Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Bank robbery in Detroit

Pope Francis on the Culture of Waste

An excerpt from his book The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church posted at the Washington Post "On Faith" blog.

It is no longer the person who commands, but money, money, cash commands. And God our Father gave us the task of protecting the earth — not for money, but for ourselves, for men and women. We have this task!
ChurchOfMercy_TheNevertheless men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the “culture of waste.” If a computer breaks, it is a tragedy; but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people, end up being considered normal. If on a winter’s night — here on the Via Ottaviano, for example — someone dies, that is not news. If there are children in so many parts of the world who have nothing to eat, that is not news; it seems normal. It cannot be so! And yet these things enter into normality: that some homeless people should freeze to death on the street — this doesn’t make news.
On the contrary, when the stock market drops ten points in some cities, it constitutes a tragedy. Someone who dies is not news, but lowering income by ten points is a tragedy! In this way people are thrown aside as if they were trash.
This “culture of waste” tends to become a common mentality that infects everyone. Human life, the person, is no longer seen as a primary value to be respected and safeguarded, especially if that person is poor or disabled or not yet useful, like the unborn child, or is no longer of any use, like the elderly person. This culture of waste has also made us insensitive to wasting and throwing out excess foodstuffs, which is especially condemnable when, in every part of the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families suffer hunger and malnutrition.

How Could Washington Be a Married Man (And Never Tell A Lie)?


  • Recording Title

    How could Washington be a married man (and never tell a lie), 1916
  • Composer

  • Conductor

  • Lyricist

  • Tenor vocal

  • Genre(s)

    Humorous songs
  • Category

  • Description

    Male vocal solo, with orchestra
  • Language

  • Label Name/Number

    Victor 18192
  • Matrix Number/Take Number

  • Recording Date

  • Place of Recording

    Camden, New Jersey
  • Size

  • Duration

HT: Keith Beutler via Facebook

Clothing of the Future


From British Pathe

Shirtless Philosophy From Under the Covers

Slavoj Zizek explains the purpose of the philosophy.  Unbelievable!  It took me a few minutes to stop laughing.  (OK--I haven't stopped yet).

Here is the article that attempst to explain what is going on in this video.  

"Is There Room in Heaven for Those Who Work in Hell?"

In a previous post I mentioned that we are studying Gettysburg this week in my Pennsylvania History class.  I should have added that my students are reading about the Anthracite coal industry this week in preparation for next week's classes.  With this in mind, one of my students brought Beatrice Ferreira's folk song "Breaker" to my attention.  It was "written in conjunction with PA anthracite mining research. In memory of the Lattimer Massacre, near Hazleton, Pa, 1897." (Thanks, Joel)  Take a listen here:

Three Cheers for Frank Bruni and Focus on the Family

Frank Bruni
Frank Bruni has been using his New York Times op-ed column to defend the institution of the family. Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic does not seem to like it one bit.  In fact, he has even compared Bruni's recent columns to rhetoric found at the "right wing religious group" Focus on the Family.  In order to be cute, Chotiner lists eight statements about the family and asks his readers which ones came from Bruni and which ones came from the Focus website.  (Did I mention that Chotiner calls Focus a "right wing religious group?").  Please notice that these statements have nothing to do with abortion, gay rights, the "traditional family," or anything else that might be construed as culture war rhetoric.

Here are the statements:

1. "A family can pass its painstakingly nurtured closeness down through the generations."
2. "Busyness can make it difficult for parents to savor life's ordinary moments. But it is precisely those moments that your children will treasure forever."
3. "Grandpa took Leslie to a Waffle House on the first day of their drive and then again on the second. They share, along with genes, an affinity for breakfast foods and carbohydrates.They don’t share musical tastes, so for most of their trip, they left the radio off and just talked, treating the highway as memory lane."
4. "Your daughter mentions her 10th birthday. You assume she will rave about the beautiful cake and Sparkles' funny balloon animals, but instead she recalls how much fun it was to ride in the van with you to pick up doughnuts for breakfast." 
5. "Carve out space for family no matter what...put relatives at the head of the line....find gestures large and small."
6. "Not all happy families are alike. But all happy families...have this in common: Their bond is forged not by accident but by intent."
7. "Most children find just as much, or even more, joy in the little things as they do in life's big events."
8. "Everyday interactions may be more meaningful than many parents realize."
Answers: Bruni is 1, 3, 5, and 6

At face value Chotiner's post can be read as little more than an interesting observation or comparison. But we all know that this was not what he had in mind.  For example, Chotiner compares Bruni's writing about the family to "Hallmark Cards."  He also uses the ellipsis for effect, as in: "Bruni wrote a piece entirely about the value of...yes, family."  This sentence reeks with sarcasm about Bruni's choice of topic.  And his use of the phrase "rightwing religious group founded by James Dobson" is sure to raise some hair on the necks of New Republic readers.

The most disturbing thing about this post is that Chotiner's world view is so narrow that he does not seem able to admit that an organization like Focus on the Family could have anything positive to say about the place of the family in American life.  Moreover, he is so embedded in a culture-war narrative that he just assumes his readers will scoff at Bruni in light of the mere mention of James Dobson. 

Now I do not agree with everything Focus on the Family teaches about the family.  I have also been critical of Dobson for his decision to refocus his ministry toward politics. But I think most liberals and conservatives would agree with the eight principles listed above, whether they were written by Focus on the Family or a New York Times columnist.  Some things that are just human.  And it is foolish to politicize them.

Today's Tea Party History Lesson

Today's lesson comes from Marilinda Garcia, a Tea Party candidate for Congress from New Hampshire:

When she said that the United States "experiment in collectivism died before the country was founded" I thought she was going to reference the Plymouth Colony. She didn't go there.  Instead she referenced Jamestown.  Oh boy!

A few comments:

The people of Jamestown did not starve to death because they lacked private property.  They starved to death from disease and because they did not grow food.  They were so busy trying to strike it rich in the mercantile economy by growing exotic crops like silk and dates that they did not grow anything to eat. 

Moreover, if the move toward private property (I am assuming that Garcia is making some vague reference to the Headright System here) brought economic success to the colony, such success was based on the ability of some colonists to get rich on tobacco.  And in order to get rich on tobacco, one needed a lot of servants and slaves.

So here is my revision to Garcia's history lesson:  the "defining characteristic of America was born" in Jamestown.  All those "innate" geniuses created an American dream for themselves by "experimenting" with indentured servanthood and later slavery.  I think a famous historian once wrote a book about this called American Slavery-American Freedom.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Gettysburg: Memory, Market, Shrine

It is Gettysburg week in my Pennsylvania History course.  I am devoting class on Tuesday and Thursday to the story and commemoration of the battle.  I spent a good chunk of the day yesterday with Jim Weeks's Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and An American Shrine.  I can't say enough good things about this book.  Weeks was a Pennsylvania historian who left us too early.  (He passed away in 2005).

Weeks makes five major arguments about post-1863 Gettysburg:

1.  Gettysburg did not become a "shrine by popular will."  It was promoted that way.

2.  Gettysburg was never at odds with the marketplace.

3.  African Americans have "ignored Gettysburg" because they had never been part of the commemoration

4.  The idea that some features of Gettysburg (avenues and monuments) "transcended" the marketplace while others (observation towers and trolleys) "desacralized" the site is not true.

5.  The present-era at Gettysburg, defined by "heritage" and "authenticity," is merely "the latest in a series of transformations driven by cultural, economic, and social change...."

We All Like Ike: Eisenhower Comes to England


From British Pathe

Virtual Office Hours: How to be a Public Scholar - Episode 7


The Author's Corner with Randall Balmer

Randall Balmer is Mandel Family Professor in the Arts & Sciences and Chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College. This interview is based on his forthcoming book, Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter (Basic Books, May 2014).

JF: What led you to write Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter?

RB: I was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Deerfield, when Jimmy Carter emerged onto the national stage. Like many evangelicals, especially those reared within the evangelical subculture, I was astonished to hear a politician speak unapologetically about being a “born again” Christian. It was a bracing moment, especially for someone who was considering a bid for elective office someday (I actually ran for a seat in the Connecticut legislature in 2004). Mark Hatfield was a hero of mine, of course, especially because of his advocacy for progressive evangelicalism, and I served as an intern for John B. Anderson and the House Republican Conference in 1975. But Carter’s boldness about his faith made a deep impression on me.

It’s axiomatic among historians that history is written by victors, but I’ve always been drawn to the underside of those triumphalist narratives. My first book was an account of the Dutch Reformed Church in the decades following the English Conquest of New Netherland in 1664, and when I first started writing about evangelicalism, evangelicals were hardly culturally ascendant, although they were beginning to make a bid for cultural and political power.

Jimmy Carter, following his bruising political defeat in 1980, is not generally seen as a victor, although his activities since leaving the White House have burnished his reputation considerably. But I’ve always been drawn to his story, replete as it is with the evangelical tropes of striving, success, failure, and redemption. In purely historical terms, the narrative is quite remarkable—coming out of political obscurity to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency in 1976 with his grassroots campaign. In doing so, by the way, he rid his party—and the nation—of its most notorious segregationist, George C. Wallace of Alabama, by beating Wallace in the Florida Democratic primary. I don’t think that Carter has ever received sufficient credit for that.

I’d been batting about the idea for a biography of Carter for several decades, but I always found reasons to delay, in part because I didn’t have an angle on the project. I did research at the Carter Center and the presidential libraries of Reagan and Ford. I also did archival work at Liberty University and Bob Jones University, but the most important work I did was in Paul Weyrich’s papers, which (improbably enough) are held at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. My findings there allowed me, finally, to demonstrate beyond all doubt that the genesis of the Religious Right had nothing to do with the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

Even with all of this research, the book itself remained elusive. I remember that I sat down at Thanksgiving 2012 and considered seriously the possibility of abandoning the project altogether. After a bit more dithering, I simply started writing; an entire draft emerged about six weeks later. Writing is how I think.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter?

RB: Redeemer argues that Jimmy Carter rode to the presidency on the twin currents of his reputation as a “New South” governor and a brief recrudescence of progressive evangelicalism as articulated in the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern. As president, he sought to govern by those lights—and was, to a remarkable degree, successful in doing so—although many of the same evangelicals who supported him in 1976 turned rabidly against him four years later.

JF: Why do we need to read Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter?

RB: Redeemer is the first biography of the thirty-ninth president of the United States to take his faith seriously as a way of understanding Carter and the religiously turbulent times in which he lived.

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

RB: The short answer is that I was profoundly influenced by two historians at Trinity College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: Douglas Frank and John D. Woodbridge, respectively, both of who remain friends to this day. For the longer answer, I’d have to take you along on automobile trips we took as a family when I was growing up as a preacher’s kid. My father, a pastor for forty years in the Evangelical Free Church, would plan our vacations around the denomination’s annual conference at different venues throughout North America. In mid-June every summer, we would pile into the family sedan (my father despised station wagons) and head off from southern Minnesota to Denver or Wisconsin or from Bay City, Michigan, to Ocean Grove, New Jersey, for the annual conference. In 1970, I recall, the sedan carried my parents and all five sons, pulling a travel trailer from Des Moines across the Rockies to Seattle and back. I loved those trips. I would look out the window and watch the landscape scrolling by hour after hour. I became enchanted with America and all of its regional diversity.

JF: What is your next project?

RB: Twenty-five years ago, I published a book entitled Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. This summer (2014), Oxford University Press will release the fifth edition of that book, with a new chapter (Latino evangelicals) and an afterword that provides an update on many of the people and the places I wrote about in the previous editions. Beyond that, I’m planning to collaborate with my son, Christian, on a film documentary about Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska. Finally, my wife, the estimable Catharine Randall, and I are working on a biography of a fascinating turn-of-the-twentieth-century Canadian woman who was a spiritualist, a journalist, a labor organizer, a women’s rights activist, an entrepreneur, an environmentalist, and a fan of Walt Whitman.

JF: Thanks Randall!

Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author's Corner

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Dude Ranch in the Middle of Sussex, England


From British Pathe videos

Lecture at Lancaster.Org

Yesterday I drove down to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a lecture at LancasterHistory.Orgthe product of a merger between two historical organizations in Lancaster: The Lancaster Historical Society and the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland.  As I have written before, LancasterHistory.org has taken the name of a web domain and thus has a significant online presence, but the organization is housed in a new and very impressive building with a lecture hall, exhibits, a museum store, and a research library.

I am guessing that about sixty or seventy people came out for a late afternoon lecture on a beautiful central Pennsylvania Holy/Maundy Thursday.  I cut back on my standard "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" talk in order to leave more time for questions from the audience.  We had an interesting conversation about Jefferson's prediction that religion would eventually disappear from American life, the words "In God We Trust" on currency, how to define "Christian Nation," and the Treaty of Tripoli.  I even met a former student.  Sarah Huber took my United States survey course seven or eight years ago when she was a student at Messiah.  It was good to touch base.  I also met Jack Fischel, a retired Jewish Studies professor who teaches a course on the Holocaust at Messiah.

I have never had my speaking style described as "evangelical" before, but that was the word President and CEO Tom Ryan used to describe the lecture.  I am not sure what to make of this.

Thanks to Tom and Felice Ethun (Director of Education and Public Programming) for the invitation to speak.

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. Gina Barecca on Sloth
2. The Department Chair as Admission Counselor and the Fate of the Humanities On Our Campuses
3. Why Reading Matters
4. Coca-Cola Executive: Liberal Arts is Best Preparation for Business Careers
5. Kathryn Lofton on Secularization
6. Sunday Night Odds and Ends--April 13, 2014
7. Storifying the OAH 2014 Panel on the Legacy of Edmund Morgan
8. Reflections on "The State of the Field: The Trans-Atlantic Enlightenment"
9. Storify: "Is Blogging Scholarship?"
10. A Few Thoughts on OAH Panel "Is Blogging Scholarship"

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Black Law School Students Challenge the Legacy of Robert E. Lee at Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
A group of African-American law students at Washington and Lee University in Virginia have asked the university to confront its racist past. Here is a taste from an article in Inside Higher Ed:

Black law students at Washington and Lee University, under a new group called "The Committee," have asked Washington and Lee University to take a series of steps to address "the racist and dishonorable conduct of Robert E. Lee." Lee served as president of the university after the Civil War, and has historically been revered at the institution. The Committee is calling on the university to observe the Martin Luther King Day as a formal day off, to stop allowing "neo-confederates to march on campus with Confederate flags on Lee-Jackson day," and to formally apologize "for the university's participation in chattel slavery" and "Robert E. Lee's participation in slavery."
A statement from the university noted that it does hold events to mark Martin Luther King Day every year, and that a decision to call off classes would have to be made by the faculty. The statement does not go into a detailed response on the other demands, but says that the university welcomes discussion on these issues and that "in terms of the other issues that the students have raised, we will give them all careful consideration."

“Hawaiian Border Crossings: Capital, Commodities, and Bodies” at the 2014 OAH

Here is another OAH 2014 report from our correspondent Charles McCrary.  Check out his previous (and very popular) post on secularization here. --JF

On Saturday morning at OAH I saw an excellent panel on Hawaiian history. The collection of three papers, each from a PhD student presenting dissertation research, focused on capitalism, material culture, environmental history, bodies, and the intersections among these. I will provide a brief summary of the session, and, though I won’t be able to do justice to the quality of the papers, I hope to alert readers to some of the exciting new work in the burgeoning field of Pacific history.

Gregory Rosenthal presented a paper, drawn from his SUNY–Stony Brook dissertation, on contestations over Chinese and native Hawaiian workers’ bodies on Hawaiian sugar plantations. Chinese workers started to arrive in Hawai’i in 1852, as native Hawaiian labor was beginning to decline along with the downturn in previously lucrative markets like fur seal hunting, guano mining, and whaling. The islands were turning to sugar plantations. Americans on Hawai‘i, such as the leaders of The Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society (RHAS), debated the pros and cons of Hawaiian and Chinese bodies’ labor. Hawaiians were, in the RHAS’s view, “amphibious beings,” not well suited for work in the cane fields and harder to coerce than the Chinese. The Chinese, though, were more expensive to feed, since they preferred to eat rice, which was expensive to import. In this environment, where everyone was comparing Chinese and Hawaiian workers—including the workers themselves, who competed and conflicted with each other—bodies were racialized according to their “natural” proclivities as well as hairstyles, clothes, and food preferences.

Furthering the discussion of food and drink consumption, Hi‘ilei Hobart, a PhD student in the food studies program at NYU, used ice as a lens through which to understand colonialism, capitalism, and racialization. Ice, Hobart demonstrated, was a “tool for empire-building.” Prior to the 1860s, though, efforts to import it had been infrequent and mostly unsuccessful. Advertisements, many of which focused on all the wonderful chilled cocktails now available, catered to Anglo-Americans understandings of themselves as refined, racializing non-white bodies, which apparently did not need ice. After all, they hadn’t asked for it. Although, neither had Anglo-Americans until recently. In this way, the “need” for ice in Hawai‘i was created in order to differentiate Anglo-Americans from those they wanted to distance as racially other.

Lawrence Kessler presented research on the sugarcane economy from 1835 to 1875. Like Rosenthal, he discussed the RHAS, though Kessler focused on the changes taking place in Hawaiian missionary culture at the society’s founding in 1851. Traditionally, the missionaries to Hawai‘i, most of them associated with the ABCFM, had discouraged growing sugar, since the primary way to make it a profitable export was to distill it into rum. Engaging in the rum trade would be immoral, and rum consumption on the islands would promote vice. However, over time some softened their anti-sugar stance and started growing it in small quantities for consumption. As Hawaiian exports were drying up with the decline of whaling and other industries, Americans in Hawai‘i started allowing and even promoting sugar planting. What emerged, according to Kessler, was a sort of hybridized plantation system. Missionaries and their families used sugar plantations to instill American Protestant virtues and an agrarian work ethic, but substituted the capitalist system of wage labor for the more traditional understanding of landed agrarianism and commodity-based economies.

As Jennifer Newell indicated in her response to the papers, the panel suggested intriguing new ways forward for discussing the intersections between environmental history and the history of global capitalism. In the second half of the nineteenth century the Hawaiian Islands underwent a transition from an extractive economy to an export economy. This transition had global implications. During the discussion Rosenthal pointed out that a focus on Hawai‘i allows us to see the flows of capital, commodities, and people that “globalized” capitalist economies. The California Gold Rush, coal mining in Pennsylvania, political unrest in the Spanish empire, the sea otter population in the North Pacific—all of these events were global realities, and all factor into Hawaiian history. As more cultural historians pay attention to economic and environmental history, they should look to some of the exciting and generative work being done in Pacific histories as an apt model. 

The Department Chair as Admission Counselor and the Fate of the Humanities On Our Campuses

I learned yesterday that two honors students have committed to Messiah College to study history.  This news made my day. I have been courting these students for a few months now.  I know their names. I have met their families. I even know their favorite historical era.

As humanities enrollments decline across the country it has become necessary for department chairs and other faculty members at colleges like Messiah to get  more involved in the admissions process.  The days of leaving recruitment solely in the hands of the college admissions staff are over. Departments like ours need to make a compelling case to prospective students and their parents about the value of a history degree.  We at Messiah College have done well on this front.  We have thought hard and long about what our students can do with a history major after graduation. We have developed a career plan that begins with a first-year "Introduction to History" course heavily focused on career development.  I have also devoted an entire chapter of my Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past to the question "What Can You Do With a History Major?"  (This year we began giving a copy of this book to some of our prospective students and it appears to have paid off in the form of a modest increase in the number of incoming history majors). We have developed a new Public History concentration to attract students and have brought the department more fully into the world of the digital humanities.  A lot is happening in the Messiah College History Department and we are proud of the work that has been and continues to be accomplished.

But a history major continues to be a hard sell in today's economic climate. I have had to fight tooth and nail for every new major.  I have made more phone calls, sent more e-mails, and composed more hand-written notes than I ever have before.  I have appealed to the Admissions Office and Financial Aid Office for better packages for accepted students.  At this point I am one step short of making visits--Bear Bryant style--to the living rooms of prospective history majors.  ("What would it take to get you in a Messiah College History Department uniform?")

As a Department Chair I get one course reduction per semester to handle my administrative and recruitment duties.  The work I put into recruiting students alone is far more than the time it would take me to simply teach another section of the United States survey course.  Yet I remain committed to building a very strong History Department at Messiah College--both in terms of the faculty we hire and the students we bring to study with us.  I continue to see this as necessary work.

But I am also sympathetic to history department chairs at small colleges like Messiah who do not take their work as recruiters very seriously.  In order to sell a program to prospective students you have to have a strong program to sell.  You have to believe in your product.  Many colleges have abandoned a commitment to the humanities (and liberal arts more broadly).  Yes, they still offer courses in history, English, philosophy, foreign languages, etc..., but they tend to understand the courses that humanities faculty teach in terms of service to the larger and more attractive professional programs.  I have been around the country--as an external reviewer and as a visiting lecturer--and have talked to a lot of faculty members and administrators. The latter are talking online learning, STEM, professional training, and money-making graduate programs. College administrators are rarely speaking the language of undergraduate liberal arts.  Why work hard at recruiting new history majors when administrators are cutting faculty lines, reducing budgets, and chipping away at what were once proud departments.  This can only result in a sort of malaise among the humanities faculty as they lose more and more confidence in the administration's willingness to see their disciplines as essential to a college's liberal arts mission.

Some schools are trying to hold the liberal arts line (I talked to faculty from a few of them this weekend), but such schools are becoming fewer and fewer in number.

The Author's Corner with Dawn Marsh

Dawn Marsh is Assistant Professor of History at Purdue University. This interview is based on her new book, A Lenape Among the Quakers (University of Nebraska Press, March 2014).

JF: What led you to write A Lenape Among the Quakers?

DM: It began with the publication of the document "An Examination of Hannah Freeman," c. 1797 in the Notes and Documents section of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. It stood out because it was identified as the oldest autobiography of a Native American, but more importantly it captured the voice of a Native American woman in the eighteenth century. The document is a deposition conducted by Moses Marshall for the purpose of admitting Hannah Freeman into the newly built Chester County poorhouse. The document and subsequent sources opened a window into the life of a Lenape woman during one of the most traumatic periods in the history of her people and the history of Pennsylvania. As a Native American historian and a Pennsylvanian by birth, I knew that the mythologized version of William Penn’s “peaceable kingdom” over-shadowed a more complicated story of early settlement and interaction with Pennsylvania Indians. Hannah Freeman’s story, situated largely in Chester County offers another perspective on this story.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Lenape Among the Quakers?

DM: Hannah Freeman’s life challenges the mythologized “peaceable kingdom” narrative by establishing that colonization and dispossession are never peaceful. Further, Hannah’s story shows that acculturation was a two-way exchange: both Hannah and her Quaker neighbors moderated and altered their lives to accommodate each other in order to preserve and protect their ways of life and live as neighbors on the lands guaranteed to the Lenape by William Penn’s treaties.

JF: Why do we need to read A Lenape Among the Quakers​​​​?

DM: Hannah Freeman's story is one of resilience, tenacity, and cooperation. There are few histories of colonial America that give readers a chance to understand what life was like for a Native American woman during the eighteenth century. It moves beyond the usual histories of settler-Indian relations and offers readers an intimate view of day to day co-existence between English settlers and Native Americans. Hannah Freeman’s quiet life in a rural corner of the British colonies was touched and altered by some of the most important events in early American history. It is also a story of courage, suspense, bravery and heart. The book is meticulously researched to satisfy and encourage new scholarship. But it is written as a narrative that invites general readers, students, and scholars to better understand the experiences of Native American women and families during this period.

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

DM: Well—I should begin by saying that I don’t consider myself an American historian. My research and teaching interests are primarily in Native American and Indigenous history. Several of my projects use global comparisons with other indigenous peoples under British colonialism: Maori in New Zealand and Aborigines in Australia as example.

As for my chosen profession, there are several threads that weave through my life that led me to this career. I grew up in Appalachian Pennsylvania and was surrounded by rivers, creeks, mountains, and trails that retained their Algonquian names. I also had the good fortune to regularly visit Gettysburg during my formative years that further enhanced my fascination for the invisible past that was all around me. As I earned my Ph.D in history, I cross trained in archaeology. I was able to weave together a career that allowed me to do research both in the archives and the field. My first major research project for my M.A. investigated how the archaeological record impacted a historian’s interpretation of the Paxton Massacre—the career path was set.

JF: What is your next project?

DM: Currently I have two book-length research projects in their early stages. The first is titled The Sons of Peace: Delaware Indian Nationalism in the Early American Republic-- will examine the political and social transformation of the Delaware from the 1750s to the 1830s situated largely in western Pennsylvania and Ohio territories. Three avenues of investigation provide the framework for this study. First, is the close examination of Delaware leadership during this period considering the sources of power and the transition from traditional clan-based paths of leadership to new channels of political authority. Secondly, the role of Quaker mediators during this period and finally, I will study the characteristics of Delaware towns and refugee settlements that rise and fall in relationship to those leaders.

The second project, already under contract is titled, The Red Carpet: Indigenous Filmmakers Beyond the Rez, examines the impact of indigenous filmmakers on the representations of indigenous peoples in mainstream narrative and documentary films over the last twenty-five years. This project stems from my experience as a film critic in southern California and my expertise in Native American and indigenous studies.

Thank you, Dawn!

Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author's Corner

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Coca-Cola Executive: Liberal Arts Is Best Preparation for Business Careers

Clyde Tuggle of Coca Cola
Clyde Tuggle is the chief public affairs officer at Coca-Cola.  He majored in German and Economics at Hamilton College and then went on to get an M.Div from Yale Divinity School. Tuggle recently told a group of students at Washington and Lee College that the fields he chose to study provided him with "the perfect education for the business world."  Here is a taste of an article about his talk from the Washington and Lee website:

"I never had finance or accounting, yet I help run a huge business," the visiting Woodrow Wilson Fellow said. "I learned communications, research and critical thinking" in liberal arts and religious studies at Hamilton College and Yale, respectively. At Coke, "I blew right by the [business majors]."
Tuggle's words offer encouragement to a generation of liberal arts college students who might not know in which industry they want to work, after being advised since high school to adopt a laser focus on a career interest.

"Is Blogging Scholarship?" The Video is Here!

Here is the video of the "Is Blogging Scholarship?" session at the 2014 OAH conference in Atlanta:

Tomorrow Afternoon at LancasterHistory.Org

On Thursday afternoon I will giving a lecture entitled "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" at the LancasterHistory.Org (formerly the Lancaster County Historical Society) in Lancaster, PA.  I hope to see some of you there.

THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 2014 @ 04:00PM - 05:30PM

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction

Speaker: John Fea, Ph.D., Chair, Department of History, Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, PA
oakicon 65Was America founded as a Christian nation? This question has become a fixture in our so-called "culture wars." But just what did the Founding Fathers believe about the relationship between religion and the American republic? This lecture offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many conservative Christians assert, or a secular state, as others contend. The goal is to approach the issue from a historical perspective, helping attendees see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past.
  • Colloquia are held at LancasterHistory.org's campus, 230 N President Avenue.
  • Social gathering 4 pm
  • Presentation from 4:30 to 5:30
  • All colloquia are free and open to the public.

E Street Band Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Acceptance Speeches

In case you have not heard, the E Street Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here are acceptance speeches from "Little Stevie" Van Zandt, "Mighty" Max Weinberg, "The Professor" Roy Bittan, Garry "W" Tallent, Patti Scialfa, Victoria Clemons, Nils Lofgren, Jason Federci, Vince Lopez, and David Sancious. Enjoy!

Blog Comment of the Day

It looks like our OAH session "Is Blogging Scholarship" is getting more post-conference attention than most of other sessions that took place in Atlanta this past weekend.  Not bad for a Sunday morning panel.

This comment, written by "ebharlowe," was posted in the comments section of the Junto in response to Ken Owen's post on blogging.

"I’m wondering if Messiah College’s Admissions office is keeping track of applicants who consider coming to Messiah because of John Fea’s blog?"

Here is the entire comment:

As a faculty member who has been through the tenure process multiple times and who has sat on personnel committees a private liberal arts colleges and regional state universities, I have a different view of the tenure thing…

Let me say that there are, and should be, different standards for tenure at R1′s than for Liberal Arts and regional universities. The publishing bar is far lower at *most* non-R1′s and the committee is more likely to value the Ernest Boyer types of scholarship more.

This is not to say that you can get tenure without *any* refereed publications or university press books (though I’ve seen it happen). My experience is that a blog that focusses on disciplinary issues, like “the Junto”, would be well-received by tenure committees as an aspect of scholarship. Blogging is not a substitute for traditional scholarship, but at universities where continuous faculty engagement is valued over production, it will count. Bottom line to tenure aspirants….local conditions may vary.

The other two pillars of tenure are teaching and service. Blogs like “Historiann”, “Tenured Radical” and “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” are invaluable as commentary on the profession. Through their blogs each of these authors have become public mentors to young scholars. Blog posts generate on-line discussion of important professional issues. They also generate discussions at the academy’s equivalent of the water cooler, the Xerox machine.

Bloggers also offer ways to explore and discuss new pedagogies. “The Junto” has published on using particular assignments or sources in teaching, for example. Blogging demonstrates a commitment to improving one’s teaching and is more useful in thinking about teaching than a dozen teaching development workshops.

Another aspect of service is getting your university’s name out to a wider audience. Blogs generate publicity for the department in ways that the publicity brochure and website cannot. I’m wondering if Messiah College’s Admissions office is keeping track of applicants who consider coming to Messiah because of John Fea’s blog? Are more students considering graduate work at Colorado State after reading Ann Little or Jonathan Rees? University PR folk love publicity. Shouldn’t bloggers get credit for this in their tenure/promotion file?

As with scholarship, maintaining a blog does not replace service on your department’s outcomes assessment committee or exonerate your poor teaching record but it *is* service to the department/profession and should be counted as such.

Still More on "Is Blogging Scholarship?"

Ken Owen of "The Junto" fame has now weighed in on our Organization of American Historian's panel "Is Blogging Scholarship."  Here is a taste:

The five bloggers on the panel all blog in different ways. John Fea pointed out that his model was that of Andrew Sullivan’s Daily DishHistoriann’s type of personal commentary is different and more regular than Mike O’Malley’s The AporeticUSIH and The Junto, both group blogs, take different approaches to generating content, with USIH assigning their bloggers more specific assignments.

When categorizing content, we should note that blogging is not one thing. Fea’s style engages a different audience from The Junto’s fare, yet both clearly fit under the broadest category of ‘historical blogging’. The real innovation of blogging lies in the ease with which people can access the means of publishing, and the hope of generating an audience.

That is necessarily disruptive of a process of recognizing “scholarship” through very narrow channels indeed. And really, the amount of scholarly activity we all do as historians that doesn’t fit neatly into a dissertation/article/review/monograph model should be accounted for in a review process.

Linda Kerber on Why Students Should Memorize the 14th Amendment

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kathryn Lofton on Secularization

L. Ron Hubbard
This post comes from our OAH conference correspondent Charles McCrary.  Charlie is a Ph.D candidate in religious studies at Florida State University.  His areas of research includes nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual history, religions of the Pacific, early American Methodism, and the historiography of American religions.  In this piece he responds to Kathryn Lofton's talk at the State of the Field: Religion in American History session.  Enjoy!  --JF

On Sunday morning at the OAH meeting I attended the State of the Field session for the study of religion and American history. John Fea storified his tweets on this session, providing a good summary of the session. So, instead I will focus on Kathryn Lofton’s presentation on secularism and secularization (this was her topic, alongside “religion and politics,” “religion and gender,” “religion and law,” and “religious diversity and complexity;” these categorizations themselves might have sparked some interesting conversation.) The study of secularism, as well as the use of it as a conceptual framework, is becoming popular in American religious history, especially as historians begin to draw on the work of scholars such as Webb Keane, Talal Asad, and Charles Taylor. Secularism has proved to be a useful frame for scholars of American religion, as evidenced by the work of Tracy Fessenden, John Modern, Gregory Jackson, and others. Lofton prudently cautioned, though, that as more historians become interested in secularism, we ought to be clear about what we mean and how we’re using it. In that spirit, in this post I will attempt to reiterate Lofton’s talk in order to provide a short primer to the place of secularism in American history now

As Lofton noted, secularization and secularism are not new concepts. Max Weber and Sigmund Freud both used them, as did Peter Berger, especially in his 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. Secularization, traditionally understood, is the idea that “religion” is going away or retreating from the public sphere somehow and that Western societies are becoming (and will become) less and less religious. Sociologists have debated this, and much of this depends on polls and categories and so on (Who are the “nones”? Are they a real group?). What Weber, Freud, and Berger were all getting at, though, Lofton argued, is religion as a marker of identity. What are the historical circumstances that created a world where some things, ideas, and people are “religious” and some are “secular”? Secularism, then, is the frame that allows for this taxonomy. It is about, to quote Taylor, the “conditions of belief.” This reminds me of a comment made during the State of the Field session on the American Enlightenment, wherein someone remarked that the Enlightenment was more about epistemology than specific ideas—how we believe more so than what we believe. This is the conversation that historians of American religion and secularism have taken up in the last decade or so.

In this way, Lofton’s talk framed the rest of the panel, as the study of secularism calls into question our categories, how we arrived at them, and why they matter. Why was there a talk on “religious diversity,” but not “religious violence,” for instance? What does that say about the state of the field? Other presenters asked narrower versions of that question, applied to their (sub?)-subfield. Why, Sarah Barringer Gordon asked, do scholars of religion and law study the First Amendment so much but do not often consider tax law or incorporation? What languages or logics mediate among the various actors in our stories? (Lofton argued, with a nod to Mark Valeri and Bethany Moreton, that the only majority transnational category today is finance.) The religion/secularism binary demands answers to the biggest questions about our field as whole. What is it, exactly, that we study? Or, following J.Z. Smith, why this and not that?

Consider Jonathan Edwards and L. Ron Hubbard. Lofton noted that to most of us, Edwards probably seems more theological and Hubbard more, well, “scientological.” But could Edwards not be considered, according to the science of his day, a scientist? Hubbard fought to have his church be legally recognized as a religion. These actors, like all actors, were subjects profoundly constrained and
Jonathan Edwards
conditioned by their own contexts. The study of secularism is largely about emphasizing these contexts or structures, leaving agency an open question. A different strand of history ignores or at least tables these concerns, although they do so, Lofton would say, unadvisedly. Either way, though, if we apply our own definitions of “religion” and “science” to Edwards or Hubbard, we risk obscuring rather than explaining or illuminating the worlds that made and were made by our subjects.

In the Q & A, as well as in other conversations during and after the session, some suggested that Lofton’s talk was not really about history but about something else, “social science” or “theory” instead. I don’t really understand this critique. It seems to me (and I think this is one argument Lofton made, though not quite in these words, in response to David Hollinger’s questions from the audience) that using our subjects’ epistemologies to frame categories is a thoroughly historical approach. If we’re going to plot Jonathan Edwards as an actor in religious history, then we ought to ask what religion meant in, say, 1740s Massachusetts. Secularism is a useful analytic for this type of historical framing.