Professor Downs studies the political and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Particularly, he investigates the transformative impact of the Civil War. His first monograph, Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908
was published by University of North Carolina Press in 2011, and examined the wartime creation of fantastic views of government among black and white Americans whose hopes for a state that could deliver them from want helped fashion an eccentric, but powerful post-bellum popular politics rooted in claims of friendship between politicians and the masses. The book was a Choice
Outstanding Academic Title.
Downs's next book, "The Ends of the War: Fighting the Civil War after Appomattox," examines the immediate period after Confederate surrender as an extension of wartime and through the lens of occupation, as the U.S. Army sought to remake life on the ground through alliances with organized freedpeople and against the ongoing resistance of ex-Confederates. The book is under contract with Harvard University Press to appear in 2015
An article about the United States' postwar fragility and stabilization appeared in the American Historical Review
in 2012. An essay about Reconstruction as a problem of occupation is forthcoming in Rethinking Reconstruction: New Scholarship on Race, Labor & Politics after the American Civil War
, edited by Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013). A recipient of an NEH Award for Faculty, an ACLS Digital Innovation Grant, an NEH Summer Stipend, a Mellon Foundation fellowship, a Josephine DeKarman Fellowship and numerous other grants and fellowships, Downs co-organized Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center conference on Beyond Freedom: New Directions in Emancipation in November 2011, which will produce an edited volume in 2014, and is co-organizing Penn State University's Richards Civil War Era Center's 2013 conference on The World the War Made, which will produce an edited volume for UNC Press in 2015. Additionally he is co-editing a Norton critical edition of Frederick Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom.
He is also interested in the relationship between intellectual history, political history, and race, and his article on social evolution and the growth of Jim Crow White Supremacy, "'University Men,' Social Science, and White Supremacy in North Carolina," was published in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Southern History
. His reviews and review essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Reviews in American History
, Journal of Southern History
, International Labor and Working Class History
, H-South and other venues. Downs has also published essays and editorials in the New York Times
Disunion series, on History News Network, and in the Raleigh News & Observer
Trained at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Downs is also a fiction writer. His first book of short stories, Spit Baths
, won the Flannery O’Connor Award and was published in October 2006 by the University of Georgia Press and has been called "masterful," "rich",and "mesmerizing," by the Philadelphia Inquirer
, "one of the most entertaining books of short stories in a long time," by the Lexington Herald-Leader
, and a "founding myth for a racially integrated South" by the San Francisco Chronicle
. For his fiction, Downs was awarded the James Michener/Copernicus Society of America Award from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
M.A., Northwestern University
M.F.A., University of Iowa Writer's Workshop
B.A., Yale University
Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908
, University of North Carolina Press, January 2011.
University of Georgia Press, 2006 (Flannery O'Connor Award winner).
"The Ends of the War: Fighting the Civil War after Appomattox," under contract, Harvard University Press, Joyce Seltzer, editor
"The Mexicanization of American Politics: The United States' Transnational Path from Civil War to Stabilization," American Historical Review 117:2 (April 2012): 387-409. link to PDF
"University Men, Social Science, and White Supremacy in North Carolina," Peer-reviewed article, Journal of Southern History
, LXXV: 2 (May 2009): 267-304. link to PDF
Co-organizer (with James Downs) of "Beyond Freedom: New Directions in the Study of Emancipation," Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University, November 2011. (Volume planned for 2014 publication from Yale University Press.) Link here
Co-organizer (with Kate Masur) of "The World the Civil War Made," Richards Civil War Era Center, Penn State University, planned for June 2013. (Volume planned for 2015 publication from University of North Carolina Press.)
Essays and review essays published and forthcoming
"The World the War Made: The 'Disturbing Tendencies of the Civil War and the New Map of Reconstruction," Reviews in American History
, 40:1 (March 2012) 88-95
. link to PDF
"Anarchy at the Circumference: Statelessness and the Reconstruction of Authority in Emancipation- Era North Carolina," essay in edited collection, Rethinking Reconstruction: New Scholarship on Race, Labor and Politics after the American Civil War
, eds. Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly, University Press of Florida (New Perspectives on the History of the South Series): forthcoming, August 2013.
"A Palace That Will Fall Upon Them: Reconstruction as a Problem of Occupation in Algion Tourgée's Bricks Without Straw," Reviews in American History
, 39:1 (March 2011) 118-26
. link to PDF
"Hail to the Chief and to the Thief: Fantasies, Fictions, and Fears about the United States Presidency," review essay, American Quarterly
, 61:2 (June 2009): 405-416
. link to PDF
"The Van Buren Ball," peer-reviewed historical fiction, Early American Studies
5: 1 (Spring 2007).
"The Freedom of Despair: The Socialization of Historians and the Socialization of Writers," review essay, March 2010, Rethinking History
, 14: 1(March 2010) , 71-85
. link to PDF
"The Capital of the Nation of Defeat: Ruminations on Writing the History of the South in a Northern City in Wartime," Rethinking History
, 15:1 (March 2011): 91-104
"The Pragmatism of Jane Addams' Pacifism," Peace & Change
, 36:1 (January 2011): 128-133
Jennifer Rae Greeson, Our South: Geographic Fantasy and the Rise of National Literature, Journal of Southern History
LXXVIII:1 (February 2012): 241-242.
James J. Connolly, An Elusive Unity: Urban Democracy and Machine Politics in Industrializing America
, in LABOR: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas
9:2 (Summer 2012): 152-154.
Malinda Maynor Lowery, Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation
in Agricultural History
, 85:2 (Summer 2011): 265.
Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page, Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement
, in Slavery & Abolition
, 33:3 (2012): 517-520.
David Silkenat, Moments of Despair: Divorce & Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina
, in Historian
74:3 (Fall 2012):587-589.
Luisa Del Guidice and Gerald Porter, eds., Imagined States: Nationalism, Utopia, and Longing in Oral Cultures, American Studies International
Volume 42:2&3, October 2004.
Paulette Jiles, Enemy Women
, H-South, Jan. 2003.
Carroll Van West, Trial and Triumph: Essays in Tennessee's African American History
. H-Tennessee, 2003.
Nicolas Proctor, Bathed in Blood for Gateway Heritage
Journalism and opinion pieces
"Lost Again," New York Times
Disunion series, February 7, 2012. link
"The Death Knell of Slavery," New York Times
Disunion series, May 20, 2011. link
"The Union Finally Lands a Victory," New York Times
Disunion series, August 28, 2011. link
"Was Freedom Enough?" New York Times
Disunion series, November 12, 2011, link
"A monument to Gov. Holden," Raleigh News & Observer
, op/ed, March 25, 2011. link
"Jared Lee Loughner, the Personal, and the Political," op/ed, History News Network, January 17, 2011. link