2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 5

Rare Books 1

Princeton rare books librarian Eric White breaks out a first-edition collection of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and the teachers transform into the paparazzi

It was another busy day at the Gilder-Lehrman Institute‘s “Colonial Era” teacher seminar at Princeton University.  We covered a lot of ground yesterday and traveled through three different regions of British colonial America:

  1. We started the day discussing women and dissent in colonial New England.  We talked about Anne Hutchinson and the “Good Wives” made famous by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
  2.  We had a great day in Philadelphia on Wednesday.  On Thursday we discussed Philadelphia in the larger context of the Middle Colonies with a specific focus on Pennsylvania as a Quaker and liberal colony.
  3.  After lunch we discussed the emergence of slave culture in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina.

We ended the day in the Firestone Library’s Rare Books Department where curator Eric White showed the teachers a host of first editions from the 17th and 18th centuries.  We got to see a copy of John Eliot’s Algonquian Bible and works by William Penn, Cotton Mather, John Locke, George Whitefield, Phillis Wheatley, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Stern, Addison and Steele, and others.  It is always fun to watch the teachers’ eyes light-up as they are exposed to these books.

One more day left!

Rare Books 2

Notes were taken


New Netherland Institute Comes to New Jersey

dutchNew Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, NJ is hosting the 39th Annual Conference of the New Netherland Institute.  The topic is “From Pavonia to the Garden State: New Jersey”s Dutch Past.”  Speakers include Elizabeth Bradley, Willem Klooster, Evan Haefeli, Daniel Richter, Dirk Mouw, Liz Covart, Deborah Hamer, and Jaap Jacobs.

Here is what you can expect:

The conference and its companion events will take place over three days, beginning on Thursday the 22nd of September and concluding on Saturday the 24th. Friday morning’s session will explore the trials and tribulations of the early years of Dutch colonization in the region, with the afternoon session exploring the survival of Dutch heritage in New Jersey following the final transfer to the English. The program will be enriched with two additional sessions on Saturday morning, beginning with a panel discussion with NNI’s Emerging Scholars on their decision to study New Netherland. The morning will conclude with an edifying session on Dutch fortifications in New Netherland. Friday night’s dinner will feature a talk by Elizabeth Bradley, the author of Knickerbocker: The Myth Behind New York, a cultural history of New York’s first mascot.

Learn more here.

The Author’s Corner with Jean Soderlund

Jean Soderlund is Professor of History at Lehigh University. This interview is based on her new book, Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn (University of Penn Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn?

JS: My goals in writing the book evolved over time as I researched and thought about the project. The plan initially was to write about the Lenapes in New Jersey because colonial historians focused primarily on Pennsylvania and suggested that all the surviving Lenapes—called Delawares by the Europeans during the eighteenth century—moved west. I knew that a sizable number of Lenapes remained in New Jersey and wanted to tell their story. With research I learned that the Native people had a significant impact on the development of the Delaware Valley, so that became the larger focus of my book.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn?

JS: During the seventeenth century, Lenapes controlled the Delaware Valley, limiting settlement and allying with the Susquehannocks, Swedes, Finns, and other Europeans against heavy-handed Dutch and English authority. In the process, the Lenapes and these colonists interacted on the basis of personal liberty, religious freedom, decentralized government, trade, and peaceful resolution of conflict, thus creating the cultural platform on which Delaware Valley society grew.

JF: Why do we need to read Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn?

JS: Colonial scholars typically begin their histories of other colonies such as Virginia and Massachusetts in the early seventeenth century but start the history of Pennsylvania in 1681 with William Penn. My book uncovers the history of the Delaware Valley in the seventeenth century—one that is quite different from the Chesapeake and New England because the Natives retained control. When the Dutch attempted to establish large-scale plantation agriculture at Swanendael in 1631, the Lenapes killed all its residents and demolished the colony, discouraging expansive settlement for more than fifty years.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JS: I always loved history, and wanted to be a teacher and writer since I was a teenager. My career has been varied: I taught high school and community college; served as an associate editor of the Papers of William Penn and as an archivist; and since 1988 have taught colonial American history at the university level. My primary interest has been relations between people of different ethnicity, economic status, and gender. Peace and justice remain central issues in our society: we can understand society today only if we first learn about the past.

JF: What is your next project?

JS: I’ve started a project on West New Jersey, which was divided from East New Jersey until 1702 when the two unified as New Jersey, but has remained separate—it could be argued even to the present—culturally and economically. West New Jersey was Lenape country in the seventeenth century and remained the homeland of many Natives as late as the 1750s. Its decentralized government, ethnic relations, and pinelands created a society and economy quite different from other colonies, even Pennsylvania. I want to write a history of West Jersey that includes the Lenapes as well as the colonists.

JF: Can’t wait to read it, thanks Jean!
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Problems With Teaching Your Research

I completely agree with Emily Conroy-Krutz‘s recent post at the Teaching United States History blog.  Teaching about your research is harder than you might think.  Here is a taste:

Teaching my research is hard, though, because I want them to know everything that I do.  There are countless stories that I could tell them about missionaries and their experiences around the world in the nineteenth century, and to me, they’re all important and fascinating.  I want to be able to share this enthusiasm with my students without them feeling overwhelmed about the amount of information I’m giving them.  When I’ve taught these materials in the past, I’ve had to think very hard—perhaps more than for other lectures—about what the major points I’d like them to get out of the class are.  It’s easier to do this with topics we’re less invested in.  One of my colleagues once joked about how lecturing on subjects outside of her expertise was great, because she knew exactly an hour’s worth of material on those topics.  Teaching about our research gives us the opposite problem: how do we fit it all in?  And the answer of course is, you don’t.  Because they don’t need to know it all.  Figuring out what they do need to know becomes very important.  

Perhaps the most difficult lecture to deliver in my United States history survey course (to 1865) is my lecture on the middle colonies.  My first book was situated in eighteenth-century New Jersey and I have published other things on the early mid-Atlantic region over the years.  Some of my most recent work has focused on this place as well.  Since I only have 50 minutes to cover the middle colonies, I usually just focus on Pennsylvania.  This is because I teach in the state of Pennsylvania and I think Penn’s colony is the easiest middle colony to explain. (Sorry New York and New Jersey).

But because I know a lot about the middle colonies, I always leave the lecture hall frustrated. As I walk back to my office I often obsess about everything I did not have time to cover.  As Conroy-Krutz writes, “I want them to know everything that I do.” I realize that this is unrealistic.  Most of them will never know as much about the subject as I do.  (Nor do they want to know as much as I do).  This is the kind of anxiety that can often come when history professors like me are too wedded to a “coverage” model of teaching the survey.  I should add, however, that much of this coverage anxiety dissipates over the years.

I also want to know how many historians actually get a chance to teach an entire course on their research.  I know this happens a lot at research universities, but I wonder how often it occurs in teaching institutions.  I have only taught a course on my research once.  Back in 2008 I taught a class called “The Founding Fathers and Religion” while I was working on Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  I enjoyed the class, and the students were great, but I would not say it was the best class I ever taught.  I remember being so overwhelmed with covering certain readings and topics that I am not sure I left enough room for student participation.  (It was a seminar course).

Next year I am going to be teaching a course on the history of American evangelicalism.  We will see if I have the same problem.

Beth Lewis Pardoe: Why are There No Good Films on the Early Mid-Atlantic?

I give a hearty amen to Beth’s complaint about the lack of good historical movies on the colonial mid-Atlantic.  I would love to see a film that centered, for example, around the life of Conrad Wieser.

Or how about A Midwife’s Tale-like documentary on the exciting life of Philip Vickers Fithian?  Such a drama could feature college life at Princeton on the eve of the Revolution, wild dogs jumping through cabin windows on the Pennsylvania frontier, a torrid love triangle between Philip, Elizabeth Beatty, and one “Rodman,” the dumping of East India tea in the town of Greenwich, and a tragic death in the wake of the Battle of Harlem Heights.  (Intrigued? You can find these stories and more in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in America).

Here is a taste of Beth’s post at the blog of The Historical Society:

Although academic historians of colonial America know that all the world was not New England, word has yet to reach the filmmakers. Three Sovereigns for Sarah captures Salem’s witchcraft crisis and Mary Silliman’s War strips the romantic Revolutionary myths away from a tense civil war in Connecticut. When I wished to illuminate my own area of expertise, the colonial mid-Atlantic, I came up short. No film of which I am aware follows Conrad Weiser through Penn’s Woods or brings to life the ascetic world of the Ephrata Cloister. In the realm of video pedagogy,  the years between witches and independence and the geography between Puritans and plantations cease to exist.   

New England’s comparative simplicity garners it a disproportionate amount of attention. The Pilgrims and Paul Revere bookend schoolchildren’s understanding of colonial history, with a brief pause for the horrors of Salem and slavery. Thus our politicians and the voters who elect them imagine a past of Protestant purity marred by slavery and superstition. Historians seek to disabuse students of this dangerous misperception. However, in a visual age, we need the assistance of historical films.

Conference on New Jersey and the Middle Colonies in the 17th Century

From Conquest to Identity:
New Jersey and the Middle Colonies in the Seventeenth Century

Trenton, New Jersey, March 27–29, 2014

Paper and panel proposals are invited for a conference on :”From Conquest to Identity: New Jersey and the Middle Colonies in the  Seventeenth Century,” to be co-sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the New Jersey Historical Commission, and Kean University and to be held in Trenton, New Jersey, March 27–29, 2014. Confirmed participants include  Charles Gehring, Evan Haefeli, Ned C. Landsman, Robert C. Ritchie, and the members of the program committee: Wayne Bodle, Stanley N. Katz, Christian Koot, Maxine N. Lurie, Jonathan Mercantini, Daniel K. Richter, and Cynthia Van Zandt.

The 350th anniversary of the conquest of New Netherland and the founding  of English New Jersey provides an occasion to examine a number of topics connected to the origin and evolution of the Middle Colonies. The organizers are especially interested in the theme of innovation and experimentation—both as these words were understood in the seventeenth  century and as an interpretive device for understanding the period—and in interdisciplinary approaches, particularly but not exclusively those drawing on archaeological research.

Among specific topics that might be explored are conquest, reconquest and the reality of empire; geography and mapping; land use, property holding, and European-Native interaction in the Hudson and Delaware watersheds; and contrasting views of various issues from the imperial metropole and the mid-Atlantic periphery. While the organizers are open to a wide range of proposals relating the conference themes to broader trends in seventeenth-century North American history, they particularly hope this conference will provide a venue for discussion of new ways of thinking about New Jersey and the Middle Colonies in the period from 1664 to1689.

Proposals are welcome for papers of approximately thirty pages in  length, which will be pre-circulated to all conference participants. Suggestions for complete panels will also be considered, but the organizers reserve the right to accept, reject, or reassign individual papers.

Please submit proposals of approximately 500 words, along with curriculum vitae, to mceas@ccat.sas.upenn.edu no later than Friday, April 5, 2013. Accepted panelists will be notified by mid-June 2013. Papers will be due for pre-circulation no later than January 15, 2014. Some support for participants’ travel and lodging will be available.

The Ongoing "Ubiquitarianism" of American Religion

Back in the mid-1990s I was working on a dissertation on the religious development of the West Jersey colony. (For those unfamiliar with British-American history, this was a colony founded by Quakers in 1676. In 1702 it merged with the “East Jersey” colony to form the royal colony of “New Jersey”).

I tried to pitch the revised dissertation to university presses under the title “Temples of Holiness, Foundations of Virtue: Protestantism and the Moral Improvement of the Southern New Jersey Countryside.” I had chapters on the Quaker founding of West Jersey, everyday rural life in the colony, the fragile state of religious life, the impact of the First Great Awakening, and the growth of Presbyterians, Swedish Lutherans (with a particular emphasis on religion and ethnicity), and, eventually, Methodists. I still think it is a pretty good project, but I have to agree with the acquisition editors who told me that it was too narrow for a wide readership. Maybe someday I will publish it in book form. (If there are any publishers out there who might be interested, shoot me an e-mail).

One of the chapters in the manuscript was (and is still) entitled “The Ubiquitarians of Eighteenth-Century South Jersey.” This chapter explored the behavior and beliefs of laypersons in the region. Studies of the laity in early America was very “hot” at the time and I thought I better have a chapter dealing with ordinary churchgoers as a counter to the ministerial-focused narrative that drives a good portion of the manuscript.

In a remote region like southern New Jersey, where clergyman were hard to come by, laypersons had no qualms about traveling to places where spiritual nourishment could be found. They were not religious consumers per se, since consumerism implies a choice of products. Instead they flocked to the only religious game in town–no matter the denominational affiliation. Laypersons affiliated themselves with churches so that they might baptize their children or bury their parents.

In 1741, Wilhelm Berkenmeyer, a German Lutheran minister, described early New Jersey as a place where “very few believe that the difference (in religion) has any significance” and where most people wish that no difference would be observed.” This casual orientation toward religion was captured best by the Rev. William Lindsay, a Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (Anglican) priest assigned to Trenton, New Jersey. Lindsey complained about the large number of “ubiquitarians” living within the bounds of his parish. He defined this group of Protestants as those who regularly attended religious services, but seldom frequented the same church. Throughout South Jersey, I argued, attempts at what Jon Butler has called “denominational order” were consistently foiled by these “indifferent,” but spiritually sensitive, “ubiquitarians.” (This term was first identified by Patricia Bonomi in Under the Cope of Heaven).

Later I would use this research in a paper at a meeting of the American Society of Church History. Before a crowd of less than ten people at an 8:00am Sunday morning panel, I boldly questioned the usefulness of the term “denomination” when applied to eighteenth-century America. Oh well, at least it was a line on my vita.

As I look back on this chapter (I never published it), I now remember what I was trying to do. I wanted to say something about what “popular religion” or “lived religion” might look like in the middle colonies. So much of the work on this subject–David Hall was the prime practitioner at the time–focused on New England, where the Puritan-Congregational establishment held sway. As a result, early American popular religion” was always defined in terms of resistance to a dominant or established religious culture. What might we say, I wondered, about “lived” or “popular” religion in a region like the Mid-Atlantic where religious establishments did not exist?”

I was reminded of all this “ubiquitarianism” after I read the recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life about the way in which the religious practices of Americans do not “fit neatly into conventional categories.” It seems that Americans today are engaging in “multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions.” According to the report, “many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination–even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals.”

The report is very interesting and revealing, but it reminds me a lot of my eighteenth-century south Jersey ubiquitarians who ran from church to church in the rural countryside. While the habits of today’s “ubiquitarians” are much more pluralistic than my middle colony Protestants, this kind of popular religious behavior is not particularly new.