Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Biden and Obama’s ‘Odd Couple’ Relationship Aged Into Family Ties”

The Washington Post: “Authorities identify suspect in ‘hate crime’ synagogue shooting that left 1 dead, 3 injured”

The Wall Street Journal: “More Whistleblower Complaints Emerge in Boeing 737 MAX Safety Inquiries”

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

BBC: “San Diego synagogue shooting: One person dead in Poway, California”

CNN: “She was at the synagogue to mourn her mother. She was killed while protecting the rabbi”

FOX: “‘Person of interest’ in 5 deaths is shot, captured in Tennessee, authorities say”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Guantanamo Bay as Nursing Home: Terrorism Suspects are Aging”

The Washington Post: “U.S. economy draws comparisons with the ’90s, but with caveats”

The Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Economy Grew at 3.2% Rate in First Quarter”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Pa. is seeing a surge of millionaires and they’re not all where you’d expect them to live”

BBC: “Sri Lanka bombings: 15 die in blast during raid on suspected hideout”

CNN: “16 people killed in police raid on home of suspected terrorists in Sri Lanka”

FOX: “Warren blasts Biden’s ‘swanky private fundraiser’ with lobbyists after launch of his WH bid”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Joe Biden Expresses Regret to Anita Hill, but She Says ‘I’m Sorry’ Is Not Enough”

The Washington Post: “Trump sought out loyalist to curtail special counsel–and drew Mueller’s glare”

The Wall Street Journal: “Uber Lowers Its Valuation Target”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “NFL Draft Pick 2019: Pick-by-pick grades and analysis from the 1st round”

BBC: “Sri Lanka bombings ringleader died in hotel attack, president says”

CNN: “A 5-year-old boy was found in a shallow grave. A look into his short life reveals a series of injustices”

FOX: “Rosenstein slams Obama administration for choosing ‘not to publicize full story’ of Russia hacking”

 

The Author’s Corner with Vaughn Scribner

Inn CivilityVaughn Scribner is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Central Arkansas. This interview is based on his new book, Inn Civility: Urban Taverns and Early American Civil Society (NYU Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Inn Civility?

VS: OK, nerd alert here. In graduate school I was reading a lot on colonial America’s place in the “Atlantic world,” and was really enjoying it. I was also reading a lot of Tolkien. At one point in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien describes an inn in Bree:

Down the Road, where it swept to the right to go round the foot of the hill, there was a large inn…Bree stood at an old meeting of ways; another ancient road crossed the East Road just outside the dike at the western end of the village, and in former days Men and other folk of various sorts had traveled much on it.  Strange as News from Bree was still a saying in the Eastfarthing, descending from those days, when news from North, South, and East could be heard in the inn, and when the Shire-hobbits used to go more often to hear it. (Tolkien, 162)

As I read this passage, something really clicked—taverns in colonial America were no different than the inn in Bree. They were vital meeting places where peoples from diverse backgrounds with different mindsets could interact, and where “news from North, South, and East could be heard.” This started my deep dive into colonial American taverns, and ultimately culminated in Inn Civility.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Inn Civility?

VS:  Inn Civility uses the urban tavern—the most numerous, popular, and accessible of all British American public spaces—to investigate North Americans’ struggles to cultivate a civil society from the early eighteenth century to the end of the American Revolution. Such an analysis, this book argues, demonstrates the messy, often contradictory nature of British American society building and how colonists’ efforts to emulate their British homeland ultimately impelled the creation of an American republic.

JF: Why do we need to read Inn Civility?

VS: I think Inn Civility is coming out at an especially poignant time—a time when powerful members of society have these ideals of how society should operate, but are constantly struggling with the messy realities; a time when many of these same powerful members of society make these rules of order, but don’t necessarily have to follow them; and a time when “civility” seems like a distant dream. This book demonstrates that this is nothing new, as eighteenth-century colonists were meeting in taverns and trying to hash out how they thought their “civil society” in British North America should work, but were growing increasingly dismayed at how it actually did work. It also shows that these mechanisms of power and inequality ultimately helped to feed into the American Revolution. Finally, who doesn’t like reading about drinking, gaming, fighting, and rioting in taverns?

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

VS: My students actually asked me this exact question a few days ago, and I was aghast to realize that I didn’t have a specific answer, or some clear “ah ha” moment to tell them about. That said, I give much of the credit to my parents, as well as Professor Louise Breen at my undergraduate institution, Kansas State University. My parents always instilled in me a deep interest in the past, especially through family vacations and our home library. When I arrived at KSU, Dr. Breen ignited in me a passion for colonial America and the American Revolution. Her guidance proved critical in my decision to attend graduate school. 

JF: What is your next project?

VS: I have two projects going at the time. I am just wrapping up my second book on a rather odd topic: merpeople. A few years ago, I stumbled across odd references to merpeople in the writings of leading eighteenth-century thinkers, which led me to write a scholarly article on the topic, as well as pieces for blogs and History Today magazine. Now, I am just wrapping up a book on the topic—Merpeople: A Human History (under contract with Reaktion Books, UK)—which demonstrates that humanity’s obsession with merpeople is hardly new: no matter where or when humans have lived, they always seem to find mermaids and mermen. It is in this universal pattern which Merpeople finds its core, as it uses merpeople to gain a deeper understanding of one of the most mysterious, capricious, and dangerous creatures on Earth: humans.

Before Reaktion Books reached out to me to write the merpeople book, I was researching for another project which will be one of the first books to approach the American Revolutionary War from an environmental/climatological perspective. Tentatively titled Under Alien Skies: Environmental Perceptions and the Defeat of the British Army in America, the monograph investigates how British and Hessian soldiers’ perceptions of the New World environment and climate had serious effects on their military effectiveness. Whether stationed in New York City or slogging through the Carolina low country, British soldiers increasingly deemed their strange environs as working against them, while American colonists considered the American landscape a bountiful land of “milk and honey”which would only aid their “glorious”cause. Ultimately, the manuscript argues that scholars cannot truly understand how and why the British Empire lost America without taking perceptions of local environmental and climatological factors into serious consideration. 

JF: Thanks, Vaughn!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Joe Biden is Running for President, After Months of Hesitation”

The Washington Post: “Joe Biden jumps into crowded 2020 field”

The Wall Street Journal: “Deutsche Bank Deal Talks With Commerzbank Break Down”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “State yanks $10.9M in federal money from Harrisburg School District over audit dispute”

BBC: “US election 2020: Joe Biden launches presidential bid”

CNN: “Joe Biden announces he is running for president in 2020”

FOX: “Biden officially launches 2020 presidential bid”

 

Out of the Zoo: “Cathedrals”

Notre Dame 2

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 will be 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. This week she writes about Notre Dame and the meaning of churches. –JF

I can tell you a lot more about old church buildings now than I could have at the beginning of the semester, when I started taking Professor Huffman’s “Knights, Peasants, and Bandits” class here at Messiah College.

Specifically, I’ve been learning about Medieval parish churches, and the important events that often took place inside them. For one, I found out that in Medieval villages, godparents rushed babies to the local parish church immediately after they were born, so that they could be quickly baptized in the baptismal font inside. Years later, if those babies were fortunate enough to reach adulthood, they often got married in the shadow of the same church building, on the front steps. Churches held mass, and remained at the center of holidays and celebrations of all kinds; church buildings were, and still are, places where Christians and non-Christians alike gather, socialize, and carry out their lives.

Despite the significance parish churches had in Medieval village life, I doubt that anyone would pledge millions for their restoration, as in the case of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. There’s no doubt that the destruction of the latter will be remembered for many years to come–I can’t say the same of the slow disintegration of village parish churches. As a historian, I myself am saddened by the loss of such a complex artifact as the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which despite generous donations will never be fully restored to its original condition. My heart aches for French men and women who saw the Cathedral as part of their heritage and cultural identity. When I think about Notre Dame, I’m reminded of all the life that must have unfolded within its walls–not unlike the life that thrived inside the much less grandiose parish churches I’ve been learning about from Professor Huffman. I feel remorse when I consider all the laborious work that was done to construct Notre Dame, the fruit of which was so quickly reduced to ashes.

There’s no denying that church buildings have been at the center of human religious and community life for centuries. They’re often where we laugh, cry, get married, and are sent off to our next life. Churches are important to historians, too, when we seek to understand the ways people have gathered and worshiped over time. I can’t help but think, though, especially in light of Notre Dame’s recent destruction, we’ve lost track of the purpose of churches–because even lavish near-1000 year old church buildings will never be more than just that–buildings. A church shouldn’t be important just because it has a tall steeple or an impressive vaulted ceiling. Its value shouldn’t even be judged by the number of weddings or funerals or Easter Sunday services that took place inside. A church’s worth, instead, should be discerned by its ability to send the Church–meaning, the group of Christ-followers inside the building–into the world outside.

If a church keeps you inside and doesn’t send you out, no matter how stunning its stained glass windows or elaborately carved its interior, it’s not doing its job.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “ISIS Claims Sri Lanka Attacks, and President Vows Shakeup”

The Washington Post: “Trump says he is opposed to White House aides testifying to Congress”

The Wall Street Journal: “Soros Fund’s New Leader Upends Firm in Strategic Overhaul”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Witness says he arranged payment to a Penn State player’s father in 2009: Larry Johnson speaks and more of what we know”

BBC: “Sri Lanka attacks: Bomber ‘studied in UK and Australia'”

CNN: “Iowa’s longest-serving GOP lawmaker joins the Democrats because of Trump”

FOX: “Rush Limbaugh: Joe Biden is Democrats’ best chance in 2020 but has no chance in primary”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Sri Lanka Was Warned of Possible Attacks. Why Didn’t It Stop Them?”

The Washington Post: Sri Lankan police home in on obscure Islamist group in Easter attacks”

The Wall Street Journal: “Sri Lanka Links Bombers Were Reacting to New Zealand Mosque Shootings, Government Says”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “The NFL has just 1 black GM. These 12 executives in the pipeline could change that”

BBC: “Sri Lanka attacks: Mass funerals held as nation mourns”

CNN: “Bombings were retaliation for Christchurch mosque attacks”

FOX: “Warren’s massive student loan cancellation questioned over fairness to students who paid off their debts”

The Author’s Corner with Jonathan Daniel Wells

Blind No MoreJonathan Daniel Wells is Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. This interview is based on his new book, Blind No More: African American Resistance, Free-Soil Politics, and the Coming of the Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Blind No More?

DW: Although much of my work so far has focused on southern history, several years ago I became interested in the evolution of free soil thinking. Based on the reading I did in primary sources like newspapers, manuscripts, and sermons, I concluded that the genesis for shifting antebellum public opinions on slavery was rooted in the crisis over fugitive slaves. Because enslaved people persistently and at great personal risk fled bondage, they forced white northern voters and politicians to rethink their relationship with the South and their obligations to return runaways under the Constitution.

Blind no More is the print version of the Lamar Lectures that I was honored to deliver in 2017. One of the goals for such lectures is to be provocative, so I wanted to accomplish two primary goals. I placed African Americans at the heart of our understanding of Civil War causation and I made the case that given the parameters in place after the ratification of the Constitution there was a certain inevitability to the outbreak of civil conflict.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Blind No More?

DW: The book is really about how free state voters between 1820 and 1861 came to question the value of the Constitution, and the central role of African Americans in fostering that reevaluation. We often think about the coming of the Civil War as a product of hardening of southern views on bondage, but the free states underwent their own dramatic and important shift in thinking about the Union and the Constitution, a shift that contributed significantly to the coming of the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read Blind No More?

DW: Over the past few years, we have benefited from a number of important works on nineteenth-century African Americans, abolitionism, and the Fugitive Slave Law by leading scholars like Richard Blackett, Manisha Sinha, Leslie Harris, and Martha Jones, just to name a few. Other scholars like Corey Brooks and Rachel Shelden have contributed important works on antebellum politics. Blind no More seeks to connect our increasingly sophisticated knowledge of the black experience with our understandings of partisan politics in the antebellum North.

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

DW: I was privileged in that my father was a literature professor of what used to be called the “American Renaissance,” so I knew what becoming an academic would look like. I became interested in antebellum American history mostly through curiosity about the lively political battles of the period, especially between the Democrats and Whigs. Eventually, as a North Carolina native, I also became interested in southern history, African American history, and the history of slavery. I was fortunate to work with prominent scholars at the University of Florida like the late Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Kermit Hall, Ron Formisano, and other mentors like David Colburn, to whom Blind no More is dedicated, and with Mills Thornton as a PhD student at the University of Michigan.

JF: What is your next project?

DW: I am completing a book called The New York Kidnapping Club: Slavery and Wall Street before the Civil War, a true story about how a nefarious group of police officers, lawyers, merchants, and judges conspired to kidnap black New Yorkers and send them to slavery. It also tells the epic and tragic tales of how the illegal transatlantic slave trade used New York’s harbor all the way to the Civil War.

JF: Thanks, Daniel!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: Sri Lanka Bombings Live Updates: Terrorist Group Is Identified, and Death Toll Rises”

The Washington Post: “Islamist militants blamed for Sri Lanka bombings that killed at least 290”

The Wall Street Journal: “Sri Lanka Points to Islamist Militants in Easter Bombing Attacks”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Pa.’s population is flattening after two decades of growth, but Philly/Harrisburg corridor continues to grow”

BBC: “Sri Lanka attacks: ‘International network’ linked to bombings”

CNN: “Sri Lanka attack death toll rises to 290”

FOX: “Sri Lanka on edge after local Islamic militant group blamed for Easter Sunday attacks: report”

 

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: Sri Lanka Bombings at Churches and Hotels Said to Kill Almost 200″

The Washington Post: “Coordinated explosions kill at least 137 people in 3 churches and 2 hotels in Sri Lanka”

The Wall Street Journal: More Than 100 Killed as Series of Blasts Devastates Sri Lanka”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Two tornadoes with winds stronger than 100 mph touched down in central Pa.”

BBC: “Sri Lanka explosions: 137 killed as churches and hotels targeted”

CNN: “Sri Lanka blasts: At least 138 dead and more than 560 injured in multiple church and hotel explosions”

FOX: “Blasts rock 3 churches, 3 hotels in Sri Lanka; multiple fatalities reported”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “A Darker Portrait Emerges of Trump’s Attacks on the Justice Department”

The Washington Post: Investigate Trump or impeach? Democrats split over endgame.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Lashes Out as Mueller Report Reverberates Around Washington”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “McDonald’s is ditching it’s fancy burgers and chicken sandwiches”

BBC: “Lyra McKee: Two teenage men arrested in connection with journalist’s killing”

CNN: “Two teenagers arrested in the killing of journalist Lyra McKee”

FOX: “Huckabee lashes out at Trump critic Romney: ‘Makes me sick’ you could have been POTUS”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “A Portrait of the White House and Its Culture of Dishonesty”

The Washington Post: “Mueller lays out evidence against Trump on obstruction, Russia”

The Wall Street Journal: “‘Putin Has Won’: Mueller Report Details the Ways Russia Interfered in the 2016 Election”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Rainy holiday weekend in store for central Pa.”

BBC: “Mueller report: Democrats promise to probe Trump ‘obstruction'”

CNN: “Mueller report leaves America at a crossroads over Trump”

FOX: “Trump’s written–at times snarky–answers to Mueller’s questions revealed”

The Author’s Corner with Joseph Reidy

Illusions of EmancipationJoseph Reidy is Professor of History and Associate Provost at Howard University. This interview is based on his new book, Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery (The University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Illusions of Emancipation?

JR: Illusions of Emancipation began gestating nearly twenty-five years ago when Gary W. Gallagher and T. Michael Parrish, series editors of the University of North Carolina Press’s Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, invited me to write the volume on emancipation. My previous work with the Freedmen and Southern Society Project, which included co-editing four volumes of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867 (Cambridge University Press, 1982-1993), acquainted me with the incredibly rich Civil War-era military records at the National Archives. The documents revealed emancipation to have been a complex process rather than a single event and to have involved a cast of characters that extended well beyond President Abraham Lincoln and his fellow Republicans to include enslaved Southerners and free African American Northerners. For the past generation historians have shared this understanding of how slavery ended, but much remains to be explained.

The current consensus takes for granted a linear trajectory, that began in 1861 with slavery well entrenched in the Southern states and protected in law throughout the land and that ended in 1865 with slavery outlawed by the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Even a cursory reading of the records at the National Archives suggested that the process was infinitely complex and that the goal of achieving freedom was elusive if not downright ephemeral. When supplemented with material from African American newspapers and the memoirs of persons who had escaped slavery (in the form of both published narratives and transcripts of interviews conducted during the 1930s), a fuller picture emerges. Contemporaries often employed figurative rather than strictly literal terminology to describe their experiences and their actions. They viewed events as unfolding within a temporal framework that was linear in some respects but was also characterized by recurring cycles or by intermittent bursts in which time appeared to speed up, slow down, or even stop. Space often displayed similar malleable properties, including its ability to support or undermine slavery depending on who controlled it. I wondered how individuals and communities coped with such instability. I found that at least part of the answer lay in their use of concepts of belonging, especially “home,” which could imply a dwelling-place, a neighborhood, a community, as well as the nation and the human relationships associated with each of those settings, to establish order out of the threatening chaos.

Abandoning the view that Civil War emancipation represented an unqualified expansion of American freedom and democracy reveals not only the complexity and uncertainty of the struggle to destroy slavery but also the limitations of the North’s ability to extend the blessings extolled by the Founders to persons of African ancestry, freeborn and formerly enslaved. For more than 150 years the nation has wrestled with the imperfect and often illusory results of emancipation, and the struggle continues.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Illusions of Emancipation?

JR: Illusions of Emancipation views the end of slavery during the Civil War not as a single event but as a complex, erratic, and unpredictable process, the outcome of which—the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—outlawed slavery but left unaddressed the contours of the “new birth of freedom” Abraham Lincoln had referenced in the Gettysburg Address. The book explores mid-nineteenth century Americans’ concepts of time, space, and the universal human desire for belonging for clues into how they understood the momentous changes swirling around them and, in turn, how we might better comprehend their world and our own.

JF: Why do we need to read Illusions of Emancipation?

JR: Illusions of Emancipation views the destruction of slavery during the Civil War as an uneven, often contradictory, and ultimately incomplete process rather than a story of American progress in which the latent antislavery sentiment of the nascent Republican Party blossomed over the four years of war into a triumphant reaffirmation of the nation’s founding ideals. Like many other recent interpreters of this era, I take for granted that Abraham Lincoln was not the sole architect of emancipation and that African Americans (both enslaved and freeborn) contributed significantly to destroying slavery, saving the Union, and reconfiguring the contours of American citizenship. But I also argue that, from Fort Sumter to Appomattox and beyond, each day presented new contingencies to be navigated, that the flow of events—and people’s perceptions of them—moved in erratic and cyclical patterns rather than simple and straightforward ones, and that the presumed march of freedom under federal auspices could stop as well as advance and even turn backwards. Following the lead of contemporary observers, I argue that understanding this complex process requires employing figurative as well as literal meanings of time and space. I also explore the multiple concepts of the term “home” with which participants in the war’s earth-shattering events attempted to make sense of a world in the throes of being turned upside down. In the end, the Union’s victory resulted in a constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery; but it offered at best an imperfect resolution to such fundamental questions as the meaning of freedom and the essential rights and privileges of citizenship—not just to persons of African descent but to all Americans—the implications of which persist to the present.

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

JR: I followed a roundabout path to becoming a professional historian. I began my undergraduate studies in the mid-1960s in an engineering program, but after several years I found it to be less engaging than I had expected. What is more, the physical and natural sciences did not offer much in the way of understanding the pressing political and social questions embroiling the nation at that time, specifically African American civil and political rights and the Vietnam War. The social sciences offered a framework for filling that void, and I completed a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Following graduation, I began exploring the possibility of a career in higher education, with my focus shifting from sociology to U.S. history with the goal of comprehending the underlying context of contemporary events. The prospect of teaching about the past was appealing, but even more so was the opportunity to conduct historical research and advance the frontiers of knowledge. That fascination has animated my work ever since.

JF: What is your next project?

JR: Having recently retired, I am not inclined to embark on an entirely new research project. But I have a long-standing interest in the topic black sailors in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, and I would like to pursue that further. The navy grew from several dozen effective vessels at the start of the war to more than 600 by its conclusion, and roughly one-fourth of the enlisted personnel were men of African descent. What is more, nineteenth-century naval warships present something of a world unto themselves, one of rigidly confined space where time followed conventions unknown on terra firma, and the hierarchical authority structure looked (and functioned) more like a slave plantation than any living and working arrangements in the free states of the North. What a fascinating setting to explore the breakdown of slavery!

JF: Thanks, Joseph!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “The Mueller Report: What to Watch For Today”

The Washington Post: “Mueller report will be lightly redacted, offering detailed look into Trump’s actions”

The Wall Street Journal: “Barr to Hold Briefing on Mueller Report”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Harrisburg School Board votes down resolution to comply with state auditors”

BBC: “North Korea test fires new tactical guided weapon-state media”

CNN: “Attorney General Barr to release redacted Mueller report”

FOX: “In Mueller report’s release, Trump looks for vindication, but new fights loom” 

Out of the Zoo: “Special Olympics”

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 will be 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. This week she writes about her work with the Special Olympics.  Enjoy! (Note:  The video posted below is from the Messiah College Special Olympics event in 2018.) –JF

My favorite track meet of the year in high school was always the Parchment Relays. For one, the meet consisted solely of relays–both the traditional races that we ran at every normal meet, and several atypical events, like a hurdle relay and a long distance medley. The best part of the Parchment Relays, though, was the Special Olympics meet that was always held half way through the event. High School athletes would pause their warm-up or cool-down routines to line up along the track and cheer eagerly for Special Olympics athletes as they ran, walked, or wheeled their way to the finish line. My team would always cheer extra loud for our coach’s little brother Todd, who competed faithfully in the Special Olympics meet every year with an excited smile on his face.

I was thrilled when I found out several weeks ago that the Parchment Relays wouldn’t be my last interaction with Special Olympics. To my excitement, I learned that it is a tradition at Messiah College for all first-year students to serve as Special Olympics buddies when the school hosts the Area M Games–a massive Special Olympics event with well over a thousand athletes–on Service Day every year. We lined up with our Created and Called for Community classes early Thursday morning as we waited to be paired with an athlete for the day.

My Special Olympics buddy (we’ll call him Robert) was a second grader from a local elementary school. After being paired with Robert, his teacher greeted me with a warm smile, handed me his event card, and was quick to tell me that he was nonverbal. To be completely honest, this threw me for a loop at first. When I met Robert that day I didn’t know one bit of sign language; by the grace of God I ran into someone who taught me the signs for yes, no, and bathroom. Eventually, though, we settled into a rhythm–Robert stuck faithfully by my side as we wove through crowds to his different events, and put up with my repeated high-fives and fist bumps after his races. Even though I never heard his voice, I still learned about Robert that day.  I learned that his favorite color is red, he loves to dance, and he can eat two whole sandwiches before I finish one. Not only did I learn a lot about Robert that day, but I learned a lot from him too.

Robert taught me that there are myriad of ways someone can communicate, even if they don’t use their voice. As historians, the people we interact with the most in our research usually can’t talk to us–a lot of times because the ones we work with and study are people who lived and died a long, long time ago. As much as we wish we could, we can’t sit next to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, or Amelia Earhart and converse with them for hours on end; we can’t physically hear their voices, or listen to them tell us their favorite color or kind of tea or way to pass the time. But even so, we can still learn from them. We look at their writings, their records, the things they leave behind and learn to communicate in a different way. Sometimes it takes a little more work than we anticipated–sometimes we don’t understand them right away, or aren’t equipped with the right tools to maintain a conversation at first. Sometimes we get frustrated because the people we try to understand are much different from us. When we’re patient, though, and persistent, we can come from our historical conversations having learned more than we ever thought we would.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “In Aftermath of Notre-Dame Fire, Macron Urges Unity in Fragmented Nation”

The Washington Post: “Trump vetoes resolution to end U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war”

The Wall Street Journal: “Pinterest and Zoom to Test IPO Market After Lyft’s Stumble”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Camp Hill planning officials recommend another delay in Chick-fil-A development process”

BBC: “Notre-Dame fire: Macron says new cathedral will be ‘more beautiful'”

CNN: “Corruption in Venezuela has created a cocaine superhighway to the US”

FOX: “State’s Attorney Kim Fox calls Jussie Smollett ‘washed up actor who lied to cops’ in text message: report”

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “A France in Turmoil Weeps for a Symbol of Paris’s Enduring Identity”

The Washington Post: “Donations pledged as crews assess damage to Notre Dame”

The Wall Street Journal: “Notre Dame Blaze Extinguished; Officials Assess Damage”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Confusion over vote might lead to another attempt to hire James Ellison as Harrisburg schools solicitor”

BBC: “Notre-Dame fire: Millions pledged to rebuild cathedral”

CNN: “Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral”

FOX: “Notre Dame Cathedral: Salma Hayek’s French billionaire husband pledges more than $100M for rebuild”

The Author’s Corner with Lindsay Schakenbach Regele

Manufacturing AdvantageLindsay Shakenbach Regele is Assistant Professor of History at Miami University. This interview is based on her new book, Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776-1848 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Manufacturing Advantage?

LSR: When I started writing this book, it had nothing to do with manufacturing. It actually started as a study of piracy and US-Spanish relations during the Latin American independence wars. I had started researching US shipping claims against the Spanish government, while at the same time becoming more interested in the relationship between business and state power. I discovered that one particular group of Boston merchants received a big chunk of federal funds as a result of the settlement of these claims. These same merchants were simultaneously developing the nation’s first fully integrated textile mills in eastern Massachusetts and were able to funnel the capital from the claims settlements into factory development. This caused me to wonder how else they might have benefited from state support, whether direct or indirect. I also was interested in US-South American trade. I had seen references to dye stuffs and hides being imported from South America, and finished goods being exported there as early as the 1820s.

Ultimately, I came to study manufacturing—specifically the arms and textile industries– through diplomatic papers. The richest source was the consular dispatches, which are all these letters, pamphlets and trade statistics that US consular agents sent back to the state department from their various posts in Latin American ports. In these documents, I began to see consuls negotiating favorable trade policies, and doing so increasingly for manufactured goods, such as Massachusetts-made coarse fabrics. I also saw several references to arms imports into South America from the US, which piqued my interest. The United States was supposedly neutral while Latin America fought its independence wars against Spain and Portugal. I did not immediately pursue the arms connection, but after another historian mentioned that a lot of industrial innovation was happening in the arms industry in Springfield, Massachusetts, I decided to check out the records at the New England Branch of the National archive. In a rare stroke of research luck, on my first day saw several mentions of arms sales to Buenos Aires. These letters were incredibly exciting to find, because the United States could not for diplomatic reasons openly supply weapons to colonies in rebellion. Federal officials had to arrange these sales in oblique ways through third parties, keeping it as clandestine as possible. Probably for that reason, those were the only references to South American arms sales in federal armory records that I ended up seeing. The more I read, though, the more I became interested in all these letters written from private gun contractors to the federal armory. They were totally dependent on government patronage. Basically, despite the “right to bear arms” in the United States, there was not enough civilian demand to create a robust arms industry. Textile manufacturers had a different relationship to the federal government; there was a civilian market for textiles in a way there was not for firearms. Government policies, however, shaped the way the industry developed. Diplomatic support, wartime initiative, and trade legislation engendered the growth of certain industries and factory locations. When I began to think in terms of national security it all made sense. Diplomacy with Spain, or any other nation, meant little without military and economic security. By the time I got to that realization, I had my reason for writing the book.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Manufacturing Advantage?

LSR: In the period from the Revolutionary War to the Mexican American War, the United States industrialized as the result of national security concerns. Government agents and private producers responded to the opportunities and challenges posed by European and Native American warfare and treaty-making by investing in industrial capitalism, which generated revenue and martial prowess for early national development.

JF: Why do we need to read Manufacturing Advantage?

LSR: Because it provides a new interpretation of early national United States political economy by connecting war, trade, and state power to industrial development. It is the first work to study the development of two hallmark American industries–arms and textiles–side by side, and to place the rise of industry in the United States in the context of broader geopolitics. Manufacturing Advantage brings a wider cast of characters to the narrative of the American Industrial Revolution, as it closely investigates the relationship between private producers and War and State department officials, departments that I argue are stronger in these early years than other scholars have assumed. The individuals responsible for this system of manufacturing ranged from inventive mechanics in small New England towns and wealthy merchants in Boston to ordnance officials in Washington and consular agents in Lima, Peru. The sum total of their actions and relationships shed new light on how and why industry developed the way it did in the United States.

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

LSR: My decision to become a historian started when I switched majors during college. I remember writing “history” on my new major form, and feeling a sense of purpose and contentment (I think partly because as a child I had loved historical fiction and my father was always reading history books and waxing poetic about various historical sites and events). At that point, though, I had no idea that I would end up teaching, writing, and researching for a living. After graduating, I spent a year working as a long-term substitute teacher and track coach, while taking secondary education classes. My plan was to pursue teaching certification, but I also wanted to continue research, so I applied for an M.A. in history. I started working on my M.A. the following fall, and fell in love with the research process. During my first semester, I wrote a seminar paper on U.S. involvement in Francisco de Miranda’s failed Venezuelan revolution in 1806 and became obsessed with researching this event as it played out in the U.S. newspapers and political rumors. I decided to turn this project into my thesis and to apply for PhD programs. I was fortunate to have wonderful professors and advisers in both college and graduate school who inspired and facilitated my transition to the historical profession.

JF: What is your next project?

LSR: My next project is a dual biography of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) and the early national political economy. While Americans see the poinsettia every December without realizing its namesake, Poinsett’s career as a secret agent in South America, America’s first minister plenipotentiary to Mexico, U.S. congressman, and secretary of war helped shape the nation in which we live today. The last biographies of Poinsett were published in the 1930s and I think the time is ripe to revisit his various activities on behalf of the U.S. government. Over the past several decades, scholars have brought renewed attention to “capitalism” and “the state,” but there’s still a lot of ambiguity about what exactly each of these terms mean, when and where capitalism actually began, and how “strong” or “weak” the early U.S. state was. I’m hoping to use Poinsett to bring precision to these two nebulous concepts by connecting their theoretical underpinnings with on-the-ground practices. What, for example, did Poinsett’s secret code-writing in Chile reveal about early U.S.-Latin American relations? How did his intertwined business and political activities in Mexico shape continental politics? How did his experiences in Latin America in the 1810s and 1820s influence his administration of Indian removal and the Seminole Wars in the 1830s? And how did the sum total of all these activities reflect and influence the intersection of violence and economic development in the early republic? I’ve gone through many of Poinsett’s personal papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and will be spending the better part of this summer at the Library of Congress conducting more research.

JF: Thanks, Lindsay!

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