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SHU Educator Receives Stipend for Research on Civil War's Financial Implications

FAIRFIELD, Conn.—Sacred Heart University educator David Thomson, assistant professor of history, has received a $6,000 summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) toward his research on 19th-century American capitalism.

The NEH, which is a federally funded, independent agency, is a highly competitive program and one of the largest providers of funds for humanities programs in the United States, according to its website.  

This grant will support Thomson’s research on how states’ debt defaults shaped the development of the national finance system in the U.S. from the 1830s through the 1870s. As he already has completed international research in England, France, the Netherlands and Germany to explore how international banks reacted to the defaults, he intends to use the summer stipend on research throughout the U.S. He is planning three trips, looking to access archives in North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Mississippi, and Louisiana during the summer of 2022, when travel should be safer than it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Thomson’s research will culminate in a book, On Anti-Bondsman On!: Debt Default and the Perils of 19th Century American Capitalism, which will serve as a sequel to his earlier project, Bonds of War, due to be released in the spring of 2022 with University of North Carolina Press. While his first book focuses on national debt derived from the Civil War, On Anti-Bondsman On! will look at financial implications from before and after the war. It will begin with the rise of King Cotton (a reference to the vital role cotton played in the southern states’ economy), the desire to emulate the Erie Canal regarding internal improvements, and the intertwining of legislative leaders with the leadership of financial institutions. It will conclude with the international reaction to debt default during the Reconstruction era. 

Though Thomson’s books are about the 19th century, they remain relevant. With two large-scale, financial recessions occurring over the last two decades, historians have begun to revisit the role of capitalism in American society. The current global pandemic has created a fiscal crisis that will have a lasting impact for years to come, and the United States already faced significant financial concerns well before it started. Examining state debt default will provide a better understanding of the long evolution of debt in American life.

“The 19th century was consumed by debt, and so I try to unpack this story and make it accessible,” said Thomson.

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About Sacred Heart University

As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 386 Colleges–2021 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best Business Schools–2021 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theatre. www.sacredheart.edu

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