My AHA Highlights

Unlike many historians who were stranded in Washington D.C. because of snow and ice, I managed to make it home from the AHA meeting yesterday with few problems.  It took me an extra hour due to the icy roads, but I arrived home to see the second half of the Chargers-Bengals game and the entire Niners-Packers game (although I did take a brief nap during the second quarter).  It seems that many of the stranded historians made good use of their time. Some used the opportunity to finish writing projects, others wrote blog posts, and some settled in for the season premiere of Downton Abbey (as I type this my entire family is in the next room glued to the television set).

I spent last year’s AHA in New Orleans attending sessions, catching up with friends, blogging, and tweeting.  Some of you may recall that I was the conference’s top tweeter.  This year felt more like work, but there were still some highlights.  Here are a few:
  • I sat on a high-powered post-doc search committee.  It was a lot of fun listening to some of the best and brightest in the field talk about their projects.  
  • Through conversations with editors I began to get a picture of what I may be writing over the course of the next couple of years.  (More on that in a future post).
  • I spent some time with a few younger historians and learned about their exciting work.
  • I had a great chat with The Way of Improvement Leads Home correspondent Christopher Graham about public history, teaching history, and how historians can do a better job of understanding their audiences.
  • I had coffee with a former student who has become the most enthusiastic doctoral student I have ever encountered.
  • I had dinner with a former student who is completing his Ph.D in Latin American history and has a job lined up at a research university.
  • I confused Robert Walpole and Horace Walpole in the paper that I presented.  Two people in the room caught the mistake, one of which was the session commentator.  (Although he was gracious enough to tell me privately).
  • I learned that historians are usually in bed, or at least in their hotel rooms, relatively early. When I came down to the Marriott lobby at 2:40am on Saturday morning (I needed to print something) I did not see a soul.
  • An English professor in attendance at the conference told me that historians at the AHA do not “self-fashion” as much as literacy critics at the MLA.
  • I realized that the AHA is not the best place to learn how to use my first smartphone.  I do not recommend trying to learn the “maps” feature while trying to decipher the best way to walk to a session in which you are presenting.  The same goes for learning how to use the snooze feature on the alarm.
  • I learned that I am not the only historian who comes to the AHA with a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in my suitcase.
Another great AHA.  As usual, I left very energized. 

Liz Covart on "Writing History for the Public"

Liz Covart, who is serving as a correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend at the AHA, shared her thoughts on Writing History for the Public,” (Friday, January 3, 8:30-10:00am).  Enjoy!  –JF
On Friday January 3, 2014, I sat in on “Writing History for the Public,” a roundtable panel sponsored by the Goldberg Center at The Ohio State University.  The panelists included Brian Balogh (University of Virginia), Steve Conn (Ohio State University), Allen Mikaelian, Editor of Perspectives and Ph.D. Candidate at American University,  Professor of Journalism David Paul Nord (Indiana University), Jonathan L. Zimmerman (New York University), Literary Agent Wendy Strothman of the Strothman Agency, LLC, and panel chair Nicholas Breyfogle (Ohio State University). Each panelist offered their thoughts on the role historians play, or should play, in writing works of history for a public audiences.
 Biggest Takeaways: Historians have a duty to write for a public audience. To write for a public audience, historians need to be concise, know their audience, and contextualize their work with “obvious-to-them” facts that they often overlook.
Steve Conn believes that as a guild, historians do not yet understand the role of public historians or where they fit into the profession. He also sees a “problem of mismatch.” Graduate students spend most of their training learning how to be research- and monograph-driven scholars, skills that they spend the least time using after they graduate and find jobs. Conn noted that even tenured professors spend more time teaching and working on search committees than they do working as researchers and writers.
Conn believes the profession needs to think about the mismatch between historical training and history-job reality and how the guild wants to define public history so graduate programs can continue to produce highly-trained graduates that actually meet the demands of the jobs that are available for them. Conn would also like to see graduate departments add training programs that teach graduate students how to be more publicly engaged historians, which would have the benefit of the graduates promoting the profession to the public.
David Paul Nord enjoys the challenge of trying to figure out how to link journalism and history in writing. A trained historian, Nord became a journalist after graduation. Nord pointed out that not all popular history writing shares a connection to journalism; many biographers are not journalists. To illustrate the connections between history and journalism, Nord handed out two short essays, “The Radicalism of Lincoln’s 10 percent Plan” by Richard Striner and “The Great War’s Ominous Echoes” by Margaret Macmillan.
According to Nord, the Striner essay represents an example of “Journalistic History,” an essay that explains a historical problem to readers, in this case whether Lincoln’s Reconstruction plan was too lenient towards southerners. Journalistic History essays have no journalistic function, but are pieces of history written in short form. Nord drew the audience’s attention to the first two paragraphs: the first contains the opening or “lead” (also spelled “lede”), which establishes the main idea of the story for the reader. The second paragraph presented the “nut graph,” which explains the news value of the story. In this example the nut graph starts with the “But what the radicals failed to prove…”
In contrast to the Striner essay, Macmillan’s article stands as an example of “Historical Journalism,” an essay that uses the past to explain a contemporary news story. Macmillan used the lessons of World War I to discuss present-day politics and policies. Like the Striner piece, the Macmillan article also has a lead and a nut graph. The first two paragraphs of Macmillan’s article establish the lede. The third paragraph contains the nut graph, which like Striner’s piece begins with “But.”
Nord concluded his remarks by discussing audience. Audience is key. Whenever you write, you should write for readers who like history. Readers who like history want you to teach them something new; readers who don’t like history either won’t buy your book or they will flip to the next page of their newspapers. It is Nord’s opinion that saying something new and important about history is more crucial than writing accessibly.
Allen Mikaelian discussed the job market. The AHA surveyed 2,500 people with history Ph.D.s and found that only 8 of those Ph.D. holders considered themselves to be writers or journalists.  Mikaelian found this result surprising as he sees writing and journalism as a natural job market for graduates of traditional history programs.
Mikaelian questioned why so few history program graduates sought careers in writing and journalism. He wondered whether graduates were self-selecting or whether graduates found careers in journalism hard to come by without formal journalistic training. (During the Q & A, a freelance journalist and historian pointed out that like historians, journalists are in the midst of drastic change to their profession.)
Mikaelian concluded by offering the idea that some history graduates could turn to ghost writing. Ghost writing is perfect work for historians because ghost writers need to be part writer, part oral historian, part analytical thinker, and part historian to get at, present, and contextualize another person’s story. Mikaelian emphasized that while most ghost written stories do not become best sellers, they are important because they could be used as primary source documents by historians in the future.
Jonathan L. Zimmerman considered what scholars at earlier AHA events would have thought about public history and his panel. He believes the question of historian engagement with public history would have confounded them. Twenty to twenty-five years ago there was no “public history,” because every historian believed that they had a duty to the public. To make his point, Zimmerman read from Carl Becker’s 1931 address to the American Historical Association, “Everyman His Own Historian.”
Becker believed that historians had to help everyone find the truth because historians would alienate themselves if they did not help. Zimmerman also reminded the audience of Becker’s point that “The history that lies inert in unread books does no work in the world.” Zimmerman called on historians to remember Becker’s pleas and re-enter public life.
Zimmerman believes that the New Social History stands responsible for turning historians away from the public. The New Social History is a people’s history that the people don’t read even though historians of that school have produced a great amount of scholarship. So what history do people read? “Barnes & Noble” history. Many of these books do not pass muster with historians, but even when they do, as James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom did, many historians look down upon their colleague for having written a work that appeals to the masses.
Zimmerman concluded by reminding the audience that writing for the public is an imperative of our job. He stated that this is especially true for most historians as most of us will find jobs outside of the academy. As for those who do find jobs within the academy, Zimmerman urged them to teach their students that they should write for and reach out to a public audience.
Wendy Strothman spent ten years at the University of Chicago Press and seven years at Houghton Mifflin. In 2002, she left Houghton Mifflin to start a literary agency that works with scholars who would like to engage with a public audience. Strothman noted that many scholars find it challenging to write for a broad audience. When she sees scholars struggling with how to present good ideas, she tells them to read the introduction to Adam Hothschild’s books because he does a good job of addressing the “so what?” question.
Strothman emphasized the curiosity of the public. Academic historians need to think differently in order to write for the public and satisfy their curiosity. Historians need to clearly explain what is exciting about their research in order to hook non-academic readers. Strothman also explained that trade readers (readers who buy “Barnes & Noble” history books) want historians to write about characters or questions. If you do not have characters that your readers can follow throughout your book, you had better have a central question. Additionally, trade readers want suspense. Strothman finds Dan Brown to be a lousy writer, but he sells books because he is a master of suspense. Brown leaves his readers hanging and wanting more at the end of every chapter. (I recently attended a writing class with Steve Almond who said the same about Brown.) Finally, trade readers want to be transported back in time. They want to know what historical places looked like, smelled like, and tasted like. Strothman urged historians to bring some of these details into their books and reminded them that doing so adds to rather than compromises the historical context of the scene.
In addition to being a history professor at the University of Virginia, Brian Balogh is the co-host of a radio program called “Back Story with the American History Guys.” Working the airwaves has shown Balogh how important it is for historians to be concise. Just like radio listeners, readers consume history and books in small doses.
Balogh shared a clip from his radio program to emphasize the necessity of being concise. After presenting his program segment, Balogh analyzed it and shared his secret for how historians can be concise. Historians should begin their writing projects with a central question. This central question will drive their writing and keep it focused because you will concentrate on how to answer that one question.
Balogh’s radio work has also shown him the importance of collaboration. Historians who work together will be able to help each other figure out how to write and present information to the public. Balogh also noted that historians should work with non-historians. He and his co-hosts Ed Ayers and Peter Onuf work closely with their producers who do not have history degrees. He values the producers’ input as it provides valuable insight on how the three historians can better present complicated history to the masses.
Amazingly, the six panelists presented all of that fantastic information in just about one hour. This left time for a Question and Answer period that brought out a few more useful ideas that historians should note when they write for the public. Here are some highlights:
Historians need to think about their readers. Authors need to know who their audience is. When historians understand their audience they will find it easier to write works that discuss complicated historical phenomena and provoke their readers to think. The process of writing will be easier too because the historian will understand how their audience wants to read about their historical findings, which often differs from the way a historian would like to tell the world about their research.
Mary Jo Binker, Editor with the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project offered a practical tip for historians who need to better understand their audience: Write with one reader in mind. She writes for her son. Whenever she wonders whether a fact or event should go into her writing, or when her explanation goes too long, she wonders whether her son would find her information interesting and read it. This also helps her stay concise.
Finally, historians need to realize that the “obvious” is not always obvious to their readers. Historians need to take the time to provide context for the people, places, and events they mention. Doing so will help their readers better understand and appreciate the history that they read.

Conference on Faith and History Session at the AHA: Reimagining the Practice of History

CFH Biennial Conference Call for Papers

I started Day 3 of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association with a breakfast reception sponsored by the Conference on Faith and History (CFH).  I have found the CFH to be an important part of my growth and development as a Christian and a historian, so it was good to see old friends and make some new ones.  I was so pleased to see a large number of graduate students in attendance at the breakfast.

Following the breakfast, I chaired the annual CFH-sponsored session.  This year’s title was “Reimagining the Practice of History.”  The panel included two presenters.  Glenn Sanders of Oklahoma Baptist University, a guru on the subject of teaching and faith, presented “Christian Practices and the Vocation of History Teaching.”  Glenn introduced us to his “Afternoon Conferences,” weekly seminars in which he challenges his Western Civilization students to think deeply about the connections between Christianity and the practice of historical thinking.

The second presenter was Robert Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton College.  Tracy’s paper was entitled “The Moral of the Story: Writing for Audiences Outside the Ivory Tower.”  In this paper he returned to some of the themes of his 2012 CFH presidential address on writing history for the church, and expanded more fully on these themes in the context of his new book The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History.

I also commented on the session.  Most of my thoughts centered around how the approaches to doing history put forth by Sanders and McKenzie reflect approaches to doing history that seem to be shaping the entire historical profession at the moment.  Drawing on William Cronon’s 2013 AHA presidential address, I suggested that the approach to the historian’s vocation presented in Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation fits very well with the attempt of the AHA and the historical profession as a whole to expand the traditional understanding of historical work to include public historians, digital historians, K-12 teachers, and others.  Sanders and McKenzie offered models for how these larger professional changes can (and in some cases cannot) be embraced by historians of faith.

I hope everyone who attended today’s session comes to Malibu in September for the Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  For more details click here.

American Society of Church History Session on Amanda Porterfield’s "Conceived in Doubt"

Jones, Bowman, and Altman at the Book Exhibit

I really wanted to attend this session, but I had a conflict. 

The American Society of Church History devoted an entire session today to Amanda Porterfield’s Conceived in Doubt:Religion and Politics in the New American Nation.  A panel of seasoned and younger scholars tackled Porterfield’s critique of the so-called “democratization” thesis–an interpretation of religion in the early republic most associated with Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity.

Over at Religion in American History, Michael Altman of the University of Alabama, who was one of the panelists, shared some of his opening thoughts.  Here is a taste of that post:

About a year ago I was having coffee with an American religious historian I greatly admire. We were discussing how we imagined ourselves, our work, and our audience. This historian looked at me at one point and said something to the effect of, “I wanted to show historians that religion is a powerful force. That it does stuff.” Religion does stuff. Isn’t this the theme of our subfield? I don’t walk the halls of a history department but I imagine this is what the religious historian says to their Marxist colleagues. I don’t walk the halls of divinity schools either, but I imagine it’s what church historians tell future church leaders. Religion is not epiphenomenal. It is not simply a mask for politics or capital. It does stuff.

For example, in their 2010 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, titled “Everywhere and Nowhere,” Paul Harvey and Kevin Schultz described the ways historians of American religions have “found the persistence, continuity, and adaptability of American religion an impressive, motivating, guiding, and ever shape-shifting specter,” (p.131).  Motivating. Guiding. Shape-shifting. So many verbals. Because religion does stuff, right? Religion guides, motivates, adapts, continues, persists, right?

Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe those moments of persistence, guidance, motivation, and continuity are actually the moments where religion itself gets constructed. Maybe it’s shape-shifting because it is constantly being rebuilt. But by who? And to what end? These were the questions driving my skepticism.

“Religion came to designate a diffuse realm, protected by the state, where people built communities, conceived relationships with God, and lamented the corruption of the state and of profane, mistrustful society,” Amanda Porterfield wrote (p.12). Here religion does nothing. People build, conceive, and lament and in that process they build a diffuse realm they call religion. And so, as she closes her introduction, Porterfield stoked my skepticism. Religion is not an agent, it is not a force, it is not a motivator. It is a realm, a category, a way of cordoning off this and not that. It is a product of distinctions and combinations.

In my reading, Porterfield’s most important contribution to American religious history is the shift from arguing that religion does stuff to an argument about how religion became a “diffuse realm” that Americans distinguished from the political and the profane. It is a shift from descriptivism to constructivism—a shift from looking for religion and seeing what it does to tracing out how Americans built this category they called religion.

If anyone who attended this session would like to write a summary post for The Way of Improvement Leads Home I would love to have one. 

On a related matter, I ran into Altman, Christopher Jones, and Matthew Bowman at the book exhibit following the session.  A picture of these Way of Improvement Leads Home readers was absolutely necessary.  (See above).  I was also asked to comment on Altman’s red pants.  Nice.

Liz Covart on "The Art of the Obituary"

I am so glad to have Liz Covart on our team for the 2014 AHA.  Liz’s blog Uncommonplace Book is must reading for independent historians or any historian who wants to develop a writing platform and speak to public audiences.  Yesterday Liz attended a session entitled “Historians, Journalists, and the Challenges of Getting It Right: The Art and Craft of the Obituary.”  Here is her report:

On Thursday January 2, 2014, I attended “Historians, Journalists, and the Challenges of Getting it Right: The Art and Craft of the Obituary.” Sponsored by the National History Center, this roundtable panel included Journalism professor Janice R. Hume (University of Georgia), Adam Bernstein, Editor at The Washington Post, New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, and panel chair, Martin H. Kaplan (University of Southern California). Kaplan posed questions to each panelist and allowed the other panelists to chime in with their thoughts afterwards.

The panel imparted fun and informative information about obituaries, their history, and the ethics involved in writing them.

Janet R. Hume provided historical information and contextualized the panelists’ discussion. Hume wrote the book on early obituaries. Obituaries in American Culture surveys more than 8,000 newspaper obituaries between 1818 and 1930.

According to Hume, obituaries in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America reported on the qualities that people admired about the deceased. They tended to be sentimental pieces written by editors who used familial accounts as source information. (Prior to the Civil War newspapers did not have reporters to conduct interviews with people who knew the deceased.) As a result of this source material and a strong Christian influence, early obituaries tended to be overly polite; they tried to fit people into categories that they did not fit into because they wanted to highlight the deceased’s moral goodness.

Hume also remarked on how early American obituaries discussed dying in metaphorical and poetic terms. People did not die. Instead, they were “scathed by the wing of the angel of death.”

Finally, Hume discussed the obituary as a historical source. Early obituaries reflect the cultural resonance of death stories with nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americans. Hume cautioned historians to be careful with how they use obituaries as obituary writers have a cultural filter that they impose on their writing. She also stated that online obituary message boards and comment threads offer scholars a new view on how our contemporaries participate in the bereavement process by interacting with obituaries.

Adam Bernstein discussed the logistics of being a modern-day obituary writer. First and foremost, obituaries are news stories. They impart the news that someone has died and function as an “accountability” story for the life and accomplishments of the deceased.

The Washington Post publishes approximately 2,000 obituaries a year and has about 400 advance obituaries on file. Newspapers keep obituaries on file for the President and other famous and important national and world leaders in case something happens. These advance copies give the obituary reporter a draft that they can quickly update, which in turn helps the writers keep their publications on top of the news cycle.

Bernstein also noted that modern-day newspapers are more egalitarian about who gets an obituary. Prior to the 1980s, a person who read obituaries may have thought that few women and African-Americans died. Newspapers often printed obituaries for white men, but rarely for women and African-Americans.

In contrast with The Washington Post, Adam Clymer noted that The New York Times does not print obituaries for local people and the NYT has approximately 1500 advance obituaries on file. Clymer also discussed the art of interviewing people for an advance obituary. Clymer calls the person and tells them that he is a reporter with The New York Times and that he would like to interview them about the story of their political career. Often his subjects do not realize who he is or what he is writing. Most assume that “it is about time” that The New York Times has called for their story. Some of his interviewees figure out his purpose, but most do not know that they are recording their thoughts and achievements for posterity.

The audience question and answer session started several interesting, brief discussions about the differences between American obituaries and their British counterparts, how obituary writers need to stick to the “public” facts of a person’s life while historians remain free to probe into the personal details of a deceased person’s life, and recognized that poets like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman wrote some of the most interesting early obituaries in verse.

Thanks, Liz.  Stay tuned for Liz’s next post on a session on writing history for public audiences.

"Why Study History" Makes a Few "Best of 2013" Lists

Ironically, I don’t think you can buy a copy of Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past at the book exhibit of the American Historical Association meeting this weekend.  (Baker Academic does not have a table/booth–if anyone sees a copy please let me know).  But I am happy to report that this primer on the study of history has found its way onto a few “best books of 2013” lists.

“Moore Engaging” (Dave Moore) chose Why Study History? as one of his “Favorite Books of 2013.”  This is quite an honor, since I know Moore is a prolific reader and bibliophile.  It is also good to be on the same list with Shakespeare, Andrew Delbanco, Tracy McKenzie, and Allen Guelzo.

Why Study History? was also chosen as a “Best Church History Book” by the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological SeminaryThis list includes Darryl Hart, Timothy George, Alister McGrath, and Tom Nettles (a former seminary professor of mine).  I am not familiar with the Fuller Center, but I do like Dustin Bruce’s review:

As one who came to love the study of history during a Master’s program, I regrettably missed the opportunity for a foundational study of the discipline of history that an undergraduate emphasis in the field would have provided. This small tragedy (in my own mind at least) has often left me wondering what basic elements I may be overlooking in my own approach to the study of the past. Enter John Fea and Why Study History? Fea’s work is my favorite historical read of 2013 simply because it helped me glean more from all the other historical books I read. With an engaging style, Fea lays out a foundation for a responsible, useful, and distinctly Christian study of history. While the book’s aim is undergraduate students of history, the book is a worthy read for anyone looking for an introduction (or refresher) to the formal study of history. If you missed it on your 2013 reading list, I encourage you to make room for it during 2014.

Thanks David and Dustin! 

Christine Kelly on "Doing History" Behind the Scenes on Day One of the AHA

Christine Kelly, a Ph.D student at Fordham University, reports on how she spent day one of the AHA annual meeting–JF
In graduate school I hear a lot about the “doing of history.”  As my seminar discussions never tire of reiterating, history is as much about the process of building content as it is about the content itself.  It’s about forwarding an argument about the past and then making careful methodological choices to support it, from source selection to preferred theoretical underpinnings.    
At day one of this year’s AHA Annual Meeting I became intimately acquainted with a very different approach to the “doing of history.”  Instead of making quiet decisions about academic work, shortly after I arrived at the conference center I was thrown into the administrative and organizational wheels of the meeting’s operation.  Having worked with the AHA in the past, I was delighted to see a slew of old friends among the meeting’s organizers.  My reunions with many of them were warm and wonderful but very brief – we had work to do!  
I spent the morning coaxing a finicky copy machine into desperately needed cooperation and delivering documents to various recipients (while getting lost countless times) around the Marriott hotel’s multistoried and maze-like layout.  Given that today was the first day of the meeting, many participants were getting their bearings around the hotel’s floors and corridors.  One of my main responsibilities was to memorize as much of its floor plan as possible to direct people to the registration area, ongoing sessions, break rooms, nearby hotels also participating in the meeting, etc., etc.  The upshot of this was spending quite a while jogging around the meeting in search of various locations, and memorizing information just moments before relaying it to countless newcomers.  Perhaps the most bewildering part of the day was when an exasperated worker setting up an event asked me to determine the appropriate arrangement of tables and chairs for it (needless to say I didn’t have a clue, but a few harried phone calls later the situation was resolved!).
While my official assignments today were at events like a morning workshop on digital history, the reality was a lot of fast-paced organizing, decision-making, and running laps, with little time as of yet to absorb session discussion.  But at every turn there were sources of excitement and delight.  Best of all was seeing so many dear friends again, including not only AHA staff but many professors and peers from all sorts of experiences through the years in college and graduate school.  And thankfully some of these friends were working the meeting, too, so in between learning and conveying information at a rapid-fire pace to new arrivals we were able to catch up on each other’s busy lives.
So today I encountered an equally valid but very different approach to the “doing of history.”  Sometimes it’s about using evidence and expressing ideas in meticulous detail.  And at other times it’s about administrative athleticism around the Annual Meeting.  In their own way, both sets of experiences know their rare and peculiar delights, and both benefit from a healthy sense of humor.

Why You Should Read the AHA Program Carefully

AHA Registration Room at Marriott Wardman

Day One of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association is off to a mixed start.  I drove down from Messiah College early in the hopes that I could  get settled in and perhaps catch a session before I had to go to work on a search committee.  It was an uneventful drive (despite snow warnings) and I even managed to get checked into my hotel room by 11:20. 

Then it was off to the “Making History Relevant” session that I blogged about yesterday.  I located the Maryland Ballroom on the lobby floor of the Marriott Wardman, but when I arrived I was the only one in the room.  That’s OK, I was about ten minutes early.  I found a nice spot to sit in the back where I could tweet without bothering anyone and then waited for people to show up.  No one came.  After waiting for about ten minutes I decided to check my program only to realize that the session was scheduled for tomorrow at 12:30.  Oh well.

The Marriott lobby is hopping right now.  The registration line is moving very quickly (see photo above).  It took me five minutes to register.

I had a nice surprise within the first ten minutes of my arrival.  As I was making my way from the parking garage to the hotel lobby I ran into my former student Christine Kelly.  Christine is working for the AHA this weekend and I know we can expect some informative posts from her in her role as one of our conference correspondents.  About five minutes later I ran into another former student, Alex Lovelace.  I am so glad to see Messiah History Department graduates–now professionals in the field–finding their way at the AHA.

More later…

Making History Relevant

Trying to make history relevant at Gettysburg 

ADDENDUM:  Actually this session is scheduled for Friday (tomorrow), so I will not be tweeting it (or attending).  Sorry for the confusion.

I am starting day one of the AHA by attending a session (I had to RSVP to attend, so I don’t know if it is still open to the public) called “A Continuing Conversation About Making History Relevant to All Americans.”  It is sponsored by the National Council on Public History.

I will be tweeting the session at @johnfea1 (feel free to follow me) and will, of course, be using the #aha2014 hashtag.  Follow along.  You can also expect a short summary of the session later today or tomorrow here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Here are the details:

National Council on Public History 
Friday, January 3, 2014: 12:30 PM-2:15 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Panel:
Max A. van Balgooy, Engaging Places, LLC
Cathy Gorn, National History Day
Tim Grove, National Air and Space Museum
Kim Fortney, National History Day 

Tweeting the AHA

The AHA will be a working conference for me this year.  As a result, I will probably only make it to about one or two sessions.  I don’t even know if I will have time to wander the book exhibit.  Perhaps Sunday morning. 

When I AM attending a session I hope to do some tweeting.  Follow along at @johnfea1 or at #aha2014.  

Rev. John Hugo and American Catholicism at the AHA/ACHA

Father John Hugo

What?  You have never heard of Rev. John Hugo?  If you are interested in the priest whom Dorothy Day credited for her “second conversion,” check out the session entitled “Rev. John Hugo and American Catholicism, 1911-1985.  It is session 16 of the meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association and it will be held on Friday, January 3rd from 2:30-4:30.

Here are all the details:

In 1980 David J. O’Brien described Dorothy Day as “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism.” This panel will explore the life and influence of the person whom Day credited for her “second conversion,” which she experienced after attending one of the famous silent retreats given by Fr. John Hugo, Catholic priest of Pittsburgh. Each panelist will take up a different aspect of Hugo’s work: pacifism during World War II, theological innovation and national influence, and pastoral leadership in suburban Pittsburgh in the 1950s and 1960s. 
Panel Participants
Assistant Professors Jack Downey (Religion-La Salle University, PA), Benjamin Peters (Religious Studies-University of St. Joseph, CT), and Charles Strauss (History-Mount St. Mary’s University, MD) will each present a paper on John Hugo. 
DavidJ. O’Brien, formerly the University Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of Dayton and Professor Emeritus of History at the College of the Holy Cross, will respond to the panelists’ papers. 
HowardJ. Gray, S.J., Special Assistant to the President at Georgetown University, will serve as chair of the panel. 
Paper Abstracts
Limits of Obedience: John Hugo and Resisting the Military State
Jack Downey, La Salle University (PA)
In a 1976 interview with Dorothy Day biographer William Miller, Fr. John Hugo offhandedly hypothesized that he may have been “the first American priest to defend conscientious objectors.”  Although this claim is flatly erroneous, John Hugo did contribute a significant clerical voice to the project of Catholic pacifism.  Particularly during the World War II period, which preceded Gaudium et Spes’ – albeit rather tepid – recognition of conscientious objection to military service as legitimate, Hugo was part of a miniscule faction within American Catholicism that resisted U.S. involvement in the Allied confrontation.  Hugo viewed his pacifism as an external expression of his internalization of radical Christianity – the Gospel of the Sermon on the Mount.  Although he served as her spiritual director for a time, Hugo credited Dorothy Day with converting him to pacifism, following their first encounter in 1940.  For Hugo, pacifism was a manifestation of the properly-formed interior life, in a world that could no longer “justify” war.  This paper will examine the development of John Hugo’s dissent regarding militarism and his “Gospel of Peace,” as well as locate him within the broader American and Christian pacifist traditions. 
Beyond “The Retreat”: The Significance of John Hugo for Mid-century American Catholicism
Benjamin Peters, University of Saint Joseph (CT)
When mentioned at all in American Catholic studies, John Hugo is almost always associated with Dorothy Day and the retreat she embraced in the 1940s. While his connection with the Lacouture retreat movement is certainly Hugo’s primary claim to fame, I would argue that he is significant beyond this association. For throughout the 1940s-50s, Hugo wrote a series of books, pamphlets, and articles in which he revealed a theological vision that had much in common with some of the major currents emerging in Catholic theology in the first half of the twentieth-century. Indeed, in my paper I will argue that in his theological perspective, his efforts at ressourcement to justify and defend the retreat, and his clear critique of the form of neo-Thomism that dominated Catholic thought at the time, Hugo shared striking similarities with prominent Catholic theologians in Europe who were working during this same period, particularly Henri de Lubac, S.J.—a connection made by Day herself in The Long Loneliness. That theologians like de Lubac would go on to profoundly shape Catholic theology in the second half of the century suggests that the radical Christianity put forth by Hugo—often marginalized by scholars—was not from the theological fringes, but rather was much closer to the center of the Christian tradition. And as he was one of the few Americans at the time articulating these kinds of theological arguments—albeit in a less sophisticated way than his European contemporaries—Hugo is significant for American Catholicism.   
John Hugo and Catholic Parish Life in Cold War Pittsburgh
Charles T. Strauss, Mount Saint Mary’s University (MD)
If John Hugo is known at all outside of his home of Pittsburgh it is because of “The Retreat” that he directed for Dorothy Day and other Catholic Workers, for his pacifism during World War II, or perhaps for the theological controversy that surrounded his writings and eventually got him temporarily silenced. However, Hugo worked on theology and spiritual retreats in his spare time: his day job was serving as a priest and pastor in the Diocese of Pittsburgh from 1942 to 1970. Hugo, who had tried street preaching in the 1930s, was no ordinary pastor. He prohibited bingo and all gambling fundraisers in his parishes and still managed to build a church and school in suburban Pittsburgh in the late 1950s. He scorned cigarettes when most of his congregation, not to mention the local bishop, smoked regularly. He achieved active lay participation in the liturgies at his parish four years before the opening of Vatican II; in 1970, then Bishop John Wright of Pittsburgh named him chair of the Worship Commission for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He supported the nascent charismatic movement and was a magnet for Catholics searching for a different kind of worship. For a priest who had once been accused of Manichaeism, Hugo was, by all accounts, an effective pastor and community builder. This paper will locate John Hugo in the historical context of Catholic parish life in Cold War era Pittsburgh and assess how suburbanization in one of America’s industrial powerhouses affected Hugo’s life and work. In so doing, it will also present a microhistory of Catholic conflict and reform in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Still Looking for AHA Correspondents for Washington D.C.

Once again, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from this year’s (January 2014) American Historical Association Meeting in Washington D.C.

I am looking for readers who are going to the conference and might be interested in serving as “correspondents.” I can’t pay anything, but I can promise the fame associated with your words and by-line appearing on this blog!

What am I looking for out of these reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. If at all possible I would like to get some stuff as the conference is going on, but general summaries would also work. Feel free to write as few or as many as you would like. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

As for your identity, we can go one of two ways. You can identify yourself and we can introduce you with a little bio about you and your work. Or you can remain anonymous and write under a pseudonym. The choice is up to you.

Check out some of the work of our previous correspondents: 

Erin Bartram
Mary Sanders
Wolfe’s Tone

Also check out Adam Parsons’s dispatches from the American Academy of Religion annual meeting

If interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu  


I will be in Washington for the conference and hope to set up a time when I can treat all of our correspondents to a good cup of coffee.

AHA 2014 Correspondents Wanted for The Way of Improvement Leads Home

Once again, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from this year’s (January 2014) American Historical Association Meeting in Washington D.C.

I am looking for readers who are going to the conference and might be interested in serving as “correspondents.” I can’t pay anything, but I can promise the fame associated with your words and by-line appearing on this blog! 

What am I looking for out of these reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. If at all possible I would like to get some stuff as the conference is going on, but general summaries would also work. Feel free to write as few or as many as you would like. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

As for your identity, we can go one of two ways. You can identify yourself and we can introduce you with a little bio about you and your work. Or you can remain anonymous and write under a pseudonym. The choice is up to you.


Check out some of the work of our previous correspondents: 

Erin Bartram
Mary Sanders
Wolfe’s Tone

If interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu