The Author’s Corner with Dale Soden

Outsiders in a promised landDale Soden is Professor of History and Director of Weyerhaeuser Center for Christian Faith and Learning at Whitworth University. This interview is based on his book, Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History (Oregon State University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Outsiders in a Promised Land?

DS: I decided to research and write Outsiders in a Promised Land after publishing a biography of the most influential religious figure in the first half of the 20th century in the Pacific Northwest—the Reverend Mark Matthews (University of Washington Press, 2001). Most historians had neglected the role that religious activists, including Matthews, had played in the Northwest largely because of its reputation as the least-churched region of the country. However, it became evident, that beginning in the mid-19th century, religious activists played key roles in trying to shape the culture of the Northwest through the establishment of schools and colleges as well as lobbying for the passage of laws that would shape behavior. They led the way in the struggle for not just the prohibition of alcohol, but as the century wore on, the advocacy for civil rights and other issues of social justice. All of this was largely untold by previous historians.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Outsiders in a Promised Land?

DS: The argument for Outsiders is that in the period between the mid-19th century and the 1930s/40s, religious activists (Protestants, Catholics, and Jews) exercised outsized influence on the culture of the region as they tried to mitigate the early influence of largely young adult males who were mainly interested in gambling, prostitution, and alcohol. The second half of the book is focused on the cultural war between largely conservative and liberal elements within the middle class after mid-century; this war largely focused on whether more conservative social values should prevail within the Northwest or whether more liberal values that emphasized pluralism and social justice should predominate.

JF: Why do we need to read Outsiders in a Promised Land?

DS: Outsiders helps us understand two fundamental questions: What was the role of religious activism in the history of public life in the Pacific Northwest, and secondly, Outsiders helps explain the larger trajectory of religion in public life not just in the Northwest but in the context of the larger American story. This book is unique in the sense that it should help reveal how a region of the country can express elements that are unique to that region, but also elements that are familiar across the American landscape. As we attempt to understand the culture wars that continue to dominate many of the country’s political dynamics, having a better understanding of how these culture wars evolved from the mid-20th century to the present should be helpful perspective.

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

DS: I decided to become an American historian several decades ago in graduate school. It was only after I taught a couple of courses in American history that I decided to make that my emphasis. In general, I was drawn to American history because of how evident it was that my father, who had lived through the Depression and fought in World War II, had such a different experience that I who was living through the ‘60s with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. I wanted to understand him and myself more fully.

JF: What is your next project?

DS: I’m currently working on a comparative study of the role that predominately African-American churches and pastors played in the struggle for civil rights on the West Coast. I’m looking at churches and pastors in Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area and Los Angeles. I’m most interested in how these pastors, many of whom went to school with Martin Luther King Jr., or knew him directly, navigated the influence of Black Power on their own ministries and efforts to work for social justice.

JF: Thanks, Dale!

A Day in the Pacific Northwest

Whitworth

Last night the Believe Me book tour made its one and only stop in the Pacific Northwest.  Thanks to Dale Soden of Whitworth University‘s Weyerhauster Center for Christian Faith and Learning for inviting me to speak at this excellent Christian college in Spokane.

Dale even gave me a quick tour of the Gonzaga University campus. We drove past “The New Kennell,” home of the Gonzaga Bulldog basketball team on the evening they received a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  I also learned that Bing Crosby’s boyhood home is on Gonzaga’s campus.

It was good to see my old friend Arlin Migliazzo (recently retired from Whitworth’s history department), touch base with Elise Leal (a very promising faculty member in early America who just joined the department this year and recently won the Sidney Mead Prize from the American Society of Church History), and meet so many of Whitworth’s outstanding history students.  I also got to chat briefly over lunch with Jerry Sittser, author of The Will of God as a Way of Lifea book I once taught as part of Messiah College’s first-year CORE.  Whitworth seems like a great place to work and study. It has been one of my favorite stops on the Believe Me tour.

I think it is fair to say that the audience response to my lecture was generally positive, but there were a few outliers.  Students from the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Whitworth were out in force.  I know most of them disagreed with the central premise of my talk, but they were polite and respectable.  (The Whitworth YAF chapter is reeling in the wake of a recent controversy surrounding an invitation to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro).  Another student (I am not sure if he was part of YAF) wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and then waited patiently after the lecture to tell me I was wrong about Trump.  We had a nice conversation and I asked him if he would read my book if I sent him a copy.  He said he would. The book will be in the mail soon.

The Q&A session was spirited, but that is how I like it.  Whitworth was a great host and the students and faculty who came to the lecture modeled civil dialogue.  I hope to come back to campus one day!

Off to Greensboro College in Greensboro, NC on Thursday.  See you there!

The Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In

I am very intrigued by this attempt to crowdsource the history of the Civil War in the Pacific Northwest.  Individuals are trained (in a one-day seminar) to read nineteenth-century newspapers and other documents in order to contribute to a database on the Civil War in the state of Washington.  The project is sponsored by the Washington State Historical Society.

Here is a taste:

What is this Read-In about, in a nutshell?


The Read-In is a statewide program of the Washington State Historical Society to recruit and train hundreds of readers throughout Washington State to carefully read newspapers, archival collections and Washington history classics to find evidence concerning Washington Territory’s experience of the Civil War.  The Read-In will take place from January through August, 2013.  The readers will build a database of citations and scanned documents, which will be hosted by the Washington State Historical Society.


How will readers be trained?


Every reader must attend a day-long training at one of the eight sites, listed below.  YOU MUST REGISTER TO ATTEND A TRAINING – PLEASE DO NOT SIMPLY SHOW UP!  The training will include a presentation sketching what we currently know about the Civil War in Washington Territory, 1857-1871.  Then, readers will work through three case studies – in a newspaper, an archival document and a classic of Washington history.  They will practice the hard work of figuring out what evidence is in the selections, and how to record the required information in the digital format.  Then, they will be trained in logging that data and uploading it to the Omeka holding queue, our online database.  At the end of the training session, each reader will receive his or her assignment.  The assignment is designed to be carefully read in a month of spare time, but the reader may take as long as two months to complete the reading and review.  There will be plenty of time at the training for questions and discussion – the Read-In is a community, not just a project. 

I think this just might be the wave of the future in historical research. Learn more at Northwest History.