Friday, October 24, 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.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--October 19, 2014
2.  L.D. Burnett on "Secular Academic Homiletics"
3.  John Wilsey is on Fire
4.  The Author's Corner with Lindsay O'Neill
5.  William Lloyd Garrison Did Not Like the U.S. Constitution
6.  AHA Prize Winners
7.  The Author's Corner with Amy DeRogatis
8.  God and the Declaration of Independence
9.  Keeping Up With Work on Capitalism and Religion
10. Introducing the "Benjamin Franklin's World" Podcast

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich Describes Her Journey From Mormon Motherhood to the Halls of Harvard

I love reading biographies and autobiographies of historians and other academics.  I have been teaching Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's movie (based on her Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title) "A Midwife's Tale" for probably fifteen years.  It works very well with students taking the United States history survey course.  I have also used Ulrich's Good Wives several times in my colonial America course.  She is one of my favorite historians.

I was thus pleased to see this interview with Ulrich at The Harvard Gazette.  Over the course of the interview she describes her unorthodox journey into the profession and how she conceived of several of her books.  Here is a taste:

UNH had just hired faculty members specializing in early American history. That’s why I majored in early American history — because the best faculty were in that field. So it was Darrett Rutman and Charlie Clark: both former journalists who really cared about writing. They really encouraged me. They were both really terrific, really wonderful. But of course I couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have done it, if I hadn’t had my women’s network — still in Boston, a lot of them. It was a very close network of good friends, and we continued to work on feminist stuff. Claudia Bushman got a Ph.D. at BU about the same time I was at UNH.
Q: What was that transition like in those days, from literature to history?
A: Charlie had an American studies degree, rather than a straight history degree. He had studied with Carl Bridenbaugh at Brown. Darrett was a hard-core social scientist in his approach to history, but a writer. The two of them really emphasized the literary side of history — history as writing — [but] their methodologies were totally different. Charlie was interested in historical literature and narrative, and he did more intellectual history. Darrett did a lot more quantification and social history. I really think working with the two of them made it possible for me to do what I did. I really got good training in social history and lots of nourishing in terms of writing history. It was a nice combination.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Image of the Day: Jesus Promise Seeds

My colleague Devin Manzullo-Thomas recently taped this package to my office door.  I hope to bring it to my history of American evangelicalism class this week as an example of the kind of Christian kitsch that evangelicalism produces.  I am sure you can buy your own bag of these Jesus promise seeds at a Christian bookstore/giftstore near you!

Keeping Up With Work on Capitalism and Religion

Over at the blog of the American Society of Church History, Northwestern graduate student Jeffrey Wheatley has a useful historiographical post on some recent scholarship at the intersection of American religious history and the history of capitalism.  Here is a taste:

Not to be left behind, scholars of Christianity and religion generally have also been especially interested in business, wealth, and trade. This interest, of course, is not unprecedented, but I want to list some of the more recent works for this post. Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart, which was noted in The New York Times article, explores the rise of “Wal-Mart Moms” and the political impact of their faith in God and market. Kathryn Lofton has already given us Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, which explores the relationship between modern American religiosity and consumerism. She is also working on a project that does something similar with the financial practices at the Goldman Sachs Group. Thomas Rzeznik’s Church and Estate revels in the Gilded Age by looking at the intersection of religious claims and business practices among the Philadelphia elite. Christopher Cantwell’s essay over at Religion & Politics sketches out some of the links between big capitalism and big Christianity in Illinois.

AHA Prize Winners

The American Historical Association has announced its 2014 prize winners.  Here are a few of them that caught my eye:

The William and Edwyna Gilbert Award for the best article on teaching history goes to Lendol Calder (Augustana College), “The Stories We Tell,” OAH Magazine of History 27, no. 3 (2013): 5–8 

The James A. Rawley Prize for the integration of Atlantic worlds before the 20th century goes to Aaron Spencer Fogleman (Northern Illinois University), Two Troubled Souls: An Eighteenth-Century Couple’s Spiritual Journey in the Atlantic World (University of North Carolina Press, 2013) 

The Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history goes to Jacob S. Dorman (University of Kansas), Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (Oxford University Press, 2013) 

The Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History to a freely available new media project goes to "Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854–1865" (Kansas City Public Library) 


The Author's Corner with Amy DeRogatis

Amy DeRogatis is Associate Professor of Religion and American Culture at Michigan State University. This interview is based on her new book, Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, November 2014)

JF: What led you to write Saving Sex?

AD: My interest in this topic began with a question by an undergraduate in my Religion and Gender class at Michigan State University. In the course we had been reading a book that discussed some ritual practices around marital sexuality in Orthodox Judaism. One student raised her hand and asked, “Where do Christians go to read about the proper ways to have sex?” I made a quick reply about evangelicals publishing lots of material about how not to have sex and returned to the topic of discussion. The question stuck with me and after class I ran a few Internet searches. I was unable to find any secondary material, such as a scholarly article that surveyed and analyzed the literature. I did eventually find lots of primary sources, and many of them were in Special Collections in the Main Library at MSU. This began a long process of reading many types of prescriptive literature about sex written by and aimed towards American evangelicals.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Saving Sex?

AD: In Saving Sex I argue that rather than denying the sexual body, evangelical sex writers present distinct visions of how sexual acts and rituals can be productive for individual and world salvation. Talking about sexuality allows evangelicals to carve an identity for themselves that sets them apart from secular American culture, even as they fervently embrace many aspects of that same culture.

JF: Why do we need to read Saving Sex?

AD: No one needs to read Saving Sex. If you decide to read it you will learn about some of the most popular evangelical writers and speakers on sexuality and some of the most pressing topics regarding evangelical sexuality and salvation. If you have ever wondered about chastity balls, why some evangelical youth make courting lists, what marital sexual practices are believed to be sanctioned by God, why illicit sexual practices might invite demonic forces, or why contraception is rejected in some evangelical circles, then this book will be of interest to you.

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

AD: I didn’t. I earned a PhD in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC-CH. My field is American religious history. I think of myself as primarily a religious studies scholar rather than a historian. I do, however, examine religious texts, groups, rituals, etc. within a historical framework. I didn’t have a moment when I decided to become an American historian, but I did realize that I wanted to study religion in combination with history, literature, art, and architecture when I spent a college year in Seville, Spain and wrote a research paper on the Jewish community in Seville prior to the Reconquest. After I returned for my last year at college I came to understand that my academic interests revolved around questions of religious identity. During that year I became interested in religious movements in the United States, and focused on that area of study when I attended Harvard Divinity School. The rest is history!

JF: What is your next project?

AD: In my next project I have returned to the nineteenth century the time period of my first book Moral Geography: Maps, Missionaries and the American Frontier. The book, Mormon King, will tell the story of the Mormon prophet James Jesse Strang who claimed to be the rightful successor to Joseph Smith. Strang saw and spoke with angels, found golden plates with new scripture, and received a highly contested letter of appointment from Joseph Smith. He eventually convinced over 12,000 people of his rightful position and led 2500 people to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan where he established a kingdom. While on Beaver Island, he crowned himself king, built a temple, established the Law of the Lord, and instituted plural marriage. He petitioned the Michigan State Legislature in Lansing to shift voting lines based on changed demographics and was subsequently elected to the Michigan House of Representatives two times. This may be the only time in U.S. history that a crowned monarch has also served in a state legislature. For many reasons he angered gentiles living on Beaver Island, Mackinac Island, and what is now Charlevoix in Northern Michigan. A few disaffected followers, with the implicit support of gentiles and the federal government, assassinated him in 1856. Within a few weeks, all of his followers were forcibly removed from the island and their land and property repossessed by the mob that pushed them out at gunpoint. 

I plan to examine Strang in the context of succession claims among the Latter-day Saints, and in relation to other millennial groups in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. I am interested in both the daily practices prescribed by Strang for how saints dressed, worked, ate, worshipped, and married as well as his larger theological views of the place of the gathered saints on Beaver Island for the spreading of the kingdom of God to the world. There are still Strang descendants living in Michigan, and I have had the opportunity to interview his great, granddaughter who descends from the youngest child of Strang’s first plural wife. Besides being a fascinating American religious history subject, for me, it has the added benefit of local significance.

JF: Thanks Amy, sounds intriguing.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Introducing the "Benjamin Franklin's World" Podcast

Are you looking for a good podcast to listen to as you drive, run, or just sit at your desk?  Are you an early American history buff?  If you answered yes to both of these questions then you just might like Liz Covart's new podcast, "Benjamin Franklin's World."   Learn more about it here.

So far Liz has done six podcasts.  Each podcast includes four segments:

1. Modern Day Discovery: An occasional segment where I share information about news or events from our present-day.
2. Guest Interview: This segment stands as the centerpiece of the show. It is where I interview an historian who has conducted (or is conducting) fascinating research about important episodes and people in early American history.
On occasion, I replace this segment with a captivating story from my own historical research.
3. Time Warp: The post-interview segment where I ask my guest a hypothetical history question about what might have been if something had occurred, or someone had acted, differently.
4. Ask the Historian: The segment where I answer your questions about early American history.
So far Liz has interviewed James Green, Cornelia King, and Richard Newman of the Library Company of Philadelphia, and historians Thomas Foster and Jeanne Abrams.

A Busy Week in the Messiah College History Department

Philip Deloria will deliver the 2014 American Democracy Lecture
We in the Messiah College History Department try to give our students an array of opportunities to learn outside of the classroom.  Last Spring our students studying digital history and Pennsylvania history spent a lot of time doing archival research.  This semester the students in our public archaeology course are hard at work studying a farm connected with a nineteenth-century Anabaptist group known as the "Bermudian Brethren" and uncovering an eighteenth-century Lutheran church building that has been buried for 250 years in the congregation's graveyard.  Several students continue to work on our Digital Harrisburg Project while others provide research support for an array of faculty research projects.  We have put a new Public History concentration in place and have been working as well on a new concentration in "Administrative Studies."  In the past few years our students have interned at historical sites all over the mid-Atlantic.  It has been a fun ride.  I like to think that we are hard at work in creating a new kind of undergraduate history department.
In addition to all of our regular extra-curricular activity, the next few weeks will be particularly busy in the Messiah College History Department.  We are very excited to announce (or re-announce) the following events:
On Thursday, October 23, 2014, Philip Deloria will be on campus to deliver the American Democracy Lecture, the most important lecture in the life of the department.  I am sure many of you know Deloria's work. He is a professor of history and administrator at the University of Michigan and a scholar of native American history.  His talk "American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination" promises to be an excellent talk. Learn more about it here.  Also check out the Facebook "event" page.
Tibebe Eshete
On Thursday, October 30, we will hold our annual "Faith and History" lecture.  This year's lecturer is Tibebe Eshete, our new visiting lecturer in African history and the author of the definitive work on the evangelical movement in Ethiopia.  In the 1970s Tibebe was a young Ethiopian Marxist who was active in the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie.  His talk will describe his journey from Marxism to Christian faith and his understanding of the historian's vocation. The lecture will be held in Boyer Hall room 335 at 4pm. If you are in the area feel free to stop by.  It should be a good one.
Finally, on November 4 the History Department will sponsor its annual "Career and Graduate School" event.  This year we will focus on careers. Our speakers will be two Messiah College history alums who have gone on to do amazing things with their degrees.  Beth Baggett was a Messiah College history major who currently works as an executive in the New York City fashion industry.  Caitlin Babcock, another Messiah history alum, works for a non-profit organization focused on the assimilation of new immigrants.  It should be a great afternoon.  Stay tuned for more information.  If you ever wondered what you can do with a history major you need to be at this event.
We continue to try to make the Messiah College History Department an intellectually vibrant place that merges a classic liberal arts history education with the kind of experiential learning that allows our students to build their resumes and develop transferable skills that will be useful in the marketplace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

John Wilsey is on Fire

John Wilsey teaches history at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary campus in Houston.  He is a real jack of all trades.  He is the interim pastor of a Houston-area Baptist church.  He teaches courses in history and theology to traditional seminary students, undergraduates, and prisoners in a maximum security prison.  He has written a good book critiquing the "Christian America" thesis and has a forthcoming book on American exceptionalism.

But I am writing about John today because he has recently written two great blog posts.

The first post, which appears at John's blog "To Breathe Your Free Air," is an honest account of the struggles and triumphs of writing his book on American exceptionalism.  His exhortation to "write, write, write" was something I needed to hear as I continue to push forward with my American Bible Society project.  If you need some inspiration to jump start a writing project, head over to Wilsey's post.

The second post, which was recently published at Religion in American History, offers an assessment of American exceptionalist rhetoric in Christian school and home school American history textbooks. In the process he invokes the term "Americolatry."  Here is a taste:

Combine the idea of American exceptionalism with the Christian America thesis—the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation—and you have a potent brew indeed, a super-charged nationalism which has an exceptional quality all its own. 

I have a word for this powerful ideological combination—Americolatry. Americolatry consists of a form of civil religion that entails the doctrine of American greatness, innocence, and superiority (e.g., Reagan’s “the last, best hope of mankind,” Albright’s “indispensable nation,” or David Gelernter’s America as “one of the most beautiful religious concepts mankind has ever known”(2)). Americolatry also entails the practice of religious devotion to America by inextricably linking Christian devotion to patriotism. In other words, to be a devoted Christian equals the uncritical acceptance of America as superior and morally regenerate. 

Thanks for some good writing, John!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #91

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

In yesterday's post I mentioned that my work on the ABS project has been stalled due to the work I am doing on grant applications for my upcoming sabbatical.

Today I think it is fair to say that the ABS project has been temporarily derailed due to the work I am doing on grant applications.  Grant applications take a lot of time to write.  And since every grant-giving institution requires something a little bit different in its application, it makes it hard to write a boilerplate essay and use it for every grant.

I finished a big proposal today and have one more big proposal to write.  I had hoped that I would be able to complete these applications without having to intrude on the time I am devoting to the ABS project, but that is not going to happen.  Moreover, sometimes life intrudes on work.  My daughter's volleyball team is preparing for what we all hope will be a nice playoff run and my wife and I are in the process finding a team for her 2015 club season. 

I WILL get the train back on the track.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, "time" is punishing me.

I do, however, have some good news to report.  I just learned that one of our team--Katie Garland, a public history graduate student at the University of Massachusetts--was just appointed to the Religion, Historic Sites, and Museums" working group at the next annual meeting of the National Council for Public History."  Nice work, Katie.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #90

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

Mama said there'd days like this. 

I was unable to carve out any time today to work on the American Bible Society project. Instead, I was in a local diner at 4:45 this morning sipping coffee and eating oatmeal trying to write a grant proposal for my upcoming sabbatical.  I am driving hard to meet my November 1 grant deadlines and I am bit worried that my work on the ABS project will slow down as a result.

Meanwhile the reports I am receiving from the project's other research fronts are very positive. Katie is hard at work doing research on chapters related to the ABS labors in Mexico and the Levant.  Alyssa is nearing completion of the research on a chapter devoted to Eugene Nida and the Good News Bible.  

The whole project is currently behind schedule, but I still think we can get back on track by the end of the year.   Stay tuned.

Virtual Office Hours: Fall 2014 - Episode 6

"Thoughts on Christine Heryman's Southern Cross"
Part I

The Author's Corner with Lindsay O'Neill

Lindsay O'Neill is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern California. This interview is based on her new book, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World (University of Pennsylvania Press, October 2014).

JF: What led you to write The Opened Letter?

LO: Growing up as the world of the Internet developed gave me a front row seat to communicative change. It also revealed to me the strains such alterations create. But I knew this was not the first communications revolution the world had seen and so I became curious about previous moments of transformation. This drew me to the British Isles in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: a time when print culture was blossoming, the post office was permanently opened to the public, and the British world was expanding geographically. It was a period that had and needed new modes of communication. At first, it was print and the growth of the newspaper press that captured my interest, but that lacked the frisson of the personal. I wanted to know how people connected with each other over long distances. I found the answer in letters. However, I also wanted to do something different with these letters. My investigations suggested that they connected whole social networks rather than simply two individuals. This led me to the world social network analysis, which allowed me to map out the webs of connection embedded in letters. Explaining what these uncovered became The Opened Letter.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Opened Letter?

LO: As the British world expanded geographically and individuals circulated through it more frequently letters became a critical mode of communication and connection. They allowed the British to establish and extend the social networks that increasingly kept their world turning during a time of geographic and social change.

JF: Why do we need to read The Opened Letter?

LO: First, the book helps us understand how the geographically expansive British world of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries functioned socially, economically, and politically by recognizing the importance social networks. However, second, it also helps us question and think about our own communicative world. We too live in an increasingly global world that is dependent upon new forms of media. I hope that reading my book will push people to put their own experience of change into a wider historical context.

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

LO: I always tell people that I became a British historian because I wanted to study America. I grew up loving American history. I remember getting chills when reading about “the shot heard ‘round the world” in fifth grade and my family possesses embarrassing video footage of me giving a tour of Gettysburg in eighth grade. However, when I took classes in college I was inundated and intrigued by the histories of other countries - places that had very unfamiliar and new stories to tell. In British history I found a happy medium: I got to explore the history of a place that was foreign to me, but one in which the future America rested.

JF: What is your next project?

LO: One story haunted me while I was doing research for The Opened Letter. It seemed that every letter book I opened mentioned the plight of two African princes from Delagoa in east Africa who had arrived in London in 1721. They had boarded a ship to see England, but the captain nefariously sold them into slavery in Jamaica instead. Miraculously, after almost two years as slaves, they were freed and ended up trying to drum up support in London to get back to home. This story gripped me and has not let go, so presently I am tracing the travels of these princes and the motivations of those who got involved with them. Besides giving me the chance to tell a story full of drama and tragedy, their journey will also allow me to delve deeper into the nature and organization of British global power in the early eighteenth century.

JF: Thanks Lindsay, sounds intriguing!

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

Here are a few things online that caught my attention this week:

Why Gordon College will not lose its accreditation.

Harold Bush on James K.A. Smith on Charles Taylor

A sports fan could waste a lot of time looking at these maps

Self-loathing at evangelical colleges?

Are religious colleges sanctuaries for the humanities?

Pete Powers's message to the college class of 2018

Cotton Mather and smallpox

Can Harrisburg come back?

Growing up Catholic in the 1970s

1830s temperance map

David Moore interviews Andrew O'Shaughnessy about his book The Men Who Lost America

Ripple likes to play

Take the #historiannchallenge

The Lake Placid Olympic village is now a prison

Help Heath Carter with his American religious history course

History for the future

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #89

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

This morning I took a break from my background reading for Chapter Five and wrote a more extensive outline for the chapter.  While I still need to more reading, especially in preparation for my section in this chapter on the anti-mission Baptists and the role of women in the ABS, I did manage to sketch out a preliminary introduction to the chapter and write about 100 words.  Slow progress is better than no progress.

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.  Mark Driscoll Resigns From Mars Hill Church
2.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--October 12, 2014
3.  You Might Be an Evangelical If...
4.  L.D. Burnett on "Secular Academic Homilies"
5.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #86
6.  In Most Colleges and Universities You Can Receive a Bachelor's Degree Without Having to Take a History Course
7.  Slacktivist Takes On Our "You Might Be an Evangelical..." Quiz
8.  The Author's Corner with J. Brent Morris
9.  The Author's Corner with Steve Longenecker

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lecture: New Jersey's Presbyterian Rebellion

This came across the New Jersey history listserv today.  I hope to see some of you in Union next month.--JF

November 21 and 22, 2014
Kean University, Union, NJ
Celebrated Author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction

New Jersey's Presbyterian Rebellion

At the time of the American Revolution Presbyterians were the largest religious denomination and most important cultural and political institution in New Jersey, yet their role in the coming of the American Revolution has been largely ignored by historians. Presbyterian clergy and laypeople, including William Livingston, Elias Boudinot, James Caldwell, John Witherspoon, and Jacob Green, fused religious and political ideas to create a powerful impetus for revolution. Presbyterian communities in Princeton, Morristown, Hanover, Greenwich, and Elizabeth-Town, to name a few, were bastions of political radicalism and Christian patriotism. This talk will examine the powerful influence of Presbyterians in the forging of an independent New Jersey and challenge us to think about how we might integrate Presbyterians into the larger narrative of the American Revolution in the state.

Register now and mail your check by November 14th! For more information
The Forum is presented by the New Jersey Historical Commission in partnership with The New Jersey State Archives, New Jersey State Museum and Kean University, and with partial funding from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. The conference is free, but as a state agency the New Jersey Historical Commission is unable to pay for meals. There is a $25 charge to purchase breakfast and lunch on the 22nd.

Philip Deloria Will Deliver Messiah College American Democracy Lecture

Philip Deloria
We in the Messiah College History Department are thrilled to have Philip Deloria of the University Michigan on campus next week to deliver our annual American Democracy lecture.  His talk is entitled "American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination."  If you are in the area I hope to see you at the lecture.

Here is the press release:

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (Oct. 2, 2014) — Dr. Philip J. Deloria, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Professor of History and LSA Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education at the University of Michigan, will discuss “American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination” Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in Parmer Hall located in the Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts. Admission is free; no ticket is required. The lecture is sponsored by the Center for Public Humanities and the Department of History. For more information, contact Shirley Groff
About Philip Deloria
Deloria is the author of Indians in Unexpected Places (2004) and Playing Indian (1998), among many publications. His family has held a prominent role in American Indian history. Grandfather Vine Deloria Sr. (1902-1990), Episcopal archdeacon of South Dakota, was the first American Indian named to an executive position by a major Protestant denomination, and father Vine Deloria Jr. (1933-2005) was a prominent author, scholar and activist.

Writing Institutional History

Burkholder and Norris have written a forthcoming history of Grace College
One of the panels I missed (due to a scheduling conflict) at the recent Conference on Faith and History meeting in Malibu was focused on writing institutional history.  It included Shirley Mullen of Houghton College, Mark Norris of Grace College, and Devin Manzullo-Thomas of Messiah College.  

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has offered a nice summary of the session.  Mullen suggested that her training a historian has helped her navigate her role as a college president.  Norris, along with Jared Burkholder, just completed an excellent history of Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana.  And Manzullo-Thomas has written a congregational history of a Brethren in Christ Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and is currently at work on the history of another BIC congregation.  (He also spends a lot of time in the Brethren in Christ Archives at Messiah College).

Gehrz, who has experience working on the history of Bethel University (where he teaches), chaired the session.  In his post he offers "6 c's of writing institutional history."  As someone who is also engaged in writing an institutional history, I found his these "c's" especially informative.  I decided to interact with them below.

Capability:  Most historians who tackle institutional histories have the skills in historical research and writing needed to pull off such a project, but they are often asked to write such histories because they are "well-trusted figures" in the particular community.  While I have no history with the American Bible Society, I imagine that they approached me about writing the history of the organization because they thought that I was sympathetic to its mission.  

Comfort: Christian historians writing institutional history can "construct narratives of hope in times of difficult change."  Gehrz is not advocating some kind of providential history here, but he does believe that a historian writing the history of a Christian organization "should be able to help communities take a longer view than that offered when we're experiencing a particularly difficult present...."  Who knows?  Maybe my history of the American Bible Society will help the organization think more deeply about its next two hundred years.  I hope this is the case.

Complication:  A good historian will always make the smooth places rough.  In other words, they will "complicate the narrative."  Not everyone affiliated with a particular institution will like such a complicated narrative, but as Gehrz notes (echoing Mullen) a complicated story is more truthful and complete.

Compassion:  As Gehrz writes, Christians who write institutional histories must "rejoice with those who have rejoiced and weep with those who have wept."  They must show compassion for their subjects.  I think this is something akin to the kind of historical empathy I have discussed in Why Study History?  In some cases, what the panelists are calling for may be closer to "sympathy" than "empathy," but I think it is OK if these two affections merge in writing institutional histories.  As for my ABS book, I am not sure that I would take this notion of "compassion" too far.  While it is a book that I hope will edify the faithful followers and supporters of the ABS mission, I am not entirely sure that I am writing with compassion for the institution.  Maybe I should be doing more of this.  I am sure that executive who run the ABS might like such an approach.

Community:  Drawing on Michael Frisch's A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History, Gehrz (borrowing from Manzullo-Thomas's remarks) notes that institutional histories should be written in dialogue and conversation with the subjects.  

Confession:  Should Christian historians writing institutional histories "confess" the past sins of their institutions?  Non-Christian historians might bristle at such an idea, but isn't this what is happening all over the country as colleges and universities begin to explore the relationship between their institutions and slavery?  While such institutions may not be "confessing" sins in a Christian way, they are certainly making public apologies for their past.  I am not sure that this category applies to my work on the ABS.  Unlike the members of this panel, I am not writing as an insider.  But perhaps something I uncover may lead to this kind of confession.  

Great stuff as usual from The Pietist Schoolman.  I had fun interacting with this post.

The Author's Corner with J. Brent Morris

J. Brent Morris is Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Carolina at Beaufort. This interview is based on his new bookOberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America (The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism?

BM: Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism grew out of my frustration with scholars' frequent uncritical acceptance of the radical reputation the Oberlin community earned in its first three decades. This was manifested in the literature as a tendency by even well-respected historians to drop the name "Oberlin" as a keyword or shorthand of sorts to denote zealous abolitionism, religiosity, and social reform before hurriedly moving on to other topics. As I soon found it to have also been the case with contemporaries, it was often enough to point out the established and unquestioned fact of Oberlin’s significance as an icon of the abolitionist movement. Self-evidence was sufficient proof and too often took the place of details. I set out to put substance behind this potent symbol, and hoped to suggest new ways of thinking about the abolitionist movement in the process.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism?

BM: Oberlin—the community, faculty, students, and alumni—comprised the core of the antislavery movement in the West and was one of the most influential and successful groups of abolitionists in antebellum America. With a philosophy that was a composite of various schools of anti-slavery thought aimed at supporting the best hope of success, Oberlin led the process by which Western abolitionism transformed from an isolated reform into a multiracial mass movement that brought down slavery and forever changed the nation.

JF: Why do we need to read Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism?

BM: Attention to Oberlin’s role in transforming the West shifts the focus of generations of antislavery scholarship from the East, and also demonstrates that the dynamic Western African American influence, rather than the mostly-white Eastern leadership, was largely responsible for a continuous infusion of radicalism that helped the movement stay true to its most progressive fundamental principles. The book also contributes to a fuller understanding of ideology, means, and ends in the American abolitionist movement.

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

BM: Mine was a circuitous path to the profession. I was an English major as an undergraduate, but picked up a history minor in my final three semesters. Part of that minor included an independent study that first introduced me to the joys of archival research and the rich treasure that were the WPA slave narratives. I stubbornly went on to law school, but could not resist the temptation to spend my study breaks in the library's history stacks. Long story short, I couldn't ignore the bite of that pesky history bug, and the longer it festered the more I realized that I would ultimately be happiest as a historian. Despite the years of law school student loan payments to which I still have to look forward without a lawyer's salary, I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

JF: What is your next project?

BM: Right now I'm busy with three substantial projects. I'm putting some finishing touches on a second book that I've promised to have to the University of South Carolina Press within the month. Yes Lord I Know the Road: A History of African Americans in South Carolina 1526-2008, with Documents represents the first comprehensive history of African Americans in the Palmetto State and includes primary documents that will be a valuable teaching tool for students and scholars of all levels. With my first two books completed, I am finally making significant progress on a decade old pet project of mine: a work exploring the world of the maroon (fugitive slave) communities of the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina. I am also Director of an NEH-funded teacher's institute, "America's Reconstruction: The Untold Story, " which will be held in Beaufort this coming summer.

JF: Sounds like you are busy! Thanks Brent.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #88

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

I am still doing secondary reading for Chapter Five.  Today I spent a couple of hours with Paul Boyer's Urban Masses and Moral Order in America and Curtis Johnson's Redeeming America: Evangelicals and the Road to the Civil War.

Boyer reminded me that the Board of Managers of the ABS in the early nineteenth century were some were the wealthiest men in the United States.  Johnson reminded me that a combination of the Board's wealth and its Calvinism led frontier settlers to reject its mission.  Elias Boudinot modeled the ABS on the First Bank of the United States so it is not surprising that he received resistance from common evangelicals--mostly Baptists--on the frontier who sensed a cabal of wealthy Calvinists who wanted to use their wealth and theology to create a Christian nation

After completing my reading today I was also reminded that writing history requires constant engagement with secondary sources.  We may come up with a great idea for a book or article, and spend months pondering such an idea, but the idea is only developed and refined in conversation with others, namely the historians who have thought about the same things we are thinking about.  So stop thinking about your project and get to work!

In Most Colleges and Universities You Can Receive a Bachelor's Degree Without Having to Take a History Course

Messiah College requires a course in history (but not specifically American history) and at least six hours of foreign language study (2 courses). It does not require that all students take a course in economics.
It looks like very few colleges and universities require students to take a course in history, foreign language or economics to graduate.  Here is Douglas Belkin's article in today's Wall Street Journal:
A majority of U.S. college graduates don’t know the length of a congressional term, what the Emancipation Proclamation was, or which Revolutionary War general led the American troops at Yorktown.
The reason for such failures, according to a recent study: Few schools mandate courses in core subjects like U.S. government, history or economics. The sixth annual analysis of core curricula at 1,098 four-year colleges and universities by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that just 18% of schools require American history to graduate, 13% require a foreign language and 3% economics.
“It’s much easier for campus administrators to let faculty make decisions rather than to decide with them what are really important and what really matters,” said Michael Poliakoff, director of the survey. “It’s like saying to a lot of 18-year-olds the cafeteria is open, you kids just eat whatever you like.”
The report is often dismissed by college presidents as arbitrary, but it comes amid growing unease about the value of a university degree at a time of grade inflation and employer complaints that graduates are entering the workforce without basic skills such as critical thinking.
Last month, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa released a sequel to their book “Academically Adrift,” which follows a group of freshman who entered a four-year college in 2005. Many earned good grades while studying less than five hours a week, but more than a third didn’t significantly improve their critical-thinking skills, the authors said.
Their new book “Aspiring Adults Adrift,” checks up on the same group and finds that two years after graduation a quarter of them were living at home, and 30% were earning less than $30,000 a year in full-time jobs.
Mr. Poliakoff says the lack of a rigorous core curriculum is behind the failure to learn. At stake, he says, is the nation’s civic and economic health.
Among schools that fared poorly on the survey was Whittier College, a private liberal-arts college in Southern California. It earned an F because, by the metrics of the poll, it requires only one core course—in composition—and none in literature, language, government or history, economics, math and science.
Sean Morris, chairman of the English Department at Whittier, said the survey was superficial. The school has an interdisciplinary approach, so a history curriculum might be wrapped into an art or science course, and composition might be tied to math.
“We don’t mandate every single student take a class in American history…so you may find a senior not knowing the specifics of the New Deal,” he said. “But you will graduate knowing how to think and how to accumulate that knowledge and make connections between things.”
The authors of the report commissioned a survey in 2011 that found that 49% of Americans don’t think college students are getting their money’s worth from public schools and that 70% believe colleges should require basic classes in core subjects. Among adults between the ages of 25 and 34, the share was 80%.
“That’s the kicker,” said Mr. Poliakoff. “These are the kids who just graduated and were dealing with reality and they said ‘these are things we need.’ ”
Among schools that received one of the 98 F’s were Wesleyan University in Connecticut and Brown University in Rhode Island. A spokesmen for Wesleyan declined to comment. A representative for Brown wasn’t immediately available to comment.
Christopher Newport University in Virginia received one of just 23 A’s. “We believe that acquaintance with these seven subjects is essential to building a strong foundation for a meaningful and consequential life,” said university President Paul Trible, a former Republican senator from Virginia.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonprofit organization that advocates for accountability at U.S. colleges and universities.
And the answers to the survey’s history questions: The Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed the freedom of slaves during the Civil War; a congressional term lasts two years in the House; and George Washington led the American troops at Yorktown.

Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill Church

For those of you have been following this saga in American evangelicalism...

From Religion News Network:

(RNS) Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who has been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his most devoted followers, resigned from his Seattle church Wednesday (Oct. 15), according to a document obtained by RNS.
The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.
Read the rest here.
And now for the big question:  Is blogger Warren Throckmorton somehow responsible for bringing him down?

Slacktivist Takes Our "You Might Be an Evangelical..." Quiz

Some of you are familiar with Slacktivist, Fred Clark's progressive evangelical blog at Patheos.  The blog has a huge following.  It is not unusual for Clark to get hundreds of comments on a given post.  (Perhaps Fred can offer some tips about how to get more people to comment on the posts at The Way of Improvement Leads Home).

On Monday he took our "You Might Be An Evangelical If..." quiz.  Here are his answers:

1. Do you attend a church of over 2000 people?
These days, I usually attend a church of more than 2 million members, which is part of a communion of more than 80 million. But the actual congregation is only about 100 people. And the biggest congregation I’ve ever belonged to was only about 400. So this would be a “No.”
2. Have you studied at, or do you work at, a college that identified itself as a “Christian college?”
While the presence of folks like Tony Campolo and Peter Enns may cause some to reject its claim, my alma mater does, in fact, identify itself as a Christian college.
3.  Have you seen the rapture movie A Thief in the Night?  (I could have probably asked if they read the Left Behind series of novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye).
Yes. (And let’s just say yes.)
4. Have you been to any of the following Christian Bible conferences:  Word of Life, Camp of the Woods, Harvey Cedars, America’s Keswick, Sandy Cove, or Rumney Bible Conference?  [Fea's quiz was written for a northeast group]
I’ve heard Uncle Jack preach more times than I can count. Yes.
5. Did you vote for George Bush in 2000 or 2004?
No, and hell no. Kudos to Dr. Fea for A) including this question; and B) not making this the only question.
6. Have you been on a short-term mission trip?
Just one? High-school youth group lasts for four years.
7. Have you attended a Billy Graham or other evangelistic crusade?
Others, yes, many others — but I’ve only ever seen Billy on TV.
8. Have you read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict?
And also the sequel, More Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Sadly, such things can never be un-read.
9. Have you read something by C.S. Lewis?
I never got all the way through his collected letters, but except for that, I’ve read just about everything by C.S. Lewis.
10. Do you listen to Christian radio?
Not anymore, except for when I’m driving to DC or to Pittsburgh and I hit those otherwise dead spots south of Aberdeen or west of Harrisburg. But during the years I spent writing Christian music reviews I listened to a lot of Christian radio. Plus, I’vewritten for Christian radio, been interviewed on Christian radio, and I was a DJ for the Christian station back at my Christian college. So I’m claiming half-credit on this one.
11. Do you have a Thomas Kinkade painting in your house?
I have a Howard Finster painting, does that count? That does not count. If I lived in a charming little cottage alongside a quaint cobblestone path, the warm glow of soft, fuzzy light you’d see pouring from my cottage windows would be from a fire in which I was burning Thomas Kinkade paintings.
12. Have you read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life?
I have not. Just couldn’t get past the lack of a hyphen in that title.
13. Do you read or subscribe to Christianity Today?
So, then, my final score is 8.5 out of 13 — only 35 percent backslidden!
I’ll note that this makes me just slightly less evangelical than Dr. Fea himself, who scored a 9 on his own quiz. (I won’t speculate too much, but I’m guessing he doesn’t own any Kinkade prints either.)
That was fun. All that’s missing, I think, is one of those little charts classifying the meaning of one’s score. Perhaps something like this:
0-5: If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity? Becausewe do, and it ain’t pretty.
6-7: We’ve missed you at church the past few Sundays. We’re praying for you.
8-9: You’re an evangelical, sort of … but we’re watching you.
10-12: Hiddley-ho, neighbor, and Praise the Lord!
13: It’s an honor to meet you, Rev. Graham. And on behalf of all of us, we’d just like to thank you for your long, faithful …