Here is another OAH 2014 report from our correspondent Charles McCrary. Check out his previous (and very popular) post on secularization here. –JF
On Saturday morning at OAH I saw an excellent panel on Hawaiian history. The collection of three papers, each from a PhD student presenting dissertation research, focused on capitalism, material culture, environmental history, bodies, and the intersections among these. I will provide a brief summary of the session, and, though I won’t be able to do justice to the quality of the papers, I hope to alert readers to some of the exciting new work in the burgeoning field of Pacific history.
Gregory Rosenthalpresented a paper, drawn from his SUNY–Stony Brook dissertation, on contestations over Chinese and native Hawaiian workers’ bodies on Hawaiian sugar plantations. Chinese workers started to arrive in Hawai’i in 1852, as native Hawaiian labor was beginning to decline along with the downturn in previously lucrative markets like fur seal hunting, guano mining, and whaling. The islands were turning to sugar plantations. Americans on Hawai‘i, such as the leaders of The Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society (RHAS), debated the pros and cons of Hawaiian and Chinese bodies’ labor. Hawaiians were, in the RHAS’s view, “amphibious beings,” not well suited for work in the cane fields and harder to coerce than the Chinese. The Chinese, though, were more expensive to feed, since they preferred to eat rice, which was expensive to import. In this environment, where everyone was comparing Chinese and Hawaiian workers—including the workers themselves, who competed and conflicted with each other—bodies were racialized according to their “natural” proclivities as well as hairstyles, clothes, and food preferences.
Furthering the discussion of food and drink consumption, Hi‘ilei Hobart, a PhD student in the food studies program at NYU, used ice as a lens through which to understand colonialism, capitalism, and racialization. Ice, Hobart demonstrated, was a “tool for empire-building.” Prior to the 1860s, though, efforts to import it had been infrequent and mostly unsuccessful. Advertisements, many of which focused on all the wonderful chilled cocktails now available, catered to Anglo-Americans understandings of themselves as refined, racializing non-white bodies, which apparently did not need ice. After all, they hadn’t asked for it. Although, neither had Anglo-Americans until recently. In this way, the “need” for ice in Hawai‘i was created in order to differentiate Anglo-Americans from those they wanted to distance as racially other.
Lawrence Kessler presented research on the sugarcane economy from 1835 to 1875. Like Rosenthal, he discussed the RHAS, though Kessler focused on the changes taking place in Hawaiian missionary culture at the society’s founding in 1851. Traditionally, the missionaries to Hawai‘i, most of them associated with the ABCFM, had discouraged growing sugar, since the primary way to make it a profitable export was to distill it into rum. Engaging in the rum trade would be immoral, and rum consumption on the islands would promote vice. However, over time some softened their anti-sugar stance and started growing it in small quantities for consumption. As Hawaiian exports were drying up with the decline of whaling and other industries, Americans in Hawai‘i started allowing and even promoting sugar planting. What emerged, according to Kessler, was a sort of hybridized plantation system. Missionaries and their families used sugar plantations to instill American Protestant virtues and an agrarian work ethic, but substituted the capitalist system of wage labor for the more traditional understanding of landed agrarianism and commodity-based economies.
As Jennifer Newell indicated in her response to the papers, the panel suggested intriguing new ways forward for discussing the intersections between environmental history and the history of global capitalism. In the second half of the nineteenth century the Hawaiian Islands underwent a transition from an extractive economy to an export economy. This transition had global implications. During the discussion Rosenthal pointed out that a focus on Hawai‘i allows us to see the flows of capital, commodities, and people that “globalized” capitalist economies. The California Gold Rush, coal mining in Pennsylvania, political unrest in the Spanish empire, the sea otter population in the North Pacific—all of these events were global realities, and all factor into Hawaiian history. As more cultural historians pay attention to economic and environmental history, they should look to some of the exciting and generative work being done in Pacific histories as an apt model.
The five bloggers on the panel all blog in different ways. John Fea pointed out that his model was that of Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish; Historiann’s type of personal commentary is different and more regular than Mike O’Malley’s The Aporetic. USIH and The Junto, both group blogs, take different approaches to generating content, with USIH assigning their bloggers more specific assignments.
When categorizing content, we should note that blogging is not one thing. Fea’s style engages a different audience fromThe Junto’s fare, yet both clearly fit under the broadest category of ‘historical blogging’. The real innovation of blogging lies in the ease with which people can access the means of publishing, and the hope of generating an audience.
That is necessarily disruptive of a process of recognizing “scholarship” through very narrow channels indeed. And really, the amount of scholarly activity we all do as historians that doesn’t fit neatly into a dissertation/article/review/monograph model should be accounted for in a review process.
This post comes from our OAH conference correspondent Charles McCrary. Charlie is a Ph.D candidate in religious studies at Florida State University. His areas of research includes nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual history, religions of the Pacific, early American Methodism, and the historiography of American religions. In this piece he responds to Kathryn Lofton’s talk at the State of the Field: Religion in American History session. Enjoy! –JF
On Sunday morning at the OAH meeting I attended the State of the Field session for the study of religion and American history. John Fea storified his tweets on this session, providing a good summary of the session. So, instead I will focus on Kathryn Lofton’s presentation on secularism and secularization (this was her topic, alongside “religion and politics,” “religion and gender,” “religion and law,” and “religious diversity and complexity;” these categorizations themselves might have sparked some interesting conversation.) The study of secularism, as well as the use of it as a conceptual framework, is becoming popular in American religious history, especially as historians begin to draw on the work of scholars such as Webb Keane, Talal Asad, and Charles Taylor. Secularism has proved to be a useful frame for scholars of American religion, as evidenced by the work of Tracy Fessenden, John Modern, Gregory Jackson, and others. Lofton prudently cautioned, though, that as more historians become interested in secularism, we ought to be clear about what we mean and how we’re using it. In that spirit, in this post I will attempt to reiterate Lofton’s talk in order to provide a short primer to the place of secularism in American history now
As Lofton noted, secularization and secularism are not new concepts. Max Weber and Sigmund Freud both used them, as did Peter Berger, especially in his 1967 book The Sacred Canopy. Secularization, traditionally understood, is the idea that “religion” is going away or retreating from the public sphere somehow and that Western societies are becoming (and will become) less and less religious. Sociologists have debated this, and much of this depends on polls and categories and so on (Who are the “nones”? Are they a real group?). What Weber, Freud, and Berger were all getting at, though, Lofton argued, is religion as a marker of identity. What are the historical circumstances that created a world where some things, ideas, and people are “religious” and some are “secular”? Secularism, then, is the frame that allows for this taxonomy. It is about, to quote Taylor, the “conditions of belief.” This reminds me of a comment made during the State of the Field session on the American Enlightenment, wherein someone remarked that the Enlightenment was more about epistemology than specific ideas—how we believe more so than what we believe. This is the conversation that historians of American religion and secularism have taken up in the last decade or so.
In this way, Lofton’s talk framed the rest of the panel, as the study of secularism calls into question our categories, how we arrived at them, and why they matter. Why was there a talk on “religious diversity,” but not “religious violence,” for instance? What does that say about the state of the field? Other presenters asked narrower versions of that question, applied to their (sub?)-subfield. Why, Sarah Barringer Gordon asked, do scholars of religion and law study the First Amendment so much but do not often consider tax law or incorporation? What languages or logics mediate among the various actors in our stories? (Lofton argued, with a nod to Mark Valeri and Bethany Moreton, that the only majority transnational category today is finance.) The religion/secularism binary demands answers to the biggest questions about our field as whole. What is it, exactly, that we study? Or, following J.Z. Smith, why this and not that?
Consider Jonathan Edwards and L. Ron Hubbard. Lofton noted that to most of us, Edwards probably seems more theological and Hubbard more, well, “scientological.” But could Edwards not be considered, according to the science of his day, a scientist? Hubbard fought to have his church be legally recognized as a religion. These actors, like all actors, were subjects profoundly constrained and
conditioned by their own contexts. The study of secularism is largely about emphasizing these contexts or structures, leaving agency an open question. A different strand of history ignores or at least tables these concerns, although they do so, Lofton would say, unadvisedly. Either way, though, if we apply our own definitions of “religion” and “science” to Edwards or Hubbard, we risk obscuring rather than explaining or illuminating the worlds that made and were made by our subjects.
In the Q & A, as well as in other conversations during and after the session, some suggested that Lofton’s talk was not really about history but about something else, “social science” or “theory” instead. I don’t really understand this critique. It seems to me (and I think this is one argument Lofton made, though not quite in these words, in response to David Hollinger’s questions from the audience) that using our subjects’ epistemologies to frame categories is a thoroughly historical approach. If we’re going to plot Jonathan Edwards as an actor in religious history, then we ought to ask what religion meant in, say, 1740s Massachusetts. Secularism is a useful analytic for this type of historical framing.
I like what Joseph Adelman has to say here. (And thanks for the plug). A taste:
Other blogs don’t aim for “scholarship” in the narrowest sense (John Fea had interesting thoughts on how to construe the term) but do wonderful service to the profession by highlighting books of interest, topics that deserve coverage, and connecting history to the present. And some blogs do a little bit of everything. John Fea is my best example of this. In a single day, he will post interviews with authors and book reviews, highlights of research projects, notes about teaching, and Springsteen concert clips. Go ahead over and read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and then tell me how you’d classify it. I can’t—and I like it that way. Michael O’Malley discussed the session and summarized his remarks at his excellent blog, The Aporetic. And in case you were not in Atlanta, the OAH filmed the session. I imagine it will be appearing soon somewhere on the OAH website.
I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on a panel with Jeff Pasley, Anne Little, Michael O’Malley, Ben Alpers, and Ken Owen this morning to talk about historians and blogging. You can read Michael Hattem’s storification of the tweets from the session here.
Ann Little of Historiann fame got us off to a solid start. Since she posted her comments before the session, a a few members of the panel (myself included) used part of their brief remarks to respond to Ann. Is blogging scholarship? Ann answered the question in the negative. She could not get around the idea that the things we write on blogs cannot be subjected to peer review and thus could not formally be called scholarship. Everything else she said about blogging was extremely positive. She encouraged scholars to try to make a case for blogging as scholarship (although she warned pre-tenured faculty from doing so) and extolled the value of blogging for professional development and the development of writing habits. In the end, Historiann was a realist. She was just not convinced that departments will accept blogging as scholarship when it comes to tenure and promotion. She is largely correct.
I was up next. I began with Ernest Boyer’s 1990 essay Scholarship Reconsidered. Boyer seeks to expand the idea of scholarship to include the scholarship of discovery (traditional research in books and articles), the scholarship of integration (synthetic work), the scholarship of application (bringing historical thinking skills and knowledge to the public), and the scholarship of teaching. I argued that all four of these types of scholarship can be accomplished on a blog, but especially the scholarship of integration, application, and teaching. I said that schools like Messiah College and others that have adopted Boyer’s categories might consider blogging as “scholarship.”
Michael O’Malley said that blogging is a form of scholarship, or at least is should be. Blogging has the potential to be a venue that integrates the glowing personal reflections of a book’s “acknowledgements” page(s) with the detached scholarly analysis found in the rest of the book. Scholars are in the business of “making meaning” and blogging is a way for historians to share their personal struggles to make meaning out of the past.
Ben Alpers has done a lot of thinking about blogging. He challenged the panel and the audience to separate “scholarship” from considerations related to promotion and tenure. Scholarship does not have to be connected to peer review or the demands placed upon academics at their home institutions. He offered several advantages to blogging: speed, dissemination, inter-activity, flexibility, and hypertextuality. Blogging also has its disadvantages: speed is not always good when doing historical research, blogging demands constant content, blogging is informal (it does not feel “scholarly” and when it tries to be “scholarly” it does not feel like blogging), blog posts are short. He also reminded us that blog posts are always “works in progress,” but they are also published.
Finally, Ken Owen talked about his experience at The Junto and his attempts to get his work at the blog to count toward his tenure at a school that values the Ernest Boyer model of scholarship.
During the Q&A session several non-academic historians pushed the panel to see blogging as a way of engaging the public outside of the academy. Several panelists and audience members rejected the idea that there should be AHA guidelines about what constitutes good blogging. In a discussion about how to convince history departments that blogging was a legitimate form of scholarship, Clare Potter, a.k.a. “Tenured Radical,” said that bloggers need to convince their departments that “not everything on a computer is the same.”
Thanks to Rosemarie Zagarri for bringing this panel together and Jeff Pasley for chairing it. There was so much more I could have said about blogging (it has been a part of my life for over five years now), but I encourage you to keep reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home to get a better sense of what we are doing here.
With that, I think my OAH 2014 blogging and tweeting has come to an end. Thanks for following this weekend.
Thanks so much to Michael Hattem of Yale for Storifyng our OAH session “Is Blogging Scholarship?” I will work on a post on the session soon. It was a great session and was well attended despite its late Sunday morning time slot. The “Story” is below.
I hope you are still in Atlanta. If you are, I want to invite you to the 10:45 session: “Is Blogging Scholarship?” Historiann has already tipped her hand. I am holding my thoughts close to the vest. Not sure what O’Malley, Pasley, or Alpers will say. I hope to see you there.
Chair: Jeffrey Pasley (University of Missouri)
Panelists: John Fea (Messiah College) Ann Little (Colorado State University) Michael O’ Malley (George Mason University) Benjamin Alpers (University of Oklahoma)
Should be fun.
I will be live-tweeting the 9:00am session on the state of religion in American history. Stay tuned.
Salon D was packed out yesterday afternoon for the plenary session of the Organization of American Historians: “Historians and Their Publics.” OAH president Alan Kraut moderated a session that included Spencer Crew, Sean Wilentz, Jill Lepore, and Shola Lynch. Rather than write a report of the panel, I thought I would use a few of my tweets to frame some thoughts. Here goes:
TWEET: “Live tweeting plenary session ‘Historians and Their Publics.’ Kristof op-ed framing the discussion so far.”
As might be expected, Kristof’s New York Times op-ed “Professors, We Need You” was on everyone’s mind. Kraut used the piece to frame the conversation. I am on record saying that Kristof’s piece is on the mark, but I would really like to know what Lepore thought about it. (She is mentioned in the piece as someone who is connecting with public audiences). At one point during the session she said that scholars have retreated into the ivory tower, suggesting that she might believe that Kristof has identified a problem.
TWEET: “Lepore sees her writing as extension of her teaching. Developing students in skills of historcial thinking.”
Wilentz also affirmed this. I am not sure how often Lepore and Wilentz teach, but those scholars in the proverbial “trenches” who teach 4-4 loads (or more) are our most important public historians. K-12 teachers as well.
TWEET: “Lepore: So many historians think that to do public history is to somehow to engage in politics. More to this than just punditry”
This led to an interesting conversation. Lepore tried to separate what she does in The New Yorker and elsewhere from political punditry (although a lot of her public writing has an obvious political edge). Wilentz saw no need to do so. As someone who writes the occasional op-ed or politically-charged blog post, I often struggle with this issue. Do I have to take off my “historian” hat and put on my “pundit” hat whenever I write an op-ed piece? Wilentz admitted that there was a fundamental difference between writing scholarly essays/books and writing opinion pieces, but he did not think the difference was very great. He argued for what might be called a “historically informed punditry.” (This is not unlike what the History News Service has been trying to do).
TWEET: “Wilentz describes old magazines like the New Republic as “gladiatorial.” Extolls these kinds of mags as way to reach the public.”
Wilentz likes to write for the magazines read by America’s educated class. So does Lepore. She extolled the essay as the best way to reach public audiences. While both of these excellent public scholars reach a much larger audience than most historians (and should be commended for doing so), their understanding of “the public” is very narrow. It struck me that no one in the room acknowledged the assumptions about social class (and I am talking here about “class” as more of a cultural phenomenon than an economic one) that pervaded much of what Lepore and Wilentz had to say. For example, most Americans do not read The New Republic or The New Yorker. The overwhelming majority of the American public might ask “Who is Jill Lepore?” or “Who is Sean Wilentz?” How does one reach people like my Dad–a man without a post-secondary education who gets most of his history from Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh? What about the millions of evangelical Christians who get their history from David Barton? Reaching these Americans requires a very different approach to what it means to be a “public intellectual.” Spencer Crew (museum educator) and Shola Lynch (documentary film maker) seemed to have a much more expansive view of “the public.”
TWEET: “Lepore talks about her tea party book. Says she felt a ‘chill’ from the historical profession. She was told it was a waste of time.”
I really liked The Whites of Their Eyes and gave it a lot of attention here at the blog. I think it is unfortunate that so many historians blasted the book. It was a great attempt to address the way history is being used (and abused) in the public. Did Lepore waste her time writing about the Tea Party’s use and abuse of history? Absolutely not. The criticism she received by some members of the historical profession reveal an unwillingness to engage with cultural or political movements that are perceived to be anti-intellectual or not worthy of their time. This is unfortunate. My critique of The Whites of Their Eyes is different than the criticism offered by others in the historical profession. Lepore’s book is a good start, but it did very little to help the Tea Party develop a more nuanced interpretation of American history. I am not sure that many rank and file Tea Partiers read the book (but I could be wrong). Few of them would listen to a Harvard history professor anyway. So who did read The Whites of Their Eyes? I am guessing that the readers of the book were people who already agree with Lepore about the Tea Party’s misuse of history. It is likely that these readers might use the book for further ammunition in attacking the anti-intellectualism of the Tea Party. In other words, Lepore was using her Princeton University Press book to preach to the choir. Did it really change hearts and minds? If not, what might it take to do so? These are the questions we should be asking. Rather than using our “superior” intellectual to savage those who may not see the power of a well-crafted historical argument, we should be thinking about the most effective ways of teaching those outside of our classrooms how to make such an argument. In the process we might succeed in winning some of them over.
Panelists: Craig Yirush (University of California) Richard Godbeer (University of Miami) Barbara Oberg (Princeton University) David Waldstreicher (Temple University) Michael Winship (University of Georgia)
I decided to give Storify a try for the OAH session on “New Knowledge in Old Containers: How Early Republic Scholars Are Changing the Story.”This session eatured John Larson, Patricia Cohen, Andrew Cayton, Mary Kelley, Harry Watson, and some great audience commentary.
As a student of the Enlightenment in America who has written a bit on the subject, and as a student of Ned Landsman (who, sadly, was not mentioned in this session–he should have been), I was excited to attend the OAH session: “State of the Field: The Trans-Atlantic Enlightenment in America.” I appreciate Rosemarie Zagarri’s efforts to bring a wide-ranging group of scholars–Sarah Knott, Jason Opal, Joyce Chaplin, Jose Torre, and Michael Meranze–together to discuss and define this important movement in American intellectual and cultural life. (I also appreciate Zagarri’s passionate defense of “The Enlightenment” as a useful category for historians).
One thing I liked about this session was its free-wheeling style. The panelists did not make formal presentations. Zagarri proposed questions and the panelists answered them and argued with each other about their answers. The audience was actively involved. It was a model roundtable. I wish more academic panels were like this.
Several themes emerged from the discussion.
Very early in the session Sarah Knott asked if it was time for a full-blown synthesis of the Enlightenment in America. The panel had mixed feelings about this. Someone invoked Henry May’s magisterial The Enlightenment in America. Chaplin dismissed May. She said that his classic study was too focused on intellectual and “top-down” history. (At one point Chaplin said that no one who writes intellectual history should expect to win any of the “big prizes” in the field. Interesting. What about George Marsden (Bancroft) and Louis Menand (Pulitzer)? When I tweeted this my feed erupted with the names of other prize-winning intellectual historians [and not just Merle Curti Prize winners]. I am sure the good folks at US Intellectual History would be happy to know this). Meranze defended May’s book, claiming that it made an effort to take Enlightenment studies beyond the high European Enlightenment of Peter Gay and others. I would agree. The Enlightenment in America is still worth reading and digesting.
Toward the end of the session there was a question from a historian of the Scottish Enlightenment who asked if there were big themes in the American Enlightenment equivalent to the ideas of “virtue” and “sociabilty” that have long dominated discussions of the movement in Scotland. Chaplin said that slavery should be a major theme in any such synthesis. Later a very interesting discussion emerged on the Enlightenment and the environment. Other panelists balked at the question. Jose Torre gave the best answer, suggesting that the concept of the “natural” may be a useful way to organize such a study.
Midway through the session, in response to an audience question, the panel entered into the tangled web of trying to define “The Enlightenment.” Several panelists made an attemot, but I really liked Jason Opal’s definition: “The Enlightenment is all about making life less miserable.” As some of my readers know, I also took a shot at defining the movement in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America: 1. The Enlightenment was about self-improvement 2. Enlightened people were able to employ reason as a necessary check to the individual passions 3. The Enlightenment taught that passions needed to be directed away from local concerns and toward a universal love of the human race. 4. The Enlightenment always existed in compromise with the deeply held faith of the American people.
I think this definition is flexible enough to be applied to a host of social, cultural, and intellectual history. I was a bit disappointed that there was no discussion on this last point–the relationship between religion and the Enlightenment. Few of the panelists seemed ready or prepared to address this issue and many of them did not seem to know how to handle a question from the floor about the relationship between church and state in the early republic.
I was also disappointed that more was not said about the various ways in which the Enlightenment intersected with the cultural and social world of the eighteenth-century. Landsman’s groundbreaking work was not mentioned. Neither was the work of David Jaffee. And what about the rural Enlightenment? Some panelists implied that American historians had not done a good job of connecting the Enlightenment to local communities and places in early America. I left a bit baffled on this front.
Finally, there was a brief discussion about teaching the Enlightenment. One audience member wanted to know how to bring the best Enlightenment scholarship to her students. (I tried to make some suggestions on this front a few years ago in a “Teaching the JAH” feature). Chaplin didn’t seem to think that anyone taught the American Enlightenment anymore. She asked the audience members to raise their hands if any of them taught it or even had a section on it in their syllabus. A lot of hands went up. I think many were puzzled by the question.
I do not think the “State of the Field” was fully represented during this session, but it was stimulating nonetheless.
This morning I had the privilege of chairing a session on “Religion and Transatlantic Print Culture” at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Actually, I was pinch hitting for Kyle Roberts of Loyola University-Chicago, who could not make it to the conference. My responsibilities? Introduce the panelists and read Roberts’s comments.
I expected a solid panel, but I did not anticipate learning so much.
Jonathan Den Hartog of Northwestern College (St. Paul) began the festivities with a paper on religion, Anti-Jacobinism, and print culture. (For those unfamiliar, Anti-Jacobinists were 1790s intellectuals who opposed the political ideas associated with the French Revolution). From a religious perspective, Anti-Jacobins opposed French irreligion, Paine’s Age of Reason, and the dangers of the Illuminati. Den Hartog focused on four American Anti-Jacobin writers: grammarian Noah Webster, clergyman Timothy Dwight, printer William Cobbett, and novelist Sally Sayward Wood.
Lily Santoro of Southeast Missouri State presented a paper on the ways in which American Protestants used British texts across the Atlantic “border” to shape a distinctive discussion of science and religion in the early republic. She focused on intellectuals such as Yale professor Benjamin Silliman and Baptist minister Thomas Staughton who used the study of the natural sciences to support their republican and Christian faith.
Ashley Moreshead of the University of Delaware (both Ashley and Lily are/were Christine Heyrman students) talked about British contributions to American missionary periodicals. Missionary magazines created a sort of imagined community of Protestants that transcended national boundaries. Her paper reminded me of the work by Susan O’Brien, Frank Lambert, and others who have written similar things about the First Great Awakening.
(I hope these descriptions do some justice to the three papers).
I should also add that this panel was a model for how to present complicated ideas in a compelling, passionate way. There were no bells and whistles (Powerpoints, handouts, etc…), but all three papers were presented in a way that was very accessible to the non-specialists in the room. I don’t think I have ever heard names and phrases such as “William Paley,” “Edmund Burke,” “natural religion,” and “heathen millions” uttered in such an enthusiastic way.
In his comments, Kyle Roberts asked Den Hartog to think harder about how (and if) less popular Anti-Jacobin works were disseminated. He wondered whether Santoro’s intellectuals and science writers were distinctly “American” in nature. And he asked Moreshead to examine how magazine editors repurposed European content to suit their needs.
Den Hartog, Santoro, and Moreshead are doing some great work. I look forward to reading their forthcoming works. Happy to be a pinch-hitter. (I have always been a big fan of Manny Mota and Rusty Staub).