Historical Research: The Difference a Year – And a Pandemic – Can Make

Bard Headle

A follow up to the LAS News Feed’s inaugural story, “William T. Magee, An Unexpected Journey,” the following was submitted by Barb Headle, Senior Instructor of History, and Amy Haines, History Lecturer.

“A year ago, the LAS NEWS FEED released its first issue and we were privileged to be part of that premier.  Looking back, our piece, “William T. Magee, An Unexpected Journey,” was about the thrill of discovery and hope for what further research would reveal of this remarkable, yet ordinary, man and his significance in interpreting key moments in U.S. history—the Secession Crisis, the Civil War, and post-war westward migration. 

That hope transformed into nearly unrestrained excitement when, in late November 2019, Headle contacted and then met William T. Magee’s four-times great-grandson (himself a UCCS alum) and his mother at Magee’s gravesite in Fountain Fairview Cemetery.  On that chilly Sunday afternoon Headle and Magee’s descendants tramped through the snow to “chat” with Magee, his mother-in-law (who is buried next to him), and their neighbors (in life and death).  Telling the story of “Our William,” tracing the geography of his life, and sharing the research and plans for more investigation with Magee’s descendants added another layer of meaning to Magee’s remarkable life and his place in American history.  The research project still focuses on the broader narrative, that of Kentucky’s “local and national significance relating to the . . . danger that President Lincoln anticipated from anti-Union activities in the Border States.”  Now, it also aims to emphasize the importance of community studies and historical genealogy in analyzing and interpreting history writ larger.  In the intervening months, Headle and Haines discovered the existence of much needed, “these could answer 90% of our questions,” documents in Cynthiana and Lexington.

Amy Haines

Then March 2020 happened.  With the funding provided by the LAS Dean’s Office and the History Department, Headle and Haines were poised to return to Cynthiana, Kentucky on 19 March.  Archive and travel reservations made.  List of documents to access in hand.  Bags packed.  Then the unthinkable happened: COVID-19.  Like every other researcher in LAS and across the UCCS campus, Headle and Haines were forced to cancel their trip.  That cancellation was made all the more heart-breaking when they learned that on 16 March the first two cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky occurred in Cynthiana.  Almost overnight, that sleepy, friendly, historic little town was transformed from ground-zero for historical research to ground-zero of Kentucky’s COVID epidemic.  While they still cannot travel to access their much-needed documents, the two remain hopeful. 

Since March, other documents have been discovered and accessed on-line; these shed more light on the geography and history of William T. Magee and his neighbors who moved from Cynthiana to Fountain in the post-war years.  It turns out that more than one of Magee’s Kentucky neighbor removed to Colorado, and that the “residents” in Fairview Cemetery have more to add to this research project.  The pandemic may have temporarily squashed some research, it did open windows into other aspects of the project as a whole.  What a difference a year makes; while researching a key point in American history in which William T. Magee became a reluctant participant, we too have become reluctant participants in yet another turning point in our history.”               

Dr. Headle was also recently interviewed as part of a story in the Colorado Springs Gazette about local cemetaries. Read more by following this link.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *