The Author’s Corner with Richard Kagan

the spanish crazeRichard Kagan is Academy Professor and Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor Emeritus of History at Johns Hopkins University. This interview is based on his new book, The Spanish Craze: America’s Fascination with the Hispanic World, 1779-1939 (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Spanish Craze?

RK: My interest in US attitudes towards Spain, and more broadly, Hispanic culture in general, dates to the early 1990s, and what I felt was the failure of the AHR, in keeping with the celebration of its centenary, to address the trajectory of US scholarship on Spain. The journal had commissioned articles on US historical scholarship on France, Italy, and other European countries, but not Spain. That lacuna led initially to my “Prescott’s Paradigm: American Historical Writing and the Decline of Spain,” published in the AHR in 1996, and later to other essays and articles on such related issues as the changing image of Spain in the US along the history of collecting of both Spanish and Spanish Colonial art. By 2009, after having explored the history of Spanish-themed architecture in the US, I decided a book that addressed these topics along with the often stormy political relationship between Spain and the US, the history of Spanish language instruction in the country, Spanish-themed movies, music, as well as literature demanded comprehensive treatment as well. The Spanish Craze is the result.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Spanish Craze?

RK: Key to the book is “forgive and forget,” an idea which surfaced in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898, a conflict that ended an imperial rivalry that lasted for a well over a century. With Spain no longer to threat US interests, Americans, starting with Theodore Roosevelt, demonstrated a new fascination with Spanish culture–art, architecture, language, music and more –, essentially embracing much of that culture as their own.

JF: Why should we read The Spanish Craze?

RK: I believe that it enriches our understanding the composite character of American culture. It also brings new attention to what Walt Whitman once termed “ The Spanish Element in our Nationality.”

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

RK: For most of my career, I have been a historian of Spain and its overseas empire. American history is a relatively new subject for me, and I still have much to learn. However, I have long been interested in the complex links between Spain, Spanish America, and the US. The Spanish Craze explores some of these links, but there is more, much more, to be done on the subject.

JF: What is your next project?

RK: A biography of Henry Charles Lea, the 19th Century Philadelphia publisher-cum-historian and author of the first comprehensive history of the Spanish Inquisition. Lea’s papers are mainly located in Philadelphia, which, following my retirement from Johns Hopkins in 2013, is where I now live.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

The Author’s Corner with Matthew Bowman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JF: What is your next project?

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

JF: Thanks, Matt!

A Nice Intro to the Early American Book Trade


PVF read Francis Brooke in the south Jersey countryside

When I was writing The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America I spent a lot of time reading scholarship on the book trade in early America.  I was trying to trace the print infrastructure that brought ideas into the southern New Jersey hinterland at the time of the American Revolution.

Elaina Frulla‘s piece at the Pedagogy & American Literary Studies blog reminded me of my work on the book that eventually gave birth to this blog.  Drawing on some of the best scholarship in the field, Frulla identifies “four major methods for distribution and sale of books in early America.  They are:



Academic libraries

Book agents and “hawkers.”

This is a great piece for graduate students or those new to the field.  Read it all here.

An Interview with T. Jackson Lears


Over at the Politics/Talk podcast, Rutgers University historian James Livingston interviews his colleague: historian and public intellectual T. Jackson Lears.  If you are interested in Lears’s work, the history of consumerism, American intellectual history, and academic biography this 2-part podcast is worth a listen.

Listen here.  And Part 2.

Lears is the author of some great books, including:

Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920

No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920

Something for Nothing: Luck in America

Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America

America and the Ten Commandments

StoneOxford University Press blog is running an excerpt from Jenna Weissman Joselit‘s new book Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments.

Here is a taste:

Although we are told that Moses received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, their presence has always been particularly strong in America. Regardless of who invokes them and for what purpose, the Ten Commandments have proved to be incredibly versatile and enduring in our cultural idiom. Below you’ll find ten moments in American history where the Decalogue has made its presence felt.

1. In June 1860, a man in Ohio named David Wyrick found an oddly shaped stone in one of the many Native American burial sites in the area which had indecipherable markings on it. He claimed to have found one of the stone tablets that God had bestowed upon Moses. Largely ridiculed at first, he then discovered another stone, shaped like the top of a church window which was covered in what was later confirmed as a variant of Hebrew script. When brought to experts the script did indeed feature a form of the Ten Commandments, abbreviated, but still the basic text. Was it authentic or an elaborate hoax? You can go to the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Coschocton, Ohio to see the stones for yourself.

2. In 1897, Alabama Senator John Tyler Morgan proposed that all immigrants be given a test to display mastery of the Ten Commandments in order to gain American citizenship. He claimed that it was not a religious test but rather a “test that goes to the constitution of society.”

3. In 1905, the Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco revealed the stain glass window of its newly constructed synagogue. At first glance, the window seemed to depict a traditional scene of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with the stone tablets in his hand. Closer examination, however, revealed that the mountain in the background was not Mount Sinai, nor were the flora and fauna that of Israel. Rather, El Capitan of the Yosemite Valley loomed in the background, complete with the plant and animal life of central California, refiguring the Golden State as the Promised Land.

Read the entire post here.

Take a History Course on Dolly Parton

Dolly_Parton_with_Larry_Mathis_and_Bud_BrewsterJacey Fortin of The New York Times reports on a history course at the University of Tennessee focused on the life and times of country singer Dolly Parton.  The course is taught by historian Lynn Sacco, author of Unspeakable: Father-Daughter Incest in American History.

Check out Sacco’s course website here.

Here is a taste of the course description:

History honors students look at how a “hillbilly” girl from Appalachia grew up to become an international one-word sensation. The course pulls students in to study someone they thought they already knew and familiarizes them with analyzing popular culture as a historical source. Reading about how hillbillies and feuds began as made-up characters and tropes in novels and cartoons to the rise of hillbilly music to Christian entertainment and the thread of tourism, students see the processes by which fiction often becomes fact, and how heritage is a blend of the real and the imagined.

Here is a taste of Fortin’s article:

According to Dr. Sacco’s syllabus, the seminar looks at a history of the 20th century not from the vantage point of elites, but through the eyes of Ms. Parton, “a poor white girl born in midcentury Appalachia.”

It has a wealth of reading materials, including Ms. Parton’s own 1994 book, “Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business,” and a slew of contemporary articles from periodicals such as The Tennessee Magazine, The Knoxville News Sentinel and The New York Times. Their topics range from child labor in the early 20th century to the Kennedy-era Appalachian Regional Commission and modern economic anxiety in the region.

Read the rest here.


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 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!

A History of Christmas Cards

I heard Ellen Brown talking about the history of holiday cards the other day on The Takeaway and thought it would make for a nice Christmas Eve post here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

Here is a taste of Brown’s piece at JSTOR Daily:

Cultures have enjoyed sharing written New Year’s greetings for centuries. The English-speaking ritual of sending holiday cards, however, dates back only to the middle of the 19th. Some sources say it originated with Thomas Shorrock, of Leith, Scotland, who, in the 1840s, produced cards showing a jolly face with the caption “A Gude Year to Ye.” 

Credit more commonly goes to Sir Henry Cole, who would later become the first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. He commissioned an artist to create 1,000 engraved holiday cards in 1843. Cole’s greeting featured a prosperous-looking family toasting the holidays, flanked on both sides by images of kindly souls engaging in acts of charity. A caption along the bottom read, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

With advances in printing technology and mail service, the practice of sending commercially produced Christmas cards caught on. By the 1880s, it was an integral part of the holiday season for many American families as well. In “The Female World of Cards and Holidays: Women, Families, and the Work of Kinship,” Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo explains that the practice thrived amid postbellum industrialization and the demise of the family farm. As relatives spread out geographically, women assumed responsibility for “the work of kinship” and became caretakers of extended family connections. Christmas cards were a convenient way for them to nurture relationships among their husbands, children, and distant relatives.

As the Christmas card habit took hold, manufacturers rushed to meet demand. Best known was German emigrant Louis Prang, who produced attractive and reasonably priced chromolithographed cards for the mass market. He is often referred to as the father of the American Christmas card.

Read the entire piece here.  You can listen to the interview below.  Allen comes in around the 24:00 mark.

Crowdsourcing Books on the Founding Fathers Using Gender and Cultural History

Historians took to Twitter yesterday to answer Cassandra Good‘s question:


Here were some of the books mentioned:

Andrew Burstein, The Inner Jeffeson

Catherine Allgor, A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

Sheila Skemp, First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence

Lorri Glover, Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries  (Check out her Author’s Corner interview)

Cynthia Kierner, Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Nancy Isenberg, Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

Kariann Yokota, Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation

Benjamin Irvin, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past

And let’s not forget Cassandra Good’s Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Men and Women in the Early American Republic  (Check out her Author’s Corner interview)

The Author’s Corner with Robert M. Owens

Robert Owens is Associate Professor of Early American History at Wichita State University. This interview is based on his new book, Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind (University of Oklahoma Press, March 2015).

JF: What led you to write Red Dreams, White Nightmares: Pan-Indian Alliances in the Anglo-American Mind?

RO: While researching my dissertation about William Henry Harrison’s early years, and the Indian wars of the 1790s, I was struck by a letter from Secretary of War Henry Knox wherein he noted his great fear that Creek Indians from the Southeast were meeting with Ohio Valley Indians. Knox noted that this could lead to the most “pernicious effects,” that is, a pan-Indian confederacy opposed to American expansion. I realized that historians of this period tended to treat affairs north and south of the Ohio River as discrete topics, but for Americans at the time, they were inextricably linked. I wanted to write that story.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Red Dreams, White Nightmares
RO: From 1763 through the War of 1812 and beyond, an all-consuming fear of broad Indian coalitions proved the driving argument for American Indian policies. As the nineteenth century wore on, and slavery became increasingly important to the South, fears of pan-Indian wars were further linked to the fear of slave rebellions as well.
JF: Why do we need to read Red Dreams, White Nightmares
RO: Red Dreams, White Nightmares illustrates how Anglo-Americans’ fears of the other, especially Indians and slaves, drove American policies of expansion and served as a unifying factor for a politically, ethnically, and economically diverse white population. The rhetorical threat posed by Indians and blacks served as a justification for the uglier aspects of empire building.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 
RO: I always loved history, but in my sophomore year of college I decided that I wanted to pursue academic history as a profession.
JF: What is your next project? 
RO: My next project looks at the mediation of intercultural crimes, particularly murder, in Early America.
JF: Looking forward to hearing about it! Thanks Robert.

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

The Author’s Corner with Katherine Grandjean

Katherine Grandjean is Assistant Professor of History at Wellesley College. This interview is based on her new book, American Passage: The Communications Frontier in Early New England (Harvard University Press, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write American Passage?

KG: It was somewhat accidental. I’d been looking through colonial letters, while working on some other project, and I noticed something: Indians were carrying letters. For Englishmen. Then I started to think: How did letters travel in early America? There was no postal service. There weren’t even many horses. And early New England was not a fixed block of territory. It was a scattered archipelago of English colonies, flung out over space. So colonists, very early on, had to confront that problem: the problem of sending news. One way that they did it, it turns out, was by hiring Indian messengers. In some ways that was a risky choice, and it interested me. So that discovery pulled me into a lot of new directions, which led to the stories that are in American Passage.

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

KG: The book argues that communication was critical to colonization. Gaining control of New England was not solely a matter of consuming territory, of transforming woods into farms; it also meant mastering the lines of communication.

JF: Why do we need to read American Passage?

KG: It tells an unknown story about American origins. Even in its earliest moments, English settlement in the New World hinged on information exchange. For those hoping to understand how Europeans planted themselves in North America, this is an important part of that story.
But some of the book’s material is also resonant with what’s happening now, in America. The final chapter of
American Passage, for instance, raises questions about terror: Isn’t communication, after all, a critical element of terror? In order for terror to be effective as a political strategy, people need to hear about it. People need to learn about the violence, and experience the visceral fear that it causes, even if they don’t witness it first-hand. That happened in the English colonies, just as it happens now. People heard about violence, in newspapers and in letters, much as we now see it on television. So the book is about the beginnings of America’s culture of fear, as much as it is about communication.

It’s also, I hope, an entertaining read. Even people who know quite a bit about colonial New England are likely to encounter stories, in this book, that they have not heard. I’m inviting readers into a different colonial New England, less orderly and more precarious than the quiet Puritan villages of popular imagination—a darker place entirely.

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

KG: I always wanted to be a writer. But I think I was in college when I first considered writing history. I had the good fortune of studying with several historians—like John Demos and Joanne Freeman—who were also fantastic storytellers. They got me hooked on the subject matter, as well as the craft.

JF: What is your next project?

KG: I’m working on a new book about a series of murders in Appalachia, in the 1790s. Its main characters are two brothers, chased out of North Carolina after the Revolution—perhaps for being loyalists. Their killing spree, in the early Republic, terrorized hundreds. Although now mostly forgotten, it’s a story that offers great opportunities to explore the origins of American violence, the legacies of the American Revolution, and the character of the early West. So that’s where my attention is headed, next.

JF: Can’t wait to read it! Thanks Kate.

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

The Author’s Corner with Sean P. Harvey

Sean Harvey is Assistant Professor of History at Seton Hall University. This interview is based on his new book Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation (Harvard University Press, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation?

SH: I started out intending to write an intellectual biography of Albert Gallatin, a figure prominent in the political and diplomatic history of the early republic. Inspired by Drew McCoy’s Last of the Fathers, I chose to begin my research with his retirement, by which time Gallatin had become a prominent ethnologist, so I started with his extensive correspondence with a prominent philologist, Peter S. Du Ponceau. Every letter I read seemed to prompt a dozen new questions, but I was not finding satisfying answers in the existing secondary literature to a couple of the most important ones: what role, if any, did knowledge about Native languages play in U.S. colonialism, and what place, if any, did that knowledge have in developing notions of race. Gallatin quickly became but one part in a study that centered those questions.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation?

SH: Native Tongues argues that knowledge of Native languages played a crucial role in several distinct facets of colonialism, including trade, missionary work, diplomacy, and administration, and that understandings of Native languages—among scholars, missionaries, officials, and the broader public—was central to the construction of savagery as a concept that justified dispossession, removal, confinement, and efforts toward cultural (including linguistic) eradication. Assumptions about language reflecting and perhaps shaping thought and about similarities in sounds, words, and grammatical forms indicating the shared ancestry of speakers, in turn, gave rise after 1820 to a racialized conception of Native languages that fused psychology and descent, but which gradually fragmented in the face of physical ethnologists’ sustained criticisms and philologists’ increasing understanding of the cultural divergence among speakers of related languages.

JF: Why do we need to read Native Tongues: Colonialism and Race from Encounter to the Reservation?

SH: I think Native Tongues makes three important contributions. First, it adds to our understanding of the ways in which notions of race, especially those directed at Indians, were built upon far more than phenotype. Second, it traces the interconnections between missionaries, private scholars, learned societies, and federal officials and agencies in creating and using knowledge of Native languages for the administration of colonialism. Third, it highlights the centrality of Native people (as tutors and as philologists in their own right) to whites’ knowledge of Native languages and, thus, to the production of knowledge about race.

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

SH: I realized that I loved American history while I was an undergrad at Villanova, and I realized how fun it was to do history when I had the opportunity to look at Philadelphia newspapers from the 1790s: everything from the crumbling paper to the overheated charges hooked me. I didn’t realize what it would actually mean to be a historian, however, until I began my graduate training at William & Mary. Through the mentorship of teachers and peers, I came to learn that the archives are filled with subject matter that is intrinsically interesting and that the field is filled with people engaged in fascinating and important conversations that help us understand the past as it was and the world as it is now. I wanted to be a part of that.

JF: What is your next project? 
SH: After I finish an article on Native understandings of linguistic relationships in eastern North America, I will return to what I had originally intended to research: Albert Gallatin and his several milieus. He was a Genevan immigrant who rose to prominence as legislator, Treasury secretary, U.S. minister in Paris, leading New York banker, and prominent ethnologist. A project that uses his life as a pivot to center an examination of his political and financial friendships, social circles, and scholarly communities—in Geneva, western Pennsylvania, the federal city, Ghent, Paris, and New York City—offers an unrivalled opportunity to integrate Atlantic and continental perspectives on the U.S. early republic while exploring the circulation of diverse ideas and varied forms of private and public action in political, economic, and cultural life too seldom examined in light of one another.
JF: Can’t wait to hear about it. Thanks Sean!

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

Philip Deloria Will Deliver Messiah College American Democracy Lecture

Philip Deloria

We in the Messiah College History Department are thrilled to have Philip Deloria of the University Michigan on campus next week to deliver our annual American Democracy lecture.  His talk is entitled “American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination.”  If you are in the area I hope to see you at the lecture.

Here is the press release:

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (Oct. 2, 2014) — Dr. Philip J. Deloria, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Professor of History and LSA Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education at the University of Michigan, will discuss “American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination” Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in Parmer Hall located in the Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts. Admission is free; no ticket is required. The lecture is sponsored by the Center for Public Humanities and the Department of History. For more information, contact Shirley Groff
About Philip Deloria
Deloria is the author of Indians in Unexpected Places (2004) and Playing Indian (1998), among many publications. His family has held a prominent role in American Indian history. Grandfather Vine Deloria Sr. (1902-1990), Episcopal archdeacon of South Dakota, was the first American Indian named to an executive position by a major Protestant denomination, and father Vine Deloria Jr. (1933-2005) was a prominent author, scholar and activist.


Strange creatures bursting forth from a human stomach.  Giant walruses. The Rolodex.  The Loch Ness monster.  Flemish self-portraits in airplane toilets.  Author Brian Dillon calls these things “curiosities.”

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rutgers University history professor James Delbourgo has a brilliant essay on the idea of curiosity through history.  Here is a taste:

Curiosity was a passion routinely denounced by medieval clerics as a sinful lusting after forbidden knowledge, especially heinous in Eve and her female heirs. Yet, by the 17th century, it epitomized the new science’s focused male attention on matters of fact, exemplified by works like the Micrographia (1665), from which Robert Hooke’s magnificently magnified flea is reproduced in all its glory. What Curiosity makes less clear is the historic relationship between curiosity and commodity. Dillon provides some clues here: his linking of curiosity with avarice, for example, and an extraordinary cloudburst of objects on the ground sketched by Leonardo da Vinci, accompanied by the legend, “Oh, human misery, how many things must you serve for money?”
But these clues are few. Early-modern curiosities weren’t just weird; they were objects charged with power, exotic commodities to be bought and sold, and which bought their collectors status. By the 17th and 18th centuries, Dutch and British collecting had become especially commercialized. The physician Hans Sloane paid great sums for his curiosities, and tours of his collections rang with talk of their enormous value. They became the foundation of the British Museum in 1753, the first national public museum.

American Dreams

What did dreams mean for Americans before Sigmund Freud?  Andrew Burstein has tackled this subject in his forthcoming book, Lincoln Dreamt He Died: The Midnight Visions of Remarkable Americans from Colonial Times to Freud.  Here is a taste of a recent Burstein essay on the subject at Salon:

I have found in my research that while Americans claimed, even then, to be a practical-minded people, they were actually mired in superstition, haunted by their dreams, and no less delighted by the invention of the Ouija board than by the cotton gin. It is their unsupported claims to wisdom that adheres most to our ancestors, and renders them intensely interesting as historical subjects. After the American Revolution, dreamers did not immediately regard dream life as a form of autobiography. It took decades before they knew their dreams as we know our dreams – as a facet of longing for which the imagination serves as a delivery vehicle.

Today’s dream scientists speculate that the function of dreams may be to restore body and mind, helping the brain to manage threats and disturbances. They say that our remembering dreams may in fact be nothing more than an evolutionary fluke. For the cultural historian, however, studying the extant dreams of past societies holds out the promise of unearthing new clues to the collective identity of entire generations.

I feel comfortable in concluding that you cannot fully appreciate the 20th century’s fascination with psychoanalysis until you first appreciate the 19th century’s fascination with dreams. The road that brought them to Freud is paved with colorful imagery and soundscapes, hauntings, illusions and echoes of love. Their footprints may be gone from our world, but in these most personal of texts they still speak to us.

Podcast with Marc Dolan, Author of "Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ‘N’ Roll"

I am really looking forward to reading this new cultural biography of Springsteen.  Here is a Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History podcast with author Marc Dolan. (I am glad to see the GLI expanding its scope a bit).  Great stuff here on Springsteen’s “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).”

Watch the podcast here.  GLI will not let me embed it into the blog.

And as long as we are at it, here is “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On):

Jim Cullen on the "Self-Made Man" in American History

Over at American History Now, the ever-prolific Jim Cullen has just written his second “exploratory piece” on the myth of the self-made man in American cultural history.  This project seems to be right up Cullen’s alley (much like his studies of Bruce Springsteen, Civil War memory, and the American Dream) and I hope his work moves from “exploratory” to a full-blown book project.

In his first post, “The Self-Made Man in Hiding,” he traces the perception of the “self-made man” in the Silicon Valley, among the followers of Ayn Rand, and in the Academy.  Here is a taste:

The lack of focus on the subject is remarkable when one considers how intensely, and how long, the self-made man has been a central trope of the American experience.  It is generally agreed that the first use of the term to gain cultural currently came from Henry Clay–a politicianin an oft-cited 1832 speech. Theater critic and essayist Charles Seymour published Self-Made Men, a collection of sixty profiles, in 1858. The following year, Frederick Douglass gave a speech with the same title that he delivered, in varied permutations, for the next third of a century. In 1872, Harriet Beecher Stowe published The Lives and Deeds of Our Self-Made Men, consisting chiefly of antislavery activists and Civil War heroes. In 1897, the newly ex-president Grover Cleveland published The Self-Made Man in American Life. In the coming century, the concept suffused into the marrow of American culture: Jay Gatsby, Charles Foster Kane, Willy Loman: their creators may not have used the term to describe these unforgettable characters, but the generations of audiences who were riveted by them never had any doubt what they, and their successes and failures, represented. It’s all the more ironic that the self-made man largely fell off the national radar after the 1960s when one considers how crucial self-making, and the rejection of institutional authority, have been to all social movements that followed the counterculture. In this regard, the Woodstock hippie and maverick banker agreed.

In Cullen’s second post, “More Than Just the Benjamins,” he argues that the conception of the “self-made man” was a “good deal broader than business or politics.”  He connects this idea to the lives and work of people like Joel Osteen, Bruce Springsteen, and Vito Corleone. 

Cullen writes:

 I’ve made some effort to delineate phases in the economic model of the self-made man as part of a larger point that even this perceived dominant variation of the myth was itself subject to shifting currents and emphases and often marked by cultural lag.  But again, my larger point is that just as multiple versions of the self-made man jostled within the realm of commerce, multiple versions jostled outside it as well. At any given moment, an economic version, a political version, and a cultural version, among many others, were available and competing for allegiance in a U.S. population whose diversity whose attention united by little else. At the very moment Mark Zuckerberg was embodying the self-made myth of entrepreneurial pluck, Bruce Springsteen was tapping its cultural power and the evangelical minister Joel Osteen was preaching an ethos of self-help that burgeoned into a religious media empire.

Paul Boyer, R.I.P.

I am saddened to report that American religious and cultural historian Paul Boyer, a longtime member of the history department at the University of Wisconsin and the Merle Curti Professor Emeritus there, passed away on March 17th.  One of his former students and one of my Messiah College colleagues, David Weaver-Zercher, passed along this funeral announcement.  I will repost it below.

I have met Boyer a few times, but have benefited more from his work.  I still feel obligated to discuss the interpretation of the Salem witch trials that he and Stephen Nissenbaum put forth in Salem Possessed.  I also used his Enduring Vision in the first U.S. survey course I ever taught.  And I have learned much from his When Time Shall Be No More.  Boyer was a prolific scholar whose work will have an enduring impact on the scholarship of American religious and cultural history.  Rest in peace.

Paul Samuel Boyer of Madison departed this life on March 17, 2012 at Agrace Hospicecare, following a three-month bout with cancer. Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1935 to Clarence and Ethel Boyer, he attended the Dayton public schools and Upland College in California. In the 1950s Paul became a conscientious objector, in accordance with the beliefs of his family’s denomination, the Brethren in Christ. Following a two-year office assignment at the headquarters of the International Voluntary Work Camps in Paris and hands-on experience building post-war houses in Bielefeld, Germany, he journeyed home via Africa, India and the Far East.

Paul transferred to Harvard University, where he completed his undergraduate degree and later earned his doctorate in American History. While at Harvard he met and was married to his wife of fifty years, Ann Talbot of Baltimore, Maryland.

The couple moved to Amherst, Massachusetts where, in 1967, Paul became a professor of American history at the University of Massachusetts. Their children, Alex and Kate, were born during this time. In 1980, Paul was called to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where, as a member of the history faculty, he held the Merle Curti Chair in American History. In the 1990s he served as Director of the U. W. Institute for the Humanities. In addition, he taught as a visiting professor at Northwestern University, U.C.L.A. and the College of William and Mary. Following his retirement he became a series editor at U.W. Press, and a co-author for several college textbooks.

Boyer’s writings reflected his lifelong interest in religion and the impact of religious belief on American culture. His titles included Purity in Print, Salem Possessed (with Stephen Nissenbaum); By the Bomb’s Early Light, and When Time Shall Be No More, He edited and was a contributor to history encyclopedias, and delivered numerous lectures and papers, both here and abroad. His final book, A Very Brief Introduction to American History, is being published this spring.

Paul was a natural leader. He will be remembered by friends, colleagues and his students for his modesty, kindness and good judgment; his spark of humor, his balanced views, his skills as an editor, and his original approach to historical topics. His family will remember him as a wise, caring and considerate husband and father, an avid traveler, a lover of music and art, a great reader, a devotee of long-distance driving, and a resourceful grandpa.

Survivors include his wife Ann, his children Alex (wife, Mary) of Minneapolis; and Kate (husband, Michael Buser) of Bristol, England and two young grandsons, Ethan and Jake. His is also survived by his brother William Boyer, (wife, Esther), sister-in-law Kathryn Boyer, and sister-in-law Marion Talbot Brady (husband, Jeremiah) as well as a number of cousins, nephews and nieces. He was predeceased by his parents and his brother Ernest L. Boyer.

A celebration of Paul’s life will be held at 4:30 pm on Friday April 27 at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison. Burial will be private. The family wishes to thank Paul’s oncologist, Sam Lubner M.D. and the skilled and dedicated nursing staff of Agrace Hospicecare for their care of him during the last months of his life. Many friends pitched in as well, caring for Paul and his family in a variety of ways. Donations may be made to University of Wisconsin Foundation, the Mennonite Central Committee, or Wisconsin Public Television.