Mount Saint Mary College alumnus Kieran O’Keefe ’14 of Alexandria, Va. was recently named a Society of the Cincinnati Dissertation Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.
This award will support O’Keefe’s work on his dissertation project, “These Wretched Miscreants”: Loyalists, Patriots, and Violence in the Hudson River Valley. O’Keefe is currently a PhD candidate at The George Washington University.
“It is a competitive fellowship, so it was an honor to be chosen,” said O’Keefe. “It will be an exciting experience.”
O’Keefe’s dissertation examines the actions and motivations of Hudson Valley Loyalists – American colonists who stayed loyal to Britain during the Revolutionary War. It continues with a look at the post-war lives of these Loyalists, both those who decided to stay in the United States and those who moved to other parts of the British Empire. Most Hudson Valley Loyalists who left the United States ended up going to what is now Canada, O’Keefe notes, particularly the present-day provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario.
For O’Keefe, who grew up in Hudson Valley, focusing on that region for his dissertation was an easy decision.
“Living near the history gave me a connection to it that I would not have had if I grew up somewhere else,” he explained. “Secondly, the Hudson Valley is a good place to study Loyalists in the Revolutionary War. There was no region in the 13 colonies which was surrounded by British forces for as long and as consistently, leading to intense conflict in the region between Loyalists and Patriots. There is a lot to study.”
He will serve his four-month term during the 2020–2021 academic year, from September to December. With his start date rapidly approaching, O’Keefe has a lot to be excited about, he said, including connecting with other graduate students and scholars in his field.
“It’s a good intellectual environment,” he explained. “It also will allow for my peers to read my work and offer critical but helpful feedback. Because the fellowship helps fund my program, it gives me a semester off from teaching, which will help facilitate the timely completion of my dissertation.”
Things will look a little different than previous years thanks to the current COVID-19 pandemic, but there are plans in place to make sure the experience is just as valuable. Instead of moving to Philadelphia for the fellowship, most activities will be taking place online.
O’Keefe is an accomplished writer and he’s published several articles in his field. He’s written about how religious divisions in Newburgh, N.Y. before the Revolution shaped political allegiance during the war for New York History, examined the religious views of George Washington, which was published in the Journal of Religious History, and looked at how the memory of the Dutch Revolt influenced the American Revolution, which was published in theInternational History Review. One of his most recent articles was about the history of monuments to the American Revolution, published in the Journal of the American Revolution.
O’Keefe credits his Mount professors with providing a strong foundation in academics. History professors Jeffrey Kahana, Stanley Pycior, and John Reilly helped O’Keefe research and get accepted into several graduate schools. In addition, summer work with Kahana at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum helped O’Keefe learn how to properly research in archives. This proved to be a critical skill when O’Keefe began working on his master’s thesis and his current doctoral dissertation.
“In short, I would say the school and the professors helped put me in a position to succeed,” O’Keefe explained.
O’Keefe is the son of Kathleen O’Keefe, former director of the Mount’s Career Center, and Michael O’Keefe, former executive director of Operations and Risk Management at the college. O’Keefe’s two siblings, Colin O’Keefe ’15 and Clare O’Keefe ’17, graduated from the Mount as well. For several semesters in the mid-2010s, the entire O’Keefe family was either working or taking classes at the Mount.