Michael E. Woods is the Assistant Professor of History at Marshall University. This interview is based on his forthcoming book, Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States. (Cambridge, 2014).
MW: This book grew out of my dissertation, written at the University of South Carolina and completed in 2012. I entered graduate school with a strong background, and much interest, in antebellum U.S. politics and the coming of the Civil War. That’s a well-trodden field but when I was introduced to emotions history, I realized that it offered a genuinely new perspective on political behavior. I wrote the book to improve our understanding of the sectional conflict and to show political historians that emotions history can help answer key questions about how people make political decisions and build coalitions. I’d also like to demonstrate to scholars in other disciplines the importance of a historical perspective in the study of emotions and politics.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States?
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
MW: I have been deeply interested in U.S. history, especially its 19th-century history, for as long as I can remember. But my decision to become an academic historian – to transform my hobby into my career – grew out of a specific experience in college. I took a senior seminar, on Chinese history of all things, and enjoyed the experience of delving deeply into a topic with a group of very smart classmates and an excellent professor. This convinced me that I would enjoy graduate school and the academic life that would follow it.
JF:What is your next project?
MW: I’m working on a couple of different articles right now but my next book project will explore antebellum politics from another angle: the rivalry between Democrats Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Both men have been overshadowed by Lincoln ever since the Civil War. But in the 1840s and especially the 1850s they were far better known than Lincoln and provided key leadership in the Democratic Party. They both wanted to hold the party together but they had to make sure that it stood for interests, increasingly defined in sectional terms, which their constituents back home would approve. Ultimately, their struggle over which direction the Democracy should take tore the party in two, and helped to divide the Union itself. Davis and Douglas were both fascinating, flawed, and incredibly influential individuals, and I look forward to exploring antebellum political conflict through their eyes.
JF: Thanks Michael!
Thanks to Allyson Fea for facilitating this edition of the Author's Corner