Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Introducing the "Benjamin Franklin's World" Podcast

Are you looking for a good podcast to listen to as you drive, run, or just sit at your desk?  Are you an early American history buff?  If you answered yes to both of these questions then you just might like Liz Covart's new podcast, "Benjamin Franklin's World."   Learn more about it here.

So far Liz has done six podcasts.  Each podcast includes four segments:

1. Modern Day Discovery: An occasional segment where I share information about news or events from our present-day.
2. Guest Interview: This segment stands as the centerpiece of the show. It is where I interview an historian who has conducted (or is conducting) fascinating research about important episodes and people in early American history.
On occasion, I replace this segment with a captivating story from my own historical research.
3. Time Warp: The post-interview segment where I ask my guest a hypothetical history question about what might have been if something had occurred, or someone had acted, differently.
4. Ask the Historian: The segment where I answer your questions about early American history.
So far Liz has interviewed James Green, Cornelia King, and Richard Newman of the Library Company of Philadelphia, and historians Thomas Foster and Jeanne Abrams.

A Busy Week in the Messiah College History Department

Philip Deloria will deliver the 2014 American Democracy Lecture
We in the Messiah College History Department try to give our students an array of opportunities to learn outside of the classroom.  Last Spring our students studying digital history and Pennsylvania history spent a lot of time doing archival research.  This semester the students in our public archaeology course are hard at work studying a farm connected with a nineteenth-century Anabaptist group known as the "Bermudian Brethren" and uncovering an eighteenth-century Lutheran church building that has been buried for 250 years in the congregation's graveyard.  Several students continue to work on our Digital Harrisburg Project while others provide research support for an array of faculty research projects.  We have put a new Public History concentration in place and have been working as well on a new concentration in "Administrative Studies."  In the past few years our students have interned at historical sites all over the mid-Atlantic.  It has been a fun ride.  I like to think that we are hard at work in creating a new kind of undergraduate history department.
In addition to all of our regular extra-curricular activity, the next few weeks will be particularly busy in the Messiah College History Department.  We are very excited to announce (or re-announce) the following events:
On Thursday, October 23, 2014, Philip Deloria will be on campus to deliver the American Democracy Lecture, the most important lecture in the life of the department.  I am sure many of you know Deloria's work. He is a professor of history and administrator at the University of Michigan and a scholar of native American history.  His talk "American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination" promises to be an excellent talk. Learn more about it here.  Also check out the Facebook "event" page.
Tibebe Eshete
On Thursday, October 30, we will hold our annual "Faith and History" lecture.  This year's lecturer is Tibebe Eshete, our new visiting lecturer in African history and the author of the definitive work on the evangelical movement in Ethiopia.  In the 1970s Tibebe was a young Ethiopian Marxist who was active in the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie.  His talk will describe his journey from Marxism to Christian faith and his understanding of the historian's vocation. The lecture will be held in Boyer Hall room 335 at 4pm. If you are in the area feel free to stop by.  It should be a good one.
Finally, on November 4 the History Department will sponsor its annual "Career and Graduate School" event.  This year we will focus on careers. Our speakers will be two Messiah College history alums who have gone on to do amazing things with their degrees.  Beth Baggett was a Messiah College history major who currently works as an executive in the New York City fashion industry.  Caitlin Babcock, another Messiah history alum, works for a non-profit organization focused on the assimilation of new immigrants.  It should be a great afternoon.  Stay tuned for more information.  If you ever wondered what you can do with a history major you need to be at this event.
We continue to try to make the Messiah College History Department an intellectually vibrant place that merges a classic liberal arts history education with the kind of experiential learning that allows our students to build their resumes and develop transferable skills that will be useful in the marketplace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

John Wilsey is on Fire

John Wilsey teaches history at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary campus in Houston.  He is a real jack of all trades.  He is the interim pastor of a Houston-area Baptist church.  He teaches courses in history and theology to traditional seminary students, undergraduates, and prisoners in a maximum security prison.  He has written a good book critiquing the "Christian America" thesis and has a forthcoming book on American exceptionalism.

But I am writing about John today because he has recently written two great blog posts.

The first post, which appears at John's blog "To Breathe Your Free Air," is an honest account of the struggles and triumphs of writing his book on American exceptionalism.  His exhortation to "write, write, write" was something I needed to hear as I continue to push forward with my American Bible Society project.  If you need some inspiration to jump start a writing project, head over to Wilsey's post.

The second post, which was recently published at Religion in American History, offers an assessment of American exceptionalist rhetoric in Christian school and home school American history textbooks. In the process he invokes the term "Americolatry."  Here is a taste:

Combine the idea of American exceptionalism with the Christian America thesis—the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation—and you have a potent brew indeed, a super-charged nationalism which has an exceptional quality all its own. 

I have a word for this powerful ideological combination—Americolatry. Americolatry consists of a form of civil religion that entails the doctrine of American greatness, innocence, and superiority (e.g., Reagan’s “the last, best hope of mankind,” Albright’s “indispensable nation,” or David Gelernter’s America as “one of the most beautiful religious concepts mankind has ever known”(2)). Americolatry also entails the practice of religious devotion to America by inextricably linking Christian devotion to patriotism. In other words, to be a devoted Christian equals the uncritical acceptance of America as superior and morally regenerate. 

Thanks for some good writing, John!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #91

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

In yesterday's post I mentioned that my work on the ABS project has been stalled due to the work I am doing on grant applications for my upcoming sabbatical.

Today I think it is fair to say that the ABS project has been temporarily derailed due to the work I am doing on grant applications.  Grant applications take a lot of time to write.  And since every grant-giving institution requires something a little bit different in its application, it makes it hard to write a boilerplate essay and use it for every grant.

I finished a big proposal today and have one more big proposal to write.  I had hoped that I would be able to complete these applications without having to intrude on the time I am devoting to the ABS project, but that is not going to happen.  Moreover, sometimes life intrudes on work.  My daughter's volleyball team is preparing for what we all hope will be a nice playoff run and my wife and I are in the process finding a team for her 2015 club season. 

I WILL get the train back on the track.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, "time" is punishing me.

I do, however, have some good news to report.  I just learned that one of our team--Katie Garland, a public history graduate student at the University of Massachusetts--was just appointed to the Religion, Historic Sites, and Museums" working group at the next annual meeting of the National Council for Public History."  Nice work, Katie.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #90

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

Mama said there'd days like this. 

I was unable to carve out any time today to work on the American Bible Society project. Instead, I was in a local diner at 4:45 this morning sipping coffee and eating oatmeal trying to write a grant proposal for my upcoming sabbatical.  I am driving hard to meet my November 1 grant deadlines and I am bit worried that my work on the ABS project will slow down as a result.

Meanwhile the reports I am receiving from the project's other research fronts are very positive. Katie is hard at work doing research on chapters related to the ABS labors in Mexico and the Levant.  Alyssa is nearing completion of the research on a chapter devoted to Eugene Nida and the Good News Bible.  

The whole project is currently behind schedule, but I still think we can get back on track by the end of the year.   Stay tuned.

Virtual Office Hours: Fall 2014 - Episode 6

"Thoughts on Christine Heryman's Southern Cross"
Part I

The Author's Corner with Lindsay O'Neill

Lindsay O'Neill is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern California. This interview is based on her new book, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World (University of Pennsylvania Press, October 2014).

JF: What led you to write The Opened Letter?

LO: Growing up as the world of the Internet developed gave me a front row seat to communicative change. It also revealed to me the strains such alterations create. But I knew this was not the first communications revolution the world had seen and so I became curious about previous moments of transformation. This drew me to the British Isles in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: a time when print culture was blossoming, the post office was permanently opened to the public, and the British world was expanding geographically. It was a period that had and needed new modes of communication. At first, it was print and the growth of the newspaper press that captured my interest, but that lacked the frisson of the personal. I wanted to know how people connected with each other over long distances. I found the answer in letters. However, I also wanted to do something different with these letters. My investigations suggested that they connected whole social networks rather than simply two individuals. This led me to the world social network analysis, which allowed me to map out the webs of connection embedded in letters. Explaining what these uncovered became The Opened Letter.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Opened Letter?

LO: As the British world expanded geographically and individuals circulated through it more frequently letters became a critical mode of communication and connection. They allowed the British to establish and extend the social networks that increasingly kept their world turning during a time of geographic and social change.

JF: Why do we need to read The Opened Letter?

LO: First, the book helps us understand how the geographically expansive British world of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries functioned socially, economically, and politically by recognizing the importance social networks. However, second, it also helps us question and think about our own communicative world. We too live in an increasingly global world that is dependent upon new forms of media. I hope that reading my book will push people to put their own experience of change into a wider historical context.

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

LO: I always tell people that I became a British historian because I wanted to study America. I grew up loving American history. I remember getting chills when reading about “the shot heard ‘round the world” in fifth grade and my family possesses embarrassing video footage of me giving a tour of Gettysburg in eighth grade. However, when I took classes in college I was inundated and intrigued by the histories of other countries - places that had very unfamiliar and new stories to tell. In British history I found a happy medium: I got to explore the history of a place that was foreign to me, but one in which the future America rested.

JF: What is your next project?

LO: One story haunted me while I was doing research for The Opened Letter. It seemed that every letter book I opened mentioned the plight of two African princes from Delagoa in east Africa who had arrived in London in 1721. They had boarded a ship to see England, but the captain nefariously sold them into slavery in Jamaica instead. Miraculously, after almost two years as slaves, they were freed and ended up trying to drum up support in London to get back to home. This story gripped me and has not let go, so presently I am tracing the travels of these princes and the motivations of those who got involved with them. Besides giving me the chance to tell a story full of drama and tragedy, their journey will also allow me to delve deeper into the nature and organization of British global power in the early eighteenth century.

JF: Thanks Lindsay, sounds intriguing!

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

Here are a few things online that caught my attention this week:

Why Gordon College will not lose its accreditation.

Harold Bush on James K.A. Smith on Charles Taylor

A sports fan could waste a lot of time looking at these maps

Self-loathing at evangelical colleges?

Are religious colleges sanctuaries for the humanities?

Pete Powers's message to the college class of 2018

Cotton Mather and smallpox

Can Harrisburg come back?

Growing up Catholic in the 1970s

1830s temperance map

David Moore interviews Andrew O'Shaughnessy about his book The Men Who Lost America

Ripple likes to play

Take the #historiannchallenge

The Lake Placid Olympic village is now a prison

Help Heath Carter with his American religious history course

History for the future

Friday, October 17, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #89

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

This morning I took a break from my background reading for Chapter Five and wrote a more extensive outline for the chapter.  While I still need to more reading, especially in preparation for my section in this chapter on the anti-mission Baptists and the role of women in the ABS, I did manage to sketch out a preliminary introduction to the chapter and write about 100 words.  Slow progress is better than no progress.

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.  Mark Driscoll Resigns From Mars Hill Church
2.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--October 12, 2014
3.  You Might Be an Evangelical If...
4.  L.D. Burnett on "Secular Academic Homilies"
5.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #86
6.  In Most Colleges and Universities You Can Receive a Bachelor's Degree Without Having to Take a History Course
7.  Slacktivist Takes On Our "You Might Be an Evangelical..." Quiz
8.  The Author's Corner with J. Brent Morris
9.  The Author's Corner with Steve Longenecker

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lecture: New Jersey's Presbyterian Rebellion

This came across the New Jersey history listserv today.  I hope to see some of you in Union next month.--JF

November 21 and 22, 2014
Kean University, Union, NJ
Celebrated Author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction

New Jersey's Presbyterian Rebellion

At the time of the American Revolution Presbyterians were the largest religious denomination and most important cultural and political institution in New Jersey, yet their role in the coming of the American Revolution has been largely ignored by historians. Presbyterian clergy and laypeople, including William Livingston, Elias Boudinot, James Caldwell, John Witherspoon, and Jacob Green, fused religious and political ideas to create a powerful impetus for revolution. Presbyterian communities in Princeton, Morristown, Hanover, Greenwich, and Elizabeth-Town, to name a few, were bastions of political radicalism and Christian patriotism. This talk will examine the powerful influence of Presbyterians in the forging of an independent New Jersey and challenge us to think about how we might integrate Presbyterians into the larger narrative of the American Revolution in the state.

Register now and mail your check by November 14th! For more information
The Forum is presented by the New Jersey Historical Commission in partnership with The New Jersey State Archives, New Jersey State Museum and Kean University, and with partial funding from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. The conference is free, but as a state agency the New Jersey Historical Commission is unable to pay for meals. There is a $25 charge to purchase breakfast and lunch on the 22nd.

Philip Deloria Will Deliver Messiah College American Democracy Lecture

Philip Deloria
We in the Messiah College History Department are thrilled to have Philip Deloria of the University Michigan on campus next week to deliver our annual American Democracy lecture.  His talk is entitled "American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination."  If you are in the area I hope to see you at the lecture.

Here is the press release:

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (Oct. 2, 2014) — Dr. Philip J. Deloria, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Professor of History and LSA Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education at the University of Michigan, will discuss “American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination” Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in Parmer Hall located in the Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts. Admission is free; no ticket is required. The lecture is sponsored by the Center for Public Humanities and the Department of History. For more information, contact Shirley Groff
About Philip Deloria
Deloria is the author of Indians in Unexpected Places (2004) and Playing Indian (1998), among many publications. His family has held a prominent role in American Indian history. Grandfather Vine Deloria Sr. (1902-1990), Episcopal archdeacon of South Dakota, was the first American Indian named to an executive position by a major Protestant denomination, and father Vine Deloria Jr. (1933-2005) was a prominent author, scholar and activist.

Writing Institutional History

Burkholder and Norris have written a forthcoming history of Grace College
One of the panels I missed (due to a scheduling conflict) at the recent Conference on Faith and History meeting in Malibu was focused on writing institutional history.  It included Shirley Mullen of Houghton College, Mark Norris of Grace College, and Devin Manzullo-Thomas of Messiah College.  

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has offered a nice summary of the session.  Mullen suggested that her training a historian has helped her navigate her role as a college president.  Norris, along with Jared Burkholder, just completed an excellent history of Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana.  And Manzullo-Thomas has written a congregational history of a Brethren in Christ Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and is currently at work on the history of another BIC congregation.  (He also spends a lot of time in the Brethren in Christ Archives at Messiah College).

Gehrz, who has experience working on the history of Bethel University (where he teaches), chaired the session.  In his post he offers "6 c's of writing institutional history."  As someone who is also engaged in writing an institutional history, I found his these "c's" especially informative.  I decided to interact with them below.

Capability:  Most historians who tackle institutional histories have the skills in historical research and writing needed to pull off such a project, but they are often asked to write such histories because they are "well-trusted figures" in the particular community.  While I have no history with the American Bible Society, I imagine that they approached me about writing the history of the organization because they thought that I was sympathetic to its mission.  

Comfort: Christian historians writing institutional history can "construct narratives of hope in times of difficult change."  Gehrz is not advocating some kind of providential history here, but he does believe that a historian writing the history of a Christian organization "should be able to help communities take a longer view than that offered when we're experiencing a particularly difficult present...."  Who knows?  Maybe my history of the American Bible Society will help the organization think more deeply about its next two hundred years.  I hope this is the case.

Complication:  A good historian will always make the smooth places rough.  In other words, they will "complicate the narrative."  Not everyone affiliated with a particular institution will like such a complicated narrative, but as Gehrz notes (echoing Mullen) a complicated story is more truthful and complete.

Compassion:  As Gehrz writes, Christians who write institutional histories must "rejoice with those who have rejoiced and weep with those who have wept."  They must show compassion for their subjects.  I think this is something akin to the kind of historical empathy I have discussed in Why Study History?  In some cases, what the panelists are calling for may be closer to "sympathy" than "empathy," but I think it is OK if these two affections merge in writing institutional histories.  As for my ABS book, I am not sure that I would take this notion of "compassion" too far.  While it is a book that I hope will edify the faithful followers and supporters of the ABS mission, I am not entirely sure that I am writing with compassion for the institution.  Maybe I should be doing more of this.  I am sure that executive who run the ABS might like such an approach.

Community:  Drawing on Michael Frisch's A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History, Gehrz (borrowing from Manzullo-Thomas's remarks) notes that institutional histories should be written in dialogue and conversation with the subjects.  

Confession:  Should Christian historians writing institutional histories "confess" the past sins of their institutions?  Non-Christian historians might bristle at such an idea, but isn't this what is happening all over the country as colleges and universities begin to explore the relationship between their institutions and slavery?  While such institutions may not be "confessing" sins in a Christian way, they are certainly making public apologies for their past.  I am not sure that this category applies to my work on the ABS.  Unlike the members of this panel, I am not writing as an insider.  But perhaps something I uncover may lead to this kind of confession.  

Great stuff as usual from The Pietist Schoolman.  I had fun interacting with this post.

The Author's Corner with J. Brent Morris

J. Brent Morris is Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Carolina at Beaufort. This interview is based on his new bookOberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom and Equality in Antebellum America (The University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism?

BM: Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism grew out of my frustration with scholars' frequent uncritical acceptance of the radical reputation the Oberlin community earned in its first three decades. This was manifested in the literature as a tendency by even well-respected historians to drop the name "Oberlin" as a keyword or shorthand of sorts to denote zealous abolitionism, religiosity, and social reform before hurriedly moving on to other topics. As I soon found it to have also been the case with contemporaries, it was often enough to point out the established and unquestioned fact of Oberlin’s significance as an icon of the abolitionist movement. Self-evidence was sufficient proof and too often took the place of details. I set out to put substance behind this potent symbol, and hoped to suggest new ways of thinking about the abolitionist movement in the process.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism?

BM: Oberlin—the community, faculty, students, and alumni—comprised the core of the antislavery movement in the West and was one of the most influential and successful groups of abolitionists in antebellum America. With a philosophy that was a composite of various schools of anti-slavery thought aimed at supporting the best hope of success, Oberlin led the process by which Western abolitionism transformed from an isolated reform into a multiracial mass movement that brought down slavery and forever changed the nation.

JF: Why do we need to read Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism?

BM: Attention to Oberlin’s role in transforming the West shifts the focus of generations of antislavery scholarship from the East, and also demonstrates that the dynamic Western African American influence, rather than the mostly-white Eastern leadership, was largely responsible for a continuous infusion of radicalism that helped the movement stay true to its most progressive fundamental principles. The book also contributes to a fuller understanding of ideology, means, and ends in the American abolitionist movement.

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

BM: Mine was a circuitous path to the profession. I was an English major as an undergraduate, but picked up a history minor in my final three semesters. Part of that minor included an independent study that first introduced me to the joys of archival research and the rich treasure that were the WPA slave narratives. I stubbornly went on to law school, but could not resist the temptation to spend my study breaks in the library's history stacks. Long story short, I couldn't ignore the bite of that pesky history bug, and the longer it festered the more I realized that I would ultimately be happiest as a historian. Despite the years of law school student loan payments to which I still have to look forward without a lawyer's salary, I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

JF: What is your next project?

BM: Right now I'm busy with three substantial projects. I'm putting some finishing touches on a second book that I've promised to have to the University of South Carolina Press within the month. Yes Lord I Know the Road: A History of African Americans in South Carolina 1526-2008, with Documents represents the first comprehensive history of African Americans in the Palmetto State and includes primary documents that will be a valuable teaching tool for students and scholars of all levels. With my first two books completed, I am finally making significant progress on a decade old pet project of mine: a work exploring the world of the maroon (fugitive slave) communities of the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina. I am also Director of an NEH-funded teacher's institute, "America's Reconstruction: The Untold Story, " which will be held in Beaufort this coming summer.

JF: Sounds like you are busy! Thanks Brent.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #88

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

I am still doing secondary reading for Chapter Five.  Today I spent a couple of hours with Paul Boyer's Urban Masses and Moral Order in America and Curtis Johnson's Redeeming America: Evangelicals and the Road to the Civil War.

Boyer reminded me that the Board of Managers of the ABS in the early nineteenth century were some were the wealthiest men in the United States.  Johnson reminded me that a combination of the Board's wealth and its Calvinism led frontier settlers to reject its mission.  Elias Boudinot modeled the ABS on the First Bank of the United States so it is not surprising that he received resistance from common evangelicals--mostly Baptists--on the frontier who sensed a cabal of wealthy Calvinists who wanted to use their wealth and theology to create a Christian nation

After completing my reading today I was also reminded that writing history requires constant engagement with secondary sources.  We may come up with a great idea for a book or article, and spend months pondering such an idea, but the idea is only developed and refined in conversation with others, namely the historians who have thought about the same things we are thinking about.  So stop thinking about your project and get to work!

In Most Colleges and Universities You Can Receive a Bachelor's Degree Without Having to Take a History Course

Messiah College requires a course in history (but not specifically American history) and at least six hours of foreign language study (2 courses). It does not require that all students take a course in economics.
It looks like very few colleges and universities require students to take a course in history, foreign language or economics to graduate.  Here is Douglas Belkin's article in today's Wall Street Journal:
A majority of U.S. college graduates don’t know the length of a congressional term, what the Emancipation Proclamation was, or which Revolutionary War general led the American troops at Yorktown.
The reason for such failures, according to a recent study: Few schools mandate courses in core subjects like U.S. government, history or economics. The sixth annual analysis of core curricula at 1,098 four-year colleges and universities by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that just 18% of schools require American history to graduate, 13% require a foreign language and 3% economics.
“It’s much easier for campus administrators to let faculty make decisions rather than to decide with them what are really important and what really matters,” said Michael Poliakoff, director of the survey. “It’s like saying to a lot of 18-year-olds the cafeteria is open, you kids just eat whatever you like.”
The report is often dismissed by college presidents as arbitrary, but it comes amid growing unease about the value of a university degree at a time of grade inflation and employer complaints that graduates are entering the workforce without basic skills such as critical thinking.
Last month, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa released a sequel to their book “Academically Adrift,” which follows a group of freshman who entered a four-year college in 2005. Many earned good grades while studying less than five hours a week, but more than a third didn’t significantly improve their critical-thinking skills, the authors said.
Their new book “Aspiring Adults Adrift,” checks up on the same group and finds that two years after graduation a quarter of them were living at home, and 30% were earning less than $30,000 a year in full-time jobs.
Mr. Poliakoff says the lack of a rigorous core curriculum is behind the failure to learn. At stake, he says, is the nation’s civic and economic health.
Among schools that fared poorly on the survey was Whittier College, a private liberal-arts college in Southern California. It earned an F because, by the metrics of the poll, it requires only one core course—in composition—and none in literature, language, government or history, economics, math and science.
Sean Morris, chairman of the English Department at Whittier, said the survey was superficial. The school has an interdisciplinary approach, so a history curriculum might be wrapped into an art or science course, and composition might be tied to math.
“We don’t mandate every single student take a class in American history…so you may find a senior not knowing the specifics of the New Deal,” he said. “But you will graduate knowing how to think and how to accumulate that knowledge and make connections between things.”
The authors of the report commissioned a survey in 2011 that found that 49% of Americans don’t think college students are getting their money’s worth from public schools and that 70% believe colleges should require basic classes in core subjects. Among adults between the ages of 25 and 34, the share was 80%.
“That’s the kicker,” said Mr. Poliakoff. “These are the kids who just graduated and were dealing with reality and they said ‘these are things we need.’ ”
Among schools that received one of the 98 F’s were Wesleyan University in Connecticut and Brown University in Rhode Island. A spokesmen for Wesleyan declined to comment. A representative for Brown wasn’t immediately available to comment.
Christopher Newport University in Virginia received one of just 23 A’s. “We believe that acquaintance with these seven subjects is essential to building a strong foundation for a meaningful and consequential life,” said university President Paul Trible, a former Republican senator from Virginia.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonprofit organization that advocates for accountability at U.S. colleges and universities.
And the answers to the survey’s history questions: The Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed the freedom of slaves during the Civil War; a congressional term lasts two years in the House; and George Washington led the American troops at Yorktown.

Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill Church

For those of you have been following this saga in American evangelicalism...

From Religion News Network:

(RNS) Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who has been accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated his most devoted followers, resigned from his Seattle church Wednesday (Oct. 15), according to a document obtained by RNS.
The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll’s resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.
“Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family—even physically unsafe at times—and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill,” Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.
Read the rest here.
And now for the big question:  Is blogger Warren Throckmorton somehow responsible for bringing him down?

Slacktivist Takes Our "You Might Be an Evangelical..." Quiz

Some of you are familiar with Slacktivist, Fred Clark's progressive evangelical blog at Patheos.  The blog has a huge following.  It is not unusual for Clark to get hundreds of comments on a given post.  (Perhaps Fred can offer some tips about how to get more people to comment on the posts at The Way of Improvement Leads Home).

On Monday he took our "You Might Be An Evangelical If..." quiz.  Here are his answers:

1. Do you attend a church of over 2000 people?
These days, I usually attend a church of more than 2 million members, which is part of a communion of more than 80 million. But the actual congregation is only about 100 people. And the biggest congregation I’ve ever belonged to was only about 400. So this would be a “No.”
2. Have you studied at, or do you work at, a college that identified itself as a “Christian college?”
While the presence of folks like Tony Campolo and Peter Enns may cause some to reject its claim, my alma mater does, in fact, identify itself as a Christian college.
3.  Have you seen the rapture movie A Thief in the Night?  (I could have probably asked if they read the Left Behind series of novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye).
Yes. (And let’s just say yes.)
4. Have you been to any of the following Christian Bible conferences:  Word of Life, Camp of the Woods, Harvey Cedars, America’s Keswick, Sandy Cove, or Rumney Bible Conference?  [Fea's quiz was written for a northeast group]
I’ve heard Uncle Jack preach more times than I can count. Yes.
5. Did you vote for George Bush in 2000 or 2004?
No, and hell no. Kudos to Dr. Fea for A) including this question; and B) not making this the only question.
6. Have you been on a short-term mission trip?
Just one? High-school youth group lasts for four years.
7. Have you attended a Billy Graham or other evangelistic crusade?
Others, yes, many others — but I’ve only ever seen Billy on TV.
8. Have you read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict?
And also the sequel, More Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Sadly, such things can never be un-read.
9. Have you read something by C.S. Lewis?
I never got all the way through his collected letters, but except for that, I’ve read just about everything by C.S. Lewis.
10. Do you listen to Christian radio?
Not anymore, except for when I’m driving to DC or to Pittsburgh and I hit those otherwise dead spots south of Aberdeen or west of Harrisburg. But during the years I spent writing Christian music reviews I listened to a lot of Christian radio. Plus, I’vewritten for Christian radio, been interviewed on Christian radio, and I was a DJ for the Christian station back at my Christian college. So I’m claiming half-credit on this one.
11. Do you have a Thomas Kinkade painting in your house?
I have a Howard Finster painting, does that count? That does not count. If I lived in a charming little cottage alongside a quaint cobblestone path, the warm glow of soft, fuzzy light you’d see pouring from my cottage windows would be from a fire in which I was burning Thomas Kinkade paintings.
12. Have you read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life?
I have not. Just couldn’t get past the lack of a hyphen in that title.
13. Do you read or subscribe to Christianity Today?
So, then, my final score is 8.5 out of 13 — only 35 percent backslidden!
I’ll note that this makes me just slightly less evangelical than Dr. Fea himself, who scored a 9 on his own quiz. (I won’t speculate too much, but I’m guessing he doesn’t own any Kinkade prints either.)
That was fun. All that’s missing, I think, is one of those little charts classifying the meaning of one’s score. Perhaps something like this:
0-5: If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity? Becausewe do, and it ain’t pretty.
6-7: We’ve missed you at church the past few Sundays. We’re praying for you.
8-9: You’re an evangelical, sort of … but we’re watching you.
10-12: Hiddley-ho, neighbor, and Praise the Lord!
13: It’s an honor to meet you, Rev. Graham. And on behalf of all of us, we’d just like to thank you for your long, faithful …

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #87

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

I was not satisfied with the amount of time I put into my work on the American Bible Society project this morning.  I am still in this process of working on grant proposals for my sabbaticals next year and it is eating up a lot of time.  

Nevertheless, I did manage to get some nice framing ideas for Chapter Five from my reading this morning.  I finished Abzug's Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination and spent most of my time revisiting David Sehat's The Myth of American Religious Freedom and Mark Noll's America's God.  I found Sehat's idea of a "moral establishment" to be very useful as I think about the ABS's role in the religious culture of the early nineteenth century. Noll's book reminded me that organizations like the ABS were part of mainstream American life in this period.

I left my reading this morning with two unrelated thoughts.

1.  There is a major difference (at least for me) between reading a book in the midst of a major research project and reading a book for pleasure or simply to keep up with the field. More on that later.

2.  I am coming to the conclusion that there has not been a good overview of early nineteenth century evangelical benevolent societies in the United States since Charles Foster's Errand of Mercy: The Evangelical United Front, 1790-1837.  Does anyone want to offer a title that is newer or more comprehensive?

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #86

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

Most of my morning today was spent reading for Chapter Five. This chapter will require me to place the history of the American Bible Society into the larger evangelical benevolent movement of the early nineteenth century so I need to bone up a bit on the history of the temperance, sabbatarian, and women's rights movements. And I need to understand all of these movements in the context of the Second Great Awakening.

This morning I reread Robert Abzug's Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and Religious Imagination.
It offers a nice overview of the history of antebellum reform.

Maybe I will actually write something tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Author's Corner with Steve Longenecker

Steve Longenecker is Professor of American History at Bridgewater College. This interview is based on his new book, Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and Race in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North (Fordham University Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Gettysburg Religion?

SL: I noticed that a map of the election of 1856 depicted a stark divide between the northern North, which voted for Fremont, and the southern North, which went for Buchanan. It looked like a straight latitude line through the middle of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and I determined that a border North must have existed as a counterpoint to the border South. The border North went on my list of questions to investigate.

Years later I began the project at Gettysburg. I was on sabbatical and just for fun spent a few days investigating Dunkers/Church of the Brethren (my faith tradition) who lived on the battlefield. I found a great story and was hooked.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Gettysburg Religion

SL: The religion of Gettysburg and the surrounding region, the Border North, reveals much about larger American society and about how trends in the Border North mirrored national developments. In many ways, the Border North belonged to the future and signaled a coming pattern for modern American.

JF: Why do we need to read Gettysburg Religion

SL: I believe in my thesis and intend to contribute to scholarship, but mostly I hope that people read the book for fun. Gettysburg Religion has interesting detail and a new perspective on one of America’s most famous small towns. Gettysburg, for example, was surprisingly diverse with African Americans, Catholics, Dunkers, Scottish Dissenters, and recent immigrants in addition to the mainline fellowships. Additionally, the Border North was on the edge of bondage—Gettysburg was only seven miles from slave territory—and the region had surprisingly complex race relations. Gettysburg Religion also resurrects small town religion, including peculiarities that make human behavior so fascinating and congregational life, which was sometimes inspiring and other times irrational. The book, then, is unique not just for its point about the Border North but also for bringing back to life average persons in the small-town mid-nineteenth century.

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

SL: I committed to teaching history when I was in the fourth grade. I realized that I really loved history and that it came easily for me, and teaching felt like the natural path to pursue this talent.

JF: What is your next project? 

SL: I am examining the religion of Confederate chaplains after the war. Chaplains are legendary for their very public advocacy of the Lost Cause, but their personal faith and congregational life are less well-known. I have found that sometimes the religion of Lost Cause chaplains was more complex and more progressive than the simplistic, very conservative public faith they espoused as celebrants of the Cause of Lee and Jackson. Although the project is too new to speak definitively about the organization of the book, at this point the doctrine of the two kingdoms comes to mind: some chaplains (but not all) had one set of beliefs in God’s kingdom and another in the worldly kingdom. The project will interpret the Lost Cause as communal balm to justify the devastating cost and mistake of the Civil War rather than civil religion or a romantic, anti-modernist rant.

JF: Thanks Steve, sounds good!

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Some critics of the new AP curriculum will lose a lot of money if teachers decide to adopt it.

Robert Webster, former slave

David Armitage: Historians should get involved in politics and policy making. Also, The History Manifesto

Americans want more religion in politics

Wheaton College is suing the Obama administration, but not all professors at the college thing it is a good idea

Robert E. Lee's slave

Chutes and ladders; Civil War style


Check out Liz Covart's early American history podcast

Andrew Sullivan defends Gordon College

The latest issue of Fides et Historia is here.

Random Miami Dolphins highlight from 1981

Michael Blaakman reviews Francois Furstenburg, When the United States Spoke French

Tenured Radical on the USA Today list on the best places to study history and other history lists.

Counterfactuals and teaching

Friday, October 10, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #85

Southern Methodist University
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I am writing from my hotel room in Dallas across the street from the beautiful campus of Southern Methodist University.  As noted in a previous post, last night I gave a lecture to about 75 students and faculty entitled "The American Bible Society and the Creation of the Christian Nationalism."   The lecture was drawn from Chapter One and Chapter Two of the project. Some of you who have been following along will remember that these were the two chapters that served as my "sample chapters" for potential publishers.  Last night was the first time I shared my ABS research in a public forum of this nature and I got some good questions from the audience that will force me to do a better job of refining my arguments.

As I spent time editing the lecture on the plane from Philadelphia to Dallas I realized that the prose in these chapters still need a lot of work.  What I thought was in pretty good shape in August now seemed overly wordy and full of extraneous information that was unrelated to my argument.  

On a related matter, the demands of my academic life at Messiah College combined with my visit to Dallas made for a very unproductive writing week.  While I continue to do background reading for my chapter on the ABS benevolent empire, I have still not started writing the chapter.  Here's hoping for a return next week to a more regimented writing schedule.  

Most of the research is now in place for the story of the ABS through World War I.  It is now a matter of putting that research into accessible prose.  Stay tuned.