Big Changes at Southwestern Theological Seminary

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It has been a rough couple of years at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and for the Southern Baptist Convention generally.  We have learned a lot about the dark underbelly of the so-called “conservative takeover” of the Convention that took place in the 1980s. Here are just a few of my posts over the last year:

A Southern Baptist Seminary Professor Reflects on the SBC Sexual Abuse Scandal

Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse: 20 Years, 700 Victims

Evangelical Preacher Beth Moore Speaks-Out on Misogyny in the Southern Baptist Church

Paige Patterson’s World

The New Fundamentalism

Southwestern has been at the heart of many of these SBC problems.  According to this article at SBC Voices, the seminary is releasing 25 faculty members and closing its Houston campus.  (I wonder if this prison program will close).

Southwestern has also decided to remove stained glass windows devoted to two of the architects of the conservative takeover:  Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler.  Both were accused of sexual misconduct last year.

Here is a taste of Jacob Lupfer’s piece at Religion News Service:

Pressler and Patterson eventually went from a metaphorical pedestal to actual stained glass. At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where Patterson was president, donors raised funds to immortalize leading figures of the conservative resurgence in the school’s chapel windows. The project originally intended to memorialize as many as 70 modern-day conservative Southern Baptist heroes.

Throughout Christian history, churches and cathedrals have used the medium of stained glass to tell the stories of prophets, apostles, saints and the Lord himself. The controversial Southwestern chapel window project, overseen by Dorothy Patterson, Paige’s wife, nicely illustrates the post-takeover SBC’s ahistorical infatuation with itself.

Normally, Christians allow the weight of history or the ecumenical consensus of the ages to decide which heroes of the faith to commit to stained glass. At a minimum, they wait until the honorees have died. But the Pattersons jumped the gun, and their brethren among the SBC powerful were too blinded by their own uncritical adulation for the conservative resurgence to stop them.

With no fanfare, and to the secret relief of many, the windows came down last week. This may reflect a preference for unadorned churches by the more Calvinistic leadership at the seminary, which until recently was a holdout among the SBC’s seminaries for resisting efforts to infuse the Southern Baptist Convention with Reformed theology.

More likely, the windows are untenable amid reconsiderations of Pressler and Patterson themselves. Patterson, 76, was forced out as Southwestern Seminary’s president last year, in part for mishandling sexual misconduct allegations years earlier at another seminary, and Pressler, 88, has been accused of sexual misconduct going back 40 years.

A spokesman for the seminary offered no comment on the windows removal when I called, beyond what was reported in the Alabama Baptist newspaper. The paper quotes an April 3 letter signed by trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert, which gave no reason for the removal, saying only, “After much prayerful consideration and discussion, we have concluded that it is in the best interest of the institution to remove and relocate the stained-glass windows.”

Read the entire piece here.

Out of the Zoo: “Special Olympics”

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. This week she writes about her work with the Special Olympics.  Enjoy! (Note:  The video posted below is from the Messiah College Special Olympics event in 2018.) –JF

My favorite track meet of the year in high school was always the Parchment Relays. For one, the meet consisted solely of relays–both the traditional races that we ran at every normal meet, and several atypical events, like a hurdle relay and a long distance medley. The best part of the Parchment Relays, though, was the Special Olympics meet that was always held half way through the event. High School athletes would pause their warm-up or cool-down routines to line up along the track and cheer eagerly for Special Olympics athletes as they ran, walked, or wheeled their way to the finish line. My team would always cheer extra loud for our coach’s little brother Todd, who competed faithfully in the Special Olympics meet every year with an excited smile on his face.

I was thrilled when I found out several weeks ago that the Parchment Relays wouldn’t be my last interaction with Special Olympics. To my excitement, I learned that it is a tradition at Messiah College for all first-year students to serve as Special Olympics buddies when the school hosts the Area M Games–a massive Special Olympics event with well over a thousand athletes–on Service Day every year. We lined up with our Created and Called for Community classes early Thursday morning as we waited to be paired with an athlete for the day.

My Special Olympics buddy (we’ll call him Robert) was a second grader from a local elementary school. After being paired with Robert, his teacher greeted me with a warm smile, handed me his event card, and was quick to tell me that he was nonverbal. To be completely honest, this threw me for a loop at first. When I met Robert that day I didn’t know one bit of sign language; by the grace of God I ran into someone who taught me the signs for yes, no, and bathroom. Eventually, though, we settled into a rhythm–Robert stuck faithfully by my side as we wove through crowds to his different events, and put up with my repeated high-fives and fist bumps after his races. Even though I never heard his voice, I still learned about Robert that day.  I learned that his favorite color is red, he loves to dance, and he can eat two whole sandwiches before I finish one. Not only did I learn a lot about Robert that day, but I learned a lot from him too.

Robert taught me that there are myriad of ways someone can communicate, even if they don’t use their voice. As historians, the people we interact with the most in our research usually can’t talk to us–a lot of times because the ones we work with and study are people who lived and died a long, long time ago. As much as we wish we could, we can’t sit next to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, or Amelia Earhart and converse with them for hours on end; we can’t physically hear their voices, or listen to them tell us their favorite color or kind of tea or way to pass the time. But even so, we can still learn from them. We look at their writings, their records, the things they leave behind and learn to communicate in a different way. Sometimes it takes a little more work than we anticipated–sometimes we don’t understand them right away, or aren’t equipped with the right tools to maintain a conversation at first. Sometimes we get frustrated because the people we try to understand are much different from us. When we’re patient, though, and persistent, we can come from our historical conversations having learned more than we ever thought we would.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “In Aftermath of Notre-Dame Fire, Macron Urges Unity in Fragmented Nation”

The Washington Post: “Trump vetoes resolution to end U.S. participation in Yemen’s civil war”

The Wall Street Journal: “Pinterest and Zoom to Test IPO Market After Lyft’s Stumble”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Camp Hill planning officials recommend another delay in Chick-fil-A development process”

BBC: “Notre-Dame fire: Macron says new cathedral will be ‘more beautiful'”

CNN: “Corruption in Venezuela has created a cocaine superhighway to the US”

FOX: “State’s Attorney Kim Fox calls Jussie Smollett ‘washed up actor who lied to cops’ in text message: report”

Commonplace Book #86

Those who attended the [Gettysburg] reunions left with happy thoughts and fraternal feelings.  “I spent four days with the boys in blue,” a Virginia veteran wrote following the 1888 reunion….These symbolic acts of reconciliation were grounded in deeper changes.  From postwar America’s rapid transformation emerged shared feeling among veterans that all who had proved their manhood during the war were worthy comrades in arms.  As “alien strains” of Eastern Europeans, certified as inferior by the science of the day, poured into the country, veterans could share pride in the myth that Anglo-Saxon heroism forged a powerful new America. At the same time, relentless industrialization bred nostalgia for the passing of agrarian life that helped Northerners lament the Old South’s demise.  And from the psychological perspective of aging, the green and salad days of robust youth, however unpleasant when lived, increase in happiness proportionately with advancing years.  Thus individual and collective memory shifted with time, and by the 1880s veterans North and South could celebrate martial valor without any discussion of the knotty issues that causes the war or their outcome….In its report of the fiftieth anniversary reunion, the state of Indiana termed the celebration “just one glad season of forgetfulness of the trials and hardships of the past.”  Trials and hardships disappeared among former enemies in banter about glory days; the war was reduced to an achievement in which only the exclusive club of Northern and Southern heroes could share.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine106.

Presidential Historian: “Trump has none of the traits the founders thought essential for presidents”

george-washington1Here is Jeffrey Engel, director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History:

This willingness to put country before self is why Washington’s presence lent legitimacy to the controversial convention, why delegates immediately voted him the presiding chair and why they ultimately designed the presidency with him in mind. Put simply, they trusted him and knew he would put America first.

Not every president would. “The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin assured the convention, probably nodding in Washington’s direction as he spoke. “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards.”

So delegates designed a mechanism for removing a dangerous president, one who did what Washington never would: impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

That pesky phrase, “high crimes and misdemeanors” has befuddled Americans ever since. It shouldn’t. The Constitution’s authors understood that impeachable treachery need not, in fact, be a literal crime at all, but rather a demonstration that a president’s presence harmed the body politic, the people, either through maliciousness or selfishness.

For example, any president “who has practiced corruption” to win election, a Pennsylvania delegate argued, should be impeached. So, too, in the eyes of Virginia’s James Madison, should any president who “might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression,” or any who “betray[ed] his trust to foreign powers.”

And what of a president who used his immense pardon power to conceal his guilt, perhaps by promising a pardon to subordinates he ordered to break the law? They thought of that, too. “If the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person,” who schemed against the republic, Madison argued during ratification debates, “and there be grounds to believe he [the president] will shelter him,” impeachment should follow. No one debated the point.

Read the entire piece here.

A Distinguished Taylor University Alumnus Speaks Out on the Pence Invitation

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Mike Pence will be the 2019 commencement speaker at Taylor University.  We wrote about this yesterday.

This morning Steve Long, the Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at Southern Methodist University and a Taylor alumnus, sent us these thoughts and gave us permission to publish them.  -JF

I went to Taylor University from 1978-1982. I grew up thirty miles from it. As an Indiana kid, I went to its basketball camp. My church went on spring break trips led by Taylor students. I’ve had doctoral students who were TU grads. I have been back only a few times since graduating, but I was invited by some faculty to be part of a symposium for the inauguration of TU’s new president. Little did I know that his vision for TU was to make it look like Liberty University. I am ashamed.

I’m saddened and disappointed by this commencement invitation, but not surprised. I was surprised in 2016 when midwest evangelicals enabled the Trump presidency. I thought I knew them. I was wrong. I remember a different Taylor University and a different kind of evangelicalism. 

Here is what I remember: When I was at TU, we were less interested in state power and more interested in mission. Many were reading Ronald Sider’s “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.” I spent my last semester at TU working in a medical clinic in Haiti and was encouraged to do so by faculty and fellow students. Most of us wanted to do something about poverty and global inequality. I was first confronted with nonviolence at TU when we read Mark Hatfield’s “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” in a Chemistry class. He was a Republican who because of his faith came out against the Vietnam War. It was that book that prepared me well to hear Stanley Hauerwas when I went to Duke. I remember a TU and an evangelicalism that was vibrant, concerned with issues of poverty and violence. I was also there during the transition from the Carter to Reagan presidency and I think that Reagan’s cooptation of evangelicals, like Trump’s, set the rot in the evangelical movement. Reagan and Trump said to evangelicals, “Come let us build a (Trump) tower to the heavens and make a name for ourselves.” Evangelicals said, and are still saying, “Yes.” 

Of course, my memory is kind. Some of the rot was already there and I was not paying attention. I double dated with an interracial couple during my time at Taylor. I think they were the only one on campus. I recall how devastated he was when he received an anonymous letter telling him that interracial dating was against God’s law. I thought it was a fluke and did not take it seriously. I was not paying attention. I did not know that the origins of the Religious Right that has now taken over the administration of TU and most of evangelicalism was its opposition to the Civil Rights legislation that required Bob Jones to permit interracial dating. The Reagan administration sided with Bob Jones. Cal Thomas, who was an early leader in the Religious Right and close associate of Jerry Falwell Sr., later left the movement convinced that the seduction of power had led it to abandon truth. He wrote, “Christian faith is about truth, [and] whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins.” Pence has proven himself immoral in so many ways since joining the Trump administration, but the one thing that stands out most prominently for me is his willingness to be complicit in the bold deceits emanating daily from the White House. Who is the “father of lies?” Have evangelicals forgotten?

I had a friend who came out as gay. We dared not tell anyone. There was a cruelty to gays back then that is slowly receding. (I am grateful to see that some TU alum will hold an alternative “Gay Bash” during the commencement). Has TU and evangelicalism drastically changed in the 37 years since I graduated? I don’t know. Maybe my memory is too kind. I’m encouraged that so many students, faculty, and alums have spoken out against president Haines’ invitation that makes TU complicit in the racist, homophobic, xenophobic and cruel Trump administration. But in the end, we know, donor wealth and political power will trump mercy and kindness.

Gerson: Trump is the Real Threat to Religious Liberty

Omar

Here is Gerson–an evangelical, former Bush speechwriter, and Washington Post columnist–on Trump’s response to recent statements by Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar:

By all the evidence, Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot. At one campaign event in 2015, a member of the audience stated, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.” And he went on to ask, “When can we get rid of them?” Trump responded: “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.” Imagine a normal politician on the left or right being asked about the possibility of getting rid of all the Christians, or getting rid of all the Jews. They would likely use such a moment to clarify that they aren’t, in fact, insanely prejudiced monsters. Trump used such a moment to affirm the instinct of mass deportation and to promise a range of other anti-Muslim actions.

Could this have been a slip of the tongue? No, it wasn’t. Trump has a long history of animus — raw animus — against one of the Abrahamic faiths. He has said, “We’re having problems with the Muslims.” And: “There is a Muslim problem in the world.” And: “The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem.” And: “Islam hates us.”

Read the entire piece here.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “A France in Turmoil Weeps for a Symbol of Paris’s Enduring Identity”

The Washington Post: “Donations pledged as crews assess damage to Notre Dame”

The Wall Street Journal: “Notre Dame Blaze Extinguished; Officials Assess Damage”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Confusion over vote might lead to another attempt to hire James Ellison as Harrisburg schools solicitor”

BBC: “Notre-Dame fire: Millions pledged to rebuild cathedral”

CNN: “Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral”

FOX: “Notre Dame Cathedral: Salma Hayek’s French billionaire husband pledges more than $100M for rebuild”

Commonplace Book #85

A variety of cottage producers as well as peddlers of Gettysburg bric-a-brac came and went between 1884 and the 1920s.  John Good, who at the turn of the century produced wooden pistols, jewelry boxes, and statues, made batches for large excursions in advance after determining what type of souvenirs the excursionists might purchase.  Like vials of water from the Jordan River or letter openers made from Mount of Olives wood, many Gettysburg souvenirs bore direct association with the sacred ground itself.  Tiny glass viewers containing different park scenes were placed inside minie balls; small cannon were fashioned from battlefield metals and wood; battlefield clay furnished raw material for miniature monuments, cannons, or canteens.

The view that such kitsch profanes sacred spaces fails to consider the social and psychological function of such goods.  G[rand] A[rmy of the] R[epublic] posts prominently displayed Gettysburg relics and used gavels, inkstands, and podiums crafted in Gettysburg for conducting rituals.  Souvenirs widened Gettysburg’s access as much as improved transportation did.  In an era enjoying an effusion of consumer goods, souvenirs seemed all the more precious because they were special commodities connected with a sacred place.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine, 70.

David Brion Davis, RIP

 

David Brion Davis, the Yale historian of slavery and race in America, has died. I never met him, but his books were a ubiquitous presence on my graduate-school reading lists.

Here is historian and Davis colleague David Blight‘s reflection:

David Brion Davis has passed after a long illness.  The historical profession, the GLC, and countless friends have lost a giant of a figure.  The GLC team and network of hundreds of scholars, teachers, and readers send our condolences to Toni Davis and their two sons, Adam and Noah.  David still read books on a Kindle until a few months before his death.  In his room in Guilford, CT he was especially proud of pointing to the photograph on the wall of himself and Barack and Michelle Obama, taken at the White House on the night he received the National Humanities Medal from the President.  David’s trilogy on the problem of slavery in western culture remains a monument to Professor Davis’s extraordinary and singular quest to understand the ideas surrounding slavery and its abolition across the Atlantic world over more than two centuries.  His many other works and his essays in the New York Review of Books made a mark on American and international history like few other historians anywhere in the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries.  David was the founding and emeritus director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.  He was an intellectual in pursuit of truth and wisdom.  In his presence one always learned something. He was a deeply spiritual man who saw the historian’s craft as a search for the minds and souls of people in the past.  He devoted his life and career to understanding the place of the inhumane but profoundly important and persistent practices of slavery and racism in the world.  He was a philosopher at heart, a lyrical writer, and defined why we do history.  We stand on his shoulders.  At the GLC we carry on his legacy every day.  We loved him.  His portrait hangs on the wall at the GLC amidst a large portion of his book collection, still containing his post-its, book marks and thousands of annotations.  We will always have him nearby.

Taylor University and Mike Pence

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As some of you have heard, Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Upland, Indiana, has invited Mike Pence to be its 2019 commencement speaker.

Not everyone is happy about Taylor’s decision. Taylor alumni have started a Change.org petition claiming that the Pence invitation makes “our alumni, faculty, staff and current students complicit in the Trump-Pence Administration policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear.”

Chris Smith, a Taylor graduate and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books (which is based in nearby Indianapolis), wrote a piece at the Sojourners website condemning the Pence invitation.

Amy Peterson, an author, evangelical missionary, and adjunct professor at Taylor, also condemned the decision.  Her piece at The Washington Post provides some context and quotes students and alums who are unhappy about Pence’s upcoming address.

Back in March 2018, several disgruntled Taylor employees, including a philosophy professor, a biblical studies professor, the men’s soccer coach, and the university marketing director started an underground newspaper with a mission to expose what they believed to be Taylor’s move in a “liberal direction.”  At the time, Taylor president Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust” and “hurting members of our community.”  We wrote about this incident here.

Peterson’s Post article notes that the Taylor faculty voted 61-49 on a motion to dissent at Pence being invited.  (At least two Taylor sources I have consulted confirmed this vote).

Progressives are going to condemn Taylor for inviting Pence because, among other things, the Vice-President holds a conservative position on marriage, condemns homosexuality and has recently mixed-it-up with gay presidential candidate and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.  But this kind of criticism lacks nuance. Most evangelical schools have traditional positions on marriage and believe that homosexual practice is unbiblical. Progressives are going to need to deal with the fact that a significant portion of the United States population share Pence’s views in the area of sexual ethics.  I hope they will see the need to work with evangelicals to cultivate a more inclusive and pluralistic society in which deeply held religious beliefs are respected.  Both Pence and many progressives seem unwilling to take on this project, preferring instead to dig in their heels and continue to lob grenades in the culture war.

The real issue is Pence’s willingness to carry water for Donald Trump.  He has stood behind a president who is a liar, has paid hush money to an adult film star, has faced dozens of charges of sexual harassment, has separated children from families at the Mexican border, disrespects American institutions, boasts of his materialism, understands religious liberty as something that only pertains to his evangelical base, seems incapable of seeing anything beyond himself, inspires white supremacists, and has generally governed our country with no moral core.  Pence has defended or remained silent about nearly everything Trump has done.  Trump has used him as a pawn to win white evangelicals and keep them in the fold.

Gabby Carlson’s piece at the Taylor University student newspaper, The Echo, quotes both Taylor Provost Michael Hammond (a historian who studies evangelicalism and the Civil Rights movement) and Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism.  Hammond said:

Commencement is a special day for Taylor University…Above all else, we want to honor our graduates with their diploma and towel. There is always something to be gained from listening, even when we do not expect to find agreement with the speaker. This is an opportunity for our community to hear one another, working through our opinions and differences together.

And here is Blanchard, referencing what he said at the faculty meeting in support of the Pence invitation:

I suggested a benefit exists from listening to people speak on our campus with diverse views. Even if we do not see eye to eye, and even if the person speaking is the vice president of the United States…It’s a hallmark of our country to foster the idea and the ideal of free speech. I think our faculty meetings generally are a testimony to our ability to speak freely, agree or disagree on issues, but at the end of day show respect and love for one another.

I am fully on board with campuses inviting all kinds of people, of all kinds of political persuasions, to speak.  (I visited Taylor University on the Believe Me book tour last Fall and the students and faculty welcomed me and gave me and my message a warm reception).  But there does seem to be something different about a commencement address, especially at a Christian college.  The choice of a commencement speaker at a small Christian college like Taylor University reflects the beliefs and ideals that animate life at such a college.  Commencement speakers send a message–to graduating seniors, to alumni, to parents, to donors, and to the larger community–about what a school values.  A commencement address should not be a venue for displaying a school’s commitment to a “free marketplace of ideas,” nor is it a place where a school shows its commitment to ideological diversity by hosting speakers with controversial political and social views.  Taylor University had the entire 2018-2019 academic year to show its commitment to diverse viewpoints on campus.  Commencement is a time to celebrate a Christian college’s Christian mission.  Does Mike Pence, the chief water-carrier for Donald Trump, represent Taylor University’s mission?

I find it ironic that president Lowell Haines, who decried “discord” back in March 2018, has decided to invite Pence.  Haines is fully aware that many in the evangelical community, most of his own faculty, and many of his students, see Pence as a morally problematic figure.  He had to know that the invitation would provoke a firestorm on campus.  Yet he invited him anyway.  Indeed, as Provost Michael Hammond noted above, “commencement is a special day” for Taylor graduates and the larger community.  Then why invite Pence?  If Pence does end up speaking, Haines and his staff, who I assume care about the campus climate, will be forced to spend the next several years trying to heal a self-inflicted wound.

Or here is another way we might look at this. Perhaps Lowell Haines and his staff are fully aware of the fact that the choice of commencement speakers always sends a message about the things that a Christian college values and cherishes. And perhaps this is exactly why he invited Pence.

Several of my sources at Taylor University view the Haines presidency, and the invitation of Pence, as an attempt to solve some of Taylor’s financial woes by taking a more pronounced turn to the Right.  One alumnus, writing on a private Facebook page, described a phone conversation he had with one of Haines’s right hand men, Vice President for University Advancement Rex Bennett:

For some reason, Rex Bennett (VP for University Advancement) actually took my call, and we talked for nearly 30 minutes.  We actually could have talked longer, but I needed to get off the phone and help my with some things.  During this phone call, Mr. Bennett was respectful to me and did listen to my concerns, but he also, sadly, confirmed that Taylor wishes to actively exclude and marginalize the LGBTW and immigrant/refugee communities.  He also stated that he does not expect a situation in which Taylor will reconsider the Pence decision.  After this conversation, I learned that Mr. Bennett is actually a very close friend of Pence.

Christian colleges are faced with difficult choices in these days of divisiveness and fear.  One type of Christian college will defend Christian orthodoxy (yes, even in the area of marriage), respect the civil rights of all Americans (including those in the LGBTQ community), support creative solutions to defend religious liberty in a pluralistic society, welcome the stranger, respond to the culture with a posture of hope, and pursue the common good.  These schools will provide a prophetic voice against the kind of America that Donald Trump and his court evangelicals (including Mike Pence) want to create.

Another type of Christian college, which seems exemplified best by court evangelical Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (Pence will also speak at its commencement this Spring), is to defend orthodoxy, reject creative attempts to defend religious liberty in a pluralist society, and support (at least at the level of the administration) what I believe to be the anti-Christian policies of Donald Trump.  After the Pence invitation, I will now need to be convinced that Taylor University is not following this path.

As I once wrote in The Washington Post, we are starting to see new alignments in American Christianity.

The Author’s Corner with Lindsay Schakenbach Regele

Manufacturing AdvantageLindsay Shakenbach Regele is Assistant Professor of History at Miami University. This interview is based on her new book, Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776-1848 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Manufacturing Advantage?

LSR: When I started writing this book, it had nothing to do with manufacturing. It actually started as a study of piracy and US-Spanish relations during the Latin American independence wars. I had started researching US shipping claims against the Spanish government, while at the same time becoming more interested in the relationship between business and state power. I discovered that one particular group of Boston merchants received a big chunk of federal funds as a result of the settlement of these claims. These same merchants were simultaneously developing the nation’s first fully integrated textile mills in eastern Massachusetts and were able to funnel the capital from the claims settlements into factory development. This caused me to wonder how else they might have benefited from state support, whether direct or indirect. I also was interested in US-South American trade. I had seen references to dye stuffs and hides being imported from South America, and finished goods being exported there as early as the 1820s.

Ultimately, I came to study manufacturing—specifically the arms and textile industries– through diplomatic papers. The richest source was the consular dispatches, which are all these letters, pamphlets and trade statistics that US consular agents sent back to the state department from their various posts in Latin American ports. In these documents, I began to see consuls negotiating favorable trade policies, and doing so increasingly for manufactured goods, such as Massachusetts-made coarse fabrics. I also saw several references to arms imports into South America from the US, which piqued my interest. The United States was supposedly neutral while Latin America fought its independence wars against Spain and Portugal. I did not immediately pursue the arms connection, but after another historian mentioned that a lot of industrial innovation was happening in the arms industry in Springfield, Massachusetts, I decided to check out the records at the New England Branch of the National archive. In a rare stroke of research luck, on my first day saw several mentions of arms sales to Buenos Aires. These letters were incredibly exciting to find, because the United States could not for diplomatic reasons openly supply weapons to colonies in rebellion. Federal officials had to arrange these sales in oblique ways through third parties, keeping it as clandestine as possible. Probably for that reason, those were the only references to South American arms sales in federal armory records that I ended up seeing. The more I read, though, the more I became interested in all these letters written from private gun contractors to the federal armory. They were totally dependent on government patronage. Basically, despite the “right to bear arms” in the United States, there was not enough civilian demand to create a robust arms industry. Textile manufacturers had a different relationship to the federal government; there was a civilian market for textiles in a way there was not for firearms. Government policies, however, shaped the way the industry developed. Diplomatic support, wartime initiative, and trade legislation engendered the growth of certain industries and factory locations. When I began to think in terms of national security it all made sense. Diplomacy with Spain, or any other nation, meant little without military and economic security. By the time I got to that realization, I had my reason for writing the book.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Manufacturing Advantage?

LSR: In the period from the Revolutionary War to the Mexican American War, the United States industrialized as the result of national security concerns. Government agents and private producers responded to the opportunities and challenges posed by European and Native American warfare and treaty-making by investing in industrial capitalism, which generated revenue and martial prowess for early national development.

JF: Why do we need to read Manufacturing Advantage?

LSR: Because it provides a new interpretation of early national United States political economy by connecting war, trade, and state power to industrial development. It is the first work to study the development of two hallmark American industries–arms and textiles–side by side, and to place the rise of industry in the United States in the context of broader geopolitics. Manufacturing Advantage brings a wider cast of characters to the narrative of the American Industrial Revolution, as it closely investigates the relationship between private producers and War and State department officials, departments that I argue are stronger in these early years than other scholars have assumed. The individuals responsible for this system of manufacturing ranged from inventive mechanics in small New England towns and wealthy merchants in Boston to ordnance officials in Washington and consular agents in Lima, Peru. The sum total of their actions and relationships shed new light on how and why industry developed the way it did in the United States.

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

LSR: My decision to become a historian started when I switched majors during college. I remember writing “history” on my new major form, and feeling a sense of purpose and contentment (I think partly because as a child I had loved historical fiction and my father was always reading history books and waxing poetic about various historical sites and events). At that point, though, I had no idea that I would end up teaching, writing, and researching for a living. After graduating, I spent a year working as a long-term substitute teacher and track coach, while taking secondary education classes. My plan was to pursue teaching certification, but I also wanted to continue research, so I applied for an M.A. in history. I started working on my M.A. the following fall, and fell in love with the research process. During my first semester, I wrote a seminar paper on U.S. involvement in Francisco de Miranda’s failed Venezuelan revolution in 1806 and became obsessed with researching this event as it played out in the U.S. newspapers and political rumors. I decided to turn this project into my thesis and to apply for PhD programs. I was fortunate to have wonderful professors and advisers in both college and graduate school who inspired and facilitated my transition to the historical profession.

JF: What is your next project?

LSR: My next project is a dual biography of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) and the early national political economy. While Americans see the poinsettia every December without realizing its namesake, Poinsett’s career as a secret agent in South America, America’s first minister plenipotentiary to Mexico, U.S. congressman, and secretary of war helped shape the nation in which we live today. The last biographies of Poinsett were published in the 1930s and I think the time is ripe to revisit his various activities on behalf of the U.S. government. Over the past several decades, scholars have brought renewed attention to “capitalism” and “the state,” but there’s still a lot of ambiguity about what exactly each of these terms mean, when and where capitalism actually began, and how “strong” or “weak” the early U.S. state was. I’m hoping to use Poinsett to bring precision to these two nebulous concepts by connecting their theoretical underpinnings with on-the-ground practices. What, for example, did Poinsett’s secret code-writing in Chile reveal about early U.S.-Latin American relations? How did his intertwined business and political activities in Mexico shape continental politics? How did his experiences in Latin America in the 1810s and 1820s influence his administration of Indian removal and the Seminole Wars in the 1830s? And how did the sum total of all these activities reflect and influence the intersection of violence and economic development in the early republic? I’ve gone through many of Poinsett’s personal papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and will be spending the better part of this summer at the Library of Congress conducting more research.

JF: Thanks, Lindsay!

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Trump Sees an Obstacle to Getting His Way on Immigration: His Own Officials”

The Washington Post: “Democrats take aim at Stephen Miller over his role in immigration policy”

The Wall Street Journal: “Trump’s Fed Attacks Cast a Chill at Global Finance Gathering”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “Harrisburg School District considers rehiring controversial attorney as solicitor”

BBC: “Sudan crisis: Protest leaders demand end of ‘deep state'”

CNN: “White House snubs to Congress leaves Republicans as well as Democrats aghast”

FOX: “Pelosi plays down influence of AOC wing of Democrats, says it’s ‘like 5 people'”

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Zionism and the Left

Does the monograph have a future?

An adjunct’s story

A Civil War checkerboard

Celebrity historian Timothy Snyder

Objectional monuments go to Green-Wood Cemetery

Female survivors  of early America

The future of Christianity is African

Mary Corey reviews David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom 

A history of Eric Hobsbawm

The 19th-century secret service agent who took on the Klan

“Not a racist bone in his body

Civil War veterans who never claimed their medals

Alice Kessler-Harris on women and labor in American history

A white NBA player on white privilege

The politics of prayer

Commonplace Book #84

The fantasy element expected by tourists [in the late 19th century] gave Gettysburg a special appeal.  For all the aesthetic stock placed in scenery, it also served as entertainment.  When industrialization shattered time and space, entrepreneurs jumped into the new market for expansive views of the world with travelogues, images, stereographs, simulated environments, observatories, or great “panoramas” of scenery or events that enabled viewers to transcend time and place.  In terms of illusion, the panorama provided a “time machine” effect through a sweeping, participatory view of the scene; metaphorically, it reinforced the middle-class sense of command and control.  This heightened sense of escaping confinement and extending experience became a feature of genteel tourism at Gettysburg.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory,  Market, and an American Shrine46.

But What About Hillary?

Believe Me 3dHere is a recent Amazon review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Well it would have been much simpler to take into account what would have happened had the other candidate won.

First of all, I was not electing a clergy-in-chief but a commander-in-chief.

Secondly I felt pretty confident that the two biggest issues were court appointments and abortion which Trump would come through on. Trump has delivered in spades on those issues and they will be affecting our political landscape for decades to come.

Finally I just need to mention two words; Hillary Clinton. In that vien, your book seems like a waste of time and while you toot your own horn, we just thank God that SHE didn’t win.

Besides, Trump might be a baby Christian and just finding his way through his newfound faith. Can you imagine any other person on the face of this earth that could withstand what he has gone through?

That is why he needs our prayers; yes he is a flawed human being, but then again all of us are.

I don’t normally respond to Amazon reviews, but I have received a comment like this from a Trump supporter at almost every stop on the Believe Me book tour.  Here is a very quick response:

  1. I was not electing a clergy-in-chief either.  But I do expect my president to have some kind of moral center.  I don’t care if such a center is informed by Christianity, religion generally, an innate moral sense, civic humanism, virtue, conscience, a respect for American values and institutions, or some kind of commitment to the common good.  Moreover, I am not only electing a commander-in-chief.  The president’s role as the leader of the military is only one part of his constitutional responsibilities.
  2. Trump has affected the political landscape for “decades to come.”  But what will the Christian church look like in “decades to come?”  Who on the Trump side of the ledger is asking this question?  Moreover, as I argue in the book, I do not believe that overturning Roe v. Wade is the best way to reduce abortions in America.
  3. Christians are not supposed to hate.  But they hate Hillary Clinton.  Jesus followers need to take a look at this.
  4. If Trump is a “baby Christian,” he has not manifested much spiritual growth in the last three years.
  5. Yes, Trump needs our prayers.  So does everyone who has suffered and is suffering under his presidency.

Morning Headlines

The New York Times: “Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for Police”

The Washington Post: “Venezuela’s military, despite U.S. expectations, has not turned on Maduro”

The Wall Street Journal: “Washington Waits in Suspense for Mueller Report”

Harrisburg-Patriot News: “The Penn State postgame show: Bob Flounders, David Jones discuss the Blue-White game”

BBC: “Ilhan Omar: The 9/11 row embroiling the U.S. congresswoman”

CNN: “BTS performed on ‘SNL’ and fans went crazy”

FOX: “Trump and Oakland mayor trade Twitter barbs over immigration policies”