From time to time, we will be posting profiles of our Gest Fellows. Aaron Jerviss is a Ph.D. candidate in History at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research is on “Testimony through Sufferings: The Civil War in Pacifist Memory, 1865-1914.”
My dissertation focuses on how Friends, Mennonites, and Brethren (the three “historic peace churches”) remembered their Civil War experiences throughout the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. For me, the great research question has been: How does a group document the role it played during a war when its members refused to fight or contribute directly to the military effort? I argue that these religious bodies did so by seeking to redefine the concepts of “suffering” and “heroism” in distinctly non-militaristic terms.
During my months’ stay as a Gest fellow, I have primarily been diving into Haverford’s rich collection of Quaker serials. Two topics have jumped out at me after reviewing these periodicals. First, I am interested in how Quakers explicitly linked the perceived social, economic and moral evils of the last three decades of the nineteenth century back to the Civil War. National “sins” as diverse as increased intemperance, the “militarization” of school textbooks, and the corporate corruption of the Gilded Age all found their roots in the great American internal conflict, according to Quaker authors and thinkers. Second, I am fascinated by the way peace churches memorialized Abraham Lincoln. The Quakers contributed to the construction of an image of Lincoln as “Pacifist Friend,” even though he took unprecedented actions in the areas of conscription and military mobilization.
My time spent at Haverford Quaker and Special Collections has been highly profitable. The wealth of source material and the helpful suggestions of the knowledgeable staff have given my dissertation structure and opened up exiting new fields of inquiry. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to spend part of my summer as a Gest fellow and would strongly encourage anyone interested in researching Quaker-related topics to come investigate the extensive holdings at Haverford.