I research, write, and teach the history and memory of nineteenth-century North America, investigating the cultural and political history of slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, and tracing the development of American cities. I range widely in the American West and its borderlands – from California to the Yukon Territory, from the province of Ontario to St. Louis to El Paso – and I place the experience of European settlement in the region into comparative perspective, from first encounters to lasting legacies.
My award-winning first book, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (Harvard University Press, 2011) re-narrates the entire Civil War Era (1848 to 1877), describing the conflict between three regions -- West as well as North and South -- working to determine how slavery and westward expansion would shape the United States, from battlefields and politics to paintings, university debates, and public memorials.
I am increasingly engaged in digital methods of history, and encouraging efforts to reach a wider audience with my research and that of my graduate students. In my work on American cities, I reconstruct how residents made sense of their surroundings by supplementing the written record with material-culture findings and geographic information system (GIS) analysis, and I have embraced data mining, database construction, and visualization as key to my research. See newly digitized and geo-referenced maps of El Paso--along with so much more--here.
I aim to write accessible history, and to engage a wide audience, including those outside the academy. To that end, I have written a number of historically-minded op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I am a contributor to Civil War Memory and the Making History Podcast. My latest popular publications--whether op-eds, blog posts, or tweets--can be accessed via adamarenson.com.
I am currently researching two new research projects: After the Underground Railroad considers the return of African Americans from Canada during and after the Civil War, while Privately Sponsored Public History investigates the history- and family-minded art and architecture commissioned from the Millard Sheets Studio for Howard Ahmanson's Home Savings and Loan banks, and what this artwork means to its communities to this day.
My co-edited volume, Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) considers the origins and structure of European-settled cities in North America and beyond. I am also coordinating and co-curating joint symposia, an edited volume, and a museum exhibit on How the American West Changed the Civil War, with the sponsorship of SMU's Clements Center and the Autry National Center.
When not on campus, I live with my family in Los Angeles, where I am co-coordinator for Past Tense, the seminar on innovative history writing at the Huntington Library, sponsored by the Huntington-USC Early Modern Studies Institute and Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. Listen to recent sessions via podcasts here.