Science and Religion in the “Second Great Awakening”

2ndGA

A recent piece at JSTOR Daily highlights the work of historian Jeffrey Mullins, author of ” ‘Fitted to Receive the Word of God’: Emotions and Scientific Naturalism in the Religious Revivals of the 1830s.” (International Social Science Review, 2006).

Here is a taste:

The contrast between the cold logic of science and the emotionality of religion is a seemingly unshakable binary today. But back in the early nineteenth century, people saw things very differently. Historian Jeffrey A. Mullins examines the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s.

At that time, Mullins writes, Americans did not see science and religion as opposites. Instead, they were “two aspects of the same universal truth.” And that truth was not based in pure logic. Emotions were a key to human behavior, and controlling and channeling emotions was a job for scientifically- and morally-grounded experts.

This perspective led to a wealth of reformist interventions, from Sunday schools to penitentiaries to graham crackers. Preachers who led religious revivals around the country in the 1830s saw the need for a highly engineered emotional experience.

Read the rest here.

 

The Author’s Corner with Cameron Strang

StrangCameron B. Strang is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Nevada-Reno.  This interview is based on his recently released book Frontiers of Science: Imperialism and Natural Knowledge in the Gulf South Borderlands, 1500-1850 (Omohundro Institute/University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Frontiers of Science?

CS: Serendipity? Or, more precisely, I set out to write a dissertation on how Spanish precedents affected the ways science and expansion overlapped in the early United States. What I found in the archives, though, were a bunch of fascinating stories about how diverse Native, Spanish, French, African, Creole, and Anglo intellectuals throughout the Gulf South produced and shared knowledge. The book developed out of my growing conviction that such stories were neither aberrant nor insignificant but, in fact, were typical of the pursuit of natural knowledge in early America on the whole.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Frontiers of Science?

CS: Frontiers of Science argues that encounters inspired by imperialism shaped the production, circulation, and application of natural knowledge among the diverse peoples of America from the 1500s through the 1800s. U.S. expansion ensured that imperialism remained central to American intellectual life well after U.S. independence.

JF: Why do we need to read Frontiers of Science?

CS: Because I believe it ought to change how we think about intellectual and cultural life in the early United States. For a long time now, we have studied intellectual history and the history of science in the early republic with the idea that a post-independence context of liberty and democracy fully recalibrated how American men and women studied nature. But this perspective depends on a very narrow view of America and Americans, one that looks only at the eastern seaboard and free citizens. When we turn instead to the nation’s borderlands and the continental interior—vast and incredibly diverse parts of the nation—it becomes apparent that the pursuit of knowledge in the United States did not cohere around democratic politics or the influence of liberty. It was, as in other empires, divided by multiple loyalties and identities, organized through contested hierarchies of ethnicity and place, and reliant on violence. It is this thoroughly imperial context that, I suggest, ought to frame how we think about the intellectual and cultural history of the early United States.

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

CSI was a history major in college, but I didn’t take a single U.S. history course as an undergrad (I was much more interested in imperial China). I went to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire with the idea of doing an MA in museum studies, but I took an early America seminar with W. Jeffrey Bolster during my first semester and I was hooked. I was particularly taken with the history of borderlands and the Atlantic because, well, these fields seemed to have the most surprising stories. After finishing at UNH, I moved to the University of Texas to get a PhD. In short, I have never been all that interested in the big traditional narrative of U.S. history, but what excites me about the field is that there always seem to be unexpected and fascinating stories just waiting to be discovered that have the potential to change how we think about the big picture. Finding and telling those stories is what I love about this job.

JF: What is your next project?

CSI’m writing a history of Native American explorers, particularly Indians from the eastern United States who explored the West in the 1700s and 1800s.

JF: Thanks, Cameron!

The Author’s Corner with James Delbourgo

619ROeDHlSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJames Delbourgo is Associate Professor of History of Science and Atlantic World at Rutgers University. This interview is based on his new book, Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum (Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Collecting the World? 

JD: My first book was on electricity in colonial North America and I wanted to see what the pursuit of science looked like from a completely different angle. When I learned that Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum (1753), had been in Jamaica and made natural history collections there, I was fascinated. What was the future founder of the world’s first national public museum doing in the Caribbean and what were the links between slavery and the origins of that museum? I was never taught this in school and thought many readers would be interested in the answer. I was also fascinated by the idea of a universal collection and a museum that aspired to contain every kind of thing in the world. We live in an age where universalism is often critiqued and mistrusted but the early modern era and the origins of museums were powerfully inspired by notions of the universal.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Collecting the World?

JD: One argument is that collecting things always involves collecting people: there is no such thing as “a collector” in the sense of an isolated individual and Sloane relied on worldwide networks to accumulate the thousands of objects which the British Museum was created to house. The second is that Sloane is vital for understanding the complex legacy of the Enlightenment: out of slavery and imperialism emerged the first articulation of an ideal of universal free public access to museums and their collections, an ideal we still cherish and must defend today.

JF: Why do we need to read Collecting the World?

JD: It is the first book to tell the full story of how the world’s first public museum came into being, and shows how that enlightened institution owes its origins to slavery and imperialism, while also championing Sloane’s legacy in calling for universal access to museums and knowledge. Sloane is a compelling contradiction and defies easy categorization: he embodies the relationship between enlightenment and imperialism and his collections embody the great global collision of peoples that took place in the long eighteenth century. It’s also a story about universal knowledge and the dream of total information, and what their pursuit actually entailed. This dream is familiar to us today through digital technology and the internet, but Sloane’s house in eighteenth-century London — where he sought to assemble a universal museum — is an important to precursor to this ongoing ideal of somehow collecting the entire world in a single place. Finally, it’s a book that connects several historical subdisciplines — from the history of science to the history of the African diaspora — and urges us to move beyond academic specialization to tell richer, more complex stories for a broad reading public.

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

JD: I was completing my first year as an undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia in the UK and wrote a seminar paper about Abraham Lincoln’s theory of the union for Professor Dan Richter who was visiting professor that year. It was a liberating experience to try to understand someone else’s thinking in a completely foreign time and place. As one wit has quipped, all the best stories are true. I once explained my work to a member of my family, who listened carefully and then replied, “But you really live in the past then?” Yes.

JF: What is your next project?

JD: I have several current research interests which include the history of collecting; global & Atlantic histories of science especially in the early modern period; and the transport of key objects from around the world into various museum collections.

JF: Thanks, James!

Description of Past Solar Eclipses

Eugène_Atget,_Eclipse,_1912

From the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

Charles Francis Adams wrote about the eclipse he witnessed in Boston on 12 February 1831.

But as there must always be something or other to distract my attention, so today it was taken off by the eclipse of the Sun which took place about noon.  I spent some time in observing this phenomenon. The Sun was not entirely darkened as the eclipse was not total, consequently the light was but partially affected. The cold however was considerable, and the temperature did not recover it throughout the day. The sight is a splendid one…. Every body was looking and little was done. The appearance of the Streets was certainly curious. Men, Women and Boys all gazing at a spectacle the nature of which there were not many to comprehend.

The eclipse of 5 August 1766 is described in a newspaper.  A Boston newspaper published on 11 August 1766 includes a short piece about the eclipse. As was common at the time, newspapers would republish news from other locations, and the heading on the piece about the eclipse is: “Portsmouth. August, 8.”

Last Tuesday being fair Weather and very Hot we had a distinct View of the remarkable ECLIPSE of the SUN–At the Time of greatest Observation, it appeared larger than is represented in the Almanack–the Air was considerably darkned, so that some who did not know of the Eclipse, were surprised.

Read more descriptions here.

The Author’s Corner with John Dixon

cadwalladercoldenJohn Dixon is Assistant Professor of History at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York. This interview is based on his new book, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Cornell University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden?

JD: As a graduate student at UCLA, I became interested in the Enlightenment and, more specifically, in the circulation of scientific knowledge around the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.  I identified and started to analyze a cohort of Scottish-trained physicians in British North America and the Caribbean. Cadwallader Colden was one member of that group, and I quickly discovered that he was by far the most interesting of the bunch. His life, which conveniently spanned the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution, was a fascinating mix of ambition, success, controversy, and failure. It also interwove politics and science to an unusual and intriguing degree. As a learned Scottish immigrant who adeptly used his intellectual interests and activities to advance his social standing, gain influence, and win patrons, Colden shaped colonial and imperial politics. At the same time, he pioneered the use of Linnaean botany and Newtonian natural philosophy in British America, and was instrumental in establishing scientific and print networks that enabled intercolonial and transatlantic cultural exchange in the mid-eighteenth century. What was it like to be an intellectual in British New York? How did Colden’s political and intellectual lives overlap? Was Colden a reformist or a reactionary? These sorts of questions drove my research and ultimately led me to write The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden?

JD: Standard narratives of early New York and early American history have grossly understated Colden’s significance and complexity as a historical figure. By putting him at the center of the story, we more readily see that elitism, conservatism, and imperialism were essential facets of eighteenth-century New York society and culture, and of the Enlightenment.

JF: Why do we need to read The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden?

JD: For a sense of enjoyment, I hope. I tried to write The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden so that it would appeal to a wide array of specialist and non-specialist readers. That said, my book raises significant historiographical issues. It suggests that scholars have construed colonial New York too narrowly as a proto-modern colony defined by its remarkable degree of social diversity and political factionalism. I don’t deny those features, but I do argue that historians need to pay more attention to British New York’s importance as an imperial hub and as a center of transatlantic scientific and philosophical activity. Likewise, my book complicates current notions of the American Enlightenment by highlighting paradoxical intersections of tradition and reform.

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

JD: I became an American historian through a process of gradual evolution. While growing up on a small island in the English Channel, I somehow got hooked on American literature and jazz music. In this sense, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Coltrane must shoulder some of the blame. BA and MA degrees in American Studies followed. I contracted the itch to be a historian along the way, though I cannot now recall exactly when. After a brief spell working in the publishing industry in London, I moved to the U.S. and entered the Ph.D. program in American History at UCLA. The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden is a heavily-reworked version of my doctoral dissertation.

JF: What is your next project?

JD: I currently hold a research scholarship at the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History, New York University. I am using this award to write a sweeping history of Jews in the early modern Atlantic World. 

JF: Sounds great. Thanks, John!

 

Ebenezer Kinnersley

When I was a graduate student I had a colleague named Kevin who was interested in the history of science in early America.  Kevin finished his Ph.D shortly after I did.  I think he had a few academic appointments and eventually left the historical profession for greener pastures.  I lost touch with him after we left Stony Brook and he moved back to his home state of Texas.

Kevin’s story would make for a great “So What CAN You Do With a History Major” post, but I am writing about him today because he loved to talk about Ebenezer Kinnersley

Who is Ebenezer Kinnersley?  

He was a Baptist minister who opposed the First Great Awakening and later became a promoter of Benjamin Franklin’s work on electricity.  If I remember correctly, Kinnersley was an important figure in Kevin’s dissertation.

I am not sure what happened to Kevin’s research on Kinnersley.   I know he was working on Kinnersley before the appearance of James Delbourgo’s A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America hit print and introduced us to the life of this Baptist pastor-turned itinerant science lecturer.

I thought about Kinnersley the other day after reading Thomas Kidd’s post at The Anxious Bench.  It appears that this Baptist clergymen will make an appearance in Kidd’s new religious biography of Franklin. 

Here is a taste of his post:

Kinnersley was born in Gloucester, England, the same hometown as Franklin’s friend George Whitefield, the greatest evangelist of the eighteenth-century revivals. As a three-year-old, Kinnersley came with his family to Pennsylvania the same year, 1714, that Whitefield was born. His family was Baptist, and Kinnersley became an assistant at Philadelphia’s First Baptist Church. Unlike the senior minister of the church, Kinnersley opposed the revivals because of the “enthusiastic ravings” of Whitefield and other itinerant preachers. He aired this opinion in Franklin’s newspaper, and it cost Kinnersley his job.

Franklin took the unemployed Kinnersley under his wing and would later help him become a professor of English and oratory at Franklin’s new College of Philadelphia (the University of Pennsylvania). In the meantime, Franklin encouraged Kinnersley to expand upon his interest in Franklin’s experiments in electricity by preparing public lectures and demonstrations that Kinnersley could take on the road. And take to the road he did, traveling to more far-flung places in the colonies than did Whitefield (Kinnersley even went to Caribbean locations such as Barbados).

The former pastor would charge well-to-do audiences five shillings to get in, and dazzled them with displays of electricity. In one favorite demonstration, he would have an audience member volunteer to sit on an insulating stool and channel electricity through the volunteer’s body and into a metal chain. A second volunteer would extend a hand toward the first, and a visible spark would jump between them.

Read the entire post here.

The Author’s Corner with Monte Hampton

Monte Hampton teaches history at the North Carolina State University. This interview is based on his book Storm of Words: Science, Religion, and Evolution in the Civil War Era (University Alabama Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Storm of Words?

MH: Having been reared in the South, I have always found southern history fascinating.  I was also very impressed by the perennially prominent role played by both religion and science in American cultural history.  This project wove together all three of these categories of academic interest by looking at a community of southern Christian intellectuals who thought deeply and wrote frequently about how to understand the relationship between science and theology, nature and scripture. Of course, as white southerners who had been committed to defending slavery and the ethos of the Old South, these theologians and ministers conceptualized the relationship between scripture, science, and the socio-cultural order in their own unique way

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Storm of Words? 

MH: Among other things, this book explains why the first extended evolution controversy in the trans-Atlantic world occurred in the American South, forty years prior to the Scopes Trial.  By examining a group of eminent Southern Presbyterian ministers and theologians, a community that had been in the forefront of linking the defense of slavery and the South to the Bible, it shows that their unique response to Darwinian biology, as well as to contemporary trends in anthropology, geology, and numerous socio-cultural developments, resulted from their particular way of reading the Bible and from the cultural trauma experienced during sectional crisis, Civil War, and Reconstruction. 

JF: Why do we need to read Storm of Words? 

MH: Anyone interested in that seemingly incessant American phenomenon known as the evolution controversy, not to mention the larger relationship between science and religion in American discourse, should find this book informative.  Beyond that, however, this book examines the ways culture and history have shaped the ways communities conceive of science and religion, especially religion claiming to be based in scripture. For more than two centuries Americans have invoked God and the Bible to support or challenge a welter of ideas, causes, and movements—often on opposite sides of the same issues. This is because the appropriation and use of the Bible have been inextricably intertwined with the history and culture of the community reading it.  So, this book serves as a kind of case study of the ways the Protestant commitment to sola scriptura has been complicated by the theological assumptions and lived experiences that its readers have inevitably brought to their interpretation of the Bible.   

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

MH: I made the decision in the mid-1990s.  As a minister dealing with scripture and the interpretation of scripture in the concrete life of a church and a community, I began to notice the many different ways the Bible had been and continued to be interpreted, applied, and deployed.  This led to a curiosity about the relationship between culture and biblical hermeneutics.  I began to study the dialectic relationship between socio-cultural identities and religion, especially religion that claimed to find its authority in the Bible.  At bottom, then, most of my work has stemmed from a strong curiosity about epistemology, about how humans come to know what they know, and how differences in race, gender, social class, culture, and historical experience shape a community’s concept of knowledge and how it should be acquired.

JF: What is your next project?

MH: I am working on two projects at present:  First, with Regina Sullivan I am co-editing a forthcoming festschrift, entitled Varieties of Southern Religious Experience (University of South Carolina Press), which will be a collection of essays dedicated to our doctoral advisor, Donald Mathews.  Second, I am working on a paper examining the pervasiveness in antebellum America of the so-called “conflict thesis,” the notion that science and religion must necessarily be perennial enemies.  Numerous historians, led by Ronald Numbers, have shown that this military metaphor, which continues to enjoy popular currency, has had less to do with the actual relationship between science and religion in American historical discourse than with the influence of seminal late-nineteenth century works by anti-clerical proponents of such endemic conflict, such as Andrew Dickson White.  My paper will examine the extent to which the notion had currency in the half-century prior to these works.

JH: Thanks Monte! Great Stuff!

Thanks to Allyson Fea for her work on this edition of the Author’s Corner.

OAH Panel Wrap-Up: Religion and Transatlantic Print Culture in the Early Republic

Noah Webster: Anti-Jacobinist

This morning I had the privilege of chairing a session on “Religion and Transatlantic Print Culture” at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Actually, I was pinch hitting for Kyle Roberts of Loyola University-Chicago, who could not make it to the conference.  My responsibilities? Introduce the panelists and read Roberts’s comments.

I expected a solid panel, but I did not anticipate learning so much.

Jonathan Den Hartog of Northwestern College (St. Paul) began the festivities with a paper on religion, Anti-Jacobinism, and print culture.  (For those unfamiliar, Anti-Jacobinists were 1790s intellectuals who opposed the political ideas associated with the French Revolution). From a religious perspective, Anti-Jacobins opposed French irreligion, Paine’s Age of Reason, and the dangers of the Illuminati.  Den Hartog focused on four American Anti-Jacobin writers: grammarian Noah Webster, clergyman Timothy Dwight, printer William Cobbett, and novelist Sally Sayward Wood.

Lily Santoro of Southeast Missouri State presented a paper on the ways in which American Protestants used British texts across the Atlantic “border” to shape a distinctive discussion of science and religion in the early republic.  She focused on intellectuals such as Yale professor Benjamin Silliman and Baptist minister Thomas Staughton who used the study of the natural sciences to support their republican and Christian faith.

Ashley Moreshead of the University of Delaware (both Ashley and Lily are/were Christine Heyrman students) talked about British contributions to American missionary periodicals.  Missionary magazines created a sort of imagined community of Protestants that transcended national boundaries.  Her paper reminded me of the work by Susan O’Brien, Frank Lambert, and others who have written similar things about the First Great Awakening.

(I hope these descriptions do some justice to the three papers).

I should also add that this panel was a model for how to present complicated ideas in a compelling, passionate way.  There were no bells and whistles (Powerpoints, handouts, etc…), but all three papers were presented in a way that was very accessible to the non-specialists in the room.  I don’t think I have ever heard names and phrases such as “William Paley,” “Edmund Burke,” “natural religion,” and “heathen millions” uttered in such an enthusiastic way.

In his comments, Kyle Roberts asked Den Hartog to think harder about how (and if) less popular Anti-Jacobin works were disseminated.  He wondered whether Santoro’s intellectuals and science writers were distinctly “American” in nature.  And he asked Moreshead to examine how magazine editors repurposed European content to suit their needs.

Den Hartog, Santoro, and Moreshead are doing some great work.  I look forward to reading their forthcoming works.  Happy to be a pinch-hitter. (I have always been a big fan of Manny Mota and Rusty Staub).

Crowdfunding

Wardenclyffe

As many of you know, the Internet is an amazing tool for fundraising.  Sites like Kickstarter are growing in popularity.  Worthy start-up projects are able to gain the kind of exposure that would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago.

The possibilities for using the web to raise funds for history-related projects have yet to be thoroughly tapped.  Over at History@Work, Noah Goodling asks: “Will digital crowdfunding work for your next project?”  Here is a taste:

In August, 2012, an extraordinary thing happened: a small museum, dubbed the Friends of Science East (FSE, now the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe), which was being run out of two unused classrooms in a local high school on Long Island, began an online fundraising campaign which raised over $1 million in just over a week. The money was to be used to buy a local historical site, a laboratory utilized by the 19th century inventor Nikola Tesla called Wardenclyffe; the museum planned to repair the site and convert it into a science and technology museum to honor Tesla’s legacy. The story quickly went viral on the Internet, as journalists and bloggers asked the same set of questions: How did a small, virtually unknown museum manage to marshal such incredible resources so quickly? And what implications does this success carry for fundraising for public historians? 

The answer to the first question lies in the power of the digital realm to connect together audiences and innovators with shared interests. In this case, the digital tool that was used is called crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is simply a term that is used to describe the backing of projects or causes by groups of people, usually on the Internet, who combine their money and resources to meet a fixed goal. Projects are typically aggregated onto sites that specialize in crowdfunding, like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

Jane Alcorn, the president of Friends of Science East, offers some suggestions for crowdfunding your latest project:

1.  Find the right person or platform to promote your product

2.  Set easily achievable goals

3.  Take time before the campaign begins to make your cause credible

4.  Use social media aggressively and persistently to promote your cause.

In the appendix of my forthcoming Why Study History?Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, I make a proposal for a Center for American History and a Civil Society.  The more I think about it, the more I am wondering if crowdfunding might be the way to get something like this off the ground.