The Bible Cause in East Tennessee


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).


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


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, 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 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.

Charles Coil Lectures at Heritage Christian University

I am honored to be delivering the 6th Annual Charles Coil Colloquium at Heritage Christian University on Friday.  My topic will be “Religion and the American Founding.”  If you live in the Muscle Shoals region feel free to stop by.  Here is some info:

On April 24, Overton Memorial Library will host the 6th annual Charles Coil Colloquium with Dr. John Fea. The topic will be “Religion and the American Founding.” Lectures will be at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The Colloquium is free and open to the public.
Dr. John Fea is Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, PA). He is the author or editor of three books, and his essays and reviews have appeared in a variety of scholarly and popular venues. He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
The Colloquium is sponsored by Rusty and Dana Pettus and Friends of Overton Memorial Library. For more information, contact Librarian Jamie Cox at or 1.800.367.3565.
This project is supported by a grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
I have never been to Heritage Christian University (a Church of Christ Bible college) or to the Shoals region, so I am definitely looking forward to it.

The David Library of the American Revolution Releases Its Spring 2015 Slate of Programs

…And it is a star-studded lineup:

With the exception of Richard K. Beeman’s lecture on April 22nd,  which will be held at Bucks County Community College, all events will take place in the Feinstone Conference Center at the David Library of the American Revolution, 1201 River Road, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania (1.3 miles north of the Washington Crossing Bridge).  David Library events are admission-free, but reservations are necessary, and can be made by calling 215.493.6776 ext. 100, or sending an email to   

Lectures at the David Library:

Nancy K. Loane
Sunday, January 18, 3:00 PM  –  “Present But Not Accounted For: Women at the 1777-1778 Valley Forge Campaign,” Nancy K. Loane, Ph. D.  — Did you know that more the 400 women were encamped at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778? Much has been written about the Valley Forge winter and Washington’s fortitude there, of the remarkable remodeling of the Constitutional Army and the suffering endured by the soldiers. But what about those women?  Who were they? What did they do at Valley Forge? Nancy K. Loane is author of Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment. This program is a co-presentation of DLAR and the Lower Makefield Historical Society. (Snow date: January 25)

Wednesday, February 25, 7:30 PM  –  “Rethinking Slavery’s Slow Death in New Jersey, 1775-1865,” James Gigantino II, Ph. D. — Contrary to popular
James Gigantino II
perception, slavery persisted in the North well into the nineteenth century. This was especially the case in New Jersey, which did not pass an abolition statute until 1804. New Jersey’s “gradual” abolition law freed children born to enslaved mothers only after they had served their mother’s master for at least two decades.  This lecture will examine the impact of the American Revolution on New Jersey in this regard, and explain how there really were no easy dichotomies between “free states” and “slave states” up to the Civil War.  James Gigantino II is Assistant Professor of History and an affiliated faculty member in African & African American Studies at the University of Arkansas.  He is the author of The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865.

Tuesday, March 24, 7:30 PM  –  “A Tale of Two Plantations,” Richard S.
Dunn, Ph. D. — Since the 1970s, Richard S. Dunn has been tracking the 1,103
Richard S. Dunn
slaves who lived at Mesopotamia plantation in Jamaica between 1762 and 1833, and the 973 slaves who lived at Mount Airy plantation in Virginia between 1808 and 1865, reconstructing the lineages of slave families from both plantations through four or five generations. In Jamaica, many more slaves died than were born, and the planters imported huge numbers of new slaves from Africa to replace the dead workers. In Virginia, the slave population doubled every twenty-five years, and the planters sold huge numbers of “surplus” slaves, or moved them to distant work sites. The people at Mesopotamia and Mount Airy suffered a terrible predicament, trapped into forced labor, with meager possibilities for personal achievement. Bare traces of their existence have been handed down to us by their captors, and represent mostly what slaveholders chose to inscribe. But by interpreting such records against the grain, these simple family diagrams and biographical sketches highlight personhood, connection, and belonging rather than proprietary accounting. Consequently, they open many fruitful lines of investigation. Dr. Dunn taught at Princeton, the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, and for 39 years at the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he founded the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies (renamed the McNeil Center in 1998), and directed the Center from 1978 to 2000. He and his wife Mary Maples Dunn are former Co-Executive Officers of the American Philosophical Society. His latest book,  A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, was just published at the end of 2014.

Christian M. McBurney
Wednesday, April 8, 7:30 PM  –  LECTURE: “Kidnapping the Enemy:  The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott,” Christian M. McBurney  — On December 13, 1776, a party of British dragoons surprised and captured Major General Charles Lee, second-in-command of the Continental Army. In order to have a British captive of the same rank, Rhode Island’s William Barton planned and executed the capture of Major General Richard Prescott. Barton’s raid was the outstanding special operation of the Revolutionary War and still ranks as one of the greatest in American History. But did the pride Barton earned from the mission ruin his life? McBurney is the author of three books on the American Revolution, including his newest, Kidnapping the Enemy, about the missions to capture Charles Lee and Richard Prescott

Tuesday, June 2, 7:30 PM – LECTURE  –  “‘The Pursuit of Happiness’: On John Adams and Egalitarianism in the Declaration of Independence,” Danielle S. Allen, Ph. D.  – Professor Allen is an American classicist and political scientist. She
Danielle S. Allen
is the UPS Foundation Professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies’ School of Social Science. Her latest book, Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, has been called “a tour de force of close textual analysis” by Gordon Wood and “a wise and rich book,” by Cornel West. In her talk at the David Library, Professor Allen will consider John Adams, who she believes played a much more significant role in the development of the Declaration of Independence than is conventionally recognized. “Among his central contributions was to provide the definitive grounding for the Declaration’s egalitarianism in the concept of ‘happiness,'” she notes, adding, “This was a move away from the slave-holding sections’ preferred commitment to ‘property.'”

American Heritage Music Performance:

On Tuesday, March 10 at 7:30 PM, the David Library and the Friends of the Delaware Canal will co-present a performance of American “roots music” by the Long Hill String Band. 

American music in the 1800’s was melodic, energetic, and bound to start toes a’tapping.  Settlers carried tunes from their homelands and created new music that embodied their hardships, joys, and stories from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War and beyond.

The Long Hill String Band, a group of six local musicians, will perform with fiddle, banjo, mountain dulcimer, mandolin, bass, guitar and voice to evoke the times when America was growing by leaps and bounds.   (There may even be some flatfooting and limberjack dancing!)

On the program will be canal tunes (yes, there is more to canal music than just the ubiquitous Erie Canal song),  reels, jigs, waltzes, square dance tunes, and “familiars” such as “Oh Susannah!,” “Buffalo Gals” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  Singing, humming, toe tapping and clapping by the audience will be part of the fun!  Karl Varnai and his band members will also share some of the history of the times and the tunes that they will be playing.

Book Launch:

On Sunday, March 29 at 3:00 PM, help celebrate the publication of  “The Revolution’s Last Men: the Soldiers Behind the Photographs” by Don N. Hagist. In 1864, as the Civil War threatened to tear apart the United States, a book called The
Don N. Hagist
Last Men of the Revolution was published. It featured photographs and interviews of six old men who were believed to be the only veterans of the American Revolution still living at that time. The book captured the public’s imagination when it was first published, but through a combination of the subjects’ fading memories and the interviewer’s patriotic agenda, the profiles accompanying the photographs distort history. In his new version of this landmark work, independent researcher and author Don N. Hagist has updated the profiles of each of these veterans using service records, pension files and other materials now available. Hagist’s book, The Revolution’s Last Men, includes accurate biographies of each of the six men, several additional newly-discovered photographs, drawings of how the men might have looked when they were soldiers in the American Revolution, and many unexpected discoveries uncovered in the recent research. This event will include a talk by the author about his process, as well as a book sale reception to celebrate the publication of this exciting new work.

Lecture at Bucks County Community College:

On Wednesday, April 22 the David Library and Bucks County Community College will co-present “The Founding Fathers of 1787: Lessons In Political Leadership,” a lecture by Richard K. Beeman, Ph. D. in the Kevin and Sima Zlock Performing Arts Center on the BCCC campus. 

Richard K. Beeman
Professor Beeman is the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. The author of many books, he won the George Washington Book Prize for Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution.  His latest book is Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor: Americans Choose Independence.  
About his talk on April 22, he noted, “Americans today, though they continue to show great reverence for the U.S. Constitution, are often thoroughly disenchanted with the way in which our political system is functioning. Indeed, that disenchantment borders on disgust when the subject is the hyper-partisan and vituperative manner in which our United States Congress functions (or, in many cases, fails to function). In this era of political dysfunction, it might be useful to look back in time, to the summer of 1787, when 55 delegates, representing widely diverse constituencies across the breadth of America, were able in just under four months to craft a constitution that has not only brought stability and justice to the United States, but has also served as a model for other constitutions around the world.” In this lecture, Professor Beeman will examine both the eighteenth century context in which the delegates to the Constitutional Convention carried out their deliberations and the varieties of individual and collective leadership represented among that group of extraordinary men.

Lecture: New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion

This came across the New Jersey history listserv today.  I hope to see some of you in Union next month.–JF

November 21 and 22, 2014
Kean University, Union, NJ
Celebrated Author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction

New Jersey’s Presbyterian Rebellion

At the time of the American Revolution Presbyterians were the largest religious denomination and most important cultural and political institution in New Jersey, yet their role in the coming of the American Revolution has been largely ignored by historians. Presbyterian clergy and laypeople, including William Livingston, Elias Boudinot, James Caldwell, John Witherspoon, and Jacob Green, fused religious and political ideas to create a powerful impetus for revolution. Presbyterian communities in Princeton, Morristown, Hanover, Greenwich, and Elizabeth-Town, to name a few, were bastions of political radicalism and Christian patriotism. This talk will examine the powerful influence of Presbyterians in the forging of an independent New Jersey and challenge us to think about how we might integrate Presbyterians into the larger narrative of the American Revolution in the state.

Register now and mail your check by November 14th! For more information
The Forum is presented by the New Jersey Historical Commission in partnership with The New Jersey State Archives, New Jersey State Museum and Kean University, and with partial funding from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. The conference is free, but as a state agency the New Jersey Historical Commission is unable to pay for meals. There is a $25 charge to purchase breakfast and lunch on the 22nd.

Peter Onuf on MOOCs

Peter Onuf

Forget about Hobby Lobby or the U.S. loss to Belgium in the World Cup.  It looks like recently retired University of Virginia historian Peter Onuf has reopened the MOOC debate.  

Here is the background:

Yesterday morning Michael Blaakman of The Junto published a post titled “‘Let a thousand MOOCs bloom’: An Interview with Peter Onuf.” Onuf recently completed a MOOC (“massive open online course”) for the online education company Coursera and the University of Virginia titled “The Age of Jefferson.”  In the interview Onuf discusses his “dubious” feelings about teaching a MOOC, how his decision to teach the course was based on his “proprietary interest in Jefferson,” the struggle of translating the humanities to the MOOC format, and the need to teach graduate students to be better lecturers.  In the end, Onuf encourages historians to embrace the MOOC. 

It was only a few hours after the Onuf interview appeared that historians began to hit the blogosphere with reactions to it.  First up was Mark Cheatham, the author of Jacksonian America blog. Cheathem offers several important critiques of the MOOC.  I encourage you to read his entire post.  It is filled with links that will get you up to speed on the way academic historians have been thinking about MOOCS over the past couple of years.  Here is a taste:

That brings me to the second point about Onuf’s post. He alludes to the threat that MOOCs pose to future professors, including his own grad students. The reality is, MOOCs, as they are conceived by venture capitalists and administrators, are meant to be taught, not by junior faculty who have great performance skills, but by the faculty [Jonathan Rees] calls “superprofessors….”

The point is that esteemed history faculty such as Onuf, Jeremy Adelman, and others have the name recognition and the elite-university appointments and resources to produce either full-blown or “boutique” MOOCs. Their jobs are not at stake, either because of where they hold their appointment or, in Onuf’s case, because he is retired.
Most of us don’t have that luxury. We teach at institutions that depend on declining enrollment and languishing endowments to keep the doors open and maintain current faculty lines. Our institutions don’t have the resources to develop a MOOC, which, by Onuf’s estimation, cost at least $100,000 for a short course. Many of us also don’t have the job security that Onuf et al. possess/ed, either because we are adjuncts, we work at institutions without tenure, or our jobs are dependent on financial factors beyond our control. Add to those circumstances the very real threat to future academic employmentposed by MOOCs as currently conceived, and it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to see them as anything other than a threat to higher education.
Shortly after Cheathem’s post was published, Jonathan Rees, the most notorious opponent of MOOCS in the academic blogosphere, went to work.  Here is a taste of his Cheatham-affirming post:
If I remember the way that the History Guys get introduced on the radio these days, Onuf is retired – or at least retired from regular teaching. [Indeed, he notes later in the interview that Alan Taylor is his successor at the University of Virginia.] This means the cost of his being wrong about the intentions of his administration is exactly zero. Indeed, if you remember, it’s not the administration in Charlottesville who’s faith anyone there should worry about, the problem is higher up. On second thought, even administrations with good faith will do bad things when pressured from above, so really people there have a right to stay worried about everybody.
And so do people elsewhere. Onuf makes a common mistake among superprofessors when he assumes that the people running universities who produce MOOCs are the only people who’s faith he needs to measure. Nobody among us MOOC skeptics is arguing that Alan Taylor is going to be replaced by old Peter Onuf tapes. The people we’re worried about are the community college professors down the street or across the country. If you make a MOOC you have a responsibility to be sure that it is used wisely. Simply letting the chips fall where they may clearly demonstrates that you’ve left the real world far behind – the world of MOOC consumers rather than the world of MOOC producers.

David Swartz at Messiah College: TONIGHT

If you are in the south-central Pennsylvania area tonight stop by Messiah College to hear Asbury University historian David Swartz deliver the Schrag Lecture, an annual lecture on Anabaptism sponsored by the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies.  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know Swartz for his outstanding book, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age Conservatism.

I am a big fan of Swartz’s work.  A year or two ago I read his Notre Dame dissertation, “Left Behind: The Evangelical Left and the Limits of Evangelical Politics, 1965-1988” (love the title!) when I was working on an essay on evangelical political engagement.  I started reading Moral Minority last year and finished it last night.  Since I am responding to Swartz’s talk tonight, I do not want to give too much away here, but I will say that this was one of the most interesting and engaging monographs I have read in the last year.

Swartz’s talk is entitled “Anabaptists, Evangelicals, and the Search for a Third Way in Post-War America.”  The lecture will be held at 8pm in Alexander Auditorium (Frey 110).  Don’t miss it!

Messiah College Religion and Society Lecture or What It is Like to Give a Visiting Lecture Series at Your Home Institution

As you may recall from previous posts, I was the first Messiah College professor to deliver the Messiah College Religion and Society Lectures.  I am honored to be preceded in the lectureship by the likes of Jimmy Carter, Martin Marty, Stanley Hauerwaus, Stephen Prothero, and others. 

The day began in Messiah College chapel.  Chapel is close to mandatory (for students) at Messiah College so I was basically speaking in front of the entire college community.  My topic was the way Abraham Lincoln used the Sermon on the Mount in his Second Inaugural Address.  I don’t think I have ever spoken to a larger group.  Messiah has about 2800 students.  Not all of them were present, but I am guessing that most of them were.  The speaking platform is a small island near the front of Brubaker Auditorium surrounded by seats and bleachers.  The only thing on the island was a music stand.  (See the picture above).  I felt a bit “naked” up there.

Speaking at a mandatory chapel requires a certain degree of patience with your audience.  While most of the audience was engaged, there were several pockets of students sitting high in the bleachers who could obviously care less about what I had to say.  Their body posture betrayed them.  So did their constant use of electronic devices.  I would never allow this kind of behavior in one of my classes, but when you have 2000+ students in the room there is little you can do about it.  Moreover, as I neared the end of my talk, students started to pack up their things–a clear message that it was time for me to wrap-up.  Was this rude and irritating and disrespectful?  Of course it was.  But to quote my recently deceased 103-year old grandfather: “Whaddya gonna do?”  I was at least happy to get encouraging words throughout the day from students I passed in the hallways and on the sidewalks.  Some students were indeed listening.

After teaching my Pennsylvania History class and guest lecturing in my colleague David Pettegrew’s Digital History class, I attended a dinner with Messiah College colleagues where we discussed a recent paper I had written on David Barton for the Columbia Seminar in Religion and American History. As some of you know, I have been toying with the idea of writing a sort of memoir/travelogue about my encounters with Christian America while I was on “tour” for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation Several trusted colleagues discouraged me from writing the book.  Perhaps I will explain later why they were skeptical, but I found them to be convincing.  I don’t think you will be seeing this kind of memoir anytime soon.

The day ended with my Religion and Society Lecture: “The Complicated Relationship Between Religion and the American Founding.”  I was disappointed with the turnout (there is a lot going on this week at Messiah, including the Humanities Symposium. Or perhaps people here are sick and tired of listening to me talk about Christian America), but I tried to deliver a stimulating and enthusiastic lecture to those in attendance.  I thought we had a good Q&A session following the lecture and I was flattered that our president, Kim Phipps, and our Provost, Randy Basinger, were in attendance along with several members of the local community.

I want to thank the Religion and Society Lecture Committee at Messiah College for choosing me to give these lectures.

Lectures, Group Work. and the Teaching of History

Is the lecture dead?  Should history professors employ more group work in their classes?  A small discussion on these related topics has been raging through the history blogosphere.  If you want to get up to speed, check our Chris Gehrz’s piece at The Pietist Schoolman, “The Value of the ‘Sage on the Stage’.”  I love his introductory paragraph:

If you want to sound like you’re a serious, forward-thinking educator these days, you’d best master a couple of facile cliches: (1) speak derisively of the “sage on the stage” in order (2) to exhort colleagues to embrace “student-centered, active learning.” To help yourself convey the proper degree of disdain for the lecture, think back to the very worst versions of that device that you can remember being inflicted on you in your own education, then generalize from that particular experience into universally valid propositions.
We have discussed this topic several times at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:
The Benefits of a Classroom Lecture”  (One of our most popular posts)
In Defense of the Lecture” (December 19, 2009)
In Defense of the Lecture” (December 10, 2010)

William Pannapacker at Messiah College

If you are in the area, stop by at Messiah College on Thursday night to hear a public lecture on the digital humanities from Hope College English professor William Pannapacker.  I first started reading Pannapacker’s essays in The Chronicle of Higher Education when he was writing under the name “Thomas Hart Benton.”  In fact, I have blogged about his work here and here and here and here and here.

Here is everything you need to know:

Join us for an exciting opportunity to hear more about the development of the Digital Humanities and their impact on education in various majors.  William Pannapacker, Professor of English and Director of the Mellon Scholars Program in Arts and Humanities at Hope College, will be visiting campus to deliver a lecture entitled “The Digital Humanities and the Future of the Liberal Arts.”

William Pannapacker is an American professor of English literature, an academic administrator, and a higher education journalist.  He is the author of Revised Lives: Walt Whitman and Nineteenth-Century Authorship, and numerous articles on American literature and culture, higher education, and the Digital Humanities.  He has been a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education since 1998, and he is a contributor to The New York Times and Slate Magazine.  He is the founding director of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Programs in the Arts and Humanities at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  According to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, “in the world of education journalism, there are few opinion voices as potent as that of William Pannapacker.”

Pannapacker will also be speaking this weekend at THATCamp Harrisburg.  From what I understand, it is not too late to propose an “unconference” session.

Mary Tanner Lecture Recap

Sunday afternoon I drove to Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ to deliver the Lawrence Historical Society‘s 10th annual Mary Tanner Lecture. My talk drew on research from my ongoing project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  I was quite impressed that a lecture sponsored by a town historical society drew somewhere between 75 and 100 people. 

My lecture traced the history of Presbyterianism in New Jersey in an attempt to explain why so many observers described the American Revolution as a “Presbyterian Rebellion.”  It was also fun to use the eighteenth-century story of the Presbyterian congregations at Maidenhead (Lawrence) and Hopewell (Pennington) as a window into the First Great Awakening and the coming of the American Revolution.  Maidenhead was a fascinating New Jersey Presbyterian congregation.  I described the place as a “rehabilitation center” for some of the most extreme Presbyterian New Siders.  Both Timothy Allen (of Shepherd’s Tent fame) and James Davenport spent time serving the church after they had repented of their First Great Awakening antics.
Of course no lecture on Presbyterians, New Jersey, and the American Revolution would be complete without a discussion of John Witherspoon.  I took some time in the lecture to discuss his famous 1776 sermon The Dominion of Providence Over the passions of Men and talked about the way Witherspoon fused good old-fashioned Presbyterian providentialism with Lockean political principles.
It was good to return to this material after taking time off this summer to do some consulting and put the finishing the touches on Why Study History? I drove back to south central Pennsylvania with a renewed commitment to make headway on this project, although it might be tough if I agree to another somewhat related project (details may be forthcoming) that could take up a lot of my research time over the next year or two.
Thanks to Dennis Waters, Lawrence Township Historian, for the invitation to do the Tanner Lecture. Thanks as well to Brooke Hunter of the Rider history department for being a great host and for her role in creating these wonderful posters.