Digital History at Messiah College

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Yesterday I was telling the museum professionals at the PA Museum Association annual conference about our Public History Program at Messiah College.  Here is what I said:

As the chair of the history department, I have also been involved in helping to create Messiah College’s public history program.  Our public history students get training in the kind of historical thinking and historical content that all of our history majors receive.  That includes 39 hours of coursework.  But they also take a course in public history theory and practice and enroll in other courses that have substantial units devoted to oral history, local history, history education, public archaeology, and digital history.  But that is not all!  Students also take electives in topics such as web design, event planning, GIS technology, business administration, museum studies, public relations writing, or photography.    Our program is innovative, and I know of several colleges that have used it as a model for their own public history programs.

As I told the museum professionals, digital history plays an important role in our public history program.  We offer a 300-level course in the subject and use the Digital Harrisburg Initiative as a home base for a lot of our work in this area.

Want to learn more about digital history at Messiah?  Watch this video. (For whatever reason, I cannot get it to embed).

3 Months to Go

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At the end of this semester I will no longer be Chair of the Messiah College History Department.  After completing two 4-year terms I have decided to hang-up my administrative hat.  I am not expecting to be a department chair ever again (although I guess one must never say “never” in academia), so this semester I am doing certain tasks for the final time.  For example:

  • I am about to finish preparing the teaching loads for the 2018-2019 academic year.
  • I just presided over my last history faculty book discussion.  I want to enjoy next January’s discussion without having to worry about whether or not the food gets there on time.
  • I just finished writing my last hand-written note to a prospective student.
  • Soon I will be working on departmental “assessment” for the last time.  I never want to touch this again.

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.

Do You Have This Sign on Your Lawn? If So, Thank a Messiah College History Major

 

Back in December 2016, NPR ran a story on this popular sign.  Perhaps you have one in your neighborhood.  Or maybe you have one on your lawn.

The words first appeared on a black and white sign outside the Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  It looked like this:

Bucher sign

NPR reports:

Pastor Matthew Bucher was definitely not setting out to start a nationwide phenomenon. His sign went up last year after he was “pretty disappointed” with the rhetoric of the primary debates, especially as directed toward people who weren’t born in the U.S.

“The church is located in the northeast part of Harrisonburg, which has a long tradition of being the African-American part of the city,” he says. “But in the past 20 years it’s also become home to a lot of people from Central America, the Middle East and around the world.”

“That’s why we did it in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish,” he explains. “Because those are the three most common languages spoken in our neighborhood.”

Spanish-speaking church members wrote one translation. Bucher wrote the other with the help of friends in Egypt, where he spent time working with the Mennonite Central Committee. A member of the congregation painted their sign by hand. “It was a collaborative effort,” Bucher says.

A few months later, a group of local Mennonite pastors was trying to find a way to “say something positive,” says Nick Meyer, a pastor at Early Church in Harrisonburg.

So they decided to take the sign’s message and spread it more broadly. A friend of Meyer’s, Alex Gore, turned the trilingual message into a simple, colorful yard sign, and they printed up 200. The pastors distributed them, encouraging church members to pair the sign with concrete acts of outreach to their neighbors.

Read the rest here.

I should also add that Pastor Matt Bucher is a 2006 graduate of Messiah College.  And to make this story even better, he was a HISTORY MAJOR.  I remember Matt well and we have stayed in touch over the years, although I had no idea he had created this sign until one of his classmates recently told me about this NPR story during our history department homecoming alumni reception last week.

Some of you may also remember that Matt was featured in our “So What Can You Do With a History Major” series.  And here’s another fun fact: Matt was in the same graduating history class as The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling.

Stuff Sitting On (and around) My Desk That I Still Hope to Read

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This picture of the messy side of my office was taken from the clean side of my office

My office at Messiah College is both a work zone and an inviting (I hope) space to meet with prospective students and their families.  The work zone half of the office is a mess, but I try to keep the hospitality side of the office relatively clean and clutter-free.

Speaking of clutter, the books, papers, magazines, and other assorted hard copy items are starting to pile-up on and around my office desk.   A lot of the clutter is paperwork related to teaching or my role as chair of the Messiah College History Department, but some of it is just stuff I want to read in the near future.  Today I was trying to bring some order to the clutter and thought I would jot down a few things I found that fall into the latter category.  I hope to get to them soon, but I am not optimistic about it.

Pennsylvania Bill 723 and the Teaching of American History

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Pennsylvania, the state where I live, has just taken another step toward passing Senate Bill 723.  Here is a taste of the bill:

Amending the act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), entitled “An act relating to the public school system, including certain provisions applicable as well to private and parochial schools; amending, revising, consolidating and changing the laws relating thereto,” in high schools, providing for civics test graduation requirement.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby enacts as follows:

Section 1.  The act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known as the Public School Code of 1949, is amended by adding a section to read:

Section 1613.1.  Civics Test Graduation Requirement.–(a)  Notwithstanding 22 Pa. Code § 4.24 (relating to high school graduation requirements), beginning in the 2020-2021 school year and in each school year thereafter, each school entity shall require a student, as a condition of high school graduation, to correctly answer at least sixty percent (60%) of the questions on a test that is identical to the one hundred (100) question civics test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The bill was just approved by the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee and will now move to a full vote of the Senate.  Harrisburg’s ABC 27 News has the story here.

I will be keeping an eye on this.  I think Pennsylvania students should have a solid grasp of American history content and I am happy to help with this in any way, if called upon. A test like this will probably help some students with basic facts, but most history educators will tell you that Bill 723 is only a very small start.

I hope the legislators behind this bill realize that history education, and the contribution that the study of history can make to a thriving democracy, is so much more than just memorization and test-taking.  I would like the Pennsylvania legislature to:

  1.  Strengthen history education by requiring all history teachers to have a college major in the field.  (Messiah College students are required to have a full major. Many of other states have this requirement.
  2.  Train current educators how to teach historical thinking.  My Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past might be a good place to start. This Fall I will be doing this with about 20 Messiah College teachers in my “Teaching History” course.  (Did I mention that Messiah College is one of the best places in the country to train as a history teacher?  Our teachers are scattered throughout the Commonwealth and beyond).
  3.  Stop thinking about the assessment of students in history as the memorization of facts as if students will somehow become better citizens if they just know the dates of the Civil War.  This approach to the teaching of history was perhaps best summed-up by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh when he infamously said “History is real simple.  You know what history is? It’s what happened…The problem you get into is when guys…try to skew history by [saying], ‘Well, let’s interpret what happened because maybe we can’t find the truth in facts…Well that’s not what history is.  History is what happened, and history ought to be nothing more than the quest to find out what happened.”   Wrong.  I don’t know as much as I should about the Pennsylvania State Senate, but I did find it interesting that Bill 723 was introduced by 19 Republicans and 3 Democrats.

NOTE:  The most recent version of the bill no longer makes a passing score on the citizenship test a requirement for graduation.

Messiah College is One of the Best Places in the Nation to Prepare to be a History Teacher

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Below is a taste of an article on the recent findings of the National Council on Teacher Quality.  Messiah College’s secondary education programs in Social Studies and the Sciences finished in the 98th percentile. along with 10 other colleges. Only David Lipscomb University, Arizona State, University of Utah, CUNY-Hunter College, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wisconsin-Platteville finished in the 99 percentile.

717 colleges and universities offer high school teacher education programs.  Messiah finished in a 10-way tie for second place.

Part of the reason Messiah’s program is so successful is because we require students take 39 credits in history, 9 credits in other social studies fields, and a three-credit history course in “Teaching History” that focuses on content pedagogy and historical thinking skills.  We also work very closely with our Education Department to make sure our students have at least three classroom experiences during their four years at Messiah College.  Our students consistently score in the highest percentile on their content exams and we have even had students who have had perfect scores on this test.

Messiah College is proud to be one of the best places in the country to prepare for a career in the history and social studies classroom.

Here is a taste of the piece:

Lesser-known Hope College in Holland, MI; Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN; Messiah College in Grantham, PA; and St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN surface on a shortlist of the best undergraduate programs for preparing high school teachers, alongside Arizona State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota. What puts them there? According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, each has “solid admission standards, provide sufficient preparation in each candidate’s intended subject area and show them how best to teach that subject.” Many also do well in teaching future teachers how to manage a classroom and in providing high quality practice opportunities.

The complete list is only 16 schools long out of a possible 717 undergraduate programs that prepare secondary teachers. Half of the programs recognized by NCTQ are public, half are private. Programs range in size from Ohio Wesleyan University, which graduates about 20 teachers a year, to Arizona State, which graduates over 800 teachers a year. In-state tuition for the undergraduates ranges from under $7,000 a year at CUNY-Hunter College to a high of just over $44,000 at Ohio Wesleyan.

The NCTQ’s latest report, “Landscapes in teacher prep: Undergraduate secondary,” found that a widespread problem among the programs knocked off the list were a lack of content preparation for science and social studies teacher candidates. For example, even though history is the subject most social studies teachers will be assigned to teach, one out of five programs requires minimal to no history courses for their future teachers. However, they almost universally deliver strong preparation in English and mathematics.

Read the entire piece here.

Congratulations Messiah College History Class of 2017!

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Some of the Messiah College History Department Class of 2017

Fall 2013 was the second time I taught my Introduction to History course at Messiah College. We designed this one-credit course to orient our first-year students to some of the basics of historical thinking, the history curriculum at Messiah, and the many things they could do with a history major.

When I taught the course the year before I had the students read manuscript chapters of a book that would eventually become Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  At that time the working title was “The Power to Transform.”

In Fall 2013 I was excited to use the newly released book.  Baker Academic said that the book would be out in August, but for reasons I can’t remember it was delayed.  I got my free author copies of the book in the second week of September, but the book was still not available for sale to the general public.  I really wanted to get a copy in the hands of the students so I decided to sell off my author copies.  I remember showing up to class with my box and giving a copy to every student.  I think I charged them $5.00.  One of my students reminded me of this the other day at our senior dinner.

I will always remember the students in that course.  Today many of them graduate from Messiah College. They will be putting their history majors to good use in all kinds of fields.  One student is heading to Germany for a two-year mission working with the victims of prostitution.  Another student is joining the Air Force where he will be working as a linguist.  Another will be pursuing a career in public humanities.  Several will be classroom teachers.

It has been a pleasure to watch them grow into mature young adults and mature historical thinkers.  Introduction to History is only a small part of their college experience and a small part of my interaction with them over the course of their four years at Messiah. But small memories like this bring great joy to those of us who pour ourselves into the lives of students.

Congratulations Messiah College History class of 2017!

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?

The Election of 1800 and Today

larson-posterYesterday the Messiah College History Department hosted Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward Larson for a lecture titled “The Election of 1800 and the Birth of Partisan Presidential Politics.”  The lecture stemmed from Larson’s 2007 book A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign.

I will not offer a blow-by-blow account of the lecture here.  Those interested should read Larson’s book.  It is fast-moving and accessible.

But as Larson lectured to a room packed with undergraduates, faculty, and community members, I was once again struck by the many similarities (and differences) between the Election of 1800 and the Election of 2016.

Here is how I introduced Larson’s lecture:

Was 2016 the most contentious election in American history?  It seems that every election we hear the same things: “Political polarization has never been worse.”  “The rancor and divisiveness is unprecedented.”  But when historians hear words like “never been worse” or “unprecedented,” our natural inclination is skepticism.  As Americans we can so easily become enslaved by the narcissism of the present that we start to believe that what is happening today is the “best,” the “worst,” or the “most hard fought” of ALL TIME.

We can have an honest debate about whether the 2016 election was the most divisive election in American history. But any such debate MUST take into the consideration the Election of 1800.  This was an election of cantankerous politicking.  It was the first United States presidential election that saw the peaceful transition of power from one political party to another.  And it had a controversial ending that makes last night’s announcement of “Best Picture” pale in comparison.

We are privileged today to have Ed Larson with us to help us sort it all out. 

As Larson gave us a blow-by-blow account of this controversial election he focused his remarks around the three themes.  As he sees it, the Election of 1800 was a contest over:

  1. National Security.  Adams and the Federalists claimed that they could protect the United States from the outside interference of armed French radicals and the threat of the French navy in the Caribbean.
  2. Immigration.  The Federalists had just passed the Alien Act which made immigration into the United States difficult. It allowed the government to turn away immigrants and refugees out of fear that some of them (radicals) might try to overthrow the republic.
  3. Religion.  The Federalist painted Jefferson as an atheist.  Jefferson painted Adams as a religious hypocrite who favored a state church.

Sound familiar?  Perhaps we might even add a fourth point–freedom of the press or freedom of speech.  The Sedition Act made anti-Federalist/anti-Adams rhetoric punishable by law.

As I tweeted following the lecture:

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.

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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.

Does the Way of Improvement Still Lead Home?

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After a fifteen month sabbatical I have returned to my day job.  Earlier this month I resumed my role as chair of the Messiah College History Department.  The week has been filled with meetings related to this charge.  On Tuesday I return to the classroom.  The wheels of academic teaching and (low-level) administration–committee work, meetings, planning department social events, writing syllabi, holding office hours, etc.–are always churning.  I have yet to hear about a reentry program for faculty who have been on leave.  (If you know about one I would like to enroll!).

As I prepare for the new academic year at Messiah College I revisited an essay I published in The Cresset back in 2011 titled “Does the Way of Improvement Lead Home?: Rooted Cosmopolitanism and the Church-Related College.”

Here is a taste:

So is cosmopolitan rootedness possible in the academy? Can the way of improvement lead home? Can we think of our vocation and our work in terms of serving an institution? Our natural inclination is to say something similar to the comments in the aforementioned blog discussion. I can be loyal to an institution as long as the administration of the institution remains loyal to me. Fair enough. Administrators must be sensitive to the needs of their faculty, realizing that institutional loyalty is something that needs to be cultivated over time. But this kind of rootedness also requires faculty who are open to sticking it out because they believe in what the institution stands for—whatever that might be. (This, of course, means that the college or university must stand for something greater than simply the production of knowledge). It requires a certain form of civic humanism—the ideological opposite of Lockean contractualism—that is willing to, at times, sacrifice rank careerism for the good of the institution.

So what does this have to do with Christian scholar-teachers and students at church-related institutions? What is it about a church-related college that might lead a professor to remain loyal? Or, to ask a related question, one that transcends the professoriate, what is it about being a Christ-follower that might lead one to want to pursue an intellectual life in a particular place?

Church-related colleges are by nature rooted in a particular Christian tradition. At many of these colleges, the religious tradition is palpable, and this informs the sense of place. It is hard to be at Valparaiso University very long without breathing the Lutheran air. At my own institution, Messiah College, a school rooted in a mix of evangelicalism and Anabaptism, the confessional and liturgical air is not as thick, but a clear sense of place manifests itself in the praise songs emanating from the chapel during Thursday night “Powerhouse” worship or the feeling around campus each Spring when 2,800 students take a day off from classes to perform acts of service in the surrounding community. The absence of an American flag speaks volumes about the kind of place that we are. The prayers and devotional thoughts before class give the college a sense of distinctiveness.

Of course, at many, if not most, church-related colleges the intellectual life of the community is grounded in a particular theological understanding of the world. When at their best, church-related colleges offer a truly Christian education that combines the spiritual, liturgical, and theological commitments of a tradition with the life of the mind. The interaction between deeply held religious conviction and the pursuit of knowledge brings vibrancy to the educational experience of students and the intellectual lives of faculty. Church-related colleges are places where the tensions between particular loyalties to faith and the cosmopolitan pursuits of learning result in much creative energy.

Yet at times, the religious convictions that inform the missions of our institutions can become suffocating, especially for those faculty or students who may not share in the so-called home tradition. Commitment to a place defined by a specific way of thinking about the world can be stultifying.  This is why church-related colleges need people from outside the tradition. For some colleges and universities, this might mean having non-Christians who are good citizens and sympathetic to the school’s mission add their perspectives to the mix. For other church-related colleges or universities, it may mean faculty who come from Christian traditions that are different.

For those rooted in the tradition, these “outsiders” can help the confessional insiders think more deeply about their core convictions. For those who are not from the tradition, there is much to learn from the so-called religious guardians of the place. I have learned a lot from the members of the Brethren-in-Christ Church and other Anabaptists who teach at Messiah College. The Anabaptist flavor of the place has shaped the way I think about and teach American history, a subject that by its very nature raises questions of nationalism, war, and justice. I have become a more thoughtful Christian and scholar by imbibing as much as I can from the religious convictions that inform the place where I teach. There is a level of intellectual engagement that I am not sure I would find at a non-church-related school. Cosmopolitan rootedness can make the church-related college a vibrant and energetic place to work.

Over the course of the last few days I have been wrestling with the ideas in this piece.  Do I still believe them?  And if so, to what extent?

Perhaps readers may find the piece helpful as the new school year gets underway and we once again start to think about our relationship to the institutions in which we teach and serve.

That Time I Defended David Barton

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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.

It’s Always Good To Run Into Former Students

Students

I don’t teach graduate students, so when I run into my former undergrads at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association it always warms my heart, especially when they are doing as well as Lucy Barnhouse and Jeff Erbig.

Lucy is writing her dissertation at Fordham University on medieval hospitals.  Jeff is a Latin Americanist who is an Assistant Professor in the history department (with a joint appointment in Geography) at the University of New Mexico.

Jeff was a senior at Messiah College when Lucy was a first-year student, but when I brought them together for this photo they remembered one another.  After we dispensed with the usual pleasantries, Jeff and Lucy immediately engaged in a spirited conversation about digital mapping.  I just sat back and watched them–proudly!

 

Lucy

Sarah Imboden is Elected to the Red Hook, New York Town Board

Congratulations to Sarah Imboden, Messiah College history major, who just won a seat on the Town Board of Red Hook, New York.

Here is a short biography of the new council member:

Hi, my name is Sarah Imboden and I’m running for Town Board in Red Hook.

I am proud to be a Red Hook resident and I want to represent Red Hook families in town government.  I believe strongly in open government, solid community relationships and continued fiscal responsibility.

My family and I have lived here for five years and during that time I’ve been a dedicated town volunteer, a local reporter and newspaper editor, and, above all, a mom involved in her community.

My husband, Jonathan, and I, chose Red Hook for its winning combination of rural beauty, healthy small farms, vibrant villages and great public schools. We both work locally and believe in supporting the local economy. We volunteer and participate in local groups because we recognize that Red Hook is a great place to live and raise a family when we all work together.

I grew up in the Town of White Creek in rural Rensselaer County and went to Hoosick Falls Central School.  I have a BA in history from Messiah College (Grantham, PA) and an MA in public policy from SUNY Albany (2009), with a focus on history and environmental policy. As part of that degree, I studied public budgeting and finance, political ethics, and much more.

After taking some time to stay at home with our two children, Isaac, now 5, and Edith, who is 3, I put my public policy skills to work at The Observer newspaper, which at its height served five towns, three villages and three school districts.  As managing editor, I became well-versed in the issues that matter most to residents in Red Hook and in our local area.  I also built relationships with local government officials and am proud to say I developed a reputation for integrity, fairness and an ability to communicate local issues effectively.

I also began volunteering with Red Hook’s Conservation Advisory Council in 2010, where I continue to work on environmental issues, including recycling and waste policy, reviewing planning projects, and advising the town board on related subjects.  We are proud of our regional reputation for protecting Red Hook’s natural resources and actively encouraging the town government to consider environmentally sound policies and projects.

I currently work part-time at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park as an editor and researcher.  In my spare time, I enjoy knitting, gardening and reading and, most of all, spending time with my family.  I coach our son’s soccer team with the Red Hook Soccer Club and we are active parishioners at St. Christopher’s Catholic Church.  We try to take full advantage of all our region has to offer, so the weekend usually finds us somewhere outdoors.

I look forward to meeting you and I thank you for your support.  

The 5 C’s of Historical Thinking Tattoo

I did not attend the Messiah College History Department homecoming event today (I am on sabbatical), but one of my former students showed me his new tattoo via Twitter. 🙂

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Messiah College students take the 5 C’s of historical thinking very seriously.

 Here they are:

What is Going On With Digital Harrisburg?

A lot.

I have been on sabbatical this semester so I am not privy to a lot of the day-to-day activity in the Messiah College History Department‘s Digital Harrisburg Initiative.  That is why I am thankful for the regular blog updates from the students in Dr. David Pettegrew’s Digital History course.

Yesterday Pettegrew published a wrap-up post (or perhaps mid-term report might be a better way to describe it) about all that is happening this Fall.  

Here is a taste:

City Beautiful: The Campaign for Beauty. Students are now developing a section of the City Beautiful Omeka site originally created by students the last time I taught this class in Spring 2014. This semester we are focusing on the campaign for public improvements that occurred in the city between Mira Lloyd Dock’s speech to the Board of Trade in December 1900 and the vote for a new mayor and the bond issue in February 1902. We have collected stories, photographs, and news items from newspaper databases for The Patriot (Harrisburg) and The Harrisburg Telegraph to better understand the reformers involved in the movement (including their residences and networks), the venues and places used for promoting the bond issue, and the areas of the city where campaigning was most active. We are trying to understand how the reformers sought to convince the population to vote on a bond issue to take civic debt (and higher taxes) in order to implement reform. Students will soon be adding short overviews to the Omeka site explaining how campaign events related to the space of the city. This map below, for example, shows the the residences (red) of some of the principal reformers who drove the campaign for improvement in 1901-1902 against the background of how the different city precincts voted for the bond issue to support improvements. The darker the background, the greater the support for improvement. (The first number in the map below indicates the ward of the city, the second number the precinct, e.g., 7.6 = Ward 7, Precinct 6).

And here are some thing you can expect in the future from the Digital Harrisburg Initiative:

Expansion and Other News. Finally, our team has been thinking over the last few months about how we might expand the project over the next year or two. Here are some developments:
  • Professors Jim LaGrand and Jean Corey at Messiah College are working with their students this year through a course in Public History (Spring 2016) and the Public Humanties Student Fellows program to tell the story of particular neighborhoods and churches in Harrisburg. This will certainly involve more oral history and documentary work than we’ve done in the past, which will comprise a whole new layer for understanding the history of the city.
  • Too early to say much about this, but I’ve been corresponding with individuals in other communities of the region (Mechanicsburg and Lancaster) about developing similar demographic and GIS-based projects for those communities.
  • We’ve applied for external grants to fund the development and refinement of our data sets.
  • Professor Erikson will be teaching his intro to GIS class again in the spring and will add more geospatial layers for other communities of the region.
  • The Burg
  • The public student humanities fellows are working with an interdisciplinary group of volunteers to discover the rich cultural/ historical landscape of the city through a project called Poetry in Place project, which invites regional public poets and Harrisburg City School students to write about significant sites. Eventually this project will be linked to a digital map of the city.

Why I Just Heard a Loud Cheer from Oral Historians Gathered in Tampa

The annual meeting of the Oral History Association (OHA) is going on this weekend at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel.  I have never been to an OHA meeting before, but after conducting dozens of interviews for my currently stalled (but not forgotten) “Greenwich Tea Party Project,” doing a dozen more for my forthcoming book on the American Bible Society,  and teaching oral history in my Pennsylvania History course at Messiah College, I have a greater interest in attending this conference.  Maybe next year.  For now, I will read the tweets at #oha2015 and retweet some of them @johnfea1 (followers always welcome!)

This year those in attendance at the meeting are rejoicing in the wake of the September 2015 ruling by the United States Department of Health and Human Services that excluded oral history from the human subject regulations enforced by institutional review boards (IRB) on college campuses.  Some of you may recall that we did a post on this back in September.

I know that the history department at Messiah is also happy.  We waged a “battle” with the college’s IRB board on this issue and managed to win it, but it was not easy trying to convince our colleagues in the sciences and social sciences why oral history should not fall under the board’s jurisdiction.

Over at the Oxford University Press blog, Don Ritchie, the Historian Emeritus of the U.S. Senate and the author of Doing Oral History, the textbook I use to teach the subject, offers his thoughts on this recent decision.  

Here is a taste:

The federal government began issuing rules that required universities to review human subject research back in 1980. At first, the regulations applied only to medical and behavioral research, but in 1991, the government broadened its requirements to include any “interaction with living individuals.” In 1995, a university hierarchy declined to accept a doctoral dissertation because the history graduate student had failed to consult the university’s institutional review board (IRB)—an entity none of her professors knew existed. She eventually received a retroactive exemption, but the incident sent shivers through the oral history community.
IRBs at universities, staffed almost entirely by those in the medical and behavioral sciences, began trying to fit oral history interviewing into protocols more designed for blood samples. IRBs instructed oral historians to keep their interviews anonymous, erase their recordings, and avoid asking possibly intrusive questions, which defeated the purpose of their projects. One student was met with resistance for naming the scholars in her field whom she had interviewed. Others were cautioned not to ask about illegal activities—even when interviewing civil rights activists who remained proud of the civil disobedience that led to their arrests. At their most illogical, there were boards that wanted researchers to obtain permission from third parties who had been mentioned during an interview, and even urged archivists to require researchers to apply for IRB clearance just to read an oral history transcript or listen to a recording in their collections.
Some scholars simply abandoned interviewing as a research or teaching tool to avoid the hassle. For years, a professor had partnered her college students with local high school students to conduct community-based oral histories, but she had to abandon the project when her campus IRB asked for certification that all participants in research activities were over the age of eighteen. Boards also expected faculty advisors who supervised theses and dissertations using oral history to take a standardized test on research ethics, despite its painfully clear orientation towards pharmacology.
In 2003, the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) approved a statement drafted by representatives of the Oral History Association and American Historical Association that defined oral history practices as fundamentally different from the quantitative research that the federal regulations had intended to cover. It argued that oral historians “do not reach for generalizable principles of historical or social development; nor do they seek underlying principles of laws of nature that have predicative value and can be applied to other circumstances for the purpose of controlling outcomes.” The OHRP agreed that people should be free to give their informed consent to be interviewed and to have those interviews opened for research, without any federally-mandated review. It has taken another dozen years for the government to issue that statement on its own. This decision is a victory for common sense and lifts a great burden from all oral historians. Let us hope that the IRBs get the message.