Australian Studying Wheeling

A Lunch With Books presentation on noted 19th-century author Rebecca Harding Davis drew a large — and even international — audience to the Ohio County Public Library Tuesday.

Wheeling historians Margaret Brennan and Rebekah Karelis gave a talk on the life and literary legacy of Davis, who lived in Wheeling from the age of 5 until she was in her early 30s.

Among those in attendance was Brad Fitzmauvire, a visitor from Australia. A graduate student at the University of Sydney, he is doing research for his dissertation on the history of Wheeling. While some material can be found online, he found it necessary to visit the Friendly City in person to examine archival records and documents.

In the dissertation, he wants to study the history of Wheeling in the context of the broader American scene. He plans to examine “how does its history figure into the current climate.”

Fitzmauvire thinks the city is a viable topic for study, given that many Australians are acquainted with Wheeling. He explained that the city is familiar to Australians because of a pop song, “Wheeling West Virginia,” written by Neil Sedaka while he was living in Australia.

Ironically, Sedaka’s song was little known in the United States, but it was a Top 20 hit in Australia and New Zealand in 1970.

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Karelis shared an interesting tidbit about one of Rebecca Harding Davis’ literary admirers.

During the Civil War, celebrated author Nathaniel Hawthorne wanted to travel from New England to Wheeling to meet the rising writer. However, the Confederate Army had seized a portion of the B&O Railroad and, as a result, Hawthorne was unable to visit Wheeling, Karelis said.

Despite the setback, Hawthorne and Davis continued to correspond and became great friends, Karelis related.

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As part of Wheeling’s 250th anniversary celebration in 2019, the Ohio Valley Civil War Roundtable is planning a year-long series of presentations.

The series is titled “Wheeling During the Civil War.” Free talks on related topics will be given in the Ohio County Public Library’s auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 28, Feb. 25, March 25, April 29, June 24, July 22, Aug. 26, Oct. 28 and Nov. 25.

In addition, the group is organizing a Memorial Day walk through Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling at 9 a.m. on May 27. Participants will mark the graves of veterans from both sides of the 1861-65 conflict.

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On a contemporary topic, three researchers from West Virginia University plan to study the fallout from the new video game, Fallout 76, which is set in the Mountain State.

WVU officials said the researchers will examine how the game’s post-apocalyptic depictions of West Virginia influence perceptions of the state and its people. Fallout 76 features several iconic state sites, including The Greenbrier, New River Gorge Bridge, the state Capitol and WVU’s Woodburn Circle.

Jaime Banks, an assistant professor in WVU’s Department of Communication Studies, and Nick Bowman and Christine Rittenour, both associate professors in communication studies, want to know how players engage these representations of West Virginia. They are conducting a three-phase survey of Fallout 76 players.

After collecting data, the trio will analyze, write and present their findings throughout 2019 at various conferences and workshops.

The WVU Humanities Center is supporting the study. “Another goal of the research is to help West Virginians understand how representations of their spaces and cultures contribute to how people view them,” officials said.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net.

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