Commonplace Book #86

Those who attended the [Gettysburg] reunions left with happy thoughts and fraternal feelings.  “I spent four days with the boys in blue,” a Virginia veteran wrote following the 1888 reunion….These symbolic acts of reconciliation were grounded in deeper changes.  From postwar America’s rapid transformation emerged shared feeling among veterans that all who had proved their manhood during the war were worthy comrades in arms.  As “alien strains” of Eastern Europeans, certified as inferior by the science of the day, poured into the country, veterans could share pride in the myth that Anglo-Saxon heroism forged a powerful new America. At the same time, relentless industrialization bred nostalgia for the passing of agrarian life that helped Northerners lament the Old South’s demise.  And from the psychological perspective of aging, the green and salad days of robust youth, however unpleasant when lived, increase in happiness proportionately with advancing years.  Thus individual and collective memory shifted with time, and by the 1880s veterans North and South could celebrate martial valor without any discussion of the knotty issues that causes the war or their outcome….In its report of the fiftieth anniversary reunion, the state of Indiana termed the celebration “just one glad season of forgetfulness of the trials and hardships of the past.”  Trials and hardships disappeared among former enemies in banter about glory days; the war was reduced to an achievement in which only the exclusive club of Northern and Southern heroes could share.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine106.

Presidential Historian: “Trump has none of the traits the founders thought essential for presidents”

george-washington1Here is Jeffrey Engel, director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History:

This willingness to put country before self is why Washington’s presence lent legitimacy to the controversial convention, why delegates immediately voted him the presiding chair and why they ultimately designed the presidency with him in mind. Put simply, they trusted him and knew he would put America first.

Not every president would. “The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin assured the convention, probably nodding in Washington’s direction as he spoke. “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards.”

So delegates designed a mechanism for removing a dangerous president, one who did what Washington never would: impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

That pesky phrase, “high crimes and misdemeanors” has befuddled Americans ever since. It shouldn’t. The Constitution’s authors understood that impeachable treachery need not, in fact, be a literal crime at all, but rather a demonstration that a president’s presence harmed the body politic, the people, either through maliciousness or selfishness.

For example, any president “who has practiced corruption” to win election, a Pennsylvania delegate argued, should be impeached. So, too, in the eyes of Virginia’s James Madison, should any president who “might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression,” or any who “betray[ed] his trust to foreign powers.”

And what of a president who used his immense pardon power to conceal his guilt, perhaps by promising a pardon to subordinates he ordered to break the law? They thought of that, too. “If the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person,” who schemed against the republic, Madison argued during ratification debates, “and there be grounds to believe he [the president] will shelter him,” impeachment should follow. No one debated the point.

Read the entire piece here.

A Distinguished Taylor University Alumnus Speaks Out on the Pence Invitation

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Mike Pence will be the 2019 commencement speaker at Taylor University.  We wrote about this yesterday.

This morning Steve Long, the Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University and a Taylor alumnus, sent us these thoughts and gave us permission to publish them.  -JF

I went to Taylor University from 1978-1982. I grew up thirty miles from it. As an Indiana kid, I went to its basketball camp. My church went on spring break trips led by Taylor students. I’ve had doctoral students who were TU grads. I have been back only a few times since graduating, but I was invited by some faculty to be part of a symposium for the inauguration of TU’s new president. Little did I know that his vision for TU was to make it look like Liberty University. I am ashamed.

I’m saddened and disappointed by this commencement invitation, but not surprised. I was surprised in 2016 when midwest evangelicals enabled the Trump presidency. I thought I knew them. I was wrong. I remember a different Taylor University and a different kind of evangelicalism. 

Here is what I remember: When I was at TU, we were less interested in state power and more interested in mission. Many were reading Ronald Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” I spent my last semester at TU working in a medical clinic in Haiti and was encouraged to do so by faculty and fellow students. Most of us wanted to do something about poverty and global inequality. I was first confronted with nonviolence at TU when we read Mark Hatfield’s “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” in a Chemistry class. He was a Republican who because of his faith came out against the Vietnam War. It was that book that prepared me well to hear Stanley Hauerwas when I went to Duke. I remember a TU and an evangelicalism that was vibrant, concerned with issues of poverty and violence. I was also there during the transition from the Carter to Reagan presidency and I think that Reagan’s cooptation of evangelicals, like Trump’s, set the rot in the evangelical movement. Reagan and Trump said to evangelicals, “Come let us build a (Trump) tower to the heavens and make a name for ourselves.” Evangelicals said, and are still saying, “Yes.” 

Of course, my memory is kind. Some of the rot was already there and I was not paying attention. I double dated with an interracial couple during my time at Taylor. I think they were the only one on campus. I recall how devastated he was when he received an anonymous letter telling him that interracial dating was against God’s law. I thought it was a fluke and did not take it seriously. I was not paying attention. I did not know that the origins of the Religious Right that has now taken over the administration of TU and most of evangelicalism was its opposition to the Civil Rights legislation that required Bob Jones to permit interracial dating. The Reagan administration sided with Bob Jones. Cal Thomas, who was an early leader in the Religious Right and close associate of Jerry Falwell Sr., later left the movement convinced that the seduction of power had led it to abandon truth. He wrote, “Christian faith is about truth, [and] whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Pence has proven himself immoral in so many ways since joining the Trump administration, but the one thing that stands out most prominently for me is his willingness to be complicit in the bold deceits emanating daily from the White House. Who is the “father of lies?” Have evangelicals forgotten?

I had a friend who came out as gay. We dared not tell anyone. There was a cruelty to gays back then that is slowly receding. (I am grateful to see that some TU alum will hold an alternative “Gay Bash” during the commencement). Has TU and evangelicalism drastically changed in the 37 years since I graduated? I don’t know. Maybe my memory is too kind. I’m encouraged that so many students, faculty, and alums have spoken out against president Haines’ invitation that makes TU complicit in the racist, homophobic, xenophobic and cruel Trump administration. But in the end, we know, donor wealth and political power will trump mercy and kindness.

Gerson: Trump is the Real Threat to Religious Liberty

Omar

Here is Gerson–an evangelical, former Bush speechwriter, and Washington Post columnist–on Trump’s response to recent statements by Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar:

By all the evidence, Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot. At one campaign event in 2015, a member of the audience stated, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.” And he went on to ask, “When can we get rid of them?” Trump responded: “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.” Imagine a normal politician on the left or right being asked about the possibility of getting rid of all the Christians, or getting rid of all the Jews. They would likely use such a moment to clarify that they aren’t, in fact, insanely prejudiced monsters. Trump used such a moment to affirm the instinct of mass deportation and to promise a range of other anti-Muslim actions.

Could this have been a slip of the tongue? No, it wasn’t. Trump has a long history of animus — raw animus — against one of the Abrahamic faiths. He has said, “We’re having problems with the Muslims.” And: “There is a Muslim problem in the world.” And: “The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem.” And: “Islam hates us.”

Read the entire piece here.

Commonplace Book #85

A variety of cottage producers as well as peddlers of Gettysburg bric-a-brac came and went between 1884 and the 1920s.  John Good, who at the turn of the century produced wooden pistols, jewelry boxes, and statues, made batches for large excursions in advance after determining what type of souvenirs the excursionists might purchase.  Like vials of water from the Jordan River or letter openers made from Mount of Olives wood, many Gettysburg souvenirs bore direct association with the sacred ground itself.  Tiny glass viewers containing different park scenes were placed inside minie balls; small cannon were fashioned from battlefield metals and wood; battlefield clay furnished raw material for miniature monuments, cannons, or canteens.

The view that such kitsch profanes sacred spaces fails to consider the social and psychological function of such goods.  G[rand] A[rmy of the] R[epublic] posts prominently displayed Gettysburg relics and used gavels, inkstands, and podiums crafted in Gettysburg for conducting rituals.  Souvenirs widened Gettysburg’s access as much as improved transportation did.  In an era enjoying an effusion of consumer goods, souvenirs seemed all the more precious because they were special commodities connected with a sacred place.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine, 70.

David Brion Davis, RIP

 

David Brion Davis, the Yale historian of slavery and race in America, has died. I never met him, but his books were a ubiquitous presence on my graduate-school reading lists.

Here is historian and Davis colleague David Blight‘s reflection:

David Brion Davis has passed after a long illness.  The historical profession, the GLC, and countless friends have lost a giant of a figure.  The GLC team and network of hundreds of scholars, teachers, and readers send our condolences to Toni Davis and their two sons, Adam and Noah.  David still read books on a Kindle until a few months before his death.  In his room in Guilford, CT he was especially proud of pointing to the photograph on the wall of himself and Barack and Michelle Obama, taken at the White House on the night he received the National Humanities Medal from the President.  David’s trilogy on the problem of slavery in western culture remains a monument to Professor Davis’s extraordinary and singular quest to understand the ideas surrounding slavery and its abolition across the Atlantic world over more than two centuries.  His many other works and his essays in the New York Review of Books made a mark on American and international history like few other historians anywhere in the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries.  David was the founding and emeritus director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.  He was an intellectual in pursuit of truth and wisdom.  In his presence one always learned something. He was a deeply spiritual man who saw the historian’s craft as a search for the minds and souls of people in the past.  He devoted his life and career to understanding the place of the inhumane but profoundly important and persistent practices of slavery and racism in the world.  He was a philosopher at heart, a lyrical writer, and defined why we do history.  We stand on his shoulders.  At the GLC we carry on his legacy every day.  We loved him.  His portrait hangs on the wall at the GLC amidst a large portion of his book collection, still containing his post-its, book marks and thousands of annotations.  We will always have him nearby.

Taylor University and Mike Pence

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As some of you have heard, Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Indiana, has invited Mike Pence to be its 2019 commencement speaker.

Not everyone is happy about Taylor’s decision. Taylor alumni have started a Change.org petition claiming that the Pence invitation makes “our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.”

Chris Smith, a Taylor graduate and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books (which is based in nearby Indianapolis), wrote a piece at the Sojourners website condemning the Pence invitation.

Amy Peterson, an author, evangelical missionary, and adjunct professor at Taylor, also condemned the decision.  Her piece at The Washington Post provides some context and quotes students and alums who are unhappy about Pence’s upcoming address.

Back in March 2018, several disgruntled Taylor employees, including a philosophy professor, a biblical studies professor, the men’s soccer coach, and the university marketing director started an underground newspaper with a mission to expose what they believed to be Taylor’s move in a “liberal direction.”  At the time, Taylor president Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust” and “hurting members of our community.”  We wrote about this incident here.

Peterson’s Post article notes that the Taylor faculty voted 61-49 on a motion to dissent at Pence being invited.  (At least two Taylor sources I have consulted confirmed this vote).

Progressives are going to condemn Taylor for inviting Pence because, among other things, the Vice-President holds a conservative position on marriage, condemns homosexuality and has recently mixed-it-up with gay presidential candidate and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.  But this kind of criticism lacks nuance. Most evangelical schools have traditional positions on marriage and believe that homosexual practice is unbiblical. Progressives are going to need to deal with the fact that a significant portion of the United States population share Pence’s views in the area of sexual ethics.  I hope they will see the need to work with evangelicals to cultivate a more inclusive and pluralistic society in which deeply held religious beliefs are respected.  Both Pence and many progressives seem unwilling to take on this project, preferring instead to dig in their heels and continue to lob grenades in the culture war.

The real issue is Pence’s willingness to carry water for Donald Trump.  He has stood behind a president who is a liar, has paid hush money to an adult film star, has faced dozens of charges of sexual harassment, has separated children from families at the Mexican border, disrespects American institutions, boasts of his materialism, understands religious liberty as something that only pertains to his evangelical base, seems incapable of seeing anything beyond himself, inspires white supremacists, and has generally governed our country with no moral core.  Pence has defended or remained silent about nearly everything Trump has done.  Trump has used him as a pawn to win white evangelicals and keep them in the fold.

Gabby Carlson’s piece at the Taylor University student newspaper, The Echo, quotes both Taylor Provost Michael Hammond (a historian who studies evangelicalism and the Civil Rights movement) and Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism.  Hammond said:

Commencement is a special day for Taylor University…Above all else, we want to honor our graduates with their diploma and towel. There is always something to be gained from listening, even when we do not expect to find agreement with the speaker. This is an opportunity for our community to hear one another, working through our opinions and differences together.

And here is Blanchard, referencing what he said at the faculty meeting in support of the Pence invitation:

I suggested a benefit exists from listening to people speak on our campus with diverse views. Even if we do not see eye to eye, and even if the person speaking is the vice president of the United States…It’s a hallmark of our country to foster the idea and the ideal of free speech. I think our faculty meetings generally are a testimony to our ability to speak freely, agree or disagree on issues, but at the end of day show respect and love for one another.

I am fully on board with campuses inviting all kinds of people, of all kinds of political persuasions, to speak.  (I visited Taylor University on the Believe Me book tour last Fall and the students and faculty welcomed me and gave me and my message a warm reception).  But there does seem to be something different about a commencement address, especially at a Christian college.  The choice of a commencement speaker at a small Christian college like Taylor University reflects the beliefs and ideals that animate life at such a college.  Commencement speakers send a message–to graduating seniors, to alumni, to parents, to donors, and to the larger community–about what a school values.  A commencement address should not be a venue for displaying a school’s commitment to a “free marketplace of ideas,” nor is it a place where a school shows its commitment to ideological diversity by hosting speakers with controversial political and social views.  Taylor University had the entire 2018-2019 academic year to show its commitment to diverse viewpoints on campus.  Commencement is a time to celebrate a Christian college’s Christian mission.  Does Mike Pence, the chief water-carrier for Donald Trump, represent Taylor University’s mission?

I find it ironic that president Lowell Haines, who decried “discord” back in March 2018, has decided to invite Pence.  Haines is fully aware that many in the evangelical community, most of his own faculty, and many of his students, see Pence as a morally problematic figure.  He had to know that the invitation would provoke a firestorm on campus.  Yet he invited him anyway.  Indeed, as Provost Michael Hammond noted above, “commencement is a special day” for Taylor graduates and the larger community.  Then why invite Pence?  If Pence does end up speaking, Haines and his staff, who I assume care about the campus climate, will be forced to spend the next several years trying to heal a self-inflicted wound.

Or here is another way we might look at this. Perhaps Lowell Haines and his staff are fully aware of the fact that the choice of commencement speakers always sends a message about the things that a Christian college values and cherishes. And perhaps this is exactly why he invited Pence.

Several of my sources at Taylor University view the Haines presidency, and the invitation of Pence, as an attempt to solve some of Taylor’s financial woes by taking a more pronounced turn to the Right.  One alumnus, writing on a private Facebook page, described a phone conversation he had with one of Haines’s right hand men, Vice President for University Advancement Rex Bennett:

For some reason, Rex Bennett (VP for University Advancement) actually took my call, and we talked for nearly 30 minutes.  We actually could have talked longer, but I needed to get off the phone and help my with some things.  During this phone call, Mr. Bennett was respectful to me and did listen to my concerns, but he also, sadly, confirmed that Taylor wishes to actively exclude and marginalize the LGBTW and immigrant/refugee communities.  He also stated that he does not expect a situation in which Taylor will reconsider the Pence decision.  After this conversation, I learned that Mr. Bennett is actually a very close friend of Pence.

Christian colleges are faced with difficult choices in these days of divisiveness and fear.  One type of Christian college will defend Christian orthodoxy (yes, even in the area of marriage), respect the civil rights of all Americans (including those in the LGBTQ community), support creative solutions to defend religious liberty in a pluralistic society, welcome the stranger, respond to the culture with a posture of hope, and pursue the common good.  These schools will provide a prophetic voice against the kind of America that Donald Trump and his court evangelicals (including Mike Pence) want to create.

Another type of Christian college, which seems exemplified best by court evangelical Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (Pence will also speak at its commencement this Spring), is to defend orthodoxy, reject creative attempts to defend religious liberty in a pluralist society, and support (at least at the level of the administration) what I believe to be the anti-Christian policies of Donald Trump.  After the Pence invitation, I will now need to be convinced that Taylor University is not following this path.

As I once wrote in The Washington Post, we are starting to see new alignments in American Christianity.

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Zionism and the Left

Does the monograph have a future?

An adjunct’s story

A Civil War checkerboard

Celebrity historian Timothy Snyder

Objectional monuments go to Green-Wood Cemetery

Female survivors  of early America

The future of Christianity is African

Mary Corey reviews David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom 

A history of Eric Hobsbawm

The 19th-century secret service agent who took on the Klan

“Not a racist bone in his body

Civil War veterans who never claimed their medals

Alice Kessler-Harris on women and labor in American history

A white NBA player on white privilege

The politics of prayer

Commonplace Book #84

The fantasy element expected by tourists [in the late 19th century] gave Gettysburg a special appeal.  For all the aesthetic stock placed in scenery, it also served as entertainment.  When industrialization shattered time and space, entrepreneurs jumped into the new market for expansive views of the world with travelogues, images, stereographs, simulated environments, observatories, or great “panoramas” of scenery or events that enabled viewers to transcend time and place.  In terms of illusion, the panorama provided a “time machine” effect through a sweeping, participatory view of the scene; metaphorically, it reinforced the middle-class sense of command and control.  This heightened sense of escaping confinement and extending experience became a feature of genteel tourism at Gettysburg.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory,  Market, and an American Shrine46.

But What About Hillary?

Believe Me 3dHere is a recent Amazon review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Well it would have been much simpler to take into account what would have happened had the other candidate won.

First of all, I was not electing a clergy-in-chief but a commander-in-chief.

Secondly I felt pretty confident that the two biggest issues were court appointments and abortion which Trump would come through on. Trump has delivered in spades on those issues and they will be affecting our political landscape for decades to come.

Finally I just need to mention two words; Hillary Clinton. In that vien, your book seems like a waste of time and while you toot your own horn, we just thank God that SHE didn’t win.

Besides, Trump might be a baby Christian and just finding his way through his newfound faith. Can you imagine any other person on the face of this earth that could withstand what he has gone through?

That is why he needs our prayers; yes he is a flawed human being, but then again all of us are.

I don’t normally respond to Amazon reviews, but I have received a comment like this from a Trump supporter at almost every stop on the Believe Me book tour.  Here is a very quick response:

  1. I was not electing a clergy-in-chief either.  But I do expect my president to have some kind of moral center.  I don’t care if such a center is informed by Christianity, religion generally, an innate moral sense, civic humanism, virtue, conscience, a respect for American values and institutions, or some kind of commitment to the common good.  Moreover, I am not only electing a commander-in-chief.  The president’s role as the leader of the military is only one part of his constitutional responsibilities.
  2. Trump has affected the political landscape for “decades to come.”  But what will the Christian church look like in “decades to come?”  Who on the Trump side of the ledger is asking this question?  Moreover, as I argue in the book, I do not believe that overturning Roe v. Wade is the best way to reduce abortions in America.
  3. Christians are not supposed to hate.  But they hate Hillary Clinton.  Jesus followers need to take a look at this.
  4. If Trump is a “baby Christian,” he has not manifested much spiritual growth in the last three years.
  5. Yes, Trump needs our prayers.  So does everyone who has suffered and is suffering under his presidency.

How Long Will Americans Tolerate This Man as Their President?

Today I watched Representative Ilhan Omar’s speech on Islam, religious liberty, anti-Muslim bigotry at the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

Here is the controversial part of the speech:

Here’s the truth: far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. And frankly I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and then all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. 

I do not take Omar’s remarks here in a sinister way.  Yet, Donald Trump chose to interpret them in that way.  Here is his tweet:

Trump’s decision to post this video with the burning 9-11 towers doesn’t surprise me.  Trump is an idiot and he is never going to change.  But there are no doubt millions of Americans who are praising Trump for this tweet.  They represent much of what is wrong with America right now.  Some thoughts:

  1. The Omar quote Trump used here is woefully out of context.  Let’s also remember that her entire speech focused on the difference between patriotic American Muslims and the Muslim extremists who attacked the U.S. on 9-11.
  2. Let’s also remember that Trump claimed that he saw “thousands” of people in Jersey City “cheering” as the World Trade Center “was coming down.”  As we now know–this did not happen.  It was yet another example of Trump’s embrace of a politics of fear.  And then there was Trump’s comments a few hours after the World Trade Center fell.  Instead of showing compassion for the lives lost in this tragic event, Trump was on the radio bragging that his building on Wall Street was now the tallest building in New York City.  (In actually, is the 32nd tallest building in NYC).  So let’s consider the source and the hypocrisy evident in this tweet.
  3. One can condemn both Trump’s tweet and Omar’s February 2019 tweet about Jews.
  4. This tweet is yet another appeal to Trump’s anti-Muslim white evangelical base as we get closer to the 2020 election.  Expect to see much more of this garbage. Strongmen use fear to stay in power.
  5. In this tweet Trump exploited the families of those killed on 9-11 for political gain.  Sadly, this is politics as usual.  Despicable.
  6. The New York Post seized on Trump’s words, thus further degrading public discourse in America: NY Post

I still believe that a President should set the moral tone of a nation. (Wow, what a crazy idea!). Trump is a deeply immoral man who is incapable of leadership.  Even if you think Omar should have been more specific in her condemnation of the 9-11 terrorists, we should not stand for this kind of gutter-politics from the President of the United States.

What saddens me the most, of course, is that white evangelicals played a major role in getting this man into the White House.  I know not all white evangelicals who voted for Trump like this kind of rhetoric.  I have met dozens of them on the road over the last year.  But let’s not pretend that these voters don’t share responsibility for the mess Trump is making of our country.  White evangelicals gave Trump this platform.

A Saturday Morning in Gettysburg

Gettysburg 6

We got to hang our with Abe! 

It is a beautiful today in south-central Pennsylvania–a perfect day to spend some time on the Gettysburg battlefield.  This morning we took ten students from my Pennsylvania history class to Gettysburg.  We have been reading Jim Weeks’s book Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine and exploring the way the battlefield has evolved since July 4, 1863.  I have given a lot tours of Gettysburg focused on military history, but until today I had never done a Gettysburg “memory” tour.

We have been focusing on how Gettysburg became a shrine of American civil religion–a destination for patriotic pilgrims.  We arrived at 7:30am for “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.  I read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and stressed the religious nature of the speech.  We talked about what Lincoln meant by the use of words such as “consecrate,” “hallow,” “devotion,”  and “new birth.”  We discussed the blood sacrifice necessary to the consecration of such sacred ground.  And, since I teach at a Christian college, we talked about the difference between civil religion and Christian faith.

After our devotion in civil religion we headed to the Visitor Center.  Most of the students ended up in the bookstore.  Some of them bought souvenirs to remember their pilgrimage to this sacred site of American nationalism.  Others noted the way this sacred site is connected with the marketplace.  We even got our pictures taken with Lincoln, the great prophet of U.S. civil religion.

We spent the rest of the tour on these topics: race and the 1913 and 1938 reunions of Gettysburg veterans, with an assist from David Blight (at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial); the meaning of the Robert E. Lee statue (on Confederate Avenue); the Eisenhower Farm and Gettysburg as a Cold War site; the tension between battlefield authenticity and environmental concerns; the influence of popular culture (Jeff Schaara and Ted Turner) on the battlefield (at the monument to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top); and the role of Daniel Sickles in promoting the bill that brought the battlefield under control of the U.S. War Department.

Here are some pics:

Gettysburg 1

Students at the Lincoln Gettysburg Address memorial after “devotions” at the Gettysburg National Cemetery

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The “Ike” section of the Gettysburg Visitor Center store

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Anyone want to be buy me a Christmas present?  🙂

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Speaking of Abe… (photo by Joy Fea)

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Messiah College Pennsylvania History students at the Pennsylvania monument (Photo by Joy Fea)

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The “loyal women” of HIST 345: Pennsylvania History

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I was an official Gettysburg tour guide for the day!

Commonplace Book #83

Gettysburg provides an opportunity to pin faith in the sacred to a tangible place, whose borders the faithful assume they are defending against the barbarians of commercialism. Yet we only have to reflect on how Gettysburg has been experienced to begin to see the situation differently.  The making of Gettysburg transpired as the nation underwent dramatic change in an industrializing America.  Within little over three decades after the battle, the United States became the world’s greatest industrial power and soon turned the corner from producer to a consumer nation . A new commercial culture penetrated the heart of American life, combining merchandising with intangibles such as holidays, religion, and national purpose.  The unfolding of this commercial culture paradoxically created sacred space to escape it.  Like Christmas or civic celebrations, it was precisely Gettysburg’s perceived transcendence of the marketplace that both enhanced and masked its position as a commodity.  In other words, the making of Gettysburg into an icon did not simply happen because a great Civil War battle had been fought there.  Rather, a commercial web often entwined with ritualistic activity packaged it for a consuming public and continually repackaged it for new generations.  Its chief producers in the marketplace have not been not only entrepreneurs, but those organizations dedicated to perpetuating the battle’s memory, including federal, state, and local government, Civil War veterans, reenactors, and preservation groups.  To achieve its central position in American culture, Gettysburg had to be brought within the cultural hub of American life, the marketplace.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine, 7-8.

This is Why Every Corporation Needs at Least One Historian on Staff

NikeWhat if Nike has a historian on the payroll?  Perhaps they could have avoided the embarrassment that Megan Kate Nelson describes in her recent piece at The Washington Post. Here is a taste:

It was still early on March 30 when historian Amy Kohout began scrolling through her Instagram feed. An image caught her eye: an ad by Nike promoting its new line of Trail Running gear, which launched this month. It had a throwback feel: a vivid image of a lone runner on a dirt path, bolting along a green bluff above an ocean with inspirational text beneath, urging potential buyers to abandon all of their wayfinding technologies and become reacquainted with “the feeling of being lost.”

These were nice sentiments. But what gave Kohout pause was the slogan in large font underneath the photograph: “The Lost Cause.” And then there was the final sentence: “Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting.”

For historians of the American South and the Civil War, these words are alarming. The Lost Cause was a story that white southerners told themselves after the Civil War to justify their embrace of slavery (it was a benign institution!), secession (a legitimate course of action!) and their defeat in the Civil War (a noble cause in defense of a “way of life”!).

And Nelson concludes:

The blunder that resulted provides more evidence that business majors need to take humanities classes and that corporations need to hire humanities majors. Included in their skill sets are the ability to do comprehensive research and to provide historical context and analysis on the language companies might want to use to sell their products. While an advertising degree might equip someone to know if marketing language might lure in potential consumers, it does not offer the historical training to catch this sort of mistake before it is made.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder how much money Nike lost when they pulled this campaign? The answer to this question might serve as one gauge for estimating how much a historian is worth.

The Gap could have used a historian as well when they tried to sell this black t-shirt several years ago:

Gap

Christ of the Ozarks

Christ of the Ozarks

I haven’t visited the 65.6 foot-tall statue near Eureka-Springs, Arkansas, but I learned a lot about it from Ben Railton, the “American Studier.”  Here is a taste of his post:

Near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, at the top of the strikingly named Magnetic Mountain, stands a 65.5 foot-tall statue of Jesus. “Christ of the Ozarks” was erected by retired clergyman and political organizer Gerald L.K. Smith as part of a planned religious theme park on his sprawling estate that he called collectively his “Sacred Projects” (that overall project largely didn’t pan out, although Smith did also build a 4100-seat amphitheater where performances of “The Great Passion Play” are to this day featured almost nightly from May through October each year and have become one of the nation’s most-attended theatrical events). The statue, designed primarily by sculptor Emmet Sullivanand completed in 1966, faces the town of Eureka Springs as a blessing on and thank you to the town for allowing Smith to construct such a giant monument. I haven’t seen confirmation of this, but I have to believe it’s the second largest statue in the U.S. that portrays a single human subject, trailing only Monday’s subject the Statue of Liberty (and of course Jesus Christ was an actual historical figure as well as a symbolic one like Lady Liberty).

When we learn more about the personal and social histories of both Smith and Sullivan, the symbolic American meanings of “Christ of the Ozarks” deepen significantly. Smith initially rose to national prominence working with Huey Long in Louisiana; he quit his ministry in order to help run Long’s Share Our Wealth campaign, and took it over entirely after Long’s 1935 assassination. But while Long focused more overtly on issues of class and poverty, Smith was more dedicated to the cause of white supremacy, and gradually moved more fully into that realm. Those efforts culminated during World War II, in the course of which he founded the anti-Semitic America First Party and ran for President in 1944, denied the Holocaust, lobbied for the release of the Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg Trials, and generally became one of America’s most extreme white supremacist voices. I don’t mean to suggest that white supremacy and Evangelical Christianity are necessarily linked, but they certainly have often been, as we’re seeing again with the strikingly resilient evangelical support for our most overtly white supremacist president. At the very least it’s an important and telling fact that the nation’s largest monument to Christianity was constructed by one of the most extreme white supremacists of at least the last century.

Read the entire post here.

Is it Time for a New Job?

Lighthouse

I wonder if the Minnesota Historical Society will consider me for Lee Radziak’s old job?    I don’t know how to run a lighthouse, but I am sure I could figure it out.  (I am also going to have to convince Joy–she doesn’t like the cold!).

Here is a taste of Euan Kerr’s piece at National Public Radio:

There may be few occupations considered more romantic than being a lighthouse keeper. Lee Radzak, who will retire Friday after 36 years at the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior’s North Shore, might argue there are few jobs that people misconceive more.

Split Rock has been drawing visitors since the 1920s, when Highway 61 opened. People marvel at the lighthouse standing sentinel on the 160-foot cliff looking out across the breathtaking expanse of Lake Superior.

Lee Radzak moved here in 1983.

“This was a perfect place,” he said. “My wife and I just got married a couple of months earlier and we were ripe for a change so it worked out great.”

For lighthouse lovers — and apparently there are a lot — Split Rock seems to evoke solitude, at least based on the questions Radzak has fielded again and again.

Here is more:

The job will be posted in mid-August. Minnesota Historical Society manager Ben Leonard will lead the search for a replacement.

“Yeah, I think that this job will be probably the hardest job to fill in the historical society,” he said. “Because people think about the view, they don’t think about the email or the reports or the HR issues, because they aren’t romantic.”

Leonard says he’s looking for a historian with the patience and skills to manage crowds and to deal with harsh weather — and the occasional bear. But even without a formal posting, the Historical Society is already getting inquiries about the job.

Read the rest here.  I wonder if they have WiFi up there?

19th Century Conspiracy Theories

general_jackson_slaying_the_many_headed_monster_crop

According to historian Mark Cheathem, “rumors of secret alliance, bank deals, and double-crossings were rampant in early American elections.”  Here is a taste of his recent piece at Smithsonian.com:

From claims that NASA faked the moon landing to suspicions about the U.S. government’s complicity in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Americans love conspiracy theories. Conspiratorial rhetoric in presidential campaigns and its distracting impact on the body politic have been a fixture in American elections from the beginning, but conspiracies flourished in the 1820s and 1830s, when modern-day American political parties developed, and the expansion of white male suffrage increased the nation’s voting base. These new parties, which included the Democrats, the National Republicans, the Anti-Masons, and the Whigs, frequently used conspiracy accusations as a political tool to capture new voters—ultimately bringing about a recession and a collapse of public trust in the democratic process.

During the early decades of the American republic, the Federalist and Jeffersonian Republican Parties engaged in conspiratorial rhetoric on a regular basis. Following the War of 1812, the Federalist Party faded from the political landscape, leaving the Republicans as the predominant national party. Their hold was so great that in 1816 and 1820, James Monroe, the Republican presidential candidate, ran virtually unopposed, but in 1824, the Republicans splintered into multiple and disparate factions. Five viable candidates ran in that election cycle, and John Quincy Adams won the presidency.

The controversy around Adams’s victory quickly fueled suspicions: Tennessean Andrew Jackson had won the most electoral and popular votes and the most regions and states, but because he did not win the majority of electoral votes, the U.S. House of Representatives was constitutionally required to choose the president in a runoff of the top three vote-getters. Jackson’s supporters believed that House Speaker Henry Clay, who had placed fourth in the regular election, helped Adams win the House election in return for being appointed secretary of state. The Jacksonians’ charges of a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Clay ensured that the 1828 election would, in part, be fought over this conspiracy theory.

Read the rest here.

Springsteen’s Masculinity

bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-photo-by-rob-demartin

This is a great piece by Canadian writer and poet Carter Vance.  Here is a taste of his The Smart Set piece, “Walk Like a Man: What I Learned from Bruce Springsteen“:

For all the working-class power bona fides in Springsteen’s music, though, I still come back to the men that populate the stories he tells. In many ways, they are traditional masculine archetypes, guys who work physical jobs during the day and burn rubber in big cars at night, but they are also so much more. By turns, they are sensitive, loving, defeated, angered, worldly enough to know they cannot speak for everyone but trying to better their empathy nonetheless. With the modern search for a model of masculinity which is untainted by toxicities of misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry, the greatest hope that the men in Springsteen’s songs give us is that this is possible. They are still distinctly masculine, but in a way that allows in complexity of feeling, solidarity with those different from them (not for nothing was Springsteen drafted to write and perform the title song to Philadelphia, the first mainstream American film to deal sympathetically with the AIDS crisis) and loving, loyal connection to their families and communities.

In short, the Springsteen man, if not necessarily Bruce Springsteen himself, is someone I keep aspiring to be.

Read the entire piece here.