AU profs look to share their knowledge beyond the classroom

AU Communication Professor Debbie van Tuyll (R) gives an award to Jim Ogden (C) at the Symposium on the Nineteenth Century Press, the Civil War and Free Expression at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. (staff photo)

By Leeroy Francis |

Augusta University’s David W. Bulla and Debra Reddin van Tuyll, professors in the Department of Communication, have always led with an AP Style book in the classroom. But now they have an aspiration to teach the masses as they both this summer have received contracts for books to be published in the next six months.

Bulla, interim chair of the Department of Communication, has had an interest in the Civil War era since he was a boy. Bulla, a historian of 19th-Century American journalism, has mostly written about President Abraham Lincoln and the press, but the topic of slavery has always been in the background of what he enjoys reading and writing about the most.

Editor of Why Slavery Endures: Slavery Past, Present, and Future, Bulla has teamed up with Cambridge Scholars Publishers out of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, on this interdisciplinary publication filled with chapters by attorneys, historians, literary professors, sociologists and social workers. It is also international, with authors from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, South Africa and Portugal.

Bulla has long had an interest in the very raw and very real topic of slavery.

“I got interested in slavery because I am a U.S. Civil War historian,” he said. “I have mostly written about Lincoln and the Democratic press, but the topic of slavery has always been in the background of what I was writing about. Then I got interested in writing about the abolitionist editors, especially Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. When I started, I certainly was not an expert on slavery. However, I had lived in a country in the Middle East that had only outlawed slavery in 1967 and had vestiges of it still around in the 21st Century. Of course, I am from North Carolina, and it is never far away from the life of any Southerner. But I sort of came from the outfield on this one.”

Bulla has always had an interest in bringing his students along for the ride if they are willing to put in the work and effort in enhancing their own portfolio. He has assisted in countless projects with various students during his time here at Augusta University, including recent graduates Kashalah Robinson (Innsbruck Conference), Ceara Hester (Augusta Jaguars Volleyball) and incoming freshman Carlos Rodriguez (Augusta Jaguars Basketball).

“I wrote with student Kashalah Robinson for the Innsbruck conference, and our article is about runaway slave ads,” he said. “Our main point is that the editors did not have to run the ads. They were run to make money, as the ads cost the slave masters or sheriffs money to run. The journalists made money off both slavery and running away from slavery. You can’t divorce journalism from what happened in society, in this case in the 18th and 19th Century here in British North America. So mostly I have learned about slavery as I have waded through my various papers and now book chapters.”

Bulla, who expects publishing to be completed by the end of the year, wants students and educators alike to understand that even though slavery is illegal and was abolished long ago in the United States and Great Britain, the impact of such an unfortunate epoch in history still rears it head in society today and we should not ignore that. Moreover, there are modern forms of slavery all over the world today.

“What I hope people will learn is that slavery has been around for thousands of years and has not disappeared because the Civil War was a century and a half ago and the United States ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. It’s still out there, and it is omnipresent. See those posters in the AU bathrooms about human trafficking? That’s a sign we still have slavery on our hands, just in a new form.”

Van Tuyll, a professor here at Augusta University for more than two decades, also is interested in Civil War journalism and history is also the author of a few chapters in the book coming early next year about the history of the Irish American press through a transnational lens.

“We’re exploring how the flow of journalists, journalistic practices, and technology between the U.S. and Ireland influenced journalism in both countries,” she said. “(In this book) we’re actually doing what it is we’re talking about—we’re connecting journalism researchers from the U.S., Europe, China, Africa and Latin America in discussions of what journalism is at the global level and how it connects us all.”

Professor van Tuyll’s interest in Irish jounalism and more specifically immigration started with one man, General Thomas Francis Meagher.

“I used to play with an AU conservatory band called the Sand Hills String Band, and we were working on a piece called ‘Paddy’s Lament,'” she said. “The song was about Irish immigrants who came to America, joined the Union Army during the Civil War, and their experiences. The song mentioned a General Meagher, whom neither my husband—a military historian—nor I—a Civil War journalism historian—had heard of. On a trip to Ireland, we went to Waterford to photograph the statue of Meaghar that is there — in his Union uniform. We kept running into Meaghar everywhere we went—we found the Thomas Francis Meaghar pub, the Thomas Francis Meaghar bridge, the Thomas Francis Meaghar road—well, you get the picture. The B&B where my niece booked us has been an inn since 1690, and that was where Meagher stopped for a meal as he was trying to escape capture after the failed revolution. They had a picture of him in the dining room. The man was haunting me.

“General Meagher from Waterford, Ireland, where my niece lived and worked, had been exiled from Ireland for leading a revolution against the British in 1848. He’d been exiled to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania) but escaped and came to America where he, among other things, had a newspaper in New York for a few years prior to the Civil War.”

Dr. van Tuyll, who led 18 students on a Study Abroad trip to Scotland this summer and traveled to Ireland to assist in another, never hides her love for traveling abroad. In her years of traveling, she over time has realized the role of being a foreigner in another country and how even the natives are immigrants in a way.

“I hope readers leave the book understanding how important immigrants have been in establishing America’s vital social structures,” she said. “Immigration is a hot topic right now, and we hear a lot negative about immigrants, but this is a land of immigrants. All of us, including Native Americans, came here from somewhere else. Native Americans just got here a lot earlier. I also understand the need to control borders, provide jobs for citizens, etc. It’s a complex issue. But we can’t ever lose sight of the value immigrants bring to our country.

“This past year, Congress considered a bill that would divert 5,000 unused visa from Australia to Ireland. The bill didn’t pass, but I hope it’s reintroduced and does pass. We need to have immigrants to keep the Irish American community vital. In return for our passing the bill, the Irish have agreed to make it easier for Americans to immigrate to Ireland as well. I think that exchange of people could be valuable.”

Both van Tuyll and Bulla have published books before, about a dozen between the two, and while successful their work was not perfect to everybody. The one thing every published author has to face is the critics, the naysayers, the pundits. Even the loudest critics could not stop them from letting their voices be heard and their work being read across the world.

“At this point in my career, I’m so used to having my work critiqued, it doesn’t bother me. Sure, I prefer positive reviews, but negative ones maybe even more helpful if they’re crafted carefully and offer formative, rather than just evaluative, advice,” said van Tuyll.

Dr. Bulla understands the review process and the rejection, but him and his team went back to the drawing board and eventually Cambridge Scholars Publishers liked what they saw and is now in the process to put Why Slavery Endures on the shelves.

“Seeing tough critiques of your manuscript is just part of the business,” he said. “You learn what you can and try to improve things. Then you move on and try again.”

Both Bulla and van Tuyll also have a pair of chapters in a book that has just come out Routledge. The book title is The Antebellum Press: Setting the Stage for the Civil War, which is edited by David B. Sachsman of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Gregory A. Borchard of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Bulla and van Tuyll have been associated with a Civil War journalism conference that Sachsman hosts each year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for nearly two decades.This antebellum press book came directly out of that conference.

Check out Bulla’s Why Slavery Endures: Slavery Past, Present, and Future and van Tuyll’s Other Voices: Politics, Culture, and the Irish Diaspora Press in America (from Syracuse University Press) when they hit the bookshelves in spring 2020.


Contact Leeroy Francis at