This past weekend I spent a few days in Philadelphia attending the annual meeting of the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR).
The weekend began on Friday with a trip to the Philadelphia airport. My family was making their annual trek to Colorado to visit my in-laws. I would drop them off and then head to the Doubletree Hotel to catch a couple of morning conference sessions. Unfortunately, their flight did not leave until noon.
The morning was shot, but I could still manage to salvage my lunch plans. I got to the Presbyterian Historical Society around 1:00 and met up with two former students who are doing some research for me this summer. Valerie and Janelle are matching the names on lists of revolutionary-era committees of public safety with names in Presbyterian church records. So far this research is yielding some very good results.
After lunch, I looked at the SHEAR program, realized that I was not interested in any of the afternoon sessions, and thus decided to spend the rest of the day in archive.
I made it to the DoubleTree around 4:30. My plan was to check into the hotel, take a quick nap, grab some dinner with a former student who lives in the area, and then join some fellow historians at the SHEAR Anti-Temperance Society meeting.
Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the evening and the next morning battling a pretty bad migraine headache. I finally crawled out of my hotel room on Saturday afternoon and attended an interesting session entitled “Revival, Rhetoric, and Public Order.” Three very bright graduate students explored the relationship between Christianity. politics, Mormonism, and anti-slavery. Sarah Morgan Smith discussed the distinction between what she called the “Politics of Honor” and the “Politics of Integrity” in the life and career of Frederick Douglass. Nathan Wiewora made a fascinating argument about the way anti-Mormonism contributed to the formation of an Evangelical identity in the period. And Christopher Graham argued that church discipline among Evangelicals in the Piedmont seemed to be driven less by social control and more by a commitment to doctrinal purity. Jonathan Den Hartog, my friend and occasional contributor to The Way of Improvement Leads Home, offered sound commentary.
After this session I met up with Scott Rohrer. I had written a favorable Journal of American History review of Scott’s latest book Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865 and as a result he contacted me and asked to get together to talk about his latest project. We walked to a local tavern near the hotel and spent an hour or so discussing Presbyterians and the American Revolution. His new project is tentatively titled “Jacob Green’s Revolution: Radical Religion, Loyalism, and Reform in the Revolutionary Era.” It explores the life of Hanover, NJ Presbyterian minister Jacob Green and Elizabeth-Town, NJ Anglican minister Thomas Bradbury Chandler. Since I am going to try to incorporate Green into my ongoing study of Presbyterians and the Revolution, I learned a lot from our conversation.
Since I was still feeling a bit weak from my bout with the migraine, I decided to skip the SHEAR presidential address, get some rest, and put some finishing touches on my remarks for the session I would be chairing the next morning.
My Sunday morning started with breakfast at a local IHOP with Christopher Graham, a Ph.D candidate at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a regular reader of this blog. I learned a bit more about his work on religion in antebellum North Carolina and he helped me get acquainted with some sources on Presbyterianism in revolutionary-era South.
After breakfast it was time to preside over a session entitled “Home Missions, Antimissions, and the Political Culture of the Early Republic.” Brian Franklin, a Ph.D candidate at Texas A&M, offered a very provocative paper arguing that the relationship between church and state in the early 19th century is best understood in terms of “cooperation” rather than “separation.” Barton Price, a Ph.D candidate at Florida State who will be start his teaching career in the fall at Grand Valley State, argued that the evangelical empire of the early 19th century was driven less by the “democratization of American Christianity” and more by the “federalization of American Christianity.” I thought he offered a convincing alternative to Nathan Hatch’s well-known democratization paradigm. Finally, John Ayabe of Simpson University presented a very interesting paper on Calvinist Baptists in the Mississippi River Valley and their resistance to the Baptist missionary movement.
Following the session, a few of us got some Philly cheesesteaks, watched some of the disappointing women’s World Cup match, and engaged in the usual professional gossip.
While my full participation at SHEAR 2011 was limited by travel woes, an archive bug, and a nasty migraine, it was still a worthwhile weekend. In addition to what I described above, I was able to at least say hello to several old professional acquaintances and make some new ones.