Research Rookies explore reasons behind Civil War enlistment

By Lauren Dielman

Men joined the U.S. army to fight in the Civil War for multiple reasons. Wayne Duerkes will be trying to discover these reasons through his Research Rookies project.

Duerkes, a junior history major, and his mentor Bradley Bond, Dean of the Graduate School, will be using letters and diaries written by the soldiers themselves as their main source of information.

In an email, Duerkes said he will be looking for the “motivations” of these men.

“Researching at a variety of archival repositories in the area has introduced me to several of these men through their letters and diaries, allowing me a window into their lives,” Duerkes said.

The letters and diaries will hopefully provide insight into the men’s lives, showing how they were more than just soldiers.

“The primary sources I’m working with allow me the opportunity to understand who these men were not just as soldiers, but as everyday people without someone else’s interpretation swaying the outcome,” Duerkes said. “Working with these documents in this process really ignites a budding historian’s passion for finding opportunities to explore more about our past.”

Bond said the role of the mentor varies according to the specific project.

“For historians, who generally conduct field research and who do so as a solitary act, my role has been to help Mr. Duerkes define the problem he is interested in solving and to help identify potential sources,” Bond said.

Bond said he and Duerkes are trying to bring the separate letters and diaries into one researched and compelling argument.

Duerkes said his Research Rookies program has helped him in his daily life as well.

“The immediate benefit of Research Rookies has been the ability to take the skills I’ve learned from my mentor and apply them to all my history classes with exceptional results,” Duerkes said. “I no longer just attempt to read and retain history, but ask questions like, why do I read what I read and what does it tell me? How does what I’ve examined help answer the problem I’m trying to solve?”