Junto 19We have had fun over the years with the Junto early American history March Madness tournament.

In 2017, I chided the selection committee for undermining democracy.

Back in 2016, I was mad at the selection committee for putting my Journal of American History article “The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment” in a first round battle against Jon Butler’s magisterial essay “Enthusiasm Described and Decried.”  Butler crushed us!

In 2015, the Journal of Philip Vickers Fithian was wiped-out in the first round by David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Persons of the World.  I was very disappointed with Philip’s 13th seed!  I tried to make a case that voters should vote for Fithian because he was a “pompous ass,” “an insufferable prig,” and a “schlemiel.”

In 2014, my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation suffered a 60%-40% defeat in the first round at the hands of Rebecca Goetz’s The Baptism of Early America.

In 2019, the Junto tournament is focused on digital projects.  The 2019 March Madness brackets are out and it looks like The Way of Improvement Leads Home, despite nearly 400 early American history author interviews, dozens of podcast interviews with award-winning early Americanists, hundreds and hundreds of early American-themed posts, and an audience of nearly 4000 folks a day, will be heading to the NIT this year!  (Where was my campaign manager?)  For Shame! 🙂

Here are my endorsements:

Ben Franklin’s World: We featured BFW Liz Covart on Episode 24 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Boston 1775:  A go-to blog for us here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I check it every day and often repost J.L. Bell’s stuff

Common-Place:  Check out my 2003 article “Research as Relationship.”

Founders Online: Indispensable.

Digital Paxton:  I will be using it extensively this semester in my Pennsylvania History course.

Enjoy the tournament.  To paraphrase Richard Nixon, “you won’t have Fea to kick around anymore.”

The 2019 Junto March Madness is Here!

Junto 19This year the Junto blog is staging a March Madness-style competition to decide the best digital project in early American history.   A taste:

It’s once again March and that can only mean one thing at The Junto: our March Madness tournament. We skipped last year to welcome our new members, so in case you’ve forgotten: you nominate, we bracket, and you vote. In previous years, we have hosted tournaments of books, articles, and primary sources in early American history.

This year, our tournament will focus on digital projects on early America.

Nominations open now and will close on Wednesday, March 6 at 5 p.m. eastern time. Consult the rules and add your nominations in the comments section below. Join in the conversation using the hashtag #JMM19. Voting will commence next week.

We define digital projects broadly. That includes, but is not necessarily limited to, online archives, digital editions of primary sources, visualizations, databases, twitter bots and social media projects, podcasts, teaching resources, blogs, etc. The project should be substantially—though not necessarily exclusively—focused on (vast) early America.

Learn more here.  By this definition, The Way of Improvement Leads Home Blog and The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast might be considered a “digital project.”  Maybe someone will nominate us.

Here is our resume:

Blog:   We have interviewed hundreds of authors who have written books in early American history.  (This has to be worth something, right?).  Of course we are always featuring early American history here at the blog.

Podcast:  Interviews with Daniel Rodgers, Julie Reed, Catherine O’Donnell, Christopher Graham, Erin Bartram, Chris Shannon, Amanda Moniz, Doug Bradburn, Kevin Gannon, Manisha Sinha, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Ann Little. Not to mention all the early American commentary that we do on the podcast.

Will the resume be enough to make the dance?  I will let readers decide if we belong.

How NOT To Write Your Second Book

how-not-to-write-your-second-book-logoThe Junto blog is running a series of posts on this topic featuring some excellent historians. The posts stem from a roundtable presented at the 2017 meeting of the Society for the History of the Early Republic.  It was organized by Emily Controy-Krutz and Jessica Lepler.

Here is a taste of the Conroy-Krutz and Lepler’s introduction to the series:

How do you start a new book that’s on a wildly different topic from your last book? Or written in a different style? And how do you write a book while teaching new preps and serving on committees? What if you’re also raising kids and caring for aging family members? If a book could be articles, shouldit be articles? In a packed conference room on a hot Saturday in July, five incredibly generous, funny, and thoughtful scholars shared their tips and tricks for “How Not to Write Your Second Book,” and the laughter and nods around the room suggested that the comments, questions, and conversation spoke to concerns that are widely shared among mid-career scholars and that had sparked the creation of the SHEAR Second-Book Writers’ Workshop (2BWW).

Read the entire roundtable here.

“I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about ‘negotiating’ and ‘complicating’ and ‘constructing’.”


Check out Katy Lasdow‘s interview with Peggy Bendroth, Executive Director of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston.  It is part of the Junto’s series on “Where Historian’s Work.”

Here is my favorite part of the interview:

JUNTO: When we spoke, you stressed the importance of storytelling as a means of getting a variety of people interested in history. How does storytelling factor into the work that you do? How does it connect to your research and writing?

BENDROTH: I invite a lot of academics to give talks at the Library—we have a monthly “History Matters” series that brings in a mix of people in our downtown area. I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about “negotiating” and “complicating” and “constructing.”  It’s not that these words are bad—they’re great at academic conferences and I love most of them dearly. But (and I’m overstating a bit) the people in our audience profoundly do not care. It’s not that they can’t understand the concepts—I’m sure most of them could—but that’s not why there are there. I think that, like most human beings, they are looking for connection. They want to hear about other human beings, other lives, stories that make someone from the past both totally foreign and utterly familiar.

We should never forget that. I’m not saying that every historian has to be David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin—would that we could sell that many books! But if we can’t explain our ideas in clear simple language that the average person, they we don’t really understand them ourselves.

JUNTO: Any other thoughts on career diversity for Early Americanists?

BENDROTH: I do have a word of caution. Combining the life of the mind with lots of administrative responsibilities is not for beginners!  If you do not already have a scholarly agenda, a network of friends, and some solid achievements on your resume, the job will devour you. It is so much easier to answer an email or plan a meeting than it is to think and write. My day is full of 10 to 20 minute slots where I’m waiting for a phone call or between meetings, and I used to think I could (or should) switch over to some more academic intellectual task. It took me way too long to realize that this is ineffective and ultimately exhausting—you can only care about so many things at once. Thinking and writing requires days at a time, a place apart from your office and computer. It sometimes means going for a walk, “wasting” time staring out windows. Scholarly work also means having the support of a visionary board and regular explanations to your staff that “working at home” is not a euphemism for goofing off.

Read the entire interview here.

Ken Minkema of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale

MinkemaThe Junto is featuring Katy Lasdow‘s interview with Ken Minkema, the heart and soul of The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.

Here is a taste:

JUNTO: Tell us about the work that you do. How does it relate—or not relate—to the research you undertook in your doctoral studies?

KENNETH MINKEMA: I completed doctoral studies at the University of Connecticut in 1988, having completed a dissertation on—what else—Edwards. But more precisely, I wrote on the Edwards family as a ministerial dynasty in eighteenth-century New England (think Middlekauff on the Mathers and Nagel on the Adamses, prominent multi-generational family studies that appeared at that time).

Since then, I have come to be responsible for nearly all of the activities of a major historical papers and digital humanities project. The Yale Edwards Edition is venerable, going back to the 1950s, when a multivolume series was begun by a team of editors under the direction of Harvard’s Perry Miller and published by Yale Press.T hat series, 26 volumes, was completed in 2008. Out of the Edition’s offices the Jonathan Edwards Center was created to support research, education and publication in Edwards Studies and related fields. In the process, we became a digital humanities project as well, digitizing all of the printed volumes as well as supplemental born-digital sources that amount to nearly 100,000 pages. So, while we perform all of the functions of a research center, assisting scholars, students and others, and coordinating several outreach initiatives, we are also still transcribing and editing texts by Edwards and documents that relate to his life and legacy.

JUNTO: What was the journey after graduate school like for you? Can you reflect on some of the choices you confronted when you made the decision to work with for — and later lead — the Jonathan Edwards Center?

MINKEMA: Following doctoral studies, I adjuncted for one year, teaching classes at UConn and at University of Hartford. Meanwhile, my mentor and long-time friend Harry (Skip) Stout, who had become part of the Yale faculty the previous year, joined the board of the Edwards Works, eventually becoming the General Editor (so he’s technically the “leader,” while I’m the managing editor). When the project received its first multi-year grant, enabling it to establish a central office for the first time at Yale Divinity School, Skip put my name forward and I was hired, beginning in 1989. (I arrived a couple of days before a tornado hit downtown New Haven, tearing right up Prospect Street in front of the Divinity School; I recall stepping over downed power lines and trees on my walk home, and of course electricity was out for days. Welcome to New Haven!)

Over the years, and especially early on, I applied for and have been recruited for other positions, but I made the decision to remain with the Edwards project, because I felt a real sense of purpose there. It has become my life’s work, my vocation or calling. I feel very fortunate to have found just the right niche for myself, in which I love what I do. Not many people get to realize that. But I owe that to the advice and support of many people (not least of all my wife, Lori).

Read the entire interview here.

The Junto’s Blatant Attempt to Undermine Democracy

Junto march madness 17The Junto March Madness tournament is back.  This year Junto March Madness is covering books in early American history published since 2014.

But there are a few changes from past years that will certainly raise the ire of your inner Patrick Henry and prompt you to reread the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, that so-called “beast without a head.”

First, the tournament will feature 32 books rather than 64.

Second, the Junto bloggers “have decided to forego the open nomination process” and seed books selected by the 25 members of the blog.

In the past, the Junto March Madness tournament began with a wild and woolly nomination process in which readers could suggest their favorite works.  It was democracy at its best.  There were always enough nominations to fill out a 64-book field and the “people” were able to have their voices heard in the shaping of that field.

No more.

My sources tell me that this year’s field was chosen inside a locked room in Philadelphia.  Michael Hattem, in an attempt to protect the privacy of the selection committee from other history bloggers milling around the area, boarded-up all the windows.  Since the meeting was held in March, Ben Park installed portable heaters in the room. They were cranked up to 11 in order to recreate as closely as possible a similar Philadelphia meeting that occurred 230 years earlier in roughly the same location.

In the end, it is abundantly clear that the Junto members are taking a Federalist 10 approach to the selection of this year’s field.  They appear to be worried about the role of factions in the nominating process.  They no longer want powerful democratic fan bases like the one at The Way of Improvement Leads Home to nominate books like Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? or The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America. (Technically, these books would be ineligible since they were published before 2014, but you get my point).

The Junto bloggers know that they are unable to remove the causes of faction (The Way of Improvement Leads Home readers and other “popular” bloggers), so they are going to do their best at controlling their effects.  Apparently “The 25” don’t trust the people to make wise decisions about who is “in” and who is “out,” so they have self-appointed themselves to “refine” and “filter” the field.

Fair enough.  What was once a great democratic experiment in liberty has fallen prey to a counter-revolution of the worst kind.  (So this is why Michael Klarman’s The Framers’ Coup didn’t make the field this year!).   I smell a rat!

As you let this all sink in, and as your outrage begins to burn, remember that you have less than hour to make your first round picks.  🙂

Benjamin Carp on Edmund Morgan’s “Slavery and Freedom”


Edmund Morgan

As some of you may recall, Edmund Morgan’s 1972 Journal of American History article “Slavery and Freedomwon the 2016 Junto Blog “March Madness” tournament for the best journal article in early American history.

Over at Process: A Blog for American History (the official blog of the Organization of American Historians), Ben Carp of Brooklyn College reflects on the significance of Morgan’s essay.  I can’t think of a better person to do this right now.  Carp recently published a great essay on Morgan in Reviews in American History and has been tweeting about Morgan in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday (Morgan died in 2013). Follow along at #edmorgan100

Here is a taste of Carp’s post:

“Slavery and Freedom” is an article about Puritans, even though it doesn’t mention them at all; it’s about what happens when you try to colonize a place without them.

The article purports to be about how the Revolutionary leaders’ “dedication to human liberty and dignity” arose alongside “a system of labor that denied human dignity and liberty every hour of the day.” And indeed, we largely remember the piece for articulating “the central paradox of American history”: how the United States emerged as a beacon of freedom when so many African-Americans remained in chains, with entangled repercussions that still define the nation.

And yet the article spends surprisingly little time on the ideals of the Declaration of Independence or Virginia’s slave society, and neither does American Slavery, American Freedom. It’s an irony that Edmund S. Morgan (1916–2013), the article’s author, would have appreciated (call it the “the ‘Paradox’ paradox”): how an unintended argument became his most enduring legacy.

“Slavery and Freedom” began life as Morgan’s presidential address to the Organization of American Historians in April 1972. Morgan had analyzed the Puritan work ethic and the way that the Founders applied it to their rebellion. But when he tried to attribute the ethic to elite slaveowners like Thomas Jefferson, he realized the argument wouldn’t quite hold. So he looked more closely at history of early colonial Virginia to figure out why the South turned out differently. “Slavery and Freedom” was primarily interested in the problems of work and discipline, which led Morgan into discussions of English ideas about debt and idleness, Francis Drake and the Cimarrons, the cultivation of tobacco, the fate of laborers who completed their indentures, and Bacon’s Rebellion.

Read the rest here.

Edmund Morgan Wins Junto March Madness

Junto MarchA few years ago Morgan’s book American Slavery/American Freedom won the Junto March Madness tournament devoted to the best books in early American history.

This year Morgan’s 1972 “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox” won the best article in early American history.  Morgan defeated Jill Lepore’s “Historians Who Love to Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography” in the final match.

Early American historians still love Edmund Morgan!

Let’s see what the good folks of the Junto come up with for next year’s March Madness. How about best history blogs or best books on Philip Vickers Fithian?

Will You Pay $14.92 a Year to Read an Internet Rag Like the Junto Blog?

j-moneyHere you go:

After nearly three-and-a-half years, we are preparing to move on to the next level. Beginning Monday, April 4th, The Junto is moving to a paywall system. (That the results for the Final Four #JuntoMM2016 are to be released on Monday is only a coincidence, I assure you.) Over the past few years, our annual operating expenses have come to run into the tens of dollars. Also, our MOOC, JuntoX, never really took off like we’d hoped (or at all). And, with early America getting vaster every day, it is taking an increasing amount of free labor to cover. Also, we’d be lying if we said all the Hamilton talk over the past year hasn’t been bringing out our inner capitalists a little bit.

Therefore, you can get your shiny new Junto subscription for the low, low price of anywhere between $14.92 and $18.12 per year (your choice). Think about it: that’s a maximum of $1.51 per month, or $0.35 per week, or $0.05 per day. So, for the price of one piece of Bazooka Joe (in 1989), you’ll continue to get all the same content you used to get for free. That’s basically a steal!

More details will follow on Monday morning including the P.O. Box address where you can send your check or money order (NB: the e-commerce is going to take another week or so to get up-and-running).

Look, I love early America.  And the Junto writers post some great stuff.   But those folks are not getting a cent of my money!  Especially Hattem, Adelman, Owen, Jones, and Park.

Not a cent I tell you!!!!!

One and Done

jmm16In case you haven’t seen the First Round results in the 2016 Junto March Madness tournament, my article “The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian’s Rural Enlightenment (JAH 2003lost to Jon Butler’s “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Intepretive Fiction,” (JAH 1982).  Butler received 58% of the vote.  I received 42%.

Here is a taste of the Junto results summary:

It was an interesting first round, everybody. 168 of you voted, which, as you’ll see, was a real problem in one of our brackets. Upsets occurred in every category, and we had our first ever March Madness tie. Read on for your results!In the Atlantic World, Warsh surged at the end to defeat Gould. Things got complicated, as they tend to, in the Gender bracket, where Camp and Hughes Dayton tied (more on how we’re dealing with this, below). In Economic and Social History Rao smoked Hartog, and in the American Revolution Brown beat out Jasanoff. The History of Ideas had two upsets; Junto supporter Fea lost to Butler, despite a strong Twitter game, and Kloppenberg lost to Grasso. In Native American history Barr upset Greer, and in Slavery and Race Formation Waldstreicher just beat out Johnson. Our Historiography and Theory bracket was the only bracket in which the seeds performed as anticipated. It’s shaping up to be an exciting tournament!

I am still not sure how my article received a #1 seed in the “History of Ideas” category.  It is perhaps even stranger that Butler’s article received a #8 seed.  So I guess, technically, the Butler victory was an “upset.”  Although any early American scholar worth his or her salt knows that Butler was the favorite.

Oh well.  We made a nice run.  Thanks to everyone who voted for Philip Vickers Fithian and the “rural Enlightenment.”  I hope that everyone who voted for my article will now throw their support behind Butler in the “History of Ideas” bracket.  His 1982 article really did shape the field.


Did You Vote Today?

The last I checked there are no presidential primaries scheduled for today.

But there is still voting to be done.  Head over to the Junto blog and cast your vote for the best academic journal article published in the field of early American history. And when you are there, help us pull off what just might be the greatest upset in the history of academia!



Not sure what these tweets mean?  Click here.

The “Rural Enlightenment” Lands a Spot in the Junto March Madness Tournament

jmm16My 2003 Journal of American History article “The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian’s Rural Enlightenment” landed a spot in the 2016 Junto blog’s March Madness tournament focuses on journal articles.

We landed in the “History of Ideas” bracket as the #1 seed!  We are thrilled with our seed, even though I really don’t understand how it happened since James Kloppenberg, Gordon Wood, Daniel Walker Howe, Trish Loughran, Natalie Caron, and Naomi Wulf are also in this bracket.

Actually, I think the committee at the Junto is playing a cruel trick on me.  Our first round opponent is Jon Butler’s “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction.” Butler’s 1982 Journal of American History article has to be one of the most cited articles in recent history.  How can I compete?  I feel like Lincoln Chaffee or Jim Gilmore.

And why is Butler’s article an 8th seed?  Also, how can I rally my readers to support my “rural Enlightenment” article as a dark horse candidate when we are a #1 seed?

OK, enough griping.  We have our task before us. It is time to pull off one of the greatest upsets in the history of Junto March Madness.  Stay tuned.

I Think I Just Found My Campaign Manager

Jay Eldred is a “book-reading, coffee-drinking, marathon-running history teacher who blogs at Running in My Head.

I don’t think I have ever met Jay, but I am officially appointing him as my campaign manager for the Junto Blog’s March Madness tournament! 🙂

Here is a taste of his recent post at Running in my Head:

The championship college basketball tournament brings out the best and worst of everyone as teams vie for supremacy. Go Huskies!

The game has spawned several copycats, but perhaps none so academic as The Junto’s March Madness – a tournament of journal articles.

The tournament is still open for nominations, but only until tomorrow (Sunday, March 6) at 5:00 PM EST.

Not sure what to nominate? I humbly suggest “The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian’s Rural Enlightenment” by John Fea.

Speaking of John Fea, if you teach history / social studies you should subscribe to his blogand listen to his podcast. He really does a wonderful job examining the intersection of academic study with the reality of teaching living, breathing human beings.

My 2003 JAH article has been nominated and “seconded.”  Now all we can do is sit and wait to see if the committee gives us a spot in the field of 64!

The Junto March Madness Tournament is Back

Junto MarchThis year, the good folks at The Junto blog are focusing their annual March Madness tournament on journal articles.  Head over to the Junto and nominate your three favorite early American history articles.

And don’t forget to nominate:

John Fea, “The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian’s Rural Enlightenment,” Journal of American History 90:2 (September 2003).

Let’s see how far the coining of the phrase “rural Enlightenment” can take us. As I have done in previous Junto tournaments, I am organizing my ground game.  I am hoping the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog will rise up from the grass roots and carry Fithian and the “rural Enlightenment” to 1). A spot in the tournament field and 2). at least a first round upset.  🙂

Here is how it works, from the Junto blog:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year here at The Junto, or the month of March Madness! As faithful readers will know, each year we engage in a spirited tournament of voting in some category related to early American history. Last year, it was primary sources. Find out what this year’s theme will be after the jump.

This time around, we’ve decided that our tournament will focus on journal articles. Here are our two big reasons for this decision: 1) for many of our students, articles are cheaper than books because they’re free. Articles become a way for students to get a taste of an author’s larger contribution and historiographical intervention. 2) Although we recognize that scholarly journals can and do pose access issues to non-academics, many journals are taking important steps to improve access, and we’re hoping that the tournament encourages further sharing of articles (on which, more soon!).

Nominations open today and close on Sunday at 5 p.m. EST. Check out the rules below and then add your nominations and seconds in the Comments section. Then, by the power of The Junto‘s bracketologists, we’ll put together tournament brackets, announce the brackets, and open it up for your votes in the very near future.

The Rules

1) Journal articles can be old or very recent, but should have appeared in a journal rather than an edited collection. If a journal article has been reprinted in an edited collection, however, please mention that in your nomination because it will make it easier for additional people to read it. As with last year, the point of this exercise is to create a giant list of sources–in this case, secondary sources–for research and teaching that encourage us all to think about access issues and how to be good historians.

2) All nominations must be made in the Comments section of this post.

3) If would be helpful if, in your nomination, you included one line about each of the articles you’re nominating. Do you use it for teaching? Did it make you rethink a particular historical moment? Tell us why you care about the article!

4) We ask that you nominate a maximum of three articles that have not yet been nominated. You may also “second” the nomination of three other articles that have already been nominated. If you were going to nominate articles already mentioned you may do so and they will be tallied as seconds.

5) Want to participate in extra nerding out on Twitter? Use the hashtag #JuntoMM16 (because, er, #JMM16 has been taken over by STEM people).

NB: Essentially, each voter can nominate and second up to six articles but only three can be new nominations. Given the number of comments posted last year, please state explicitly which of your articles count as nominations, and which count as seconds. (To see if one of your choices has already been nominated, go to Edit->Find in your browser and type in the name of the primary source.)

The Disclaimer

Like last year’s tournament, this is all meant to be taken in a spirit of fun. This tournament is not meant to bestow any kind of value judgment on individual works. If anything, it may be a reflection of the “favorite” articles of our readers; but that should not be thought of as implying that it reflects what our readers or this blog think is the “best” article. Last year’s competition inspired lots of interesting and entertaining conversations, and this year we’re hoping to hear from even more of you. We’ll be interspersing the tournament, and following it up, with reflections on articles and their place in the historical profession. Please feel free to join in in the comments, or to use the Twitter hashtag.

The Declaration of Independence Defeats Franklin’s *Autobiography* to Win the Junto March Madness Tournament

I must admit that I was a little disappointed when Philip Vickers Fithian got knocked out of the Junto March Madness Tournament in the first round, but I continued to do my civic duty by voting for the best primary source from early America in the subsequent rounds of what has become an annual tradition in the history blogosphere.

In case you have not heard, in the championship final the Declaration of Independence (59%) scored a comfortable victory over Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (41%).  I am particularly pleased to announce that three of the final four documents–the Declaration, Franklin’s Autobiography, and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative–are staples in my United States History survey course at Messiah College.

I also may bring this up today in my Pennsylvania History class since both the Declaration of Independence and Franklin’s Autobiography have strong Pennsylvania connections.