The Author’s Corner with Karen Kupperman

Pocahontas and the English BoysKaren Kupperman is Silver Professor of History Emerita at New York University. This interview is based on her new book, Pocahontas and the English Boys: Caught between Cultures in Early Virginia (NYU Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Pocahontas and the English Boys?

KK: In the years around 2007, marking the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding, I spoke to many groups of high school history teachers, and those experiences made me see that they needed this story whose actors played key roles and were the ages of the kids they teach. As I worked on the book, I realized that the story has a broader impact and that it contributes to histories of consciousness and boundary-crossing in the early modern period.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Pocahontas and the English Boys?

KK: Native and colonial leaders in the early colonies left kids with the other to learn the language and culture from the inside. The English saw kids as malleable and somewhat expendable, but they never foresaw that these go-betweens would form close relationships with the Virginia Natives who sheltered them. Colonial leaders ultimately came to mistrust them and disregarded their information, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

JF: Why do we need to read Pocahontas and the English Boys?

KK: Virginia’s beginning as an English colony has been seen as inferior, especially after New Englanders began to push the Pilgrims as the superior founders in the nineteenth century. Pocahontas and the English Boys works toward getting beyond the dominant narrative and finding the varied stories of people on all sides in these colonial situations, and how they coped with many different kinds of challenges. Through Pocahontas’s and the boys’ experiences we see Virginia’s Native people as real human beings with feelings and doubts.

To reinforce these insights, I was able to do a new transcription from the original pages of Henry Spelman’s Relation of Virginia, which is in the Harlan Crown library in Dallas. This is the first edition from the original manuscript since 1872, and it presents the memoir as it was actually written, correcting errors in the version we have all been using. Henry Spelman, Relation of Virginia, is out as a separate book from NYU Press.

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

KK: I went to Cambridge University for my PhD in 1973 expecting to become a Tudor-Stuart historian. But as I worked on my dissertation on eyewitness writing about the land and the people of America in the earliest period of English colonization, I came to think of myself as an American historian. Finally, through my scholarship and teaching, I realized that I am an Atlantic historian, meaning that relations around the Atlantic as well as those between London and Boston or Williamsburg are crucial to true understanding. I began the Atlantic history program at NYU and those of us at NYU construe the field broadly, moving as far as possible from the little boxes early American history had been constrained by.

JF: What is your next project?

KK: My next project looks at music as a mode of communication. In encounter situations where the new arrivals and the Native people did not have knowledge of the other’s language, participants on both sides sang and played musical instruments. This happened around the world. Music indicated peaceful intentions, but it could also be used as a ruse to cover hostile plans. Some intellectuals, such as Thomas Harriot who had been in Roanoke as a young man, began to think that music might be a way to create a universal language that could be understood by all. Harriot created a syllabary for coastal Carolina Algonquian and argued that recording languages by sound rather than meaning would facilitate universal communication.

JF: Thanks, Karen!

The Author’s Corner with Richard Kagan

the spanish crazeRichard Kagan is Academy Professor and Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor Emeritus of History at Johns Hopkins University. This interview is based on his new book, The Spanish Craze: America’s Fascination with the Hispanic World, 1779-1939 (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Spanish Craze?

RK: My interest in US attitudes towards Spain, and more broadly, Hispanic culture in general, dates to the early 1990s, and what I felt was the failure of the AHR, in keeping with the celebration of its centenary, to address the trajectory of US scholarship on Spain. The journal had commissioned articles on US historical scholarship on France, Italy, and other European countries, but not Spain. That lacuna led initially to my “Prescott’s Paradigm: American Historical Writing and the Decline of Spain,” published in the AHR in 1996, and later to other essays and articles on such related issues as the changing image of Spain in the US along the history of collecting of both Spanish and Spanish Colonial art. By 2009, after having explored the history of Spanish-themed architecture in the US, I decided a book that addressed these topics along with the often stormy political relationship between Spain and the US, the history of Spanish language instruction in the country, Spanish-themed movies, music, as well as literature demanded comprehensive treatment as well. The Spanish Craze is the result.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Spanish Craze?

RK: Key to the book is “forgive and forget,” an idea which surfaced in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898, a conflict that ended an imperial rivalry that lasted for a well over a century. With Spain no longer to threat US interests, Americans, starting with Theodore Roosevelt, demonstrated a new fascination with Spanish culture–art, architecture, language, music and more –, essentially embracing much of that culture as their own.

JF: Why should we read The Spanish Craze?

RK: I believe that it enriches our understanding the composite character of American culture. It also brings new attention to what Walt Whitman once termed “ The Spanish Element in our Nationality.”

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

RK: For most of my career, I have been a historian of Spain and its overseas empire. American history is a relatively new subject for me, and I still have much to learn. However, I have long been interested in the complex links between Spain, Spanish America, and the US. The Spanish Craze explores some of these links, but there is more, much more, to be done on the subject.

JF: What is your next project?

RK: A biography of Henry Charles Lea, the 19th Century Philadelphia publisher-cum-historian and author of the first comprehensive history of the Spanish Inquisition. Lea’s papers are mainly located in Philadelphia, which, following my retirement from Johns Hopkins in 2013, is where I now live.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

The Author’s Corner with Brook Poston

james monroe a republican championBrook Poston is Associate Professor of History at Steven F. Austin State University. This interview is based on his new book, James Monroe, A Republican Champion (University Press of Florida, 2019).

JF: What led  you to write James Monroe?

BP: Monroe was right in the thick of every major event during the first half century of American history, yet he is probably the least well known of the major American founders. Also, because his career began during the Revolutionary era and ended in 1825, the study of his life offers a window into two different generations of American political figures. I also liked that Monroe wanted to be remembered alongside the Washington, Jefferson, and Madison but was never quite able to match their accomplishments. It makes him a little more relatable, more human.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of James Monroe?

BP: Monroe attempted to craft a legacy for himself as a champion of an American style of republicanism (dedicated to the protection of liberty) by helping to secure it within the United States and spread it overseas. Monroe tried to secure republicanism at home by purchasing Louisiana, fighting the British during the War of 1812, and acquiring Florida, but his true passion was spreading republican ideals abroad which he tried to do during both the French and Latin American revolutions, culminating with his famous Monroe Doctrine which he hoped would secure his own legacy as a champion of republicanism.

JF: Why should we read James Monroe?

BP: This work changes our understanding of Monroe and his era in some important ways. Because of his experience during the American Revolution and his subsequent apprenticeship to Thomas Jefferson, Monroe came to believe that the creation and hopeful spread of American republicanism was arguably the most important cause in human history. This mindset helps explain Monroe’s position on the French Revolution, which he saw as analogous to the American Revolution. As the American minister to France during the 1790s Monroe tried to build a lasting alliance between the two nations in defense of republicanism. When the Federalists rejected the French Revolution and President Washington dismissed Monroe as his minister in Paris, Monroe saw it as a major defeat for the republican movement. After Jefferson’s election in 1800, Monroe shifted his focus to securing his own political career and republicanism at home. This helped guide his decision making as he purchased the Louisiana territory, negotiated the Monroe-Pinkney Treaty, and helped fight the British during the War of 1812. Nevertheless, the memory of the lost opportunity in France stuck with Monroe as that country drifted away from republicanism under Napoleon. By the time Monroe reached the nation’s highest office in 1817, republican revolutions were breaking out all over Latin America and Monroe saw it as a chance to correct the mistakes the U.S. made during the French Revolution. Monroe therefore saw his doctrine not primarily as a tool to promote American hegemony in the western hemisphere but as part of the ongoing battle between republicanism and monarchy.

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

BP: Like many college history majors I decided to go to law school after undergrad. I enjoyed certain aspects of the law but I was unsure about a legal career as I finished up my time at the University of Kansas. Luckily a KU law professor named Michael Hoeflich convinced me that it wasn’t crazy to want to get a PhD in history after I graduated from law school. A year of practicing law drove home the fact that I didn’t want to be a lawyer for the rest of my life and I ended up going back to history and finding a new, and far more satisfying, career.

JF: What is your next project?

BP: I plan to write another Monroe book, this time on his relationships with Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, the Adams’s, and Jackson. This project will look at Monroe’s interactions with these men through the lens of the rise, fall, and rebirth of American political parties.

JF: Thanks, Brook!

The Author’s Corner with James Broomall

Private Confederacies the emotional worlds of southern men as citizens and soldiersJames Broomall is Director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and Assistant Professor of History at Shepherd University. This interview is based on his new book, Private Confederacies: The Emotional Worlds of Southern Men as Citizens and Soldiers  (The University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Private Confederacies?

JM: I have always enjoyed reading works of cultural history and anthropology. I have also been a student of the Civil War era since childhood. Over time my varied areas of study merged as I became interested in how Americans understood, portrayed, and experienced civil war and reconstruction. Ultimately, then, I wrote Private Confederacies to better grasp the impact of war on the individual and to explore modes of cultural expression.

My project started to take shape and my research questions crystallized after reading the letters and diaries of white Southerners in the post-Civil War era. Confederate veterans, in particular, compelled me because the sentiments they offered did not align with what I had read about antebellum Southerners. Before the Civil War, as it is often related, men had largely been defined by public postures, governed by arcane codes, and permitted few personal disclosures. Yet, in the letters I read veterans reached out to old military comrades searching for emotional support and to discuss wartime events with startling transparency. In other cases, men’s diaries meditated on trauma and loss. The disclosures were raw and intimate. The more I read, the more I wanted to understand the broader arc of how white Southerners configured, indeed reconfigured, notions of masculinity and how they translated their feelings on paper and to friends and family. To address these issues I created a study that spanned peace, war, and reconstruction (moving from the 1840s to the 1870s) and examined the lives and expressions of white Southern men and women.

The American Civil War is often, and rightly, portrayed as a transformative event that had profound social, economic, and political consequences. I wrote Private Confederacies because I sought to understand had individuals interacted with and responded to their worlds during a period of massive transition and change. The conflict changed the lives of individuals in deeply personal ways. We as scholars are just beginning to plumb the depths of Southerners’ emotional lives. Stories of loss and trauma—the long shadows of war—have received more of scholars’ attention over the past decade, especially, resulting in a number of important works. I wanted to both enter and expand that historiographical conversation.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Private Confederacies?

JM: I argue that Confederate soldiers, raised in an antebellum culture that demanded self-control, struggled to maintain traditional notions of manliness because of the privations of camp, the harsh regime of military life, and the traumas of combat. Veterans came to rely on each other for physical comfort, psychological support, and personal security; accordingly, they held a heightened sense of brotherhood with their comrades-in-arms and forged transformative emotional communities that lent support during military service but also underpinned paramilitary campaigns of white supremacy in the Reconstruction era.

JF: Why do we need to read Private Confederacies?

JM: I believe, with due humility, that there are three primary reasons why audiences should read my book.

First, Private Confederacies expresses the significance of emotion and gender to cultural evaluation and explores the association between private feelings and public acts. I worry that many audiences have both underestimated the power of emotions and failed to historicize feelings. I use insights from emotions history to frame my study—an approach that is rather unique to studies of the Civil War-era. Further, I draw upon the sensibilities of anthropology, art history, material culture, and intellectual history. I therefore feel that Private Confederacies, though rooted in the mid-nineteenth-century American South, speaks to wider audiences because of its methodological breadth.

Second, at its heart, Private Confederacies takes seriously the importance of emotional communities—a powerful explanatory framework developed by Barbara H. Rosenwein. I find that, on the one hand, men endured the difficulties of military service by relying on their fellow soldiers of psychological support and material comfort. Men’s reliance on homosocial communities, on the other hand, became essential to the formation of paramilitary organizations and the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction era. Emotional communities, therefore, demonstrate how power was constructed and maintained by white Southerners during the periods of emancipation and reconstruction—when the world was remade but freedom not fully realized.

Finally, I deliberately used a narrative writing style throughout the work, yet I did so without sacrificing scholarly rigor so as to remain relevant to the historiography. The book weaves together the personal stories of white Southerners in war and peace and draws more freely upon their words than is typically witnessed in history books. It is my hope, once again, that these choices will appeal to broader audiences.

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

JM: My passion for American history is rooted in my childhood. I had incredibly generous parents who took me to antique stores, battlefields, house museums, and historic sites around the country since before I can remember. Moreover, they cultivated my love of books by filling my shelves with works of history and literature. My interest in and approach to the past matured over time and graduate training became of paramount importance. I gravitated toward the study of the 18th and 19th centuries in the American South. Once again, I benefited from incredible mentors who taught me not only to examine my sources critically but also to consider a wide range of evidence—from manuscripts to material culture. I came to specialize in the Civil War era because of my deep interest in how black and white Southerners shaped and understood the massive changes enacted by war and reconstruction.

JF: What is your next project?

JM: I am moving from inward descriptions of men’s emotional lives to outward visual representations of war. Currently, I am researching and writing about a Union veteran, James Hope, who was a member of the Hudson River School of art. Hope, a member of the Vermont Brigade and a veteran of the battle of Antietam, created a series of monumental canvases tracing the ebb and flow of battle on September 17, 1862. The striking depictions strip away notions of glory capturing instead blasted landscapes and bloated bodies. The broader project will explore the interplay between material culture and visual art to understand how soldier-artists, such as Hope, portrayed the personal dimensions of war. Peace may have marked an end of military operations but artists maintained a martial culture on canvas and paper. Through this art soldiers processed their military service and created powerful representations of the conflict. Scenes of camp life illustrated the emotional linkages to their comrades-in-arms, while grim depictions of battle sought to enshrine the roles of the rank-and-file. Soldier-artists often focused on the intimate aspects of war, for they wanted to represent the conflict’s impact at a personal level.

JF: Thanks, James!

The Author’s Corner with Philip Gerard

The Last Battleground The Civil War Comes to North CarolinaPhilip Gerard is a Professor of Creative Writing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. This interview is based on his new book, The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: The book began as a series of monthly narratives for Our State magazine, which has a wide readership in the South and beyond—fifty in all, spanning the four years of the Sesquicentennial of the conflict. The idea was to report the war as if it were happening right now. Addressing the American Historical Association in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt (was there ever a more vivid figure in American history?) said, “The true historian will bring the past before our eyes as if it were the present.” I wanted to make the war present—to get beyond the usual chess game accounts of regiments maneuvering here and there and put a human face on it. The Civil War was a profound human trauma that engulfed a nation, and for me the most important thing to remember is this: at the time, no one knew how it would turn out. All those caught up in it—soldiers, sailors, generals, privates, free persons of color, Cherokees and Lumbee Indians, liberated slaves, farm wives, wealthy plantation owners, working men and women, railroaders, even nuns of the battlefield who nursed the wounded—endured a true and terrible suspense. From the start I knew it was going to be a book—a whole coherent narrative made up of their many personal stories. So I re-reported all the narratives; edited, revised, and re-sequenced them; and added my own reflections.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: North Carolina provides the perfect lens for capturing the whole epic sweep of the war: its white population was evenly divided in their loyalties; it was a homefront, a battleground, and occupied territory all at once; it contributed more soldiers than almost any other southern state, including so-called U.S. Colored Troops—and North Carolinians served on both sides; it was home to the Heroes of America, actively subverting the Confederacy; it was the refuge of the CSA government once it fled Richmond; it was the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, who gained the presidency upon the death of Lincoln and made such a shameful hash of Reconstruction; it was the ground of Sherman’s Final March and the cataclysmic Battle of Fort Fisher, guarding the last open port of the Confederacy; and it was the site of the Great Surrender of 90,000 troops that ended the war militarily and politically in the main theater of war.

JF: Why should we read The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: Our nation remains divided by many of the same existential issues for which the war was fought at such cost. The Civil War remains the unreckoned-with backstory of our current state of affairs, and if we understand it in all its terrible complexity, we might be better able to really enjoy “a new birth of freedom.”

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

PG: My interest in history goes all the way back to childhood. My father used to bundle us all into the station wagon and drive us to historical sites such as Gettysburg, Brandywine Creek, Valley Forge, and the Daniel Boone Homestead. Every year we would ride the excursion boat to Fort Delaware and explore its battlements and tunneled galleries, playing hide-and-seek with the uniformed Civil War reenactors.. Walking the ground even then instilled in me a sense that history was real and urgent, dramatic and important. I learned early that history has a future, and we are that future. And so I adventure into the past to find the truth of my own—and our own—identify.

JF: What is your next project?

PG: My novel Cape Fear Rising, which peeled the scab off a long-suppressed historical event in my hometown—a white supremacist coup and racial massacre—is relaunching in May in a special 25th anniversary edition with a foreword by Randall Kenan and an author’s afterword discussing the creative process of writing it and the ugly backlash that followed from some in the white community. I have been writing a narrative series called “Decades” for Our State—addressing the wartime 1940s and the 1950s, the cauldron of Civil Rights, among other stories. And I am writing a novel about the building of the Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee—a wartime project conceived in deception and built in haste, which changed forever the lives of an entire displaced farming community—as well as inspiring a generation of kids who spent four remarkable years in a town of 5,000 people erected virtually overnight, as they watched their fathers construct the highest dam east of the Rockies.

JF: Thanks, Philip!

The Author’s Corner with James Davis

maryland, my maryland

James Davis is Professor of Musicology and Chair of the Music History Area at the School of Music at the State University of New York at Fredonia. This interview is based on his new book, Maryland, My Maryland: Music and Patriotism during the American Civil War (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).

JF: What caused you to write Maryland, My Maryland?

JD: Curiosity, at first. For years I had wondered how a song dedicated to a state that never joined the Confederacy could be considered – then and now – a Confederate anthem. Once I began digging deeper, I realized that “Maryland, My Maryland” was in many ways the ideal case study of the life cycle of a war song. As I pulled together the story, I also came to realize how changing concepts of patriotism were entwined with the song’s use and reception. By this point I thought I had a book-length study on my hands, and, to my good fortune, the University of Nebraska Press agreed.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Maryland, My Maryland?

JD: Maryland, My Maryland demonstrates how popular music simultaneously reflects and shapes events both large and small; that an anthem is an indispensable tool for gauging the depth and definition of patriotism; and that musical taste often triumphs over social class, politics, religion, and other social elements

JF: Why do we need to read Maryland, My Maryland?

JD: Maryland, My Maryland serves as reminder that there is a human factor behind everything we study about the Civil War. Aesthetics, or music taste and popularity, may seem tangential to great battles or ground-breaking legislation, but these are the issues that speak to the emotional foundation upon which everything else resides. By singing a song a person can express something that is impossible to convey in any other way. If we truly hope to understand what that person was experiencing, we should do our best to know that song and to understand what that performance meant.

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

JD: I moved into American history about 3 years after graduate school. My dissertation dealt with the intersection of philosophy and music theory – a very esoteric subject. After publishing a few articles, I realized that I had little desire to pursue this line. I spent about 2 years doing a great deal of reading and thinking, and finally decided to dive into work that combined three of my passions – musicology, American history, and military studies. A friend of mine mentioned having seen a collection of letters from a Civil War band leader in an archive, so I ordered a microfilm, began reading, and I was hooked.

JF: What is your next project?

JD: I have a few small Civil War projects underway, such as veterans and late-century music criticism, humor and music, and musical nostalgia. There is also a book possibility that would examine the notion of “proximity” (geographic, temporal, emotional) and musical meaning during the war. However, having spent over 20 years on the Civil War, I am anxious to expand my horizons. I hope to investigate similar topics (musical nationalism and patriotism, military music) in the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War. I am also fascinated by bandsmen stationed in western forts from 1870-1900.

JF: Thanks, James!

The Author’s Corner with Brian Dirck

the black heavens abraham lincoln and death

Brian Dirck is a Professor of History at Anderson University. This interview is based on his new book, The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death (Southern Illinois University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death?

BD: This book actually began as something quite different. I originally planned to analyze Lincoln’s leadership during the last summer of the war, when he believed he would not be re-elected, when his emancipation policies were being widely criticized, and especially when Grant’s Wilderness campaign was creating a horrendous body count. I wondered how Lincoln was able to get Americans to accept such high numbers of casualties. This led to a more general question: so, what did Lincoln think of death and dying generally? And it turns out very little has actually been written about that; a few things here and there, but on the whole, surprisingly little. So, my book morphed into a general study of how Lincoln confronted and managed death and mourning, all the way back to his childhood.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death?

BD: I argue that the popular image of Lincoln as haunted by a hyper-emotional, tragic spectre of death is misplaced. In fact, throughout his life Lincoln learned to increasingly put emotional distance between himself and dying, which was the only way he could effectively lead the nation through the Valley of Death that was the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read The Black Heavens: Abraham Lincoln and Death?

BD: My book fills a hole in the vast Lincoln literature (and yes, there are still holes) by looking in depth at a subject too long neglected. Death could easily compete with emancipation and the Union as key themes in Lincoln’s life, and so we need a better understanding of how he handled all the death and dying with which he was surrounded. I also believe this is a contribution to the growing body of literature on what we might call the Civil War’s “dark side,” begun with Drew Gilpin Faust’s excellent study of death during the war. I hope my book in this way contributes not just to Lincoln studies, but Civil War scholarship in general.

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

BD: I think my interest in history and the Civil War began with my grandma telling me stories about the war as I grew up in central Missouri, stories about the guerrilla conflicts in the area, etc. She gave me a fascination with the era, and stories of the past generally. I was then blessed with the great fortune to study history as an undergrad at the University of Central Arkansas under Dr. Gregory J. Urwin (now at Temple), and then graduate work under the late Dr. Philip Paludan at the University of Kansas. Greg and Phil together gave me their infectious enthusiasm for teaching and writing about history, and Phil helped spark my ongoing interest in Lincoln’s life and career.

JF: What is your next project?

BD: I have begun work on a study of free speech during the war, focusing particularly on the conflicts between Lincoln and Clement Vallandigham.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

The Author’s Corner with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

the ideas that made america

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is the Merle Curti Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This interview is based on her new book, The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History?

JR: An editor at Oxford University Press approached me about writing a survey of American intellectual life for their popular Very Short Introductions series.  At first, I demurred, thinking that no intellectual historian in her right mind would try to sum up the entire sweep of American intellectual history from contact to the present in 35,ooo words (the length of their VSIs).   But this editor knows how to charm an author: all she had to do was dangle some of the superb VSIs in front of me to show me what’s possible with the form.  I came to see that this word limit on the grand narrative of American thought could, in fact be liberating for me as a writer and more enticing for a general reader.  So I agreed to try drafting a proposal, and doing that really drew me into the project.  I found myself writing sentences like “a historical consciousness is not only the core of our academic discipline but also the discipline of an educated citizenry” and really meaning it.  I came to really feel the urgency of a book that welcomed general readers into the beauty and messiness of the ideas that made the United States what it is today.

Apparently the editorial board of Oxford University Press felt the urgency, too.  They decided that they wanted me to write the book first as a freestanding trade book, which is now Ideas that Made America and then to eventually edit it down to be a VSI on American thought for their series.   And so this is my modest effort to imagine what intellectual history might look like were it to try to speak to general readers like my mailman, my political representatives, my children’s piano teacher, my hairdresser, and my mom.  I wanted to see if I could channel the energy and excitement of the history classroom onto the page.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History?

JR: How about 2 words? Ideas Matter.

JF: Why should we read The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History?

JR: There is not a single major debate in contemporary American life—whether it’s about racial equality and racism, individual liberty and social obligation, or what it means to be an American—that hasn’t been debated, in some form or another, time and again, for centuries.  Current political questions (is government the source of or solution to our problems?), economic concerns (is there an invisible hand directing the market or rather the finger of the 1% tipping the scales?), and moral controversies (does a woman’s uterus belong to her or to God?) all have histories.  Putting current intellectual problems and commitments into longer historical perspective doesn’t minimize their felt urgency for us today, but it does allow us to keep company with generations of Americans who struggled with—and through—them in the past.

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

JR: I got drawn into American intellectual history—almost by accident– when I was a 19-year old undergraduate at the University of Rochester. At the time, I didn’t realize my good fortune of having stumbled into a course taught by one of the premier intellectual historians and cultural critics of the late ‘70s and ‘80s—Christopher Lasch (whose most influential work was his Culture of Narcissism [1979], an important book for President Jimmy Carter). Lasch got me hooked.  He was the one who first exposed me to the possibility of approaching the past by way of powerful ideas and intellectuals.  After that, I greedily took whatever courses I could with him and with another extraordinary American intellectual historian Robert Westbrook (who still teaches there today).  The two of them turned me from a student with zero interest in history into one who decided to make the study of it her life’s work.

Another way of putting this is to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In “Circles” (1841), he wrote: “Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.  Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end.”  The same is true when the great God lets loose a masterful teacher in the classroom, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

JF: What is your next project?

JR: My next book is on the ideas about—and quest for—“wisdom” in 20th-century American life. While it traces  different notions of wisdom and the means by which Americans sought it, the book also hopes to show that the study of history is itself a way to wisdom. According to Lord Acton: “History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.”  I rather like this bit of wisdom.

JF: Thanks, Jennifer!

The Author’s Corner with Chris Mortenson

politician in uniform

Chris Mortenson is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Ouachita Baptist University. This interview is based on his new book, Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War?

CM: Lew Wallace is famous for the popular and enduring novel, Ben-Hur, as well as his negotiations with Billy “the Kid” during the Lincoln County Wars of 1878-81 in New Mexico Territory. However, he was also a controversial Civil War general.  I wanted to write a Civil War biography, and it is often easier to complete the work when the subject is interesting to the author. Wallace was a complicated fellow; he could be very effective as an officer, in certain circumstances, but then botch the next assignment. He desired acknowledgement as a professional soldier, but also disdained the culture of West Pointers with whom he worked. In fact, his conception of manhood differed in ways from that of West Point graduates and other professionals, causing him to not get along with superiors.

Along with all of the above, Wallace served at the Battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Monocacy (sometimes performing well, and sometimes not). On the other hand, his administrative and recruiting assignments may have offered a greater contribution to the Union, making for an interesting Civil War career.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War?

CM: Despite creating problems for himself, such as a number of mistakes and his recurrent unwillingness to give speeches and recruit soldiers for the Union, Wallace concluded his Civil War service having contributed both politically and militarily to the war effort. His service as a volunteer general demonstrated how a politician in uniform should be evaluated differently than most professionally trained officers.

JF: Why do we need to read Politician in Uniform: General Lew Wallace and the Civil War?

CM: Anyone interested in the Civil War, US Army politics, or generalship would hopefully enjoy the book. While the work focuses on questions asked by professional military historians about the qualities of good officers and the relationships between professional and political generals, the lay public will also enjoy a story about an interesting man whose temperamental nature often led to troubles that hurt his career–only to become very famous for other accomplishments later in life.

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

CM: I benefited from three excellent academic advisers: M. Philip Lucas of Cornell College (Iowa), Vernon L. Volpe of the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and Joseph G. Dawson III of Texas A&M University.  Lucas’ undergraduate course on the Civil War hooked me, and I never turned back, as Volpe and Dawson continued to encourage progress. While battles and leaders initially drew me to history, I increasingly find myself interested in the lives of soldiers.

JF: What is your next project?

CM: A colleague and I are currently finishing a project; it is titled Daily Life of U.S. Soldiers: From the American Revolution to the Iraq War, and should be released in June or July. This project is a 3-volume reference work which will explore the lives of average soldiers from the American Revolution through the 21st-century conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each chapter (on an American war) with address topics such as recruitment, training, uniforms, weaponry, compensation, combat, the homefront, and the myriad issues that veterans have dealt with over the years. This work will also examine the role of minorities and women in each conflict, which will shed light on their long and difficult path in the U.S. military. Paul J. Springer (Air Command and Staff College) and I edited the volumes, and also wrote a couple of the chapters.

JF: Thanks, Chris!

The Author’s Corner with Myra Glenn

dr harriot kezia hunt

Myra Glenn is a Professor of American History at Elmira College. This interview is based on her new book, Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate (University of Massachusetts Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate?

MG: I was astonished that there was no book length monograph on a woman who was a pioneering female physician, health reformer, and woman’s rights advocate in nineteenth-century America. Once I began reading her 1856 autobiography Glances and Glimpses as well as her lectures and speeches I became fascinated with her and knew I had to be her biographer.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate?

MG: My book argues that Hunt warrants extensive study because she offers a rare, fascinating case study of how a single woman from a working-class Boston home became a successful professional and renowned reformer in nineteenth-century America. This text also uses Hunt’s richly detailed life narrative, Glances and Glimpses (1856), to explore how women described and interpreted their lives in antebellum autobiographies.

JF: Why do we need to read Dr. Harriot Kezia Hunt: Nineteenth-Century Physician and Woman’s Rights Advocate?

MG: My book examines Hunt’s establishment of a flourishing medical practice in Boston in the mid-1830s. Convinced that many of her patients’ physical maladies were rooted in their spiritual and mental anguish, Hunt became renowned for listening to women’s troubles, or “heart histories,” and counseling them. I also discuss Hunt’s unsuccessful efforts to attend lectures at Harvard’s medical school in 1847 and 1850 and her emergence as a leading woman’s rights advocate. She became the first woman in Massachusetts to publicly protest the injustice of taxing propertied women like herself while denying them the right to vote. Her annual petitions declaring “no taxation without representation” were widely reprinted in newspapers throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Hunt was also prominent in the annual woman’s rights conventions of the 1850s where she championed health reform, female doctors, higher education for women, and their enfranchisement.

Study of Hunt’s life also illuminates how religion promoted reform activism in antebellum America. I discuss how the Hunt family’s conversion to Universalism encouraged Harriot to challenge established gender roles and spurred her commitment to the woman’s rights struggle. I also explore how Hunt’s conversion to the ideas of the Swedish mystic Immanuel Swedenborg as well as her friendship with leading antebellum feminists, especially Sarah Grimké, led her to challenge patriarchal power within mainstream Protestant churches.

Finally, my book analyzes Hunt’s 1856 autobiography entitled Glances and Glimpses. At a time when few women wrote life narratives Hunt offered a richly detailed and revealing work. Her text was the first autobiography published by a leading antebellum feminist and also by a female physician.

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

MG: My father, a waiter in Brooklyn and immigrant from Cuba, was always a voracious reader of American history and instilled in me a love of both history and politics. Even when I was in high school I knew that I wanted to study how the past shapes our present and future.

JF: What is your next project?

MG: I plan to investigate how a group of leading antislavery and woman’s rights activists in antebellum America coped with old age and the challenges of facing illness, the death of loved ones, and their own mortality. This would be my fifth and probably last book.

JF: Thanks, Myra!

The Author’s Corner with Steven Green

the third disestablishment

Steven Green is the Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of History and Religious Studies at Williamette University. This interview is based on his new book, The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1940-1975 (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Third Disestablishment?

SG: Many things led me to write The Third Disestablishment.  I have written extensively about the ongoing dynamic of religious disestablishment in the 18th and 19th centuries.  My thesis has been (and continues to be) that there were various levels of disestablishment — political, institutional, legal, cultural — and that they occurred in incremental steps and at different times.  In essence, disestablishment was not perfected with the enactment of the 1st Amendment and, quite clearly, there was never a consensus on what it meant.  The Third Disestablishment brings this narrative forward to the mid-20th century where the Supreme Court formally embraced separation of church and state as the meaning of the Establishment Clause.  The book examines the cultural forces behind this embrace.  I felt that this was a story that had not been fully told before.

I also wrote the book in order to explore the background of the ongoing controversy over whether separation of church and state is/was the correct model.  The book also seeks to address why separationism arose, then fell into disfavor, at least as a legal principle.   Finally, on a personal level, in my earlier career as a 1st Amendment lawyer, I encountered several of the figures and organizations discussed in the book, though in their much later years.  This motivated me to examine the initial dynamic that led them to become involved in this issue.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Third Disestablishment?

SG: The book responds to more recent interpretations that maintain that separation of church and state became a legal and popular construct in mid-century due chiefly to residual Protestant suspicions of Catholicism.  It also maintains that even in its heyday, church-state separation was a contestable and indeterminate concept, and that its demise both legally and culturally began much earlier than has otherwise been maintained.

JF: Why do we need to read The Third Disestablishment?

SG: While numerous books have been written on the development of church and state, this book provides a fresh perspective by interweaving the cultural and legal developments of the period into  comprehensive narrative.  It examines the cultural backdrop to the Court’s adoption of its modern church-state jurisprudence.  It explores the roles of leading figures of the time, including Reinhold Niebuhr, John Courtney Murray, Paul Blanshard, Cardinal Francis Spellman, Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, John F. Kennedy, and several consequential Supreme Court justices.

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

SG: I have been interested in the interaction between religion and politics/law in US history since undergraduate school.  I made the decision to enter a history PhD program after practicing law for 4 years.   Since then, I have had an amazing career that has allowed me to do legal advocacy, teaching, and scholarship in the area of religion, law, politics and history. 

JF: What is your next project?

SG: I am writing a book for Cornell University Press in its religion in public life series on–you guessed it–the development of church-state separation in American history.

JF: Thanks, Steven!

The Author’s Corner with Amy Taylor

embattled freedom

Amy Taylor is an Associate Professor of History along with Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Kentucky. This interview is based on her new book, Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps (The University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Embattled Freedom?

AT: For a number of years, while working on other projects, I kept coming across references to the hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children who fled slavery during the Civil War and forged new lives for themselves behind the lines of the Union army. But these were only fleeting references—a few sentences in a book, or a widely circulated Harper’s Weekly image, for example. So eventually I wondered: why don’t I know more? How could a mass migration of people that effectively destroyed slavery have taken place during this (abundantly studied) Civil War, and we still don’t know much about it?

The answer, of course, had to do with deliberate neglect — and the failure of white Americans, in particular, to reckon with the Civil War’s slavery history for so long. It should be noted that some black scholars, most notably W.E.B. DuBois in Black Reconstruction, did write about this history decades ago and tried to turn more attention to the story. But it has only been recently, in the last decade, that the subject is finally getting its due — in addition to my book, there are important books and articles by Thavolia Glymph, Jim Downs, Leslie Schwalm, and Chandra Manning as well. All of this work is in sync with present-day politics, as we begin 2019 with Confederate monuments coming down and new commemorations of slavery and black Civil War history going up.

I also wrote this book because of a more general and abiding interest in telling the stories of people who have not had their stories told. I am a social historian at heart and believe that everyone has a story that can tell us something about the world in which they lived. I am also an aspiring detective. So I was drawn to the challenge of digging up even the smallest scraps of information about individual refugees from slavery, and then piecing together their movements to try to understand their perspectives on the momentous events that shook the nation in the 1860s.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Embattled Freedom?

AT: My book rests on the premise that the Civil War represented a distinctly militarized period in the decades-long process of destroying slavery in the United States (the “long Emancipation,” as some have called it). Embattled Freedom zeroes in on that period and argues that the way in which freedom-seeking people navigated—and survived—the culture, bureaucracy, and dangers of military life was an elemental part of the story of slavery’s destruction in the United States.

JF: Why do we need to read Embattled Freedom?

AT: Because Embattled Freedom is deeply resonant with so much of what is going on in our lives today. First, it uncovers a key piece of the deeply buried slavery past with which we are only now beginning to reckon. As more and more Americans are tearing down romanticized myths and monuments and talking more honestly about this history, I believe it is the historian’s role to provide ample research that can make an open and constructive dialogue possible. My hope is that Embattled Freedom will help inform that conversation.

Second, the book also tells the story of one of the United States’ earliest refugee crises. As we consider our obligations to displaced people throughout the world—as Americans debate the meaning of its borders and how “open” the country should be—I think it behooves us to consider the longer history of how Americans have defined citizenship and belonging throughout the nation’s history. The parallels between what happened in the Civil War and what is happening today are striking and sometimes surprising: how many people know, for example, that northern politicians tried to build a metaphoric “wall” across the United States during the Civil War, when they refused the migration of refugees from slavery into northern states? That is just one example of how my book sheds light on the deep history of our present-day lives.

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

AT: I graduated from college thinking I would pursue a career in politics. So I went to Capitol Hill within months of obtaining my history degree and began working for a congressman. But I soon found myself sneaking into the Library of Congress during the workday to browse around and flip through the card catalog (which tells you how long ago that was). I was looking for materials related to the senior honors thesis on Confederate women that I had just completed before graduating. And I soon admitted to myself that I would rather hunt down leads on an already-completed history project than brush up on NASA policy and draft talking points for my boss (though I liked and respected him).

I decided I wanted to think for myself, rather than for my boss, and that I needed to pick up the intellectual work that I had left behind with my history degree. So I began applying to graduate programs and landed at the University of Virginia for my MA and PhD degrees. Why exactly I was drawn to history is something I do not fully understand yet—maybe with age I’ll gain more perspective. But I think it has something to do with my nagging interest in comprehending human behavior, which is why I sometimes say that if not a historian, I would be a journalist, a detective, or a psychologist.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: I have two. The first is a short book that will tell the story of the last effort by the federal government to colonize people of African descent beyond the nation’s borders. In 1863, just months after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln approved and supported the migration of over 400 people from the coast of Virginia to Île a Vàche (Haiti). The people, already suffering in refugee camps in and around Fort Monroe, were willing to listen to big promises of employment, housing, and stable new lives that would greet them in Haiti. The expedition failed to live up to those promises, however, and amid disease, death, and unpaid wages, the group petitioned Lincoln to bring them back to the United States—which he did.

My other project explores the U.S. government’s effort to count newly freed people in the 1860s. During the Civil War, in particular, federal agents made numerous attempts to conduct a census of the formerly enslaved population. All of these attempts proved incomplete and haphazard; all, however, were advancements on the decennial federal census, which had long counted this population but never by name or by any other identifying information except for gender, “color,” and age. That changed during the war, as federal agents identified the people by name, family relationships, military service, and more. My interest is in exploring the meaning of this data-gathering in the context of Emancipation: what was behind the federal government’s impulse to count, sort, and classify this population, and what role did it play in imagining and building a postwar racial order?

JF: Thanks, Amy!

The Author’s Corner with Paul Musselwhite

urban dreams, rural commonwealthPaul Musselwhite is Assistant Professor of History and the Vice-Chair of the History Department at Dartmouth College. This interview is based on his new book Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth: The Rise of Plantation Society in the Chesapeake (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth: The Rise of Plantation Society in the Chesapeake?

PM: As an undergraduate taking courses on medieval and early modern Europe, I became fascinated by the idea that towns and cities were miniature self-governing communes. In graduate school I decided to pursue early American history, but I wanted to know more about how that vision of the city shaped early colonialism beyond the archetypal New England town. Although I was in Virginia, I assumed that I would need to look elsewhere for examples because the scholarly literature was so adamant that the Chesapeake was completely rural. After a little digging, though, I was astonished to come across Robert Beverley Jr., the famous champion of Virginia’s early plantocracy, sponsoring an act in 1706 to establish incorporated self-governing towns across the colony, replete with guilds, markets, and provincial representation.

I quickly realized that this was the tip of the iceberg. Everywhere I looked through seventeenth-century Virginia and Maryland, people were talking about building towns—what it would achieve, how it should be done, and where others had gone wrong—and they were unmistakably drawing from the rich traditions of European chartered boroughs and self-governing cities. The Chesapeake’s rural character, which has largely been portrayed as a product of environmental determinism, suddenly appeared as an active choice made by a particular section of colonial society in response to these questions. I realized that in looking for towns, I had found some of the critical building blocks of rural plantation society.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth: The Rise of Plantation Society in the Chesapeake?

PM: Our usual picture of the colonial Chesapeake is of a starkly rural society of tobacco and slavery that inhibited the development of towns and cities, but I reveal that urban development was actually one of the most hotly contested topics in the region throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I argue that the absence of major urban places was not a product of plantation agriculture; rather, the relationship was quite the opposite, because decades of failed urban development were instrumental in forging the political structures and economic policies that facilitated big plantations in the Chesapeake and in shaping the agrarian outlook of the planter class in the new republic.

JF: Why do we need to read Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth: The Rise of Plantation Society in the Chesapeake?

PM: Urban Dreams will challenge the way you think about the development of the plantation system, early American urban places, and the roots of agrarian republicanism. For those interested in the relationship between slavery and the birth of capitalism, the book offers a new deep backstory, tracing the way large-scale plantations emerged in dialogue with the idea of the incorporated town just at the moment when the role of distinct urban civic communities in local market regulation was being co-opted and liberalized by the state. By exploring places that are traditionally overlooked in early American urban history, the book also argues that we have fundamentally misunderstood how contemporaries thought about cities and towns; it makes the case that urban history needs to pay closer attention to constitutional, legal, and ideological significance rather than simply counting populations or the volume of trade. Finally, Urban Dreams will also appeal to anyone interested in the roots of Jeffersonian agrarian republicanism. Historians have long searched for the reason why planters in the Chesapeake were particularly drawn to “country” ideology and classical republicanism, but they have never looked far enough back because they have mostly dismissed the seventeenth-century Chesapeake as a kind of “wild west” where pragmatism ruled. Civic republican ideas, though, were a critical part of debates over urban planning from the foundations of Jamestown, and the book uncovers planters’ gradual and conscious shift from viewing cities as the bastions of civic order to envisioning private plantations as the foundations of an agrarian republic.

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

PM: I’m an American historian because of the birth of online discount flight booking. When I was a teenager growing up in the UK, every summer my dad would scour very rudimentary websites for flights to corners of the US that didn’t normally attract British tourists, and then we would embark on mammoth road trips. That travel, especially around the South, introduced me to so many complex and contradictory facets of American society that as soon as I got to university, I signed up for early American history. From then on, I was hooked

JF: What is your next project?

PM: My new project, tentatively entitled Plantation: From Public Project to Private Enterprise, is a study of the long-noted but unexplored transformation in the meaning of “plantation” around the English empire during the seventeenth century. In the late sixteenth century, “plantation” in Ireland, Scotland, and America was predominantly understood as a process by which private individuals established new civic societies in conquered lands, but by 1700 it was widely recognized as a place of private commercial agriculture that pursued profit by exploiting enslaved laborers. The adaptation of “plantation” to describe this evolving socioeconomic system was conscious and highly significant; colonists engaged in particular forms of economic enterprise chose to call their estates “plantations” because the term allowed them to claim particular forms of authority within the imperial state and the commercial market. One particularly exciting part of this project involves building a database of the names given to plantations around the Atlantic world; I hope that tracking changing patterns in these naming practices will reveal shifts in the implicit assumptions about the social and economic structure of the plantation

JF: Thanks, Paul!

The Author’s Corner with Albert Louis Zambone

daniel morgan a revolutionary life

Albert Louis Zambone is an independent historian and writer.  This interview is based on his new book Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life (Westholme Publishing, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life?

AZ:  a. I was asked to write it.

b. However, this project was a delight rather than an assignment: As a child, the first American Revolution monograph I read was Don Higginbotham’s Daniel Morgan, Revolutionary Rifleman. Higginbotham so inspired me that I persuaded my mother to make me a hunting shirt so that I could be Daniel Morgan for Halloween. I was astonished to discover that no-one knew who Daniel Morgan was.

c. I’ve long wondered how a few people were able to rise in the status-conscious, hierarchical world of colonial Virginia. When the opportunity to write about Morgan arose, I realized that he was the perfect case study of social mobility in a relatively immobile and hierarchical society.

d. I’ve always been drawn to story, and Morgan’s life is by turns sprawling, romantic, tawdry, tragic, heroic, cinematic, operatic. Once I bit into it I couldn’t let go.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life?

AZ: Daniel Morgan—by turns homeless runaway, illiterate, wagoner, brawler, literate, freeholder, plantation owner, militia captain, victorious general, Federalist Congressman, owner of immense acreage—demonstrates both that colonial America was a time of boisterous, churning possibility and that the Revolution provided yet greater possibilities that would have otherwise been unimaginable. Morgan’s life also complicates the cherished American ideal of individual self-fashioning, illustrating how community, fortune, and place shape individuals.

JF: Why should we read Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life?

AZ: First, it’s a good story, since it’s based on an interesting life. Second, as historians, biographies provide us with a “lab” for testing historical hypotheses. I think Morgan’s life gives us the opportunity to examine everything from the historical geography of the Shenandoah and the status theory of elites, to the radicalism of the Revolution and the eighteenth century market revolution.

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

AZ: Probably when I was about four years old, living in Greenwich, New Jersey, the colonial village a drawing of which decorates your blog. In Greenwich, the past remains a presence, and it captivated me. More importantly, my family encouraged my interest in history, and fed it with book after book. I can barely remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by history of all kinds, especially the history of early America. Maybe when I was three or younger—as P.G. Wodehouse said, what I was doing before then, I don’t know, just loafing I suppose. Then, for many reasons, I was first trained as European medievalist, and then left it for the history of early America. It felt like coming home—though I think that training as medievalist is the best historical training that there is, as you must interrogate sources of all kinds, learn peculiar technical, and grapple with perspectives unusually different from your own.

JF: What is your next project?

AZ: My colleague Lendol Calder and I are working together on a project that uses his “uncoverage” model of teaching history and historical thinking to create a textbook of American history. Naturally we refer to it as the “untextbook.” After that, I hope to return to thinking about colonial elites in the early American South. I’d like to focus on a family, or several families, in part to explore the change in family life over a century and a half; their cultural inculcation; and their fashioning of the surrounding society, and how it fashioned them. In the meantime, I stay busy at work on my podcast Historically Thinking, found on iTunes and all the other usual places, having conversations interesting people about the fascinating nooks of the past, and how they think about them.

JF: Thanks, Al!

The Author’s Corner with Randal Jelks

faith and struggle in the lives of four african americans

Randal Jelks is a Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at The University of Kansas. This interview is based on his new book Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans?

RJ: I wrote Faith and Struggle because I wanted to think through African American understandings of faiths, what their usages were, and how they reshaped the inner lives of these four historically interesting people.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans?

RJ: The argument of the book is quite simple. I argue that the inner lives of the personalities in this book are as consequential as their outer actions as they faced gendered racism and personal individual struggle.

JF: Why do we need to read Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans?

RJ: I want readers to read Faith and Struggle because I want them to think about their inner lives and how their inner sense of self speaks to the times we currently live in. There are valuable lessons to be learned from others. This is why my own personal narrative is a through line all throughout the book.

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

RJ:  I was born in New Orleans. Above ground cemeteries forced me to always think about the interconnections between the past and the present. I decided on history as a methodology of inquiry as an undergraduate and have used it intellectually ever since. Professionally I became a historian when I decided to do a PhD in Comparative Black Histories at Michigan State University in 1989.

JF: What is your next project?

RJ: I am in the throes of finishing up a book titled ML: A Democratic Meditation. It is a collection of twelve essays about the current state of our polis as I think through the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. There are several more projects in the offing.  I am also an executive producer on a documentary on the writer Langston Hughes titled I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled (dreamdocumentary.org).

JF: Thanks, Randal!

The Author’s Corner with Adriaan Neele

before jonathan edwards

Adriaan Neele is the Director of the Doctoral Program and Professor of Historical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This interview is based on his new book, Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What inspired you to write Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology?

AN: In Before Edwards I seek to balance the recent academic attention to the developments of intellectual history after Jonathan Edwards. On the one hand, the recent rise of Edwards scholarship and eminent reflections on Edwards’s “uniqueness” in American religious history, his Puritan sermon style and substance, and the appropriation of his thought in the courses of New England theology gave me to pause to offer another study on the preacher, theologian, and philosopher of Northampton. On the other hand, the rise of another scholarship—at the same, that on Protestant scholasticism and Reformed orthodoxy of the early modern era rarely coincides with studies on Edwards but offers consideration to re-assess and re-interpret Edwards’s theological relationship to the early modern era. The publication After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology by Oliver D. Crisp and Douglas A. Sweeney— “a groundbreaking study of a neglected topic,” however, became a further stimulus to embark on a more comprehensive study of providing a broader background of Edwards’s use of Reformed orthodoxy and Protestant scholastic sources in the context of the challenges of his day. The longstanding trajectories of classical Christian theology are indispensable to discern continuities and discontinuities of his theological thought.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology?

AN: The theological and philosophical sources of the early modern era have contributed to Edwards’ thought through his resourceful appropriation in biblical exegesis, formulation of doctrine, polemical response, and explication of practical aspects of Christian theology.

JF: Why should we read Before Jonathan Edwards: Sources of New England Theology?

AN: This volume will present the first comprehensive study of Jonathan Edwards’s use of Reformed orthodox and Protestant scholastic primary sources in the context of the challenges of orthodoxy in his day. It will look at the way he appreciated and appropriated Reformed orthodoxy, among other topics. The book studies three time periods in Edwards’s life and work, the formative years of 1703–1725, the Northampton period of 1726–1750, and the final years of 1751–1758. A background of post-Reformation or early modern thought, but with particular attention to Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706)—Edwards most “favored” theologian, is offered for each period enabling readers to assess issues of continuity and discontinuity, development and change in Edwards. Since there has been limited research on Edwards’s use of his primary sources this study analyses the theological ideas of the past that found their way into Edwards’s own theological reflections. The book argues that the formation, reflection, and communication of theological thought must be historically informed. The teaching, preaching, and practice of theology must be rooted in the classical curricula, methods of preaching, and systema of theology. Inherited theology must be evaluated on its own terms, historically and theologically, so that meaningful answers for the present can be constructed. Tracing Edwards’s discerning engagement with past ideas exemplifies how theology unfolds in an era of intellectual, religious, social, and political transition.

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

AN: My training in Protestant scholasticism, Reformed orthodoxy and concentration in the early modern era of ca. 1565 – 1750, and my work at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University offered an opportunity to examine the writings of the sage of Northampton, and situates Edwards in a world more European, classical, and biblical-theological than the one taken for granted by most of his interpreters.

JF: What is your next project?

AN: Book: Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706): Text, Context, and Interpretation (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2019)

Chapter: Early Modern Dutch Biblical Exegesis: Renaissance and Reception (UPenn, 2019)

Chapter: The Reception of Jonathan Edwards in Africa (OUP, 2020)

Book: The Reception of Medieval Rabbinic exegesis in Reformed Orthodoxy (2020)

Chapter: The Reception of Jonathan Edwards in the Netherlands (Palgrave, Macmillan, 2020)

Chapter: Jonathan Edwards and Prolegomena (T&T Clark, 2021)

Article: Hyleke Gockinga (1723-1793): A Woman, A Bible Commentator, and A Translator of Puritan Work in the Dutch Republic (2019)

JF: Thanks, Adriaan!

The Author’s Corner with Richard Hughes

myths america lives by

Richard Hughes serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University. This interview is based on the second edition of his book Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning (University of Illinois Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: At the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion that convened in Chicago in 2012, I was one of five scholars who responded to James Cone’s new book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. As part of my comments, I spoke of the five national myths that I identify in my earlier book, Myths America Lives By (Illinois, 2003), and how those myths shaped my understanding of both the nation and race when I was growing up in West Texas some sixty years ago. When I completed my remarks and took my seat at the panelists’ table, one of the panelists—the late Professor James Noel of San Francisco Theological Seminary—leaned over to me and whispered, “Professor, you left out the most important of all the American myths!” When I asked what I had omitted, he told me straight up, “The myth of white supremacy.” That simple comment launched me on quite a journey of reading, reflection, and introspection. In time I began to see Noel’s point, that even whites like me—whites who strongly resist racist ideology—can escape the power of the white supremacist myth only with extraordinary effort, if at all. That is because assumptions of white supremacy are like the very air we breathe: they surround us, envelope us, and shape us, but do so in ways we seldom discern.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: The book draws three conclusions—first, that the myth of white supremacy is the primal American myth that informs all the others; second, that one of the chief functions of the other myths is to protect and obscure the myth of white supremacy, to hide it from our awareness, and to assure us that we remain innocent after all; and third, that there is hope, but only if whites are willing to come to terms with this reality. An important sub-theme in this book is the role white churches in America have played in perpetuating the doctrine of white supremacy since the birth of the nation—and especially now

JF: Why do we need to read Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give Us Meaning?

RH: As far as I know, no other book systematically explores the mythic structure of American identity and roots that mythic structure squarely in the myth of white supremacy.

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

RH: I was raised in a very narrow, sectarian Christian tradition that claimed to be the one true church. My deeply held, existential questions about those claims first led me into the history of American religion. In time I saw unmistakable parallels between the sectarian dimensions of my church and the sectarian dimensions of my nation, and the mythic structures that sustained both

JF: What is your next project?

RH: Sidney E. Mead was widely recognized as the dean of historians of American religion and was my teacher at the University of Iowa. Mead always claimed that the Enlightenment stood at the heart of the American experience. Much later, a group of evangelical historians placed American evangelicalism at the heart of the American experience. I want to do a project that compares the work of Mead and the work of the evangelical historians on the way those two traditions helped shape the American experience.

JF:  Thanks, Richard!

The Author’s Corner with Edward Rugemer

slave law and the politics of resistance in the early atlantic world

Edward Rugemer is an Associate Professor of African American Studies and History at Yale University. This interview is based on his new book Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance in the Early Atlantic World (Harvard University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance in the Early Atlantic World?

ER: When I was in graduate school at Boston College, both Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone and Philip Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint were published during the years before my oral exams. I read both and was inspired to take on a comparative project, though not, I was advised, for my dissertation. The idea for the comparison at the heart of this book came from my dissertation/ first book, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2008). I realized in writing that book that the planter classes in Jamaica and South Carolina had this very similar relationship with abolitionists. They were the most radically pro-slavery in these different regions of the Anglo Atlantic, the U.S. South and the British Caribbean. When I considered this realization alongside the work of Richard Dunn and Peter Wood, that both Jamaica and South Carolina were “colonies” of Barbados (to use Wood’s phrase), I saw that these two slave societies had followed very similar historical arcs. They had common origins, developed into the wealthiest colonies of their respective regions, and though each went its separate way during the American Revolution, both followed a very similar pattern in the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution and the emergence of radical abolitionism. Comparison requires both similarity and difference and the political histories of Jamaica and South Carolina have the necessary mix.

The central theme of the book — the relationship between slave resistance and broader political changes — also came from the first book, specifically in the first few chapters. I felt there was much more to say about the impact of slave resistance upon the political history of slave societies. Some of this work had been done by historians of the American Civil War era such as Jim Oakes and Steve Hahn, and historians of the nineteenth century Caribbean such as Mary Turner and Emilia Viotti da Costa, and more recently Gelien Matthews and Claudius Fergus. But no one had gone deeper into the colonial period and I thought it was important to do so.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance in the Early Atlantic World?

ER: Very early in the history of Atlantic slave societies a political dialectic developed between Africans who forcefully resisted enslavement, and slaveholding colonists who sought to impose the rigid social control they saw as necessary for profitable colonial enterprise. This dialectic is evident in slave law, it developed and changed until the abolition of slavery, and it shaped the histories of Jamaica and South Carolina in fundamentally different ways.

JF: Why do we need to read Slave Law and the Politics of Resistance in the Early Atlantic World?

ER: First, it is a valuable account of, and explanation for, the political significance of slave resistance in Anglo-Atlantic slave societies from their origins to the 1830s. Secondly, the book makes clear the differences between the slave regimes of the Caribbean and the U.S. In this way it complements Richard Dunn’s important study, A Tale of Two Plantations

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

ER: I worked as a Jesuit volunteer teaching high school in Kingston, Jamaica, from 1994-1996 and my experience there led me to some deep reading in the history of slavery and eventually graduate school.

JF: What is your next project?

ER: I have two different projects that are in the early stages. I am thinking about writing a synthesis of slavery in the Western World. My most ambitious self wants to start with some of the theories on the origins of slavery, move into ancient Greece and Rome, the decline of slavery in Western Europe and its persistence in the Mediterranean, the expansion into the Atlantic. But I want to take this history up to modern slavery and human trafficking in our own time. I don’t think we have an historical narrative that integrates the racial slavery of the Atlantic World, which lasted for generations and has had such insidious afterlives, with the various forms of slavery that persist today. Many modern day abolitionists invoke the abolitionist movements of the past without careful attention to the distinctions between these manifestations of slavery across time and space. Historians need to do this. So I’d like to come up with a synthesis that brings this history together.

The second idea is a deeply archival project about a slaveholder we know very little about. His name is Charles Douglas and the Beinecke Library has about 30 years of his correspondence with his brother Patrick. I read it all during my first year at Yale, thinking I would use it for this book, but I only used one brief quote. Douglas moves from Ayr, Scotland to Jamaica when he was a teenager. He mostly worked as a bookkeeper at first (kind of an assistant overseer), but he does accrue some wealth and becomes a slaveholder. What’s curious about him is that when he buys land, he buys land that directly abuts Moore Town in the Blue Mountains, which is one of the Maroon Towns. He becomes the superintendent for the Moore Town Maroons, which is a position established by the 1739 treaties that ended the first Maroon War and recognized Maroon autonomy within the colony. Formally, he was the Maroons’ military commander, but in fact I don’t think it worked that way. Yet there were these superintendents, one for each of the towns, and they were well paid by the colonial state. But there is an archival challenge: I need to find his reports. I don’t know where they are and no one has ever referenced them. And if I can find them, it could be a really interesting book. I need to dig deeper and I love that challenge, but it will take some time.

JF: Thanks, Edward!

The Author’s Corner with Matthew Bahar

Matthew Bahar is an Asstorm of the seasistant Professor of History at Oberlin College. This interview is based on his new book Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail?

MB: The book emerged from my interest in two of early American history’s most dynamic subfields, Atlantic and American Indian history. When I began to conceptualize this project, practitioners of each didn’t have much to say to one another; Atlanticists saw Indians as terrestrial people and Native Americanists viewed the Atlantic World as a fundamentally European space. I wanted to write a book that explored one principal question: what happens to the “Atlantic World” when we add Indians to it? The answer readers confront as they move through the narrative might surprise them as much as it did me.

The colonial-era Wabanaki seemed like a good case study to explore this question. They’re among the few Native groups in the east who have remained on their ancestral lands near the ocean up to the present. I aimed to figure out why. As I did, I discovered an incredible story that hasn’t received the appreciation it deserves.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail?

MB: In the two centuries after Europeans first arrived in the American Northeast, the Wabanaki Confederacy coalesced around an expansionist and extractive political project designed to establish dominion over the sea and shore of northern New England and French Acadia. Their appropriation and assimilation of sailing technology proved essential to its fortunes.

JF: Why do we need to read Storm of the Sea: Indians and Empires in the Atlantic’s Age of Sail?

MB: It positions Indians where we’re not accustomed to seeing them – aboard prize ships, scrambling up the rigging, working sails, and commanding the helm. We expect to see Europeans there. But readers will quickly encounter them elsewhere, in places and postures equally unexpected.

History books often adopt a narrative trajectory of declension or progress. This is especially true in Native American history. Protagonists and antagonists in these sorts of stories are easy to identity. Storm of the Sea aims to eschew this. I hope readers instead find a more human narrative that recalls the profound contingency of life in colonial America, as the actors themselves would’ve experienced it.

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

MB: I decided on this profession while working for a couple years in an unrelated field after my undergraduate degree. Looking back, I’m glad I spent time outside academia because it gave me the time and space to reflect intentionally on my past learning and future goals. Moving away from the intellectual community of my college years allowed me to cultivate a better appreciation for the spirit of discovery that’s so central to our experiences in the classroom, library, and archive.

I became an American historian in graduate school because America’s indigenous past had captivated me for many years. I grew up very close to an Indian reservation and in some ways encountered Indians the way many American colonists did: often and everywhere. They were people with whom you interacted every day in a variety of contexts, some amicable and others fraught, and their presence seemed as natural and permanent as everyone else’s in the community. As I studied the history of white-Indian relations, I began to appreciate the distinctiveness of the colonial period and of my own lived experience.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I’m working on a book-length study of shipwrecks in colonial America. Several of the themes central to Storm of the Sea, such as Native and colonial political economies, catastrophe and misery, gender roles, imperialism, and maritime violence, are shaping my inquiry into this strikingly common transportation disaster in the early modern period. The book will ultimately conceptualize shipwrecks as both destructive and generative experiences for Natives and newcomers alike, politically, socially, and economically.

JF:   Thanks Matthew!

The Author’s Corner with David Graham

Graham LoyaltyDavid Graham is an assistant professor of history at Snow College. This interview is based on his new book Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?

DG:  My interest in Maryland and Civil War memory began when I visited Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland while in graduate school.  It was a dreary day with on and off rain.  I was practically alone on the battlefield and as I visited the various parts of the landscape and the different monuments, I became interested in learning more about the history of the preservation of the battlefield and the monuments that dotted it.  I ended up writing my Master’s thesis on the commemoration history of Antietam and that led me to look at Maryland’s place in the Civil War and American memory for my PhD dissertation at Purdue University.  This research formed the basis of my new book.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?

DG: Maryland did not adopt a clear, postbellum Civil War identity.  The divisions within Maryland during the war persisted after 1865 and not only reflected the divisions of the country but also revealed the importance of the border state experience to American society decades after the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?

DG:  It is my hope that this book offers an important argument to not only the field of Civil War memory but that it can also help inform our current conversations about the legacy of the Civil War and the manifestations of that legacy in our public spaces.  In August of last year, the mayor of Baltimore made the decision to remove the city’s Confederate monuments.  There was intense reaction and debate regarding this decision.  I discuss these monuments in my book and add historical context to the current controversy.  One of the themes in the book that I think is pretty clear is that controversy surrounding Civil War memory, monuments and otherwise, is not new.  There is a long history of struggling with these symbols.  That is a major part of my book.

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

DG:  My interest in history was actually sparked by a high school English teacher.  I always enjoyed history but never thought of it as a career until her class.   She was a Civil War reenactor and her passion for Civil War history was clear.  We read The Killer Angels (one of the few books in high school I actually read from cover to cover).  I enjoyed the book but the life altering moment happened when we visited Gettysburg as a class.  Standing on the battlefield imagining the events of those three days in July 1863 was surreal.  The experience was heightened by the fact that we read the novel shortly before the trip to the battlefield.  At one point in the battlefield’s museum, I was left behind by the rest of my class because I lost track of time while gazing at the artifacts and I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing.  From that point on, I knew I wanted to study history and I wanted to become a teacher of some kind.  Preserved historic sites and wonderful educators are the reason I am an American historian.

JF: What is your next project?

DG: My second book project centers on reunions of former slaves during the postbellum period.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, freedpeople and their descendants began holding reunions throughout the United States as a way to reconnect with those who they labored beside before the outbreak of the Civil War.  These gatherings indicate that the intimate relationships and neighborhoods that slaves cultivated during the antebellum period did not conclude with emancipation or the end of the war but persisted for the remainder of their lives.  I’m currently researching the motivations of these reunions, their frequency, and the response they generated from white southerners. Looking forward to see where the research takes me.

JF: Thanks, David!