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Yvonne Pitts, Associate Professor

Yvonne Pitts, assistant professor of history, was awarded $3,380.00 by the Purdue Library Scholars Grant Program to conduct research for her article, “’Vile Characters’ and Property Law: Regulating Prostitution and Creating Property in Civil War Era Nashville, 1860-1868,” which examines the short-lived system of regulated prostitution during wartime in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Library Scholars grant is awarded to untenured and associate professors tenured after July 1, 2015, to support research-related travel expenses to archives and collections outside of Purdue. For guideline and submission instructions to the Library Scholars Grant Program — now accepting applications no later than 5 p.m., Friday, November 10 — visit www.lib.purdue.edu/scholars/guidelines.

In her answers below, Dr. Pitts shared a bit about her travel to two different archives for her research, which the Library Scholars Grant Program supported.

Q: Yvonne, what is the focus of the research you conducted with the Library Scholars Grant Program?

A: My project examines crime and vice regulation and the system of regulated prostitution imposed by Union military authorities in occupied Nashville during the American Civil War. I am concerned with the exercise of legal authority on the ground in Nashville, which after occupied by the forces of General Ulysses S. Grant, had several competing law enforcement forces. My work at the two archives I visited reveal a complex, often haphazard system of multiple law enforcement actors that evolved in response to military demands, civilian hostility, and the threat of public disorder. During this period, soldiers often became the object of scrutiny for law enforcement agents while prostitutes, while subject to licensing and inspection, gained greater zones of legal autonomy.

Q: When did you travel to the unique collection/archives and what did you find there?

A: I traveled to two archives. The first, the Nashville Public Library holds the local civilian court and government records, including case files and the Aldermen’s minutes. The National Archives and Records Administration in Washington D.C. holds the federal government records which includes the Army records, the Provost Marshal (military’s law enforcement force), and Surgeon General’s reports. Access to these records, which are rarely digitized or even indexed in any detail is essential to my project.

Q: How did this grant enable you to complete or add to your research?

A: The Library Scholars Grant allowed me to study important local law enforcement records. After these trips, I have been able to write grants for more research funding, develop a plan of research for a book manuscript, and write an article draft.

Q: What are some highlights and memories from your travels?

A: One highlight was finding the Jail Record books in the National Archives. As I discovered at the Nashville Public Library, many of the criminal case files from Nashville had been destroyed, so I was not able to read transcripts and judgments from local civil arrests by the Nashville Police. At the National Archives, I discovered the U.S. Army Provost Martial’s Jail Record Books. These books contained information about charges, prisoners, sentences, and locations of arrests. They are a wealth of information. On another note, after I left the Nashville Public Library at closing, I had some of the best barbeque of my life in Nashville.

Q: What tips would you give to scholars applying for this grant?

A: Be specific about the collections you hope to access. I called and emailed with archivists from both locations for about two weeks before I finished the application. I included their names and the specific collections, sometimes to the volume or folder level, that I planned to access. I sought to convince the Library Scholars Grant Committee that I would hit the ground running on my first day.