Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Have You Heard About the American Renewal Project
2.  What is Going on at Wheaton College?
3.  Billy and Franklin: A Father and a Son Reflect on Religious Freedom
4.  National Endowment for the Humanities Announces December 2015 Grantees
5.  Liberty University Has a Long Way to Go Before It Becomes the Evangelical Notre Dame
6.  The Founding Fathers and Muslims
7.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends–December 13, 2015
8.  Bill Cronon on Why Historians Do What We Do
9.  Reader Feedback: Coates on Historians and Hope
10. Tweet of the Day

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Kruse, One Nation Under God: A Review
2.  Was the American Revolution Inevitable?
3.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends–August 23, 2015
4.  What Are Your Favorite Podcasts?
5.  South Dakota Dumps Early American History Requirements
6.  How a Church With a History of Slavery is Dealing With Its Past
7.  David Barton: Christian Reconstructionist
8.  Associated Press Releases One Million Minutes of Footage to YouTube
9.  Why Ted Cruz Has A Shot Among Evangelicals
10.  Scot McKnight Responds to Union University

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  The Author’s Corner with Steven K. Green
2.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends–June 14, 2015
3.  East Coast Bias and More Native Americans: An Update on “The Octo”
4.  Blogging the Omohundro
5.  The Author’s Corner with Brian Phillips Murphy
6.  The U.S. Constitution and “the Year of Our Lord”
7.  Why I Still Stand by My Gordon Wood Post
8.  Maryland County Commissioner Prays Bogus George Washington Prayer
9.  The Author’s Corner with Daniel Tortora
10. Barack Obama’s Amazing Prayer Breakfast Speech

What Do Jerry Koosman, Carl McIntire, Arnold T. Olson, and Jayber Crow All Have in Common?

I often tell my students that “the past is a foreign country.”  But sometimes, when conducting historical research, one can run into familiar faces.  This is happening to me over and over again as I write my history of the American Bible Society.  Over the course of the last year I have encountered several people–some already dead–who have in one way or another intersected with my personal life or my career as a historian.

In order to honor such serendipity, I have decided to do my best to include these people in my book, tentatively entitled “The Bible Cause: A History of American Bible Society.”  The three people I am about to mention are very peripheral to the 200-year-old story of the American Bible Society, but they do represent certain trends that are central to the larger themes I am addressing in the book.  My goal is to somehow find a way to bring them into the narrative without disrupting the narrative flow. 
Your job, once the book is complete, is to try to find them (without looking at the index) in what may turn out to be a 400+ page book.   (This has a strange “where’s Waldo”-type feel to it)
Here they are:
1. Jerry Koosman:  He was a pitcher for the New York Mets from 1967-1978.  As a diehard fan of the Amazin’s, Koosman was one of my favorite Mets (next to Tom Seaver).  When I was a kid I used imitate his pitching wind-up with its unusually straight-legged extension.  In 1977, Koosman was the runner up for the National League Cy Young Award and was a member of the 1969 and 1973 World Series teams.  Here is Koosman striking out Boston’s Carl Yastremski (my favorite non-Met) for the last out in the 1968 MLB All-Star game at the Houston Astrodome.
Well, it turns out that Jerry Koosman was a devout Lutheran layman.  In 1969 the American Bible Society presented Koosman with the 17 millionth copy of the Good News for Modern Man New Testament “in recognition of his service to the Bible cause.”  Later, he would endorse the Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) for the ABS.  
McIntire

2. Carl McIntire;  I wrote my M.A. thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on this 20th century fundamentalist and published one of my first articles on him–a 1994 piece in the Journal of Presbyterian History.  About fifteen years ago I got started on a biography of the man–even did some oral history interviews and bought a lot of microfilm.  I hope to come back to this project one day.  McIntire makes several cameo appearances in ABS history–mostly as a fundamentalist gadfly who opposes the ABS support of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and a cold warrior who, much to the dismay of ABS leadership, wants to send Bibles into Cold War Eastern Europe using helium balloons.  

3. Arnold T. Olson:  He was the president of the Evangelical Free Church of America from 1952 to 1976.  When I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s it was the official seminary of the Evangelical Free Church. (And it still is).  I learned about Olson in a required course I had to take on Evangelical Free Church history and polity.  He also became a part of my regular vocabulary since the seminary chapel was named after him.  One of the earliest conversations I can remember having with the woman who would eventually become my wife took place in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel.
Much to my surprise, Olson was active in the American Bible Society.  He served on the Board of Managers and several important committees, including the Translations Sub-Committee.  I like to

Arnold T. Olson Chapel

think of his role in the late 1960s and early 1970s as one of the ABS’s token evangelicals.

All of this stuff about trying to get characters into my book reminds me of something similar I managed to pull off while putting the finishing touches on my The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.   A lot of my discussion of “place” and “rootedness” in that book stemmed from my reading of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow, the story of a barber in Berry’s fictional town in Port William.  I still think it is Berry’s best work and may be one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read.
When it came to write the Acknowledgements for The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I managed to slip my fictional friend Jayber Crow into a list of people I wanted to thank. Here is the pertinent sentence:
This project has been improved by the formal conference comments, general encouragement, words of inspiration, and informal remarks of several people, including Dee Andrews, Richard D. Brown, Richard Bushman, Jayber Crow, Jay Green, Allen Guelzo, Kevin Gumieny, Marsha Hamilton, Rhys Isaac, David Jaffee, Eric Miller, Mark Noll, Elizabeth Nybakken, Donna Rilling, Mark Schwehn, and Nancy Tomes. 

Either the editors at the University of Pennsylvania Press had no idea that Jayber Crow was a fictional character or they simply indulged me by letting him stay nestled between Richard Bushman and Jay Green.
Look for Koosman, McIntire, and Olson sometime in May 2016!

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends–May 3, 2015
2.  The Most Popular Posts of the Last Week: May 1, 2015
3.  The Author’s Corner with Colleen Vasconcellos
4.  Job Opening: Adjunct Professor in Civil War America
5.  Pennsylvania History Wrap-Up
6.  The Author’s Corner with John Ferling
7.  The U.S. Constitution and “The Year of Our Lord”
8.  Why Should You Hire a History Major?  Here are 30 Good Reasons
9.  Dispatches from the History Major: “5 Things NOT to Say to a History Major
10.  The Author’s Corner with Carol Berkin

The Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends–April 26, 2015
2.  Dispatches from the History Major: 5 Things NOT To Say to a History Major
3.  Virtual Office Hours: 2014-2015 Blooper Reel
4.  The Author’s Corner with Gregory Downs
5.  Job Opening: Adjunct Professor in Civil War America
6.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update 102
7.  Most Popular Post of the Last Week–April 24, 2015
8.  Why Should You Hire a History Major? Here are 30 Good Reasons
9.  Lecture at Penn State-New Kensington
10.  The Author’s Corner with Gary Scott Smith


Spring Break at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

I’ll be spending part of my break in this Nebraska town

We are taking a week off from blogging here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I need time to do three things:

1. Wrap up the American Bible Society project with a lot of writing and some more oral history interviews.
2. Watch some NCAA basketball
3. Make my usual two-day excursion to the Pennsylvania state basketball championships in Hershey.
We will continue to feature The Author’s Corner and the Virtual Office Hours this week, but we will probably not be posting daily.
Enjoy the week.  See you next Sunday.

Another Reason Why You Should Vote for Philip Vickers Fithian: He is a "Pompous Ass," an "Insufferable Prig," and a "Schlemiel"

Earlier today I made a pitch for why you should vote for Philip Vickers Fithian in the 2015 Junto March Madness tournament.  Here is the crux of it:


Needless to say, I am thrilled that Fithian has made it into the 2015 Junto March Madness tournament. But I am disappointed that he has landed a very poor 13th seed in the “Slavery, Captivity, and Bonded Labor” bracket.  It is clear that few of the tournament organizers have ever read Fithian’s journal or else he would have been seeded much higher, certainly ahead of The Deposition of Robert Roule, Lord Dumore’s 1775 Proclamation, the Diary of William Byrd, Richard Freethorn’s letter, andThe Infortunate.  If I had my druthers, I would have actually placed him as a top five or six seed in the “US History Superstars” bracket.  This document is a wonderful teaching tool, just ask The Journal of American History.

I guess it’s time to take up a longstanding offer I have had from a university press to do a new edited version of the diary.

As it turns out, Fithian’s first round opponent is David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.  Walker is definitely tough competition and probably deserves its #4 for seed, but I smell an upset.  Let’s make this happen.  It is the least we can do after Fithian’s tragic death while camped at Ft. Washington, New York in 1776. (OK, I know I am laying it on thick here!).  Woops, I just gave away the ending of my book!

Vote for Fithian here.  I don’t know what I will do if my entry suffers another first round loss similar to the one Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? suffered in the first round of last year’s tournament.

When this post appeared on my Facebook page, historian Ben Carp brought Andy Shankman‘s review of The Way of Improvement Leads Home to my attention.  Some of you may recall that this was the review in which Shankman praised my book, but called Fithian a “pompous ass” and “schlemiel.” Read this review and my response to it here.

If you like your primary sources to reflect the complexity of the human experience, then Fithian deserves your vote.

Junto March Madness 2015: Philip Vickers Fithian Lands a Disappointing 13th Seed

As many of you know, I have spent a lot of time with the journals of Philip Vickers Fithian.  The diary of the New Jersey farmer, Princeton graduate (class of 1772), and tutor on Robert Carter III’s Virginia plantation, has done more to shed light on Virginia plantation life in revolutionary America than any other primary document.  Here is what I wrote about the diary in the introduction to The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008):

The Way of Improvement Leads Home is a cultural and intellectual biography of Philip Vickers Fithian one of early America’s most cited diarists.  Historians who study colonial Virginia know Philip well.  The journal he kept during the year (October 1773 to October 1774) he spent as a tutor on Robert Carter’s plantation in Virginia’s Northern Neck not only is a delight to read but also offers one of our most revealing glimpses into the life of the Chesapeake gentry at the time of the American Revolution.  If the anecdotal evidence I have collected during the course of this project is any indication, Philip’s Virginia diary was a staple of undegraduate and graduate history seminars for two generations of students trained during the cold war.  Today, despite the fact that his name no longer appears with great frequency on college syllabi, more people are exposed to Philip’s observations than ever before.  One would be hard-pressed to find a book on eighteenth-century Virginia that does not mention him.  Thousands of families learn about Philip each year at Colonial Williamsburg, where he is a regular part of its public history program.  Tour guides echo his words as they lead visitors through the plantations of the Old Dominion.  Philip even makes a cameo appearance in Liberty!, the popular six-part documentary on the American Revolution that aired on public television in 1997.

Yes, despite Philip’s ubiquitous presence in interpretations of colonial Virginia, we still know little about him.  With the exception of Vincent McCluskey’s 1991 New York University doctoral dissertation, there has never been an attempt to write a biography of the man.  His writing are most often used by historians as window dressing for their studies of the plantation Chesapeake.  It seems that a quotation from Philip Vickers Fithian is the perfect way to enhance any historical narrative.  The lack of detailed attention to Philip’s life is somewhat surprising in the light of the fair amount of primary source material available to the biographer. Two older collections of Philip’s writings are still easily accessible to those interested in learning more about him.  In 1900 John R. Williams published many of Philip’s personal letters and papers written during his years (1770-1772) as a student at the College of New Jersey.  Three decades later Robert Greenlaugh Albion and Leonidas Dodson edited Philip’s 1775-1776 journals recounting his two short missionary trips to the Pennsylvania and Virginia backcountry and his role as a chaplain with the Continental army in New York.  His life sheds light on the history of colonial New Jersey and Virginia, the development of the early Presbyterian Church, eighteenth-century courtship rituals, and especially the impact of the Enlightenment on ordinary people at the time of the American Revolution


Needless to say, I am thrilled that Fithian has made it into the 2015 Junto March Madness tournament. But I am disappointed that he has landed a very poor 13th seed in the “Slavery, Captivity, and Bonded Labor” bracket.  It is clear that few of the tournament organizers have ever read Fithian’s journal or else he would have been seeded much higher, certainly ahead of The Deposition of Robert Roule, Lord Dumore’s 1775 Proclamation, the Diary of William Byrd, Richard Freethorn’s letter, and The Infortunate.  If I had my druthers, I would have actually placed him as a top five or six seed in the “US History Superstars” bracket.  This document is a wonderful teaching tool, just ask The Journal of American History.

I guess it’s time to take up a longstanding offer I have had from a university press to do a new edited version of the diary.

As it turns out, Fithian’s first round opponent is David Walker’s Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.  Walker is definitely tough competition and probably deserves its #4 seed, but I smell an upset.  Let’s make this happen.  It is the least we can do after Fithian’s tragic death while camped at Ft. Washington, New York in 1776. (OK, I know I am laying it on thick here!).  Woops, I just gave away the ending of my book!

Vote for Fithian here.  I don’t know what I will do if my entry suffers another first round loss similar to the one Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? suffered in the first round of last year’s tournament.

The Junto March Madness Tournament is Back!

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


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

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

The Rules

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

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

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

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

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


Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Jonathan Zimmerman on Historians and Their Publics
2.  Quote of the Day
3.  The Author’s Corner with John Howard Smith
4.  Call for Papers: 7th Annual U.S. Intellectual History Conference
5.  The Author’s Corner with Max Edling
6.  William Lloyd Garrison Did Not Life the United States Constitution
7.  Worst Christian Book Covers of 2014 
8.  Historical Habits of the Mind
9.  McMass
10. Happy Thanksgiving: The Forgotten Virtue of Gratitude

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

1.  You Might Be an Evangelical If…
2.  A Notorious Critic of Evangelicalism Takes My Quiz on Evangelicalism
3.  NPR Tackles the Advanced Placement Controversy in Colorado
4.  L.D. Burnett on “Secular Academic Homiletics.”
5. Jerry Seinfeld Accepts His Clio and Rips the Advertising Agency
6. Sunday Night Odds and Ends–October 5, 20114
7. Defining Evangelicalism at the Conference on Faith and History–Part 3
8. Quote of the Day
9. Quote of the Day #2
10. Defining Evangelicalism at the Conference on Faith and History–Part 2

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Why Reading Matters
2.  The Author’s Corner with T.J. Tomlin
3.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends–September 28, 2014
4.  The Morality of Football
5.  Christian Historians and Social Media: Part 2
6.  Conference on Faith and History is Underway
7.  On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #78
8.  An Early Report from the 2014 Conference on Faith and History Meeting
9.  God and the Declaration of Independence
10. Christian Historians and Social Media: Part One

Nomini Hall Damaged by Fire

If you have read The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America you know about Nomini Hall and its eighteenth-century owner, Robert Carter III.  Philip Vickers Fithian spent a year working on this plantation on Virginia’s Northern Neck as a tutor for Carter’s children.  

I just learned that a fire damaged Nomini Hall. The house was currently under renovation.  Here is a taste of Clint Schemmer’s article at Fredericksburg.Com:

historic plantation house in Westmoreland County that was being restored after a major fire in November has burned again.

Volunteer firefighters responded to a call around 3:30 a.m. about a structure fire in the Nomini Hall Road area of the county, said Assistant Chief Todd Padgett of the Cople District Volunteer Fire Department.
Nomini Hall, a historic house that was often used for weddings and receptions, was just a week away from being completely renovated following a fire eight months ago that caused a substantial amount of damage, said Fredericksburg property owner and developer Tommy Mitchell, who owns the house and 70 acres around it.
The property was settled in 1729 by Robert “King” Carter. His descendants include presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison.
The plantation home’s best-known resident was Robert Carter III, grandson of land baron Robert “King” Carter of Corotoman.
Carter III initiated the emancipation of more than 500 of his enslaved people, the largest manumission of slaves by a single person before the American Civil War. He is the subject of Andrew Levy’s book “The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves.”

A Tuesday Night at the American Revolution Round Table of Bergen County, NJ

Last night I gave a talk on Philip Vickers Fithian and The Way of Improvement Leads Home to the members of the American Revolution Round Table of Bergen County.  The Way of Improvement Leads Home was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press six years ago, but I continue to be gratified by students who are still reading it, professors who are still assigning it, and groups like the Round Table who continue to be interested in Fithian’s amazing story.

It was a very good turnout at the Iron Horse Restaurant in Westwood.  The buffet was amazing (American Revolution Round Tablers have big appetites and know how to fill a plate with food) and the audience was very knowledgeable about the Revolution in New Jersey.  

Most round tables of this type tend to gravitate toward military history, so I am always a bit on edge about how a talk on the social, political, or intellectual history of the American Revolution might play among the attendees.  Last night I used Fithian’s story as a window into three dimensions of the American Revolution that are often neglected by the military history buffs who come to Round Tables.  First, I discussed the way the Revolution provided new opportunities for local farm children like Fithian.  Second, I showed the way ordinary farmers in the hinterlands connected with the revolutionary spirit of the age.  Third, I talked about John Witherspoon, Princeton, and the role that Presbyterianism played in the Revolution in New Jersey. (Fithian was a 1772 graduate of Princeton)
I ended my lecture a bit earlier than usual in order to leave plenty of time for questions.  Our discussion went several different ways.  We talked about the ways that the College of New Jersey and Queens College (Rutgers) responded to the American Revolution.  We debated the usefulness of progressive histories of the Revolution written by Ray Raphael, Howard Zinn, and Gary Nash.  And we discussed whether or not Fithian had anything to say on the matter of religious freedom.  It was a good conversation.  I am also thankful to Rich Rosenthal, the organizer of the American Revolution Round Table of Morristown, for plugging my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?.  
Thanks to Dave Whieldon for the invitation. 

Look What I Found in My Mailbox Today!

I went to my Messiah College mailbox today and found a package from my old graduate school friend Thomas Beal.  Tom teaches history at SUNY-Oneonta and edits New York History journal. Inside the package was a copy of the original hard-bound volume of the 1943 Hunter Dickinson Farish edition of the Virginia diary of Philip Vickers Fithian. Believe it or not, I have never seen a copy of this book with the dust jacket. Tom said he “rescued it” from a used book store.  What a gift!  Thanks, Tom.

If you want to learn more about Philip Vickers Fithian I would encourage you to read the diary as well as this book.  I have heard that both are pretty good.

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5.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends–March 16, 2014
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