*BUNK* Picks “Evangelical Fear Elected Donald Trump” as Best American Religious History Read of 2018

BUNK is a history website founded by award-winning American historian Ed Ayers and edited by Tony Field.  It is published by the University of Richmond.  Read more about it here.

Today I learned that BUNK chose my Atlantic Monthly piece  “Evangelical Fear Elected Donald Trump” as the best American history read of 2018.  (Of course, if you want the extended argument, get a copy of my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

This means a lot to me, especially in light of the other winners.

Here are the winners:

Narrative History
The Train at Wood’s Crossing [Brendan Wolfe, brendanwolfe.com]
The long-forgotten story of a Charlottesville lynching is unearthed in a lyrical and deeply researched piece of writing that twists together strands of personal, local, and national history.

Honorable Mention:
The Counterfeit Queen of Soul [Jeff Maysh, Smithsonian Magazine]

Local History
As Goes the South, so Goes the Nation [Imani Perry, Harper’s]
A Thanksgiving trip home to Alabama occasions this tour de force through the state’s twisted past.

Honorable Mentions:
The Little Mayors of the Lower East Side [Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Lapham’s Quarterly]
In the Hate of Dixie [Cynthia Tucker, Bitter Southerner]

Legal History
Black Lives and the Boston Massacre [Farah Peterson, The American Scholar]
Do you know the story of Crispus Attacks, the black man who was the first American casualty of the Revolutionary War? If so, it’s probably incomplete. In this compelling essay, a law professor explains why, and what the omissions have to do with the struggle for racial justice today.

Honorable Mentions:
Separation of Power [William Hogeland, Lapham’s Quarterly]
No Law Without Politics (No Politics Without Law) [Jedediah Purdy, Law and Political Economy]

Religious History
Evangelical Fear Elected Trump [John Fea, The Atlantic]
Fea, a scholar and practitioner of evangelical Christianity, offers a nuanced take on four centuries of people “failing miserably at overcoming fear with hope, trust, and faith in their God.”

Honorable Mention:
The Fight to Define Romans 13 [Lincoln Mullen, The Atlantic]

Reported History
We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage [Christine Kenneally, Buzzfeed News]
A devastating longread based on years of interviews with alleged survivors of systematic abuse.

Honorable Mentions:
Payback [Natalie Y. Moore, The Marshall Project]
A Cool Dip and a Little Dignity [Erin E. Tocknell, Bitter Southerner]

Labor History
A Culture of Resistance [Charles Keeney, Lapham’s Quarterly]
The teachers’ strikes that sprang up around the country last year caught many observers off-guard. Here, Keeney explains why labor activism in red-state West Virginia is not the anomaly it may seem to be.

Honorable Mention:
Where Did it All Go Wrong? [Gabriel Winant, The Nation]

Watery History
In the Dismal Swamp [Sam Worley, Popula]
As is the case with each of the honorable mentions below, this piece defies the terra firma of historiographical categorization, combining currents of environmental, cultural, political, and local history into a profound exploration of what it means to “drain the swamp.”

Honorable Mentions:
The Water Next Time? [Danielle Purifoy, Scalawag]
The First Floridians [Jordan Blumetti, Bitter Southerner]

Historical Reenactment
Natural History in Two Dimensions [Whitney Barlow Robles, Common-Place]
Another fascinating genre-buster that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know?—?and then some?—?about the lost art of fish-flattening.

Honorable Mention:
Revisiting an Explorer’s Northwest Passage ‘Disappointment’ After Nearly 230 Years [Brian Castner, Atlas Obsura]

Museum Review
Real Museums of Memphis [Zandria Felice Robinson, Scalawag]
A gut-punching portrait of Memphis by a daughter of the city, written from the shadows of the National Civil Rights Museum on the occasion of MLK50. “[W]e have to keep track of how our memories and experiences are being gentrified in a notion of progress that has no meaningful proof or original referent.”

Honorable Mention:
Our Nukes, Ourselves [Kelsey D. Atherton, The New Inquiry]

Debunk
How Social Media Spread a Historical Lie [Jennifer Mendelsohn & Peter A. Shulman, Made by History/Washington Post]
When an erroneously captioned photo of a KKK march went viral, the authors sprung into action, correcting the record and explaining how Google, Wikipedia, and other digital platforms amplify the falsification of the past.

Honorable Mentions:
The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant [Anna Flagg, The Marshall Project]
We’re Never Going to Have Our “Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?” Moment [Rebecca Onion, Slate]

Obituary
An Obituary for Orange County, Dead at Age 129 [Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times]
A clever use of the form to give historical context to L.A.’s midterm election results. “The death shocked everyone who hadn’t bothered to pay attention for decades.”

Honorable Mention:
Larry Eisenberg, 99, Dead; His Limericks Were Very Well Read [Margalit Fox, New York Times]

Reputation Revision
Living With Dolly Parton [Jessica Wilkerson, Longreads]
Wilkerson grew up in East Tennessee idolizing the region’s most famous native daughter. Now a historian, she sets out in this lyrical, personal piece to more fully understand Parton’s enduring appeal in the post-industrial South.

Honorable Mentions:
Why Tamika Mallory Won’t Condemn Louis Farrakhan [Adam Serwer, The Atlantic]
Paul Bremer, Ski Instructor: Learning to Shred With the Bush Administration’s Iraq War Fall Guy [Aaron Gell, Task & Purpose]
My Fellow Prisoners: On John McCain [George Blaustein, n+1]

Origin Story (Culture)
Bad Boys [Tim Stelloh, The Marshall Project]
A fascinating piece that chronicles the unlikely story of ‘Cops,’ one of television’s most successful, influential, and polarizing shows ever.

Honorable Mentions:
How Auto-Tune Revolutionized the Sound of Popular Music [Simon Reynolds, Pitchfork]
The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty [Walt Hunter, The Atlantic]
My Dad Painted the Iconic Cover for Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ and It’s Haunted Him Ever Since [Robert Silverman, The Outline]

Origin Story (Trumpism)
How Do We Explain This National Tragedy? This Trump? [T.J. Stiles, Zyzzyva (via Lithub)]
There was no shortage of contestants to this category in 2018. And while no single account can do justice to all the factors responsible for our current moment, I especially appreciated Stiles’ personal, wide-ranging, and not altogether pessimistic approach to the question.

Honorable Mentions:
Trumpism Before Trump [Robert L. Tsai & Calvin Terbeek, Boston Review]
The Religion of Whiteness Becomes a Suicide Cult [Pankaj Mishra, New York Times]
The Roots of Trump’s Immigration Barbarity [Daniel Denvir, Jacobin]

Origin Story (Plastic)
American Beauties [Rebecca Altman, Topic]
Before Americans had to learn to reuse their grocery bags, they had to learn to thrown them away. Behold one of my favorite pieces of the year, chronicling the rise and fall (hopefully not in a tree near you) of the plastic bag.

Honorable Mention:
Disposable America [Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic]

Commentary (Reconstruction’s Legacy)
Today’s Voter Suppression Tactics Have A 150 Year History [Gregory Downs, Talking Points Memo]
There was a ton of terrific writing this year about Reconstruction, but this one stood out. It widens the lens on the story of disenfranchisement, explaining that “though rebels perfected the art of excluding voters, it was yankees who developed the script.”

Honorable Mention:
Citizens: 150 Years of the 14th Amendment [Martha S. Jones, Public Books]

Commentary (Historic Preservation)
The Archivists of Extinction [Kate Wagner, The Baffler]
The said archivists are none other than the contributors to a Flickr page devoted to images of defunct Kmarts. If that seems intriguing to you, I promise you that it is. Come for the Kmarts, stay for the withering critique of capitalist destruction.

Honorable Mention:
The Death and Life of a Great American Building [Jeremiah Moss, New York Review of Books]

Commentary (80s Movies)
In the Dark All Katz are Grey: Notes on Jewish Nostalgia [Samuel Ashworth, Hazlitt]
With what is probably the finest opening line of any on this list, this piece is a poignant meditation on nostalgia, the Borscht Belt, and why Dirty Dancing is actually a Jewish horror film.

Honorable Mention:
Brett Kavanaugh Goes to the Movies [Marsha Gordon, The Conversation]

Commentary (Covert Operations)
Did You Know the CIA ______? [Malcolm Harris, n+1]
In this review of Errol Morris’ latest miniseries, Harris examines the inability of Americans to confront the crimes that have been committed in their name. “If cold war is the name for the third world war that didn’t happen, what’s the name for what did?”

Honorable Mention:
The U.S. Needs to Face Up to Its Long History of Election Meddling[Peter Beinart, The Atlantic]

Commentary (Statue of Liberty)
Sentinel [Francesca Lidia Viano, Places]
To read about the Statue of Liberty’s origins is to become ever more aware of the contradictions baked into America’s most cherished symbols. I highly recommend chasing this read with the Slate piece below, which pushes the story forward into our crazy modern times.

Honorable Mention:
Who Does She Stand For? [Paul A. Kramer, Slate]

Commentary (Futility of War)
A Hundred Years After the Armistice [Adam Hochschild, New Yorker]
A standout in a year full of WWI retrospectives. Among other things, Hochschild tells us that more soldiers were killed after the Armistice had been signed than would die on D-Day in Normandy 26 years later. They died, in other words, for no political or military reason whatsoever.

Honorable Mention:
Remembrance of War as a Warning [Christopher Preble, War on the Rocks]

Commentary (Country Music)
Canon Fodder [Shuja Haider, Popula]
Another fun read from Popula, on policing the genre boundaries of popular music. If you’ve ever winced to hear somebody say that they like all kinds of music ““except rap and country,” then this one’s for you.

Honorable Mention:
Agriculture Wars [Nick Murray, Viewpoint]

Periodical Single Issue
Boston Review, “Fifty Years Since MLK” [Forum V (Winter 2018)]
Just in time for the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, Boston Review published a knockout of an issue that was, in many ways, the perfect antidote to Dodge’s Superbowl ad from a few weeks earlier. Every article is a must-read.

Honorable Mention:
The Baffler, “Tramps and Millionaires” [Issue ?42]

Recurring Series
Overlooked [New York Times]
An ongoing effort by the Times’ obituaries desk to remember the lives of notable women who were left out of the paper of record the first time around.

Bibliography
Confederate Monuments Syllabus [Kevin M. Levin, Civil War Memory]
If there’s one person up to the challenge of keeping track of the latest skirmishes in the Confederate monument wars, it’s Levin. He recently compiled this wide-ranging collection of online resources in an effort to help teachers and students make sense of it all.

Ed Ayers

Ed+Ayers+color+compressed

This is a great piece on the noted American historian.  A taste of Gary Robertson’s article at Richmond Magazine:

In a life that continues to be marked by leadership, accolades and influence, Ed Ayers — the son of a Tennessee used-car salesman and a fifth-grade teacher — says that when his feet hit the floor every morning, his mind is usually turned toward the book he’s currently writing or the one he’s going to write next.

“I don’t belong to any school of anything. I don’t feel I’m carrying a flag for any cause. I just kind of have a desire to write a history in which everybody has a place. My dream is to connect with as broad an audience as I can, with different people. It’s what I do most uniquely,” says Ayers, one of the nation’s best known historians of the American South.

When he left the presidency of UR in 2015, Ayers made a rapid beeline to a rural property near Charlottesville that he and his wife, Abby, have owned since 1986. In recent years, it has served as a retreat.

Read the entire piece here.

Edward Ayers on Confederate Monuments

Ed+Ayers+color+compressed

Last weekend Edward Ayers gave a stirring and inspiration presidential address at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento. (See our coverage here). The title was “Everyone Their Own Historian.”  I was not in Sacramento for the conference, but I followed along eagerly as Liz Covart of “Ben Franklin’s World” fame live-tweeted:

Over at Salon, Chauncey Devega interviews Ayers about Trump, Confederate monuments, and Civil War history.  Here is a taste:

The Republican Party is in many ways the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South updated for the 21st century. There has long been a neo-Confederate element in the post-civil rights era Republican Party. With Trump’s election they have fully empowered. And in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, we actually saw the president of the United States, suggesting that there are “some very fine people” among neo-Nazis and white supremacists. How do you make sense of this?

I was in Charlottesville that day. I was going to teach a class that afternoon at the University of Virginia. I would start by explaining how there are people who turn to the symbols of the Confederacy as a native, indigenous rebellion against the power of the federal government. That appeals to a lot of people. But when you see that Confederate flag being mingled with Nazi flags, suddenly that claim upon an indigenous, pure and non-racialized argument about politics and “traditions” is gone. It has been forever entangled with white supremacy.

You might be surprised by the number of people who will come up to me after I give a lecture and tell me, “Slavery was wrong, I would never defend it. But the fact is that Robert E. Lee was a fine man and he was fighting for his home, right? He was fighting for what he thought was right.” You hear that a lot. It makes you realize all the evasions that are built into this defense of the Confederacy.

We have all these formulas that people use to say that they are proud of their ancestors. For example, he was a “good” slaveholder. Two, he didn’t really believe in slavery. Three, he wanted to get rid of slavery. Four, most white Southerners weren’t slaveholders so they could not have been fighting for slavery, and so forth. I listen to these folks and I then say, yes, let’s think about this. Let’s forget about whatever you might think about the character or identity of Robert E. Lee. What if the Confederacy had won? What if those men on horseback had actually accomplished what they set out to do? They would have created a nation explicitly based on perpetual bondage that would have been the fourth-richest economy in the world with a monopoly over the single most valuable commodity in the world. How would world history have been different? Other parts of the world would have looked to the South and said, “Ah, the path to the future leads through slavery.”

If you try to argue with them on the same ground that they form the question on, you will have a hard time persuading them. But it’s also the case that white Northerners and Westerners have a smug belief in the inevitable end of American slavery that is not warranted either.

Read the entire interview here.

 

Historian Edward Ayers

Ed+Ayers+color+compressed

Ed Ayers is a Civil War-era historian and a “pioneer” in the field of digital humanities. After 27 years teaching history at the University of Virginia, he served eight years as the president of the University of Richmond.  He currently holds the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at Richmond.

Earlier this week, Inside Higher Ed, published an article on his current work.  Here is a taste of “Making History Cool“:

Ed Ayers stepped down as president of University of Richmond in June 2015 after an eight-year run. Plenty of distinguished university leaders like him would use their postpresidency time to relax — or to take up a hobby, perhaps.

But Ayers had other plans.

“The whole time, I knew I wasn’t finished being a historian,” Ayers said in an interview with “Inside Digital Learning.”

“What I wanted to do was connect with as broad an audience as possible.”

Those efforts are underway, and they’ve already taken several forms. Ayers polished the second and final volume of his book Valley of the Shadow, assembled from his landmark digital humanities project of the same name from the early 2000s, for release Oct. 24. He also continues co-hosting the BackStory podcast, in which he’s been taking deep dives into historical issues since 2008.

In several other arenas, he’s in a leadership role that he and others describe as “executive producer,” overseeing projects at the Digital Scholarship Lab, a digital humanities lab at Richmond that contributes research and teaching. And most intriguing, he’s half of the duo behind Bunk, a project launching this week that represents the peak of Ayers’s ambitions thus far. The website describes itself as “a shared home for the web’s most interesting writing and thinking about the American past.”

His goals are lofty.

Read the entire piece here.

Ed Ayers Delivers Commencement Address at University of Mary Washington

Ayers

Photo credit: Fredericksburg Today

Edward Ayers is the President Emeritus at the University of Richmond, an innovator in the field of digital history, and one of our best historians of the 19th-century American South.

On Saturday he delivered the commencement address at the University of Mary Washington.  Here is a taste of an article on his address at Fredericksburg Today:

He talked about tumultuous times in American history, where the country’s residents could never have predicted events such as the devastation caused by the Civil War.

“Americans could not have foreseen a war that over the next four years killed the equivalent of 8 million people today,” said Ayers, who addressed more than 5,000 students, family and friends on Ball Circle during the University’s 106th undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday, May 13. Neither could they have realized that the largest and most powerful system of slavery in the modern world would come to an end, he said.

He reflected on UMW’s Fredericksburg campus, where history played such a vital role. “Confederate cannons occupied the very ground on which we are gathered,” said Ayers, a historian of the American South. On the same site on which the University was founded, more than 12,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured trying to take the ridge overlooking the city.

“You can’t look out across at all of you and be at this place without thinking that sometimes history brings redemption,” said Ayers, “to see this very piece of land that people fought about so desperately is now the scene of such a wonderful ceremony.”

Today, we are surprised by the unpredictable events of the 21st century.

“If we measure those years by political events, economic events, international events, or cultural events, things seem chaotic,” he said. “It’s hard for everyone, including young people, to get their bearings.”

The fact is, we always live in unusual times, said Ayers. While some years are better than others financially or politically, the future always moves in unforeseen ways.

“The only law of history I’ve been able to discover is that the unexpected, good and bad, always happens,” said Ayers, who served as University of Richmond’s ninth president from 2007 to 2015. “The unexpected always happens, so get used to it – or, even better, bring it about yourself. That’s a reason for anxiety, but it’s also reason for hope.”

History lives within us as much as we live within history.

“You are woven into the time and space that you share with the people with whom you sit. That’s why you are the class of 2017,” said Ayers, who currently serves as University of Richmond’s Tucker-Boatwright professor of the humanities. “It matters when you were here. You always will be a part of this moment because you live in history.”

At Mary Washington, he said, graduates have learned to deal with complexity in all its forms, knowing solutions are not often simple. They’ve learned how to deal with the ambiguity that justice and wisdom aren’t always clearly defined. They’ve learned how to deal with people whose beliefs are different from their own, and they’ve learned that people are as complex and as full of surprise as they are.

Great stuff!

Big Changes at “Backstory”

 

backstory_hosts_12-2016_03-825x550

Backstory with the American History Guysthe popular American history radio show and podcast, is going to have to make a slight alteration to its subtitle.  That is because Yale historian Joanne Freeman has joined the show.   Freeman will join Ed Ayers and Brian Balogh beginning February 3, 2017.  In addition to Freeman, Johns Hopkins history professor Nathan Connolly will also join the cast.

Peter Onuf, one of the original “American History Guys” is stepping down from his regular hosting slot, but he will continue to contribute to the show.

Here is a taste of the press release from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities:

Freeman is a professor of History and American Studies at Yale, author of the award-winning “Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic,” and editor of “Alexander Hamilton: Writings.” A specialist in revolutionary and early national American history, her work focuses on political violence and the culture of politics. Her extensive knowledge of dueling and research into the life of Alexander Hamilton influenced Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Broadway’s “Hamilton” the musical.  In a New York Times story, Miranda credited Freeman’s book “Affairs of Honor” and her edited volume of “Alexander Hamilton: Writings” as “indispensable.”

Connolly is the Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida.” Connolly’s research and writing focuses on the “interplay between racism, capitalism, politics, and the built environment in the twentieth century.” A self-described desegregationist, Connolly is the first African American author to win either the Kenneth T. Jackson Book Award from the Urban History Association or the Bennett H. Wall Award from the Southern Historical Association. Connolly is also the co-author of “Trump Syllabus 2.0” and the first black U.S. historian to earn tenure at Johns Hopkins.

Longtime host Peter Onuf will continue to contribute to the program.

“Peter Onuf’s rambunctious sense of humor, iconoclastic insight, broad vision, and passion have given BackStory much of its energy, irreverence, and relevance,” said Ayers. “We’re delighted that Peter will remain a part of BackStory, with guest appearances on the show, and we know our listeners will always be happy to hear his resonant voice.”

BackStory’s audience is already familiar with the voices of both Freeman and Connolly as guests and as co-hosts. This year, Connolly guest-hosted “Well-Regulated Militias” and Freeman guest-hosted “Judaism in America.”

“I can’t wait to start working with Joanne and Nathan on a weekly basis. It’s about time that they earned an honest living,” Balogh said. “All kidding aside,” he continued, “I am honored to work with two such fine scholars, who have advanced their fields but not lost sight of the big picture.”

Ed Ayers and Natalie Zemon Davis Receive National Humanities Medals

Ed Ayers

Glad to see these two excellent historians receive this distinguished honor.  Here is a taste of Vanessa Varin’s report at AHA Today

Among the list are historians Edward L. Ayers, a current AHA member, and Natalie Zemon Davis, past AHA president.  Ayers will be honored for his “commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible.  Dr. Ayers’ innovations in digital humanities extend higher learning beyond campus boundaries and allow broad audiences to discover the past in new ways.”  Davis will be recognized for her “insights into the study of history and her exacting eloquence in bringing the past into focus.  With vivid description and exhaustive research, her works allow us to experience life through our ancestors’ eyes and to truly engage with our history.

Other recipients of this year’ medal include: Joan Didion, Marilynne Robinson, Frank Deford, and Robert Putnam.

You can watch today’s 2pm ceremony at White House Live.

Ed Ayers on the Digital Humanities, MOOCs, and Technology in Higher Education

When Ed Ayers has something to say about the digital humanities I tend to listen–attentively.  Today the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a piece by Ayers titled “A More Radical Online Revolution.”  He introduces his readers to the “History Harvest” project at the University of Nebraska and the “Visualizing Emancipation” project at his own University of Richmond (Ayers is the president).  In the process he makes a compelling argument for the role that digital history might play in the entire MOOC, online learning, and technology conversation.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Ironically, the advocates and skeptics of online teaching might find common ground by thinking more boldly, beyond the terms of the current debate. The skeptics might ask whether the new technologies cannot offer useful amplification to our scholarly work of discovery; the advocates of the new technologies need to think more directly about how to reach broad audiences while also fostering meaningful conversations across the disciplines and bridging a division between teaching and scholarship.

Two crucial parts of higher education that have received little attention in the debates thus far—the humanities and the creation of new knowledge—can help advance those conversations.

A deeper engagement with the methods and purposes of the humanities is essential for any online enterprise that claims to offer a university education. Though humanities courses appear on some of the listings from the new consortia, and though some courses have proved extremely popular, much of the attention devoted to MOOCs focuses on the procedural, cumulative methods of teaching of computer science, statistics, and the basic sciences. The humanities, by contrast, flourish with different ways of thinking and teaching, more ambiguous, open-ended, and interpretive.

Whatever the discipline, the new online world must find ways to help create new knowledge. Online education cannot run indefinitely, as it does now, on borrowed intellectual capital, disseminating what we already know. Higher education takes its energy, its purpose, from a charged circuit between teaching and research, between sharing knowledge and making knowledge. New forms of teaching must be able to generate new ideas.

Scholarship expressly built for electronic environments has been slow to develop. Perhaps surprisingly, given how slow online teaching methods have been to adapt to the humanities, those disciplines are in the forefront of developing this new kind of scholarship. The digital humanities are growing rapidly, establishing centers at many institutions, hiring professors and researchers, sustaining rich conversations online and in national and international conferences. Indeed, the digital humanities can serve as a model for other disciplines, and for the larger online enterprise.