My Favorite Moment From the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)

Yesterday I was part of a panel of early American historians who write op-eds and other public pieces for public consumption.  The panel included Jill Lepore, Erica Dunbar, Yoni Appelbaum, and Grantham Rao. I will blog about this panel later today, but I thought I would share an exchange that occurred during the session:

Me (during my presentation):  “I am an evangelical Christian.”  (This was relevant because I was talking about an op-ed I wrote about Trump in The Atlantic).

Audience member during Q&A, speaking to the standing-only crowd: “I think it is worth noting here that we have a real live evangelical in our midst.”

Me:  “Yes–and after the session I will be outside in a cage so you can all examine me more fully.”  (Yes, I can get a bit snarky).

Audience: Awkward laughter.

Jill Lepore (addressing the aforementioned audience member): I’m gonna stop you right there. This is not a session about John or his faith, it is about writing op-eds for public audiences.

Thanks, Jill.

I also appreciate all of the evangelicals and people of other Christian faiths who came up to me after the session and offered words of encouragement for my work.

More later.

Are Scholarly Conferences Accessible to Non-Academic Employers?

Conference

Ben Dumbauld, director of content at the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation, does not think so.  I think his recent piece at The Chronicle of the Higher Education is worth considering.  Here is a taste:

I work for a nonprofit organization that produces curricular materials for K-12 teachers. I started there as a writer shortly before completing my dissertation and stayed on while I applied for faculty positions. In contrast with the quickly diminishing returns from my academic search, I flourished in my nonprofit job. I became a lead editor, and we soon determined that we needed to hire additional writers. We were looking for candidates who excelled at research skills, who could self-manage, and most important, who had the ability to see the academic potential of popular music and culture.

In other words, we wanted someone with graduate-level training in the humanities. I was certain that a scholarly conference would be a good place to look.

Doubt began creeping in, however, soon after the conference schedule was posted online. Scanning panel after panel of immensely specific, jargon-filled paper presentations, it suddenly dawned on me: I had no way to gauge where to begin looking for Ph.D.s who might fit our organization. In imagining my ideal candidate, I’d omitted a crucial quality: We needed someone who could translate research for a wide range of readers — and not just their fellow academics — in understandable and engaging ways.

Scholars are quite capable of doing that; they are teachers, after all. But reading the meeting’s agenda, I realized — embarrassingly, for the first time — that the quality we most needed was not one regularly prioritized at scholarly conferences.

It was too late to back out now. I had already bought my plane tickets and registered for the conference. So I packed my bags and highlighted the relatively few panels that focused on professional development and teaching, figuring that they would be the best places to find people curious about careers outside of academe.

Read the entire piece here.

SHEAR 2019

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On July 17, 2019 I will be in Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.  You can check out the program here.

I will be part of a roundtable titled “Early American History on the Opinion Page: Writing Historically-Minded Pieces for Contemporary Media.”  Jill Lepore (Harvard) will be presiding and my fellow panelists are Yoni Appelbaum (The Atlantic), Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Rutgers), and Gautham Rao (American University).

Here are a few other panels that caught my eye:

  • A “Presidential Plenary” on the United States in the wake of revolution that includes Annette Gordon-Reed, Frank Cogliano, Sarah Pearsall, Kathleen DuVal, and Rob Parkinson
  • A session on Federalist New York that includes a paper on Angelical (Schuyler) Church by Tom Cutterham
  • A session on religious disestablishment that features Jonathan Den Hartog, Brian Franklin, Rebecca Brenner, Elise Neal, and Johann Neem.
  • A session on the scholarship of the late Jan Lewis that includes talks by Carolyn Eastman, Peter Onuf, David Waldstreicher, and Nicole Eustace.
  • A session on “singular careers” in the new nation that includes papers by Seth Perry on Lorenzo Dow’s “eccentricity,” Steve Bullock on Parson Weems, and Jennifer Brady on “dramatic reading.”
  • A session on Joanne Freeman’s new book The Field of Blood.
  • A session on teaching “major topics to non-history students.”
  • A roundtable on politics in the 1790s that includes Rosemarie Zagarri, Sara Georgini, and Barbara Oberg.
  • A session on “telling the republic’s founding story in its moments of peril” that includes Seth Cotlar, Rob Parkinson, Honor Sachs, and Serena Zabin.
  • A session titled “Religiously Remembering the American Revolution” featuring Kate Carte, Tara Strauch, Adam Jortner, and J.L. Tomlin.

See you in Boston!

#OAH19: “Revisiting Reconstruction Political History”

Freedmen's Bureau 2Katie Lowe, a graduate student in American history at Towson University, is back from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians where she was covering the conference for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  In this conference dispatch, she writes about Session #AM2873: “Revisiting Reconstruction Political History.”  Read all of her OAH dispatches here.

Technically, the OAH meeting didn’t end until Sunday, but I had to catch a train, so my last panel on Saturday was #AM2873, “Revisiting Reconstruction Political History.” It was a good choice!

Corey Brooks (York College, PA) began with a discussion of Andrew Johnson’s veto of the Freedmen’s Bureau legislation and its eventual revision and passage. He argued that the bill represented a need for Congress to “advance meaningful liberty.” Brooks noted that there was a vocal minority, rooted in longstanding racial prejudice, against using a federal agency to help people of color. After Johnson’s initial veto, the legislation was changed in terms of appropriations, aid, and the distribution of claimed and abandoned land.

Hilary Green of the University of Alabama discussed efforts in Alabama to ensure education for African Americans during Reconstruction. These efforts were framed around the concept of “education as a vehicle for citizenship.” Delegates to Southern state conventions worked to have public education become part of state constitutions, with Alabama’s statute opening free education to all children ages 5-21. It became a right of citizens, including African Americans, to access education. This raised the question of who would be deemed worthy to gain education and the revolutionary nature of the conventions.  Texas and Arkansas had vague language in their statutes, without comment on freed or former slave status, while Florida’s statute made education accessible “without distinction or preference.” Race, class, and place continued to define access to education. Opposition from the South, philanthropy from the North, and the availability of resources could all affect the quality of schooling.

Kevin Adams of Kent State followed up with an examination of the far Western United States during Reconstruction..  He focused on the Army’s role in Reconstruction as part of a “chronological and geographically expansive approach.” Anti-Chinese mobs in the 1880’s triggered the use of the Army as posse comitatus in Seattle, even though this practice had officially ended years earlier.

Manisha Sinha of the University of Connecticut rounded out the panel with a paper reexamining Reconstruction with regard to the expansion of the state and the redefinition of American democracy to include political and civil rights for African Americans.  She began by suggesting that conventional wisdom, which paints abolitionists as political neophytes, is inaccurate. The political history of abolition and Reconstruction includes debates over the nature of the Constitution that led to political and social changes through government power.  Slaveholder influence in the U.S. government did not result in the growth of the state, but abolitionist work did. Radical Reconstruction could be seen as “rescuing the federal government from the clutches of the slave power.” She notes that suffrage and black citizenship were not new ideas during Reconstruction. The work of radical/political abolitionists remade constitutions to ensure the “[inscription] of black rights into law.” Sinha concluded by emphasizing the interaction between political citizenship and social justice.

The chair/commentator, Andrew Slap from East Tennessee State University, emphasized the “radical and revolutionary nature of Reconstruction” and suggested that the multiple approaches taken by the panel countered the idea of a “greater Reconstruction” that was too big to say anything meaningful. The floor was then opened to questions.

The first question was for Manisha Sinha.  How representative were radical abolitionists? She said that they were the “ideological vanguard” of the party, which is why they are important to the conversation and the formation of the idea of an American state responsible for the well-being of all of its citizens. Corey Brooks added that late wartime and post-war legislation had radical voices setting the parameters for congressional debate.

The next question was for Corey Brooks: Did the Freedmen’s Bureau have its own authority even after its reauthorization and realignment under the War Department?  The answer is yes. A follow up; “Why did Andrew Johnson veto the legislation? Brooks stated that Johnson claimed that eleven states did not have representation at the time and so he believed passage would be inappropriate.

Someone asked Kevin Adams if Washington was still a territory, how did federal authority extend there? He said that the Washington territory had asked for federal intervention.  Moreover, a broader view had emerged by this point giving government the power to intervene in all civil rights issues.

A member of the audience asked Hilary Green if the discussion over Reconstruction education extended to universities.   Yes, in South Carolina the University of South Carolina was desegregated. Some states agreed to build separate schools and others made provisions for students with special needs (blind, deaf).

Reflections on a First Visit to the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians

OAH exhibit

Katie Lowe, a graduate student in American history at Towson University, is back from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians where she was covering the conference for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  In this conference dispatch, she writes about what it was like to attend her first OAH.  Read all of her OAH dispatches here.

#OAH19 was the first big conference I’ve attended (and my first history conference), so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I came in on Wednesday night to volunteer. I’m happy to report that about half a dozen people can stuff 2000 bags full of AHA swag in less than two hours, while another team prepares conference lanyards. I’m also happy to report that the OAH meeting team, which coordinated the volunteers, are wonderful people, and were quick to resolve any issues.

One of the things that surprised me is how loud the conference could be (and that’s before entering the book exhibit). I know it’s a cliché to think of historians as quiet (until they get into an academic dispute, of course), but I was not prepared for the volume.

I’m not completely sold on the panel format. I would really like to see the field become more accessible and engaging.  For me, this would mean a history conference in which fewer scholars read their papers at the audience. I realize that this would be a pretty big change for historians, but for now I would just appreciate more visuals or printed materials.  It would also be nice if presenters did not sigh upon learning that they have to use a microphone.  As far as the panel format itself, some sessions came together better than others, which I hear is not unusual.

One highlight: RIBBONS! (C’mon, you know you wanted a few).

My top takeaways are:

1) Redcaps are possibly angels.

2) Plan your day.  Know which panels you want to attend.

3) Be prepared to abandon all of your plans.

4) If you are an introvert, figure out where you can hide between sessions.

5) Don’t drink too much coffee!!

Overall, it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to next year.

Correspondents Wanted: 2019 OAH in Philadelphia

Philly Freedom

I know it is late in the game (the conference started today), but is anyone interested in writing a post or two (or three or four or five…) from the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Philadelphia on April 4-7, 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

2019 American Historical Association

2018 Organization of American Historians

I’m Headed to SHEAR This Year!

SHEAR logo

That is the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.  It will be good to go back.  I haven’t been to SHEAR in close to a decade!  Here is my panel.  Thanks to Caitlin Fitz for the invite.

Roundtable: Early America on the Opinion Page – Writing Historically-Minded Pieces for Contemporary Media 

Chair:
Jill Lepore,  Harvard University/The New Yorker

Comments:
(Audience)

Panelists:

Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Rutgers University

John Fea, Messiah College

Gautham Rao, American University 

See you in Boston in July!

Critiquing Liberalism

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A map of Wendell Berry’s Port William

Over at The Front Porch Republic, Jeff Bilbro has a fascinating and brilliant review of a conference at Calvin College titled “Faith and Democracy in America: Christianity and Liberalism Rightly Understood.”

Here is a taste:

In early December, the Acton Institute and Calvin College’s Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics co-hosted a conference ambitiously titled “Faith and Democracy in America: Christianity and Liberalism Rightly Understood.” The dueling keynote titles caught my attention. Patrick Deneen was slated to give the first one: “Liberalism is Not Free: The Myths of Religious Liberty.” The next day, Jamie Smith would speak in defense of liberalism: “Thank God for Liberalism: An Alternative History Without Nostalgia.” Since I respect the work of both these scholars and have learned much from their writings, I made plans to attend. The conference didn’t disappoint, though I do wish the format would have allowed for a more genuine back-and-forth between Deneen and his critics. In what follows, I’ll try to avoid too much inside baseball and, rather than attempting to summarize all of the talks, will distill some of the central questions the conference raised for me.

Kristen Johnson, a professor at Western Seminary, articulated the conference’s animating questions when she asked whether Christians can find within a pluralistic space opportunities to live radically faithful lives. The danger, of course, is that a liberal, pluralistic space will so malform Christians that the distinctive character of a gospel-formed life is warped. In Smith’s book Awaiting the King he draws on Oliver O’Donovan to claim that “liberalism itself lives on borrowed capital and is only possible because of the dent of the gospel and the formative effects of Christian practices on Western societies” (17). But as liberalism draws down this moral (and, I would add, ecological) capital, can churches sustain the kinds of vibrant communities and institutions and practices necessary to form virtuous citizens, citizens whose first allegience is to the Kingdom of God? (I pursued this line of questioning further in my review of Smith’s book.)

Several of the speakers sidestepped these difficult questions by defending liberalism’s promises of equality and freedom without reckoning with the growing evidence that American liberalism is increasingly failing to deliver on these promises. Speakers such as Samuel Gregg, William Katerberg, Kristin Du Mez, and others pointed out that women and peasants and racial minorities were oppressed in pre-liberal social arrangements, as if that, in itself, answers Deneen’s critique of liberalism.

To this end, several potshots were lobbed at Wendell Berry as a nostalgic reactionary. It is much easier, however, to make fun of Berry for being nostalgic than it is to respond to his warning that our liberal way of life is causing irreparable ecological, cultural, and moral damage. (Even my three-year-old daughter has mastered the art of criticizing Berry: if I am too engrossed in my writing, she leans toward me and repeats “Wendell Berry is a bad dude,” knowing this is a sure way to get my attention.) Yet there are grave consequences when a culture forms its members to pursue wealth and happiness by cutting themselves loose from place and community and tradition. (One of these, as Comment recently explored, is loneliness, which is just one of liberalism’s fruits.)

These defenders of liberalism’s benefits, then, tend to criticize a straw man rather than actually responding to the arguments of people like Berry or Deneen. Indeed, Deneen himself explicitly acknowledges liberalism’s Christian origins and its good results:

Nor does reflecting upon what follows liberalism’s self-destruction imply that we must simply devise its opposite, or deny what was of great or enduring value in the achievements of liberalism. Liberalism’s appeal lies in its continuities with the deepest commitments of the Western political tradition, particularly efforts to secure liberty and human dignity through the constraint of tyranny, arbitrary rule, and oppression. In this regard, liberalism is rightly considered to be based on essential political commitments that were developed over centuries in classical and Christian thought and practice. (Why Liberalism Failed 19)

In other words, liberalism can be marked by the gospel and still be a political and cultural dead end. As Ivan Illich argued, corruptio optimi pessima.

By not acknowledging this possibility, these speakers largely failed to grapple with Deneen’s argument that liberalism is not, in fact, bringing about genuine freedom or just forms of society. Instead, it is sorting society into a small group of winners and a large group of losers. As Deneen puts it, “Society today has been organized around the Millian principle that ‘everything is allowed,’ at least so long as it does not result in measurable (mainly physical) harm. It is a society organized for the benefit of the strong” (148). Smith has elsewhere made a similar case himself, noting that “the dismantling of cultural jigs makes the poor especially vulnerable.”

Deneen’s book is a tour-de-force.  Berry, of course, is a prophet. 🙂  Both offer powerful critiques of liberalism.  It seems like their arguments and the implications of their arguments need to be engaged with something more than just an appeal to liberalism’s defense of oppressed groups.  I think we need less, not more, of this kind of identity politics, especially when it comes to any discussion about the future of democracy and the common good.  (And I include white identity politics in all of this, which is one of the reasons I  am such a critic of Trump).  Bilbro, Deneen, and Berry are drawing us to things that affect all of us as human beings–environmental degradation (and its impact on the poor), the destruction of places and local economies, the decline in vibrant communities defined by loving one’s neighbor over self-interest, and the “sorting of society between winners and losers,” to name a few. (Of course such universal human appeals like the ones I mentioned above are also part of the Enlightenment liberal project.  This is complicated).

Once could look at this another way.  Bilbro names conference speakers such as Samuel Gregg, William Katerberg, and Kristin Du Mez who “defended liberalism’s promises of equality of freedom without reckoning with the growing evidence that American liberalism increasingly failed to deliver on these promises.”  I was not at the conference, but I have read Du Mez’s paper (which is linked in Bilbro’s essay).  If liberalism has been so successful, then why is it necessary for Du Mez to ask “where are the women?”  I am sure Du Mez would respond to this question by saying that the work of liberalism is not yet done.  Or perhaps she would point to some of the limits of liberalism.  But it does sound like she believes that the liberal democratic order is still the best hope of progress for women and other oppressed groups.  And there’s the rub.  Bilbro, Deneen, Berry (and I would add others like Geneva College’s Eric Miller, Syracuse’s Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, or Pomona College’s Susan McWilliams to this list) do not think liberalism is, ironically, our best path forward.

Read Bilbro’s piece here.

Still Looking for Correspondents: 2019 American Historical Association meeting in Chicago

AHA 2019

Second call:

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

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast at Harvard’s “Sound Education” Conference

Podcast Conference 2

The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast co-host and producer Drew Hermeling is in Cambridge, Massachusetts this weekend.  He is doing a presentation on the podcast at Sound Education: A Conference for Educational Podcasts and Listeners.  Harvard University is hosting the event.

Here is a description of his session:

Seeing Early America Everywhere: Connecting Eighteenth-Century History to Unexpected Places with Andrew Hermeling (The Way of Improvement Leads Home)
@ Divinity Hall, Room 106

Colonial Puritans and Colin Kaepernick. Mount Vernon and Mar-a-Lago. Eighteenth-century midwifery and Obamacare. These may seem like odd connections, but in their efforts to prove that #everythinghasahistory, early American historians and podcasters John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling regularly demonstrate that today’s hot-button issues have eighteenth-century antecedents. If you look close enough, you can see early America everywhere.

There are some great podcasters at Harvard this weekend.  Here are a few that caught my attention:

Nate DiMeo of The Memory Palace.  (Listen to our interview with Nate in Episode 6 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast)

Ed O’Donnell of In the Past Lane

Blair Hodges of the Maxwell Institute Podcast

Marshal Poe of New Books Network

Liz Covart of Ben Franklin’s World (Listen to our interview with Liz in Episode 24 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast)

Dan Carlin of Hardcore History

We will try to get Drew to write a report of the conference and post it here.  Stay tuned.

Podcast Conference 1

It looks like Drew is playing to a good crowd

Will You Be Attending the Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History in October?

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I hope so.  October 4-6 in Grand Rapids, MI

Our keynote speakers are Margaret Bendroth, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Beth Allison Barr, and Robert Orsi.

Other historians on the program include: Joel Carpenter, John Woodbridge, Brad Gundlach, Steven Keillor, Timothy Hall, Ted Davis, Jared Burkholder, David Swartz, Scott Culpepper, Trisha Posey, Fred Jordan, Bernardo Michael, Chris Gehrz, Jon Boyd, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Ron Wells, John Turner, Amy Easton-Flake, Rachel Cope, Fred Buettler, Mike Kugler, Michael Hammond, Eric Miller, Jeff Bilbro, Timothy Gloege, Dwight Brautigham, Rick Kennedy, Richard Gamble, Elesha Coffman, Karen Johnson, Douglas Howard, Anthony Minnema, Amy Poppinga, Ron Rittgers, John Giggie, Jemar Tisby, Beth Barton Schweiger, Jonathan Den Hartog, Jennifer Hevelone-Harper, Glenn Sanders, Janine Giordano Drake, Andrea Turpin, George Marsden, William Katerberg, John Haas, James LaGrand, Paul Harvey, John Wilsey, Michael Lee, Brian Franklin, Heath Carter, Cara Burnidge, Jay Case, Katherine van Liere, Dale Van Kley, Luke Harlow, Jeanne Petit, Lisa Clark Diller, Daniel Williams, Darryl Hart, Tal Howard, Nancy Koester, Tracy McKenzie, John Fry, Catherine O’Donnell, Jay Green, Don Yerxa, Patrick Connelly, Otis Pickett, Emily Conroy-Krutz, Mark Edwards, Lauren Turek, Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Jesse Curtis, Rebecca Koerselman, Bill Svelmoe, Una Cadegan, Jill Titus, Kent Whitworth, Susan Fletcher, Bob Beatty, Seth Perry.

There will also be tours of the Meeter Center at Calvin College and a trip to the Gerald Ford Museum in downtown Grand Rapids.

Get all the information you need here.

OAH 2018 Dispatch: Digital History

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Messiah College students engaged in the Digital Harrisburg Initiative

We are pleased to add this dispatch from Gabriel Loiacono to our coverage of the 2018 meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento. Gabe is Associate Professor of History and Director of the University Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and is currently writing a book tentatively titled: “Five Lives Shaped by the Poor Law: Stories of Welfare in the Early Republic.”  Gabe writes:

This dispatch is about two digital history panels. I had a wonderful conference overall, including my own panel, “Beyond Northern Exceptionalism” (#AM2347). I will say nothing about that panel except that its genesis was on this blog when I read an interview with my co-panelist Christy Clark-Pujara about her book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island. I read the interview and the book, reached out to Christy, and with Chad Montrie, Stephen Kantrowitz, and Sharon Romeo, we had a thoroughly enjoyable panel.

Now on to Digital History….

Giddiness and Guilt. I alternate between those two sensations when using digitized primary sources for my research and writing. The OAH panel “Consequences of Digital Technologies for History: A Roundtable Discussion on the Digital Future of the Historian’s Craft” (#AM2675) helped me to think about why that is. Panelist Lara Putnam caused much introspection in the audience when she said, and I paraphrase: “if you are feeling shameful about having used digitized sources, and that’s why you’re not citing the sources’ digital formats, we need to talk about that.” I, for one, have felt that shame and this panel helped me to think about why.

Panelists Andreas Fickers, Lara Putnam, Jason Rhody, and Jennifer Guiliano offered really thoughtful critiques about how, precisely, primary sources and the historian’s craft are changed by digitization. Fickers emphasized how we really need to think about the digital tools we use, how search engines are not neutral, and how sources are manipulated in the process of digitization. He offers a model of “thinkering,” thinking while tinkering, in order to come up with updated methodologies to fit our updated tools. Putnam pointed out how there have always been problems with how our sources are collected, preserved, and found, but some problems are new, like algorithmic bias. Now is the moment to “retro-engineer” old problems while thinking about new ones.

Putnam also pointed to what is lost in moving from the “analog” methods of finding and reading an old newspaper, and the digital method of encountering it as a search result. In particular, much of the contextual information about the newspaper, from other issues to what the rest of the issue says to where you can find this newspaper can disappear in a digital search. Rhody and Guiliano both referenced the ethics of google searches and Guiliano called into question the ethics of ancestry.com’s business model. Leaning on the work of communications studies scholar Safiya Noble (see Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism), they underlined how google searches of women or people color often turn up biased results. To what extent do biased results shape our and our students’ historical research? Moreover, how are historians of our period going to cope with using billions of tweets as sources?

The panelists only began to answer these questions. Guiliano warned that we better start learning statistical methods and how algorithms work. All underlined how important it is that we develop some methodology that takes into account the differences that digital tools make in our research and understanding.

This Digital History panel had my mental wheels spinning, and I decided to take in the next session in that room: “Teaching Historical Literacy in the Digital Age” (#AM2581). To my surprise, the rest of the audience was totally different, which was too bad. These panels spoke to the same big questions and there could have been a rich inter-panel conversation had more people listened to both. Four two-year college professors and one high school teacher made up this panel: Abigail Feely, Chris Padgett, Elise Robison, Rob Marchie, and Sara Ball. Where the first panel focused on theory and research methodology, this panel focused on the practice of teaching. The teaching expertise of the panelists shone in one after another example of how to harness digital platforms for teaching and how to help students think critically about digital sources. One of my favorites was to assign students to critique a website or even a google search in terms of what was missing and how dated or well-rounded the sources behind these digital resources were. Another favorite was to ask students to take digital photos of something (such as the suburb nearby) before students even knew they would be focusing on Levittown the following week.

Perhaps the single most exciting point I took from this panel was that historians’ skills are precisely the skills that students need to navigate the digital age. Evaluating the source (archival or digital) that you are looking at is what we teach. Likewise, building up context and the ability to take apart the argument being presented to you are skills that we teach! This was an exciting clarion call for us historians. Let’s tackle these new problems in research and teaching with our old methodologies, and develop new methodologies for new sources.

There were other digital history panels that I could not make. I bet those were good too. What an exciting series of issues to tackle at the OAH.

OAH Dispatch: Historians on “Hamilton”

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The editors of Historians on Hamilton sign books! (From Rutgers University Press Twitter feed)

We are happy to have Julianne Johnson writing for us this weekend from the floor of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento.  Julianne is a Ph.D student at Claremont Graduate University and Assistant Professor of History at College of the Canyons in San Clarita, California.  Enjoy!  –JF

Friday morning’s 8am session Historians on Hamilton at the OAH conference was uncharacteristically full.  Scholars Patricia Herrera of the University of Richmond, Claire Bond Potter of The New School and Renee Romano of Oberlin College led a panel discussion surrounding their contributions to a new book from Rutgers University Press titled Historians on Hamilton; How a Blockbuster Musical is Restaging America’s PastRomano and Potter are both editors of, and contributors to, the book.  The panel discussion approached the phenomenon of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton The Musical by interrogating how the show has been received, how the show is revolutionary, and what historians can learn from the show about how to communicate the past to popular audiences.

All three panelists challenged the audience to consider how Hamilton The Musical does history.  Renee Romano, Professor of History, Comparative American Studies, and Africana Studies at Oberlin, considered Hamilton in the context of historical memory and what she describes as a “new civic myth.”  Romano questioned whether Hamilton The Musical is expanding the circle of “we” for Americans by offering young people of color a sense of belonging and challenging white audiences to accept minorities in the roles of our founding generation.

Patricia Herrera, Professor of Theater at the University of Richmond, told a heartwarming story of her experience listening to Hamilton The Musical with her children while taking a road trip throughout our nation’s national parks.  Her young daughter’s desire to be Angelica Schuyler for Halloween pushed Herrera to interrogate how Hamilton The Musical conflates the historical figure of Angelica the slave owner with the beautiful African American actress playing her on stage.   For Herrera, the national parks and the musical perform a similar function.  The parks represent beautiful democratic vistas and leisure for white Americans on the backs of a tragic narrative for Native Americans.

Finally, Claire Bond Potter, Professor of History at the New School, discussed her interest in Hamilton The Musical and Miranda from a social media perspective.  Her chapter in the book, “Safe in the Nation We’ve Made,” looks at how the musical reaches a large audience on social media, allowing for a more authentic connection and turning fans into cultural investors.

Palpable throughout the panel discussion was the historians’ respect for Miranda’s work and a hope that other historians will use the musical as an entry into teaching and talking about history. At the end of the session, the line in the exhibit hall to purchase the book had the Rutgers staff sweating.  I secured my copy and am happily reading it now.

Write For Us From The OAH In Sacramento

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Organization of American Historians

2016 American Historical Association

2018 American Historical Association

2017 Organization of American Historians

Where are Evangelicals Going This Weekend?

Festival

A previous Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College

Conference-going evangelicals are at one of three places this weekend.

Some of the more young (mostly), hip, politically moderate, racially and ethnically diverse, culture-engaging evangelicals can be found at the “Q” Conference in Nashville.  These “thought leaders” include Gabe Lyons, Michael Wear, Andy Crouch, and David Kinnaman.

The white (mostly) male Calvinists (at least in terms of speakers) are at the “Together for the Gospel” (T4G).  To be honest with you, I have no idea where this conference it taking place.  I looked on the website for a few minutes and did not find a mention of the location so I gave up.  I am guessing somewhere in the South.  Speakers include Al Mohler, David Platt, John MacArthur, and John Piper.  I don’t know this organization very well, but it looks like there is some overlap with The Gospel Coalition.

And a diverse array of evangelical and non-evangelicals are on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids this weekend for the 2018 Festival of Faith and Writing.  Speaker names I recognize include:  Kwame Alexander, Katelyn Beaty, Kate Bowler, Scott Cairns, Heath Carter, Elesha Coffman, Edwidge Danticat, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Cathleen Falsani, Emma Green, Lisa Sharon Harper, Jen Hatmaker, Nancy Koester, George Marsden, D.L. Mayfield, Marilyn McEntyre, Bill McKibbon, Jonathan Merritt, Carol Howard Merritt, Parker Palmer, Karen Swallow Prior, Kate Shellnut, Shirley Showalter, C. Christopher Smith, James K.A. Smith, Sarah Pulliam-Bailey, Walter Wangerin, John Wilson, Lauren Winner, and Ralph Wood.

And I am sure there are some American historians who identify as “evangelical” in Sacramento this weekend for the 2018 meeting of the Organization of American Historians!

I will be home.

The True Story Behind Academic Conferences

Classroom_at_Gaylord_Opryland_Resort_&_Convention_Center

This is so true.  Here is a recent post titled “The conference cycle as it really is” published at a blog titled “Not of General Interest.”

1. Call for papers comes out. 

“That looks so interesting, and the conference is in a cool place!  I have to submit something. Do I have something already written? Nah, but the New Direction will spur me to do better work.”

2. Acceptances/rejections come out.

If I didn’t get in: Mildly sad, then “Oh, well, that’s a relief.”

If I did get in: “Hooray, hooray!  So excited to go and present this work that I haven’t written yet.”

3. Months intervening.

 “I’m doing the research, but I really ought to write the paper well ahead.  Nah, I’ve got this Deadline on Another Thing- Crisis Level Admin Task – Teaching and prep – Papers to Grade. I have lots of time.”

4. A couple of months or weeks before the conference. 

“I said I’d write about WHAT? Who wrote this proposal?”

Read points 5-8 here.

HT: Inside Higher Ed

“A little bit of pique and a little bit of anger, but not too much”

Noll and Wilson

John Wilson (former editor of Books & Culture) and Mark Noll were apparently talking about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump earlier today in South Bend at a conference honoring Noll and his work.  Or at least that is what Twitter tells me:

A blurb from Jana Riess is forthcoming. Here is Mark Noll’s “official” blurb:

Noll Fea quote

“Religion and Politics in Early America” Conference Recap

Yes–there was a conference in Saint Louis this weekend.  And yes, I was there.

I arrived early on Thursday morning (the first day of the conference) and got hit with food poisoning that kept me in my hotel room most of the day.  My plan was to attend sessions and catch-up with friends and colleagues on Thursday, give a paper on religious disestablishment in New Jersey on Friday morning, and chair another session on Friday at 2:30.  I was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis in the early evening on Friday and get back to Pennsylvania late Friday night so I could help preside over the PA District 8 National History Day competition at Messiah College on Saturday.

Then the Nor’easter hit the East Coast.

My Friday night flight was cancelled and American Airlines could not book me on another flight that would get me back to Harrisburg in time for History Day.  In the end, I gave my 9:00am presentation on New Jersey, caught a taxi to the airport where I rented a car, and made the 12-hour drive back to Pennsylvania.  It was the only way.  (I did shell-out the $6.00 for Sirius/XM radio so I had company on the drive).

I got home around 2am, caught a few hours of sleep, and was at Messiah College by 8am.

Cathay

With NHD PA Region 8 Coordinator Cathay Snyder at the awards ceremony at Messiah College

History Day

The students, teachers, and parents awaiting the start of the NHD awards ceremony

I was only able to do this because my friend Jonathan Den Hartog agreed to take my 2:30pm chair duties in St. Louis on Friday.  Thanks again, Jonathan!

And speaking of Jonathan, check out his post on the conference at Religion in American History blog.  Here is a taste:

On a related note, the conference was successful in bringing together both historians and literary scholars. Although disciplinary differences were on display–in one panel: unpacking one sermon vs. treating a long genealogy of ideas vs. considering both physical and written evidence–still good efforts were made to talk across borders and gain greater insights.  Further, presenters showed how different methodologies could illuminate a shared topic.

These two pieces–the critical mass and the conversation across disciplines–point to the energy in the field. These conversations are not only important in 2018, but they point to questions of enduring concern. Those digging into the topic are making great contributions, and I expect we will continue to see great results growing from this conference into the future.

Read his entire report here.

Don’t Forget Your Conference on Faith and History Proposal

cfh-header-2

I am serving as the program chair for next Fall’s CFH meeting in Grand Rapids.  I have posted the call for papers below.  The deadline for proposals is March 15, 2018.  Please consider submitting a paper or panel proposal!  Whether you are proposing a panel/session or a paper, all I need is a one-page abstract.  Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.

And don’t forget our Secondary Teacher Initiative!

CALL FOR PAPERS

The 31st Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History

History and the Search for Meaning:  The Conference on Faith and History at 50

 October 4-6, 2018

Calvin College

Grand Rapids, Michigan


Plenary Speakers:

Margaret Bendroth (Congregational Library & Archives, Boston)

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn (Syracuse University)  

Robert Orsi (Northwestern University)

The Conference on Faith and History (CFH) was chartered fifty years ago to uphold, study, and improve the complex relationship between Christian faith and the discipline of history.  As an organization, we are interested in how Christian faith in all its manifestations (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox) plays a role in our lives as professionals, writers, teachers, and colleagues. Our members work at large public universities, Christian liberal arts colleges, museums, historical sites, libraries, publishing houses, churches, and K-12 schools.

In October 2018, we will gather together at Calvin College, one of the organization’s earliest sponsoring institutions, to reflect on a theme that has been at the heart of the CFH since its birth: “History and the Search for Meaning.”  During our meeting in Grand Rapids, we will consider how the study of the past—in all its fullness and complexity—might bring meaning within our institutions, neighborhoods, classrooms, and congregations, and how it might promote health and stability for our democracy in an ever-shrinking and even more dangerous world.

As always, we are eager to see papers and panel (preferred) proposals that focus on the conference theme, but we will consider submissions on any historical topic.

Proposal ideas may consider, but are not limited to, the following themes:

  • Historians and the church
  • Christian historians as public intellectuals
  • Thinking Christianly about the history of race and gender
  • Teaching as Christian historians (at both the university and K-12 level)
  • The role of the Christian historian in teaching and writing about under-represented groups
  • Christian historians and the history of justice and inequality
  • Christianity and historiography
  • The social responsibility of the Christian historian
  • Christian faith and the writing of history
  • The role of the history major and the place of historical study in the academy
  • Spiritual disciplines and the work of Christian scholarship and teaching
  • The relationship between theology and the work of the historian
  • History and citizenship
  • The calling or vocation of the Christian historian/scholar
  • The influence of the Internet and social media on Christian scholarship
  • Digital history and the Christian historian
  • History and the state of the “evangelical mind”
  • History and advocacy
  • Christians and graduate training in history
  • Stories of women and seeking meaning through the study of the past
  • History and Christian mission
  • History and the moral imagination

Individual paper and/or complete session proposals may be sent to:

 John Fea, Messiah College:  jfea(at)Messiah(dot)edu

 DEADLINE: 15 March, 2018

 Decisions will be made on or before April 30, 2018.

Details about the Conference on Faith and History and forthcoming information about local arrangements can be found at the CFH website: faithandhistory.org