Mandy McMichael Checks In With Some American Religious History from ASCH 2015

Glad to have Mandy’s second post.  Stay tuned.  I think there is more to come from her before the conference ends. (I hope so)—JF

Saturday was my longest day of conference events.
It began bright and early with the Women in Theology and Church History Breakfast. I consider it quite a feat that I attended this 7:00 a.m. function as I am not a morning person. That said, I always enjoy connecting (or reconnecting) with other women scholars at this event. This morning’s breakfast was no different. I met several graduate students who are working on evangelicals in America and introduced myself to Ann Braude (Harvard Divinity School). Braude’s work has influenced mine in a multitude of ways and I was glad for the opportunity to thank her.
I dropped into my first AHA session of the weekend at 10:30. “AHA 95: Digital Pedagogy for History: Lightning Round” reminded me how much I love lightning rounds. I vote for more of them at conferences. It’s fantastic to pack as many ideas as possible into a session. Patrick Jones talked about The History Harvest, Steve Anderson discussed the advantages of using Google hangouts to interact with students, and Erin Bartram proposed a collaborative project to crowd source lesson plans for using primary sources. I employ primary sources in most of my classes and I’m in need of fresh ideas, so this concept was a personal favorite. I also appreciated the focus on getting students involved in local history projects by Jason Heppler and Anne Mitchell Whisnant. This is the kind of short term research and presentation that seems perfect for most undergraduates. In short, I gleaned several possibilities for future use in the classroom. As someone with a 4/4 teaching load, I am always looking for new ways to engage my students. This panel (at least the part for which I was able to stay) accomplished that.
I rushed from the lightning round to the luncheon for Grant Wacker and from there to the panel in his honor. I’m writing a reflection of both, but I’m folding them into a larger post that I hope to finish Monday.

This morning I dropped by the roundtable discussion of Kate Bowler’s book, Blessed, hosted by the Conference on Faith and History. I did not make it for the first two papers, but heard most of the third (John Turner’s paper read by Brantley Gasaway), Kate Bowler’s response, and the discussion. It included a bit of friendly banter about what it means to take one’s subjects seriously and how much a historian must disclose about her beliefs and practices. For example, how does one’s own experience of Christianity (or lack thereof) affect her interpretation of the group she is studying? When pressed about her lack of criticism of the prosperity movement, Bowler appealed both to her training by Wacker that subjects should recognize themselves in her writing and her own goals for her work as a historian. Bowler’s second project on the wives of megachurch pastors will continue this trend. My favorite comment of the session was Bowler’s: “I found a new group that no one else takes seriously.” It was a very lively, civil discussion that suggested Bowler’s work opened the door for much further inquiry.

It has been a great weekend, but I admit that I’m exhausted from the early mornings and late nights. I hope to make it to ASCH 29: “Journeying into Evangelicalism:Twenty-Five Years of Traveling with Randall Balmer’s Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” on Monday morning, but it may require lots of coffee to make it there on time.

Michael Limberg on Day 3 at the AHA

Thanks to Michael Limberg for his posts this weekend.  Here is his latest.  It’s a good one–JF

Today (Sunday) has been an 8-plus hour blur of back-to-back panels and conversations.  I’m exhausted and my mind is spinning.  I have a lot of notes to review- I was writing down ideas and books and people to contact in the margins of my notebook all day long.  My forays into the warren of the book exhibit have also resulted in a staggering list of books I should read (just in case it wasn’t long enough already).
I started the day by finding myself sitting next to Mark Noll and John Wigger at breakfast.  I had to desperately hope the coffee kicked in quickly enough to have a good conversation with them and the other Conference on Faith andHistory breakfast attendees!  Typically I have at least two cups of coffee in the morning before trying to interact with adults (which is good for everyone involved). Lesson learned: go to Starbucks first even if there will be coffee at the breakfast.  I enjoyed meeting a few new scholars and reconnecting with a couple of others despite my caffeine-deprived state. 
From there I went down the hall to the roundtable on Kate Bowler’s recent book Blessed:A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  We had to liberate a few extra chairs from an empty room down the hall to fit all the attendees, and it was a lively crowd.  Jay Green and Randall Stephens contributed their comments.  Brantley Gasaway read the comments from John Turner, who had to leave for a family emergency.  Many of their comments centered on Bowler’s decision to focus beyond the typical story of televangelists and scandals to examine the Prosperity Gospel’s historical roots and its lived experiences for many believers.  Bowler’s evenhanded presentation prompted John Turner to claim that “This is surely the least-snarky history of the prosperity gospel ever written by an outsider.”  Bowler’s approach prompted a discussion among all the attendees of “methodological agnosticism” and the ways historians can and should critique or push their subjects.  Bowler conducted parts of her research through observation of Prosperity Gospel revivals and church services; she advises other observers to avoid sitting in a back corner for this, as she was hit in the head several times by enthusiastically-swung flags. She described how her work had been influenced by ethnography as well as by the admonition to “take religion seriously”.  Blessed is now on my (long) list of books to read.
I also attended a panel titled “Contesting the Meaning of ‘International’Governance: Minorities and the League of Nations” because of the connections of a couple of the papers with my dissertation.  There are a number of young scholars in both the United States and Europe producing new work on the League of Nations, humanitarian aid, and international movements during World War I and the 1920s and 1930s, so I enjoyed meeting a couple of people who attended and presented.  I now have some ideas that might lead to some new intellectual crises and major changes to my dissertation, but that’s the risk and the benefit of attending a conference. 
Finally, I went to a panel co-sponsored by the AHA and the American Society for Church History on American Evangelicals Looking Abroad.  I arrived a couple of minutes late and ended up having to sit on the floor along one of the walls due to the crowd.  This was another of the panels organized to honor Grant Wacker, so all of the presenters were his former students from Duke and the University of North Carolina. 
Matthew Sutton’s paper, “The Global Apocalypses of Billy Graham,” showed how Graham’s premillennial vision of an immanent apocalypse remained part of his ministry from the 1950s to the present.  Apocalyptic rhetoric added a sense of urgency to Graham’s ministry and evangelical revivalism more broadly.  Connecting to foreign policy, Sutton noted that many evangelicals have tended to be very interested and cognizant of world crises and current politics because of their drive to understand these events in light of the end times.
David King’s paper, “Seeking to Save the World: American Evangelicals and Population Control” pointed out that, before the 1980s, American evangelicals largely supported the use and distribution of birth control in the developing world.  At one point, evangelical leaders even endorsed Planned Parenthood for its ability to promote family values in planned, happy families.  Global evangelical ministries such as World Vision began actively working with USAID to run family planning programs.  By the 1970s and 1980s, however, pushback from Christians in the global South at the 1973 Lausanne Conference and other forums (as well as the burgeoning culture wars) had begun to make American evangelicals back off from their support for population control.
Brantley Gasaway argued that progressive evangelicals have sought to influence foreign policy by showing that American Christians could support Palestinians and reject Christian Zionism.  Progressive evangelicals such as Jim Wallace and Ron Sider applied their calls for social justice and an end to inequality to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  They crafted theological arguments to counter dispensationalism and waged a public relations campaign to reach the religious public and policymakers alike. 
Finally, Sarah Ruble used Christianity Today’s coverage of Iraqi Christians to explore how American evangelicals identified with a global Christianity and construct critiques of U.S. foreign policy.  She noted that the magazine’s correspondents and editors tended to evaluate the efficacy of U.S. foreign policy by how it affected the rights and freedoms of global Christians.  During the Iraq War, articles celebrated the new freedoms Iraqi Christians (particularly Iraqi evangelical Protestants) enjoyed.  The same articles also tempered their support for the US war effort by pointing out the new risks and fears Iraqi Christians faced as a result of the invasion.
This panel showed me that just as foreign relations scholars are increasingly following Andrew Preston and William Inboden in thinking about religion in foreign policy, religious scholars are increasingly thinking of how foreign policy fits in the study of religion.  This panel would fit well at a conference of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and I hope these scholars would consider doing that and furthering this dialogue.  I and many who offered comments today were struck by how all the papers in this session, as well as Kate Bowler’s book, grappled with how American expressions of Christianity might be truly “exceptional” and how it is global.  That’s a question I’m struggling with as well as I write my dissertation, so I hope to hear and take part in more of those discussions in the future. 
Now I’m safely back home, still with a full stomach after indulging my not-so-secret addiction to falafel at the Middle Eastern food truck across the street from the hotel.  I also discovered an intersection with Starbucks locations on two of its four corners, which might just prove Billy Graham’s point that that apocalypse is nigh. But at least I had no trouble caffeinating up for the train ride.  My time at the AHA has been short but full.  Thanks to John Fea for giving the chance to share some of it!

Being A Public Intellectual: Historians and the Public

Julian Zelizer, Princeton University

On Saturday afternoon I attended a session at AHA 2015 entitled “Being a Public Intellectual: Historians and the Public.”  There were some high-powered historians on this panel, including Peniel Joseph, Claire Potter, Julian Zelizer, Eric Foner, and Michael Kazin.  The place was packed–standing room only.

I live tweeted the session @johnfea1 and Storified the session here.

I thoroughly enjoyed this session–even found it inspiring.

In the end, the members of the panel seemed to have differing views on what the role and responsibilities of a “public intellectual.”  Peniel Joseph and Claire Potter were clearly historian-activists.  Zelizer called himself more of a “commentator” than an “activist.” (Joseph insisted that we can do both–comment and act). Foner approached his role as a public intellectual from a more traditional historical perspective. He believed that good scholarship could lead to social change.  Kazin seemed to be somewhere between Joseph/Potter and Foner.

Check out the tweets for more.

Michael Limberg on Historians and War at the 2015 AHA

Michael Limberg checks back in.  Here is what he was up to on Saturday afternoon at the 2015 AHA–JF
The panel I attended this afternoon was likely the most emotionally intense and fraught panel I can remember witnessing.  This is perhaps understandable, as this was the session sponsored by MARHO (The Radical Historians’ Organization) and Historians Against War (HAW) titled “What is the Responsibility of Historians Regarding the Palestine/Israel Conflict?”  It was a packed room; most of the attendees seemed to be affiliated with HAW but there were a scattering of unaffiliated others like myself.  HAW has introduced several resolutions for tomorrow’s AHA business meeting that would criticize the state of Israel for suppressing the academic freedom of Palestinian intellectuals.  They hope to get these resolutions approved for general discussion and a vote by all AHA members.  
The presenters (Leena Dallasheh, Linda Gordon, Joel Beinin, and Barbara Weinstein) introduced several different positions on both why and how a professional organization such as the AHA or historians individually should take a moral and political stance on these issues.  Several other academic organizations, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) and Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) have recently attempted to discuss similar resolutions or even debated the possibility of a “cultural boycott” of Israel as part of a Boycott, Divest, andSanction movement.
Their discussions have generated substantial contention and criticism both from within their organizations and in the wider media.  The session today also rankled a number of attendees.  Some who disagreed with the premise that Israel deserves to be criticized and others disagreed that historians in general (particularly non-Middle East specialists) had any special or professional obligation to act.  Tempers flared a little in the audience comments period, though everyone managed to keep it civil. 
While this particular debate might not be on the radar for many readers of this blog, I was fascinated to see the range of opinions expressed at this session about the role of historians as public intellectuals, informed citizens, and teachers.  Like some others at this session, I am hesitant to say an academic organization dedicated to such a wide umbrella of scholarly exchange and professional development is the best place to mount a political critique.  On the other hand, I am also committed to teaching my students that their historical skills (gathering and analyzing evidence, contextualizing, challenging accepted wisdom) can be used to understand and shape their actions for the political and ethical challenges they face today. 
I  also thought of discussions over the last few years in the Conference on Faith and History, of which I am also a member, on the relationships and responsibilities of scholars to their churches and the religious public.  I left the session today with even more questions about professional responsibility than I had when I entered, but it was a very valuable experience.  I’m curious to hear what comes of the measures proposed at the business meeting.
Otherwise, my conference swag count to date includes: three free books, two free pens, innumerable handouts and lists of available publications, several bookmarks, and a goodly supply of crackers and cheese (which totally counts as swag if you’re a grad student trained to seek out free food at any opportunity).  I also took the chance to wander a little in the rain tonight to see a bit of New York City.  My current home in rural Connecticut is just down the road from cornfields and cows, so taking in Times Square and the hustle and bustle of a weekend evening in Manhattan was a good adventure.  
On Sunday I’m looking forward to the Conference on Faith and History breakfast and a couple of religious history panels, one on Kate Bowler’s work on the Prosperity Gospel and another in the afternoon on American Evangelicals Abroad.

Erin Bartram’s Busy Day at AHA 2015

Erin Bartram is back.  As some of you read this, Erin will be presenting at American Society of Church History session “American Religion Online: How Digital Projects Can Change How We Teach, Research, and Interpret Religious History.”  I am looking forward to chairing and commenting. Here is her latest AHA post.  I can’t believe she got a lanyard! –JF
My day began not-so-bright but definitely early at the Women in Theology and Church History breakfast. It was such a treat, but also such a shame that it was so short and I didn’t get to meet many of the people whose projects were so interesting to me.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with some of the graduate students from the breakfast at the ASCH reception in the evening. Perhaps the most important development at the breakfast – I got a lanyard from ASCH Executive Secretary Keith Francis!
My first panel of the day was “Doing More with Less:The Promise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital HistoryAge.” Kathy Nasstrom talked about the Oral History Review’s foray into short-form articles which you can read more about here. She said most of the submissions so far had come from traditional university-based scholars but that she hoped to see more from alternative kinds of scholars. Ben Railton spoke about blogging, tweeting, and writing pieces for websites like Talking Points Memo. One of his main points, echoed by the others on the panel, was that blogging is very generative, but that there’s no built in audience (except your parents) so you have to find a way to connect to your desired audience. Stephanie Westcott spoke about the overabundance of knowledge being created by scholars in an online form, and offered two ways to help us manage that deluge. The PressForward plugin helps scholars stay up to date on a given topic by aggregating blog posts of interest, and Digital Humanities Now curates and promotes new and interesting DH projects.
Finally, Kristin Purdy of Palgrave Macmillan talked about the Pivot series, which publishes works longer than an article but shorter than a monograph. Of the many benefits to this series, most interesting to me was something all of the panelists extolled as a virtue of short-form scholarship: the relative speed with which material can get to its audience and make an impact. Purdy said that while monographs spend months in the editorial process, Pivot books can make it to press in nine weeks. She cited the example of Peter Conn’s book Adoption: A Social and Cultural Historywhich was cited one month after its publication in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 case. The potential of all of these new forms was palpable in the discussion, but the comments did return several times to that perpetual question whenever innovation in form is considered: “How will this count towards tenure?”
On I went to the Digital Pedagogy Lightning Round, where nearly two dozen of us took two minutes each to pitch or explain a way to use digital methods in teaching. The ideas came fast and furious and I gave up taking notes, but I urge you to read the #s95 hashtag to see all of the amazing things presented. The main thing that struck me, however, was that all of this technology was being used to help teachers help their students as people, not just learners, whether by empowering students to create history in new and interesting ways or helping professors streamline assessment to leave them with more time to focus on the meaningful connections that can drive learning and keep students engaged and enrolled. I pitched my own project, and hopefully after a few conversations tomorrow, I’ll have something to share in my next update. One major benefit to a DH session like this? You pick up a dozen newTwitter followers in a couple of hours!
I had planned on choosing from one of several panels in the afternoon but when it came down to it, coming back to my hotel room and resting my brain a little bit won out. Thankfully, with John tweeting the public intellectuals panel, I felt like I didn’t miss a thing. Feeling a bit more refreshed a few hours later, I wandered over to the book exhibit, made a list of a million books I want to read, and tried to avoid the throngs of scholars clutching their complimentary wine and cheese. I didn’t buy anything, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold out tomorrow.
Tonight, all that’s left is to pack up and prepare for my presentation tomorrow morning: “The American Converts Database: TheDatabase as an Expression of Scholarship on Religious History.” For anyone who might be coming to the panel tomorrow morning on American religion online, feel free to take a look at the database beforehand. (

Christine Kelly at AHA 2015: Intergenerational Collaboration as Historical Practice

Christine Kelly returns to The Way of Improvement Leads Home this conference after writing for us last year in Washington. She is a Ph.D student in modern U.S. history at Fordham University and I am very proud to say that she is a former student of mine.–JF
After a relatively quiet first day at the 2015 AHA AnnualMeeting, consisting primarily of training to help staff the event, I hit the ground running on day two. I was briefly exposed to the Meeting’s rising pulse yesterday afternoon as I watched the number of historians in the Hilton Midtown and Times Square Sheraton hotels incrementally proliferate, but was not fully immersed in the action until I revisited the conference centers this morning and found myself carefully weaving my way in and out of lobbies and corridors swarming with recent arrivals and alive with their energy. 
One observation which I’m frequently struck by at the Annual Meeting is the rareness of this immense gathering of historians from around the country and the world. It provides an opportunity like few others for historians from all walks of their careers, from highly regarded academic elites to early career scholars, to spend time in close social and spatial proximity to one another. I noticed so many of them mingling, helping one another navigate the hotels, and collaborating in panel discussions. When I think of how the field usually progresses – through a cross-generational scholarly dialogue so often staged in print rather than in person, and easily spanning several decades – the real-time and personal nature of the Meeting’s gatherings is both refreshing and exhilarating.
It’s only fitting, then, that for a Meeting which invites so much close interaction among the discipline’s otherwise scattered professionals – geographically and generationally alike – that several sessions should be devoted to reassessing the contributions of some its most essential (or “canonical,” as I heard many times today) thinkers. Since theoretical interventions have done so much to compliment the discipline’s empiricism in the last three to four decades, I’m thinking particularly of the many “Reassessing Classic Theory” sessions held this year calling for critical reappraisals among scholars old and new of Marxism, psychoanalysis, poststructuralism, and Foucauldian philosophy. AHA President Jan Goldstein specially advertised these panels in a morning email, attesting to their significance at this particular moment in the profession.
I was happy to attend a high powered morning panel which participated in this spirit of intergenerational collaboration among historians at different stages of their careers and which set out to rethink a variety of capstone theoretical frameworks. Entitled “Historical Analysis after the ‘History Wars:’Gender, Race, Subjectivity,” 2008 AHA President Gabrielle Spiegel chaired the session which featured papers by Anna Krylova, Bruce Hall, and Andrew Zimmerman, with comments by Sarah Maza and Judith Walkowitz. Each speaker addressed the features of theoretical formations among now well-developed conceptual categories – gender, race, and subjectivity – and offered new methods for scholars to extend each of their current analytical possibilities.
Krylova’s paper positioned itself in conversation with Joan Scott’s classic 1986 essay “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis” in hopes to broaden, in Krylova’s words, “our analytical expectations of gender.” As a figment of ideology and discourse, historians of gender hope to demonstrate its culturally constructed existence as a way of dismantling the exclusive and hierarchical connotations of gender when regarded among historical actors as not imagined but real. Gender, according to Krylova, is often limited in definition as simply a binary discourse of heterosexual difference. So in order to think beyond gender, Krylova, like Scott, regrets having first to resurrect this limited category in definition and concept. To resolve this, she proposed an approach to gender analysis which incorporates both non-binary and non-heterosexual subject positions.
Hall’s paper applied interventions in critical race theory, rooted in the American academy, to pre-modern and non-Western contexts. Hall acknowledged that the intellectual lineages which combined to form race theory originated with modern Western ideas that emerged from trends in anthropology and continental philosophy. Not only were these ideas responding to contexts in the modern West, but they are difficult to translate into non-Western vocabularies and broader systems of meaning. Moreover, a slew of critical race theorists in the United States, drawing from the issues of the 1960s civil rights movement, rendered race as little more than a black/white binary divide, regardless of the historical field they worked in and whether such a formulation truly applied. Hall, who offered examples of racial formations from the early modern Iberian peninsula, together with Brazil, Africa, and India, suggested that racism must be understood as a strategic discourse used to dominate, exclude, and oppress in different ways at different moments, reinserting historical contingency into this broadly applicable analytic category.
Andrew Zimmerman’s paper offered a reception history of Michel Foucault and his writings on the modern subject, describing how his works, including the History of Sexuality, Vol. I, were interpreted first in the 1980s by a group of scholars at Berkeley University in California and later in the 2000s by Italian autonomous Marxists like Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri. Zimmerman read Foucault through separate “spatial dislocations” to point out how Foucault, especially in the Berkeley setting, was understood as a scholar of the liberal individual subject more than one of biopolitics in the late Cold War era. Zimmerman, too, inserts a kind of historical contingency into interpretations of Foucault’s epistemological frameworks. He emphasizes that ultimately, “there is no one Foucault,” but rather many appropriations of his ideas to fit the needs and fashions of particular contexts.
This morning’s panel featured intense intellectual collaboration among a constellation of historians interested in pushing theoretical possibilities forward into more thoughtful and innovative directions. Their spirited discussion which played with several bedrock formulations speaks to the heart of this yearly gathering’s purpose: to cooperatively think and rethink about several of the discipline’s most long accepted trends to compliment them with new and risky critical moves. Witnessing them make these moves together, combining their separate experience, influence, and training toward a common cause, was awe-inspiring.

Michael Limberg On His First Day At AHA 2015

Michael Limberg is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut who is writing a dissertation on how U.S. philanthropists, missionaries, and diplomats worked to change and modernize a changing Near East in the decades following World War I.  We are thrilled to have him writing for The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  Here is his first dispatch, written earlier today.–JF
I’m currently ensconced on a Metronorth train traveling from New Haven to Grand Central Station.  From there it will be a brief brisk walk to the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan to register and attend my first panel.  As someone who usually drives to conferences and archives, I’m enjoying the chance to work while traveling. 

This is my second AHA; I presented a paper at AHA 2013 in New Orleans, but I’m not presenting anything this time around.  This will be a short trip, only two days out of the conference’s four-day run.  I’m attending this year to network, hear some papers of interest, get a glimpse into the job interview process, and possibly score a deal or two at the book exhibit.  I’m much more familiar with the annual conference for the Society of Historians for American Foreign Relations, my primary sub-field, so I look forward to the chance to hear some papers on religious history and global history.  No obvious spotting of other conference-bound historians on an early-morning train so far.
After getting slightly lost wandering through Manhattan, I found the hotel and raced through registration with barely enough time to make my 10:30 panel.  (No lanyards in sight) 

The panel (AHA 106, History, Economics, and the Wide-Ranging Impacts of the 1973 Oil Shock on U.S. Foreign Relations) was well-attended.  It was co-sponsored by the Historians of American Foreign Relations, my usual crowd.  The three papers had disparate foci on corporations, the rhetoric and structure of the international economic order, and traditional state-to-state economic and military aid.  As pointed out by the commentator, Amy Offner, they all shared a common purpose in challenging the popular and political narrative of the 1973 oil embargo as a crisis or challenge to U.S. power abroad.
BetsyBeasley’s paper argued that large “oil services” companies, including Halliburton, actually found the oil crisis a beneficial opportunity to increase profits and diversify by moving away from direct investments.  These companies actually posted record profits in 1973 and 1974.  They marketed their expertise and know-how to global producers, accelerating a shift in the work of U.S. oil companies begun in the 1950s and 1960s.  Beasley’s paper was the most interesting for me, raising questions about the gendered language of expertise and the marketing of free market and service economics. 

ChristopherDeitrich’s paper examined competing visions for the international economy put forward by global south/OPEC nations and by the United States at a 1974 United Nations special session.  He argued that Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State tried to counter proposals for a New International Economic Order focused on justice and equality for disenfranchised nations by framing free market capitalism as “common sense” economics.  Kissinger’s model used a similar-sounding rhetoric of equality but in fact sought to limit economic policy choices for developing or postcolonial nations.  I’m intrigued by the possibility of examining these competing economic and rhetorical models the next time I teach a US Foreign Relations course, since I had trouble this semester getting my students to historicize the neoliberal free market economic model that has been prevalent in policy during the last several decades.

David Wight focused on US aid policies toward Egypt in the wake of both the oil crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  He argued that the Treasury and State Department’s programs to send military and economic aid to Egypt failed in their short-term goals for economic and political liberalization.  Despite this failure, however, attempts to encourage corporate investments and military equipment sales in conjunction with Arab petrodollars contributed to the strengthening of US-Egyptian diplomatic ties during the late 1970s. 

As one of the presenters stated, these papers show examples of economics as “politics by other means”, highlighting the fuzzy lines between the two in many circumstances.  The papers showed some of the strengths of new work on political economy being done in foreign relations scholarship, particularly in incorporating elements of image analysis, pop culture sources, or gendered analysis.

From here I’m off to a contentious-looking panel titled “What is the Responsibilityof Historians Regarding the Palestine/Israel Conflict?” and a quick tour of the book exhibits, but I hope to check in again later tonight!

Christian James: On the Archive Beat on Day One of AHA 2015

National Archives Building
I am happy to have Christian James with us this weekend.  Christian is a digital historian and archivist currently working on an MLS degree.  He will be covering some of the sessions related to his field of expertise.  Welcome aboard, Christian!  –JF
I had to take the opportunity to attend this year’s AHA annual conference. Last year’s conference was in my backyard, Washington, D.C., yet I had to cancel my attendance plans for business reasons. And as I pursue my Master of Library Science (MLS) degree, this will be my last year to qualify for a student rate. Even better, this year‘s theme, “History and the Other Disciplines,” promises to tie history to the concerns of libraries, archives, and beyond. But how well will this interdisciplinary focus play out? As one of my MLS classmates observed, the choice of the word “other” might have a distancing effect. Fortunately, my first panel event saw this dynamic play out favorably.
I started out Friday’s conference proceedings precisely at AHA Session #1: “Are We Losing History? Capturing Archival Records for a New Era of Research.” Kicking off the conference with Session #1 titled, “Are We Losing History?” sounds like an audacious way to begin, but the session name was surely a rhetorical question. In fact, the panel presented and sought strategies to continue leveraging historical research to help archives acquire and retain records.
The 1pm panel began to a room at least two-thirds-full – crowded, perhaps, since registration opened at noon and the line for pre-registered attendees seemed to extend the length of a football field. Panel chair Megan Phillips of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) explained that the panel had come about through a conversation between her and AHA to foster dialogue about trends in historical research and what NARA can provide strong service and access to historians. What came about – perhaps differently from the initial vision but equally as useful – was a conversation about how both public and private relationships with government can facilitate access to records both nationally and internationally.
NARA Chief Records Officer Paul Wester* began the panel with an overview of his organization’s duty to transfer records from individual government agencies to the National Archives. Wester began by discussing NARA’s duty to help determine records of lasting value and its records scheduling function. Wester also discussed NARA’s new Capstone system, which allows agencies to more easily identify records of top officials to transfer to the Archives. The talk concluded with discussion of the needs for balance between keeping few versus many records, and for seeking input from scholars to help determine that balance. These needs are most striking in his example of public concernamid the Central Intelligence Agency’s bid to implement a Capstone policy to its own records.
The next speaker, Robert E. Lee, of East View Information Services, Inc. discussed his company’s work coordinating the publication of records and special collections from foreign nations, most notably Joseph Stalin’s personal library. This type of work requires careful negotiation and rights management, but also demonstrates the opportunities available for the private sector to open access to records. Historian Derek Peterson followed Lee with a fascinating analysis of changing archival practices in Uganda, from the cover-ups of the British colonial government to the neglect (but relatively open access) of the administration of President Yoweri Museveni, who considers history to be a “distraction.” Now, thanks to Ugandan and U.S. universities and libraries, previously censored or neglected records are preserved and digitized.
The final speaker, Matthew Connelly, brought the conversation full circle with a review of problems facing the National Archives. To Connelly, NARA faces a crisis because of low morale, low funding, other agencies’ abuse of national security classification designations, and a deluge of incoming electronic records. Connelly wondered if NARA could actually acquire more government records than it already does if it pursues more technological innovation. But nothing, Connelly insists, is more important than proper funding for the agency, which lacks the resources to best execute its mandates.
The panel broached a huge number of topics but unfortunately couldn’t pursue them all fully. (I also wondered if the panel could have discussed personal digital archiving or the role of public-private partnerships.) But the four speakers each contributed to a great panel to show how historians and the public and private spheres can unite to help archivists – definitely a strong start to “History and the Other Disciplines.”

Mandy McMichael Reports from the Meeting of the American Society of Church History

I am pleased to welcome Mandy McMichael to The Way of Improvement Leads Home family.  Mandy is Assistant Professor of Religion at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama and a former Grant Wacker student at Duke Divinity School.  She is working on a project, stemming from her Duke dissertation, on religion, the Miss America Pageant, and southern womanhood.  How cool is that?  And to top it all off, she even found a lanyard! I hope you enjoy her first post.  –JF

ASCH Session #5: “Doing History
Today I experienced a first: a standing room only crowd in an American Society of Church History (ASCH) session. I’ve attended full sessions before, but this one had an overflow of more than twenty people who got left in the hallway. Just as Jennifer Graber (presenting on behalf of David Steinmetz) noted that individuals in the midst of a historical event cannot know how it will turn out, Randall Balmer stopped her. Laughter erupted from the audience as we were informed that a bigger room was to be procured.
Finally settled into a larger – though still filled to capacity space – Jennifer Graber (University of Texas at Austin) began again. Steinmetz’s work challenged listeners to strive to accept historical events on their own terms. He offered several examples of what that might look like. To more fully understand the world which Luther inhabited, for instance, one should know Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Only when one immerses herself as completely as possible into the world she is studying can she begin to accept it and explain it on its own terms. This is, of course, not fully possible. Steinmetz thus surmises that translating past events as clearly as we can while being both sympathetic and honest is what constitutes “doing history.”
Catherine Brekus’s paper, “Who Makes History?: American Religious Historians and the Problem of Historical Agency,” was the most helpful to me. All three papers were fantastic, but hers hit on several issues that helped me understand my approach to “doing history.” As Erin already noted, “Brekus explored the possibilities and problems of individual agency, criticized by theorists who would argue that there is no self, only subjectivity, on the one hand, and proponents of ‘big history’ and ‘deep history,’ particularly Guldi and Armitage, for whom the extreme longue durée is the only appropriate way to study history and give it an impact in our contemporary world.” Brekus also argued for “microhistory” as the first step toward expanding the broad narrative, asking larger questions, and exploring the agency of marginalized groups. She closed by noting that Grant Wacker’s work provides a model for conceptualizing agency (as relational and not just individual), writing short term history, and proffering grand narratives.
David Hall’s paper explored his assumptions in two stories he’s found useful in his work on the Puritans: Elizabeth Knapp and Anne Hutchison. He pushed us to consider how we interrogate the stories we use to tell history. How do we determine their authenticity? Do we consider the multiple revisions they must have gone through before they got to us? Who else is mediating the story and is that important to recognize? In other words, he asked us to approach narratives and testimonies and our use of them with “self-critical scrutiny.” He concluded by noting his desire to continue using stories to tell history. Still, we must do so, he cautioned, aware of the “thin ice on which we skate.”
Peter Kaufman’s response elicited much laughter from the audience as he remarked, “Who makes history? We make history.” He interacted skillfully with the panelists’ ideas, using a poem by Robert Frost titled “Mending Wall” as a description of what it looks like to do historiography. We historians are that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…” If historians are those who “make facts meaningful,” he concluded, “Grant, you give me a paradigm.”
Today I’ll be attending the luncheon in honor of Grant Wacker as well the panelcelebrating his contributions to American Religious History, “Believing History.” I’ve heard (hilarious) snippets from Kate Bowler’s paper already so I know that the session will be just as brilliant as today’s panel.

P.S. I scored a lanyard. I’ll keep an eye out for more.

Erin Bartram on the First Day of the 2015 AHA

I am once again happy to have Erin Bartram, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Connecticut, blogging at The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  You can read her bio and access a link to her posts at AHA 2013 here. –JF
For my third trip to the AHA, I’ve found myself drawn to panels on pedagogy and methodology rather than those on historical topics relevant to my research. To that end, my first panel of the day (after finally registering only to find out they’d run out of lanyards!) was Session 3, “Teaching Students Chronology: Strategies to Help Students Develop Chronological Framework.” This panel, sponsored by the College Board, featured three high school teachers presenting on various aspects of chronological thinking: causation, continuity & change, and periodization. Honestly, I was a bit wary of the session, as I’m not convinced AP courses always accomplish what they set out to do, and I often find they indicate the social background of my students more than they indicate their mastery of historical thinking skills. The three panelists, however, were really engaged in thinking about pedagogy, and overall, it gave me some good ideas to think about for the coming semester.
I particularly enjoyed the first speaker, Patricia McGloine, who teaches in Virginia Beach. She took us through how she helps her students understand the complexities of causation, beginning with assigning them to each select the most telling word, phrase, and sentence from their nightly reading. The students then use these selections to identify short- and long-term causal factors for the topic in question, which for today’s purposes was World War I. McGloine supplements these choices with her own, and then distributes all of the short-term causes among the students, which she did with us today.  Around the room she had posted signs for the “main” causes of the war – militarism, alliance system, imperialism, and nationalism – and had us do what she has her students do: walk with our short-term cause and stand with the long term cause we thought it was most connected to, something more challenging that it first seemed. She then asked us to go stand by the long-term issue we believed was the most fundamental cause for the war and make an argument for it with the rest of the participants assembled there. While my classrooms rarely have the space for anyone (including me) to move around, I found the concept of this exercise tempting. I am often frustrated when my students cannot make connections beyond short-term causes, and I think I’ll try this sort of structured assignment this coming semester.
Geri Hastings spoke next about using simulations in class. She has her students each research and inhabit a historical figure in preparation for two 83-minute simulations in which the students act and speak as their characters. In the scenario she presented to us, students inhabited black leaders in the U.S. throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, and held a simulated colloquium in 1968 to discuss “the degree to which the visions of political, social, and economic equality…[had] been realized” at that point in history. I found the project compelling, but I struggled to figure out how I might integrate it into my own very different teaching schedule. The final speaker, Erik Vincent, argued that it was important for students to engage in discussions about periodization, but discussed the difficulty of finding useful periodization for the “long nineteenth century” that was applicable in a world history context. Several times in the presentation he cited a recent piece by Peter Stearns () which I will definitely add to my reading list. Unfortunately the panel ran a bit long and there wasn’t time for questions, so I didn’t get to ask whether anyone in the room had used Timeline JS, which I’m hoping to use next semester so my students can collaboratively construct a timeline as we go along. If anyone out there has used Timeline JS this way, I’d love to hear about your experience with it.
From there, I went to my first ASCH panel. Well, I waited for elevators and hunted for stairwells for fifteen minutes and thenwent to my first ASCH panel. When I finally got to “Doing History,” I discovered, with a crowd of people, that a panel featuring some of the most prominent scholars of the history of religion in America had been put in a room the size of a shoebox and we couldn’t fit. The panel started, but a few minutes later everything stopped, and they moved the whole thing into another room with more space so we could all attend. “Doing History,” like tomorrow’s “Believing History,” was held in honor of Grant Wacker. It featured papers by David Steinmetz, Catherine Brekus, and David Hall, with comment by Peter Kaufman. Steinmetz’s paper explored the difficulty of crossing the cultural divide and “going native” in our study of the past by considering the difficulty of inhabiting the intellectual worlds of Reformation thinkers. Brekus explored the possibilities and problems of individual agency, criticized by theorists who would argue that there is no self, only subjectivity, on the one hand, and proponents of “big history” and “deep history,” particularly Guldi and Armitage, for whom the extreme longue durée is the only appropriate way to study history and give it an impact in our contemporary world. Hall used the examples of Elizabeth Knapp and Anne Hutchinson to consider the ways that historians avoid interrogating the mediating factors that affect our texts and may diminish their authority and, in his words, their “magic.” Kaufman’s wide-ranging and expertly-crafted comment joined Brekus in a rejection of the push for big data and big history as a path to influencing policy. To paraphrase his final plea to the audience, is it not enough for historians to enlighten and entertain, to foster critical thinking, to unsettle people and make them sympathetic to the lives of those in the past, and to cultivate compassion? Or are these things, in Guldi and Armitage’s terms, too sentimental to be the ultimate goals of historians?

Tomorrow I’m starting the day with the Women in Theology & Church History breakfast, which I’ve never done before. I’m really looking forward to it. After that, I head to “Doing More with Less: ThePromise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital HistoryAge,” followed by a break in the afternoon to trim a hundred words or so from my paper so John doesn’t have to give me the “stop talking now” sign on Sunday morning. If I get lucky, I might even find a lanyard somewhere along the way.

Editor’s Note:  Thanks Erin.  We can also expect an update on the “Doing History” session from Mandy McMichael.  Stay tuned.  And I need a lanyard too.  Let me know if you find one!  Oh, and by the way, the paper looks fine.  Keep the 100 words.

AHA Session #38: "Buying and Selling History"

One of the books discussed in today’s session

I had a tough decision to make at the 3:30-5:00 slot this afternoon.  I really wanted to attend a session on “Doing History” at the American Society of Church History meeting.  I was particularly interested in what David Hall had to say about storytelling and Catherine Brekus had to say about agency and American religious history.

But I opted instead for AHA Session #38: “Buying and Selling History: Some Perspectives on the Marketplace.”  Here is the session abstract:

What topics, approaches, and subjects have been more successful—however success is defined—than others in the marketplace for history titles? What generalizations can be made about the nature of that marketplace? What challenges do those who publish history titles face both in retail and at institutions and libraries? These are some of the questions that participants in this session, which is entitled “Buying and Selling History,” will address. All of the participants are directly involved in marketing and sales efforts for their houses, and as such actively involved in promoting and placing history titles—academic and trade and crossover—in the various channels, from the large retail chains to the small independent bookstores, from the smaller public libraries to the larger research institutions whose acquisition policies and procedures have changed radically over the last few years, in part because of the effects of patron-driven acquisition. Represented will be three large trade houses and one university press. The composition of the panel is not accidental, for the perspectives offered here are intended to reflect upon the general market for history titles, and the strategies employed by those who are committed to helping their books reach the widest possible audience while also adhering to scholarly standards and disciplinary rigor.

The panel included editors and salespersons from Oxford University Press, Random House, Knopf, Harper Collins, and New York University Press.

I thought the session was very informative, but also kind of odd.  I was hoping to glean some tips about how academic historians might bring solid historical scholarship to public audiences.  Keith Goldsmith of Knopf offered the best advice in this regard.  The representatives from Harper Collins and Random House did not seem interested in this question.  Instead, they told stories about how journalists, nature/travel writers, and other authors of books set in the past were able to market their projects to mass audiences.  Timothy Bent (Oxford University Press) and Mary Beth Jarrad (NYU Press) were much more connected with the concerns of the largely academic audience.

Rather than doing an entire post on this session, I decided to Storify my tweets and offer some brief commentary.  Check it out here.

AHA Day One Update

The Hilton Midtown: AHA Conference Headquarters

As I type the first day of the 2015 AHA annual meeting is winding down. I arrived around 1:30 this afternoon and checked into my hotel without any drama. Earlier today there were some problems with both the Hilton and the Sheraton, prompting AHA director James Grossman to send out a letter to let everyone know that he and his staff were working to remedy the problem.  Apparently the Sheraton told some conference-goers that they did not have any rooms available.  I also noticed a very long check-in line at the Hilton.  I hope Hotelgate 2015 was avoided.

Conference registration was fast and painless. I used the bar code on my mobile phone and had my badge within seconds.  Now all I need to do is fine a lanyard–my preferred method of wearing my badge.

This afternoon I attended a session entitled “Buying and Selling History: Some Perspectives on the Marketplace”  You can check out my tweets @johnfea1 and the tweets of other in attendance at #aha2015. I hope to do a post soon.

Before dinner I made a quick stop at the reception for bloggers and twitterstorians.  It was good to meet some of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home and some of the bloggers and tweeters that I read on a regular basis.

Stay tuned for most posts throughout the night.

Early America at the 2015 AHA

Are you an early American historian who is attending the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New York this weekend?  If so, Joseph Adelman has put together a list of all the session related to early American history.  Check it out at The Junto.  Enjoy!

Here is a taste:

Saturday, January 3
8:30 am

61 (CCWH 2). Interviewing in the Job Market in the Twenty-First Century, Mercury Ballroom (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
69. Doing More with Less: The Promise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital History Age, New York Ballroom East (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
71. Geographies of Identity, Solidarity, and Belonging in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic, Gibson Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
76 (SCWH 3). James McPherson’s Battle Cry after a Quarter Century, Murray Hill Suite B (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
80. Slaves and Mistresses: The Female Slaveholder in the Americas, Liberty Suite 3 (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
90. Lessons Learned from the AHA’s Bridging Cultures Program, Part 1: PechaKucha 1: Incorporating the Atlantic and Pacific Worlds into the U.S. History Survey Course, Sutton South (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
91 (CLAH 13). New Perspectives on the Spanish Atlantic: The Slave Trade to Spanish America, Part 1, Empire Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
ACHA 7. Negotiating the Atlantic: Catholic Networks in the Early American Republic, Madison Suite 4 (Sheraton New York, Fifth Floor)

Introducing Our 2015 AHA Coverage

As usual, The Way of Improvement Leads Home will be providing extensive coverage of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association this weekend in New York City.  Check the blog often for updates on sessions and other conference happenings.  We will be blogging at all hours. Follow us on Twitter @johnfea1 and keep an eye on the conference hashtag: #aha2015

Check out some previous coverage of AHA conferences: 2013, 2014

This year, we have five correspondents who will be writing posts throughout the weekend.  They are:

  • Erin Bartram is a Ph.D candidate in history at the University of Connecticut.  She is working on a dissertation which examines privileged New England women converts to Roman Catholicism. Erin is writing under the direction of Richard Brown.  Check out Erin’s posts from the 2013 AHA.
  • Christian James is a MLS Candidate at University of Maryland, College Park and Digital Curation Fellow at the National Agricultural Library. He earned his MA in History from George Mason University and has worked for the Center for Population Economics at the University of Chicago and ProQuest
  • Michael Limberg is a Ph.D candidate in history at the University Connecticut.  He is working on a dissertation entitled “The Best Versions of Themselves: U.S. Aid and Development in the Middle East, 1919-1939.”
  • Mandy McMichael is Assistant Professor of Religion at Huntingdon College.  She is currently working on a book based on her Duke University dissertation (supervised by Grant Wacker): “From the Runway to the Altar: Religion and Pageantry in the American South.”  Mandy will be doing most of her reporting from the meeting of the American Society of Church History.
I am really, really excited about this team.  Expect some great coverage.
As for me, right now I am trying to get to the following sessions:
3:30: “Buying and Selling History: Some Perspectives on the Marketplace” (AHA) or  “Doing History” (ASCH).  I am really undecided here.
9:00: I will be chairing and commenting at an ASCH session entitled “American Religion Online: How Digital Projects Can Change How Teach, Research, and Interpret Religious History.”
11:30: “Whither the History Major?” (AHA)
I also hope to make it to the reception for history bloggers and twitterstorians on Friday night.
Stay tuned!

Getting Ready for the AHA 2015

This year the annual meeting of the American Historical Association will take place in New York City from January 2-5.  I will be there for nearly all of the conference and several correspondents will be reporting from the conference floor.  (We could still use a few more correspondents. Click here for more information).

(American Society of Church History 17).  Stop by and learn about some great digital projects in American religious history from Christopher Cantwell, Kyle Roberts, and Erin Bartram.

I will not be able to make it to all the sessions I would like to attend, but here are all of the ones that caught my eye:

What Should History Teachers Learn at Historic Sites? A Research Agenda
AHA Session 28

Doing History
American Society of Church History 5

CFH Breakfast Reception
Conference on Faith and History 

See you in New York!

AHA 2015 Correspondents Wanted!

Once again, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from this year’s (January 2015) American Historical Association Meeting in New York City.

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. 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
Liz Covart
Christine Kelly

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