Alumni Update: Kimberly B. Sherman

This piece is part of our 2020 Alumni Magazine. The magazine pieces for this year’s edition will be published online, as well as included in a combined 2020/21 printed volume next summer.

Post written by Kimberly B. Sherman. Dr Sherman finished her PhD at St Andrews in 2018. She now resides and works in Wilmington, North Carolina. Here she recounts her experiences with history during the global pandemic.

Post-PhD life has been unlike anything I could have predicted. I’m currently living in my hometown where I am a Lecturer in History at our local community college in Wilmington, North Carolina. I was actually in Edinburgh spending time with family and friends just as the seriousness of COVID-19 became clear and a worldwide pandemic was declared. I flew back to North Carolina as borders closed and quarantine restrictions were announced around the US and UK. 

Staying productive for the past few months has been challenging, especially as my teaching transitioned from seated, on-campus courses to online instruction. Like many other faculty at institutions worldwide, it was a huge learning curve for me. Despite the challenges, being at home presented new opportunities including more time to make one of my history dreams come true — starting a podcast!

I’ve been an avid podcast-listener since 2014, just as the medium came into its own, and I’ve long wanted to use podcasting to bring history to a wider audience. In 2018 I was awarded a short-term research fellowship at the Winterthur Museum and Library in Delaware. My research project would focus on attitudes toward death in the early American South — a place where tropical diseases and an intense climate combined for often deadly results. I worked in residence at Winterthur during summer 2019 where I learned methodological practices for studying material culture, examined mourning art and jewelry, and steeped myself in written sources like funeral poetry. It was a fantastic experience, but I did not know where the research might take me.

Burial site for victims of the 1862 yellow fever epidemic in Wilmington, NC. Photo credit: Kimberly Sherman

My interest in deathways and environmental history in the American South, as well as ongoing research in the history of the family, led Bellamy Mansion Museum to invite me to speak on the topic of a yellow fever epidemic that raged through Wilmington in 1862. The response to the event was huge — the main parlors of the house were packed, people sat on the main staircase, on the floor, and even more were turned away due to space and sound constraints. I had so much fun sharing the research I had begun several months earlier and conversations with attendees helped me see that this was a topic people were interested in — not just yellow fever, but how people in the past have dealt with death.

Enter Historia Mortis. By Spring 2020 I began planning episodes, social media, guest lists, and more. I expected to launch in August with the first season chronicling the 1862 yellow fever epidemic, beginning on the anniversary of the arrival of the Kate — the blockade-running ship that brought the disease to Civil War Wilmington via the Bahamas. Coronavirus intervened. With closures of libraries and other cultural institutions across the US, I was left without access to any sources that were not freely available online. Those amazing manuscripts I hoped to get my hands on for season one? Not happening anytime soon. 

As I write this in early July 2020, North Carolina still remains in an extended ‘phase two’ of reopening the state, not including libraries and museums. I had to decide whether I would postpone my launch into 2021 or revise my first season. Season One will now be a ‘mini’ deep-dive into a range of topics related to early American deathways — everything from the material culture of mourning and the experience of widowhood, to the work of early modern ghost hunters! I also hope to feature the research of fellow University of St Andrews students and alumni in various episodes.

It’s been a crazy, fun route to learn more about producing historical research for podcasting and I can’t wait to share it with the world! For more information about Historia Mortis, visit www.historiamortispodcast.com and follow us on Instagram at @historiamortis

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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