Friday, August 1, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #43

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

The ABS project has been moving slowly this week, but it is still moving forward.  Yesterday I managed to squeeze in about ninety minutes of editing and polishing chapter two.  Princeton's Panera Bread continues to be good to me.  It has become a nice little haven for writing during a busy week of teaching and seminar-leading.  I hope to get some large chunks of time on Saturday to get this first two chapters into shape so that I can send them off with my book proposal.  Stay tuned.

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Five Recap

Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar for K-8 teachers on "The 13 Colonies" is winding down.  The teachers are hard at work on their lesson plans under the direction of Nate McAlister.   Before they leave they are required to post the plans to the seminar blog.  

I am pleased to see the way the teachers have bonded with each other over the course of the week.  Princeton is a great place to hold a seminar like this.  The teachers can spend their evenings shopping, eating, drinking, and walking on Princeton's Nassau Street.  Popular stops include drinks at Nassau Hall, Labyrinth Books, the Bent Spoon ice cream shop, and the Princeton University Wawa.

On Thursday we spent the morning discussing Pennsylvania.  We tried to look at Penn's colony from all angles.  I gave them a lecture on Quakers, religious and ethnic pluralism, and the idea of Pennsylvania as a "liberal" colony.  In the afternoon we got started on the American Enlightenment using my four point definition of the Enlightenment in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

After the session we headed over to the Firestone Library where rare books curator Stephen Johnson showed the teachers a few dozen eighteenth-century volumes that I selected from the Firestone's collection.  I focused my choices on books that I would be referencing in my lectures and books that were read by Philip Vickers Fithian.  They were also introduced to the Princeton children's library and shown effective ways of teaching colonial America through objects.

This was one of the highlights of the week.  Dana Sheriden of the Cotsen Children's Library mesmerized the teachers with her presentation.  Stephen Johnson answered questions about early American books and printing.  And the students got to hold and read books by Phillis Wheatley, John Locke, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Matther, Addison and Steete (The Spectator), Samuel Richardson, and Laurence Sterne.  The room was buzzing with activity as these teachers read, discussed, and wondered over these rare books.  It was fun to watch and experience.

Here are a few pics:

The teachers loved the book of Phillis Wheatley's poetry

Elissa, Carmen, and Meghan discussing The Spectator
Shawn is really digging in to Jonathan Edwards's The Nature of True Virtue




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.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--July 27, 2014
2.  The Morality of Football
3.  Why Reading Matters
4.  The Author's Corner with Greg O'Malley
5.  Next Week: "The 13 Colonies" at Princeton
6.  Is Pope Francis Coming to Philadelphia?
7.  2014 Gilder Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day One Recap
8.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #38
9.  Another Why Study History? Sighting
10. On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #39

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Author's Corner with Gregory O'Malley

Greg O'Malley is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This interview is based on his book Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Final Passages?

GO: In graduate school I hoped to study the interaction of African and European people (and especially cultures) in colonial America. But as I tried to learn which African peoples and cultures landed in particular American places, I kept stumbling across discrepancies between data on slave populations in certain colonies and data on the slave trade. For example, by the American Revolution, only Virginia and South Carolina had larger enslaved populations than North Carolina, yet very few slave ships had arrived in North Carolina from Africa. So how did slaves get there? Like many scholars, I figured there was probably a small intercolonial traffic that dispersed Africans between the colonies. It was only when I got tripped up by such a missing link in the historiography of the coerced migration for the third or fourth time that I realized it might be a significant topic for research. Once I started combing port records for such intercolonial shipments, I found that this trade dispersing African captives after their initial arrival in the New World was vaster than I had even imagined—and that it was even bigger across imperial borders than it was between British colonies. So the short answer is that I wrote Final Passages to improve our understanding of who went where in the African Diaspora.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Final Passages?

GO: Most simply, the argument is that hundreds of thousands of African people endured another phase of the slave trade after surviving the Middle Passage across the Atlantic, but the book goes beyond simply tracking the importance of such trade for the spread of slavery. Final Passages shows that individual traders and imperial strategists exploited the intercolonial trade (and the high demand for slaves throughout the Americas) to facilitate commerce in other commodities, entangling the profits of all manner of trade with the profits from buying and selling enslaved people.

JF: Why do we need to read Final Passages?

GO: Legacies of slavery continue to haunt American society, and I think it is vital to reckon with that troubling past. American culture has a tendency to be self-congratulatory, and our interest in slavery reflects that. To the extent that most Americans consider slavery at all, the focus is on the Civil War as a war that ended slavery or on the Underground Railroad as a triumph over slavery. Those histories are of course important, but it’s also vital to wrestle with the painful reality that slavery worked—that certain segments of American societies profited mightily from their exploitation of enslaved people. Final Passages is important in this regard because it highlights an overlooked aspect of that profitable exploitation. Slaveholders forced slaves to work, of course, but traders also exploited slaves as commodities for exchange. And that exploitation of slaves’ commodity value extended beyond the prices paid for them. Labor shortages in the New World left many land owners desperate for workers, so many general merchants found that having enslaved people to sell brought planters (or even whole empires) to their table; and once such customers were buying slaves, they would engage in other trade as well. Traders saw slaves as a unique commodity, not for their humanity, but for this ability to facilitate commerce. Their profits from trading all manner of goods were contingent upon their buying and selling of people. Confronting that aspect of the system is crucial for understanding what was gained at the expense of enslaved people’s freedom.

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

GO: I pursued an undergraduate history degree with no intention of a career in the field; I just wanted a liberal arts education. I then went to work at an internet startup during that brief moment, ca. 2000, when internet startups were new and exciting—and mostly unprofitable. The particular company I worked for was failing to make money designing the first digital textbooks for college courses. I ended up managing the history product line, facilitating meetings between historians and our programming whizzes, trying to help the historians understand what our technology had to offer and help the programmers understand what the historians wanted to accomplish pedagogically. It was a fun job for a recent college grad with a history B.A., but I gradually realized I was much more interested in what the historians at the table were doing than I was in the internet economy. So I headed to grad school. I chose early America because I’ve always been fascinated by Americans’ struggles with the multicultural nature of their society. In the colonial era, the foundations for those struggles were laid.

JF: What is your next project?

GO: I’m not entirely certain, as I’m still kicking the tires of several possibilities. But one idea that I’m excited about would explore the remarkable growth of the enslaved population of North America. Historians have long struggled to explain why enslaved populations elsewhere needed constant replenishment through the slave trade, while a relatively small number of people delivered to North America grew to such a large population by the Civil War. Explanations have focused on harsh conditions in the Caribbean (in terms of labor and disease), but I see demographic growth in North America as the anomaly requiring explanation. Slavery was also harsh on the mainland, and infant mortality was appalling, so why did the population grow so dramatically? I plan to explore a multi-pronged answer that examines age and gender patterns in the slave trade, slaveholding practices in North America, and a problematizing of the numbers themselves with an eye to who was counted as “negroes” in early America. While the logic of the “one drop rule” in American understandings of race leads us to interpret those labeled as “negroes” as people of African descent, the ancestries of enslaved people were often more complicated. In other words, the slaves in the U.S. by the time of Civil War were not entirely descended from the 450,000 African people who arrived via the slave trade. The host population was larger but has been partly obscured from American memory.


Thanks Greg!

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

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Four Recap

Day four of the Gilder Lehrman "13 Colonies" Summer Seminar is in the books.  We spent the entire day in Philadelphia where the one and only George Boudreau gave us a tour of the colonial city.  I asked him to lead this tour because there is no person on earth who knows the colonial city any better. George did not disappoint.  He is the author of Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphiaa Benjamin Franklin scholar, and the new director of the public history program at LaSalle University. The teachers could not stop talking about his entertaining and very informative tour.  It was a perfect setup for today's lectures on Pennsylvania and the middle colonies.  

Here are some pics:
George Boudreau explains the Philadelphia "grid" at Welcome Park
George signing copies of his book Independence
Some very happy teachers cramming into George Washington's pew at Christ Church

It was good to spend the day with George Boudreau

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #42

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

I wish I could give you a glowing report about how much writing I got done yesterday, but I can't.  I was on a field trip in Philadelphia all day and thus missed my usual writing time.  Stay tuned

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #41

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

I did not get to spend too much time working on the ABS project today due to my responsibilities here in Princeton, but I did manage to free up an hour to do some editing of chapter two.  This chapter is really starting to take shape and I am still optimistic about getting the book proposal, complete with two sample chapters, in the mail by Sunday night.  Stay tuned.

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Three Recap

Day three of the Gilder Lehrman "13 Colonies" Summer Seminar was packed with activity.  The first morning lecture was on race and labor in colonial Virginia.  We then moved north to the New England colonies. Before lunch I gave a lecture on the way Puritan theology informed everyday life in Massachusetts Bay. After lunch we focused on New England social history with a particular focus on women and marriage, Puritan towns, and the Puritan relationship to the market.   Nate spent the afternoon working with the teachers on some lesson plans on George Whitefield's relationship to Benjamin Franklin. 

After dinner we all headed over to the Historical Society of Princeton on Nassau Street for a tour of early American Princeton.  Our tour guide, Dick, a retired advertising executive and publisher, took us to the Princeton Battlefield monument, Morven (the 18th century mansion of Richard Stockton), Nassau Hall, and several other sites.

Following the tour some of us headed down Witherspoon Street to the Nassau Presbyterian Church Cemetery  (Princeton Cemetery) where we visited the graves of Aaron Burr, Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Witherspoon, and Grover Cleveland.  If I get to do this seminar next year I am going to have a full session in the cemetery.

It has been fun watching the students make connections between the eighteenth-century sites in Princeton and the stuff they have read in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  

Here are some pictures from the day:
Dick, our Princeton tour guide
Morven: The Home of Richard Stockton.  This is the original 18th century part of the mansion
Our Princeton tour guide Dick explaining the Battle of Princeton

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Another "Why Study History?" Sighting

Philip Sinitiere spotted Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past in College of Biblical Studies bookstore in Houston.  Thanks, Phil!


Image of the Day: At the Corner of Bayard Lane and Boudinot Street

I can't escape the history of the American Bible Society!

I am in Princeton this week doing a Gilder-Lehrman Seminar on the 13 colonies.  The place where I am staying is on Bayard Lane, one block from its intersection with Boudinot Street.

I don't know which members of the Bayard or Boudinot families these streets are named after, but I do know that Elias Boudinot and Samuel Bayard were both part of the group that founded the ABS.  Both families also had Princeton connections.

What are the chances of someone like me landing in a hotel at the intersection of these two streets?  Strange.


On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #40


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

This week is going to be challenging. My work with the Gilder-Lehrman Seminar at Princeton is taking a lot of time, but yesterday I was able to get in about 2.5 hours of editing work on chapter two.  I am pleased with how it is shaping up.  I have also learned that I can be productive writing from a booth at Panera Bread and a hotel room bed.

Stay tuned.

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day Two Recap

Firestone Library--Princeton University
It was a full day in Princeton.  The Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" seminar is off to a great start (or at least it is from my perspective as the instructor).  We started the day problemetizing the "Whig" interpretation of history and trying to imagine what the history of the American colonies might look like if we did not view the colonies solely as a precursor to the American Revolution.  Alan Taylor's American Colonies was very helpful on this front.

We spent the rest of the morning on native American history.  Most of what we discussed was informed by Taylor's American Colonies, James Merrell's The Indians' New World, and Dan Richter's Facing East from the Indian Country.  My goal was to get these K-8 history teachers to see the world through the eyes of the native Americans, to get them to think culturally (rather than geographically) about the concept of the "New World," and to see moments of native American agency on the "middle ground."

After lunch we began our exploration of the early Chesapeake by exploring death and mercantilism in Jamestown.  This morning we will finish that story.

Nate McAlister is my partner in crime this week.  Yesterday afternoon we met with Stephen Ferguson, the rare book librarian at Princeton's Firestone Library.   On Thursday afternoon we are taking the teachers into the Firestone so that they can touch, hold, read, and discuss some seventeenth and eighteenth-century books.  I get the privilege of creating the book list.  Nate and Stephen suggested that the list should include everything read by Philip Vickers Fithian.  We may also get to look at the original diaries that I worked with for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  This should be exciting.

Monday, July 28, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #39

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

When I first started this project on the American Bible Society I realized that if I was going to complete it by May 1, 2015 I would need to rethink how I use my time.  This means doing some work on the weekends and, once the school year begins, carving out considerable time for research and writing in the early mornings.  In order to make it through the year I will need to be disciplined with my time, be more consistent with an exercise plan, and perhaps drink more coffee than usual.  

Part of this effort will also require times of strategic rest.  I did work on the ABS project on Friday night, Saturday, and early Sunday morning, but I also spent part of my weekend hanging out with my daughters (who were recuperating from long weeks at volleyball camp and basketball camp) watching re-runs of Castle and NCIS.  We had some nice family dinners on our back deck (thank you Joy).  And I took a nap or two and went to church.  I don't have this time-management thing down to a science just yet, but I am committed to making it work, even if it is only for the next ten months.

I continue to work on getting chapters one and two into shape.  This weekend I added to my section in chapter two on the millennial visions of Elias Boudinot and John Jay, the first two ABS presidents.  I also strengthened the chapters (and the footnotes) by adding material from Daniel Walker Howe'e What Hath God Wrought, David Paul Nord's Faith in Reading, Peter Wosh's Spreading the Word, and Paul Gutjahr's An American Bible.

This week I am in Princeton teaching a seminar on colonial American history.  I am hoping to get in a few hours of work on the ABS each day.  Stay tuned.

2014 Gilder-Lehrman "13 Colonies" Seminar: Day One Recap

As many of my readers know, I am at Princeton University this week leading a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar for K-8 teachers on "The 13 Colonies." Last night we had a nice reception/dinner with the teachers and it looks like it is going to be a fun week.  They seem eager to explore Princeton (and later in the week Philadelphia) and think about colonial history. Nate McAlister, my co-laborer this week and the real leader/organizer of this seminar, started the night off with some trivia questions from the books I assigned the teachers to read in preparation for the week.  One of the questions was "Who was the man who opened an academy in southern New Jersey and got Philip Vickers Fithian started in his pursuit of education?" I was amazed how quickly one of the teachers answered this question.  It looks like they have read the material. (Did I mention that I assigned The Way of Improvement Leads Home?). By the way, can you answer this question?  Write your answer in the comment section below or on Facebook.

As some of you may also know, there is a seminar over at Princeton Theological Seminary this week on the history of church and state in America.  As I walking down Nassau Street last night on my way to the reception I ran into Baylor University's own Thomas Kidd and his family. It was good to see him and meet his family.  Tommy is co-leading this seminar along with Gerald McDermott.  It is a very small world.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Gregg Frazer reviews Matthew Stewart's Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.  Tracy McKenzie discusses the book here.

Why you should avoid the Ivy League

Patriotic Bibles

15 nights in the Meadowlands

Is there a Christian left?

Thomas Kidd on George Whtiefield at 300

Historical humility

Absurd advertising

10 New Yorker religion articles

Catalog camping

Evangelical anxiety

Recording conference presentations

Theology and U.S. intellectual history

Should we get rid of "comments" at academic conferences?

Historicizing summer

Best facial hair in the future of baseball

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #38

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

Yesterday I continued my work on chapter one and chapter two of the American Bible Society manuscript.   No additional words were added to either chapter. Instead I did some cutting.  At the moment both chapters are about 7500 words in length.  Still too long.

Chapter one covers Elias Boudinot (founder of the ABS), the Philadelphia Bible Society (the first such society in the United States), and the plan to develop a national Bible society despite objections from the Philadelphia society and the New York Episcopal Church.

Chapter two covers the convention of delegates that met in 1816 and established the ABS, the ABS Constitution (the auxiliary system, the British and Foreign Bible Society as a model, the ABS's international vision, and the idea of distributing the Bible "without note or comment"), and the ABS founders' attempt at forging a Christian republic.  A word on the last point: The founders' arguments for a Christian republic are almost identical to the arguments made today by Christian nationalists like David Barton.

I also established a new goal--to have the first two chapters in good enough shape to send off a book proposal by the end of next week.

Next Week: The "13 Colonies" at Princeton University

The seminar will be held in Princeton's Lewis Library
On Sunday I am heading to Princeton University to lead a week-long Gilder-Lehrman Institute summer seminar on "The 13 Colonies."  This weekend K-8 teachers will be arriving at Princeton from schools in Illinois, California, New Jersey, Utah, Washington D.C., Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Ohio, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.  I also get the privilege to work with Nate McAlister, the 2010 National Teacher of the Year!

I will lecture in the mornings and Nate will work with the teachers on lesson plans in the afternoon. We also have a few special things planned, including a tour of historic Princeton and Princeton University and a day in colonial Philadelphia with George Boudreau, the newly appointed director of the Public History M.A. Program at LaSalle University and the author of Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphia.  We will also be reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home and Alan Taylor's American Colonies.

I hope to blog my way through the week. Nate and the rest of the participants will be tweeting: @princetonsemnr 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Is Pope Francis Coming to Philadelphia?

If this article from the National Catholic Reporter is accurate, Francis will be in Philadelphia next year for a September conference on families.  Here is a taste:

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said Pope Francis has accepted his invitation to attend the World Meeting of Families in the U.S. next year, even though the Philadelphia archdiocese still has not received official confirmation from the Vatican.
Chaput made the announcement Thursday before giving his homily during the opening Mass of the Tekakwitha Conference in Fargo.
"Pope Francis has told me that he is coming," said the archbishop as he invited his fellow Native Americans to the 2015 celebration being held in Philadelphia Sept. 22-27.
"The pope will be with us the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of that week," he said.

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Friday that Pope Francis has expressed "his willingness to participate in the World Meeting of Families" in Philadelphia, and has received invitations to visit other cities as well, which he is considering. Those invitations include New York, the United Nations and Washington.

The Smallest Church in the World

Another British Pathe video.

From 1956:

On the Writing of the History of the American Bible Society--Update #37

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

Yesterday was another long day in front of the computer screen.  I wrote a few thousand words and divided my 14,000 word chapter into two.  I would ultimately like to have each chapter come in at about 6000 words so I am going to have to do some cutting.  

The general narrative of both chapters are complete.  I am now in the process of strengthening different parts of the chapters by adding material from notes I took on primary and secondary sources.  In the process I am also bulking up the footnotes a bit.  While I am trying to write in clear prose for a popular audience, I also want the book to include a scholarly apparatus for those who want to dig deeper into the history of the American Bible Society.

Today I hope to finish the process of adding stuff from my notes to the manuscript and making sure my footnotes are in order.  If I can get this done I will be a nice position to spend a few hours a day refining, polishing, and editing next week while I am in Princeton for a Gilder-Lehrman seminar (more on this in a future post).

Stay tuned.

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

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

1.  The Wealth of Nations, the Sermon on the Mount, and Poverty in the Early Republic
2.  Evangelical Churches and Intellectuals
3.  The Morality of Football
4.  The Author's Corner with Linford Fisher
5.  The Latest on David Barton
6.  The Author's Corner with Monte Hampton
7.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--July 20, 2014
8.  The Danforth Center on Religion and Politics Lands Another Big Fish
9.  Finalists Announced for the 2014 Frederick Douglass Book Prize
10. Why Reading Matters

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Danforth Center on Religion and Politics Lands Another Big Fish

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


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

Barack Obama Awards 2013 Humanities Medals

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

The Author's Corner with Linford D. Fisher

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

JF: What led you to write Decoding Roger Williams?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

JF: What is your next project?

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

Thanks, Linford.  This is great stuff.  

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nomini Hall Damaged by Fire

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

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

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

Finalists Announced for the 2014 Frederick Douglass Book Prize

Press release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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