An Interview with Allen Guelzo


Over at History News Network, Erik Moshe interviews Gettysburg College historian Allen Guelzo.

Here are Moshe’s questions:

What books are you reading now?

What is your favorite history book?

Why did you choose history as your career?

What qualities do you need to be a historian?

Which historical time period do you find to be most fascinating?

Who was your favorite history teacher?

What are your hopes for world and social history?

Do you own any rare history or collectible books? Do you collect artifacts related to history?

What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career?

How has the study of history changed in the course of your career?

If you could sum up world history in one word, what would that word be?

Why’d you pick it?

What are you doing next?

Read Guelzo’s answers these questions here.  (Spoiler alert #1: He is writing a “big book” on Robert E. Lee with Knopf.  Spoiler alert #2: The word he used to sum world history is “depravity.”)

Michael Kazin on the Fate of Presidents Who Didn’t Win a Majority of the Popular Vote


John Quincy Adams

I have said it many times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home: historians cannot predict the future.

But they can provide much needed context.

That is what Michael Kazin of Georgetown University does in his recent Washington Post op-ed “No matter what he does, history says Trump will never be popular.”

Here is a taste:

…American history is clear: Presidents who’ve lost the popular vote don’t win popular support.

The four previous presidents who finished second in votes cast all struggled to convince Americans that they were doing a good job. Each battled the perception that his victory was undemocratic and illegitimate; each soon lost the confidence of his own partisans in Congress and led an administration that historians regard as a failure. Each faced an uphill struggle to keep his base happy and mobilized while also reaching out to the majority, which preferred policies his voters detested. Most, like Trump so far, did not even try to square that circle.

Only George W. Bush seemed to escape this fate, for a time. But his temporary success had more to do with the acclaim he received after the attacks of 9/11 than anything else he accomplished in office. And this crisis-induced honeymoon didn’t last: During most of his second term, Bush’s rating stalled far below the 48 percent of the vote he had won in 2000, when half a million more Americans preferred Al Gore.

The three other presidents who lost the popular vote all lived and governed in the 19th century. None managed to overcome his initial political deficit or to enact any of the major policies he desired. In the 1824 election, John Quincy Adams drew just 31 percent of the popular vote. The conditions of that contest have never been repeated: Adams was one of four candidates, all of whom nominally belonged to the same party, the Democratic-Republicans. Because no man won an electoral-vote majority, the decision fell to the House of Representatives. Adams triumphed, largely because he agreed to appoint Henry Clay, one of his erstwhile rivals, as secretary of state. Andrew Jackson, whose popular-vote count had easily topped that of Adams, screamed that his rivals had made a “corrupt bargain”; if citizens accepted it, he charged, “they may bid farewell to their freedom.”

Read the entire piece here.

When Is Springsteen Coming to Broadway?


Michael Riedel reports at the New York Post:

Bruce Springsteen fans eagerly await ticket information for his gig this fall at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre. I know, because not a day goes by when I don’t hear from them.

Sources say that Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the Kerr, is getting a little nervous: The company passed on some plays to make room for the Boss and would like to get things rolling. But Springsteen, 67, seems to be in no rush to make his Broadway debut. He’s putting together his act and will make an official announcement when he’s good and ready.

“It’s not like he needs to crank up the publicity,” one source says. “I think tickets will sell out in about 30 seconds.”

As The Post reported in June, Springsteen plans to perform five shows a week for eight weeks. He wants to appear in a cozy setting — the Kerr has just 975 seats — as opposed to the huge arenas he sells out all over the world.

His show, sources say, will reflect the intimacy of the Kerr. He’ll be reading from “Born To Run,” his best-selling memoir, and picking up his guitar from time to time to illustrate a point or a moment from his life with one of his songs. (Sounds like an evening at the 92nd Street Y to me.)

Read the entire piece here.

Apparently This Guy Does Not Like My Take on the “Court Evangelicals”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C.

This Columnist is an Apostate. America was Founded as a Christian Nation. And what is the alternative to Nationalism?–Globalism, the precursor to the One World Government of the Antichrist. I praise God for those Christians who support President Trump, in spite of all his indiscretions. Barack Obama and the Democrats are Anti-Christs, seeking a godless, Socialist, Secular Humanist TYRANNY, and the End to America as Founded.   (Source)

In the Last 7 Days the Founding Fathers Were Invoked…


For their commitment to the separation of church and state

For their concerns about the abuse of power

For their belief in a free press

For their support of term limits

For their support of a minimum wage

For their defense of the right to bear arms

For their opposition to corporations

For their belief in self-government

For their dreams

For instituting a system of checks and balances

For their opposition to tyranny

Their hatred of the poor

For their support of health care

For their fear of big government

For their knowledge of the Bible

For their belief that members of Congress should represent the wants of their constituencies

For their defense of free speech

For their criticism of vast quantities of wealth

For the belief in free trade

For supporting whistleblowers

For their love of beer

For their working-class backgrounds

For their belief in an amendment process

For their appeal to a Judeo-Christian God

For laying the foundation for a diverse country

Yes, we need good history!

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 1


The Gilder-Lehrman 2017 Princeton Seminar on colonial America is underway!

Last night we held our opening dinner with the teachers.  A few teachers had some difficulties with flights, but everyone is now here and settled into their rooms on the Princeton University campus.  This year we have 35 history teachers representing 20 states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhoda Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

My partner-in-crime Nate McAlister (did I mention he was National History of the Year in 2010?) got the teachers started on a gargoyle scavenger hunt on the Princeton campus. We also took a brief tour of the eighteenth-century campus.  All of the attendees read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and seem eager to see sites related to Philip VIckers Fithian.

The teachers will be busy this week. In addition to morning lectures on colonial America and afternoon sessions on interpreting primary sources, we will be spending the entire day on Wednesday touring colonial Philadelphia with LaSalle University public historian and tour guide extraordinaire George Boudreau.

On Monday afternoon we will be teaming-up with the Historical Society of Princeton for a tour of early American Princeton. On Thursday afternoon we will spend a couple of hours with a rare book librarian from Princeton University’s Firestone Library.  I have asked the librarian to pull first editions of every book Fithian read during his short life and most of the books I will discuss in morning lectures.  This is always one the highlights of the week.  Finally, we are hoping to spend some time at the Princeton cemetery where the teachers will get a chance to visit the grace of Aaron Burr Jr., Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, and others.

It is going to be a great week!  Stay tuned for updates.  Check out pics at @princetonsemnr

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Sanctions Are a Setback Trump and Putin Both Sought to Avoid”

Washington Post: “Kushner to detail four meetings with Russians before election” 

Wall Street Journal: “Kushner, Russian Ambassador Had Undisclosed Contact”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Harrisburg School District ramps up recruitment amid teaching shortage”

BBC: “Trump son-in-law denies Russian collusion”

CNN: “Kushner: No additional contacts with Russians”

FOX: “TOP DEM’S DIRE PREDICTION Firing Mueller would cause ‘cataclysm’ in DC, Schumer says”

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

The Democracy in Chains controversy

Organizing your bookshelf

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

He died from eating library paste

Politics and evangelicals

More evangelicals and politics

Is evangelicalism a political term?

The history of capitalism in the high school classroom

Thomas Haskell, RIP

Promoting Barbados

More on Catholicism’s relationship with evangelical dominionism

The tabloid presidency

Saving Civil War battlefields

George McGovern and the religious left

Subscribing to a colonial newspaper

David Library fellows talk about their research

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Congress Agrees on Sanctions for Russia, Defying White House”

Washington Post: “ISIS nearly stumbled on ingredients for ‘dirty bomb’ in Iraq”

Wall Street Journal: “Lawmakers Reach Deal on Sanctions Against Russia”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Plan B revenue package hits wall in Pa. House; speaker challenges Senate, governor to lead”

BBC: “Congress in deal on new Russia sanctions”

CNN: “8 found dead in trailer in San Antonio”

FOX: “GRISLY DISCOVERY: Police find 8 bodies inside 18-wheeler parked outside Walmart in San Antonio”

Bonus Podcast Episodes!



Producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling here. We have bonus podcast content being released this summer. However, it is a special treat that we’re only making available to our patrons. That means if you want to hear any of our fascinating interviews with movers and shakers in the world of historical thinking, you’ll need to head over to our support page. But don’t worry, there’s no minimum pledge for receiving this content.

So thank you again to all of our generous patrons and thank you to all of those who join us in the next few weeks. And even if you can’t make a pledge right now, don’t worry, we’ll be back in the fall with standard, unrestricted episodes!

Princeton Seminar Is About To Kick-Off Its Fourth Year

36167-nassau_hall_princetonNext week I will be at Princeton University to lead a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar of the “Colonial Era” for history teachers.  This is the fourth year that I have joined my partner in crime, 2010 National Teacher of the Year Nate McAlister, in leading this seminar. The Princeton Seminar (as we call it) has become one of the professional highlights of my year.

Stay tuned for updates as the week progresses.  In the meantime, here are some pics from previous Princeton seminars:

Welcome Park

The 2015 Princeton Seminar at Welcome Park in Philadelphia


George Boudreau of LaSalle University, the man who many believe to be the greatest tour guide of colonial Philadelphia that has ever lived, will be back in 2017!


Nate likes to take the teachers into Einstein’s old classroom


There is plenty of time for impromptu tours of the 18th-century Princeton campus


Teachers spend a lot of time working with primary sources

Fithian Wall

The teachers read The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  The ghost of Philip Vickers Fithian (Princeton class of 1772) hovers over the events of the week


Our visit to the Princeton Cemetery (Aaron Burr, Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, etc.) is always a highlight–rain or shine.


One my favorite moments of the week is when we take the teachers to Firestone Library to look at rare 18th-century books


And yes, there is the occasional lecture

Our First Summer “Patrons-Only” Episode is Here


Todd Allen

If you are a patron of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, you have heard from producer Drew Dylri Hermeling this morning about how to access our first patrons-only summer mini-episode.

Our guest on the episode is Todd Allen, the new assistant Special Assistant to the President and Provost for Diversity Affairs at Messiah College.  Todd is a scholar of the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement and wrote his doctoral dissertation on museum interpretations of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.

For more than a decade Todd has led “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Bus Tour,” a premier Civil Rights bus tour that takes participants to nearly every major historical site associated with the Movement.  Stops on the tour include Greensboro, NC; Atlanta, GA; Albany, GA; Montgomery, AL; Birmingham, AL; Memphis, TN; and Nashville, TN.  The tour combines historical site and museum visits with lectures, conversations with major Civil Rights Movement veterans, and documentary films.  I took the tour in June 2017 and wrote about it here.

In this episode, Todd talks about the origins of the tour, Civil Rights Movement tourism, his building of relationships with the veterans of the Movement, and a whole lot more.

We are thrilled to share this special episode with our patrons and send it along to all future patrons as well.  Please consider becoming a patron by visiting our Patreon page and making a pledge.

On Writing Your Second History Book


Benjamin Park, an early American historian who teaches at Sam Houston State University in Texas, has live-tweeted a great session from the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) on how to go about writing a second book.

For most academic historians, their first book is a revised version of their dissertation. Much of the research and writing for the first book is accomplished during graduate school. (Although revisions are always necessary for turning a dissertation into a book). Second books, however, are usually written under different circumstances.  Graduate students become faculty members and their lives change.  They have to prepare lectures, attend meetings, and, for some, take on the responsibilities of family life.  Writing that second book become a lot more difficult when one’s attention is pulled in so many different directions.

The members of the panel:

Kathleen DuVal of UNC-Chapel Hill

Paul Erickson of the American Antiquarian Society

Timothy Mennell, University of Chicago Press

Tamara Plakins Thornton, University at Buffalo

Catherine Kelly, University of Oklahoma

As I read Ben’s tweets I once again realized how different my career has been when compared to the traditional career trajectory (or at least the one that is considered normal among people who attend SHEAR) in the profession.

Here are some of Park’s post

Something for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Think About


Sarah Huckabee Sanders has replaced Sean Spicer as Donald Trump’s Press Secretary.  Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, is an evangelical Christian.

Most American evangelicals are fond of C.S. Lewis.  Perhaps Sanders has read “The Chronicles of Narnia” series to her children or hopes that they will read it on their own some day.  I imagine that Sanders would embrace much of what Lewis has to say in his classic Mere Christianity.

With this in mind, I hope Sanders gets a chance to read Jennifer Rubin’s short Washington Post piece “The inevitable, fitting end to Spicer’s miserable tenure in the White House.”  Rubin’s “moral argument” is definitely worth considering, not only for Sanders, but for all of us.

Here is a taste:

There is a moral argument, I suppose, for men and women who chose to go into this administration to serve in Cabinet-level or sub-Cabinet positions out of a sense of obligation to the country. (The better argument is that working in this administration inevitably leads to enabling wrongdoing and horrible policy decisions, but I understand the rationale of those who disagree with me.) However, there is no moral argument for going directly into the president’s senior/political staff, which in this administration means defending indefensible conduct, denying reality and encouraging others to lie in defense of the administration. You cannot serve in a dishonorable White House honorably.

Spicer willingly embraced the effort to intimidate and silence the press. He accepted his role in trying to demolish objective reality. He relished the mission to discredit every independent source of information that might contradict the president. In doing so he, more than any predecessor, did harm to the First Amendment and to the White House. He lowered the standard set by administrations of both parties — spin, advocate and sidestep but never lie.

For young, ambitious men and women in Washington and elsewhere, Spicer is an object lesson. Ambition and yearning to be in the “know,” in the center of power (what C.S. Lewis called the “inner ring“), can lead one to cast aside principle, values and simple decency. Lewis described the impulse to be an insider:

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel. … Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.

Read the entire piece here.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Spicer’s Abrupt Departure Rattles a White House on Edge”

Washington Post: “Sessions, Russian official discussed matters related to Trump campaign, intercepts show”

Wall Street Journal: “Trump Shakes Up Communications Staff; Spicer Quits”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “5 years after NCAA’s Sandusky sanctions: Why Penn State football is thriving”

BBC: “Martial law extended on Philippine island”

CNN: “What this staff shakeup tells us about Trump

FOX: “STAYING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS Trump Jr, Manafort strike deal with Senate panel to avoid public hearing”


Facebook as a Source of Civil Dialogue


Everyone uses Facebook in different ways.  I initially tried to use my Facebook page as a place to share photos and stories about my kids and family, but in the last year or so it has become more of a site for conversation about history, religion, politics, and other things I write about here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  That is fine.  I welcome the conversation.  I even enjoy it and learn a great deal from it.  I will probably just form a new FB page at some point where I will share about more personal matters.

(I should also add that not everything I write on the blog makes it to the FB page. I only post selective highlights from the daily posts at the blog).

At the current moment my FB page includes all kinds of people with opinions.  Some of those opinions are quite strong.  There are people who contribute to the conversation who did not go to college. There are people with Ph.Ds.  There are working-class people and white collar workers.  There are people who represent all religious faiths and no religious faith at all.   There are pastors and laypeople and academics and students. There are men and women and people of all races and ethnic groups.  There are liberals and conservatives.  You get the idea.

With this in mind, let me say a couple of things about the discourse that happens at the FB page:

First, keep it civil. Remember, it is my Facebook page.  If you can’t argue in a civil way I will “unfriend” you.  If you don’t like the community I am trying to create at the page and through the blog you are more than welcome to find an online community you like better.  I am not interested in growing my number of FB friends.  I am interested in engaging with thoughtful people who can teach me things, challenge me, and make me consider different ways to think about the world.  If that community is small, so be it.

Second, if you are part of my tribe of evangelical Christians, I want to encourage you to understand the community of people you are entering when you write on the page. Please do not write as if you are speaking to people in the church.  You are not.  Don’t assume that the people who participate on the page share your religious and theological convictions.  If you are going to argue based on Christian ideals or the Bible (which is perfectly acceptable), identify yourself in that way, but also realize that others who do not share your presuppositions may also want to contribute to the debate.  Be careful about getting too preachy.  Let me encourage you to use the page as a place to work on how to bring your faith to bear on public life and to strengthen your ability to dialogue in a respectable way in a forum where not everyone shares your view of the world.  We evangelicals need to get better at doing this.

Third, if you are an intellectual, an academic, a Ph.D, a self-professed cosmopolitan, etc… please use this site as a place where you can sharpen your skills at speaking to public audiences and people who may not share your view of the world.  In other words, the same thing I just said to the members of my evangelical tribe apply to you.  Try not to be condescending.  If your ideas are indeed true, then you should be able to communicate them in a way that makes sense to all kinds of people without deriding them.

Of course I need to take all of this into consideration as well.  Let me also add that I am not trying to stymie good argument and conversation.  Rather, I am hoping to encourage dialogue among the diverse range of people who read the feed.  I should also say that I have a lot of specific people in mind here, but I am not writing this in response to any one specific incident.  I have been pondering a post like this for a long time.

I should also say that most people–the overwhelming majority– who write on this page are very thoughtful and respectful. What I am writing here does not apply to them.  I am very pleased with the conversation that takes place, but lately there have been a few cases that have caused me to worry that such good conversation might be derailed.

Thanks for reading.

“The most scrutinized father-son relationship in American history?”

Houston Navy Week

The folks at Salon are playing fast and loose with their headlines these days.  Joshua David Stein’s piece on Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. is titled “The most scrutinized father-son relationship in American history.

So I ask my historian friends, is this true?

How does Trump-Trump Jr. relationship compare with:

John Adams and John Quincy Adams?

George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush?

Ben Franklin and William Franklin?

Abraham Lincoln and Tad Lincoln?

Don Corleone and Michael Corleone? 🙂