UNF historian maps the Civil War





When he graduated from Northwestern University in 1992, Aaron Sheehan-Dean thought his future lay in government.

He went to work as a legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who represented Sheehan-Dean's home state, Michigan.

But during his four years in Washington, Sheehan-Dean realized his favorite part of the job was conducting tours of the Capitol for constituents - tours he punctuated with tales from history, many of them about the Civil War period.

Having studied history as well as political science at Northwestern, Sheehan-Dean decided he wanted a different kind of career.

"You can reach people teaching in a way I didn't feel I could do as a legislative aide," said Sheehan-Dean, 38, an associate professor of history who joined the faculty at University of North Florida in 2003.

Mapping our history

Earlier this year, Oxford University Press published the second book Sheehan-Dean has written about the Civil War, "Concise Historical Atlas of the U.S. Civil War." In a couple of weeks, the University of North Carolina Press will publish the paperback edition of the first book he wrote, "Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia." He also has edited two collections of Civil War essays.

"Why Confederates Fought," published in hardcover in 2007, is a slight revision of the doctoral thesis Sheehan-Dean wrote while at the University of Virginia, from which he earned a doctorate in history in 2003.

While at Virginia, Sheehan-Dean worked on an online project called Valley of the Shadow, which compared and contrasted two similar counties, one in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, one in the Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley.

Sheehan-Dean worked on some of the maps for the project, in the process learning how to use Geographic Information Systems software - which is why Oxford University Press asked him to write the text for the Civil War entry in its Concise Historical Atlas series...

... "My goal with the maps was clarity and readability, not beauty," he said.

About half of the 52 maps concern military aspects of the war, with 20 campaign maps and maps of five major battles: Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. The other 27 maps concentrate on politics, the economy and demographics. Each map is accompanied by one page of text.

After taking the summer off, Sheehan-Dean returns to the classroom this week.

He's also begun preliminary research on his next book, tentatively titled "Perfecting the Republic: America After the Civil War."

Reconstruction, which has been written about by many historians, will be covered in the book. But Sheehan-Dean said he hopes to expand on a less-studied subject: How the Union victory helped shape America's future.



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