Tips for Public Writing

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Are you an academic who wants to write for the public?  If so, check out Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s helpful Chronicle of Higher Education piece “You Want to Write for the Public, but About What?”  It includes wisdom from historians Kelly Baker, Kevin Kruse, and Sarah Bond.

Here is a taste:

Kelly J. Baker, a former faculty member in religious studies and now editor of the newsletter Women in Higher Education, fields a lot of unsuccessful pitches from academics new to public writing. One of the most common mistakes they make, she said, is a failure to move beyond their scholarship: “Their pitch is too specific to their discipline. They rely on too much jargon or write a pitch that would be a better fit for an academic journal rather than a magazine.” (Baker offers further advice on this in her blog post on writing for nonacademic readers.)

To succeed in public writing, then, you have to take that brave first step beyond the small but safe territory of your scholarly expertise. Use your academic training as a foundation and then do the additional research and reporting necessary to write a journalistic piece. I used current events as the driving force of my freelance writing, and my expertise followed.

Read the entire piece here.

I recently wrote about my own experience with public writing.

In Defense of Knowledge

knowledgeHere is the American Association of University Professors:

“Knowledge,” as Francis Bacon observed in 1597 at the dawn of the modern era, “is power.” Without knowledge no nation can govern its economy, manage its environment, sustain its public health, produce goods or services, understand its own history, or enable its citizens to understand the circumstances in which they live.

Knowledge is produced by the hard work of disciplined, well-trained investigators. Industry and government must hire doctors, chemists, lawyers, architects, teachers, journalists, economists, and engineers. Colleges and universities are the only institutions qualified to provide this expert training. It is therefore most unfortunate that at this moment of intense global instability, there is an ongoing movement to attack the disciplines and institutions that produce and transmit the knowledge that sustains American democracy.

This is not the first time that the very idea of expert knowledge has been under assault. Indeed, US secretary of education Betsy DeVos unironically recycles Pink Floyd—who in the 1970s sang, “We don’t need no education . . . teachers leave those kids alone”—when she warns college students that “the fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.” When college students are encouraged to confuse education with, as one student recently put it, being “intimidated by the academic elite in the classroom,” we have a crisis.

 Is it intimidation to teach eighteen-year-olds to solve differential equations? Is it intimidation to teach them the principles of quantum mechanics? Is it intimidation to teach them the somatic effects of nicotine? Is it intimidation to teach them about the history of slavery and Jim Crow, or the history of the Holocaust? Is it intimidation to teach them how to read closely the texts of Toni Morrison or Gabriel García-Márquez? Is it elitism to predict the path of a hurricane? Is it elitism to track the epidemic of opioid addiction? Or to study the impact of tariffs on the economy?

We do not think so. This is research and education, not intimidation or elitism. Coiled beneath the comments of Secretary DeVos lies the assumption that all knowledge is just opinion and that each person has an equal right to her own opinion. Stephen Colbert put it nicely, referring to what he called “truthiness”: “It used to be everyone was entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all.” Now some would urge us to inhabit a universe of “alternative facts.”

But, as John Adams long ago observed, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” If we ignore facts, we will forever be running aground on their unseen shoals. It is especially worrisome, then, to witness what has become an organized attack on knowledge.

Read the entire piece here.

National Endowment for the Humanities Announces Grant Awards

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Read the press release here.  A few awards that caught my eye:

  • Azusa Pacific University: A residential bridge program for first generation students that incorporates an introductory humanities course and complementary labs and field trips focused on the ideas, arguments, and points of view contained in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Amanda Baugh (University of California–Northridge): Research and writing leading to a book about the environmental values of Latinx Catholics in Los Angeles and the history of American environmentalism.
  • Santa Clara University: Development of an augmented reality and virtual reality experience to explore the history of the Santa Clara de Asís mission.
  • Flordia Atlantic University: Development of a multiformat project on the history of Mitchelville, South Carolina, the first Freedman’s town in the United States during the Civil War.
  • Anne Arundel Community College: A three-year partnership to incorporate the study of primary sources into community college courses and establish transfer pathways for students.
  • Anne Rubin (University of Maryland): Research leading to a book about the impact of food shortages on food culture in the Civil War South.
  • Timothy Shenk (Johns Hopkins): Research and writing leading to a book on the history of the concept of the modern economy in the United States.
  • National History Day: A three-year cooperative agreement that would extend and expand NEH’s partnership with National History Day, in response to NEH’s “A More Perfect Union” initiative.
  • Eric Gardner (Saginaw Valley University): Research and writing of a book on Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911), African American author, orator, abolitionist, suffragist, and civil rights leader.
  • Katherine Gerbner (University of Minnesota): Research and writing leading to a book on the development of  ideas about religion and religious freedom in colonial America as they were shaped by slavery and the criminalization of black religious practices.
  • Peter Mercer-Taylor (University of Minnesota): Preparation of an open-access digital anthology of almost 300 hymn melodies published in the United States before 1861 derived from European classical music.
  • Historic Hudson Valley: Prototyping of an interactive digital history on the New York Conspiracy trials (1741), in which both enslaved people and poor white New Yorkers stood accused of plotting to burn the city and murder its white inhabitants.
  • Jonathan Schroeder (University of Warwick): Research and writing leading to a biography of John S. Jacobs (1815–1875) and a critical edition of Jacobs’s 1855 autobiographical slave narrative.
  • Sharon Murphy (Providence College): Completion of a book on the relationship between banking and slavery in the antebellum South.
  • ETV Endowment of South Carolina Inc.: Production of an immersive website and mobile application exploring the impact and legacy of Reconstruction.

Click here for a list of all the winners.

“The boys mostly like Trump”

Dunmore

This is a really interesting article on how 18-year-olds in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area are thinking about the 2020 election.  Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Julia Terruso explores some of the gender differences among first-time voters in this important swing state.

Here is a taste:

At seventh period lunch, Brian Fabricatore, 16, completed an unofficial survey of his friend group — six guys and one girl. “This is pretty much an all-Trump table,” he said. With some exceptions, the young men at Dunmore say they lean Republican, largely because they support Trump. Most of the girls consider themselves to be Democrats.

That reflects national polling, which shows Trump is viewed more favorably by men (42% of men supported him in an Economist/YouGov poll this month, compared with 34% of women).

Back when Trump first came on Stanco’s radar, he said, the appeal was mostly humor. The jokes have stuck.

TikTok and Instagram are high school political battlefields. Following the recent Iranian crisis, the boys shared memes of World War III jokes — including one fake tweet where Trump says he’s drafting all people with Android phones to go to war first.

The girls mostly roll their eyes, but sometimes the jabs cross a line. Last year, when Alabama passed an anti-abortion bill, some of the boys shared a series of Instagram posts from women outraged by the ban, with the song “Hoes Mad” playing in the background.

“The boys mostly like Trump. There’s an attention side of it,” Chiaro said. “It’s just like a way to get people upset, to rile up the girls, the whole masculine group loves Trump.”

Stanco admits that’s a part of it. “Just historically, when you think Republican, you think males, and when you think liberals, you think more female,” said Stanco.

Read the entire piece here.

Mike Bloomberg’s Critique of the Primary System Makes Sense

Bloomberg

Why are Democratic candidates running all over Iowa when the nominee will have no chance of winning the state in November?  Former New York mayor and presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is asking this question.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at CNN:

It’s true the party has come a long way from the days of candidates being selected in smoke-filled back rooms by party bosses. But our current system—in which two early states dominate the candidates’ time and resources—is in urgent need of reform.

The Democratic Party reflects America’s incredible diversity. But the first two voting states, Iowa and New Hampshire, are among the most homogenous in the nation. While it’s great that candidates reach out to voters in these states at every pancake breakfast and town hall around, what about African-American, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, and other voters in places like Detroit, Montgomery, Phoenix, and Houston? I’ve visited them all recently, and almost to a person, voters tell me the other campaigns have almost no presence in their cities.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the two early voting states are unlikely to be consequential in the general election. So as a party, we are spending all of our time and resources outside of the battleground states we need to win.

Meanwhile, President Trump is spending his time in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina — all states we lost in 2016 by razor-thin margins. In 2020, we need to reverse at least some of those results — and we also have the chance to flip other states that voted for Trump, including Arizona and even Texas.

But right now, we are in danger of repeating 2016 in large part because, as Democrats focus on Iowa and New Hampshire, Trump is operating at full-speed in the battleground states, with field staff and targeted television and digital advertisements. Tuesday, while Democrats are on stage in Des Moines, he’ll be speaking to thousands of supporters in Wisconsin — a state Democrats need to rebuild the Blue Wall.

Read the entire piece here.

A Virginia History Teacher Brings the Fire!

Phil Strunk was asked to give an “Ignite Talk” at recent meeting of the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.  I’d say he nailed it. By the way, did I mention he is a former of student mine at Messiah College?

Here is Phil’s setup on Facebook:

At the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) conference, I was approached on the Sunday asking if I would be interested in doing an Ignite Talk on Tuesday. Ignite Talks have twenty slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds, and the speaker is able to talk about something they are passionate about. I said yes to the opportunity! Below is my Ignite Talk, I’d love for you to check it out!

The *Believe Me* Paperback Tour is Shaping Up!

Believe Me 3dEerdmans Publishing is sending me back on the road with the paperback edition of Believe Me; The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Learn more about the tour, and how you can get involved, here or here.

The hardback tour, which included stops at the Midtown Scholar, Politics & Prose,  Hearts & Minds Bookstore, University of Chicago Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, Valparaiso University, Hope College, Taylor University, John Brown University, Southern Methodist University, Princeton University, Penn State University, University of Southern California, University of Colorado, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, among others.

The booking for the 2020 tour (January through Election Day) is underway.  This is what we have so far.  We are always adding dates.

February 2, 2020
Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren

March, 12 2020
Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg.  Conversation with author Katherine Stewart

April 1, 2020
Malone College, Canton, OH

April 23-24, 2020
Festival of Faiths,  Louisville, KY

June 5, 2020
Policy History Conference, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

September 17-19, 2020
Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA

September 27- 29, 2020
Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, FL

Please send booking requests to Christine Walter: cwalter(at)messiah(dot)edu

Andrew Johnson’s 1866 Anti-Impeachment Tour

Johnson

This sounds familiar.

Over at The Washington Post, Ronald Shafer describes Andrew Johnson’s attempt to rally supporters against his possible impeachment.  Johnson took the road to make his case.

Here is a taste:

“Congress, factious, domineering, tyrannical Congress has undertaken to poison the minds of the American people,” the embattled president declared in fiery speeches. His political foes have been aided, he charged, by their “hirelings” in a “mercenary and subsidized press.”

The president was Andrew Johnson, who in 1866 was already facing impeachment threats just a year after succeeding assassinated Republican President Abraham Lincoln. So Johnson sought to rally his supporters in speeches outside of Washington in much the way President Trump has done for months.

Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, was under attack from Radical Republicans in Congress for his post-Civil War unity policy of bringing Southern white supremacists back into government. Although he was anti-slavery, he vetoed bills giving black Americans new rights, but Congress overrode his vetoes.

In the late summer of 1866, the 57-year-old president began an 18-day speaking tour to promote what he called “My Plan.” The trip’s purpose ostensibly was to travel to Chicago to lay a cornerstone for a monument honoring late U.S. senator Stephen Douglas. But “the unmistakable object,” the Philadelphia Press said, “is of course to influence the fall elections.” Johnson hoped to help elect more Democrats and moderate Republicans to Congress.

The route would take the president by train from Washington through Upstate New York, then as far west as St. Louis and back through Maryland. The press called it “Andy’s Swing Around the Circle.”

Read the rest here.  The tour did not help.  The House impeached Johnson on February 24, 1868.  He was the first president ever to be impeached.

How Should You Respond When Your Stamp Distributor Resigns Under Pressure?

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William Franklin

On September 3, 1765, William Coxe, the Distributor of Stamps for New Jerseyresigned.  Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765 and it was scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 1765.  The New Jersey Sons of Liberty were putting pressure on Coxe to resign and the treatment that stamp collectors received in other colonies was probably also a factor.

Here is Coxe’s resignation letter to New Jersey royal governor William Franklin. It’s  short and sweet:

I think it incumbent upon me to acquaint your Excellency, that on my Return from New-Jersey on Sunday last, I came to a Resolution to Surrender the Office of Distributor of Stamps for the Province to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. My Resignation, & the Reasons for it, I have sent to their Lordships this Day, and if any Papers come to my Hands relative to that Office, I shall transmit them to your Excellency as the proper Person to receive them, but I think it most probably my Letters may arrive in England before any Commission or Stamps are sent away.

Franklin was not happy about it.  He responded the next day (September 4, 1765).

I received yours of Yesterday, acquainting me with your having resigned the Office of Distributor of Stamps for New Jersey, I must own myself not a little Surpriz’d at the Information, as I have not yet had the least Reason to apprehend but that the Act might be quietly carried into Execution throughout this  Province. It is true, that the Inhabitants here have their Objections to the Stamp Act, as well as those of the other Colonies, but I have not heard of any Design among them to oppose its Execution by Violence or otherwise. All of them with whom I have conversed on the Affair seem to think that they are as much bound to pay Obedience to their Act as they are to the Acts laying Duties on Trade, & those other Acts relative to the Colonies which they have heretofore obeyed, and that, as good Subjects, they ought no to make any Opposition to the Act, now it is pass’d, till they ave first try’d all dutiful Means of obtaining Redress of such Grievances as it may occasion.  These likewise (to do the Americans Justice) seem to be the Sentiments of the most Sober discreet Men of every Province. As to sending me the Papers which may come to Your Hands relative to the Office, it can answer no good Purpose whatever, as I am not impowered to appoint any Person to execute it. But I cannot help thinking, as you made Application for the Office, that you are bound to Honour to endeavour, at least, to carry it into Execution.  The ill Consequences, after the Act takes place, which might result, for Want of  the Stamps, to every Inhabitant who ha any Dealings and other Mischiefs which may be brought on the Province on Account of their being supposed by our Superiors at home to have prevented your exercising the Office, must otherwise lie at your Door.  At any Rate, it is your Duty to keep the Papers until some person shall be appointed to Succeed you. Thus much, Sir, I am induced to mention to you, not only from a Sense of Duty to the Crown, but out of the Regard I have for the Interest & Character of the People of this Province. 

N.T. Wright: We Have Created a Monster That Can Only Be Subdued by Love

Wright bookI have been working through N.T. Wright‘s Gifford Lectures, published by Baylor University Press as History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology. (Thanks to Byron Borger at Hearts & Minds Bookstore for bringing this book to my attention and selling me a copy).  I am only about forty pages into it, but I am enjoying it so far.  It has been a long time since I read anything on natural theology, but Wright’s attempt to connect theology, the Gospels, and history has kept me going.  It has been a good intellectual exercise.

I was thus pleased to find Wright’s recent essay at First Things: “Loving to Know.”  I commend it to you. Here is a taste:

Western modernity has created a monster. We supposed this monster would do what we wanted. But now, it is rampaging around, and we seem powerless to stop it.

A Jewish or Christian analysis would want to speak here of idolatry. We have worshipped Mars, who leads us to address all problems with tanks and bombs. We have worshipped Mammon, so that turning a profit trumps all else. We have worshipped ­Aphrodite, and any suggestion that we should resist her infringes on our human rights. And so on. The false gods obtain their power and apparent authority from the fact that they really are aspects of the ­created world that, for a Jew or a Christian, is itself the loving gift of the wise creator. But when we respond to the idols, rather than to the creator, we are driven not by love but by greed and lust. That’s what idols do: They lure you into the Faustian trap.

The way out is an understanding of ­creation as the gift of love, to which love is the appropriate response. But we cannot reach that true understanding of ­creation by a direct approach, for it quickly leads us back to idols. We must start with the center of creation: Jesus himself.

And this:

The epistemology of love, applied to history, insists (along with Vico and other early critics of the Enlightenment) that understanding the past means entering sympathetically into the minds of people in cultures very different from our own. It is all too easy to project our own hopes and interests onto “the other.” Pure objectivity about other persons would appraise them at a distance, rather than engaging with them; pure subjectivity would use them to gratify one’s own whims or desires. Love means not just allowing others to be themselves but relishing them as being themselves, as being both other than ourselves and other than our initial hopes and expectations of them. Thus, the historian will study in full detail the thought world of the culture and people under ­investigation—its symbolic structure, its underlying taken-for-­granted narratives, its characteristic praxis, and so on. This is the larger social and cultural structure that I have loosely and heuristically called “worldview.” It is a matter of the historian’s due diligence.

With history as with science, the Christian must never say simply that God is the lord of history and that’s all we need to know. That is like asking your bank manager what you have in your account and receiving the answer, “Money.” Refusing to investigate history is a way of staying on the safe side of Lessing’s ugly ditch. History, like science, is full of surprises. Only when we pay attention to them, allowing our expectations to be modified—including our expectations of what God’s world ought to look like and how God ought to behave in relation to it!—are we ­actually operating with an epistemology of love. 

Read the entire piece here.

I am not sure if Wright realizes that Christian historians have given a lot of thought to the relationship between historical study and love.  The place to start is Beth Barton Schwieger’s essay, “Seeing Things: Knowledge and Love in History,” in Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation.  I also address this issue in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

How Politics Shapes American History Textbooks

McGraw Hill

In a nice piece of investigating reporting and research (which she writes about in this companion piece), New York Times education reporter Dana Goldstein compared middle school and high school textbooks read by students in California and Texas.  These books, published in 2016 or later, had the same publishers and credit the same authors.  Yet they sometimes tell the story of United States history in different ways.

Here is a taste:

The books The Times analyzed were published in 2016 or later and have been widely adopted for eighth and 11th graders, though publishers declined to share sales figures. Each text has editions for Texas and California, among other states, customized to satisfy policymakers with different priorities.

“At the end of the day, it’s a political process,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, an emeritus professor of history at Texas State University who has worked for the state of Texas and for publishers in reviewing standards and textbooks.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

A California panel asked the publisher McGraw-Hill to avoid the use of the word “massacre” when describing 19th-century Native American attacks on white people. A Texas panel asked Pearson to point out the number of clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and to state that the nation’s founders were inspired by the Protestant Great Awakening.

Read the entire piece here.  The graphics are amazing. You need to read it for yourself to really appreciate the work that went into it.

A few comments:

  • In the passage of the article I excerpted above, the Texas request to include the clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence and the reference to the First Great Awakening influence on the Revolution has David Barton and Wallbuilders written all over it.  Barton, and other conservatives who embrace his view of Christian nationalist history, have sat on the Texas Board of Education-appointed committee that approves textbooks and social studies standards.  I have been following this off and on since 2009. I even wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle addressing Barton’s involvement.  For the record, there was only one member of the clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence.  It was John Witherspoon, the Presbyterian minister who also served as president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton.  And the influence of the Great Awakening on the nation’s founders is a problematic claim.  Yet we see evangelicals like radio host Eric Metaxas and pastor Greg Laurie--evangelicals who probably get their history from Barton– making such statements all the time.   But I digress.
  • This article reminds us that educational publishing is a business.  If Texas or California politicians and government officials want their history framed in a certain way, the textbook companies are happy to do it.
  • It is good to see Goldstein note that U.S. history textbooks, of both the California and Texas variety, have come a long way.  Many of them do a nice job of covering slavery, women’s rights, and immigration.  For example, students no longer read about slaves who prefer slavery to freedom because of kind masters.
  • Of course a textbook is only one tool at the disposal of a middle school or high school history teacher.  A good teacher might even try to show bias in their textbooks, perhaps through an exercise such as Opening Up the Textbook.  Goldstein’s article might be a nice starting point to get students to see that their textbook (or any piece of published material, whether it be hard copy or on the Internet) has a bias.
  • A bit of snark to the end this post.  Goldstein’s article assumes students actually read the textbook.

 

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Did Springsteen’s The River signal the end of rock and roll?

Does higher education’s promise remain unfulfilled?

David A. Bell reviews two new books on the Haitian Revolution

Johnny Cash and white nationalism

What did Christian Zionism have to do with the killing of Soleimani?  And here.

The art of college teaching

Historical analogies

Eddie Glaude reviews David Zucchino, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

Stephen Phillips reviews Steve Inskeep, Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Fremont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War

Elizabeth Seton and immigrants

Black clergy support Christianity Today

How should we celebrate the 19th Amendment?

Pro-life Democrats

Football and faith at Clemson

Ben Carp reviews Wendy Bellion, Iconoclasm in New York: Revolution to Reenactment

My Piece Today at *USA TODAY* on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally

Miami Trump

Here is a taste of “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God“:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson), and the hosts of Fox and Friends.

Read the entire piece at *USA TODAY*.

American Historical Association James Grossman on Research Access and Scholarly Equity

Here is Grossman at Perspectives on History:

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians.

And this:

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

I can really relate to this post.  For the past two or three years, I have been trying to work with the Adam Matthew digitized CO5 files from the National Archives, UK.  This database offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822.  I can’t afford to go to London to view these documents, so the database is my only option.  These documents are absolutely essential for my current book project.  At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet and go to London or find a research university who will let me use their collection on site or give me a password.

I realize that I have been blessed at Messiah College.  Early in my tenure, the college library purchased the Readex Early America Imprints I, Early American Imprints II (Shaw-Shoemaker), and Early American Newspapers.  This gives my students access to thousand and thousands of primary sources.  These databases have been amazing resources for my own work as well.  Messiah’s library staff has also managed to get trial access to the Adam Matthew CO5 files, but the trials are limited in time and scope and it is always hard to find time to do research during the academic year. The college cannot afford to purchase this database and Adam Matthew will not allow an individual subscription.

I also realize that I am privileged to have an academic job that gives me access to library resources.  I regularly use the databases, e-books, search engines, and interlibrary loan services that the Murray Library offers to the Messiah College community.  Grossman calls attention in the piece to adjunct and contingent faculty who lose access to these resources when they stop teaching or are not rehired.

I appreciate Grossman’s call for Research I History Departments to grant access to alumni.  Unfortunately, my Ph.D-granting institution doesn’t even own the databases I have noted in this post.

I’ll keep working on this one.  If anyone can help, please let me know: jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.

Are You Watching the *Jeopardy!* Greatest of All Time Tournament?

jeopardy

I began the tournament pulling for Ken Jennings.  My family watched most of Jennings’s amazing 74-game winning streak in 2004.  Ally was six and Caroline was three, but they somehow still remember it, probably because we made up songs about Jennings and sung them before each show.

But I must admit that after Jennings won Match One and James Holzhauer (“Jeopardy James”) won Match Two, I started cheering for Brad Rutter, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania native and Johns Hopkins dropout who has won more game show money that anyone on the planet and has defeated Jennings on two occasions.  Until the Jennings took Match One, Rutter had never lost a Jeopardy! match to a human opponent.  (He lost to the IBM computer “Watson” in 2011).  Jennings came back and won Match Three on Thursday night, but I am still hoping Rutter will make a run to keep things interesting.

Over at Slate, television writer Jeremy Samuel Faust has some great analysis of what we have seen so far in this tournament.  Here is a taste:

We are two matches into the Jeopardy! showdown between three of the most dominant players in the show’s history, and here’s what we know so far. The greatest player in Jeopardy!history is either James Holzhauer or Ken Jennings, currently tied at one match apiece. If Brad Rutter wins in the end, it will be one of the most remarkable comebacks in sports history. (Yes, Jeopardy! is a sport. Don’t @ me.)

That the competition has been fierce is actually somewhat of a surprise. Coming into the tournament, Holzhauer was a huge favorite to win.

This is the case for three reasons. First, the format essentially eliminates the biggest potential weakness in Holzhauer’s game: variance. During regular-season play, his large bet strategy came with what statisticians call a high “risk of ruin”; even though his large Daily Double bets usually paid off, if and when they did not, the downsides could have been potentially devastating. However, in the GOAT tournament, a player can not only lose a match without being eliminated—they can lose big and they’ll still be back for more.

Read the entire piece here.

Zakaria: “Trump does not have a foreign policy. He has a series of impulses”

Trump Iowa

Great insight here from Fareed Zakaria:

Three months ago, President Trump suddenly withdrew U.S. forces from northern Syria that were, in part, thwarting Iran’s efforts to dominate the country, declaring, “Going into the Middle East is one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of our country. It’s like quicksand.” Well, last week he dramatically escalated America’s military engagement in the region, ordering a strike on Iran’s most important military leader and deploying thousands more troops. How to make sense of this Middle East policy?

It gets more confusing. Around the same time that he was urgently withdrawing U.S. troops from what he called the “bloodstained sand” of Syria, Trump sent 3,000 additional troops to Saudi Arabia. (When asked why, he answered that the Saudis were paying good money for this deployment.) And just a few weeks after announcing the Syria withdrawal, he reversed himself and left some troops in the north “for the oil.” All clear now?

After the killing last week of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Trump warned that were Iran to attack “any Americans, or American assets,” he would retaliate “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” And yet after Iran did attack two bases in Iraq hosting U.S. forces, Trump essentially did nothing, announcing that Tehran “appears to be standing down.” I’m glad Trump chose to deescalate, but that doesn’t change the fact that he reversed himself yet again.

The problem with Trump’s foreign policy is not any specific action. The killing of Soleimani could be justified as a way to respond to Iranian provocations, but this move, like so much of Trump’s foreign policy, was impulsive, reckless, unplanned and inconsistent — and as usual, the chief impact is chaos and confusion. Trump did not bother to coordinate with the government of Iraq, on whose territory the attack was perpetrated. After the Iraqi government protested and voiced a desire to have U.S. troops leave Iraq, he threatened to sanction the country and stay put until it paid the United States billions of dollars for an air base.

Read the rest here.  Diplomacy requires prudence and patience.  Trump does not possess these virtues.  As a result, he is a foreign policy disaster.  His narcissistic passions control his ability to think rationally and consistently.

Randall Stephens Reviews Michael Medved’s New Book on America and Divine Providence

Medved

Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know the name Randall Stephens for his historian’s baseball cards and Christian Right photo-shops of Library of America covers.  Check out the Randall Stephens Collection here.

Randall is also an excellent historian of American evangelicalism. Some of you may recall our interview with him in Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  We talked about his book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Stephens currently teaches American and British Studies at the University of Oslo.

Over at The Washington Post, Stephens reviews God’s Hand on America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era, the latest book by conservative pundit, film critic, and radio host Michael Medved.  Here is a taste:

It’s one thing to appreciate how religion or ideas about providence inspired Americans in the 1860s or the 1890s. It’s quite something else to say that modern Americans should read the distant past as confirmation of the nation’s divine appointment. Medved wonders why Americans are not more thankful “for winning life’s lottery through your American birth or upbringing.” America being blessed by God, he writes, may defy “the ordinary odds but conforms to our lived experience.” That perspective, while full of hope and optimism, amounts to a selective reading of the past. It ignores a large swath of the U.S. population such as African Americans and Native Americans whose lived experience often has not felt like winning a lottery.

Medved’s style of popular conservative history is in large measure defined by what he leaves out. The shameful, racist, violent aspects of the American narrative are swept away or excused. He gives little attention to the treatment of Native Americans, the crucial role slavery played in the country’s development, wars of imperial expansion and colonial acquisition, and the horrors and follies of the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

In his celebration of the glories of the Transcontinental Railroad, Medved makes little or no room for discussion of the exploitation of workers, unfair and criminal business practices, the destruction of wildlife and natural habitats, or discrimination against Chinese immigrants. Those, too, are essential parts of the story. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned immigration of Chinese laborers, is not even mentioned. How should modern Americans read these episodes, which earlier Americans explained and justified in explicitly religious terms?

Read the entire review here.

Darryl Hart on Boston’s Park Street Church, Evangelicalism, and the “Ghost of Harold John Ockenga”

Park StreetHarold John Ockenga was the pastor of Boston’s Park Street Church from 1936 to 1969.

He was one of the early leaders of the neo-evangelical movement in the 1940s and 1950s.  We normally associated the rise of neo-evangelicalism with people such Ockenga, Billy Graham, Nelson Bell, and Carl F.H. Henry and institutions such as Fuller Theological Seminary, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Christianity Today.

Ockenga was one of the founders of the National Association of Evangelicals and served as its president from 1942-1944.  He was the president of both Fuller and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He was the chairman of the board of Christianity Today during its first twenty-five years of publication.

As some of you know, the National Association of Evangelicals recently named a new president.  His name is Walter Kim and  he served as a minister of Park Street Church for fifteen years.

Christianity Today recently named a new editor.  His name is Daniel Harrell and he served as a “preaching minister” at Park Street Church.

Here is Hart as his blog:

Here are the balls to keep an eye on: Boston’s Park Street Church, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today.

That means Harrell is following a trail blazed by Harold John Ockenga. Who, you might ask? Well, he was the rare winner of evangelicalism’s Triple Crown — presiding over Gordon College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Fuller Seminary. He was also pastor of Park Street Church. 

And this:

Granted, Kim only has two direct links to Ockenga — Park Street and the National Association of Evangelicals — compared to Harrell’s four. Whether these institutions function more as gatekeepers or networks is debatable. But if you want to know where to look for leadership within those who want to be evangelicalism’s leaders, look to Boston while gesturing to Pasadena, California.

It looks like a certain wing of evangelical Christianity in America still runs through the Boston Common.  I wonder what this means for my former pastor at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

Deconstructing the MAGA Church Video

Watch (again):

The Lincoln Project, a GOP anti-Trump group headed up by George Conway (Kellyanne’s husband) and Rick Wilson, produced the video.

0:00 to 0: 16: This is from the recent “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Miami.  We discussed this event here.

0:17 to 0:22:  This is court evangelical Robert Jeffress praying for Donald Trump at a 2017 day of prayer in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paula White also prayed.

0:23 to 0:25: Candidate Trump telling pollster Frank Luntz that he has never asked for forgiveness.  This is also the event where Trump said, “When I drink my little wine–which is the only wine I drink–and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness….”

0:26 to 0:29: Trump says “why do I need to repent, why do I need to ask for forgiveness.”  This is from a Trump interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN during the early days of the campaign in 2015.

0:30 to 0:33: This is court evangelical Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.

0:34 to 0:35: This is Trump telling CNN’s Abby Phillip that she “asks a lot of stupid questions.”

0:36 to 0:40: This is former GOP congresswoman Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota claiming in the Spring of 2019 that “I have never seen a more biblical president than I have seen in Donald Trump.”

0:41 to 0:42: This is Paula White praying at a June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  She is asking God to “remove every demonic network” from the anointed one.

0:43 to 0:44: This is Trump telling CNN reporter Jim Acosta in November 2018 that he is an “enemy of the people.”  He also called him a “rude, terrible person.”  Earlier in the year, court evangelical Lance Wallnau said Acosta was a “demon.”

0:44 to 0:47: Paula White again in  the June 2019 Trump rally in Orlando.  This is the second half of the “every demonic network” line above.  White prays that if there is a demonic network working against Trump,  “let it be broken, let it be torn down, in the name of Jesus.” Spiritual warfare language was pretty common  the during the impeachment inquiry.

0:48 to 0:49: This is a clip from prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland‘s show “Believers Voice of Victory.” Copeland’s son-in-law, George Pearsons, says “here is the Republican platform.” Paula White is also a guest on the show.

0:50 to 0:52: Trump engaging in blasphemy at a September 2019 rally in Baltimore.

0:53 to 0:54: Robert Jeffress on the Lou Dobbs show saying “if Trump is not re-elected.”

0:55 to 0:57:  George Pearsons of Kenneth Copeland ministries (see my comments at the 0:48 mark above) saying “the Word of God.”

0:58 to 1:01: Back to Jeffress on Lou Dobbs.  He finished the line he started at the 0:53 mark: “If Trump is not re-elected… there will be a backlash against people of faith like we cannot imagine.”  In this interview Jeffress says that Pete Buttigieg “doesn’t have a clue” about what the Bible says and defends Trump’s border wall.

1:02 to 1:07: George Pearsons from the 0:48 and 0:55 mark asks “where do you stand.”  This is followed-up by Trump’s claim that he “could stand on the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

1:08 to 1:12: Paula White says, “I want a man who stands for righteousness.”  This line is juxtaposed with Trump saying he’d like to punch a protester in the face at a February 2016 rally.

1:13 to 1:16: This comes from Trump’s arguments with the Pope in the first half of 2017.  In February the Pope said “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.”  Trump responded on Facebook: “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS…I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would never have happened.”  This picks up again at the 1:20-1:21 mark.  Needless to say, it is pretty clear that Pope Francis is no fan of Donald Trump or his administration.

1:17 to 1:19:  Back in the Oval Office for the day of prayer following Hurricane Harvey.

1:22 to 1:25:  Robert Jeffress saying that the Pope needs to “seek Donald Trump’s forgiveness.”  This happened in February 2018 on the Sean Hannity Show.  Here is the quote:

Sean, I think the Pope needs to ask Donald Trump’s forgiveness for making such an outlandish statement. I want to remind our listeners that it was exactly one year ago this week that 21 Coptic Christians’ had their heads chopped off by ISIS on a Libyan beach and then ISIS said, “we are coming to Rome next.” The Pope ought to think through that very seriously. And the fact that we have a candidate like Donald Trump who wants to protect America, that’s not unbiblical. The Pope is confused between the role of the Church, which is to show compassion, and the role of government, which is to uphold order and to protect its citizens. And I want to make a prediction. I think the Pope has succeeded in doing what no other man on Earth could do, and that is creating a martyr in Donald Trump.

1:26:  Donald Trump calling Ted Cruz “a pussy” in February 2016.

1:27: Franklin Graham in January 2018 telling CNN’s Don Lemon that God put Trump in the office of the presidency.  Franklin Graham comes across looking very foolish in this interview.

1:28 to 1:29: This is Trump speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama in September 2017.  He is talking about NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.  He said: “wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.’”

1:30 to 1:32: More Paula White in Orlando.  Here she is praying that for the “angel of the Lord” to “encamp around and about” Trump.

1:33 to 1:34:  Back to Michelle Bachmann.  This is the former Minnesota congreesswoman and former GOP presidential candidate in an August 2016 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network.  The full quote: “But I also see that at the end of the day God raised up, I believe, Donald Trump who was going to be the nominee in this election.”

1:36 to 1:39: Paula White: “to say no to Donald Trump would be saying no to God.”  Watch the entire video here. Pick it up around the 34:00 minute mark (White also says that Trump “is a huge history buff.”  Wow, that’s new).

1:40 to 1:41:  This is another cut from Trump’s interview with Frank Luntz at the Iowa Family Leadership Conference in the summer of 2015.  Luntz asked Trump if he had ever asked God for forgiveness.  Trump responded: “I don’t think so.  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right.  I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t”

1:41 to 1:48 and 1:53: Robert Jeffress on Fox News citing Romans 13 as a biblical mandate for Trump to bomb North Korea. The full quote: ” And I wanted to clarify that I believe the Bible, especially Romans 13, does give President Trump moral authority to use whatever force necessary, including assassination or even war to topple an evil dictator like Kim Jong Un.”  Romans 13 has been used a lot by pro-Trump evangelicals to justify many of his policies.

1:49 to 1:50: Trump at a 2015 campaign rally saying he  is going to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS.

1:51 to 1:52: Paula White hawking her book Something Greater. Here is the full quote: “There is a department of treasury in Heaven, which says God is watching over everything you do and you are storing up eternal treasure that will go so far beyond what we can even imagine…you need to send in $3,500; you need to send in $35,000; you need to send in that 100,000 check.”

1:54 to 1:55: This is Buddy Pilgrim on Kenneth Copeland’s show “Believers Voice for Victory.” He points to the Bible and says, “this book right here will tell you how to vote.”  Prior to getting aboard the Trump train he was the National Director for Faith & Religious Liberty for the Ted Cruz presidential campaign.

1:56 to 1:57:  This is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network.  In this interview he said he believes that Trump is a new Queen Esther. We wrote about this interview here.

1:58 to 1:59:  A clip from the Access Hollywood tape.

2:00: Jerry Falwell on CNN in March 2018 telling Erin Burnett that Trump “has had a change of heart.”  Falwell is defending Trump in the wake of the Stormy Daniels affair.  Here is the entire interview.  Falwell was also on Burnett’s show in January 2018.

2:00-2:01: Trump at a 2019 rally in Michigan. Here is the full quote: “The Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit.” He is referencing the Mueller Report.  Trump use of vulgarity in January 2018 prompted me to write a post titled “Are Court Evangelicals More Concerned With Trump’s Vulgar Language or the Racism Behind It?

2:03 to 2:11: More clips from prosperity preacher Paula White asking for money.  She tells her audience that if they don’t send her money they will never see “sustainment” in their lives and their dreams will die.

2:12 to 2:16:  Televangelist Jim Bakker says that support for Trump is a mark of one’s eternal salvation.  This is from January 7, 2020.

2:25 to 2:26:  Trump claiming that he is “the chosen one.” This was Trump in August 2019.  The context is a little more complicated.  Trump said he was “chosen” to “take on China” in trade.  Others have called Trump “The Chosen One,” including former Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump”

 

 

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support TrumpSome of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”
• “[Hitler], the most German man, is also the most faithful, a believing Christian. We know that he begins and ends the course of his day with prayer, that he has found in the Gospel the deepest source of his strength.”
• “If the German who truly believed in Jesus could find the Spirit of the kingdom of God anywhere, he could find it in Adolf Hitler’s movement.”
• “In the pitch-black night of Christian church history, Hitler became like a wonderful transparency for our time, a window through which light fell upon the history of Christianity.”
• “[God has granted us an] hour of grace . . . through Adolf Hitler.”
• “God has once again raised his voice in a singular individual.”13 Compare these statements with those made in recent months by American charismatic and evangelical leaders:
• “God raised up . . . Donald Trump” (Michelle Bachman).
• “God has righteously chosen [Trump] to affect the way that this nation goes forward” (Chuck Pierce).
• “Donald Trump represents a supernatural answer to prayer” (James Robison).
• “God had raised up [Trump] for such a time as this” (Stephen Strang).
• “Donald Trump actively seeks God’s guidance in his life” (James Dobson).
• Trump’s victory “showed clear evidence of ‘the hand of God’ on the election” (Franklin Graham).
• “[Trump is] a bold man, a strong man, and an obedient man” (Kenneth Copeland).
• “I see this as a last-minute reprieve for America, and the Church” (Rodney Howard-Browne).
• “[Trump] does look like he’s the last hope” (Phyllis Schlafly).
• “God was raising up Donald Trump as He did the Persian king Cyrus the Great” (Lance Wallnau).
• “[Trump is] a man of faith . . . truly committed to making America great again through principles that honor God rather than defy Him” (Stephen Strang).
• “In the midst of . . . despair, came November the 8th, 2016. It was on that day . . . that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were gonna choose the next president of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (Robert Jeffress).
• “We thank God every day that He gave us a leader like President Trump” (Robert Jeffress).14

How is Trump able to convince these Christian leaders that he is worthy of their support? Mostly by paying attention to them, inviting them to Trump Tower, and indulging their need to be listened to in an increasingly post-Christian culture. It is truly remarkable that they have been taken in by Trump’s vague and barely comprehensible statements about his “faith,” such as “I’ve always been spiritual,” “belief is very important,” and “I’m going to do a great job for religion.” Honestly, Hitler was better at pretending to be a Christian.

Read the entire letter here.