Friday, December 19, 2014

The Omohundro Institute is Entering the Blogosphere and We are Going Along for the Ride

The Junto will be a featured blog at "The Octo"
Many of you who read this blog are familiar with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History Culture.  Based at the College of William and Mary, the Institute promotes the study of early American history through conferences, a book series, post-doctoral fellowships, and the publication of the William and Mary Quarterly.

And now the Omohundro Institute will publish "Uncommon Sense: The Blog."  Here is what you can expect:

As those familiar with the OIEAHC know, last April, in recognition of readers’ evolving habits, and environmental and cost sensitivities, the publication of Uncommon Sense moved completely online. Reports from the Director, Editor of the WMQ (Quarterly Notes) and Books Editor (Ad Libros) as well as features and reprints of favorite articles from the archives under the category of “Classic Sense” anchor the publication.
But the OI has news to report more than the traditional twice-yearly publication of Uncommon Sense and so we bring you Uncommon Sense — the blog.  Interviews with current Quarterly authors and newly published book authors, updates from OI staff members, and reports on our conferences are just a few of the topics that need to be published as they happen. Taken together with the continuing bi-annual production of our longer format Uncommon Sense, we hope readers gain an even richer picture of life at the Institute than they had before.
"Uncommon Sense--The Blog" will be part of a new community of eight early American history blogs called "The Octo."  Edited by historian and blogger Joseph Adelman, The Octo "showcases some of the best and brightest online writing available about Early America and historical scholarship." 
We at The Way of Improvement Leads Home are honored to be part of any blogging community that includes Boston 1775, The Junto, Historiann, Past is Present, Uncommonplace Book, and Beyond the Reading Room.  

Now This is a Running Back

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.  From Racism to Obama: Mapping the History of the Democratic Party
2.  The Author's Corner with Sean P. Harvey
3.  Why Major in History: An Undergraduate Perspective
4.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends
5.  Messiah College History Department in the American Scholar: The Power of Undergraduate Research
6.  Thomas Kidd on George Whitefield
7.  The Author's Corner with John Ruddiman
8.  A Big Week in the Messiah College History Department
9.  2015 Christianity Today Book Awards
10. The U.S. Constitution and the "year of our Lord"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Song of the Day

Desi's on his way to Cuba (HT: Sheila McIntire on FB)

The Gadsden Purchase Will Never Be Forgotten

Neither will the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago, thanks to Jimmy Fallon.  Just watch:

The Author's Corner with John A. Ruddiman

Jake Ruddiman is Assistant Professor at Wake Forrest University. This interview is based on his new book, Becoming Men of Some Consequence: Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War (University of Virginia Press, December 2014).

JF: What led you to write Becoming Men of Some Consequence?

JR: It began with a compelling set of sources. I was looking to explore the relationships between the War for Independence and the upheaval of the generation-long American Revolution. The perspectives of soldiers seemed a good place to start. I came across Benjamin Gilbert, a young soldier from Massachusetts, who marked his Revolutionary experiences with an extensive diary and family correspondence. Figuring out and explaining this young solider – and his comrades – proved a compelling challenge. I went looking for soldiers and found the common thread of young men's aspirations for their own independence.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Becoming Men of Some Consequence?

JR: Soldiers' youth fundamentally shaped their motivations, experiences, and relationships in the War for Independence. These young soldiers, as they tried to make their way towards full adult manhood through military service, in turn helped define the capacities of the army and the Revolutionary effort.

JF: Why do we need to read Becoming Men of Some Consequence?

JR: These young men of the Revolution created captivating and complicated stories. Their actions, perspectives, values, and voices jump off the pages of diaries, memoirs, pension applications, army orders, and military records. This book follows these young men as they fight and flee, go drinking, stealing, and streaking, form deep friendships and commit callous murder. Their “adventures and sufferings,” as one member of this generation described them, are powerful. It's a book about young people trying to make their way in a world disordered by war and political upheaval.

Young Continental soldiers carried a heavy burden in the American Revolution. Their experiences of coming of age during the upheavals of war provide a new perspective on the Revolutionary era, provoking questions about gender, family life, economic goals, and politics. “Going for a soldier” forced young men to confront profound uncertainty, and even coercion, but also offered them novel opportunities. Although the war imposed obligations on youths, military service promised young men in their teens and early twenties alternate paths forward in life. Continental soldiers’ own youthful expectations about respectable manhood and their goals of economic competence and marriage not only ordered their experience of military service; they also shaped the fighting capacities of George Washington’s army and the course of the war.

Becoming Men of Some Consequence examines how young soldiers and officers joined the army, their experiences in the ranks, their relationships with civilians, their choices about quitting long-term military service, and their attempts to rejoin the flow of civilian life after the war. Their generational struggle for their own independence was a profound force within America’s struggle for its independence.

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

JR: I have always loved sharing stories and reading history books. In college I first encountered the challenge of finding and explaining the raw historical sources for myself. I was hooked! As a historian I get to learn new things every day. It's a great challenge to find ways to share it all in my teaching and writing.

JF: What is your next project?

JR: I am exploring how the diverse combatants in the Revolutionary War encountered and thought about slavery and enslaved people. This war carried soldiers far from their homes and all over the Atlantic world. Americans, patriot and loyal, white and black – as well as British, French, and German participants – experienced and noted the shifting contours of this fundamental American institution. The sources raise questions about the evolution of race, national identity, and both pro- and anti-slavery sentiment in the late eighteenth-century Atlantic.

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"History of American Evangelicalism" Student Research Papers Are In

The seminar room is almost empty
As I type this there is still one student working diligently on the final exam in my History of American Evangelicalism course at Messiah College.  (To get caught up on all we did in class this semester check out the Fall 2014 episodes in my Virtual Office Hours series where I reflect on course reading material).  

Today was also the day that the students turned in their research papers.  I can't wait to read them.  Here are the titles:

"Messiah College, Evangelicalism, and Homosexuality"

"Robert Lewis Dabney: In Defense of the Lost Cause"

"Carl McIntire: A Study of the Man and His Battle for Fundamentalism"

"B.B. Warfield and Evolution"

Reading these papers will give me a nice break from reading U.S. survey essays on the coming of the Civil War and reflection papers on Frederick Douglass's Narrative. 

Getting Ready for the AHA 2015

This year the annual meeting of the American Historical Association will take place in New York City from January 2-5.  I will be there for nearly all of the conference and several correspondents will be reporting from the conference floor.  (We could still use a few more correspondents. Click here for more information).

(American Society of Church History 17).  Stop by and learn about some great digital projects in American religious history from Christopher Cantwell, Kyle Roberts, and Erin Bartram.

I will not be able to make it to all the sessions I would like to attend, but here are all of the ones that caught my eye:

What Should History Teachers Learn at Historic Sites? A Research Agenda
AHA Session 28

Doing History
American Society of Church History 5

CFH Breakfast Reception
Conference on Faith and History 

See you in New York!

Thomas Kidd on George Whitefield

I have yet to read Thomas Kidd's new biography of George Whitefield, but it is getting a lot of attention and some very good reviews.  In this interview with Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition, Kidd gives us a nice taste of what we can expect from the biography.  I especially like how he handles the question about Whitefield's connection to the American Revolution.

Did I Jump to Conclusions About Aaron Burr?

A few days ago I tweeted:

Listening to my daughter and her friends talk about Burr inspired me to crack open Nancy Isenberg's Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr.  (It's been sitting on my "to read" list for too long).  After reading Isenberg's introduction I realized that I may have tweeted too soon.  (Sorry Aaron!) I think it is fair to say that Burr was no saint, but Isenberg seems to make a compelling case that his reputation as a scoundrel was created by supporters of Hamilton.

So maybe I am not that bad a parent after all.  I will know for sure after I finish the book.

Another response to my Aaron Burr tweet came from my student Grady Breen.  He called my attention to this very funny video:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Big Week in the Messiah College History Department

It's been an exciting week in the Messiah College History Department.  The sight and sound of students cramming their heads with historical knowledge and writing research papers is palpable. Exam week is almost over and faculty and students will get a much deserved Christmas Break.

But in addition to the twice-yearly exam-fest, there are other things to report.

Those who read this blog know that the Messiah History Department was featured prominently in an American Scholar essay on the way history departments are training students to do research and develop the "habits of mind" necessary to live successful and meaningful lives.

And then today, David Pettegrew and his Digital Harrisburg team have released an interactive digital map of the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1900.  Here is a taste of David's post from our blog "History on the Bridge":

The Digital Harrisburg working group is pleased to announce a beta version of an interactive map of Harrisburg in 1900/1901 hosted at ArcGIS Online. This map and the data it contains was developed as a collaboration between faculty and students at Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. The Historical Society of Dauphin County generously provided JPEG scans of the entire1901 Harrisburg Title Company Atlas (the layer visible as the historical map of the city) and provided access to the United States census data records for 1900. Working from the census data, Messiah College students created a complete database of the population in 1900, while GIS students from Messiah and Harrisburg University created building polygons and individual census record points in GIS mapped to the level of individual properties.

Read the entire post here or check out the entire Digital Harrisburg site.

Not only our we contributing to the history of a nearby city, but our students are getting wonderful opportunities to gain skills in digital history. 

2105 *Christianity Today* Book Awards

Congratulations to all of this year's winners, but especially the winner and runner-up in the field of history.

Winner: Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Award of Merit: Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade

Want to learn more about Marsh's book?  Check out our Author's Corner feature on him.  (In other words, he and this book were famous well before this award!).

Monday, December 15, 2014

New in the Mail: "The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education"

I just received my copy today.  Here is my blurb on the back of the book: 

I have been reading Chris Gehrz's blog, "The Pietist Schoolman" for several years and have been cheering him on as he makes a compelling and humble case for the compatibility of Pietism, the intellectual life and Christian higher education.  Now Chris has gathered his academic brothers and sisters in the faith to continue the conversation.  If you thought that "pietist higher education" was an oxymoron, these essays will force you to think again.

--John Fea, Messiah College, author of Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past

Virtual Office Hours: Fall 2014 - Episode 16

Thoughts on Molly Worthen's Apostles of Reason
Part IV

The Author's Corner with Sean P. Harvey

Sean Harvey is Assistant Professor of History at Seton Hall University. This interview is based on his new book Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation (Harvard University Press, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation?

SH: I started out intending to write an intellectual biography of Albert Gallatin, a figure prominent in the political and diplomatic history of the early republic. Inspired by Drew McCoy’s Last of the Fathers, I chose to begin my research with his retirement, by which time Gallatin had become a prominent ethnologist, so I started with his extensive correspondence with a prominent philologist, Peter S. Du Ponceau. Every letter I read seemed to prompt a dozen new questions, but I was not finding satisfying answers in the existing secondary literature to a couple of the most important ones: what role, if any, did knowledge about Native languages play in U.S. colonialism, and what place, if any, did that knowledge have in developing notions of race. Gallatin quickly became but one part in a study that centered those questions.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation?

SH: Native Tongues argues that knowledge of Native languages played a crucial role in several distinct facets of colonialism, including trade, missionary work, diplomacy, and administration, and that understandings of Native languages—among scholars, missionaries, officials, and the broader public—was central to the construction of savagery as a concept that justified dispossession, removal, confinement, and efforts toward cultural (including linguistic) eradication. Assumptions about language reflecting and perhaps shaping thought and about similarities in sounds, words, and grammatical forms indicating the shared ancestry of speakers, in turn, gave rise after 1820 to a racialized conception of Native languages that fused psychology and descent, but which gradually fragmented in the face of physical ethnologists’ sustained criticisms and philologists’ increasing understanding of the cultural divergence among speakers of related languages.

JF: Why do we need to read Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation?

SH: I think Native Tongues makes three important contributions. First, it adds to our understanding of the ways in which notions of race, especially those directed at Indians, were built upon far more than phenotype. Second, it traces the interconnections between missionaries, private scholars, learned societies, and federal officials and agencies in creating and using knowledge of Native languages for the administration of colonialism. Third, it highlights the centrality of Native people (as tutors and as philologists in their own right) to whites’ knowledge of Native languages and, thus, to the production of knowledge about race.

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

SH: I realized that I loved American history while I was an undergrad at Villanova, and I realized how fun it was to do history when I had the opportunity to look at Philadelphia newspapers from the 1790s: everything from the crumbling paper to the overheated charges hooked me. I didn’t realize what it would actually mean to be a historian, however, until I began my graduate training at William & Mary. Through the mentorship of teachers and peers, I came to learn that the archives are filled with subject matter that is intrinsically interesting and that the field is filled with people engaged in fascinating and important conversations that help us understand the past as it was and the world as it is now. I wanted to be a part of that.

JF: What is your next project? 

SH: After I finish an article on Native understandings of linguistic relationships in eastern North America, I will return to what I had originally intended to research: Albert Gallatin and his several milieus. He was a Genevan immigrant who rose to prominence as legislator, Treasury secretary, U.S. minister in Paris, leading New York banker, and prominent ethnologist. A project that uses his life as a pivot to center an examination of his political and financial friendships, social circles, and scholarly communities—in Geneva, western Pennsylvania, the federal city, Ghent, Paris, and New York City—offers an unrivalled opportunity to integrate Atlantic and continental perspectives on the U.S. early republic while exploring the circulation of diverse ideas and varied forms of private and public action in political, economic, and cultural life too seldom examined in light of one another.

JF: Can't wait to hear about it. Thanks Sean!

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Watermelons as racist trope

New website on the Boston Massacre

Should you get a literary agent?

The decline of religiosity in the 1940s

Slavery and capitalism

The power of undergraduate research and Messiah College

Did George Washington say "so help me God" at his inauguration

Prayer and social media

Happy Birthday to The Junto

Jonathan Edwards and the Protestant work ethic

Sons of Liberty: Who were they?

Do liberals always win?

Christmas shopping and cheap textiles

Billy Graham, Louis Zamperini, and Unbroken

The unreconstructed North

Looking forward to this book

Christopher Jones reviews Kyle Bulthuis's Four Steeples Over the City Streets and a Q&A

Friday, December 12, 2014

Messiah College History Department in The American Scholar: The Power of Undergraduate Research

Messiah College history students conducting research in a 19th c. cemetery
Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) and James Grossman (American Historical Association), the authors of the "No More Plan B" proposal that challenged graduate programs in history to think about training Ph.D students for careers outside of the academy, have now turned to the pages of the prestigious American Scholar to extol the value of undergraduate historical research. 

I think I will just let them explain. But before I do, I am proud to say that Grafton and Grossman use the Messiah College History Department as an example of a department in which students are engaged in extensive student research.  We are indeed a department that uses the study of the past to help students build "a self and a soul and a mind" that they can take with them wherever they go.

Here is a taste of their article, "Habits of the Mind":

Students of history learn how to do research in institutions of many kinds...Go, for example, to the webpage of the history department at Messiah College, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you’ll read about students doing every kind of research you can imagine, from working with a museum professional to excavate and restore a historic cemetery, to pursuing the family histories of African Americans in the documents at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, to developing a digital archive on the history of Harrisburg. Go to the webpage of the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and you’ll find a student-edited journal, Clio’s Scroll, showcasing detailed and imaginative historical research—often drawn from senior theses—on subjects such as drama, landscape, and political thought.
Why do we teach these students—fresh, bright young undergraduates—to do research? Why take people who are forming themselves, who should be thinking about life, death, and the universe, and send them off to an archive full of dusty documents and ask them to tell us something new about the impact of the Civil War in a country town in Pennsylvania or Virginia, or the formation of Anglo-Norman kingship, or the situation of slaves in the Old South?
The answer is so simple that we sometimes forget to give it, but it matters. We teach students to do research because it’s one powerful way to teach them to understand and appreciate the past on its own terms, while at the same time finding meaning in the past that is rooted in the student’s own intellect and perspective. Classrooms and assigned readings are necessary to provide context: everyone needs to have an outline in mind, if only to have something to take apart; and everyone needs to know how to create those outlines and query them constructively. Reading monographs and articles is vital, too. To get past the big, generalized stories, you have to see how professional scholars have formed arguments, debated one another, and refined theories in light of the evidence.
But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.
Why do this? Partly because it’s the only way for a student to get past being a passive consumer and critic and to become a creator, someone who reads other historians in the light of having tried to do what they do. Partly because it’s the way that historians help students master skills that are not specific to history. When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.
The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.
This self, moreover, is the student’s own construction. Supervision matters: people new to historical work need advice in framing questions, finding sources, and shaping arguments. In the end, though, historical research is always, and should always be, a bungee jump, a leap into space that hasn’t been mapped or measured. The faculty supervisor straps on the harness and sees to the rope. But the student takes the risk and reaps the rewards. This isn’t just student-centered learning, in which the student’s interests are put first; it’s student defined and student executed, the work of a self-reliant, observant, and creative person.
A self like this can seem unworldly, especially if the “real world” resembles a political culture that dismisses complexity and context as “academic.” But in a deeper sense, this is a worldly education, in the traditional way that humanistic education has always embodied. A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.
That is because in the archive the historian has the opportunity and the obligation to listen. A good historian enters the archive not to prove a hypothesis, not to gather evidence to support a position that assumptions and theories have already formed. But to answer a question. It’s an amazing experience to see and talk with and learn from the dead. As Machiavelli said so well, you ask them questions about what they did and why, and in their humanity, they answer you, and you learn what you can’t learn any other way.
History has many mansions nowadays. Historians work on every period of human history, every continent, and every imaginable form of human life. But they all listen to the dead (and yes, in some cases, the living as well): that’s the common thread that connects every part of history’s elaborate tapestry of methods. All historians muster the best evidence they can to answer their questions. They offer respect and admiration to those who show the greatest ingenuity in raising new questions, bringing new characters onto the stage of history, and finding new evidence with which to do so.
As for talking with people who don’t work in universities—a student who writes a good history paper has learned how to communicate knowledge to anyone. History has been a form of narrative art, as well as of inquiry into the past, since the first millennium BCE, when Jewish and Greek and Chinese writers began to produce it. That’s why Herodotus could read his history of the Persian Wars aloud at the Olympic Games—a performance for which he received the large sum of 10 talents. Historians care about clear speech and vigorous prose, and believe that even complex and technical forms of inquiry into the past can be conveyed in accessible and attractive language. Accordingly, we don’t separate research from writing. Just ask the students whose papers and chapters we send back, adorned with marginalia in blue pen or the colors of Track Changes.
When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

In Praise of the Residential Liberal Arts College

As many of you know, I teach at a residential liberal arts college. 

Actually, Messiah College is not an official liberal arts college according to the Carnegie Classifications.  It is a regional comprehensive college with liberal arts and professional programs.  But it is highly residential.

Over at the Huffington Post "College" page, L. Jay Lemons, the president of Susquehanna University, another Pennsylvania school with a strong residential liberal arts emphasis, describes the beneifts of this type of college experience.  His piece centers around the college experience of his daughter.

Here is a taste:

During her first week on campus, by design Maggie and her classmates were all in the company of their academic advisors three times. These advisors are full-time faculty members. They discussed what classes to take during their first semester, adjusting to college life including being homesick, and how to become involved in campus life. The intention was clear that relationships between faculty members and students are central, essential and expected.

During a visit to Maggie in mid-October, we shared a meal with some friends and one of them asked her if she had a favorite class. She responded immediately that her interdisciplinary seminar was her favorite. She was finding the course material on early Christianity and Islam fascinating, and Maggie went on to say she found her professor inspiring. That is what every parent wants to hear.

Later that Saturday as we walked across the campus, we encountered the professor who was walking his dog and talking on his cell phone. He ended the call so as to have an opportunity to be introduced to us and I shared with him what Maggie said. He replied that Maggie and her classmates were inspiring him. The fact that he knew her name, was invested fully in her learning and was passionate about teaching was truly meaningful to me both as a dad and as a committed educator.

While I could provide other examples, let me share one final experience of what is different about residential liberal arts colleges. Maggie wanted to come home to Pennsylvania for her birthday weekend, which coincided with fall break. This necessitated taking a shuttle to LAX for a red-eye flight and meant she would miss the last half hour of her last class of the week. When she went to discuss this with the professor, she received an unexpected response, "Maggie, I want you to fully participate in the whole class." How surprised was she when the full professor who holds an endowed chair said, "I will take you to the airport myself." Wow! For parents, it does not get any better than that.

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 Major in History?: An Undergraduate Perspective
2.  From Racism to Obama: Mapping the History of the Democratic Party
3.  Did Abraham Lincoln Want to Put God in the United States Constitution?
4.  Nathan Hatch on Why Christians Should Study the Past
5.  How the South Was Lost
6.  AHA Correspondents Wanted!
7.  Gregg Frazer on David Barton's Video, "America's Godly Heritage."
8.  Jonathan Zimmerman on Historian's and Their Publics
9.  Quote of the Day
10. Sunday Night Odds and Ends, December 7, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What's In the Adams-Revere Time Capsule?

Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and other Bostonians placed a time capsule in the cornerstone of Massachusetts State House as the building was being constructed in 1795.  The box apparently includes old coins and newspapers, but we will know for sure next week after it is X-rayed at the Boston Museum of Fine Art.  Stay tuned.

I am expecting J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 fame to be all over this story.

Color Photos From 1950s Alabama

The Daily Mail has posted a series of color photos taken by photographer and film producer Gordon Parks as he traveled in and around Mobile, Alabama in 1956.  These previously unpublished photos capture the realities of segregation in the mid-century South.

The Author's Corner with David Narrett

David Narrett is Professor of History at University of Texas Arlington. This interview is based on his new book, Adventurism and Empire: The Struggle for Mastery in the Louisiana-Florida Borderlands, 1762-1803 (The University of North Carolina Press, December 2014).

JF: What led you to write Adventurism and Empire?

DN: I wrote Adventurism and Empire because of my fascination with colonial adventurism as a phenomenon involving commerce, settlement schemes, and military freebooting across national boundaries. I also realized that there was a need for a detailed and systematic study tracing the transition from British-Spanish rivalry to U.S.-Spanish competition in Louisiana and "the Floridas" during the late eighteenth century.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Adventurism and Empire?

DN: Louisiana and Florida were borderland regions characterized by a high degree of geopolitical instability, personal adventurism, and intrigue from the denouement of the Seven Years War through the Louisiana Purchase. British-Spanish rivalry, both before and during the American Revolution, had a profound impact on subsequent U.S.-Spanish competition. Diverse nationalities vied over the control of rivers and pathways linking coastal to interior zones. Southern Indians sought trade goods through Pensacola and Mobile no less avidly than U.S. frontier folk clamored for free navigation on the Mississippi and access to the New Orleans market. Power struggles emerged in which commerce and immigration were as important determinants as war and violence.

JF: Why do we need to read Adventurism and Empire?

DN: Adventurism and Empire shows how the United States emerged as a successor empire to Great Britain through rivalry with Spain in the Mississippi Valley and Gulf Coast. Adventurism and Empire charts events in peace and war over four critical decades--from the close of the Seven Years War through the Louisiana Purchase. The story sheds new light on individual colonial adventurers and schemers who shaped history through cross-border trade, settlement projects involving slave and free labor, and military incursions into Spanish and Indian territories.

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

DN: I decided to become an American historian through my undergraduate studies at Columbia University, and through a deeply felt personal connection to our national past. While pursuing my Ph.D. at Cornell University, I was inspired by the late Michael Kammen, one of the foremost American historians of the last half-century.

JF: What is your next project?

DN: My next project is a study of frontier republicanism and settler-Native conflict in the trans-Appalachian West during the late eighteenth century.

JF: Thanks David.

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

From Racism to Obama: Mapping the History of the Democratic Party

I need to share this with my U.S. survey students.

Andrew Prokop of VOX has assembled 23 maps that explain the history of the Democratic Party in America.  

The Democrats were and are and will be (in chronological order):

1.  The party of Andrew Jackson
2.  The party of Indian removal
3.  The party of Manifest Destiny
4.  The party of slavery
5.  The party that fractured during the Civil War
6.  The party that dominated the South after the Civil War
7.  The party of farmers and silver
8.  The party of Wilson progressivism
9.  The party that fought the Great Depression
10. The party of government spending
11. The party of unions
12. The party that split over Civil Rights
13. The party that lost the South
14. The party of the anti-Vietnam War movement
15. The party of the cities
16. The party of poorer Americans
17. The party that performs badly among evangelicals
18. The party with a few blue dogs
19. The party of unions (again)
20. The party of the emerging non-white electorate
21. The party that is seeing declining support from white voters
22. The party that is getting weak in the states
23. The party appealing to Hispanic voters

Sacvan Bercovitch: R.I.P.

He was named after Sacco and Vanzetti and he was one of the deans of American Puritan studies. I think it is fair to say that we are still wrestling with the implications of his The Puritan Origins of the American Self and The American Jeremiad.

Chris Looby has posted a fitting tribute of his life and work at the Early American Literature website. 

Here is a taste:

The Puritan Origins of the American Self famously ended with an assessment of the “palpable social effects” of the Puritan-derived rhetorical strategy of representative American selfhood: the material historical facts of social pluralism were subsumed in a national myth of sacred election, and this subsumption “argue[s] the importance of ideology (in the Marxist sense) in the shaping of the United States” (186). By the time of the Hawthorne book, Bercovitch found it necessary to say explicitly what might have been obvious to careful readers: that in his view, and in his critical practice, “ideological analysis can be a richly aesthetic form of criticism” (155), and to be truly critically penetrating it needs to be wise to the aesthetic dimension of literary texts. As he puts it elsewhere, those critics who are interested solely in ideological demystification have simply “left aesthetics to the aesthetes” (“Games of Chess” 16); his aim has been to “replace the reductive polarities of both old formalisms and new moralisms . . . with a more flexible sense of the interactive elements in art as cultural work” (Office 155). 

The example of scholarly rigor, searching curiosity, and untendentious inquiry that Bercovitch has presented has been widely influential, nowhere more clearly than in the work of the many graduate students he has supervised over the years. On the occasion of his retirement, Harvard University hosted a conference in his honor, featuring as speakers a selection of his doctoral students from Columbia and Harvard. “The Next Turn in American Literary and Cultural Studies,” as the conference was called, was notable for many reasons, but perhaps most conspicuously for the variety and distinction of the scholarly and critical work Bercovitch has sponsored: while there have been mechanically Bercovitchean essays and books published in the wake of his own, Bercovitch’s students have learned precisely not to mimic his work but to reproduce, as well as they can, his independence of mind and unpredictability of argument. It is this outcome that honors him most truly.

Gumby at Mount Vernon

I love this!  This Gumby figurine was found during an archaeological dig at Mount Vernon.  Read all about it here.

A taste:

Have you ever accidentally left something behind on a vacation or field trip? That might explain how a small, red, plastic Gumby ended up in the upper layers of the midden. Created by Art Clokey, the lovable clay figure Gumby first appeared in 1957 in his own animated television series. The original show lasted until 1968, but many spin-offs and revivals have occurred since then. Even with the many variations of the TV show, Gumby was never red, he was always green—Clokey’s favorite color. As with many popular TV shows and movies, merchandising spread the material culture of Gumby into homes around the world. The merchandising was so successful that objects featuring Gumby and his friends were sold long after the show was cancelled. Figurines were manufactured for gumball vending machines in many different colors; ours is one of the red gumball Gumbies.

These vending machine toys are an example of the long history of children at Mount Vernon. George and Martha Washington were always generous in inviting children into their home. They made room for Fanny, Martha Washington’s niece, and for Martha’s grandchildren, Washy and Nelly. Many other children stayed with them for shorter periods of time. Today, children visit Mount Vernon to see where George and Martha Washington lived. These young visitors have left many interesting items, like red Gumby, which we can use to interpret their cultural history.

Mark Noll Reads His Own Life

From From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian's Discovery of the Global Christian Story

A crude statement of how I would read my own life goes as follows. From internalizing such preaching about what I needed to do in order to be saved, I experienced existentially Martin Luther’s message about what God had endured in order to save me. From a view of the Bible preoccupied by its meaning for the future, I learned from John Calvin a way of reading Scripture that revealed its pervasive relevance for the present. From singing true, but thin, words about the wonderful grace of Jesus, I was transformed by singing Charles Wesley’s account of a long-imprisoned spirit unchained by the bright light of divine mercy. From being taught that I should be intensely concerned about how many authors contributed to the book of Isaiah, I followed Jonathan Edwards in seeing that the only really important question was the purpose for which god created the world (it was for his own glory). Just a little bit later, from seeking first one and then another foundation, it was reassuring beyond comprehension to hear in the Heidelberg Catechism that ‘my only comfort in life and in death is my faithful Savior Jesus Christ who has fully paid for all my sins with his blood.’
In other words, the riches of classical Protestantism opened a new and exceedingly compelling vision of existence. Intellectually, theologically, existentially, I was rescued by the Reformation.
HT: Tracy McKenzie at Faith and History 

More on Jean Soderlund's *Lenape Country*

Some of you may recall our Author's Corner interview with Jean Soderlund, author of Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). Soderlund is one of the foremost historians of the early mid-Atlantic.  Before Lenape Country she was best known for her book Quakers and Slavery: A Divided Spirit and William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania: A Documentary History.

Over at the blog of the University of Pennsylvania Press, Soderlund answers some more questions about her new book. Here is a taste:

In what specific ways did the Europeans and Lenapes work together to collectively develop Delaware Valley society?
After 1654, the Lenapes and Swedish-Finnish community became more closely allied, as they intermarried and depended on one another for support. They respected and did not try to change each other’s culture and religion. They often lived and visited each other in adjacent settlements. When conflict arose over stray livestock or a personal assault, the Lenapes, Swedes, and Finns tried to resolve the issue without further violence. They created a society that favored peace over war, and liberty over slavery, unlike other regions of eastern North America.
How involved was William Penn in communications with the Lenapes?
In 1681, soon after he received the charter for Pennsylvania, Penn sent his deputy William Markham to negotiate with the Lenapes for land. With help from the Swedes and Finns, Markham made several land deals with the Natives. Penn negotiated directly with the Lenapes after his arrival in 1682, and seemed to have great respect for their culture.
At what point did relations between the Europeans and the Lenapes begin to generally deteriorate?
Relations between the Lenapes and the Swedish-Finnish community remained strong into the 18th century. Relations between the Lenapes and the Pennsylvania government started deteriorating soon after Penn left for the first time in 1684 because, according to their custom and the practice of the Swedish and Dutch governments, the Lenapes expected Penn to continue paying annual gifts for use of the land. Penn was broke and could not keep up the payments and, in any case, believed he had paid enough for the land.
This was a disagreement more generally between Native Americans and most Europeans. The Natives did not believe that land was an entity that could be sold; rather they expected gifts in return for its use. Europeans believed they could buy it and wrote deeds that they thought proved their ownership. The Swedes and Dutch in the Delaware Valley, while under Lenape domination, quickly learned the Native tradition. The major split between the Lenapes and the Pennsylvania government occurred with the Walking Purchase of 1737, which defrauded the Natives of their remaining territory along the Delaware River from central Bucks County into the Poconos.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Video Review of _The Way of Improvement Leads Home_

Not sure what this is all about, but I'll take it:

Quote of the Day

The Resolutions of the National Association of Evangelicals' Commission on Evangelical Action, organized early in the NAE's history, give some measure of what "social action" meant to mainstream evangelical leaders in the early 1960s.  At the commission's September 1960 meeting, members discussed the top challenges facing American evangelicals:  communism, "the Roman Catholic situation," IRS pressure on ministers who preached politics from the pulpit, the provision of alcohol to passengers by airlines, and Hollywood's recent "attacks on evangelical Christianity in such films as "Elmer Gantry" and "Inherit the Wind"

--Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, p. 178

I should add that my students got some good laughs yesterday when they read the line about alcohol and airlines.