High School Yearbooks are Historical Documents

Kavanaugh

We learned this during Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings.

John Thelin, a historian at the University of Kentucky, reminds us that “yearbooks are documents that can go beyond casual nostalgia.”  Here is a taste of his piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Campus yearbooks are in the news. This unlikely attention came about with recent media coverage of Senate confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court nomination. For several days, The New York Times provided readers with front-page articles featuring clinical dissections of the biographical profiles of graduating seniors. Reporters analyzed yearbook inscriptions with the care usually reserved for decoding the Dead Sea scrolls.

The spotlight was surprising because higher education usually relies on databases such as the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS, which lead to projections on enrollments, percentage returns on endowments, scorecards on institutional compliance or rankings of federal research funding. One of my colleagues, who is a statistician, exclaimed, “Yearbooks? Is this some kind of a joke?”

It was no joke. Yearbooks from high school and college are an American tradition, familiar to alumni whose photographs and captions lead them to say, “Thanks for the memories!” They also are documents that can go beyond casual nostalgia. Yearbooks have potential for serious research, but only if handled with care in analyzing their scripts of stilted, ritualized images and selective coverage of student life. Reliability, consistency, validity and significance — the concepts that shape statistical analysis — are equally pertinent in the content analysis of yearbooks.

These dusty, heavy bound volumes that end up in used bookstores, garage sales and library storage centers can be thoughtfully mined to reconstruct campus life and student cultures. They are simultaneously a source about the biography of an individual as well as a key to understanding the statistics of group patterns and dynamics of a college or high school class.

Read the rest here.

Elizabeth Craft’s Diary, 1770-1771

MassHistorichq

White diary can be read at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston

Over at The Beehive, the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Erin Weinman introduces us to the diary of Elizabeth Craft White.  From December 27, 1770 to January 23, 1771 White wrote about her spiritual life in the wake of her husband’s death.  This looks like a wonderful source for those working in 18th-century lived religion.

Here is a taste of Weinman’s piece:

The diary is heartbreaking, but Elizabeth White’s thoughts were not uncommon during a period in which mourning became intertwined with religious culture. In early Massachusetts, it wasn’t uncommon for people to use the death of a loved one as a time to reflect upon their own souls and ask God to forgive their sins, faced with the reality that their own end could be near. Ministers often encouraged their parishioners to keep diaries to embellish their faith in Heaven, viewing this as another way to become closer to God and to understand what death meant. Sermons often revolved around the topic of dying, such as Timothy Edwards’ All the living must surely die, and go to judgement.

Man is born to trouble as the Sparks fly upward tears sorrow & Death is the Portion of every person that is Born into the world. I have been born, most certainly & it is as certain that I must die & I know not how soon. Die I must! & die I shall! (Elizabeth White, January 18, 1771).

Read the entire piece here.

Historical Thinking and the Nunes Memo

Image: House memo

How might a historian interpret the now-famous Nunes memo?

Mark Byrnes, chair of the Department of History at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, breaks it down for us.  Here is a taste of his History News Network piece: “The Nunes Memo: ‘Bias,’ and the Skills of the Historian“:

The entire “argument” (such as it is) depends on the idea that a FISA warrant based—to any extent—on the so-called Steele dossier is inherently tainted, because the research done by the author, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, was paid for at some point by Democrats. Since the warrant targeted Carter Page, who had been part of the Trump campaign, the motive of the funders (not the researcher, it bears noting) to get “dirt” on Trump somehow discredits everything Steele found.

The memo contains not a single argument that the evidence used to obtain the warrant against Carter Page was actually false—only that it is somehow untrustworthy due to the alleged motive behind the research that produced the evidence.

In history, we deal with this problem all the time. We uncover evidence in primary sources, and must judge its credibility. Do we have reason to believe that the person who produced the evidence might have an agenda that should cause us to doubt the veracity of the evidence? What do we do if the answer to that question is “yes,” or even “maybe”?

I do a primary source exercise in my methods class that does just this: presents the students with conflicting primary source accounts of an event. I then explain why the people who produced the evidence might have self-serving reasons for portraying the event in a particular light.

Most students, when first faced with this dilemma, immediately say “bias!” and dismiss the evidence as worthless. That is the reaction the Nunes memo seems intended to produce among the general public.

But that is not how the historian reacts. Yes, the source of the evidence may have some bias. That does not, however, by itself mean that the information is false. It does mean that when weighing its validity, the historian must look for other, independent, corroborating evidence before trusting it.

It seems likely that is what the officials who used the Steele dossier to obtain the FISA warrant did: they compared what Steele wrote to other information they had about Carter Page to see if it lined up.

Read the rest here.  Thanks to TWOILH reader John Shaw for bringing this piece to my attention.

More on David Barton’s Use of That John Adams Quote

Barton Quote

Yesterday we did a lengthy post showing how Christian Right activist David Barton manipulated a John Adams quote to make it sound like Adams supported the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Barton is up to his old tricks here.  He is being deliberately deceptive. He seems to have no problem manipulating the past in this way to promote his agenda.

After I published my post, Southern Methodist University historian Kate Carte Engel took to twitter to give her take on Adams, Christianity, and the American founding.

Here it is:

Primary Sources for a Future History Class

Trump on May 19, 2017:

Former FBI Director Jim Comey on June 7, 2017:

On February 14, I went to the Oval Office for a scheduled counterterrorism briefing of the President. He sat behind the desk and a group of us sat in a semi-circle of about six chairs facing him on the other side of the desk. The Vice President, Deputy Director of the CIA, Director of the National CounterTerrorism Center, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and I were in the semi-circle of chairs. I was directly facing the President, sitting between the Deputy CIA Director and the Director of NCTC. There were quite a few others in the room, sitting behind us on couches and chairs.

The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information — a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The President waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”

The President returned briefly to the problem of leaks. I then got up and left out the door by the grandfather clock, making my way through the large group of people waiting there, including Mr. Priebus and the Vice President.

I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership. I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign. I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls. Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.

Revolutionary America: An Update on Textbook Selection

brown-and-carpIn the past I have spent a lot of time stressing over readings for my 300-level course on the American Revolution at Messiah College.  How many  monographs should I assign? How should I balance new works with classics in the field? What are the seminal scholarly articles that must be assigned?  What about important primary sources?

This year I decided to avoid the stress and assign only two textbooks. The first text is Gordon Wood’s short and concise The American Revolution: A History.  Wood’s text is limited in what it accomplishes, but I want students to have a political overview of the events leading up to the revolution, the war, and the confederation period.

The second text is Richard D. Brown and Benjamin Carp’s reader Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution, 1760-1791.  This text is loaded with excerpts from some of the best secondary essays in the field (Gordon Wood, Alfred Young, Gary Nash, Fred Anderson, Carp, McConville, Armitage, Jasanoff, Dowd, Sinha, Zagarri, Crane, Butler, Noll, Onuf, Gross, Beeman, Cornell, Bouton) and some very teachable primary sources.

Most importantly, Major Problems allows me to assign manageable readings that my students can actually digest and discuss.  It allows us to spend more time analyzing primary sources and has enabled me to introduce historiography more effectively.  The discussions in class have been much better because we are not rushing to finish one monograph and get to another.  After fifteen years of teaching this course it now feels less like a graduate seminar and much more like an undergraduate history course.

Here is what we have done so far:

Day 1: Introduction to the course.

Day 2:  Discussion of the “Britishness” of the colonies of the eve of the American Revolution. Here I reveal my preference for the Anglicization interpretation of British America. Ben Franklin’s “For Interest of Great Britain Considered” (1760) was perfect for this discussion.

Day 3: We talked about the 12-15 research paper the students will write.  I introduced students to the Early American Imprints and Early American Newspapers collections. (We are fortunate to have these resources at Messiah College–thanks Beth Mark!).

Day 3: Discussion of four documents on changes in British customs policy and the Proclamation of 1763.  My favorite is George Washington’s letter to his land agent about trying to illegally buy land beyond the Proclamation line.  It portrays Washington as a self-interested land speculator.  This is a side of Washington that is new to most of my students.

Day 4: We read documents on the Stamp Act.  Brown and Carp include sources chronicling the violent resistance to the Act as well as the more intellectual opposition that came through people like Patrick Henry and the Stamp Act Congress.  The students really enjoy the descriptions of mob activity in New York written by Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden and his son David.  Today one student pointed out David Colden’s blatant attempt to land a job as a stamp collector and court the favor of the powers-that-be in London. Rank ambition indeed!  (Colden would end up fleeing to Canada).

Stay tuned.

Jared Burkholder’s “Open Letter to the Bartons”

jared-burkholderJared Burkholder teaches and writes history at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.  I have been to Grace. It is a great Christian college.  I also think it is fair to say that Grace is not a bastion of secularism, liberalism, atheism, or paganism.  Having said that, it is not pure enough for David Barton, the political activist who uses the past to promote his political agenda that the United States is a Christian nation. Grace did not make his list of acceptable schools.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman,  Chris Gehrz’s Christian history blog with a wide readership among evangelicals, Burkholder has published “An Open Letter to the Bartons.” Here is a taste:

Dear David (and now Tim) Barton,

Maybe you can clarify something for me. Why do you continue to insist that because you read primary sources you have a unique voice when compared to professional Christian historians like me, who you say fail to make use of original sources?

I am hardly the first to be annoyed by this, but suffice it to say this is utterly incomprehensible to me. Primary sources are to historians what hammers are to carpenters; what keyboards are to composers; what language is to writers. They are the tools of our trade, the most basic implements we learn to use.

We wrestle with their complexity. We wade through mountains of them. We have realized that using them with integrity requires difficult work and a whole lot of time. Often, we don’t just read and use primary sources, we live in them. We spend so much time with them they become part of our present reality. They show up in our dreams at night and in the space of our daydreams. We ask other people for grant money so we can go and see them. We cross oceans to handle them — maybe just to decipher the notes in the margins. We struggle with foreign languages so we can break their codes and take courses in paleography to learn how the ancients made their letters. Visit any of our classes and you’ll find we not only use original documents for our research, we assign them to our students. We might print out digital photos of documents crammed into our hard drives from our research trips so students can practice with them. We take joy when we inspire in our students the same sense of awe we ourselves feel every time we step into the archives.

Read the whole thing at The Pietist Schoolman.

I offer this for some additional context.

 

What Constitutes a Historical Document?

Mount VernonAHA Today, the blog of the American Historical Association, is featuring the work of several history graduate students who will be writing regular posts throughout the summer.  I am thrilled to see that one of the students chosen to write for the blog is Erin Holmes, a Ph.D candidate in early American history at the University of South Carolina.  I got to know Erin and her work a little bit during my one-month residency as a visiting scholar at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.  When I arrived Erin was in the midst of a longer six-month fellowship devoted to work on a dissertation on 18th-century plantation landscapes in Virginia, South Carolina, and Barbados.

In her first post at AHA Today, Erin reminds us that the primary documents historians use to tell stories about the past do not have to be words on paper.

Here is a taste:

In 1953, L.P. Hartley wrote that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Historians and lay readers alike are familiar with the idea that the past is a different place, but often lose sight of the word “place” in that discussion. Like any other place, we can travel to the past. Most often, we do this through the written word. We read primary sources that introduce us to foreign cultures and practices that once existed in the very location (sometimes down to the exact longitude and latitude) we do today, albeit in a place—a historical context encompassing geography, culture, and more—that would be utterly alien.

“Visiting the Past and the Places in Between” is based on my belief that history is inherently place-based and that historical analysis is strengthened by comparison. We attach ourselves (to varying degrees) to the places we come from, the places we live, and the places to which we travel. Among the richest resources for historians of the early modern period seeking thick descriptions of long lost people and places are travel narratives. These accounts are fundamentally the product of comparing the familiar with the unfamiliar, and to some extent historians produce our research questions from the same cloth. Pairing travel narratives with existing (or archaeological) historic structures, as well as expanding the definition of a “historical document” to include landscapes and buildings, provides an entry point to the past that can allow us to not only answer those questions, but to push them further.

Read the rest here.

Primary Source of the Day

George Washington to Tench Tilghman

Mount Vernon Mar. 24th 1784

Dear Sir,
I am informed that a Ship with Palatines is gone up to Baltimore, among whom are a number of Tradesmen. I am a good deal in want of a House Joiner & Bricklayer, (who really understand their profession) & you would do me a favor by purchasing one of each, for me. I would not confine you to Palatines. If they are good workmen, they may be of Assia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans, Jews, or Christian of any Sect—or they may be Athiests—I woud however prefer middle aged, to young men. and those who have good countenances & good characters on ship board, to others who have neither of these to recommend them—altho, after all, the proof of the pudding must be in the eating. I do not limit you to a price, but will pay the purchase money on demand—This request will be in force ’till complied with, or countermanded, because you may not succeed at this moment, and have favourable ones here after to do it in[.]1 My best respects, in which Mrs Washington joins, are presented to Mrs Tilghman & Mrs Carroll 2—and I am Dr Sir Yr Affecte Hble Servt

Source

HT

Why You Should Do an Internship at a Historical Museum

You just might find a document that saves the museum.

This is indeed what happened to Emilie Gruchow, who interned at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Manhattan during the summer of 2013.  

Rebecca Rego Barry tells her story at Smithsonian.com:

Emilie Gruchow, then an archives intern at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, had recently begun working in the historic house’s third-floor attic. When she recalled the day, she was clear that there wasn’t any air-conditioning up there, and the room temperature was averaging about 95 degrees. Her project was to re-catalog the 17th- and 18th-century manuscripts stored in the flat file cabinets. She knew that many of them were historically noteworthy and many required immediate preservation treatment (archival storage in a hot, humid attic is definitely not recommended).

One folder contained the accounts of Nicholas Roche, an 18th-century doctor who treated slaves in New York and New Jersey. It was fascinating material, and she remembered, “I was reading these papers (admittedly straying from my work a little), which were interleaved with fragments of another document. When I was done reading through the Roche papers, I returned to the fragments. They were not in order, so I started reading fragments one by one until I got to the fourth or fifth leaf, which had the opening passage on one side.”
That line, from an urgent plea sent to the people of Great Britain by the Second Continental Congress one year before American independence was declared, was now in front of her in manuscript form.
What Gruchow had found misfiled among the doctor’s papers was a draft of a document entitled “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain.”
It was an appeal not to King George, but to the British people, for reconciliation, and a last-ditch effort to avoid war by touting “the glorious achievements of our common ancestors.” The Second Continental Congress had approved the strident text on July 8, 1775, a few weeks after the Battle of Bunker Hill, and commissioned a printing in broadsheet form to circulate (of which several copies exist in institutional collections.) It didn’t do much good; by then George III had already decreed that the colonies were in rebellion. For historians, however, the “olive branch” reveals the strong, conflicted feelings of the colonists in the spring and summer of 1775. In draft form, showing numerous edits and strikethroughs, that concept is amplified. As the auction catalogue states, “…This document is an important missing piece from the culminating moments in which colonists began to think of themselves not as British subjects but as American citizens.”
Until Gruchow’s discovery, no manuscript was known to exist and even its authorship was undetermined. The Continental Congress had originally appointed delegates Robert R. Livingston, Richard Henry Lee, and Edmund Pendleton to the task, but the printed version was unsigned. According to scholars, it’s evident from this recent discovery that Livingston was the primary author (the manuscript is in his hand, with notes and edits by Lee). Livingston, incidentally, was one of the five men assigned one year later to write the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman.
Before even these details were fleshed out, Gruchow brought the document, given the moniker “the Livingston manuscript,” to the attention of the museum’s curator, Jasmine Helm, and its director, Carol S. Ward. The paper looked right to them—it was handmade from fiber pulp—and they called upon experts for second opinions and handwriting analysis. It was concluded that this was indeed a genuine, significant, Revolutionary-era manuscript. As such, they knew it was extremely valuable.
Read the rest here.  The document eventually sold at auction for nearly $1 million and secured a long-term future for the museum.
HT: Michael Hattem on FB

Are Madison’s Notes From the Constitutional Convention Unreliable?

Perhaps “unreliable” is too strong a word, but most historians would have no qualms about saying that Madison’s notes do not provide an objective account of what happened in that Philadelphia summer of 1787.

Mary Sarah Bilder, a law professor a Boston College and the author of a new book on Madison and the Constitutional Convention, reminds us of something that most serious students of history already know–primary documents should be read critically and are often biased by the beliefs of their authors.  This is clearly the case with Madison’s “Notes.”  Here is a taste of Bilder’s piece, published this week at The History News Network:

Madison’s Notes are the only source that covers every day of the Convention from May 14 to September 17, 1787. No other source depicts the Convention as Madison’s Notes do: as a political drama, with compelling characters, lengthy discourses on political theories, crushing disappointments, and seemingly miraculous successes. The Notes are, as the Library of Congress catalogs them, properly considered a “Top Treasure” of the American people.
But the Notes do not date in their entirety to the summer of 1787.  They are covered in revisions. This fact is known – but the number is a shock. When I saw the manuscript in the conservation lab at the Library of Congress—in the aptly named Madison Building—the  additions appear in various ink shades, with handwriting, some youthful, some with the shake of Madison’s later years. Madison even added slips of paper with longer revisions.
The revisions do not detract, but enhance Madison’s manuscript. Madison’s Notes were revised as he changed his understanding about the Convention, the Constitution, and his own role. Madison’s Notes were originally taken as a legislative diary for himself and likely Thomas Jefferson. They tracked his political ideas, his strategies, and the positions of allies and opponents. The original Notes reflected what Madison cared about.
I love talking about the Notes with students because they know that one cannot take notes of oneself speaking. When they are called on, they either leave their notes blank or they compose that section later, reflecting what they realized afterwards was the right answer. Madison’s own speeches are thus the most troubling in terms of reliability. In fact, in the years immediately after the Convention, he likely replaced several of the sheets containing his speeches in order to distance himself from statements that became controversial. 
Madison never finished the Notes that summer. In late August, as the Convention debated the first draft of the Constitution, the delegates sent controversial issues to committees. Madison served on the three most important committees: dealing with slavery, postponed matters, and the final draft. Moreover, he became sick—something that he seemed susceptible to under stress.
Madison stopped writing the Notes. He was too involved in drafting to bother with a diary. Moreover, he likely could not keep distinct decisions made in committees and those in the Convention. Thus at the very moment when the Convention decided many of the issues we debate today—certain congressional powers, impeachments, the vice-president, the electoral college, presidential powers—and the groupings and relationship that converted twenty-three articles into the final seven—the Notes are the most unreliable. Yet this collapse of the Notes reflected the contemporary inability of the delegates to see the final Constitution in the sense that we mistakenly imagine they could.   

Read her entire piece here.

Traveling With the Declaration of Independence

Have you ever wondered how an original version of the Declaration of Independence travels? 

Recently Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence (the one that condemned slavery) traveled from England to its home at the New York Public Library and Tom Daly of The Daily Beast went along for the last leg of the journey.

Here is a taste of Daly’s article describing the experience:


Virgin Atlantic Flight 3 from London descended through the gray summer haze and touched down at JFK Airport in New York just ahead of schedule. The Airbus A340-600 taxied up to the gate, its nose painted with the word ”Dancing Queen” and a woman in a swimsuit waving a Union Jack in each hand.
A baggage vehicle rolled up and the operator opened the door to the forward baggage compartment on the right side of the fuselage. He pointed to what had been the last item loaded aboard, a metal cargo container that was cocooned in plastic and stenciled with “AKE 0026 US.”
“The thing is there!” the operator announced.
He was addressing members of the NYPD Intelligence Bureau and the Port Authority Police who stood waiting on the tarmac. A Port Authority armored vehicle with a heavily armed emergency service team was nearby.
All eyes were on the cargo container as it was transferred to a trailer towed by a small airport vehicle. The vehicle immediately set off. It was escorted by a small convoy that included the armored vehicle and a black unmarked car driven by Inspector Steven D’Ulisse of the intelligence bureau.
On other days, the Intelligence Division had planned and implemented protection for any number of visiting dignitaries, most prominently including the president. The cops will be doing the same for the pope later this month.
The usual watchful care was now being accorded this metal container as if there were a living being inside as it rolled up to a cargo facility. Hundreds of millions in cash and gold routinely pass through this portal, but it was clear that this was something whose value was beyond the measure of money.
And the cops were not just standing guard lest anyone try to steal the contents. They were making sure that no harm came to it. And they were doing so with a hint of wonder, a touch of school-kid enthusiasm that bubbled just under their all-pro vigilance.
Read the rest here.

The Junto March Madness Tournament is Back!

Once again, the good folks at The Junto are running a March Madness tournament.  This year the focus is on primary documents from early American history. Here is a taste:


This time around, we’re limiting entrants in the competition to primary sources. We wanted to expand on some of the pedagogical posts we’ve had here at The Junto, and to host a competition that will foster wide discussions about how we as historians go about researching and teaching.

Nominations open today and close on Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST. Check out the rules below and then add your nominations and seconds in the Comments section. Then, by the power of The Junto‘s bracketologists, we’ll put together tournament brackets, announce the brackets, and open it up for your votes starting next Monday.

The Rules

1) Here’s how we’re defining “primary sources” for the purpose of this competition: any primary source that is easily available online, published in an edited collection, or reproduced in a scholarly journal. You should not nominate primary sources that are only available in manuscript form. The point of this limitation is to create a giant list of primary sources for research and teaching that are easily accessible to everyone.

2) All nominations must be made in the Comments section of this post.

3) If would be helpful if, in your nomination, you included one line about each of the sources you’re nominating, given the fact that this will be a broader exercise than usual and some sources won’t (and shouldn’t!) be familiar to everyone (I’m looking at you, non-British-Atlanticists–we need your nominations!).

4) We ask that you nominate a maximum of three primary sources that have not yet been nominated. You may also “second” the nomination of three other primary sources that have already been nominated. If you were going to nominate primary sources already mentioned you may do so and they will be tallied as seconds. 

Of course I will be championing the greatest eighteenth-century primary source on the planet: Hunter Dickinson Farish’s edited The Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774: Plantation Tutor on the Old Dominion.  Stay tuned, but in the meantime we need someone to head over to The Junto and “second” my nomination.  Let’s get this ball rolling!  I think Fithian can be this year’s Cinderella and a make run deep into the brackets.


*Christianity Today*: Volume 1, Number 1

Today my History of American Evangelicalism course at Messiah College is reading chapter three today in Molly Worthen’s stimulating treatment of post-war evangelicalism: Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.  (Stay tuned for some forthcoming “Office Hours” episodes covering the book).

Much of chapter three focuses on Christianity Today, the flagship periodical of the neo-evangelical movement.  So this morning I went to the Messiah College library and asked the librarian if I could borrow the original issue of the magazine. (Thanks, Michael Rice!)  It was published in October 1956.

When I tweeted the picture below, one of the current CT editors, Ted Olsen, responded:

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Serendipity in the Archives

Last week the Messiah College History Department hosted Philip Deloria of the University of Michigan for our annual American Democracy Lecture.  Deloria was very gracious with his time. Not only did he deliver an evening lecture to about 350 students, faculty, and community members, but he also agreed to lead a few classes.

One of those classes was our Sophomore “Historical Methods” course.  In this course we teach students how to produce a first-rate historical research paper on a topic of their choice.  In the course of the conversation in the class he visited, Deloria discussed how historians work in the archives.  All historians hope to have a moment of serendipity when they enter the archives. (“Serendipity is defined by Webster as “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for”).They want to find a document that no other historian before them has seen or considered. Or they want to have an “aha” moment in which they encounter a document or series of documents that can be interpreted in a way that reshapes or fundamentally changes the way we have long understood the historic subject matter at hand.

Sometimes these serendipitous moments happen by sheer luck (or providence, depending on your theology). We find something we never expected to find that totally transforms the way we think about our project.  But most of the time, as Deloria told our students, serendipitous moments in the archives or with primary sources happen because we are prepared.  In other words, these kinds of moments usually happen not because we simply got lucky, but because we have done the necessary secondary reading and we understanding the historiography of the particular subject.  When this happens–when we are prepared to do historical research– we are more prone to find things that are useful, if not groundbreaking, for our work.  We begin to look at primary sources or archival material in a new way.

Deloria’s remarks reinforced what we have been trying to teach our history majors about writing a research paper.  A good piece of historical scholarship–even an undergraduate piece of scholarship–must always be forged out of a regular and ongoing conversation between the secondary literature and the primary/archival material.  The more one reads and prepares before encountering the primary material, the more likely that such an serendipitous moment might occur.

I think this is an important reminder for both students and the seasoned historical researcher.

Teaching in the Archives

My former student Amy James just brought this to my attention.  The Brooklyn Historical Society has put together a very useful site for teaching primary sources.  Here is a taste of what it is all about:

TeachArchives.org is an innovative resource for teachers, administrators, librarians, archivists, and museum educators. It offers sample exercises and informative articles based on a new approach to teaching in the archives.

TeachArchives.org is the result of Students and Faculty in the Archives (SAFA), a three-year grant at Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) which partnered with 18 faculty at 3 colleges within walking distance of the archives: Long Island University Brooklyn, New York City College of Technology (City Tech), and Saint Francis College.

From 2011 to 2013, SAFA brought over 1,100 students to BHS to analyze original documents. Independent evaluators have found that SAFA students are more engaged and perform better than their peers in non-SAFA classes. This site includes extensive SAFA project documentation.