Congratulations Devon Hearn!

Devon

Devon Hearn (L) and Sarah Wilson pose with the Clio Award plaque.

Many regular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog know Devon Hearn.  She served two years as our intern here at the blog and worked with me as a research assistant covering all kinds of assignments.  Her research help on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump was indispensable.  She also carried a lot of the load in helping me put together the program for the 2018 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  And that is only the beginning!

I am happy to report that last night Devon was honored as a co-winner of the Messiah College History Department’s “Clio Award.”  The award is given annually to the most outstanding Messiah College history student.  Devon shared the award with another amazing student (and fellow Morris County, New Jerseyan) Sarah Wilson.

And there is even better news!  Devon just accepted a history/social studies history position in a Maryland school district.

Devon’s future is bright!  She will always be a valued member of The Way of Improvement Leads Home family!

Clio Plaque

Introducing a New Column: “Out of the Zoo”

annieA few weeks ago we introduced Annie Thorn, a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our new intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  Enjoy! –JF

This past fall semester, I joined my fellow Messiah College first-year students (mostly history majors) in a once-weekly night class that introduced us to the discipline of history. The assigned text for the class (Why Study History? by TWOILH’s own Professor Fea) argued that history is the act of reconstructing the past. We learned that as history students–and future historians–we are not responsible for procuring a long list of names and dates to commit to memory, but rather for putting flesh on the bones of the men and women who held those names and lived at those times, bringing the past to life for others to see.

I soon realized, after being introduced to this idea, that I had already been in the business of making history come alive for over a decade. No, I didn’t start reading Civil War soldiers’ diaries at the age of seven, or rifle through important documents at an archive for a fourth grade social studies project, but I did use what meager supply of knowledge I already possessed and combined it with my imagination to craft a picture of what the past might’ve been like. Spurred on by something I learned from an American Girl book, a local museum, or a PBS television show, I found joy through inserting myself into the past–it came alive to me.

I can’t quite explain why I so often entertained myself as a child by imagining what it would’ve been like growing up in 18th century Massachusetts or 14th century England rather than 21st century Michigan, but I think it has something to do with Adventures in Odyssey. My sister and I listened to cassette tapes of Adventures in Odyssey–a Focus on the Family radio show about a Soda Shop owner and inventor Mr. Whittaker–every night before going to sleep. In the show, Mr. Whittaker’s prized invention was a machine called “The Imagination Station” that could transport kids back in time and teach them about anything they could imagine–anything from the story of Moses to the Lewis and Clark expedition to the American Revolution. The Imagination Station made the past real to anyone who stepped inside. I didn’t have a machine, but I used what I did have to make the past as real to me as I could.

Now historians cannot simply replace facts with imagination–we can’t just make up what we don’t know when doing our research, even if it would be much easier that way. When studying history, it’s dangerous to make inferences based off of our own desires or experiences, rather than filling in gaps of the narrative we are constructing with historical context. If we fall into this habit, our imagination can get out of control and we risk resurrecting something akin to Frankenstein’s creature rather than an accurate depiction of the past. In moderation, though, I do think imagination remains an important tool for historians–when we use our imagination, informed by our knowledge, to walk around in the shoes of the men and women we study, the past truly comes alive.

A Different Kind of August

Office

On Saturday I cleaned the office.  It looks much better now than in this photo

I returned to the office today.  The summer seemed longer than usual.  This is probably because Messiah College starts classes a week later this year.  (The first day of class is next Tuesday).  It also seems longer because I am no longer chair of the Messiah College History Department.  Some of you may recall that I wrote a bit about this back in February.

For the last eight years, August was filled with anxiety and stress about the start of the new year.  Was I fair in the distribution of new advisees to the faculty?  Will everything go well with the opening ice-cream social and the department picnic?  What kind of new administrative paperwork will emerge after our first big department meeting?  And the list goes on.

When I posted about leaving the department chair back in February I wrote:

I am not sure what role I will play going forward at Messiah College.  At small colleges like Messiah, administration is really the only way to advance one’s career within the institution.  So I will return to life as an ordinary faculty member.  I will be in the classroom a bit more and will have more time for thinking about my teaching and writing.   We will see how it goes.

This year I plan to teach and serve the department and Messiah College the best I can.  I  will also be on the road a lot.  I hope to continue to say something to the larger culture and Christian community about evangelicals and Donald Trump.  I also hope to enjoy my daughter Caroline’s senior year before Joy and I head-off into the empty-nester stage of life.  In the Fall, I will be watching a lot of Calvin College volleyball.  And, at 52-years-old, I want to take stock of what the last pre-retirement chapter of my life might look like.

But right now, I need to finish a syllabus for “Colonial America” and my U.S. Survey to 1865 course.

Job Opening: One-Year Lecturer in American History at Messiah College

Boyer Hall

Anyone interested in spending the 2018-2019 academic year teaching in the Messiah College History Department?

One-year Lecturer in post-1865 American history:  The Department of History at Messiah College invites applications for a one-year lecturer position in post-1865 American history beginning August 2018.  Teaching responsibilities will include introductory and advanced courses in post-1865 American history. Ability to teach the United States history survey to 1865, first-year general education courses (First Year Seminar and First Year interdisciplinary CORE), and at least one upper-division course in area of specialty is required. Evidence of strong commitment to teaching undergraduates in the liberal arts tradition is expected.

Qualifications: Ph.D. (preferred) or A.B.D. with focus on post-1865 American history.

The full job ad, with all the necessary instructions for application, will be posted at the Messiah College website in the next few days, but I wanted to give a heads-up to the faithful readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  When the ad appears at jobs.messiah.edu you will see that we are asking for a cover letter, a vita, 3-letters of recommendation, and a completed application.  The load is 4-4.

As you might imagine, we will be moving quickly on this search.  Once the job ad is released we will be accepting applications immediately.  I will be chairing the search.

Teaching American History in the Age of Trump

Trump Jackson Tomb

President Donald Trump lays a wreath, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, during a ceremony at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Hermitage, Tennessee. 

I took a crack at writing a short piece on this subject for The Panorama.  Here is a taste:

In Spring 2017, I gave a lecture to my history students about a man of privilege, wealth, and power who took up the cause of a growing band of disgruntled, poor, fearful, white Americans. These Americans believed that the government was not listening to their concerns. They were angry about their lack of opportunity and political representation. They felt threatened by their encounters with people from another race and culture. The man of privilege heard their cry and led them in a rebellion that temporarily drove the ruling class from power. To the extent that some of the ruling class owned land near major rivers, it might even be fair to say that this rebellion was an attempt to “drain the swamp.”

Read the rest here.

C-SPAN Lecture Now Available On-Line

My C-SPAN lecture on the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution just aired and will air tonight at midnight in case you missed it and want an alternative to Saturday Night Live. 🙂

I am not a big fan of watching myself lecture, so I hope it went OK.

You can now watch the video of the lecture here.

Get some additional context for the lecture here, including an extensive discussion of the religion clauses.

Here is a small taste:

 

From the Archives: Messiah College History Department in *The American Scholar*

9e36b-boyerThis post originally ran at The Way of Improvement Leads Home on December 14, 2014–JF

Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) and James Grossman (American Historical Association), the authors of the “No More Plan B” proposal that challenged graduate programs in history to think about training Ph.D students for careers outside of the academy, have now turned to the pages of the prestigious American Scholar to extol the value of undergraduate historical research.

I think I will just let them explain. But before I do, I am proud to say that Grafton and Grossman use the Messiah College History Department as an example of a department in which students are engaged in extensive student research.  We are indeed a department that uses the study of the past to help students build “a self and a soul and a mind” that they can take with them wherever they go.

Here is a taste of their article, “Habits of the Mind“:

Students of history learn how to do research in institutions of many kinds…Go, for example, to the webpage of the history department at Messiah College, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you’ll read about students doing every kind of research you can imagine, from working with a museum professional to excavate and restore a historic cemetery, to pursuing the family histories of African Americans in the documents at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, to developing a digital archive on the history of Harrisburg. Go to the webpage of the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and you’ll find a student-edited journal, Clio’s Scroll, showcasing detailed and imaginative historical research—often drawn from senior theses—on subjects such as drama, landscape, and political thought.

Why do we teach these students—fresh, bright young undergraduates—to do research? Why take people who are forming themselves, who should be thinking about life, death, and the universe, and send them off to an archive full of dusty documents and ask them to tell us something new about the impact of the Civil War in a country town in Pennsylvania or Virginia, or the formation of Anglo-Norman kingship, or the situation of slaves in the Old South?

The answer is so simple that we sometimes forget to give it, but it matters. We teach students to do research because it’s one powerful way to teach them to understand and appreciate the past on its own terms, while at the same time finding meaning in the past that is rooted in the student’s own intellect and perspective. Classrooms and assigned readings are necessary to provide context: everyone needs to have an outline in mind, if only to have something to take apart; and everyone needs to know how to create those outlines and query them constructively. Reading monographs and articles is vital, too. To get past the big, generalized stories, you have to see how professional scholars have formed arguments, debated one another, and refined theories in light of the evidence.

But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.

Why do this? Partly because it’s the only way for a student to get past being a passive consumer and critic and to become a creator, someone who reads other historians in the light of having tried to do what they do. Partly because it’s the way that historians help students master skills that are not specific to history. When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.

The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.

This self, moreover, is the student’s own construction. Supervision matters: people new to historical work need advice in framing questions, finding sources, and shaping arguments. In the end, though, historical research is always, and should always be, a bungee jump, a leap into space that hasn’t been mapped or measured. The faculty supervisor straps on the harness and sees to the rope. But the student takes the risk and reaps the rewards. This isn’t just student-centered learning, in which the student’s interests are put first; it’s student defined and student executed, the work of a self-reliant, observant, and creative person.

A self like this can seem unworldly, especially if the “real world” resembles a political culture that dismisses complexity and context as “academic.” But in a deeper sense, this is a worldly education, in the traditional way that humanistic education has always embodied. A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.

That is because in the archive the historian has the opportunity and the obligation to listen. A good historian enters the archive not to prove a hypothesis, not to gather evidence to support a position that assumptions and theories have already formed. But to answer a question. It’s an amazing experience to see and talk with and learn from the dead. As Machiavelli said so well, you ask them questions about what they did and why, and in their humanity, they answer you, and you learn what you can’t learn any other way.

History has many mansions nowadays. Historians work on every period of human history, every continent, and every imaginable form of human life. But they all listen to the dead (and yes, in some cases, the living as well): that’s the common thread that connects every part of history’s elaborate tapestry of methods. All historians muster the best evidence they can to answer their questions. They offer respect and admiration to those who show the greatest ingenuity in raising new questions, bringing new characters onto the stage of history, and finding new evidence with which to do so.

As for talking with people who don’t work in universities—a student who writes a good history paper has learned how to communicate knowledge to anyone. History has been a form of narrative art, as well as of inquiry into the past, since the first millennium BCE, when Jewish and Greek and Chinese writers began to produce it. That’s why Herodotus could read his history of the Persian Wars aloud at the Olympic Games—a performance for which he received the large sum of 10 talents. Historians care about clear speech and vigorous prose, and believe that even complex and technical forms of inquiry into the past can be conveyed in accessible and attractive language. Accordingly, we don’t separate research from writing. Just ask the students whose papers and chapters we send back, adorned with marginalia in blue pen or the colors of Track Changes.

When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

U.S. History Students Tackle Donald Trump

trump-fist

Not literally, of course.  If that happened it may have looked something like this. 🙂

Over at History on the Bridge, the blog of the Messiah College History Department, my colleague Jim LaGrand writes about how he and his co-teacher Cathay Snyder handled Donald Trump’s election in his U.S. History Survey class.

Here is a taste:

On the one hand, we were wary of trying to do too much. This was current events, not history. Sure, journalism has been called “the first draft of history,” but this was quite a first draft to deal with, and on short notice. Then there was the potential for discord and disruption in a potentially tense, polarized environment.

But we quickly decided that it was worth addressing Trump’s election somehow in our class. We hadn’t shied away from intellectual and ideological differences to that point. We’d had our students debate for and against the New Deal of the 1930s. Later in the course, they debated whether either King or Malcolm X was the best guide forward for African Americans in the 1960s. So our students were accustomed to open, lively discussions.

We also decided to address the election because throughout the course we had emphasized the constructed nature of history. In some ways, this seemed a perfect case study for interested students to think hard (albeit in a speculative fashion) about how the dramatic events of the present might eventually be understood, framed, and interpreted. Already, we had given students our customary assignment for the last day of class–Write a paragraph on an event, theme, or trend in the very recent past that will likely appear in future editions of U.S. history textbooks, and explain how it will be viewed, interpreted, and framed.

We also hoped to continue the open, forth-right intellectual environment of the class even in looking at this remarkable, contentious event. Our approach was different than that pursued in some other classrooms across the country. We did not tell our students (either explicitly or implicitly): “Be scared.” “Be inspired.” “Be outraged.” “Be vindicated.” Instead, our message was: “Be curious.”

And so we added a third possible option for our students’ short paper due at the end of the semester. Some chose to write on one of the two initial prompts: the experiences of American Indian children at Carlisle Indian School or Japanese-American internment during World War II. But others responded to our new prompt: “Where did the Trump phenomenon come from? Choose one development in U.S. history since 1865 that seems to you particularly helpful in trying to make sense of the recent rise of Trump, and explain how you see the linkage.”

Read the rest, including links to the student papers, here.

HIST 342 Takes Philly By Storm!

One of the great joys of teaching the American Revolution in Pennsylvania is taking my students to Philadelphia. On a good traffic day we can get to Philly from Mechanicsburg, in less than two hours.

Today ten students from my Revolutionary America class (HIST 342) joined me on a tour of the City of Brotherly Love.  Our time was limited, and we thus had to move quickly, but we still managed to see Welcome Park, City Tavern, the Powell House (outside only), the Kosciuszko National Memorial (outside only), St. Peter’s Church, the First National Bank (outside only, after a brief stop at the location of Alexander Hamilton’s Philadelphia home), the location of the Museum of the American Revolution (opening in April 2017), Carpenter’s Hall, Ben Franklin Court, the American Philosophical Society, Independence Hall (we also got a tour of the second floor!), and Congress Hall.  (And I am sure I missed a few things).

Here are some pics:

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My students piled into the Powell family pew at St. Peter’s Church.  George Washington occasionally used this pew when he attended St. Peter’s.  They all look like good Anglicans!  

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On the steps of Carpenter’s Hall, the site of the First Continental Congress (1774).  Notice the Flemish Bond!

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Group selfie before our tour of the Pennsylvania State House (after 1824 they started calling it Independence Hall).  We got to see the second floor governor’s room.

fea-at-abs

After spending a year writing The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford University Press, April 2016) I couldn’t resist stopping by 5th and Market and taking  this selfie.

That Time I Defended David Barton

723d3-barton

It looks like I just got dragged into a debate between Right Wing Watch and David Barton over the right of women to vote.  Here is what Barton wrote on the Wallbuilders Facebook page last night:

This past weekend, I saw a tweet blasting me by HGM@RightWingIdiot1 (see picture):

@DavidBartonWB I hope you wife and if you have daughters leave you and your hate for women. How dare you state women shouldn’t vote.

This references a May 1, 2014 WallBuildersLive radio program in which I was answering audience questions, including one about women’s suffrage, the Founding Fathers, and the Constitution. The questioner did not believe the Founders were being sexist but rather that they voted more by households than by individuals. I affirmed that this was correct, and showed occasions of women voting as far back as the 1600s if they became the heads of the household. We also pointed out that the Constitution did not prohibit women from voting prior to that, but that the 19th Amendment was added to ensure women’s suffrage.

Nevertheless, Right Wing Watch – a far left secularist progressive group whose parent organization is funded by atheist billionaire George Soros – came out with an article wrongly claiming that I defended the inability of women to vote in early America. That false claim was picked up and repeated by others, including the tweet I saw this weekend.

Interestingly, one of my strongest critics and loudest opponents, Professor John Fea of Messiah College in California, actually defended me against this false charge. (I have been told by students of Messiah College that they actually taught a course there against me – that they use me to show the wrong view of American history in the Founding Era.) Dr. Fea acknowledged that he “just listened to the entire episode,” and then pointed out several reasons why the claim from Right Wing Watch was wrong, including:

“1. Nowhere in this episode does Barton say the 19th amendment was a bad thing or that women voting is a bad thing. Listen for yourself. Some might say he is implying this. If someone wants to make this argument, it is a stretch.”

“2. The clip I posted above [from Right Wing Watch] has been edited. The part of the discussion in which Barton and Green seem to suggest that women’s suffrage is a positive development in American life has been cut out.”

Right Wing Watch omitted the part of the program that would refute their own false claim. (This is something they regularly do in their frequent charges against me.) Their false accusation that I oppose women voting continues to have life even years later because folks too often repeat what others say rather than following the example of critic John Fea, who listened to the entire episode and thus recognized the claim as false.

Furthermore, I have been on record for years stating that my goal is for 100% of all Americans to be registered to vote, and to vote – I want 100% citizen participation in voting.

Given all of this, my questions for HGM@RightWingIdiot1 would begin with:

1. Did you fail your Math and English classes in school? For years I have said that my objective is 100% of Americans voting in every election. Do you think that 100% of Americans does not include women? 100% is fully inclusive and means everybody!

2. You want my wife and daughter to leave me??? I would not wish that on anyone, even those who consider themselves my enemies. It is ironic that those who accuse others of being haters are often the ones who display the most hate.

3. You really think I hate women? I have reprinted books and appeared on numerous media programs to reintroduce female heroes from history back to the modern generation. In fact, in writing history and social studies standards for state boards of education, the official public records affirm that I have been solely responsible for including numerous women in the texts.

4. Why don’t you set an example for people from your side: check the facts for yourself rather than just parrot what someone else says – learn to think for yourself rather than be part of Right Wing Watch group think.

It’s time for the falsehood that I don’t want women to vote (and so many of the other fabrications distributed by Right Wing Watch and their allies) to come to a halt. Perhaps this post will help accomplish that.

Here is the May 6, 2014 post published at The Way of Improvement Leads Home that Barton is referencing. Yes, I did defend Barton on this one.

Here is a response to Barton’s Facebook post from Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch.

A few comments on Barton’s Facebook post:

  1. Yes, I remain a “strong critic” of Barton when he is wrong about American history or using the past inappropriately to support his political agenda
  2. I will let Barton and Right Wing Watch sort out this whole women’s voting issue.
  3. Messiah College is located in Grantham, Pennsylvania (Mechanicsburg, PA mailing address), not California.
  4. As far as I know, a course on David Barton has never been offered at Messiah College
  5. In Spring 2009 I taught a course entitled “Religion and the American Founding” at Messiah College.  There were 11 students enrolled and all of them are acknowledged in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction.  And yes, we did, on occasion, discuss Barton in that class and may have even read some of his writings.
  6. If you are one of the Messiah College students who has talked to Barton about me or my classes, I would love to hear from you.  Let’s talk. Coffee is on me.

Katy Kaslow on the Cover of “The Bridge”

Katy Bridge

Messiah College history major Katy Kaslow talks about her senior honors thesis on sabbatarianism in The Bridge, the Messiah College magazine.  Here is a taste:

For her senior project, history major Kathryn Kaslow is researching blue laws of the 1800s and the religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening. Her paper is titled “Anti-Sabbatarianism in Antebellum America: The Christian Quarrel Over the Sanctity of Sunday.” What does that mean, exactly?

“As far as a non-academic title,” she explained, “I’d probably call it something like ‘Why Some Christians Hated Other Christians Nagging Them to be Holy on Sundays.”

Her project focuses on a series of debates in the early 1800s about whether there should be laws—which are often referred to as blue laws or Sunday laws—restricting travel, mail delivery and recreation on Sundays. The Sabbatarians, the pro-legislation Christians, wanted U.S. society to become more explicitly Christian.

Growing up, Kaslow didn’t even know the term “blue law” existed. “I lived in Bergen County, New Jersey, for several years during elementary school,” she explained, “where malls and other stores are closed on Sundays. Since I grew up with it, I didn’t think it was out of the ordinary.

It wasn’t until her research for this project that she encountered how controversial these laws had been historically.

“In my thesis,” she said, “I am arguing that their opponents, the anti-Sabbatarians, were just as deeply rooted in certain Christian values…and that their reasons for not wanting to explicitly Christianize the nation stemmed, perhaps surprisingly, from these strong religious beliefs.”

So, what were the anti-Sabbatarians’ reasons? While their theological arguments varied, the biggest theme throughout their writings is the importance of individual conscience—the idea that all people should be free to worship God as they please and when they please.

Working on the project since September of 2015, Kaslow received a Friends of Murray Library annual library research grant of $500 to study at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to further her research. These grants are awarded to Messiah students whose research projects require resources at off-campus libraries and whose proposals are selected for funding by a panel of campus judges.

“The sources I accessed in Boston have helped me the most so far,” she said, “which is not surprising since Boston was one of the primary centers of religious activity and controversy during the Second Great Awakening.”

At the end of the spring semester, she will culminate the project with a public presentation of her research.

By the way, did I mention that Katy has been my research assistant for the last three years?  She was a vital part of my research team for The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society and is currently doing great work helping me with my current project.   (She is also very good at finding my Google Docs that  disappear in the “cloud”).

Congratulations, Katy!

AHA16: Day One Wrap-Up

BadgeThe first day of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association  is in the books.

I usually don’t do much on the first afternoon of the AHA meeting apart from getting settled-in.  I arrived in Atlanta around 3:30pm, checked into my hotel, registered for the conference, and had a couple of meetings.  The book exhibit does not open until Friday.  I was hoping it would be open Thursday afternoon because I need to buy the book of a historian we are interviewing early next week for The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  (Episode 0 now available on ITunes.  Episode 1 will drop next week!).

I did not swing into action until the opening plenary session. My dinner meeting went late, so I did not get a chance to see Kevin Wagner of Carlisle High School win the Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for K-12 teachers. Kevin is a graduate of Messiah College and has done some adjunct teaching in our History Department.  He is a gifted teacher who has been winning award after award of late, including the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American HistoryPennsylvania Teacher of the Year.”

The opening plenary session–“The Confederacy, Its Symbols, and the Politics of Public Culture“–was stimulating, but not as controversial as it could have been.  The general public was invited to this session, but academics dominated much of the conversation, its framing, and the Q&A sessions. The scholars on the panel did a great job (read my Storify for details), but some of us were expecting a bit more public engagement.  I probably set my expectations too high for this session. 

Much of the discussion in the plenary focused on what to do with symbols of the Confederacy in the wake of the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   W. Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina suggested that we need to develop a “hierarchy of Confederate monuments so that we know which ones to get rid of, which ones to move, and which ones to keep for the purposes of history education.  Jane Turner Censer of George Mason University proposed moving them to cemeteries (where late 19th-century women’s groups in the South first began to care for the legacy of the Confederacy) or museums.

Late last night I learned that Rick Shenkman, the editor and founder of the History News Network, is not at the conference this year.  Rick or one of his staff is always a fixture at the AHA.  HNN has done a great job over the years of linking to conference bloggers, posting video of sessions, interviewing presenters, and publishing daily wrap-ups.  Rick shot me an e-mail late last night to tell me that George Mason University has stopped funding HNN and until he finds a new source of funding he will have to put his HNN visits on hold.  In addition, Rick is on the road right now promoting his new book Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics.  Congrats!

I got back to the hotel to watch some of the Obama-CNN town-hall meeting on gun control.  His proposals seemed modest and sensible, but when I watched the CNN commentary following the event I realized just how divided–sometimes foolishly–we are on this issue.

Stay right here for what I think will be a big day at the AHA.