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.


Peter Steinfels on the Russian Dossier and the Press


Over at dotCommonweal Peter Steinfels has some good thoughts about the way the press has handled the entire Russian dossier affair.

A taste:

Donald Trump is who he is.  Despite all the wishful thinking, there is no inner “presidential” Trump about to emerge on January 20.  That’s the main lesson to take away from his press-conference exercise in free-association, misrepresentation, diversionary attacks, and calculated indignation.  But here are two further thoughts: 

The news media: Media condemnation’s of BuzzFeed’s online publication of 35 pages of unverified and in some cases salacious charges have come from every direction.  It is hard to imagine that if Breitbart had possessed such a dossier on Hillary Clinton, it would have waited until after the election to publish it.  But that’s the least of the matter. 

We now know that this dossier of unverified charges was floating around Washington for months.  Not only were intelligence agencies looking into them, which was their responsibility, but so were reporters from major news media.  It is in fact a tribute to the mainstream media that, not being able to verify the charges, no one published any of this material.  Neither political nor profit-making motives outweighed professional standards.   Trump himself adverted to this in his opening remarks, although the point was soon lost in his routine anti-media bluster and whining. 

The press is going to play an important role during this administration.

Protestantism in America

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I was honored when one of my favorite historians, Jon Butler, asked me to write the entry on “Protestantism in America” for Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History.  I hope my piece does justice to the subject.  Here is a pre-edited excerpt that Oxford has posted to the site:

The theological and religious descendants of the Protestant Reformation arrived in the United States in the early 17th century, shaped American culture in the 18th century, grew dramatically in the 19th century, and continued to be the guardians of American religious life in the 20th century. Protestantism is not monolithic. In fact, the very idea at the heart of Protestantism—the translation of the Bible into vernacular languages so it can be read and interpreted by all men and women—has resulted in thousands of different denominations, all claiming to be true to the teachings of scripture.

Protestantism has flourished in America because it teaches that human beings can access God as individuals, rather than as members of a particular church or religious body. During the period of British colonization, especially following the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, Protestantism went hand-in-hand with British concepts of political liberty. As the British people celebrated their rights-oriented philosophy of government and compared their freedoms with the tyranny of France and other absolute monarchies in Europe, they extolled their religious freedom to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Following the American Revolution, this historic connection between political liberty and Protestant liberty proved to be compatible with the kind of democratic individualism that emerged in the decades preceding the Civil War and, in many respects, continues to define American political culture.

Protestantism is first and foremost a religious movement. The proliferation of Protestant denominations provides the best support for G. K. Chesterton’s quip that “America is a nation with the soul of a church.” Spiritual individualism, a commitment to the authority of an inspired Bible, and the idea that faith in the Christian gospel is all that is needed to be saved from eternal punishment, has transformed the lives of millions of ordinary Americans over the course of the past four hundred years.

The entire 8000-word entry will be posted soon.

Save 30% on “The Bible Cause”

Bible Cause CoverAs many of you may know by now, today is the 200th birthday of the American Bible Society.

For those who want to know more about the ABS and its relationship to American religion and history, check out my recent book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

I am happy to report that the good folks at Oxford University Press are offering readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home a 30% discount on the book.

Order online at https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-bible-cause-9780190253066with promotion code AAFLYG6 to save 30%!

What is the Most Important Word in Historical Scholarship Today?

EmpathyWhen Oxford University Press asked me this question I decided to consider “scholarship” in a very broad fashion to include the scholarship of teaching and historical thinking.

I chose the word “empathy.”

Here is a taste of the blog post on this subject at the OUP blog:

In addition to catching up with authors and discovering new research, the annual Organization of American Historians conference is a productive and inspiring time to check-in on the state of the field. At this OAH in Providence, we had one burning question on our mind: What is one important word that all historians should have on their minds?…

 Read the entire post here.

 Why empathy?

 As historian John Cairns notes, empathy “is the passport to gaining a genuine entry into the past as a foreign land, and something distinct from our time.”  Empathy requires the historians to step into the shoes of historical actors in order to see the world as they did, to understand them on their own terms and not ours.  Historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, “Getting inside other people’s minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions–their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perception of the world and where they fit within it.”  The practice of empathy may be the hardest part of being a historian.  This is largely because our natural inclination, or, as Sam Wineburg calls it, our “psychological condition at rest,” is to find something useful in the past.  We want to make the past work for us rather than enter into it with an attitude of wonder about what we might find and the kinds of people and ideas we might encounter.  Historical empathy thus requires an act of the imagination.  The practice of bracketing our own ways of seeing the world in order to see a strange world more clearly requires discipline on the part of the historian.  It demands a certain level of intellectual maturity.  It requires a willingness to listen to the past…

Save 30% on *The Bible Cause*

Bible Cause CoverIn Episode 6 (released today) of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast I mention that the good folks at Oxford University Press are offering fans of The Way of Improvement Leads Home (both blog and podcast) a 30% discount on the The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.  

Order online at https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-bible-cause-9780190253066 with promotion code AAFLYG6 to save 30%!

And while you are deciding whether or not you want to take advantage of this discount read Thomas Kidd’s recent review of the book in The Weekly Standard.

Spotted in Oxford: Douglas Sweeney, *Edwards the Exegete*

One of the most popular features of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog is our Author’s Corner series in which we interview authors of new books.

Over the course of the next several days I will be posting pics of books we have featured in the Author’s Corner and that I spotted last week at the Oxford University Press bookstore in Oxford, England.

Here is Douglas Sweeney’s Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment.   Read his Author’s Corner interview here.




Spotted in Oxford: Mark Stoll, *Inherit the Holy Mountain*

One of the most popular features of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog is our Author’s Corner series in which we interview authors of new books.

Over the course of the next several days I will be posting pics of books we have featured in the Author’s Corner and that I spotted last week at the Oxford University Press bookstore in Oxford, England.

Here is Mark Stoll’s Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism Read his Author’s Corner interview here.




Spotted in Oxford: Cassandra Good’s *Founding Friendships*

One of the most popular features of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog is our Author’s Corner series in which we interview authors of new books.

Over the course of the next several days I will be posting pics of books we have featured in the Author’s Corner and that I spotted last week at the Oxford University Press bookstore in Oxford, England.

Here is Cassandra Good’s Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic.   Read her Author’s Corner interview here.

Good Oxford

What Is Good Writing?

The Oxford University Press blog interviews Geoffrey Huck from the professional writing program at York University.

Here is a taste:

In your professional opinion as an associate professor of writing, what defines good writing?
I liken good writing to fluent speech, i.e., the kind of ordinary speech that any adult speaker without organic deficits uses naturally on a daily basis. It doesn’t draw attention to itself by being especially lyrical or confounded with solecisms; it’s just routinely effective for the various uses to which it’s put. There are differences between speech and writing, of course, but a good writer is functionally proficient in writing in the same way that an adult native speaker is functionally proficient in speaking. Neuroscience shows us that basically the same brain structures are responsible for fluency in both speaking and writing if you ignore the muscular aspects, so we should expect the two kinds of fluency to be related.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #114

It was a slow process, but I have now responded to all the queries from the Oxford University Press copy-editor. This mostly required having to return to my notes and check the book’s footnotes to make sure that they are accurate.  Working on the copy-edits is not the most exciting part of writing a book, but it necessary.  The next time I will see a draft of The Bible Cause it will be in the form page-proofs.  

Stay tuned.  And while you wait for my next update why not head over to your favorite online or brick and mortar bookstore and pre-order a copy!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #113

The art department at Oxford University Press has come through big-time!  Here is the cover of my forthcoming book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

I love the image.  It is a colporteur manning a Bible stand sometime in either 1919 or 1920. This was the best image I could find in the ABS archives that reflects the organization’s historic interest in disseminating the Bible and contributing to the Christian identity of the nation.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #105

This pic is too small for the book

In my last post in this series I mentioned that I had submitted the manuscript of “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” to Oxford University Press.  I also mentioned the anxiety that comes with such a submission.  You can read all about it here.

Several things have happened since I submitted the book last month.

1.  My editor really likes what she has read so far.  This is good.

2.  I need to cut 50,000 words.  Some advice to new authors:  When your book contract says the manuscript needs to be 140,000 words long do not submit a manuscript that is 190,000 words long.  I should know better than this.  I have one week left to cut these words. At the moment I have 34,000 words left to cut.  (By the way, my book Why Study History? was 55,000 words).

The manuscript I submitted has an Introduction, 27 chapters, and an Afterword.  At this point I have managed to be rather surgical with my cuts.  They have all come by reducing each chapter from about 7500 words to 5500–6000 words.  I also combined Chapter 9 (on late 19th century immigration) and chapter 10 (on the late 19th century Bible work in the West).

3.  Six images are too small to use.  Unfortunately, these are some of my favorite images from the ABS collection.  I now need to replace them with other images.  The book will have 30 images total.

4.  Oxford assures me that they will have no problem meeting the May 1, 2016 publication date.

5.  At the moment the President of the American Bible Society and the in-house bicentennial historian are reading the manuscript.  While they have no control over the content, I am eager to get their impressions.

More later…

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #104

ABS Bible for the visually impaired

After a few short extensions and some late nights, my manuscript “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” has finally been sent to Oxford University Press and the process of transforming the manuscript into a book is underway.

Submitting a book manuscript requires a lot more than simply hitting the “send” button.   Here is what Oxford requires:

  • The manuscript, of course.  It needs to be formatted in 12 point font and double spaced. Each chapter needs to be sent as a separate file. This includes the table of contents, the acknowledgments, the dedication page., the bibliography, etc…
  • An “Author’s Questionnaire.”  This is a very important document because it helps the publisher promote the book.  Oxford’s questionnaire has close to forty questions. If you are thorough, filling this thing out could take several hours or maybe even a full day.  This is the point when the author writes the material that will appear on the cover jacket.  In addition, shorter statements (50 or so words) need to be written for catalog copy and the website.  For me, one of the fun parts of the questionnaire is picking potential blurbers and suggested places where the book should be reviewed and advertised.   
  • A “Manuscript Submission Form.”  On this form the author answers questions about the production process.  Will you be creating the index yourself or do you want to pay the publisher to do it? Do you want a “light” copy-edit or something more extensive?  Have you secured permission to publish all of the images and pictures that will appear in the book? Fortunately, all of my images come from the archives of the American Bible Society and I was granted free permission to use them. 
  • The”Oxford Scholarship Online Key Word and Abstract Form”.  This thing is a beast.  It requires 3-5 sentences abstracts for every chapter in the book and 3-10 key words for each chapter.  The “Bible Cause,” as it now stands, has twenty-eight chapters. Enough said.
The submission of a book like this also comes with some anxiety.  Oxford offered me a book contract based on the first two chapters.  They have not seen anything since then.  After spending so much time on a book project you start to lose perspective. Is this thing really any good?  Is my editor going to like it?  Is he/she going to send it back with orders to conduct a complete overhaul? How painful will the copy-editing process be? 
In my case the number of words in the manuscript that I submitted is much greater than the contracted word-count. How will the editor respond to this? Authors think that such extra words are absolutely necessary to tell the story that they want to tell.  Will the editor agree?
On the other hand, it is nice to be done–at least for now.

AHA Session #38: "Buying and Selling History"

One of the books discussed in today’s session

I had a tough decision to make at the 3:30-5:00 slot this afternoon.  I really wanted to attend a session on “Doing History” at the American Society of Church History meeting.  I was particularly interested in what David Hall had to say about storytelling and Catherine Brekus had to say about agency and American religious history.

But I opted instead for AHA Session #38: “Buying and Selling History: Some Perspectives on the Marketplace.”  Here is the session abstract:

What topics, approaches, and subjects have been more successful—however success is defined—than others in the marketplace for history titles? What generalizations can be made about the nature of that marketplace? What challenges do those who publish history titles face both in retail and at institutions and libraries? These are some of the questions that participants in this session, which is entitled “Buying and Selling History,” will address. All of the participants are directly involved in marketing and sales efforts for their houses, and as such actively involved in promoting and placing history titles—academic and trade and crossover—in the various channels, from the large retail chains to the small independent bookstores, from the smaller public libraries to the larger research institutions whose acquisition policies and procedures have changed radically over the last few years, in part because of the effects of patron-driven acquisition. Represented will be three large trade houses and one university press. The composition of the panel is not accidental, for the perspectives offered here are intended to reflect upon the general market for history titles, and the strategies employed by those who are committed to helping their books reach the widest possible audience while also adhering to scholarly standards and disciplinary rigor.

The panel included editors and salespersons from Oxford University Press, Random House, Knopf, Harper Collins, and New York University Press.

I thought the session was very informative, but also kind of odd.  I was hoping to glean some tips about how academic historians might bring solid historical scholarship to public audiences.  Keith Goldsmith of Knopf offered the best advice in this regard.  The representatives from Harper Collins and Random House did not seem interested in this question.  Instead, they told stories about how journalists, nature/travel writers, and other authors of books set in the past were able to market their projects to mass audiences.  Timothy Bent (Oxford University Press) and Mary Beth Jarrad (NYU Press) were much more connected with the concerns of the largely academic audience.

Rather than doing an entire post on this session, I decided to Storify my tweets and offer some brief commentary.  Check it out here.