Friday, March 6, 2015

Keith Harris: "Entertaining Stories and History Are Not Necessarily The Same Thing"

What makes good history?   Should journalists be writing history?  Keith Harris explores these questions at his blog. aptly named "Keith Harris History."  Here is a taste:

I suggest that not all best-selling journalists – even Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists – are created equal, at least when it comes to writing history. While the American public thirsts for a good historical tale, many would-be historians fall short in their efforts to rise to the occasion. The well-read, and might I add informed public, certainly get the entertainment they desire. What they often do not get is engaging history – but rather, shallow reports of historical events. So let’s not be confused here. Entertaining stories and history are not necessarily the same thing. Though first-rate journalists may have a flair for the written word, I am not convinced that they stand up to the rigors of academic research. And I do not want to sound snotty – but much of their work fails to match the standards set in academia. Some just write bad history well – and that is a damn shame.
Case in point. I recently read journalist Dick Lehr’s book on the controversial film, The Birth of a Nation. The book was not without virtues.  The writing was vivid, punchy, and yes, entertaining. But the history didn’t cut it for me. Lehr’s book was full of pretty obvious historical errors. His analysis was one dimensional and the book lacked depth and insight (spoiler alert: the film is racist…and black people didn’t like that).  I can only surmise that this is because the man is not a trained historian – so I forgive his shortcomings. And let’s be honest – if I tried to be a journalist, I would most likely blow it. So I will stick to doing what I know how to do – and keep writing history.
On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed journalist Rick Atkinson’s WWII Liberation Trilogy. This series was exhaustively researched and beautifully written. And yes, it too was entertaining. So I guess you never know. Like in any profession (even academia…) some are just better than others.
Harris also has some good things to say about historians and social media in this post.  Check out his very informative blog.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Band Covers "Born to Run"--While Actually Running!

Hilarious:

HT: Art Remillard

What is Digital Scholarship?

Valley of the Shadow is TRC
For those of us who are still trying to discern the kinds of online work that qualifies as "digital scholarship," William Thomas, the chair of the history department at the University of Nebraska, has offered a helpful blog post entitled "What is Digital Scholarship: A Typology."  (Some of you may recall a post we did last year on Thomas's work conducting "History Harvests.").

Thomas defines three types of projects that we should consider forms of digital scholarship:

1.  Interpretive Scholarly Works:

These works are hybrids of archival materials and tool components, and are situated around a historiographically significant or critical concern. These works often assert a methodological argument as well, demonstrating that the combination of tools and materials serves as a method worthy of applying to the problem. Interactive Scholarly Works have a limited set of relatively homogenous data, and they might include a textual component on the scale of a brief academic journal article. They feature an API for users to access the data and programming directly. Relatively tightly defined in subject, ISWs provide users with a high degree of interactivity in a limited framework. (Meeks and Grossner 2012)

Examples include: Visualizing Emancipation and Who Killed William Robinson?

2.  Digital Projects or Thematic Research Collections:

Digital projects, sometimes referred to as Thematic Research Collections, are perhaps the most well defined genre in digital humanities scholarship. Carole L. Palmer’s 2004 review of these works emphasized several qualities, such as their heterogeneous datatypes, structured but open ended, designed to support research, multi-authored, primary sources. Combining tools and archival materials framed around a historiographically significant or critical problem, these projects are sprawling investigations into a major problem. Typically gathering thousands of objects and records from widely varying institutions and in widely varying formats, digital history projects contain “digital aggregations” of primary sources that support research on a particular theme or historical question. Scholars embed interpretive affordances in the collection and use these affordances to open up new modes of inquiry and/or discovery. They are open-ended projects and often support ongoing research by multiple scholars or teams. Often traditional peer reviewed scholarship is derived from the thematic research collection. The next phase of thematic research collections might feature interpretive scholarship embedded within and in relationship to the collection. (Palmer, 2004)

Examples include: Valley of the Shadow and Mapping the Republic of Letters

3.  Digital Narratives

These scholarly works are born-digital, and they primarily feature a work of scholarly interpretation or argument embedded within layers of evidence and citation. They do not and presumably cannot exist in analog fashion. They may be multimodal, multi-authored, and user-directed. They may change between and among readings, either through updates or algorithmic reconstitutions. Unlike the first generation of “eBooks” which transferred analog books into digital formats, these nonlinear, multimodal narratives offer explicit hypertext structures. These works primarily provide multiple points of entry for readers and situate evidence and interpretation in ways that allow readers to unpack the scholarly work. They are highly configured, deeply structured, and strongly interpretive pieces of scholarship. They could be stand alone self-generating web sites, cloud applications, or they could be presented in a media-rich scholarly publishing framework such as Scalar.

Examples include: Gilded Age Plains City and The Differences Slavery Made

Read more about Thomas's categories here.


Job Opening: Ancient-Digital History at Bethel University

My friend Chris Gehtz, aka "The Pietest Schoolman," has just announced a very interesting job opening at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN.   Bethel is looking to start a digital humanities major and they hope to hire a coordinator for the program with additional expertise in the ancient and medieval world.

Chris has described the job on Bethel's Department of History blog:

We’re happy to announce that we’ve begun a job search for the newest member of our faculty: a gifted, innovative teacher committed to the mission of Bethel and able to straddle the fields of ancient/medieval and digital history.
First, our new colleague will teach upper-division courses in ancient and medieval history, and as a member of the team for GES130 Christianity and Western Culture. We’re committed to a curriculum that spans the breadth of human experience, including premodern history. And we think that’s all the more important for a Christian liberal arts college, where we want our students to understand the development and context of a faith whose roots stretch back into the ancient world.
But what’s makes the position especially distinctive is that whomever we hire will have the opportunity to shape and then coordinate a new major in Digital Humanities (or DH), teaching introductory and capstone courses and mentoring students as they build digital portfolios through coursework, research projects, and internships.
Thus far shepherded by History professors Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry alongside digital library manager Kent Gerber, the proposal for a DH major was the subject of a story in the Bethel Clarion last fall. Gerber described the field in this way:
Regardless of how digital humanities is defined, it is characterized by collaboration, creativity and multiple disciplines… You will see people who know a lot about computers working with people who know a lot about humanities research in archaeology, English literature, history, linguistics, art, communication studies or library and information science.
Gehrz added that the major should appeal strongly to students who have a passion for fields like history but are concerned about finding a career path:
I think there are a lot of students who really do love things like literature and languages and philosophy and history and theology… Yet they have a voice in themselves saying, “What are you going to do with that?” And part of what this [program] does is suggest, “Well, I can study all of these things that I love, and at the same time I’m getting skills that are very useful for any employer.”
Our faculty, students, and alumni have already been experimenting with digital approaches to research and communication. Gehrz and Mulberry have been prolific podcasters and digital filmmakers, and this May Gehrz and student Fletcher Warren ’15 will debut their digital history of Bethel in an age of modern warfare (here’s their project blog). Prof. Diana Magnuson has worked closely with Gerber and students like Warren in digitizing the holdings of Bethel and the Baptist General Conference. And The American Yawp, “a free and online, collaboratively built, open American history textbook” co-edited by History/Social Studies Ed alum Ben Wright ’06, was recently voted Best Use of Digital Humanities for Public Engagement. (Ben spoke to the impact of digital humanities on history as part of our recent interview on applying to graduate school.)
For further details about our ancient-digital position and instructions on how to apply, please see Bethel’sfaculty employment page. Priority will be given to applications received in full by April 7th.
Chris has also written about the job at The Pietist Schoolman

The Author's Corner with Josh McMullen

Josh McMullen is Assistant Professor and Department Chair of Government, History and Criminal Justice at Regent University. This interview is based on his new book, Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture (Oxford University Press, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture?

JM: I have long been interested in popular religious movements. When at seminary, I became interested in Pentecostalism and the divine healing movement. I was particularly curious as to where Pentecostalism fit into the modernist-fundamentalist dichotomy. At the University of Missouri, I was introduced to scholarship on consumer and therapeutic culture. Combining these two subjects—popular religion and consumer/therapeutic culture—sounded like a great way to explore my historical interests. The driving question became how the United States could be so consumer-driven and yet highly religious.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Under the Big Top?

JM: In contrast to some stereotyped images of revivalists as Victorian hold-outs, I argue big tent evangelists participated in the shift away from Victorianism and helped in the construction of a new consumer culture in the United States. I contend revivalists and their audiences unlinked Christianity from Victorianism and joined it with the new, emerging consumer culture.

JF: Why do we need to read Under the Big Top?

JM: The pervasive understanding of Protestantism at the turn of the twentieth century is the fundamentalist-modernist dichotomy. While I think this can be a helpful lens, it can also cloud as much as clarify. I hope this work opens up new ways to look at Protestantism in this period. I also believe that scholarship on therapeutic and consumer culture has not fully appreciated the role that religion has played in the construction of consumer culture in the United States. I hope this book stimulates dialogue about the role of religion in American therapeutic culture.

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

JM: I started graduate school in theology. I quickly realized I was most interested in historical theology. That soon led to an interest in the context for ideas. This finally led me to history. I was torn between studying the patristic period or American history. A couple of classes in American religious history, particularly Pentecostalism, tipped the balance.

JF: What is your next project?

JM: Under the Big Top deals with popular religious figures who embraced consumer culture, albeit tentatively. I am still curious about the construction of a therapeutic culture in the United States, as well religion’s role in this. For my next project, however, I want to explore a figure who rejected therapeutic culture or resisted it.

JF: Great stuff, thanks Josh!

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address Turns 150

I hope you will take some time to read it today:

Fellow-Countrymen:
At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Catholic, Evangelical, Unaffiliated

In 1955, sociologist Will Herberg wrote his now famous book Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology.  According to Martin Marty, Herberg's book "spoke precisely to the mid-century condition and speaks in still applicable ways to the American condition and, at its best, the human condition.  Herberg argued that "America is a three religion country"--Catholic, Protestant, and Jew.

Today, according to this study from the Public Religion Research Institute, we live in a country dominated by three types of religious people: Catholics, Evangelicals, and the unaffiliated.

It's time for a new book.  Who is going to write it?

A Useable Past vs. The Past as a Foreign Country

Chris Gehrz and two of his Bethel University history majors wrestle with chapter two and chapter three of Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past in episode five of the Bethel web series "Past and Presence."  Great discussion!  Thanks for using the book!

Pennsylvania History 2.0

The Cathedral of St. Patrick, Harrisburg, PA
Some of you who read this blog carefully and have a good memory will recall that in Spring 2014 I developed a course on Pennsylvania history.

The course serves several student constituencies at Messiah College.  First, it counts as an upper-division history course for Messiah history majors. Second, it counts as an elective in our public history program.  We are not only using this course to teach content (Lenape Indians to Three Mile Island and beyond), but our students also gain basic training in how to do oral history, local history, and even a very small amount of digital history. Third, this course counts as a general education course that meets Messiah's "pluralism" requirement. As a result we spend a lot of time discussing questions of religious, ethnic, class, and racial identity as it relates to events that happened in the history of the state.  I challenge the students to ask whether or not William Penn's so-called "Holy Experiment" has been a success.

Once again, I have decided to use Randall Miller and Bill Pencak's book Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth.  I like this book because it offers chronological coverage of Pennsylvania's past alongside chapters related to the skills and practices--oral history, folklore, genealogy, etc.--of doing Pennsylvania history.

Last year students had two major assignments.  First, they had to visit local archives and create an online exhibit using Omeka software.  Second, they had to conduct an oral history interview, transcribe the interview, and write an eight-page paper placing the subject of the interview in a larger historical context.

This year I have kept the oral history assignment.  Students are writing oral history papers based on interviews with longtime employees of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, people who lived through Three Mile Island, steelworkers who suffered through de-industrialization, and those who experienced the Pennsylvania home front during World War II, to name a few of the topics.

I have replaced the Omeka assignment with two smaller projects related to the work of our ongoing Digital Harrisburg Initiative.  First, students will be doing research that will eventually lead to the mapping of the Harrisburg Presbyterian community in 1900.  They are using church membership lists from Harrisburg's historic Market Street Presbyterian Church and comparing the names and addresses with the 1900 census that David Pettegrew and his team of students have digitized.  Since the 1900 census has been mapped on a 1900 fire insurance map, it will be easy to develop the map further to include the location of Presbyterians.  This assignment is due next week, giving David's team plenty of time to create the Presbyterian map in preparation for our analysis in class next month.

Second, we will be exploring the history of Catholics in Harrisburg in the years between 1900 and 1910.  Each student is assigned a 6-9 month section of the Harrisburg Daily Independent and the Harrisburg Telegraph.  Using Newspapers.com, they will find every article related to Catholicism in the city and write a five-page history of Catholicism in Harrisburg for their assigned 6-9 month period.  We will then spend several 90-minute class periods discussing these reports and piecing together the history of Harrisburg in this particular decade.  We are especially interested in the building of the Cathedral of St. Patrick's on State Street.

Stay tuned:  I hope to do some posts on how these projects are progressing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Digital Archive of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions

Another great digital history project just went live last week.  

Harvard just made accessible a searchable online database of close to 3500 antislavery and antisegregation petitions sent to the Massachusetts colonial and state legislatures from the 1600s to 1870.  These petitions are housed at the Massachusetts Archives.

Read all about it here and here.

A small taste:

Each petition image is annotated with detailed information, and the dataset provides web-based browsing, searching, and filtering, along with images of the digitized documents. These digitized images include documents that date back to antislavery efforts from 1649 but also reflect black Revolutionary War veterans, female abolitionists (including Sojourner Truth), and petitions submitted before, during, and after the Civil War. The images, and the associated metadata, will be distributed by the Harvard Dataverse Network infrastructure and will be made publicly available for the first time at this event on February 27, 2015, at the end of Black History Month.

The Junto March Madness Tournament is Back!

Once again, the good folks at The Junto are running a March Madness tournament.  This year the focus is on primary documents from early American history. Here is a taste:

This time around, we’re limiting entrants in the competition to primary sources. We wanted to expand on some of the pedagogical posts we’ve had here at The Junto, and to host a competition that will foster wide discussions about how we as historians go about researching and teaching.

Nominations open today and close on Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST. Check out the rules below and then add your nominations and seconds in the Comments section. Then, by the power of The Junto‘s bracketologists, we’ll put together tournament brackets, announce the brackets, and open it up for your votes starting next Monday.

The Rules

1) Here’s how we’re defining “primary sources” for the purpose of this competition: any primary source that is easily available online, published in an edited collection, or reproduced in a scholarly journal. You should not nominate primary sources that are only available in manuscript form. The point of this limitation is to create a giant list of primary sources for research and teaching that are easily accessible to everyone.

2) All nominations must be made in the Comments section of this post.

3) If would be helpful if, in your nomination, you included one line about each of the sources you’re nominating, given the fact that this will be a broader exercise than usual and some sources won’t (and shouldn’t!) be familiar to everyone (I’m looking at you, non-British-Atlanticists–we need your nominations!).

4) We ask that you nominate a maximum of three primary sources that have not yet been nominated. You may also “second” the nomination of three other primary sources that have already been nominated. If you were going to nominate primary sources already mentioned you may do so and they will be tallied as seconds. 

Of course I will be championing the greatest eighteenth-century primary source on the planet: Hunter Dickinson Farish's edited The Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774: Plantation Tutor on the Old Dominion.  Stay tuned, but in the meantime we need someone to head over to The Junto and "second" my nomination.  Let's get this ball rolling!  I think Fithian can be this year's Cinderella and a make run deep into the brackets.


Virtual Office Hours: Spring 2015 - Episode 5

Messiah College: A New Kind of History Department
Featuring Messiah Student Alyssa Vorbeck

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile Comes to Central Pennsylvania

And look what happened:


What is Going On At Mid-America Nazarene University?

The college chaplain preached a sermon about peace at the Olathe, Kansas college and, as far as I can tell, he was demoted for it. Here is a taste of an article from the Kansas City Star:

Shortly after Randy Beckum, chaplain at MidAmerica Nazarene University, delivered his morning sermon on Feb. 10, it seemed to have the desired effect.
He said in his sermon that America has a penchant for war and then he pointed to a contradictory Scripture calling for peace. It sparked intense and immediate debate, dominating dining hall conversations and becoming a focal point of social media.
And while there were plenty who disagreed with the message — some, apparently, found it to be anti-military — there was no denying that it had sparked a lively campus discussion.
Just a week later, however, Beckum, the university chaplain, would be relieved of his duties in a second position as vice president for community formation — a move that has been met with scrutiny by many who have come to view Beckum’s changed role on the 1,800-student campus in Olathe as a form of censorship.
“I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that this was not an intentional attack on free expression,” said Blake Nelson, a resident educator at the university who recently penned a widely read online letter in support of Beckum. “I can’t judge motives or intentions; all I know is that it was an attack on free expression.
“You can’t publicly demote a leader in the denomination and a leader at the university and not expect 100 percent of your constituents to put one and one together.”
University president David J. Spittal has said that Beckum had indicated his desire to be relieved of the vice presidency, but Spittal declined last week to elaborate. Beckum did not respond to phone calls or emails.
As the sermon began, Beckum, a one-time administrator of the year at the university, stood at a lectern wearing jeans and a blazer. After a brief introduction, he mentioned the box office success of the recent Clint Eastwood film “American Sniper,” which details the life of the man considered the most deadly U.S. sniper in history, and noted that it sold many more tickets than “Selma,” which addressed Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful tactics in the civil rights movement.
“I am extremely troubled,” he said.
“I don’t think it is an understatement to say that in our culture, in our efforts to be who we are, we are addicted to violence and guns and war and revenge and retaliation.
“Unfortunately, so are a lot of Christians.”
Beckum went on to say, “We have to be very careful about equating Christianity with patriotism,” and he spoke of the biblical call to peace and turning the other cheek.
“It is a scary, complicated world, I know,” Beckum said. “People want to kill us. We have an obligation to protect our children and protect out loved ones. … But (Christian) words are not revenge and retaliation; our words are redemption and reconciliation.”
Even before Beckum finished, his words had begun to stir unrest.
At least one student in attendance left midway through Beckum’s remarks, according to students. And those on campus would soon find their social media feeds packed with comments about the subject matter of that morning’s sermon, many critical of it.
While some took Beckum’s sermon to heart, appreciative of the topics raised, others were leery. One ROTC student would indicate that he didn’t feel his pro-military stance was being represented in chapel. Another would share his opinion that war was simply a reality of life.
Spittal, the university president, would be inundated in the coming days with concerns regarding the sermon.
Still, in those first days, Spittal was publicly outspoken about the need for what he termed “hard lessons.” In a statement to students, he wrote that difficult conversations like the one sparked by Beckum should be encouraged:
“At MidAmerica Nazarene University we encourage the exchange of ideas, and individuals are free to express their individual perspective and opinions, even when those opinions may not reflect the official policy or practices of our university, our core values or our affiliations.”
Then on Feb. 23, students received another statement from Spittal.
In it, the president announced that although he would remain the school’s chaplain, Beckum was being replaced as the school’s vice president for community formation, a position he’d held for several years.
I, of course, don't know all the details.  I also know that the newspaper coverage at Christian colleges and universities often skew facts due to the failure of reporters to thoroughly understand what goes on at such institutions.
But in this case it seems like Mid-America President David Spittal caved to outside pressure from a constituency that probably equates Christianity and American patriotism.

Symposium: Religion in Early America

This looks like a great.  Nice work Peter Manseau.  Wish I could attend:

Symposium: Religion in Early America

Friday, March 20, 2015
9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Warner Bros. Theater, first floor

Free and open to the public; also available via live webcast.
Please RSVP here.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will convene a one-day symposium on “Religion in Early America.”  Led by Stephen Prothero, renowned Professor of Religion at Boston University, the symposium will explore three major themes that characterize the role of religion in the formation and early development of the United States.  The first theme is the diversity of religious traditions in the American colonies, and how they needed to be considered as the nation came into being.  The second is the principle of religious freedom that was incorporated into the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that has been an enduring principle of the nation.  The third is the growth of many forms of religion in the new United States and how they shaped American society during the first half of the 19th century.
Other scholars participating in the symposium are:
A major goal of the symposium is to inform the planning of an exhibition on “Religion in Early America” that is scheduled to open on the second floor of the museum in 2016, along with companion exhibitions on “Democracy in America,” and “Many Voices, One Nation.”  The latter focuses on American immigration, migration, and diversity. The new religion exhibition, which has the same themes as the symposium, will put on display a stellar sample of objects, including The Bay Psalm Book, The Washington Inaugural Bible, The Jefferson Bible, a Shaker spinning wheel, Native American wampum, George Whitfield’s portable pulpit,  George Mason’s baptismal font, a first edition Book of Mormon, a piece of Charles Finney’s Camp Meeting tent, John Carroll’s Tabernacle, a Torah Scroll from the first New York Synagogue, a child’s Noah’s Ark set, and many more.
For further information email Jaya Kaveeshwar at kaveeshwarj@si.edu.

Does"Born in the USA" Finally Reflect Conservative Values?

Some of you may recall my piece on Rick Perry's use of Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" at a rally last month.  You can read it here.  It is entitled "Why Rick Perry Should Think Twice Before He Makes 'Born in the USA' His Theme Song." I basically argued, using Ronald Reagan's use of the song in the 1984, that despite its patriotic chorus "Born in the USA" is hardly a patriotic song.

Today Daniel Scotto, a writer and history graduate student, has responded with a piece of his own entitled "'Born in the USA' Now Fits the Conservative Message."  Here is a taste of his piece at The Federalist:

Writer and professor John Fea recently wrote a thoughtful piece for RealClearPolitics cautioning Rick Perry against using Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as a campaign song. Fea recalls the issues that Ronald Reagan faced after using the song during his 1984 re-election bid. The Reagan campaign was wrong and its critics were right; the song isn’t about hope, and the frustration it depicts was ill-suited for “Morning in America.” But in the context of America today, “Born in the USA’s” critique of America fits much better on the Right than the Left.
Springsteen’s politics are well-established; he’s quite liberal and a fixture on Democratic presidential campaigns. As Fea writes, Springsteen engaged directly with Reagan’s use of his song by dedicating a performance of the bleak “Johnny 99” to Reagan in the run-up to the 1984 election...
...As the opposition party in an era of reform conservatism, Republicans can engage with the themes of “Born in the USA” in 2015. The song is a blistering criticism of four parts of American society that Republicans can critique fluently: a poorly led war, the treatment of veterans, inequality of opportunity, and a weak job market. These are best examined in pairs.
No time to respond at the moment, but I am curious what Springsteen fans think about Scotto's argument.

This NHL Goalie Loves Bruce Springsteen

Check out the helmet of Ondrej Pavelec, a goaltender for the Winnepeg Jets of the National Hockey League.  Do you recognize that album cover?


Learn about the other side of Pavelec's helmet here.

Was Michael Brown "Lynched?"

My colleague Jim LaGrand  has some very thoughtful things to say about the way we use historical analogies in our public statements about race in America .  Check out Jim's piece entitled "Selma Is Now? No Not Really."  It is up today at History News Network.

Here is a taste:

Statements similar to Legend’s “Selma is now” have been made many times in the months since Michael Brown’s tragic death at the hands of policeman Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. In fact, Ferguson has become a Rorschach test – not just on the state of race relations today, but on the past as well through the power of historical analogy. Like John Legend, congressman and civil rights veteran John Lewis has compared Ferguson to Selma in 1965. On college campuses, analogies comparing Ferguson to 1950s Little Rock and Michael Brown to Emmett Till have been heard.
Some have gone deeper into America’s history of race relations looking for analogies. James Lawson, who during the 1950s and 1960s trained hundreds of young people in non-violence resistance, today calls “what happened in Ferguson lynching.” So too historian Jelani Cobb writes about “the long shadow of lynching” in Ferguson. Some protesters in St Louis and Berkeley dramatized their frustration at events in Ferguson through mock lynchings.
These statements and actions are all rooted in the belief that little to nothing has changed in race relations from the Jim Crow era of the 1890s-1950s to the present day. If one of the tasks of History is to assess the complex relationship between change and continuity over time, these voices suggest that on the issue of race and race relations, the answer is pretty simple. 2014 = 1965 or 1955 or the 1890s.
But in looking at the past, it’s hard to make these claims hold up. The Jim Crow era stands as a distinctly grim, brutal period in America’s history for its Black citizens. After the end of Reconstruction, Black men who had recently won the franchise had it effectively taken away. The promise that Black Americans would own the product of their labor too became a bitter lie. All public spaces in the Jim Crow South became divided by the color line.
This racial code was enforced through lynchings and other forms of brutal violence. The Equal Justice Initiative has recently documented 3,959 African-Americans lynched between 1877 and 1950. Lynch mobs cast a wide net. They targeted Black men accused of crimes, those accused or suspected of sexual relations with white women, and those seen as being “impudent to white man,” in the words of one lynching record. Lynchings were barbaric, often involving the ritualistic burning and dismemberment of dead bodies. Not for nothing do many historians refer to 1890-1920 as the nadir of African-American history.

And he concludes:

...We don’t live in a post-racial America. But neither do we live in Jim Crow or 1950s America, despite what many recent analogies would suggest. Not every overbearing authority can be a Bull Connor, not every place of tension is Selma in 1965 or Little Rock in 1957. Not every mistreatment can be labeled a lynching. Otherwise, the power and influence of these historical people and places and practices may be lost.
The moral capital of the civil rights movement risks going bankrupt if it’s drawn on excessively and unconvincingly. I hope that when future Black History Months come around, my students (and all Americans) will have retained the capacity to look at the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement with the accuracy needed for genuine knowledge and informed passion.  


Dispatches from the History Major: "Race in America: The Messiah College 2105 Humanities Symposium"

James Mueller
I hope you are enjoying "Dispatches from the History Major."  Here is the next installment from Messiah College sophomore history major James Mueller.  --JF

Last Friday marked the close of Messiah College’s 2015Humanities Symposium on the theme "Race in America." Because of my involvement with the Center for the Public Humanities and the Digital Harrisburg Project, I had the opportunity to be pretty involved. Here are some of my highlights:

  • Attending the Genetic Ancestry ProjectDr. Joseph Huffman of the Messiah College History Department and two other Messiah College professors spent the summer of 2014 exploring the genetic make-up of about a dozen different Messiah student and faculty members. They presented their results via a student produced documentary and had the student and faculty members talk about how they felt about their “race” after discovering their genetic origins. This session completely changed my perception of racial categorization!   
  • Escorting high school students to dinner and to Michele Norris’ keynote lecture – The kids I ate with were fun, energetic, and excited to talk about race and what it meant to them. After our meal we went over to Parmer Hall and listened to Michele Norris give an excellent talk about her experience with race and why she started her Race Card Project.    
  • Presenting a talk at a session on the Digital Harrisburg Project – Rachel Carey (a junior history major at Messiah College and the heart of the Digital Harrisburg project) and I gave a presentation with Dr. David Pettegrew and Dr. Jim LaGrand (two Messiah History professors) in front of a packed classroom at Messiah’s Boyer Hall. We talked about the inception of the project, showed off some of its capabilities, and addressed a number of historical questions concerning race in early 20th century Harrisburg. It was a great opportunity to work on my public speaking skills and to use my historical skills outside of the classroom. Oh, and I also
    Michelle Norris
    that Dr Powers (the Dean of the Humanities at Messiah) and Dr. Fea
     can blow Twitter up like nobody’s business!        
  • Harrisburg Giants Extended Trailer Preview – I unfortunately did not have the chance to attend this session because of work, but I’m sure Messiah students Jonathan Berry Wolf, Kyle Kull, and Scott Orris did a great job! They gave their audience a sneak peak of a documentary they have been working on about the Harrisburg Giants (a mixed-race baseball team which played in the American Negro League during the 1930s), and even had four members of the Giants come and talk about their experience on the team.

The Symposium was fascinating, challenging, and utterly exhausting; juggling two jobs and my course work didn’t help things either. I’m looking forward to next year’s, but for now I’m thankful for a reprieve after such a crazy week. Is it sad that writing a 4-6 page source analysis on Suetonius’ De Vita Caesarum is going to be relaxing? 

The Author's Corner with Philip F. Gura

Philip F. Gura is William S. Newman Distinguished
Professor of American Literature and Culture Department of English and Comparative Literature at The University of North Carolina. This interview is based on his new book, The Life of William Apess, Pequot (The University of North Carolina Press, March 2015).

JF: What led you to write The Life of William Apess, Pequot?

PG: As a student of antebellum American literature and culture, I was surprised how little we knew of a Native American who had left so large a body of written work. I wanted to place Apess and his writings in their historical context. I also was fascinated that he was a survivor of the supposedly extinct Pequot nation and thus sought to learn more about the history of Native Americans in New England.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Life of William Apess, Pequot?

PG: The book is an intellectual biography of a mixed-race person in a region that paid lip service to the notion that Native Americans were a doomed, vanishing people. The book alerts us to the ways in which such an individual negotiated, particularly through education and religion, the various roadblocks put in his way as he tried to understand and work for the rights of indigenous people who never sought to become “Americans” in any traditional sense.

JF: Why do we need to read The Life of William Apess, Pequot?

GF: Apess deserves the same recognition as others, particularly in the abolition and women’s rights movements, who questioned the sincerity of the nation’s commitment to democracy. This biography explains how and why Apess accomplished what he did and yet still almost perished from historical memory. Reading about his life allows us to think about the complex task of recovering Native American history in a region where Native Americans occupied a very different position than they did, say, on the Western lands to which they were being removed even as Apes wrote.

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

PG: As a college student, I was fortunate enough to major in American History and Literature, and learned the satisfaction of working at a topic through the perspective of various disciplines. I continued such study for my PhD, in the History of American Civilization. This training instilled the notion that to explain a topic honestly and deeply, one had to examine it through the lenses of other, cognate disciplines. I also was fortunate to have attended college when the fields of African American and Women’s Studies were emerging, allowing students to expand their understanding of how to tell the story of, say, the development of American literature. Finally, when I went on the job market, positions in “American Studies” per se were few, and I opted to look for work in departments of literature. I find it ironic that I have no degrees in literature but always have had my home in English Departments, ones, fortunately, that valued my work as an historian of American culture.

JF: What is your next project?

PG: I am writing a book tentatively called Panic: Romantic Reformers and the Coming of the Civil War in which I examine a spectrum of reform activities, most of them bent on transforming the individual or the individual’s relation to society but that failed to address the nation’s larger structural problems, particularly the institution of slavery. The book examines self-indulgence as a problem endemic to a culture built on the sanctity of individual rights. The relevance to our own age should be obvious.

JF: Looking forward to reading about it. Thanks Philip!

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