Monday, September 1, 2014

Brigham Young and the American Bible Society

Some of the good folks at The Juvenile Instructor are interested in my reference to Brigham Young in the caption for update #57 of the American Bible Society project.  In that caption I wrote "Brigham Young requested Bibles from the ABS."  Allow me to clarify things:

The reference comes from an entry in the Bible Society Record (the official periodical of the American Bible Society).  The Corresponding Secretary of the ABS notes that he has received a letter from "Governor Brigham Young of Utah" acknowledging "the receipt of a donation of Bibles from the Society, and requesting more."  I have not looked for the actual letter in the archives, but it just might be there.  The reference appears in the September 1853 issue of the Bible Society Record.

I hope that helps.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?--Part 50

Be a Quality Assurance Analyst for a biopharmaceutical technology company.

In this post in our series "So What CAN You Do With a History Major?" we caught up with Brianna LaCasse, a 2014 graduate of the Messiah College History Department.  Brianna just landed a nice entry-level job in the Boston area (congratulations!). She describes it in the following interview:

JF: Why did you decide to major in history in college?

BL:  I decided to major in history in college because I have always loved studying history. Perhaps more importantly, I saw many advantages in studying the background of, reasons for, and the meaning of the traditions of many other disciplines. For example, I enjoy business, law, economics, and politics, and studying history afforded me the opportunity to study and focus on all of those things, rather than pick one or two to major in. Furthermore, I wanted to develop my writing, critical reading, and research skills and knew that a history major would give me the opportunity to acquire those things.

JF: Describe your current job

BL: I am a Quality Assurance Analyst for a biopharmaceutical technology company. My company builds and stocks databases, beginning with writing the software, stocking them with pharmaceutical and healthcare information, and selling the rights to access these products. We also work with clients to create customized databases that they can use to improve their business, expand their cliental, and gather medicinal, investment, and competitor news data in one place. My job is to test the databases before they are released to the clients. I check for bugs, glitches, missing information, or broken links. Furthermore, I work with the sales team and clients to ensure that there is clear, precise, and accurate information being exchanged between the two groups.

JF:  Can you suggest some tangible connections between your current job and your history training?

BL: Every day I use my research and critical thinking skills as I’m charged with the task of taking an expansive online product and finding the problems or inconsistencies with it. I also use my writing skills as I communicate with many other departments in my business and clients. Here I am required to be succinct and clear about any problems I see with the product.

JF: What advice would you provide to current or future history majors about making the most of their studies and degree?

BL: Take a variety of history classes and not just the topics you think you would enjoy. It’s important to go out of your comfort zone and practice learning, writing, and presenting on topics that you find unfamiliar or you might not enjoy right away. This might be strange advice, but in a career you’re not going to love every task or aspect of your job you’re asked to do. Being a quick-learner and presenting the right attitude go a long way toward impressing your mangers, clients, and coworkers.

Thanks, Brianna.  If you are not familiar with the "So What CAN You Do With a History Major?" series at The Way of Improvement Leads Homeget caught up here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Labor Day history

Medal of honor awarded for a veteran of Pickett's Charge

Reacting to the Past

The Beloit Mindset List for the class of 2018

The 350th anniversary of New York

Cool

Illinois Jesus

Professor:  "Do not e-mail me"

Charles Reinhardt reviews Alan Ryan, On Tocqueville: Democracy and America

Lincoln Mullen reviews Peter Watson, The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God

Four women undercover in the Civil War

It helps to know history

Darryl Hart wonders if evangelical colleges are parochial

Mary Beth Fraser Connolly on Women of Faith

A new look for Teaching United States History

How to organize the thoughts that come to you while sleeping

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" Sighting

At the Hardesty Regional Library in Tulsa, OK:


Thanks, Jamie Boehmer!

The New Students Are Here!

Messiah College Move-in Day 2014 from Messiah College on Vimeo.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #60

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

The writing continues on the ABS project.  Yesterday morning I poured 2559 words into Chapter Three of the manuscript and hope to get a first draft of the chapter done by Monday.  Most of what I wrote yesterday was narrative.  I described a couple of really entertaining encounters between ABS agents and supposed "infidels."  One of these encounters took place in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the other one happened at a "log rolling" somewhere near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  

I am often saddened by how many amazing stories and anecdotes from the ABS records are not going to make it into this book.  Yesterday I had to cut several of them.  Perhaps I will publish some of the stories that did not make it into the book here at the blog.  Stay tuned.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Video of the Day: Bill Cosby Responds to Victoria Osteen

Outlaw Pete For Children

Yes, you read that correctly.  Bruce Springsteen is bringing the lead character from his song "Outlaw Pete" into a children's book. Outlaw Pete will be out on November 4.  It will be published by Simon and Schuster. 

Rolling Stone reports:


Bruce Springsteen has teamed up with writer and cartoonist Frank Caruso to transform his 2009 song "Outlaw Pete" into a children's book. "When Bruce wrote 'Outlaw Pete' he didn't just write a great song, he created a great character," Caruso said in a statement. "The first time I heard the song this book played out in my head." The book will hit shelvers on November 4th.

Memories of the 1950 children's book Brave Cowboy Bill, which Springsteen's mother read to him as a child, inspired the tale of a cowboy who "cut his trail of tears across the countryside." "Like Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Dorothy Gale and for me, even Popeye, Outlaw Pete cuts deep into the folklore of our country," says Caruso, "and weaves its way into the fabric of great American literary characters." Adds Springsteen: "Outlaw Pete is essentially the story of a man trying to outlive and outrun his sins."

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #59

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Writing, writing, writing.  Yesterday morning I managed to squeeze in a two and a half hour writing session before heading over to Messiah College to preside over the History Department's first department meeting of the year. 

It was a productive session in which I was able to churn out 2033 half-baked words.  I am still writing Chapter Three. This is becoming one of those "catch-all" chapters in which I try to cram a bunch of themes that don't naturally fit together, but still need to be covered, into something coherent.

One of the figures I wrote about yesterday was  P.M. Ozanne, an agent for the South-Western Bible Society in New Orleans working in the Gulf Coast parish of Lafourche.  He would regularly paddle several miles a day in a small canoe up the narrow bayou waterways in the hot summer sun in order to bring Bibles to Indian and white families in French speaking settlements.  It was not unusual for him to leave his canoe, hide it in the woods for safekeeping, and walk three miles along a narrow cow trail with weeds growing as high as five or six feet.  Ozanne must have been a sight to see as he moved through the bayou wilderness with a bundle of books under one arm and the other arm clearing weeds and driving off mosquitoes and flies.  

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.  Why Reading Matters
2.  The Morality of Football
3.  Thomas Kidd Assumes Associate Director Post at Baylor's ISR
4.  Most Popular Posts of the Last Week--August 22, 2014
5.  The Author's Corner with Lorri Glover
6.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--August 24, 2014
7.  Secularism on the Edge
8.  On the Road: Fall 2014 Edition
9.  On the Writing of the American Bible Society--Update #55
10. "The Bible Saved My Life"




Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #58

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Yesterday was a productive writing day.  I managed to churn out 1392 words of what is now Chapter Three. I started the chapter with a story of a local agent from the Young Men's Western Auxiliary Bible Society of Pittsburgh making a Bible distribution trip through the rural outskirts of Morgantown, Virginia in 1821. 


I  also began writing a section on the way the American Bible Society tried to instill a sense of national purpose in the leaders of its local auxiliary societies. Though working at the grass-roots level, these auxiliaries understood their work to be contributing to the creation of a Christian civilization.


I realize I have not written too much lately about what is happening on the publishing front.  We are in limbo at the moment, but I am optimistic that good things are on the horizon.  Stay tuned.



So What CAN You Do With a History Major?: Part 49

Work for a non-profit organization that helps to resettle immigrants and refugees.

In this post in our series "So What CAN You Do With a History Major?," we caught up with Caitlin Babcock, a 2010 graduate of the Messiah College History Department and a recent graduate of the M.A. program in International Peace and Conflict Resolution at Arcadia University. Caitlin tells us how she is putting her undergraduate history major to good use in her current job.

JF: Why did you decide to major in history in college?

CB: When I entered Messiah College, I planned to be a high school history teacher upon graduation. I had always been interested in history – most of my books of choice during primary and secondary school were historical fiction – and I desired to pass on this love of history to teenagers. Early in my college career however, I quickly realized that I was far more interested in my history classes than my education classes, and as a sophomore decided to abandon my pursuit of an education certification so I could focus solely on my study of history. Though I wasn’t at all sure of what I would do with my history degree, I knew I had countless options and wanted to have the time and space to explore those options during my undergraduate career.

JF: Tell us about your current job. 

I was hired in April 2014 as the Executive Management Assistant at the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia, PA. Our organization works with newcomers to the United States (both immigrants and refugees) to assist them in resettling and integrating into their new community, which includes housing placement, job readiness and placement, legal services, and English classes.

My role as Executive Management Assistant is designed to be a nonprofit management training role. The majority of my work is project-based, with the goal of learning how to run a nonprofit organization. Overall, my current projects emphasize the implementation of effective systems, including cash flow management, media inquiries, grant writing and tracking, and professional development for staff. One of my key projects is fundraising – I have been tasked with initiating two giving campaigns for the current fiscal year, which will target both faith-based communities and young adults. Additionally, I serve as the staff liaison to the Board of Trustees, have developed and maintain an internal newsletter for staff, and assist in the development and implementation of the current strategic planning process.

JF: In what ways did your training in history prepare you for this job and how does your training as a history major help you in your day-to-day work?

CB: Honestly, my current job is not what I had in mind when I first chose to major in history, but my degree has ultimately prepared me very well for this role in a variety of ways. At a very pragmatic level, the research and writing skills that I honed as a history major have made writing assignments at work far less daunting. For example, I recently had to summarize the current state of the unaccompanied minors humanitarian crisis and our work in that area for our Board members, and I know that it was the skills I learned in my study of history that enabled me to research, synthesize, and clearly articulate this complex issue within a few hours. More broadly speaking, the way I approach my work – as well as my view of the world more broadly – has been profoundly shaped by my study of history. Despite the fact that I am not working directly in the field of history, the historical content I learned, especially in regards to subaltern history and the variety of narratives present in the historical context, has been particularly useful as I work closely with case managers and attorneys to elevate the narrative of the marginalized populations that we serve.

JF: Any advice--either about the job market or otherwise-- for current history majors or those thinking about majoring in history?

CB: Don’t be afraid of a non-linear career path! I think a lot of folks avoid majoring in history (or another branch of the humanities) because they think the career path is limited to teaching or law, for example. I’ve learned that one of the keys to success is studying what you love and fully engaging in it, and that’s when opportunities begin to present themselves. Honestly, my resume looks a bit like a puzzle at this point, but the key is being able to connect all of your experiences and demonstrate their relevance and the transferrable skills you’ve learned. In taking a non-linear path, however, it’s important to fine-tune your “job function” skills as you find your niche. For example, I had wanted to stay as far away from administrative jobs as I could, but once I came to terms with the fact that administration was where my skills were strongest, I was able to fully embrace how I can use those skills in a context of meaningful work for me.


That being said, intern, volunteer, and network as much as you can. From my own experience, that has been the best way to figure out what it is I really enjoy and would want to pursue as a career. Your history degree provides you with strong analytical and writing skills (which all employers love!), so a variety of experiences can help you find your niche in the “field,” whatever that ends up looking like for you. More often than not, people who are already in your field are more than willing to offer advice or help as they are able, so don’t be afraid to ask them how they got involved in their work or about their career path. Informational interviews and networking events are also great ways to connect with people and explore some career options. 

Thanks, Caitlin!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #57

Brigham Young requested Bibles from the ABS
Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I managed to squeeze in a three hour writing session this morning before heading off to Messiah College to hear our President's annual "State of the College" address.  

I realized this morning that I have way to much material for Chapter Three.  It looks like I am going to need to split this chapter into two separate chapters.  The first chapter (which will be Chapter Three) will focus on the role of local and state Bible societies.  The second chapter (which will be Chapter Four) will focus on the so-called "General Supply."  Here is my very rough outline for Chapter Three:

I.  Introduction

II.  The role of local and state Bible auxiliaries in constructing the American Bible Society's vision of Christian nationalism

III.  The ABS use of print culture and stories to construct its vision of Christian nationalism

IV.  ABS distribution to native Americans, Blacks, mariners, boatmen, prisons, and the blind

V.  The contribution of women to the ABS vision of Christian nationalism

VI.  The ABS as part of the "Benevolent Empire" of the early 19th century and its intersection with the plan to "civilize" the west, the Sunday School movement, the Temperance Movement, and the Second Great Awakening.

Stay tuned.

Secularism on the Edge

In February 2013 I sat in a comfy reclining chair on a stage at Georgetown University before a group of some of the world's leading scholars of secularism.  Jacques Berlinerblau, the prolific scholar of secularism and religion and public life at Georgetown interviewed me about the relationship between Christianity and the American founding.  It was the opening plenary session of an international conference called "Secularism on the Edge." I blogged about it here.  You can also watch the video of the interview below.  At about the 57:00 minute mark I get myself in trouble by telling Berlinerblau that I want to convert him to evangelical Christianity.


I am pleased to announce that my interview with Berlinerblau is the lead essay in a new volume titled Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, Israel.  You can get it for the low, low price of $80.29 on Amazon.Com



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thomas Kidd Assumes Associate Director Post at Baylor's ISR

Congrats to Tommy Kidd.  Here is the press release regarding his new post at Baylor.  Waco, Texas 

(Aug. 25, 2014) — Thomas Kidd, Ph.D., one of the nation’s most respected historians of religion, has accepted a post as associate director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR).
Kidd’s appointment “represents a major step forward in advancing ISR’s mission as a national leader in producing research on the role of religion in society,” said Rodney Stark, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at ISR. “Not only has Tommy Kidd written a number of important and highly regarded books on the role of religion in early America, he and Philip Jenkins (Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor) have developed many thoughtful symposia and research events as part of ISR’s successful Program on Historical Studies of Religion.”
For Byron Johnson, Ph.D., co-director of ISR, “Tommy’s appointment is a testament to our strong relationship with Baylor’s outstanding department of history, where a number of professors are also affiliated with ISR. Professor Kidd’s leadership has been instrumental at ISR, and we know he will be an even bigger asset as the associate director.”
Philip Jenkins, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor, stated that “Thomas Kidd is respected and admired by scholars across the country, and this new position certainly bodes well for ISR and Baylor University.”
Kidd said that he is “honored to be associated with such a stellar group of scholars as those at the Institute for Studies of Religion. I hope I can help the institute in its efforts to make Baylor the preeminent university in America for the study of religion across the disciplines.”
Kidd completed his Ph.D. in History at the University of Notre Dame. He has written or edited eight books. His next book, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, will be released in October with Yale University Press.


On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #56

John Jay was a life member of the ABS
Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I spent most of my "writing time" today (about two hours this morning) working on Chapter Three of the American Bible Society book.  It is tentatively titled "A Bible for Every American Family."  After giving more thought to this title I am not completely satisfied with it.  The ABS "General Supply" of 1829-1831 attempted to provide a Bible for every FREE family in the United States.  Slave families were not part of the distribution.  Perhaps the title should be "A Bible for Every Free American Family."  What do you think?

I have about one more day of outlining before I begin to create prose.  I need to make sure that all of the research I want to use in this chapter finds a place in the outline.


The Author's Corner with Lorri Glover

Lorri Glover is the John Francis Bannon, S.J.  Professor of History at St. Louis University.  This interview is based on her forthcoming book Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries (Yale University Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Founders as Fathers?

LG: Many years ago, before the start of a session in my class on the American Revolution, two students were commiserating about their fathers’ high academic expectations. Our topic of the week was the Constitutional Convention, and we’d read some of James Madison’s notes from that convention. One student said to the other, “can you imagine being James Madison’s son?!” They then asked me if Madison had any children. I didn’t know, but promised to find out. The short answer was fascinating: only a single stepson, a ne’er-do-well of the first order who squandered every opportunity given him as well as tens of thousands of dollars on a gambling addiction before being thrown into debtor’s prison.  The long answer is Founders as Fathers.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Founders as Fathers?

LG: To fully understand the creation of the American Republic we must explore the intimate, personal lives of the Founding Fathers. Family values and revolutionary politics were so indelibly linked in the eighteenth century that we can’t truly know the founders until we meet them as fathers.

JF: Why do we need to read Founders as Fathers?

LG: I hope the book helps readers understand how much family life mattered in the public careers of men like George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. Americans have always been keen to celebrate the founders’ political and military accomplishments. But too often in that understandable quest, we’ve etched these men in amber, cast them in marble, and, inadvertently, stripped away some of their humanity. In particular, we’ve missed the “fathers” part of the founding. The leaders of the American Revolution took up their radical politics while heading families, sometimes leaving their relatives behind to serve the patriot cause and sometimes rejecting political offices to stay home with their wives and children. Always they struggled to balance domestic obligations with the relentless call to public service. Their family values also underlay their entry into revolutionary politics, driving their understanding of virtue, sacrifice, and independence. And the Revolution they led remade family life no less than it reinvented political institutions.

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

LG: I am a first-generation college graduate, and I went to the University of North Alabama so that I could someday get a “salary” job. Not surprisingly, I floundered as I bounced from marketing to education to pre-law before a great teacher and historian, Larry Nelson, inspired and saved me. Halfway through the first lecture in his class, I thought, “This is what I want to be.” And I’ve never changed my mind.

JF: What is your next project?

LG: Right now I’m working on a book about the ratification debates in Virginia in 1787-1788. Virginia was the largest and most important state in the country at that time, and everyone in America understood that Virginia needed to ratify the Constitution if the federal plan had any hope of success. But when it came to the Constitution, Virginians were also the most deeply divided people in the United States. Led by Patrick Henry, a great number of Virginians fought ratification, convinced that the Constitution betrayed the principles of the Revolution. James Madison led the supporters, who insisted the Constitution was the only chance to save the republic. The final vote was razor thin: 89-79. Six votes swung the other way would have changed the fate of our nation. The Virginia debates offer a powerful reminder of just how controversial and divisive the Constitution was at its creation.

JF:  Thanks, Lorri


Monday, August 25, 2014

On the Road: Fall 2014 Edition

I have a full slate of speaking engagements planned for the Fall.  Keep following the The Way of Improvement Leads Home for updates.  Here's will I will be in the months of September, October, and November:

On September 14, 2014 I will be the plenary speaker at the annual September 11th Interfaith Remembrance Event at St. Stephen's Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  My topic is "Recovering the Founders' Vision of a Multi-Faith Society."  I will also be joined by my colleague Richard Hughes in a panel discussion following the lecture.  The event is open to the public.  The lecture will begin at 2:00pm.  The Cathedral is located at 221 North Front Street in Harrisburg, PA.  

During the month of October I will be returning to the Sunday School classroom at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg.  I will be doing a four week series (all four Sundays in October) on the history of post-WW II American evangelicalism.  These classes, which are sponsored by the "Lifebuilders" Sunday School class, are free and open to the public.  Class runs from 9:00-10:30.

On October 4 I will be back in Philadelphia giving a tour to the Messiah first-year students who were awarded a spot in the college's Humanities Scholars Program.  The students will be given a copy of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? and we will be using some of our time in Philadelphia for a discussion of the book.

On October 9-10 I will be at Southern Methodist University for a teacher's seminar on religion and the American founding.  I will be discussing the founders and evangelicalism during a panel discussion and offering a public lecture on some of my new work on the American Bible Society.

I am looking forward to returning to Milwaukee on Nov. 7-8 to work with the teachers from the Milwaukee Public School District as part of a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar.  On the 7th I will be discussing slavery and colonial America with 5th grade teachers and on the 8th I will be talking about immigration.

On November 22 I will be delivering the plenary address at the annual New Jersey Forum conference.  My yet to be refined topic will have something to do with New Jersey and the American Revolution.  The conference will be held at Monmouth University and it is open to the public.

Finally, I will speaking at Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren on November 30 as part of the church's "Christian Scholar Sunday" series.

I hope I see some of you this Fall!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #55

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

As I mentioned in my last post, Friday was the last day of my summer research at the American Bible Society archives in New York.  It was a productive summer.  On Friday I cleaned up some odds and ends by reading through the minutes of the ABS Board of Managers between 1860 and 1865.  I also read some very interesting letters, written during the Civil War, between the Memphis and Shelby County Bible Society (Tennessee) and the ABS.  It seems that some of the members of this Tennessee Bible society were trading cotton for Bibles.  More on this later.

It is now time to start writing.  I hope to have three chapters written by the end of the month.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A  few things online that caught my attention this week:

Claudia Wallis reviews Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars:A History of America's Most Embattled Profession

Writing in the "in-between" spaces

Humanities vs. STEM

The history of rock stars

Daniel McCarthy reviews David Bromwich's The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence

Who invented the ice bucket challenge?

God in the hands of an angry people

Country musicians talk about Springsteen

The burning of Washington D.C.--August 1814

A $150 million biblical theme park

The Smithsonian wants you to help transcribe its collections

David Swartz gives some advice to college freshmen about mystery and the liberal arts

More on the disconnect between evangelicals and the GOP

Treasures in little historical society museums

The "Eagle Map of the United States"

L.D. Burnett on fundamentalists and bus ministry

Friday, August 22, 2014

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.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #49
2.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #48
3.  The Author's Corner with Kathryn Gin Lum
4.  Why Reading Matters
5.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--August 17, 2014
6.  What Am I Teaching This Semester?
7.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #32
8.  The Morality of Football
9.  Conan Takes the Ice Bucket Challenge
10. On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #28

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #54



Bible found by Confederate soldier in Kentucky

 Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

My summer archival work is winding down.  I still need to make a few day trips to the ABS archives in September, but this phase of my long-term work comes to an end today.  I will then move into a frantic period of writing while trying to juggle teaching, meetings, and department chair duties.  I hope to move into the 20th century by the end of September. 

I am confident that most of the archival research is in place for the first half of the book.  Yesterday I continued my work in the Civil War era.  I followed a very interesting exchange of letters between the American Bible Society and the Maryland Bible Society concerning attempts to supply the Confederacy with Bibles during the war.  Since nearly all the auxiliary societies in the Confederacy refused to accept Bibles from a northern benevolent institution, the ABS Board of Managers tried to donate Bibles to the Maryland Bible Society in the hope that the officers of that auxiliary society could use their close proximity to Virginia to get these Bibles into the Confederacy.  There was even some discussion of taking the “American Bible Society” labels off of the Bibles and the packages.  

Stay tuned for more.

"The Bible Saved My Life"



As many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home are aware, I am writing a history of the American Bible Society.  I am currently working on a chapter on the Civil War and could really use some help. 

As I work through the ABS records during this period I often run across stories of soldiers who claim that the small Testament in their shirt pocket saved their lives by stopping an enemy ball from piercing their “bosom.”  Of course most of these soldiers, including the ABS itself, put a providential spin on such a story. 

I want to know if anyone can point me to some scholarly resources on this phenomenon.  These Testaments were pretty thin.  It is hard to imagine that they would have stopped a ball at close range, but perhaps I am wrong.  On the other hand, it is hard to dismiss all the direct testimonies I am finding in private correspondence and other sources.

There is way too much garbage online to find something reliable on this topic.   Some online experts claim that these stories cannot be true. Others suggest that it was certainly possible for a Bible to stop a ball and save a life.

Any thoughts or credible resources would be much appreciated.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #53

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I am back in the American Bible Society archives this week.  Today I was once again working in materials related to the Civil War, specifically letters written to the ABS by Civil War chaplains.  Here is part of a letter I read today.  It is from the chaplain of the 16th Massachusetts from Middlesex County, Mass.  The New England exceptionalism evident in the connection he makes between Lexington and Concord and the Civil War  is priceless.

“My own regiment is not indebted directly to the American Bible Soc.—Massachusetts sends her regiments thoroughly equipped into the field and she would not deem them so, did not every soldier have offered him ‘the sword of the spirit which is the word of God….

The American Bible Society have donated about five hundred Bibles and Testaments in addition all of which bear the imprint of the American Bible Society.  They have all been called for and with those given as parting gifts by wives and mothers, there can be but few in this regiment not now supplied and I know many, very many would on a march part with every other book or even much clothing sooner than leave behind their Bible.  If the knapsack be too full to hold it, why then the owner would wear it in his bosom to shield in the day of battle the heart its divine truths had first purified...

This regiment is from Middlesex County, Massachusetts, the Co. which contains Concord and Lexington and Bunker Hill, the early Battlefields of our first revolutionary era.  Its soldiers like their fathers believe in praying as well as fighting, nor deem the one inconsistent with the other, providing the cause be as holy as is ours today (Indeed we identify the struggle of this eventual hour with that inaugurated April 19th 1775 and call it, not a curious coincidence but a special Providence. That is was Massachusetts blood, of men from the same Middlesex County, which flowed as the first blood, on the anniversary of the same day, in Baltimore 18th April 1861....   

“We have just had our Forefathers Day, December 22d, a dedication of a chapel tent given by the citizens of Massachusetts for the religious services of the regiment, a fit method of keeping the anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth rock.  In that dedication nearly every Protestant sect and the Roman Catholic priest took part, a significant and beautiful fact.  While writing this last sentence an official order from our Colonel has been put into my hand notifying me that tomorrow, being Christmas, all unnecessary military duty will be suspended and the regiment will observe the day religiously, attending divine service in the morning....

The Author's Corner with Matthew McCullough

Matthew McCullough is Pastor at Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This interview is based on his book The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion in the Spanish-American War (Studies in American Thought and Culture) (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write The Cross of War?

MM: The short answer is frustration!  My first love as a student of American religious history is the pre-Civil War period.  And I’ve always been especially drawn to studying how American Christians have understood the role and significance of civil society from the perspective of their Christian commitments.  The problem is I never could land on something meaningful I wanted to contribute to these conversations on early America.  I just really enjoyed reading and thinking through what so many others have said on the subject.  So after a few dead end attempts to find an angle on early America in grad school, I took the easy road and asked my questions of the late 19th century sources.

More substantially, my primary interest is in studying American Christianity, and within American Christianity the meaning and significance of the American nation has remained a central preoccupation for much of the past 200 years.  I want to understand the power and the development and the implications of this Christian nationalism.  Times of war offer some of the most useful windows into this subject because it’s then that Christian leaders have been most prone to reflect on and celebrate the significance of America.  I found that where the colonial wars, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I had received substantial attention from scholars interested in Christian nationalism, the Spanish-American War wasn’t nearly so worked over.  There were some excellent studies for sure, but all of them remained limited in scope and most were not explicitly focused on Christian nationalism.  It didn’t take much spade work to discover the importance of this war for the development of Christian nationalism.  The religious periodicals so popular during this period were full of detailed reflections on the significance of this war and this nation.  Many saw the war for the foreign policy departure that it was and justified it with a full-orbed articulation of what it means to be a Christian nation.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Cross of War?

MM: The Spanish-American War marked the emergence of an understanding of America’s responsibility in the world that I call “messianic interventionism”—the belief that America can and should intervene in the affairs of other nations for the good of those nations.  I argue that the distinctive features of this war—the cause, the combatants, the results, etc.—converged perfectly to frame messianic interventionism as not only plausible but nearly inevitable.

JF: Why do we need to read The Cross of War?

MM: I hope that my study confirms what Harry Stout and others have argued—that times of war are more important to the structure of American religious history and the shape of American Christianity than we have recognized to this point.  The Spanish-American War remains largely unknown, but its significance related to what had happened in the Civil War and what would happen in World War I is huge.

From another angle, those interested in American history and/or in American Christianity should be interested in Christian nationalism because it’s occupied such an important place in public discourse.  And those interested in Christian nationalism should be interested the Spanish-American War context because—I’m convinced—it offers a window into Christian nationalism in its most overt and unbridled form.  Expressions of Christian nationalism were at least somewhat chastened after World War I, and were limited by pervasive localism through the Civil War era.  But the rhetoric surrounding the Spanish-American War features a nationalism so confident and hopeful it’s difficult to imagine in our time.

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

MM: I’ve been fascinated by American history since I was a kid.  My interests were refined in college towards American religious history specifically.  At that time I had a strong desire to continue my development within and to contribute to the academy.  But I also had a strong desire for local church ministry.  I believed studying American religious history in grad school would be really useful whether I decided to pursue an academic career or service to a local church.  Now, as a local church pastor, I’m convinced that calculation was on the mark.  Besides the refinement in critical thinking and communication, my work as a historian has given me helpful insight into the specific time and place in which I pastor and how my context became what it is.

JF: What is your next project?

MM: I’m kicking around a couple small scale ideas related to Christian nationalism, but working full time as a pastor I’m not working on another historical monograph at the moment.  I am however working through the early stages of a project that would bridge my interests as a historian and a churchman.  The project would focus on the memento mori tradition among early American Puritans, why this focus on death has largely disappeared in American Christianity, and why we’d be better off if we brought it back

JF: Thanks, Matthew!!


And thanks to Allyson Fea who facilitated this edition of The Author's Corner.