Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lecture at Penn State-New Kensington

On Thursday I will be giving a lecture on religion and the American founding and meeting with a few history classes at Penn State-New Kensington (greater Pittsburgh area).  Thanks to John Craig Hammond of the History Department at PSU-New Kensington for the invite.  If you are in the area I hope you will stop by.  Here is the press release:

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. – The never-ending debate of whether the Founding Fathers created a Christian or secular country will be the topic of a presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 30, at Penn State New Kensington. Historian and scholar John Fea, professor of history and department chair at Messiah College, will deliver a public lecture based on his book, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”
The book explores the relationship between religion and America’s founding. Fea approaches the question from the perspective of the middle, and presents valid arguments from both sides. He doesn’t ascertain the answer (he says, “It’s a bad question”), but takes a critical view of the query from the perspective of a historian. The author was invited to campus by John Craig Hammond, associate professor of history.
“John Fea is widely recognized as one of the leading scholars on religion in the American founding,” said Hammond, who earned the campus’ Excellence in Teaching award in 2012. “He brings a fresh, scholarly look to this important and probing question.”
In addition to the evening lecture, Fea will meet in the morning with students in an honors seminar class, and in the afternoon with students in the Civil War and Reconstruction class. Hammond teaches both courses.
For the honors seminar, Fea will discuss his book, which the honors students read this semester. Students will give Fea their own interpretations of the relationship between church, state and religion in the United States.
For the Civil War class, Fea will discuss interpretations of race, slavery, politics and the American Civil War.
“He is also a lively and engaging speaker,” Hammond said. “This will be a great, informative lecture for both students and the broader Alle-Kiski Valley community.”
Seating is limited in the Conference Center. Reservations are encouraged but not necessary. Guests will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 724-334-6032.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Author's Corner with Gary Scott Smith

Gary Smith is Chair and Professor of History at Grove City College. This interview is based on his new book, Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents (Oxford University Press, March 2015).

JF: What led you to write Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents?

GS: My book is a sequel to Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (Oxford, 2006). Both volumes, which analyze the religious convictions of eleven different presidents, were written because biographers and other scholars have paid scant attention to this important subject.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Religion in the Oval Office?

GS: My book explains how John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William McKinley, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all exhibited a deep and meaningful faith that shaped their world views and characters. It analyzes how their religious convictions strongly influenced their political philosophy, analysis of issues, decision-making, and performance in office.

JF: Why do we need to read Religion in the Oval Office?

GS: A complete understanding of their lives, actions, and administrations of these eleven interesting and influential chief executives is impossible without considering their personal religious convictions. For example, their religious commitments strongly affected John Quincy Adams’s efforts to fund roads, canals, and educational institutions and promote diplomacy; William McKinley’s decisions to declare war against Spain and take control of the Philippines; Herbert Hoover’s quests to reform prisons and defend civil liberties; Harry Truman’s approach to the Cold War and decision to recognize Israel; Bill Clinton’s promotion of religious liberty; Barack Obama’s policies on poverty and gay civil rights; and the crusades of several presidents to advance world peace. Moreover, their presidencies cannot be fully comprehended without analyzing the role religious factors and issues played in their elections to office or the relationship these chief executives had with religious leaders and constituencies. Many presidents have asserted that their faith in God helped them cope with immense challenges and gave them courage and equanimity in the midst of the storms that swirled around them. Several insisted that their faith grew stronger during their years in office. No other books explore these matters in depth.

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

GS: Although I became very interested in American history in junior high school, I did not decide to become an American historian until I was working on a M. Div. degree at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in my mid-twenties. At that point, I felt a call from God to pursue a Ph.D. in American religious history. That call was confirmed by an offer to work with Timothy L. Smith, one of the most respected scholars in this field, at Johns Hopkins University.

JF: What is your next project? 

GS: My wife and I are writing a book on children and poverty. It will be a popular rather than an academic book and will focuses on how Christians can help impoverished children around the world. We will discuss the problems of hunger, water, disease, violence, and human trafficking as well as child sponsorship, adoption, microfinance, parenting, and education. The book will focus on best practices and include interviews with practitioners and inspirational stories of people, businesses, churches, and aid organizations that are making a difference.

JF: Good stuff, thanks Gary!

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Charles Coil Lectures at Heritage Christian University

I am honored to be delivering the 6th Annual Charles Coil Colloquium at Heritage Christian University on Friday.  My topic will be "Religion and the American Founding."  If you live in the Muscle Shoals region feel free to stop by.  Here is some info:

On April 24, Overton Memorial Library will host the 6th annual Charles Coil Colloquium with Dr. John Fea. The topic will be “Religion and the American Founding.” Lectures will be at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Colloquium is free and open to the public.
Dr. John Fea is Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, PA). He is the author or editor of three books, and his essays and reviews have appeared in a variety of scholarly and popular venues. He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
The Colloquium is sponsored by Rusty and Dana Pettus and Friends of Overton Memorial Library. For more information, contact Librarian Jamie Cox at or 1.800.367.3565.
This project is supported by a grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I have never been to Heritage Christian University (a Church of Christ Bible college) or to the Shoals region, so I am definitely looking forward to it.

The Final Weeks of the New York Bible House

The American Bible Society has been located in New York City for 199 years.  It has been at the 1865 Broadway "Bible House" since 1966.  Here are some pics I took with my phone a couple of weeks ago on a day when the staff, many of whom will not be moving with the ABS to its new home in Philadelphia, were doing some clean-up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Virtual Office Hours: Spring 2015 - Episode 12

Messiah College : A New Kind of History Department
Featuring Messiah Student Jonathan Werthmuller

Be sure to check the Virtual Office Hours channel for the Spring 2015 Blooper Reel coming this week!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Why Should You Hire a History Major? Here are 30 Good Reasons

When my co-op advisor asked how my current job relates to my History degree, I didn’t know what to tell her. Not because the job doesn’t relate to my studies–it does. Almost everything does, if you ask me. On the transferable skill side, there is just so, so much.
As I sit at the tail end of my History and Communications double major, resume full of business-friendly internships and experiences, I can’t help but notice how underrated the History half of my education seems to be. It has helped me thrive in so many work worlds–from the public service, to high tech marketing, to education and tourism. It’s time we stopped overlooking the History degree.
Here are some of my favorites on her list of "30 Reasons It's Smart to Hire a History Student":
  • History students are experts at tracking trends. They know how people, strategies, and time-stamped statistics work (or don’t work)
  • When presented with a whole bunch of information, History students are trained to be able to quickly judge what is relevant, and why it is relevant.
  • History students need to pick up on the jargon, locations, and terms associated with different historical periods and disciplines.  If there’s unique lingo, acronyms, or language that your team/organization uses, they will be quick to understand and adopt it.
  • These kids know how to write.
  • Oh, and they know how to summarize. Throw them a hodgepodge of random information, and they’ll turn it into a concise, focused, and coherent package (hey, maybe they’ll even make you a list! Eh? Eh?)
  • They can recognize long term effects.…which means they can help develop long term solutions.
  • And they’re aware that the world changes constantly, so those solutions (and their attitudes) will likely stay flexible.
  • They know how to back up their points, and are champions of logical argumentation
  • Chances are they have an awareness of international relations and the history/culture of different countries. With our increasingly global economy, this shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • They know how to confirm data, to critically evaluate sources, and to filter out irrelevant information.
  • These are critically thinking storytellers. They can make almost anything look and feel interesting.
  • They are trained on how to observe human behavior. Like, say, a client or customer’s behavior.
Read the rest here.

The Author's Corner with William A. Mirola

William Mirola is Professor of Sociology and Presiding Officer of the faculty at Marian University. This interview is based on his new book, Redeeming Time: Protestantism and Chicago's Eight-Hour Movement (University of Illinois Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Redeeming Time: Protestantism and Chicago's Eight-Hour Movement?

WM: When I was in graduate school in the late 1980’s, I was very much engaged in a variety of social movement protest activities. I had grown up very active in my faith community. I was very interested in the intersections between the two areas of my life. As I read more in the sociology of religion and of social movement activism, I discovered that there was a broad literature debating the role of religion as both a facilitator and obstacle to social change movements, especially the American labor movement. Perhaps because, as a person of faith, I wanted to save religion from Marx’s “opiate of the masses” thesis, I was encouraged to examine the role of religion in the labor movement. The chair of my dissertation committee liked this idea and recommended looking at the post-civil war era because not as much attention was paid to this question in that time frame. So I did…and in reading the histories, the eight-hour day kept returning again and again as the central issue of the period and more interesting still was that the reduction of the hours of labor was being argued over as a moral and religious issue. And so the study began. After my dissertation was complete, it was clear that this historical analysis was unlike many of the others in the field and gave a critical perspective to understanding the role of religion in the labor movement and in social change generally. It was this last point that kept me motivated to see it to publication in its current form.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Redeeming Time?

WM: Redeeming Time examines the role of religion in the fight for the eight-hour workday in 19th Century Chicago. I highlight the challenges faced by factions of the labor movement in attempting to use religion as an ideological and practical weapon in its fights with employers and as a way to build coalitions with Protestant clergy to achieve shorter hours.

JF:Why do we need to read Protestantism and Redeeming Time?

WM: Redeeming Time challenges much of what we know about the role of religion in labor history by focusing its role as a strategic weapon in labor’s arsenal during the battles over shorter hours in the second half of the 19th century. By focusing on the rhetoric used by different factions of the labor movement, by Protestant clergy, and by employers, one can see the evolution in the thinking of these different sets of social actors regarding the religious nature of work and the workday over a fifty-year time span. It also sheds light on how the labor movement viewed the strategic utility of building coalitions with clergy to achieve industrial reform. For labor, religious rhetoric played a prominent role in framing the eight-hour day but eventually it is replaced by economic rhetoric which resonated more with employers. Clergy generally opposed shorter hours for workers, fearing an increase in vice, but overtime, responding the in intensification of class conflict, began to embrace shorter hours as a morally desirable industrial reform but unfortunately not before labor shifts its strategy away from the religious realm. So the story is one of two ships passing in the night. Redeeming Time takes a more critical approach than many other past studies or religion and labor by questioning the instrumental utility of religion in achieving practical industrial reform.

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

WM: In point of fact, I am sociologist. However, there is a part of me that has always loved history. I didn’t set out to craft an historical study in graduate school but in the late 1980s, the study of history enjoyed resurgence in sociological analysis and I was fortunate to work with faculty who embraced it. I always tell my students that there is no way to understand contemporary life without understanding the past and so history and sociology are both entwined. I believe that you can’t be a good historian without thinking sociologically and visa-versa.

JF: What is your next project?

WM: I continue to be interested in the role of religion in social movements, past and present although my research now is more contemporary and examines the intersection of religion and social class differences in the United States. I may return to the 19th Century at some point however since there is so much that I left uncovered regarding the intersection of religion and the American labor movement.

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

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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

An honest college rejection letter

Hartman on the culture wars

Jonathan White on the consequences of Lincoln's death for the South

Thomas Kidd reviews Rhys Bezzant, Jonathan Edwards and the Church

Pope Francis vs. the Devil

Jared Burkholder on Grant Wacker on Billy Graham at the Cushwa Center

George Boudreau: Let's name the Philadelphia airport after Ben Franklin

Do you know about Hathi Trust?

How those historical plaques get made

Don't forget to catch up on all things OAH at the History News Network

Ted Widmer on the man behind the "American Dream"

Remembering Lincoln: A digital collections of responses to his assassination

Salvation with a Smile

Have you listened to Ben Franklin's World yet?

Did mourning for Lincoln become a form of idolatry?

No desks at the OAH hotel?  That doesn't bother Historiann one bit.

Historians and Ebay

The historical profession and the school curriculum

An average academic journal article is read by ten people

Sunday (and a Saturday night) Tweets From OAH 2015

Here are my favorite tweets from the Sunday sessions at the OAH Annual Meeting St. Louis.  #oah2015.  You can find the tweets from Friday here and Saturday here.

Michael Limberg on Day 2 and Day 3 of the Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History

Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota
Michael Limberg, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut and a seasoned correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home (check out his posts from the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association), is in Minneapolis this week for the Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History.  Here is second and final post from the conference.   You can read his first post here.  --JF

It’s been a busy couple of days at the American Society for Church History Spring Meeting.  Between the graduate student reception and practicing for my presentation last night, I didn’t have a chance to write a post for Friday.  I won’t try to recap all the panels from the last two days, but here are a few notes on interesting developments from the panels and conference events.

Missions, race, and immigration have been recurring themes in the sessions I’ve attended.  Many of the papers on missions have been concerned with figuring out a new historiographic paradigm for missionary work, somewhere between celebrating missionaries as heroic figures and castigating them as exploitative agents of imperialism.  In every panel on overseas missions, the comments pushed for more inclusion of sources that would convey the voices of the missionized as well as the missionaries.  Papers in my panel by Andy Dibb and Andrew Russell took good steps in that direction by including voices from a series of revival movements in Africa and a Swedenborgian church movement started by black South Africans.  Many of the papers, ranging from early American topics to contemporary church movements, focused on how and why churches reached out to racial outsiders.  Phillip Gollner’s paper on Swedes participating in the anti-Mormon movement during the late 1800s and Mark Grandquist’s work on Lutheran churches in Minnesota working with African immigrants were two of a number of examples.  Immigration history was tied into that question.

A brown-bag lunch on Friday with Robert Ellison and Keith Francis introduced an expanding set of resources for pursuing sermon studies as a growing sub-field with the help of online databases.  (Marshall explains what the term and field include and accomplish here).  They argued for the importance of sermons as a way to understand events or trends in the larger society, but acknowledged the difficulty of sorting through the haystack of published sermons.  Ellison demonstrated the capacity of the searchable database with links to digitized sermons he will soon launch through the Marshall University’s Center for Sermon Studies.  Clearly this is a project that will require some crowdsourcing to begin to encompass all the possible sources, so look for the website to go live soon and look for a call to help expand the catalog.

James Laine’s plenary session on meta-religion and Christianity looked very interesting, but I skipped it in favor of a different kind of exercise in church history.  After my panel on Saturday morning, I heard about an ecumenical service for victims of the Armenian Genocide taking place at the St. Paul Cathedral.  I’ve been writing about the Armenian Genocide and the U.S. humanitarian response this spring as part of my dissertation, so I took the chance to go.  Archbishop Nienstedt  spoke, as did the leaders of a number of other Twin Cities denominations.  It was a moving service.   I got the chance to step back from my academic historian perspective and get a different look at this tragedy. The Cathedral is another of my favorite places to visit in the Twin Cities, so I took a few minutes to wander around and admire it again as well.

I won’t be attending the conference events today, so this marks the end of my first ASCH meeting.  I appreciated the welcome I received.  Getting to talk early twentieth century missions and religiously-influenced social movements with Christopher Schlect, Paul Putz and others gave me some new ideas for my research.  I also heard a little of some ongoing informal discussions about the future of ASCH.  The rapid rise of religious scholarship connected to other historical fields (such as the “religious turn” among foreign relations historians that helped bring me to this conference) means that ASCH is no longer as unique and might need to rethink its specific identity or mission.  However those discussions play out over the next months, I hope to attend another ASCH meeting soon.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Tweets from #OAH2015

As I mentioned yesterday, I am not at the OAH this year. But I am following the Twitter feed at #oah2015.  Here are some of today's favorites:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Jonathan Zimmerman on Writing Op-Eds

We've featured him before on this topic--here and here.  Good advice about writing op-eds.

My Favorite Friday Tweets From the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians

I am not in St. Louis this weekend attending the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, but I have been following the twitter feed #oah2015.  Here are the top tweets of the day:

Checking In With Michael Limberg From the Floor of the Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History

Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank--Minneapolis
Michael Limberg, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut and a seasoned correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home (check out his posts from the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association), is in Minneapolis this week for the Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History.   As you may recall, Michael is writing a dissertation on how U.S. philanthropists, missionaries, and diplomats worked to change and modernize the Near East in the decades following World War I.  He will be checking in a few times this weekend.  I hope you enjoy his first offering.  It is published below.  --JF

Hello from Minneapolis!  The Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History is in full swing.  This will be my first conference with ASCH, though I have enjoyed a few of their joint-sponsored sessions at previous American Historical Association conferences  I hope to run into a few people I know and meet many more.  I grew up in the Twin Cities, so I am taking full advantage of the chance to wander around Minneapolis again.  I took the new Green Line light rail across downtown this morning, passing by some of my favorite quirky buildings (including the Art Deco-era Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank) and the new football stadium that will replace the venerable Metrodome.  This looks to be a fairly small gathering compared to the annual meeting, with a strong emphasis on religious history in the Upper Midwest to complement the host city.  The Upper Midwest regional conference for the American Academy of Religion is taking place across town in St. Paul this weekend, which has apparently drawn off some possible attendees.  

Minneapolis: A View From Across the Mississippi
There was just one session yesterday afternoon, so I attended a panel on missions to Native Americans.  Marilyn Fardig Whiteley examined the life of Isabel Crawford, a Baptist missionary who worked among the Kiowa in the 1890s and early 1900s.  She argued that Crawford made an important transition to identify with the people she worked with, criticizing white Americans for their poor treatment of Native peoples.  Elizabeth A. Georgian focused on the example of Lorenzo Dow, a dissident itinerant preacher who broke with the Methodist church.  Unlike Francis Asbury and other early Methodist leaders who largely focused on white converts, Dow argued that God’s grace was clearly working among Native Americans and African Americans.  He thought that Native American converts could show whites the errors of Calvinism and universalism.  Finally, Do Hoon Kim compared conversion narratives from Praying Indians and Puritans in Massachusetts Bay colony.  The comments focused particularly on how new missions scholarship can work to get the perspective of the missionized as well as the missionary, and on the role of practice and ritual in conversion.

Today looks like a full day, with lots of panels and ending in a graduate student reception (because free food! Yay!)  I need to find some time to put a final touch or two on my paper for Saturday morning, on the YMCA in Jerusalem during the 1920s and 1930s.  The paper is based on some of my earliest dissertation research, done just a few minutes’ walk away at the University of Minnesota’s Anderson library.  I spent the morning there going over a few more boxes, so I need to put in a thank you to the archives staff there and a plug for the tour they are putting on (including a viewing of the archival “cavern” carved out of the Mississippi River bluff).  I look forward to the rest of the conference!

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.  Breaking News on the Christian College Front: Geneva College President Resigns
2.  The Human Side of the Liberal Arts
3.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--April 12, 2015
4.  Job Opening in Western Civ and World History
5.  Most Popular Posts of the Last Week--April 10, 2015
6.  The Author's Corner with Adam Wesley Dean
7.  Dispatches from the History Major: The Benefits of Jousting
8.  Virtual Office Hours: Spring 2015--Episode 11
9.  One Year, Full Time Position in Western Civilization and World Civilization at Messiah College
10. The New Republic: Hillary Should Choose Obama as Her Running Mate

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Author's Corner with Thomas Carter

Tom Carter is Professor of Architectural History at the University of Utah. This interview is based on his new book, Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement (University of Minnesota Press, March 2015).

JF: What led you to write Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement?

TC: It began back in the 1970s. I was finishing up at Indiana University’s Folklore Institute and needed a dissertation topic. Mormon folk housing seemed a likely target—no serious study existed and it seemed like a wide open field even for a Presbyterian. At first, especially since I was living in Indiana, I thought to work on Nauvoo. The more I looked into it, however, it became apparent that nothing had been done in Utah either. I chose the Sanpete Valley to study because of its abundant number of old houses, and luckily was to get a survey job with the Utah State Historical Society as a way of funding much of the early fieldwork. After the dissertation, I realized that what I needed to do was to include the whole of the Sanpete built environment in the study, since leaving the temple out of any kind of Mormon architecture study was preposterous. It took a long time to figure it all out, but the book is both handsome and provocation; it should make folks rethink the way they have view early Mormon history and culture. At least, that is my intention, and hope.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Building Zion?

TC: The book’s central thesis is that during the years before 1890 the Saints slowly and probably unselfconsciously retooled their material world from a radical apocalyptic to a more normative republican one. Two dates are pivotal in this transformation, 1841, when the Law of Consecration and Stewardship was abandoned in favor of the “lesser” law of tithing, and 1871, when the site for the St.George Temple was shifted from the central square to a location outside town, a move followed in all subsequent temples and one which effectively created both sacred (temple) and secular (town) zones.

JF: Why do we need to read Building Zion​​​​?

TC: Because it’s funny? Well no, not really, though I do think it’s very readable. Everyone should read it because it’s the first systematic study of the Mormon City of Zion, and it argues for a fundamental rethinking of the whole history of the church in the years before 1890.

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

TC: I probably became a historian back in 1960. I was 11 and asthmatic and it was the centennial of the Civil War. There were all these histories coming out, many very accessible to youngsters like me, and my mother got me into reading them. I was hooked on history, and also became a devoted pacifist. Who could read these stuff and not be horrified. Such stupidity.

JF: What is your next project?

TC: I am finishing a detail history of the architecture of early cattle ranching in northeastern Elko County, Nevada. This area is home to the region’s oldest ranches, and also where my family is from. It’s called Sagebrush Cities: The Cultural Landscape of …. I hope to have it done by this time next year. Now that I’m retired, it’s easier to find time to write.

JF: Sounds exciting, thanks Tom!

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Job Opening in Western Civ and World History

The job ad has been posted.  We hope to find someone soon and we are accepting applications immediately.   It is likely we will offer the position to one of the first suitable applicants.  We will interview via Skype--no campus visit.

Click here for the official ad.

The application process is through the Messiah College Human Resources Office, but if you have questions or you are interested don't hesitate to contact me. jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu

Image of the Day

Any suggestions for writers elbow? (And yes, that is a pillow taped to my arm).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Breaking News on the Christian College Front: Geneva College President Resigns

BEAVER FALLS -- Geneva College President Kenneth A. Smith is resigning, effective June 30, the college announced Tuesday.

"We're going to miss him here, obviously," college spokeswoman Cheryl Johston said.
Smith has been president of the Beaver Falls-based college for 11 years.
He's leaving to become dean of the McLane College of Business at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, Johnston said.
William Edgar will serve as interim president until a replacement is named. Edgar is past chairman of the college's board of trustees.
What this article does not say is that Smith was no friend of the liberal arts at Geneva. The liberal arts and humanities suffered greatly under Smith's leadership. Perhaps a new president will restore the over-150 year-old Christian liberal arts tradition of this western Pennsylvania college. 
By the way, I think it is fair to say that the problems with the liberal arts at Geneva was the subtext of Eric Miller's recent piece in the Harrisburg Patriot-News.  Read our coverage of that piece here.

The New Republic: Hillary Should Chose Obama as Her Running Mate

Hillary and Barack, in younger days
It is apparently constitutional.  Here is a taste of Brian Buetler's piece:

There are three sections of the Constitution that prescribe limits on who can be president and vice president: Article II, the Twelfth Amendment and the Twenty-Second Amendment. While the former two limit who is “eligible” to serve—natural born citizens, 35 or older—the Twenty-Second Amendment begins “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.”
Whether its adopters intended it or not, the plain language of the Twenty-Second amendment doesn’t prohibit a former two-term president from succeeding a sitting president and serving out the remainder of her term. It merely prohibits him from running for a third. By using the term “elected” instead of “eligible,” its authors created a loophole large enough for a Clinton-Obama ticket to coast to victory through.
It will not happen, but it is fun to think about.  Hillary wants to establish her own legacy apart from Obama and Obama has too big of an ego to play second fiddle.  But if it did happen it would sure be fun to watch and, as Buetler notes, it would certainly shore-up Hillary's support among African-American voters.  It would probably be just as much fun as if Al Gore challenged Hillary for the Democratic nomination.  Hey what the heck, how about Bill Clinton as Hillary's running mate?  Or a Bush-Bush ticket? 

Virtual Office Hours: Spring 2015 - Episode 11

Messiah College : A New Kind of History Department
Featuring Director of Messiah College Career and Professional Development Center
Christina Hanson

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dispatches from the History Major: "The Benefits of Jousting"

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

I had never met these strangers before. We were a mixed group of four students and four adults, and the eight of us did our best to keep the awkward silence at bay by introducing ourselves. It was my turn. After I said my piece, the middle-aged women sitting across the dinner table began the attack: “Ahh, you’re a history major, huh? Interesting….” I sighed and started mentally preparing myself for the verbal joust I knew would follow. “So, what will you do with your history major?” she interrogated.

I started my charge, “Oh, I plan on translating in the future. I’ve studied both Latin and French at Messiah College, and I’m studying abroad in Paris next semester. When I come back I’ll be bilingual and have a minor in French language.”

She lowered and aimed her lance, “Mmm. I see. But where does the history major come in to play? I don’t see the connection.”

I hesitated. Wasn’t it obvious? When I study a primary source I have to understand what it’s trying to convey. I have to explicitly listen (understand what the author is saying) and implicitly listen (understand the genre of the source, the bias of the author, and any cultural references which could confuse the chronologically and socially removed modern reader).

Then I have to write about what the source tells me. I analyze pieces of a foreign past, construct an argument, and present that argument to an audience who may be completely unfamiliar with this part of the past. Isn’t this sort of listening, people reading, and interpreting exactly what translators do every day?

I wasn’t quick enough on my horse, and these weren’t the words that came out of my mouth. Instead, I half-confidently muttered something about the connection between history and people, and how studying history helps me to better understand the human condition.

She politely smiled, nodded her head, and changed the subject. I fell off of my figurative horse into the mud and cursed myself for letting such a great opportunity to defend my discipline slip away.

If I were a STEM major, I could avoid the work, frustration, and self-reflection these jousts cause. But even though they can sometimes feel defeating and shameful, I’m glad I have to participate in these jousts. Instead of coasting through my college career due to guaranteed job-security, I have to constantly think of new ways to combat the popular stigma that history majors can only be teachers, librarians, or hobos once they graduate.

This constant tension helps me to develop the creativity and conviction I know will be necessary to convince future employers that my historical skills are valuable assets. This constant tension helped me to come up with a better answer for the next time someone asks me how history relates to translating.

I look forward to my next battle, because jousting is teaching me how to be a better salesmen as well as a better historian.

The Author's Corner with Adam Wesley Dean

Adam Dean is Assistant Professor of history at Lynchburg College. This interview is based on his new book, An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era (University of North Carolina Press, December 2014).

JF: What led you to write An Agrarian Republic?

AD: The project began in a legal history class I took during graduate school at the University of Virginia. Like many graduate students, I was trying to figure out a dissertation project during my third year in the Ph.D. program. Professor Charles McCurdy, now retired, suggested I examine an 1872 court case entitled Hutchings v. Low for a seminar paper. The case, which involved the very survival of Yosemite as a nature park, opened up a whole new world that I needed to explore.

The main opponent of Yosemite, George W. Julian, was a Radical Republican from Indiana. Julian was concerned that state and national parks threatened land rights for small farmers in the West. I discovered that many northerners during the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s believed that small farms provided for the best land use practices and helped create the ideal society. Their vision of the future for both the South and the West was fundamentally agrarian. This story differed from the tired cliché repeated ad nauseam about the Civil War--that it was a conflict between an "industrial" North and an "agrarian" South. After all, farmers comprised roughly sixty percent of the population in the free states in 1860. 

I wrote the book to not only show that the North was agrarian, but also to demonstrate how northerners' backgrounds as farmers shaped their views towards politics, land-use, and slavery. 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of An Agrarian Republic?

AD: The Republican Party of the Civil War era believed that small farm ownership for multiple generations led to material prosperity, national loyalty, and physical beauty. Understanding 19th-century Republicans as small farmers helps explain their opposition to slavery in the West, wartime Union policy, the opposition to nature parks, and the land redistribution schemes of Reconstruction. 

JF: Why do we need to read An Agrarian Republic?

AD: Historians cannot hope to understand the debate over slavery in the West, soldier's reactions to plantation agriculture, and the early opposition to Yosemite and Yellowstone without understanding the agrarian world that the Republican Party grew out of.
I believe that the Republican Party also had new ideas about land use in American history. When I started An Agrarian Republic, I was tempted to label the Republican promotion of small farms as an extension of Thomas Jefferson's agrarianism. Unlike Jefferson, however, Republicans believed that slavery destroyed the land. This misuse of nature, they believed, created an autocratic and aristocratic society. 

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

AD: Wow, what a difficult question! I became interested in U.S. History in high school thanks to some particularly engaging teachers. Growing up in Utah, however, the Civil War was never really on the radar. When I attended college at UCLA, I planned on becoming a lawyer. Dr. Joan Waugh, who is the Civil War and 19th-century expert in the UCLA history department, convinced me it was possible to become a history professor. I decided to apply to Ph.D. programs during my final year of study at UCLA. I was admitted to the University of Virginia and had the honor to serve as Dr. Gary W. Gallagher's advisee and to work with Drs. Michael F. Holt, Edward L. Ayers, Brian Balogh, Peter Onuf, and Edmund P. Russell. 

JF: What is your next project?

AD: My next book will focus on the role of non-elite southern whites during Reconstruction. The working title is "White Trash and Oppressed Yeomen: How Impressions of Non-Slaveholding Whites Shaped Republican Policy." While many historians, including Heather Cox Richardson, Eric Foner, William Gienapp, Michael Les Benedict, Eugene Berwanger, Jonathan Earle, William Freehling, Mark Lause, and myself have examined the origins of the Republican Party and its policies, few have explored the party's attitudes towards non-slaveholding southern whites. 

By contrast, I intend to study Republican perceptions of non-slaveholding southern whites from the party's inception in 1854 through the end of Reconstruction. From the early days of the party through the end of Reconstruction, Republicans viewed non-slaveholding whites as decrepit and ignorant because slaveholders prevented the poorer classes in southern society from achieving material progress. Republican views on non-slaveholding whites were key to the construction of the party's most powerful message in the 1850s--the existence and malevolence of the "slave power." These impressions also informed Republican behavior during the secession crisis and opening years of the Civil War. Fordham University Press awarded this book project a contract in July 2014. It should be out in late 2016.

JF: Looking forward to reading it! Thanks Adam.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

 A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Anne Deavere Smith's Jefferson Lecture

Writing wisdom

David Brooks

Putz on Nebraska

Michael Roth on Matthew Crawford

Martha Hodes on the death of Lincoln

Land Grabs in U.S. history

Saving the liberal arts

The lowly 76ers

Gary Scott Smith on the faith of Bill Clinton

More on Christian nationalism

Reflections of a Cornell history major

Some thoughts on how to promote your book

Reinhold Niebuhr makes The Library of America

Academic freedom at Princeton

Historiann on the influence of 1976 on the study of 1776

Is the Civil War over?

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Human Side of the Liberal Arts

Franklin's Junto
For many college students, liberal arts courses are the courses that they need to "get out of the way" in order to get on to the important courses in their professional-oriented major--business, education, engineering, nursing, etc...  For administrators and the gurus of higher education who write for the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed, the liberal arts are just another piece of the curriculum--something that needs to be delivered as part of a complete college education.

But in the past few weeks--really in the past few days--I have been reminded that the liberal arts, and especially the humanities, are about people engaging ideas in community.  The questions about the meaning of life raised by the study of the liberal arts are often asked in the context of friendship, sociability, and conversation.  The liberal arts are about human beings.  And they are best cultivated by human beings in relationship with other human beings. 

Here are three real-life examples:

1,  This semester I am teaching a course on Pennsylvania history.  A couple of weeks ago I introduced my students to Benjamin Franklin's Junto--a society of artisans and tradesmen who gathered together in Philadelphia for the mutual improvement of its members.  The Junto members sharpened their intellect and sense of civic responsibility through discussions of the major issues facing Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and British provincial society.  

As I often do when talking about the Junto, I got on my soapbox for a few minutes and challenged my students to form their own Juntos--to gather together in their dorms or over a meal together in the college dining hall, to discuss the things that matter, the so-called "first things." These kinds of regular conversations, coupled with formal college coursework, just might result in an education.

2.  This week I had the honor of serving as an outside reader on a doctoral dissertation defense in early American history.  I was not able to be present for the defense, so I spent most of the two-hour session with the phone on my ear until I was given my fifteen-minute opportunity to grill the candidate.  The next-to-last person to question the candidate was the professor who served as the candidate's doctoral adviser. She began her comments by saying that it was a privilege  to work with this young historian. After spending so many years working closely with this doctoral student, conversing about history and other things that matter, and developing a friendship with the student, the adviser seemed sad to see it all come to an end.  She described her work with this student as one of the highlights of her life. As I sat quietly on the end of the phone, I found myself deeply moved by these remarks.  It was clear to me that the adviser's relationship with the student--a friendship forged over the ideas that stemmed from their high-level engagement together with the past--should serve as a model for the transformative power of the liberal arts when practiced in community with others.

3.  This morning I read an op-ed in my local newspaper by my friend Eric Miller, a history professor at Geneva College.  The piece is a moving reflection on the life of Eric's friend and Geneva colleague Howard Mattson-Boze, who recently passed a way.  Here is a taste of that piece:

In the liberal arts Howard was a master.  He knew the lineage that had formed him so finely, and delighted in it. 

A conversation with Howard took one from ancient Athens through medieval Paris to nineteenth century London in ten minutes flat. He dipped into Kierkegaard in the spirit of a boy playing baseball in spring. 

As he spoke, whether across the table or behind a lectern, his eyes gleamed with contagious purpose.

When he died this past January many former students remembered the discussions he and his wife hosted through the years, evenings spent on "the deep questions of life," as one, now himself a professor, put it. 

Howard taught, in the words of another, "the classical liberal ideas that we live by today."

This was simply what college was for, to Howard. More particularly, it was what he thought our college was for, despite countervailing winds. The ideals that spark our way do not live by books alone, he knew, but through people--people living in places structured for their preservation and advance. 

Howard believed that without generosity of mind and depth of spirit this world is a harsher place. About the ideas themselves, about their truth, we might--we will--disagree. 

But apart from a foundation of respect for ideas and their centrality in our lives, all debates about their worth, and about the world itself, move from incivility to hostility to worse. And the great hope of liberal society, of a place where we live together in honor of the dignity of life, fades like fall. 

The liberal arts aren't the only pathway toward our highest ends, to be sure.  But they have aided decisively all pathways we've ever known, keeping them clear, straight, and manifest. 

The darkness many of us feel today, in an age marked by so vicious and spurious a form of "realism," may in part be the fruit of the liberal arts fading among us, leaving us, inevitably, less free.

I know what counsel Howard would offer.  He would urge deep, costly institutional commitments to preserve and prosper liberal learning. 

Do we have the will to heed it?  

The liberal arts are about people.