The Author’s Corner with Eric Hinderaker

BostonsMassacre.jpgEric Hinderaker is Professor of History at the University of Utah. This interview is based on his new book, Boston’s Massacre (Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Boston’s Massacre?

EH: The book is about the Boston Massacre, which occurred on March 5, 1770, when a group of British soldiers fired into a crowd of civilians and killed five of them.  Initially, I was interested in the eyewitness testimony, which is voluminous but fundamentally irreconcilable.  As my research progressed, I became fascinated with the problem faced by commander-in-chief Thomas Gage and his subordinate officers, who had to manage military-civilian relations throughout the colonies of British North America at a time when many thousands of troops were stationed there.  In the end, I realized that, above all, the book is about memory: how we interpret what we see and argue about events when they’ve just happened, how we commemorate them to solidify a particular interpretation of their significance, and how they are eventually reshaped through selective remembering and forgetting.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Boston’s Massacre?

EH: As the apostrophe in the title suggests, the book argues that the “massacre” belonged to the town of Boston: the town created the conditions that gave rise to the shootings; it championed the view that the shootings were a massacre rather than an “unhappy disturbance,” as the soldiers’ defenders would have it; and it kept the memory of the massacre alive in print, in commemorative orations, and in local culture throughout the war of independence.  Boston was the crucible of the American Revolution—its indispensable community—and the Boston Massacre was the catalyzing event that forged the town’s collective sense of grievance and purpose.

JF: Why do we need to read Boston’s Massacre?

EH: Today, when we inhabit an era of sharp and continuous political disagreement, many people look fondly on the past—and especially the era of the American Revolution—as a time of widespread consensus and rational political behavior.  Boston’s Massacre makes clear that the politics of the revolutionary era were no less divisive than our own.  Nor were opinions shaped by an impartial press or high-minded statesmen.  Fundamental principles were at stake, then as now, and people disagreed about everything, including the bare facts of an event like the Boston Massacre.  Were the townspeople innocent and aggrieved victims of excessive force, or were the soldiers being assaulted so fiercely by a mob that they had no choice but to shoot?  Boston’s Massacre allows us to observe the process by which confused impressions were deployed in the service of competing narratives, and then to trace the evolution of those narratives across a long span of time, even into our own.

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

EH: I majored in history in college, but I did not initially intend to become a historian.  When I did decide to apply for graduate school, I thought I wanted to study modern European history.  But I had the good fortune to arrive at the University of Colorado at the same time that four brilliant early Americanists joined the department: Fred Anderson, Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Gloria Main, and Jackson Turner Main.  I was introduced to early American history at a moment when the field was undergoing a renaissance, and I discovered that its core issues resonated deeply with my own curiosity and interests.

JF: What is your next project?

EH: I have three main projects in the offing.  With Rebecca Horn, my colleague in colonial Latin American history at the University of Utah, I am working on a very broad-gauge account of the colonization of the Americas.  François Furstenberg of Johns Hopkins University and I are writing a reinterpretation of Frederick Jackson Turner that casts him as a colonial historian rather than a western historian, and that argues for his extraordinary prescience in anticipating the current shape of the field.  And on my own, I am just beginning work on a project that will explore the outpouring of energy and capital in the Restoration era (ca. 1660-1690) that reshaped England’s colonial enterprise in North America.  I hope they’ll keep me busy for awhile!

JF: Thanks, Eric!

The Author’s Corner with Sharla M. Fett

RecapturedAfricans.jpgSharla M. Fett is Professor of History at Occidental College. This interview is based on her new book, Recaptured Africans: Surviving Slave Ships, Detention, and Dislocation in the Final Years of the Slave Trade (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Recaptured Africans?

SF: This book has deep roots! While I was researching my dissertation, which became Working Cures, archivists at the Virginia Historical Society showed me a ship log written by a white doctor serving as a U.S. agent traveling with recaptive Africans to Liberia.  Then I learned that the recaptive men, women, and youth on that particular ship had been sold to slave smugglers working at the mouth of the Congo River.  In fact, Harper’s Weekly had published a large engraving of these same West Central African recaptives aboard the slave ship Wildfire upon their 1860 arrival in Key West, Florida. Together, the doctor’s log and the Harper’s image struck me deeply on a personal and intellectual level.  As a child of medical missionaries, I had visited the coast where the massive Congo River pours into the Atlantic.  The devastating history that linked those childhood memories to recaptives’ enslavement and displacement spurred me to learn more about recaptive African journeys resulting from U.S. slave trade suppression efforts. I also wanted to understand how illegal transatlantic slave trafficking—often sidelined in American history—shaped the turbulent politics of slavery in the years before the Civil War. So, the seeds of this book were planted quite a few years ago. By the time I finally began to work on the book in earnest, Atlantic world scholarship had expanded considerably, aided by digital history collaborations such as the Voyages: Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, African Origins and Liberated Africans databases.  This new scholarship offered essential context for the particular stories I traced.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Recaptured Africans

SF: This book argues that recaptive African youth and adults, rather than being “liberated” upon their release from illegal slave ships, entered a new phase of captivity defined by death, forced migration, and U.S. racial politics.  Under these conditions, shipmate relations between recaptives vitally shaped the particular strategies by which both child and adult slave ship survivors attempted to rebuild their social worlds in the midst of profound displacement.

JF: Why do we need to read Recaptured Africans?

SF: 2017 is a significant year for considering how long and difficult the road to a just emancipation can be.  For some time now, scholars like Saidiya Hartman have challenged the idea of a clear transition from the time of slavery to the time of freedom.  That was certainly the case for African children, women and men seeking to survive their “recapture” from illegal slave ships.  Their story underscores the human costs of slave trade suppression practices molded by U.S. racial inequality and political conflicts over slavery.  Many historical studies have looked at antebellum slavery politics primarily through the lens of sectional battles over domestic slavery.  By showing how Atlantic world slaving and emancipation deeply shaped responses to hundreds of African recaptives in U.S. custody, Recaptured Africans offers readers a new perspective on U.S. slavery debates in a much broader geographic context.

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

SF: As I tell my students at Occidental College, I don’t study history to bury myself in the past, but instead to understand our current world better, to gain perspective on American histories of race and slavery, and to broaden my vision of alternative paths humans can take in our troubled times.   Although I majored in Biology as an undergraduate, I always felt the pull of my elective classes in history, anthropology and politics. I credit my Carleton College history professor Robert Bonner for helping me discover that history was about interpretation not memorization of facts. After several years of high school science teaching and non-profit work, I finally took the plunge and applied to graduate school, pursuing a PhD in American History. I was lucky to take classes from Estelle Freedmen in women’s history during my MA program at Stanford.  At Rutgers, the opportunity to work with Suzanne Lebsock and Deborah Gray White affirmed my interest in U.S. southern history, women’s history, and the history of slavery.  I was particularly drawn to the study of antebellum U.S. slavery, a field at the time defined by imaginative new studies of enslaved community and culture.  The diasporic dimensions of African American history and the Atlantic World context for slavery studies became increasingly important in my research.  Recaptured Africans reflects my interest in how displaced Africans individually and collectively, navigated the daily realities of their condition resulting from the large-scale developments of Atlantic slaving and its abolition.

JF: What is your next project?

SF: In the long term, I have interests in exploring African American involvement with Belgian Congo between the 1880s and 1930s, especially in regard to Black women missionaries whose lives bridged the periods of American slavery to European colonization of Africa.  Currently, I’m working on several projects in American women’s history, including Black women’s activist networks and the nineteenth-century Colored Convention movement in California, in conjunction with the national digital humanities Colored Conventions Project.  Mid-nineteenth-century California is another venue where the fictions of the “free state” can be critically examined through studying the history of Black thought and collective action.

 

JF: Thanks, Sharla!

The Author’s Corner with Richard Brown

Self Evident TruthsRichard Brown is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus at the University of Connecticut. This interview is based on his new book, Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Self-Evident Truths?

RB: I wrote Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War because I wanted to understand how men who declared “all men are created equal” could launch a nation that maintained slavery and other forms of privilege: religious, gender, and class especially.  Was the Declaration simply a fraud, or was the founders’ statement of equality intended seriously–and if it was serious, to what extent was that goal realized?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Self-Evident Truths?

RB: SelfEvident Truths argues that providing equal rights was a goal for some in the founding generation; but existing customs and institutions blocked realization of equal rights. Moreover the commitment to individual rights included a commitment to heritable private property, which was and remains a barrier to the actual possession of equal rights.

JF: Why do we need to read Self-Evident Truths?

RB: People need to read Self-Evident Truths so as to understand the founding of the United States, its history, and our own times. People need to comprehend how the ideal of equal rights was created and the extent to which Americans have, or have not, made equal rights a reality.

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

RB: I became committed to the study of American history as a college sophomore because I believed it would help me understand American society, its trajectory, and my place in it.

JF: What is your next project?

RB: During my career I have moved back and forth between close, microhistorical studies and broad interpretive works, sometimes–as in Self-Evident Truths–combining the two.  In my next work I plan to narrate and analyze the great fire that in 1811 destroyed most of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and the separate trials ten years apart wherein two teen-aged brothers were convicted and sentenced for arson, one to five years in prison, the other to death.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

The Author’s Corner with Jessica Yirush Stern

the-lives-in-objectsJessica Yirush Stern is Associate Professor of History at California State University, Fullerton. This interview is based on her new book, The Lives in Objects: Native Americans, British Colonists, and Cultures of Labor and Exchange in the Southeast (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Lives in Objects?

JS: Since I was an undergraduate, I considered myself a closet anthropologist. I never thought I would have the chops to do fieldwork, but I enrolled in a lot of anthro classes and was intoxicated by their theories. So when I entered Johns Hopkins as a graduate student in history, I immediately went over to the anthro department and convinced Jane Guyer to preside over one of my MA fields of study in economic anthropology, her specialty. She exposed me to some great theorists: David Graeber, Arjun Appadurai, Nancy Munn, Nicholas Thomas, Marilyn Strathern. After studying with her, I started reading historical monographs about early Native American and English colonist economic exchange and I felt that we were a few steps behind anthropologists in how we analyzed exchange, so I devoted myself to writing a new book on the subject.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument The Lives in Objects?

JS: Southeastern Indians and British colonists both understood and utilized a wide variety of social and asocial modes of exchange, from gift giving to commodity exchange, and thus the groundwork was laid for them to easily establish sustainable economic relationships. But simmering beneath these similar cultures of exchange were divergent beliefs about the value of the people who created and traded these objects, and the obligations of those who consumed these cross-cultural goods, which caused exchange to become the site for colonial actions and anti-colonial protests.

JF: Why do we need to read The Lives in Objects?

JS: I don’t think you can read The Lives in Objects and still believe that Native Americans were simply gift givers whose societies and cultural systems were toppled by European ideologies of modern commerce. This pernicious idea still pops up repeatedly in popular culture, and I think this book helps to put a nail in that coffin.

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

JS: My mom is a microbiologist and my dad is a lawyer, and they exposed me to both methods of exploration, so I entered Reed College as an undergrad confident that I could pursue either a degree in science or the humanities. Then I took my first history course, on Colonial America, and read James Axtell’s The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial America. I never turned back. In retrospect, I think this interest in cultural contact in Early America has a lot to do with my upbringing. My grandfather narrowly escaped Europe during the Holocaust, but his first wife and son were murdered at Auschwitz. Although I never met him, I spent my childhood watching his second son, my father, deal with the questions of assimilation and home that I think a lot of children of refugees inherit. By studying contact in early America I am grappling with similar questions on a different stage.

JF: What is your next project?

JS: I am working on an intellectual biography of Roger Williams, most famous for founding the colony of Rhode Island and being a vocal advocate for religious toleration. But instead of looking at Williams solely through the lens of religion, I am using the fact that he was interested in economic theory, natural philosophy, world history, and ethnology to write a new history of Atlantic New England. I am indebted to the team at Brown University, led by Lucas Mason-Brown and Linford Fisher, who started translating the shorthand notes that Williams took in a couple of books he owned. I am continuing to translate these notes, which reveal how Williams was reading and engaging with Peter Heylyn’s Cosmography and Thomas Bartholin’s Bartholins Anatomy. My goal throughout the book is to extend an argument I made in a 2011 article I published in Early American Studies: we cannot understand Williams’s intellectual development without acknowledging the effect his contact of New England Native groups had on his world view.

JF: Thanks, Jessica!

The Author’s Corner with Andrew Shankman

Original Intents.jpgAndrew Shankman is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University at Camden.  This interview is based on his new book, Original Intents: Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the American Founding (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Original Intents?

AS: I was excited by the charge given to me by Oxford University Press—to write a book that would advance scholarly knowledge of the nation’s constitutional, political, economic, and financial origins, but that would be entirely accessible to any reader and that could be completely understood without any prior knowledge of subject.  Oh, and to keep it under 200 pages!  That was an exciting challenge.  Scholars are very good at writing for other scholars, and some of them get good at writing for a general audience.  That such a prestigious press wanted me to write a book that the general public could enjoy and learn from, and that would not sacrifice any complexity—would not “dumb it down”—and so would benefit scholars too—that seemed such an exciting and a great idea, and a very worthy challenge to take on.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Original Intents?

AS: Original Intents examines the political, constitutional, and economic ideas and policies of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison from the American Revolution through the early 1790s.  Original Intents argues that Jefferson and Madison had profound disagreements with Hamilton about the meaning and purpose of the Constitution and the future of the nation, and that the ideas of all three were shaped, evolved, and changed by their ongoing and heated arguments with each other.

JF: Why do we need to read Original Intents?

AS: Original Intents recreates in close to real time the step by step ways in which Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison came to realize what they thought and who they were.  They came to their understanding through intense engagement with each other during the most significant, creative, and productive period of their lives. The arguments the three had with each other from the American Revolution through the early 1790s (mostly it was Jefferson and Madison agreeing with each other and seriously disagreeing with Hamilton) established the framework for how Americans came to understand their Constitution.  Their arguments also began the debates that continue to our day about the proper relationship between the national and state governments, how much and in what ways governments should tax and take on debt, and what sort of nation we the citizens should aspire to have.  In their different ways, all three of them believed the United States was an ongoing experiment, that its institutions were only as strong and durable as the citizens who made use of them, and that the Constitution provided the basis and the beginning for a never-ending conversation among citizens and between those who governed and the people they were governing.  Original Intents explores how all that began, and how three of the people most responsible for shaping and overseeing the new Constitution quickly discovered that they disagreed about what it said and what it meant.  Understanding their ideas—their differing original intents—allows us to better understand the immensely important historical legacy we have inherited, and the tremendous burdens, responsibilities, and also privileges that come with being a citizen.

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

AS: From an early age I knew I wanted to study history.  I loved mythology, the middle ages, the Civil War, the old west.  But I decided to try to become a professional historian and specialize in late 18th and early 19th century American history in the fall semester of my junior of college at Northern Illinois University, in 1991.  That semester I took a course in American diplomatic history to 1898 with a wonderful professor who died this past December named Carl Parrini.  The first eight weeks were all about the 1780s and 1790s.  Learning about Hamilton’s financial system, the crazy 1790s when Americans were accusing each other of being secret British agents scheming to restore monarchy, or of being crazy radical operatives of revolutionary France plotting to erect a guillotine in Philadelphia—all that stuff was amazing to me.  The paintings make all these 18th century folks look like boring wax figures wearing wigs.  To learn that they weren’t that at all, to learn just how fascinating and passionate and complex they all truly were, and how wild and wooly it all really was, I was hooked, and I’ve stayed hooked.

 JF: What is your next project?

AS: My next book moves forward in time to the period between the end of the War of 1812 (1815) and the Nullification Crisis (early 1830s), which was when South Carolina argued that it could nullify federal law within its state borders.  I’m looking at a group of younger (for the most part) followers of Jefferson, who came to be known as the National Republicans.  By the end of the War of 1812 the National Republicans began to fear that much of what they had expected to be true about the United States was not going to happen.  They had assumed three things: first, that the U.S. could and should remain almost exclusively agricultural.  Second, that the national government could be very inactive most of the time, especially domestically.  And third, that slavery would naturally grow less and less significant over time.  Between 1815 and 1825 people like Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Mathew Carey, Richard Rush, and many, many others came to believe that none of those three things was true or was going to happen.  My book will be about why they concluded that, what they tried to do about it, and why, by the early 1830s, they had provoked a large national movement in opposition to them that defeated them.  I’m writing a story of thoughtful, principled, and often deeply flawed failure.  I plan to title it The National Republicans: Capitalism, Slavery, and the State during the Long 1820s.

JF: Thanks, Andrew!

The Author’s Corner with Craig Thompson Friend

AlongtheMaysvilleRoad.jpgCraig Thompson Friend is CHASS Distinguished Graduate Professor of History and Director of Public History at NC State University. This interview is based on his new book, Along the Maysville Road: The Early American Republic in the Trans-Appalachian West (University of Tennessee Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Along the Maysville Road?

CTF: I came across a map exhibited at the Kentucky Historical Society. Drawn by Victor Collot, a French traveler, “Road from Limestone to Frankfort in the State of Kentucky” (1795) is upside down—north is down and south is up. I wanted to know why, and that initial and rather simple inquiry gave rise to a dissertation about American settlement along an old buffalo trace during the “frontier” stage of Kentucky’s history, roughly the 1770s through 1812. The road provided me a stage on which to examine how themes of the Early American republic—republicanism, democracy, urban development, evangelical Christianity, and nationalism—shaped the construction and evolution of American communities and cultures. It also allowed me to imagine these themes as more fluid and mobile, traveling up and down the road with politicians, preachers, merchants, common people, slaves, church-goers, and thousands of migrants.

When I transformed the dissertation into a book, however, I recognized that its story needed to extend into the 1830s with the buffalo trace’s evolution into the Maysville Road which, in 1830, became the focus of President Andrew Jackson’s internal improvements veto. So, I researched an entire other book, taking the story from 1812 to 1836. This allowed me to incorporate themes that had not fully evolved in the earlier story—racial slavery, refinement, the rise of a middle class. I came to realize later, with the completion of my second monograph Frontier Kentucke, that intellectually I had been constructing a narrative bridge from the “frontier” to the “Old South” in Kentucky’s history. By stopping in the 1830s, however, I failed to grasp that thematic possibility at the time.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument Along the Maysville Road?

CTF: Along the Maysville Road, American settlers competed to shape communities and cultural landscapes through “large interwoven patterns of cultural transformation” (those themes of Early American Republic which I previously listed). Those contests framed the values, beliefs, and aspirations of the Americans who settled along the road, manifesting in the evolution of the road itself and culminating in the political battles over its internal improvements.

JF: Why do we need to read Along the Maysville Road?

CTF: So often, “frontier” histories are formulated as stories on the margins, on the borderlands of the American nation. I imagined the old buffalo trace and its settlement as reflective of the new nation’s cultural evolution as Philadelphia.

Maybe a better reason to read it, however, is to see how a historian evolves in his thinking. I think our profession expects us to hatch from graduate school fully advanced in our understanding of the past and how to apply that knowledge to anything that we study. A discerning eye will uncover in my book, however, a clear evolution in historical thinking between the pre-1812 chapters (first conceived for the dissertation) and the latter chapters (added for the book). Not all of us bloom fully with the first monograph, or even the second. Now, twenty years into the profession, I am more excited than ever about what I want to say about the past.

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

CTF: As I note in the acknowledgements to Along the Maysville Road, I decided I’d be a historian in eighth and ninth grade. I had yet to imagine how I would be a historian, but there was no doubt that I would somehow practice history as a career. It’s a testament to the power of inspiring teachers who can excite students about history and make it relevant to their lives. When I graduated college, however, I was unprepared to move on to graduate school. Instead, I began teaching in public schools, which required continuing education credits for renewal of my teaching certificate. At one of the continuing education programs, when I heard another inspiring educator, Theda Perdue, speak on the Cherokees and racialized enslavement, I had my “conversion experience” and realized that I wanted to become an American historian, researcher, writer, and teacher at the collegiate level.   

JF: What is your next project?

CTF: I have three projects underway—a monograph, a textbook, and an edited collection.

The monograph is a biography of Lunsford Lane, an African American born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1803. He purchased his freedom in 1835, worked to purchase the freedom of his wife and six children, was tarred and feathered by a working-class mob, and run out of the state. In 1842, he wrote a narrative that was widely read among northern audiences, and that is as much as most people knew about Lane. There is so much more, but I will save those revelations for the book.

The textbook is a collaboration with Jim Klotter on a revision of The New History of Kentucky. I am finding it quite a challenge to sustain the spirit of Lowell Harrison, who originally collaborated with Jim on the original edition and who passed away in 2011, and reshape the narrative to reflect the most recent scholarship and my own interpretation of early Kentucky.

The edited collection is another collaborative project with Lorri Glover, with whom I have produced two previous collections. This time we are creating Rewriting Southern History, a worthy successor to John Boles and Evelyn Nolen’s masterwork Interpreting Southern History (LSU, 1987) and the equally pivotal predecessor Writing Southern History, edited by Arthur Link and Rembrandt Patrick (LSU 1967).

JF: Thanks, Craig!

Are You Reading the Author’s Corner?

books

If you love to read good history you may be interested in The Way of Improvement Leads Home‘s “Author’s Corner” series.  Since we started this feature three years ago we have interviewed nearly 300 authors.

Who reads the Author’s Corner?

  • Scholars who want to stay up-to-date in the fields of American history and American religion and see what authors are working on as their “next project.”
  • Graduate students studying for comprehensive exams who need quick summaries of the books on their reading lists.
  • Undergraduates who like learning about the stories of how these authors got interested in the study of history.

Like most of our features here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, the Author’s Corner takes time and money to produce each week.  If you have benefited from the Author’s Corner or any of our other features on the blog or podcast, feel free to support us through our Patreon campaign.  Thanks!

The Author’s Corner with Joanna Cohen

luxurious-citizenJoanna Cohen is a lecturer in the School of History at Queen Mary University of London. This interview is based on her new book, Luxurious Citizens: The Politics of Consumption in Nineteenth-Century America (Penn Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Luxurious Citizens?

JC: I found my way into this book in three stages! The first step was reading Godey’s Ladies Book in my first year of graduate school. I was fascinated by the elaborate fashion plates and the juxtaposition of those images with numerous stories that praised the virtues of American women’s thrift and economy. These contradictions got me interested in the ways in which consumption habits were framed in overlapping ways in American cultural life, as signifiers of cultural sophistication and national virtue, not to mention the gender norms they promoted. The second step was two graduate courses I took: one on Gender, Nationalism and Citizenship, the other on the History of Consumer Culture in America. Both piqued my interest in different ways. When it came to citizenship I became increasingly dissatisfied with the idea that citizenship was simply a legal relationship. I wanted to explore the ways in which citizens imagined their relationship to the nation-state, especially when it came to obligations. Turning to consumer culture, I read avidly about the politics of consumption in the eighteenth century and picked up the story again in the twentieth century, but found little that explained how one connected to the other. Finally, after only a month in the archives at the American Philosophical Society, I found the phrase “Luxurious Citizens” in a speech given by “Pig Iron Kelley” in front of the Franklin Institute. That phrase summed up my conviction that the histories of citizenship and consumption were intertwined in crucial ways. I set out to trace those connections, wanting to understand the ways in which consumer capitalism shaped the meaning of citizenship in nineteenth-century America.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Luxurious Citizens?

JC: At the close of the Revolution, the newly-formed government expected citizens to serve their nation through self-sacrifice, by limiting their consumption of imported luxuries. But time and again, through war and peace, ordinary Americans demonstrated that they would not accept such limitations on their desires. Instead, they transformed themselves into citizen-consumers, claiming that the freedom to consume could be of service to the nation. In 1861, at the outbreak of war, the Union government not only acknowledged the power of the citizen-consumer, they harnessed that power to the service of the war effort. Using a tariff to harvest much-needed revenue from their citizens’ desires, the Union confirmed that the citizen-consumer was an important member of the body-politic – whose freedom to indulge themselves could save the republic or send it to its destruction.

JF: Why do we need to read Luxurious Citizens?

JC: For readers interested in nineteenth century capitalism, the origins of consumer culture in America, the gendered meanings of citizenship and the political economy that shaped the road to the Civil War, Luxurious Citizens has much to offer. But the book is also timely reflection on the far-reaching consequences of the apotheosis of the citizen-consumer. The idea that a citizen can serve the state through their consumption has a flip side: it also suggests that citizens’ consumer choices can be blamed when the state encounters economic failure.

In 2008, when the United States faced the great crash, the first round of blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of ordinary citizens who had overspent and over extended their credit. Such a story hid the deep-rooted structural failures of the US economy. Luxurious Citizens reveals the ways in which these narratives of individual accountability took root in the United States, often cloaked in the language of civic rights and personal freedoms. It is an exploration of the ways in which Americans imagine the way in which their economy works, and how the state can use and even exploit those understandings. So, at a moment when neo-liberalism as an ideology stands on the brink of collapse, Luxurious Citizens will hopefully remind people that they can re-imagine the nation’s political economy and redefine the relationship between the citizen and the state.

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

JC: Well officially I decided I wanted to become an American historian when I was doing my final year Honors thesis at Cambridge. I looked at the work of four great female authors and wrote a paper on the way in which those writers constructed (and deconstructed) what it meant to be a woman in nineteenth century America. But unofficially, I have to confess, it goes back to reading Little House on the Prairie and Little Women as a girl. Those stories still fascinate me. I recently re-read them when I got all my childhood books down from the attic for my daughter, and I still find the narratives of survival, ambition, compromise and resilience utterly compelling.

JF: What is your next project?

JC: Right now, I am working on a project that focuses on the ways in which Americans experienced loss in the nineteenth century. I explore how new capitalist, bureaucratic and commercial technologies shaped people’s emotional understanding of losing their homes, possessions and environments.

I am also working on a collaborative project with Zara Anishanslin, that explores how people “came to terms” with the ends of conflicts in the Atlantic World. Privileging visual and material culture as a source, this project asks how people made their peace with violence and war through the things and images they had in their lives.

JF: Thanks, Joanna!

The Author’s Corner with Kevin Gutzman

thomas-jeffersonKevin Gutzman is Professor and Chairman of the Department of History at Western Connecticut State University. This interview is based on his new book, Thomas Jefferson- Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America (St. Martin’s Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Thomas Jefferson?

KG: The idea of writing a book about Thomas Jefferson’s radical statesmanship came to me as I was working on my most recent previous book, James Madison and the Making of America, a biography of Jefferson’s best friend and closest ally. Madison’s correspondence is devoted almost exclusively to politics of a somehow constitutionalist variety and various business and family matters. Jefferson, on the other hand, was—this is trite because true—a multifaceted genius, one whose influence on our world is in many of its manifestations unremarked. I also believed on the basis of prior work that some of Jefferson’s chief commitments and projects had been misunderstood. I wanted to explore that genius and to clarify the record.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Thomas Jefferson?

KG: Thomas Jefferson remains the most significant statesman in American history. Additionally, much of Jefferson’s radical program has been misapprehended, so that even experts are apt to see in Thomas Jefferson—Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America a different Jefferson from the one they have known.

JF: Why do we need to read Thomas Jefferson?

KG: Experts need to read Thomas Jefferson—Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America for new insights concerning the radical end of the American Revolution, and Thomas Jefferson in particular. The general public needs to read it as a corrective to Federalist Chic à la Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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

KG: I became interested in American Revolutionary and constitutional history in summer 1987, when as part of my joint-degrees program in law and public affairs at the University of Texas I completed a summer internship on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. In between work days in the office of a member of the House of Representatives, I exploited the constitutional bicentennial by reading a couple of dozen books of constitutional history and public policy and seeing myriad local sights. The final decision to become a historian arose out of my experience of legal practice as a very dull matter indeed.

JF: What is your next project?

KG: My next project, The Virginia Dynasty: Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020 (forthcoming)), will be – believe it or not – the first such book ever published. I am well along in doing the research.

JF: Thanks, Kevin. 

The Author’s Corner with Lisa Lindsay

atlantic-bondsLisa Lindsay is Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This interview is based on her new book, Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth-Century Odyssey from America to Africa (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Atlantic Bonds?

LL: In a biography of a women’s rights advocate in mid-20th century Nigeria, I read that her grandfather had come to Africa from South Carolina in the 1850s and stayed there for the rest of his life.  I was intrigued, because it seemed that this man, James Churchwill Vaughan, embodied connections between the American South and West Africa that we don’t often think about: the “return” migration of African Americans, the effect of the diaspora on Africa, and the similar but also contrasting histories of slavery and white supremacy in the antebellum south and colonial Africa.  So I began to try to find out about this fellow Vaughan.  Once I learned that he had emigrated to Liberia and then Nigeria, been captured in wars feeding the slave trade, led a revolt against white missionaries, and founded a prosperous family of activists who stayed in touch with their relatives in the United States, I was hooked.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument Atlantic Bonds?

LL: James Churchwill (Church) Vaughan’s life story forms one thread in a larger fabric of interconnections during a transformative period in Atlantic history: when slavery was abolished in the United States and colonialism began in West Africa, and when black people in both places confronted challenges to their security and autonomy.  Following Vaughan’s journeys from South Carolina to Liberia to several parts of Yorubaland (Nigeria) enables a view of linkages across the nineteenth century Atlantic world as well as a comparison of related and similar phenomena in various settings.

JF: Why do we need to read Atlantic Bonds?

LL: The book brings together the histories of the United States, Africa, and the African diaspora–whose practitioners do not often engage substantially with each other’s scholarship–and of slavery and colonialism, which are generally studied separately.  This wide, comparative view yields two sets of revelations often missed by specialists who focus exclusively on one place.  First, it reminds us that American slavery was part of a connected, Atlantic world of bonded labor, one where slavery and freedom were not stark opposites but rather framed a continuum of dependency relations.  Second, the book probes the relationship between diasporic Africans and the politics of African colonialism, showing how consciousness of the diaspora informed opportunities and strategies in Africa.

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

LL: Actually, I’m an Africanist historian.  My first monograph was on colonial Nigeria.  But I have always been interested in the interplay between the local and the global in African history, and in comparative history.  As a graduate student at the University of Michigan I had the good fortune to work with Rebecca Scott, Tom Holt, and my adviser Fred Cooper, who were collaborating on a project about postemancipation societies.  So from early on I was intrigued by cross-regional comparisons, particularly as they relate to slavery and its aftermath.  At UNC-Chapel Hill, I’m in a department with a distinguished faculty in US, and particularly Southern, history.  And so when I became interested in the story of Church Vaughan, it gave me the chance to bring together the expertise I had already developed on Nigeria with new challenges and rewards in studying American history.

JF: What is your next project?

LL: I keep moving back in time and to larger geographic frames.  The next project will center on the history of women in the Atlantic slave trade, tracing such topics as the enslavement of women, women in the middle passage, and women in the antislavery movement over roughly the 16th to the 19th centuries.

JF: Thanks, Lisa!

The Author’s Corner with Philip Gorski

american-covenantPhilip Gorski is Professor of Sociology at Yale University. This interview is based on his new book, American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present (Princeton University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write American Covenant?

I began writing the book nine years ago, during the 2008 Obama campaign. My initial aim was to place Obama’s campaign rhetoric within the civil religious tradition originally identified by Robert Bellah a half century ago, in his 1967 Daedalus article. It then evolved into an attempt to recover that tradition and to distinguish it from its historic rivals: radical secularism and religious nationalism. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of American Covenant?

America’s civil religious tradition is a synthesis of prophetic religion and civic republicanism or “prophetic republicanism.” Although it has evolved and expanded as America has become diverse and powerful, prophetic republicanism has always been the vital center of our public life.

JF: Why do we need to read American Covenant?

The Trump Presidency represents a mortal threat to the vital center.  Only a broad alliance of committed democrats that cuts across the usual cultural and political divides will be strong enough to withstand his efforts to abolish the American Republic and replace it with an un-American regime of authoritarian populism. This book identifies the core values that are at stake in the present conflict and places the current struggle within a deeper context.  The analysis of religious nationalism also helps uncover the deeper roots of Trumpism and illuminates the puzzling appeal to a certain sort of Christian conservative. Likewise, the critique or radical secularism should remind secular progressives of the religious roots of many of their most deeply held values and commitments — and of the dangers of denying them. 

Though the book was always intended as a public intervention aimed at a broader audience of educated Americans, it is also a work of serious scholarship that will, I hope, outlast the Trump regime, and appeal to academic specialists as well. As such it will appeal to American religious historians as a deep history of the modern culture wars; to political philosophers interested in the proper role of religion in public life, and to theological ethicists concerned with the role of civic engagement in religious communities.

JF: When and why did you decide to study American history/social history?

I was originally trained as an early modern Europeanist. I began studying the US in preparation for a comparative project on the divergent religious trajectories of the US and Western Europe since the late 19th Century.  I then got “sidetracked” by this project on civil religion.

JF: What is your next project?

I am currently working on the connection between religion and populism. Populism is usually thought of as a “secular” phenomenon, rooted in class conflict, cultural pluralism and party competition. While economic inequality, mass immigration and political gridlock are surely part of the explanation for the current populist resurgence, religious factors are also crucial.  This is true not only in notoriously religious countries such as India and the United States, but also in Eastern and Western Europe. 

JF: Thanks, Philip!

The Author’s Corner with William Thomas Okie

georgia-peachWilliam Thomas Okie is Assistant Professor of History Education at Kennesaw State University. This interview is based on his new book, The Georgia Peach: Culture, Agriculture, and Environment in the American South (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Georgia Peach?

TO: I came to the project from two directions. As a scholar, I’m trained in environmental history, and so I’m fascinated with the ways we humans deal with the plants, animals, weather, and dirt we usually call “nature.” I started studying environmental history as the field was turning its attention to agriculture – arguably the most important site of human-nature interaction. When I got to graduate school, I found, to my surprise, that although we had books about oranges, rice, bananas, and tobacco (to name just a few), very little had been written about the peach, one of the South’s most visible agricultural symbols.

At the same time, the peach seemed like an obvious choice because of my childhood. Since I was very young, I’ve catalogued wildflowers, planted gardens, saved seeds, and experimented with asexual propagation. I grew up near the center of the Georgia peach industry, and my father was a stone fruit breeder (think peaches, plums, apricots) for the USDA experiment station in Byron, Georgia. I guess you could say – and I apologize in advance for this – that the peach didn’t fall far from the tree.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Georgia Peach?

TO: The Georgia Peach is famous because peaches emerged as a cash crop at a critical juncture for the South around the turn of the century, when evidence was mounting that the South was socially, environmentally, and culturally ugly. That historical phenomenon created the myth of the Georgia peach, which helps to explain the crop’s staying power as a cultural icon well into the twenty-first century – which in turn suggests that we routinely underestimate the power and the historical dimensions of beauty.

JF: Why do we need to read The Georgia Peach?

TO: I’ll give you two reasons. First, If you’ve ever wondered about the peachoid on I–85 (or its competitors on I–59 and I–75), or “The Peach State” moniker – especially if you’ve learned that California and South Carolina produce many more peaches than Georgia – then read this book to understand how Georgia became the peach state in the first place. Second, although it’s easy for the prosperous to forget in the midst of today’s “permanent global summertime” agriculture matters. The Georgia Peach examines the interplay of the biological and cultural features of a particular crop (especially the fruit’s perishability and popularity) with the economic and social features of a particular place (especially the cotton economy and the impoverished labor force on which that economy depended).

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

TO: I’ve always loved plants and animals; I’ve also always loved stories. As an undergraduate at Covenant College, I had the surprising privilege (the department had only three historians!) of taking Paul Morton’s American Environmental History course, which taught me that I could marry those two great loves in a field that told stories about nature. After graduating with a history degree, working as an administrative assistant, living in Honduras, and teaching middle school social studies, I decided to try studying further. American environmental history seemed like a natural fit, but it was also a practical choice: my first child was born just a few months before I started graduate study, and I knew that American archives would be easier to access.

JF: What is your next project?

TO: Right now I’m writing a piece about nineteenth-century horticulturists (fruit breeders, landscape designers, kitchen gardeners) as environmental thinkers and actors, which will hopefully give me a chance to work out some of the themes I could only touch on in The Georgia Peach. In the longer term, I’m working on an environmental history of Christian relief and development, in which I’ll examine the role of American non-governmental organizations and missionaries in imagining and reshaping the environments.

JF: Thanks, Tom!

The Author’s Corner with Lawrence Hatter

citizens-of-convenienceLawrence Hatter is Assistant Professor of History at Washington State University. This interview is based on his new book, Citizens of Convenience: The Imperial Origins of American Nationhood on the U.S.-Canadian Border (University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Citizens of Convenience?

LH: Citizens of Convenience, like most first books, is based on my doctoral dissertation. I first encountered the Canada merchants who are the main actors in my study while working as a graduate research assistant at the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia. I discovered the edited volumes of a prominent Detroit merchant, John Askin. I wrote a seminar paper on Askin during my first year at UVa. and the project grew from there to embrace research in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Citizens of Convenience?

LH: The American people were not present at their birth; rather, the imperial projects of U.S. policymakers and their agents on the ground used the border to distinguish the American people as a distinct sovereign community during the early nineteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read Citizens of Convenience?

LH: Because it will put my kids through college(?!).  More seriously, my book helps to reveal the ways in which American nationhood and empire were intertwined during the Founding. It is clear that the American Revolution was not an expression of national awakening; rather, my book shows how the United States realized nationhood by colonizing the West. Citizens of Convenience explains how U.S. imperialism worked at different scales, from the local to the international. This is why the Canada merchants at the heart of my study are so revealing: their transatlantic lobbying apparatus and transcontinental commercial networks influenced politics from high level diplomacy in the great European capitals to everyday interactions between traders and U.S. agents in places like Detroit and Saint Louis.

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

LH: I abandoned plans to become a barrister when I was about 16 and decided that I wanted to be a lecturer. I read mostly 17th and 18th century British and American history as an undergraduate in the U.K., so it was an unthinking decision to become an Americanist (though, like many of my generation, I tend to look outward from the thirteen colonies, rather than inward).

JF: What is your next project?

LH: I am beginning work on a study of American overseas merchant communities during the Age of Revolution. Looking at how merchants managed to negotiate the dangers and opportunities of Independence in places like Algiers and Canton will hopefully offer new insight into how the United States managed to establish its credentials as a sovereign nation in the global community of nations.

JF: Thanks, Lawrence!

The Author’s Corner with Lee Farrow

sewardfollyLee Farrow is Professor of History at Auburn University at Montgomery. This interview is based on her new book, Seward’s Folly: A New Look at the Alaska Purchase (University of Alaska Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Seward’s Folly?

LF: I took a cruise to Alaska a few years ago. I realized I knew very little about the purchase, so when we landed in Sitka, I went to the only bookstore in town and looked for something to read on it.  There was nothing. When I got back home, I did a little research and realized that the last book on this subject for adults was published in 1975. I decided this should be my next project, and I contacted the University of Alaska Press and they agreed it was time for a new book on the subject.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Seward’s Folly?

LF: The Alaska Purchase—denounced at the time as “Seward’s Folly” but now seen as a masterstroke—is well known as a key moment in American history, but few know the whole story. This book gives an overview of just what the Alaska Purchase was, how it came about, and its impact at the time, and discusses its implications for foreign policy and international diplomacy far beyond Russia and the United States at a moment when the global balance of power was in question.

JF: Why do we need to read Seward’s Folly?

LF: Russia, and the question of Russia-American relations, is back in the news and the subject of much concern and controversy. In addition, Alaska has been at the center of various debates in recent years, some involving global climate change and the environment, some involving questions of domestic energy reserves. There are also those in Russia who believe the Russian-American Treaty of 1867 was not really a sale, but a lease, and that Russia has a rightful claim to Alaska. While this argument is incorrect and not likely to be taken seriously in most corners, it is part of the story of the complex Russian-American relationship.

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

LF: I’m actually a Russian historian, but in recent years, I have become interested in the history of Russian-American relations. In 2014, I published a book called Alexis in America: A Russian Grand Duke’s Tour, 1871-72, that examined the visit of Russian Grand Duke Alexis, Tsar Alexander II’s son, to the United States. Among other things, Alexis visited Chicago after the Great Fire, hunted buffalo with Buffalo Bill and Custer, and was in New Orleans for the first daytime Mardi Gras celebration, and was treated as a celebrity wherever he went. I became interested in Russian history in high school in the early 1980’s when an older friend of mine went off to college and started studying the Russian language.

JF: What is your next project?

LF: I am currently working on the republication of several memoirs by American women who witnessed the Russian Revolution of 1917. One of these, Louise Bryant, was the wife of John Reed and was played by Diane Keaton in the film, “Reds.”

JF: Thanks, Lee!

The Author’s Corner with Kyle Roberts

evangelical-gothamKyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. This interview is based on his new book, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Evangelical Gotham?

KR: The scholarship I found most exciting in graduate school was about the history of evangelicalism. So many great books came out in the 1990s and early 2000s – Heyrman’s Southern Cross, Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Sensbach’s Rebecca’s Revival, Lambert’s Inventing the Great Awakening, Noll’s America’s God – but so few focused on evangelicals in cities. For a while I thought evangelicals only existed in the rural hinterland.

As for Gotham, I was regularly crossing through New York as I took the Amtrak back and forth between my home in Boston and graduate school in Philadelphia. I felt like historians had sort of figured out Boston (Puritan) and Philadelphia (pluralistic), but the story of New York was still waiting to be told. When scholars did write about religion in nineteenth-century New York, they often focused on eccentrics, such as Johnson and Wilentz’s Kingdom of Matthias, or religious communities who settled themselves in urban spaces built by others, such as in Orsi’s glorious Madonna of 115th Street. I wanted to know more about the religious beliefs, practices, and worldviews of the mainstream folk who built the city in the first place.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Evangelical Gotham?

KR: In Evangelical Gotham, I argue that the astonishing rise of the nation’s leading city and its dominant Protestant religious movement were intricately intertwined between the end of the American Revolution and the outbreak of the Civil War. Inherently pluralistic and syncretistic, evangelicalism provided a broad range of New Yorkers with a meaningful and adaptable, if at times contradictory, urban religion that helped them respond to, locate themselves within, and significantly contribute to the growth of the city and the nation over a crucial eighty-year period.

JF: Why do we need to read Evangelical Gotham?

KR: I think we miss a key part of the American experience if we ignore the place of religion in the development of the nation’s cities. There are two important things that surprised me in writing this book:

First, evangelicals were really innovative. Earlier scholars of nineteenth-century urban religion have discounted evangelicals as failures who could not think beyond transplanting rural models in urban spaces. What I found couldn’t be more different. Evangelical New Yorkers were remarkably creative people, eager to put the secular resources of the city to sacred ends. Take, for example, their rethinking of sacred space. They had some of, if not the, earliest storefront churches in the country, dating back to the 1760s; they perfected a vernacular style for meetinghouses that well suited the realities of urban real estate; they threw out centuries-old modes of funding churches and created a series of Free Churches on a radically new plan; and they adapted everything from theaters to ship decks into places for preaching the gospel. Even the briefest glance at the extent, plan, and scale of their publishing ventures confirms how forward-thinking they were.

Second, evangelicalism was not all about social control. It’s easy to caricature antebellum evangelicals as pious, middle-class do-gooders. Many of them were. But reducing their faith to some form of class control isn’t fair to my historic subjects and misses the point. I wrote each chapter around the story of one or more New Yorkers so that readers could get a sense of what their faith meant to them and how it inspired them to act upon it. Some, like Lewis Tappan and Phoebe Worrall Palmer, are still remembered today; others, like Charles Lahatt or Michael Floy, have been forgotten – but have much to tell us.

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

I think it was the summer after my junior year in high school that I made peace with the fact that I was destined to be an Americanist. I had spent that summer at MASP – the Massachusetts Advanced Studies Program – sort of a nerd camp for public school kids held at Milton Academy. There I discovered that I hated economics and loved writing. So, I gave up my thoughts of becoming an insurance agent like my father. I jumped feet first into American Studies when I got to Williams College and haven’t looked back. Along the way I also embraced my calling as a public historian and digital humanist.

JF: What is your next project?

KR: I’m trading evangelical New Yorkers for Midwestern Catholics. When I arrived at Loyola six years ago, I knew I wanted a locally-based research project through which I could teach the digital humanities, public history, and the history of religion. My first week there I made an appointment with University Special Collections to see what they had for materials related to the history of the library. (It wasn’t a completely random question, I had just spent two years in London creating Dissenting Academies Online (http://www.qmulreligionandliterature.co.uk/research/the-dissenting-academies-project/dissenting-academies-online/), a recreation of the holdings and borrowing records of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dissenting academies.) The archivist brought out a detailed manuscript library catalog from the school’s first decade. I knew at that moment that I had found my next project.

Over the past few years I’ve worked with dozens of bright undergraduate and graduate student interns on the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project (https://jesuitlibrariesprovenanceproject.com/). It has provided some on my most rewarding teaching and confirmed the value of collaborative research. We’ve recreated Loyola’s first library catalog in a virtual library system, tracked down and documented most of the nearly 1500 titles still surviving from the original library, identified library catalogs and collections at other Jesuit colleges and universities, and even started to reconstruct the Catholic book trade in the 1840s Mississippi Valley from a massive ledger kept by Jesuits in St. Louis. The goal is now to bring this all together in a monograph that asks readers to rethink Catholicism, print, and nationalism from the perspective of the nineteenth-century Midwest. Let’s just say Lyman Beecher actually had something to fear when he published his Plea for the West in 1835!

JF: Thanks, Kyle!

The Author’s Corner with Daniel L. Dreisbach

reading-the-bible-with-the-founding-fathersDaniel L. Dreisbach is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C.  This interview is based on his new book, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers?

DD: I am a student of the role of religion in the American founding.  In my reading of primary sources, I have encountered numerous quotations from and allusions to the Bible, including references to biblical texts that I did not expect to see in this literature.  This prompted my interest in the place of the Bible in the political discourse of the age. 

Although scholars have noted in passing that the founding generation was well acquainted with the Bible and frequently referenced it in their private expressions, few have examined closely the Bible’s influence on the political culture of the age, giving attention to specific biblical texts and themes that appealed to the founders and may have informed their political pursuits.  Indeed, some historians contend that the era, sandwiched between two great spiritual awakenings, was an enlightened age when rationalism was in the ascendancy and the Bible was, if not rejected outright, relegated to the sidelines.  Because so little scholarly attention has been focused on the Bible in the founding era, at least compared to the extensive scholarship on Enlightenment and republican influences, I thought this topic merited further inquiry.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers?

DD: I contend that the Bible had a significant, yet often overlooked, influence on the political thought and discourse of the American founding and, therefore, it should be studied alongside other influences on the founding generation, such as British constitutionalism, Enlightenment liberalism, and classical and civic republicanism.  The book examines the extensive and diverse uses of the Bible in the political discourse of the founding era, combining careful historical research, elementary political theory, and biblical interpretation.

JF: Why do we need to read Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers?

DD: If I am correct that the Bible was an important, yet often ignored, source that informed the political thought and discourse of the founders, then this book will enrich our understanding of the founding.  The Bible was the most frequently cited literary work in the political literature of the founding era.  Simply counting the number of biblical citations in the founders’ rhetoric, however, tells us little about the Bible’s contributions to the founding.  I hope this book advances the conversation beyond the observation that the founders frequently quoted the Bible and engages deeper questions about how the Bible was used in political discourse and how it may have influenced the founding project.     

Among the questions that excite my curiosity are these:  which biblical texts appealed to the founding generation, how did they use the Bible, and why did they think these texts were so pertinent, so vital to their own time and place?  I emphasize in the book that a study of the founding generation’s uses of the Bible must be attentive to why and how the Bible was used and not merely to the fact that the Bible was read and referenced.  Drawing on some of the most familiar rhetoric of the era, I examine the founders’ diverse uses of the Bible, ranging from the essentially literary to the profoundly theological.  Recognition of these distinct uses is important insofar as it is misleading to read spiritual meaning into primarily literary, political, or rhetorical uses of the Bible or vice versa.

Another question worth exploring, I believe, is did the Bible inform the founding generation’s political thought and influence their political and legal projects?  I see evidence that the founders looked to Scripture for insights into human nature, civic virtue, social order, political authority and other concepts essential to the establishment of a political society.  Many in the founding generation saw in the Bible political and legal models – such as republicanism, separation of powers, and due process of law – that they believed enjoyed divine favor and were worthy of emulation in their polities.  The political discourse of the founding, for one example, is replete with appeals to the Hebrew “republic” as a model for their own political experiment.  In an influential 1775 Massachusetts election sermon, Samuel Langdon, the president of Harvard College and later a delegate to New Hampshire’s constitutional ratifying convention, opined:  “The Jewish government, according to the original constitution which was divinely established, . . . was a perfect Republic. . . .  The civil Polity of Israel is doubtless an excellent general model …; at least some principal laws and orders of it may be copied, to great advantage, in more modern establishments.”  Most of what the founders knew about the Hebraic republic they learned from the Bible.  These Americans were well aware that ideas like republicanism found expression in traditions apart from the Hebrew experience, and, indeed, they studied these traditions both ancient and modern.  The republican model found in the Hebrew Scriptures, however, reassured pious Americans that republicanism was a political system favored by God.

More generally, but no less significant to the founders’ political vision, many in the founding generation believed the Bible was an indispensable handbook for republican self-government.  In a republican government, the founders believed, the people must be sufficiently virtuous that their personal responsibility and discipline would facilitate the social order and stability necessary for a regime of self-government.  And the Bible was an ideal tool for developing civic virtue.  Believing that “without national morality a republican government cannot be maintained” and that “[t]he Bible contains the most profound philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy, that ever was conceived upon earth,” John Adams described the Bible as “the most republican book in the world.”  In other words, the Bible nurtures the civic virtues that give citizens in a republic the capacity for self-government.  Such sentiments were commonplace in the political discourse of the founding. 

A study of the Bible in the political culture of the founding era gives us insights into one source of ideas that shaped the founders’ political thoughts and the political and legal systems they sought to establish.  These insights, I hope, will enhance our understanding of ourselves as a people, our history, and the American experiment in republican self-government and liberty under law.

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

DD: My parents loved history and reading about history, and they passed on that love to me, exposing me to great works of history and biography.  In graduate school and law school I was drawn to political and constitutional history.  Specializing in church-state law encouraged me to develop this interest because, as Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge observed in 1947, “No provision of the Constitution is more closely tied to or given content by its generating history than the religious clause of the First Amendment.  It is at once the refined product and the terse summation of that history.”  My first book, Real Threat and Mere Shadow (1987), examined the Court’s use of history in church-state jurisprudence.  Much of my subsequent research has expanded on the questions and themes raised in that book, especially questions about the prudential and constitutional role for religion in American public life.

JF: What is your next project?

My frequent collaborator Mark David Hall and I have co-edited several books that examine religion’s influence (or lack thereof) on the political thought and actions of both famous and forgotten founders.  In that same vein, we are currently editing a collection of original essays that looks at religion’s influence on important American jurists from the seventeenth to the twenty-first centuries.

JF: Thanks, Daniel!  This is great stuff.

The Author’s Corner with Jeremy C. Young

theageofcharismaJeremy C. Young is Assistant Professor of History at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah.  This interview is based on his new book, The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Age of Charisma?

JY: Growing up, I was inspired by politicians from the Gilded Age and Progressive Era such as William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson; I often wished modern American politics contained such larger-than-life figures.  I came to graduate school wanting to write a hagiographic dissertation about Wilson and the League of Nations, which, well, wouldn’t have been a very interesting book.  My advisor, Michael McGerr, encouraged me instead to think about why I found these figures so inspiring.  After digging through primary and secondary sources, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about turn-of-the-century leaders.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of ordinary Americans had been transformed through emotional connections with politicians, evangelists, and social activists.  This was the real story, I decided: not the leaders who made emotional appeals, but the followers who responded to them and the relationships followers and leaders built together.  Why did Americans of this period experience such profound emotions when interacting with leaders?  What could these emotional experiences tell us about the development of American society and culture?  Those were the questions that motivated my research, and, in the end, I think my book answers them.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Age of Charisma?

JY: The Age of Charisma argues that the modern relationship between American leaders and followers grew out of a unique group of charismatic social movements prominent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on hundreds of letters and testimonials, the book illustrates how “personal magnetism” in public speaking changed the culture of leadership by enabling a shift from emotional remoteness to emotional availability – thereby enhancing American democracy and creating a culture in which today’s leaders appeal directly to Americans through mass media.

JF: Why do we need to read The Age of Charisma?

JY: My book reshapes our understanding of American history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in a number of ways.  It outlines the origins of the strange, singsong speaking style used by turn-of-the-century leaders and shows how central that style was to American culture.  It offers a fresh interpretation of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, centered on the unique relationship between leaders and followers of the time.  It uses the testimony of followers to challenge common assumptions about popular civic participation by defining charismatic followership as a meaningful and historically-significant activity.  It demonstrates how individual emotional experience shapes large-scale historical trends.  Finally, it explains why Americans today demand that their leaders shake hands, kiss babies, deliver speeches, and forge emotional connections with their followers – something Americans of the mid-1800s neither expected nor wanted – and why these emotional connections are a positive and necessary feature of American democracy.

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

JY: While I am in fact an American historian, I tend to think of myself as a writer who works in the field of American history.  I’ve always known that I needed to produce and share creative work in order to feel fulfilled.  When I went to college, my career goal was to become a concert pianist; I decided I needed a backup plan in case I wasn’t successful, so I added a history major.  About halfway through school, I realized two things: I didn’t enjoy practicing piano, which seemed like a bad sign for someone planning a career in that field, and I did enjoy writing history papers. So I switched emphases and focused on history instead, and I haven’t looked back.  I chose American history over other subfields because I wanted my work to have some impact on current events. There is a message about strategies of activism in The Age of Charisma, but you have to work hard to find it; I don’t spell it out in the book.

JF: What is your next project?

JY: I’m currently in the early stages of a book project that will explore nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americans’ fascination with alternate realities.  Over the past hundred and fifty years, a broad swath of Americans have demonstrated a belief in a hidden world beyond the reach of everyday experience – a longing for a secret reality available only to a select few.  This belief in imagined realities has been shared by science fiction authors and religious leaders, philosophers and conspiracy theorists.  At the same time, a number of Americans have obscured their own private realities of trauma through fictitious public performances of gender; burlesque performers, escape artists, con artists, evangelists, and pinup girls have all participated in this type of identity performance.  The persistence of alternate realities, I argue, suggests that a large group of Americans have never accepted or felt comfortable in modern industrial society – and, consequently, that the American social order is far more fragile than we might think.

JF: Thanks, Jeremy!

The Author’s Corner with Spencer McBride

pulpitandnationSpencer W. McBride is a historian and documentary editor at the Joseph Smith Papers. This interview is based on his new book, Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America (University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Pulpit and Nation?

SM: Pulpit and Nation grew out of my doctoral dissertation. In graduate school, I set out to discover the actual role of religion in the American Revolution and the process of state and national formation that followed. Through my research—which included reading numerous diaries of early American clergymen and the lay men and women who sat in their congregations—I became fascinated with the curious interrelationship that I encountered: the political utility of religion and the religious utility of politics. I wrote this book that enabled readers to understand the power, limitations, and lasting implications of early national leaders using religion as a tool for political mobilization.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Pulpit and Nation?

SM: In the founding of the United States of America, early national political leaders deliberately created an alliance with the country’s religious leaders, an alliance designed to forge a collective national identity among Americans. Accordingly, while religious expression was common in the political culture of the founding era, it was as much the calculated design of ambitious men seeking power as it was the natural outgrowth of a devoutly religious people.

JF: Why do we need to read Pulpit and Nation?

SM: Religion mattered in the founding of the United States, but not in the way many Americans think that it did. There is certainly no shortage of controversy surrounding the role of religion in politics, particularly where the founding era is concerned. Talk of America’s founding as either a “Christian” or “secular” nation remains a common theme among politicians, pundits, and certain segments of the general public despite scholars’ warnings against such overly-simplistic constructs (warnings that include your own timely Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?). I present Pulpit and Nation as an example of how the history of religion in early American politics appears when viewed in all of its complexity, an elucidation of how its relationship to power structures looks when we delve into the motives behind the religious utterances of men seeking to mobilize the public to one cause or another. My book demonstrates that by eschewing the “Christian Nation” question altogether and engaging broader themes and narrower questions, religion’s significant in the politics of the Revolutionary era is more apparent, albeit more complex.

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

SM: I actually decided that I wanted to be a historian at age 13. My father majored in history in college and, as a result, our house was filled with history books and historical discussion for as long as I can remember. This means that I was exposed to the study of the past from a young age. Then, in 8th grade, I had a phenomenal United States history teacher named Ron Benovitz who taught the subject in such an engaging way that I was absolutely hooked from that point on. I knew that I wanted to be a historian, although I had no clue what such a career would actually look like. As I progressed in my education and the details and options of working as a historian became increasingly clear, my passion for the discipline continued to grow. I consider myself quite fortunate to be doing as an adult what I dreamed of doing as a teenager.

JF: What is your next project?

SM: I am currently working on two projects that I am particularly excited about. The first is a documentary history of New York’s Burned-over District. The book will feature primary source documents that illuminate the cultural and social transformation of western New York amid the waves of religious revivals that swept through the region during the Second Great Awakening. The second project is a book about Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign, and how the controversial Mormon leader’s little-known run for the White House illustrates the political obstacles to universal religious liberty in nineteenth-century America.

JF: Thanks, Spencer!

The Author’s Corner with Paul Harvey

boundsoftheirhabitationPaul Harvey is Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado. This interview is based on his new book, Bounds of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Bounds of Their Habitation?

PH: First, I was approached by the historian John David Smith, editor of a particular series called “American Ways” published by Rowman & Littlefield (in this series is also a wonderfully fun book called How America Eats, basically a history of American foodways, that I highly recommend for holiday serious/fun reading). He asked me if I wanted to write a book for the series. Previously I had published a book called Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity with Rowman & Littlefield, so I was pleased they wanted me to do another.

At the same time, I was beginning work on an edited volume for Oxford University Press on race and religion in American history. I thought writing this book, a “long-range” view of race and religion in American history, alongside editing the Oxford Handbook of Race and Religion in American History, which involves corralling 35 authors doing various essays, would be a fun and interesting experiment. And so it was/has been, and continues to be as we (my co-editor Kathryn Gin Lum and myself) finish up the Oxford volume. I wrote up a book proposal for Bounds, it was enthusiastically accepted, and it is now published pretty closely to how it was conceived in the first place.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Bounds of Their Habitation?

PH: Religious ideas created racial categories and imposed race upon individual human bodies – what scholars refer to as “racialization.” But religious ideas also helped undermine racial hierarchies.

JF: Why do we need to read Bounds of Their Habitation?

PH: In this book, I aim to show how the terms “religion” and “race” (both highly malleable terms undergoing constant change), while always contested, ultimately solidified into social formations that fundamentally shaped American life. However constructed “race” may be, it acts as a real force in history; and however much the term “religion” is always being redefined and reformed, it has been a central ordering force in the most basic conceptions of American nationalism. My book tries to translate this story through piecing together the individual biographies of diverse people over four centuries. In this way, I hope it “translates” higher-order scholarly discussions of religion and race into narratives that any ordinary reader could pick up and understand.

Racial constructions remain a central ordering fact of religious life. Americans remained united by an unusually high association with faith, with religious belief, but divided by faith since the institutions reflecting those beliefs are still largely divided by race, culture, and politics. Given the history of race and religion in America, it is hard to see how it could be otherwise. And yet, given that history, it is possible to envision it being otherwise.

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

PH: I was for 2 years a biology major in college, intending to go to law school (don’t ask). One day I was perusing the college catalog, and the light from Damascus hit me – I was going to be an historian. I can’t explain it, other than it was just blindingly obvious. I have pursued that love ever since, in college, graduate school, postdocs, periods of unemployment, and now as Chair of a History Department. My colleague at the University of Colorado, when asked if we could offer a particular course that a visiting person could teach, said “sure, of course, I’m in favor of the history of anything.” I totally accord with that – I find the history of virtually anything to be fascinating.

JF: What is your next project?

PH: I want to write a book on the history of race, religion, and citizenship in American history, from 1790 to the present. The last election campaign obviously brought those issues up in full force, but the long history of how citizenship has both a narrow legal and a broadly social component in its definition is of great interest to me. I’ve also been asked to write a short (200 p.) biography of Martin Luther King Jr., for Rowman & Littlefield’s African American Lives biography series. I might take that one on next year, but I haven’t decided for sure yet.

JF: Thanks, Paul!

The Author’s Corner with Kristalyn Shefveland

anglonativevirginiaKristalyn Shefveland is Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern Indiana. This interview is based on her new book, Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1646-1722 (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: During my PhD program at the University of Mississippi, I took two seminars on the American colonies, with emphasis on the Southeast. One was a history seminar in which we discussed at length the Chesapeake school and the evolving issues of race, particularly as it related to the work of Edmund Morgan and Winthrop Jordan, and the seminal work of Powhatan’s Mantle. The other was an anthropology seminar in which we were introduced to the body of scholarship on the Eastern Woodlands and the emergence of the trade in skins and slaves. Out of these two courses I came away with many questions about the Stegg/Byrd family and the role of Virginia in the Indian slave trade. I was inspired by the work of Alan Gallay, Robbie Ethridge, and Charles Hudson and wanted to know more.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: Anglo-Native Virginia argues that attempts to regulate and control trade and indigenous peoples via a tributary system was at the foreground of Virginia’s native concerns from Governor Sir William Berkeley to Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood. This tributary system and its accompanying categories and rules represent an era of deep upheaval in the indigenous communities of the coastal plain and piedmont, resulting in the enslavement of native peoples as the colonies used the frontier exchange economy to finance their emerging plantation complex.

JF: Why do we need to read Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: As an interdisciplinary work of ethnohistory, I hope this book finds an audience in a number of venues, including but not limited to scholars of Atlantic trade, colonial settlement, Southern Studies, slavery studies, and Indigenous peoples. The book asks us to consider the central role that indigenous and colonial interaction played in the larger narrative of the plantation South. It asks us to look more closely at how trade with Native peoples shaped Virginia history as it transitioned from a fledgling colonial outpost to a settler society dependent upon slave labor. I argue that the Southeast cannot be understood without understanding Virginia and one cannot understand Virginia without understanding the tributary system. The framework of this project came from my interest in demonstrating the importance of Native history for broader narratives. Until fairly recently, Native peoples of Virginia have been in the background of important studies that have focused on the Atlantic slave trade, mercantilism, and the plantation economy. A full understanding of the important role that Virginia tributary and foreign Natives played in the trade in skins and slaves as it relates to the Atlantic economy and mercantilism has been the subject of important recent scholarship and I think my work complements this emerging field.

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

KS: I started writing stories at an early age and they always had a historical element. I split my childhood between the small Mississippi river town of Wabasha, Minnesota and a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I was always drawn to the historic sites of the two very different communities, one barely 2,500 people and the other a sprawling rustbelt town where suburbs converged into one another. In Minnesota, I was raised on the history of Euro-Native interaction, trade and settlement, and the folklore of the river valley. Across the river in Wisconsin was the Big Woods that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about and the town of Maiden Rock. In sum, I always loved a folktale and a yarn, a lifelong love affair that my parents greatly encouraged by going through historic towns and stopping at roadside markers, even when it added an hour or three to our regular road trips to Minnesota or Florida. In Ohio, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible high school teacher, Steven Abbey, who allowed me to take independent studies on a wide variety of historical topics and then I had the pleasure to attend Bowling Green State University where I studied under the Great Lakes historian, Edmund Danziger. He fostered my love of stories and helped to guide my scholarship towards the field of ethnohistory. In his seminar courses as well as the eye-opening classes I got to take with the Latin American historian, Rob Buffington, I knew that I wanted to pursue the field of history beyond undergrad. I was lucky to land at the University of Mississippi to work in interdisciplinary collaboration on indigenous peoples with Sheila Skemp and Robbie Ethridge. In a bit of kismet, I moved south to study peoples who came originally from Lake Erie.

JF: What is your next project?

KS: I am currently at work on a book on historical memory of indigenous peoples in Florida, particularly the town of Vero Beach, on the Indian River. This is a project of personal importance to me as it is a place I have known all my life and yet its deeply manicured history of settler pioneers and adventurous rogues reveals an incomplete narrative. I came to this study because of a large Spanish-mission style building that overlooks the town center with a relief carving of Pocahontas. Indian River produce advertisements from the 1880s-1970s depict idyllic jungle scenes, complete with friendly and noble Indians of vaguely Plains motifs—a vision at odds with the region’s indigenous past. Yankees, calling themselves pioneers and colonizers, moved to the region in waves throughout the early 20th century, viewing Southerners with scorn as the wealthy Northern investors built empires of citrus and sugar.

The Indian River Farms Company of Davenport, Iowa made the greatest strides toward conquering Florida. While settling the region, the company created a romantic narrative to sell land to potential Yankee colonizers. Street names included Seminole, Osceola, Cherokee, Mohawk, Kickapoo, and Ute. Buildings included the Chief Sleepy Eye Lodge and the Pocahontas Arcade. All names considered “picturesque” by would be settlers. Situating these endeavors within the broader context of Yankee imperialism in the Caribbean, particularly Cuba, I am reconsidering the legacy of a colonial southern past alongside the emergence of the vacation south to explore its potential impact on studies of the Indigenous south.

JF: Thanks, Kristalyn!