Is Sean Wilentz the “Intellectual Heir” of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.?

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Timothy Shenk, in a review of two Sean Wilentz books, makes the case.  Here is a taste of his review at The Nation:

As the campaign to impeach Bill Clinton rolled forward in 1998, the White House called on the assistance of a longtime ally: the Ivy League. The administration summoned a team of experts to testify on the president’s behalf in front of the House Judiciary Committee that included a Yale law professor, a Harvard political scientist, and a Princeton historian. The historian, Sean Wilentz, was the youngest member of the group, but he was also the most zealous. After the witnesses were sworn in, Wilentz told the committee that if they supported impeachment without being absolutely certain that the president’s transgressions constituted high crimes and misdemeanors, “history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness.”

Wilentz’s appearance garnered poor reviews—“gratuitously patronizing,” wrote The New York Times—but it whetted his appetite for partisan skirmishing. He had come to the Clinton team’s attention as the result of a campaign he’d led with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to gather signatures from prominent historians for a petition that charged the supporters of impeachment with endangering the US Constitution. Now it seemed that Schlesinger, the aging liberal giant, had found his successor—a public intellectual, rigorous scholar, and Democratic Party street fighter who would carry the battle for liberalism into the next generation.

Over the following decade, Wilentz cemented his place as Schlesinger’s intellectual heir. Like Schlesinger, he’d begun his career as a specialist in early American political history, then moved on to writing about the entire scope of the nation’s past. Outside academic circles, he was well known for his regular contributions to the Leon Wieseltier–run “back of the book” at The New Republic, where he opined on subjects ranging from the influence of postmodern theory (bad) to the popularity of David McCullough (also bad) in essays thrown down like lightning bolts from Mount Princeton. In 2005, he published The Rise of American Democracy, a 1,000-page opus on the emergence of popular government in the United States, from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War. Three years later, he followed it up with The Age of Reagan, a survey of American political history from 1974 to 2008 that not so implicitly set the stage for a coming liberal era after Reagan’s. With the 2008 presidential election under way, rumors swirled that Wilentz was poised to follow Schlesinger’s example yet again, this time as the court historian for Hillary Clinton’s upcoming administration.

Read the rest here.

The Gilder-Lehrman “Princeton Seminar” on the Colonial Era is Back! Apply Now!

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We are entering Year 6 of the seminar. Join us in Princeton this summer!  Read posts from the last six years here.

Here are details from the Gilder-Lehrman website:

DIRECTORS
John Fea, Professor of History, Messiah College

OVERVIEW
Rather than thinking about colonial America as a necessary forerunner to the American Revolution or the birth of the United States, we will make an effort to understand British colonial life on its own terms, examining how the colonies developed from remote seventeenth-century English outposts to well-connected eighteenth-century provinces of the British Empire. In the process we will critique the so-called “Whig” interpretation of the colonies and think together about how this particular period in the American past provides a laboratory for teaching historical thinking skills in the classroom.

TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATIONS
Participants are responsible for making their own travel arrangements; the Institute will reimburse up to $400 in travel expenses. Read the policy here. Participants will be staying at Princeton University in Princeton, NJ. Princeton is equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia and is easily accessible by train. The nearest airport is Newark Liberty International Airport. For more information on travel to Princeton, please click here.

Workshop participants will stay in on-campus residence halls in their own room, but share bathrooms and common space on each floor. The university provides basic bedding and towels only. Please note that participants should plan to bring alarm clocks, shower shoes, hangers, irons, and hair dryers. Participants should plan to bring laptops as computer access on campus will be limited.

MEALS
Meals will be served in a university cafeteria in space shared by other programs. All on-campus meals will be paid for by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

POLICIES
Please be sure to review the Institute’s policies on independent school teacher participation and travel reimbursement before applying.

COURSE REVIEWS FROM PAST PARTICIPANTS
“Dr. John Fea did a remarkable job sharing his knowledge in the area of the 13 colonies. His passion for history is evident in his lectures and I am more motivated today to teach tomorrow. I have always been intimidated by the 13 colonies because each colony’s background is so diverse. I have a better grasp on the colonies and I will be able to share primary documents to support the classroom learning. I am looking forward to teaching this in the coming weeks.”

“Thoroughly enjoyed the week in NJ. Strengthened my content background & walked away with tons of resources (primary specifically) to take back to my classroom.”

“This seminar was the best thing I have experienced in 25 years of teaching. Dr. Fea was outstanding and his lectures were riveting. I appreciated the content, the setting, and the master teacher’s assistance. It was amazing and memorable. I will certainly be applying this content and these principles to my teaching this year.”

QUESTIONS?
Email the Teacher Seminars department or call 646-366-9666.

Seminar Year: 2018-2019

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Princeton University

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The view from my “Visitors” office at the Wilson School

I spent the lunch hour today at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affair at Princeton University.   The Wilson School, in conjunction with the Princeton Center for the Study of Religion, hosted me for a book discussion on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  We had a nice turnout of graduate students and faculty from both the Department of Religion and the Wilson School.  Thanks to Jenny Wiley Legath for hosting me and providing me with a great parking spot in front of Robertson Hall! 🙂

Wilson School

Look Mom and Dad, I have an office at Princeton!  🙂

Taking Care of Business

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7:45am:  Voted at my local polling place

12:00pm:  At Princeton University for an event on Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Center for the Study of Religion.

2:15pm:  On Canadian television  (CBC News Network) to talk evangelicals and the election.

7:00pm: In Scranton, Pennsylvania area to watch the Mechanicsburg Area High School girls soccer team compete in the first round of the state tournament vs. Dallas High School.

9:00-12:00pm:  On call with Canadian Broadcast Corporation radio coverage of the 2018 midterms.

Long day.

Day 3 of the 2018 Princeton Seminar

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Teachers hard at work on lesson planning

Day 3 is in the books!  (For posts on Day 1 and 2 click here).

We covered a lot of content today.  I spent the morning lecturing on the seventeenth-century Chesapeake.  After lunch, we started on the Puritans and Massachusetts Bay.  Nate continues to spend the afternoons working with teachers on their colonial-era lesson plans.

Tonight we took an informal tour of Princeton’s Presbyterian Cemetery where we visited the graves of Aaron Burr Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Withersoon, Aaron Burr Jr., Grover Cleveland (and his daughter “Baby Ruth”), B.B. Warfield, and others.   We also ran into the eminent early American religious historian Thomas Kidd.  Tommy is in town leading a Witherspoon Institute seminar on religion and the founding era.

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Telling the Princeton Seminar teachers about the work of Thomas Kidd

Participant Matt Lakemacher gets the award for the best tweet from the cemetery:

After the cemetery visit, several of us walked over to Morven, the eighteenth-century home of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  We also stopped at the Princeton Battle Monument.

It is these informal moments with the teachers that I enjoy most about the Princeton Seminar.

Here are some pics:

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An impromptu lesson on the first six Princeton presidents

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Princeton 2018 Wed. 8We are in Philadelphia today.  Stay tuned for a report.

Rethinking America with John Murrin

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Princeton historian John Murrin never wrote a monograph.  But his essays packed a punch.

Princeton Alumni Weekly is recognizing a new book of Murrin’s classic essays titled Rethinking America: From Empire to Republic

I can think of few early American historians who have had more of an influence on the way I think about the colonial and revolutionary America.  I will always be grateful for his endorsement of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

At one point or another, I have taught, or built lectures around, the following Murrin essays:

“The Great Inversion, or Court versus Country”

“No Awakening, No Revolution?: More Counterfactual Speculations”

“A Roof Without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity”

“1776: The Countefactual Revolution”

They are all in this book.

Here is a taste of the Princeton Alumni Week piece:

Opening lines: “Americans have always shared one conviction about their Revolution: It was a good thing for the United States and the entire world. The revolutionary generation believed that its principles would benevolently affect social conditions, agriculture, political economy, the fine arts, and even basic demographic trends. Only now are many of these themes being recovered… The early chroniclers of the Revolution began to lose some of the movement’s context even while quoting directly from its fundamental documents. They explained and defended the Revolution in terms essentially constitutional and political, as the triumph of liberty, equality, and limited government against the menace of irresponsible power and aristocratic privilege—rather feeble dangers, they somewhat paradoxically implied, if only by giving these challenges little real chance of success in America’s unique, libertarian environment, which they found at work in the very first settlements.”

Don’t Nod Off While Listening To A Job Talk

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Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Princeton University historian Jeremy Adelman discusses some of the bad behavior he has witnessed as a former chair of the department.

Here is a taste:

First a confession of my own misdemeanor. One of the worst things a colleague — and especially a department chair — can do to other colleagues, higher or lower in the food chain, is to fall asleep in front of them. There’s no quicker way to convey boredom, disdain, indifference. Those droopy eyelids do more to ruin a relationship than all the raises or promotions in the world. (Well, maybe not all of them.) Undisguised languor is a killer, and I do it all the time; I can’t fake being awake if my pineal gland is at work. It’s worst in late afternoons, when history departments love to have their public seminars and job talks. Almost no matter how exciting the speaker is, I nod off. By now, I suspect I have a reputation as my university’s version of Sleepy. The only upside is that I am such a serial slumberer than most colleagues know not to take it personally.

For better or worse, academics rely on relationships, and sleeping is a relationship-buster. The problem is mine, but my trait makes it everyone else’s. And that is what I want to talk about: personal behaviors that impose a toll on our collective efforts.

Read the entire piece here.

Slavery at Princeton University

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Check out Alex Carp‘s piece at The New York Review of Books on slavery and American colleges and universities.  This particular excerpt deals with slavery at Princeton:

Last fall, after more than four years of research, Princeton became the latest university to present its results. Princeton was the site of a George Washington victory over British forces and housed the Continental Congress. All of the university’s founding trustees, and its first nine presidents, owned slaves. Slaves owned by the university’s fifth president—two women, a man, and three children—were auctioned off under the so-called “liberty trees” outside his house, two sycamores planted around the time of the repeal of the Stamp Act and pointed out on campus tours through this year only as evidence of the college’s devotion to the American Revolution. (Princeton is one of the rare American institutions older than its country. The university was on its sixth president by the time the ink dried on the US Constitution.) According to Martha Sandweiss, the historian who led the project, Princeton epitomizes “the paradox at the heart of American history: from the very start, liberty and slavery were intimately intertwined.”

Slavery was not uncommon in New Jersey, and even once abolition began, it took generations to complete. An 1804 law granted emancipation only to New Jersey slaves born after July 4 of that year, and only after they had served what one historian has called a “term” of slavery that could last for as many as twenty-five years. One result of this gradual abolition was that many New Jersey slaveholders sold enslaved children born after that deadline to plantations out of state, which reduced the number of enslaved people in New Jersey without emancipating anyone. Another was the transition to institutions that closely resembled slavery: towns throughout the state established “poorhouse farms,” where the vagrant or indigent would be confined to work or were sometimes rented out. Businessmen traveling from New Brunswick to New York at the turn of the nineteenth century—a trip that could take the better part of three days, generally by carriage and boat—would come across “stray negroes” who could be jailed, then sold to pay jail expenses, if they failed to explain themselves sufficiently. The last child registered for gradual emancipation—a girl named Hannah, born in 1844, before legislators replaced the category with something called “apprentices for life”—remained enslaved until barely two weeks before the Confederacy’s 1865 surrender. Princeton’s entanglement with slavery, Sandweiss said when describing the project’s findings last fall, is “typical of other eighteenth-century institutions. And it makes us quintessentially and deeply American.”

At its best, this wave of research demonstrates the ways in which slavery and its legacies have built the world we live in: how the ideas and institutions born in one era do not entirely cast off the forces that shaped them as they move through time. There is no evidence that Princeton University itself owned slaves, but by the early nineteenth century its main building, Nassau Hall, was adjacent to a private farm where enslaved people tended to cattle and worked in a cherry orchard; on the other side of the building, slaves worked in the taverns and other businesses on Nassau Street. Before they could enroll in courses, prospective students had to pass exams in Latin and Greek administered personally by the president; Sandweiss speculates that students arriving for their exams early on their first morning would be greeted at the president’s doorstep by “an enslaved person—the first person on campus a prospective student might meet.” As the college began to chase planter wealth, its antebellum student body grew disproportionately Southern and repeatedly clashed withPrinceton’s community of free African Americans. The school’s Civil War memorial is one of the very few in the country to list the names of the war dead without noting on which side they fought—Sandweiss knew of only one other, at a boarding school—and the university began to grow to its modern size through gifts from a family fortune made by providing financial and shipping services to Cuban slave plantations until at least 1866, the year after slavery’s abolition in the United States.

Read the entire piece here.

Princeton Evangelical Fellowship Changes Name to “Princeton Christian Fellowship”

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The latest Christian organization to drop the label “evangelical” is Princeton Christian Fellowship (formerly Princeton Evangelical Fellowship).  The Daily Princetonian reports:

Here is a taste of Rebecca Ngu’s piece:

‘Evangelical’ has officially become a bad word. After years of deliberation, the Christian student group formerly known as the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship dropped the name it had held since it began in 1937, changing its name to Princeton Christian Fellowship earlier this school year.

The organization’s trustees and directors voted to formally change the name in May 2017 and the decision was announced this August. William “Bill” Boyce ’79, executive secretary and associate chaplain of PCF, said that the term ‘evangelical’ has become an “unnecessary hindrance” to their work. 

“There’s a growing recognition that the term evangelical is increasingly either confusing, or unknown, or misunderstood to students,” he said.

 

The word ‘evangelical’ has a long history in the United States that typically implies a core set of doctrinal beliefs. Such tenets include belief in the authority and inspiration of the Bible, centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the free offer of salvation through faith, according to Boyce.

“I’m old enough to think [evangelical] is a good word, but it’s reached a point where there’s so much baggage attached around it so that it’s no longer a helpful word to identify ourselves,” said Boyce.

Jay Sourbeer ’18, president of PCF, echoed Boyce, adding that the term ‘evangelical’ is “thrown around too much.”

Some people don’t know what ‘evangelical’ means, or others may hold the aforementioned beliefs, but not identify as evangelical. Others associate it negatively with certain political positions. The definition of evangelicalism has morphed and taken on “too much cultural baggage,” Boyce said, including the assumption of a political agenda.

Read the entire piece here.

As I argued back in July, the age of Trump is changing the landscape of American Christianity.

Also see our posts here (Thomas Kidd) and here (Mark Noll) and here.

“Pluralism and the Art of Disagreement”

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Last week we wrote about Princeton University president Christopher Eisgruber’s criticism of the religious questions posed to federal judge nominee Amy Coney Barrett by Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Today we call your attention to Eisgruber’s speech at Princeton’s opening exercises entitled “Pluralism and the Art of Disagreement.”  It is a clear statement of the purpose of a university.

Here is a taste:

Some people have suggested that the University should issue an official statement about Charlottesville, or that I should use this occasion to pass judgment upon President Trump’s comments.  The events and the president’s response troubled me profoundly, and it is tempting to share my thoughts with you in detail.  It is, however, neither my role nor that of the University to prescribe how you should react to this controversy or others.  It is rather my role and the role of the University to encourage you to think deeply about what these events mean for this country and its core values, and to encourage you to find ways to participate constructively in the national dialogue they have generated.

You will find plenty of professors on this campus whose scholarship and erudition will provide you with insight about Charlottesville.  As journalists worldwide have sought to illuminate these events and their aftermath, they have turned to professors here, including Eddie Glaude and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in African American Studies, Lucia Allais in Architecture, David Bell and Kevin Kruse in History, Julian Zelizer in History and Public and International Affairs, Robert George and Keith Whittington in Politics, and Peter Singer in the University Center for Human Values.

I urge you to seek out these and other faculty members, hear what they have to say, and learn from them.  Keep in mind, however, that what they offer are not authoritative pronouncements but arguments backed up by reasons.  It is your responsibility to assess their views for yourself.

This University, like any great university, encourages, and indeed demands, independence of mind.  We expect you to develop the ability to articulate your views clearly and cogently, to contend with and learn from competing viewpoints, and to modify your opinions in light of new knowledge and understanding.  Your Princeton education will culminate in a senior thesis that must both present original research and also contend respectfully with counter-arguments to your position.

This emphasis on independent thinking is at the heart of liberal arts education.  It is a profoundly valuable form of education, and it can be exhilarating.  It can also at times be uncomfortable or upsetting because it requires careful and respectful engagement with views very different from your own.  I have already emphasized that we value pluralism at Princeton; we value it partly because of the vigorous disagreements that it generates.  You will meet people here who think differently than you do about politics, history, justice, race, religion, and a host of other sensitive topics.  To take full advantage of a Princeton education, you must learn and benefit from these disagreements, and to do that you must cultivate and practice the art of constructive disagreement.

Read the entire speech here.

Princeton University’s President on the Democrats’ Religious Tests for Public Office

I saw this today at Alan Jacobs’s blog Snakes and Ladders:

I write, as a university president and a constitutional scholar with expertise on religious freedom and judicial appointments, to express concern about questions addressed to Professor Amy Barrett during her confirmation hearings and to urge that the Committee on the Judiciary refrain from interrogating nominees about the religious or spiritual foundations of their jurisprudential views. Article VI of the United States Constitution provides explicitly that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This bold endorsement of religious freedom was among the original Constitution’s most pathbreaking provisions. The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), holding that the First and Fourteenth Amendments render this principle applicable to state offices and that it protects non-believers along with believers of all kinds, is among the greatest landmarks in America’s jurisprudence of religious freedom. Article VI’s prohibition of religious tests is a critical guarantee of equality and liberty, and it is part of what should make all of us proud to be Americans.

By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state, or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to Professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s “no religious test” clause.

Source

 

Here is Al Franken:

I should add that the Blackstone Legal Fellowship has an advisory board that includes law professors from  University of Texas, University of Nebraska, Harvard (Mary Ann Glendon), Princeton (Robert George), and Notre Dame.

Here is Diane Feinstein:

Here is Dick Durbin:

And let’s not forget Bernie Sanders from earlier this year:

Here is Emma Green’s reporting on this at The Atlantic.

John Adams Visits Princeton

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His made his first stop to Nassau Hall on August 27, 1775.  Boston 1775 has it covered:

In his diary Adams recorded his impressions:

The Colledge is a stone building about as large as that at New York [i.e., what is now Columbia]. It stands upon rising Ground and so commands a Prospect of the Country.

After Dinner Mr. [John] Pidgeon a student of Nassau Hall, Son of Mr. [John] Pidgeon of Watertown [actually Newton] from whom we brought a Letter, took a Walk with us and shewed us the Seat of Mr. [Richard] Stockton a Lawyer in this Place and one of the Council, and one of the Trustees of the Colledge. As we returned we met Mr. Euston [William Houston], the Professor of Mathematicks and natural Philosophy, who kindly invited Us to his Chamber. We went.

The Colledge is conveniently constructed. Instead of Entries across the Building, the Entries are from End to End, and the Chambers are on each side of the Entries. There are such Entries one above another in every Story. Each Chamber has 3 Windows, two studies, with one Window in each, and one Window between the studies to enlighten the Chamber.

Mr. Euston then shewed us the Library. It is not large, but has some good Books. He then led us into the Apparatus. Here we saw a most beautifull Machine, an Orrery, or Planetarium, constructed by Mr. [David] Writtenhouse of Philadelphia. It exhibits allmost every Motion in the astronomical World. The Motions of the Sun and all the Planetts with all their Satellites. The Eclipses of the Sun and Moon &c. He shewed us another orrery, which exhibits the true Inclination of the orbit of each of the Planetts to the Plane of the Ecliptic. 

He then shewed Us the electrical Apparatus, which is the most compleat and elegant that I have seen. He charged the Bottle and attempted an Experiment, but the State of the Air was not favourable.

Read the entire post here.

 

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 6

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Very happy teachers!! Gilder Lehrman “Princeton Seminar” participants enjoying their last day on campus

The 2017 Princeton Seminar on the “Colonial Era” wrapped-up yesterday.

The day began with lectures on the “Enlightenment in America” and the “First Great Awakening.”  The Enlightenment lecture focused largely on the lives of Philip Vickers Fithian and Benjamin Franklin.  The teachers read my The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America and spent a lot of time on Wednesday touring Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia with historian George Boudreau.

The First Great Awakening lecture focused on George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Chauncy, Gilbert Tennent, James Davenport, and the legacy of evangelicalism as it relates to American oratory, American religion, the transatlantic world, and colonial education.

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My attempt at drawing a primitive graph illustrating the spike in church membership during the First Great Awakening

After lunch we wrapped things up with a lecture titled “From Colonials to Provincials: The American Colonies on the Eve of the American Revolution.”  This lecture is adapted from Ned Landsman’s From Colonial to Provinicals: American Thought and Culture, 1680-1760, but I also take it in a few different directions.  In this lecture I try to get the teachers to understand the Anglicization of the British colonies and the sense of British nationalism pervading the colonies at the end of the French and Indian War.

During the rest of the afternoon the teachers met together to discuss the lessons plans they designed during the seminar:

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Throughout the week I wanted the teachers to think about British colonial America on its own terms, rather than through the grid of the American Revolution.  We tried to imagine what the story of the colonies might look like if the Revolution had never happened.  Those who took this exercise seriously began to move from a Whiggish, civics-based view of the era, to an approach defined by the “unnatural” act of historical thinking.  This is not easy for most teachers and I appreciated their efforts to reorient their thinking and their lesson plans in this way.

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Another Princeton Seminar is in the books. It was a great week of teaching, learning, and collaboration with 35 K-8 teachers from around the country.  Special thanks to Nate McAlister, my partner-in-crime, master teacher, heart and soul of the Princeton Seminar, and an all-around great guy.  I couldn’t do it without him. Nate is a history machine! Next week he will be in Mount Vernon doing research on George Washington and Native Americans. I also want to thank the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for giving me the honor to lead this seminar.

And I am also happy to announce that the Gilder Lehrman has informed me that we will be back again next year!  Stay tuned for more details.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 5

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Princeton rare books librarian Eric White breaks out a first-edition collection of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and the teachers transform into the paparazzi

It was another busy day at the Gilder-Lehrman Institute‘s “Colonial Era” teacher seminar at Princeton University.  We covered a lot of ground yesterday and traveled through three different regions of British colonial America:

  1. We started the day discussing women and dissent in colonial New England.  We talked about Anne Hutchinson and the “Good Wives” made famous by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
  2.  We had a great day in Philadelphia on Wednesday.  On Thursday we discussed Philadelphia in the larger context of the Middle Colonies with a specific focus on Pennsylvania as a Quaker and liberal colony.
  3.  After lunch we discussed the emergence of slave culture in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina.

We ended the day in the Firestone Library’s Rare Books Department where curator Eric White showed the teachers a host of first editions from the 17th and 18th centuries.  We got to see a copy of John Eliot’s Algonquian Bible and works by William Penn, Cotton Mather, John Locke, George Whitefield, Phillis Wheatley, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Stern, Addison and Steele, and others.  It is always fun to watch the teachers’ eyes light-up as they are exposed to these books.

One more day left!

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Notes were taken

 

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 4

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Yesterday the 2017 Princeton Seminar spent the day in Philadelphia.  Our host for the day was the legendary George Boudreau, the man who I consider to be the greatest Philadelphia history tour guide of all time!!

George gave us a phenomenal introduction to the colonial city.   We made several stops along the way:

  • Welcome Park:  George oriented us to the layout of William Penn’s city.
  • Christ Church:  The teachers got their photos taken in George Washington’s pew and we paused at the gravestone of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson where George told us about her life and taught us about the vulnerability of women in colonial America.
  • Betsy Ross House:  George told us about George Washington’s visit to “Mr. Griscom’s upholstery shop.”
  • Arch Street Quaker Meetinghouse:  George told some gruesome tales of Philadelphia Quakers building this meetinghouse atop the meeting’s graveyard.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s Court:  The teachers spent some time in the museum, George signed copies of his book, and George and Ben Franklin sang us a song.
  • First National Bank: This was not part of our “colonial” tour, but all the teachers are obsessed with “Hamilton” so we had to make a quick visit here.
  • Carpenter’s Hall
  • The site of Anthony Benezet’s school for women and African Americans,
  • The American Philosophical Society:  George rattled off several dozen collections held by the society.

We ended the day at the Pennsylvania State House.  In the early 19th-century people started calling this place “Independence Hall.”

We are back in the lecture hall today.

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I introduce the teachers to George Boudreau

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George tells us what we can expect in Christ Church

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Sometimes we let the teachers break out of the 17th and 18th centuries

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We met Ben

Princeton Seminar 2017: Day 3

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The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History “Colonial Era” teachers seminar (aka the “Princeton Seminar“) is rolling along.

This morning in the lecture hall we finished our discussion of colonial Virginia. I made the connection between mercantilism and tobacco culture and challenged the teachers to consider the social and cultural influence of tobacco on race, social structure, gender, and labor in the seventeenth century colony. We ended this lecture with an examination of Bacon’s Rebellion.

Midway through the morning session we turned to colonial New England.  We did a lot of background work today.   My lecture developed along these lines:

  • The settlers of New England were Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Calvinist Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were English Calvinist Protestant Christians

We then discussed Winthrop’s idea of a “City Upon a Hill” and how Puritan theology influenced politics and regional identity in Massachusetts Bay.  On Thursday, when we return to New England, I am hoping to say a few words about social life in the region, drawing heavily from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Good Wives.

The teachers spent the afternoon with master teacher Nate McAlister.  He continues to work with the teachers on their lesson plans and the use of primary documents.

After dinner we all headed over to the Princeton Cemetery.  I gave a very brief lecture at the graves of the early Princeton presidents–Aaron Burr Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, and John Witherspoon.  For some reason the grave of Aaron Burr Jr. got more attention than it has in years past. 🙂

We will be in Philadelphia tomorrow with George Boudreau!

Weed

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 2

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Today the teachers got a tour of early American Princeton

Monday was a long and busy day at the Princeton Seminar.

We began with a morning of lecture and discussion about how we should think about “colonial America.”  I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonies and try to rid themselves of a Whig-centered interpretation of the period.  In the process we spent a lot of time talking about the difference between a “civics” approach to the past and a “historical thinking” approach to the past.   I challenged the teachers to try to understand the colonial American past on its own terms and, at least for a week, pretend that the American Revolution never happened.

I also introduced the teachers to what has been called “The New Indian” history.  What might our understanding of colonial America look like if we examine it from the perspective of native Americans?  I focused this lecture around three concepts: “Facing East” (Dan Richter), the “Indians’ New World” (James Merrell), and the “Middle Ground” (Richard White).

Finally, we got started with a lecture on the colonial Chesapeake and tried to make sense of why so many people starved to death in the early years of Jamestown.  We will be finishing this discussion today by carrying the Virginia story through Bacon’s Rebellion.

In the afternoon, Nate McAlister introduced the teachers to their lesson-plan assignment. Every teacher needs to pick a primary source from the colonial era and write a lesson that they can use with their students.   It is always fun to see the documents that they choose and the lessons that they design.

After dinner we split into two groups and got a historical tour of Princeton.  My tour guide, Leslie, was excellent.  She took us through Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the home of Albert Einstein, the home of Richard Stockton (Morven), and the Princeton Battlefield Monuments.  We got caught in the middle of a thunderstorm while visiting Einstein’s house, but Leslie pushed us through.  There we were–standing outside of Morven in the pouring ran listening to Leslie expound upon the life of Stockton.  These teachers are real troopers!

About half of us ended the night at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room at Princeton’s Nassau Inn.  This is the place where the Princeton Seminar goes to solve all world problems. Tonight was no exception!

Looking forward to day 3!  Stay tuned.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 1

GL

The Gilder-Lehrman 2017 Princeton Seminar on colonial America is underway!

Last night we held our opening dinner with the teachers.  A few teachers had some difficulties with flights, but everyone is now here and settled into their rooms on the Princeton University campus.  This year we have 35 history teachers representing 20 states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhoda Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

My partner-in-crime Nate McAlister (did I mention he was National History of the Year in 2010?) got the teachers started on a gargoyle scavenger hunt on the Princeton campus. We also took a brief tour of the eighteenth-century campus.  All of the attendees read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and seem eager to see sites related to Philip VIckers Fithian.

The teachers will be busy this week. In addition to morning lectures on colonial America and afternoon sessions on interpreting primary sources, we will be spending the entire day on Wednesday touring colonial Philadelphia with LaSalle University public historian and tour guide extraordinaire George Boudreau.

On Monday afternoon we will be teaming-up with the Historical Society of Princeton for a tour of early American Princeton. On Thursday afternoon we will spend a couple of hours with a rare book librarian from Princeton University’s Firestone Library.  I have asked the librarian to pull first editions of every book Fithian read during his short life and most of the books I will discuss in morning lectures.  This is always one the highlights of the week.  Finally, we are hoping to spend some time at the Princeton cemetery where the teachers will get a chance to visit the grace of Aaron Burr Jr., Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, and others.

It is going to be a great week!  Stay tuned for updates.  Check out pics at @princetonsemnr

Princeton Seminar Is About To Kick-Off Its Fourth Year

36167-nassau_hall_princetonNext week I will be at Princeton University to lead a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar of the “Colonial Era” for history teachers.  This is the fourth year that I have joined my partner in crime, 2010 National Teacher of the Year Nate McAlister, in leading this seminar. The Princeton Seminar (as we call it) has become one of the professional highlights of my year.

Stay tuned for updates as the week progresses.  In the meantime, here are some pics from previous Princeton seminars:

Welcome Park

The 2015 Princeton Seminar at Welcome Park in Philadelphia

Boudreau

George Boudreau of LaSalle University, the man who many believe to be the greatest tour guide of colonial Philadelphia that has ever lived, will be back in 2017!

McCalister

Nate likes to take the teachers into Einstein’s old classroom

Witherspoon

There is plenty of time for impromptu tours of the 18th-century Princeton campus

Documents

Teachers spend a lot of time working with primary sources

Fithian Wall

The teachers read The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  The ghost of Philip Vickers Fithian (Princeton class of 1772) hovers over the events of the week

Cemetery

Our visit to the Princeton Cemetery (Aaron Burr, Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, etc.) is always a highlight–rain or shine.

Wheatley

One my favorite moments of the week is when we take the teachers to Firestone Library to look at rare 18th-century books

Lecture

And yes, there is the occasional lecture

Peter Brown Invented the Field of Late Antiquity

BrownI just came across this article on historian and St. Augustine biographer Peter Brown in The Daily Princetonian.

Here is a taste of Rudy Shao’s piece:

Brown retired with the title of Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History in 2011. The University then split his job into two, assigning the Eastern half of the Mediterranean to Tannous and the Western half to Reimitz, according to Sahner.

Nevertheless, Brown’s productivity continues. Every day, he wakes up at 4 a.m. He then studies up to three languages, each for an hour, using books and recordings.

Language learning constitutes Brown’s main hobby. He dismissed his familiarity with over 20 languages as “not so difficult,” given the numerous cognates involved. “I speak as many as I need for traveling,” he said.

Next, he takes a walk in a local park, where he passes dogs that he later describes to Betsy. Finally, he reads historical texts intensively, relaxing the pace of his schedule as the day wears on.

Fifty years after the publication of his first book, “Augustine of Hippo,” Brown is researching a book on the meaning of the Christian notion of universalism in late antiquity.

“What did it mean to preach to all nations? Did they really think they could convert everybody, or simply bring the gospel to everybody? Those are two different questions,” he said. He added that he is also writing an autobiography, based on his old papers and teaching notes.

Read the entire piece here.