Statues of Christopher Columbus and Italian-Americans

Columbus Cirlce

Columbus Circle (Wikimedia Commons)

In case you have not heard, New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio is considering removing the statue of Christopher Columbus in the circle that bears his name.  David Marcus of The Weekly Standard explains how that statue got there:

The earliest celebration of Columbus in North America took place in in 1792. A newly formed New York City government called Tammany celebrated the 300th anniversary of his discovery of America. Eight years earlier, the Manhattan college formerly known as Kings College had been renamed, Columbia. This happened before many people who actually were Italian became residents of the world’s first constitutional democracy, and it greatest city. One hundred years later, Italians would begin to pour through Ellis Island like water drained through pasta. By 1900, Italians were becoming a fixture in the United States.

These Italian immigrants weren’t greeted warmly. In the 1890s, a group of Sicilian immigrants were lynched in New Orleans. Few Italian Americans today would suggest that they faced greater bigotry than blacks have. But, the lynching happened, and it is a part of our country’s dark history of racial resentment. In the wake of this bigoted violence, Il Progresso, the leading Italian language newspaper of the time in New York City, began a campaign to raise money for a statue of Columbus, as a gift to the city, and a symbol of Italian Americans’ dedication to be good citizens.

It worked: Small dollar donations led to an image of Columbus towering over the city. Italian immigrants chose Columbus as their avatar for good reasons. Not only was he a great man, who had inaugurated the trade between the New and Old World, he was a founding father of America. Only the Norwegians with Leif Erickson had a similar figure, but he was a tourist, not a man who changed the course of history.

This is interesting.  Many have argued that Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monuments need to be removed because they were erected during the Jim Crow era as a way of glorifying the “Lost Cause” and white supremacy.  In other words, we need to understand these monuments in light of the meaning they carried at the time they were erected.  Could a similar argument be made for Columbus statues?

I am half-Italian.  I have spent a lot of time listening to my late grandfather (died a few years ago at the age of 103) talk about discrimination against Italian-Americans. White Americans treated him as a member of another race.  None of my grandfather’s stories about working in the breweries of Newark, New Jersey were as bad as the lynchings that Italians suffered in 1890s New Orleans.  And like Marcus, I do not pretend to believe that the story of Italian-Americans is synonymous with the sufferings faced by African Americans in this country.  That would be bad history.  But Columbus became a symbol of pride for Italian-Americans.  The statue in Columbus Circle, as Marcus points out, was erected “as a symbol of Italian Americans’ dedication to be good citizens.”

What do you think?  Should Columbus go?

George Washington Asks for a Ride to Church

Trinity

Federal Hall, Wall Street, and Trinity Church, 1789

Historian Jonathan Den Hartog of the University of Northwestern is working on a project on John Jay at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington this month.  At his Facebook page he shared this great 1789 letter from Washington to John Jay.

The President of the United States presents his Compliments to Mr Jay, and informs him that the Harness of the President’s Carriage was so much injured in coming from Jersey that he will not be able to use it today. If Mr Jay should propose going to Church this Morng the President would be obliged to him for a Seat in his Carriage.

The letter is dated “April-Dec. 1789.” Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, so it is unclear if he is POTUS yet.  There is no place mentioned on the letter, but all signs point to New York.  This was the site of the Federal Government until 1790 and it was the home state of Jay.  I would guess Washington needs a ride to New York’s Trinity Church where Jay was a church warden.

Hey, we all need a ride to church every now and then.

ADDENDUM: See the comments section.  It looks like GW was probably asking for a ride to St. Paul’s Chapel, not Trinity Church.  Nice work!

Grant Wacker on Billy Graham’s 1957 New York Crusade

WackerI have always been fascinated by this Billy Graham crusade. When I was in divinity school I wrote an M.A. thesis on separatist Protestant fundamentalism in the 20th century.  The 1957 crusade was a key part of my story.

Over at the blog “Evangelical History,” Justin Taylor interviews Graham biographer Grant Wacker about the 1957 Crusade, which got underway 60 years ago yesterday.

Here is a taste:

Setting aside whatever influences on the culture this crusade might have had, historians recognize that one of the most significant internal legacies from this summer was Graham’s decision about partnering with modernists, moderates, and mainliners.

The New York crusade embodied and portended one of the most important strategic decisions of Graham’s entire life. He determined that he would work with anyone who would work with him if (1) they accepted the deity of Christ and if (2) they did not ask him to change his message.

In practice he quietly overlooked the “deity of Christ” provision. He accepted the help mainline of Protestants who probably would have the affirmed the divinity but not necessarily the deity of Christ, and of Jews, who found his emphasis on God, patriotism, and decency appealing.

But the second provision—“if they do not expect me to change my message”—proved absolutely non-negotiable. There is no evidence anyone tried.

Inclusiveness worked—on the whole. As I noted earlier, the invitation to New York came from a majority of the churches, evangelical and mainline. It is hard to generalize about Catholics, but signs abound that thousands of ordinary believers and many members of the Catholic clergy supported him. Some Jews, too.

That being said, fundamentalists relentlessly opposed Graham’s effort in New York and, from then, pretty much everywhere else. By working with so-called liberals and Catholics, they reasoned, he had sacrificed doctrine for success, and the price was too high. Their opposition could be called “the bitterness of disillusioned love.” In their eyes, Graham had once been one of them, but he had left the family, never to return.

The diversity was not only religious but also included men and women from a variety of occupations and social levels. The crusade was sponsored and undoubtedly partly funded by leading figures in the business community, such as George Champion, vice president (soon president) of Chase Manhattan Bank, one of the largest in the nation. The nightly meetings featured a retinue of testimonials from prominent entertainers, politicians, and military men. Anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands of ordinary people—more often readers of the New York Post than the New York Times—talked about the meetings on the subways and in street corner diners.

Read the entire interview here.

The Author’s Corner with Michael Rapport

the-unruly-city.jpgMichael Rapport is Professor of History at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. This interview is based on his new book, The Unruly City:  Paris, London and New York in the Age of Revolution (Basic Books, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Unruly City?

MR: I love walking – in the Scottish Highlands, in countryside and along coastline, but also in cities.  When you walk through a city with a long past, like Paris, London and New York (it has been pointed out that New York is older than Saint Petersburg or Versailles) you get a strong sense of the topography, which is often in itself the physical footprint of the past, no matter how much building and reconstruction has taken place over the decades.  And of course you can come across gems among the buildings and spaces – sometimes an entire street or neighbourhood – that bears an historic character.  All of this sparked my curiosity: what were these cities like two-and-a-half centuries ago?  And how did their citizens experience the upheavals and the fight for democracy in my own historical period, the age of the American and French Revolutions?  How were the buildings and the cityscape marked by these struggles?   I chose to write about Paris because it was the beating heart of revolutionary politics in France; New York because I wanted to explore the vicissitudes of revolution, war, occupation and reconstruction (after the fire in 1776)…and because of all American cities I probably know it the best; and London because it avoided revolution, so took an alternative political path.  These are also three cities that I love.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Unruly City?

MR: I start from an apparently obvious point, namely that revolutions take place in a physical space, that they of course erupt over ideology and culture, political power and social change, but that they are also in a very real sense struggles for the strategic and symbolic control of key places and spaces within the cityscape.  How revolutionaries, radicals and their opponents then adapted, embellished and used the buildings, streets and other sites in the city tells us a lot about the revolutionary process itself.

JF: Why do we need to read The Unruly City?

MR: Firstly, and foremost, I hope, out of pure curiosity: I cannot emphasise enough that this is a book that I wrote primarily to be enjoyed.  Secondly, I hope that readers will share in my own pleasure in walking the city.  While this is not a guidebook to Paris, London and New York, it does gently tell readers (either in the text itself or in the endnotes) how they can find each new site where the action unfurls.  Thirdly, the story of the American and French Revolutions, and of the British democratic movement in the same years, reminds us that many of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy were fought for in the past – and that they are still a matter of contest in many parts of the world today.  Finally, many of the streets, buildings and spaces described in the book still exist today, or their imprint does.  Although their association with the tumultuous events of the revolutionary epoch may now often be forgotten, or overlaid by other, more recent developments, they are – or could be – sites of memory, places that connect us directly with the eighteenth-century struggle for democracy.

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

MR: This will take some space to answer…because I am primarily a European historian.  So to begin with ‘when’, we are all, in different ways, students of history throughout our lives.  I’ve been interested in the past for as long as I can remember.  My father, George Rapport – who is, amongst other things, a keen historian – always encouraged my interests in history and, for a few years, he lived in Belgium, a cycle-ride from the battlefield of Waterloo.  As my interests developed – and because I have both Swedish and Russian heritage – I was drawn to European history.  Moreover, although I was born in the United States (in Bronxville, New York) I have lived almost all my life in Europe, particularly France, England and, for the most part, Scotland, so my identity is probably best described as transatlantic.  I’ve always loved the creative and intellectual challenges of writing – short stories, an historical novel, and, above all, history – and in my late teens was drawn to a career in journalism.  But at school I also had a truly inspiring history teacher – Jeremy Barker – who was a zealous devotee of European history, and particularly modern France and the French Revolution.  At the same time, my mother and stepfather Mike moved to Paris, so historical passion aligned with location: I had found my period, and my place, namely revolutionary France.  My mother Anita was always there to remind me that much of history was social history, so the discovery of ‘how people lived’, has become a mantra.  So I’ve always been absorbed, one way or another, in pursuing the past.  That’s the answer to ‘when’.

That leaves the answer to ‘why’: despite my focus on Europe, my American origins have always been in the background – and they were (and still are) regularly foregrounded by frequent return trips to the US.  When we were boys, my brother Allan and I travelled with my father around sites of the American Revolution.  We visited Civil War sites, too: since my father is an alumnus of the Virginia Military Institute, it could not have been otherwise.  My father also wrote a novel about the Fetterman Massacre, during which time my stepmother, Jane, treated us to a trip to Montana and Wyoming as part of the research.  So I’ve had grounding in American history since at least my early teens.  As an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, I won the Class Medal in the sophomore survey course on American History and then went on the study, as part of my Honours programme, the social history of colonial America under Alan Day, who had pursued his doctorate under none other than Jack P. Greene.  It also so happened that Helen, a Scottish historian (and, it should be said, a specialist in Scottish urban history) and the woman who became my wife, was in the same seminar group, so (as they say) we were firing on all cylinders.  And though I went on to pursue doctoral work at Bristol University with Professor Bill Doyle on the French Revolution, my focus has always been on the revolution in a wider, international context.  I rapidly discovered that, in order to understand the transnational dimension of the French Revolution – its origins, course and legacy – one must also understand, amongst other dimensions, the Atlantic perspective.  So I find myself pulled, repeatedly, back to the young American Republic and the Americas.

JF: What is your next project?

MR: Rather alarmingly, there are four irons heating up in the furnace.  Firstly, in writing The Unruly City, I came across (rather belatedly) a series of theoretical approaches to space and place that has exercised some historians and cultural geographers, namely the ‘spatial turn’, which engages with the different ways in which space, place and location affected human behaviour.  So I am writing a book on revolutionary Paris which deploys the hardware in this arsenal.  Secondly, I am working on a book for Cambridge University Press, A Concise History of Europe.  Thirdly I’m editing The Oxford Handbook to Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century, 1789-1914 and, fourthly, I have edited, with my excellent friend and colleague Ben Marsh of Kent University (and an American historian to boot), a volume on Teaching and Understanding the Age of Revolutions, a collection of essays published by the University of Wisconsin Press by leading and up-and-coming historians on a variety of cutting-edge, innovative approaches to teaching and learning about the many different aspects of the ‘age of revolution’ in the Atlantic world.

JF: Thanks, Michael.  You are a busy man!

The Author’s Corner with Kyle Roberts

evangelical-gothamKyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. This interview is based on his new book, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Evangelical Gotham?

KR: The scholarship I found most exciting in graduate school was about the history of evangelicalism. So many great books came out in the 1990s and early 2000s – Heyrman’s Southern Cross, Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Sensbach’s Rebecca’s Revival, Lambert’s Inventing the Great Awakening, Noll’s America’s God – but so few focused on evangelicals in cities. For a while I thought evangelicals only existed in the rural hinterland.

As for Gotham, I was regularly crossing through New York as I took the Amtrak back and forth between my home in Boston and graduate school in Philadelphia. I felt like historians had sort of figured out Boston (Puritan) and Philadelphia (pluralistic), but the story of New York was still waiting to be told. When scholars did write about religion in nineteenth-century New York, they often focused on eccentrics, such as Johnson and Wilentz’s Kingdom of Matthias, or religious communities who settled themselves in urban spaces built by others, such as in Orsi’s glorious Madonna of 115th Street. I wanted to know more about the religious beliefs, practices, and worldviews of the mainstream folk who built the city in the first place.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Evangelical Gotham?

KR: In Evangelical Gotham, I argue that the astonishing rise of the nation’s leading city and its dominant Protestant religious movement were intricately intertwined between the end of the American Revolution and the outbreak of the Civil War. Inherently pluralistic and syncretistic, evangelicalism provided a broad range of New Yorkers with a meaningful and adaptable, if at times contradictory, urban religion that helped them respond to, locate themselves within, and significantly contribute to the growth of the city and the nation over a crucial eighty-year period.

JF: Why do we need to read Evangelical Gotham?

KR: I think we miss a key part of the American experience if we ignore the place of religion in the development of the nation’s cities. There are two important things that surprised me in writing this book:

First, evangelicals were really innovative. Earlier scholars of nineteenth-century urban religion have discounted evangelicals as failures who could not think beyond transplanting rural models in urban spaces. What I found couldn’t be more different. Evangelical New Yorkers were remarkably creative people, eager to put the secular resources of the city to sacred ends. Take, for example, their rethinking of sacred space. They had some of, if not the, earliest storefront churches in the country, dating back to the 1760s; they perfected a vernacular style for meetinghouses that well suited the realities of urban real estate; they threw out centuries-old modes of funding churches and created a series of Free Churches on a radically new plan; and they adapted everything from theaters to ship decks into places for preaching the gospel. Even the briefest glance at the extent, plan, and scale of their publishing ventures confirms how forward-thinking they were.

Second, evangelicalism was not all about social control. It’s easy to caricature antebellum evangelicals as pious, middle-class do-gooders. Many of them were. But reducing their faith to some form of class control isn’t fair to my historic subjects and misses the point. I wrote each chapter around the story of one or more New Yorkers so that readers could get a sense of what their faith meant to them and how it inspired them to act upon it. Some, like Lewis Tappan and Phoebe Worrall Palmer, are still remembered today; others, like Charles Lahatt or Michael Floy, have been forgotten – but have much to tell us.

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

I think it was the summer after my junior year in high school that I made peace with the fact that I was destined to be an Americanist. I had spent that summer at MASP – the Massachusetts Advanced Studies Program – sort of a nerd camp for public school kids held at Milton Academy. There I discovered that I hated economics and loved writing. So, I gave up my thoughts of becoming an insurance agent like my father. I jumped feet first into American Studies when I got to Williams College and haven’t looked back. Along the way I also embraced my calling as a public historian and digital humanist.

JF: What is your next project?

KR: I’m trading evangelical New Yorkers for Midwestern Catholics. When I arrived at Loyola six years ago, I knew I wanted a locally-based research project through which I could teach the digital humanities, public history, and the history of religion. My first week there I made an appointment with University Special Collections to see what they had for materials related to the history of the library. (It wasn’t a completely random question, I had just spent two years in London creating Dissenting Academies Online (http://www.qmulreligionandliterature.co.uk/research/the-dissenting-academies-project/dissenting-academies-online/), a recreation of the holdings and borrowing records of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dissenting academies.) The archivist brought out a detailed manuscript library catalog from the school’s first decade. I knew at that moment that I had found my next project.

Over the past few years I’ve worked with dozens of bright undergraduate and graduate student interns on the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project (https://jesuitlibrariesprovenanceproject.com/). It has provided some on my most rewarding teaching and confirmed the value of collaborative research. We’ve recreated Loyola’s first library catalog in a virtual library system, tracked down and documented most of the nearly 1500 titles still surviving from the original library, identified library catalogs and collections at other Jesuit colleges and universities, and even started to reconstruct the Catholic book trade in the 1840s Mississippi Valley from a massive ledger kept by Jesuits in St. Louis. The goal is now to bring this all together in a monograph that asks readers to rethink Catholicism, print, and nationalism from the perspective of the nineteenth-century Midwest. Let’s just say Lyman Beecher actually had something to fear when he published his Plea for the West in 1835!

JF: Thanks, Kyle!

The Author’s Corner with Gergely Baics

feedinggothamGergely Baics is Assistant Professor of History and Urban Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. This interview is based on his new book, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York, 1790-1860 (Princeton University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Feeding Gotham?

GB: Working on a research paper as a graduate student, I came across a vernacular sketch of African American dancing contests at Catharine Market in 1820 in Shane White’s wonderful article, “The Death of James Johnson.” The drawing captivated me for its intimate depiction of the vibrant and cosmopolitan public spaces of Early New York City. Catharine Market—its economy, social organization, and everyday life—became the subject of that paper. Over time, I realized that that small sketch of Catharine Market opened up a much larger subject: the vast and complex landscape of food provisioning in America’s first metropolis.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Feeding Gotham?

GB: Feeding Gotham brings the critical question of food access to the center of our understanding of nineteenth-century urban life and living standards. It argues that the antebellum deregulation of food markets created a new structural inequality, similar to health and housing conditions, that defined and shaped the development of the American city.

JF: Why do we need to read Feeding Gotham?

GB: Feeding Gotham examines the vital problem of food access in a city experiencing unprecedented growth, with its population rising from thirty thousand to nearly a million. It presents a comprehensive account based in political economy and the social and geographic history of the complex interplay of urban governance, market forces, and the built environment in provisioning New Yorkers. The book’s narrative traces how access to food, once a public good, became a private matter left to free and unregulated markets. In situating the deregulation of food markets within a broader matrix of public and private goods, it underlines the highly contested and open-ended outcomes of antebellum political economy debates. Moving beyond the debates, the bulk of the book studies the stakes involved. Most critical, Feeding Gotham brings the subject of food access to the center of our understanding of nineteenth-century urban living standards, a conversation thus far dominated by concerns over housing and sanitary provisions. The book documents how unequal access to food, much like shelter and sanitation, became a structural condition of inequality, part of the modern city’s increasingly stratified built and social environment. Importantly, the analysis extends to the understudied subject of food quality. It documents that the city’s surrender of all regulatory oversight of its food supplies contributed to deteriorating quality, which disadvantaged especially the rising rank of working-class immigrant populations. Central to the book’s approach is the systematic application of geographic information system (GIS) analysis. Feeding Gotham is the first book that maps the food system of a major nineteenth-century city, and one of few that deploys GIS systematically to study a specific problem in urban history. GIS mapping—from data creation to interpretation—provides a theoretical framework, methodological approach, and empirical base for the book’s main arguments. The extensive cartographic material was carefully created and designed to present a systematic and layered spatial analysis of food access in the nineteenth-century American city.

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

GB: First, I became an urban historian, and second an Americanist. I cannot recall when my fascination with cities began—probably, growing up in Budapest has a lot to do with it. It was during my undergraduate years that I discovered that I could become an urban historian, and this felt like an obvious intellectual path for me. My attraction to America also began with cities. I watched films like The French Connection or Serpico as a kid, and I was thrilled by the images of gritty New York City. Over the years, I found myself again and again seeking to study in the U.S., and becoming intellectually fascinated by the extraordinary complexity of this country. American cities, their history of immigration, booms and declines, deep inequalities, layered geographies, perplexed and fascinated me. Focusing on transnational urban economic and social history for my Ph.D., I found my topic in the food system of nineteenth-century New York City. What began as a project in urban history, over the years also became a project in U.S. economic and social history. Today, I consider myself both an urbanist and Americanist. I am most fortunate to have a joint-appointment in History and Urban Studies.

JF: What is your next project?

GB: I am currently at work on a new monograph, tentatively titled, The Transitional City: Economic and Social Geography of New York in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. My ambition is to study empirically (with the systematic application of GIS mapping) and then to theorize the spatial processes that propelled the transition from what historians describe as the walking city of the early nineteenth century to the segregated metropolis of the late nineteenth century. In addition, with a coauthor we have been writing a series of articles linking back to this larger work, and making use of advanced GIS methods, focusing on land use, the street grid, and the experiential geography of nineteenth-century Manhattan. Finally, with two colleagues we are developing a new project on the spatial history of late nineteenth to early twentieth-century Copenhagen, making use of new crowdsourced GIS data. In all of these projects, besides the specific urban historical questions at stake, I am also interested in advancing methods of spatial history.

JF: Thanks, Gergely! Sounds like some great stuff.

The Author’s Corner with Jon Scott Logel

DesigningGotham.jpgJon Scott Logel is Associate Professor in the War Gaming Department of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. This interview is based on his new book, Designing Gotham: West Point Engineers and the Rise of Modern New York, 1817-1898 (LSU Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Designing Gotham?

JL: My research into the relationship between the men of West Point and New York City began while I was an American History instructor at the U.S. Military Academy.  One of my additional duties at the Academy was to provide tours of the West Point Cemetery and the various figures interred there.  At the pyramid tomb of Egbert L. Viele, I had to explain that he was a graduate from the class of 1847, served in the Mexican-American War, was the first designer of Central Park, and was a Union general in the Civil War.  It was the phrase “the first designer of Central Park” that left me concerned that I might be em­bellishing Viele’s legacy, especially given the rightful place of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the history of the park.  So in an effort not to be embarrassed while leading tours, I began my research.

The project expanded from Egbert L.Viele into a larger question of what was the relationship between the graduates of West Point and the rise of New York City in the nineteenth century.  Specifically, how were graduates such as Viele, George S. Greene (1823), and Henry Warner Slocum (1852) able to influence the politics, culture, and urbanization that occurred in Gotham from 1817-1898.  What I discovered is that this dynamic relationship of engineering expertise and the rise of the modern city fostered the professionalization of the civil engineering field, and influenced the manifestation of American progressivism at the turn of the twentieth century.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Designing Gotham

JL: West Point graduates who came to New York City before, during and after the Civil War leveraged their professional relationships and military experiences to influence the transformation of New York into a modern metropolis by 1898. Moreover, in New York, these West Point engineers with their city peers contributed to the development of civil engineering, professionalization, and civic administration in the United States.

JF: Why do we need to read Designing Gotham?

JL: Most histories of New York marginalize or ignore the role of West Point graduates in the building and development of the city.  This book not only recovers the experiences of these military figures in the city, it also describes a time when the relationship between American military and American society was more intertwined than today.  The primacy of engineering in the Military Academy curriculum led to an American officer corps that was more pre-disposed to building aqueducts, canals, and railroad than fighting wars.  As a result, military-learned ideas and actions served as the forerunner to the reform impulse that accompanied American urbanization more than a century ago. 

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

JL: In 1998, the United States Military Academy selected me to attend graduate school and then teach U.S. history to the cadets.  For two years I studied at Syracuse University under a cadre of gifted professors.  Scott Strickland, Peggy Thompson, David Bennett, Bill Stinchcombe, Roger Sharp, and Stephen Webb provided a foundation in American history and the finest example of how to be an historian.  At West Point, I became committed to the field and have remained fixed on leveraging historical context for understanding current challenges.

JF: What is your next project?

JL: At the Naval War College we have been experiencing a renaissance in the art of war gaming.  Many leaders in the Navy have looked to the war games of the interwar years as their model for how to be innovative and respond to the prospect of future wars at sea.  My current project seeks to understand the interwar experience of American Naval leaders who studied at Newport and how that experience affected their World War Two actions and decisions.  In many ways, this project is similar to Designing Gotham in that I am seeking to explore the connections between an institution of military education and the outcomes manifest in its graduates.

JF: Thanks, Jon!

The Bible Cause in a New York Ale House

Bible House Fireplace

I realize that the title to this post is a little deceptive.  No, I will not be speaking about The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society in a New York City ale house. (Although I would be happy to do so if invited!)

Yesterday I learned about an old fireplace mantel from the Astor Place Bible House (which stood from 1853-1956) currently located in the back of the historic McSorley’s Old Ale House on East Seventh Street in the East Village.

After a few Twitter exchanges with Dean at The History Author podcast, I learned that McSorley’s had a Bible House mantel.  And then historian Anne Boylan alerted me to this post at the Ephemeral New York blog.

McSorley's

Here is a taste of the post:

Bible House, the city’s first cast-iron building, went up in 1853, replacing the group’s older headquarters on Nassau Street.

Along with the Astor Library (now The Public Theater) and the newly formed Cooper Institute, Bible House helped make Astor Place a hub of intellectual and literary activity.

Because of its size and appearance, Bible House became a tourist attraction of its own in the late 19th century. The printing rooms inside ultimately cranking out 77 million bibles. Yet as the neighborhood’s fortunes slipped in the ensuing decades, so did the building.

In 1956, after Bible House was torn down and replaced by a Cooper Union building, McSorley’s apparently salvaged one of the hearths, preserving it amid the sawdust floors and dusty frames in the bar’s back room.

Here is what I wrote about Bible House in The Bible Cause:

In 1853 the ABS opened its new Bible House on Astor Place in New York City.  It was a massive building.  The Bible House cost $303,000 to build; it was six stories high, and its brick exterior walls fronted four different city streets.  Much of the building was used for the production of Bibles, but there was also office space for ABS staff and secretaries and additional space at street level for “various business occupations.”  The building committee concluded that the new Bible House was “congenial to all who love the Bible, and in themselves a beautiful development of that Christian civilization and ‘good will to men.'”  The structure became the the center of print culture not only in New York City, but in the entire nation.  Over the course of the next thirty years it was a regular stop for tourists.  Mark Twain visited the Bible House in 1867 and claimed that he “enjoyed the time more than I could possibly have done in a circus.”  Its size and facade sent a clear message: Christian civilization in the United States would advance, and the American Bible Society would lead the way. 

Astor Place

Bible House at Astor Place

The Author’s Corner With R. Scott Hanson

City of GodsR. Scott Hanson is Lecturer in History and Director of the Social Justice Research Academy at the University of Pennsylvania.  This interview is based on his new book City of Gods: Religious Freedom, Immigration, and Pluralism in Flushing, Queens (Fordham University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write City of Gods?

RSH: I was completing my M.A. in Religion at Columbia in the Fall of 1993 when I became interested in the intersection of religion and immigration in American history. I was fortunate to find out about the Pluralism Project at Harvard, which sought to map the new religious landscape of America since the Immigration Act of 1965. I began work as a researcher in New York City the next summer, and this research ultimately led me to Queens and the microcosm of world religions Flushing. When I learned that Flushing was founded in 1645 and was considered by locals to be “the birthplace of religious freedom in America” I knew I had stumbled on a topic that I wanted to explore more deeply, and this turned into a dissertation at the University of Chicago which I then spent a long time revising into a book manuscript.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of City of Gods?

RSH: I argue that the absence of widespread religious violence in a neighborhood with densely concentrated extreme religious diversity suggests that there is no limit to how much pluralism a pluralist society can stand. On the other hand, I also argue that there are in fact some real limits of pluralism when it comes to cooperation and community—spatial limits, social limits, structural limits, and theological limits—and these limits illustrate the challenge of trying to find unity in a pluralist society.

JF: Why do we need to read City of Gods?

RSH: Flushing is an extreme case with a unique history, but there is reason to believe that other communities can learn from it—certainly other dense urban areas with similar recent economic histories and growing new immigrant populations, but similar changes in the religious landscape are likely to develop in many other types of communities across the country, too (in fact, they already are). Indeed, we may be able to glimpse the future of religion and intergroup relations in America by studying Flushing not only because the striking exaggeration of its diversity makes the issues more sharply defined but because the story of the neighborhood and its pioneering colonial history mirrors that of the nation in microcosm.

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

RSH: I was an English major (American literature) in college, so I’ve always been drawn to stories. But it was when I began a Master’s degree in Religion that I got into American religious history, and eventually immigration/ethnic history, urban history, and American history in general when I started my Ph.D.

JF: What is your next project?

RSH: Since moving to the Philadelphia area in 2002, I have been teaching and writing about the broader history of the Mid-Atlantic region (which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland)—an area that was characterized more by religious pluralism than the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony and the largely Anglican southern colonies. There are plans to edit a new volume on religious pluralism and region, and I have been exploring the possibility of a documentary film based on City of Gods. In my free time, I have also been working on a screenplay adaptation of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

JF: Thanks, Scott!

The Author’s Corner with Todd Braisted

GrandForageTodd Braisted is a Fellow in the Company of Military Historians, Honorary Vice President of the United Empire Loyalist Association, and on the advisory council of Crossroads of the American Revolution. This interview is based on his new book, Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City (Westholme Publishing, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Grand Forage 1778?

TB: I was approached by the Journal of the American Revolution to know my thoughts about a possible series of books on lesser-known campaigns and events of the American Revolution, and what possible topic I thought might be of interest.  That which is little written about or discussed is always of interest to me, as I enjoy learning new things, as opposed to simply a new spin on previously covered events.  The operations around New York City in the second half of 1778 was perfect for that: a plethora of small events that all intertwined as a campaign, but which had never been discussed as such.  I was honored when they agreed to that as one of the two lead volumes of the series.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Grand Forage 1778?

TB: While the large battles are often studied and dissected by historians, the smaller events often fall through the cracks or are ignored. Grand Forage shows how global events and logistics conspired in ways not fully realized by many of the participants then, or by students today.

JF: Why do we need to read Grand Forage 1778?

TB: At its heart, history is made up of stories. Grand Forage uses the accounts, and very often the exact words, of many of the participants of small actions and events not generally seen by the public.  While a battle may mean one thing to a general, the viewpoint of a soldier in the ranks is quite often something completely different.  Those sorts of accounts, culled from period letters, memorials, journals, pension applications, etc. open a window on the past that I believe brings the period to life.  The Civil War has always enjoyed a greater awareness today, in part, I believe, to photographs and an abundance of written material from everyday soldiers.  It makes a connection with people today.  That is a harder task with the American Revolution, where the fashion and language can seem far more archaic and antiquated, making them less well understood or appreciated by a modern audience.  It’s my hope Grand Forage brings this period of history to life for people today, particularly those in the geographic areas where the events took place, which too often are now the scene of urban sprawl.

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

TB: I knew I loved history from the time of grade school.  Growing up in Dumont, Bergen County, New Jersey history was literally everywhere you looked.  Indeed, several houses in town had been plundered and burned during the American Revolution.  The street I grew up on was a major thoroughfare at times for both armies during that war.  In reading the popular histories of the war though, little or no mention was made of these actions and events.  I wanted to dig deeper, and without the filter of modern spin or biases.  I started primary research entering my sophomore year of high school, and never looked back.  Loyalists in particular fascinated me, in part because the field appeared to be wide open here in the United States.  I have never had the opportunity to utilize my knowledge of history as a professional career, but through writing, research, interpretation and preservation, I would like to think I have done my part, in some small way.

JF: What is your next project?

TB: That is already started!  I am the project historian for the town of Fort Lee in researching the history of the 1781 battle there involving about 750 Loyalists & Rebels, an event that almost led to what perhaps would have been the bloodiest local action of the war.  Again, this is one of those little known or studied actions that fascinates me.  The findings will be a part of the National Park Service Battlefield Preservation Program that the town received a grant for in 2015.  After that, it is back to my research roots, i.e. Loyalist studies.

JF: Thanks, Todd!

Saturday at #oah2016

OAH-300x200-jan2016Thanks for reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  Today has been a very busy day so I did not do too much blogging. I did, however, wanted to write at least one post on the day’s events.  Here goes:

This morning I attended a session on Kevin Kruse’s book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. I know I promised on Twitter that I would write a more extensive post on this session, but I am just not going to get to it tonight.  I thus want to direct readers to #oah16_208  You can find all of my tweets there.  I still want to try to write a post on this session.

This morning I also chaired a session on teaching religion.  It was great to meet Mark Silk and Diane Moore.  It was a small crowd (about 15 people) but we had a good discussion. After the session I had the privilege of talking religion and politics with Silk, a veteran journalist and scholar whose work as an observer of American religion I have admired for a long time.

I spent most of the afternoon enjoying some intellectually stimulating meetings with new friends and old friends.  I love that the OAH provides tables near the book exhibit where attendees can sit, eat, drink coffee, and chat.  I took full advantage of it.

My day ended with Jon Butler’s presidential address on religion in New York City.  Butler argued, contra Max Weber and William James, that as modernity invaded New York, religion became stronger.  Read the tweets at #oah_butler

Again, I hope I get some time to expand on all of these sessions.  Stay tuned.

I will be attending at least one (maybe two) more session on Sunday morning before driving home.  Follow @johnfea1

Why You Should Do an Internship at a Historical Museum

You just might find a document that saves the museum.

This is indeed what happened to Emilie Gruchow, who interned at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan during the summer of 2013.  

Rebecca Rego Barry tells her story at Smithsonian.com:

Emilie Gruchow, then an archives intern at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, had recently begun working in the historic house’s third-floor attic. When she recalled the day, she was clear that there wasn’t any air-conditioning up there, and the room temperature was averaging about 95 degrees. Her project was to re-catalog the 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts stored in the flat file cabinets. She knew that many of them were historically noteworthy and many required immediate preservation treatment (archival storage in a hot, humid attic is definitely not recommended).

One folder contained the accounts of Nicholas Roche, an 18th-century doctor who treated slaves in New York and New Jersey. It was fascinating material, and she remembered, “I was reading these papers (admittedly straying from my work a little), which were interleaved with fragments of another document. When I was done reading through the Roche papers, I returned to the fragments. They were not in order, so I started reading fragments one by one until I got to the fourth or fifth leaf, which had the opening passage on one side.”
That line, from an urgent plea sent to the people of Great Britain by the Second Continental Congress one year before American independence was declared, was now in front of her in manuscript form.
What Gruchow had found misfiled among the doctor’s papers was a draft of a document entitled “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain.”
It was an appeal not to King George, but to the British people, for reconciliation, and a last-ditch effort to avoid war by touting “the glorious achievements of our common ancestors.” The Second Continental Congress had approved the strident text on July 8, 1775, a few weeks after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and commissioned a printing in broadsheet form to circulate (of which several copies exist in institutional collections.) It didn’t do much good; by then George III had already decreed that the colonies were in rebellion. For historians, however, the “olive branch” reveals the strong, conflicted feelings of the colonists in the spring and summer of 1775. In draft form, showing numerous edits and strikethroughs, that concept is amplified. As the auction catalogue states, “…This document is an important missing piece from the culminating moments in which colonists began to think of themselves not as British subjects but as American citizens.”
Until Gruchow’s discovery, no manuscript was known to exist and even its authorship was undetermined. The Continental Congress had originally appointed delegates Robert R. Livingston, Richard Henry Lee, and Edmund Pendleton to the task, but the printed version was unsigned. According to scholars, it’s evident from this recent discovery that Livingston was the primary author (the manuscript is in his hand, with notes and edits by Lee). Livingston, incidentally, was one of the five men assigned one year later to write the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman.
Before even these details were fleshed out, Gruchow brought the document, given the moniker “the Livingston manuscript,” to the attention of the museum’s curator, Jasmine Helm, and its director, Carol S. Ward. The paper looked right to them—it was handmade from fiber pulp—and they called upon experts for second opinions and handwriting analysis. It was concluded that this was indeed a genuine, significant, Revolutionary-era manuscript. As such, they knew it was extremely valuable.
Read the rest here.  The document eventually sold at auction for nearly $1 million and secured a long-term future for the museum.
HT: Michael Hattem on FB

*The New York Times* Recognizes That The American Bible Society Has Left New York

In the immediate wake of the American Bible Society’s official move to Philadelphia the New York Times is running a piece on the building that Society left behind.  I was especially happy to learn that the Jeremiah Lanphier sculpture, “Invitation to Pray,” has found a good home at The Kings College.


Here is a taste of the article:

On the eve of its bicentennial, the society moved to Philadelphia, where it dedicated new headquarters last week. It sold its site at Broadway and 61st Street for $300 million to AvalonBay Communities, which plans a 300,000-square-foot apartment tower on the site.

Soon, 1865 Broadway will be gone, after only 49 years.

The society is gone already. It departed after the close of business on Aug. 24.

Read the rest here.  And here is the Lanphier statue at its old location outside of 1865 Broadway:

Eric Foner on the *New York Daily News*

Growing-up as a working-class kid in North Jersey my family subscribed to two daily newspapers: The Morristown Daily Record and the Newark Star-Ledger.   In addition, my father would always bring home his worn and coffee-stained copy of the New York Daily News.  On the weekends we got the Sunday Daily News.  (I never remember seeing a copy of The New York Times in my house).

I always read the Daily News the same way. Since I was a New York sports fanatic I would always start with the back of the paper and work my way toward the middle.  I was a big fan of the cartoons of Bill Gallo. When I got to the end of the sports section I would  flip to the front page and start reading the non-sports-related news.  I always read Jimmy Breslin’s column, but I am not quite sure why.  

Needless to say, I was thrilled back in 2010 when I wrote my first piece for the Daily News.  

I thought about those days in the 1970s reading the New York Daily News when I ran across historian Eric Foner‘s letter to the editor published in the October 6, 2015 issue of The New York Times.  Here it is:

Your article about the transformation of The Daily News (“Layoffs and Digital Shift at The Daily News May Signal the Tabloid Era’s End,” news article, Sept. 28) brings back memories of my days as a young City College history professor in the 1970s at the time of open admissions.

The students hailed from every conceivable racial and national background, and had widely differing degrees of preparation for college. In addition to history courses, I was assigned to teach remedial reading (a subject in which I had no training whatever).

I told the students at the outset to bring The New York Times to class each day; we would work on reading comprehension and vocabulary and also discuss what was going on in the world. The next day only a handful of students arrived with the paper. It turned out that The Times was simply not for sale in the neighborhoods where they lived. So we switched to The Daily News, available at every newsstand in New York.

Their reading improved during the term. Equally important, they learned a heck of a lot about the city in which they lived.

ERIC FONER

The 1865 Broadway Bible House

The 1865 Broadway Bible House

Last week the ABS, for all intents and purposes, left New York City.

In order to remember this historic New York institution, we have decided to do a few posts on the various places in the city where the ABS was headquartered over the years.  Scroll down to see our entries on 72 Nassau Street and the Astor Place Bible House.  Today we turn to the Bible House at 1865 Broadway.

1966 was a big year for the American Bible Society.  In May, the Society commemorated its 150th year of labor on behalf of the Bible Cause.  It also moved into its fourth Bible House.

After the Society decided to do all of its printing through outside contractors at some point in the early twentieth century, it concluded that the Astor Place Bible House was just too large. So it decided to downside.   Between 1936 and 1966 the ABS occupied a building on Park Avenue and 57th street.

After 30 years on Park Avenue, the ABS moved once again. It left Park Avenue for an impressive new twelve-story structure at 1865 Broadway, just north of Columbus Circle.

In 1963, Everett Smith, the President of the Board of Managers, announced that the ABS headquarters was relocating to the corner of Broadway and West 61st Street in the newly revitalized Lincoln Center area of New York City.  The site had been purchased and plans for a new Bible House were in the works.  Smith explained the move in terms of the rapid growth the ABS had experienced in recent years.  At the time of the purchase of the land, the ABS had 299 employees, but only eighty of them were working at the Park Avenue building. The rest were scattered in four different locations around the city.  The new building would allow all ABS employees to work under one roof.  The 1865 Broadway located provided more room for the Society’s ever-expanding library that now included 22,000 copies of the Christian scriptures in over 1000 languages.  It was one of the largest Bible libraries in the Western Hemisphere and attracted scholars from all over the world.

The Board of Managers hoped that the new building would continue to serve as a tourist attraction much in the way that the Astor Place location and Park Avenue building (before it got too crowded) had appealed to visitors to New York City.  1865 Broadway would also have plenty of space for exhibits.

On the afternoon of April 3, 1966–Palm Sunday–the new Bible House was dedicated.

This summer, the ABS is moving out of this building and relocating to Philadelphia.