Ryan Semmes (Faculty)
For a quarter century, Ryan Semmes has embodied the Mississippi State ideals of academic passion, service and dedication.
Associate professor and coordinator of the Congressional and Political Research Center at the university’s Mitchell Memorial Library, his current focus is archiving material in the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.
He also is among those preparing for the Nov. 30 launch of a new home for the Grant Library and the Frank J. and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana.
Semmes came to campus in the mid-1990s as a history major in the College of Arts and Sciences. After graduating in 1998, he enrolled in the University of South Carolina to pursue collaborative master’s degrees in library and information science and in public history/archives.
After working for six years in Louisiana and the Washington, D.C. area, he returned to Starkville in 2007 as an assistant professor with Mitchell Memorial’s political collections. When the Grant presidential collection came to MSU about two years later, he began studying foreign policies of the heralded Union Army commander in the Civil War who later served two terms as the nation’s 18th chief executive.
Wishing to know even more about Grant (1822-85), Semmes decided to begin work on a doctorate in the department that had awarded his bachelor’s degree. “I wanted to expand what I knew as a historian,” he explained. “Five and a half years into the program, I’m now writing a dissertation on Grant’s foreign policy during his presidency.”
Beyond that particular research focus, Semmes observed how, for a 19th century man “who went to college to become an engineer, [Grant] also had a great appreciation and love for the humanities.”
Semmes added, “I think he certainly would love that we, too, have a same appreciation at Mississippi State that the arts and the sciences are all part of the core curriculum.”
Clearly, years of accumulated scholarship make Semmes a leading resource for other historical researchers seeking to utilize the massive Grant and Lincoln collections—the latter considered the nation’s largest, privately owned collection detailing the life of the 16th president.
How large? Of the first, “We think [MSU] has a copy of every known letter that Grant ever wrote,” Semmes replied. As for the second, “There are over 15,000 books and pamphlets and over 15,000 artifacts, all related to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War,” he emphasized.
Together, Semmes said “these rare and unique artifacts tell the history of the nation from the 1830s with Lincoln until the 1880s with Grant.”
Conveniently, the collections are located in the library’s recently completed $10 million addition atop the original structure.
“Once this new facility is open, my hope is that this library will become the place for scholars throughout the United States to come and study the Civil War and Reconstruction eras,” Semmes said.
For more on the opening ceremony, see http://lib.msstate.edu/grantopening.