Associate editor Andrew Wiley joined the Papers of Martin Van Buren in January 2018. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Calgary whose research focuses on political conservatism in the antebellum and Civil War periods. He previously worked as a researcher and editorial assistant at the Frederick Douglass Papers. Wiley also currently serves as the website manager and editorial assistant for Civil War History.
Mark Cheathem (MC): How did you become interested in history as a profession?
Andrew Wiley (AW): When I was very young, I saw reruns on PBS of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, then Ted Turner produced the movie Gettysburg, and I was hooked. Later, a friend told me, “Since you love history so much, maybe you should become a historian.” I entered my undergrad at IUPUI and never looked back.
MC: What did you like most about living in Canada?
AW: Probably the friends I made in Canada who helped me settle in up there I cherish the most. The health care is great as well. They fund their universities well, and where I lived in Calgary, I could get on the C-Train LRT and be anywhere in the city in 30 minutes or less. I always keep a Canadian Toonie ($2 coin) and a little Canadian flag with me everywhere I go.
MC: What is your dissertation about?
AW: It’s about conservatism during the Civil War era in the West. Conservatives wanted to slow down or stop anything that might change their idea of what society should look like. Because of slavery and because their societies were different, a conservative in Alabama was different from a conservative in Indiana or Massachusetts. But a conservative in Indiana was also different from a conservative in Massachusetts because western society was also different. It builds on a growing literature that recognizes the West as a distinct region from the eastern and southeastern areas of the United States. I will hopefully finish my dissertation in a few months, and I’m looking forward to turning it into my first book.
MC: What are your hobbies?
AW: Like any historian, touring battlefields, historic ships, and presidents' homes. However, I also collect coins, I know Latin (although finding speakers to talk to is difficult), and I play six different instruments.
MC: What did you do at the Douglass Papers?
AW: At the Douglass Papers, I helped transcribe and annotate documents. If Douglass or those writing to him mentioned a person or an event, I would look them up and write a note giving the reader some context. I also helped select contextual documents for Yale University’s recent publication of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
MC: What is the most interesting thing you have come across so far in the Van Buren Papers?
AW: Another transcriptionist discovered a letter from Cornelius P. Van Ness to MVB. In that letter, Van Ness reported Margaret Eaton was going around Spain telling everyone she could that Van Buren had proposed to her daughter in front of Andrew Jackson no less. No one at the Van Buren Papers remembered hearing of this story before.