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Historian to share research about mental health issues of post-Civil War veterans

Historian to share research about mental health issues of post-Civil War veterans

Diane Sommerville

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Diane Sommerville, Ph.D., associate professor of history at Binghamton University, will discuss the after effects of war suffered by Civil War veterans during a presentation at 7: 15 p.m. on April 3 in the Mary Lindsay Welch Honors Hall, at the corner of Basin and Fourth Streets. The presentation, and a brief reception that follows, are free and open to the public.

Sommerville’s presentation, titled “The Accursed Ills I Cannot Bear,” will discuss the prevalence of suicide among confederate soldiers and how intense suffering affected them and their families. Her research indicates a higher prevalence of suicide among Southern soldiers than Northern and postulates the South’s stronger association of serving in the military with ideals of manhood and nationalism as a reason for the difference. She also traces the change in cultural attitudes toward suicide, identifying the Civil War as a turning point toward more sympathetic views.

Sommerville has presented at dozens of conferences and published numerous articles about mental health and other cultural aspects of the American South in the second half of the 1800’s. Her first book, “Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South,” (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) earned the Best First Book Award from Phi Alpha Theta and the 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Title. Her second book, “Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War Era South,” is expected to be released from the University of North Carolina Press later this year.

She published an article on the topic in Civil War history, titled “‘A Burden Too Heavy to Bear’: War Trauma, Suicide, and Confederate Soldiers,” in Civil War History, which won the John T. Hubbell Prize for the Best Article Published during 2013. She also received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship to conduct the research for her current book.

Her presentation is a part of the Ewing Lecture Series, which was established in 1973 when Robert H. Ewing, for whom the series is named, retired after teaching 27 years at Lycoming College. A revered professor and friend of the college, his life was characterized by a deep religious faith, a passion for history and a strong devotion to a liberal arts education. These qualities touched the lives of all who came in contact with him and led his many friends to contribute to the Ewing Fund to establish this series.

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