Hi there! I’m Megan Kate Nelson, a writer, historian, road cyclist, and cocktail enthusiast with more than 34,000 images on my phone – most of them of my two cats.
I am an expert in the history of the American Civil War, the West, popular culture, and the 19th century more generally, and have written many articles about these topics.
I also have a new book coming out with Scribner in February 2020: The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West.
The vast majority of Civil War histories focus on the fights in the east. The Three-Cornered War takes readers to the desert Southwest, where Union and Confederates soldiers, New Mexican civilians, Navajos, and Apaches struggled for control over a vast region filled with valuable natural resources. You can read more about the nine fascinating people whose stories illuminate the complicated history of the Civil War West in The Three-Cornered War here.
I live in Lincoln, Massachusetts with the aforementioned cats and my husband. But I grew up out West in Colorado, and when I was a kid my family took two-week vacations every summer by car, driving all over the United States in search of historic sites, amusement parks, roadside attractions, and national parks.
When I wasn’t fighting with my annoying older brother, I was wandering around these places. Or I was looking at them whip by through the car window. Or I was trying to find them on the map. It’s not surprising, then, that when I decided to write about American history, I did so with an eye on the landscape.
In my first book, Trembling Earth, I studied the muck and the mire of swamps. I turned to the different kinds of ruins created by the Civil War in my second book, Ruin Nation. In The Three Cornered War, the high deserts of the Southwest take center stage.
All of these landscapes challenge the people who try to live in them, travel though them, convert them, or eradicate them. They have long histories of contestation and violence. My desire to uncover these histories – and their connection to broader developments in American culture – drives most of my work.
I earned my BA in History and Literature from Harvard University and my PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa, so you can call me Dr. Nelson. I have also taught U.S. history and American Studies at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown.
I will be exploring another of America’s weird places in my new book project, This Strange Country: Yellowstone and the Reconstruction of America, which will be published with Scribner in spring 2022.