Racialized Christianity's Roots: Willie Jennings's The Christian Imagination


Racialized Christianity's Roots: The Christian Imagination
As historians, you all know this, but it's worth stating anyway: we are shaped by our contexts – theological, geographical, class, race, family, gender, national, etc.  Sometimes we begin to really see the water in which we swim by stepping into another stream.  Other times, reading about our stream's origins, its headwaters, can help us see our stream more clearly.  I study American history, my research is primarily in the twentieth century, and I don't read outside my field nearly enough.  But this summer I had the opportunity to do so with a group of Wheaton College colleagues when we read Willie Jennings's The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race.  Jennings, a theologian, has written a historical piece that explores the interconnections between western Christianity, racial hierarchies, capitalism, commodification of bodies and places, and pedagogy.  Those who study religion in American history and have been shaped by – and shape – the academy will benefit from the book (although, if you're an Americanist, the only character that may be familiar is Olaudah Equiano).

Jennings shows how the racial hierarchies westerners imagined in the 15th century as they interacted with people living in South America and Africa, hierarchies that were inseparable from a theological pedagogy that assumed a one-way transfer of knowledge from the educated to the ignorant, deformed what he called "the Christian imagination."  For Jennings, "Christian imagination" refers to the possibilities of what could constitute Christianity.  These racial and pedagogical hierarchies developed in the context of mercantile capitalism, and the combination commodified bodies and land in new and detrimental ways.  

No Depression in Heaven: Greater at Length

Elesha Coffman

I have a confession to make. I have been promoting Alison Greene's No Depression in Heaven for months, whenever conversation turned to Christians' distrust of "big government," or why the Social Gospel faded, or whether churches could make up the difference for proposed federal budget cuts. (Gee, I dunno--does your church have an extra $714,000 lying around at the end of every year?) I was confident that Greene's book spoke powerfully to these discussions--but I hadn't actually read a page of it.

Now, I had read Greene's essay in the edited collection Faithful Republic: Religion and Politics in Modern America, so I knew both the crux of her argument and her skill as a writer. And I had heard lots of good things about her and her work the way one hears things in our field--at conferences, on blogs, on Facebook, etc. I say this for the benefit of any grad students suffering from imposter syndrome, or professors still suffering from imposter syndrome, especially while teaching four new preps at Podunk University, 100 miles from the nearest research library or in-field colleague. We're all magpies, picking up bits of what we need for teaching and writing and just trying to understand the world. I think it's better to be a somewhat knowledgeable participant in an important conversation than to sit it out for a lack of deep expertise.

Fortunately, Janine Giordano Drake invited me to comment on the book for this blog, making it easy to convince myself that I really should sit down and read it. The argument I had previously encountered was there: That church leaders in the Delta region, utterly unable to provide for the material needs of their communities during the Depression, eagerly sought federal assistance--until they began to feel that the government was usurping their moral authority, at which point they turned against the hand feeding them and denied that they had ever needed help anyway. This is such a potent and timely argument that, if it were all the book offered, it would be enough ... but you could get it from an essay-length piece instead. The whole book, I now know, has even more to commend it, including:

Theology and Historical Amnesia: Remembering the Great Depression

Janine Giordano Drake

[Today's post is the first of several reflections on Allison Collis Greene's No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression of Religion in the Delta. Look for another post tomorrow and yet another on Sept 9. ]

Why did Southern whites applaud Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency and the coming of the New Deal? Why did many of these same Southern whites later distance themselves from the same policies? To what extent have southern whites' attitudes toward charity, the government "dole," and the system of capitalism changed over the twentieth century?

Alison Collis Greene's heartwrenching and pathbreaking book answers all of these questions as it teaches us to parse the differences between history and memory. While many white Southerners remember government social programs as antithetical to the Christian ethics of hard work and personal responsibility, they forget that many of their own religious institutions embraced the New Deal with open arms in the depths of the Great Depression. Why did so churches do so, and why have so many of their members forgotten this embrace?

Greene's book examines the relationship between charitable institutions and the poor in the Misssippi Delta from the early twentieth century through the start of World War II. It shows that elite Southern women effected a Southern Social Gospel in the early twentieth century, particularly with regards to medical care, medical education, and aide to women and orphans. As spouses and children of prominent business owners, they always stood somewhat at odds with church teachings on the dangers of dependence upon charity and the virtues of personal responsibility. However, their work created the (albeit minimalist) infrastructure of charity that addressed the widespread onset of poverty starting in the 1920s.

This charity, as Greene teaches us with stunning detail, was never enough to actually address the depths of poverty in Memphis and the surrouding Misssippi Delta. By the time FDR took office, churches and charities throughout the South were going (or had already gone) bankrupt. Many had to spend more time attending to their creditors than to their members, not to mention to the poor outside of their churches. While Catholic and Jewish charities were able to raise a bit more money to support their communities than Protestant charities, the poor in the Missssippi Delta overall only received a small fraction of the public aide that poor people received on the average. Many Protestants realized that they relied upon voluntary donations. Without the intervention of the federal government, the future of their charities--and even their churches themselves--were not at all secure.

Greene teaches us that FDR and his programs for aide to the poor were widely welcomed by white and black Southerners as an answer to prayer. Poor, black and white Southerners shaped New Deal policy through their ready embrace of government "handouts" and programs like Social Security. However, the New Deal in the South, like in every region of the country, was largely administered by local white elites. Many administered programs to benefit white elite businesses and provide enough of a social safety net to recreate a white middling class. In short, Southern Democrats used the New Deal--and, indeed, widespread religious support for the New Deal--to preserve white supremacy. As this white middling class revived, conservative elites began rewriting the history of the Great Depression. They revived early twentieth century narratives about the problems of charity and the dangers of a powerful state. They quickly enforced a collective amnesia about the ways that their own churches had nearly faced financial and social ruin in the face of the Depression.

Why does it matter that Southern churches were "saved" by the New Deal? Why does it matter that Southern attitudes toward public aide have shifted more than most care to admit throughout the twentieth century? Historians of the New Deal, of Southern History, of American Christianity, of the Welfare State, and of African American History might each answer this question slightly differently.

I'll highlight here just one reason this study matters: Greene's work teaches us that we cannot understand shifts in religious convictions outside of the context of social history. Beliefs are powerful explanations for historical realities, but they are also quick to shift with changing circumstances. Beliefs are also as easy to forget as they are to remember. Despite how tempting it may seem to study the history of ideas--of theology--in a vacuum, Greene's work reminds me that this approach blinds us to the many forces of historical causality. We simply cannot explain shifts in religious belief without understanding the social, political and economic circumstances that supported them.

Announcement: Kelly Baker on MSNBC


Former blogmeister, Kelly J. Baker, will be on MSNBC today (August 13) at 3 PM (now!) to talk about hate crimes and modern KKK. 

Scholars of American Religion have much to say in this moment (and, of course, many of us have been talking about these issues in the classroom and on our campuses for some time). Inspired readers are welcome to send in their essays about Charlottesville or related topics/tactics for the classroom to Cara (cara [dot] burnidge [at] uni [dot] edu).

A Death, a Body, and the Living Word

Adam Park 

Jonathan Glover, circa 1948.
A foundational member of the Assemblies of God community died this Saturday. I knew him. From the United States to Sierra Leone, in fact, lots of people knew him. And for them that did, we knew that to be acquainted with Jonathan Glover was also to be acquainted with Someone else.

At just over 5-foot tall with shoes on, and 130-pounds soaking wet, the Someone else that Jonathan embodied was not easy to identify upon first glance. Unlikely vessel, perhaps. But then again, I hear, He was the least of these. What was clear, however, was that the Word inside Jonathan was bigger than he was. It overflowed incessantly. Everywhere. To anyone. He couldn't keep It in, nor did he try. Moments when Jonathan would become the Word were readily visible. His body would pulse with excitement. His short spine would stretch to hold him higher. He would spring up on the balls of his feet, lest Satan catch him on his heels. The volume and cadence of his voice would alter, rising and falling, quickening and pacing, punctuating and pausing. He would pronounce "God" differently, as though it was spelled with a "w" after the "G." A learned melody and sing-song style. The Word had an accent. Weberian charisma. The Word had charm. Jonathan had mastered a craft. Jonathan had been mastered by a craft. To watch Jonathan manifest the Word was like watching a bird in an updraft, effortlessly gliding, animated, held aloft, driven by an invisible thing.

The Fence: Mainline Protestants and Immigration Sixty Years Ago

Today's guest post comes from Nicholas T. Pruitt, a Visiting Instructor in History at Eastern Nazarene College. Pruitt recently completed a dissertation titled "Open Hearts, Closed Doors: Native Protestants, Pluralism, and the 'Foreigner' in America, 1924-1965."

Before there was talk of a wall, there was The Fence. First circulated in 1956, The Fence was a pamphlet that demonstrated sharp divisions among Americans over immigration policy. I first encountered this booklet while researching for my dissertation on white Protestant responses to immigration between 1924 and 1965. As I sifted through material from the Presbyterian Historical Archives, I came to realize that the history surrounding The Fence speaks volumes about midcentury American society and the position of white Protestants who sponsored its publication.

Many mainline Protestant leaders contributed to the public conversation surrounding the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, a bill that aimed to revamp the nation’s immigration system. While it ended Japanese exclusion, its critics pointed out that the legislation was still premised on unevenly distributed quotas based on national origins and other forms of discrimination. Congress eventually passed the bill sponsored by Nevada Senator Pat McCarran and Pennsylvania Congressman Francis Walter, but only after overriding Harry Truman’s veto. Most mainline Protestant denominations opposed the legislation, drawing upon a mix of postwar internationalism, social gospel ideals, and common concern for home missions. While the bill was being considered, the National Council of Churches (NCC) passed a statement in March 1952 calling for Congress to reform the quota system and demanding that the United States assume its global responsibilities and aid refugees. It is striking that in Truman’s veto message of McCarran-Walter, he even invoked the social gospel rhetoric of his Protestant contemporaries, claiming that the law “repudiates our basic religious concepts, our belief in the brotherhood of man.” Following its passage, the mainline periodical Christian Century questioned the law and had to fend off an angry rebuttal by McCarran, and Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam even had to answer for his criticism of the legislation before the House Un-American Activities Committee, on which Walter served, in 1953.

Thinking Seriously about “Taking Seriously”

Today's guest post comes from Haley Iliff, an MA student in the American Religious History program at Florida State. She is currently researching nineteenth-century women in the American west and their popular religious literature.

Haley Iliff

During my first year of graduate work, I wasn’t really sure what it meant to “take religion seriously,” but I was aware it was something required of me if I wanted to be a scholar. Now, about to enter my second year, I’m still not quite sure what the phrase means, but I think Charlie and Adam’s recent posts have given me a place to start thinking about “taking religion seriously” as an aspect of scholarly tone, especially the tone we take when discussion our subjects.

Historiographic Saints


Isaac Hecker, circa 1890
In the spirit of RiAH's 10 year anniversary, we welcome a guest post from historian William Cossen. You can follow him at www.williamscossen.com and on Twitter @WilliamCossen.

What do historians of Catholicism owe to the saints about whom they write?

This question has been on my mind since the American Catholic Historical Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver this past January.  Two moments at the conference together served for me as the genesis of this question.  The first moment took the form of a comment from Thomas Rzeznik during his presentation for the ACHA’s presidential roundtable, about which I have written in more detail on John Fea’s Way of Improvement Leads Home blog.  Rzeznik noted that scholars of Catholicism should remain mindful of the multiple audiences they serve through their research and writing: the academy, the institutional church, and interested laypeople.

The second moment emerged following my own panel on Catholicism and Americanism.  I had a conversation on the state of the field of Catholic history with the panel’s organizer, Erin Bartram.   Both of our papers dealt with Isaac Hecker, a central figure in the study of mid- to late nineteenth-century U.S. Catholic history, and we briefly pondered the nature of writing about an individual such as Hecker, who is presently being investigated for potential canonization.

It is obviously not uncommon for historians of Catholicism to write about men and women who have been recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.  This may be somewhat rarer in scholarship on U.S. Catholicism, which reflects the fewer canonized saints from the United States than from other countries with longer histories of an extensive Catholic presence.  There are, however, several fine examples of recent historical scholarship that include canonized (or soon-to-be canonized) Catholics as central figures in their narratives.

RiAH @ 10: Celebrating Community

Monica L. Mercado

Finding community (at the Catholic
Summer School of America, 1897).
Where has the time gone? As July comes to an end, I've been catching up on the many tributes to our humble blog and blogmeister(s) during this tenth anniversary year, and coping with the waves of nostalgia that I feel looking at my very first RiAH blog post -- a summertime musing on a summertime history, that of the late nineteenth-century women of the Catholic Summer School of America. A few posts later, I remain grateful to this community for intellectual companionship and camaraderie, both online and off.

As a historian of women's religious and intellectual communities, it is perhaps no surprise that I first came to the blog seeking virtual community.

RiAH @ 10: Untied

Today's guest post comes from someone who probably needs no introduction to readers. Kathryn Lofton wears many hats at Yale University (including Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, and History, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, and Deputy Dean for Diversity and Faculty Development). In these roles and more informal ones, she has contributed to the study of American religion in a number of ways, such as her first book, Oprah: Gospel of an Icon, her forthcoming book, Consuming Religion, and her co-editing of Frequencies: A Genealogy of Spirituality and Chicago book series, Class 200, (both) with John Lardas Modern. To my mind, though, these formal contributions (while impressive in their own right) barely scratch the surface of KL's gifts to our group blog and in our shared field of American religion. Thanks, Katie, for your reflection and your support of our digital community!

Kathryn Lofton 

I used to dislike Terry Gross. I probably still do. But I’ve outgrown some of my harshness. Or maybe it’s that I’ve stopped listening to her and focus now on the person to whom she speaks? Instead of ranting to friends about the guiltless ignorance of white liberalism, I now report on things I heard someone said on Fresh Air. I’ve become, in other words, the very person I used to decry.

Photo Credit: Omar Z. Robles. "Breathtaking
Portraits Capture Ballet's Finest Dancing
on the Streets of New York," My Modern MET
This has happened many times in the last week, since Terry interviewed Wendy Whelan, the longtime principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. The interview coincided with the release of Restless Creature, a documentary that records the end of Whelan’s career with NYCB. Whelan is the ideal interview subject for Terry, inasmuch as she, Whelan, is so humane and creatively precise that her answers improve upon the dullness of Gross’s questions. At one point, Gross asks if Whelan found it hard to let go of her life as a ballerina. In reply, Whelan says: “I had been strapped in, you know, physically, strapped into pointe shoes, strapped into a leotard and tights, my hair’s been strapped up for my whole entire life. I don’t like to be constricted now, but that was safe, then. I was terrified to be un-constructed, and now I don’t know another way I’d rather be.”

I am not a ballet dancer. I have never known what it is like to wrap pointe shoes onto my feet and stand at a barre for eight hours a day. I have never ever worn my hair in a bun. And I will likely never do anything as well as Wendy Whelan dances. Yet when I heard Whelan talk about taking off the pieces of her constraint, I felt something so acutely kindred I had to press pause, rewind 15 seconds, and hear it again.

Roundtable Interview on Mirror on the Veil: A Collection of Personal Essays on Hijab and Veiling

Lauren Turek

Let me add my voice to the chorus of congratulations to the blog on its 10 year anniversary. I have learned so much from reading everyone's contributions and it was very meaningful for me when Cara asked me to begin contributing about three years ago. Blogmeisters Paul Harvey, Cara Burnidge, and Michael Hammond provide our multidisciplinary field with such a tremendous service by hosting and tending to this project.

One of my favorite aspects of the blog is the diversity of subjects covered under the general heading of religion in American history. I have enjoyed contributing posts and reading posts from others that reflect in some way on the transnational dimension of this history, as well as on more contemporary religious issues in historical perspective.

The religious dynamics of current international conflicts, including the refugee crisis, and ongoing cultural change in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere receives regular comment in national and international news. These dynamics also influence U.S. foreign relations. We as scholars of religion and religious history have much to bring to the table in terms of a deeper analysis of how religion and religious identity intersects with global politics, both currently and historically.

For this reason, I am pleased to share a roundtable interview I conducted recently with the editors of and some of the contributors to a new edited volume, Mirror on the Veil: A Collection of Personal Essays on Hijab and Veiling, which addresses questions of religious and personal identity (and outward expressions of it) through an examination of the hijab. Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi, a lecturer at the University of Houston-Downtown, and Shaheen Pasha, an assistant professor of international journalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, edited the volume, which is a mix of academic and personal reflections from men and women of different faith traditions discussing their relationship with the hijab. It is a fascinating read and provides something of a collection of primary sources for our current moment on this important issue. I have posed seven questions to Nausheen and Shaheen, as well as to two of the contributors, Reverend Nell Green, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel worker, and Saadia Faruqi, an author and interfaith activist. These questions provide a sense of the personal and academic accounts the book shares, as well as its relevance for those of us who teach or research more recent American religious history.

RiAH @ 10: Public Scholarship & Liberation

Today's guest post comes from former Blogmeister Kelly Baker. Soon after Paul began the Religion in American History blog, Kelly became co-editor alongside him. As she describes below, her posts were varied in their topics, but each helped to expand and solidify an American Religion digital community. You can read her past posts under the tag Baker's posts and you can follow her writing career through her website or Tiny Letter.  Thanks, Kelly, for these reflections and all of your hard work in establishing this community of scholars!

Kelly J. Baker

In the summer of 2007, I decided to start my own blog on American religious history. I was sort of shocked that no one had started one yet because blogs were a thing that even academics knew existed. To make sure that no American religions blog existed, I did one quick Google search. Paul Harvey had beat me to the punch. He had just started a blog called Religion in American History, and he outranked me. He was a full professor with groundbreaking books, and I was upstart graduate student trying valiantly to do other types of writing to procrastinate on working on my dissertation about the 1920s Klan. In a brave moment, I decided to email Paul to ask if I could write for him. I refreshed my email until he responded with an offer to write for him. I, of course, took Paul up on his kind offer. My first post for RiAH was about religion and romance novels.

What I didn’t realize then is that writing for RiAH would allow me to write about about American religions for a broader audience than my scholarship allowed and that I would end up with Paul as a valuable mentor and champion for my work. Having Paul in my corner made me a better scholar and a better writer. Becoming colleagues and friends with other contributors at RiAH was crucial for me as I finished my dissertation and moved onto various lecturer positions. I ended up with fabulous conversation partners like Ed Blum, Emily Clark, Darren Grem, and Mike Altman.

As I wrote for RiAH as a contributor, then as assistant editor, and then, as an editor in my own right, I gained confidence about not only my research, but also my ability to write. Writing short posts for the blog about everything from the Klan to bad movie remakes of John Grisham novels to Sarah Palin to documentaries and popular culture was fun, but it also forced me to consider what an audience might want to learn and what they might gain from reading posts that I wrote.  Taking my training as a religious studies scholar and applying it to topics beyond what I happened to research made me realize that I had more to offer than scholarly articles, monographs, and books reviews. I had things to say beyond what I was expected to write for my peers.

It was liberating to realize that I could write beyond the topic of my dissertation and later book on the Klan. Writing for RiAH was the first step in realizing that I had career options beyond the academic path that I trained for. I learned to write beyond disciplinary conventions to engage readers who weren’t American religious historians. I learned how to do public scholarship before I knew that was what I was doing.

Writing for RiAH allowed me to become the writer and editor that I am now. When I decided to transition out of academia, I started writing about my transition publicly because I was already comfortable writing for a public audience. I did what I often did when I faced a research problem I couldn’t figure out; I wrote through it. And writing through it led to job opportunities that I couldn’t imagine until someone offered them to me. My training as a researcher and analyst allowed me to shift to other areas of expertise, which I wouldn’t have done without writing for Paul and RiAH first.

More than that, all the blog posts I wrote convinced me that my expertise in American religious history was important and necessary to larger public discussions about nationalism, white supremacy, and politics. What I learned through my research mattered. RiAH taught me that, and I’m so glad that the blog that was such a lifeline for me is celebrating it’s tenth year.

Happy birthday, RiAH! And thank you, Paul, for taking a chance on me. I’ll never forget it.

A Decade with Religion in American History

Emily Suzanne Clark 

As other posts this month have noted, this is the 10th birthday for the Religion in American History blog and here's another post on that topic. I didn't start reading the blog until it was in year three when I was a first-year Ph.D. student, and the blog helped me figure out the field of American religions and American religious history. I didn't start focusing on American religions until the middle of my M.A. program at the University of Missouri (I have Chip Callahan and Kristin Schwain to thank for that). Being a terminal M.A., the Religious Studies graduate program at Mizzou was small but mighty, so I wasn't really introduced to a community of American religions scholars until I started my Ph.D. work at FSU. Finding the blog at the same time really showed me how big and kind of intimidating this field was, but the blog immediately countered that intimidation with collegiality. 

I think a big reason for the collegiality of the blog is Paul Harvey, and to show my gratitude I've photoshopped a birthday hat on Omar (Paul's cat) to celebrate RiAH's birthday. The blog introduced me to new books in the field and new ideas about American religions. People typically posted about research, but the occasional teaching post was also incredibly helpful for me as a graduate student and instructor of my own undergraduate course. The blog posted calls for papers, announcements about conferences, and more. It helped me figure out how to really hit the ground running as a Ph.D. student in the field.

Thanks, RiAH: A Brief Personal Reflection

Charles McCrary

I have appreciated the reflections on and odes to Religion in American History posted this month. It’s been edifying to read of the blog’s role in the lives of many of my colleagues and friends and to consider its place in our field. I’ll add my short reflection here. Personally, I don’t know the field without this blog. And really, in many ways, I know the field through this blog. In the summer of 2007, when the blog launched, I was not a scholar of religion. I was 17 years old, and I delivered the Fargo Forum to doorsteps in the wee hours of the morning and Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity® pancakes to tabletops in the non-peak hours of the afternoon. Two years later, though, I was majoring in religion, entering my junior year, and trying to figure out what I would study in grad school. After various dalliances with Kierkegaard, Mādhyamikas, and early Christians (being an undergrad is great and weird), I decided to get serious with American religious history. But I didn’t know anyone who studied it. Or anything about it. My professors at the University of North Dakota, none of whom specialized in American religion, were willing to have very long office-hours conversations and work with me on directed independent readings. (It wasn’t until I went to another university, talked to new colleagues, and taught my own courses that I realized how truly and deeply generous with their time and patience my professors were. Shout out to regional state universities, small departments, and engaged teaching faculty.) But where did I find the books and articles to read? How did I know which scholars were working on this stuff? The short answer: the Religion in American History blog.

I started reading the blog regularly in the fall of 2009, and it shaped my earliest impressions of what it meant to study religion in America. Author interviews, book reviews, previews of new books, and conference recaps offered a window into a world I hadn’t yet entered. As I tried to figure out where I would go to grad school, I looked to the blog. I had read and enjoyed posts by Florida State students and graduates, especially Kelly Baker. So I looked up the program, read some of the professors’ books, and decided to apply. When I was an MA student at FSU, Kelly let me write a few guest posts. I worried that the posts weren’t good (looking back, I can confirm that they were not), but I’m grateful that the opportunity gave me the confidence to keep writing and keep working out ideas. And, more so, it made me feel like a part of a community, part of the “field.” After a very long guest post in spring 2014 about Ben Sasse (see a less typo-ridden, even longer version here), Paul invited me to join the regular roster. I’m always humbled and surprised and delighted when people contact me about my writing here, or mention a post at a conference reception, and I’ve made many friends and acquaintances through the community the blog fosters.

I don't think this blog should be taken, as the undergraduate me once took it, as a synecdoche for “the study of American religion.” It’s not that. But it is one prominent place in which those who study American religion have had their conversations. It’s where I and many others have been introduced to new books and ideas and people. It’s where we’ve self-promoted, tested ideas, and argued. Maybe it’s our field’s water cooler. Or the post office in our small town. I am not good at metaphors. In a post last year, I asked, “Are you talking to me?”, and I argued that this blog is one public, a discursive community organized by its own discourse, among many that constitute the larger public of “the field” (again, whatever that is). But the public is not just the speakers. More importantly, it’s the readers, the circulators (retweeters), those who are addressed. I’m grateful for the opportunity to write here, but I’m far more grateful for the opportunity to read, to be addressed. Thanks to Paul, Randall, Kelly, Cara, and everyone who has written here over the last decade. Thanks for talking to me.

Thank You for Being a Friend: RiAH, Liberal Protestants, and an Apology

Mark Edwards

It was nearly five and a half years ago that I got an email from Darren Dochuk inviting me to review a book for Paul Harvey's Religion in American History blog.  My first thought was, "what's a blog?"  Second thought: "Who's Paul Harvey?"  As a technological dinosaur, I was unaware of the role that digital media had begun to play in building and advancing intellectual community.  Having been an Assistant Professor of, well, religion in American history for five years, with a book about to come out on that topic, my lack of awareness of Paul and RiAH  showed how terribly alone I was as a scholar.

In retrospect, I feel like joining Team Harvey (obligatory sports reference accomplished) has served entirely selfish purposes: RiAH has been an essential means of my continuing education.  The blog is more to me than a place for posting book reviews, sharing research, reflecting on current events, and publishing notices--as valuable as all those are.  It's a central place where I have seen modeled and tried to practice the virtues of the humanities student.  It also brought me out of isolation and into a number of wonderful, edifying networks and friendships.  For that, I am immensely grateful to Paul and everyone else who has sustained the RiAH conversation these past ten years.

By way of reminiscing, I thought I'd share my second post.  It's on how I saw the study of liberal Protestantism at that moment.  Alot has changed since then for the better, although I wonder if the questions and issues raised by everyone then are still relevant.  NOTE: If you do read the post and several comments, please forgive my misreading of Kevin Schultz's Tri-Faith America, my shameless book plug, and my wrongheaded "fight" with Ed Blum about liberal Protestants and race.  You'll see that Kevin and Ed were very gracious with me, which is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned while at RiAH.

Know Your Archives: Presbyterian Historical Society

Andrea L. Turpin

Happy 10th birthday, RiAH! One of the things I have most appreciated about this blog is its breadth. In the words of John Fea, paying tribute to blog founder Paul Harvey, RiAH combines “opinion, news from the profession, historical reflection on current events, and new research” and also fosters a “sense of community” around these shared interests. I love that I can come here to read about research in progress, how religious history intersects with current events, and also tips for best practices on all aspects of teaching, researching, and writing about the history of American religion. In large part these objectives are accomplished by having so many contributors with diverse passions centered around a common theme.

I only joined this illustrious company in 2017, so I figured the best tribute I could offer this month would be to add a piece to one of the great series on the blog, Know Your Archives.

I spent two weeks last month at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia researching for my second book project, on how Protestant women’s organizations navigated the fundamentalist-
Presbyterian Historical Society (author's photograph)
modernist controversy. The Presbyterian Historical Society is the national archives of the PC(USA) denomination, and I was privileged to be a recipient of one of the Society’s very generous Research Fellowships (following in the footsteps of fellow RiAH blogger Paul Putz). While I was there, I also had the privilege of meeting fellow recipient Anna Holdorf and fellow RiAH blogger Monica Mercado, who was in Philly for a conference. The PHS Research Fellowship application deadline for next year is February 2, 2018 and everyone should apply! I cannot recommend the archives highly enough as a source of information on American religious history.

Thomas Jefferson, Slavery, and Religion: Rethinking an American Icon

The Cushwa Center would like to introduce one of its new postdoctoral research associates, who will be overseeing the center's monthly blogging at RIAH.  Benjamin J. Wetzel specializes in American religious, political, and intellectual history in the period from 1860 to 1920.  Ben looks forward to working with fellow postdoc Pete Cajka (already well-known to readers of this blog) at the Cushwa Center in the coming academic year.

Benjamin J. Wetzel

Thomas Jefferson's reputation has suffered in recent years.  In 2015, at the College of William & Mary (his alma mater), students covered Jefferson's campus statue with post-it notes reading "racist" or "slave owner."  Last month, the University of Virginia began plans to honor the labor of slaves who literally built the university, reminding the public again of Jefferson's own life-long ownership of slaves.  At a more trivial level, the reputation of Jefferson's rival Alexander Hamilton has witnessed a stunning revival thanks to the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda's extraordinary musical.

In this context, then, comes John B. Boles's new biography of the third president.  At 626 pages, Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty (Basic, 2017) is, in the words of Gordon Wood, "the fullest and most complete single-volume life of Jefferson" since 1970.  Indeed, Boles offers a sprightly narrative that illuminates most facets of Jefferson's life.  This review will focus on only two elements of the book, however: Boles's interpretation of Jefferson's relationship with slavery, and Boles's treatment of Jefferson's religious views.

RiAH at 10: On The Importance Of Book Links

Paul Putz

Paul Harvey signing books for
one of the members of his fan club
All this #10thAnniversay stuff has made me sentimental, so I went back and looked at my first RiAH blog post. It was posted in May 2013, and it involved a discussion of Kanye West, Jesus, and Paul Harvey's and Ed Blum's book The Color of Christ. Its sole redeeming quality, so far as I can tell, was that it included a link to the Amazon page for The Color of Christ. The lesson: post links to other people's books and they might let you write for their blog.

For me the best part of RiAH has been the people who come with it, the online network of scholars who write, read, or comment on the blog. Even unknown grad students like me can find a place at the table. Most of the conference panels in which I've participated and the research ideas I've pursued (including my switch in dissertation topics) have been influenced in some way by people I've connected with because of RiAH. While I'm lucky that my home institution provides a supportive environment for grad students, the academic world outside Baylor has felt like a warm and inviting place largely because of people I've met through RiAH.

It's also thanks to RiAH that other scholars in the field have any clue who I am. They may not know what I research, but they sometimes have a vague sense that I might be the person who compiles lists of new and forthcoming books for RiAH. Apparently the lesson I learned from my first post, that linking to other people's books can bring goodwill, has stuck with me.

I started writing for RiAH the summer before I entered the PhD program at Baylor. It's now the summer before my last year, and here I am. RiAH has been one of the constants of my PhD experience, and all for the good. Thanks to Paul Harvey for starting this thing and thanks to him and everyone else for making it a welcoming space for grad students to explore ideas, develop their voice, and become more comfortable in the strange world of academia.

RiAH at 10: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

Elesha Coffman

I like academic conferences. Always have. Way back when I was the editor of Christian History magazine, I attended a Conference on Faith and History meeting in San Diego and then the American Society of Church History winter meeting in San Francisco, searching for new story ideas and potential authors. My husband, Eric, was with me in San Francisco, and we found ourselves in an elevator with two tweed-coated male historians who were so engrossed in their conversation that they were just riding up and down, oblivious to whatever floor they were supposed to be heading to. When we were out of earshot, Eric asked me, "Are these your people?" and I knew that the answer was "Yes." Soon I had left journalism for grad school in the history of American religion.

This blog has functioned, for me, primarily as an extension of academic conferences. My very first posts, in summer 2011, recapped the Religion and American Culture conference, which had raised two huge questions: "Do Religion Scholars Read the Bible?" and what is the "Future of Religion in America?" In my first job, at a school with just two historians and one religion scholar on faculty, I did not get to have these conversations, and I wasn't ready for them to end when I departed from Indianapolis. The inestimable Paul Harvey allowed me to throw my thoughts onto the blog and keep the ball rolling.

One of my favorite conference photos, from Mainz 2014
In the past six years, I've previewed and reviewed numerous other conferences here, as well as shared updates from the American Society of Church History, of which I became a council member in 2015. (Don't forget to renew your membership and stay at the ASCH hotel in D.C. in January!) People I've "met" through RiAH I subsequently met, and often presented alongside, at real-life conferences, where our interactions were enriched by the sustained conversation made possible at this blog. In New York, or Chicago, or wherever, instead of, "Hello, what is it you work on?" while we squint at each other's nametag, it's, "So good to see you, I loved that book review you posted, you're taller than I expected, and how is that new class going?"

In my view, the whole field functions better because we can meet here even when we can't meet in person. Thanks for this tremendous feat of event-planning, Paul!

RIAH @ 10: Wooooo!

Michael J. Altman

I wrote Paul an email saying something to the effect of:
“Hi, I’m Mike. Your blog ignores Asia. I can write about Asia.”
I still can’t believe Paul let me on this blog. The idea that you’d just give me the ability to post something without anyone reading it or editing it is insane. The freedom to just put ideas out there and then get a response from a ready-made audience who was interested. The challenge of figuring out how to provoke that audience, how to get them to engage, was intoxicating.

I’ve tried to walk a line between history and religious studies in my work. I learned how to walk that line by writing for this blog. How do I take the theoretical work I do and make it not just intelligible, but useful, for someone trained in a history department? What can I learn from these historians?

This blog is my academic baby book. I went from a baby just out of coursework to a professor with a published book. It’s all there in the posts. Along the way, this blog helped me find my voice. It allowed me to play, experiment, pick up this idea and set it back down again, and send up test balloons. I think it functioned that way for a lot of us young scholars and it still does. It’s an independent wrestling circuit where we can try out new moves, try on new characters, and see what really gets the crowd going. Paul Harvey is our Ric Flairthe world champion always willing to put the young talent over.

And that’s the real truth of this blog. It was Paul’s blog but it was never about Paul. There are senior scholars who publish as much as they possibly can. There are senior scholars who try to get others published as much as they can. Paul is the latter. I still can’t believe he let me write here. It was one of the best things that happened to me as a scholar.

There could have been less fantasy football, though.

Thoughts on Being "Laverne and Shirley" to Paul Harvey's "Happy Days"

John Fea

Paul Harvey is Cheers, I am Frasier. Harvey is Dallas, I am Knots Landing. Harvey is The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I am Rhoda (or maybe Lou Grant).

Hopefully you are picking up the theme.  My blog "The Way of Improvement Leads Home" will always be known as a somewhat inferior spin-off to Paul Harvey's "Religion in American History." (RiAH).

When I was asked to write something for the 10th anniversary of RiAH, I dug up an old post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home that captures my blogging journey and the role that Paul and RiAH has played in it. Here is a taste of that post: 

Whatever blogging "career" I might have I owe to Paul Harvey.  On July 5, 2007 I found Harvey's new blog (it was a solo operation then) called Religion in American History and wrote a comment on a post I liked on W.E.B. DuBois. Here is what I wrote: 

Paul: Great post. I found your blog on the Cliopatria blogroll and have enjoyed reading it so far. --John 

About an hour later, Paul responded: 

John: Thanks! Please spread the blog address to Am. religious history folks, and let me know if you have any interest in contributing to the blog -- Paul 

I decided to take the plunge and within a few days I was listed as the blog's first "Contributing Editor." On July 7, 2007 (7-7-07) I wrote my first blog post-- a review of a Boston Review essay by Lew Daly on Catholicism and the common good. I have since written 58 posts for Harvey's blog, including [at the time] one of his most popular, and still try to contribute something worthwhile every now and then.

Paul's vision for a blog that would combine opinion, news from the profession, historical reflection on current events, and new research seemed to be a wonderful outlet for my rather eclectic interests in American history, religious history, and academic life.  But I was also taken by the sense of community that Paul always fostered at the blog.  I tried to cultivate this kind of online community when I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home in 2008.

It has been very exciting to watch the RiAH grow and become a place where many younger scholars in the field can try out their ideas.  I know that this is the kind of online space Paul wanted to create back when he began this venture a decade ago.

I have not blogged at RiAH in a long time, but I still check-in every day.  I always learn something in the process.

Congratulations to all who have been involved in the leadership of RiAH--Paul Harvey, Kelly Baker, Randall Stephens, Cara Burnidge, and Michael Hammond (I hope I am not forgetting anyone here).  I think it is fair to say that your work has brought a new vibrancy to the field of American religious history and American history broadly.

And I will always be honored to be Trapper John M.D. to Paul Harvey's MASH!

Religion in American History: A Short Syllabus

Editor's Note:  As Jonathan and Chris have recently pointed out, July 2017 marks the beginning of Religion in American History's tenth year. Happy birthday to us! Throughout the month we'll be celebrating and reflecting upon the contributions shared and inspired through the blog...not to mention its intellectual and creative founding father, Paul Harvey. Today's post comes from another pillar of the RiAH community, Ed Blum, who--to the surprise of no one--models a longstanding RiAH value of sharing and highlighting the work of others.

Edward Blum

The blog always felt like a big classroom to me – where we could bring up books, ideas, evidence, and everything else. I routinely use posts from the blog in my class and so I thought it would be fun to put together a little list of materials for some main themes in American religious history. Please forgive my excessive focus on the twentieth-century … since students seem to like it the most that’s where I gravitate in the classroom.

Contact and Colonialism
The American War for Independence and Early Nationhood
Nineteenth-Century Bonanza
Modernism and Fundamentalism
Great Depression, WWII, and Cold War
Civil Rights Movements
Pluralism versus the New Right

RiAH at 10: An Appreciation

By Chris Cantwell

The thing I remember most about the summer of 2007 was feeling lonely. Having passed my comprehensive exams at Cornell University in upstate New York the prior summer, my partner and I had recently made the decision to relocate to Chicago so I could conduct my dissertation research. It was an exciting move as I had grown up about an hour and a half west of the metropolis and had long been fascinated by its history. But it was also an isolating experience as I didn't really know anyone in the city proper. Research only reinforced this sense isolation. My days became spent holed up in archives or alone at my desk reading, writing, reading, and reading some more. At times my only solace was this new thing called Facebook, which my Cornell colleagues demanded I join so we could keep in touch after we moved. But on the afternoon of July 26, 2007, I received an invitation to join an even larger community of friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers.

The first post as it appears in the
WayBack Machine.
I know the exact date because I checked. That day a member of my dissertation committee, Derek Chang, forwarded me an announcement about this new blog called Religion in American History that had launched only a month earlier. When I clicked on the link I was taken to a post authored by a historian I had not heard of before who was writing about a book by another historian I didn't know. The author, of course, was Paul Harvey, the blog's founder, and the post was about Ed Blum's then new book on the religious history of W. E. B. DuBois. I was immediately struck. Here was a network of scholars whose interests aligned with my own; who engaged in conversations on issues relevant both to academic research an the wider world. Here was a community.

Over the course that summer I followed along as Paul Harvey electronically introduced me to a multitude of historians I had yet to meet. And over the course of the next several years Religion in American History became one of the primary means by which I found a circle of friends and colleagues that continues to inspire and sustain me to this day. RiAH turned ten last month; and ten years ago this month I stumbled across the blog. I can think of no better use of my post for this month than to celebrate the community that RiAH now sustains. From the simple, 154-word post Paul wrote on Ed's new book has grown a vibrant network of researchers, writers, and thinkers that now, as John McGreevy recently wrote, "steers the field." This is absolutely something to marvel at and celebrate.

So happy birthday, Religion in American History. Here's to ten years of community and conversation. And here's to blogmeister Paul Harvey, who saw the need and took the effort to anchor and mediate what we so value.

CFP: Material and Visual Culture of the American South

Emily Suzanne Clark

The Journal of Southern Religion and MAVCOR Journal (published by the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion) are pleased to announce a call for submissions for a joint issue titled "Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in the American South."

We are interested in submissions in a range of formats: original scholarly articles, review essays, photo essays, interviews with southern religious artists and/or religious professionals, object narratives, or retrospectives of previously published work (one's own or others'; books or films). Both journals enable submissions containing rich digital materials of various sorts and we highly encourage submissions with visual, audio, video, or other types of media.

Please direct submissions and inquiries to both Journal of Southern Religion associate editor Emily Suzanne Clark (clarke2@gonzaga.edu) and MAVCOR Journal editor and curator Emily Floyd (emily.floyd@yale.edu). We wish to receive final submissions for peer review no later than April 1, 2018. Click here for a link to the formal call for papers.

Happy Birthday, RiAH!

Jonathan Den Hartog

Via cliparts.co/clipart/4990
Blogmeister Cara Burnidge has pointed out that this month the Religion in American History Blog turns 10. Happy Birthday!

2007 seems a long time ago professionally, as this rather fresh Ph.D. had just completed his first year of teaching in Minnesota. Even out of graduate school, I quickly became aware of the Religion in American History blog. It was a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of American Religious History and monitor what people were thinking about.

Several years later, I appreciated the invite from blog founder Paul Harvey to contribute. One of my earliest posts was this one, a review of a novel about American missionaries abroad.

I appreciate Paul's grace as I learned the ropes, whether of etiquette (not stepping on someone else's post!) or of technology, as one of my posts broke the site (hint: Microsoft products and blogger don't play well together).

Participating in the blog has allowed me to stay in touch with the community of scholars of American religion. This could be in the comments section of any post or in the emerging discussion as post builds on post. The blog thus has worked to foster a digital community, and I've appreciated that, even if I couldn't make it to every conference in the field.

Through the blog, I've appreciated the opportunity to remind the world of the on-going work and importance of religious developments in colonial, Revolutionary, and early republican America.

Finally, I continue to enjoy reading the blog as new ideas get shared, as new writers come on strong (welcome, Andrea Turpin!), and as Paul Putz keeps my reading list stocked with more titles than I can get to!

Here's to many more years for the RiAH community!

What is America? Who is America? Who's is America?

Cara Burnidge

Declaration of Independence

Frederick Douglass, "What To The Slave Is the Fourth of July? " (1841), Black Perspectives

Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, 1848

Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus" (1883); Steve Macone, "The New 'New Colossus'" (2017)

Irvin Berlin "God Bless America" (1918; 1938); performed by Kate Smith

Langston Hughes, "I, Too, Sing America," 1926 [poem only]; with analysis from Smithsonian historian David Ward

Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again" [with images]; [read by James Earl Jones]

Allen Ginsberg, "America" (1956; performed ?)

Odetta, "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (1956); performed Johnny Cash; performed by Joan Baez

Martin Luther King, Jr. "The American Dream," (1965)

Jimi Hendrix, "Star Spangled Banner," (1969); Whitney Houston, "Star Spangled Banner," (1991)

Ray Charles, "America the Beautiful" (1972)

Woodie Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land"; performed by Bruce Springsteen (1985)

Simon & Garfunkel, "America" (1968); David Bowie, "America" (2002)

Neil Diamon, "America," The Jazz Singer, 1980

James Brown, "Living in America," 1985 [Rocky IV]

Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue" (2001)

Nas, "America"  (2008)

Cimorelli, "Made in America" (2013)

Lecrae, "Welcome to America" (2014)

Los Angeles Team, "Somewhere in America," Brave New Voices 2014 Finals

Rihanna, "American Oxygen," 2015

President Barack Obama, "Amazing Grace" (2015)

"Hallelujah," performed by Kate McKinnon (2016)

"Immigrants: We Get the Job Done" (2017)

"Make America Great Again" performed by First Baptist Church in Dallas [lyrics here & full program]

Six Questions With Kyle Roberts: The Rise of Evangelical Gotham


Kyle Roberts is Associate Professor of public history and new media at Loyola University Chicago and director of the Jesuit Libraries Provence Project. I recently interviewed Kyle about his new book, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (University of Chicago Press).

PC: What happens to early American Religious History – and American history – if we locate evangelical revivals in New York City rather than at Cane Ridge? What should we rethink?

KR: In graduate school in the early 2000s, the scholarship that I found most engaging was about evangelicalism and urban religion. Yet the two rarely overlapped. Antebellum evangelicalism was often told as a rural story – more likely to focus on camp meetings on the frontier than on outpourings of the spirit in urban churches. We knew more about Cane Ridge in 1801 than Allen Street in 1832. Works of urban religion tended to be post-Civil War studies of religious groups moving into urban environments created by others and trying to make them their own. I wanted to know what role the religious played in building the modernizing city in the first place. No city grew at a more transformational rate than New York in the first half of the nineteenth century, so I thought I would look there.

Know Your Archives 2: Archives II (NARA-College Park)

Cara Burnidge

For the past month, I've been thinking about American religion in the world. Following RAAC 2017, I drove to College Park, Maryland for three weeks of research at the National Archives at College Park (or, Archives II).  Every other year, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations meets in D.C. and many members (myself included) use these D.C. years to do research. Two birds, one travel expense stone. Building off of Lauren's fantastic review of this year's SHAFR meeting and Mike's Know Your Archives: NARA edition, I'd like to give everyone a few more tips for researching at Archives II in College Park (where State Department records are held) and share some very important news for any colleagues working on the World War I era. 

First, who should consider researching at A2 or writing about religion in US  foreign relations? Anyone who's research interests intersect with the US government's actions abroad. As I wrote in Religious Influences in American Foreign Policy for ORE, "Any civilian who served as an informant, as a formal or informal diplomat, or who aided in creating policy decisions will intersect with NARA. Any federal employee who appealed to a religious figure, group, or event to aid in the implementation of foreign relations will also intersect with NARA." So...lots of us.

Next, how can you make the most of a trip to A2?

Reflections on SHAFR @ 50 Annual Meeting

Lauren Turek

This past weekend, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations celebrated its fiftieth anniversary (as well as the fortieth anniversary of the journal Diplomatic History) at its annual meeting in Arlington, VA. Just as I reported last year, the conference included a number of panels and roundtable discussions on the topic of religion in American history and foreign relations. There were, in fact, so many good panels on religion that I could not even attend all of them owing to my unfortunate inability to be in multiple places at once! As such, in addition to providing my own overview of the exciting work that scholars showcased at the SHAFR meeting this year, I have included some reflections from other attendees as well.

Most of the panels that I attended reflected in some way on missionaries and missionary work, though the listing of panels that I have included at the end of this post does make clear that there were many panels at the conference that examined religion and foreign relations beyond missionary work (and that there were papers on a diverse array of faith traditions, including Judaism and Islam).

The first religion-themed panel that I attended was a roundtable discussion about David Hollinger's forthcoming book Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America, which is due out in October. Daniel Immerwahr organized the roundtable, with Hollinger offering an overview of the project, Melani McAlister, Madeline Hsu, and Andrew Preston providing commentary on the book, and David Engerman moderating. Hollinger outlined his argument that the mainline Protestant missionary project played a key role in "deprovincializing" America, fostering multiculturalism in American life and ecumenicism in American churches in the years between 1890 and the Vietnam war. He suggested that missionaries, the children of missionaries, and the organizations that supported missionary endeavors created what he termed "missionary cosmopolitanism," which contributed to a nascent embrace of other cultures and a strong critique of colonialism—a critique which spurred debates about the missionary project itself and a turn toward more humanitarian aid. Hollinger also revealed how the missionary project, and the cosmopolitanism it inspired among the groups he examined, led these missionaries to engage in debates over the role of the United States in the world in this period. He argued that the alliances some of these Protestants developed with colonized peoples through their missionary work pushed them to embrace an idealism about the potential for U.S. foreign policy to act as a force of morality in international relations, advancing humanitarian and anti-colonialist goals. Hollinger shared a number of wonderful, engaging anecdotes about missionaries such as Kenneth Landon, who ended up briefing Franklin D. Roosevelt and working for the OSS during World War II because he was one of the only experts on Thailand the State Department could find, and about the role some missionaries played in enforcing humane interrogations of POWs in the Pacific theater. Yet, as he concluded, the Vietnam war "shattered their idealism" about the "morality of American policy."

Adventures in the Archives: Tips for Minimizing Expenses, Maximizing Time, & Having Fun

Andrea L. Turpin

“It takes a village to nurture a book into being, and I have been privileged to be part of one that stretches from coast to coast.” This is the opening sentence of my book's acknowledgments section, and I thought of it recently when a Baylor history colleague solicited archive stories to share with her graduate class on archival research (wish I’d had one of those!). The stories that jumped to my mind related to creative ways to fund archival visits and maximize time there—which for me very much depended on a network of friends and supporters.

As it happens, I write this from Philadelphia, where I am spending two weeks at the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society researching for my next book project. Stay tuned next month for my “Know Your Archives” post on this excellent resource for American religious history. In the meantime, here’s an adapted version of the tales and tips that I passed along to our graduate students on how I conducted my dissertation research.

As a single woman, I made a great American road trip and did all my archival research in one year. Then I processed and wrote it up the following two years, rather than alternately researching and writing. During my research year, I visited 12 archives housed in 10 cities, from Boston to Berkeley. I had a blast, came home with some great finds, and managed to spend almost none of my own money above regular expenses. I admit luck and the nature of my topic played a role, but this is the advice I would give graduate students just diving into archival research:
Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

1. Apply for grants. Lots of them. I tell students they can write a strong travel-to-collections grant proposal with a formula something like this: “I am writing on X, which has been overlooked. We need to rectify the fact that X has been overlooked because it will significantly change our understanding of Y (which should be something a reasonable number of people care about). Your specific archives are essential for this project because Z. I am the right person to undertake this research because ABC.”

When selling my students on the glories of researching the history of higher education, I note that choosing that topic for my dissertation/first book meant that it was easy to make the case that a college or university archive should give me a grant: I wanted to write on their institution, which is always flattering, and their institution is always the sole place that houses the archives of their institution. I would add that college archives are excellent—and often overlooked—sources for American religious history, with relevant sources ranging from curricular records, to faculty and administration papers, to the records of student organizations. I found that Princeton University, the University of Michigan, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study all offer unusually generous travel-to-collection grants.
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