On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #100

It is time for another update on the ABS project as it enter its final month.  I have been doing three things lately:

1.  Oral history.  Over the last couple of months I have been to New York City; Crawford, Nebraska; Columbia, Missouri; Easton, PA; Cleveland, TN (actually, I am heading there on Monday); and Upland, Indiana.  I have or will have interviewed three ABS presidents, an ABS General Secretary, three deans of the Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship, and three current vice-presidents.  I am thankful to my team of student assistants who have been frantically transcribing these interviews so that I can send them off to the interviewees for final approval.  These interviews will be important sources as I write the final one or two chapters of the book.
2.  Picking images.  I have chosen 30 images for the book.  This was not an easy process because the ABS photo collection is so rich.  I think I have chosen a nice blend of sketches (mostly from the early 19th century), photographs, and other images (such as ABS seals and posters).  Oxford University Press has been very generous in allowing me so many images.
3.  Research.  I have been reading through the papers of some of the ABS presidents and general secretaries from the 20th century.
4.  Writing.  Most of my time, of course, is now involved in writing.  The research is 95% complete, but I still need to do a lot more writing between now and the beginning of May.  In other words, I have my work cut out for me. 
Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #99

A small taste from the manuscript.  This comes from chapter seven: “The Bible is the Religion of Protestants”


ABS agents also reported stories of the “Bible doing its work” through dramatic confrontations with the Catholic laity.  As one agent working among Catholics along the St. Lawrence River put it, the Bible’s “pages, when read with prayer and attention…give no countenance and leave no excuse, to fatal errors that destroy the soul.” The leadership of the Young Men’s New York Bible Society added that “Wherever Catholics are induced to read the Scriptures, we soon discover a decrease in hostility, a willingness to read religious Tracts, and a readiness to send their children to Protestant Sabbath schools. Frederick Buel, the ABS agent in California, squared off against a Catholic priest he encountered in San Francisco in a fashion resembling the Old Testament showdown between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  When Buel informed the priest that he planned to distribute ABS Bibles “throughout the length and breadth of the land,” the priest encouraged him: “Go,” he said, “carry the Bible where you please and we will go after you, and the more Bibles you scatter, the more Catholics we will make.” Undeterred, and assured of the “power of Protestantism,” Buel welcomed the challenge.  “Let us scatter the truth to every family,” he wrote to the ABS leadership back in New York, “and if truth makes Catholics, let truth and error meet and grapple.”  He was confident that in a “free and open encounter” the truth of the Protestant message would prevail.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update 98

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The writing continues.  As the May 1, 2015 deadline approaches the time I am spending each day on the ABS project had doubled.  For me this translates into a lot of early mornings and lot of caffeine. The deadline with Oxford University Press is non-negotiable.  

I will continue to do the occasional update here at the blog, but I have decided to move more regular progress reports over to my Twitter feed.  

Feel free to follow me at @johnfea1  I will be using the #ABSbook hashtag.

More later…  

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #97

My last post in this series was November 18, 2014.  I have actually done very little writing on the American Bible Society book since then.  I had some health issues that disrupted my work flow on the project, but my health is now improving and I am starting to get back into the swing things.

Those who have been following these posts have no need to fret. Work is still being accomplished on the project and I am still very optimistic that the manuscript will be delivered to Oxford University Press on May 1, 2015.

Here is what has been going on:

  • Katie is still helping me with research.  She is currently working on the ABS story in the years between World War I and World War II
  • Alyssa is working on the history of the United Bible Societies
  • Katy is back from Oxford and is now working on the history of ABS in the 1970s.
  • I am reading through Annual Reports and other records from the post World War II period, scheduling a slew of oral history interviews which I hope to conduct in February and early March, and writing the nineteenth-century chapters.
  • Mary and Kristin and the ABS have been providing me with the resources I need to keep things moving.  Thanks!
I am not sure if I will be posting everyday, but I will, at the very least, try to be consistent.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #96

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Those of you who have been following this series probably wonder why I have not been posting updates on the ABS projects.  Frankly, it is because I have taken a couple weeks away from the project in order to tend to other writing projects, carry out the functions of my day job as a professor and department chair, and tend to some family matters.

When I started this project I was optimistic about writing every day (both in terms of the book and the updates), but November has not been kind to me.  Too many volleyball videos to edit, public lectures to give, papers to grade, and leaves to rake.

But I have not given up hope.  I am already starting to feel my second wind and hope to start making more progress soon.  I even cleaned my home office last weekend.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #95

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My work on the ABS project still remains in a funk.  I did very little writing this week as life and my day job intervened.  I need a serious jumpstart.  Chapter Five is taking way too long to complete.  Why can’t I get excited about writing about benevolent societies in the early republic?
Thank goodness my research assistants are forging ahead.  Katie has done a lot of research on 19th and 20th century ABS efforts in Mexico and the Levant.  It looks like she will be moving forward into the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.  Alyssa has set me up nicely for a chapter on the Good News Bible.  She is now working on the ABS role in the United Bible Societies.
At the moment I have written four chapters. Most, if not all, of the research is in place for Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 14.  At this point I have written about 40,000 words.  According to my contract with Oxford University Press I have 100,000 more to go.  My editors estimated that the finished product will be 384 pages long. 
Stay tuned

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update 94

Did the Second Great Awakening exist?

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We are pressing on.  I got in a good three hour writing session this morning in which I churned out about 1000 words on Chapter Five.  Today I was writing about the connection between the distribution of ABS Bibles and the triggering of the revivals of the so-called “Second Great Awakening.”


Recently I got an e-mail from a scholar who asked me if I could recommend the best synthesis of the Second Great Awakening.  I had to admit that I do not know of such a survey–probably because the revivals were scattered geographically and spread out over time.  I found it interesting that few books on religion or reform in the early republic or antebellum period even use the term “Second Great Awakening.”  For example, Mark Noll, in his magisterial America’s God, only mentions the phrase twice and those two mentions suggest that the phrase is largely unhelpful and should probably not be used.  Here are those two passages:


p.181: To the extent that the United States ever experienced a Second Great Awakening, Methodist expansion was it.  In charting the rise of a much more evangelical America, historians have probably given too much attention to highly visible revival meetings, yet they too played an important part.”  


p.565: “[The Second Great Awakening is] an imprecise term that is usually taken to refer to a series of revivals managed by Presbtyerians and Congregationalists (from the 1790s? from the early 1800s? into the 1830s?) that brought great numbers into the American churches.  If used at all, it should feature the less publicized efforts of Methodists and Baptists who did most of the work in churching and civilizing the American populace between the War for Independence and the Civil War.”


Hardly a ringing endorsement from the current dean of American religious historians.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #93

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I have always been a more traditional writer when it comes to location.  I wrote or edited my last four books from the desk in my home office or from the kitchen table in my aunt’s lake house in the north woods of New Hampshire. (I don’t like to write in my Messiah College office–too many distractions).


As I write my current book on the American Bible Society I am finding that I need more variety in my writing spaces. For example, I wrote most of the book proposal on a New Jersey Transit commuter train and in a booth at a New Jersey McDonalds. I wrote a good deal of the first two chapters in at least three different Panera Bread restaurants scattered across New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Lately I have been writing in a local diner.  


Having said that, in a few days I will probably be back in my home office, working on my new desktop computer.  (I still need to take it out of the box and set it up).


Today I spent a few hours in the diner and a few hours in the Messiah College library. My work on Chapter Five continues.  I am trying something new with this chapter.  This morning I dumped all of my primary research, in the order it will appear in the chapter, into a Word document that I called “Chapter Five.”  I am then going to craft my prose around the primary material, eliminating whatever quotes and notes are not needed.  We will see how it goes.  


I wrote 600 words this morning and think I set myself up for about double or triple that number tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #92

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I am starting to make some progress again on the ABS project.  More on that tomorrow.  Today I want to reflect a bit on my journey toward landing a publisher for the book.  (I signed a contract today with Oxford University Press).

If you have been reading along with these updates, you know I spent a lot of time back in August crafting my book proposal.  I sent it off to literary agents, university presses, and trade presses (including Christian trade presses) that do not require a literary agent.  Here is what happened:

1.  Most literary agents turned me down.  The story of the ABS was interesting, but not interesting enough, they thought, for a trade book.

2.  One literary agent was interested until I told her that I had sent the book out to some universities presses that had trade divisions.  She did not feel comfortable selling a book to publishers who I had already contacted with the proposal.  I learned a good lesson here.  Literary agents want the exclusive right to pitch a proposal.

3.  Two Christian publishers were interested in the book and offered me very attractive deals.   These were both Christian trade presses and thus were not required to send the proposal out for review.

4.  An academic press with a trade division also made me a very attractive offer.  They sent the proposal out for review very quickly and came back with a contract.

5. A very well-respected Ivy League university press was ready to offer me a contract, but they did not think that they would be able to put the book through the review process and  prepare the book for publication in time to meet my May 2016 publication date.  Yet this press really wanted the book and wanted to include it in a new series geared toward popular audiences.  They suggested sending my chapters out for review as I completed them.

6.  Several other university presses wanted the book, but they could just not meet the timetable or my desired price point.

In the end, Oxford and one of the Christian presses made the best offers.  Oxford sent the proposal out for review and I got three very positive responses from referees who clearly knew a lot about the history of the ABS.  Oxford promised to keep the price point low (under $30.00), agreed to publish it as a trade book, allowed me to have some extra images, and promised to make sure the book would be published in May 2016 in time for the ABS’s 200th anniversary celebration.  

The Christian press made a similar offer and even offered a 12-page glossy insert for images. 

In the end, I went with Oxford because I wanted the book to appeal to both Christian and non-Christian audiences.  The Christian press mentioned above made a great offer, but I thought that if I accepted the offer it would limit my readership.

Stay tuned for further posts on securing a publisher.  

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #91

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It has been a horrible writing week–absolutely horrible.  As I have written in previous posts I have been too busy with other personal and professional responsibilities to work on the ABS project, but I will also admit that I have been low on motivation this past week.  Chapter Five is requiring a lot of outside reading and it is really slowing me down. 

The week is over and it was a bust.  But I can’t have many more weeks like this if I want to finish the book.  Here’s hoping I can get it together next week.  Two new developments just might help.

First, I bought a new computer.  My current home computer is about four years old.  I hope the new hardware might give me a jump start.

Second, I have finally landed a publisher for this book.  On Monday I will be signing a contract agreement with Oxford University Press.  The folks at Oxford have met all of my demands for this book.  They have agreed to a low price-point (it will be a trade book) and will be able to have the book out in time for the May 2016 200th anniversary celebration. (Assuming I can deliver by May 1, 2015) Needless to say I am thrilled with this offer!  And now that I have a publisher in place I will try to do a few more posts about the entire process of securing one.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #91

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In yesterday’s post I mentioned that my work on the ABS project has been stalled due to the work I am doing on grant applications for my upcoming sabbatical.

Today I think it is fair to say that the ABS project has been temporarily derailed due to the work I am doing on grant applications.  Grant applications take a lot of time to write.  And since every grant-giving institution requires something a little bit different in its application, it makes it hard to write a boilerplate essay and use it for every grant.

I finished a big proposal today and have one more big proposal to write.  I had hoped that I would be able to complete these applications without having to intrude on the time I am devoting to the ABS project, but that is not going to happen.  Moreover, sometimes life intrudes on work.  My daughter’s volleyball team is preparing for what we all hope will be a nice playoff run and my wife and I are in the process finding a team for her 2015 club season. 

I WILL get the train back on the track.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, “time” is punishing me.

I do, however, have some good news to report.  I just learned that one of our team–Katie Garland, a public history graduate student at the University of Massachusetts–was just appointed to the Religion, Historic Sites, and Museums” working group at the next annual meeting of the National Council for Public History.”  Nice work, Katie.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #90



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Mama said there’d days like this. 

I was unable to carve out any time today to work on the American Bible Society project. Instead, I was in a local diner at 4:45 this morning sipping coffee and eating oatmeal trying to write a grant proposal for my upcoming sabbatical.  I am driving hard to meet my November 1 grant deadlines and I am bit worried that my work on the ABS project will slow down as a result.

Meanwhile the reports I am receiving from the project’s other research fronts are very positive. Katie is hard at work doing research on chapters related to the ABS labors in Mexico and the Levant.  Alyssa is nearing completion of the research on a chapter devoted to Eugene Nida and the Good News Bible.  

The whole project is currently behind schedule, but I still think we can get back on track by the end of the year.   Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #89

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This morning I took a break from my background reading for Chapter Five and wrote a more extensive outline for the chapter.  While I still need to more reading, especially in preparation for my section in this chapter on the anti-mission Baptists and the role of women in the ABS, I did manage to sketch out a preliminary introduction to the chapter and write about 100 words.  Slow progress is better than no progress.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #88

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I am still doing secondary reading for Chapter Five.  Today I spent a couple of hours with Paul Boyer’s Urban Masses and Moral Order in America and Curtis Johnson’s Redeeming America: Evangelicals and the Road to the Civil War.

Boyer reminded me that the Board of Managers of the ABS in the early nineteenth century were some were the wealthiest men in the United States.  Johnson reminded me that a combination of the Board’s wealth and its Calvinism led frontier settlers to reject its mission.  Elias Boudinot modeled the ABS on the First Bank of the United States so it is not surprising that he received resistance from common evangelicals–mostly Baptists–on the frontier who sensed a cabal of wealthy Calvinists who wanted to use their wealth and theology to create a Christian nation

After completing my reading today I was also reminded that writing history requires constant engagement with secondary sources.  We may come up with a great idea for a book or article, and spend months pondering such an idea, but the idea is only developed and refined in conversation with others, namely the historians who have thought about the same things we are thinking about.  So stop thinking about your project and get to work!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #87

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I was not satisfied with the amount of time I put into my work on the American Bible Society project this morning.  I am still in this process of working on grant proposals for my sabbaticals next year and it is eating up a lot of time.  

Nevertheless, I did manage to get some nice framing ideas for Chapter Five from my reading this morning.  I finished Abzug’s Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination and spent most of my time revisiting David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom and Mark Noll’s America’s God.  I found Sehat’s idea of a “moral establishment” to be very useful as I think about the ABS’s role in the religious culture of the early nineteenth century. Noll’s book reminded me that organizations like the ABS were part of mainstream American life in this period.

I left my reading this morning with two unrelated thoughts.

1.  There is a major difference (at least for me) between reading a book in the midst of a major research project and reading a book for pleasure or simply to keep up with the field. More on that later.

2.  I am coming to the conclusion that there has not been a good overview of early nineteenth century evangelical benevolent societies in the United States since Charles Foster’s Errand of Mercy: The Evangelical United Front, 1790-1837.  Does anyone want to offer a title that is newer or more comprehensive?

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #86

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Most of my morning today was spent reading for Chapter Five. This chapter will require me to place the history of the American Bible Society into the larger evangelical benevolent movement of the early nineteenth century so I need to bone up a bit on the history of the temperance, sabbatarian, and women’s rights movements. And I need to understand all of these movements in the context of the Second Great Awakening.


This morning I reread Robert Abzug’s Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and Religious Imagination.
It offers a nice overview of the history of antebellum reform.


Maybe I will actually write something tomorrow. Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #85

Southern Methodist University

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I am writing from my hotel room in Dallas across the street from the beautiful campus of Southern Methodist University.  As noted in a previous post, last night I gave a lecture to about 75 students and faculty entitled “The American Bible Society and the Creation of the Christian Nationalism.”   The lecture was drawn from Chapter One and Chapter Two of the project. Some of you who have been following along will remember that these were the two chapters that served as my “sample chapters” for potential publishers.  Last night was the first time I shared my ABS research in a public forum of this nature and I got some good questions from the audience that will force me to do a better job of refining my arguments.

As I spent time editing the lecture on the plane from Philadelphia to Dallas I realized that the prose in these chapters still need a lot of work.  What I thought was in pretty good shape in August now seemed overly wordy and full of extraneous information that was unrelated to my argument.  

On a related matter, the demands of my academic life at Messiah College combined with my visit to Dallas made for a very unproductive writing week.  While I continue to do background reading for my chapter on the ABS benevolent empire, I have still not started writing the chapter.  Here’s hoping for a return next week to a more regimented writing schedule.  


Most of the research is now in place for the story of the ABS through World War I.  It is now a matter of putting that research into accessible prose.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #84

Caruth Hall on the campus of Southern Methodist University

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This morning I returned to Chapter One and Chapter Two. Actually, I condensed the chapters into a 40-minute public lecture that I will giving tomorrow night at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  In the process, I realized that there is a lot of information in Chapter One that is repeated in Chapter Two. This made it easier to condense the two chapters into one lecture, but such repetition does not bode well for a book manuscript.  Preparing this lecture has allowed me to streamline some of my prose and avoid unnecessary repetition.  

This morning reminded me how important it is to take on speaking engagements or conference presentations when working on a book manuscript.  Even if the audience does not offer helpful suggestions for improving the project, the opportunity to think about the best way to communicate your material to audiences of all kinds is an invaluable exercise.  I find that it often helps my writing more than it does my public speaking.

See you in Dallas.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #83

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Over the course of the last two days I have been doing some secondary reading for my chapter on the ABS involvement in the so called “benevolent” empire of the early nineteenth century. Several books have been helpful, including:

Steven Mintz, Moralists and Modernizers: America’ Pre-Civil War Reformers

Ronald Walters, American Reformers, 1815-1860

Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

Anne Boylan, The Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1797-1840

Anne Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution

Robert Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination

Lori Ginzburg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States

I also spent a good chunk of the morning doing some ABS project-related writing.  I can’t go into any more detail at the moment.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #82

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I work up this morning and realized that I forgot to do my update post yesterday, so this post summarizes the last two days of work on the ABS project.

I am now getting my feet wet on a yet-to-be-titled Chapter Five.  As I mentioned in my previous post, this chapter deals with the American Bible Society in the larger context of early nineteenth-century evangelical reform.  I have spent the last couple of days making sense of the notes I took in the archives this summer and trying to marshal them into some kind of coherent outline.  I am just about finished with this task.  At the moment, here is the very bare-bones outline I will be working with:

I.  Benevolence in the Early Republic: An Outline
II. The American Bible Society and Revivalism
III. The American Bible Society and Sunday Schools
IV.  The American Bible Society and the Temperance Movement
V.  The American Bible Society and Sabbath Reform
VI.  The Role of Women in the American Bible Society
VII. The American Bible Society and Evangelical Print Culture
VIII. Resistance to the ABS and the “Benevolent Empire”

This chapter is also going to require some additional secondary reading on my part as I attempt to situate the ABS in these various reform movements.  Stay tuned.