Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Trump’s Trade War Escalation Will Exact Economic Pain, Adviser Says”

The Washington Post: “Trump’s go-it-alone approach on trade and immigration poses economic risks”

The Wall Street Journal: “Frustration, Miscalculation: Inside the U.S.-China Trade Impasse”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Suicide or homicide? Parents’ anguished search for answers lasts years after daughter dies of 20 stab wounds” 

BBC: “Julian Assange: Sweden reopens rape investigation”

CNN: “Here’s proof of how Trump has mixed up Washington: Some Democrats think he might want to be impeached”

FOX: “US Navy fleet sent to Middle East to ward off threats represents a target, Iranian commander says”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Russia Is Targeting Europe’s Elections. So Are Far-Right Copycats”

The Washington Post: “To fight House probes, Trump and his allies employ a block-everything strategy”

The Wall Street Journal: “Tight U.S. Job Market Squeezes Smallest Businesses The Most”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “High school proms: Style and sass”

BBC: “Iran facing ‘unprecedented’ pressure from international sanctions, Rouhani says”

CNN: “‘Run, hide, fight’ has become a mantra for how to act during a mass shooting. Here’s what it really involves”

FOX: “AOC briefly takes Pelosi’s spot in presiding over House; reportedly youngest woman to yield gavel”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Assad Crushed Dissent”

The Washington Post: “McGahn refused White House request to say Trump did not obstruct justice”

The Wall Street Journal: “China Holds Fire in Latest Trade Skirmish With U.S.”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Shooting update: Harrisburg judge sought PFA after husband tried to pull her from car, court records say”

BBC: “US sends Patriot missile system to Middle East amid Iran tensions”

CNN: “Giuliani reverses course, says he’s no longer going to Ukraine to press Biden investigation”

FOX: “Dems fume as Trump moves to amend DC’s July 4 celebration, possibly address the nation”

 

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Trump Increases China Tariffs as Trade Deal Hangs in the Balance”

The Washington Post: “U.S. doubles tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, escalating trade war”

The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Slaps Higher Tariffs on Chinese Imports as Trade Talks Resume”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Yes, there are a lot more Lyme disease-carrying ticks in Pa. today: Penn State study”

BBC: “Trade war: Trump raises tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods”

CNN: “The US just raised tariffs on Chinese goods. China says it will hit back”

FOX: “James Comey blasts Rod Rosenstein, mocks departing deputy AG for thinking ‘the country needs me'”

The Author’s Corner with Carli Conklin

The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding EraCarli Conklin is Associate Professor at The University of Missouri School of Law.  This interview is based on her new book, The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History (University of Missouri, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era?

CC: I had long wondered why Thomas Jefferson would choose a phrase as seemingly vague as “the pursuit of happiness” to be included as one of only three unalienable rights he specifically listed in the Declaration of Independence. That the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” was left untouched throughout an otherwise lengthy and quite detailed drafting process only further piqued my curiosity. I began to wonder if “the pursuit of happiness” had been left untouched because it was so clearly-defined and widely-accepted among the Founders that it required no editing or if it had been left untouched because it was so vague as to have no specific or controversial meaning to the Founders, at all.

In their later writings, Jefferson and John Adams both claimed that the Declaration was not intended to be a statement of new ideas. Taking my cue from them, I began exploring old ideas–key strands of thought that were most influential at the Founding: English law and legal history; the history and philosophy of classical antiquity; Christianity; and the Scottish Enlightenment’s focus on Newtonian Science. These strands of thought, while conflicting in their particulars, nevertheless converged at a place of particular meaning. That place of particular meaning was the late-eighteenth understanding of “the pursuit of happiness.”

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era?

CC: Far from being a glittering generality or a direct substitution for property, “the pursuit of happiness” had a distinct meaning to those who included the phrase in two of the eighteenth-century’s most influential legal texts: William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) and the Declaration of Independence (1776). That distinct meaning included a belief in first principles by which the created world is governed, the idea that these first principles were discoverable by man, and the belief that to pursue a life lived in accordance with those principles was to pursue a life of virtue, with the end result of happiness, best defined in the Greek sense of eudaimonia, or human flourishing.

JF: Why do we need to read The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era?

CC: Today, we continue to invoke our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness in a wide variety of settings. The right to “the pursuit of happiness” shows up everywhere from music and movies to U.S. Supreme Court cases, with a bewildering array of meanings attributed to the phrase. This work clarifies the meaning of the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness by placing the phrase within its broader eighteenth-century legal and historical context. The methodology behind this exploration highlights not only the interdisciplinary depth and breadth of the Founders’ intellectual world, but also the unexpected places where a variety of these influential, eighteenth-century schools of thought converged.

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

CC: Throughout college, I pursued my love for English and education while remaining interested in law. I was particularly fascinated by the ideas that are embedded in our laws and how those laws—and the ideas undergirding them–change over time. Following my graduation from Truman State University, I learned of the University of Virginia School of Law’s dual degree program in American legal history. I still vividly remember the excitement I felt as I read the program description—it was everything I had ever wanted to study! I am happy to say that I could not have found a more welcoming and intellectually invigorating home for the study of early American legal history. As an early American legal historian who views scholarship as an extension of teaching, I remain so grateful for the outstanding education I received from Truman State University in teaching pedagogy, critical thinking and analysis, and the close reading of texts and the fantastic education in law and American legal history I received at the University of Virginia, first under Barry Cushman and Charles W. McCurdy in the J.D./M.A. program and then when I returned to Virginia to work under Prof. McCurdy again for my Ph.D. It has been a true joy to work in this field.

JF: What is your next project?

CC: I am fascinated by how our legal use and understanding of “the pursuit of happiness” has changed over time. I am currently working on a project entitled The Pursuit of Happiness after the Founding: Case Law and Constitutions. This project explores the use of “the pursuit of happiness” in key legal texts from 1776 forward, including constitutions and court cases at both the state and federal levels.

JF: Thanks, Carli!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Facing a Trump Stonewall, Democrats Struggle for Options to Compel Cooperation”

The Washington Post: “Trump, Democrats are locked in a constitutional showdown over Mueller’s report”

The Wall Street Journal: “Why China Decided to Play Hardball in Trade Talks”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Harrisburg tops the state in teacher turnover: Five former teachers explain why”

BBC: “North Korea fires ‘two short-range missiles'”

CNN: “Trump’s feud with Congress puts American democracy on the brink”

FOX: “California OKs new sex-ed guidelines for teachers despite objections from parents, protesters”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Decade in Red: Trump Tax Figures Show Over $1 Billion in Losses”

The Washington Post: “As Trump seeks to run on economy, trade war threatens to roil 2020 race”

The Wall Street Journal: “Iran to Stop Complying With Some Nuclear Deal Commitments”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Yes, there are a lot more Lyme disease-carrying ticks in Pa. today: Penn State Study”

BBC: “Asia Bibi: Christian leaves Pakistan after blasphemy acquittal”

CNN: “Iranian leader announces partial withdrawal from nuclear deal”

FOX: “Meghan McCain, Seth Myers have testy exchange over Ilhan Omar: ‘Are you her publicist?'”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Riley Howell’s Parents Say He Was Shot 3 Times While Tackling the U.N.C. Gunman”

The Washington Post: “U.S. accuses China of ‘reneging’ on trade commitments”

The Wall Street Journal: “White House Ratchets Up Trade Fight”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Harrisburg Mall fight spills into neighboring store, leaving a child hurt, other people cited, police say”

BBC: “Turkey’s Erdogan defends Istanbul election re-run amid protests”

CNN: “‘We’re freaked’: Trump startles US businesses with fresh tariff hike”

FOX: “Kenn Starr: Leak of Mueller’s ‘whiny’ letter to Barr was an ‘unforgivable sin'”

The Author’s Corner with Stanley Harrold

American AbolitionismStanley Harrold is Professor of History at South Carolina State . This interview is based on his new book, American Abolitionism: Its Direct Political Impact from Colonial Times into Reconstruction (University of Virginia Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write American Abolitionism?

SH: For years I concentrated my research and writing on the physical clashes between antislavery and proslavery forces on both sides of the North-South sectional border. Particularly in writing Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), I came to appreciate how these confrontations influenced the sectional politics that led to the Civil War. Those involved included escaping slaves, black and white abolitionists who encouraged and aided the escapees, and defensive white southerners who pursued the escapees. But, in focusing on these clashes and those involved, I limited the book’s scope to a restricted region and a relatively brief time period. As a result I began to wonder about other ways that abolitionists directly impacted American politics and government over a much more extended period, stretching from the late 1600s into the late 1860s. Also the recent upsurge in interest among historians regarding the abolitionists’ impact on politics has emphasized their indirect political impact through preaching, holding public meetings, and circulating antislavery propaganda in attempts to influence public opinion. Because other broader forces than these influenced northern popular opinion, this is an impressionist enterprise. Therefore American Abolitionism focuses precisely on direct abolitionist impact on colonial, state, and national government, through petitioning, lobbying, and personal contacts with politicians, as well as the direct impact of abolitionist physical action on northern and southern politicians.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of American Abolitionism?

SH: American Abolitionism argues that, beginning during the Colonial Period and extending through the Early National period, the Jacksonian Era, the 1850s, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, abolitionists’ direct political tactics helped influence the course of the sectional conflict. The book emphasizes that even those abolitionists who emphasized moral suasion and refused to vote engaged in effective efforts directly to influence formal politics.

JF: Why do we need to read American Abolitionism?

SH: As I suggest above, the book provides a much more precise understanding than previous studies of the abolitionist impact on American politics and government over an extended period of time. It begins with Quaker abolitionist petitioning and lobbying from the 1690s into the 1770s. It discusses expanded efforts to influence politics, undertaken by the first antislavery societies, mostly at the state level, during the Revolutionary and Early National periods. It covers the expanded direct tactics undertaken by immediate abolitionists, aimed at Congress and begun during the late 1820s. It explores the relationships between abolitionists and the Free Soil and Republican parties from the late 1840s through the Civil War, including increasing abolitionist efforts to personally influence Radical Republicans and President Abraham Lincoln. The book concludes with an evaluation of such efforts.

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

SH: For me becoming an American historian was a gradual process. I enjoyed a fine liberal arts undergraduate education at Allegheny College, where I took courses in art, literature, philosophy, as well as history, and did not decide to major in history until the middle of my junior year. I graduated in 1968, while the Vietnam War was raging. I decided to go to graduate school at Kent State University in part because I was not sure what else to do and hoped being a graduate student might provide a continued draft deferment. At first I was not sure that I wanted to be a professional historian or continue in graduate school after earning a master’s degree in American history. But, as I learned more about the historical profession, and came under the influence of my adviser John T. Hubbell, I finally committed myself to a career as a professor of American history, with a concentration on the Civil War Era and the abolitionist movement.

JF: What is your next project?

SH: For the first time, I have not begun a new book project after completing one. I shall, though, remain co-author, with Darlene Clark Hine and Willian C. Hine, of the African-American Odyssey, the leading black history textbook, which is currently in its seventh edition. I shall also remain co-editor, with Randall M. Miller, of the Southern Dissent book series, published by the University Press of Florida.

JF: Thanks, Stanley!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Trump’s Trade War Threat Poses Problems for China and Investors”

The Washington Post: “Israel and Gaza militants agree to cease-fire after a weekend of violence”

The Wall Street Journal: “Fresh Trade Tensions Upend Market Calm”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “State officials not ready to release $10.9 million in federal grants yanked from Harrisburg School District”

BBC: “Aeroflot plane crash: 41 killed on Russian jet”

CNN: “Trump warns presidency is being stolen amid Mueller angst”

FOX: “USS Lincoln strike group deployed to send Iran ‘clear and unmistakable’ message, Bolton says”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “In Push for Trade Deal, Trump Administration Shelves Sanctions Over China’s Crackdown on Uighurs”

The Washington Post: “Biden’s strong debut puts pressure on others vying to challenge Trump”

The Wall Street Journal: “Berkshire Lieutenants Step Into Spotlight at Annual Meeting”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “High School Proms: Fancy and Fanciful”

BBC: “Gaza conflict: Rocket barrage and Israeli strikes intensify”

CNN: “The Sunday school children: The little-known tragedy of the Sri Lankan Easter attacks”

FOX: “Kentucky Derby result just the latest in string of ‘tainted triumphs'”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Inside Gang Territory in Honduras: ‘Either They Kill Us or Kill Them'”

The Washington Post: “Republicans with price tag concerns threaten Trump’s infrastructure plan”

The Wall Street Journal: “North Korea Fires Unidentified Short-Range Weapon”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Horse racing’s uncomfortable truth: Thoroughbreds die–at a rate of more than one per week in Pa.”

BBC: “Trump calls and Putin talks of ‘Russian hoax'”

CNN: “A plane coming from Guantanamo Bay with 143 people aboard skids into a river in Florida”

FOX: “Comey defends FBI’s investigation in response to NYT’s ‘spying’ report”

 

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Why Wages Are Finally Rising, 10 Years After the Recession”

The Washington Post: “Trump finds in Barr the attorney general–and shield–he long sought”

The Wall Street Journal: “Boeing’s Own Test Pilots Lacked Key Details of 737 MAX Flight-Control System”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Rocked by gay clergy issues, closures and mergers, the United Methodist Church is ‘in turmoil”

BBC: “Cyclone Fani: Powerful storm slams into Eastern India coast”

CNN: “Pressure grows for Mueller to speak”

FOX: “Kimberly Strassel: AG Barr gets attacked because his probe endangers powerful people”

The Author’s Corner with Mark Peterson

The City-State of BostonMark Peterson is Edmund S. Morgan Professor of History at Yale University. This interview is based on his new book, The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power (Princeton University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The City-State of Boston?

MP: I began work on this book by pursuing an observation that emerged while researching and writing my first book, The Price of Redemption—that early Boston and New England’s residents were deeply interested in and engaged with continental Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, the Caribbean, even the Indian Ocean, much more so than the extant historiography would lead you to believe. And I was also bothered by the way that the history of the United States casts its enormous shadow backward on the pre-independence world, encouraging historians to pay attention to those events, people, trends that contributed to the making of the United States, and obscuring those elements that did not. The sharp break that many historians make between pre- and post-independence North American history also troubled me, as I saw many continuities in the history of Boston and New England across that divide. In the end, I wanted to write what I thought of as a more honest and thorough account of the formation and development of a highly significant American colonial endeavor in its own right, taking the advent of the United States as neither telos nor chronological endpoint, but another shift in the city and region’s long history of negotiating imperial relationships.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The City-State of Boston?

MP: The City-State of Boston argues that the founders of Boston aimed to create an autonomous self-governing republic in church and state, and over the course of its first century, managed to do just that by expanding its political and cultural authority over the New England region, and developing an integrated economy that linked city and region to the slave plantation colonies of the West Indies. Through the eighteenth century, the region sustained much of its autonomy in the face of growing pressure from the British Empire, even to the point of open rebellion, but the compact it joined with the other newly independent states in 1788 gradually eroded the political, economic, and cultural bases for this autonomy, as Boston became economically intertwined with and under the governmental authority of an expansionist American slavocracy.

JF: Why do we need to read The City-State of Boston?

MP:  All over the world today, there are signs of crisis in various forms of self-government, regardless of what we call this tradition – liberal democracy might be the most convenient shorthand. From the persistence of various forms of secession movements (Scotland, Catalonia, Brexit) to the rise of authoritarianism in formerly democratic countries (Turkey, Hungary, Brazil, the Philippines, the list goes on) and the rise of far right parties in many more places, dissatisfaction with the current state of many forms of national government is evident. The City-State of Boston was written in part to offer an examination of one form of popular self-government, the small autonomous republic with strong ties to other (often larger) polities, a model that was extremely prevalent before the nineteenth century, but was largely swept away by that century’s various forms of national and imperial consolidations, including the United States. So in addition to simply the intrinsically interesting history of Boston, I would also suggest that its story is good to think with as we contemplate the prospects for a way forward from our current predicament.

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

MP: I think of myself as an early modern historian whose work focuses on North America (and until now, mostly on New England), rather than simply an American historian. As an undergraduate, I majored in the history and science of early modern Europe, and as a graduate student, working with Bernard Bailyn was a great opportunity to explore the relationship between European colonial projects in America and the wider Atlantic world.

JF: What is your next project?

MP: I am currently working on a small book with a big title, The Long Crisis of the Constitution, which will argue that the purposes for which the US Constitution was created in the 1780s, rooted in eighteenth century assumptions about power, economics, and population, had largely been carried out by the end of the nineteenth century, when the crisis began. It traces how subsequent efforts to shore up the relationship between the evolving nation and the Constitution have come undone and generated the governance problem we face today.

JF: Thanks, Mark!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Barr Defends Handling of Mueller Report Against Withering Rebukes”

The Washington Post: “Barr recasts McGahn’s account of Trump’s efforts to push out Mueller”

The Wall Street Journal: “Tighter Iranian Oil Sanctions Set Stage for U.S.-Saudi Showdown”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “‘He’s a monster’: Mother of abducted 4-year-old says of kidnapping suspect”

BBC: “Attorney General refuses House testimony on Mueller report”

CNN: “Barr ensures Congress can’t stop Trump now”

FOX: “Clinton ‘imagines’ scenario where 2020 Dem hopeful asks China to get Trump’s tax returns”

Out of the Zoo: “My Year with the Messiah College History Department”

Bernardo Cricket

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  Just to be clear, I did not give her a pay raise to write this particular column.  🙂  –JF

I vividly remember the first time I sat in Professor Fea’s office. I was a junior in high school, visiting Messiah College for the first time with my mom and sister. Messiah was first of the several college tours my mom had scheduled for our Spring Break trip through Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts. My mom nudged me as soon as we walked through his office door in Boyer Hall and pointed out the large bookcase bracing one of the walls. I remember her asking me playfully if I thought he’d read all of them. What wall space wasn’t guarded by the massive bookcase was plastered with pictures and portraits of various kinds. I noticed the historical bobble-heads sitting in his windowsill as the four of us sat at a circular table a few feet away from his desk.

In previous meetings with professors at other schools I had been nervous, my mom’s reminders to make good eye contact and make sure you ask questions bouncing around in my head–but talking to Professor Fea was easy. We talked about my interests, hopes, and concerns about college, as well as what other schools I was considering. After explaining the basics of Messiah’s history program, Professor Fea gave me a convincing but honest spiel about what Messiah has to offer, in comparison with schools like Calvin College back in Michigan, and Gordon College in Massachusetts, where I was set to tour later that trip.

I spoke to Professor Fea several months later when he interviewed me over the phone for Messiah’s humanities scholars program for the 2018/2019 school year. I was astonished when he not only remembered who I was, but asked how my mom and sister were doing before we started the formal interview. While it took me a month or two after that to make my college decision official, from that day forward I knew that Messiah’s history department was something that I wanted to be a part of.

If I’m perfectly honest, moving nine hours from home to Messiah for school has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was not easy for me to move so far away from the little village in Southwest Michigan that raised me for the first eighteen years of my life. But I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that Messiah’s history department has given me a second family while I’m away from home. In just one year here I’ve been able to witness all the time and energy Messiah history professors spend generously on their students. They talk with us before and after class; their offices are frequently open for anyone who needs advice, a listening ear, or a piece of candy. They learn our names and remember them. They encourage us, challenge us, and come alongside us as we seek to understand the past a little better. They attend picnics, dinners, and movie nights the history club organizes for a little fun and community bonding–at last fall’s picnic Professor Michael tried to teach us cricket. Last December they even let us sing Christmas carols at their houses.

Now, just a little more than two years since our first interaction, I sit in Professor Fea’s office once a week for this job. Our meetings usually aren’t too long, every Monday at three o’clock he asks how I’m doing, we talk about the blog and he gives me a new research task if I’ve finished my old one. As I pause and reflect on this past year, it’s a little hard to put into words just how grateful I am for this department and this job. I can say, though, that I cannot wait to see what these next three years will bring.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Mueller Objected to Barr’s Description of Russia Investigation’s Findings on Trump”

The Washington Post: “Mueller complained that Barr’s letter did not capture ‘context’ of Trump probe”

The Wall Street Journal: “Mueller Objected to Barr’s Summary of Report”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Horse racing’s uncomfortable truth: Horses die–at a rate of more than one per week in Pa.”

BBC: “Caster Semenya loses Cas appeal over new IAAF testosterone rules”

CNN: “Mueller revelations turn spotlight on Barr’s independence”

FOX: “Gingrich: Latest Washington Post report on Mueller meant to ‘maximize the embarrassment’ for Barr”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Asylum Seekers Face New Restraints Under Latest Trump Orders”

The Washington Post: “Trump orders overhaul of asylum system, including fees to seek refuge”

The Wall Street Journal: “Boeing Signals Additional Software Problem Affecting Boeing 737 MAX Airliners”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Harrisburg School District finances, threat of receivership is unprecedented: attorney”

BBC: “Japanese Emperor Akihito declares historic abdication”

CNN: “CNN Poll: Biden solidifies frontrunner status with post-announcement bump”

FOX: “Trump sues Capital One, Deutsche Bank to keep them from complying with subpoenas”

The Author’s Corner with Quincy Newell

Your Sister in the GospelQuincy Newell is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College. This interview is based on her new book, Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a Nineteenth-Century Black Mormon (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Your Sister in the Gospel?

QN: The most immediate spur was a conversation with a staff person at the LDS Church History Library. She knew I was working on nineteenth-century African American and Native American Mormons, and she told me that she had recently run across a mention of Jane James in the diary of one of Brigham Young’s wives. The diarist recorded that Jane James had stopped by and that told her that Isaac James (Jane’s husband, another African American Mormon) had left Jane for a white fortune teller. My jaw dropped—all I wanted to do for the next three days was scour the Salt Lake newspapers to see if I could figure out who that fortune teller was! That was the rabbit hole that finally convinced me I should write Jane James’s biography: I kept trying to write about African American and Native American Mormons more broadly, and I kept getting sucked into Jane James’s story. I joke that I made a deal with her: I would write her biography, if she would leave me alone. We’ll see if she keeps her end of the bargain!

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Your Sister in the Gospel?

QN: Your Sister is a biography and might best be classified as narrative history, so there is not an overt argument in the text. The implicit argument, though, is that racial identity, gender identity, and religious identity all shape one another in powerful and often underappreciated ways, so we have to keep all of these aspects of identity (and more) in mind in order to understand the past.

JF: Why do we need to read Your Sister in the Gospel?

QN: First of all, Jane James is a fascinating historical figure in her own right. So you need to read it because her life is just so interesting. My hope is that it is a relatively easy read—I wrote it for a broad audience with the aspiration of producing a book that might interest general readers, not just my academic colleagues.

But aside from having a good story, the book helps deepen our understanding of American history in four ways. First, it illustrates some of the less-frequently-trod paths open to African American men and women in the nineteenth century. Jane James lived in places that didn’t have large African American populations—rural Connecticut, western Illinois, Utah. And she joined religions that we also don’t typically associate with African Americans—Congregationalism and then Mormonism. Second, it helps us think in a more nuanced way about American religious history: James’s story gives us a totally different perspective on the development of Mormonism than the standard narrative, which takes the white male subject as normative. I sometimes explain James as “the Forrest Gump of nineteenth-century Mormonism” because she knew all the important people and was in the background for many of the most important moments. Because she was black, though, her experience of those events gives us a new angle of vision on them. Third, James’s life broadens our sense of nineteenth-century American women’s lives. James’s entire life was shaped by her identity as a woman and the struggle to conform to the gender norms of her community. Her experience demonstrates how those norms constrained her opportunities and made her vulnerable to attack, even as they offered some kinds of support and community not available to men. And finally, James’s story improves our understanding of the history of the nineteenth-century American West by increasing our knowledge of African Americans’ lives in the region. Grappling with James’s presence in Utah also helps us acknowledge the ways race shaped western societies: her experience demonstrates that even when those societies were overwhelmingly white, they still wrestled with the construction and meaning of whiteness and other racial identities.

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

QN: I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the early religious history of Oregon, and I think it was that experience that really gave me the religious history bug. I vividly remember sitting in the Oregon Historical Society reading room, plodding through 1830s Methodist meeting minutes. I couldn’t believe that the OHS would let me touch these—they were over a hundred and fifty years old!—but I was also incredibly bored. The minutes were handwritten, sometimes barely legible, often badly spelled, and just plain tedious. But then I got to the bottom of one page and found a doodle: an elaborately drawn hand, in a frilly cuff, pointing to the next page. I realized that the poor guy taking the minutes was just as bored as I was reading them—and something about that connection, that shared boredom across the centuries, got me hooked on archival research.

JF: What is your next project?

QN: I’m getting back to the project from which Your Sister distracted me: an examination of the religious lives and experiences of nineteenth-century African American and Native American Mormons. W. Paul Reeve has shown quite convincingly in his Religion of a Different Color that the LDS Church was “struggling for whiteness” in the nineteenth century; I want to understand what it was like to be a Latter-day Saint of color during that time period.

JF: Thanks, Quincy!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Barr Threatens Not to Testify Before House, but Democrats May Subpoena Him”

The Washington Post: “Rising tide of white nationalism is at forefront of 2020 presidential race”

The Wall Street Journal: “Trump’s New Nafta Faces Mounting Resistance in Democratic House”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Prom season 2019: Magical moments”

BBC: “San Diego synagogue shooting: Rabbi describes seeing attacker”

CNN: “Trump prepares to fight back against investigations as Congress returns to work”

FOX: “Chicago prosecutor Kim Foxx subpoenaed over Jussie Smollett case: report”