The Author’s Corner with Paul Escott

53299415Paul Escott is Reynolds Professor of History at Wake Forest University. This interview is based on his new book, Rethinking the Civil War Era: Directions for Research (The University Press of Kentucky, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: I was invited to take on this project by the editors of the New Directions in Southern History series at the University Press of Kentucky. As part of the invitation we agreed that this book would have a slightly different format. Instead of writing in an entirely historiographical style, I have used a more personal tone and have thought of each chapter as an essay focused on both the extant scholarship and on questions or interpretive issues that interest or puzzle me.

Frankly, writing this book was not something I had ever imagined myself doing, and the challenge was more than a little intimidating. There are a great many very talented and energetic historians working in the field of the Civil War Era, and to master all the important and recent work is virtually impossible. I have read as widely as possible, within the practical constraints of producing a book within some reasonable period, and I have tried to comment on important new directions or possibilities for research. In the Preface I comment on the immense talent at work in this area and apologize that I could not cite all the deserving recent studies.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: This book identifies important questions, issues, and new directions of research in the Civil War Era. Its chapters cover the roots of war, the challenges to wartime societies North and South, the war’s consequences, and important work or questions in African American history, military history, environmental history, and digital research.

JF: Why do we need to read Rethinking the Civil War Era?

PE: The Press and I hope that this book will be useful both to established scholars and to younger historians who may want to survey opportunities in the field and target their own work. Books such as this one often serve a purpose in a rapidly developing field.

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

PE: I was in college during the Civil Rights Movement, and the stirring events of that era naturally stimulated one’s curiosity about the roots of our nation’s racial problems. As a result, I entered graduate school eager to learn more about southern history and the era of the Civil War. I was extremely fortunate to have outstanding professors and mentors at Duke University, namely Robert F. Durden and Raymond Gavins.

JF: What is your next project? 

PE: After many years of focusing on the South and the Confederacy, I more recently shifted my attention to the North. I now am working on a study of racism and racial attitudes in the North during the Civil War.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

The Author’s Corner with April Holm

58ed097f35437.jpgApril Holm is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi. This interview is based on her new book, A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era (LSU Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write A Kingdom Divided?

AH: I have a long-standing interest in the border states and how border residents experienced the Civil War. I was led to this particular topic as a graduate student when I read Richard Carwardine’s Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America and was intrigued by his comment that the aftermath of the Methodist schism of 1844 deserved more scholarly attention. I gave it a look, and obviously, I agreed!

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Kingdom Divided?

AH: I argue that the border was at the center of a long struggle over slavery, sin, and politics in American evangelicalism that consumed individual congregations and entire states. This book illuminates border evangelicals’ view of their providential role in American history, demonstrates that border churches established the terms of the debate over the relationship between church and state in wartime, and explains how border Christians contributed to a lasting sectional rift in the churches that obscured the role of slavery in their history.

JF: Why do we need to read A Kingdom Divided?

AH: A Kingdom Divided analyzes the crucial role of the border churches in shaping antebellum divisions in the major evangelical churches, in navigating the relationship between church and the federal government, and in rewriting denominational histories to forestall reunion in the churches. It highlights how religion, morality, and politics interacted—often in unexpected ways—in a time of political crisis and war. My book offers a new perspective on nineteenth century sectionalism and regionalism. And, in revealing the surprising extent of federal intervention in border churches, it addresses the problem of loyalty and neutrality in wartime. Finally, it revises the timeline of postwar reconciliation and reunion, supplying a new explanation of the origins of Southern evangelical distinctiveness in the postwar period.

In addition to all these things, A Kingdom Divided is a study of the failure of neutrality as a strategy in the face of a moral and political crisis. White evangelical clergy in the border region who tried to remain neutral in divisive debates over slavery and secession came to view the debates—not slavery—as the greater evil. Moderate white border clergy saw their own neutral stance as morally superior to engaging in political conflict. However, when the war ended, neutrality was no longer possible and the major denominations pressured border clergy to take a side. These border clergy felt persecuted by their denominations and they began to turn to southern churches, which continued to defend slavery even after it had been abolished. Neutrality on slavery ultimately led them into proslavery denominations. My study of attempted neutrality in the face of moral disputes reverberates in present-day conflicts. It explains why people turn to moderation or neutrality as a strategy in the face of intensely charged conflicts. It also reveals why people who attempt to remain neutral so often feel that they occupy the moral high ground and why they ultimately find fault with people demanding justice, rather than with injustice itself.

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

AH: I can trace my interest in the past back to my childhood love of historical fiction. I decided to become a historian when I started taking history seminars as an undergraduate at Reed College. I am interested in the border states because they exemplify and complicate so many of the key issues of the Civil War era—they are paradoxically both peripheral and central.

JF: What is your next project?

AH: I am currently researching a book on provost marshals and civilians in the occupied border during the Civil War. During the Civil War, border civilians frequently came in contact with provost marshals, who were federal agents who acted as military police and commanded wide-ranging authority over the civilian population. Their many duties included enforcing martial law, administering loyalty oaths, seizing property, and arresting disloyal citizens. In sum, provost marshals wielded tremendous power.

My project will develop a clearer picture of who these men were and the role they played in civilian networks within their communities. Currently, my research suggests three conclusions. First, that Union occupation was both immediate and local. Provost marshals were usually appointed directly from the community and therefore policed neighbors and acquaintances. Second, provost marshals became the face of the Union army in interactions with civilians of all political orientations, races, and genders. This included loyal Unionists, Confederate sympathizers, guerillas, enslaved people, free African-Americans, and women (both black and white). In occupied cities, the provost marshal’s office was an avenue for groups outside the sphere of war to access federal power. Finally, civilian interactions with provost marshals led to the development of a contested language of loyalty that fused the moral and the political. I extend my study past the war years to show how negative memories of provost marshals—often rehashed and embellished—contributed to the development of Lost Cause mythology in postwar years.

JF: Thanks, April!

The Author’s Corner with Colin Calloway

51Wjbq2KQpL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgColin Calloway is John Kimball, Jr. 1943 Professor of History and Native American Studies at Dartmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, The Indian World of George Washington: The First President, the First Americans, and the Birth of the Nation (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Indian World of George Washington?

CG: I, and many other scholars, have been working for years to include Native American history in the history of the United States, not only because indigenous experiences and voices should be part of the national narrative but also because the presence, power, and persistence of Indian nations affected how that narrative unfolded. I decided to write The Indian World of George Washington (rather than a book entitled George Washington and the Indians) because I hoped that demonstrating how Indian people and Indian lands played a central role in the life of the first president would confirm their central role in the early history of the nation he helped to found.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Indian World of George Washington?

CG: As first president, George Washington established important precedents that shaped the direction of US Indian policy and affected the lives of thousands of Indian people. At the same time, Indian people, Indian lands, Indian resistance, and Indian diplomacy shaped the life of George Washington and affected the direction of early American history.

JF: Why do we need to read The Indian World of George Washington?

CG: George Washington is perhaps the most iconic and revered figure in US history, but the purpose of the book is not to debunk him. History, put simply, is the stories we tell about the past. Simple stories may allow us to feel uniformly good about the nation’s past and its heroes, but great nations deserve great histories that recognize complexities, include multiple perspectives, and acknowledge hard truths. Looking closely and honestly at Washington’s dealings with Indian people and Indian lands provides a more ambiguous, but more realistic portrayal of the father of the country as a human being rather than as a demi-god; looking closely at the roles and experiences of Native Americans during his lifetime provides a richer and fuller picture of the world Washington inhabited and of the nation he built.

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

CG: Growing up in Britain, I think I was always interested in American history. What struck me as distinctive was the presence of Indian peoples; what struck me as odd was the relative absence of Indian people in most American history books. I suppose this is what led me to think about how differently the history of America looks if Indian people are included as having meaningful roles and impacts rather than scripted appearances and disappearances.

JF: What is your next project?

CG: I am beginning work on a book that will explore the experiences of Indian visitors to early American cities. Indian delegates who came to Philadelphia to negotiate with George Washington, for example, often spent many weeks in the city between negotiations. What did they do, see, and hear, and what did they make of it all?

JF: Thanks, Colin!

 

 

The Author’s Corner with Matthew Bowman

41wkagDrU8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Matthew Bowman is associate professor of history at Henderson State University. This interview is based on his new book, Christian: The Politics of a Word in America  (Harvard University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: I wrote the book because of Anne Rice, if you can believe it; she wrote a piece a few years back in which she announced that though she considered herself a follower of Jesus, she did not want to be called a “Christian” because it was commonly understood that Christians were anti- any number of things: women, Democrats, LGBT people, and so on. This struck me as fascinating, because I didn’t think she was alone: a lot of people seem to have come to similar conclusions in the past twenty years, and a wide range of surveys bear that out. Why is it, I wondered, that the Religious Right and millennials who leave Christian churches over their social politics have essentially come to an agreement that “Christianity” is about social conservatism?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: The book looks at the ways the word “Christian” has been used in American politics since the end of the Civil War, and particularly follows the process by which white Protestants in particular have come to identify Christianity with something called “Western civilization” as defined in the twentieth century, a fascinating story that involves war, Cold War, psychology, and children’s textbooks. It’s that link, I think, that has allowed the Religious Right to identify the religion with traditionalist social politics, although I also explore a great number of dissenting voices, and point out ultimately that “Christian” is an essentially contested concept, one which might be best defined as a collection of concepts and ideas that can be marshalled to serve any number of definitions, theologies, or social orders.

JF: Why do we need to read Christian: The Politics of a Word in America?

MB: I think this sort of book is essential these days both for historical reasons but also contemporary politics. Of course it’s desirable to have a nuanced and detailed understanding of the American past, but I think questions like those this book raises also show how that understanding can serve a social and civic function: most people seem to agree that the polarization taking hold of American politics and culture these days is a bad thing, and one of the things I hope this book does is show that the history of American Christianity is profoundly resistant to that sort of polarization.

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

MB: Like many past Author’s Corner authors, in college I found myself deeply confused about the culture and society I found myself in and was relieved, genuinely, when history I began reading helped explain it to me. I was a librarian in college, and sometimes my supervisor would find me kneeling in the stacks next to a cart of books thumbing through one or another; this, actually, is how I discovered Ann Braude’s Radical Spirits, one of the first monographs I ever read.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I’m working on a cultural history of Betty and Barney Hill, the first people in the United States to claim abduction by a UFO, in the sense that we define “abduction” today: little gray men, profound trauma, lost time, medical probing, and so on. The Hills are interesting in their own right: when they were abducted in 1961, they were an interracial couple, practicing Unitarians, and civil rights activists, and all these identities intersected uncomfortably with their new status of “abductees.” I think this story will tell us a lot about race, sexuality, and the rise of the New Age movement in the United States.

JF: Thanks, Matt!

The Author’s Corner with Elaine Crane

80140104089920L.jpgElaine Crane is Distinguished Professor of History at Fordham University. This interview is based on her new book, The Poison Plot: A Tale of Adultery and Murder in Colonial Newport (Cornell University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Poison Plot?

EC: Mary and Benedict Arnold were a badly matched couple. The documents I stumbled on relating to Benedict’s divorce petition were salacious, and I needed little tempting to write a story that would upend everything we thought we knew about prim and proper New England. As I became more and more interested in both microhistory and legal history, the Arnold saga seemed a perfect way to combine both interests in a readable narrative.

JF: In two sentences what is the argument of The Poison Plot?

EC: I’m not really trying to make an argument or support a thesis. I’m a writer telling a story, and the title simply alerts potential readers to what the story is about. On the other hand, the book’s subtext highlights female dependence in an eighteenth century society that thrives on male dominance. And although I never actually say so, it is an indictment of consumerism.

JF: Why do we need to read The Poison Plot?

EC: Nobody NEEDS to read it. But if any bookworm is interested in a small local incident that has international implications; if any reader wants to understand that early Americans were in many ways much like us; if any history lover is turned off by ponderous words and long winded sentences; if anyone is smitten by historical crime stories, then maybe, just maybe such a person would like The Poison Plot.

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

EC: I was greatly influenced by Clinton Rossiter, one of my undergraduate professors at Cornell. The other great influence was the first feminist movement, during which I realized how much I wanted an academic career.

JF: What is your next project?

EC: I’ve started to unravel the story of an eighteenth century vintner and his Native American servant. As usual, the documents will tell me what to say.

JF: Thanks, Elaine!

The Author’s Corner with Brian Regal

51HcjrS6VnL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Brian Regal is associate professor of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Kean University. This interview is based on his new book co-authored with Frank Esposito, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: Following Hurricane Sandy we lost power for over a week. When it came back on, I had a lot of TV watching to catch up on. One of the first things I saw was a show on monsters that was doing a segment on the Jersey Devil. It recycled all the old unsubstantiated clichés and nonsense about witches and bat wings. I began looking into the literature on the subject and realized it too was all crap. No one had ever bothered to do a scholarly investigation into the myth or its origins. It made me mad how lazy and slipshod so much of cryptozoological writing was (anger is one of the underappreciated catalysts to historical writing). I told all this to my Kean University colleague, and former teacher, Dr. Frank J. Esposito, a scholar of New Jersey and Native American history. We immediately decided we should write something together on the legend. That is how this book was born. We wanted to do something that had rarely been done before: approach a monster legend from a historical rather than a sociological or folklorist or biological angle. We went and found a large number of primary sources that had never been tapped or never used for what we used them for. I wanted to write something that might one day be thought of as a compelling narrative and that was sympathetic to the lead character, and maybe even a little poetic with a nice turn of phrase or two (I understand someone else will make that determination).

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: The story of the Jersey Devil is not one of a monster born of a witch mother. It’s the story of religious strife, bare-knuckled political in-fighting, and cultural scapegoating.

JF: Why do we need to read The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: No one really needs this: it’s not insulin. It would, however, be of interest to anyone interested in some of the little discussed cultural events that had a major, but unappreciated impact upon American history. If you are interested in where political monsters come from, the treatment of outspoken women, religious intolerance, and the origins of what we today call ‘Fake News’ than you should read it. The story centers on the life of Daniel Leeds, a man largely forgotten today, but who, had he lived a generation later, we might have called a Founding Father. A man who tried to bring the Scientific Revolution to North America; who became the first author in New Jersey and one of the first censored authors in America; and who helped invent the political attack literature that has become a part of modern society. We also placed the origins of the legend within western monster lore and how other such myths contributed to it.

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

BR: When I was a kid I wanted to be Jonny Quest. He travelled the world having adventures, he was smart, and he wore a cool, black t-shirt. I wanted to be Jonny, but as an historian. My guidance counselor, however, told me “kids like you don’t go to college” (My father was a construction worker and my mother was a waitress). So, I joined the army after high school. I volunteered for service in the armored cavalry and travelled the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. I kept reading and dreaming and later was fortunate enough to encounter people who helped me get into college and who supported my plans, and I began to think I might just be able to be an historian and a writer after all. I was especially fascinated by the history of science and the relationship between professional scholars and amateur investigators, particularly in the realm of the paranormal and monster studies, and realized there had not been that much done on this topic. I hope that if I ever do meet Jonny, he’ll understand.

JF: What is your next project?

BR: I am currently working on a history of amateur archaeology examining the various legends and myths about who ‘really’ discovered America. I am looking at stories about a Welsh Prince, Vikings, Chinese explorers, African adventurers, and others, and how these stories are largely the result of political and cultural wants and needs rather than any actual archaeological or historical realities, and that are tied to their historical times. It is tentatively titled Waiting for Columbus.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

The Author’s Corner with Amanda Porterfield

9780199372652Amanda Porterfield is Robert A. Spivey Professor of Religion at Florida State University. This interview is based on her new book, Corporate Spirit: Religion and the Rise of the Modern Corporation (Oxford University Press, 2018). 

JF: What led you to write Corporate Spirit?

AP: This book began with a question. How did corporations become such a prominent feature of American life? As I listened to complaints about corporations and their legal rights, the prevalence of these institutions in American society seemed to require some explanation. The search for answers took hold of me once I realized that corporate forms of organization dominated American religious as well as commercial life. Where did corporate approaches to social order originate? How did corporate forms of religious and commercial organization develop in relation to one another? How did events in one sphere affect events in the other?

JF: What is the argument of Corporate Spirit?

AP: The book argues that corporate organizations have shaped American economic and religious life, and that a long history of corporate organization precedes American innovations in both business and religion. The book argues that a key element in this checkered history is the management of corporations as if they were persons, with real people belonging to them as members of a body, or corpus.

JF: Why do we need to read Corporate Spirit?

AP: The book explains how corporations organize people into groups that transcend kinship, and how they have often succeeded as effective, though not always salutary, forms of social organization. Building on this organizational focus, the book shows how developments in corporate organization from ancient Rome and medieval Christendom led to corporate institutions in British America that, in turn, laid important groundwork for American political independence. The book goes on to show how rapid growth in commercial and religious organization in the early United States contributed to the development of modern corporations later in the 19th century, and how the Christian idea of corporate personhood took on new, secular life when the 14th Amendment was interpreted to protect the rights of corporations as legal persons. Perhaps most important, the book offers a way to understand recent problems of corporate accountability in light of a long history of complaint about corporate behavior.

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

AP: I decided to become a historian at the height of the Vietnam War when I was profoundly confused about America, and could not think of a better idea of what to do with myself. The book is the latest result of my effort to understand how the world we live in came to be. This effort led me to become a historian, and brought me to study religion as a revealing window into people and historical change.

JF: What is your next project?

AP: I have begun to explore the role of religion in modern dance and American jazz, and to consider the historical relationship between the emergence of these arts and religious practice. Music and dance have long been avocations for me, and I am eager to better understand their historical development in modern America.

JF: Thanks, Amanda!

The Author’s Corner with Fred Witzig

41WNTjQqz9L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Witzig is Professor of History at Monmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: I was introduced to Alexander Garden by George Whitefield. My interest in Whitefield and the Great Awakening began when I was an undergraduate and never ended. But I quickly noticed that while the scholarship on Whitefield is lively and expansive, historians had never even begun to adequately assess the enormous efforts of clergy who worked against him. Foremost among them were New England Congregationalist Charles Chauncy and the commissary of the Church of England in the Carolinas, Alexander Garden. Chauncy largely failed in his efforts against the Awakening, and he’s famous among historians today. Garden went after Whitefield with more creativity and energy than Chauncy did, and, impressively, he succeeded in squelching the Awakening in South Carolina. More broadly, Garden arrived in South Carolina at a seminal moment in its development; in the aftermath of the Yamasee War, the white colonists shifted the economic foundations of their colony squarely onto African slave labor. Garden lent his considerable leadership skills to this endeavor, and in the process made a place for the Church of England, and Christianity in general, in the South that would last for more than a century. Yet, historians sometimes confuse him with the botanist Alexander Garden, and his only biography—until now!—is an unpublished dissertation from almost forty years ago. I think it’s time he gets his due.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Alexander Garden marshalled the resources of the Church of England in support of the burgeoning slave plantation economy of early South Carolina and applied a veneer of spiritual respectability to carnal exploitations of slave labor. In the process, Garden smothered the fires of a more egalitarian evangelical revivalism, burdened possibilities for the amelioration of the conditions of slavery with a Christianized paternalism that prevailed until the Civil War, and made the Church of England in the colony more influential than ever before.

JF: Why do we need to read Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Are you interested in the long and sometimes sordid history of the entanglement of Christianity and slavery in North America; the history of the Christian Church, and especially the Church of England, in the South; the development of the southern social order that prevailed at least until the Civil War; the early efforts to educate and evangelize slaves (Garden founded the continent’s first major slave school); the reasons why the Great Awakening flourished and then died out in the Carolinas and Georgia; and the way non-evangelical colonial leaders challenged and shaped George Whitefield’s evangelical ministry? If you are, this is your book. I wrote it with undergraduates in mind, as well, so that faculty teaching courses on Southern history, evangelicalism, slavery, and other such topics could assign it to their students. In the preface I call it a dual biography: the story of the tragic but productive relationship between a refugee from Scotland and his colony on the edge of the British Empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

FW: Two events stand out. The first was when I visited Appomattox Courthouse with my family when I was probably seven years old. Standing outside on the rutted road there in Virginia, my dad told in dramatic fashion the story of General Grant’s meeting with General Lee, and then Lee’s surrender of his troops in the next couple of days. I knew then that history was the most fascinating subject anyone could ever study. The second event was when I was twenty-six and decided to change careers and become a teacher. What else would I ever want to teach?

JF: What is your next project?

FW: I’ve had a strong interest in public history for . . . years. Recently I started two websites. One is an attempt to reach smart but non-expert adults with thoughtful histories of the United States, the church at large, and a smattering of other topics. Eventually it will host resources for homeschooling high schoolers who, in my view, are at the moment stuck with a choice between ultra-nationalist Christian histories or secular histories that ignore or denigrate religious impulses in America and the world. The second website, not yet public, will host podcasts of conversations between me and a historian friend talking about Christians of the past whose stories can challenge us to evaluate current American evangelical assumptions.

JF: Thanks, Fred!

The Author’s Corner with Amanda Izzo

9780813588476Amanda Izzo is an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Saint Louis University. This interview is based on her new book, Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters (Rutgers University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters?

AI: I was inspired to start the project while I was an employee of the Sophia Smith Collection, a women’s history archive at Smith College. This immersed me in the world of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the Maryknoll Sisters, the two faith groups I examine in this book. Preparing manuscript collections—including packing hundreds of boxes in the YWCA’s Empire State Building headquarters—was a revelation. I had a unique vantage point on a stirring history of women’s activist faith that begged to be told.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters?

AI: Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism argues that the YWCA and Maryknoll Sisters put an activist Christianity into motion in the twentieth century by creating bridges between grassroots interpersonal encounters and social movements that were both local and global in scope. Their efforts left a significant imprint on the labor, civil rights, and global human rights movements

JF: Why do we need to read Liberal Christianity and Women’s Global Activism: The YWCA of the USA and the Maryknoll Sisters?

AI: I think the book is a necessary corrective to historiographic and popular perceptions that religious activism has, since the mid-twentieth century, been the exclusive province of conservative Christians and that the most instrumental actors in religious life are men. This work also offers new frameworks for interpreting U.S. political history. These frameworks connect foreign mission to the global human rights movement, red scares to women’s activism, and Christianity to feminism. Liberal Christianity remains a vital presence in U.S. political life; this book, in some part, attempts to explain why this fact has become obscured.

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

AI: This, too, goes back to the archives. Arranging material gives such intimacy with the past, it is as though I felt a call to share these stories. I have been fortunate to work in interdisciplinary settings—my training is in American Studies and my faculty appointment is in Women’s and Gender Studies—that have enabled me to emphasize how the study of the past can help us to understand the present.

JF: What is your next project?

AI: I’m in the very beginning stages of a project looking at women’s religious activism in twentieth century Saint Louis. Religious groups in this city have been at the forefront of so many mobilizations: from disability rights to fair housing and from refugee resettlement to queer liberation, to name a few. While my recently published book highlights the global reach and ambitions of movements often thought to operate solely in local or national contexts, this new project does the reverse. It attempts to unearth how activist religious projects of national or international scope shaped grassroots politics and faith communities in a single metropolitan locale.

JF: Thanks, Amanda!

The Author’s Corner with Enrico Dal Lago

9781107038424_1Enrico Dal Lago is Professor of American History at National University of Ireland Galway. This interview is based on his new book, Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy?

EDL: I was always fascinated by the historical parallelisms between the United States and Italy in terms of having a comparable past of difference and conflict between the north and the south of the country. My first book – Agrarian Elites: American Slaveholders and Southern Italian Landowners, 1815-1861 (LSU Press, 2005) – was a comparison between the propertied classes of the two southern regions of the United States and Italy, and other scholars, notably Don Doyle, have also written about parallelisms between the U.S. South and southern Italy. However, no scholar had ever written a comparative study of the civil wars that the conflict between north and south caused in the United States and Italy in the same years in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1861-65, contemporaneous to the American Civil War, fought between a northern-based Union and a southern-based Confederacy, a civil war was also fought in southern Italy, largely between northern and southern Italians. My book is the first comparative study of these two civil wars. I felt that it was an important gap in the comparative scholarship on the United States and Italy that needed to be filled in order to acquire an in-depth understanding of the significance of the parallelisms represented by the north vs. south conflict in the two countries. The importance of these parallelisms is further confirmed by the fact that, in both the United States and Italy, the long-term legacy of the outcome of the civil war – which, in both cases, led to a fracture and then a reconciliation between the northern and southern parts of the country – is still very much present and has witnessed a surge in national interest since the parallel commemorations of the 150 years from the start of the American Civil War and from Italian national unification, in 2011.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy?

EDL: My book argues that the two parallel civil wars in the United States and Italy in 1861-65 had comparable origins in attempts by two regional propertied elites to be instrumental in the creation of two new nations – the Confederate States of America and the Kingdom of Italy – which protected their interests at the expense of the majority of the two southern populations. The resistance to Confederate authority, carried out in the Confederate South by large numbers of Unionists, and especially by African American slaves, and the parallel and contemporaneous resistance carried out by large number of peasants and soldiers attached to the former Bourbon dynasty in southern Italy produced two parallel “inner civil wars” in the two southern regions, and eventually resulted in the collapse on the Confederacy and in the near collapse of the Italian Kingdom, and also in a temporary loss of power for the two regional elites.

JF: Why do we need to read Civil War and Agrarian Unrest: The Confederate South and Southern Italy?

EDL: Not only my book is the first comparative study of the American and Italian civil wars of 1861-65; it is also the first comparative study that builds upon the most recent scholarly tendencies of focusing on the Confederate South’s “inner civil war” to argue that comparable “inner civil wars” occurred, as happened in Italy, wherever a process of forcible nation-building from above took place during the course of the nineteenth century. Inevitably, the outcome of this process could only be either the complete collapse or the near collapse of the new nation, as the examples of the Confederacy and of the Italian Kingdom clearly show. Crucially, for the majorities of the two groups of southern agrarian workers – African American slaves and landless southern Italian peasants – who were in conditions of dependency from masters and landlords, the “inner civil wars” in the Confederate South and southern Italy represented major opportunities to strike at their oppressors, by allying with anti-Confederate Unionists in one case and with the anti-Italian pro-Bourbon forces in the other case, and with the two primary and distinct, but parallel and comparable, objectives of acquiring legal emancipation and economic independence. My book shows, though, that, ultimately, complete freedom was indissolubly tied, for both African American slaves and southern Italian peasants, to ownership of land. My book shows also that this aspiration, common to all nineteenth-century agrarian workers, was frustrated in both cases, leading to continuous conditions of dependency for the African American freedpeople and the southern Italian peasants, and, also in both cases, these conditions lasted until long after the end of the two civil wars.

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

EDL: The long-term origins of my fascination with American History have a lot to do with the many American movies – starting from Gone with the Wind – and American TV Series – among which Roots and North and South – I watched in Italy, where I was born and I spent the first twenty-five years of my life. The actual decision to become an American historian, though, came somewhat later, during the course of my postgraduate studies, when I became progressively aware of the historical parallelisms between the United States and Italy to which I referred earlier with regard to the conflictual relationship between the north and the south of the two countries. As a result of this growing awareness, I thought that I could understand better the significance of these parallelisms if I studied in depth the history of the United States in the Civil War era, and this eventually became my main field of research.

JF: What is your next project?

EDL: I am planning to write a follow-up comparative study which will focus on the aftermath of the two parallel civil wars in the U.S. South and southern Italy. In my comparison, I will look specifically at the extent of continuity vs. change with regards to labor relations in the agrarian countryside. I am especially interested in the rise of illegal, and in one case paramilitary, forms of agrarian violence as tools for the protection of the interests of the agrarian elites – i.e., the former southern slaveholders and the southern Italian landowners – and as a means to keep the agrarian workers – i.e., the African American freedpeople and the southern Italian peasants – in continuous states of subjection in the Reconstruction U.S. South and southern Italy after 1865.

JF: Thanks, Enrico!

The Author’s Corner with Robert Ferguson

51tsc6ALGHL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Robert Ferguson is Assistant Professor of History at Western Carolina University. This interview is based on his new book, Remaking the Rural South: Interracialism, Christian Socialism, and Cooperative Farming in Jim Crow Mississippi (University of Georgia Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Remaking the Rural South?

RF: This book was adapted from a dissertation I wrote while a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I knew when I arrived to UNC that I wanted to research race relations in the rural South. After discussing ideas with my advisor, Fitzhugh Brundage, he suggested that I meet with the archivists at the Southern Historical Collection which housed on UNC’s campus. When I told them my very general and undeveloped plans for a dissertation, they showed me the 11.5 linear feet of documents they had pertaining to two intentional, interracial communities in rural Mississippi at the height of the Jim Crow era. I was hooked. Thank goodness for archivists!

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Remaking the Rural South?

RF: Focusing on two interracial, Christian socialist communities in the rural South, the book argues that former sharecroppers and their allies enacted significant cultural shifts that placed their communities in the vanguard of human rights struggles in the 1930s to the 1950s. From the Great Depression to the civil rights movement, residents of Delta Cooperative Farm and Providence Farm acted out moments of modification that created egalitarian, democratic communities and which were ultimately quashed by white massive resistance to the black freedom struggle.

JF: Why do we need to read Remaking the Rural South?

RF: In times of national polarization, history doesn’t have to be a weight that paralyzes us. We should never look at the world and say, “well, it’s always been that way” and then go about our days weighted down by an ahistorical, erroneous understanding of the past while doing nothing about the present. Rather, history can liberate us when we understand that in the face of overwhelming hardships—such as, say, the Great Depression or Jim Crow—historical actors have posed radical changes and set about achieving those changes.

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

RF: My father and grandmother were high school history teachers. I grew up in a house where the past was part of our daily conversations. We loved good stories. We especially loved uplifting stories. And while the past is full of astonishing tragedy, it can also be the source of inspiration. By the time I was a teenager, I was already reading about the civil rights movement and other minority freedom struggles that allowed me to imagine alternatives to the sometimes problematic race relations I witnessed growing up. Even now, as a historian, writer, and teacher, I seek out the stories of everyday Americans who have struggled against the status quo. If my readers and students find some inspiration there, all the better.

JF: What is your next project?

RF: I’m currently working on an environmental and economic history of how the boom and eventual bust of twentieth century industries have lead to a new era in southern history. In particular, by looking at industries that have relied on harnessing water – textiles, energy, and beer – I argue that while most of the twentieth century experienced almost unfettered industrial growth, since the 1970s many small towns across the region have begun to resemble the Rust Belt rather than the Sunbelt, complete with environmental degradation and economic decline.

JF: Thanks, Robert!

The Author’s Corner with Jeanne Abrams

abrams comp final (004)Jeanne Abrams is a Professor, University Libraries at the University of Denver. This interview is based on her new book, First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role (NYU Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: It was actually my last book, Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health, which sparked my interest in the way our inaugural first three ladies carved out a role for themselves in the political life of the early American republic. Revolutionary Medicine examined the lives of George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James and Dolley Madison from the perspective of sickness, health, and medicine in their era. In the process of writing that book I gained a deeper appreciation for the role these formidable and path-breaking women, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, played in the grand experiment which transformed America from a colonial outpost to an independent nation.

JF: What is the argument of First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, the three “first” First Ladies of the United States, invented the position without a roadmap to follow to accommodate the demands of a new republican government. Although they had to walk a fine line between bringing dignity to the position and distancing themselves from the courtly styles of European royalty that were seen as inimical to the values of a republic, these three spirited women, who in their time could not even vote or hold office, exercised intelligence and initiative to play a substantial role in the nation’s early political life.

JF: Why do we need to read First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: First Ladies of the Republic demonstrates that the creation of the United States was not only a male enterprise. Although they were constrained by the customs of their era, elite women like the inaugural First Ladies played a substantial role in the nation’s early political life. All three helped shape the nation’s political culture and were able to transcend boundaries between the private and public sphere. The lives of these three extraordinary women intersected on many occasions, and they learned from one another as the brand new position of First Lady evolved. Moreover, though most historians have looked at male and female socio-political roles in their era as a binary divide, I argue that it is more useful to view the manner in which they operated together with their presidential husbands as members of a family unit. For early members of America’s governing elite, political life was often a joint cooperative undertaking, an effort in which they participated actively as part of a close-knit family circle. The three First Ladies were all deeply committed to the public good and the principles of independence and liberty which had first emerged in Revolutionary America and continued to develop in the early national period, but at the same time, they also worked to burnish the public images of their presidential spouses and advance their family interests.

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

JA: As a freshman in college many decades ago, I had to write a paper on American Loyalists in the American Revolution for a history class. I paid a visit to the New York Historical Society, and too my astonishment and gratitude, I was handed a box of letters written by Loyalists in the 1760s and 1770s. I couldn’t believe I was holding historical documents from two centuries prior in my hands, and the experience launched my on the road to becoming an historian. That fateful day, I immediately fell in love with primary sources, and it is a love affair that has endured to this day.

JF: What is your next project?

JA: I am now working on a book manuscript about the European journeys of John and Abigail Adams and how their time abroad influenced their increasing admiration for their home country of America and commitment to the republic of the United States.

JF: Thanks, Jeanne!

The Author’s Corner with Lucas Volkman

9780190248321Lucas Volkman is Assistant Professor of History at Moberly Area Community College. This interview is based on his new book, Houses Divided: Evangelical Schisms and the Crisis of the Union in Missouri (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Houses Divided?

LV: For some time, religious history had always interested me. During recent years historians have been improving their understanding of the role of religion in the larger Civil War era. In many ways it made sense for me further this exploration by examining the denominational schisms over slavery within the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

While earlier historians had done fine work on the topic, the more I researched the more I realized that there was further work that was needed on this important series of events in American history. What really stood out to me was how there were a variety of facets that had not been written about extensively.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Houses Divided?

LV: This work argues that congregational and local denominational schisms among Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians in the border state of Missouri before, during, and after the Civil War were central to the crisis of the Union, Civil War, and Reconstruction. The book maintains that the schisms were interlinked religious, sociocultural, legal, and political developments rife with implications for the transformation of evangelicalism and the United States in that period and to the end of Reconstruction.

JF: Why do we need to read Houses Divided?

LV: The schisms within the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches were important events within the sectional crisis during the years leading to the Civil War. But, Houses Divided moves beyond the antebellum period, and tells how the schisms played a major role during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

Readers will see how competing theologies over the morality of slavery helped drive antebellum events as southern evangelicals used their power to push their proslavery theology only to have northern evangelicals turn the tables during the war and Reconstruction, as they sought to construct pro-northern civil religion.

In Houses Divided I discuss how the schisms were important for their legal ramifications. As congregations divided over slavery, congregations were forced to go to the courts to adjudicate their property disputes. Combined with wartime/Reconstruction oaths, these property battles demonstrate how the schisms played a major role in the interactions between church and state.

Finally, by focusing on Missouri, readers will see a state which was uniquely torn apart by the conflict over slavery – making it an excellent laboratory to examine the schisms. Moreover, by focusing on a single border state, Houses Divided can truly examine these ruptures as local events, rather than solely through the eyes of elite national ministers. By bringing in local congregations, women and African Americans, to add to the narrative of ministers and other elites, Houses Divided truly surveys the religious landscape.

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

LV: Since I was younger I had always been interested in history. While I majored in history during my undergrad, I began to be drawn more so to American history. I thought that I would have the most to contribute on the nineteenth century. Hopefully the readers of Houses Divided will think so as well after finishing the book.

JF: What is your next project?

LV: Sticking with the theme of religious history, currently I am researching a project on American Catholicism in the mid to late nineteenth century. I am particularly interested in how Catholicism interacted with the forces of Americanization on the church.

JF: Thanks, Lucas!

 

The Author’s Corner with Robert Gross

 

GrossRobert Gross is a United States History Teacher and Assistant Academic Dean at Sidwell Friends School. This interview is based on his new book Public v. Private: The Early History of School Choice in America (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Public v. Private?

RG: I have always been deeply invested in educational policy debates about school choice, charter schools, and private schools. As a historian I wanted to look to the past to understand the origins of what I consider to be modern school choice and what we can learn from that history. I ultimately found that this was a 19th- and early 20th-century story, when public systems arose to eliminate the private, market-based schools that had existed earlier, and when Catholic school systems then emerged to challenge public schooling. It was in this period that, after significant conflict, Americans agreed to the existence of systematic alternatives to public schooling. Understanding how that happened, what it tells us about broader American legal ideas about public and private, and what it might mean to the present is what I wanted to write about.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Public v. Private?

RG: That we owe the existence of school choice in the United States much less to market forces than to public regulation—Americans have consented to private schools precisely because states have regulated them substantially, and, in return, given them significant public subsidies. I also argue that broader American legal battles over the scope of public power over private enterprise have been centered on, and determined by, state regulation of private schools.

JF: Why do we need to read Public v. Private?

RG: As I indicate above, American historians have missed the central role that private schools have played as sites of contestations over the extent to which states can regulate private enterprise. I don’t think we can understand just how powerful state regulation has been in this country without looking at schools, and private schools in particular. Secondly, this story has important lessons for our contemporary discussions over charter schools, voucher programs, and school choice more broadly. Too often we frame our debates about school choice over whether one is “pro” or “anti” charter schools, to cite the most prominent example. Public vs. Private argues that the more important question, perhaps, is how we will regulate school choice. What should be the standards for a school to receive a charter today? How should we hold these schools accountable? What do we collectively owe parents to help them navigate educational markets? These kinds of questions became essential to working out the relationship between public and private schools in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and we would do well to return to them.

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

RG: I suppose I’ve always been searching for the answer to the question that David Byrne of the Talking Heads posed: “How did I get here”? I think my particular path to becoming primarily a historian of American education emerged from my own schooling. I’ve always sought to know why our schools look the way we do, why private schools exist, and how Americans have thought about education in the past.

JF: What is your next project?

RG: Nothing is imminent at the moment. I currently live in DC and am fascinated by the history of the city and what it tells us about so many important areas of American life, from race to urban planning to the role of the federal government.

JF: Thanks, Robert!

The Author’s Corner with Randy Browne

51HQEW4XcnL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_Randy Browne is Assistant Professor of History at Xavier University. This interview is based on his new book, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean?

RB: In graduate school I knew I wanted to study the history of slavery—and I thought I was going to write a dissertation about slave resistance in the American South. But two things happened that led me down a different path. First, as I turned my attention toward the wider Atlantic world, I was struck by the demographic differences between slavery in North America and the Caribbean and especially by just how deadly Caribbean plantation societies were. As historians have long known, most Atlantic slave societies were death traps; slave populations outside of the U.S. did not reproduce themselves, and slaveowners relied on the transatlantic slave trade to replace slaves they worked to death. But what, I wanted to know, did this demographic reality mean on the ground, for enslaved people’s day-to-day lives? The second thing that happened was that I came across a remarkable series of legal records—the reports of British Crown officials known as fiscals and protectors of slaves—from nineteenth-century Berbice (part of what is now Guyana) in which enslaved people themselves described their world, the challenges they faced, and their relationships with one another and their enslavers. It didn’t take long for me to realize that enslaved people were primarily concerned with trying to find ways to survive—which was extraordinarily difficult given the conditions they faced. Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean is my exploration of what the unrelenting struggle for survival looked like.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean?

RB: I argue that for most enslaved people the central problem was not how to resist or escape slavery but how to survive. I also argue that using survival as a lens changes they way we understand enslaved people’s social relationships, cultural practices, and political strategies. 

JF: Why do we need to read Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean?

RB: In my view, there are two major reasons to read my book. First, taking the problem of survival as the starting point challenges readers to reconsider some of their assumptions about slavery, power, and enslaved people’s agency. In particular, it offers an alternative to the domination and resistance framework that has predominated for decades—a framework that makes two problematic assumptions: (1) that the organizing principle for enslaved people’s politics was the struggle for “freedom” and (2) that slaves’ lives are best understood by focusing on their conflicts with enslavers. Instead, what I show is that most enslaved people recognized that escaping slavery was unlikely and were therefore preoccupied with the challenge of survival. Foregrounding survival also reveals that the power relationships of Atlantic slavery were much more complex than we often imagine. Enslaved people fought their oppressors, of course, but they also navigated complex and fraught relationships with one another that were at least as important. In the end, I hope readers will realize, like I did, that the story of enslaved people’s resistance to slavery and the story of their struggle to survive intersected but were not the same.

The other thing I hope readers take away from the book is an appreciation for the human stories that I reconstructed from the remarkable archive that distinguishes Berbice from most slave societies, where the voices of ordinary slaves are so much harder to find. Taken together, the records of the Berbice fiscals and protectors of slaves are the single largest archive of first-person testimony from enslaved people in the Americas. And rather than focus on a handful of exceptional characters, they document the day-to-day lives of hundreds of enslaved people from virtually every possible background. These stories reveal, in astonishing and often painful detail, the world that enslaved Africans and their descendants confronted, their hopes and fears, and their efforts to survive horrific conditions.

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

RB: Even before college, I knew that I wanted to study and maybe teach history one day. As an undergraduate at Eckerd College, I got very interested in the history of slavery and especially the American South, which is what I thought I was going to focus on when I arrived at the University of North Carolina for graduate school. But as soon as I came across the sources I describe above, I knew I had to shift gears and focus on Berbice. I quickly fell in love with Caribbean and Atlantic history and never looked back.

JF: What is your next project?

RB: I’ve started work on a history of slave drivers—enslaved men appointed by plantation managers or planters as supervisors—throughout the Caribbean. I got interested in the complicated social and political role of drivers while writing my first book (which has a chapter devoted to drivers) and want to build on what I learned to take a wider approach to these crucial go-betweens, who haven’t received nearly as much attention as they deserve. I’ve found some very exciting records from Cuba and Jamaica already and am casting a wide net—so feel free to send any sources my way!

JF: Thanks, Randy!

The Author’s Corner with Marie Dallam

51+rCcs4muL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Marie Dallam is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma Honors College. This interview is based on her new book, Cowboy Christians (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Cowboy Christians?

MD: When I first I moved to Oklahoma to teach at the university, I saw an ad in the paper for “cowboy church.” I could not imagine what that was, or what it meant, and in pursuit of an answer I realized that no one had done any academic work on it. So, the project just kind-of presented itself to me. The more I delved into cowboy church, the more the project expanded, so ultimately the book is as much about religious history among cowboy culture people as it is about the present-day cowboy church movement. The project also became a great way for me to learn about this region of the country, by driving all over Oklahoma and Texas and meeting people from communities who I would not normally encounter.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Cowboy Christians?

MD: Cowboy church is a noteworthy revival movement within American evangelicalism today. By considering aspects of its impetus, structure, atmosphere, and development, I am able to contextualize it in relation to other significant religious forms of both the past and present, including muscular Christianity, the Jesus movement, new paradigm churches, and new religious movements.

JF: Why do we need to read Cowboy Christians?

MD: American evangelicalism is particularly good at reinventing itself, and exploring its many twists and turns helps us to understand larger patterns of theological and institutional religious development in the United States. The cowboy church movement is one such twist, but until now it has largely flown under the radar of critical study. In addition to history and analysis, I include a number of stories about my experiences of attending and meeting people at cowboy Christian events, which makes the book a more engaging and personal read.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Of if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

MD: I am a historian of American religion. I’m particularly fascinated by alternative forms of religious belief and practice, especially groups that have been socially marginalized. When we—as a society, and/or as scholars—overlook these kinds of communities, it curtails our ability to truly understand the development of religion in the United States. So my goal as a historian is to preserve the record of religious minorities of all sorts.

JF: What is your next project?

MD: I cannot say what my next “big” project is. But for the short term, I will be working on some research related to the history of Susan Parrish Wharton’s social gospel work in Philadelphia around the turn of the 20th century. It’s a smaller project that I began about a decade ago, and from which I got sidetracked. I would like to finally finish it!

JF: Thanks, Marie!

The Author’s Corner with Paul Kemeny

9780190844394Paul Kemeny is Professor of Religion and Humanities at Grove City College. This interview is based on his new book, The New England Watch and Ward Society (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The New England Watch and Ward Society?

PK: In reading William Hutchison’s The Modernist Impulse, I was struck by his fascinating chapter on how Fundamentalists like J. Gresham Machen and humanists H.L. Mencken shared some common critiques of liberal Protestants. I was already familiar with Machen’s criticisms but did not know much about Mencken’s. So I started reading everything I could get my hands on by Mencken Reading Mencken was enjoyable because he’s such a delightful writer. More importantly, I was far more captivated by Mencken’s critique of Protestant anti-vice activism than his theological criticisms of liberal Protestants. The question that intrigued me was this: why would New England’s leading liberals—Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Unitarians—formed a vice squad? This action certainly clashed with the popular image that liberal Protestants, especially in Boston, were progressive, urbane, and tolerant.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The New England Watch and Ward Society?

PK: The New England Watch and Ward Society provides a new window into the history of American Protestantism during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. By seeking to suppress obscene literature, gambling, and prostitution, the moral reform organization embodied Protestants’ efforts to shape public morality in an increasing intellectually and culturally diverse society.

JF: Why do we need to read The New England Watch and Ward Society?

PK: I can offer three reasons. First, The New England Watch and Ward Society offers a panoramic historical review of mainline Protestant efforts to provide a unifying public morality for American public culture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While focusing on the Boston-based New England Watch and Ward Society, my book explores the larger mainline Protestant establishment’s efforts to shape public morality. It describes late nineteenth-century Victorian American values about what constituted “good literature,” sexual morality, and public duty and explains Protestants’ efforts to promote these values in a rapidly changing culture. I examine censorship of allegedly obscene material as well as efforts to suppress gambling and “white slavery” (prostitution).

Second, the work explains why the Watch and Ward Society collapsed in the 1920s. The Watch and Ward Society’s sudden and very public fall from grace offers a new perspective on why mainline Protestantism’s efforts to impose a common civic morality upon American culture failed. 

Third, the study draws upon a treasure trove of previously-unpublished archival and printed sources and tells a number of fascinating stories about the suppression of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the sometimes nefarious tactics that publicly upstanding Protestant elites used to stamp out vice, such as planting eavesdropping devices in the Boston District Attorney’s office to gather evidence of his criminal activity.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

PK: While I was in seminary, I grew interested in the history of America Protestantism during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. This interest gradually grew into a healthy obsession and after doing a Th.M. at Duke, I decided that I wanted to get a Ph.D in American religious history.

JF: What is your next project?

PK: I am currently in the throes of co-editing with my colleague Gary Scott Smith The Oxford Handbook of Presbyterians for Oxford University Press. We have assembled more than thirty-five scholars to contribute essays on Presbyterian history, theology, worship, ethics, politics, and education.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

The Author’s Corner with Andrew Lang

58ed00a62953dAndrew Lang is assistant professor of History at Mississippi State University. This interview is based on his new book, In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America (Louisiana State University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write In the Wake of War?

AL: Ever since I entered the field of Civil War history, I have been deeply interested in the experience of the common soldier, who lived as an extension of a rich and complicated nineteenth-century America. Historians have produced a remarkable literature on these volunteers, explaining their motivations to enlist, the trials of living as fiercely democratic and individualistic males who served in a hierarchical and disciplined military ethos, the traumas of combat, and their perspectives on Union and emancipation. As a graduate student who came of age during the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I sensed that wars possess a confusing underside, one in which soldiers engage civilians, enact dramatic social and political changes, function as a policy arm of the state, and attempt to shape the conditions of peace in spite of continued insurgent warfare. In short, the US’s current wars revealed the complications of military occupation, which I knew had to have an origins story. Although my book certainly does not gauge the past according to the understandings and biases of the present—in fact, it does quite the opposite—it was nonetheless conceived with an eye toward the questions that we ask today about the military’s role within democratic life. I thus embarked on a project to understand the complicated experience of serving as a volunteer soldier within the ranks of United States armies of occupation during the Mexican-American War, Civil War, and Reconstruction.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of In the Wake of War?

AL: The book argues that the Civil War era ushered in the long age of American wars of military occupation, and the work thus considers these occupations through the eyes of the occupier, revealing dynamic internal wars that were just as complex and consequential as those waged on the front lines. I suggest that the republican military tradition—both the citizen-soldier ethos and the cultural discomfort with standing armies—underwent significant strains from the advent of occupation, by changing the disposition of volunteer armies, in managing the complicated processes of civilian pacification and state-sanctioned emancipation, and in negotiating the confusing dawn of peace during Reconstruction.

JF: Why do we need to read In the Wake of War?

AL: The book aims to link the American Civil War era to its broader cultural context, revealing how the events of 1861 to 1865 were shaped by a military ethos that preceded secession and which continued to influence the nation after Appomattox. Exploring how United States soldiers, who symbolized the society from which they came, interpreted occupation on both ideological and practical grounds reveals an in-the-ranks perspective on an unprecedented role of American armies in international and domestic wars and crises. This history of military occupation thus reveals how occupation brought soldiers face-to-face with a host of central problems in nineteenth-century America: the relationship between citizen and government; the tensions between democracy and republicanism; the Union’s perceived exceptionalism; the explosive issue of race in a white democracy; the limits of free-market capitalism; the boundary between formalized and irregular warfare; the place of standing armies in the American mind; and the uncertain role of the federal state in charting the murky transition from war to peace.

The book also reconsiders the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that Abraham Lincoln used to invite African American men to serve in Union armies. The proclamation’s language fit within the context of Lincoln’s anti-slavery politics, white soldiers’ anxieties about serving in armies of occupation, and contemporary questions about the fitness of African Americans for citizenship. Indeed, by placing black soldiers in garrisoned and auxiliary roles, the Proclamation attempted to marginalize the advent of black soldiering. Yet by doing so, African American troops wound up on the front lines of occupation, facilitating slavery’s demise everywhere Union armies of occupation moved. The complexion and purpose of wartime and peacetime military occupations changed fundamentally as African American soldiers embraced military power to occasion decisive social and political changes across the national landscape.

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

AL: The very first course I took in college was a survey of early United States history. I was captivated by the ideas and presentation. Coinciding with the events of September 11, 2001, which transpired during that same semester, I was drawn immediately to issues of historical context, notions of change over time, and America’s place in the world. Little did I know it at the time, but the professor in that course would become one of my closest professional mentors and personal friends. It was among the greatest privileges of my life to send him a signed copy of my book seventeen years after I took his survey course. I knew that I wanted to pursue the study of Civil War history when, during the summer of 2003, my dad and I took a trip to the Antietam battlefield, a haunting landscape filled not with the glory of the past, but instead with the horrors of a cataclysmic battle. I had spent much of the summer reading on the Civil War in preparation for an upper division course in my recently declared history major. I had thought that I would pursue a legal career, but that day at Antietam sealed an everlasting fascination with the central event in United States history. I have not looked back since.

JF: What is your next project?

AL: I had the good fortune two years ago to be asked by a senior scholar to serve as the lead writer for a co-authored book on the American Civil War in a global context. We have nearly finished a first draft of the manuscript, which argues that Americans of diverse persuasions—Unionist and Confederate, black and white, soldier and civilian—interpreted the coming, conduct, and consequences of the war through the lens of “American civilization,” or what we in the twenty-first century might refer to as “American exceptionalism.” The book argues that the Civil War era can be understood as a crisis of American identity, one that at once considered the United States a unique and chosen nation and one that feared for the United States’ place in a world consumed by perceived radicalism and revolution. Disunion and war resulted from a failure to forge a consensus on the roles of democracy, slavery, liberty, race in a republican “civilization.” The war, its great social changes, and its long aftermath served as referendums on this crisis of “civilization.”

My next individual project, of which I am still in the very formative stages of conceptualization, will be a cultural history of the demobilization of Union armies and the dawn of peace in the weeks, months, and years following the dissolution of the Confederate States of America. While many unresolved issues lingered in the wake of Appomattox, consuming the United States in political turmoil and social violence, the end of formal hostilities shaped how Americans understood life in a republic absent the state-sanctioned violence of public war. Fearing that the Civil War’s continuation beyond the formal surrender of armies might consume the United States in the same chaos and turmoil that plagued wars and revolutions in Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean, the implications of a defined peace directly influenced the foundations of, implementation of, and resistance to, postwar reunion policies. Ultimately, I want to highlight the role of nineteenth-century American fears of a large military state and subsequent commitments to anti-militarization after 1865 in shaping the meaning and process of postwar restoration.

JF: Thanks, Andrew!

The Author’s Corner with Benjamin Park

51IvPjLeQNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBenjamin Park is Assistant Professor of History at Sam Houston State University. This interview is based on his new book, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write American Nationalisms?

BP: As I was beginning my graduate education in 2010, I was struck by how the Tea Party appropriated ideas of the nation in their attempt to “take back” the country. I became interested in dissecting how conceptions of a national body fed into political action and partisan movements. American Nationalisms was my chance to trace how national imaginations and parochial conflicts were tethered together since the country’s founding.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of American Nationalisms?

BP: Today we assume that the term “nation” is directly correlated to a federal government, but that has not always been the case. American Nationalisms demonstrates how the first five decades of our country’s existence witnessed a plethora of competing forms of “national” definitions—including regional, ethnic, and religious bodies—that in turn drew from both local contexts and transnational debates.

JF: Why do we need to read American Nationalisms?

BP: We like to think that, in moments of cultural division, our national values can hold us together, that the very notion that we’re all American can bridge unfathomable chasms. Yet my book shows that the very definition of what our “nation” means, let alone what our national values include, have been contested ever since our political independence from Britain. How we define “America,” and even how we define one’s national belonging, reveals a lot about our own biases, interests, and priorities. Our very understanding of togetherness, then, is itself a tool for division.

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

BP: I was raised in the Mormon faith and, as a college student, became interested in my religion’s past. My interest in Mormon history, however, soon became a Pandora’s Box as I then became fascinated with religious history writ large and, eventually, American history in general. Along the way, I had a series of teachers who demonstrated that a proper understanding of the past can help us better understand the present.

JF: What is your next project?

BP: I am currently working on a history of the Mormon city of Nauvoo, an 1840s settlement on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River that featured 20,000 converts, bloc voting, clandestine polygamous arrangements, and secret political bodies. I aim to use the story as a microcosm of democratic angst during the antebellum period, as Americans feared the nation’s commitment to self-rule left them vulnerable to cultural oppression. The book is under contract with W. W. Norton/Liveright, and a full manuscript is due in November. I offer more of an overview here.

JF: Thanks, Ben!

 

 

The Author’s Corner with Martin Brückner

9781469632605.jpg.pngMartin Brückner is professor of English and Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware. This interview is based on his new book, The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860 (Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Social Life of Maps?

MB: This book had its beginnings in a map encounter and the slow realization that maps played a wonderfully complex role in the lives of early Americans. My map encounter was seeing Henry Popple’s luxuriously crafted A Map of the British and French Empire in America (1733) fully assembled and on display in Colonial Williamsburg. Designed as a wall map, the map measured a whopping six by six feet. It was not only the physically largest map showing the colonies during the long eighteenth century, but it managed to impress someone like John Adams, who, upon seeing it in Independence Hall in 1776, wrote to his wife Abigail “It is the largest I ever saw, and the most distinct. Not very accurate. It is Eight foot square!”

I found his reaction to be curious because it pointed to what I thought was an uncharacteristic response for an Enlightenment-trained actor like Adams: why would the Pennsylvania Assembly hang up a super-sized and costly map that would simultaneously broadcast its very inadequacy as a map? My curiosity grew when I realized that despite the fact that the Popple map was soundly rejected by the British scientific community, it nevertheless was prominently staged in colonial state houses and by private citizens like Benjamin Franklin. Contrary to my expectation, map accuracy was not all that mattered to early Americans. Instead, they engaged with maps using multiple and often contradictory frames of reference, from way-finding tool to theatrical spectacle and from empirical evidence to sentimental possession. Inspired by the diversity of map uses, I set out to track the social lives (or call it careers) of both singular maps like the Popple map and generic commercial maps by asking the twofold question: How were large and small maps embedded—real and symbolically—in American public and private life? And what did American-made maps do—really do—for Americans?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Social Life of Maps?

MB: This book’s argument, broadly speaking, is that American-made maps emerged as a meaningful media platform and popular print genre during the mid-eighteenth century precisely because the map as artifact and the concept of mapping had become involved in social relationships between people. On the one hand, the argument emphasizes that cartographic literacy was anything but a common competence; reading the squiggly lines of topographical maps, following map coordinates, in short, thinking cartographically was not only a skill and habit that had to be learned and practiced, but which in the process generated many applications and odd turns as American citizens took to maps as a major mode of social communication. On the other hand, because most maps were commercial maps and were thus considered by map-makers and map-users as saleable goods, much of their value—be it informational, symbolic, or affective—came emphatically alive during the social process of exchange. Examining the social life of maps in early America allows us to comprehend more fully the expressed faith in the usability of maps as a popular tool a large number of people embraced in order to shape their lives as individuals, citizens, or members of communities like the family or the nation.

JF: Why do we need to read The Social Life of Maps?

MB: You should read this book because I believe it will change the way you think about how maps work in American history and culture! Far too long have we undervalued, even misunderstood, the significance of maps by only considering maps as either empirical evidence of geographical knowledge or as rhetorical representation of political power. But if you read this book, you will discover that Americans had access to a vast array of commercial and home-made maps. These maps were not only best-sellers and available to a highly diverse audience, but they were prominent participants, even agents of change, in the new nation’s changing cultural landscape. From map giants imitating the size of the Popple map to flashy handkerchief maps, from cheap pocket maps to elaborately drawn and embroidered school maps, American-made maps helped shape the public sphere and new business models; they were prominent display objects in people’s homes; they were cherished as gifts and heirlooms; they were essential to the curricula of the nation’s educational systems; and above all, because they were widely available as visual and decorative objects, the very look of American maps defined the way in which people looked at pictures and their personal surroundings, be it indoors and outdoors. After reading this book, you will think about historical maps in new and different ways.

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

MB: I came to American history gradually and by following a circuitous path. As a student and teacher of early American literature, I always felt that it was my second job to always historicize the words and images I found in sermons and poems, plays and novels. But from the moment that I discovered that maps played a crucial role in early American literature, I became fascinated by the history of cartography, especially the “new history” of cartography and its attending focus on the production of maps, the role of industrial print culture, the social history of consumption, not to mention historical archives including wills, inventories, and sales records. While I now read maps through the lenses of being a textual historian, material culture specialist, and a map historian, my take on American history is deeply informed by the fact that I am an immigrant and that therefore I constantly look at American history and the maps that represent it in order to better understand my new home when thinking, for example, about its roads that are set up in grid patterns, its fascination with landed property and neighborhoods, or the way in which its public media opts to represent data as different as the weather or election results.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I am currently working on three interrelated projects, all of which explore the relationship between American literature, material culture, and the history of capitalism. I am currently co-editing a volume investigating the phenomenon of fugitive archives; the contributors examine the facts and fictions surrounding the loss and recovery of archives or archived objects, including their structures, uses, and the challenge they pose for the curation of personal and communal experience. My second project is a digital database called “ThingStor” and is conceived to become a material culture database for finding and cross-referencing material objects cited in American literature and the visual arts. You can view its prototype (and actively contribute to it) at www.materialculture.udel.edu. Finally, my next research project examines the cultural history of “literary things” and the American tradition of object narratives; this book project explores in particular the transfer of popular fiction into material forms and the way in which these were packaged and sold in an emergent marketplace rife with mass-marketing, cross-over products, and the vertical integration of cultural forms.

JF: Thanks, Martin!