Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #66

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I did not get much accomplished on the ABS project last weekend.  A Messiah College History Department picnic, a sabbatical proposal, grant-writing, the start of the NFL season, and family responsibilities kept me away from my desk.  But I am now back in the saddle.  In fact, this morning I put the finishing touches on Chapter Three and sent it off to Katie for proofreading and editing.  (She is very good at this). Tomorrow I will begin organizing my notes for Chapter Four.  Stay tuned

As I worked on the conclusion to Chapter Three this morning I revisited some of the vast literature on the construction of American nationalism in the early republic.  I continue to be impressed with the depth and scope of this literature.  I am a big fan of Waldstreicher on parades and festive culture, Larson and Howe on internal improvements, and Loughran and others on print. But it also strikes me that this literature (with the exception of Howe) is very weak on religion. Anyone who reads the records of the American Bible Society must be struck by the fact that the Society is also in the business of nation-building and it is using print, internal improvements, and an appeal to the public imagination to do it.  Yet the ABS and its officers--folks like Elias Boudinot, Francis Scott Key, John Quincy Adams, Lyman Beecher, Arthur Tappan, etc...---clearly see the construction of the nation in Christian and providential terms.  I realize that not everyone involved in the nation-building process wanted to construct a nation that was Christian in character, but it is hard to argue with the fact that the vision of the ABS (and other benevolent societies) was pretty mainstream in the early 19th century.

Since I am writing a a popular institutional history in which I must paint with broad brush strokes, I will not be taking a sidetrack into the historiography of American nationalism in the early republic. Such a sidetrack would be inappropriate in a volume of this nature.  But perhaps an article is needed on this subject.