Book Coverage is on the Rise

Book Reviews

As an author, I am happy to learn that media outlets are starting to devote a little more attention to books.  Sam Eichner tries to make sense of this rise in book coverage in an interesting piece at Columbia Journalism Review.  Here is a taste:

IF IT OCCASIONALLY FEELS like nobody reads books, anymore—that we are indeed witnessing the slow death of the literary novel, and the rapid decline of leisure readingand the steady increase of American non-readers—why is it that mainstream publications are writing more about them?

Since the beginning of 2017, The New York Times has continued to expand its already robust book coverage. More recently, New York announced that it would triple its book coverage. In October, The Atlantic launched a Books section and a newsletter, “The Books Briefing,” with plans for “additional products.” Even BuzzFeed is getting in on the action: in November, they launched an online book club, complete with an attendant Facebook group and newsletter.

For the Times and The Atlantic, the changes arrived at a moment of substantial growth for each publication as a whole.

Read the rest here.

Pennsylvania’s Pro-Life Evangelicals Call for Clean Air in the Commonwealth

Fracking

Rev. Mitchell Hescox is the CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.  He lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.  In his recent piece at The York Daily Record, Hescox argues that pro-life evangelicals should be concerned about the bad air emanating from fracking sites and natural gas facilities in Pennsylvania.  Here is a taste of his piece:

As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn.  We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution.  The Bible calls us to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy” (Psalm 82: 3-4 NIV).  Certainly, preborn and new-born children are the most vulnerable among us. They deserve a quality of life that can only be assured when we uphold both our Christian beliefs and our Commonwealth’s Constitution:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

We’re not alone.  This year over 15,000 pro-life Pennsylvania Christians wrote to Governor Wolf and asked him to create sensible fugitive methane standards. Another 5,000 Pennsylvania pro-life Christians added their comments against the EPA’s ill-fated attempt to cancel new source methane standards nationally.

Read the entire piece here.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Facing Defeat, Theresa May Delays Brexit Vote in Parliament”

Washington Post: “U.S. embrace of fossil fuels at global climate conference spurs mockery”

Wall Street Journal: “U.S., China Kick Off a New Round of Trade Negotiations”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Two-thirds of Pa. high schools are falling short of state’s 2030 graduation goal”

BBC:“PM meeting EU leaders for Brexit talks”

CNN: “Trump concerned about impeachment”

FOX: “Moscow mum after deploying 2 nuclear-capable warplanes to Venezuela; Pompeo slams move”

The “Bottomless Pinocchio”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive in Rihad, Saudi Arabia,

The Washington Post Fact Checker has introduced a new dishonesty rating custom-made for the Trump era: the “Bottomless Pinocchio.” The newspaper says the new tier will be issued to politicians who “repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.” In order to be awarded the Bottomless Pinocchio, the claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from the Fact Checker, and must have been repeated 20 times. Fourteen statements made by Trump already qualify for the list—no other politician has yet been given the dubious honor. In an article announcing the introduction of the new level, the  condemns Trump and says: “He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.” The most repeated falsehood so far, according to the Fact Checker, is Trump’s assertion that his tax cut was the biggest in history, followed by his exaggerations of the size of U.S. trade deficits.

Source

Gina Barreca on the Importance of the Liberal Arts

Boyer Hall

What’s an education for?

University of Connecticut English professor Gina Barreca answers in her recent op-ed:

An education is about learning things you don’t know. Just as we need to try foods we’ve never eaten before, we need to approach unfamiliar subjects. Life’s menu can be innovative, varied and delightful, but without outside influences, it can too often be limited, boring and unappetizing.

Curiosity, like originality and delight, has to be nurtured. But if we keep emphasizing the notion of familiarity and security at the expense of new and potentially challenging experience, then we’ll be stuck with the intellectual equivalent of a 1968 Swanson’s T.V. Dinner.

Authentic education demands that students learn, and not merely that they are taught. It’s not about simply offering access to information or data. What happens in classrooms is not the same as what happens at UPS: it is not like transferring an unexamined parcel of information from one person to another. It must include, as all reputable teachers know, instructing students in academic discipline and personal responsibility.

This is one reason that students should be required to take classes from outside their area of specialization. Their futures are under construction. While they may have blueprints in place, perhaps handed down through their families or fantasies from glittering daydreams, there are many architectural models from which to choose. That way they won’t end up with the academic equivalent of a five-story one-bedroom apartment with no kitchen and a bathroom on the roof.

Read the entire piece here.

I appreciate Barreca’s point about students taking courses outside of their area of specialization.  At Messiah College, students are required to take a 100-level history course (a United States history survey course or a Western Civilization survey course) to fulfill their general education requirement in History.  But there are also other opportunities in the curriculum to take a history course.  A student can take World History to fulfill their Non-Western Cultures requirement.  Or they can take Native American History, African American History, the Historical Study of Peace, Immigrant America, Urban History, Women’s History, or Pennsylvania History  to fulfill their Pluralism requirement.  They can also take a history course to fulfill their Social Science requirement.  So, if I got this right, it is possible for a Messiah College business or nursing major to take four history courses to fulfill general education coursework.

But every now and then we have students who take history courses purely out of intellectual curiosity.  This semester in my colonial America course I have two students–an accounting major and a sustainability studies major–who are not required to take the course, but just find the subject interesting.  I applaud them and regularly tell them how much I appreciate them, but students like these are becoming increasingly rare in this age of specialization.

Talking to 5th Graders, 8th Graders, and Adults About a Historic Philadelphia Church

Christ Church 2

Messiah College colonial America students at Christ Church, Philadelphia

I spent the last two Saturdays touring colonial Philadelphia with the students in my Colonial America course at Messiah College.

One of my favorite places to visit on these tours is Christ Church–the flagship Anglican Church in 18th-century Philly.   And one of my favorite historians of Christ Church is Neil Ronk, Senior Guide and Historian at the church.  Neil is not only an intense and inspiring speaker, but he speaks as if there is really something at stake in the preservation and interpretation of the past.

Here is Neil at work (watch the first 6 minutes):

Spectrum Culture Picks *Believe Me* as a Favorite Book of 2018

Believe Me 3dMore good news related to Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste from Justin Cober-Lake’s endorsement at Spectrum Culture:

When I first read historian John Fea’s Believe Me, I thought he made a smart case. After interviewing him, I saw more of his concern for his community (understood as you like, as it expands outward). As 2018 rolled on, ideas from the book kept coming to mind; a week rarely passed in which I didn’t connect something in the news to Fea’s work. While it seems to be an unlikely proposition, a historical work on the motives on one slice of the voting population has turned out to be an essential read for understanding contemporary US culture.

While the country faces its vitriolic political divides, the American church faces its own internal fights, and the political and religious battles are not unrelated. Fea puts the current evangelical crisis into an accessible historical framework, leading him to a few key discoveries about why white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. To quickly state some of the findings – largely the importance fear and nostalgia played in the election – misses the force of his work as well as his desire to think through what comes next. Fea’s scope and clarity provide immediate insight for own time, but they also serve as a personal encouragement for a more thoughtful approach to our religious and political era. Those thoughts may be targeted to a certain demographic, but they serve a much wider audience.

Interpreting Slavery at James Monroe’s Plantation

Monroe

Highland, the Virginia home of James Monroe from 1799-1823, is coming to grips with its history of slavery.  Here is a taste of Jordy Yager’s piece at National Public Radio:

Today the area is surrounded by wineries and other tourist draws, like Thomas Jefferson’s nearby plantation, Monticello. In fact, Jefferson helped Monroe buy the Highland property, which is now run as a historic site, hosting weddings, concerts, and thousands of visitors each year.

Until recently, however, the enslaved weren’t much talked about. Guides at Highland knew only that some of the enslaved had been sold and sent to Florida. And then, about two years ago, George Monroe, Jr. paid Highland a visit. He approached a staff member at the visitor’s center and said, “My last name is Monroe and my family comes from off this plantation.”

Since then, George Monroe, Jr. has been working with Highland’s Executive Director Sara Bon-Harper to build relationships with more than a dozen descendants in the immediate area and across Virginia. Bon-Harper wants them to tell the story of Highland.

“The theme of having one’s eyes opened to reality that one was completely ignorant of, I think, goes through race relations in Virginia,” said Bon-Harper. “And my response is to be completely open to learning the things that I have not known and Highland is really, really, excited to have these contacts now and having the willing collaboration of the descendant communities is tremendous.”

Read the entire piece here.

Historians are Storytellers

Cronon

A friend recently sent me this quote from University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon:

One of the things I actually love about the discipline of history is that historians are narrators. I honestly think we are the last explicitly narrative discipline left in the American academy (with the journalists, as well). Storytelling is no longer, in most disciplines, regarded as a serious undertaking. I believe that storytelling is inherently a moral activity. It’s about organizing events and characters and landscapes and settings so that a series of events becomes explicable in the sequence of relationships that are unfolding over the course of the narrative. And almost always the narrative has some lesson in mind. One of the beauties of history is that, although there have been moments in which historians have argued with each other about whether they are objective or not, objectivity is actually not the phrase most historians use the describe what they do. Our goal, it seems to me, is to be fair to the people whose lives we narrate. That means trying to see the world through their eyes.

One of my beliefs as a writer and a teacher is that if I’m going to argue against something, it’s morally incumbent upon me to be able to articulate the thing I’m arguing against so that a person who holds that view recognizes that I’ve done justice to their point of view and could respond, “I couldn’t have said that better myself.” Then we can begin to enter into a dialogue about other ways of thinking.

My deepest moral project is to understand the world, which is a really complicated task, and my moral conviction is that rich understanding of the world leads to better, more responsible and just action in the world. We so often act on the basis of our own mythic conceptions; we believe our own lies, and we’re forever lying to ourselves because we want the world to conform to our convictions. Not letting ourselves do that is part of acting morally in the world.

For more context click here.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret”

Washington Post: “U.S. rejects language affirming the severity of global warming”

Wall Street Journal: “Carlos Ghosn and Nissan Charged in Compensation Probe”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “‘Conversion therapy’ resolution scheduled for vote in Harrisburg”

BBC: “UK can cancel Brexit, says EU court”

CNN: “Next chief of staff may be walking into a nightmare”

FOX: “Election finance expert: No proof Trump’s hush payments were campaign spending”

Hundreds of Sex Abuse Allegations Found in Fundamentalist Baptist Churches

First Baptist Church

The independent fundamentalist Baptist movement emerged sometime in the 1940s as an attempt to continue the legacy of the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s.  It upheld what it believed to be the true spirit of fundamentalism amid changes in the conservative Protestant landscape.

Much of this movement was a response to the so-called “neo-evangelical” movement. When in the 1940s and 1950s former fundamentalists such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga and others sought to separate themselves from the label “fundamentalist” and seek out a more irenic, culturally-engaged version of conservative Protestantism, some descendants of the original fundamentalist movement of the 1920s were not very happy about it.  They believed that the neo-evangelical emphasis on cultural engagement with the world, and especially liberal or mainline Protestants, was a mark of unhealthy compromise that would eventually undermine true biblical faith in America.

Pastors of large churches and leaders of fundamentalist institutions such as Bob Jones, John R. Rice, and Jack Hyles still identified with the label “fundamentalist.” (Carl McIntire was also part of this movement, although he was a Presbyterian).  This movement was characterized by a staunch commitment to biblical orthodoxy filtered through the King James Bible, an adherence to “second-degree separation” or that idea that Christians must separate themselves from both unbelievers (“the world”) and fellow conservative Protestants who did not separate sufficiently enough from unbelievers (Billy Graham and the rest of the neo-evangelicals fell into this second category), and a propensity for strong white preachers who ran independent congregations that were not accountable to denominations.

I wrote a bit about this group back in the 1990s.

The conservative fundamentalist movement probably reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s. (Although more research is needed).  While neo-evangelicals read periodicals like Christianity Today, fundamentalist Baptists read John R. Rice’s The Sword of the Lord.  While neo-evangelicals sent their kids to Wheaton College or Fuller Theological Seminary, fundamentalist Baptist kids went to Bob Jones University or Pensacola Christian College.  Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty University, came out of this tradition, but he was quickly disowned by his fellow separatist Baptists when he decided to get involved in politics.  During the 1970s and 1980s, Falwell seemed to operate in a space somewhere between the independent Baptist world of his upbringing and the neo-evangelicalism of Billy Graham and Christianity Today.

One of the flagship churches of the separatist, independent, Billy Graham-hating Baptist fundamentalist movement was First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana.  Jack Hyles served as pastor of the church from 1959-2001.  He claimed that First Baptist had the highest Sunday school attendance in the world. Hyles gained fame for his fleet of over 200 buses that his congregation used to pick up kids for Sunday school at the church.  At one point the church had a weekly attendance of 20,000 and ran several schools, including Hyles-Anderson College. In 2001, Christianity Today reported that Hyles-Anderson College was growing.

First Baptist buses

Hyles was a fundamentalist Baptist power-broker.  He was also accused, multiple times, of sexually abusing the girls who attended his massive Sunday School program.  His son David Hyles was a chip off the old block.  While serving as youth pastor of the church he abused multiple young girls.

david-hyles-greatest-men

In this era of Me-Too, the media has caught-up with Jack Hyles (he died in 2001), David Hyles, and dozens of other independent Baptist clergy like them.

Investigative reporters at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have uncovered at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct at 187 independent fundamentalist Baptist church in the United States and Canada.  I have a hunch that this story, which dropped today and features David Hyles, is going to get some attention.

Here is a taste:

Many of the allegations involve men whose misconduct has long been suspected in the independent fundamental Baptist community. But most of their victims have not publicly come forward, on the record, until now. Even pastors have for the first time — in interviews with the Star-Telegram — acknowledged they moved alleged abusers out of their churches rather than call law enforcement.

From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar.

Read the rest here.

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Is narcissism a threat to democracy?

I hope the Weekly Standard survives

George H.W. Bush’s GOP and Trump’s GOP

Can you critique globalism and not succumb to Trumpism?

Silent Sam protesters at UNC-Chapel Hill are going ona “grade strike

The women’s suffrage movement and the language of slavery

Amazon prime and urban history

Carol Berkin reviews Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown

Andrew Sullivan:  “Everyone has a religion

Teaching the early American republic in the context of a civics course

Digital history and the Huguenots in New France

How the American Revolution was “disrupted” everyday life

What can we learn from the old WASP culture of George H.W. Bush?

What happened when Clare Potter said that she wanted to give George W. Bush a hug?

David Kirkpatrick reviews Heather Curtis, Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid

When did factories stop being tourist attractions?

Read a book (or listen to a podcast) about your favorite lyric in the Hamilton soundtrack

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Prosecutors’ Narrative: Trump Defrauded Voters. But What Does It Mean?”

Washington Post: “Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils”

Wall Street Journal: “Trump: Chief of Staff John Kelly to Leave Toward Year-End”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Why Aliquippa won the PIAA Class 3A state title game, and why Middletown lost”

BBC: “French PM seeks ‘unity’ after new unrest”

CNN: “Trump tries to change the story”

FOX: “Probe of possible Russia ties focused on individuals but not Trump or his campaign, Comey says”