On the Road in April (and Beyond?)

ba0e0-boesontheroad-bmp

My travel schedule this Spring has been light.  I have been enjoying teaching this semester and the students in my Pennsylvania History and United States History to 1865 courses have been excellent.  I have taken some time to tweak some of my lectures, experiment with some new assignments, and become a better discussion leader.  This is my third year teaching Pennsylvania History and I think I am finally starting to like the content.  It has also been fun and invigorating to be back in the U.S. Survey lecture hall after a year on sabbatical.  I am sure all of the social and political changes in American life have had something to do with that.

It has also been fun to get back into the studio for Season 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  I have been so thankful for all of the support we have received through out Patreon campaign.  It is very rewarding to see that so many people have affirmed our work in this way and truly care about the role that history can play in our democratic life together.  Thanks again.  By the way, Episode 19 drops on Sunday.

But I am also increasingly aware of the need to travel outside of the college campus in an effort to bring good history and historical thinking to public audiences. With that in mind I am in the process of scheduling talks and lectures for the Summer and Fall of 2017 and the Spring of 2018.  You can learn more about the kind of speaking, workshops, and seminars that I do here or here.

2016 was a busy year.  I was at West Shore Evangelical Free Church (Mechanicsburg, PA), Derry Presbyterian Church (Hershey, PA), Centre College (Danville, KY),  Trinity College (Deerfield, IL), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), University of Chicago, Houston Baptist University, Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy, MA), Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate, TN), National Presbyterian Church (Washington D.C.), Arch Street United Methodist Church (Philadelphia), Cairn University (Langhorne, PA), St. Francis University (Loretto, PA), The George Washington Library (Mount Vernon, VA), and Oxford University (Oxford, England).

Next month I will be heading down to New Orleans for the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians. (We are still looking for correspondents!) On Saturday, April 8, I will be co-leading two “chat room” sessions for historians.  One session (which I will co-lead with Kevin Schultz of the University of Illinois-Chicago) will be on the ways that Twitter (@johnfea1) can help us disseminate good history to a larger public.  The other session (which I will co-lead with Elizabeth Marsh of the OAH)  will be on the History Relevance Campaign.  If you are in New Orleans I hope you have some time to stop by and participate in one of these sessions.

After New Orleans I fly to Boston on April 10 to deliver the 2017 Frantz Lecture  at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.  My lecture is titled “Why Study History?”  As far as I know, this lecture is free and open to the public.

I hope to see you on the road!  We always need good American history, but it is especially needed in times of great change.  I would love to talk with you about setting something up as your school, college, university, historical society, library, church, museum, or virtually any other public space where these kinds of conversations take place.

Nostalgia is a “valid, honorable, ancient, human emotion.”

nostalgia

I have always been a very nostalgic person.  If you read this blog you may have recognized this character trait.  I regularly get nostalgic about 1970s and 1980s Mets baseball or my childhood in the Catholic working-class world of Northern New Jersey.  My kids get sick of me constantly rebuking their lifestyles with the phrase “back in my day….”  But as a historian, I also realize that nostalgia can be a dangerous thing.

For example, I have written that nostalgia for a time when America was a “Christian nation” can be problematic for moral, political, and historical reasons.  The longing for a golden age of Christianity in America often overlooks the fact that Christians often stood on the sidelines in the fight for justice.  This same longing is historically problematic because one could also make a pretty good argument, based on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or the beliefs of the founding fathers, that America was not founded as a Christian nation .  Politically, nostalgia for a Christian America has often been used to shape public policy, particularly on social issues.

Nostalgia can often get in the way of good history and sound moral and political thinking.

Yet I have always thought about whether or not there was anything redeemable about nostalgia.  Rarely do you hear historians, or anyone else for that matter, talk about it in a positive way.  In my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home (2008), I wrote a bit about the power of nostalgia in eighteenth-century America. I tried to call attention to the early American tensions between cosmopolitan pursuits of ambition or progress or learning and the longing for place, roots, and home.  For me, this book was an exercise in how to bring these things together.  In some ways, it has been a life project–thus the name of this blog.

I think this is why I was immediately attracted to Michael Chabon‘s recent piece at The New Yorker titled “The True Meaning of Nostalgia.”  I have never read one of Chabon’s novels, but I hope to get to one of them soon. (Any recommendations?)  In the meantime, here is a snippet of his essay that resonated with me:

My work has at times been criticized for being overly nostalgic, or too much about nostalgia. That is partly my fault, because I actually have written a lot about the theme of nostalgia; and partly the fault of political and economic systems that abuse nostalgia to foment violence and to move units. But it is not nostalgia’s fault, if fault is to be found. Nostalgia is a valid, honorable, ancient human emotion, so nuanced that its sub-variants have names in other languages—German’s sehnsucht, Portuguese’s saudade—that are generally held to be untranslatable. The nostalgia that arouses such scorn and contempt in American culture—predicated on some imagined greatness of the past or inability to accept the present—is the one that interests me least. The nostalgia that I write about, that I study, that I feel, is the ache that arises from the consciousness of lost connection…

Nostalgia, to me, is not the emotion that follows a longing for something you lost, or for something you never had to begin with, or that never really existed at all. It’s not even, not really, the feeling that arises when you realize that you missed out on a chance to see something, to know someone, to be a part of some adventure or enterprise or milieu that will never come again. Nostalgia, most truly and most meaningfully, is the emotional experience—always momentary, always fragile—of having what you lost or never had, of seeing what you missed seeing, of meeting the people you missed knowing, of sipping coffee in the storied cafés that are now hot-yoga studios. It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the world is momentarily restored, whether summoned by art or by the accidental enchantment of a painted advertisement for Sen-Sen, say, or Bromo-Seltzer, hidden for decades, then suddenly revealed on a brick wall when a neighboring building is torn down. In that moment, you are connected; you have placed a phone call directly into the past and heard an answering voice.

Read the entire piece here.

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.  Where Does Neil Gorsuch Go to Church?
  2. The Junto’s Blatant Attempt to Undermine Democracy
  3.  Mark Noll Talks Trump, Hawkins and the Evangelical Mind
  4. Today’s Piece at Times Higher Ed
  5. Sean Hannity: Where Is Your Integrity?
  6. Mark Cuban: Don’t Go to College to Study Business.  Study the Humanities
  7. Historian Heather Cox on Trump’s Muslim Ban: “It’s a Shock Event”
  8. Trump is Heading Back to Liberty University
  9. “And then the murders began…”
  10. The Virtue Solution Project

The Author’s Corner with Eric Hinderaker

BostonsMassacre.jpgEric Hinderaker is Professor of History at the University of Utah. This interview is based on his new book, Boston’s Massacre (Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Boston’s Massacre?

EH: The book is about the Boston Massacre, which occurred on March 5, 1770, when a group of British soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians and killed five of them.  Initially, I was interested in the eyewitness testimony, which is voluminous but fundamentally irreconcilable.  As my research progressed, I became fascinated with the problem faced by commander-in-chief Thomas Gage and his subordinate officers, who had to manage military-civilian relations throughout the colonies of British North America at a time when many thousands of troops were stationed there.  In the end, I realized that, above all, the book is about memory: how we interpret what we see and argue about events when they’ve just happened, how we commemorate them to solidify a particular interpretation of their significance, and how they are eventually reshaped through selective remembering and forgetting.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Boston’s Massacre?

EH: As the apostrophe in the title suggests, the book argues that the “massacre” belonged to the town of Boston: the town created the conditions that gave rise to the shootings; it championed the view that the shootings were a massacre rather than an “unhappy disturbance,” as the soldiers’ defenders would have it; and it kept the memory of the massacre alive in print, in commemorative orations, and in local culture throughout the war of independence.  Boston was the crucible of the American Revolution—its indispensable community—and the Boston Massacre was the catalyzing event that forged the town’s collective sense of grievance and purpose.

JF: Why do we need to read Boston’s Massacre?

EH: Today, when we inhabit an era of sharp and continuous political disagreement, many people look fondly on the past—and especially the era of the American Revolution—as a time of widespread consensus and rational political behavior.  Boston’s Massacre makes clear that the politics of the revolutionary era were no less divisive than our own.  Nor were opinions shaped by an impartial press or high-minded statesmen.  Fundamental principles were at stake, then as now, and people disagreed about everything, including the bare facts of an event like the Boston Massacre.  Were the townspeople innocent and aggrieved victims of excessive force, or were the soldiers being assaulted so fiercely by a mob that they had no choice but to shoot?  Boston’s Massacre allows us to observe the process by which confused impressions were deployed in the service of competing narratives, and then to trace the evolution of those narratives across a long span of time, even into our own.

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

EH: I majored in history in college, but I did not initially intend to become a historian.  When I did decide to apply for graduate school, I thought I wanted to study modern European history.  But I had the good fortune to arrive at the University of Colorado at the same time that four brilliant early Americanists joined the department: Fred Anderson, Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Gloria Main, and Jackson Turner Main.  I was introduced to early American history at a moment when the field was undergoing a renaissance, and I discovered that its core issues resonated deeply with my own curiosity and interests.

JF: What is your next project?

EH: I have three main projects in the offing.  With Rebecca Horn, my colleague in colonial Latin American history at the University of Utah, I am working on a very broad-gauge account of the colonization of the Americas.  François Furstenberg of Johns Hopkins University and I are writing a reinterpretation of Frederick Jackson Turner that casts him as a colonial historian rather than a western historian, and that argues for his extraordinary prescience in anticipating the current shape of the field.  And on my own, I am just beginning work on a project that will explore the outpouring of energy and capital in the Restoration era (ca. 1660-1690) that reshaped England’s colonial enterprise in North America.  I hope they’ll keep me busy for awhile!

JF: Thanks, Eric!

Trump is Heading Back to Liberty University…

liberty-trump

…as the university’s 2017 commencement speaker.  I wonder who got dumped to make room, at this late date, for The Donald.

Here is a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Liberty University announced on Wednesday that its commencement in May would feature President Trump as the keynote speaker, making him the first sitting president to play that role at the Christian university since George H.W. Bush, in 1990.

The invitation from Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., may not be a surprise given his associations with the U.S. president. Some students protested Mr. Falwell’s endorsement of Mr. Trump during last year’s campaign. In January, President Trump asked him to head a new task force to recommend changes in the Department of Education’s policies and procedures.

“It is a tremendous honor and privilege for any university to host a sitting U.S. president, and we are incredibly grateful to have President Trump be a part of this historic day,” Mr. Falwell said in a statement.

At the University of Notre Dame, where six presidents dating to Dwight D. Eisenhower have spoken at commencements during their first year in office, this year an invitation was extended instead to Vice President Mike Pence. Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, has criticized Mr. Trump, saying his executive order banning travelers from some Muslim-majority countries would “demean our nation.”

President Trump told CBN News: “I look forward to speaking to this amazing group of students on such a momentous occasion. Our children truly are the future, and I look forward to celebrating the success of this graduating class as well as sharing lessons as they embark on their next chapter full of hope, faith, optimism, and a passion for life.”

You can read CBN’s David Brody’s report here.

Get caught up on what we have written about Trump and Liberty University over the past year or two here.

Today’s Piece at *Times Higher Ed*

trump-america-great

I took a stab at defending the humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities today at Times Higher Education.  Here is the piece:

Donald Trump has issued his first federal budget plan. It eliminates, among other things, the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Practically speaking, the NEH operates on a minuscule budget of $148 million. This represents 0.003 per cent of federal spending in 2016.

Apparently, our president thinks that this money would be better used to pay for a massive border wall or the build-up of what is already the largest and most powerful military in world history. Trump, it seems, wants the government to get out of the business of funding projects that might lead to compassion for those, such as refugees and immigrants, who are in need.

It should alarm us that Trump prefers spending more money on fighter jets than he does on research that might bring peaceful and humane solutions to global problems.

The NEH was created by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act and was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Several things are worth noting about this act.

First, it affirmed that “an advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone” but must also support “great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future”.

Second, it affirmed that “democracy requires wisdom and vision in its citizens” and must provide citizens with education and access to arts and humanities to “make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants”.

Third, it affirmed that the arts and humanities reflect Americans’ respect for “the nation’s rich cultural heritage” and foster respect for our country’s vast diversity.

Fourth, it affirmed that “the world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rely solely upon superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded upon worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation’s high qualities as a leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit”.

Perhaps Donald Trump has not read the text of this important act. Or perhaps he has read it and simply does not care.

I have seen two basic but ultimately unconvincing arguments for eliminating the NEH.

The first argument suggests that American society does not need the humanities, rejecting the entire philosophy behind the 1965 act that created the NEH.

Trump wants to eliminate an agency that will help our democracy to thrive. The humanities cultivate the pursuit of truth and evidence-based arguments, empathy for the views of others, civic understanding and an awareness that we are members of a human community that is larger than ourselves or our current moment in time.

The second argument against the NEH is made by libertarian-leaning politicians who appreciate what the humanities bring to US society but do not think that the federal government should be in the business of promoting them.

I would be sympathetic to this argument if I believed that private and corporate interests would step up with the money necessary to support the humanities and the cultural institutions that bring them to life for millions of Americans.

Our shared culture and traditions are constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of the people who invoke them. The preservation and reinterpretation of these traditions, and the democratic virtues that come with such activity, need support. Do we really want to trust the treasured traditions, stories and markers of our collective or group identities to a capitalist market that is driven predominantly by the pursuit of profit at all cost?

The grand stories of our national identity have a good chance of surviving under such privatisation. We will continue to hear, read and learn about Gettysburg, Paul Revere, women’s suffrage and Martin Luther King Jr.

But what will happen to our ability to tell the local and regional stories that have given meaning to life in small places? Who will fund the work of telling stories of everyday world-changers who have been forgotten because they do not conform easily to our national narratives? Can we rely on those in the private sector to care about the experience a child might have at a small museum or historical site – an experience that could change her life and reorient her way of seeing the world?

In Donald Trump’s America, study and reflection on these kinds of things do not matter. We may be on the brink of a cultural holocaust, and we all have a responsibility to prevent it from happening.

Sean Hannity: Where Is Your Integrity?

Hannity has no intellectual integrity.  It is pure politics and ratings.  In this video the Fox News pundit says that a POTUS under investigation by the FBI would result in a “constitutional crisis” that would destroy the integrity of the office and prevent the POTUS from getting things done.   I am curious to hear what Hannity is now saying after learning that his boy Trump is currently under an FBI investigation.

Why should we care about Hannity?

  1.  Because millions of people listen to him and it goes without saying that he helped  Trump get elected.
  2.  Trump, the President of the United States, gets his news from Hannity.

Mark Noll Talks Trump, Hawkins, and the Evangelical Mind

NollCheck out this interview with Noll at The Wheaton Record, the student newspaper of Wheaton College.  As many of you know, Noll taught at Wheaton for 27 years before moving to Notre Dame for the final decade of his teaching career.  In this wide-ranging interview Noll talks about Donald Trump’s election, the Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton, his retirement plans, and the state of the evangelical mind.

Here is a taste of editor Ciera Horton’s interview:

C: The word “evangelical” took center stage in the presidential election and continues to do so. However, there does seem to be a disconnect between Trump’s policies such as the now-blocked travel ban, immigration and sole support for Israel which Christians are divided on — so how do you explain the evangelical support and winning the evangelical vote?

M: I think what’s called “evangelical support for Trump” had to do with the pro-life position of the Republican party, it had to do with a lot of antagonism against some of the cultural steps taken by the Obama administration. It certainly had to do with the memory of Bill Clinton’s immorality in the White House, and a lot of white evangelicals were concerned about economics…I do think we have increasing numbers of Christian academics who would have a much more sophisticated approach to political life than, “I’m angry at Hillary so I’m voting for Trump.” But I’m worried about the Christian populace at large listening all the time to their media go-to and never being concerned about folks who are trying to see things more broadly.

Read the entire interview here.  It appears just in time for Nollstock (Nollfest?, Nollapalooza?) next month.

The Junto’s Blatant Attempt to Undermine Democracy

Junto march madness 17The Junto March Madness tournament is back.  This year Junto March Madness is covering books in early American history published since 2014.

But there are a few changes from past years that will certainly raise the ire of your inner Patrick Henry and prompt you to reread the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, that so-called “beast without a head.”

First, the tournament will feature 32 books rather than 64.

Second, the Junto bloggers “have decided to forego the open nomination process” and seed books selected by the 25 members of the blog.

In the past, the Junto March Madness tournament began with a wild and woolly nomination process in which readers could suggest their favorite works.  It was democracy at its best.  There were always enough nominations to fill out a 64-book field and the “people” were able to have their voices heard in the shaping of that field.

No more.

My sources tell me that this year’s field was chosen inside a locked room in Philadelphia.  Michael Hattem, in an attempt to protect the privacy of the selection committee from other history bloggers milling around the area, boarded-up all the windows.  Since the meeting was held in March, Ben Park installed portable heaters in the room. They were cranked up to 11 in order to recreate as closely as possible a similar Philadelphia meeting that occurred 230 years earlier in roughly the same location.

In the end, it is abundantly clear that the Junto members are taking a Federalist 10 approach to the selection of this year’s field.  They appear to be worried about the role of factions in the nominating process.  They no longer want powerful democratic fan bases like the one at The Way of Improvement Leads Home to nominate books like Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? or The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America. (Technically, these books would be ineligible since they were published before 2014, but you get my point).

The Junto bloggers know that they are unable to remove the causes of faction (The Way of Improvement Leads Home readers and other “popular” bloggers), so they are going to do their best at controlling their effects.  Apparently “The 25” don’t trust the people to make wise decisions about who is “in” and who is “out,” so they have self-appointed themselves to “refine” and “filter” the field.

Fair enough.  What was once a great democratic experiment in liberty has fallen prey to a counter-revolution of the worst kind.  (So this is why Michael Klarman’s The Framers’ Coup didn’t make the field this year!).   I smell a rat!

As you let this all sink in, and as your outrage begins to burn, remember that you have less than hour to make your first round picks.  🙂

The Author’s Corner with Sharla M. Fett

RecapturedAfricans.jpgSharla M. Fett is Professor of History at Occidental College. This interview is based on her new book, Recaptured Africans: Surviving Slave Ships, Detention, and Dislocation in the Final Years of the Slave Trade (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Recaptured Africans?

SF: This book has deep roots! While I was researching my dissertation, which became Working Cures, archivists at the Virginia Historical Society showed me a ship log written by a white doctor serving as a U.S. agent traveling with recaptive Africans to Liberia.  Then I learned that the recaptive men, women, and youth on that particular ship had been sold to slave smugglers working at the mouth of the Congo River.  In fact, Harper’s Weekly had published a large engraving of these same West Central African recaptives aboard the slave ship Wildfire upon their 1860 arrival in Key West, Florida. Together, the doctor’s log and the Harper’s image struck me deeply on a personal and intellectual level.  As a child of medical missionaries, I had visited the coast where the massive Congo River pours into the Atlantic.  The devastating history that linked those childhood memories to recaptives’ enslavement and displacement spurred me to learn more about recaptive African journeys resulting from U.S. slave trade suppression efforts. I also wanted to understand how illegal transatlantic slave trafficking—often sidelined in American history—shaped the turbulent politics of slavery in the years before the Civil War. So, the seeds of this book were planted quite a few years ago. By the time I finally began to work on the book in earnest, Atlantic world scholarship had expanded considerably, aided by digital history collaborations such as the Voyages: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, African Origins and Liberated Africans databases.  This new scholarship offered essential context for the particular stories I traced.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Recaptured Africans

SF: This book argues that recaptive African youth and adults, rather than being “liberated” upon their release from illegal slave ships, entered a new phase of captivity defined by death, forced migration, and U.S. racial politics.  Under these conditions, shipmate relations between recaptives vitally shaped the particular strategies by which both child and adult slave ship survivors attempted to rebuild their social worlds in the midst of profound displacement.

JF: Why do we need to read Recaptured Africans?

SF: 2017 is a significant year for considering how long and difficult the road to a just emancipation can be.  For some time now, scholars like Saidiya Hartman have challenged the idea of a clear transition from the time of slavery to the time of freedom.  That was certainly the case for African children, women and men seeking to survive their “recapture” from illegal slave ships.  Their story underscores the human costs of slave trade suppression practices molded by U.S. racial inequality and political conflicts over slavery.  Many historical studies have looked at antebellum slavery politics primarily through the lens of sectional battles over domestic slavery.  By showing how Atlantic world slaving and emancipation deeply shaped responses to hundreds of African recaptives in U.S. custody, Recaptured Africans offers readers a new perspective on U.S. slavery debates in a much broader geographic context.

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

SF: As I tell my students at Occidental College, I don’t study history to bury myself in the past, but instead to understand our current world better, to gain perspective on American histories of race and slavery, and to broaden my vision of alternative paths humans can take in our troubled times.   Although I majored in Biology as an undergraduate, I always felt the pull of my elective classes in history, anthropology and politics. I credit my Carleton College history professor Robert Bonner for helping me discover that history was about interpretation not memorization of facts. After several years of high school science teaching and non-profit work, I finally took the plunge and applied to graduate school, pursuing a PhD in American History. I was lucky to take classes from Estelle Freedmen in women’s history during my MA program at Stanford.  At Rutgers, the opportunity to work with Suzanne Lebsock and Deborah Gray White affirmed my interest in U.S. southern history, women’s history, and the history of slavery.  I was particularly drawn to the study of antebellum U.S. slavery, a field at the time defined by imaginative new studies of enslaved community and culture.  The diasporic dimensions of African American history and the Atlantic World context for slavery studies became increasingly important in my research.  Recaptured Africans reflects my interest in how displaced Africans individually and collectively, navigated the daily realities of their condition resulting from the large-scale developments of Atlantic slaving and its abolition.

JF: What is your next project?

SF: In the long term, I have interests in exploring African American involvement with Belgian Congo between the 1880s and 1930s, especially in regard to Black women missionaries whose lives bridged the periods of American slavery to European colonization of Africa.  Currently, I’m working on several projects in American women’s history, including Black women’s activist networks and the nineteenth-century Colored Convention movement in California, in conjunction with the national digital humanities Colored Conventions Project.  Mid-nineteenth-century California is another venue where the fictions of the “free state” can be critically examined through studying the history of Black thought and collective action.

 

JF: Thanks, Sharla!

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Reading books

Curating

“Highbrow Trumpism”

The Adamses on Andrew Jackson

Paul Bauman reviews Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Burr, Jefferson, and treason

What does a teacher do when students, for political reasons, don’t want to read Marx (or anything else for that matter).

The politics of Frederick Douglass

Evangelicals respond to Trump’s budget proposal

Is America really a nation of immigrants?

Andrew Jackson and state’s rights

Reconstruction resources

Arkansas teachers want Zinn

A history course on Trump at the University of Minnesota

Bauerlein on Smith on the Benedict Option

Why historians matter

Has Ken Burns ruined the documentary film?

Conservatives and refugees

Deep tensions in the Southern Baptist Church

The Virtue Solution Project

Josiah

A couple of young upstate South Carolina state lawmakers (one of them claims to be a follower of David Barton) is trying to save the American republic through an extreme and rather dark mix of Christian nationalism, libertarianism (government is “evil”), agrarianism, gun culture (militias), state’s rights, and apocalypticism.

I consulted on journalist Andrew Brown’s story at the Charleston Post and Courier about the “Virtue Solution Project” (Apparently my 30-minute conversation with Brown did not yield money quotes).

Here is a taste of his piece:

State Reps. Josiah Magnuson, R-Campobello, and Jonathon Hill, R-Townville — both from tiny towns in the Upstate Bible Belt— are in the process of setting up what they call the “Virtue Solution Project,” a group that is seeking to either save America or survive a societal collapse, which they both believe is likely coming.

The organization is a mixture of religious ministry, grassroots political organizing and disaster prepping. At its core, their movement hopes to save the country by reshaping it to their interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ ideals.

They are advocating that their followers, and offshoot groups, form their own communities that will no longer have to rely on corporate America or the “tyrannical” federal government. They are encouraging neighbors to support “principled men” — such as themselves — who are willing to nullify laws and court rulings they don’t agree with, like abortion, gay marriage, gun restrictions and federal standards for driver’s licenses.

For their members who are not in political office, they advocate doing their part by finding their way onto juries in order to acquit people charged with crimes they personally believe are “unjust.”

If that doesn’t work, they will have “community preparedness centers,” where there will be access to “reading material, tools, food storage, ammo, and more.”

The centers will be there when the economy collapses, a natural disaster occurs, a foreign nation attacks, the federal debt dooms the country or an electromagnetic pulse wipes out the nation’s infrastructure. All are scenarios they have considered.

Read the entire article here.

It Was Only a Matter of Time Before a Conservative Media Outlet Did A Story Like This

LBJ

The Washington Times is running a story titled “Life Without the Arts?: Top 10 Crazy Grants Given by the NEA and NEH.”

Here is a taste journalist Kelly Riddell‘s piece:

Democrats — and the elitist liberal media — have gone apoplectic on President Trump’s proposed funding cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Trump wants to cut the NEA and NEH. This is the worst case scenario for arts groups,” The Washington Post warned.

The Christian Science Monitor wrote: “What America without the NEA and NEH would look like, and why that matters,” forewarning a world without these institutions would mean those in the most rural areas — Mr. Trump’s own voters — would be deprived the cultural enrichment they deserve.

So, I was curious to see what this cultural enrichment looks like. Here’s what I feel are the top 10 contributions to society the NEA and NEH have made. I can’t imagine my taxpayer funds going to anything better.

Riddell then lists NEH-funded projects on “smells” in a medieval history museum and pets in Victorian England.  (I should add that only 2 of her ten examples are NEH-funded projects.  The rest are NEA).

I was waiting for an article like this to appear.  That’s why I wrote this.  And that’s why I have been writing these blog posts.

 

The National Endowment for the Humanities Helped Archaeologist William Kelso and His Team Find Jamestown

jamestown3

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund important programs.

It is probably the greatest archaeological discovery in American history. For over two hundred years historians and archaeologists had assumed that Jamestown, the first successful English colony in America, was decaying somewhere at the bottom of the James River.  Archaeologist William Kelso had other ideas.  In 1994 he took a shovel and started digging.  With the help of over $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities he found the fort!

Here is a small taste of the story, courtesy of the NEH website:

…Soon joined by a rotating team of scientists, curators, and volunteers, Kelso began to uncover postholes (pits that once held upright structural timbers), old cellars, and all sorts of cultural detritus: ceramic shards, tobacco pipes, food scraps, and pieces of European armor, some of which had been modified for New World combat. By 1996, the team was confident enough in their finds to announce publicly the rediscovery of James Fort, the first settlement’s first structure, and begin aligning the physical evidence they had gathered with the sparse written records of Smith and others who lived there.

The story that the documentary and archaeological evidence tells is one of hope and industry set against the brutal realities of life in the New World. The colonists built impressive fortifications but struggled for power among themselves (the first grave found at the site contained an Englishman likely killed by a musket ball). They manufactured glass and copper beads for trade with local Powhatan tribes but never managed to establish enduring peace with the native people (Smith himself was abducted but, according to his own account, saved by Pocahontas). For the sake of claiming a share of the New World, they endured disease, the constant threat of violence, and, during the winter of 1609, hunger so dire they resorted to cannibalism.

That last grisly item—recounted in a number of seventeenth-century sources—was confirmed in 2012, when the Jamestown Rediscovery team disinterred the bones of a young English woman. Her skull bore markings consistent with what forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum describes as “postmortem processing.”

Read more here.  And here is some information about the Jamestown Rediscovery Project.

And a couple of cool videos:

For other posts in this series click here.

Leach: Tyrants Fear the Humanities

Leach.pngJim Leach is a retired Republican congressman from Iowa and former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Over at The Daily Beast he defends federal funding for the humanities in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal that would eliminate the NEH.

Here is a taste:

Even more significant than issues of commerce are the challenges of citizenship and public leadership when for the first time in history weapons of mass destruction have been proliferated and terrorism has been globalized. The health of nations is directly related to the depth of knowledge applied to public decision-making. Thinking from the gut is costly.

For instance, despite having gone to war in the Persian Gulf a decade earlier, Congress and executive branch policy-makers understood little of the Sunni/Shi’a divide when 9/11 hit. Similarly, despite the French experience in Algeria and the British and Russian in Afghanistan, we had little comprehension of the depth of Islamic antipathy to foreign intervention. Nor, despite the tactics of a Daniel Boone-style patriot named Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” who attacked British garrisons at night during the Revolutionary War and then vanished in South Carolina swamps during the day, we had little comprehension of the effectiveness of asymmetric warfare.

Every American senses that something is askew in our political system. Our judgment is under attack from traditional allies as well as international rivals. Instead of standing forthrightly up for old-fashioned American values—a Lockean respect for individual rights and a Burkean reverence for established social structures—we seem to be lashing out, accentuating domestic ruptures and escalating rather than alleviating international tensions. As a result an increasing number of people on the planet seem to think that America has lost its historical grip. We seem not only to be unschooled in foreign cultures but prone to misunderstand our own heritage.

The conclusion is self-evident. Just as we need to rebuild an infrastructure of roads and bridges, we need to strengthen our infrastructure of ideas.

Tyrants have good reason to fear the humanities. We do not. The humanities are America’s stock and trade. They are a national asset that we shortchange at our peril.

Read the entire piece here.

National Endowment for the Humanities Funds the Warrior-Scholar Project

Warrior

Warrior-Scholars discussing Tocqueville

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund programs like this:

According to its website, The Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) “empowers enlisted military veterans by providing them with a skill bridge that enables a successful transition from the battlefield to the classroom; maximizes their education opportunities by making them informed consumers of education, and increases the confidence they will need to successfully complete a rigorous four-year undergraduate program at a top-tier school.”

WSP offers immersive one and two week academic workshops or “bootcamps” free of charge to enlisted veterans at Amherst, Cornell, Georgetown, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Chapel Hill, Arizona, Chicago, Michigan, Princeton, Oklahoma, Southern California, and Yale.

It has several goals:

  • To facilitate the often difficult transition enlisted veterans face when moving from a military culture to the academic culture inherent on college campuses.
  • To demonstrate and explain the foundational skills and methods, or “tricks of the trade” that highly successful college students use.
  • To increase veteran graduation rates.
  • To prepare student-veterans to be leaders in the classroom.

Learn more about this amazing NEH-funded program here.

For other posts in this series click here.

Good to See Some GOP Lawmakers Defending the National Endowment for the Humanities

chroniclingamerica

“Chronicling America” is an NEH-sponsored program that digitizes U.S. newspapers

Michael Cooper and Sopan Deb’s piece at The New York Times calls attention to several GOP members of Congress who are willing to fight for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts after learning that government funding for both of these organizations were eliminated in Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal.

Here is a taste:

Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who is the chairwoman of a crucial Senate appropriations panel that oversees the endowments, said in a statement, “I believe we can find a way to commit to fiscal responsibility while continuing to support the important benefits that N.E.A. and N.E.H. provide.”

Her backing, like that of some other Republicans, comes after years of federal funds have flowed to artists in her state. Since 1995, the endowment has sent more than $18 million in grants to Alaska — a state which, partly because of its small population, ranks near the top when it comes to arts grants per capita.

Two other Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, signed their names last month to a letter urging continued support for the endowments, which together get $300 million a year. A spokeswoman for Senator Capito, who is on the appropriations committee, said Friday that she would “advocate for her priorities, including funding for the arts and humanities, which are important to our economy and communities.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities Funded the Messiah College Center for Public Humanities

Hoverter_Course_1

Donald Trump’s current budget proposal will eliminate government funding for the humanities.  This means that local communities and American citizens will need to come up with other ways to fund important programs.

Yesterday I used this blog and my twitter feed to highlight a few programs that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has funded in the last year or two. During the course of the day I had several people ask me if I have ever received funding from the NEH.  No, I have not.  Believe me, I have tried many times to secure funding for my work from the NEH, but, for whatever reason, I have not been successful.

Having said that, I have been indirectly involved with an NEH-funded project at Messiah College.  About ten years ago, Messiah College received an NEH “We the People” grant to fund the Center for Public of Humanities.

The Center operates with the following vision:

The humanities by nature engage fundamental questions of human life and explore the cultural expressions humans have produced in response to their reflections. Whether the concern is the individual search for meaning or the nurturing of civic awareness in service to society as a whole, the humanities provide a rich venue for shared inquiry into the pressing human dimensions of the challenges we all face in living. But such engaging humanities explorations should not only be the private preserve of the undergraduate classroom, since the diverse communities of our society are in serious need of the opportunity to join carefully considered conversations on issues of contemporary significance through respectful discussion and debate in order to learn from one another.

The humanities have the capacity to transform individual lives through the discovery of meaning, and to transform society through the discovery of shared civic ideals. The Center for Public Humanities’ role, therefore, is to kindle the conversation and invite more people to it. In this spirit the Center seeks to bring together collegiate faculty and students together with secondary school teachers, cultural and civic leaders, and potential learners whose resources and life situation have discouraged them from considering a college education. Such a public humanities outreach program has the power to transform individual lives and communities, and is very much in keeping with the College’s mission of preparing all for lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation.

To realize its goals, the Center sponsors innovative forms of public humanities outreach through a variety of collaborative programs. Working groups of faculty and student fellows, as well as individual faculty members and students, have opportunities to offer their expertise to the wider community through service, teaching, and public speaking. In addition to off-campus outreach and collaboration with other humanities-based organizations (schools, libraries, museums, regional societies, state councils, colleges and universities), the Center sponsors a variety of public events on campus as a service to the wider community. In fact, the  Center for Public Humanities is an enabling agent to bring together various groups interested in humanities-based education, cultural events, and civic issues of contemporary significance.

Learn more about the Center and its programs here.

For other posts in this series click here.