Resident Renaissance Man: Civil War Conference Calls on Paradis

By Purnell T. Cropper | November 9, 2011

Editor’s Note: Dr. James Paradis will take part in two panel discussions at the Legacy of the Civil War Conference in Chestnut Hill, Pa. On Friday, Nov. 11, Paradis will take part in a panel discussing Camp William Penn, and on Saturday, Nov. 12, he will speak about the legacy of John Brown. For more information on the symposium, visit

By Jordyn Austin ’14

Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Maybe you attended a lecture of his or were lucky enough to enroll in a class that he’s taught. Either way, there’s little chance that a student at Arcadia hasn’t in some context come into contact with Dr. James Paradis, Adjunct Professor of History. But his résumé includes so much more than that. He is also a Dean of the Upper School at Doane Academy, a published and accredited author and a noted lecturer, just to name a few.

Paradis’ area of expertise lies in Civil War history, a passion that he says he picked up as a child. “When I was twelve,” he says, “I found the Civil War a collection of fascinating characters and dramatic events.” As much as history intrigued him, however, Paradis started out in a different direction. In high school he decided to study to be a missionary priest and attended Maryknoll Seminary in Illinois after graduation.

By 1968, however, Paradis changed track and returned to the East coast, attending La Salle University and majoring in social work. While working on his degree, he completed field placements with the House of Corrections in Philadelphia and then at Eastern State School and Hospital, where he worked with emotionally troubled children. These placements fueled his passion for humanitarianism, and after graduation Paradis looked for employment in social work.

He was soon hired by the Buck’s County Board of Assistance where he worked in the social services department for the next 15 years. While working in the “largest non-urban slum in PA,” he was shocked by the lack of literacy of some residents and how it was holding them back. To address this issue, he helped found Each One Teach One, a program with the sole initiative of teaching impoverished members of the community to read and empowering them to become teachers as well. The program was a huge success and, according to Paradis, “Very fulfilling… but ultimately, due to budget cutbacks, it got cut.” However, the experience helped him to realize that he was destined to teach, and soon he was back in school pursuing this new found passion.  Paradis earned his teaching certificate in social studies from Gwynedd Mercy, completing his master’s degree in history at Temple University in 1984 at the same time.

After teacher certification from Gwynedd Mercy, Paradis applied everywhere and landed a position at St. Mary’s Hall-Doane Academy (now Doane Academy), where he has remained for the last 25 years. He returned to graduate school and in 1995 he earned his doctorate in American History from Temple University.

As professor Paradis was able to return to his first love, the Civil War, particularly his favorite aspect of it: the role of African Americans in the Civil War. Paradis attributes this interest to information he initially learned from reading Frank H. Taylor’s text, Philadelphia in the Civil War. “It spoke about eleven black regiments trained in Philly. But black units only had a paragraph while entire pages were devoted to white units,” says Paradis. This intrigued him and soon he realized that there was little significant historical documentation about African Americans’ participation in the war during this time period. So he decided to dig further and in 1998 published Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War.

The rest, as they say, is history. Strike the Blow was met with great acclaim, and Paradis was soon launched into the lecture circuit, where he has spoken about all facets of the Civil War. His second book, African Americans and the Gettysburg Campaign, was published in 2005. He recently published a review of Scott L. Mingus Sr.’s The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign: June-July 1863 in the Journal of Southern History (Feb 2011) and a revised edition to his text. Paradis, who joined Arcadia in the spring of 2000, juggles his teaching duties here and at Doane Academy, attends the Civil War Institute in Gettysburg and annually brings his senior class to Harper’s Ferry, W.V., where they do a service project for the National Park Service. He is now continuing research, and currently has a new text in the works focusing on Jeremiah Asher, a Baptist Minister from Philadelphia, chaplain of the 6th regiment and the first chaplain to die in service.  He is now finishing a new Sesquicentennial edition of African Americans and the Gettysburg Campaign, which is scheduled to be released by 2013, the 150th anniversary of the battle.