Research award helps MSU doctoral student share National Park history

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Lucas Wilder (Photo submitted)

STARKVILLE, Miss. – For his development of a Cumberland Gap Civil War driving tour, a Mississippi State doctoral student is receiving a prestigious award from the National Park Service.

Lucas Wilder is being honored with the 2018 Bearss Fellowship Award, named in honor of Edwin “Ed” C. Bearss, the chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service. The annual award is presented to a scholar researching American history.

“I was humbled and honored by the fact that I was chosen,” the Lee County, Virginia, native said. “Ed Bearss is still a major figure for interpreting Civil War history and to receive an award named after him is a huge honor.”

Wilder said the award promotes the education of park employees so that they can bring “the best and most thoroughly researched information to [park] visitors.”

Wilder’s latest project will be added to the park website this spring for visitors to download. The Cumberland Gap Civil War driving tour includes information to assist visitors in making connections to park resources.

“The award stems from the recognition that to understand and appreciate national parks fully demands a firm, deep historical base,” said Alan Marcus, head of MSU’s Department of History.

Marcus said Wilder’s work on various sites aids in “exploring the interactions [between] the environment and the human actors that have partaken of it, [which] helps provide critical insight into how Americans generally relate to their physical surroundings.”

Wilder’s doctoral studies in American history with a concentration in both the American Civil War and environmental history at MSU have provided him the “intellectual toolkit necessary to undertake the painstaking historical research to make the national park experience richer and more accessible to all who venture there now and in the future,” Marcus said.

Wilder’s time with the NPS began in 2009 at Cumberland Gap when he was hired through the Student Temporary Employment Program and transitioned into the Pathways Student Program. His duties include giving tours of Gap Cave, developing and conducting campfire programs and participating in historical demonstrations.

An aspiring college professor, Wilder said he “loves to teach people about history and its value to our daily lives.”

Wilder has settled back to his native Lee County, 10 miles east of Cumberland Gap, through which the famous pioneer Daniel Boone led prospective settlers into Kentucky. He studied at MSU from 2014-2016, but will complete his dissertation while working for NPS. Wilder said he “always felt that I should give back to the community that gave me so much.”

Wilder also credits MSU history professors Andrew Lang, James Giesen and Mark Hersey for giving him “the confidence to apply for awards like this one and helping me become a better writer and researcher.”

Wilder continued, “Mississippi State has given me the tools necessary to become a great researcher and historian.”

Wilder obtained an associate of arts degree in 2010 from Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, a bachelor’s degree in history in 2012 from Lincoln Memorial University, and a master’s degree in history in 2014 from East Tennessee State University. 

The $1,000 Bearss award is endowed by historian Frances Kennedy and her late husband Roger Kennedy, a former National Park Services director. The Kennedys’ endowment supports NPS employees’ graduate-level studies in American history or American studies and is administered in partnership with the National Park Foundation.

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,200 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences or Department of History may be found at and  

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