In May 2017, the Stonehill History Department conferred upon graduating senior Nathan P. Samoriski the tenth annual Peter R. D'Agostino Prize for Excellence in History for his thesis, “The Battle of the Bands: Music in the American Civil War,” which was supervised by History Professor John Rodrigue.
The prize was created to honor the memory of Peter D'Agostino, a former member of the College's History Department.
Based on an array of primary and secondary materials, the thesis examines the different meanings that Union and Confederate soldiers ascribed to popular music during the U.S. Civil War.
Whereas most scholarship emphasizes the "political" nature of this music, accentuating how it expressed the conflicting goals of each side and motivated soldiers to fight, Samoriski also examines a wealth of "quasi-political" and "non-political" songs. The former contained lyrics that could be adapted for either side, as necessary, while the latter expressed ideas and sentiments to which soldiers on both sides could relate.
By examining latter-day audio recordings and notated music, as well as the soldiers’ letters, diaries, and other writings, Samoriski provides a deeply textured analysis of the meanings soldiers gave to the songs they listened to and sang.
His thesis also suggests that some Civil War music anticipated the "reconciliationist" memory of the war, in which white Americans of both sides later came to highlight the soldiers' heroism, sacrifice, and suffering over slavery, emancipation, and the struggle for racial justice.
“Nathan is a talented and earnest young scholar,” Prof. Rodrigue noted. “In presenting him with the D’Agostino Prize, we were impressed with the depth and nuance of his research and the overall quality of his thesis. We are proud that Nathan will be continuing his studies in the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies at SUNY Oneonta.”
While Samoriski’s thesis was exceptional, it also represented the kinds of senior thesis projects that Stonehill history majors undertake, working on-on-one with a faculty adviser.
"In this instance, Nathan combined his love of history with his musical talents to craft a topic that made his thesis project a labor of love and not a mere requirement to be fulfilled. It illustrates the countless ways Stonehill students can pursue their passion by studying history," added Rodrigue.