Mount Vernon CEO Doug Bradburn Explains What It Was Like Giving Donald Trump a Tour

Bradburn and Trump

Doug Bradburn, the CEO of Mount Vernon, gave Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron a tour of George Washington’s estate in April 2018.

Now Bradburn is talking about the Trump visit.  Here is a taste of an article at Politico on Bradburn’s attempts to keep Trump interested on the tour:

During a guided tour of Mount Vernon last April with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trump learned that Washington was one of the major real-estate speculators of his era. So, he couldn’t understand why America’s first president didn’t name his historic Virginia compound or any of the other property he acquired after himself.

“If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump said, according to three sources briefed on the exchange. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”

The VIPs’ tour guide for the evening, Mount Vernon president and CEO Doug Bradburn, told the president that Washington did, after all, succeed in getting the nation’s capital named after him. Good point, Trump said with a laugh.

Here is more:

The president’s disinterest in Washington made it tough for tour guide Bradburn to sustain Trump’s interest during a deluxe 45-minute tour of the property which he later described to associates as “truly bizarre.” The Macrons, Bradburn has told several people, were far more knowledgeable about the history of the property than the president.

A former history professor with a PhD, Bradburn “was desperately trying to get [Trump] interested in” Washington’s house, said a source familiar with the visit, so he spoke in terms Trump understands best — telling the president that Washington was an 18th century real-estate titan who had acquired property throughout Virginia and what would come to be known as Washington, D.C.

Trump asked whether Washington was “really rich,” according to a second person familiar with the visit. In fact, Washington was either the wealthiest or among the wealthiest Americans of his time, thanks largely to his mini real estate empire.

“That is what Trump was really the most excited about,” this person said.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is what I wrote about Trump and American history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

But the problem with Donald Trump’s use of American history goes well beyond his desire to make America great again or his regular references to some of the darker moments in our past–moments that have tended to divide Americans rather than uniting them.  His approach to history also reveals his narcissism.  When Trump says that he doesn’t care how “America first” was used in the 1940s, or claims to be ignorant of Nixon’s use of “law and order,” he shows his inability to understand himself as part of a larger American story.  As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote in the wake of Trump’s pre-inauguration Twitter attack on civil rights icon John Lewis, a veteran of nonviolent marches who was severely beaten at Selma: “Trump seems to have no feel for, no interest in, the American story he is about to enter.”  Gerson describes Trump’s behavior in this regard as the “essence of narcissism.”  The columnist is right: Trump is incapable of seeing himself as part of a presidential history that is larger than himself.  Not all presidents have been perfect, and other have certainly shown narcissistic tendencies; but most of them have been humbled by the office.   Our best presidents thought about their four or eight years in power with historical continuity in mind.  This required them to respect the integrity of the office and the unofficial moral qualifications that come with it.  Trump, however, spits in the face of this kind of historical continuity.  This isn’t conservatism; it is progressive thinking at its worst.  Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “Not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors, but also clouds their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries.  Each man is forever thrown back on himself alone, and there is a danger that he may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart.” 

Sam Wineburg, one of the country’s foremost scholars of historical thinking, writes:

“For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.  History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense.  Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.”

I chatted with Bradburn in this episode of his Mount Vernon podcast and you can listen to our interview with Bradburn in Episode 17 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Robert Westbrook Reviews Jill Lepore, *These Truths*

These TruthsOver at The Christian Century,  University of Rochester intellectual historian Robert Westbrook reviews Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States.  Here is a taste:

Even if Lepore in some respects falls short on her own terms, it would be churlish in the end not to salute her for realizing her ambitions as fully as she does. She has laid down a marker for anyone who would try to contain the history of the United States within a single volume. She says that “the work of the historian is not the work of the critic or of the moralist.” I find it hard to believe that she really believes this assertion. In any case, she has fashioned a work of history that is at the same time a telling work of social criticism and of expansive moral imagination.

She also says that her book “is meant to double as an old-fashioned civics book.” It does. This is not a particularly distinguished genre, but her contribution to it is among the best ever published, despite its shortcomings. She is right to say that “the past is an inheritance, a gift and a burden. It can’t be shirked. You carry it everywhere. There’s nothing for it but to get to know it.” We Americans might all profitably include her effort to get to know our past among the books we stuff in our backpacks to read by flashlight as we try to ascend from the deep, dark hole into which our republic has fallen.

Read the entire review here.

David Blight and Lisa Brooks Win the Bancroft Prize

BrooksBlights wins for Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom.

Brooks wins for Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War.

Congratulations!

Here is a taste of an article on the winners at The New York Times:

A mammoth biography of Frederick Douglass and a new study of the 17th-century colonial American conflict known as King Philip’s War have won this year’s Bancroft Prize, which is considered one of the most prestigious honors in the field of American history.

David W. Blight’s “Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom,”published by Simon and Schuster, was cited for offering “a definitive portrait” of the 19th-century former slave, abolitionist, writer and orator “in all his fullness and imperfection, his intellectual gifts and emotional needs.”

Lisa Brooks’s “Our Beloved Kin,” published by Yale University Press, was praised for how it “imaginatively illuminates submerged indigenous histories,” drawing readers into “a complex world of tensions, alliances and betrayals” that fueled the conflict between Native Americans in New England and European colonists and their Indian allies.

The Bancroft, which includes an award of $10,000, was established in 1948 by the trustees of Columbia University, with a bequest from the historian Frederic Bancroft.

Blight

 

Jill Lepore’s “New Americanism”

These TruthsHarvard’s Jill Lepore is calling for a new national history in a piece at Foreign Affairs.  I am assuming much of this piece draws from her most recent book These Truths: A History of the United States.

Here is a taste of “A New Americanism: Why a Nation Needs a National Story:

In 1986, the Pulitzer Prize–winning, bowtie-wearing Stanford historian Carl Degler delivered something other than the usual pipe-smoking, scotch-on-the-rocks, after-dinner disquisition that had plagued the evening program of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association for nearly all of its centurylong history. Instead, Degler, a gentle and quietly heroic man, accused his colleagues of nothing short of dereliction of duty: appalled by nationalism, they had abandoned the study of the nation…. 

“We can write history that implicitly denies or ignores the nation-state, but it would be a history that flew in the face of what people who live in a nation-state require and demand,” Degler said that night in Chicago. He issued a warning: “If we historians fail to provide a nationally defined history, others less critical and less informed will take over the job for us.”

But in the 1970s, studying the nation fell out of favor in the American historical profession. Most historians started looking at either smaller or bigger things, investigating the experiences and cultures of social groups or taking the broad vantage promised by global history. This turn produced excellent scholarship. But meanwhile, who was doing the work of providing a legible past and a plausible future—a nation—to the people who lived in the United States? Charlatans, stooges, and tyrants. The endurance of nationalism proves that there’s never any shortage of blackguards willing to prop up people’s sense of themselves and their destiny with a tissue of myths and prophecies, prejudices and hatreds, or to empty out old rubbish bags full of festering resentments and calls to violence. When historians abandon the study of the nation, when scholars stop trying to write a common history for a people, nationalism doesn’t die. Instead, it eats liberalism. 

Maybe it’s too late to restore a common history, too late for historians to make a difference. But is there any option other than to try to craft a new American history—one that could foster a new Americanism?…

“The history of the United States at the present time does not seek to answer any significant questions,” Degler told his audience some three decades ago. If American historians don’t start asking and answering those sorts of questions, other people will, he warned. They’ll echo Calhoun and Douglas and Father Coughlin. They’ll lament “American carnage.” They’ll call immigrants “animals” and other states “shithole countries.” They’ll adopt the slogan “America first.” They’ll say they can “make America great again.” They’ll call themselves “nationalists.” Their history will be a fiction. They will say that they alone love this country. They will be wrong.

Read the entire piece here.  I find myself largely in agreement with Lepore, although I still need to read her book.  (It’s sitting on my nightstand as I type!)

Jill Lepore Talks “These Truths”

These TruthsThis is a great interview with Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States.  I am really looking forward to reading this book.  I hope to find a copy in my mailbox when I return to the office today.

Here is a taste of Sean Woods’s interview with Lepore at Rolling Stone:

Are there dangers for the historian when you’re trying to make the past relevant to the present?
Yeah. Absolutely. Historians talk about the fallacy of presentism, that is, if you’re too interested in what’s going on in the present, you will adjust your past to justify your preferences about the future. That is a sound caution. On the other hand, if people who are cautious and careful and concerned about evidence and argument and method refuse to talk about the relationship between the past and the present, then the only people who will be doing that will be Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

So much of popular American history is about the Battle of Saratoga or the Battle of Brooklyn or World War II. And I wonder if that’s because so many of the historical books have been written by men and military history is something men get very jazzed about.
Most popular history is either military or presidential and has little sense of the incredible force and political power of social movements and protest movements, and doesn’t have any way of understanding a politics that doesn’t involve the White House. You wouldn’t write a history of this era and say everything was Trump, although that is what everybody thinks in the moment. Everybody’s fallen into the Trump vortex. But if you pull back, you go like, “OK, well actually there’s a lot of things going on.” And among them we get Me Too and Black Lives Matter. These are a really important part of realignments. Nor would you write a history of the Me Too movement without talking about Trump. Because a lot of Me Too is the proxy war on Trump. And a lot of Trump’s followers are actually engaged in a proxy war on Me Too. They’re inseparable analytically in the world that we live in. So why do we accept a public history that imagines that there’s presidential history and then there’s also a history of political movements. You have to look at them together. And you know, it’s hard and it’s a mess, but it’s also really illuminating.

Read the entire interview here.

*BUNK* Picks “Evangelical Fear Elected Donald Trump” as Best American Religious History Read of 2018

BUNK is a history website founded by award-winning American historian Ed Ayers and edited by Tony Field.  It is published by the University of Richmond.  Read more about it here.

Today I learned that BUNK chose my Atlantic Monthly piece  “Evangelical Fear Elected Donald Trump” as the best American history read of 2018.  (Of course, if you want the extended argument, get a copy of my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

This means a lot to me, especially in light of the other winners.

Here are the winners:

Narrative History
The Train at Wood’s Crossing [Brendan Wolfe, brendanwolfe.com]
The long-forgotten story of a Charlottesville lynching is unearthed in a lyrical and deeply researched piece of writing that twists together strands of personal, local, and national history.

Honorable Mention:
The Counterfeit Queen of Soul [Jeff Maysh, Smithsonian Magazine]

Local History
As Goes the South, so Goes the Nation [Imani Perry, Harper’s]
A Thanksgiving trip home to Alabama occasions this tour de force through the state’s twisted past.

Honorable Mentions:
The Little Mayors of the Lower East Side [Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Lapham’s Quarterly]
In the Hate of Dixie [Cynthia Tucker, Bitter Southerner]

Legal History
Black Lives and the Boston Massacre [Farah Peterson, The American Scholar]
Do you know the story of Crispus Attacks, the black man who was the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War? If so, it’s probably incomplete. In this compelling essay, a law professor explains why, and what the omissions have to do with the struggle for racial justice today.

Honorable Mentions:
Separation of Power [William Hogeland, Lapham’s Quarterly]
No Law Without Politics (No Politics Without Law) [Jedediah Purdy, Law and Political Economy]

Religious History
Evangelical Fear Elected Trump [John Fea, The Atlantic]
Fea, a scholar and practitioner of evangelical Christianity, offers a nuanced take on four centuries of people “failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God.”

Honorable Mention:
The Fight to Define Romans 13 [Lincoln Mullen, The Atlantic]

Reported History
We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage [Christine Kenneally, Buzzfeed News]
A devastating longread based on years of interviews with alleged survivors of systematic abuse.

Honorable Mentions:
Payback [Natalie Y. Moore, The Marshall Project]
A Cool Dip and a Little Dignity [Erin E. Tocknell, Bitter Southerner]

Labor History
A Culture of Resistance [Charles Keeney, Lapham’s Quarterly]
The teachers’ strikes that sprang up around the country last year caught many observers off-guard. Here, Keeney explains why labor activism in red-state West Virginia is not the anomaly it may seem to be.

Honorable Mention:
Where Did it All Go Wrong? [Gabriel Winant, The Nation]

Watery History
In the Dismal Swamp [Sam Worley, Popula]
As is the case with each of the honorable mentions below, this piece defies the terra firma of historiographical categorization, combining currents of environmental, cultural, political, and local history into a profound exploration of what it means to “drain the swamp.”

Honorable Mentions:
The Water Next Time? [Danielle Purifoy, Scalawag]
The First Floridians [Jordan Blumetti, Bitter Southerner]

Historical Reenactment
Natural History in Two Dimensions [Whitney Barlow Robles, Common-Place]
Another fascinating genre-buster that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know?—?and then some?—?about the lost art of fish-flattening.

Honorable Mention:
Revisiting an Explorer’s Northwest Passage ‘Disappointment’ After Nearly 230 Years [Brian Castner, Atlas Obsura]

Museum Review
Real Museums of Memphis [Zandria Felice Robinson, Scalawag]
A gut-punching portrait of Memphis by a daughter of the city, written from the shadows of the National Civil Rights Museum on the occasion of MLK50. “[W]e have to keep track of how our memories and experiences are being gentrified in a notion of progress that has no meaningful proof or original referent.”

Honorable Mention:
Our Nukes, Ourselves [Kelsey D. Atherton, The New Inquiry]

Debunk
How Social Media Spread a Historical Lie [Jennifer Mendelsohn & Peter A. Shulman, Made by History/Washington Post]
When an erroneously captioned photo of a KKK march went viral, the authors sprung into action, correcting the record and explaining how Google, Wikipedia, and other digital platforms amplify the falsification of the past.

Honorable Mentions:
The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant [Anna Flagg, The Marshall Project]
We’re Never Going to Have Our “Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?” Moment [Rebecca Onion, Slate]

Obituary
An Obituary for Orange County, Dead at Age 129 [Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times]
A clever use of the form to give historical context to L.A.’s midterm election results. “The death shocked everyone who hadn’t bothered to pay attention for decades.”

Honorable Mention:
Larry Eisenberg, 99, Dead; His Limericks Were Very Well Read [Margalit Fox, New York Times]

Reputation Revision
Living With Dolly Parton [Jessica Wilkerson, Longreads]
Wilkerson grew up in East Tennessee idolizing the region’s most famous native daughter. Now a historian, she sets out in this lyrical, personal piece to more fully understand Parton’s enduring appeal in the post-industrial South.

Honorable Mentions:
Why Tamika Mallory Won’t Condemn Louis Farrakhan [Adam Serwer, The Atlantic]
Paul Bremer, Ski Instructor: Learning to Shred With the Bush Administration’s Iraq War Fall Guy [Aaron Gell, Task & Purpose]
My Fellow Prisoners: On John McCain [George Blaustein, n+1]

Origin Story (Culture)
Bad Boys [Tim Stelloh, The Marshall Project]
A fascinating piece that chronicles the unlikely story of ‘Cops,’ one of television’s most successful, influential, and polarizing shows ever.

Honorable Mentions:
How Auto-Tune Revolutionized the Sound of Popular Music [Simon Reynolds, Pitchfork]
The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty [Walt Hunter, The Atlantic]
My Dad Painted the Iconic Cover for Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ and It’s Haunted Him Ever Since [Robert Silverman, The Outline]

Origin Story (Trumpism)
How Do We Explain This National Tragedy? This Trump? [T.J. Stiles, Zyzzyva (via Lithub)]
There was no shortage of contestants to this category in 2018. And while no single account can do justice to all the factors responsible for our current moment, I especially appreciated Stiles’ personal, wide-ranging, and not altogether pessimistic approach to the question.

Honorable Mentions:
Trumpism Before Trump [Robert L. Tsai & Calvin Terbeek, Boston Review]
The Religion of Whiteness Becomes a Suicide Cult [Pankaj Mishra, New York Times]
The Roots of Trump’s Immigration Barbarity [Daniel Denvir, Jacobin]

Origin Story (Plastic)
American Beauties [Rebecca Altman, Topic]
Before Americans had to learn to reuse their grocery bags, they had to learn to thrown them away. Behold one of my favorite pieces of the year, chronicling the rise and fall (hopefully not in a tree near you) of the plastic bag.

Honorable Mention:
Disposable America [Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic]

Commentary (Reconstruction’s Legacy)
Today’s Voter Suppression Tactics Have A 150 Year History [Gregory Downs, Talking Points Memo]
There was a ton of terrific writing this year about Reconstruction, but this one stood out. It widens the lens on the story of disenfranchisement, explaining that “though rebels perfected the art of excluding voters, it was yankees who developed the script.”

Honorable Mention:
Citizens: 150 Years of the 14th Amendment [Martha S. Jones, Public Books]

Commentary (Historic Preservation)
The Archivists of Extinction [Kate Wagner, The Baffler]
The said archivists are none other than the contributors to a Flickr page devoted to images of defunct Kmarts. If that seems intriguing to you, I promise you that it is. Come for the Kmarts, stay for the withering critique of capitalist destruction.

Honorable Mention:
The Death and Life of a Great American Building [Jeremiah Moss, New York Review of Books]

Commentary (80s Movies)
In the Dark All Katz are Grey: Notes on Jewish Nostalgia [Samuel Ashworth, Hazlitt]
With what is probably the finest opening line of any on this list, this piece is a poignant meditation on nostalgia, the Borscht Belt, and why Dirty Dancing is actually a Jewish horror film.

Honorable Mention:
Brett Kavanaugh Goes to the Movies [Marsha Gordon, The Conversation]

Commentary (Covert Operations)
Did You Know the CIA ______? [Malcolm Harris, n+1]
In this review of Errol Morris’ latest miniseries, Harris examines the inability of Americans to confront the crimes that have been committed in their name. “If cold war is the name for the third world war that didn’t happen, what’s the name for what did?”

Honorable Mention:
The U.S. Needs to Face Up to Its Long History of Election Meddling[Peter Beinart, The Atlantic]

Commentary (Statue of Liberty)
Sentinel [Francesca Lidia Viano, Places]
To read about the Statue of Liberty’s origins is to become ever more aware of the contradictions baked into America’s most cherished symbols. I highly recommend chasing this read with the Slate piece below, which pushes the story forward into our crazy modern times.

Honorable Mention:
Who Does She Stand For? [Paul A. Kramer, Slate]

Commentary (Futility of War)
A Hundred Years After the Armistice [Adam Hochschild, New Yorker]
A standout in a year full of WWI retrospectives. Among other things, Hochschild tells us that more soldiers were killed after the Armistice had been signed than would die on D-Day in Normandy 26 years later. They died, in other words, for no political or military reason whatsoever.

Honorable Mention:
Remembrance of War as a Warning [Christopher Preble, War on the Rocks]

Commentary (Country Music)
Canon Fodder [Shuja Haider, Popula]
Another fun read from Popula, on policing the genre boundaries of popular music. If you’ve ever winced to hear somebody say that they like all kinds of music ““except rap and country,” then this one’s for you.

Honorable Mention:
Agriculture Wars [Nick Murray, Viewpoint]

Periodical Single Issue
Boston Review, “Fifty Years Since MLK” [Forum V (Winter 2018)]
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, Boston Review published a knockout of an issue that was, in many ways, the perfect antidote to Dodge’s Superbowl ad from a few weeks earlier. Every article is a must-read.

Honorable Mention:
The Baffler, “Tramps and Millionaires” [Issue ?42]

Recurring Series
Overlooked [New York Times]
An ongoing effort by the Times’ obituaries desk to remember the lives of notable women who were left out of the paper of record the first time around.

Bibliography
Confederate Monuments Syllabus [Kevin M. Levin, Civil War Memory]
If there’s one person up to the challenge of keeping track of the latest skirmishes in the Confederate monument wars, it’s Levin. He recently compiled this wide-ranging collection of online resources in an effort to help teachers and students make sense of it all.

Anthea Hartig is the New Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Hartig

Congratulations!  Hartig is the first woman to hold the post in the museum’s 54-year history.  She comes to Washington D.C. with a Ph.D in history from the University of California-Riverside and experience at the California Historical Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  From 2000-2005 she taught history at La Sierra University, a Christian (Seventh-Day Adventist) school in Riverside.

Graham Bowley has the story covered at The New York Times:

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has a new director, who will be the first woman to hold the position in its 54-year history: Anthea M. Hartig, currently the executive director and chief executive of the California Historical Society.

Ms. Hartig begins her new role in Washington, overseeing 262 employees and a budget of nearly $50 million, on Feb. 18. She will be the first woman to be director since the museum opened in 1964, the Smithsonian said. In her new role, in 2019 and 2020, she will open three exhibitions that are part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, #BecauseOfHerStory. She will also complete the revitalization of the museum’s 120,000-square-foot west wing.

Read the rest here.

On Writing the History of the 21st Century

2057c-9-11_statue_of_liberty_and_wtc

How would you write a history of the 21st century?  Historian and Anxious Bench blogger Philip Jenkins just finished such a work and he tells us how he did it here.  A taste:

I have just completed a book titled Rethinking a Nation: The United States in the 21st Century. Yes, that’s 21st, not 20th. The whole project raises some interesting questions about just what history is, how we define it, and how we separate it from (for instance) journalism or political science. This has important implications for how we define and study contemporary religious history, the kind of endeavor that concerns most of us at the Anxious Bench.

What a historian has to do, of course, is to rise above simple reportage to supply broad themes and identify key trends by which the larger story can be told. Often, that means making unsuspected connections between different forms of study – social and economic, political and technological, cultural and sexual.

But writing any history of “Only Yesterday” has potential pitfalls, as it can be difficult to rise above strictly contemporary concerns and obsessions to arrive at a balanced long-term perspective. When today we write the history of the 1850s or the 1950s (say) we know exactly the topics and individuals that demand to be covered, so that to some extent our narrative framework is pre-set. We know where the story is going, and the script is already written. That is simply not the case for the most recent era, where we rely on our individual judgments to determine the critical trends, and the most significant events. In a sense, I really am making it up as I go. Not, I hope, in a bad way.

Read the rest here.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast Needs Your Support!

Podcast

As we enter the end of the year, I hope that some of you might find a space for The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast in your holiday budget!  It’s pretty easy to give a one-time gift or an extended pledge of $1 (shilling), $5 (pound), $10 (sterling), or $20 (gold) more a month.  Just head over to our Patreon site for the details.

Season 5 is well underway.  So far we have chatted with:

  • Historian Robert Whitaker on how the past is interpreted in popular video games.  (Coming next week!)
  • Public historian Chris Graham on race, public history, and religious congregations.
  • Arizona State history professor Catherine O’Donnell on Catholic saint Elizabeth Ann Seton.
  • Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin on the history of populism in America.
  • Messiah College historian Paul Putz on “Sportianity
  • University of Virginia historian Nicole Hemmer on race and history in Charlottesville, Virginia.

We already have some great guests lined-up for the rest of the season, including Sam Wineburg and Daniel Rodgers.

And, of course, previous episodes are always available at your favorite podcatcher.  Listen to interviews with:

  • Nancy Tomes on the history of health care in America
  • Annette Gordon Reed and Peter Onuf on Thomas Jefferson
  • Frances Fitzgerald on the history of American evangelicalism
  • R. Marie Griffith on sexual politics and the Christian Right
  • Amy Bass on the thrilling story of the Somali refugees who won a Maine state high school soccer title
  • Erin Bartram on graduate school in history
  • Randall Stephens on Christian rock music

And many, many more!

Thanks so much for your support.  All pledges and one-time donations go directly into the production of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Contraband?

Yesterday I opened the trunk of my 17-year old daughter’s car and found four copies of Alan Brinkley’s United States history survey textbook.  None of them are mine.

Caroline Brinkley

The Author’s Corner with Jay Sexton

41hVxrZVerL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJay Sexton is the Kinder Institute Chair in Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri. This interview is based on his new book A Nation Forged by Crisis: A New American History (Basic Books, 2018). 

JF: What led you to write A Nation Forged by Crisis?

JS: What prompted me to write this book was a move I recently made from British academia to that of the United States. Soon after I returned to the Midwest after nearly two decades in England, I realized that how I had taught and researched U.S. history would change. I thought that I ought to write something broad on how I taught U.S. history to British students before I forgot it all! Second, this book took shape during the unanticipated political developments of 2016 – most of all Brexit and the election of Trump. Hearing everyone on the news and in the papers holler about how the volatility was unprecedented made me think that it would be useful to write something that reminded folks that our history has not always been smooth.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Nation Forged by Crisis?

JS: This book has two arguments. First, it contends that moments of crisis have shaped the development of the United States. Second, it argues that America’s most transformative crises were entwined with sharp shifts in the international system, particularly those relating to national security, immigration, and international capitalism.

JF: Why do we need to read A Nation Forged by Crisis?

JS: This book shows readers that the course of U.S. history was not pre-ordained. Most of all, it highlights the underappreciated role played by foreign powers and the foreign-born within the United States.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JS: Though I’ve always loved the study of the past, I stumbled into the profession. A two-year masters in England morphed into a PhD, post-doc, and then a permanent job. The rest, as they say, is history.

JF: What is your next project?

JS: I’ve been working for some years now on a history of steam transport in the second half of the nineteenth century. The book I just finished meant that that project has been idling on the high seas. But I’m looking forward to firing up the coal engines and going full steam ahead again.

JF: Thanks, Jay!

Michael Kazin Reviews Jill Lepore’s New History of the United States

These TruthsI love seeing two prolific historians engage one another.  Over at The New Republic, Michael Kazin (Georgetown) reviews Jill Lepore’s (Harvard) new book These Truths: A History of the United States.

Here is a taste:

Lepore…in her new book, These Truths, declines the temptation either to condemn the national project or to celebrate it. For her, the United States has always been a nation wrestling with a paradox, caught between its sunny ideals and its darker realities. “Between reverence and worship, on the one side, and irreverence and contempt, on the other,” she writes, “lies an uneasy path.” The American Revolution was far more than a mere change of power from one group of well-to-do white men to another. “The United States,” writes Lepore, “rests on a dedication to equality.” Yet throughout her deftly crafted survey, she also makes clear how often citizens and their leaders failed to implement this ideal or actively betrayed it. She borrows her title from the Declaration of Independence, to signal both the standard of reason and equality that Americans profess and how their deeds have fallen short of it.

Read the entire review here.

Tenure-Track Job Opening in the Messiah College History Department

Boyer Hall

This ad will appear in all the usual places very soon, but I thought I would also post it here at the blog. Starting date is August 2019.   Feel free to share and spread the word.

The Department of History at Messiah College invites applications for a term-tenure track position in Public History with expertise in post-1865 United States History.

Applicants must be committed to working closely with undergraduate students. Teaching responsibilities will include an advanced course in public history, upper-division courses in area of specialty, a United States history survey from 1865, and first-year interdisciplinary general education courses. We are especially interested in candidates who could offer one or more upper-division courses in subfields of public history and American social history.

Ph.D. in Public History/United States History, with specialization in post-1865 American history. We seek faculty committed to undergraduate teaching and research in the context of a Christian liberal arts college.

The history major at Messiah College allows students to study a wide range of historical periods and subjects ranging from public and digital history to courses in American, European, Ancient Mediterranean, World, and South Asian history. We emphasize the cultivation of a breadth of historical learning along with liberal arts skills of research methods, critical thinking, and high-quality writing. History majors take a standard sequence of core courses in historical surveys, methods, and historiography, and then have the option of selecting from a range of upper-division classes in American History, Classical and Medieval European History, Modern European, Public History, and World History. History majors seeking careers in secondary education (grades 7-12) have an option of completing the state credentialing program in conjunction with the Education Department. The department also offers minors in history, digital public humanities, and Classical, Medieval and Renaissance studies, as well as many enrichment opportunities, including interdisciplinary study, undergraduate research honors theses; collaboration with professors on research; internships with museums, historical archives, and governmental agencies; study-abroad semesters and short-term trips around the world; archaeological training; digital projects; and service-learning.

We are a department of six full-time faculty and approximately 45 majors. Students are encouraged to think independently, engage in fruitful debate, and become citizens committed to service, social justice, and reconciliation. The department maintains strong collaborations across campus with the Center for Public Humanities, Teacher Education Program, Office of Diversity Affairs, and the Oakes Museum of Natural History, and off campus with the city of Harrisburg, county and state archives, and regional schools. Our faculty work closely with students to consider how a history major provides a set of transferable skills that will allow them to access diverse opportunities for employment. Our graduates pursue employment and graduate school in a variety of fields, including history, public history, religious studies, journalism, communication, education, sociology, library science, business, law, computer science, data analytics, theology, among many others.

Read the entire ad here.

John Wilson’s Brooding Spirit

Wilson

In 1998, John Wilson, the founding and only editor of Books and Culture, wrote a column titled “America the Ugly.”  In that piece, Wilson described how he learned to acknowledge the “complexity and tragedy of American history.”  He thanked Mark Noll for refusing to “settle for rousing tales of the Founding Fathers.”

In a recent piece at First Things, Wilson comes at the issue of American identity from a different perspective:

Now that I think about it, I may need to contradict myself. After all, if large numbers of Americans actually believe that the state of the nation is so dire, despite all the evidence to the contrary, then it follows that we are living in a dystopia of sorts, a country in which a critical mass of the citizenry has lost all sense of proportion. That’s an unwelcome thought. But maybe the ranting voices we hear are not so representative as we’re led to believe. And maybe a lot of the people who are warning that we’re on the eve of destruction don’t really believe what they’re saying. That would be much better, more like business as usual. In any case, the Cubs are playing the Cardinals in a few minutes. It may not be the National Pastime any more, but baseball remains a sovereign remedy for a brooding spirit.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelicals, American History and Support for Donald Trump

Jeffress 2

The ideas and proposals I put forth in the last section of this piece I just published with History News Network are very important to me.    Thanks for considering them and sharing the piece with those who may need to read it.  I had hoped to publish this with a Christian, evangelical or conservative media outlet, but could not find any takers.  I am thankful to Rick Shenkman for running it.

A taste:

If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

We do.

We have. 

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

Read the entire piece here.

Who is Teaching Your Introductory History Courses?

College-classroom

I have a month or two left as chair of the Messiah College History Department. At the end of the 2017-2018 academic year I will have completed 2 four-year terms.  I am sure I will reflect more fully on this experience as my tenure winds down in May and June.  But right now I have been giving some thought to where my teaching duties will lie over the course of the next decade now that I am giving up administrative responsibilities in the department.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of articles about senior professors teaching introductory courses.  I have always believed this to be a good thing.  In fact, the 100-level U.S. survey class (to 1865) has always been my favorite course to teach.  While I was chair I taught it once a year.  In my post-chair life it looks like I may be teaching it in both semesters.

I thought about all of this when I saw Becky Supiano’s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education: It Matters a Lot Who Teaches Introductory Courses.  Here’s Why.”

A taste:

Introductory courses can open doors for students, helping them not only discover a love for a subject area that can blossom into their major but also feel more connected to their campus.

But on many campuses, teaching introductory courses typically falls to less-experienced instructors. Sometimes the task is assigned to instructors whose very connection to the college is tenuous. A growing body of evidence suggests that this tension could have negative consequences for students.

Two papers presented at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting in New York on Sunday support this idea.

The first finds that community-college students who take a remedial or introductory course with an adjunct instructor are less likely to take the next course in the sequence.

The second finds negative associations between the proportion of a four-year college’s faculty members who are part-time or off the tenure track and outcomes for STEM majors.

The community-college paper, “Role of Adjunct Faculty in Realizing the Postsecondary Dreams of Historically Marginalized Student Populations,” is not the first to examine the link between part-time instructors and student outcomes, said Florence Xiaotao Ran, its lead author. Several previous papers have found a negative relationship between contingent faculty members and student outcomes.

 

Read the entire piece here.

Write For Us From The OAH In Sacramento

a971a-oahI am a bit late to the game here, but if there is anyone in Sacramento for the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians conference who would like to serve as a correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home we would love to publish your dispatches.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/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.  My only requirement is that you write material while the conference is in session.  I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

Though we can’t pay you for writing, we can introduce you, your writing, and your online presence to a several thousand readers a day and over 14,000 Twitter followers.  Our posts on the AHA are regularly picked up at other sites and blogs as well.

If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we can get the ball rolling.  In the meantime, check out our posts from other conferences to get an idea of what some of our previous correspondents have done:

2016 Organization of American Historians

2016 American Historical Association

2018 American Historical Association

2017 Organization of American Historians