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.

The Astor Place "Bible House"

The Astor Place 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 first entry on 72 Nassau Street.

In 1853 the ABS left Nassau Street and opened its new “Bible House” on Astor Place.  It was a massive building.  It cost $303,000 to build, it was six stories high, and its brick exterior walls fronted four different city streets.  Much of the building would be used for the production of Bibles, but there was also office space for ABS secretaries and staff and additional space for the staff of other New York benevolent societies.  The ABS rented space at street level for “various business occupations.”  The building committee concluded that the new Bible House was built to be “congenial to all who love the Bible, and in themselves a beautiful development of that Christian civilization and ‘good will to all men,’ which is the glorious offspring of that very cause under whose encircling influence they have found a home.”

The impressive new Bible House became the center of print culture not only in New York City, but in the entire nation.  The building became a New York icon.  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 any circus.”  Its size and facade sent a clear message: Christian civilization in the United States would advance, and the American Bible Society would be leading the way.

The American Bible Society Ends Its 199-Year Run in New York City

My sources inside 1865 Broadway tell me that today was the last day of work at the New York headquarters of the American Bible Society.  The ABS website still says that the Society is located on 1865 Broadway, but I am sure that will change very soon.  In January the ABS announced that it would be moving this summer to the Wells Fargo Building on 401 Market Street in Philadelphia.

The ABS has ended its 199-run year in New York.  The move is taking place with no fanfare.  No one is acknowledging the fact that one of New York’s oldest institutions has just left the city.

Ironically, the move out of New York comes at a time when evangelical Christians seem to be increasingly more invested in the city.  Christianity Today, the flagship publication for American evangelicals, has been collecting all kinds of stories about evangelical activities in New York.  Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church is booming. New York City even has its own evangelical college–The Kings College. From what I have heard it is really growing.

Back in 2013 there was an attempt to take advantage of this evangelical resurgence.  According to a report from World magazine, ABS President at the time, Doug Birdsall, proposed a $300 million
“center for Manhattan’s growing evangelical church.”  Keller was behind it.  So was popular evangelical writer Eric Metaxas.  The plan was to replace the existing building with a 30-story one that would include an Omni Hotel.  It would be funded by Dallas billionaire Bob Rowling, the owner of Omni.  But when Birdsall began to have disagreements with the ABS Board of Trustees he was fired.  According to World, he was apparently giving the Board grades (A, B, and C) based on their ability to lead the organization.

So why has the ABS left?  The American Bible Society, until very recently, occupied a place in the heart of New York City. It was steps from the Time Warner Center and Lincoln Center.

Sadly, the decision was an economic one.  1865 Broadway is in bad shape. It needs millions of dollars of improvements in order to get it up to code.  Moreover, the ABS owned 37-stories of airspace above the building.  This is prime New York City real estate. When Birdsall was fired–he was dumped before he was officially inaugurated as President–the plans to get the building up to code were eventually abandoned.

The ABS sold the building for $300 million. I am guessing this means that whatever financial difficulties it has developed over the years have now gone away.

But why leave New York?  You will need to read my forthcoming book on the history of the American Bible Society to find out.

In order to remember the ABS in New York I am going to do a few posts about some of the places in the city where the Society was housed over the years.  Stay tuned.  We will start on Monday with 72 Nassau Street.

More Photos From the Last Days of the American Bible Society in New York City

On April 22 I posted some pictures I took as the American Bible Society began the process of packing up and moving to Philadelphia after 199 years in New York City.  I made what is probably my last visit to the New York Bible House on May 7 and 8.  Here are some pictures (with captions) from that visit.

What is left of archivist Kristen Hellman’s office

The movers were present everywhere
A file cabinet from the ABS world-class library is ready to be moved
What is left of the ABS world-class Bible library
Packing boxes in the 3rd floor lobby with empty display case in back

These boxes were left on the archives shelves specifically for me

All the other archive shelves are empty and on their way to storage

One last look at the ABS Archives
Free books are everywhere!
My final research push

Waiting for my train home.  I have a book to finish

The Author’s Corner with Catherine McNeur

Catherine McNeur is Assistant Professor of Environmental History and Public History at Portland State University. This interview is based on her new book, Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Harvard University Press, November 2014).

JF: What led you to write Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City?

CM: Before I got started on Taming Manhattan, I had read a passing reference to New York’s hog riots in the early nineteenth century. I was amused by the fact that pigs freely sauntered through the streets, let alone that they were the cause of riots. My reaction, I’ve come to realize, reflects that like many others I make assumptions about what belongs in a city and what doesn’t. As I began to look into these riots and several other environmental battles, I found that the nineteenth century was a moment where these lines between urban and rural were being drawn. The act of drawing those lines legally and culturally was highly contentious because many stood to lose quite a lot as the municipal government pushed livestock and agriculture out of the city and made it harder to earn a living from urban land.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City?

CM: As cities such as New York transformed beyond recognition from the influx of immigrants and the construction of new buildings, residents found in the urban environment a way to seize control of the seemingly uncontrollable city. While the battles that erupted over the use of the urban environment often led to a tamer, cleaner, and more regulated city, they also amplified environmental injustices and economic disparities.

JF: Why do we need to read Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City?

CM: Nowadays there’s a lot of talk about how to make cities sustainable. Taming Manhattan shows us that “sustainability” meant something completely different in the nineteenth century and will likely mean something completely different in years to come. Today keeping backyard chickens or rooftop beehives is trendy and acceptable by a range of different people and municipalities. You can even buy a $100,000 chicken coop from Nieman Marcus if you were so inclined. However, 150 years ago it was far from fashionable to keep livestock or tend a garden and wealthier New Yorkers actively tried to bring about the death or urban agriculture. In their eyes, getting rid of local food sources would make the city healthier and more sustainable. What we need to remember is that attempts to improve cities usually come with significant social costs that we often overlook.

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

CM: I actually majored in urban design rather than history when I was an undergrad. One of the courses I took for that major, though, focused on the architectural history of New York City. Each week the professor led us on walking tours through a different neighborhood, discussing the specific histories of buildings and communities. Having grown up around New York, I was used to the city and its built environment. In fact, it seemed like more of a backdrop than anything else. This class, however, opened my eyes up to the wealth of stories about people, politics, economics, and environments that led to something as simple as the design of a city block. As I got further into that major, I researched the work of an architect in the early republic. I fell in love with the detective work necessary in the archives and there’s been no turning back since.

JF: What is your next project?

CM: Taming Manhattan involves New Yorkers fighting over sizable animals, like sows among other things. For my next project, I’m interested in looking at how early Americans reacted to much smaller creatures from amoeba to insects and what that meant for the way they understood their own bodies and environments. While today we see a budding respect for bacteria as people increasingly embrace probiotics and newspapers report on the importance “good bacteria,” the fear of tiny things has yet to go away. I’m interested in seeing how nineteenth-century Americans confronted these fears.

JF: Good stuff, thanks Catherine!
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Kyle Bulthuis

Kyle Bulthuis teaches history at Utah State University. This interview is based on his forthcoming book, Four Steeples over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations (NYU Press, October 2014).

JF: What led you to write Four Steeples over the City Streets?

KB: In graduate school I found myself drawn to two historical fields—religious and social history—that often do not mix. When they interact, each tends to flatten and simplify the other field. In this book I wanted to do justice to both methods. In New York City, individuals such as John Jay, James Harper, Sojourner Truth, and Peter Williams were not just prominent citizens but also churchgoers. I strove to tell their story as religious as well as social individuals, people located in a time and place that included religious and secular commitments.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Four Steeples over the City Streets?

KB: These four New York City congregations—Trinity Episcopal Church, John Street Methodist Chapel, Mother Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, and St. Philip’s (African) Episcopal Church—were all historically significant in their respective denominations (and socially significant landmarks in New York City), and each were profoundly shaped by the social changes of the early Republic. The language of Christian unity that congregants voiced proved to be an ideal that was impossible to maintain in an environment where wealth and poverty, race and gender, and physical and material development tended to divide religious bodies more than unite them.

JF: Why do we need to read Four Steeples over the City Streets?

KB: In major American cities, churches are often prominent landmarks that tourists treat as museums of the past. American politics and culture tend to identify cities as places of primarily secular, not religious, commitments. These assumptions have carried weight in the scholarly community. American religious histories often focus on denominations, or large movements, rather than individual buildings or congregations. Further, scholars of American religion have traditionally focused on the western frontier, the place of big camp meeting revivals, rather than urban centers. My examination of city congregations therefore reveals a different scale in a different place than is typical. I found that these central New York City congregations experienced religious change earlier and more intensely than elsewhere: rather than being a place where religion was peripheral, New York City was a place where religious change was cutting-edge, for good as well as for ill. Democratization, revivalism, feminization, racial segregation, reform: these developments all contributed to the urban religious experience.

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

KB: As a student I loved history for its sheer variety—in a single lecture an historian can touch upon philosophy, literature, statistics, epidemiology, family relations, and many points in between. Ultimately that variety still fascinates me: I value the ability to teach broadly, to research and write along multiple tracks, and to try to make a difference to students and the wider scholarly community. I am especially glad to be working in early America, where the worlds I study remind me regularly that the past is indeed a foreign country.

JF: What is your next project?

KB: My next project moves earlier, to the late colonial era. And in contrast to this book, which focused on a tight geographic region, this project is spatially expansive. The eighteenth century revivals of ministers such as George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards are very well known. More recently blacks who participated in them such as Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano) or Phillis Wheatley have received a lot of attention, in part because many of them—like Vassa—were extremely mobile and part of a wider Atlantic world that linked the slave trade and revivalism in intersecting, and sometimes opposing, networks. I hope to place these black religious figures in a historical rather than a literary context—to examine the spaces they inhabited, the places they moved from and to, how and why they affiliated and worshiped with different church bodies and groups, how and why they published, and what other political and cultural commitments they took on. The scholarly conversation on these issues is quite vibrant and I look forward to taking part in it.

JF: Thanks for the preview Kyle. Great stuff!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #65

Mercantile Library of NY (c.1871) after it followed the ABS to Astor Place 

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

The writing and polishing of Chapter Three continues. Yesterday morning I managed to work in another 3.5 hour writing session. I spent most of if trying to reconstruct the New York City neighborhood of the first ABS Bible House on 72 Nassau Street between Ann and Beekman.  I learned that the Bible House was located next door to Clinton Hall, the library and lecture hall of the Mercantile Library of New York.  It was fun trying to situate the Bible House on a few 1830s maps I was able to locate online.

I also learned that both the Mercantile Library and the ABS moved to Astor Place in 1853

I am hoping to finish this chapter over the weekend and move onto my chapter on the General Supply.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #63

The Bible House at 72 Nassau Street, NYC

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I spent most of my 3.5 hour writing session yesterday organizing, editing, refining, and polishing Chapter Three of the ABS manuscript.  I wrote about 1000 new words, but also eliminated about 1000 words. The chapter currently has 6900 words. This is right where I want it to be.  Here are two of the decisions I made yesterday morning:

  • I rewrote the introduction to the chapter.  Rather than starting with the story of a Bible agent bringing a Bible to a poor family in West Virginia, I decided to begin the chapter with the establishment of the first ABS Bible House at 72 Nassau Street.  I also spent a few paragraphs discussing the process by which a Bible is made.  I spent most of the rest of the chapter following the distribution flow of Bibles from Nassau Street, through the early republic’s burgeoning transportation network, into the hinterland where roads, bridges, and canals had yet to be built, to the state and local auxiliaries, and eventually into the hands of the so-called “destitute.”
  • I decided that my proposed section on the way the ABS was connected with other early nineteenth-century benevolent societies will be moved to either Chapter Four (on the General Supply) or Chapter Five (on anti-Catholicism).  This section includes the ABS interaction with the Sunday School movement, Temperance movement, and the Second Great Awakening.  It also focuses on the essential role that women played in fulfilling the ABS mission.
Stay tuned…

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society–Update #13

Richard Varick: President of ABS during 1st General Supply

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

It was a pretty quiet Friday at the American Bible Society (ABS).  I finished my last day of my first summer 2014 stint in the archives here and it was a productive one. Thanks again to Mary Cordato and Kristin Hellman for making the ABS a great place to conduct research.

On Friday I worked my way through ABS Extracts published in the late 1820s and early 1830s.  This was about the time of the ABS’s “General Supply.” Between 1829 and 1831 the Society attempted to give a Bible to every family and adult individual in the United States. It was an ambitious undertaking.  I have been looking at the way the local auxiliaries and ABS field agents have been responding to this call. I have been uncovering a lot of good anecdotes and stories.

I have also been wrestling with the nature of the book I am writing . My original goal was to write a semi-scholarly/semi-popular history of the American Bible Society that was deeply grounded in the primary sources and informed by the best secondary literature in American religious history and other fields.  I am enjoying my work on this project and wish I could spend more time on it. But, alas, I have agreed to deliver a book in time for the 200th anniversary of the ABS.  With this in mind, I am just not sure I can deliver a book with the kind of depth and scholarly analysis I had originally planned.

This is a rather new kind of history writing.  I am going to have to try to figure out how to write an institutional history in one year without sacrificing my own standards as a critical historian.  I am not sure if this is possible.  We will see what happens. This is going to take a lot of work over the course of the next year, but it is also a challenge I need right now.