Thursday, January 29, 2015

It Took 200 Years, But Philadelphia is Finally the Center of the Bible Universe

Philadelphia's Bishop William White
In case you have not been reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home today, I did a few quick posts on the announcement of the American Bible Society move from New York City to Philadelphia.  As a historian, I am thrilled about the move.  From what I can tell, the ABS library and archives will also move to the City of Brotherly Love.  More on that later.

When we think about this move to Philadelphia in the context of the ABS's 200-year history, the irony is hard to miss. When Elias Boudinot tried to form the ABS in 1815 not everyone was thrilled with the idea of a national Bible society.  The Philadelphia Bible Society (PBS) led the opposition.  The PBS Board of Managers, led by President William White, the Episcopalian Bishop of Pennsylvania, did not think that a national organization could distribute Bibles any better than the many state and local societies already in existence.  Other PBS members, including Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia doctor and signer of the Declaration of Independence, agreed.

White also argued that the timing was not right for a national society. The country was in a “difficult economic state” in the wake of the recent war with England and as a result Americans would not be willing to support to new charities.  The PBS managers also worried about competition between a new national organization and those state and local Bible societies that refused to join it.  Such differences would divide the Bible cause in America and make it look “foolish” in the eyes of the world.  These criticisms were included in a document circulated to Bible societies throughout the United States for the purpose of convincing them to ignore Boudinot's plan for a national society.

Shortly after the Philadelphia Bible Society published its formal objections to a national Bible society, Boudinot wrote a point-by-point rebuttal from the bed in the back room of his Burlington, New Jersey home.  Boudinot would have certainly agreed with the words of an anonymous clergyman who published a similar essay in support of a national society: “The very fact of there being so many separate and independent societies is proof enough that they are individually weak; that no one can have the ability of extending its operations much beyond the limits of the district in which it is located.”  Using words that echoed the sentiments of those politicians (such as Boudinot) who also defended the United States Constitution, the clergyman added, “Can there be a union of the people for political purposes, and not one for those of a moral and religious nature?” 

When it came to the Philadelphia Bible Society’s concern over the potential of animosity and disunity among the various Bible societies in the United States, Boudinot took the high road.  The purpose of a national society was to overcome such petty jealousies by forcing those involved in Bible distribution to “forget our differences and recognize our common relation to the same divine master and our common obligation to support His cause in the world.”  In the end, if the Philadelphia Bible Society did not want to join a national society, Boudinot asked that its managers would, at the very least, allow the society to function without publicly opposing it.

Boudinot’s rebuttal to the Philadelphia Bible Society convinced the managers of several state and local Bible societies to change their minds about uniting their efforts with other societies in the formation a national organization.  Other Bible societies, however, stayed with Philadelphia.  In the end, it was the New York Bible Society and the Massachusetts Bible Society that provided what appeared to be a death blow to Boudinot's proposal.  The managers of the New York Bible Society concluded that they “were not able to discover any advantages likely to result from the contemplated institution which could not be compassed by a more simple, expeditious, and less expansive process….”  The Massachusetts Bible Society managers claimed to be “strongly impressed with the weight and sufficiency” of the objections put forward by the Philadelphia Bible Society.

Boudinot was angry with the way the Philadelphia Bible Society expressed their differences.  The use of a circular letter as a means of undermining his proposal was motivated by “mistaken zeal.”  Boudinot could understand differences of opinion—he had been through some of the country’s most intense political wars to date—but he could not tolerate the Philadelphia Bible Society’s attempt “to interfere & endeavor to prejudice all the other societies & forestall their sentiments, against so important a measure for the spread of the gospel of the Son of God.”  He found such action to be “extremely wrong.”  As a good Christian and republican who sought to avoid division and schism, Boudinot remained silent, venting only to his close friends in the Bible cause.  He told Alexander Proudfit, the president of the Washington County Bible Society in Salem, NY, that he had heard from an unnamed source that the Philadelphia Bible Society’s resistance to a national Bible society was “occasioned by a Jealousy of certain persons lest their influence should suffer, if such a measure should take place.”  Perhaps it was William White, or another member of the Philadelphia Board of Managers.  The Philadelphia crowd thought the most important Bible society in American should be housed in their city.

Boudinot decided that he would not go forward with his plans for a national Bible society until twenty Bible societies agreed to send delegates to Philadelphia for a proposed May 1815 meeting.  He estimated that thirteen or fourteen societies had supported his proposal.  Five or six more rejected the proposal.  And another four or five supported the measure but did not have the financial resources to send delegates to a convention.  Without the support of Philadelphia, New York, and Massachusetts he had little chance but to render his proposal “abortive.” 

Just when it looked as if a national Bible society would not happen, Samuel Mills, a Congregational minister traveling under the auspices of the Massachusetts Missionary Society, returned from a missionary journey to the West.  Mills and his partner Daniel Smith noted that large swaths of people in the West did not own Bibles. They concluded that efforts of the Philadelphia Bible Society and the New York Bible Society, organizations trying to meet these needs in the West, were not enough.  

The work of Mills and Smith caught the attention of John Caldwell, the new Secretary of the New York Bible Society.  Shortly after the publication of a Mills-Smith report in the religious journal The Panoplist, Caldwell wrote a letter to Boudinot to tell him that he thought the Board of Managers of the New York Bible Society might be reconsidering the idea of a national Bible society.  Caldwell was a supporter of a national Bible society and seems to have provided an answer to the Philadelphia Bible Society’s objections that satisfied the members of his board.  Sensing the time was right, Caldwell urged Boudinot to make a second call for a meeting to establish a national society.  He even agreed to host the event in New York.  

With New York in his corner, Boudinot was ready to move forward with another call for a national Bible Society.  On January 17, 1816, Boudinot issued a circular letter addressed to “THE SEVERAL BIBLE SOCIETIES IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICAThe letter included the New York Bible Society’s resolution to unite behind the cause.  Boudinot announced that a meeting would be held in New York City on May 11, 1816.  He hoped to attend the meeting “should it please a merciful God to raise me from the bed of sickness to which I am now confined.”  

The Philadelphia Bible Society once again rejected Boudinot’s proposal and proposed a plan to have all Bible societies in the United States send reports to a central location where they would be published and distributed throughout the country.  Such a plan, the Philadelphia Board of Managers suggested, would allow every Bible society in the nation to “have a full view of the operations of sister Institutions throughout the Union, and of the particular regions to which they direct their benevolent efforts.” In March 1816, only two months prior to the meeting that Boudinot had scheduled in New York City, Bishop William White sent out a circular letter on behalf of the Philadelphia Bible Society promoting this idea, but it got little traction.  This was as far as the Philadelphia Bible Society would go in acquiescing to any kind of national organization. Could a truly national Bible society go forward without Philadelphia?  Elias Boudinot, John Caldwell, and Samuel Mills did not seem too bothered by this question.

In the end, the American Bible Society was created in New York in May 1816.  The Philadelphia Bible Society did not unite with the national organization and would remain independent for a few more decades.  

It took 200 years, but today's announcement means that Philadelphia has finally become center of the Bible universe.  Somewhere Bishop William White, Benjamin Rush, and the rest of the early Philadelphia Bible Society leadership are smiling.

The Author's Corner with Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau is a novelist, journalist, and curator of the upcoming "Religion in Early America" exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. This interview is based on his new book One Nation Under Gods: A New American History (Little, Brown and Company, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write One Nation Under Gods?

PM: A few years ago the question of religion’s role in the creation of the United States was receiving quite a lot of attention. I followed these discussions, and read a few excellent books considering Christian influence in early America, including Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith, Thomas Kidd’s God of Liberty, and of course, John Fea’s Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? To further the discussion of religion’s role in American history, I wanted to gather a wide-ranging set of stories about other kinds of religious influence that can be seen from the beginning.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of One Nation Under Gods?

PM: Since its founding, the United States has undeniably been a majority Christian country, but demographics only tell part of religion’s role in our shared history. As it has through other aspects of culture – literature, art, music – America has been shaped through the minority influence of beliefs and practices on the margins of dominant religious views, despite frequently violent efforts to suppress this influence by the majority.

JF: Why do we need to read One Nation Under Gods?

PM: In the ongoing conversation about the place of conflicting religious ideas in American culture, it’s important to remember that these are not new questions. Many know this in theory, and perhaps have some awareness of arrival of Jews in New Amsterdam, or the presence of Islam among the enslaved, but what One Nation Under Gods tries to do is bring this diversity together into a narrative considering such moments central rather than peripheral to the American story.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PM: Strictly speaking, I’m not an American historian. My doctorate is in religion, and as a writer I wear a number of hats (novelist, memoirist, journalist), though I do like to think the skills required of other literary genres helped me complete a character-driven narrative history like One Nation Under Gods. Yet though my academic training was not in American history, as someone who writes mainly about belief, it was probably inevitable that I would look to the rich territory of the nation’s multi-religious past.

JF: What is your next project?

PM: As I completed edits on this book, I realized there was a story I wished I’d included: the significant and mostly forgotten influence of spiritualism on nineteenth century America. To tell this story in a compelling way, I’m at work on a narrative history that uses a few colorful figures to describe how technology—electricity, photography, the telegraph—helped spread belief in communication with the dead well beyond mediums and table-rapping séance rooms. Like One Nation Under Gods, it’s an attempt to vividly portray the negotiation between the margins and the mainstream, though this time I’ll focus on the unexpected influence of just one set of unorthodox beliefs.

JF: Can't wait to read about it. Thanks Peter!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What is Life Like After the History Major?

Christine Giamattei, a 2010 graduate of Holy Cross and a history major, nails it! She followed her burning passion for history and eventually found the study of history prepared her well for a life of work.

Here is a taste from her 2013 post at Levo League:
Unlike the decision of what to actually do with my history degree, the decision of declaring the major was an easy one. I declared history as my major even before I went to orientation at Holy Cross. It was a bold move, but a sure thing.
It had become apparent to me that history was really the only thing I was truly interested in studying. The only thing I wanted to learn, to read, to write, and to discover in college. It had been the same growing up too. My love for it is something that makes me, me.
And history turned out to be the best thing for me to study in college because I had an innate, unquestionable, burning passion for it.
But once second semester senior year rolled around, I realized that I would be blasting stereotypes, as I would not be venturing off to law school or applying for a teaching job with a fresh history degree.
I really had no idea what I wanted to do and who I should contact about jobs that would be a good fit for the major on my degree. I didn’t know if interviewers and companies would see my degree as vague and limiting and unspecified and without practical training.
How would my passion for and knowledge of Gilded Age America translate into work at a future job that wasn’t being a teacher, librarian or historian?
I eventually came to believe that my major prepared me well for life and work in the professional world. For any kind of job, really. It wasn’t what I learned/loved… every bit of 19th century America… or didn’t learn/hated in college… calculus and plant biology… but how I learned it and what I walked away with… besides being able to talk anyone’s ear off about the significance of the construction and opening day of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883.
I’ll spare you that oration.
Instead, I am here to tell you — all of you — that all of the papers and tests and group projects and office hours and presentations (that seem completely bullshit at the time) are worth it. These experiences will be put to good use after you earn the diploma. You will use the skills you picked up along the way, whether you’re conscious of them at the time or not.
In the end, it didn’t matter what major I graduated with. I’d been on a holy grail and back in order to graduate with indispensable professional (and life) skills and passions, and that is what I believe will take me far in my career.
So what the heck are these famed skills and passions that can help earn you success and gain you notoriety among your co-workers?
I’ll tell ya.
Read the rest here.

Official Press Release: American Bible Society Moves to Philadelphia

HISTORIC MINISTRY MAKES ITS NEW HOME IN HISTORIC PHILADELPHIA

City of American Bible Society’s Founder Is City of Ministry’s Future

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 28, 2015—At a press conference today, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and American Bible Society President and CEO Roy Peterson announced that American Bible Society, one of the nation’s first and enduring nonprofits, will relocate its national headquarters to the historic center of Philadelphia, an area often called the most historic square mile in America.

The move comes after nearly 200 years in New York City. (The ministry will celebrate its bicentennial in 2016.) While American Bible Society will maintain a presence in New York, its headquarters will relocate to Philadelphia, bringing together staff from current offices in both New York and Valley Forge.

“We are thrilled that we will be starting a third century of service, headquartered here in Philadelphia,” said Peterson. “Home to America’s first hopes as a new nation, Philadelphia is now home to a very bright future for American Bible Society.”

Peterson said the city was selected based on a number of factors, including strategic collaboration opportunities, affordability and livability. Coincidentally, one of the ministry’s founders and its first president, Elias Boudinot, was a native son of Philadelphia.

The new American Bible Society headquarters will be located at 401 Market Street in Philadelphia’s historic district. Ministry offices will encompass nearly 100,000 square feet on the 8th and 9th floors of the building. In addition, American Bible Society has proposed creating a Bible Discovery Center on the first floor, as well as a conference center, Rare Scriptures Depository and scholarly working library on the concourse level of the building. The new Bible Discovery Center will provide quick access to 5th Street, the center point of Independence Mall, and will add a new dimension to the historic area, sharing American Bible Society’s uniquely American story.

“Philadelphia is a place where businesses and nonprofits receive a warm reception,” said Nutter. “On behalf of the City of Philadelphia, we’re honored to welcome American Bible Society to its new home.”

The ministry anticipates opening the doors of its new offices this summer, with the Bible Discovery Center opening being explored for 2016.

“For 20 decades, American Bible Society has worked to make the Bible available where needed most so that all may experience its life-changing message,” said Peterson. “As we work toward the goal of having 100 million Americans engaging with God’s Word and 100 percent of the world’s languages open for Bible engagement, our new Philadelphia headquarters will become the launching pad for Bible ministry in the U.S. and around the world.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Oh How I Wish Contributors Received a Free Copy

The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment is here for the low, low price of $451.00.  From what I can tell, Mark Spencer has edited an amazing research tool for students of American history.  It is now time for all of us to get our academic libraries to purchase a copy.

I contributed an essay on Philip Vickers Fithian to this volume.  I may have written other entires, but I just can't remember.  I will have to wait for the "See Inside" feature on Amazon to find out.

Here is the description:

The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment is the first reference work on this key subject in early American history. With over 500 original essays on key American Enlightenment figures, it provides a comprehensive account to complement the intense scholarly activity that has recently centered on the European Enlightenment. 

With substantial and original essays on the major American Enlightenment figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Rush, Jonathan Edwards and many others, this wide-ranging collection includes topical essays and entries on dozens of often-overlooked secondary figures.

It has long been known that Americans made their own contributions to the Enlightenment, most notably by putting Enlightenment ideas to work in defining the American Revolution, the United States Constitution, and the nature of the early American Republic. These volumes show that the American Enlightenment was more far reaching than even that story assumes. Presenting a fresh definition of the Enlightenment in America, this remarkable work confirms that the American Enlightenment constitutes the central framework for understanding the development of American history between c.1720 and c. 1820.

It's Official: American Bible Society is Moving to Philadelphia

It looks like the final chapter of my history of the American Bible Society book will include a section on the Society's move to Philadelphia.  Here is the latest from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The American Bible Society will give up its tony Broadway address for one in Philadelphia's historic district.

The society, which has had its headquarters in New York City for 199 years and has operations all over the world, will relocate to 401 Market St., steps from Independence Mall.

Mayor Nutter will announce the nonprofit's move, which will bring more than 200 jobs to the city, at a news conference Wednesday.

The society's primary mission is to engage more people with the Bible. It also is responsible for a worldwide Christian ministry and has a goal of translating the Bible into every language. So far, it has produced from 750 to 1,000 translations, and it plans to translate into an additional 1,800 of the world's 7,000 languages.

In an interview Tuesday, American Bible Society CEO Roy Peterson said that while it was a "real heart-wrenching decision to leave New York," it was the right decision for his staff.
Living in New York on a nonprofit salary is tough, he said.

"People can afford to live here [in Philadelphia], it's walkable, there's public transportation," Peterson said. "Our staff commutes an hour or two . . . from Long Island, the Bronx."

The ministry offices will lease nearly 100,000 square feet on the eighth and ninth floors of the Market Street building, which is mostly occupied by Wells Fargo. The lease is for 25 years with a 25-year renewal option, Peterson said.

The society has also proposed creating a Bible Discovery Center on the first floor, as well as a conference center, rare Scriptures depository, and library in the building's concourse level.

"Our new Philadelphia headquarters will become the launching pad for Bible ministry in the U.S. and around the world," Peterson said in a statement.

Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger said the society's headquarters will be yet another historic presence
in the Independence Mall area.

"They are bringing 200 jobs with them," Greenberger said. "Wage tax is our No. 1 revenue generator in the city, so on a very basic level, nonprofits and for-profits are all the same."

The American Bible Society has about 270 employees and about 200 volunteers worldwide, according to a 2012 financial report. That year, the society had a $9 million deficit on a $92 million operating budget. Its total assets, not including its prime real estate building, are valued at $491 million, according to its 990 filing from 2012.

The ministry expects to be fully moved in this summer, just in time for Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia during September's World Meeting of Families.

The Bible Discovery Center would likely open in 2016, when the society celebrates its bicentennial.

A small staff will remain in New York to continue partnerships with the religious institutions there, Peterson said.

But it won't be at its current location. The society has put up for sale its building, at 1865 Broadway at 61st Street. Last year, it was priced at $300 million.

A Legendary AP U.S. History Reader Decides to Put Down His Pencil

Fred Jordan with his wife and fellow history teacher, Karen Jordan
I have known Fred Jordan for over twenty years.  When my wife and I arrived at the Stony Brook School in 1994, Fred was on leave in South Bend, Indiana where he was starting his Ph.D coursework at Notre Dame under the direction of George Marsden.  Upon his return to Long Island we overlapped for a year at Stony Brook before Fred and his family left New York for a position at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia.  Fred eventually finished that Ph.D (while working full-time as a boarding school administrator, history teacher, and squash coach) and is currently at work on turning the dissertation project--a history of Christianity in American boarding schools--into what I am sure will be an outstanding book.
I have had some good visits with Fred over the years, but nothing compares to the seven days we would spend together (along with hundreds of other United States history teachers and professors) at the annual US History AP Reading at Trinity University in San Antonio.  When I started grading AP exams I was finishing up my dissertation at SUNY-Stony Brook and working as an AP U.S. history teacher at the Stony Brook School. Fred not only urged me to sign up for the reading, but he also asked me to "room" with him.  (We each had our own room and shared a bathroom).  When I arrived in San Antonio I realized that I was not just rooming with a friend and fellow history teacher, but with a guy who was a long-time veteran of the AP reading.  Fred seemed to know virtually every major player at the event.  It was clear (to me at least) that he was AP royalty.  
Fred introduced me to everyone.  In that first year he really took me under his wing.  I had such a good time at the reading that I started encouraging some of my friends to join us.  Jay Green and Eric Miller were two of those friends. In fact, much of our book, Confessing History, was crafted and organized in dorm room lounges at Trinity University and watering holes along the San Antonio River Walk.  Fred was part of those conversations, but only when we could pull him away from dinners and other events with the AP brass or from strumming with his ad-hoc blue grass band. The conversations we had late into the south Texas night continue to be some of the most stimulating moments of my professional career.  For me the AP reading was an intellectual feast.  We graded all day and talked history all night.  Every day was like a workday and every evening was like a Friday and Saturday night.  Needless to say, by the end of the week we were exhausted.
Fred was reading AP exams well before I showed up and he continued to read AP exams well-before I left.  (I stopped attending after the reading moved from the campus of Trinity University to a sterile convention center in Louisville). He was a table-leader during most of his tenure, but during the Louisville years he rose to a position of authority exceeded only by the "Chief Reader."  I wish I could have seen him in action during those years.
I am sure that there are other history teachers and professors who have had a longer tenure reading exams, but I am incapable of thinking about the AP U.S. History reading, and with it a pivotal period in my professional development, without thinking of Fred Jordan.
Earlier this week Fred turned to Facebook to announce his retirement from grading AP exams.  With his permission, I have posted his moving statement below:

I sent this to the current leadership of the US History AP Reading this afternoon. Food for thought.
My invitation to the Reading arrived in my inbox last week. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself trolling through much of the site, perusing instructions for new readers, lodging, reader policies and procedures (not much time spent on that), the list of participants, and so on. The experience brought back a great many warm memories. In looking through the guide to the new exam (what we used to call “the acorn book”), I was reminded the high idealism and burning energy that the AP program gave me. I felt immense satisfaction in trying to master a demanding curriculum. I was similarly energized in reading the exams in those early years, grateful that I could serve my own students better for having been a part of the process and possessed of a sense that I was also serving the profession. I’ll be forever grateful to Robert Bannister, my Swarthmore professor and a former Chief Reader, for writing to Frank Warren and recommending me for the Reading. Other memories centered on the professional development nights, opportunities to hear some of the best historians in the business: David Kennedy, Leon Litwack, Andrew Bacevich, Lizabeth Cohen, Gary Nash, and so many more. (Walt Rostow, too, though I’m not sure I’d rank him with the others.) That list of notable historians would also have to include our own in-house speakers: Jim Giglio, John Belolahvek, Yanek Mieczkowski, Elliott Barkan, Betty Dessants, Keith Edgerton and – of course – Jonathan Chu. But the best memories, of course, were about the friendships that I developed at the Reading, with evenings of good cheer and lots of laughter shared with people who loved history as much as I did. If the food was mediocre in the dining halls at Trinity and the Convention Center, at least it gave us good reason to go out. If the exams were mediocre or the policies of ETS unfathomable, the seemingly endless supply of good bourbon (“brown water” in Nat Jobe’s lexicon) proved a wonderful palliative.
I’ll miss all of these things, but I do think my time at the Reading has come to an end. Turning 60 this year has been the occasion for much reflection, much of which centers on the very real fact that my years are limited and my list of unmet aspirations lengthy. I simply must finish this book on the history of American boarding schools, if at all possible. Travel beckons. The opportunities to see our grown children occur less often, so I want to take advantage of that when I can. There is also an indefinable sense that even good things run their course, and that somehow it’s time to say good-bye.
If I don’t come to the Reading, I suppose that will open up a slot for someone else. I hope it’s a young high school history teacher, full of enthusiasm and curiosity and idealism and possessed of a fine sense of humor, who can begin a similar experience. There’s no smoking table for him to begin at, as I did in 1988 (Walt Lambert was the TL; I smoked a pipe at the time), and the number of readers has grown from 225 to over 1500. (350 new readers this year for the new exam? Really?) He won’t know that the factory he’s working in was once a group of artisans. But I hope he’ll have a good table and TL, meet some of the high personalities at the Reading, build some relationships, grow some professionally, and be challenged to excellence in his own teaching. Perhaps it will be the start of someone else having as satisfying a time as I’ve had.
And so I’ll decline the invitation, and even go a step further and ask to be taken off the list. Who knows how I’ll feel about this next week or next year, and I could wind up applying all over again. But for now this seems right.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Southern Baptist Historians and Intellectual Leaders: Where Do You Stand on David Barton?

Warren Throckmorton is right.  It is time for more Southern Baptist historians to call attention to the way David Barton uses the past to promote his culture-war agenda.  I don't know much about this event called The Summit, but it looks like a big deal.  Barton is one of the speakers.  Once again, his problematic views of the past are being promoted as the truth.

The bio states that he speaks to "400 groups each year."  I am not sure how this possible, but it does suggest that there are a lot of people who want to hear what he has to say.

Now I know that there are a lot of good historians and church historians in the Southern Baptist Convention.  Some of them read this blog.  Thomas Kidd, for example, was influential in exposing Barton's highly problematic The Jefferson Lies. Perhaps it is time for more of them, especially conservatives, to say something.  Why haven't people like Al Mohler or Russell Moore said anything on this front?  Barton's influence in the SBC is huge!

Southern Baptist leaders and historians have made it abundantly clear that they are interested in TRUTH, but their quest for such truth apparently doesn't apply to the study of American history.

Check out our coverage of Barton here and here.

Did the Purpose of College Change on February 28, 1967?

Ronald Reagan is to blame.  On February 28, 1967 the Governor of California announced that he was going to remove certain "intellectual luxuries" from college campuses in the University of California system.  In doing so, he sent a clear message that the purpose of college was less about intellectual curiosity and more about finding a job.

At least this is the argument of Dan Berrett in a recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  It is a compelling one.

Here is a taste:

As his second term and the 1970s began, demographics, economic uncertainty, and world events reinforced Reagan’s ideology. Two philosophical shifts, toward social egalitarianism and free-market orthodoxy, took hold.

Higher education felt those shifts. Professorial authority diminished. The unraveling consensus on the curriculum accelerated. Colleges increasingly viewed students as customers. Economic inequality and insecurity rose, as did the wage premium of a college degree. And that became one of higher education’s main selling points.

The long postwar boom, for both the economy and for higher education, was ending, and the oil embargo, in 1973, further strained the economy. Enrollment data showed students fleeing from the liberal arts, disciplines commonly associated with a liberal education, and flocking to professional and pre-professional programs.

Higher education became more of a buyer’s market. Overall enrollments dropped. As that trend continued, colleges sought out new customers, especially adults and first-generation students, many of whom wanted their investments to pay off in jobs.

Read the rest here.

Culture Wars: Old and New

In his regular Washington Post column, E.J. Dionne reflects on how the so-called "culture wars" have changed.  Here is a taste:

This is the new culture war. It is about national identity rather than religion and “transcendent authority.” It focuses on which groups the United States will formally admit to residence and citizenship. It asks the same question as the old culture war: “Who are we?” But the earlier query was primarily about how we define ourselves morally. The new question is about how we define ourselves ethnically, racially and linguistically. It is, in truth, one of the oldest questions in our history, going back to our earliest immigration battles of the 1840s and 1850s.

The Author's Corner with Robert Middlekauff

Robert Middlekauff is Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkeley. This interview is based on his new book, Washington's Revolution: The Making of America's First Leader (Knopf, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write Washington's Revolution

RM: Interest in Washington. I wrote a book, The Glorious Cause, several years ago about the American Revolution in which he figured, and, at that time, learned much about him, but my curiosity was not fully satisfied even though I revised that book in 2005. In fact, doing the revision increased my interest. I was strongly encouraged by my old teacher, E. S. Morgan, to have another crack at Washington.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Washington's Revolution?

RM: The argument is that Washington grew intellectually and morally as the Revolution developed. The nature of much of that growth revolved around Washington’s conception of what was at stake in the war with Britain: freedom and the union of American states, and the importance of the struggle for liberty in America to the larger world.

JF: Why do we need to read Washington's Revolution?

RM: There are many books about Washington and the Revolution. This one covers much familiar ground, but it also takes a cut at Washington and the Revolution in a way that is not familiar to most historians and lay or non-specialist readers.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RM: I’ve been interested in the past since childhood. I’m not certain of when my interest in American history took center place, but I decided to make its study my profession while serving in the First Marine Division in Korea over sixty years ago. The Marines and the place helped focus my mind.

JF: What is your next project?

RM: I’m not sure, though writing a book about Mark Twain may be it. I’m lucky to be in the university that houses the largest collection of his writings in the world. In the last few years, I’ve read many of his unpublished manuscripts and almost all of his letters.

There is also the possibility that I will remain in the colonial period of American history and write about either New England Puritanism or the Revolution.

JF: Sounds exciting, Prof. Middlekauff. Thanks!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Jay Green's latest project

The papers of Robert E. Lee

John Wilsey interviews Peter Gardella, author of American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred.

Jill Lepore on archiving the Internet

Michael Pasquier on Bobby Jindal's "Evangelical Catholicism."

Caleb McDaniel on teaching historical empathy.

Revisiting Hofstadter's "Paranoid Style."

Backstory on oratory in America

Historians in search of the next big trend.

Elizabeth Varon reviews Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.  Michael O'Donnell reviews it here.

Stephen Whitfield reviews Grant Wacker, America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation.

New Left historians

Eric Foner: When the South was not a fan of states' rights

Public history in a digital age

Tony Gill interviews Jonathan Den Hartog on Patriots and Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation.

The historian's platform

Andrew Jackson's mammoth cheese

Jeffrey McClurken on digital history

Culture Wars historiography

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Do The Things We Do Online Make Sense in Real Life?

Very funny and so true.

The Patriots Would Have Won the Game Anyway

Joe Queenan has a very funny piece at The Wall Street Journal for Patriot fans making this argument in response to "Deflategate."  Here is a taste:

When my son was 8, I started cheating whenever we played Stratego. I bought a second copy of the game and surreptitiously substituted a lot of powerful field marshals and bombs for useless scouts and miners. This massively increased my odds of winning. I beat him 867 consecutive times. But I didn’t feel guilty about it, because I was going to win anyway. It was cheating, yes, but it was harmless cheating. It was Olde New England-style cheating.

That wasn’t the only time I cheated when I didn’t have to.

When I used to play ping-pong with my daughter, I would holler, “Hey! Look at that flying brontosaurus!” and then insert cast iron into her paddle so that she couldn’t lift it off the floor. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with this because I was going to wipe the floor with her anyway—she was only 4 at the time—and she was recovering from chickenpox. So playing the game was a mere formality.

Read the entire piece here.  HT: Jim LaGrand

Julian Edelman's "Growing Pats" Video

Somewhat fitting in light of Deflategate.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why Huckabee May Have A Shot At The GOP Nomination



This kind of rhetoric worked well for Huckabee in 2008.  It could work again in 2016.

If Huckabee keeps pushing this Christian America stuff he will be competitive in Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and maybe even Texas.

Some analysis:

"We must once again become a God-centered nation."  Here Huckabee is appealing to a golden age of Christian America that probably never existed.  Was the Christian God more central to American culture in the 19th century?  Yes.  This was largely because non-Christian religions were few and far between.  But do we really want to return to the nineteenth-century or even the age of the founders? How, for example, might my African-American friends answer this question?  (I think I have a pretty good idea how they might respond).

Morevoer, Huckabee's rhetoric basically ignores the religious pluralism that came to define our country in the wake of the 1965 Immigrant Act.  How do we bring the Christian God into the center of a republic that is growing more religiously diverse by the day and still respect the founders commitment to religious freedom?  Huckabee's thoughts about the founding are more rooted in nostalgia than good history.  He does not understand the concept of "change over time." We cannot simply freeze the era and ideas of the founding apply them to 21st century America.

Did the founders believe that laws came from God?  Yes, most of them did  Even the few founders who might be called "deists" believed this.  They were a product of an eighteenth-century world in which most people believed this.  But they also believed that law came from other sources--Enlightenment sources, ancient/classical sources, and the moral sense (which most of them believed was placed in human beings by God). They thought that Christianity, and religion generally, was good for the republic, but only if it taught people to sacrifice their own interests for the common good.

For me the issue is not what the founders believed on this front. Anyone who reads the founders will find God-language.  They will also find strong statements about religious liberty.  They will find states that required leaders to be Christians and other states that rejected Christian test oaths or Christian establishments.  They will find founders with beliefs that were orthodox and others who rejected core Christian doctrines about the deity of Christ and the resurrection.  The founding era is really a mixed bag when it comes to religion and public life.  As a result, any call for a return to the age of the founders is problematic.  As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (the two main documents in which the so-called "founders" spoke in a unified voice), do not come anywhere close to promoting a Christian nation.

I believe Huckabee when he says he rejects a theocracy.  But he does not make clear what a country with "God at the center" might look like?

Most Americans are not willing to think in a historically-nuanced way about the relationship between Christian faith and public life.   This is why Huckabee, as long as he keeps preaching these ideas, has a decent shot at the GOP nomination.

Breaking News: The Past Is Expanding at a Rapid Rate

Another argument for the humanities.

From our friends at The Onion.  A taste:


WASHINGTON—Painting a stark portrait of a phenomenon that appears to be irreversible, a report published Thursday by the American Historical Association has found that the past is currently expanding at an alarming rate.

The comprehensive 950-page study, compiled by a panel of the nation’s most prominent historians, warns that the sum total of past time grows progressively larger each day, making it unlikely anything can be done to halt, or even slow down, the relentless trend.

“We believe the past is larger now than it’s ever been before,” said College of William and Mary professor Timothy Gibbon, lead author of the report, observing that whole generations of people have already become a part of history, and that if nothing changes, an untold number more can expect the same fate. “Many things that are in the past today were, during our parents’ and grandparents’ time, still in the present—or even the future. Based on precise measurements of its size, we believe the past has subsumed every single person and event that has ever existed.”

“It’s shocking to contemplate, but in the relatively short stretch since 1984, when I first began tracking its growth, the past has expanded by more than 30 years,” he added.

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Just in Case You Were Wondering About David McCullough's New Book
2.  More From Christian James on the Digital History and Library/Archive Front
3.  The Author's Corner with Todd Kerstetter
4.  The Author's Corner with Cassandra Good
5.  Race in America at Messiah College
6.  Berlinerblau: Teach or Perish
7.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends: January 18, 2015
8.  God and the Declaration of Independence
9.  Image of the Day
10. The Author's Corner with Jonathan Den Hartog

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Confederates" or "Rebels"?

Which term was more popular during the Civil War?  Matt Pinsker of Dickinson College began his Civil War class this semester by asking his students this question.  Check out his post to see the various ways one could arrive at an answer. Here is a taste:

Perhaps the most fruitful way to answer this question would be to create a series of visualizations from various digitized historical newspapers.  Of course, that idea is quite ambitious.  It appears for now at least that nobody has yet attempted to do this.  However, the New York Times Disunion series contains an excellent post from a professor and student at Gettysburg College that addresses an aspect of this issue in a thought-provoking way.  Professor Scott Hancock and undergraduate student Alexandra Milano wrote about the “Real Rebels of the Civil War” in October 2013.  Their post is worth reading for anyone interested in how the use of words can dramatically affect the interpretations of actions.

The Author's Corner with Cassandra A. Good

Cassandra Good is the Associate Editor of the Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington. This interview is based on her new book, Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Men and Women in the Early American Republic (Oxford University Press, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write Founding Friendships?

CG: As an undergraduate, I came across a letter from Margaret Bayard Smith describing saying goodbye to Thomas Jefferson when he left Washington in 1809. She described her heart beating when she saw Jefferson, then holding hands with him for several minutes at a public reception. I was amazed and asked my advisor whether this was a sign that Smith and Jefferson were having an affair, but she explained that this was how people expressed friendship in that period. Even between men and women, I wondered?

That question really stuck with me, especially since some of my closest friends were (and are) men. It always seemed like there wasn’t good language—written, spoken, or even body language—for expressing friendship for the opposite sex without people assuming the relationship was romantic. How then, in a period when there were greater restrictions on women and far greater risks to their reputation, could men and women have been friends? As it turned out, it wasn’t just possible—it was common among elite Americans in this period.

F: In two sentences, what is the argument of Founding Friendships?

CG: Elite men and women in the early American republic formed loving friendships that exemplified the key values of that period: equality, virtue, freedom, and choice. These friendships were building blocks of new American systems of politics, gender, and power.

JF: Why do we need to read Founding Friendships?

CG: I hope this book will spark new discussions in gender history about widening the possibilities for relationships to study. I’d like readers to think about the many configurations of loving relationships people have formed in the past and can form today.

The film When Harry Met Sally is still a sort of shorthand in American culture today for the idea that men and women cannot be friends. Founding Friendships shows that this idea is rooted in the past and how we have told stories about love and marriage in America. There are real power interests behind constructing those stories both then and today.

Finally, Founding Friendships demonstrates that we have to include both men and women in our accounts of politics in the early republic. There need not be a strict separation between women’s history and political history; the stories of women and politics are closely intertwined. My work is certainly not the first to show this, but it comes at the definition of politics from a different angle and ties intimate personal relationships to power and politics.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

CG: In high school I volunteered at my local historical society and transcribed the diaries of a nineteenth-century Quaker woman from my area, which at first I found terribly dull. Then I discovered that her husband also kept diaries, and each of them had about a dozen volumes covering decades of their lives. I created a small exhibit comparing the husband and wife’s perspectives on the same events—their courtship, farming, the Civil War, etc.—and I was hooked on early American history and culture.

I’ve come full circle now because, after working in museums and getting my PhD, I do historical editing and work with transcribing and researching documents for the Papers of James Monroe.

JF: What is your next project?

CG: While working on Founding Friendships, I came across a number of descendants of George and Martha Washington and wondered what role the family had played in the new nation. While George Washington didn’t have any direct descendants, he helped raise his step-grandchildren and a number of nephews and nieces. After his death, these men and women had to shape the face of the family in a culture that idolized Washington but feared inherited power. I’ll be looking at homes, objects, and writings, as well as popular discussions from the time, to tell the story of the family in the nineteenth century and explore how Americans viewed the intersection of politics and family in a republic. It builds on my interest in the close ties between personal relationships and politics in the early republic.

JF: Thanks Cassie.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Berlinerblau: Teach or Perish

Jacques Berlinerblau
Jacques Berlinerblau is one of our most thoughtful public intellectuals. In his recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education he reminds us that the survival of the humanities is directly connected to teaching.  Many of us who toil at teaching colleges already know this, but those of us who also want to publish need to be reminded that our primary vocation is practiced in the classroom. Professors and administrators at places like Georgetown, the research university where Berlinerblau works, need to hear his message.  Several writers have made this argument, but few have made it with the style and force as Berlinerblau.  Here is just a small taste:

The adage "publish or perish" is outdated, almost sinister in its misdirection. For the truth is that many well-published Ph.D.’s are out of academe altogether. At colleges across the country, there labor underemployed scholars with stellar CVs. Their accomplishments, at least in the first decade beyond their thesis defense, are usually comparable to those of their far less numerous tenured counterparts. The slogan we lived by is, empirically speaking, false. It really should have read "publish and perish." If the metric of success in our profession is a tenure-track position at a liberal-arts college, then most of our recent doctorates are perishing.

As for today’s graduate students, how different they are from today’s emoji-driven undergraduates. A few years back, the former did hanker to become professors. Most of them probably still do—though maybe they wish they had listened more carefully to their faculty mentors, assuming they had one.

When forlorn A.B.D.’s in the humanities ask me for advice, I recommend that they think in terms of "teach or perish." Society will always need skilled transmitters of knowledge. But another peer-reviewed article on the "circulation of Enlightenment triumphalism" in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, not so much. Don’t get me wrong. Tess stands among the most spectacular fictions ever composed in English. It shouldn’t live on only in the sepulcher of a scholarly journal. Its afterlife should be experienced in the minds of students, their awe for the novel’s innumerable charms ignited by a professor. That Tess’s fate is linked to our own is a probability I won’t address here.

If all the dour reflections above are accurate—if they are half-accurate—we will need to rethink our priorities and core concerns. The kindergarten instructor, I surmise, likes those little tykes, thinks they’re cute. I have met seventh-grade teachers who reveal to me why they work in middle schools: They are mesmerized by the dorky majesty that is the mind of a child age 11 or 12. In this spirit, I submit a re-visioning of an American college professor’s job description: The successful candidate will be skilled in, and passionately devoted to, teaching and mentoring 18- to 22-year-olds, as well as those in other age groups. Additionally, she or he will show promise as an original and creative researcher.

Check out my conversation with Berlinerblau during a keynote session at a Georgetown University conference on secularism. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Author's Corner with Todd M. Kerstetter

Todd M. Kerstetter is Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at Texas Christian University. This interview is based on his new book Inspiration and Innovation: Religion in the American West (Wiley-Blackwell, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write Inspiration and Innovation?

TK: The immediate trigger dates to Carol Higham and Will Katerberg inviting me to write a book on the history of religion for their Western History series. Their book, Conquests and Consequences: The American West from Frontier to Region, anchors the series, which includes books on related themes. In addition to my book on religion, the series contains books on women in the West and African Americans in the West.

More generally, I’ve been studying the roles religion has played in the American West’s history for almost twenty years. My first book, God’s Country, Uncle Sam’s Land: Faith and Conflict in the American West used case studies of Mormons, Lakota Ghost Dancers, and Branch Davidians and their conflicts with the federal government to explore the myth of the West and the boundaries of religious tolerance in the United States. That book led Carol and Will to invite me to write for their series.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Inspiration and Innovation?

TK: Religion has played an important and often unappreciated role in inspiring the lives of people and the course of history in what we know as the American West since the dawn of history, maybe earlier. The region we know as the American West has influenced important innovations in American religious history.

JF: Why do we need to read Inspiration and Innovation​?

TK: Readers interested in the American West will gain a new appreciation of the depth, breadth, and continuity of religious influences on the region’s history. The book aims primarily to tell a history of the American West with religion occupying center stage. Readers interested in American religious history will gain a new appreciation of the West’s influence in the field. In reading American religious history surveys I was surprised to discover a nearly total void with respect to the West. Most include passing mention of Spanish missions, Mormons, and, maybe, American Indian religions. Very few of them brought discussion of even those themes past the late 1800s. That’s fairly typical for US history textbooks, too. Once the “frontier” closes in 1890, that’s it for the West. Inspiration and Innovation carries those narratives into the twentieth century and, in a case or two into the twenty-first century. For example, issues related to Mormonism and plural marriage didn’t end in 1890 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavowed the practice in the face of withering pressure from the US government as it conquered the West. Polygamist sects set up communities in the remote West and experienced law enforcement raids in the 1950s and again in west Texas just a few years ago. Those conflicts demonstrate the lingering “legacy of conquest,” to use Patricia Limerick’s terminology. For another example, the Native American Church grew out of uniquely western circumstances. Over the course of the twentieth century its members deployed a variety of creative and savvy strategies to secure legal protection for their sacramental use of peyote. Finally, I worked hard to find interesting stories to illustrate the book’s themes. I think my journalism background gave me a good eye for a story and the ability to write engagingly about “Texas theology,” megachurches, Mormons, and more.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

TK: I decided to become an American historian in 1989. I blame my parents, who were both teachers, and especially my dad, who taught US history and AP US history. They exposed me to the wonders of learning and took our family to a lot of museums and historical sites that infected me with a love of history. In 1976 and 1980 we traveled through the West. The landscapes of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Coast awed me and those trips made me fall in love with the West and its history. Of all the places we visited, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center did the most to hook me. Even though I loved history, it took me a while to settle on it as a career. For several years after college I experimented with different jobs, none of which satisfied me and none of which had a schedule anywhere near as flexible as teaching. When I took a job writing press releases at a university I realized how much I loved the campus atmosphere and I decided to take a crack at becoming a professor. I also wanted to see if I had what it took to get a PHD.

JF: What is your next project?

TK: My next two projects will be books about the only thing as important as religion: water. One is about flooding on the Great Plains and the other is an environmental history of north Texas focused on water as a critical natural resource.

JF: Sounds interesting, thanks Todd!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

The New York Times covers Eric Foner's new book Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad  Wendy Smith reviews it here.

Lewis Lapham talks with Doris Kearns Goodwin about The Bully Pulpit

Selma to Montgomery freedom songs

Stephan Beck reviews Andrew Levy, Huck Finn's America: Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece

Robert E. Lee and the Confederate flag.  Kevin Levin on the piece here.

John Turner reviews Luke Harlow, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky

Peniel Joseph on the "Selma" backlash

Wikipedia edit-a-thons

Steven Donghue reviews Phyllis Lee Levin, The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams

Collecting at the National Museum of American History

Dime novels at the American Antiquarian Society

Steven D. Smith on the fate of religious freedom

Andrae Crouch: RIP

Paul Harvey reviews  T.J. Tomlin, A Divinity for All Persuasions:Almanacs and Early American Religious Life

Early drafts of MLK speeches

Two new books about pietism

Old Soviet anti-alcohol posters