Cutting Edge Scholarship & Academic Mentorship: Considering “A History of Andersonville Prison”
by Sonia Dickey
Sonia Dickey wears several hats here at UPF, balancing subrights and permissions, grants coordination, and acquisitions responsibilities. In this guest post, she responds to the 2012 UPF staff retreat assignment with a thoughtful consideration of “History of Andersonville Prison,” by Ovid L. Futch, discussing the impact of cutting edge scholarship and the important role of academic mentors.
Every year around Christmas time, the staff at UPF participates in an annual office retreat, during which we write thoughtful essays that answer a question posited by our director, Meredith Morris-Babb. Some years the question is about an aspect of the publishing industry as a whole, other years the question is about the University Press of Florida, specifically. This past year, our director posed the following query:
Which UPF book is your favorite and why?
“That’s easy,” I thought.
Having recently graduated with my doctoral degree in history, I’m drawn to this book because of its impact on the scholarship of the American Civil War and its genesis as a dissertation. The University of Florida Press, a predecessor to the University Press of Florida, originally published History of Andersonville Prison in 1968, at the height of new scholarship on the American Civil War, following the centennial anniversary of the conflict.
During this era, Civil War historians had started to shift their focus away from battles and commanders, paying more attention to the experiences of common soldiers and the social aspects of the war. Futch’s work added to this conversation by exploring the gross mismanagement of the Confederate stockade at Anderson Station, Georgia, something that had baffled historians for years prior to Futch’s investigation of the site.
Andersonville Prison is perhaps the most infamous Civil War prisoner of war camp, and its history eluded historians for a more than a century after the conflict ended. Futch, a young scholar, fresh out of graduate school, examined diaries—firsthand accounts of prisoners, guards, and officers—as well as government records, to write the definitive history of the POW camp.
Futch’s groundbreaking work originated as his doctoral dissertation under the directorship of historian Bell Irvin Wiley. The author of The Life of Johnny Reb (1943) and The Life of Billy Yank (1952), Wiley literally rocked Civil War historiography by writing about the everyday lives of soldiers who fought on both sides of the battlefield. Wiley remained at the top of the field for the rest of his career following the publication of these two cornerstone books. A professor of history at Emory University, Wiley relentlessly advocated for his student, writing the University of Florida Press on numerous occasions about the quality and importance of Futch’s opus.
One day, while filing some correspondence, I ran across Wiley’s letters to press director Lewis Haines in which he urged the press to publish this significant piece of scholarship. I was absolutely floored when I found Wiley’s letters in the book file. In a previous life, I had once studied Civil War history and had admired Wiley for breaking with tradition and exploring an aspect of the war no one had thought to delve into before Wiley took the lead. Being a recent graduate, I appreciated Wiley even more for believing in his student and helping Futch to gain a foothold in the field.
Now as an academic professional serving the larger scholarly community as a publisher, I value the longevity, significance, and let’s be honest, the sales of History of Andersonville Prison.
Futch’s book has remained in print for almost fifty years. I wholeheartedly believe it serves as a testament to newly minted PhDs, emboldened by their advisors, being on the cutting-edge of scholarship in their respective fields, which, for obvious reasons, is near and dear to my heart.