A great columnist and commentator has died:
A great columnist and commentator has died:
The New York Times is publishing obituaries for important people in history who never got an obituary published in the Times at the time of their deaths. Learn more here.
The initial installment of the “Overlooked” series includes obituaries of fifteen women: Ida B. Wells, Qui Jin, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, Diane Arbus, Marsha Johnson, Sylvia Plath, Henrietta Lacks, Madhubala, Emily Warren Roebling, Nella Larsen, Ada Lovelace, Margaret Abbott, Belkis Ayon, Charlotte Bronte, and Lillias Campbell Davidson.
Here is a taste of the Ida B. Wells obit:
Wells was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Miss., in 1862, less than a year before Emancipation. She grew up during Reconstruction, the period when black people, including her father, were able to vote, ushering black representatives into state legislatures across the South. One of eight siblings, she often tagged along to Bible school on her mother’s hip.
In 1878, her parents both died of yellow fever, along with one of her brothers; and at 16, she took on caring for the rest of her siblings. She supported them by working as a teacher after dropping out of high school and lying about her age. She finished her own education at night and on weekends.
Around the same time, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was largely nullified by the Supreme Court, reversing many of the advancements of Reconstruction. The anti-black sentiment that grew around her was ultimately codified into Jim Crow.
“It felt like a dramatic whiplash,” said Troy Duster, Wells’s grandson, who is a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and New York University. “She cuts her teeth politically in this time of justice, justice, justice, and then injustice.”
Observing the changes around her, Wells decided to become a journalist during what was a golden era for black writers and editors. Her goal was to write about black people for black people, in a way that was accessible to those who, like her, were born the property of white owners and had much to defend.
Her articles were often reprinted abroad, as well as in the more than 200 black weeklies then in circulation in the United States.
Read the rest here.
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C. Cromartie worked quietly behind the scenes to help evangelicals engage politics and the larger culture with civility and grace. I only met him once–at a teacher-education seminar at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. I remember the kindness he showed me on that day as I talked with him about my work on the Christian America book.
Here is Christianity Today‘s obituary:
Michael Cromartie, a Washington networker who helped rebrand America’s image of Christian political engagement, has died of cancer at age 67.
Cromartie brought Christian thought leaders and secular journalists under the same roof at the Faith Angle Forum, held every year since 1999. Through his work as EPPC vice president, he evoked theologians and philosophers as he advocated for thoughtful engagement in public policy and civil discourse.
In a political arena often dominated by competition, power grabs, and culture war debates, Cromartie stuck out by offering a friendlier, humbler approach. It’s this attitude that his colleagues remember most and cite as his greatest legacy.
“It can’t be said of many people, but everyone Mike touched was influenced for the better,” said Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “His passing leaves a huge gap in American public life and in the lives of his friends.
“Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others,” Gerson told CT. “He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”
“Michael Cromartie was different from what most people think of when they think ‘evangelicals and politics.’ Thanks be to God,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who admired his humble character and effective engagement with journalists.
“After his cancer diagnosis, every time I saw Mike he would say, ‘Pray like a Pentecostal.’ We did,” Moore shared with CT. “Mike now is in the presence of the Lord of Pentecost. We will miss him here, and must pray for more like him.”
Read the entire obit here.
One of the country’s great conservative thinkers passed away on Tuesday.
I never met Peter Lawler, but I occasionally read his work. He once referred to me as a “routinely excellent conservative blogger.” While some might question my conservative credentials (or my liberal ones for that matter), I appreciated the “routinely excellent” part of his comment. 🙂
When I learned of Lawler’s passing I went back to see how much we discussed his work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. It looks like we have given him some shout-outs over the years. Read them all here.
Joyce Oldham Appleby, a giant in the field of early American intellectual and political history, died earlier this week at the age of 87. If you are unfamiliar with Appleby or her work I encourage you to head over to The Junto and read Michael Hattem’s excellent obituary.
I never met Appleby, but I read and admired her work. I read Capitalism and a New Social Order, Liberalism and Republicanism in Historical Imagination,and Telling the Truth About History in graduate school. Appleby’s published disagreements with Gordon Wood and others from the “republicanism” school of the American Revolution were staples on the reading lists of all early American graduate students in the 1990s. Her book Inheriting the Revolution made me aware of the role memoirs could play in understanding the American Revolution and the early republic.
In 1996 Appleby and James Banner Jr. founded History News Service (HNS) in an attempt to get more academic historians to write for a public audience. As a newly-minted history Ph.D who was trying to imagine a slightly different kind of career than the one I was encouraged to follow in graduate school, my interests intersected with the mission of HNS and I began sending op-eds to Appleby and Banner. Anyone who wrote for HNS remembers the editorial good-cop (Appleby)/bad cop (Banner) routine they used when editing the work of those of us who were new to this genre of writing. Banner would cover the piece with the proverbial red ink. In my case he pushed me to write more succinct sentences and dispense of academic jargon. Appleby was no less of a critic, but she had a softer, more encouraging, touch. Both of them made me a better writer. Banner made me realize that it would take hard work to master the craft of public writing. (And I am certainly not there yet). Appleby made me feel like there was actually a chance I could contribute to this genre.
After I learned that she had passed away I went back and re-read some of the e-mails she wrote to me in her role at HNS. Here is one from 2004 that I will always remember:
“Excellent rewrite, John. I am ready to turn this over to Jim for fine-tuning. I have made one suggestion in caps for your conclusion. I hope that you will consider it. Many thanks. I wish you’d write more for HNS. You are a natural writer. Joyce
Joyce Appleby probably never thought again about the last two sentences of this e-mail, but this small kindness meant the world to me and kept me going. Thanks, Joyce. RIP.
We lost another esteemed member of the early American history community last week. After an extended illness, Richard Beeman, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, passed away. I learned about Rick’s passing from Dan Richter‘s e-mail to the McNeil Center for Early American Studies community.
Here is a taste of that e-mail:
I have the sad responsibility to report that my colleague Richard Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, has passed away after a long illness. Rick taught wildly popular courses at Penn for more than forty years and was Dean of the College for over a decade. The impressive body of scholarship he left us includes, among many other works, The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry (1984) and The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America (Early American Studies series, 2004). More recently he gained a wide general readership for Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (2009); and Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 (2013). The McNeil Center community owes him a particular debt of gratitude for his key role in our institution’s early years, including the period during the 1980s when he served as Director. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
I didn’t know Rick Beeman well. We often exchanged pleasantries during the couple of years I spent at the McNeil Center and he was always kind to me as a young scholar. A few years ago we chatted at Mount Vernon during the George Washington Book Prize gala. Rick was on the jury and I am grateful that he saw fit to select my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? as one of the three finalists for that award.
I think I read The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry two or three times during my dissertation research. I was writing about rural hinterlands in the mid-Atlantic and found Rick’s treatment of a small region in early America to be a helpful model for my own work on southern New Jersey. And then there was the time Rick was invited on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to debunk the erroneous claims of David Barton.
Rick came to Penn in the fabled fall of 1968, straight out of the U. of Chicago. He genially, and not confrontationally, recognized himself to be a traditionalist of a certain order. When Mike Zuckerman was reading chapters of my Valley Forge project (as an in-progress National Park Service report), and telling me it could be a dissertation, he ran one chapter by Rick one summer. (Rick was a summer Maine vacationer, as you doubtless know). The feedback, via Mike, was that it was not how Rick would have done, or advised, it, but yeah, he could be a second or third reader. He ended up being a second reader.
When I went to see him (up in the old Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies building at 38th and Walnut, long before it became the McNeil Center) about this I said what does it need? He said what do *you* think it needs? I said a historiographical introductory chapter. He said that’s what I think, now go do it. So I went and did it, although the first sentence said that the historiography of Valley Forge begins with the fact that there really was no historiography, per se, of Valley Forge.
Rick loaned me his seminar at Penn in the fall of 1991 (again from Maine, when his deanship came to him from out of the blue). He said “I’ve ordered about six books–” (this was in mid-August), “you don’t have to use any of them, but if you do, you’ll need to order some more.” He pointed out that his take on the Revolution was old-school high politics, and he more than welcomed my approaching it differently, which I did. He even acknowledged that military history was out of his bailiwick.
By this time I had met and actually worked with Linda Kerber, so I began the syllabus with her essay ‘the Revolutionary Generation’. I tried to use ‘generation’ as an analytic theme for the course.
Rick later, as a member of the committee, made a real effort to get me a major book prize for The Valley Forge Winter (2002), all the time warning that it was an outside shot, as his fellow committeemen were even more traditionalist than he was, and he was coming around, at least on the military part.
It was a generous prize, but his effort meant even more. He wrote a bunch of letters for me. I never had him for an actual class.
As two of the premier Christian colleges in the country, Messiah College and Wheaton College often compete for students and sports victories. I think I speak for my colleagues at Messiah, especially those in the humanities, when I say that we are not competing today.
A few hours ago I posted about the sudden death of Roger Lundin, a gifted Christian scholar who has influenced the life of so many of us with his serious reflections on faith and learning.
I just realized that another member of the English Department at Wheaton also passed away this week. I did not know Brett Foster nor am I familiar with his work, but if he was a member of the English Department at Wheaton he must have been a very bright and talented teacher, scholar, and poet. Foster passed away on Monday after a battle with cancer.
What a sad day for those of us committed to working in places like Wheaton and Messiah. Let’s keep the Wheaton English Department and the entire Wheaton community in our prayers as they cope with the loss of these colleagues and friends. I am sure that the rich Christian community at Wheaton will be a comfort through it all. As a department chair, I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through this.
Here is a post from the Wheaton website on Foster’s death:
I never met Roger Lundin, but I know dozens of people who have been influenced by his life and his work as a Christian scholar. My prayers go out today to his family–especially his son Matthew Lundin, a history professor at Wheaton College who I know through our experience in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts.
Here is the press release from Wheaton:
In case you have not heard, early American historian Dallett Hemphill has passed away. Here is the obituary:
I just learned this morning from Dan Richter that early American historian C. Dallett Hemphill of Ursinus College passed away yesterday. Few details surrounding her death have been made public.
Those of you who knew Dallett or her work will be devastated by this news. Anyone affiliated with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies knows that she was a fixture at the Center’s Friday seminars. She was one of the most intellectually curious people I have ever encountered.
Dallett was one of the outside readers of my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America. She took the job seriously, providing the University of Pennsylvania Press with a three or four pages of single-space commentary on the manuscript. I will always appreciate the way she championed this book and encouraged me in the process. You can read her blurb here.
Dallett will be remembered for her two major books: Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America, 1620-1860 (Oxford, 1999) and Siblings: Brothers and Sisters in American History (Oxford, 2011). She was also, by all reports, a committed undergraduate mentor and teacher at Ursinus. For the last several years she served as editor of Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
This is a huge loss for the early American history community.
In case you have not heard yet, Pete Seeger passed away yesterday
I am so glad to have Liz Covart on our team for the 2014 AHA. Liz’s blog Uncommonplace Book is must reading for independent historians or any historian who wants to develop a writing platform and speak to public audiences. Yesterday Liz attended a session entitled “Historians, Journalists, and the Challenges of Getting It Right: The Art and Craft of the Obituary.” Here is her report:
On Thursday January 2, 2014, I attended “Historians, Journalists, and the Challenges of Getting it Right: The Art and Craft of the Obituary.” Sponsored by the National History Center, this roundtable panel included Journalism professor Janice R. Hume (University of Georgia), Adam Bernstein, Editor at The Washington Post, New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, and panel chair, Martin H. Kaplan (University of Southern California). Kaplan posed questions to each panelist and allowed the other panelists to chime in with their thoughts afterwards.
The panel imparted fun and informative information about obituaries, their history, and the ethics involved in writing them.
Janet R. Hume provided historical information and contextualized the panelists’ discussion. Hume wrote the book on early obituaries. Obituaries in American Culture surveys more than 8,000 newspaper obituaries between 1818 and 1930.
According to Hume, obituaries in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America reported on the qualities that people admired about the deceased. They tended to be sentimental pieces written by editors who used familial accounts as source information. (Prior to the Civil War newspapers did not have reporters to conduct interviews with people who knew the deceased.) As a result of this source material and a strong Christian influence, early obituaries tended to be overly polite; they tried to fit people into categories that they did not fit into because they wanted to highlight the deceased’s moral goodness.
Hume also remarked on how early American obituaries discussed dying in metaphorical and poetic terms. People did not die. Instead, they were “scathed by the wing of the angel of death.”
Finally, Hume discussed the obituary as a historical source. Early obituaries reflect the cultural resonance of death stories with nineteenth- and twentieth-century Americans. Hume cautioned historians to be careful with how they use obituaries as obituary writers have a cultural filter that they impose on their writing. She also stated that online obituary message boards and comment threads offer scholars a new view on how our contemporaries participate in the bereavement process by interacting with obituaries.
Adam Bernstein discussed the logistics of being a modern-day obituary writer. First and foremost, obituaries are news stories. They impart the news that someone has died and function as an “accountability” story for the life and accomplishments of the deceased.
The Washington Post publishes approximately 2,000 obituaries a year and has about 400 advance obituaries on file. Newspapers keep obituaries on file for the President and other famous and important national and world leaders in case something happens. These advance copies give the obituary reporter a draft that they can quickly update, which in turn helps the writers keep their publications on top of the news cycle.
Bernstein also noted that modern-day newspapers are more egalitarian about who gets an obituary. Prior to the 1980s, a person who read obituaries may have thought that few women and African-Americans died. Newspapers often printed obituaries for white men, but rarely for women and African-Americans.
In contrast with The Washington Post, Adam Clymer noted that The New York Times does not print obituaries for local people and the NYT has approximately 1500 advance obituaries on file. Clymer also discussed the art of interviewing people for an advance obituary. Clymer calls the person and tells them that he is a reporter with The New York Times and that he would like to interview them about the story of their political career. Often his subjects do not realize who he is or what he is writing. Most assume that “it is about time” that The New York Times has called for their story. Some of his interviewees figure out his purpose, but most do not know that they are recording their thoughts and achievements for posterity.
The audience question and answer session started several interesting, brief discussions about the differences between American obituaries and their British counterparts, how obituary writers need to stick to the “public” facts of a person’s life while historians remain free to probe into the personal details of a deceased person’s life, and recognized that poets like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman wrote some of the most interesting early obituaries in verse.
Thanks, Liz. Stay tuned for Liz’s next post on a session on writing history for public audiences.
I always begin my course on the immigrant experience in America by talking about the work of Oscar Handlin and his book The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People. It won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1952. I was thus saddened to hear of Handlin’s passing. Here is a taste of an obituary published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Oscar Handlin, 95, a prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose best-known book altered public perceptions about the role of immigration in U.S. history, died Tuesday at home in Cambridge, Mass.
Mr. Handlin wrote many scholarly volumes on immigration, race, and ethnic identity during his nearly half-century as a history professor at Harvard University. His work as a chronicler of the migrations of Puerto Ricans and African Americans to cities attracted a generation of scholars to the field of urban studies in the 1950s, when it was considered marginal.
But his best-known work, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People, which won the 1952 Pulitzer for history, was aimed at general readers in making his case that immigration, more than the frontier experience, or any other episode in its past, was the continuing, defining event of U.S. history. Dispensing with footnotes and writing in a lyrical style, Mr. Handlin emphasized the common threads in the experiences of the 30 million immigrants who poured into U.S. cities between 1820 and the turn of the century. Regardless of nationality, religion, race, or ethnicity, he wrote, the common experience was wrenching hardship, alienation, and a gradual Americanization that changed the United States as much as it changed the newcomers.
The book used a form of historical scholarship considered unorthodox, employing newspaper accounts, personal letters, and diaries as well as archives.
Mr. Handlin, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, was among the first Jewish scholars appointed to a full professorship at Harvard, where he taught from 1939 until 1984.
“All his work tried to capture the voice and experience of people undergoing this uprooting process, this process of immigration,” said David J. Rothman, a history professor at Columbia University and a former student of Mr. Handlin’s. “He was alert to the fact that every group was different. But this process, regardless of whether you were Irish or Jewish, was something shared.”
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died today at the age of 92, was a friend to American history. Thousands of teachers benefited from his sponsorship of the Teaching American History Grants. Whatever you thought about his politics, the historical community will miss him dearly. Let’s hope that someone takes up his mantle as an advocate for the study of the American past.
For Byrd’s links to the historical community see the post on his death at AHA Today.