Bancroft Prize-Winning Historian Nancy Tomes is Coming to Messiah College Next Week!

Tomes Poster

If you are in the area on Thursday evening, September 27, join us for the 2018 Messiah College American Democracy Lecture.  This year’s lecturer is Nancy Tomes of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.  In 2017, Tomes was awarded the Bancroft Prize in American History for her book Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients Into Consumers.  Tomes’s American Democracy Lecture is titled “Doctor Shoppers: From Problem Patients to Model Citizens.”  The lecture will take place at 7:00pm in the Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts, Parmer Hall on the campus of Messiah College.  Free tickets are required.  To reserve tickets call 717-691-6036 or reserve tickets online at messiah.edu/tickets.

If you want a taste of what you might expect at the lecture, listen to our interview with Tomes in Episode 22 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

If you are a health-care professional or someone who is interested in our current health care debates, this lecture is for you.  I will see you there.

The Risk of Taking Risks in the Classroom

College-classroom

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Doug Lederman asks “will trying new teaching techniques tank my evaluations?”  I have asked this question many times during my 20+ years in higher education.  In the following excerpt, Lederman reflects on a study suggesting that teachers who lecture get better student evaluations:

The survey asked instructors to assess their teaching styles on a continuum from “highly alternative” to “highly traditional,” and the vast majority called themselves “mostly traditional with some alternative features.” Respondents said they lectured between 40 and 80 percent of the time, using a range of other techniques for the rest — small-group and whole-class discussions, sometimes involving clickers, in-class online quizzes, etc.

Instructors were then asked whether the use of more interactive teaching techniques had affected their teaching evaluations, and the vast majority said they did — mostly positively. Forty-eight percent believed their student evaluations had improved, about a third (32 percent) said there had been no effect and one in five (20 percent) felt that their evaluations had fallen.

Digging deeper into the data, the researchers found that the instructors most likely to report lower evaluations (and to generate direct student complaints) were those who lectured the least. Those who reported lecturing between 20 percent and 60 percent of the time were likeliest to report an increase in positive student evaluations, while those who lectured less than 20 percent of the time were likelier than others to see their evaluations worsen.

Asked why they thought that was the case, instructors who saw their evaluations worsen were mostly likely to say they believed students “do not feel like they are being ‘taught’ when lecturing decreases,” while others said that they did not think students want to work actively during class time. “They want to be spoon-fed, not think,” one respondent said.

Read the entire piece here.

Bancroft Prize-Winning Historian of Health Care Nancy Tomes is Coming to Messiah College

Nancy Tomes is Distinguished Professor of History at Stony Brook University.  Her 2016 book, Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers won the prestigious Bancroft Prize in American history.

“This is like a dream come true.”

On September 27, Tomes will deliver the 2018 Messiah College American Democracy Lecture at 7:00pm in Parmer Hall.  If you are in the area you will not want to miss this lecture!  See you there.  Stay tuned for more details.

Listen to Tomes discuss her book on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Tomes

 

Christian Political Engagement in the Age of Trump

university-of-regina-campus-image

University of Regina

As some of you know, I spent the last couple of days in Regina, Saskatchewan.  The Canadian Society of Church History (CSCH)  invited me to deliver the keynote address at its annual conference.  (Thanks for everything Stuart Barnard!).  The collegial historians associated with the CSCH made me feel very welcome and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some of them on Wednesday night at dinner.  (Thanks again for the ride to the hotel Robyn Rogers Healey!) If you get chance to join this organization or attend its annual conference, I highly recommend that you do it!  Next year’s meeting is in Vancouver.

The lecture drew a good turnout of CSCH members and other scholars who were in town for the 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.  It was titled “Fear, Hope, and Nostalgia: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”  I even got to  talk about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump on CBC radio show in Saskatchewan!

Here is a small taste of my lecture:

In the late 1970s, after a period of relative quietism in the middle of the 20th century, conservative evangelicals composed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization.  Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understand the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook.  The playbook, which was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, never lost its focus on restoring, renewing, and reclaiming America for Christ through the pursuit of political power.  When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world.  These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage. 

The power that this playbook holds among American evangelicals cannot be underestimated.  Frankly, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the rest of the leaders of the Christian Right deserve a lot more credit than they currently receive in general treatments of modern American political history.  Falwell, for example, may be the most important figure in American politics in the post-World War II era.  His playbook has been so successful that most ordinary evangelicals cannot imagine an alternative way of thinking about Christian political witness, even when other evangelicals have proposed alternative options for engagement with public life.

For example, University of Virginia sociologist and cultural critic James Davison Hunter’s has suggested that rather than trying to “change the world” through power politics, Christians might consider thinking about their cultural witness through what he calls faithful presence.  Hunter writes

I would suggest that a theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places that they experience directly. It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for, people and places across the globe. Far from it…. But with that said, the call of faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us—the community, the neighborhood, and the city, and the people in which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality, and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, ­concerns, desires, and worries of the people with whom we are in long-term and close relation—family, neighbors, coworkers, and community—where we find our authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here where we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality, and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness, and joy. This is the crucible within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context within which shalom is enacted…. Faithful presence… would encourage ambition, but the instrumentalities of ambition are always subservient to the requirements of humility and charity.”

Or consider Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas and Baylor University’s Jonathan Tran on abortion:

When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political. How much money and time spent on electing the right candidates might have been used for this kind of political witness?”

Washington Post columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson has called for evangelicals to draw from Catholic social teaching as a means of thinking about how the Christian understanding of human dignity might influence public policy.  The National Association of Evangelicals’s recent statement on political engagement, titled  “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” is deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching.

Evangelicals from the Dutch Reformed tradition, guided by the 19th-century Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper, have long advocated for a “principled or confessional pluralism” in which the various “spheres” of society—churches, families, schools, business, agencies of the arts and humanities—are free to exercise authority over their particular spheres.  As historian George Marsden writes, “The primary function of government is to promote justice and to act as a sort of referee, patrolling the boundaries among the spheres of society, protecting the sovereignty within each sphere, adjudicating conflicts, and assuring equal rights and equal protections so far as that is possible.” Marsden adds, “In this richly pluralistic view, society thrives when it promotes the health and integrity of what more recently have often been called ‘mediating institutions.’ Such institutions, likewise, should stay within their spheres of sovereignty.

John Inazu, an evangelical and Washington University-St. Louis law professor has suggested for something similar—he calls it “confident pluralism.”  Inazu writes: Confident Pluralism argues that we can and must live together peaceably in spite of deep and sometimes irresolvable differences over politics, religion, sexuality, and other important matters.  We can do so in two important ways—by insisting on constitutional commitments that honor and protect difference and by embodying tolerance, humility, and patience in our speech, our collective action (protests, strikes, and boycotts), and our relationship across difference.”  New York City megachurch pastor and evangelical author Timothy Keller has championed Inazu’s view.

It is not my intention here to advocate for any of these evangelical approaches to political engagement.  My purpose here today is to note that the Christian Right has rejected all of them, preferring instead to advance their moral, political, and cultural agenda by gaining control of the levers of power.   What is particular telling is that few of these cultural warriors seem to have thought very deeply about what they will do if they ever do gain power.  What happens when the dog catches the bus?  Will the Christian Right try to create a theocracy?  Will they imprison doctors who perform abortions?  Will they ban gay marriage?  Will they require every county seat to display a cross and a copy of the Ten Commandments?   What is their plan once America is restored, renewed, and reclaimed?

“I Could Listen to Her/Him All Day”

Lectern

We’ve all gone to a history lecture and said WOW, “I could listen to that speaker all day.”  Who are your favorite history lecturers?  I am not referring as much to classroom teachers as I am people who can hold a room as a plenary speaker at an academic conference or public lecturer?

Here are four I have enjoyed in recent years:

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Heather Cox Richardson

Ed Ayers

Kate Bowler

Saskatchewan Bound!

Regina

I have never been to Saskatchewan.  But if all goes as planned, I will be visiting Regina, Saskatchewan on Wednesday (May 30) to deliver the plenary address at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Church History.  The title of my talk is “Fear, Power, and Nostalgia: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

I hope to spend some time attending sessions and exploring Regina.  Is there anything I need to visit or see while I am there?

“Court Evangelicals” Lecture at Calvin College

Calvin

If you are in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area stop by on Wednesday and say hello:

“The Court Evangelicals: Who Are Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisers and Where Did They Come From?”


Since the election of Donald Trump, a group of leaders from a variety of evangelical traditions have served as advisers to the President on matters of faith and public life. John Fea has called these advisers Trump’s “court evangelicals.” Like the religious members of the king’s court during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Trump’s court evangelicals seek power and worldly approval by flattering the “king” rather than speaking truth to power. Who are these court evangelicals? Do they have a political theology? What are the historical forces behind their “unprecedented access” to the Trump White House? This lecture will situate these religious leaders in a longer history of evangelical political engagement.

About the speaker

John Fea is Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

His first book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), was chosen as the Book of the Year by the New Jersey Academic Alliance and an Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. His book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011) was one of three finalists for the George Washington Book Prize, one of the largest literary prizes in the United States. It was also selected as the Foreword Reviews/INDIEFAB religion book of the year.

John is also co-editor (with Jay Green and Eric Miller) of  Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation. (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), a finalist for the Lilly Fellows Program in Arts and Humanities Book Award.  His book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past was published in 2013 with Baker Academic. John’s book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society appeared in March 2016 with Oxford University Press.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Explorations in Early American CulturePennsylvania HeritageEducation Week, The Cresset, Books and CultureChristianity Today, Christian Century, and Common Place.  He has also written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox NewsUSA Today, Al-Jazeera, Washington Post, CBS News, New York Daily News, AOL News, Houston Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Harrisburg Patriot News, Salt Lake City TribuneChicago Sun-TimesReligion News Service, and other newspapers.  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

Co-sponsored by the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics. This talk is part of monthly history colloquia series. These lectures are open to the Calvin community – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends – and all are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Come early to enjoy refreshments and conversation, and feel free to ask questions or join the discussion at the end.

 

Martha Nussbaum on the Humanities

nussbaum_221_rotator

Last night in Washington D.C., University of Chicago philosopher delivered the 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture.  Several Messiah College students and faculty were in attendance.

I did some delayed tweeting of the talk last night @johnfea1.  I used the #jefflec17 hashtag.

If you don’t have time to watch the lecture or check the tweets, you may want to read Nussbaum’s interview with NEH chair Williams Adams in Humanities magazine.  Here is a taste:

WILLIAM D. ADAMS: Your book Not for Profit made the case for the importance of the humanities in American democratic life. Have things changed substantially since it was published in 2010?

MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM: Data on humanities majors is still a source of concern, but there’s been a big increase in total enrollments in humanities courses in community colleges. And in adult education, too, there’s been a huge upsurge. The preface to the new edition of my book gives data and sources on all this.

We are lucky in the United States to have our liberal arts system. In most countries, if you go to university, you have to decide for all English literature or no literature, all philosophy or no philosophy. But we have a system that is one part general education and one part specialization. If your parents say you’ve got to major in computer science, you can do that. But you can also take general education courses in the humanities, and usually you have to.

ADAMS: Yet I’ve sensed some weakening of our resolve to support the liberal arts. What should we be doing to reinforce your way of thinking about higher education?

NUSSBAUM: There are three points you can make. The one I think should be front and center is that the humanities prepare students to be good citizens and help them understand a complicated, interlocking world. The humanities teach us critical thinking, how to analyze arguments, and how to imagine life from the point of view of someone unlike yourself.

Secondly, we need to emphasize their economic value. Business leaders love the humanities because they know that to innovate you need more than rote knowledge. You need a trained imagination.

Singapore and China, which don’t want to encourage democratic citizenship, are expanding their humanities curricula. These reforms are all about developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

But the humanities also teach us the value, even for business, of criticism and dissent. When there’s a culture of going along to get along, where whistleblowers are discouraged, bad things happen and businesses implode.

The third point is about the search for meaning. Life is about more than earning a living, and if you’re not in the habit of thinking about it, you can end up middle-aged or even older and shocked to realize that your life seems empty.

Read the entire interview here.

And here is a shot of the Messiah College contingency in Washington, courtesy of Pete Powers’s Facebook page:

Pete

Heading to Gordon College

Ken Olson

The Ken Olson Science Center at Gordon College

On Monday afternoon I will be at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts to deliver the 2017 Franz Lecture.  My lecture is titled “Why Study History?”  The lecture is scheduled for 4:00 in Ken Olson Science Center on campus.  Learn more here.  The lecture is free and, as far as I know, is open to the public.

Another Defense of the Lecture

851c9-college-lecture

Miya Tokumitsu, an art historian at the University of Melbourne, is the latest academic to defend the virtues of the lecture in an age when “lab-and project-based learning…flipped classrooms and online instruction” are gaining in popularity.  Tokumitsu, in a recent piece at Jacobin, argues that the lecture “remains a powerful tool for teaching, communicating, and community building.”

Here is a taste:

Lectures are not designed to transmit knowledge directly from the lecturers’ lips to students’ brains — this idea is a false one, exacerbated by the problematic phrase “content delivery.” Although lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. Rather, giving a lecture forces instructors to communicate their knowledge through argument in real time.

The best lectures draw on careful preparation as well as spontaneous revelation. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. Far from being one-sided, lectures are a social occasion.

The regular timing of lectures contributes to their sociality, establishing a course’s rhythm. The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

Read the entire piece here.  Tokumitsu seems to favor plenary lectures alongside smaller discussion groups and discussions of texts.

The Bible Cause in East Tennessee

lmu-3

Last week I drove down Interstate 81 into the Cumberland Gap to give the annual Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.  I had never been to this part of Tennessee before and it was a beautiful day for driving. (I also had my satellite radio tuned to channel 20–E Street Radio!).  The university is located adjacent to Cumberland Gap National Park.

I had never heard of Lincoln Memorial University before Tom Mackie, the Director of the Lincoln Library and Museum, invited me to visit.  My lecture was titled “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.”  It focused on the creation of the American Bible Society, the role of benevolent associations and Christian reform movements in antebellum America, and the American Bible Society’s attempt to supply a Bible to every American family and do it in two years (1829-1831).

lmu-1

Lincoln Memorial University has a fascinating history.   As its website notes:

Lincoln Memorial University grew out of love and respect for Abraham Lincoln and today honors his name, values, and spirit. As the legend goes, in 1863 Lincoln suggested to General O. O. Howard, a Union Army officer, that when the Civil War ended he hoped General Howard would organize a great university for the people of this area.

Mackie runs a museum and library that contains the largest collection of Lincoln artifacts in the country and some important archival collections of prominent figures from the 19th-century.  During my tour of the library I got to see Lincoln’s cane, English china that Lincoln purchased in 1858, a traveling exhibit on Lincoln and the Constitution, a piece of Lincoln’s hair, porcelain vases created to promote the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, every picture of Lincoln ever taken, and a bunch of ephemera commemorating Lincoln’s death and legacy.  Mackie is completing a doctoral dissertation on this ephemera that situates Lincolnalia in the fields of memory, material culture, and dime store museums.  It is going to make a great book.

On the Road in September and October 2016

ba0e0-boesontheroad-bmpIt’s going to be a busy couple of months:

September 21: I’ll be talking about the revised edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? on “The Ride Home with John & Kathy on WORD-FM Pittsburgh

September 22: I’ll be giving the Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee: “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.”

September 26:  I’ll be in Quincy, MA where I will be delivering the Donald Yerxa Lecture in History at Eastern Nazarene College.

September 29:  I will be guest on “Breaks@Messiah College,” a local online video show. I’ll be discussing social media and the 2016 POTUS election.

October 1:  I am looking forward to spending the day in Philadelphia with the students in my Revolutionary America course at Messiah College.

October 6:  It’s off to Houston where I will be giving a lecture on the history of the American Bible Society at the Dunham Bible Museum on the campus of Houston Baptist University.

October 13:  I will be leading a discussion of my book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society at the “Religions in America” workshop at the University of Chicago.

October 24:  I will not be traveling on this day, but I am looking forward to Skyping with students from South Carroll High School in Sykesville, MD on the writing and podcasting of history.

October 27:  Back to Chicagoland to speak in chapel at Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL.  I’ll be talking about the Bible in America.

October 28:  I am looking forward to discussing The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society with Doug Sweeney’s classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.

October 31: I’ll be spending the day at Centre College in Danville, KY and will offer a public lecture  on “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”

I hope to meet you on the road this Fall!

At Lincoln Memorial University

lmu

Next week  (Sept. 22) I am making my first visit to Harrogate, TN. I will be delivering the Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University.  My lecture is titled: “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.”

Here is the press release from LMU:

Harrogate, Tennessee, August 18, 2016—Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) and the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum will present the 2016 Kincaid Lecture Series at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2016. Dr. John Fea will present The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origin of Christian America based on his book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford University Press, $29.95).

 “While his book gives us a seminal history of an organization that has influenced American and world cultures, Dr. Fea’s presentation will closely examine the bible of Lincoln’s time and how it shaped policy and society during the Civil War,” Museum Director Thomas Mackie said. “I am sure his insights will inspire each of us to examine how the Bible is impacting the current election.”

In The Bible Cause, Fea examines the American Bible Society (ABS), whose primary mission at its founding in 1816 was to distribute the Bible to as many people as possible. In the book, Fea demonstrates how the organization’s mission has caused it to intersect at nearly every point with the history of the United States. Today, ABS is a Christian ministry based in Philadelphia with a $300 million endowment and a mission to engage 100 million Americans with the Bible by 2025.

“The Bible Cause is far more than a definitive history of the American Bible Society, though it succeeds admirably in that respect,” said Margaret Bendroth, executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives. “John Fea also tells a broader story about American culture, how religion came to play such a central role in shaping national identity and how, in turn, secular ideals have shaped American belief and behavior. It is an important story, told with affection, care and thoughtful critique.”

Fea serves as professor and chair of the department of history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and is the author of a blog entitled The Way of Improvement Leads Home. He teaches courses including United States History to 1865, Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Civil War America, Teaching History and Social Studies, History of American Evangelicalism and Pennsylvania History.

Fea is the author or editor of four other books including Why Study History?:Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic); Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press); Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press) and The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Supported by the Dr. Robert L. Kincaid Endowed Research Center, the lecture is free and open to the public. A book signing and dessert reception will take place at 6 p.m. in the museum. For more information or to register, contact Program and Tourism Director Carol Campbell at 423.869.6439.

The Dr. Robert L. Kincaid Endowed Research Center promotes the scholarly study and public understanding of the influence created by the Judeo-Christian Ethic upon the era and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is located on the historic campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Housing one of the top five Lincoln and Civil War private collections in the world, the Museum is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.  For more information about this and other programs at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, call 423-869-6235.

Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee.

The Spring 2016 Lecture Series at the David Library of the American Revolution

David LibraryThe David Library of the America Revolution has announced its Spring Lecture Series, “Fighting and Fulfilling the American Revolution.”  Here is what you can expect:

On Wednesday, February 24 at 7:30 PM with “A Sea Change: Naval Warfare in the American Revolution during the Spring of 1778,” a lecture by Dennis M. Conrad. There were significant changes in the nature of naval warfare in the spring of 1778, including the internationalization of the naval war, a re-direction in British strategy, and the emergence of significant Loyalist privateering activity, to name but a few. Dr. Conrad is Documentary Histories Technical Lead at the Naval History and Heritage Command. Using materials taken from the newly-published Naval Documents of the American Revolution, volume 12, he will provide a new and exciting perspective on America’s naval heritage.

On Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 PM, DLAR will present “Maryland Immortals: Washington’s Elite Regiments and the Band of Brothers Who Led Them,” a lecture by combat historian Patrick K. O’Donnell.  In August 1776, General George Washington found his troops outmanned and outmaneuvered at the Battle of Brooklyn. But thanks to a series of desperate charges by a single heroic regiment, famously known as the “Immortal 400,” Washington was able to evacuate his men and the nascent Continental Army lived to fight another day. Drawing on his new book,Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution, Mr. O’Donnell will tell the “boots on the ground” story of the “Maryland Line,” one of the Continental Army’s first elite outfits, which fought not just in Brooklyn, but in key battles including Trenton, Princeton, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown.  Patrick K. O’Donnell is the author of ten books, includingBeyond Valor, Dog Company, and First SEALs.

DLAR will welcome T. H. Breen on Tuesday, April 12 at 7:30 PM to present “George Washington’s Journey to the American People.”  In the first months of his presidency, George Washington boldly transformed American political culture by organizing a journey to all thirteen original states, a demanding tour designed to promote the strength and prosperity of a fragile new republic. The trip taught Washington the power of public opinion in securing support for the federal union, an achievement that he saw as the fulfillment of the Revolution.  Professor Breen’s new book is George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, and Gordon Wood says “(Breen) has given us new insights into the acute political skills of our first president and the state of the county in the 1790s.”

On Friday, April 22 at 7:30 PM, Don Glickstein will present “No One Told Them the War Had Ended: The Revolution After Yorktown, from Arkansas to India.”The popular myth is that heroic, patriotic Americans under George Washington defeated the British at Yorktown, the Revolution was over, and Americans were exceptional. But Mr. Glickstein, author of the new book, After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence, points out that Yorktown only meant the defeat of one British army-it did not mark America’s defeat of the British. Washington, George III, and their allies vowed to fight on, and that fighting-which expanded after the French entered the war in 1778-spanned the world, from Hudson Bay to South America, Cape Town to Arkansas, Gibraltar to Schenectady.

Historian Todd Braisted will return to the David Library on Sunday, May 1, 2016 at 3PM to lecture on “Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign.”  1778 marked a crucial period in the American Revolution. The French entry into the war forced the British to completely alter their strategy. The unenviable task of carrying out London’s strategy fell upon the new commander in chief in America, Sir Henry Clinton. In the midst of detaching 10,000 troops across North America, Clinton led his full army into the field one last time that autumn, gathering supplies, striking at Washington’s advanced posts, and hoping for one last big push at the Continental Army.  Mr. Braisted is the author of the new book Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign and the creator of royalprovincial.com, the world’s largest website dedicated to Loyalist military studies.

Lectures at the David Library are free and open to the public – however, seating is limited and the lectures are very popular.  Therefore, reservations are absolutely necessary. Please call 215.493.6776 ext. 100 or send an email to rsvp@dlar.org. All events take place in the Feinstone Conference Center at the David Library of the American Revolution, 1201 River Road (Rt. 32), in Washington Crossing PA. 

Another Defense of Molly Worthen’s Article on Lecturing

This comes from Daniel P. Franke, a visiting history instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Franke supports Worthen’s defense of the lecture and add his own insights.

Here is a taste of his post at The Winds of War blog:

That lectures have, and will continue to have, a role in college education is taken almost for granted by publications such as the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learningthe link should take you to the many articles that in some way or other deal with lecture. Many, such as Smith and Cardaciotto 2011, stress the need to find ways to work active learning methods into lecture classes, citing G. S. Gremmel’s wry 1995 statement that we are under such pressure to cram everything into an hour that we unload our “dumptruck” of pedagogy on our unfortunate students. Others, such as Sagayadevan and Jeyaraj 2012 examine the role that students’ emotional engagement plays in lecture classes.  Brost and Bradley 2006, in a fascinating study, examine the reciprocal responsibility of teachers (lecturers) and students in assigning and reading assigned material, respectively (I’ve actually had a lot of success with some of the exact techniques that they recommend). Incidentally, it is quite clear that the lectures they describe embrace a wide variety of techniques, some more effective than others. Finally, Lawler, Chen, and Venso 2007 provide interesting data on what students themselves value in lecture: “showing enthusiasm for the subject, having good communication skills and explaining complex concepts clearly” being the top three.   I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point: there has been a lot of work done studying lectures, and whether or not they will ever equal that 10-student seminar (no, they won’t). They are here, and we’ve been working on making them darned effective.
But there were other reasons that Molly Worthen’s column on the lecture spoke to me. Above all, it is because, now that I’m back in regular civilian classrooms and teaching mostly freshmen for the first time in three years, lectures seem to be crucially important to my students’ success. The reasons for that are two-fold: a) a generally great lack of experience in historical analysis, and b) ditto for analytical thinking and questioning. This has nothing to do with aptitude–I’ve never had a student that wasn’t tip top, and my current bunch isn’t letting me down. But it does mean that college courses are often drastically different from high school courses, requiring a different kind of thinking, a different kind of engagement, and above all (because this is history), some basic familiarity with historical data (which at the same time is not mere regurgitation).
We actually just discussed this after my latest midterm. A few students stayed behind to ask about what the exam evaluated, and why I structured it the way I did (these weren’t complaints, just honest questions). One of my students questioned whether giving them terms requiring a short answer was the best teaching method, which was completely fair, and I said it wasn’t. But,  it did accomplish several things. We wound up chatting for a while as I cleaned up the classroom and here’s the gist of what we came up with:
  1. History is hard, because it deals in both concepts and data, not one or the other, and the relationship between them.
  2. Shifting back and forth between the two is the essence of good college history writing and speaking. My favorite piece of advice to students: big concepts, small examples.
  3. College history is also a lot like the game show Jeopardy–you have the data, the issue is what kind of question are you going to ask?
  4. Unless you’ve had the blessing of a great HS history class, you’ve probably never been exposed to these kinds of methods.
  5. You’re probably good with broad concepts, because in my experience most students are.
  6. So, here’s the rub: if I have you write an essay, it will probably be vague concepts with no examples, because data is boring and hard, and I’ll grade you down for that. If I give you nothing but terms and word banks, what does that accomplish, except for you to regurgitate stuff?
  7. So, I opted for the intermediate goal: short examples that help you develop your skills reasoning from specific terms, working on moving from data to its significance. This works with the skills you’re working on in your first paper, and will ultimately building blocks for the second paper and the final exam.
Read the entire post here.

Molly Worthen Defends the Lecture

Is the lecture dead?  

Not according to Molly Worthen, the University of North Carolina history professor and the author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.  

In today’s New York Times she defends the lecture.  Here is a taste:

Those who want to abolish the lecture course do not understand what a lecture is. A lecture is not the declamation of an encyclopedia article. In the humanities, a lecture “places a premium on the connections between individual facts,” Monessa Cummins, the chairwoman of the classics department and a popular lecturer at Grinnell College, told me. “It is not a recitation of facts, but the building of an argument.”

Absorbing a long, complex argument is hard work, requiring students to synthesize, organize and react as they listen. In our time, when any reading assignment longer than a Facebook post seems ponderous, students have little experience doing this. Some research suggests that minority and low-income students struggle even more. But if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice. Moreover, we capitulate to the worst features of the customer-service mentality that has seeped into the university from the business world. The solution, instead, is to teach those students how to gain all a great lecture course has to give them.

When Kjirsten Severson first began teaching philosophy at Clackamas Community College in Oregon, she realized that she needed to teach her students how to listen. “Where I needed to start was by teaching them how to create space in their inner world, so they could take on this argument on a clean canvas,” she told me. She assigns an excerpt from Rebecca Shafir’s “The Zen of Listening” to help students learn to clear their minds and focus. This ability to concentrate is not just a study skill. As Dr. Cummins put it, “Can they listen to a political candidate with an analytical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.”

Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people. Professors should embrace — and even advertise — lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media. More and more of my colleagues are banning the use of laptops in their classrooms. They say that despite initial grumbling, students usually praise the policy by the end of the semester. “I think the students value a break from their multitasking lives,” Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American Studies at Columbia University and an award-winning teacher, told me. “The classroom is an unusual space for them to be in: Here’s a person talking about complicated ideas and challenging books and trying not to dumb them down, not playing for laughs, requiring 60 minutes of focused attention.”

Read the entire article here.

Lecture at Penn State-New Kensington

On Thursday I will be giving a lecture on religion and the American founding and meeting with a few history classes at Penn State-New Kensington (greater Pittsburgh area).  Thanks to John Craig Hammond of the History Department at PSU-New Kensington for the invite.  If you are in the area I hope you will stop by.  Here is the press release:


UPPER BURRELL, Pa. – The never-ending debate of whether the Founding Fathers created a Christian or secular country will be the topic of a presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 30, at Penn State New Kensington. Historian and scholar John Fea, professor of history and department chair at Messiah College, will deliver a public lecture based on his book, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”
The book explores the relationship between religion and America’s founding. Fea approaches the question from the perspective of the middle, and presents valid arguments from both sides. He doesn’t ascertain the answer (he says, “It’s a bad question”), but takes a critical view of the query from the perspective of a historian. The author was invited to campus by John Craig Hammond, associate professor of history.
“John Fea is widely recognized as one of the leading scholars on religion in the American founding,” said Hammond, who earned the campus’ Excellence in Teaching award in 2012. “He brings a fresh, scholarly look to this important and probing question.”
In addition to the evening lecture, Fea will meet in the morning with students in an honors seminar class, and in the afternoon with students in the Civil War and Reconstruction class. Hammond teaches both courses.
For the honors seminar, Fea will discuss his book, which the honors students read this semester. Students will give Fea their own interpretations of the relationship between church, state and religion in the United States.
For the Civil War class, Fea will discuss interpretations of race, slavery, politics and the American Civil War.
“He is also a lively and engaging speaker,” Hammond said. “This will be a great, informative lecture for both students and the broader Alle-Kiski Valley community.”
Seating is limited in the Conference Center. Reservations are encouraged but not necessary. Guests will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 724-334-6032.