Author Archives: Allan Branstiter

About Allan Branstiter

Allan Branstiter is a history PhD student at the University of Southern Mississippi. His dissertation examines resistance to Reconstruction’s racial reforms through the lenses of postcolonial and settler colonial theory. Allan’s blog series will be centered on his discovery of the records of a sexual misconduct investigation at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum in 1871 and the impact these records have had on his research.

Hero, Villain, or Anti-Hero? Archival Records and Dealing with the Contradictions of the Past

I was wrapping up the second to last chapter of my MA thesis when I received a call from a local historian from Holly Springs, Mississippi. During our conversation, my colleague read out an excerpt from a short biographical sketch about Dr. William M. Compton that she’d found in a local history book published in the 1930s. What struck me about the sketch was that it named Compton as the founder and “Grand Cyclops” of Marshall County’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

Scalawags and Scandal-Mongers: Intra-party Rivalry and the Complex World of Reconstruction Politics

On a warm afternoon in late February 1871, Dr. William M. Compton found himself in what he would later call “a fix.” Before him stood his wife, Ernestine, furious and demanding to know what he was doing napping on a young nurse’s bed. To make matters worse, she was confronting him in front of an entire ward of psychiatric patients, staff members, and a party of elite Jacksonians who were touring the asylum.

Adapt and Overcome: What to Do When Your Archival Research Hits a Dead End

At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Dr. Robert Kells—then the superintendent of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum—warned state officials that widespread loss of property (including enslaved people), wounded pride, and the vices “contracted by so many of our best men . . . in the army” would unleash a wave of insanity in the state. I read Kells’s predictions during my first trip to the state archives as a new graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Madness and a Thousand Reconstructions: Learning to Embrace the Messiness of the Past

What can a sex scandal at an asylum tell us about Reconstruction-era politics in the Deep South? Why did a former slaveholder organize a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan only to quickly abandon it to join the Republican Party and work on behalf of racial reconciliation? This blog series centers on my experience learning how to use the records of a sexual misconduct investigation at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum in 1871 to answer these questions. In three posts I will describe how examining these records forced me to reformulate my original research questions; how contextualizing this scandal complicated my view of the Civil War and Reconstruction; and how conducting research in archives and in the field shaped my understanding of how historians create knowledge.