Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Danforth Center on Religion and Politics Lands Another Big Fish

Mark Valeri
Mark Valeri is headed to Washington University.  Here is the press release:


The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis is delighted to announce the appointment of Mark Valeri as the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics.
Valeri is widely regarded as one of the most eminent scholars of religion in British North America, including the political upheavals of the revolutionary era and its aftermath. He focuses his research and teaching especially on the interplay between Protestantism and the rise of capitalism; Reformation theology and the political history of Calvinism; Puritanism; enlightenment moral philosophy; and the formation of a secular society.
Marie Griffith, Director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, remarked, “Mark Valeri is, by every measure, a socially engaged and intellectually profound scholar of great accomplishment, sustained productivity, and enduring creativity. The Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and more widely, the St. Louis community, will greatly benefit from his scholarly gifts and leadership.”
Leigh Eric Schmidt, Acting Director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics for 2014-2015 and Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor, commented, “Mark Valeri’s commitment to both undergraduate and graduate education is a remarkable opportunity for the students of Washington University. I know he will enrich the academic experience of any and all students who join us at the Danforth Center.”
Valeri comes to Washington University in time for the fall 2014 semester from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, where he served as the Ernest Trice Thompson Professor of Church History since 1996. His prior appointment was in the Department of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College, where he won a faculty achievement award for outstanding teaching.
Valeri is the author of many articles and essays, and his most recent book, Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America, (Princeton University Press, 2010), received the 2011 Philip Schaff Prize from the American Society of Church History. It was also shortlisted for the 2011 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Historical Study of Religion and selected as one of Choice Magazine’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010.  The book analyzes social and moral transformations in the American economy from the early 1600s, when Puritans argued that personal profit should be subordinate to customary restrictions on trade, to the mid-eighteenth century, when Christians increasingly celebrated commerce as an unqualified good.
His other publications include Law and Providence in Joseph Bellamy’s New England: The Origins of the New Divinity in Revolutionary America (Oxford University Press, 1994), which won the Mackemie Prize from the Presbyterian Historical Society; The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 17: Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733(Yale University Press, 1999); Practicing Protestants: Histories of Christian Life in America, 1630-1965 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), co-edited with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp and Leigh E. Schmidt; and the co-edited Global Neighbors: Christian Faith and Moral Obligation in Today’s Economy (Eerdmans, 2008).
Valeri has received several fellowships, including an Andrew W. Mellon fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, an American Council of Learned Societies grant, and a Lilly Endowment faculty fellowship.
Valeri earned the Ph.D. from Princeton University, the M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, and his B.A., summa cum laude, from Whitworth College.
The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis was established in 2010. It serves as an open venue for fostering rigorous scholarship and informing broad academic and public communities about the intersections of religion and U.S. politics. It is named for former U.S. senator from Missouri John C. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and also was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Barack Obama Awards 2013 Humanities Medals

American Antiquarian Society
This year's winners include David Brion Davis, Krista Tippett, Anne Firor Scott, and the American Antiquarian Society.  Here is a taste of the press release:


On Monday afternoon, July 28, 2014,  President Obama will award the 2013 National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal to distinguished recipients in the East Room. The First Lady will also attend.
The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were established by the Congress in 1965 as independent agencies of the Federal Government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with State arts agencies, local leaders, other Federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. The National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the Nation. The Endowment brings high-quality historical and cultural experiences to large and diverse audiences in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and five territories.
At next week’s event, the President will deliver remarks and present the awards to the following individuals and organizations:
2013 National Medal of Arts
  • Julia Alvarez, Novelist, Poet, and Essayist, Weybridge, VT
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music, Presenter, Brooklyn, NY
  • Joan Harris, Arts Patron, Chicago, IL
  • Bill T. Jones, Dancer and Choreographer, Valley Cottage, NY
  • John Kander, Musical Theater Composer, New York, NY
  • Jeffrey Katzenberg, Director and CEO of DreamWorks, Beverly Hills, CA
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, Writer, Oakland, CA
  • Albert Maysles, Documentary Filmmaker, New York, NY
  • Linda Ronstadt, Musician, San Francisco, CA
  • Billie Tsien and Tod Williams (receiving individual medals), Architects, New York, NY
  • James Turrell, Visual Artist, Flagstaff, AZ
2013 National Humanities Medal
  • M.H. Abrams, Literary Critic, Ithaca, NY
  • David Brion Davis, Historian, Orange, CT
  • Darlene Clark Hine, Historian, Chicago, IL
  • Anne Firor Scott, Historian, Chapel Hill, NC
  • William Theodore De Bary, East Asian studies scholar, Tappan, NY
  • Johnpaul Jones, Architect, Bainbridge, WA
  • Stanley Nelson, Filmmaker, New York, NY
  • Diane Rehm, Radio Host, Washington, D.C.
  • Krista Tippett, Radio Host, St. Paul, MN
  • American Antiquarian Society, Historical Organization, Worcester, MA

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #36

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

I am convinced that one does not really know what they want to say in a book or how that book should be organized until they actually sit down and start writing.  While it is good to be thinking about the ideas and format of a book in the car, in the shower, and during breakfast, there is nothing like actually writing.

I wrote about 4000 words yesterday and I am left with a 12,000 word beast of a chapter that I need to figure out how to divide.  You may recall that I was going to write a narrative chapter and a chapter geared toward intellectual history, but during my writing sessions today I realized that the first two chapters would be better if I integrated the narrative of the founding of the ABS with the ideas that motivated the founders.

At the moment, these chapters are little more than a mixture of prose and quotes and references to primary sources.  The footnotes are in place, but there are no transition sentences or logical flow to the chapter apart from the material dumped into various sections stemming from my master outline.

I still have more research to insert into the chapter today.  Once it is all in there I will begin crafting, editing, and polishing until I feel comfortable with people seeing the chapter.

Stay tuned.

The Author's Corner with Linford D. Fisher

Linford D. Fisher is Assistant Professor of History at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. This interview is based on his book Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island's Founding Father (Baylor University Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Decoding Roger Williams?

LDF: In some ways, Decoding Roger Williams came to me, not I to it. In 2011, an interdisciplinary group of undergraduates at Brown caught wind of a mysterious book at the John Carter Brown Library (JCB), the margins of which contained undecipherable coded writing, purportedly by Roger Williams, the seventeenth-century religious dissident and founder of Rhode Island. The then-director of the JCB, Ted Widmer, invited the students to tackle the project by forming a group independent study project. Although I had to decline a formal supervisory role, I gave input into the early phases of the project and kept tabs along the way. Like everyone else, I was a bit skeptical that these undergrads could do what computers, professors, antiquarians, and linguists had failed to do previously, namely, crack the code.

You can imagine our surprise, then, when, in early 2012, the team began making real headway on deciphering the writing by a combination of statistical analyses and good old fashioned historical legwork. What they learned is that the marginal shorthand in the “mystery book” actually contained three separate sections of writing. The first section was comprised of notes on a popular seventeenth century travel book by Peter Heylyn. The third section contained notes from an early modern medical textbook. But the middle (second) section! This was the exciting part. As they began the slow process of translation/deciphering, they realized they had stumbled on a brand new essay by Roger Williams on the topic of adult baptism, one that had never been published nor even seen (or at least understood) by anyone else. 

In this new essay (dated c. 1680), Williams responds to a 1679 pro-infant baptism essay by John Eliot, the minister in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and missionary to Native Americans. Eliot, in turn, was responding to a 1672 anti-infant baptism essay written by John Norcott, a Baptist minister in London, England. In this new essay, Williams defends adult baptism and spends a whole page critiquing John Eliot’s evangelization program.

In September of 2012, one of the primary code-breakers, a mathematics concentrator named Lucas Mason-Brown, and I decided that the team’s findings deserved a wider audience. We began working together on a fuller reconstruction of the essay, with the eye towards both an academic article and a full book. Happily, we were successful on both counts. In April 2014, a co-authored essay appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly on just the Indian conversion section of Williams’ essay. And the book—which contains a lengthy introductory essay, the reconstructed Williams essay, and annotated transcriptions of the Norcott and Eliot essays—was picked up by Baylor University Press, and is due out August 1. For the book, we were also pleased to collaborate with J. Stanley Lemons, a retired Rhode Island College professor and knower of all things Baptist and Rhode Island.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Decoding Roger Williams?

LDF: Roger Williams retained throughout his life a strong belief in the importance of adult baptism (versus infant baptism). He also remained surprisingly critical of the widely-publicized attempts to evangelize Native Americans, especially with regard to the program under John Eliot in Massachusetts.

JF: Why do we need to read Decoding Roger Williams?

LDF: It is rare to find a new essay on an important colonial leader. Williams has long been an enigmatic figure, and this new essay helps make sense of 
him a bit more on at least two important issues (baptism and Indian evangelization). I also think Roger Williams is one of the most underappreciated colonial leaders. He was a little rough around the edges, yes, but he had a radical vision for church-state separation and full religious liberty (in both belief and practice) that was fully implemented in Rhode Island for the first time in the western world. In a day and age when religious intolerance repeatedly rears its ugly head in the US and abroad, Williams is refreshingly clear about how to handle religious differences: by persuasion, not coercion, suppression, or persecution.


We’ve also written the book in a way that takes the reader through the process of decoding the shorthand, so it is a neat window into early modern shorthand and cryptography. It’s not quite Da Vinci Code material, but it’s still fascinating. And for those who are interested in seventeenth century debates over baptism, the annotated transcriptions of the essays by Norcott and Eliot will be insightful. 

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

LDF: I came to the field of history more generally through philosophy and theology as an undergrad. There was something about the study of the past that made me realize that nothing, really, is actually that new in terms of human experience, particularly with regard to religious debates. The past is interesting in its own right, of course, and yet it is also an incredible storehouse of human wisdom and experience, almost a crowdsourcing of the human condition. In my master’s program, I was initially more interested in the early modern period, particularly the era of the Protestant Reformation, but then I delved in more deeply into late nineteenth century American social reform in my master’s thesis. By the end of my first semester in my doctoral program at Harvard, however, I was hooked on early American history. I landed on Native American history for my dissertation topic because it seemed to me to be the underside of a colonial process that I thought deserved deeper investigation (published as The Indian Great Awakening in 2012). I still retain an interest in the wider early modern world, however, since I think most of American history is incomprehensible without a rich understanding of European history.

JF: What is your next project?

LDF: I am currently working on my next book, which is on Indian and African slavery in colonial New England and a few select English Caribbean colonies (Bermuda, Barbados, and Jamaica). Tentatively titled Land of the Unfree: Indians, Africans, and the World of Colonial Slavery (under contract with Oxford University Press), this book will explore the differences and similarities between the enslavement of indigenous peoples in North America and the Caribbean and the better-known rise of African slavery. The best part about the project so far is the requisite archival trips to the Caribbean. The worst part is the deeply disturbing and depressing nature of early modern slavery. But these stories need to be told.  

Thanks, Linford.  This is great stuff.  

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nomini Hall Damaged by Fire

If you have read The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America you know about Nomini Hall and its eighteenth-century owner, Robert Carter III.  Philip Vickers Fithian spent a year working on this plantation on Virginia's Northern Neck as a tutor for Carter's children.  

I just learned that a fire damaged Nomini Hall. The house was currently under renovation.  Here is a taste of Clint Schemmer's article at Fredericksburg.Com:

historic plantation house in Westmoreland County that was being restored after a major fire in November has burned again.
Volunteer firefighters responded to a call around 3:30 a.m. about a structure fire in the Nomini Hall Road area of the county, said Assistant Chief Todd Padgett of the Cople District Volunteer Fire Department.
Nomini Hall, a historic house that was often used for weddings and receptions, was just a week away from being completely renovated following a fire eight months ago that caused a substantial amount of damage, said Fredericksburg property owner and developer Tommy Mitchell, who owns the house and 70 acres around it.
The property was settled in 1729 by Robert “King” Carter. His descendants include presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison.
The plantation home’s best-known resident was Robert Carter III, grandson of land baron Robert “King” Carter of Corotoman.
Carter III initiated the emancipation of more than 500 of his enslaved people, the largest manumission of slaves by a single person before the American Civil War. He is the subject of Andrew Levy’s book “The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves.”

Finalists Announced for the 2014 Frederick Douglass Book Prize

Press release:

Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition has announced the finalists for the Sixteenth Annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize, one of the most coveted awards for the study of the African American experience. Jointly sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, this annual prize of $25,000 recognizes the best book on slavery, resistance, and/or abolition.

The finalists are: Camillia Cowling for Conceiving Freedom: Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro (University of North Carolina Press); Christopher Hager for Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing (Harvard University Press); and Alan Taylor for The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 (W. W. Norton).

The winner will be announced following the Douglass Prize Review Committee meeting in the fall, and the award will be presented at a celebration in New York City in January 2015.

This year’s finalists were selected from a field of nearly one hundred entries by a jury of scholars that included Fergus M. Bordewich (Jury Chair and author of America’s Great Debate), Jeannine DeLombard (University of Toronto), and Lisa Lindsay (University of North Carolina).

In Conceiving Freedom: Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro, Camillia Cowling powerfully enlarges our understanding of the gradual end of slavery in its last American locations, demonstrating the centrality of gender to the process of emancipation and of women in bringing its provisions to life. Conceiving Freedom vividly reveals the ways in which enslaved urban women of color gave meaning to freedom—by accumulating property, claiming space in the city, and protecting their bodily integrity—and how they passed along those understandings to their “free womb” children.

In place of the words that have preoccupied scholars—the published autobiographies, pamphlets, journalism, and oratory of famous fugitives—Christopher Hager’s Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing examines non-literary acts of literacy by everyday enslaved people. And rather than treating these letters, diaries, and petitions as relics of larger historical phenomena, this original and elegantly crafted book demonstrates how momentous was the very act of written communication for those whose social interaction was as circumscribed as their education. With a keen eye for shifts in genre, tone, handwriting, spelling, grammar, ink, and paper, Hager excavates the intensely felt human experiences that lie buried beneath these documents’ conventional forms and unconventional orthography without presumption or sentimentality.

In The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832, Alan Taylor provides a brilliant account of the role that slaves and the self-emancipated played during the War of 1812. Taylor delves deeply into the operation of informal, interlocking slave networks that made possible the rapid transmission of information, the organization of mass escapes, and the provision of intelligence for British troops that enabled them to repeatedly outmaneuver and defeat the American militias that mustered to oppose them. The Internal Enemy is distinguished for a narrative verve that brings slaves, masters, and British liberators to life with a sense of drama that never surrenders its intellectual rigor for novelistic effect.

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established in 1999 to stimulate scholarship in the field by honoring outstanding accomplishments. Previous winners are Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan in 1999; David Eltis, 2000; David Blight, 2001; Robert Harms and John Stauffer, 2002; James F. Brooks and Seymour Drescher, 2003; Jean Fagan Yellin, 2004; Laurent Dubois, 2005; Rebecca J. Scott, 2006; Christopher Leslie Brown, 2007; Stephanie Smallwood, 2008; Annette Gordon-Reed, 2009; Siddharth Kara, Judith Carney, and Richard N. Rosomoff, 2010; Stephanie McCurry, 2011; James Sweet, 2012; and Sydney Nathans, 2013.

The award is named for Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), the one-time slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, writers,and orators of the nineteenth century. 

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #35

William Jay Was a Founder of the ABS
Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

It was another writing day on the ABS project.  I had a four-hour writing session on Tuesday morning and a shorter one in the afternoon.  I managed to add another 3200 words to my first chapter on the founding of the ABS.

I also made a decision to split this chapter into two separate chapters.  The first chapter will be a narrative of the founding.  The second chapter will focus on the ideas informing the founding of the ABS--a mixture of Christian nationalism, evangelical Protestantism, and millennialism.   This means that I will need to go back and tweak the book proposal.

 I will be starting the new chapter two tomorrow.   Stay tuned.

The Latest on David Barton

David Barton is in the news again.  Here is the latest:

Warren Throckmorton reports that Barton is endorsing a GOP candidate in the race for a seat in Congress from Georgia's 10th District.

Barton is consulting with some members of the Ukrainian government.  He is teaching them how to build a democracy based on the principles of the Bible.

In the race for the seat in Georgia's 11th Congressional District, Bob Barr accused Barton of being anti-semitic and challenged his opponent to deny Barton's endorsement.  Once again, Warren Throckmorton is on the case.

Salon has apparently discovered David Barton

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Society--Update #34

Benjamin Rush was a founder of the Philadelphia Bible Society
Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I am back in the home office writing this week. I got off to a slow start this morning due to some other tasks that I needed to address but I did manage a substantial writing session in the afternoon. By the time I took my daughter to soccer practice at 6:00pm I had churned out just under 2500 words in chapter one.

As I mentioned in a previous post in this series, my first drafts are pretty rough.  I just dump my research into the document, writing as if I am telling a story to my kids.  The real "writing" takes place during the many editing sessions.

Today I wrote about Elias Boudinot's argument for a national Bible society and his response to objections from the Philadelphia Bible Society. There are a lot of interesting characters who appear in this chapter, including Benjamin Rush, William White, John Caldwell (son of patriotic parson James Caldwell), Jedidiah Morse, and Samuel Mills.

Stay tuned.

"The Wealth of Nations," the "Sermon on the Mount," and Poverty in the Early Republic

Gabriel Loiacono, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, checks in with another report from last weekend's thirty-sixth annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic in Philadelphia. Thanks for Gabriel's great work as correspondent at SHEAR for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Click here to read his previous report.
An Erudite Opera in Four Parts
SHEAR President John Larson’s presidential address, last Saturday evening, was big-thinking and light-hearted all at the same time.  Entitled “An Inquiry into Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” Larson also called his talk a comic opera in four acts.  In between the occasional comic leavening, Larson’s goal was to tackle Adam Smith’s famous work, and to pose the question: did Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” upend Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount when it comes to our attitude towards poverty?  While I can’t do justice to Larson’s whole talk, and I assume it will appear in the Journal of the Early Republic as past presidential addresses have, I can give you a taste of what it hit upon.  It traced the varying meanings of the word “Fortune,” from uncontrollable circumstances to a pile of cash.  It traced the uses to which Smith’s work was put, from his own assumptions of Christian charity and a common good to readings which stripped those assumptions away.  The villain of Act IV of Larson’s talk was undoubtedly Francis Wayland, the Baptist pastor and president of Brown University, in whose works Larson finds a sanctification of the most ruthless readings of Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” 
As a scholar of poverty, and as a teacher of the survey, I appreciated Larson’s big sweep and inclusion of poverty in the story.  I highly recommend it to all readers of the JER.  And, of course, it whet a large number of SHEAR-ites to come back for more great scholarship on Sunday morning.  Always a tough time, I was pleased to see lots of listeners in that time slot.
Signing off,
Gabriel

Monday, July 21, 2014

Have You Seen the "Hunter of Invisible Game" Video?

It's more like a short film.  I am still trying to figure out its meaning:






On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #33

Want to get some context for this post? Click here

I wish I could say it was a productive weekend.  It was not.  I spent most of the weekend traveling back to Pennsylvania and hanging out with my family.  After two straight weeks in the archives sometimes you just need a break.

Having said that, it is hard to escape a project like this.  I spent a few hours this weekend doing a bit more research on the ABS's approach to slavery.  It turns out that American Anti-Slavery Society offered the ABS $20,000 to distribute Bibles directly to Southern slaves.  The Board of Managers of the ABS, for reasons I mentioned in our last post, refused to accept the money.  I have my research assistant Katy Kaslow working on this story.

I need to make some major headway on chapter one today. Stay tuned

The Author's Corner with Monte Hampton

Monte Hampton teaches history at the North Carolina State University. This interview is based on his book Storm of Words: Science, Religion, and Evolution in the Civil War Era (University Alabama Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Storm of Words?

MH: Having been reared in the South, I have always found southern history fascinating.  I was also very impressed by the perennially prominent role played by both religion and science in American cultural history.  This project wove together all three of these categories of academic interest by looking at a community of southern Christian intellectuals who thought deeply and wrote frequently about how to understand the relationship between science and theology, nature and scripture. Of course, as white southerners who had been committed to defending slavery and the ethos of the Old South, these theologians and ministers conceptualized the relationship between scripture, science, and the socio-cultural order in their own unique way

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Storm of Words? 

MH: Among other things, this book explains why the first extended evolution controversy in the trans-Atlantic world occurred in the American South, forty years prior to the Scopes Trial.  By examining a group of eminent Southern Presbyterian ministers and theologians, a community that had been in the forefront of linking the defense of slavery and the South to the Bible, it shows that their unique response to Darwinian biology, as well as to contemporary trends in anthropology, geology, and numerous socio-cultural developments, resulted from their particular way of reading the Bible and from the cultural trauma experienced during sectional crisis, Civil War, and Reconstruction. 

JF: Why do we need to read Storm of Words? 

MH: Anyone interested in that seemingly incessant American phenomenon known as the evolution controversy, not to mention the larger relationship between science and religion in American discourse, should find this book informative.  Beyond that, however, this book examines the ways culture and history have shaped the ways communities conceive of science and religion, especially religion claiming to be based in scripture. For more than two centuries Americans have invoked God and the Bible to support or challenge a welter of ideas, causes, and movements—often on opposite sides of the same issues. This is because the appropriation and use of the Bible have been inextricably intertwined with the history and culture of the community reading it.  So, this book serves as a kind of case study of the ways the Protestant commitment to sola scriptura has been complicated by the theological assumptions and lived experiences that its readers have inevitably brought to their interpretation of the Bible.   

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

MH: I made the decision in the mid-1990s.  As a minister dealing with scripture and the interpretation of scripture in the concrete life of a church and a community, I began to notice the many different ways the Bible had been and continued to be interpreted, applied, and deployed.  This led to a curiosity about the relationship between culture and biblical hermeneutics.  I began to study the dialectic relationship between socio-cultural identities and religion, especially religion that claimed to find its authority in the Bible.  At bottom, then, most of my work has stemmed from a strong curiosity about epistemology, about how humans come to know what they know, and how differences in race, gender, social class, culture, and historical experience shape a community’s concept of knowledge and how it should be acquired.

JF: What is your next project?

MH: I am working on two projects at present:  First, with Regina Sullivan I am co-editing a forthcoming festschrift, entitled Varieties of Southern Religious Experience (University of South Carolina Press), which will be a collection of essays dedicated to our doctoral advisor, Donald Mathews.  Second, I am working on a paper examining the pervasiveness in antebellum America of the so-called “conflict thesis,” the notion that science and religion must necessarily be perennial enemies.  Numerous historians, led by Ronald Numbers, have shown that this military metaphor, which continues to enjoy popular currency, has had less to do with the actual relationship between science and religion in American historical discourse than with the influence of seminal late-nineteenth century works by anti-clerical proponents of such endemic conflict, such as Andrew Dickson White.  My paper will examine the extent to which the notion had currency in the half-century prior to these works.

JH: Thanks Monte! Great Stuff!

Thanks to Allyson Fea for her work on this edition of the Author's Corner.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

An ex-Jehovah Witness visits Watchtower headquarters

Who is a person?

Gilbert Meilaender on the liberal arts

E-mail and the history of higher education

Matthew Dennis on the period (or lack thereof) in the Declaration of Independence

William Lloyd Garrison on their way to the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Was Barry Goldwater the father of the Tea Party?

The differences between the academic mindset and the entrepreneurial mindset

Richard Land and the fall of the Christian Right

Sex and Ben Franklin

Are TGI Friday's appetizer's really "endless?" 

Michael Sean Winters reviews George Marsden, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief

School teachers and the liberal arts

The historians with the most Twitter followers

More thoughts on the secular university from Tracy McKenzie

A digital humanities course on death

Buzz Aldrin took communion on the moon

New digital project on New Jersey and the Civil War

Native American History at SHEAR

This weekend historians of the early American republic gathered together in Philadelphia for the thirty-sixth annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Gabriel Loiacono, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, was working the conference floor as a correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Gabe is writing a book about welfare in early republican Rhode Island.

What follows is Gabe's report on two panels on Native American history:

On this first full day of SHEAR, I had the pleasure of hearing (most of) two panels on native history, which came at this history from quite different angles.  

The first, "Facing East from Miami Country," delved into native intra-tribal politics as well as native-white contacts in the Ohio River Valley after 1800.  Full disclosure: I had to duck out before the third paper and comments of this panel, which is my loss and yours, dear reader.  

The second, "Settler Colonialism: A Framework for Interrogating the Early Republic's Frontiers," used the "settler colonialism" framework to analyze settler-native contacts in many times and places: Iroquoia in 1779 and 1879, Hawaii in the 1820s and 1950s, Oregon in the 1840s, and even underground in native burial sites throughout the early republic.  The settler colonialism framework, which drew some criticism and defense from the audience, is a transnational framework, that has been applied around the world, not just in the Americas.  It describes the long process by which settlers imagine, invade, claim, and make myths about lands that they settle.  It provides a unifying concept with which to compare this process in different times and places.  It was described by more than one panelist as being genocidal and yet including a myth-making stage in which genocide was un-remembered.  

The presence of this genocidal aspect brought my mind back to the first panel, "Facing East from Miami Country."  James Buss's paper, "Imagined Worlds and Archiveal Realities: (Re) Reading Myaamia History in the Archive," showed how white debt claims against Miami people could be used to reconstruct an earlier period in which white settlers were employees of Miamis, building houses and performing other services.  Where does this patron-client relationship fit into the settler colonialism framework?  

Margot Minardi's "Plea for Oregon," and Noelani Arista's "The Isle shall wait for his law" both focused on the imagining part of settler colonialism.  Margo Minardi focused both on American emigrants' plea for the United States to extend its governance to Oregon and also on her own plea for scholars to work more on Oregon in the 1840s.  (That's a tip for you new grad students out there).  Noelani Arista's paper drove its point home well in just the first few sentences, quoting James Michener's 1959 novel Hawaii, and making it clear how long the colonialist myths around Hawaii have persisted.  Judy Kertesz's "To discover the antiquities of Our Continent" made many connections, between colonialism across horizontal space and colonialism across vertical space (mining and digging up native graves).  It also drew in industrial history, the mining of salt petre, slavery, and settler colonialism.  Patrick Bottiger's "Misremembering Tippecanoe," from the first panel, and Dean Bruno's "Barbarians in 1779, Civilization in 1879," from the second, about American expeditions against Tenskwatawa's Prophetstown and the Cayuga nation, respectively, both fit nicely in the "settler colonialism" framework, as both dealt extensively with the "myth-making" stage of that process.  All of this focus on myth-making led Judy Kertesz and commentator Christina Snyder both to ask the question that I shall leave you readers with: if settler colonialism and its final stage of myth-making are accurate ways of understanding American colonization, expansion, etcetera, what exactly does this mean for us as historians and Americans in the present day?

Thanks, Gabe!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #32

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On Friday I began reading the ABS's mail.

The letters of the ABS Corresponding Secretary in the years between 1848 and 1876 have some fascinating material related to slavery.  Yesterday I familiarized myself with an 1840s and 1850s debate between the ABS and Boston abolitionists over distributing the Bible to slaves in the South. 

The abolitionists wanted the ABS to be more proactive in bringing Bibles to the slave population. They believed that the Bible would inspire slaves to pursue freedom.  

The ABS was sympathetic, but its original constitution stated that the actual work of distribution had to be performed by local auxiliary agencies.  Of course the abolitionists claimed that the leaders of the southern auxiliaries were slaveholders and unless the ABS did something to force them to distribute Bibles to the slaves they would not do it.

This group of Boston abolitionists were mostly Protestant ministers.  They accused the ABS of keeping the Bible away from a certain class of people (slaves) much in the same way that the Roman Catholic Church kept the Bible away from the laity.  This accusation, of course, comes at a time when ABS anti-Catholicism was at an all time high.

Interesting stuff.  Stay tuned for more.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

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

1.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #26
2.  The Morality of Football
3.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--July 13, 2014
4.  Tracy McKenzie Responds to Peter Conn
5.  Why Reading Matters
6.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #31
7.  Most Popular Posts of the Last Week--July 11, 2014
8.  11th Century Farming in the 21st Century
9.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #28
10. The Attack of the Conns and Alan Jacobs to the Rescue

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society: Update #31

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Today is my last day in the archives for a few weeks. It has taken me three full weeks to read through the Bible Society Record from 1815 through 1865 but it has been definitely worth the time.

I now have a very solid outline in place for the first four chapters of the book, a collection of amazing stories and anecdotes that I should be able to use, a daily routine, and a good relationship with the library and history staff at the ABS

I am now ready to go home and spend  a week writing. Chapter one is about one-third complete and I have all the research in place for chapters on the General Supply (ABS's attempt to distribute a Bible to every American family), the ABS response to Catholicism in the 1840s and 1850s, and the Civil War.  Katie Garland and I have been discussing whether we may want to have a separate chapter on Reconstruction.

We are moving forward, but it feels like May 2015 is right around the corner.  Stay tuned

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society--Update #30

I've been editing Chapter One on my train commute

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My chapter on the American Bible Society's role in the Civil War is going to be fun to write.  It looks like I will need to approach the topic from two directions.  The first story-line is the attempt of the ABS to maintain their relationship with auxiliaries in states and regions that seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy.  

The second story-line is the distribution of Bibles among the troops.  The ABS developed a partnership with the United States Christian Commission on this front.  

I hope to wrap up my research in the Bible Society Record today and move to the records of the ABS Corresponding Secretary (I get to read someone else's mail!) and the records of the ABS Board of Managers.

The writing of chapter one goes slowly.  I manage to write about five hundred words a night and get some decent editing done on the ride to and from the city.  I hope to finish chapter one next week (a break from the archives) and send it off, with my book proposal, to publishers and agents.  Stay tuned.

The Author's Corner with Michael E. Woods


Michael E. Woods is the Assistant Professor of History at Marshall University. This interview is based on his forthcoming book, Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States. (Cambridge, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States?

MW: This book grew out of my dissertation, written at the University of South Carolina and completed in 2012. I entered graduate school with a strong background, and much interest, in antebellum U.S. politics and the coming of the Civil War. That’s a well-trodden field but when I was introduced to emotions history, I realized that it offered a genuinely new perspective on political behavior. I wrote the book to improve our understanding of the sectional conflict and to show political historians that emotions history can help answer key questions about how people make political decisions and build coalitions. I’d also like to demonstrate to scholars in other disciplines the importance of a historical perspective in the study of emotions and politics.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States?

MW: Specific emotions, including indignation, jealousy, and grief, were deeply embedded in antebellum Americans’ understandings of morality, citizenship, and political allegiance. The regular appearance of these emotions amid the struggle over slavery encouraged northerners and southerners to identify with antagonistic sectional communities, and to believe that the conflicts between them were worth fighting over.
JF: Why do we need to read Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States?

MW: It approaches an old topic from a new angle, one that shows how the sectional conflict was experienced as a visceral part of people’s lives. Emotions are very personal but can bring people together into powerful alliances, while simultaneously dividing them more sharply from their enemies. The book also brings together two older schools of thought about the Civil War: “fundamentalists” see the conflict as all but inevitable because it grew out of profound economic, social, and political differences between free and slave societies. “Revisionists,” on the other hand, see it as the result of human actions and very human failings, like irrationality or greed. Both interpretations contain a kernel of truth. My perspective can reconcile them. There were vast differences between the sections and they did threaten each other’s interests and values – but those differences were also deeply felt. Sectional struggle generated strong emotions because it affected the identities and interests of the participants.

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

MW: I have been deeply interested in U.S. history, especially its 19th-century history, for as long as I can remember. But my decision to become an academic historian – to transform my hobby into my career – grew out of a specific experience in college. I took a senior seminar, on Chinese history of all things, and enjoyed the experience of delving deeply into a topic with a group of very smart classmates and an excellent professor. This convinced me that I would enjoy graduate school and the academic life that would follow it.

JF:What is your next project?

MW: I’m working on a couple of different articles right now but my next book project will explore antebellum politics from another angle: the rivalry between Democrats Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. Both men have been overshadowed by Lincoln ever since the Civil War. But in the 1840s and especially the 1850s they were far better known than Lincoln and provided key leadership in the Democratic Party. They both wanted to hold the party together but they had to make sure that it stood for interests, increasingly defined in sectional terms, which their constituents back home would approve. Ultimately, their struggle over which direction the Democracy should take tore the party in two, and helped to divide the Union itself. Davis and Douglas were both fascinating, flawed, and incredibly influential individuals, and I look forward to exploring antebellum political conflict through their eyes.

JF: Thanks Michael!

Thanks to Allyson Fea for facilitating this edition of the Author's Corner

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Humanities Outside the Academy Are Doing Just Fine

The humanities are thriving outside of the academy.  We have heard this argument from public historians and public humanities before, but it is always good to hear it again.  

Check out Ralph Lewin's  recent post at Public History Commons.  It is yet another (good) reminder for humanities scholars to bridge the gap between the academy and the public.  

Perhaps it is time to revisit this idea

Here is a taste of Lewin's post:

Although faculties in academia are skeptical and discouraged today, there is an opportunity to use the energy, will, and hopes of students to turn around the fateful crisis of humanities departments. This might mean changing the way we educate humanities students. I recently spoke to humanities graduate students from across the University of California system about their future work prospects. The conversation was tough because many of them had been focused on getting their doctorates, so they had been removed from the broader workforce for four to ten years. Sure, they had developed critical thinking and writing skills, as well as the ability to consider a diversity of opinions and ask the right questions. However, when an employer reads their resume, the person who had been in graduate school will often be seen as overqualified, or worse, out of touch. We know that only 40% of these graduate students will go on to tenure-track positions, the rest, a great majority, will do other things. Can we see this as an advantage rather than a failure?
Why can’t we in the humanities acknowledge this massive change and construct systems that prepare our students for what a majority of them will do – work outsides the confines of academia? In other words, why can’t we organize humanities education so that our best and brightest learn about work outside of academia – at a state humanities council, public television or radio station, a high tech start-up geared to learning, a museum or theater company? Why are we in the humanities reluctant to connect outside of the university?
The fate of the humanities is in our hands. Communities are doing their part to host humanities programs to increase individual and communal understanding of the power of the humanities. Academia should do its part to support interested individuals, scholars, and students working beyond the walls of academia. Without this support, both society and the humanities will suffer. With communities and academia working together, we can reach forward to a new age of the humanities in our society. This is the kind of effort that makes life worth living and will ultimately save the humanities.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #28

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Well, I finally made it into the 1860s in my reading of the Bible Society Record.  Even in the wake of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War, the American Bible Society continued to insist that it was a national organization.  Early in the war the ABS was able to convince its auxiliary societies in the South to stay connected with the national organization.  Even the South Carolina Bible Society and the local Bible Society of Charleston agreed to continue working with the New York-based ABS.  Here is a taste of a letter from the President of the Bible Society of Charleston (N.R. Middletown) to the President of the American Bible Society (Theodore Frelinghuysen), dated January 18, 1861:


My Dear Sir, 

I had the pleasure of reading to our Board this evening your very kind and fraternal letter, and I am sure it would have been gratifying to you to witness the hearty response it met with.  It was unanimously agreed that the arrangement with Mr. Bolles should be continued heretofore, and that political differences should not be permitted to interfere with the existing relationship of the Societies.”

And here is another snippet:

In conclusion, permit me to join you in the hope you express, that the difficulties in which we are involved will not be permitted to affect Christian relationships or to sever Christian bonds.   Surely there is no reason why a work so entirely catholic as the one in which we are engaged should suffer in any way from dissensions in which it is in no way involved.  Political considerations should always be subordinated to the claims of the Word of God; and if the spirit of the Word were in practical operation throughout this great country, it would not now be divided and torn by civil discord.”  

The ABS is not taking sides here, but how long will this be able to last?  How long will political considerations "be subordinated to the claims of the Word of God" and its distribution?  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

11th Century Farming in the 21st Century

Keith Ferrell, the former editor of Omni magazine, lives on a farm in Virginia.  He works his farm with the tools available to 11th century farmers. 

He tells his story in this essay at Aeon.  Here is a taste:


I arrived in the 11th century through circumstances in my life and career. Purchased in the mid-1990s as a weekend and summer home, a getaway, part of the farm’s attraction was the old barn, already half-converted into living quarters. The downstairs had electricity, running water from a good well, a water heater, a tub and a toilet, a septic system. There was a range in the kitchen. The place had a phone line, which meant that we had dial-up internet (virtually the only option at the time). The nearest town, Rocky Mount, with just over 4,000 people, was 15 miles away. On clear nights with the lights turned low, the stars came out nearly as brilliantly as they would have a thousand years before.
The first couple of years of ownership had a peaceful pace – peaceful, that is, once I arrived here at the end of a work week or the beginning of a vacation. At the time, I was still editor-in-chief of OMNI magazine, often travelling throughout the country and around the world. My wife was teaching high school. The farm was our weekend refuge, a place for rejuvenation, for gardening and exploring. I left most of the fields in meadow, hiring a neighbour for a few hundred dollars to bring in a tractor and mow them a couple of times a year. I enjoyed watching an experienced farmer drive a tractor dragging a brush hog – a cutter for taking down thickets of briars and small trees. Most people with a weekend farm would have had the sense to buy a small tractor or at least a riding mower. Not me. It would have made sense to buy a four-wheel drive vehicle, too, not to mention a generator for times of power outages, but I never did.

On Writing the History of the American BIble Society--Update #27

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I covered a lot of ground in the archives yesterday.  I made it to 1858 in Bible Society Record.  I am struck by the way the American Bible Society remains focused on its mission of Bible production and distribution even as the country moves closer and closer to Civil War. In fact, the Record never once mentions political considerations in the issues published in the 1850s.  I would like to see if the less-public Annual Reports and the minutes of the Board of Managers during this period are more sensitive to current events.  I need to keep reminding myself that the Record is the tool by which the ABS communicates to its constituency.

Today I will be digging into the ABS's response to the Civil War. (Or at least the way it presents itself to its constituency during the Civil War).  Stay tuned for tomorrow's update to learn more.