All posts by Abi

Final Reflection

When I first heard about this class, I was both excited and intimidated. The idea of communicating with people from different universities, doing a semester-long research project, and building a website around it seemed challenging but worth it. I was interested in secession because of the current division in our political system and around the world. It seems likely that we will face the problem of secession with increasing regularity over the next few years, especially within the European Union, though of course it can be argued that a split from the EU does not constitute secession.

From the beginning I had had my heart set on the idea of studying an Appalachian secession movement, especially one that contradicted stereotypes about the region. I had heard rumors of resistance to the Confederacy in western North Carolina. Kendall was interested in the idea as well, so that is where we first concentrated our research. Unfortunately, on really diving into the research we struggled to find an organized secession movement within North Carolina. Perhaps if we had started researching during Winter Break we would have discovered this earlier, but by the time it came to decide we had not found a good candidate. West Virginia secession fit many of the criteria we had in mind so we decided to research that instead.

While the readings focused on religion were not especially relevant to our project, some of the more political movements were. The State of Franklin in particular influenced how I thought about secession in Appalachia, particularly the fact that emphasizing certain facts could produce wildly differing interpretations. Whether the Franklinites were freedom-lovers avoiding government intervention or colonists focused on eradicating Cherokees depends entirely on which aspects you choose to highlight.

Our serious research began with scholarly articles on West Virginia secession. While this movement is familiar to many historians, it was largely new to us, and that necessitated some background knowledge before getting into the nuances. We used these scholarly articles to situate ourselves within the movement, and to gain some familiarity with the different interpretations of it. We learned fairly quickly that these interpretations were more complex than pro-Union counties seeking to rejoin the fatherland. There were deep divides between the western Virginia Appalachians and the eastern part of the state, just as there are in every state that intersects with these mountains. Many others have speculated on the causes of this divide, but we decided to confine ourselves to documenting the observable differences and concentrate on analysis of the movement itself.

Over Spring Break we had planned to visit the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the University of West Virginia. I had also been planning to visit Frederick, Maryland for some time to see my family but especially my grandfather, who has Parkinson’s and has been declining for some time. I intended to come back on Thursday evening, giving us time to visit the archives on Friday and come back on Saturday. Kendall also had to visit her grandfather, who was in the hospital, and this ended up preventing her from getting back in time to visit the archives.While this was a blow to our plans and we explored other options for visiting archives in person, we ultimately decided to conduct most of our research using digital archives.

The sites and the West Virginia and Regional History Center’s “West Virginia History On View” were both invaluable to me in this effort. provided comprehensive explanations of events, with aggregates of connected primary sources. Virginia Memory was also helpful for finding some primary sources. West Virginia History On View provided many of the photographs for the site. Lori Hostuttler from the West Virginia Regional and History Center also helped by sending us some of the resources we requested based on online descriptions of the archive’s contents.

Much of the research took place while we were constructing the website, and especially as we encountered gaps in our knowledge that we needed to fill in order to make a coherent narrative. We began by researching the Causes, Events, and Aftermath of the movement. While the singular event is a more common approach when using this model, West Virginia secession was drawn out over several years. It seemed limiting to define the secession as a single event such as Lincoln signing West Virginia statehood into law. The heart of the movement was the Wheeling Conventions, though these were entangled with the complicated legality of the secession and setting up the Restored Government of Virginia.

Our vision for the website when we started and what we ended up with were different, and this is probably for the better. I had envisioned a clean, minimalist website with three main pages covering the secession in a linear manner, and with black and white photographs of people, buildings and battles illustrating every page. As we moved through this project some of this vision had to be discarded. When we explored this movement we discovered complicating factors such as legality and border disputes that rendered a linear narrative incomplete. Having three main pages meant that they were far too long and inaccessible to readers unused to reading history texts. Another important change was discarding my commitment to using only photographs from the era. Tony mentioned that we could consider using images from Wikipedia, and this was a breakthrough. I had not previously considered using Wikipedia as a source, probably due to years of academic pressure and pride in avoiding it. However, images are images, and as long as they are properly cited using them is going to get you farther than academic snobbery. I want to thank Tony for his suggestion, as it pushed me out of my stubbornness and made for a better project.

In the end, I am proud of the project we have put together. Kendall has been a great research partner. I can’t say how thankful I am to have had someone who was always willing to do her portion of the work, give me feedback on my contributions, and help me out if I was having a bad day. Having a supportive friend to do research, commiserate, and laugh with has made this project so much better than it would have been otherwise. Thank you, Kendall.

Thank you also to everyone in the class who has given us feedback and made our discussions so enjoyable, and to our professors for your help. We couldn’t have done this without you.

Another Update

Over the past couple of days Kendall and I have drastically changed the format of the site. We have split each of the pages into smaller sections to become their own pages, and put each of these under their own menu headers. I’m pretty happy with how it looks now.

I also worked on finding a reason why counties who had voted for Virginia’s secession from the Union would become part of West Virginia. The justification based on Senator Carlile’s testimony – that they were part of Appalachia and therefore had a vested interest in separating from Virginia – seems to vindicate the argument we have been making all along. The separation between the Appalachian region and the rest of the state caused long-term, irreconcilable differences between its population and the rest of Virginia.

I also added some more images and am still working on photoshopping the header.

Progress Update

This week I spent researching additional details for analysis on the website. During this process I found this map which was interesting, but I wasn’t sure if I could use it as a valid source for why northwest Virginia voted to secede from Virginia. There is certainly a correlation between the counties that seceding, but voting against secession from the Union doesn’t lead directly to secession from Virginia. I’m having trouble finding other sources on this matter, but I am still looking.

I added images to most of the pages and am continuing to search for more. I am also in the process of photoshopping the header. The maps are a little uneven in size so I’m trying to find a middle image that accounts for that.

It took me a while to figure out how to add captions to the photographs, and I still torn on attribution. At this point Kendall and I were thinking of a caption and brief attribution directly beneath the images and a longer list on the citations page with each attribution detailed and a description of which image it applies to.

Progress this Week

This week has been a difficult one for me. I found out on Thursday that the housing I had set up for next year had fallen through, and since then have been trying to find a new place on short notice. As you can imagine, this has been stressful.

Nonetheless, I have made some decent progress on the website. I have written an introduction outlining our thesis for the project and giving visitors a grounding for how to examine West Virginia’s secession. I have also written a page explaining the complexity of West Virginia’s entry into the Union and giving an argument for why it was constitutional despite initially appearing suspect.

I also finally figured out how to set the home page to our actual home page instead of a blog post, and secured permission to use the photographs from West Virginia history On View on our website. Lori Hostuttler at the West Virginia and Regional History Center has also kindly scanned some letters for us to add to our understanding of the Wheeling Conventions.

While I am disappointed that we were not able to complete all of the content for the site, I am confident that we will be able to soon.


Progress Update

Over the past few days I have been working on selecting photographs from West Virginia History On View. I believe I have most of them but I am still looking for a few for the Causes, Events, and Aftermath pages. I’m also working on constructing a header consisting of a map of the intact Virginia before the war, the attack on Fort Sumter or the signing of the Ordinance of Secession in Richmond, and a map of the separated West Virginia and Virginia after the war. This would give a quick visual primer on the story of West Virginia secession and the colors would provide a nice contrast with the largely black and white or sepia images. I would prefer to have an image of the signing of the Ordinance, but unfortunately I cannot find one yet.

I have also been working on fixing the issues with menus, but as yet without success. I tried following this tutorial but the unclickable parent link never showed up under my pages so I could not figure out how to add new pages underneath.

Drafting a Website

Over the last week and especially this last weekend I have focused on finding more primary sources and using them to write and upload a thorough draft of the Causes page for our website. I have also added my Storymap to our Home page, updated our secondary source bibliography, written and uploaded a draft of our “About COPLACDigital” page, and added a bio for myself on our “About Us” page. Virginia Memory and have been invaluable for finding good primary sources. I love when I can find scans of handwritten letters, though they are often harder to read. I hope that my handwriting is never bad enough that someone can’t decide whether I meant to write “locals” or “souls”. (It was souls, as I confirmed from another source.)

I am still trying to decide which photos we should use on the website and I cannot upload the ones from West Virginia History OnView without signing the acceptable use form, which requires having decided which photos to use so that I can indicate it on the form… In other words, I will work with Kendall to make the final selections and should be able to upload the ones we choose within the next week.

Lori Hostuttler at the West Virginia and Regional History Center had emailed me had said that she would try to get some scanned materials to me by Friday, but she must not have been able to get to it yet. Either way she’s been friendly and helpful and I appreciate that.

West Virginia History On View Images

I just called the West Virginia University Library and asked whether we could have permission to use their photographs on our website. They said that it would be fine as long as we signed the associated forms. The jpegs on their site can be used for free but higher quality images are $10 each and require a different agreement form.

Progress Update

Kendall and I were planning to drive up to the University of West Virginia to visit their archives during this week. Unfortunately we were unable due to her grandfather’s declining health and my own trip to see my grandparents. Fortunately they are in better health than I had anticipated.

Due to this setback, I have looked at all the findings aids for the materials we had planned to examine and identified the ones that seem like they would be most useful for our projects. Once this was done I sent an email to the archivists at UWV to request their assistance in scanning or sending any of these materials to us. I have also noted several other related pieces that are available online, including a collection of telegrams to and from Francis Harrison Pierpont, who served as governor for the Restored Government of Virginia during the Civil War, and one of photographs associated with a soldier named Fabricius A. Cather.

I have also created several new pages for our site and experimented with their formatting so as to best display our material.

“Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community” by Spencer Klaw

This reading described an attempt at a utopian way of living that combined Christianity and Communism. It shows the contradictions between a desired state of life and the challenges of carrying it out.

Clearly, the Communism of the community was successful so long as the members of the commune shared a common purpose and common values. Their commitment to their leader was such that they believed him divinely inspired. John Humphrey Noyes exercised a level of control over the society that was both sinister and perhaps necessary. Certainly, once he left the values of the community fell apart.

The concept of “complex marriage” is an intriguing one. At first it sounds idyllic. In the mid-1800s, men and women are free to partner with whomever they want, though presumably not with same-sex partners. Then, the conditions come in- they cannot partner exclusively with one person, though this seems inherent in the idea of choice. Children are expected to join in as soon as they hit puberty. For girls, this is guided by Noyes himself, and it seems that none in the commune called this pedophilia. I am curious as to how this tracks with consent- if you are raised all your life to believe that you should be groomed by the founder of your church, does your consent to this process have any meaning? Can we apply our own values to such situations? Is there a universal law? If the past is a different country, does cultural relativism apply to its practices?

For the most part, this article seemed to be more about the community itself than secessionism. Separatism was certainly present as a theme in the breakup of the church, but it seems that it collapsed mostly due to the criticism of some members rather than any concerted effort to split the church and form a new group. Adding to our definition of secession- if a coup does not count as secession, does an effort at reform? Even if it results in the destruction of the community?

I am not sure how to feel about the Oneida community. As the author says, there are both positive and negative aspects to their practices. In some ways women were empowered. However, the community as a whole experienced both a liberating unity of purpose and a terrifying lack of intellectual freedom. How do we reconcile these aspects? Can they be reconciled? Is a utopian community possible?

On the whole, I feel that it is not. People will always disagree on the best ways to live their lives. The same answers will not fit every situation. The pursuit of perfection is admirable, but its pursuers must recognize that only an approximation of the goal is possible.