What happened when British soldiers and their families arrived in Boston in 1768? In Episode 66 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, we talk with Carleton College history professor Serena Zabin about her new book, The Boston Massacre: A Family History. Zabin’s close reading of everyday life in revolutionary Boston will forever shape how we understand this important moment in our shared past.
The coronavirus story is far from complete, but I hope that many of you are collecting stories to pass on to your families and communities. Let me encourage you to keep a diary or journal. Future historians will thank you for this. Here’s a start:
My life has not changed considerably since this pandemic hit the United States. In fact, I feel a little guilty as I watch so many people whose lives are changing drastically as a result of the coronavirus and are now overburdened with work–especially healthcare providers and people in leadership. I am trying to continue my calling as an educator during the crisis. I have a platform here at the blog and I have been trying to do as many posts at possible to help folks put this pandemic in some kind of larger perspective. We are getting a record number of readers these days, so thanks for following along.
I have largely self-quarantined. I had some kind of flu bug last week, but I have managed to recover. Joy now seems to have picked it up. But relatively speaking, we are all fine.
Today I stopped going to McDonalds to get my morning coffee and bought a Keurig. I am watching a lot of CNN and trying to stay up to speed on what is happening around the country. It is is important to stay informed in times like these.
I am currently on Spring Break. Joy is now working full-time from home. My youngest daughter Caroline came home from college on Tuesday night. She is continuing her semester online from her bedroom. Yesterday I was tempted to “sit on” on one her classes, but then thought better of it.
My eldest daughter Allyson is still in Grand Rapids. She learned last night that she will never take another face-to-face college course. She is sad about this news and we are sad for her. At this point we are not even sure if she will have a graduation ceremony. She lives off-campus with her friends and is trying to make the most out of the last weeks of her college experience. Tonight she played Monopoly with her housemates. She is also battling some kind of non-corona flu bug.
I am proud of Caroline and Ally. Both of them canceled Spring Break trips and they have been taking social distancing very seriously. I wish I could say the same about their peers across the country.
Next Wednesday I start online teaching. Fortunately, I have three sections of the same course. I am still working on platforms and approach. My mailboxes and social media feeds are flooded with links to online teaching resources. Sometimes even good advice can be overwhelming.
While the blog continues, I am not sure about the immediate future of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. We will not have access to our Messiah College recording studio, so we will need to decide whether to cancel the season or try to continue with really bad sound quality. We still have one more episode in the can, so look for Episode 66 with historian Serena Zabin, author of an amazing new book on the Boston Massacre. I know some of you offer financially support our podcasting work. Once we make a decision, I will be in touch via Patreon.
What stories will you tell about living through this historic pandemic? Even you think, as I do, that your stories are boring and commonplace, you are doing a public service by writing them down.
The American historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch (1932-1994) had a powerful influence on the world of ideas. What would the author of the best-selling Culture of Narcissism (1979) have to say about Donald Trump and his particular brand of populism? In this episode we talk about Lasch, Trump, populism, progress, and “evangelical elitism” with intellectual historian Eric Miller, author of the award-winning Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch (2010).
If not, you are missing a great season:
- Johann Neem (Western Washington University) on the meaning of college
- Lawrence Glickman (Cornell University) on the history of free enterprise
- Darren Dochuck (University of Notre Dame) on evangelicals and oil
- Sarah Myers (Messiah College) on the Women Airforce Service Pilots
- Richard Bell (University of Maryland) on “the reverse underground railroad”
- Mandy McMichael (Baylor University) on the Miss America Pageant
- Melissa Ziobro (Monmouth University) on a Bruce Springsteen museum exhibit
- Jeffrey Engel (Southern Methodist University) on presidential impeachment
- Drew Dyrli Hermeling (The Stone School) on his retirement from the podcast
- Thomas Mackaman (World Socialist Web Site and Kings College) on the 1619 Project
- Gillis Harp (Grove City College) on Protestants and American conservatism
Forthcoming: Eric Miller on Christopher Lasch; Serena Zabin on the Boston Massacre; Katherine Stewart on the Christian Right; Lindsay Chervinsky on the first presidential cabinet; and more!
Download episodes or subscribe at Apple Podcasts.
We operate on shoe-string budget. If you would like to support our work (and possibly receive valuable gifts!), head over to our Patreon page and make a pledge or a one-time gift.
Thanks for listening!
In August 2019, The New York Times Magazine published The 1619 Project, an attempt to reframe American history by “placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” American historians have praised and criticized the project. In this episode we talk with Thomas Mackaman, a history professor at Kings University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and a writer for World Socialist Web Site. Mackaman has not only criticized The 1619 Project, but has interviewed other critics of the project, including several award-winning historians. Why are socialists so upset about this project? What is the backstory behind Mackaman’s interviews with Gordon Wood, James McPherson, Clayborne Carson, and other 1619 Project critics? Anyone interested in debates over how historians do history and connect the past to present political and social issues will learn something from this episode.
For four years Drew Dyrli Hermeling has been the heart and soul of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. We are saddened that he has decided to step away from his work here, but excited that he will have more time to devote to his history students at The Stone Independent School, a college-prep school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Drew joins us for one final episode to reminisce with John about their work together on this project.
Are you watching Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial? Are you trying to make sense of it all? We want to help. In this episode we talk with CNN presidential historian and Southern Methodist University professor Jeffrey Engel on the history of impeachment. Engel sheds light on the debates over impeachment in the Constitutional Convention, the historic meaning of “bribery” and “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and the inevitable political and partisan nature of American impeachments.
As many of you know, we have a lot going on here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. We spend a lot of time each week trying to deliver curated and original content here at the blog. The number of podcast downloads continue to grow. At the moment, The Way of Improvement Leads Home (blog and podcast) employs an intern and a studio producer. We are also hoping to add another intern to help with booking guests. I do not receive a cent for my work on the blog or the podcast.
We have been blogging for more than a decade and have never placed an advertisement on the blog. People tell me that our refusal to run ads mean that we have missed, and are missing, opportunities to make money on our content. I have thought about posting ads to the blog, but then I remember how annoying it is to read websites and blogs with pop-up windows distracting readers from content. We do air ads on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast as part of our arrangement with Recorded History Podcast Network. Sometimes we make as high as fifteen dollars a month on those ads! 🙂
We keep things going here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home through the generous support of our readers and listeners. If you feel moved to support out work, please consider visiting our Patreon page and consider a pledge or a one-time gift. And yes, signed books and mugs are still available!
What does web savvy have to do with historical thinking? Lots. Here’s a meme that came across one of my social media feeds. 1/8 pic.twitter.com/oKqanfgBED
— Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg) November 3, 2019
I have innumerable gaps in my historical understanding, but 20,000 free Black people who died in a Union guarded “concentration camp” after the war? That’s serious. How come I’ve never heard of it? 2/8
— Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg) November 3, 2019
Even more interesting is that it is also listed on Southern heritage, Lost Causer sites. So, strange bedfellows–sites on Black history, and sites of Lost Causers that as a bonus offer memes on the “War of Northern Aggression.” Hmm… 4/8 pic.twitter.com/nxlyOZz0jy
— Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg) November 3, 2019
No Wikipedia entry; nothing on Google Scholar. (The 1st places I’d tell students to look if they came across something of this magnitude they’d never heard of.) Yet . . . it appeared on the news! WJTV, the CBS affiliate in Jackson Mississippi. https://t.co/2s9P5katVF 5/8
— Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg) November 3, 2019
It turns out that it rests on the historical sleuthing of a researcher named Paula Westbrook. She can be found at this organization: 6/8 pic.twitter.com/GPJpPxPAz6
— Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg) November 3, 2019
There you have it: How History is invented & spread in the digital age. Memes scream “This is Fact.” Improbable bedfellows pick it up and spread it further. Instead of teaching kids how to check this stuff out, we’re keeping their eyes glued to print textbooks. 7/8
— Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg) November 3, 2019
Today’s students are becoming historicized by what they see on their screens. Want to make history class relevant again? Teach them how to separate digital fact from fiction. You might even save democracy in the process. 8/8
— Sam Wineburg (@samwineburg) November 3, 2019
Earlier this week, Donald Trump compared the impeachment inquiry against him to a lynching. Both Republicans and Democrats reminded Trump about the history of lynching in the United States. Over at The Washington Post, Lawrence Glickman, the Stephaen and Evalyn Milman professor of American Studies at Cornell University, provides some additional context.
Here is a taste of his piece:
Notwithstanding the shocked reaction to the outrageous comparison, Trump’s comments were in keeping with a long-standing strand of conservative rhetoric that might best be dubbed “elite victimization.” This is a mode of speech typically used by wealthy, powerful white men in which they employ the language of enslavement and Jim Crow to describe their plight and claim to be victims of everything from government programs to social movements they dislike to investigations into wrongdoing.
This language marks a double appropriation. First, it is a reaction to the increasing power of claiming rights by minority populations. In the 20th century, African Americans and other oppressed groups forced the country to confront its violent, racist history and demanded full rights and citizenship. By casting themselves as victims, elites frame their individual sense of being wronged as a violation of their rights, even though those rights are well-secured. Second, it is to demand sympathy for a kind of physical and spiritual suffering akin to that experienced by racial minorities that elites claim to endure when they feel under attack.
But the language may also feel true to them. Given that wealthy white men do not face discrimination on the basis of race, the slightest feeling of vulnerability or threat might feel like oppression, however distinct it is from the lived experience of oppressed groups. In 1946, for example, J. Howard Pew, the conservative oil man, condemned what he called “continued unfair and discriminatory legislation granting special privileges for favored minorities at the expense of the general welfare.”
But this language perversely minimizes the plight of African Americans for much of American history and compares systemic wrongs with hideous consequences to legal actions or social movements that conservative white men happen to dislike.
Read the entire piece here. Then head over to Episode 55 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast and listen to Glickman talk about his new book Free Enterprise: An American History.
Give The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast some love today by:
- Telling a friend to listen
- Donate a one time gift or regular pledge at our Patreon page to keep us on the air! You can become a patron for as little as $1.00 a month.
Season Six is under way and we are already off to a great start.
Time to pull this one out again:
For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image. Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born. History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense. Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.
Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.
We have been in the studio a lot lately as we head for home on Season 5 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.
So far this season we have talked with:
- Nicole Hemmer (University of Virginia) on the first anniversary of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally
- Paul Putz (Messiah College) on “Sportianity”
- Michael Kazin (Georgetown University) on populism in America
- Catherine O’Donnell (Arizona State University) on Elizabeth Ann Seton, America’s first Catholic saint
- Chris Graham (Richmond Civil War Museum) on how churches deal with the legacy of racism
- Robert Whitaker (Louisana Tech University) on history and video games
- Daniel Rodgers (Princeton University) on John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill”
- Julie Reed (Penn State University) on Elizabeth Warren and American Indian identity
- Nicolas Proctor (Simpson College) on “Reacting to the Past” history pedagogy
- Jemar Tisby (University of Mississippi) on race and evangelicalism in American history
- Julian Zelizer (Princeton University) on American political history since Watergate
And we are not done!
This weekend we drop Episode 50 with Sara Georgini of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. She will discuss her new book Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family.
Yesterday, we interviewed Nicole Kirk of Meadville-Lombard Theological School about her new book Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store. Episode 51 will drop in early May.
We have two more guest scheduled. Sam Wineburg of Stanford University will join us in May to discuss his new book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone). And we wrap-up with history graduate student Bob Crawford, the bass player for the popular band The Avett Brothers!
This is a great time to become a patron of the show! Head over to our Patreon page and consider a one-time donation or an ongoing gift. Monthly contributions start at $1.00 a month!
I want to end this post by bringing some of our needs to your attention. The podcast will be experiencing some transitions over the summer. Producer Drew Hermeling will continue with the podcast, but he will now need to juggle this work with a new teaching job beginning in August. I am hoping he will be able to stay with us.
Abigail LaBianca, our studio producer, is graduating in May. We are in the middle of securing her replacement, but we are trying to figure out how we are going to pay for this position as we move forward. Nearly all of our original funding for this position has now been spent. As always, we are taking things one day at a time.
I hope you enjoy the rest of Season 5. We are excited about these final four episodes and we really hope we can be back in the Fall! So is Ally:
Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:
- A White Teacher is Removed from Teaching a Michigan High School Course in African-American History
- Meacham: At least Trump didn’t sign the Bibles in red ink
- “They had a guy from Messiah College”
- So What DOES Al Mohler Believe About Social Justice?
- Court Evangelicals Seizes on Ilhan Omar’s Remarks to Score Points for Trump
- How Do We “Render Unto Caesar” in a Democracy?
- Jon Meacham: “I am a huge admirer of @JohnFea1’s, and love his ‘court evangelical’ coinage”
- Christian Universalism
- “Out of the Zoo: ‘Listening Ears'”
Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz reminds us that podcasts are just another way in which historians are connecting to public audiences. He writes in the wake of Max Boot’s recent criticism of historians.
Gehrz mentions several history podcasts trying to reach-out beyond the academy. And The Way of Improvement Leads Home is one of them. Here is a taste of Gehrz’s post:
Hosts: John Fea, Drew Dyrli Hermeling
Total Episodes: 46
Typical Length: 50-65 minutes
Sample Recent Episode: “A City Upon a Hill”
Speaking of engaging hosts… This one is already well known to many readers of this blog, where he used to be a contributor. In many ways, John is the epitome of the 21st century historian: equally at home writing serious scholarly monographs and engaging with any and all comers through digital media.
As he does with a recurring “Author’s Corner” series at his venerable blog, John often uses his podcast to share the work of fellow historians. In this episode, he featured Daniel T. Rodgers, author of a new book on one of the most famous sermons in American history. (Agnes blogged about it at Anxious Bench last November.) John, producer Drew Hermeling, and their guests delve into many aspects of religion, politics, and U.S. history, but TWOILH can range widely, as in the Season 4 episode on the history of the “Memphis sound.”
Perhaps the recurring question of TWOILH is whether the past is “usable.” In the “City Upon a Hill” episode, John added a commentary inspired by the Greenwich Tea Burning of 1774, which he notes has been used to promote everything from the assimilation of immigrants to Cold War anti-Communism to the 21st century version of the Tea Party. (Learn more from John’s 2017 post on the topic for Omohundro, plus an accompanying episode of Ben Franklin’s World.) “The past should always be useful,” John agrees. But he warns that the past may not be usable as we’d like it to be:
…sometimes the past is not easily consumable. Sometimes what happened in previous eras has no direct relevance for our lives today… Sometimes the past introduces us to people whose ideas and behavior we want to forget, rather than resurrect for some modern-day agenda… In the end, good historical thinking requires us to see the past in all its fullness, whether it fits our pet causes or not…. This is why historical thinking is central to our role as citizens in a democracy
On Sunday we dropped Episode 46 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. Co-host Drew Dyrli Hermeling interviewed Penn State historian Julie Reed about presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s claim to be a descendant of native Americans. I hope you enjoy it. (There is also a brief “blooper reel” after the credits!) Drew tells me that it has one of the highest number of “launch day” downloads in the history of the podcast. (Maybe I should just turn the hosting duties over the Drew!) 🙂
As we approach 50 episodes, the podcast is preparing for some transitions. Our studio producer Abigail LaBianca is graduating in May and our funding for her replacement is almost gone (we are still paying Abby through a one-time gift from an angel donor). Meanwhile, Drew is going through some changes in his work life that might limit the number of hours he can work with the podcast. I would like to keep going, but I am not willing to sacrifice on quality.
Over the next several months we are going to have to make some hard decisions about the future of the podcast. I am not a big fan of asking for money, but our ongoing Patreon campaign could really use a boost in the next 8-10 weeks. We need to know if there are folks out there who like our product enough to support it. Learn more about how you can help fund our work here.
A big thank you for those who are already supporting our work. Patrons come and go and we appreciate all of you. We especially appreciate those of you have stuck with us from the beginning.
And we still have several more episodes coming this Spring! Stay tuned. I think you will enjoy them.
Of course I can’t miss the chance to say that The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast was born in the Little Amps 1836 Green St location.
If you are a fan of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, you will remember our interview in Episode 3 with Yoni Appelbaum, historian and IDEAS editor at The Atlantic. In this piece, Appelbaum makes a case for the impeachment of Donald Trump. Here is a taste:
The oath of office is a president’s promise to subordinate his private desires to the public interest, to serve the nation as a whole rather than any faction within it. Trump displays no evidence that he understands these obligations. To the contrary, he has routinely privileged his self-interest above the responsibilities of the presidency. He has failed to disclose or divest himself from his extensive financial interests, instead using the platform of the presidency to promote them. This has encouraged a wide array of actors, domestic and foreign, to seek to influence his decisions by funneling cash to properties such as Mar-a-Lago (the “Winter White House,” as Trump has branded it) and his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Courts are now considering whether some of those payments violate the Constitution.
More troubling still, Trump has demanded that public officials put their loyalty to him ahead of their duty to the public. On his first full day in office, he ordered his press secretary to lie about the size of his inaugural crowd. He never forgave his first attorney general for failing to shut down investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and ultimately forced his resignation. “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” Trump told his first FBI director, and then fired him when he refused to pledge it.
Trump has evinced little respect for the rule of law, attempting to have the Department of Justice launch criminal probes into his critics and political adversaries. He has repeatedly attacked both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. His efforts to mislead, impede, and shut down Mueller’s investigation have now led the special counsel to consider whether the president obstructed justice.
As for the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, Trump has repeatedly trampled upon them. He pledged to ban entry to the United States on the basis of religion, and did his best to follow through. He has attacked the press as the “enemy of the people” and barred critical outlets and reporters from attending his events. He has assailed black protesters. He has called for his critics in private industry to be fired from their jobs. He has falsely alleged that America’s electoral system is subject to massive fraud, impugning election results with which he disagrees as irredeemably tainted. Elected officials of both parties have repeatedly condemned such statements, which has only spurred the president to repeat them.
These actions are, in sum, an attack on the very foundations of America’s constitutional democracy.
Read the entire piece here.
I am happy to have Matt Lakemacher writing for us this weekend from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago. Matt is one of the most engaged middle school teachers I know. He teaches at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, Illinois and is a veteran of numerous summer history seminars and institutes. Here is his first dispatch:
Can podcasting help to stem the tide of declining enrollment in history departments? For the panelists and audience members in an opening American Historical Association roundtable today on “History Podcasting as Graduate Students,” the answer was a resounding, if qualified, yes. Producers and hosts from two historical podcasts, Sexing History and The Way of Improvement Leads Home, gave brief remarks on their experiences with history podcasting and then opened it up for audience members to share the ways that they’ve used podcasts in the classroom and with students. In the end, it became clear that while podcasting (as well as blogging) might not be the silver bullet that saves history education, it can be another tool in the history teacher’s arsenal to make the subject relevant, keep students’ interest, and in jargon that all K-12 educators know their administrators want to hear: promote 21st century skills.
Two dual themes emerged from the panel: podcasting is good for history and history is good for podcasting. Each panelist related in one way or another how working on a podcast actually improved their work as grad students and as historians. According to Saniya Lee Ghanoui, podcasting with Sexing History taught her the importance of story-telling and has greatly improved her dissertation writing. In a similar vein, Devin McGeehan Muchmore shared how blogging for Notches and working on Sexing History got him to think about ways of narrating the past outside of the traditional historical monograph or journal article. And Drew Dyrli Hermeling credited his work on The Way of Improvement Leads Home with getting a job at the Digital Harrisburg Project. As a whole, the panel embraced the role that podcasting can play in public history – bringing the past to those outside of the academy (although it was conceded that podcasting is still very much a niche medium and can be somewhat of an echo chamber). Ghanoui offered some advice to her fellow grad students: “It does take away time from your dissertation . . . but it’s a welcome distraction.” She added, “I love how collaborative it is . . . it is worth it.”
Hermeling set the table for the audience discussion that followed and the pivot to history being good for podcasting, by sharing how he had students in his J-Term class on indigenous culture at Messiah College create a podcast as one option for a project assignment. He, as well as the audience, made clear that audio quality and production values should not be heavily weighted on any rubric used for grading such an assignment. But Hermeling was surprised by the quality of the research and sources that students used in their podcast. “It’s a good way of tricking them into using a lot of citations.” One audience member admitted that compared to other assignments, grading student podcasts was a pleasure. Another said that Wisconsin Public Radio was looking to possibly use some of his students’ short pieces on the air. And everyone who shared during the session had positive experiences doing a podcasting assignment in class, thought the students were engaged, and plan on doing them again.
So, can podcasting turn around sagging interest in history as a K-12 subject and as a major? Perhaps the jury is still out. But if it provides another way of getting students to apply historical thinking skills to a (relatively) new technology and opens another venue for bringing historical literacy to the public at large, then it’s an effort well worth pursuing. As the roundtable’s chair and host of Sexing History Lauren Gutterman stated, “graduate students are at the forefront of history podcasting,” and for that this history teacher and fellow grad student is grateful. Of course, as Hermeling put it in one final word of advice for potential history podcasters, “At the risk of being flippant, I’d go the Sexing History route.”
AHA Session 14
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
Lauren Gutterman, University of Texas at Austin
Saniya Lee Ghanoui, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Andrew Dyrli Hermeling, Lehigh University
Devin McGeehan Muchmore, Harvard University
There has been a proliferation of history podcasts that are helping historians to engage in new conversations about the past. Graduate students play a vital role in these podcasts, even as they grapple with speedup in graduate education, precarious job prospects, and uneven professional recognition for their public history work. Yet with an acceptance of the discipline’s movement towards digital history, graduate students are at the forefront of this trend as they create, write, and produce podcasts and public history. Coming from the producers of Sexing History and The Way of Improvement Leads Home, we explore both the practical issues encountered with history podcasting and the academic/theoretical ones, as well. Presenters will discuss the practical concerns of conducting public history work through podcasting while, at the same time, balancing dissertation writing and course work; examine the benefits of becoming involved in public history projects as graduate students; and look at how podcasting can benefit broader career preparation. Furthermore, we will discuss the use of podcasts in the classrooms and how they have aided us in new forms of teaching history. We encourage audience members to participate in the discussion and share their own experiences with history podcasts.