Teaching History Within the Carceral State


Prion to Pipeline

Patrick Alexander (far left) and Otis Pickett (far right) with the 2015 graduation class of the Prison-to-College Pipeline program at Parchman Prison in Mississippi. (Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Dept. of Corrections

The reports from the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians continue to roll into The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  In this installment Otis W. Pickett of Mississippi College writes about a session on Mississippi’s Prison-to-College Pipeline Program.  –JF

On Saturday, April 8, 2017, members of the Prison-to College-Pipeline Program (PTCPP) teaching team gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a panel at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting entitled “Teaching History within the Carceral State: A Panel Discussion on Mississippi’s Prison-to-College Pipeline Program.”

The panel featured the founder of the PTCPP (Patrick Alexander, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at The University of Mississippi) and its co-founder (Otis W. Pickett, Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi College), as well as two history faculty who have been course instructors in the program since its creation (Stephanie Rolph, Assistant Professor of History at Millsaps and Robby Luckett, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University). The panel “moved beyond the call for new scholarship” and examined “the role of historians who teach in and about the prison [industrial] complex in Mississippi – a state that numbers among the top in imprisonment.”[1]

Patrick Alexander, serving both as panelist and chairman, began the discussion by taking the audience back to the roots of the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program, which involved his prison education work in Durham, North Carolina. As a graduate student at Duke University, Alexander established an academic enrichment program called Stepping Stones for incarcerated students at Orange Correctional Center (OCC). These students, many of whom were working on degrees at neighboring University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, lacked the opportunities for office hours, a writing center, email correspondence with professors, and tutoring opportunities that UNC students in free society could easily access in order to ensure academic success. Alexander created Stepping Stones to fill in these gaps, better prepare OCC students for college-level coursework, and also sharpen their skills in critical thinking, academic writing, creative writing, and public speaking. Alexander knew he would want to continue this work wherever he received a teaching appointment after graduation. He stated, “I knew from research and life experience that higher education programs in prison drastically reduce recidivism and radically affirm the humanity of imprisoned people, so I felt compelled to persist in establishing prison education opportunities in any community in which I lived and worked.”

Otis W. Pickett then shared about his journey in prison education. Pickett’s expedition also began in Durham. At the time, he was finishing a Ph.D. in history at The University of Mississippi and was asked by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to attend the Reconciliation Summer Institute at Duke Divinity School in the summer of 2012. One of the panels at the conference proposed “what are Christians doing to serve incarcerated Christians and others in incarcerated spaces?” When scholars mentioned that Mississippi had the second highest incarceration rate in the country, many of the eyes in the room shifted to Pickett. Pickett noted, “I was clueless. I had no idea what was happening within the carceral state in Mississippi. However, I knew when I got home that I had to do something.”

Little did they know what was in store for them, but both Alexander and Pickett accepted assistant professorships at the University of Mississippi and met during faculty orientation. Glenn Hopkins, then Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, mentioned on three occasions at that meeting “if you want to teach in prison, like Patrick, let me know because we have funding in the College to support you.” Pickett recalled, “I made a beeline for Patrick. I told him I wanted to meet with him and talk about what we could do to address mass incarceration and especially teaching incarcerated students.” Hopkins became a tremendous supporter of Alexander and Pickett. The College of Liberal Arts funded Pickett and Alexander’s pilot course for a prison education program at Parchman/Mississippi State Penitentiary in the summer of 2014.  It was then that they taught their first interdisciplinary course on African American literature and Civil Rights history at Parchman entitled “Justice Everywhere: The Civil Rights Stories of Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Barack Obama.”

Pickett and Alexander had also launched the course and the PTCPP as the chief initiative of the University of Mississippi’s very first “Rethinking Mass Incarceration in the South” conference, which was held in April 2014.  This is a biannual interdisciplinary conference that focuses on mass incarceration and is hosted at the University of Mississippi Law School. After a long summer of teaching and learning, Pickett and Alexander’s first seventeen students at Parchman successfully finished their course, earned certificates of completion, and received a sentence reduction of one month. One student, because of his outstanding work in the course, earned three hours of M.A. History credit at Mississippi College.  Pickett and Alexander redeveloped their “Justice Everywhere” course at Parchman in summers 2015 and 2016, which resulted in many more students earning college credit in History from Mississippi College and in English from the University of Mississippi (UM).  Alexander also taught a course on African American literature creative writing with fellow UM professor Ann Fisher-Wirth in fall 2016 that yielded 10 more students from Parchman earning credit from UM.

In Spring 2015, just prior to Pickett and Alexander offering their second course at Parchman, Pickett met Stephanie Rolph at the OAH annual meeting in St. Louis, MO, as Pickett recalled during the panel discussion:  “It is appropriate that we are having this conversation at the OAH. The idea for teaching incarcerated students in central Mississippi was born in conversations I had with Stephanie at the OAH in St. Louis.”  Pickett later joked, “Stephanie and I teach about 10 minutes from each other, but we had to go to St. Louis to meet.” Rolph was preparing to teach a course with a colleague at the Federal Prison in Yazoo City, MS. At the Spring 2015 meeting of the OAH, she and Pickett began to talk about education needs for imprisoned communities in central Mississippi. “I was incredibly passionate about creating higher education opportunities for incarcerated women in Mississippi,” said Rolph. Pickett and Rolph reached out to the Mississippi Department of Corrections and found that many women at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) were very interested in taking courses for college credit. “We wanted to teach them, but we needed funding,” Pickett remembered. Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council (MHC) offered to partner with the Prison-to College Pipeline Program.

The MHC funded Picket and Rolph’s summer 2016 course at CMCF entitled “‘Turning Oppression into Opportunity’: Understanding Justice, Human Rights, and Gender through the Lens of Southern Women’s Experiences from the Indigenous Era to the Modern Civil Rights Era.” Rolph noted that the women loved the class and “really connected with the material especially on issues related to maternity, labor and family. They all had children and family members with whom they wanted to share what they were reading and writing.” Each student finished the course, and many earned college credit through Mississippi College.  This was the first time in the history of the state of Mississippi that incarcerated women had earned college credit from a Mississippi institution of higher learning.[2]

Robby Luckett closed out the panel discussion by sharing about his experiences working as a guest lecturer for the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program ever since its inaugural class in 2014. Luckett is excited that he will be serving as a full-time instructor for a PTCPP course this summer at CMCF. “The guest teaching day at Parchman or CMCF is always my favorite day of the year,” he said, adding that, “when I get to go into the prison space and interact with students there, it always reminds me of what teaching is really about.” Luckett then described how the history of social control in Mississippi from the convict lease system, to the constitution of 1890, to the state’s continued underfunding of education today contributes to the contemporary system of mass incarceration in Mississippi. In Luckett’s words, the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program is “dealing with the consequences of over one hundred years of failed state policy toward the poor and disfranchised, which, in Mississippi, usually means African Americans.” Luckett also noted the racial and gender diversity of panelists, and the wide variety of institutions that they represent. “Today, the PTCPP has a black guy who teaches at Ole Miss, a white guy who teaches at an HBCU, a faculty member from a private Christian university, and another from a traditional liberal arts college. This is an amazingly diverse group of professors going into prison spaces across the state and doing social justice work.”

The panel closed with questions from the audience ranging from the future of the program to nuts and bolts questions about how the program got off of its feet.

For more on the Prison-to-College Pipeline check out the following pieces:

“Teaching Behind Bars”

“Prison-to-College Pipeline Program Takes Humanities Behind Bars”

“Professors Make Investments in the Future”


[1] Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting 2017 Conference Program, page 73.

[2] The work at CMCF has since expanded and will offer three new core curriculum classes in the Spring and Summer of 2017: American Literature, Interpersonal Communications and First Half U.S. History.

The Mississippi River: The Flow of Religion, Tourism, and Music


R to L: Aaron Miller, Melissa Daggett, Cam Addis, and Jodie Brown

Our reports from the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) continue to roll into The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  This report comes from Melissa Daggett, an instructor of United States history at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas and the author of Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey (University Press of Mississippi, 2016).  Melissa reports on a panel sponsored by the OAH Committee on Community Colleges.  Enjoy!  –JF

On April 8, 2017, the Committee on Community Colleges opened the Saturday sessions with a panel of three, who presented papers that were informative, entertaining, scholarly, and timely. All three papers contained the common theme of the influence of the Mississippi River upon the course of American history, and it was fitting that the presentations were done in a location next to the river.

Melissa Daggett of San Jacinto College discussed the circulation of people and ideas into New Orleans from the Northeast, and from France and the French colony of Saint-Domingue in her paper, “Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans.” This circulation helped to establish New Orleans as the premier city for Spiritualism within the confines of a very conservative South during the late antebellum period through the early years of Reconstruction. Daggett began with a description of the genesis of Modern American Spiritualism, recounting the Fox sisters’ early forays into séance Spiritualism in New York. The new non-mainstream religion eventually crossed the Mason-Dixon line and because of its diversity and openness to new cultures and religions, New Orleans provided fertile ground to nurture Spiritualism. Daggett emphasized mediums and speakers from the Northeast who traveled to St. Louis across the mid-West and then boarded a steamboat for the final leg of the journey.

Many séance circles flourished in the Creole Faubourgs of Tremé and Marigny as well as the American sector of the city. Daggett focused on Le Cercle Harmonique, the francophone séance circle of Henry Louis Rey (1831–1894), a Creole of color who was a key civil rights activist, author, and Civil War and Reconstruction leader. Daggett included scans of spiritual communications from the René Grandjean Collection, rare photographs, and maps indicating the flow of peoples and ideas into New Orleans in her PowerPoint. Melissa Daggett’s presentation was based upon her recently published book, Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey (University Press of Mississippi, 2017).

Jodie Brown of American Public University focused her presentation, “The Voodoo That You Do: Exploration of African Traditions in Louisiana Tourism,” on the disconnect between reality and myths perpetuated on tourists in New Orleans. Brown pointed to the simplistic narratives of secondary school textbooks that are based on nationalism and morality as being one reason that the typical tourist accepts tour information dispensed by Crescent City tour guides. Brown, like Daggett, emphasized the importance of the Haitian Revolution and the resulting diaspora, upon New Orleans’ rich and complex history. Voodoo is a religion of African origins with strong Haitian influences that incorporates Catholic priests, and not simply a cult led by Marie Laveau.

The haunted house on Royal Street is a stable of tour guides, who delight in gory tales of mutilation and torture of Mme Lalaurie’s slaves. Brown argued that these tales are exaggerated and reflect the noble cause of abolition whose advocates often sensationalized the treatment of slaves to make a point. History was used as a tool to lecture the masses on moral lessons.

Brown discussed the importance of history education at both the secondary and post-secondary levels to present a more accurate picture of complex issues, events, and people. With a good history education, tourists to the Crescent City can understand the true events that form New Orleans’ history, and not sensationalized and simplistic stories.

Aaron Miller of Ivy Tech Community College focused on the importance of environment on music when he presented “Big River: The Mississippi Delta in the Life and Music of Johnny Cash.” Miller, a huge fan of Cash, said that the distinct geographical features of Cash’s boyhood home of Dyess, Arkansas had a profound impact on his childhood and served as a source of inspiration for his music. Dyess was created in 1934 as a new community which directed federal aid to impoverished and desperate people. The immediate goal was to help the residents to survive the Great Depression. As a young man, Cash struggled with poverty, spending much of his time picking cotton growing in the thick Arkansas mud, sometimes called “gumbo.” Music was Cash’s salvation. During the day, he sang songs while toiling in the cotton fields,and at night, he absorbed various genres of music, listening to the radio which managed to rely stations from far away cities like Memphis and Chicago.

Two of Cash’s early hits with the iconic Sun Records, “Five Feet and Rising” and “Big River,” are indebted to Cash’s formative years in the Mississippi Delta. Aaron Miller’s paper is based upon a book project.

Cam Addis of Austin Community College acted as Chair.

Saturday and Sunday at Last Weekend’s OAH Conference


I did not get to post these links earlier in the week, but the Organization of American Historians have posted updates on day 3 and day 4 of the annual conference in New Orleans.  The posts, along with highlights from day 1 and day 2, can be found at Process.

Here is a taste of the Saturday report:

A late addition to the program, “Historians Respond to the Advent of Trump,” took place during the 11:00 am session slot and drew over 150 attendees. The session was chaired by Robert Self, Brown University. Panelists included Benjamin L. Alpers, University of Oklahoma (Authoritarianism in America), Ibram X. Kendi, University of Florida (Race and Racism), Joanne Meyerowitz, Yale University (LGBTQ Rights), Maria Cristina Garcia, Cornell University (Immigration and Refugees), and Jennifer Nelson, University of Redlands (Reproductive Rights). The session was added to the program in response to the belief that the rise of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. presidency demands the attention of historians, regardless of partisan affiliation or conviction. Trump’s ascendancy has amplified, and potentially normalized, a civic discourse grounded in racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, and derived from political scripts with long histories. His presidency seems destined to alter public policy dramatically on a range of issues, including immigration and refugees, policing and incarceration, reproductive rights, health care, climate change, corporate regulation, public funding of scientific research, arts, and the humanities, and much more. Since Donald J. Trump is the second president in sixteen years to be elected while losing the popular vote, the November 2016 result raises additional historical questions about the mechanics and democratic character of U.S. elections. While no single session can capture the full range of historical issues and entanglements raised by Trump’s rise, the historians featured in this panel will frame a number of key questions for broader discussion and reflection.

Read the Saturday report here and the Sunday report here.

(Re)Reading Mass Incarceration: New Orleans Monuments and Reconstruction Violence

Many of you read William Horne’s New Orleans restaurant recommendations as you prepared for your trip to the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Today Horne is back with a report on an OAH session on the recent New Orleans monument controversy.  Learn more about Horne and his work from his previous post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  –JF

I circled the “What was Radical about Reconstruction?” round table the moment I saw it on the OAH program, and having survived the hostilities and debates expressed therein, can now say that it more than lived up to expectations. The big-name scholars like Downs, Dudden (via email), Hogue, Sinha, and Taylor didn’t disappoint and raised a number of interesting issues on the juridical and socio-cultural implications of citizenship with which scholars of Reconstruction and Americans alike continue to struggle. Perhaps the most important of these disputes concerned whether Reconstruction reforms were intentional or accidental and, by extension, whether or not the Civil War was fought over slavery or more general regional economic interests. Needless to say, the exchange was lively.

Given the robust conversation, I was surprised that a key inspiration for Radical Reconstruction, the Mechanics’ Institute Massacre, was only mentioned in passing. In our present moment marked by protests against over-policing, police brutality, and mass incarceration, coupled with President Trump’s racialized promise to inaugurate a campaign of “law and order” in America’s “inner cities,” the value of thinking critically about the relationship between state violence and citizenship seems significant. This is why, when Prof. Hogue mentioned the Mechanics’ Institute Massacre (though he prefers the term “battle”), I probably breathed an audible sigh of relief.

The massacre illustrated the intent of ex-Confederates to challenge even the discussion of African American rights and helped inspire Congress to pass the Reconstruction Acts. If we understand the limits of Radical Reconstruction as being expressed materially in subsequent acts of white terror like the White League coup in 1874 commemorated at the foot of Canal Street in the “Liberty Monument,” we should also acknowledge their root in the white supremacist violence of the 1866 massacre. And in this sense, for those familiar with the landscape of New Orleans, Hogue’s description of the site as “unmarked” revealed the overwhelming disparity between the monuments the city has and those it needs.[1]

New Orleans has a monument to those who overthrew the state’s democratically elected government to institute a regime based on white supremacy. The inscription is quite clear on this point.

“United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.”

Monument 1

To clarify, the “state government” that the United States troops overthrew was the one created from the White League coup. The “usurpers” who were “reinstated” were the democratically elected officials the coup had overthrown.

New Orleans does not, however, have any monument or marker to the proponents of black suffrage murdered at the Mechanics’ Institute. Indeed, as far as I can tell, this TriPod episode was the only local remembrance on the 150th anniversary of the event.

Here’s a brief overview for those unfamiliar, though you really should read Hogue’s Uncivil War or Justin Nystrom’s New Orleans After the Civil War for a fuller analysis.

On the morning of July 30, 1866, a convention of several dozen white Republicans, supported by a few hundred black New Orleanians and veterans, gathered at the Mechanics’ Institute near Canal Street to demand black suffrage. Outside, hundreds of New Orleans police and firemen lined the streets along with more than a thousand white protesters who threw bricks and yelled epithets at the convention. After the shouting and scuffles escalated in front of the building, police and firemen stormed the hall, beating, shooting, and stabbing many advocates of black voting rights.


Rev. Horton, a white minister attending the convention, was shot by police while waving a white flag in surrender. They shot Dr. Dostie, an outspoken white proponent of black suffrage, and ran him through with a sword. Officers pulled the former governor of the state, Michael Hahn, from the convention and into a white mob, who shot and beat him so severely that many early reports of the massacre included him among the dead, though he miraculously survived. Black bystanders were shot in the back as they fled the carnage. Black passengers were pulled off of streetcars and shot. Onlookers reported that the police and white vigilantes continued shooting unarmed suspected supporters of black suffrage for several hours. None of them was ever charged with a crime.[1]

The neglect in New Orleans’ public memory of those who struggled for equality makes it appear as if the city confuses its history with its white history; its heritage with its white heritage. Even still, we in New Orleans seem all too able to forget that white heritage when it means remembering the massacre of those who sought liberty.

While violence-oriented narratives of Reconstruction have their shortcomings, I believe that it remains worthwhile to observe that Radical Reconstruction ended much as it began: in a wave of violence. That states and localities commemorated this second wave of violence in public spaces underscores the strategies of statist violence and racial repression adopted by the “Redeemers.” The “law and order” tactics beneath mass incarceration and the state-level voter ID efforts to disenfranchise minority voters, which echo those of this earlier generation, indicate that our work explaining and altering the longstanding relationship of race to systems of state power remains incomplete.

[1] Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1988), 261-264, 274-275, 565-574.

[2] Justin Nystrom, New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 66-69. James Hogue, Uncivil War: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 40-44. The Report of the House Select Committee investigating the incident is another excellent resource and may be found here.

Congratulations to the 2017 OAH Award Winners

Here they are:

John D’Emilio LGBTQ History Dissertation Award for the best Ph.D. dissertation in U.S. LGBTQ history.

Ian Michael Baldwin, University of Redlands

Roy Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award for an individual or individuals whose contributions have significantly enriched our understanding and appreciation of American history

Linda Gordon, New York University

Friend of History Award recognizes an institution or organization, or an individual working primarily outside college or university settings, for outstanding support of historical research, the public presentation of American history, or the work of the OAH

Lonnie G. Bunch III

Frederick Jackson Turner Award for the author of a first scholarly book dealing with some aspect of American history

Max Krochmal, Texas Christian University, Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era (University of North Carolina Press).

Merle Curti Award for the best book published in American social history and American intellectual history

Social history: Susanna L. Blumenthal, University of Minnesota for Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Legal Culture (Harvard University Press).

Intellectual history: Wendy Warren, Princeton University, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (Liveright Publishing Corporation).

Ray Allen Billington Prize for the best book on the history of native and/or settler peoples in frontier, border, and borderland zones of intercultural contact in any century to the present and to include works that address the legacies of those zones

Karl Jacoby, Columbia University, The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire (W. W. Norton & Company).

Avery O. Craven Award for the most original book on the coming of the Civil War, and Civil War years, or the Era of Reconstruction, with the exception of works of purely military history

Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale University Press).

James A. Rawley Prize for the best book with the history of race relations in the United States

Robert G. Parkinson, Binghamton University, The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution (Omohundro Institute of Early American History).

Willi Paul Adams Award for the best book on American history published in a foreign language

Catherine Collomp, Université Paris-Diderot, Résister au nazisme: Le Jewish Labor Committee, New York, 1934–1945 (CNRS Editions) [Relief, Rescue and Resistance: The Jewish Labor Committee’s Anti-Nazi Operations: 1934–1945, temporary English title before publication by an American publisher]

Ellis W. Hawley Prize for the best book-length historical study of the political economy, politics, or institutions of the United States, in its domestic or international affairs, from the Civil War to the present

Sam Lebovic, George Mason University, Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America (Harvard University Press)

Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for the best book by a historian on the civil rights struggle from the beginning of the nation to the present.

Russell Rickford, Cornell University, We Are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination (Oxford University Press).

Lawrence W. Levine Award for the author of the best book in American cultural history.

John W. Troutman, University of Louisiana, Lafayette/National Museum of American History, Kīkā Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music (University of North Carolina Press).

Darlene Clark Hine Award for the best book in African American women’s and gender history.

LaShawn D. Harris, Michigan State University, Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy (University of Illinois Press).

David Montgomery Award for the best book on a topic in American labor and working-class history, with cosponsorship by the Labor and Working-Class History Association (LAWCHA).

Ryan Patrick Murphy, Earlham College, Deregulating Desire: Flight Attendant Activism, Family Politics, and Workplace Justice (Temple University Press).

Mary Jurich Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History for the most original book in U.S. women’s and/or gender history.

Katherine Turk, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women’s history.

Ava Purkiss, University of Michigan, “‘Mind, Soul, Body, and Race’: Black Women’s Purposeful Exercise in the Age of Physical Culture, 1900–1939” [dissertation completed at the University of Texas, Austin (History) under the direction of Professors Tiffany Gill and Daina Ramey Berry].

Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for best essay in American history by a graduate student.

Daniel Platt, Brown University, “Usury Reform and the Natures of Capital in the Progressive Era”

Binkley-Stephenson Award for best article appearing in the Journal of American History during the preceding calendar year.

Yael A. Sternhell, Tel Aviv University, “The Afterlives of a Confederate Archive: Civil War Documents and the Making of Sectional Reconciliation” (March 2016).

Huggins-Quarles Award for graduate students of color to assist them with expenses related to travel to research collections for the completion of the Ph.D. dissertation

Sean Parulian Harvey, Northwestern University, “Assembly Lines: Maquilas and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, 1932–1992.”

Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau Teacher of the Year Award for contributions made by precollegiate teachers to improve history education within the field of American history

Michael Williams of Warren New Tech High School in Warren, North Carolina.

Erik Barnouw Award for outstanding programming on television, or in documentary film, concerned with American history, the study of American history, and/or the promotion of American history

The Mine Wars, A Film Posse, Inc.

Stanton-Horton Award for Excellence in National Park Service History recognizes excellence in historical projects for, by, and with the National Park Service and is intended to honor projects, parks, or programs that make the NPS a leader in promoting public understanding of and engagement with American history

The Northeast Region History Program.

OAH/JAAS Japan Residencies Program

  • Jana K. Lipman, Tulane University
  • Lisa McGirr, Harvard University

Germany Residency Program

Libby Garland, Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York

OAH/AHRAC China Residencies Program

  • Nathan Citino, Rice University, Shaanxi University
  • Nancy F. Cott, Harvard University, Northeast Normal University
  • Margaret Humphreys, Duke University, Shanghai University

Samuel and Marion Merrill Graduate Student Travel Grants help sponsor the travel-related costs of graduate students who are confirmed as participants on the OAH conference program and who incur expenses traveling to the annual meeting

  • Lindsay M. Chervinsky
  • Amanda C. Demmer
  • Jacob C. Jurss
  • Harrouna Malgouri
  • Hilary Miller

OAH Presidents’ Travel Fund for Emerging Historians provides travel stipends of up to $750 for up to five graduate students and recent Ph.D.s in history (no more than four years from date of degree) whose papers or panels/sessions have been accepted by the OAH Program Committee for inclusion on the annual meeting program

  • Lauren Brand
  • Iván Chaar-López
  • Jane Dinwoodie
  • Nicole Gilhuis
  • Elizabeth J. Wood

John Higham Research Fellowship. Thanks to the generosity of William L. and Carol B. Joyce, as well as gifts from other students of John Higham, members of his family, and colleagues, the OAH is pleased to offer the John Higham Research Fellowship for graduate students writing doctoral dissertations for a Ph.D. in American history

  • Eladio B. Bobadilla, Duke University, “‘One People without Borders’: The Lost Roots of the Immigrants’ Rights Movement, 1954–1994”
  • Jonathan Lande, Brown University, “Disciplining Freedom: Union Army Slave Rebels and Emancipation in the Civil War Courts Martial”

Friday at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans


Friday appears to have been a busy day for American historians in New Orleans.  The OAH offers some highlights at Process blog.

The highlight of the day was the afternoon plenary session “African American History, Art, and the Public Museumfeaturing Lonnie Bunch III, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

Here is a taste:

“This plenary session was a unanimous ‘no brainer’ for the program committee and OAH president Nancy Cott to organize,” said program co-chair Robert Self of Brown University. “We wanted to recognize and honor one of the most important developments in public history in the last decade or more.”

“The audience was not disappointed,” Self continued. “Lonnie Bunch explained the political strategy (make congressional allies before you need them), the economic strategy (tap corporations and the wealthy black donor class), the collecting strategy (encourage ordinary people to donate materials to local museums, which would feed the national museum), and the rhetorical strategy (African American history is American history). He and Richard Powell reflected on the decade-long process of collecting and curating more than four centuries of black history in North America. Bunch also revealed that an astonishing 70 percent of the museum’s permanent collection came from the attics, basements, and storage closets of ordinary people. The plenary offered a fascinating look at how Bunch guided the museum from an idea to an architecturally powerful new building on the National Mall, curating an intellectually honest and unflinching portrait of black American history and culture. Thank you, Lonnie, Richard, and the excellent moderator, Darlene Clark Hine.”

Read the entire post here.

The OAH Recaps Day 1 Of Its Annual Conference

OAH arch

A lot is going in New Orleans this weekend.  The Day 1 recap includes news about the first plenary session, the OAH mentoring program, the opening reception, and the States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue of Local Histories exhibit at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Here is a taste:

“On behalf of the Local Resources Committee for OAH 2017, welcome!” write co-chairs Mary Niall Mitchell and Rosanne Adderley. “You’ve arrived in New Orleans at the start of our festival season, when tourists from around the world arrive in New Orleans to fill up on music and food. In fact, this is the time of year when the city’s reputation as a place to party is most well deserved. But New Orleans is also a city that celebrates history, so visiting historians can expect to receive a warm welcome in the midst of all this activity.”

Read the entire post here.

Tweeting the Opening Plenary Session at #OAH17


The Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans looks like it is off to a great start.  From what I hear the Big Easy is experiencing some wonderful weather this weekend and historians are enjoying a lot of food and music.

Last night’s opening plenary session focused on historians as expert witnesses in court cases.  Here is a description of the session from the OAH website:

Historians have increasingly responded when attorneys call on them to supplement strictly legal argument with additional corroborative and persuasive angles, especially in cases involving the assertion or defense of constitutional rights. This follows in a twentieth-century practice begun in 1908, when attorney Louis Brandeis successfully argued for state controls on women’s employment conditions by bringing social scientific evidence of the strains women experienced. Not acting as advocates, but ostensibly providing impartial historical facts and opinion, historians have offered expert testimony that becomes part of important cases and also have written amicus curiae briefs that may possibly influence the court.

In this session, four historians will reflect on their significant experiences in this mode of making history matter in the present. Tomiko Brown-Nagin’s comments stem from her involvement in cases on affirmative action in education, including Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), Parents Involved v. Seattle (2007), and Fisher v. Texas (2013). George Chauncey will discuss his participation as expert witness and author of amicus briefs in gay rights litigation from Romer v. Evans (1996) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003) to several more recent cases on equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, including U.S. v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). Linda Gordon has co-authored historians’ amicus briefs in major abortion rights cases, from Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), where the Supreme Court upheld Missouri’s restrictions on abortion rights, to Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt (2016) where the court struck down Texas’ excessive requirements for abortion clinics. Richard White’s service as an expert witness in tribal recognition and treaty rights cases in the Pacific Northwest extends back to 1977 and up to today.

Panelists will address several of the many pressing questions arising from this kind of endeavor. What kinds of historical evidence count in court? Are they acting as advocates or neutral experts? What are the differing ways that lawyers and historians read and use historical evidence? Does the history they contribute actually make a difference to the outcome of the case? Can any impact of historians’ contributions be seen in change over time in the Supreme Court’s interpretation of constitutional rights?

Over at History News Network, Rick Shenkman has storified the tweets from this session.

What To Do In New Orleans


We did not make it to New Orleans for the OAH, but we are covering the event here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  We even have restaurant recommendations!

The good folks at Oxford University have published a nice post on their blog to help get you acquainted with the Big Easy.  Here is a taste:

We also know you would love to explore the beautiful city of New Orleans when the conference is done for the day, or in between panels and conference activities. We’re here with a few suggestions on how to spend your leisure time. From delicious food, to beautiful architecture, this location is sure to offer something for everyone.

1. Rain or shine, you can always find some good food in New Orleans. Just a 5-minute walk from the Marriott, Criollo is lauded for its Creole food. Have a bowl of crawfish bisque or a baked stuffed Creole redfish. Or, if you’re in the mood for something sweet instead, order a basket of beignets with some extra napkins.

2. The conference venue is in the heart of the French Quarter, a perfect place to stroll when you are done for the evening or taking a break between panels. Some must-see sights include the Faulkner House, Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, and the Cabildo. But even if you don’t have time to see these locations, it’s worth a walk around the neighborhood just to check out the architecture.

3. If you’re staying in New Orleans for longer than OAH, you need to take time to do a cemetery tour. Above ground to protect them from rising water levels, these ghostly cemeteries are replete with beautiful stonework and design. St Louis Cemeteries are among the most popular, home to the departed Marie Laveau, Dominique You, and many others. You can stroll through on your own or book a guided tour.

Read the rest here.


American Historians: What Are You Listening To As You Travel To And From New Orleans?

Podcast IconMight I make a suggestion?  Give The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast a try.

We are in our third season and have managed to attract some great guests.

Over the course of the last three seasons we have interviewed:

Jim Grossman (Executive Director of the American Historical Association)

Daniel K. Williams (Author of Defending the Unborm: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade)

Yoni Appelbaum (Washington Bureau chief at The Atlantic)

Sam Wineburg (Author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts)

Tim Grove (Director of Education at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum)

Nate DiMeo (Host and producer of “The Memory Palace”)

Paul Lukas (ESPN sports uniform historian)

Annette Gordon-Reed (Pulitzer Prize-winner and author of The Most Blessed of Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination)

Peter Onuf (Author of The Most Blessed of Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination)

Marc Dolan (Author of Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock N’ Roll)

Steve Edenbo (Thomas Jefferson reenactor)

Ann Little (Author of The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright)

Rebecca Onion (Historian and blogger at Slate‘s “The Vault”)

Sara McCammon (Reporter, National Public Radio)

Amy Bass (Author of Not the Triumph But the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete)

Jonathan Fetter-Vorn (Illustrator of Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War)

Manisha Sinha (Author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition)

Douglas Bradburn (Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington)

Bruce Berglund (Author of Castle and Cathedral in Modern Prague: Longing for the Sacred in a Skeptical Age)

Martin Doblmeier (Filmmaker and producer of PBS film “An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story)

Check us out here or download episodes at your favorite podcast site, including ITunes, FM, and Stitcher.

And if you really like us you can support our work here.




Well, it looks like the bad weather in Atlanta has kept me from making it to New Orleans for this year’s meeting of the Organization of American Historians.  It has been a terrible year of travel to conferences for me.  Back in November I had to miss a session at the American Academy of Religion devoted to my book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society because of a family commitment.  Now I have to forgo leading two chat rooms at the OAH.

But life goes on.  I will definitely miss working with Beth Marsh, Ed Ayers, and Kevin Schultz.

And despite my absence, the coverage of the conference will go on here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Our correspondents are in NOLA ready to report. And if you are also writing about your experience at the OAH (or would like to write about it here) send me your stuff and I will be happy to post or link.

Stay tuned.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home at the OAH

OAHI will be in New Orleans this weekend for the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians.

The Way of Improvement Leads Home will be providing coverage of the conference through a handful of correspondents–from graduate students to tenured professors–who will be writing posts about their experiences.  (Actually, our coverage has already begun.  Check out William Horne’s restaurant recommendations).

I will also be blogging regularly.  I am open to posting just about anything related to the conference.  It is not too late to write for us (contact me) or feel free to send along pictures from your day-to-day conference experience and we will post them here.

On Saturday I will be leading two “Chat Rooms” in the Plenary Theater in Exhibit Hall. From 12:30-1:15 I will be joining Elisabeth Marsh of the OAH and Ed Ayers of the University of Richmond in a session on the History Relevance Campaign (I serve on the board of this initiative).  From 1:15-2:00 I will be co-leading a discussion with Kevin Schultz of the University of Illinois-Chicago on “How to be a Twitterstorian.”

I hope to see some of you at (in?) these chat rooms.

Flavors of the OAH: Four Must-Taste Restaurants During Your Stay


We are still a couple days away from the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, but our coverage here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home begins today.

William Horne, a PhD candidate at The George Washington University and editor at The Activist History Review , will be reporting for us from New Orleans this weekend.

Horne’s research explores the relationship of race to labor, freedom, and capitalism in post-Civil War Louisiana. His dissertation, “Carceral State: Baton Rouge and its Plantation Environs Across Emancipation,” examines the ways in which white supremacy and capitalism each depended on restricting black freedom in the aftermath of slavery.  He can be contacted here and followed on Twitter at @wihorne.

We all know that conference-going historians love to eat.  So in his first post William, who is a native of NOLA, offers some restaurant recommendations for those American historians who may be new to the cityEnjoy!

One of the things I found most exciting about learning the OAH would be here in New Orleans this year, aside from the short commute, was that I would have a chance to recommend some of my favorite eateries. Many thanks to John Fea and The Way of Improvement Leads Home for allowing me the space to talk New Orleans cuisine.

New Orleans is famous for its food for a reason y’all, and while I’m sure most people know about the beignets (you should skip Café Du Monde and grab yours from Morning Call in City Park), it’s easy to get lost in the sea of restaurants available in city. I’ve tried to highlight several of my favorite eateries with an emphasis on the unique flavors and history of New Orleans cuisine.

  1. Deanie’s Seafood, 841 Iberville St (menu)

Deanie’s Seafood has been an important fixture in New Orleans dining for more than fifty years. It originally opened in Bucktown, a lakefront fishing community and red-light district. If you’re into jazz history, you may have heard Jelly Roll Morton’s “Bucktown Blues” commemorating one of the genre’s many birthplaces.

The French Quarter Deanie’s location brings the humble flavors of Louisiana’s lakes, rivers, and bayous to a more accessible location. While you can get an array of New Orleans seafood favorites at Deanie’s, I’m sending you there for the boiled seafood (yes boiled). Boiled shrimp, crawfish, and crabs are a springtime staple in New Orleans, and you’ll thank yourself for trying them. If you’re not used to spicy eats, you may want to ask for extra butter and potatoes with your meal. The fried seafood is also great if that’s more your cup of tea.

If you’re open to wandering off the beaten path, their 1713 Lake Ave location gives a fuller experience of this type of cuisine without the tourist prices, but the French Quarter location will still deliver the basics. Cajun Seafood at 1479 N Claiborne Ave would be a closer option to enjoy this simpler fare.

  1. Antoine’s Restaurant, 713 Saint Louis St (menu)

I have two primary reasons for recommending Antoine’s Restaurant. First, it’s the oldest family-owned restaurant in the country. If you study New Orleans history, or even anyone who has visited New Orleans over the last 175 years, there’s a chance they ate in this very restaurant. And if that’s not enough of a draw for the historically-minded, they offer tours that include the signed photos and stories of famous patrons. Hard to pass up.

Second, they serve French Creole cuisine that you really can’t get in other parts of the country (Arnaud’s and Galatoire’s are also staples of this genre). The food is a little on the expensive side, but if you’re visiting New Orleans, it’s something you really should experience. I enjoy the Huitres Bienville and the Filet de Gulf Poisson aux Ecrevisses Cardinal, but anything you order there will be delicious. They’re also famous for their Pommes de terre soufflées, puffed potatoes, and they make a great Sazerac, New Orleans’ signature cocktail.

  1. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, 2301 Orleans Avenue (menu)

Michel Martin’s interview of renowned chef Leah Chase gives a good sense of why a trip to Dooky Chase’s is a must for visitors to New Orleans. Chase made her restaurant a frequent meeting place for local Civil Rights activists and helped facilitate resistance to Jim Crow by fostering relationships through food and integrated space. Famous patrons included politicians, activists, athletes, and entertainers like Hank Aaron, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama. But don’t take my word for it; these oral histories conducted by Loyola University New Orleans illustrate the importance of the restaurant to African Americans in New Orleans and local activism in the city that gave us Plessy v. Ferguson. This stop is required for historians of politics, race, and labor as well as anyone appreciative of the struggle for equality.

Dooky Chase’s lunch buffet is a great place to sample New Orleans favorites like red beans and rice, stewed okra, gumbo, and collard greens. Just be sure to learn from President Obama’s mistakes and put the hot sauce away when you’re eating your gumbo.

  1. Ruby Slipper, 1005 Canal St (menu)

Let’s say you stay out late listening to music at Snug Harbor or one of the many excellent venues on Frenchman Street. Maybe this activity even involves consuming adult beverages. Whatever the case, the Ruby Slipper is an excellent place to grab a rejuvenating brunch on Canal Street (the Palace Café is a close second). The restaurant is part of the post-Katrina rebirth of the city and takes its name from Dorothy’s famous realization in The Wizard of Oz that “there’s no place like home.” What better way to pay tribute to the city and remember those displaced by the hurricane?

I should admit that it holds a special place in my heart in part because it first opened in my own Mid City neighborhood, but wherever you’re from, the Ruby Slipper won’t disappoint. I’m a sucker for a good omelet and their “Louisianan” can certainly compete with the best of them. My three-year-old daughter swears by the pancakes.

Honestly, New Orleans boasts an array of fabulous restaurants and you should be in good shape almost anywhere you choose to dine. I’ve really enjoyed contemporary establishments like the Red Fish Grill and Café Amelie or tourist hot-spots like the Gumbo Shop and Bourbon House. If you’re looking to experience the unique food culture of New Orleans, however, you could do worse than those on my list.

On the Road in April (and Beyond?)


My travel schedule this Spring has been light.  I have been enjoying teaching this semester and the students in my Pennsylvania History and United States History to 1865 courses have been excellent.  I have taken some time to tweak some of my lectures, experiment with some new assignments, and become a better discussion leader.  This is my third year teaching Pennsylvania History and I think I am finally starting to like the content.  It has also been fun and invigorating to be back in the U.S. Survey lecture hall after a year on sabbatical.  I am sure all of the social and political changes in American life have had something to do with that.

It has also been fun to get back into the studio for Season 3 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  I have been so thankful for all of the support we have received through out Patreon campaign.  It is very rewarding to see that so many people have affirmed our work in this way and truly care about the role that history can play in our democratic life together.  Thanks again.  By the way, Episode 19 drops on Sunday.

But I am also increasingly aware of the need to travel outside of the college campus in an effort to bring good history and historical thinking to public audiences. With that in mind I am in the process of scheduling talks and lectures for the Summer and Fall of 2017 and the Spring of 2018.  You can learn more about the kind of speaking, workshops, and seminars that I do here or here.

2016 was a busy year.  I was at West Shore Evangelical Free Church (Mechanicsburg, PA), Derry Presbyterian Church (Hershey, PA), Centre College (Danville, KY),  Trinity College (Deerfield, IL), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), University of Chicago, Houston Baptist University, Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy, MA), Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate, TN), National Presbyterian Church (Washington D.C.), Arch Street United Methodist Church (Philadelphia), Cairn University (Langhorne, PA), St. Francis University (Loretto, PA), The George Washington Library (Mount Vernon, VA), and Oxford University (Oxford, England).

Next month I will be heading down to New Orleans for the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians. (We are still looking for correspondents!) On Saturday, April 8, I will be co-leading two “chat room” sessions for historians.  One session (which I will co-lead with Kevin Schultz of the University of Illinois-Chicago) will be on the ways that Twitter (@johnfea1) can help us disseminate good history to a larger public.  The other session (which I will co-lead with Elizabeth Marsh of the OAH)  will be on the History Relevance Campaign.  If you are in New Orleans I hope you have some time to stop by and participate in one of these sessions.

After New Orleans I fly to Boston on April 10 to deliver the 2017 Frantz Lecture  at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.  My lecture is titled “Why Study History?”  As far as I know, this lecture is free and open to the public.

I hope to see you on the road!  We always need good American history, but it is especially needed in times of great change.  I would love to talk with you about setting something up as your school, college, university, historical society, library, church, museum, or virtually any other public space where these kinds of conversations take place.

Correspondents Wanted: 2017 OAH Meeting in New Orleans


Anyone interested in a writing a post or two (or three or four or five…) from the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans from April 6-9 2017?

Once again The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from the conference.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. If at all possible I would like to get some stuff as the conference is going on, but general summaries would also work. Feel free to write as few or as many as you would like. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

Though we can’t pay you for writing, we can introduce you, your writing, and your online presence to a few thousand readers a day.

If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we can get the ball rolling.  In the meantime, check out our posts from other conferences to get an idea of what some of our previous correspondents have done:

2016 Organization of American Historians

2016 American Historical Association

2015 American Historical Association