An Interview With Bryan Knowles ’20

January 15, 2020

Bryan College senior Bryan Knowles recently had an article published by the Sparta-White County Historical Society. Bryan’s article was about George Gibbs Dibrell, a state legislator from Sparta, Tennessee. We spoke with Bryan about George Gibbs Dibrell, his favorite part of studying history, and what history can teach us.

What made you interested in George Gibbs Dibrell?
I first learned about Dibrell shortly after my family moved to Sparta, Tennessee, in 2010. Since Sparta was Dibrell’s hometown, he’s almost a hero of sorts. But all the information about him was very generalized and there isn’t any comprehensive, detailed account of his life and career. When I decided on a research paper option for Dr. Ricketts’ American Military History course in the spring of 2018, I chose Dibrell as my subject because there would be some good primary sources I could mine for more information without having to travel long distances as I would for other subjects.


What’s the most interesting thing you learned from researching George Gibbs Dibrell?
Dibrell appears to have maintained a conflicted loyalties during the Civil War era. He was a Democrat and a Confederate States commander under Nathan Bedford Forrest, but he was elected as a Union candidate to the Tennessee convention that was to debate secession before the war broke out. After the war, he served an extended tenure in Congress, where he was respected despite his previous affiliation, which is surprising in a period of frequent disenfranchisement.


What was the process of getting this published like?
The publishing process was very simple, due to the local nature of the publication. I found submission guidelines and formatted my paper accordingly, then touched base briefly with the editorial team to make sure everything was good to go before it was finalized.


What’s your favorite part of studying history?
My favorite aspect about studying history is achieving a sense of immersion into the period you are studying. History should be alive for us, and when you read a primary or secondary source that takes you back to the moment it was written or is talking about, it gives you a whole new perspective and an appreciation for those who came before us.


What advice do you have for people who want to increase their knowledge and study of history?
I can only repeat what I was told before entering college, and which I’ve only found to be more and more true. That is, read every book you can get your hands on. Focus on the prominent authors and their notable works in your field of interest, but be willing to read outside your favorite period. Find a topic you can dig deeply into and become the indisputable expert in that area. Read material from different perspectives and evaluate it critically. Remember that everyone has a bias, even you. Read about your author, find their bias, and keep it in mind. History is more than the retelling of people’s past lives–it is an attempt to answer the fundamental questions of life: who are we, where did we come from, and why are we here?


How do you plan to use your history degree in the future?
I want to use my degree to better the lives of other people, both by furthering their knowledge of themselves and of the world, and by entertaining and inspiring them with the many valuable stories from the vast vaults of history. I’ll do that in whatever manner I can. I plan on attending graduate school in 2021, but I am currently producing an amateur documentary film project about Dibrell–we’ll see where that goes in the future.