived past the age of 70).

Life Outcomes: Social Mobility

Before you die, you do things like hold a job down, and that job says something about how successful you are. In 96 cases, I found the occupation of enlistees in 1861, and for 81 of those men, I located information about the last job they held before they retired or died.

Figure 2. (click for larger image): The majority of the occupations listed on this chart were self-reported on enlistment forms in 1861. The US Sanitary Commission figures come from a survey that was conducted among over 600,000 Northern soldiers during the war. There are some very good matches between the sample of men from the 5th New Hampshire and the US Sanitary Commission Figures (e.g see farmers). 

Of the 81 cases where I found sufficient information to make a judgment, in only 8 cases did a veteran experience downward social mobility. Overall, if we look at the question broadly (that is, what percentage of men fit in which general category) there appears to be palpable positive social mobility. It’s hard to say what these results indicate. To what extent are changes in occupation a matter of one’s doing and to what degree are they a function of a changing economy? And how much of this outcome was influenced by the war experience? Part of the problem is that we have no control group; an entire generation of Northern men served in the war, so it’s hard measure the veterans of the 5th New Hampshire against other men of the same age. But some economic historians have controlled for this type of problem, and we’ll have to see how they did it.

Figure 3. (click for larger image): These pie charts compare the occupations of enlistees in 1861 with the terminal occupations of veterans after the war. Note the degree to which the proportion of professionals and owners of capital increased—from under 30% to just over half. Notice too that the proportion of unskilled/semi-skilled laborers fell from almost 45% to under 30%. In general, veterans of the 5th New Hampshire enjoyed upward social mobility, but how did it compare with Northern men as a whole during this period?

Conclusion

There are a lot of problems with looking at life outcomes statistically. Statistics can only tell you about correlations, not causes. Causes have to be determined on an individual level—and even then, the case is difficult. Moreover, if we are determined to look at veterans’ post-war experiences through the lens of war trauma, we run the risk of suffering from the worst kind of confirmation bias. Statistics cannot tell the whole story—they always must be supplemented by other evidence (such as, say, the letters of James Larkin, pictured above, who worked his way up from 1st Lieutenant in Company A to Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th New Hampshire; photo courtesy of David Morin). So as Katherine and I forge ahead on this project, we will look at more primary and secondary sources to shed light on the statistical analysis of veterans’ experiences.

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Donahue’s Advice regarding Law School

Every so often, One Thing after Another runs into Joe Donahue ’13—whether it be at Market Basket in Bedford, Alumni Weekend, or some other venue. Joe is in the middle of law school right now, and this blog thought it might be useful if he shared some well-considered advice that he extracted from his experiences.

Q: What is your current job (title and duties), and what led to your working there?

A: I have been working as a Legal Executive Assistant at Ropes & Gray LLP for the past year and a half. Before that, I worked at Boston College in an administrative role.

Q: Did you pursue a law job straight out of school, or did you think doing something else for a bit was a good idea? How did that work out?

A: After graduating from Saint A’s, I had two careers that I considered pursuing: one in higher education, the other in law. To help me decide which career I was best suited for, I applied to jobs in both of these fields. I worked in higher education for my first few years after graduation but eventually decided that my interests lay elsewhere, so I applied to the Suffolk University Law School’s Evening Program and was accepted. During my first semester at Suffolk, I was hired by Ropes & Gray where I have been able to get first-hand experience in corporate legal practice.

Q: How did the history department, history study, or specific SAC experiences prepare you for life after college? 

Written and oral communication skills, as well critical thinking and the ability to analyze, are essential tools used every day by law students. Some students develop these skills before law school while others develop them in their first year. Luckily, I was able to acquire all of these skills during my time at Saint A’s. My course of study as a history major required extensive critical thinking and analysis which I employ when I approach cases and hypotheticals in the classroom; I will continue to use them in my career as a lawyer.

Q: What are the two things students thinking about law school should know?

A: First, it’s not as scary as it sounds. One thing that I constantly heard while I was going through the application process was how difficult law school can be. The coursework is challenging, and mastering it imposes demands on your time and energy. However, like any course of study, it is manageable. Just as you found your routine in college, you will find it in law school. You learn how to approach exams and form study groups where, in my experience, you learn as much as you do in class.

Second, you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do with your law degree before you go to school. You will be exposed to many different areas of law while in law school, and your interests will likely evolve as you progress. Keep an open mind and be willing to explore areas that you hadn’t previously considered. If you think you want to be a lawyer, but aren’t sure, take a couple of years off from school to work. Many law students spend a few years in the workforce prior to applying to law school. Don’t think you have to apply right away.

Q: What are two things students thinking about law school should do to prepare themselves?

A: Work at a firm or in-house legal counsel’s office. Making a decision to go to law school is a serious financial commitment, so you ought to make sure that you want to be a lawyer before you go to school. Internships are a great way to experience legal work while you are at Saint A’s, and they can help shape your course of study. If you don’t think that you are ready to apply right out of school, taking a few years to work at a law firm or an in-house counsel’s office is a great way to help you decide if this is the career path for you. This time can also serve as a great way to get a better idea of the type of law that you will one day want to practice.

Also, study/take a LSAT prep course. The LSAT is as important a measuring stick, if not more, for law school admissions as your undergraduate grades. It is a challenging exam that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even by those who consider themselves to be good test-takers. Buy a practice book and take a prep course. They can be a bit pricey but both are worth the investment. Your performance on your LSAT impacts your acceptances and even potential scholarship offers, so it is worth your while to take test prep seriously.

Q: Do you still think about history (books, professors, lectures, experiences)?  Do you keep up with history in any way?

A: I stay current in the field of history by following the History Department’s blog and by reading biographies during school breaks. I recently completed William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (The Last Lion) and have begun Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. I enjoy finding time to indulge myself in the areas of history that I do not apply regularly in my coursework and career.

Hauser and Vaccaro: SAC History Alums on the Board of Trustees

Like all Colleges and most non-profit organizations, Saint Anselm College has a Board of Trustees. These individuals oversee the institution’s budget, help shape and ensure implementation of the mission, approve new programs and support existing ones, and assist in raising the funds necessary for the institution to thrive. The Saint Anselm College Board has a number of history majors. One Thing After Another caught up with two of them, James L. Hauser, Esq., ’91 and John A. Vaccaro,’92 to ask about life on, after, and back on the Hilltop.

Q: What drew you to the history department when you came to the Hilltop? 

John Vaccaro:  I didn’t become a history major until my junior year. I received some great advice that your undergraduate work should focus on something that you are eager to learn about and have a passion for. Growing up in Boston, I was surrounded by history and spent a lot of time with my family exploring the area and experiencing the rich history the area offers. I wanted to learn more and to this day, I love to learn and experience history. I have been fortunate enough to visit many of the places around the world that I studied during my time at St. A’s.

Jim Hauser: I love to read and had a great AP American History teacher in high school who helped steer me to Saint Anselm.  I was  very focused on majoring in history when I came to Saint Anselm.

John Vaccaro ’92

Q: What class/experience/professor do you remember most from your time in the department?

Jim: I enjoyed taking Eastern European history with Pajakowski , Capowiski’s Civil War and War and Revolution courses as  well as Windhausen for Russian History. My memories of my history courses was of much reading and  writing, which continues to serve me well.

John: Professor Vincent Capowski’s US Presidency and Civil War and Reconstruction were my two favorite classes and still areas where I enjoy reading about today. Professor Capowski always returned graded tests in order of best to worst and addressed everyone by either Mr. or Ms. Today, when I recognize my sales professionals, I do the same thing in honor of Professor Capowski’s unyielding desire for his students to do their best.

Q: What was your career path when you left the Hilltop?

Jim: I went directly to law school at Loyola  University School of Law and then subsequently to Boston University School of Law for an LLM in tax law and then back to Boston College for a MBA in my late 20s while working.

John: I joined the investment business shortly after graduating in May 1992. Colonial Investments was one of the oldest mutual fund companies in the United States with a long and successful history. It was a great place to start and learn the business. The early years were spent doing what every new person does in our business – work long hard hours, study for your securities exams, listen, do what you are told and get paid barely enough to live on. I had a great mentor, who taught me early on, to get as many different experiences as soon as you can because the leaders of the future are going to need to know a lot more than the leaders of today.

I took that advice and took every “less than desirable” career development opportunity and started to learn. I developed my own liberal arts education within financial services. I have only worked for a handful of companies but have had countless different experiences. Eleven years ago, I joined Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company “MassMutual,” one of the oldest financial services companies in the United States, and have been fortunate enough to use my skills in helping our company achieve great success during turbulent times.

Q: What are you doing professionally now? 

John: I am head of MassMutual Financial Advisors and lead one of the largest and oldest distribution networks in the United States. I have a great team comprised of over 9,000 financial professionals located in every state and Puerto Rico. I also manage a team of over a thousand home office employees who are the best in the business. We have been helping people secure their future and protect the ones they love since before the Civil War. My kids ask me all the time, “Dad, what do you do every day?” It is a tough question to answer because the higher up you go in an organization, the less tangible things you do. My kids know that I spend a lot of time on the road meeting with the members of the organization that I lead. They hear me on the phone and nowadays checking my iPhone. They know I am always connecting with someone about something. However, my real responsibilities are to help set the strategy, be the messenger, eliminate problems and most importantly – recruit the best teammates possible and be there to support them. Surrounding yourself with the best possible people is a hallmark of an effective leader.

Jim:  I am a partner in a corporate law firm in Boston where we represent Venture Capital Funds and high growth technology and life science companies. I focus primarily on issues related to equity compensation and executive compensation matters.

Jim Hauser ’91

Q: How do you use the skills you learned in your history major? What was the biggest skill you had to develop after leaving college?

Jim: The ability to read and process large blocks of information and to organize my thoughts and ideas. My writing was a major area of continued development in law school.

John: Early on in my career, the ability to read quickly, learn the material, and be able to clearly communicate the main thesis of the material was critical. Every good employer is going to train you, but you must have the ability and desire to learn. In the investment world, understanding trends is critical to what you do every day. As my career evolved, my liberal arts education provided me with the ability to adapt to many different topics. I was a Chief Marketing Officer once and having a history degree was great for that role. This role was the chief story teller for the company. Studying history is all about reading a story that has already happened, but you get the opportunity to interpret those events. Everyone sees the same facts, but historians are all entitled to their own opinions on how these facts impacted people and places. In today’s economy, you need to understand how political, technological, and economic events will impact the business marketplace. A history degree provides you with the tool to understand those events and react to the changing landscape.

As a leader of a large organization, I continue to read about the leaders that shaped our nation. You can learn a lot of the good things they did, but I encourage you to pay particular attention to the things that they did poorly. You can learn a lot from the mistakes of the past. A bad decision is only a bad decision if you fail to react when you figure out it is a bad decision or if you have made this poor decision before – learn from and remember your personal history.

My career sends me all over the country.  I quickly realized that my “authentic” Boston accent was tough for people outside this area to understand. I had to learn really quickly to pronounce my “r”s. You want people to listen to you for what you are saying and not for how you are saying it. 

Q: How did you end up on the BOT?  How do you see yourself particularly contributing in the next few years?

Jim:  I have been on the Board for approximately 7 years and am honored to have an opportunity to play a small role in Saint Anselm’s continued evolution as a Catholic, Benedictine liberal arts college. The College is on a great upward trajectory, but competes in an extremely competitive and crowded marketplace in New England. The College needs to continue to evolve and strive for excellence in all aspects (i.e., new majors, experiential learning and community service).

John:  I actually first served on the BOT in 1992 while I was Class President. Back then, they had a student and faculty representative. I have known Steve Ellis ‘69, another board member, since I was a student and had the pleasure of working with him at The Hartford. He and I had lunch one day and he said “Ok, it is time for you to get back involved.” The one thing you will realize with St. A’s is whenever someone from the college calls you – you do everything you can to say yes and help them out. As you graduate, you will be amazed at how strong of connection everyone has to the school. I love hiring St A’s graduates, especially history majors!

Q: I find it really fascinating that there are currently at least four former history majors on the Board?  Do you think it says anything in particular?  

John:  I will give Professor Pajakowski all the credit for this one!  I believe a history degree provides a tremendous amount of flexibility in the career you want to pursue. A history degree accelerated my career because I was a quick learner and an even better communicator. The ability to learn and then quickly teach others is a skill set that is not as common in the workplace as it should be. I encourage everyone to spend more time communicating and sharing what you learned. The successful 21st Century leader will be great communicators and they will need to understand all the different ways in which to connect with your clients, employees, constituents, associates and probably robots at some point in the future.

Jim: Although it may be a coincidence, I am sure it is due to the high quality of teaching in the history department!

Wirzburger Revisits the Past

Several months ago, Professor Matt Masur ran into History grad Tim Wirzburger ’13 on a flight to Minneapolis. The two caught up, and as is so often the case with our alums, we prevailed upon Wirzburger to give us some details on what he’s been up to these past few years. And boy did we find some surprising things!

Q: Give me a little of your personal background—where you are from and how you ended up at Saint A’s.

A: I grew up in Hanson, Massachusetts, a small town about 45 minutes south of Boston. During spring break of my junior year of high school, I went on a three-day college tour with my friend and our moms. We visited a school in Maine and then UNH. On then on the last day of the trip, we saw Saint Anselm College. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to go there, I’ve never even heard of it. You guys go, I’m gonna swim in the hotel pool.” But my mom forced me to come, and good thing she did! Within minutes of being on campus, I knew it was the place where I wanted to be.

Q: How did you end up becoming a History major? Did you start out in History or did you choose History at some point after you got to St. A’s?

A: I’ve always had a passion for history, and for years I wanted to be a history teacher. At some point during my sophomore year, I realized that I wasn’t interested in teaching anymore but I stuck with the History major. I already had half my History credits, including a couple from AP classes in high school. I then minored in Communication because I love writing. A History degree gives you lots of great tools that prepare you for the business world, even if you’re not in a “history” field. I learned clear and effective communication, strong research skills, critical thinking and analysis, presentation skills—all things that have helped me in my career so far.

Q: What do you remember about your History courses at Saint Anselm? Anything that stood out about them? Any courses that you especially enjoyed?

A: What I remember most is the diverse course catalog that the History staff offered. I took classes on the Cold War, Ancient Greece and Rome, Modern Japan, WWII, you name it. War and Revolution was a favorite of mine. I was really interested in seeing how war was conducted, understood, and written about and how it evolved from prehistoric times to the modern era. It was fascinating.

The other course that stands out is the Writing Seminar senior year with Professor Salerno. It was by far the most challenging and rewarding course during my time at Saint A’s. Putting all that time and energy into this project—all those late nights and hours at the library—to produce a thesis that I was really proud was a great memory for me. It felt like I had elevated my college education to the next level.

Q: You mention that History “helped [you] in your career so far.” What have you been doing professionally? How has History played a role in your professional activities?

A: Between my History degree and my minor in Communication, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in writing. I also wrote for The Crier and Portraits, the alumni magazine, which gave me a good taste of what it meant to interview people, work with an editor, meet deadlines, and so on. It helped me with my professional life. I worked for four years as the copywriter for the communications and marketing department at Arbella Insurance, and now I’m at a new company in another writing-intensive marketing role. Let’s just say, being a History major gave me plenty of writing practice!

Q: Tell us about your experiences as a World War II reenactor. How did you get involved? What do you do? Has reenacting changed the way you view the history of World War II?

A: It was something James Farrington (also class of ’13) and I had talked about doing for years and we stumbled upon a Boston-area group portraying the 101st Airborne, just like in the HBO series Band of Brothers. We joined them in January 2017, and we’ve marched in several parades, participated in both public and private battle reenactments, and have hosted living history events where people can check out the uniforms, the weapons, and learn more about the history of the war. We’ve also been lucky enough to meet several WWII veterans. I met an original member of the 101st who talked about freezing in a foxhole in Bastogne watching the line for German patrols. I also spoke with a naval special warfare veteran who was actually driving landing craft on D-Day and got teary-eyed telling us about seeing his buddy die on the beach. I even met a woman who grew up in France and lived through the Nazi occupation and remembers being liberated by an American unit. The living history is just incredible and has totally changed the way I think about the war. It puts a human element to it to realize how incredible “The Greatest Generation” was, the sacrifices they made, and how each of them still carries the war with them in their own way.

Q: I understand that you’ve recently moved to the Midwest. Where are you now? What are your future plans?

A: I actually just moved to Traverse City, Michigan at the end of August. It’s a beautiful little town right on the water with a thriving downtown with tons of restaurants, breweries, and outdoor activities. My uncle and his family live in a small town nearby which has been great. I just started working for Web Canopy Studio, a quickly growing company that’s doing some really cool work in the digital marketing space. This is my home for the foreseeable future, and I’m really excited about being here. I also took the summer to work on my novel. Writing has always been my passion, and I wanted to take some time off to travel and work on the book. It’s completed now, and hopefully I’ll be able to get that published. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying all that Traverse City has to offer!

Q: You’re working on a novel? We’re intrigued! Don’t give it all away, but can you tell us one fact or detail about the novel that will make us want to read it when it is published?

A: Sure! It’s been a labor of love on and off for ten years. The concept of the story started when I was in high school, and I was really into The Da Vinci Code and that show Lost at the time, so you could say it’s inspired by those. If you like thrillers with multiple storylines and lots of twists and turns, you might like mine!

Horton from Graduation to the ARC

One of the best parts of teaching is finding out what interesting things our history alumni do with their lives years or decades after graduation. Recently, One Thing after Another heard about a fascinating archival and oral history project and tracked down the researcher. He turned out to be not only an Saint Anselm College history alum but also the current Assistant Director of the Academic Resource Center on campus, Benjamin Horton ’12. One Thing after Another asked him about the research project and what he’d been up to for the last several years.

Q: You graduated from Saint Anselm College as a history major in 2012. What do you remember most clearly from your time on the Hilltop?

A: In the summer between my sophomore and junior years, with the help of Professor Masur and other History faculty, I obtained a history internship at the Silvio O. Conte National Records Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  I helped to run the reading room there and through this experience became interested in archival and genealogical research. This work allowed me to practice and teach archival and genealogical methods, culminating in an archival research project focusing on Irish immigration in the 19th century, conducted in collaboration with the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin. Many of the archival research skills that I learned working for the National Records Center have since become integral to my doctoral dissertation work.

During the Fall of 2010, with the guidance of Fr. Augustine Kelly O.S.B., I pursued a scholarship opportunity co-sponsored by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the British Council, to take part in the Irish-American Scholars Program. This is a year-long full scholarship to live, study, and teach history on Falls Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This neighborhood is frequently referred to as “ground zero” for politically and religiously motivated violence between Loyalist Protestant and Nationalist Catholic communities. While studying at Saint Mary’s College of Queen’s University, I taught history courses in an under-resourced school on the “Peace Wall” that divides the two communities. I also served as a community liaison between Saint Mary’s College and the Protestant and Catholic areas of West Belfast.

When I returned to Saint Anselm College, during my senior year, I had the chance to intern at the Saint Anselm College Archives under the direction of the College Archivist, Keith Chevalier. These archives, which house artifacts and documents dating back to the 1880s, gave me firsthand knowledge and experience in researching the history of Saint Anselm. This experience proved among the most powerful of my four years at Saint Anselm as Keith taught me so much about the art of historical inquiry. He took great care to provide me with meaningful work and to mentor me, always taking the opportunity to tie my work with the history classes I was taking at Saint Anselm and the skills I was learning. This experience deepened my passion for the study of history and provided me with the tools I needed to be proficient in archival research methods.

Q: After graduating, what did you go on to do?

A: When I was a senior, my advisor in the History Department, Fr. William Sullivan O.S.B., suggested that my passion for education in troubled urban environments could make a real difference in the world. I came across the University Consortium for Catholic Education (UCCE) programs, which provide graduate students an opportunity to teach for two years in under-resourced Catholic schools while pursuing graduate education.

I decided to attend the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program in 2012 as a middle school history, English, and religion teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg, FL. I also had the opportunity to do my practicum experience at John Adams High School in South Bend, Indiana and Elkhart Memorial High School in Elkhart, Indiana. These opportunities helped me improve my skills as a history teacher and to carry on my passion for serving students.

Q: You came back to SAC in 2014 as Assistant Director of the Academic Resource Center. What made you want to come back to the Hilltop in this role?

A: Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my time at Saint Anselm College. My father, an alumnus of Saint Anselm College’s class of 1977, and my mother, an alumna of the class of 1978, met at the College and were married on campus, something the College started doing for alumni in the mid-1970s. My father worked at Saint Anselm for forty years in various student affairs capacities and taught for the Humanities program as well as in the Department of Criminal Justice. As I grew up, Saint Anselm became an integral part of my childhood and the people I came to know there became like family to me.

I worked as a mentor and tutor in the College’s Academic Resource Center as an undergraduate. I also served as a history tutor and writing assistant. Spending long hours in the ARC as a student, this place truly felt like home for me.  When Professor LaFleur retired after many years in the ARC, I was excited by the prospect of returning to the Hilltop and overseeing the Peer Tutor Program. Working alongside Kenn Walker, Caitlin Albright, and Ann-Maria Contarino (my former Freshman English instructor, and one of the kindest people on campus) has been a true joy for me over the course of the past few years. The Benedictine monks of Saint Anselm Abbey view one’s work as the highest form of prayer. In the ARC, our professional staff seeks to embody this important aspect of the Benedictine charism in our interactions with students, faculty, staff, and alumni on a daily basis. Ultimately, it all comes down to love of Saint Anselm and love of our students.

Q: You actually join a number of former history majors who work at the College including Lee Joyce ’94 and Cassandra (Loftus) McCue ‘08 in Admissions (go here for a post about Loftus). Is there something about being a history major that inspires you or prepares you well for these types of positions?  

A: I certainly am humbled to work with other History majors like Lee and Cassandra. While I won’t speak for them, I think the thing that draws us all back here is the wonderful sense of community we have. The faculty and staff really have their priorities straight—a genuine emphasis on students and on serving the common good. As a History major, learning to read, write, and think critically prepared me to do my best in my professional role here.

Q: Now you are pursing your PhD in Higher Education and Leadership Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Your dissertation project “Perspectives on Change: The Coeducational Transition of Saint Anselm College, 1969-1979” seems to draw together your love of history and of education. Can you tell us more about this project?

A: My dissertation examines Saint Anselm College’s transition to a fully coeducational Benedictine Catholic liberal arts college between 1969 and 1979, using archival documents and oral history interviews with female alumnae, who experienced campus life firsthand during the 1960s and 1970s. I am interested in the factors that contributed to Saint Anselm College becoming a coeducational institution and the significant impacts on campus culture and environment.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Saint Anselm underwent an period of great change. During the 1960s, women were bussed onto campus from hospital-based residences in Manchester. Women were allowed on campus for restricted periods of time and their activities at the College were limited. Women were not allowed in the dining hall and had nowhere to gather outside of classroom buildings and the Coffee Shop.

In 1969, the College appointed Sr. Nivelle Berning O.S.B. as Saint Anselm’s first Dean of Women. This move marked an important period of transition for the College, as Joan of Arc Hall (or as it was known then, “The Nursing Dorm”) was constructed. Once women were admitted into the residential portion of the College, it changed campus culture almost immediately. During this period (the early 1970s), the College began to employ more female faculty and staff and to create activities and recreational spaces for female students. Bertrand Hall, Raphael Hall “The Studio”, St. Mary’s Hall, and Alumni Hall Streets were all renovated or constructed to make room for additional female housing during the early 1970s. These projects significantly altered the physical plant of the College and marked a period of the College’s investment in infrastructure and programming for female students.

With the admission of women into the Liberal Arts program in the fall of 1974, the College made its full transition to coeducation. The influx of women on campus not only increased the quality and number of applicants to the College but also made the College more financially stable. This period would define and sustain the College during an otherwise challenging period. Saint Anselm College was the first Benedictine College nationwide to transition to co-education.

Q: Working full time and getting a PhD must keep you really busy! When you get spare time, what do you enjoy doing with it?

A: My wife Alex (a 2011 Saint Anselm graduate) and I live in Manchester. We were married at Saint Anselm Abbey Church in 2015. Alex’s passion is small business, and in 2013, she opened Café la Reine on Elm St. in Manchester. It is a small downtown coffee shop. While Alex is usually the busy one, when the two of us aren’t working or writing, we enjoy giving back to the great Manchester community through a variety of service and business activities. We love Manchester and all of the wonderful things to do here. We also both love a good cup of coffee!

In the summer you’re likely to find us downtown enjoying lunch with friends. We also both enjoy fishing, kayaking, and being outdoors with our pup, a standard schnauzer named “Keefe.” Alex first met Keefe when she was volunteering at the Manchester Animal Shelter in 2015. Since then, we adopted him, and he has become part of the family.

Lefrancois at the Worcester District Attorney’s Office

Recently, history major Kevin Lefrancois ’15 got back in touch with the department to say hello and ask for letters of recommendation as he applied to MA programs in International Relations. We were really interested in his job at the Worcester District Attorney’s Office, so we asked him a few questions about his time there and how it intersected with his major in history.

Q: What drew you to Saint Anselm College?

A: I applied to about 10 different schools throughout the country. I had already decided that I would be pursuing a history or political science degree which helped me limit my options, but after visiting the school and quickly seeing myself walk across the quad and past the Abbey to attend classes, it quickly became apparent to me that St. A’s would be one of my top choices. I had attended a Catholic high school, which also helped me to feel more at home and lean even closer to choosing Saint A’s. Ultimately, the decision came down to the fact that Saint A’s was the only institution in my opinion that had a strong combination of devoted staff and unique course offerings for both majors. During Accepted Students’ Day I quickly struck up conversations with professors from both departments and saw their enthusiasm for their subjects which made me feel like even more at home.

Q: Why did you major in history? Did you think about criminal justice?

A: For me, history covers all aspects of a society including art, literature, science, religion, law and politics. I have thus always appreciated the subject. Also an astute observer of history may predict future trends. When I looked at the course catalogue and saw the range of topics, from Ancient Rome to the Modern History of Japan, I knew that I would be given the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the world in new and exciting ways. A fascinating aspect of history for me has been the development of law across different nations and people. Every country has its own way of judging morality, especially in the form of criminal justice. I had developed an interest in criminal justice during my high school years by participating in my school’s mock trial program. There I acquired insight into the basics of the American criminal justice system and how a trial is supposed to proceed. I quickly knew that I would love to work someday as an attorney who brought justice to others.

Q: What was your most memorable experience in history (or at SAC)?

A: The most memorable time for me at Saint Anselm College was the opportunity I was given to assemble the audio and presentation equipment for the Humanities lectures. The Humanities program was one of my favorite courses of study during my time at Saint A’s since it was then an extensive history seminar program that covered centuries of western civilization’s development. During these assembly sessions I was given the golden opportunity to converse with the professors and lecturers before they would address the crowd, giving me some key insights into various subjects.

Q: When did you first know you were interested in law? How did you get your foot in the door at the District Attorney’s Office?

A: I first became interested in law in high school, and I joined the mock trial team. Junior year I acted as an expert witness and had to learn to stand up under the examination and cross-examination of the prosecuting attorney, a challenging exercise in clearly articulating complicated legal concepts under pressure. This particular case dealt with white-collar crime, but senior year I had the chance to deal with a manslaughter investigation which kindled my true interest. I played the role of a police officer and had to learn forensic techniques by heart to provide expert testimony. I had a glimpse of the painstaking load law enforcement shoulders to prosecute a case properly. My fascination with law continued into college, and sophomore year at St. A’s I started looking for internships. My search brought me to Worcester, MA where I interned with the Worcester District Attorney’s Office for the next several years. I had a chance to impress the District Attorney himself with my work, and upon graduation I was offered a job.

Q: What do you do every day?

A: At first I worked as the Juvenile Court Administrator for the District Attorney’s Office. I worked with the Department of Children and Families, gang violence, drugs, firearms, and more. I organized the juvenile cases and assisted the attorneys in their trial preparation. In addition, I was a Trial Court Assistant, which involved presenting evidence, technical support, and in-court assistance to prosecutors. Usually I worked with homicide cases at the District Court level. After a year, I was promoted to Internship Coordinator in which capacity I interviewed, hired, and supervised hundreds of interns. I ensured that they had opportunities to handle casework, shadow attorneys, and otherwise have opportunities for hands-on education in the legal profession. Finally, I was also responsible for community outreach which often involved presentations at businesses, schools, and community centers within the county.

Q: What do you do on the Opioid Crisis Task Force? Do you feel like you are making any headway in this crisis? Do you focus on law enforcement, education, treatment, or some other aspect of this problem?

A: I worked with the Opioid Addiction Task Force created by the District Attorney. The Task Force was responsible for innovative programs intended to curb widespread drug abuse in Worcester County and was expressly tailored to community needs. Worcester County includes over 60 different towns in addition to the city, which meant working side-by-side with community leaders in all walks of life. I represented the District Attorney at many working meetings with these leaders. In addition I was responsible for the maintenance of the Opioid Addiction Resource List, which included rehabilitation clinics, hospitals, halfway houses, and other organizations that offer support to those suffering from opioid addiction. I especially focused on the families. We tried to walk a fine line between prosecution and rehabilitation of those suffering from opioid addiction, which included providing police officers with various alternative means of justice, such as education or medical support. Opioid deaths decreased rapidly in Worcester County, a strong sign of success. Our education initiatives were, in my view, particularly effective at a grass-roots level.

Graduating Seniors Remember Professor Shannon’s Conversatio Section

In addition to teaching history courses, some History faculty also teach in the first-year Conversatio program.  Because it is a required course for all first-year students, History faculty get to teach a wide variety of students with majors across all the disciplines. Four years ago, Professor Silvia Shannon had a particularly lively and engaged seminar.

Participant Theodore (Ted) Boivin ’18 described it “as one of the best highlights of my freshman year. We had a truly wonderful group with some excellent discussions on a wide array of topics, debating everything from ancient Greek tragedy to 20th-century bioethics, sharing diverse perspectives on the material.”

Four years later, the students still remembered the seminar and their experience together.  As Ted wrote, “While we were being lined up for the procession into the Honors Convocation [in May 2018], Andrew Bompastore and I noticed that, of the twenty-eight students who achieved Summa Cum Laude status this year, seven of us were all in Professor Shannon’s Conversatio section: Olive Capone, Maddie Dunn, Emily Garcia, Erin Krell, Olivia Thornburg, and Andrew and me. We took a picture to send to you as a Conversatio throwback with our thanks for such an amazing start to our four years! We couldn’t have done it without you!”

A Classics major and History minor, Ted is headed off to the University of Cincinnati for a PhD in classical philology (the study of the life, languages, and thought of the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds). Biology major and Neuroscience minor Erin Krell is pursuing graduate studies in psychology at the University of New Hampshire. Education Studies major and Philosophy minor Olive Capone is pursuing teaching positions in New York State.

All faculty know that the success of a seminar requires a combination of excellent teaching skill, careful listening, curious and engaged students, and a little luck. Congratulations to Professor Shannon and these class of 2018 grads on one great seminar.