Taylor Research Group (TRG) proudly welcomed Will Armstrong, public historian, to our team in 2017. For the past 15 years, Will has used his extensive knowledge of historical research methods and project management skills for clients involved in high stakes toxic tort and environmental litigation. For those of you on the TRG mailing list, you may recall receiving a postcard about Will last fall. We now wanted to let you know a little bit more about him – and in his own words. We recently conducted a brief Q&A session with Will, so please read on to learn more about his professional achievements, passion for historical research, and reflections on TRG.
Tell us about your professional background and specialties:
My background is in American military history, specifically during the 20th century and the Revolutionary War. I’ve never been drawn to the violence of war, but I have always been drawn to stories of ordinary citizens caught up in extraordinary circumstances, including my grandfathers, one of whom served in World War II as a Marine pilot while the other worked on radar systems at MIT.
My initial focus was the history of specific battles and military technology, which I think is typical for a military historian, but in my professional work much of my focus has been on the nexus between industry and government in the development and production of defense materiel. That includes anything from chemicals to spacecraft. The issues that I have researched have included questions of federal government versus civilian control of wartime manufacturing facilities, specific contract language such as indemnification provisions, product safety and failure-to-warn cases, and the environmental impact of industrial production itself. When I first started my career I was fortunate that my undergraduate thesis had been heavily focused on government-contractor relations, so I was more familiar with the types of records that we work with than I otherwise would have been.
I also specialize in the history of specific military facilities, and have worked on many projects involving environmental contamination at military sites, going all the way back to the 1800s when on-site tanneries were in operation. We’re still dealing with the consequences of contamination that occurred 100 years ago, during World War I, and new contaminants of concern are still being identified.
I have also been very fortunate to have been able to work on projects closer to my original interests, including the development of numerous museum exhibits. I’ve been involved with exhibits at the National World War II Museum and other major museums, and co-authored the first international exhibit on the 9-11 attacks, which was a cooperative effort by the New York State Museum and the Caen Memorial Museum in France. I’ve also done a fair amount of genealogy-type work related to individuals’ military service.
You’re also an author — can you give us some insight into the books you’ve published?
My first job out of college was as a guide at what was then the Baltimore Maritime Museum, and while my main job was to present the history of the museum’s ships, I also got visitor questions about the local area, especially its role during World War II. I didn’t always have the answers, so I started researching Baltimore’s wartime history. That led to my first book, Images of America: Baltimore in World War II, which was published in 2005. I approached it as a pocket museum exhibit, something that provided a broadly accessible window into that period of history.
In recent years I had an opportunity to do two more books in the same series. The first is almost a prequel: Images of America: Maryland in World War I, and it’s one of the first books to feature images from the National Archives’ collection of World War I War Department photographs. I’ve had a longstanding interest in Maryland’s role during World War I, and I thought that perhaps a local photographic history might help make the topic more accessible, even to people who aren’t from my home state. World War I is largely forgotten in the United States now, and I hoped that timing the release for the centennial would be ideal in terms of drawing interest.
My third book, Images of Aviation: Marine Air Group 25 and SCAT, although still a photographic history, is the most definitive account to date of MAG-25 and the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command, in which my grandfather served during World War II. I began attending the annual gatherings of the MAG-25/SCAT veterans’ group after my grandfather passed away, and each year I would bring an ever-expanding portfolio of wartime photographs. Those photographs were always a big hit, and I think it’s appropriate that they formed the basis of my book. When it comes to military history, logistics units don’t tend to get much limelight, so I was happy to be able to tell the story of a unit that was once well-known but is now nearly forgotten.
What draws you to historical research?
It’s a combination of compelling stories and detective work. I have a lifelong curiosity about how important events have unfolded, and how people have contributed to or reacted to them, and my curiosity is by no means restricted to military history. We may know the big stories, but within each one are countless other stories, some of which have never been told. The pieces are often there, though, and as historians we have the ability to find and connect them. Whether it’s the background of how an industrial product was conceived or manufactured, the story of an individual struggling against the odds, or the details of how a battle unfolded, I love the detective work involved in historical research.
In your opinion, what is TRG’s strongest asset in terms of our research approach?
TRG has a great balance of research expertise and size that allows us to perform in-depth research efficiently and with minimal cost. Our staff has worked with an extraordinary and diverse set of clients over the years, providing research and analysis on a wide array of historical and environmental issues. Our combined experience allows us to quickly target the most relevant records collections, prioritize other potentially-relevant collections, and provide valuable insight to our clients throughout the research process. If you want cost-effective research done right, there is no better team in the business.
As we settle into 2018, do you have any hopes or goals for TRG for the new year?
TRG had a great 2017, and I hope that 2018 will be even better. We’ve increased our staff and taken on a heavier project load, and I hope that those trends will continue as more and more clients recognize us as the best value in research for their historical and environmental litigation needs.