Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Author's Corner with Jordan Landes

Jordan Landes is Research Collections Librarian for History at the Senate House Library, University of London.  This interview is based on her recent book London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015).

JF: What led you to write London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community?

JL: When I started my PhD, I knew I wanted to work on religion and London. At the time, Simon Dixon, now of the University of Leicester, was working on Quakers in the parishes of London. I took many of the same people and examined their activity in the American and Caribbean colonies. The study that followed revealed inter-connected networks that have occupied me for nearly a decade. Frederick Tolles first wrote about Quakers in an Atlantic context in the 1950s, so the examination of the Society of Friends from that aspect has a long history. My study aims to place London Quakers and their networks in that context.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community?

JL: In the first fifty years of the Society of Friends, the London Yearly Meeting and London Friends played a large role in Quaker activity throughout Great Britain, Europe, and the Caribbean and American colonies, creating networks and participating in the movement of ideas, goods and people. These networks, maintained through regular correspondence, exchange of print materials and a travelling ministry, overlapped trade and friendship networks to create a system that allowed Quakerism to be firmly established throughout the Atlantic world.

JF: Why do we need to read London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community?

JL: This book brings together many strands of historical study: London history, Atlantic history, religious history, economic history, book studies and early American history. I think many of the practices enacted by the London Yearly Meeting and its constituent meetings were innovative, such as shipping books and epistles on multiple ships to ensure copies arrived. In fact, I was surprised at the level of organisation and even bureaucracy London Quakers developed and adapted to maintain contact with scattered Quaker communities and to communicate the faith. Furthermore, the roots of the Quaker reputation in business, as abolitionists, and more, can be traced to and were enabled by the Quaker Atlantic activity before 1725.

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

JL: I am not actually an American historian but am flattered to be identified as one. I would describe myself as an Atlanticist with London tendencies on the history side, and a research librarian in history on the library side.

JF: What is your next project?

JL: My next projects are driven by the collections we hold in Senate House Library, including writing about walking in London. The walking project should allow us to look at why and how people moved around London over the course of four centuries, but especially at how and why that movement was recorded. I am hoping to include Quakers in the walking project, if possible.

JF: Thanks, Jordan!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The 1865 Broadway Bible House

The 1865 Broadway Bible House
Last week the ABS, for all intents and purposes, left New York City.

In order to remember this historic New York institution, we have decided to do a few posts on the various places in the city where the ABS was headquartered over the years.  Scroll down to see our entries on 72 Nassau Street and the Astor Place Bible House.  Today we turn to the Bible House at 1865 Broadway.

1966 was a big year for the American Bible Society.  In May, the Society commemorated its 150th year of labor on behalf of the Bible Cause.  It also moved into its fourth Bible House.

After the Society decided to do all of its printing through outside contractors at some point in the early twentieth century, it concluded that the Astor Place Bible House was just too large. So it decided to downside.   Between 1936 and 1966 the ABS occupied a building on Park Avenue and 57th street.

After 30 years on Park Avenue, the ABS moved once again. It left Park Avenue for an impressive new twelve-story structure at 1865 Broadway, just north of Columbus Circle.

In 1963, Everett Smith, the President of the Board of Managers, announced that the ABS headquarters was relocating to the corner of Broadway and West 61st Street in the newly revitalized Lincoln Center area of New York City.  The site had been purchased and plans for a new Bible House were in the works.  Smith explained the move in terms of the rapid growth the ABS had experienced in recent years.  At the time of the purchase of the land, the ABS had 299 employees, but only eighty of them were working at the Park Avenue building. The rest were scattered in four different locations around the city.  The new building would allow all ABS employees to work under one roof.  The 1865 Broadway located provided more room for the Society's ever-expanding library that now included 22,000 copies of the Christian scriptures in over 1000 languages.  It was one of the largest Bible libraries in the Western Hemisphere and attracted scholars from all over the world.

The Board of Managers hoped that the new building would continue to serve as a tourist attraction much in the way that the Astor Place location and Park Avenue building (before it got too crowded) had appealed to visitors to New York City.  1865 Broadway would also have plenty of space for exhibits.

On the afternoon of April 3, 1966--Palm Sunday--the new Bible House was dedicated.

This summer, the ABS is moving out of this building and relocating to Philadelphia.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Astor Place "Bible House"

The Astor Place Bible House
Last week the ABS, for all intents and purposes, left New York City.

In order to remember this historic New York institution, we have decided to do a few posts on the various places in the city where the ABS was headquartered over the years.  Scroll down to see our first entry on 72 Nassau Street.

In 1853 the ABS left Nassau Street and opened its new "Bible House" on Astor Place.  It was a massive building.  It cost $303,000 to build, it was six stories high, and its brick exterior walls fronted four different city streets.  Much of the building would be used for the production of Bibles, but there was also office space for ABS secretaries and staff and additional space for the staff of other New York benevolent societies.  The ABS rented space at street level for "various business occupations."  The building committee concluded that the new Bible House was built to be "congenial to all who love the Bible, and in themselves a beautiful development of that Christian civilization and 'good will to all men,' which is the glorious offspring of that very cause under whose encircling influence they have found a home."

The impressive new Bible House became the center of print culture not only in New York City, but in the entire nation.  The building became a New York icon.  Over the course of the next thirty years it was a regular stop for tourists.  Mark Twain visited the Bible House in 1867 and claimed that he "enjoyed the time more than I could possibly have done in any circus."  Its size and facade sent a clear message: Christian civilization in the United States would advance, and the American Bible Society would be leading the way.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The American Bible Society's First Home: 72 Nassau Street

72 Nassau Street
Last week the ABS, for all intents and purposes, left New York City. In order to remember this historic New York institution, we have decided to do a few posts on the various places in the city where the ABS was headquartered over the years.  Let's start with 72 Nassau Street:

The ABS was founded in 1816 and it moved into its first permanent headquarters in 1822. The building was located on 72 Nassau Street between Beekman and Ann Streets.

The new home of the ABS was located in a part of New York City experiencing a small renaissance.  A dense collection of houses that The New York Mirror described as "very offensive to the eye" was about to give way to "several lofty and commodious edifices," transforming the neighborhood into an "animated and lively scene" attracting a "resort of busy throngs."  The newly construction Franklin building, with their stores and offices, including the offices of The Mirror, were an imposing site on the corner of Ann and Nassau.  The ABS building sat a few hundred feet north on Nassau, right next to Clinton Hall, a library and lecture hall built in 1830 by the New York Mercantile Library Association for the scientific and literary improvement of its members.  When an ABS employee stepped out of the front door of the Bible he or she could glance upward and see the steeple of the Brick Presbyterian Church. A short northeast walk past Clinton Hall led to the Chatham Street schoolhouse, the Brick Presbyterian graveyard, and a public park.

The Nassau Street property had four floors and was large enough to accommodate offices for the ABS General Agent, the Recording and Corresponding Secretaries, and the Treasurer.  It contained a Bible library, a storage room for paper, and a depository that could hold 100,000 Bibles.  The third and fourth floors of the building housed the Society's binding and printing operations, although the sound of presses was a constant annoyance to those occupying the offices below.

In a few short years the ABS expanded its operations by purchasing two lots, located directly across the street, from Daniel Fanshaw, one of the New York City printers who handled the Society's work. All of the printing operations moved to a new building constructed on these lots, freeing up more space at 72 Nassau Street for the bindery.  One can imagine some of the ABS's 200 employees crossing Nassau Street pushing wheelbarrows or pulling carts full of freshly printed and dried sheets from Fanshaw's shop that were ready to be stitched and bound.

By 1829 the American Bible Society had one of the most productive printing outfits in the country. Fanshaw's building had twenty hand presses and eight Treadwell presses powered by a steam engine on the first floor.  The Treadwell press was the newest and most efficient press in the industry.  It did not require hand power to operate, did little damage to stereotype plates, and saved the Society money on paper and labor.  Fanshaw was a strong advocate of steam-powered printing and was happy to work with the ABS in the purchase and set-up of the Treadwell presses.  With the acquisition of the new buildings and Fanshaw's equipment upgrades, the ABS could now produce up to 600,000 Bibles per year.

Next up: The Astor Place Bible House

The Author's Corner with Abram Van Engen

Abram C. Van Engen is Assistant Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. This interview is based on his recent book SympatheticPuritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Sympathetic Puritans?

AV: When I entered graduate school, I knew that I wanted to combine many interests into a project on literature and religion. I first proposed a study of Auden, but to cover my major field exams in American literature, I started with the Puritans and never really left. One thing in particular startled me: the tears. I had been given to understand that the Puritans were a stern, unyielding, unemotional, iron-hearted bunch of settlers who solved their problems primarily through a great deal of thought. That is what I learned through Hawthorne; and that is the crude version of Perry Miller’s magnum opus that seemed to filter through intellectual history and guide literary studies. The Puritans were a people of the head, not the heart. So what were teary, sentimental Calvinists doing in seventeenth-century Puritanism? I wanted an answer, and the answer I found led me into a Puritan theology of sympathy that seemed to have all sorts of ramifications for cultural, intellectual, and literary history. For the Puritans, the heart mattered most (as most scholars of Puritanism know full well)--and one good sign of a healthy heart was the proper experience and expression of sympathy.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Sympathetic Puritans?

AVSympathetic Puritans argues that a Calvinist theology of sympathy shaped the politics, religion, and literature of seventeenth-century New England with widespread and long-lasting consequences. In this period, a dual meaning of sympathy--the active command to fellow-feel (a duty to sympathize with saints), as well as the passive sign that could indicate salvation (a discovery of such sympathy within)--pervaded Puritan society and came to define the very boundaries of English culture, affecting conceptions of community, relations with Native Americans, and the development of American literature.

JF: Why do we need to read Sympathetic Puritans?

AV: My study of Puritan sympathy addresses dominant narratives in intellectual history, the history of emotions, and American literary history. First, of course, there are the Puritans. For a general audience who sees the Puritans as the stern and iron forebears of Hawthorne, this book reveals a surprising Puritan investment in tears and emotion. For those who have long been familiar with Puritanism’s language of affection and the heart, this book demonstrates how and why Calvinists focused on such matters. And for both sets of readers, this book uncovers the significant and widespread impact of Puritan sympathy on early New England while also tracing forward its effects on important developments within American culture and literature.

Second, this book revises a prevailing story in intellectual and literary history, which attributes the beginning of any real thinking about sympathy to moral sense philosophers in the eighteenth century (Shaftesbury, Hutchinson, Hume, Smith, and so on) and traces the rise of America’s vast sentimental literary tradition to these thinkers. That narrative starts the story too late and assumes too secular a shape. My book shows that sympathy had religious roots and connotations in early America, and I open the possibility that a theology of sympathy in seventeenth-century Puritanism preempted, prompted, and even perhaps enabled the shape and embrace of moral sense philosophy that followed, as well as the meaning and experience of sentimental literature much later.

Finally, scholars in the history of emotions seem especially torn about historical distance and present understanding: does the experience of sympathy three hundred years ago, for example, resemble in any way what we might call sympathy now? Well, yes and no, it seems to me. The more I engaged with Puritan sympathy and its consequences for community, conversion, persuasion, preaching, rhetoric, and literary form, the more I realized how much these ideas recur today, sometimes in a strikingly similar form. A historical study of Puritan sympathy can teach us a good deal about the way we view sympathy now.

For all these reasons, I hope the book speaks to any student of American culture, American religion, American literature, and the history of ideas and emotions. The more one unpacks a Puritan theology of sympathy in early New England, the more one discovers just how far its consequences extend.

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

AV: This question is a bit vexed for me, since I never seriously considered becoming a historian (maybe because my father is one). Instead, I set out to become a philosopher. Good philosophy, I thought, can change lives by shifting the way we think about the biggest questions we face. But the more English classes I took in college, the more I realized just how attached I was to a well-told story or a well-wrought poem. Good literature, I thought, can change lives by putting into words what had only been sensed or by giving us whole new experiences and new ways of seeing the world. I thought maybe I would become a writer, and I worked hard at short stories and poetry. Along the way, meanwhile, I nursed a love of history and especially American history (in high school, for example, I collected books about the Civil War and toured battlefield sites). Good history, it seemed to me, could reveal how lives had actually been changed by facing big questions or encountering new experiences. Then one influential professor explained that if I went into English, I could do both history and philosophy while studying, writing, and teaching good stories. Such a claim is problematic, I realize now, but as an undergraduate I was inspired. I wanted to do philosophy, I loved history, and I’ve always been inspired by literature. English seemed to me the most amenable to doing it all.

In an interdisciplinary age, my desire should seem rather unexceptional now. Still, disciplines are disciplines because they often train people differently, emphasizing certain kinds of skills and certain ways of looking at evidence, arguments, and significance. I recognize that. And I am more comfortable describing myself as an English professor than an American historian. At the same time, like many English professors flooding archives across the country these days, I am drawn to American history--and not just as background context for a piece of literature. A new literary history requires a sustained engagement with cultural, intellectual, and other kinds of history as well. When I began the research for this project, I chose a dissertation committee composed of English professors and historians, and I wrote a book that I hope will speak to both.

JF: What is your next project?

AV: My next project is a history of John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” sermon, A Model of Christian Charity. Many do not know the surprising story behind this text. In its own day, A Model of Christian Charity went unrecorded, unpublished, and almost entirely unnoticed. Only when nineteenth-century antiquarians rediscovered it two hundred years later did the sermon slowly turn into a defining statement of American identity. First published in 1838, A Model of Christian Charity gradually worked its way into national consciousness, achieving status as an American classic in the mid-twentieth century. My next book, American Model: The Life of John Winthrop’s City on a Hill, writes the biography of this rags-to-riches sermon, studying its original context, changing uses, new editions, and competing interpretations in order to examine both the way literary history takes shape and the changing shape of American self-conceptions.


Some of this work has been done previously (see Richard Gamble’s In Search of the City on a Hill), but much remains to be told. For example, in an early essay from this project appearing in The New England Quarterly, I argue that the sole surviving manuscript is incomplete and that a headnote added later greatly influenced the reception and framing of this sermon in American culture. Another forthcoming essay sets the context for Winthrop’s utterance by revealing the broader seventeenth-century Catholic-Protestant debate about the meaning of “city on a hill” (Catholics claimed that this verse proved Protestants false). I am now delving into the nineteenth century recovery of the sermon and beginning to study the role of historical societies in the making and shaping of American literary traditions. In the end, I hope to offer a broader narrative about dominant and competing visions of American identity--the different “meanings of America” that emerge through rediscoveries, reinventions, and reinterpretations of its literary past.

JF: Thanks Abram!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

What went wrong at the New York Public Library?

Get rid of the flag.  Keep the monuments

Race and the 1960 World Series MVP

Michael Scott Van Wagenan reviews John Pinheiro, Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War

Reclaiming the Puritans

Most threatened historical places in the United States

Andrew Delbanco reviews six new books on higher education

Ten takeaways from Laudato Si'

Garry Wills on the failure of conservative Catholics to accept climate control

Public intellectuals: A bibliography

What is the South successfully seceded?

How to publish a journal article

The meaning of the Confederate flag in the words of those who bore it

What does the same-sex marriage decision mean for religious liberty?  And here

A new edition of the Papers of Martin Van Buren

Glenda Gilmore on the Confederate flag

John Howard Yoder at Notre Dame

Evangelicals and the 1970s

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Real Problem with America: "Professional Bearded Protesters"

On May 11, 1966, 3000 people packed into New York's Philharmonic Hall for the 150th Annual Meeting of the American Bible Society.  Billy Graham was the speaker.  His speech was titled "Return to the Bible."

Here is a taste:

America is facing a moral crisis that will ultimately determine the future of this nation.  The security of America is not being threatened abroad so much as it is being threatened by immorality at home. We are in the midst of a major moral revolution that is just as important for the survival of America as the revolution led by George Washington and his co-patriots nearly 200 years ago.

Most Americans hate to admit we are in a crisis, but its bitter fruits are all around us; the beatnik--the rebellious youth--the price-rigging executive--the draft card burner--the widespread cheating in schools--the professional bearded protesters--the pregnant high school girl--the dope addict--the vandal--the bribed athlete--and the criminal--and last the spreading terrorism of LSD

The suspects tend to be different in every generation, but the jeremiads generally remain the same. From the 17th century to the present, American Christians have always seen themselves as living in a state of moral decline and they have always responded with these kinds of jeremiads.

And here's a bonus video:  Merv Griffin interviews Graham.

The American Bible Society Ends Its 199-Year Run in New York City

My sources inside 1865 Broadway tell me that today was the last day of work at the New York headquarters of the American Bible Society.  The ABS website still says that the Society is located on 1865 Broadway, but I am sure that will change very soon.  In January the ABS announced that it would be moving this summer to the Wells Fargo Building on 401 Market Street in Philadelphia.

The ABS has ended its 199-run year in New York.  The move is taking place with no fanfare.  No one is acknowledging the fact that one of New York's oldest institutions has just left the city.

Ironically, the move out of New York comes at a time when evangelical Christians seem to be increasingly more invested in the city.  Christianity Today, the flagship publication for American evangelicals, has been collecting all kinds of stories about evangelical activities in New York.  Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church is booming. New York City even has its own evangelical college--The Kings College. From what I have heard it is really growing.

Back in 2013 there was an attempt to take advantage of this evangelical resurgence.  According to a report from World magazine, ABS President at the time, Doug Birdsall, proposed a $300 million
"center for Manhattan's growing evangelical church."  Keller was behind it.  So was popular evangelical writer Eric Metaxas.  The plan was to replace the existing building with a 30-story one that would include an Omni Hotel.  It would be funded by Dallas billionaire Bob Rowling, the owner of Omni.  But when Birdsall began to have disagreements with the ABS Board of Trustees he was fired.  According to World, he was apparently giving the Board grades (A, B, and C) based on their ability to lead the organization.

So why has the ABS left?  The American Bible Society, until very recently, occupied a place in the heart of New York City. It was steps from the Time Warner Center and Lincoln Center.

Sadly, the decision was an economic one.  1865 Broadway is in bad shape. It needs millions of dollars of improvements in order to get it up to code.  Moreover, the ABS owned 37-stories of airspace above the building.  This is prime New York City real estate. When Birdsall was fired--he was dumped before he was officially inaugurated as President--the plans to get the building up to code were eventually abandoned.

The ABS sold the building for $300 million. I am guessing this means that whatever financial difficulties it has developed over the years have now gone away.

But why leave New York?  You will need to read my forthcoming book on the history of the American Bible Society to find out.

In order to remember the ABS in New York I am going to do a few posts about some of the places in the city where the Society was housed over the years.  Stay tuned.  We will start on Monday with 72 Nassau Street.




Friday, June 26, 2015

Emily Conroy-Krutz Recaps "The Maturing Blogosphere of Early America"

As some of you know, I was unable to make it to Chicago for the Omohundro Institute and Society of Early Americanists meeting last week.  I heard the "The Maturing Blogosphere of Early America" was an excellent session.  I wish I could have been there to participate.

Emily Conroy-Krutz of Michigan State and Teaching United States History has offered some reflections on the session.  Here is a taste:

This past weekend I was able to take part in a roundtable on “The Maturing Blogosphere of Early America” at the joint meeting of the Omohundro Institute and Society of Early Americanists.  Joe Adelman of The Junto, Rebecca Goetz ofHistorianess and Benjamin Breen of The Appendix were on the panel with me (John Fea of The Way of Improvement Leads Home was unfortunately not able to join us).  Today I wanted to post some of my reflections from the discussion and think about what it means for my blogging going forward.  What follows is a bit of a recap and a bit of a suggestion for what I hope TUSH will be like in the coming academic year.
How does blogging fit into your academic life on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? That was one of the framing questions that Joe had asked us to think about, and it was one that really got me thinking about the importance of accountability.  As professors, we are of course accountable to our students every time we walk into our classrooms, but we also know how easy it can be to go on autopilot.  Sometimes we are trying to keep up with a new prep (or several new preps).  Sometimes other demands (research, writing deadlines, committee work, tenure decisions, life) come up and it’s easy to rely on the lectures and assignments that have worked in the past.  I hate feeling like I’m on autopilot, so without a doubt, the greatest benefit for me personally as a scholar in writing for TUSH has been that the blog is on my calendar and thus puts reflective thinking about my teaching on my regular to-do list.  Once a month, I know that I need to have something to say about my teaching that will not embarrass me in front of my colleagues and anyone else who stumbles across this website. It is public accountability in the extreme.  This has meant that I am consistently a more thoughtful professor.  When I think about what I want to write about in any given month, I generally shift my thinking about my classes from what happened last session and what I have to do for the next session to slightly more long-term and big-picture thinking.  How does this assignment fit into what I want my students to learn?  Are there major issues that my students or I have been struggling with?  How can I approach these issues in a creative way that will make for a good post?

Microwaving the Bible

Today I ran across Sarah Eekhof Zylstra's piece at Christianity Today about a group of Bible translators who translated half of the New Testament into the language of an "ethnic minority" group in Asia and did it in two weeks!

Here is a taste:

In February, Wycliffe Associates (WA), a smaller sister organization to Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT), announced that a team in Asia was able to translate almost half of the New Testament in two weeks.
The announcement prompted a flurry of responses from experienced translators who questioned the quality of the work. How could something produced so quickly be any good?
“That part is the most difficult for people to believe,” said WA president Bruce Smith.
The project was prompted by an ethnic minority group from Asia that’s too small to be “on anybody’s priority list,” he said. They asked WA to help them translate the Bible on their own.
Organizers made two changes from traditional translation methods to speed up the project. They worked simultaneously on the text instead of sequentially, and they skipped the weeks of training on translation principles (including proper names, idioms, and key terms).
WA made the changes after comparing translations done by trained teams and untrained teams last summer. Their accuracy rates were the same, said WA’s Dan Kramer, who led the project.
Frankly, I have no idea if it is possible to produce a translation of the Bible in such a short period time.  I am not a Bible scholar or a translator.  The reason this piece caught my attention was because I have spent a little time over the past year trying to learn something about the history of Bible translation for my book on the American Bible Society. 
As I think about this article historically, I am struck by three things:
1.  In the past Bible translation projects took years to accomplish.  When the American Bible Society released the New Testament of its Contemporary English Version in the early 1990s it was the product of a decade of work.  One of the translators actually complained that the ABS was rushing the committee to produce the translation in such a short period of time!
2.  The American Bible Society always prided itself on translations that had scholarly integrity. Everything was vetted by a committee of scholars.  This took time.  This required training in what Zylstra's article describes as "translation principles."  Under the leadership of Eugene Nida, the American Bible Society was always interested in producing the best translation possible.  I wonder how Nida would have felt about Wycliffe's decision to "skip weeks of training on translation principles...."  
3.  I may be mistaken, but this attempt to translate the Bible with such speed is probably connected with the American Bible Society's effort to provide a Bible in the 1800 languages that still don't have one.  And they want to accomplish this goal by 2025.  That is a lot of work and it will need to be done quickly if ABS is going to meet its goal.  I do know that Wycliffe is working with the ABS to help get this translation completed.

Quote of the Day



"Far more people know that Ben Affleck is descended from slave-owners now than would have known if he had just cooperated as everyone else did." --Kevin Gutzman, Western Connecticut State University (via Facebook).

Need some context for this quote?  Try this.

Civil War: Now and Then

Check out these contemporary photos of Civil War sites transposed over photos from the same site taken in the 1860s.


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.  The Author's Corner with Rick Kennedy
2.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends
3.  And I Heard They Have a Pretty Good History Department Too!
4.  Most Popular Posts of the Last Week--June 20, 2015
5.  Why I Still Stand By My Gordon Wood Post
6.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #104
7.  The U.S. Constitution and "the Year of our Lord"
8.  The Author's Corner with Brian Phillips Murphy
9.  Song of the Day (The Promise)
10. Song of the Day (Another Day)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Confederate Monuments




I am not sure if Ta-Nehesi Coates is being sarcastic or not with this tweet, but I agree with this statement.

Along these lines, I found Kevin Levin's recent post at Civil War Memory to be helpful. Here is a taste:

In 2011 I wrote the following in an essay for the Atlantic following the defacing of Confederate monuments in Richmond and my then hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia:
For me, Richmond’s memorial landscape functions as an organic whole. The Arthur Ashe Monument only works because it stands on the same street as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. The same holds true for the new additions to the grounds of the state capital, the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar, and countless other places in the broader Richmond area.
Touring these sites together opens up a unique window not simply on the history of the Civil War and race relations, but on the history of American democracy. The sites themselves track the range of voices that fought for the right to engage in public discussions about how Richmond’s past is remembered. In short, they track the history of the community’s values — and they demonstrate that community’s willingness not to brush aside controversial or embarrassing aspects of its past.
The Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville has long been one of my favorite places to bring students.  I’ve spent countless hours in that park sharing stories of Lee, the development of Richmond in the late 19th century, and Jim Crow laws.  These discussions were more than academic exercises; they gave me a chance to help build reflective and caring citizens.
Teaching history and visiting historic sites is, in part, about learning how to empathize and appreciating how the past shapes who we take ourselves to be. For better or for worse, monuments to Confederate heroes are part of our story, but each of us can choose how to engage with these places. We can express outrage over their existence. We can alter them with statements of our own. Or we can let them be, appreciate their aesthetic qualities, and reflect carefully on their history.

Is David Barton Still Speaking to Missouri Southern Baptists Tomorrow?

David Barton will be speaking tomorrow at the "Turning America Conference" at Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. George Barna of the marketing research firm The Barna Group will be the other keynote speaker at this event.  The event is sponsored by Missouri Southern Baptists.

Barton's visit to Springfield raises a couple of questions for me:
  • Why is David Barton being promoted as an historian?  So much of what he has written has been discredited by reputable source after reputable source.  Why aren't there more reputable Christian historians in Missouri speaking out about this?  I am afraid this has the potential of hurting the larger Christian witness of Southern Baptist Church in Missouri.
  • Why is George Barna participating in this event?  Many evangelical groups rely on the Barna Group to obtain information about the state of Christianity in America.  What does his appearance with Barton at an event like this tell us about his firm's research?  Maybe nothing. But when I saw that he is speaking at an event with Barton I wondered what kind of political or religious motivations might be behind the things the Barna Group produces. Again, perhaps Barna had no idea that Barton would also be speaking at this event, but I highly doubt that since he and Barton have written a book together.   Maybe I am late to this conversation.  I would love to get some sociologists to chime in here.  Or better yet, maybe someone from the Barna Group can explain this.  
By the way, I have written a few things about Barton.  You can find them all here.  And then there is this piece from 2011: "Should Christians Trust David Barton?"

Addendum:  In the couple of hours since I wrote this post several people have sent me to this critique of Barna from Baylor sociologists Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson. 

Why Liberals May Not Like Francis's Eco-Encyclical

Earlier this month I responded to a Commonweal article about the way conservative Catholics, especially George Weigel, seem to stress Pope Francis's views on abortion while essentially ignoring those parts of Catholic social teaching that might conform better to the American left. 

In today's post I want to point out how liberal Catholics, like those singing the praises of Francis's recent encyclical on the environment, are cheering the Pope's condemnation of corporations, human selfishness, and the so-called "throwaway culture"while downplaying his views that the protection of the environment is directly related in Catholic social teaching to the opposition to abortion.

Charles Camosy, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham, says it best in his recent Washington Post op-ed.  Here is a taste:

Conservatives obviously find themselves indicted rather strongly here, but the pope gives no quarter to liberals either. His reference to “eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted” is another reference to abortion. Perhaps an abortion-rights liberal could reply that his comments are unfair, and that women and men who seek abortions would never do so for such a casual reason. Perhaps, they could argue, this is an unfortunate but marginal part of an otherwise progressive encyclical.
They would be mistaken. Pope Francis, when he speaks about the throwaway culture, almost always includes abortion. The pope’s diagnosis of our ecological problem is that we have a spiritual sickness: Westerners are caught in a consumerist lifestyle which rewards selfishness and greed — and the lifestyle has produced a culture which ignores, abandons, or marginalizes the vulnerable and inconvenient.
In his recent exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis insists that prenatal children “are the most innocent and defenseless among us.” If the developed West is ever going to get serious about the radical transformation necessary to resist the throwaway culture and reverse the global climate crisis, the pope argues we must develop virtues and practices of welcome and nonviolence with respect to all marginal populations — including inconvenient prenatal children.

The Author's Corner with Stephen Hague

Stephen Hague teaches British, British imperial and modern European history at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.  This interview is based on his new book, The Gentleman’s House in the BritishAtlantic World, 1680-1780 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

JF: What led you to write The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?

SH: Before becoming an academic historian, but after graduate training in British history, I worked for a number of years in museums and historic sites.  One site in particular, a house called Stenton in Philadelphia, was especially influential in my thinking.  When I went to work there it struck me how similar Stenton was to small classically-inspired houses dotted not only over the American landscape, but in Britain as well.  Much has of course been written about such houses in America, but it seemed to me that historians, architectural historians and others too often linked these (relatively) small houses in America with very large country houses in Britain.  This approach struck me as comparing apples and oranges. Instead, there seemed more than ample room to investigate similar houses, and, importantly, the people who lived in them, on both sides of the Atlantic. 

On a related note, one book that always troubled me is quite an old book now, Lawrence and Jean Stone’s An Open Elite?, which argued that by analyzing big country houses in Britain it was evident that social mobility had been limited.  The problem I had with their approach is that I had a sense that they had been looking in the wrong place:  big houses rather than the more modest ones that most interested me, and seemed the more likely venue for social change.  Scholars in the 1980s had pointed this out about the Stones’ work, but after twenty-five years no one had done the legwork to investigate further. 

A problem arose when I undertook research in Britain, where it became immediately apparent that this form of house had been almost completely ignored.  The quite extraordinary documentation of American classical houses (Historic structure reports, paint analyses, interpretive plans, archaeological surveys, research reports, extant collections, and so on) was entirely absent on the British side.  As a result, there was an enormous amount of research to be done on the British version of the small classical house, which led to the core of my book, a detailed exploration of one county in England, Gloucestershire. After that, I circled back to the American side to knit my research together into an Atlantic world study that I hope will be revealing for British and early American historians alike.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?

SH: By looking at buildings, landscapes, spatial arrangement, furnishings and people together – a ‘material culture’ approach – we can learn a great deal about how eighteenth-century Britons staked out and defined their social position across the Atlantic world.  Such a social and cultural reading of small classical houses and their owners offers an account of moderate change and well-paced social mobility that reflects Britain’s stable but dynamic growth in the eighteenth century, with a particularly important transition point in the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?

SH: From my perspective, perhaps the most important reason to read The Gentleman’s House is because it seeks to break down barriers and build bridges between several bodies of literature.  First, it is an effort to position a material object – a type of house – at the center of analysis and use that as a way of constructing a social group that we can analyze.  Secondly, in so doing I attempt to draw together not only architecture, but spatial arrangements, interiors, furnishings, and the social action that all these things enabled.  In other words, in the first instance the emphasis is on things (i.e. buildings), but the real attention is on people, what they did with and in those things, and what those things represented about them.  Thirdly, the book tells us a lot more about small classical houses in Britain and the genteel people who inhabited them than we have known before, including their many transatlantic links.  Fourthly, it takes exception to American exceptionalism, and seeks to craft a British world narrative that views provincial Britain and British North America similarly.  Viewing the eighteenth century in this holistic way offers, I think, very interesting insights, and helps to make more sense of British society up to (and even after) the American war for independence.  Finally, The Gentleman’s House provides a different perspective on the important issue of social mobility and how eighteenth-century Britons constructed their identities.  The book suggests that houses like these were more about confirming status in British society in a particular position, rather than necessarily aspiring to a more elevated position.  This incremental version of social change is more realistic, and with better explanatory power.

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

SH: To be honest, I never did.  I have always thought of myself as a British historian, and teach primarily British and European history.  But having spent years on both sides of the Atlantic, eighteenth-century America has always struck me as quite a British place.  Moreover, having worked in historic sites and museums in America, having looked at American collections, studied material objects in America, and having benefitted particularly from the wisdom of early American colleagues in Philadelphia, it seemed readily apparent that there should be much more communication between early American historians and historians of Britain.  If the book achieves this in even small measure then I will be happy to be co-opted as an American historian!

JF: What is your next project?

SH: As I studied small classical houses for this book, I became increasingly interested in the subsequent use to which they were put, as residences, museums, hospitals, schools, and so on.  This got me thinking more about the way history has been used in various historical revivals and the issue of historical memory and how the past constructs the present.  Although I am still thinking about the exact direction I want to take with my next project, it will be an outgrowth of a forthcoming essay I wrote entitled, “‘Phony Coloney’:  The Reception of the Georgian and the Construction of Twentieth-century America,” due out next year in a volume on the Neo-Georgian movement. Weaving my interest in the eighteenth century together with transatlantic relations, material culture, and the cultural history of the British empire, I am currently (and very tentatively) calling my new project, ‘Interpretations of the Georgian, the Anglo-American Aesthetic and the idea of Greater Britain, 1870-1950’.  I am spending this summer in Britain, reading, researching, and bouncing these ideas around at several conferences and workshops, which is naturally good fun.

JF:  Thanks, Stephen!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

And I Heard They Have a Pretty Good History Department Too!

Messiah College women's athletics is a juggernaut!  Here are the best colleges in the country for women athletes.  Messiah is the highest ranking NCAA Division III school in the country.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Song of the Day

"When the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference, something in your heart goes cold."

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #104

ABS Bible for the visually impaired
After a few short extensions and some late nights, my manuscript "The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society" has finally been sent to Oxford University Press and the process of transforming the manuscript into a book is underway.

Submitting a book manuscript requires a lot more than simply hitting the "send" button.   Here is what Oxford requires:


  • The manuscript, of course.  It needs to be formatted in 12 point font and double spaced. Each chapter needs to be sent as a separate file. This includes the table of contents, the acknowledgments, the dedication page., the bibliography, etc...
  • An "Author's Questionnaire."  This is a very important document because it helps the publisher promote the book.  Oxford's questionnaire has close to forty questions. If you are thorough, filling this thing out could take several hours or maybe even a full day.  This is the point when the author writes the material that will appear on the cover jacket.  In addition, shorter statements (50 or so words) need to be written for catalog copy and the website.  For me, one of the fun parts of the questionnaire is picking potential blurbers and suggested places where the book should be reviewed and advertised.   
  • A "Manuscript Submission Form."  On this form the author answers questions about the production process.  Will you be creating the index yourself or do you want to pay the publisher to do it? Do you want a "light" copy-edit or something more extensive?  Have you secured permission to publish all of the images and pictures that will appear in the book? Fortunately, all of my images come from the archives of the American Bible Society and I was granted free permission to use them. 
  • The"Oxford Scholarship Online Key Word and Abstract Form".  This thing is a beast.  It requires 3-5 sentences abstracts for every chapter in the book and 3-10 key words for each chapter.  The "Bible Cause," as it now stands, has twenty-eight chapters. Enough said.
The submission of a book like this also comes with some anxiety.  Oxford offered me a book contract based on the first two chapters.  They have not seen anything since then.  After spending so much time on a book project you start to lose perspective. Is this thing really any good?  Is my editor going to like it?  Is he/she going to send it back with orders to conduct a complete overhaul? How painful will the copy-editing process be? 

In my case the number of words in the manuscript that I submitted is much greater than the contracted word-count. How will the editor respond to this? Authors think that such extra words are absolutely necessary to tell the story that they want to tell.  Will the editor agree?

On the other hand, it is nice to be done--at least for now.



Happy Birthday to "The Way of Improvement Leads Home"

Today is our seventh birthday here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home!  I am now ready to receive my blogging AARP card!

It's been a busy year.  We continue to try to offer you at least one post a day--usually more.  Megan Piette, our first intern, has moved on to bigger and better things, but we have already secured her replacement. You will be hearing more about her later in the summer.


Our regular features, such as the "Author's Corner," So What CAN You Do With a History Major?," Sunday Night Odds and Ends," and the "Virtual Office Hours," continue to move forward. (We will be back with the VOH in the Fall).  This year I also have tried to offer readers a glimpse into my work on my current book project, a history of the American Bible Society.   

I have been toying with the idea of a "Way of Improvement Leads Home" podcast.  Feel free to shoot me a message and let me know the kinds of things you would like to see in such a podcast.  

And let's not forget our extensive coverage of history conferences around the world!

Thanks for all of you who read the blog!  I hope you continue to enjoy what we do here.  


Keep linking to our posts, subscribing to our RSS feed, adding us to your blog-rolls, and following us at Facebook and Twitter (@johnfea1).


And now to eat some cake!  (Or maybe a donut!).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Song of the Day

The Author's Corner with Rick Kennedy

Rick Kennedy is Professor of History at Pt. Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California.  This interview is based on his new book The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather (Eerdmans, 2015)
JF What led you to write The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather?
RK: The central theme of my career since doing my MA degree in 1982-83 has long been trying to understand the lives and thinking of 5 dead guys: two brothers, a father and son, and an immigrant hero to them all, the Brattles, Mathers, and Charles Morton.  They lived entangled lives at a transitional time when Harvard College, Reformed churches, and Puritan culture were in trouble.  Cotton Mather was the quirkiest but most dynamic of the group.  I used to like him the least of the 5, but now appreciate him.  He grows on you.  Eerdman's was fishing for a short, easy-to-read biography, and Barry Hankins at Baylor recommended that they talk to me. 
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of the book?  
RK: When, during 1698-1707, events in Boston exposed that imperial Protestantism was broad and shallow, Cotton Mather rose to his greatest fame and influence as a populist leader widely revered for promoting a deeper, more biblical and hot-spirited Christianity.  He was the populist leader when a twist occurred in New England Protestantism that we look back to as the beginning of the American evangelical tradition.  
JF: Why do we need to read the book?
RK: Cotton Mather is widely misunderstood in popular culture and academia.  Marvel Comics characterizes him as a be-muscled time-traveling evil "witchslayer."  Prime time TV has him as a tortured and sex-starved star in "Salem."  Back during his own lifetime lies were published about him whipping the crowd to a frenzy at a witch execution and publicly massaging a teen-age girl's bare breasts.  E. Brooks Holifield, one of our best in the history profession, has recently shown that there was a type of conspiracy to undermine Cotton Mather's reputation by the leaders of Congregationalism in the early 19th century.  In the 20th century, Cotton became even more so the Puritan everybody loves to hate.  Cotton deserves to be remembered for the Pastor-Scholar that he was, for being the truly good man that was much beloved by his congregation and neighbors in the North End of Boston.  
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?  
RK: When I went to college in the 1970s I wanted to be a cross between Cat Stevens and James Taylor.  That quickly did not work out.  I checked out being a forest ranger, but the major was full.  I walked out onto the street, 18 years old, needing to declare a major. At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo everybody had to have a major. The literature department was up hill.  The history department was down hill.  I turned right and walked down the hill.
JF: What is your next project?
RK: I am part of a team of editors publishing, in Germany and America, ten volumes of Cotton Mather's unpublished Biblia Americana.  We are led primarily by Reiner Smolinski who will soon publish the Yale University Press intellectual biography of Cotton Mather.  That book will knock the socks off all of us, because, frankly, Cotton Mather is very much at the center of most everything going on intellectually and spiritually in colonial New England. 
JF: Thanks, Rick!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

 A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Historians and the Enlightenment

Peter Brown on Augustine and charity

Yoni Appelbaum provides some historical perspective on Charleston

Douglas Egerton provides some historical perspective on Charleston

Do you know who Justin Morrill was?

Learning to think

A reading list on Catholics and the environment

The busts of John Wesley

Twittiquette

Evangelical anti-environmentalism

George Marsden

The Philadelphia History Truck

Oral history as scholarship