“Hamilton: The Exhibition” Comes to an End in Chicago


“Northerly Island, though, proved farther than the Hamilfans were willing to go.”

I guess the popularity of Alexander Hamilton and the musical named after him only goes so far.

Here is a taste of Chris Vire’s piece at Chicago Magazine:

Jeffrey Seller, the producer behind both the 35,000-square-foot attraction and the massively successful musical from which it spun off, said the exhibition would close August 25, two weeks before the initial end date of September 8. Tickets already sold for the final two weeks are being refunded. And plans to tour the exhibit to other cities have been scrapped, Seller told the Chicago Tribune.

In announcing the early close, producers cited traffic-snarling events that would “complicate access” to the exhibition, which is housed in a giant shed plopped in the middle of Northerly Island. Among those events: the North Coast Music Festival at Huntington Bank Pavilion on August 30 and 31 and a Bears preseason game at Soldier Field on August 29.

Neither of those events is exactly a surprise. North Coast’s move to Northerly Island from Union Park was announced in April, weeks before the Hamilton exhibition opened. And the Bears’ Thursday night matchup with the Titans isn’t even their first home game of the season; that would be next week, when they host the Panthers on August 8.

Read the entire piece here.

Correspondents Wanted: 2019 AHA Meeting in Chicago

AHA 2019

Is anyone interested in a writing a post or two (or three or four or five…) from the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago from January 3-6, 2019?

Once again The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from the conference.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. My only requirement is that you write material while the conference is in session. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

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

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

2017 American Historical Association

2016 American Historical Association

Progressive Evangelicals Revive the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern

YMCA Wabash

The Wabash Avenue YMCA, Chicago

In 1973, a group of evangelical leaders gathered at the YMCA on Wabash Avenue in Chicago to affirm the Christian call to racial justice, care for the poor, peace, and equality for women.  The result of this meeting was The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.  The signers included Samuel Escobar, Frank Gaebelein, Vernon Grounds, Nancy Hardesty, Carl F.H. Henry, Paul B. Henry, Rufus Jones, C.T. McIntire, David Moberg, Richard Mouw, William Pannell, John Perkins, Richard Pierard, Bernard Ramm, Ronadl Sider, Sharon Gallagher, Lewis Smedes, Jim Wallis, and John Howard Yoder.

Historian David Swartz begins his excellent book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism with a discussion of this meeting.  I encourage you to read his extensive coverage of this important moment in the history of progressive evangelicalism.  I also highly recommend Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice.

Forty-five years after this Chicago YMCA meeting, progressive evangelicals have reaffirmed the Declaration.  Here is a taste of “The Chicago Invitation: Diverse Evangelicals Continue the Journey”:

As diverse evangelicals, our faith moves us to confess and lament that we have often fallen short of the biblical values and commitments proclaimed in the gospel and affirmed in the 1973 Declaration. In addition to the 1973 Declaration, many diverse evangelicals, including women, African-American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and Indigenous leaders, have put out strong statements that have often been ignored. Millions of people, especially younger believers, have left the faith during a time in which evangelicalism has become increasingly partisan and politicized. People on both sides of the political aisle have demonized those who disagree with us and failed to love both our neighbors and our “enemies,” as Jesus instructs us to do. We should not be captive to any political party, because our allegiance belongs to Christ. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we believe the church is “called to be the conscience of the state, not the master or the servant of the state.”

Affirming the 1973 Declaration, as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we recommit to an evangelical faith that follows Jesus’ example of living and sharing a gospel that always proclaims good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. (Luke 4: 18-19)

We recommit to a biblical justice that demonstrates the reign of God as we strive for abundant life for all God’s children, which must include combating economic inequality and exploitation.

We recommit to more faithfully and courageously follow Jesus, who affirmed the sacredness and dignity of all human life.

Building on the 1973 Declaration as well as other historic statements from diverse evangelicals, we also commit to love and protect all people—including life at every stage, people of color, women, Indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people, people who are living with disabilities or mental health issues, poor and impoverished people, and each one who is marginalized, hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or imprisoned. (Matthew 25:31-46)

We commit to care for and protect the earth as God’s creation.

We commit to resisting all manifestations of racism, white nationalism, and any forms of bigotry—all of which are sins against God.

We commit to resisting patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and any form of sexism and to always affirm the dignity, voices, and leadership of women.

We commit to defend the dignity and rights of all people, particularly as we celebrate and embrace the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in our nation and churches.

Signers include  Ruth Bentley (1973 signer), Tony Campolo, Sharon Gallagher (1973 signer), Shane Claiborne, Ruth Padilla-DeBorst,  Wesley Granberg-Michaelson (1973 signer), Lisa Sharon Harper, Joel Hunter, David Moberg (1973 signer), William Pannell (1973 signer), Richard Pierard (1973 signer), Ronald Sider (1973 signer), Andrea Smith, Jim Wallis (1973 signer), Barbara Williams-Skinner, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Read the entire statement here.  Jim Wallis discusses the statement here.

I have a hard time keeping track of all these religious “declarations,” but I took note of this one because of its connection to the historic 1973 meeting.

Eric Metaxas Was in Chicago Last Week. So was I.

Seminary Coop 1

Check out Emily McFarlan Miller’s Religion News Service piece on our recent visits to Chicago.  Metaxas was at Judson University, a Christian college in Elgin.  I was at the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore at the University of Chicago.

Here is a taste of Miller’s piece:

Historian John Fea is skeptical of Metaxas’ views on American history and his support of the current administration.

A couple of days before Metaxas spoke at Judson, Fea was in Chicago to talk about his new book, “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” during a taping of the “Things Not Seen” podcast Monday at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore on the University of Chicago campus.

Though he teaches American history at Messiah College, an evangelical school, he rejects the idea, popularized by evangelical writers such as Metaxas and David Barton, that America was founded as a Christian nation. Countering that claim is a difficult task. But, he said, it’s important for evangelical Christians to see a different view of early American history from a fellow evangelical.

“Because, you know, frankly, Barton and Metaxas especially are much more popular than people like me who are trying to push back,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.  As some of you know, I spent a lot of time reviewing and critiquing Metaxas’s book If You Can Keep It.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Meets “Things Not Seen” Radio at the University of Chicago

Last night the Believe Me book tour made a stop at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore on the campus of the University of Chicago.  On most stops on the tour I give a 20-minute book talk followed by a Q&A session, but this time around we teamed-up with David Dault of the “Things Not Seen” radio program.   It was great to see old friends and make some new ones at the event.  Thanks to David and the staff of the Seminary Co-op for hosting!

Here are some pics:

Seminary Coop 1

Photo by Matt Lakemacher

Seminary Coop 2

Photo by Matt Lakemacher

Seminary Coop 3

Lynn Pattison and Matt Lakemacher, alumni of the Gilder-Lehrman “Princeton Seminar” on Colonial America were in attendance last night.  They teach social studies in Gurnee, IL

At Valparaiso University tonight!

Springsteen and the E Street Band in Chicago (September 1999)

Springsteen Chicago

Just released.  Get it here.



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The Author’s Corner with Heath Carter

Heath Carter is Assistant Professor of History at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso University  This interview is based on his latest book Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago

JF: What led you to write Union Made?

HC: While a master’s student at the University of Chicago Divinity School I stumbled upon an article in an old fundamentalist periodical about how the state of Wisconsin had quashed an attempt by a group of Christian ministers to form a union.  I read on, expecting the editor to rail against the state.  Much to my surprise, he instead reveled in the ministers’ misfortune, arguing that it served them right for associating with the devil (ie. the trade union movement).  The piece left me wondering whether working-class evangelicals shared the editor’s animus toward unions.  I had a hunch that their class experiences might have led them to different conclusions and was able to test my hypothesis during my first-ever graduate seminar at the University of Notre Dame.  That semester I wrote the first draft of what is now Chapter 5 on the religious dimensions of the Pullman strike.  One of the leading ministers in town had denounced the strikers and I was fortunate in that his still-active church, Pullman Presbyterian, had its membership records going all the way back into the 19th century.  I’ll never forget the excitement that afternoon when I discovered that, sure enough, in the weeks following the minister’s criticism of the strike a working-class walkout had commenced.  At that point I knew I had a story to tell.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Union Made?

HC: Working people keyed the rise of social Christianity in cities like Chicago.  In the generation before Walter Rauschenbusch published Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), blacksmiths, seamstresses, and the like were already preaching and practicing social gospels; and their religious activism proved the single greater factor in a remarkable early-twentieth-century turnabout, as one by one the nation’s churches finally embraced organized labor. 

JF: Why do we need to read Union Made?

HC: The answer depends on the audience.  Historians should read the book because it recasts the story of social Christianity, one of the most significant reform movements in modern American history.  But I hope that Union Madewill also attract non-specialist readers.  The book does not pretend to offer contemporary Christians or labor organizers solutions for present-day problems.  Nevertheless, these groups and others may find, as I have, that the voices of late-19th-century Chicago’s working-class prophets are still surprisingly resonant.

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

HC:  I did not take a single American history class in college, but my senior year at Georgetown I wrote an honor’s thesis on the Left Behind series that piqued my curiosity about the history of American evangelicalism.  Before I knew it I was off to the University of Chicago Divinity School, where I had the privilege of working with Catherine Brekus.  By the time I finished a lengthy research paper on the rise of an evangelical left in response to the Vietnam War – an experience which offered me my first extended exposure to the delights of historical detective work – I was hooked.  I applied to a variety of PhD programs and two weeks before I was admitted to Notre Dame I received word that Mark Noll would be coming to replace a retiring George Marsden.  When I got a phone call admitting me into the program, I jumped at the chance to work with Mark, whom I had so long admired.

JF: What is your next project?

HC: I am planning to write an ambitious new history of the Social Gospel in American life.  Remarkably, the grand narratives of the 1940s and 1950s remain the closest thing we have to an overview of this important Christian tradition, which I will argue was born in the decades prior to the Civil War and extends all the way through the present day.  The book will draw on original research but also on the insights of recent generations of historians, who have produced a wealth of excellent articles and monographs that now need to be synthesized.    

JF: Thanks, Heath!

The Author’s Corner with William A. Mirola

William Mirola is Professor of Sociology and Presiding Officer of the faculty at Marian University. This interview is based on his new book, Redeeming Time: Protestantism and Chicago’s Eight-Hour Movement (University of Illinois Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Redeeming Time: Protestantism and Chicago’s Eight-Hour Movement?

WM: When I was in graduate school in the late 1980’s, I was very much engaged in a variety of social movement protest activities. I had grown up very active in my faith community. I was very interested in the intersections between the two areas of my life. As I read more in the sociology of religion and of social movement activism, I discovered that there was a broad literature debating the role of religion as both a facilitator and obstacle to social change movements, especially the American labor movement. Perhaps because, as a person of faith, I wanted to save religion from Marx’s “opiate of the masses” thesis, I was encouraged to examine the role of religion in the labor movement. The chair of my dissertation committee liked this idea and recommended looking at the post-civil war era because not as much attention was paid to this question in that time frame. So I did…and in reading the histories, the eight-hour day kept returning again and again as the central issue of the period and more interesting still was that the reduction of the hours of labor was being argued over as a moral and religious issue. And so the study began. After my dissertation was complete, it was clear that this historical analysis was unlike many of the others in the field and gave a critical perspective to understanding the role of religion in the labor movement and in social change generally. It was this last point that kept me motivated to see it to publication in its current form.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Redeeming Time?

WM: Redeeming Time examines the role of religion in the fight for the eight-hour workday in 19th Century Chicago. I highlight the challenges faced by factions of the labor movement in attempting to use religion as an ideological and practical weapon in its fights with employers and as a way to build coalitions with Protestant clergy to achieve shorter hours.

JF:Why do we need to read Protestantism and Redeeming Time?

WM: Redeeming Time challenges much of what we know about the role of religion in labor history by focusing its role as a strategic weapon in labor’s arsenal during the battles over shorter hours in the second half of the 19th century. By focusing on the rhetoric used by different factions of the labor movement, by Protestant clergy, and by employers, one can see the evolution in the thinking of these different sets of social actors regarding the religious nature of work and the workday over a fifty-year time span. It also sheds light on how the labor movement viewed the strategic utility of building coalitions with clergy to achieve industrial reform. For labor, religious rhetoric played a prominent role in framing the eight-hour day but eventually it is replaced by economic rhetoric which resonated more with employers. Clergy generally opposed shorter hours for workers, fearing an increase in vice, but overtime, responding the in intensification of class conflict, began to embrace shorter hours as a morally desirable industrial reform but unfortunately not before labor shifts its strategy away from the religious realm. So the story is one of two ships passing in the night. Redeeming Time takes a more critical approach than many other past studies or religion and labor by questioning the instrumental utility of religion in achieving practical industrial reform.

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

WM: In point of fact, I am sociologist. However, there is a part of me that has always loved history. I didn’t set out to craft an historical study in graduate school but in the late 1980s, the study of history enjoyed resurgence in sociological analysis and I was fortunate to work with faculty who embraced it. I always tell my students that there is no way to understand contemporary life without understanding the past and so history and sociology are both entwined. I believe that you can’t be a good historian without thinking sociologically and visa-versa.

JF: What is your next project?

WM: I continue to be interested in the role of religion in social movements, past and present although my research now is more contemporary and examines the intersection of religion and social class differences in the United States. I may return to the 19th Century at some point however since there is so much that I left uncovered regarding the intersection of religion and the American labor movement.

JF: Can’t wait to hear more about it. Thanks Bill!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Chris Cantwell on the Lost Landscapes of the American Religious Past

World Parliament of Religion, Chicago, 1893

I know very little about georeferencing and digital mapping, but I have become fascinated by the whole process through my affiliation with a new digital project we are sponsoring at Messiah College.  We call it Digital Harrisburg.  

On Tuesday I was involved in a presentation about Digital Harrisburg to about thirty Messiah faculty and staff.  I watched as my colleague David Pettegrew showed how his digital history course, working together with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) classes at Messiah, Harrisburg University, and Harrisburg Area Community College, was able to link the 1900 census record of Harrisburg to contemporary digital maps.

After attending this session, and hearing David talk about this project over the course of the semester, I was particularly interested in Chris Cantwell‘s latest post at Religion in American History: “Lost Landscapes of American Religious History.”  Cantwell teaches public history at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, but he is still finishing up an exhibit on the religious history of Chicago at the turn of the 20th century for his old employer, The Newberry Library.  The exhibit is called Faith in the City: Chicago’s Religious Diversity in the Era of the World’s Fair.

Cantwell’s work in mapping churches and religious organizations at the turn of the twentieth century has forced him to realize that “the built environment of American religion is also a history of occlusion and erasure.”

Here is a taste of his fascinating post:

But even more pervasive, and more revealing, is the ways in which today’s built environment reveals the enduring privilege of race and class upon the built environment. This is most easily seen by the fact that most of the sites of Chicago’s religious history that still exist are those that remain in the hands of their founders. Holy Family Church, for example, has remained at the intersection of Roosevelt and May Streets for nearly a hundred and fifty years. The congregation has survived several fires and a neighborhood that has turned  over repeatedly throughout the century because it has had the resources to sustain itself. Many storefront churches and evangelical rescue missions, however, are all gone.

Yet the ways in which power and privilege manifest themselves in the presence and absence of go even deeper than the survival of buildings. It also occurs in the seemingly innocuous act of assigning geocoordinates. Data is supposed the be the great leveler. We’re all ones and zeroes to the computer. But level of precision one can get in assigning coordinates is deeply inflected by race, class, and gender. For example, Chicago Sinai Congregation’s 1890 temple no longer exists. But the fact that the neighborhood it was located in remains relatively stable means that translating its 1893 address into 2014 coordinates is relatively easy–even if that space is now luxury condos. But to try and locate the coordinates of the city’s black churches has been one of the most depressing research tasks I’ve undertaken. The intersections, streets, and alleyways that once pulsated with the rhythms of black Chicago are in many instances gone. And not just the buildings. Streets have been removed, intersections torn up, and alleys completely abandoned. Assigning these sites geocoordinates has involved a lot of estimated guesses, and in many instances I’ve been forced to simply place a church in the middle of the street because the data does not suggest which corner it was on. It’s like witnessing the traumas of the twentieth century in longitude and latitude.

Innovation and Risk in Chicago: Past and Present

 I really like the way the past is used in this radio piece on a start-up business selling used IT equipment on the 12th floor of Chicago’s Mercantile Mart.  It connects the type of innovation and risk needed to get such a company off the ground with the boom and bust economy that has always defined the Windy City.  Heath Carter of Valparaiso University does a nice job as one of the guest historians.  I love the sounds of him talking as the city buzzes and Chicago River flows behind him.

Listen here.

The Barack Obama Presidential Library

It could go here:

Here is some more information, courtesy of the Chicago Tribute:

The site where Michael Reese Hospital once stood isn’t much to look at, just a 37-acre swath of overgrown land in Bronzeville, behind a shoddy chain-link fence.

Developers are itching to build a casino or perhaps a sports entertainment complex on the city-owned property located in the shadows of downtown near the south lakefront. But residents of this historic African-American community have something grander in mind.

They envision a Barack Obama presidential library.

“This area tells the story of Chess Records, gospel music, blues and jazz, electrified by Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters,” said Harold Lucas, president of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council in Bronzeville. “When people come to Chicago, that’s what they want to see. They want to see the birthplace of Mr. Obama’s political career.”

Though Obama has not commented publicly about his plans for a library, every president since Herbert Hoover has established an archive in his home state to house papers from his White House tenure. That means the race could come down to Chicago — the city Obama most recently called home — and Honolulu — the city where he was born.

If Chicago is selected, the next hurdle would be to determine where the facility would be built. An Obama library likely would not open before the end of the decade, but already it is a hot commodity because of the prestige and economic vitality it would bring to the community.