Tag Archives: religion

The best of the best from my seminar reading lists

Well, my coursework is done, so from here on out it’s just comps and the dissertation.  I’ve still got quite a lot of reading to do between now and the end of the road, of course, but the end of classes means one chapter in my career as a graduate student is over.

As one of my professors remarked this past semester, grad school gives you the opportunity to be exposed to more books than you’ll ever be able to read again in such a short period of time.  With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to look back over the books I’ve been assigned to read and select one exceptionally good title from each course.  Think of this post as…

THE FIRST AND LAST

LYNCH AWARDS FOR OUTSTANDING BOOKS FROM

MY GRADUATE COURSE REQUIRED READING LISTS

A few preliminary remarks are in order before we get rolling.  I’m only including reading seminars in American history.  That means no books from research seminars, foundational courses in theory and methodology, more practical-driven courses (such as classes on teaching the world history survey or professionalization), and courses in world or European history.  I read many fine works in these classes, but since American history is my thing, I’m going to stick with the stuff I know best.

I should also add that I’m only including required texts from these courses, so books I read for purposes of presenting an individual report or for a historiographic paper aren’t eligible for inclusion.  Maybe I’ll do another round someday and pick up all those loose ends.

Now, without further ado, here are my picks.  We’ll start with the courses I took way back when as an M.A. student.

Topics in Early American History.  This was the first graduate course I ever took.  Competition in this category was especially stiff, since my professor had us read many of the classics in the field.  But if I had to pick the one book from the required reading that was most exceptional, I’d probably go with Edmund S. Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom.  Morgan addresses the great paradox of American history: How did a slave society come to enshrine freedom and equality as its most important ideals?  It turns out not to be such a paradox after all.

Topics in American Military History.  It’s hard for me to be impartial when it comes to Charles Royster’s A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783.  It’s long been one of my all-time favorite works of historical scholarship, so it was probably bound to be my top pick among all the books I read for my military history class.  Royster asks and answers many of the most important questions the Continental Army’s existence implies about the Revolution.

Topics in Modern American History.  William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West is one of the most well researched and elegantly presented history books I’ve ever read.  You wouldn’t expect an examination of the relationship between geography, the commodification of resources, and urbanization would be this engrossing.

Civil War and Reconstruction.  I got quite a bit out of The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience, by Emory M. Thomas.  Thomas argues that the Civil War didn’t just separate the North and the South, but also wrought an internal revolution within the South itself.  Ironically, a war fought to preserve a particular way of life proved to be a powerful agent of change.

Jeffersonian America.  Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution was a very close runner-up to beat Edmund Morgan’s book in my first category.  Fortunately, it popped up again on the required reading list for this course, so I can give it the props it deserves.  Wood explains what was so revolutionary about the Revolution, an event that turned the hierarchical, organic world of colonial America into a society we might recognize as much closer to our own.

History of American Religion.  Christine Leigh Heyrman’s Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt is a model of historical argumentation.  She demonstrates how radical evangelism posed a formidable challenge to the early South’s familial, masculine, and racial ideals.  In order to win over southern planters, evangelical preachers had to adapt.  Those adaptations created the evangelicalism that many people associate with the region today.

That covers my M.A. courses.  Moving on to my doctoral coursework…

U.S. and the World.  I think I can speak for everybody who took this class when I say that Kate Brown’s Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters is both enlightening and hard to put down.  With vivid, elegant prose, Brown tells the parallel stories of two Cold War communities—one in the U.S., the other in the Soviet Union.  Both communities were built for one purpose: the production of plutonium.  In each case, the inhabitants enjoyed a level of prosperity much greater than that of their neighbors.  But both the people in these communities and those who lived downwind and downstream from them paid a fearsome price for this high standard of living.

Native American History.  William Cronon makes the list again for his now-classic Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England.  It’s one of the foundational works of environmental history, and also one of the very best.  The European conquest of the New World marked a transformation in the ways America’s inhabitants interacted with the physical environment.  I think every aspiring historian should read this book as an example of how to present and sustain a clear, forceful, and persuasive argument.

Early America and the Atlantic.  Another modern classic: Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America.  This book has the distinction of appearing on the required reading lists of more courses than any other title I’ve been assigned in grad school; it’s been assigned in three of my classes.  That ought to tell you something about what a worthwhile investment it is for anybody interested in early America, slavery, and the history of race.

Independent Study on the American Revolution.  Lots of good books to choose from here, too, but I think my favorite is Michael McDonnell’s The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia.  The Revolution wasn’t a unifying experience for the Old Dominion.  Far from it.  In fact, mobilization exposed the rifts between gentry, middling farmers, and the lower sort.  The need for manpower forced Virginia’s elites to make concessions to middling whites, and bred resentment among those poorer men who bore the burden of filling the ranks.  I love this book for McDonnell’s thorough research and the care with which he reconstructs the relationship between waging war and the political order.

Gender as a Category of Analysis in American History.  So before the 1960s, homosexuals were so far back in the closet they were essentially invisible, right?  Wrong.  In Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, George Chauncey uncovers an American gay culture that was both active and visible decades before Stonewall.  What I found most remarkable about this book, however, was not so much the fact that Chauncey has discovered a lost world, but the detail with which he reconstructs it.  Even if you’re not interested in LGBT history, you should read this book to admire the array of sources Chauncey employs to resurrect a slice of the past many Americans have forgotten.

Classic and Contemporary Readings in African American History.  The standout title from this class, at least for me, is Steven Deyle’s Carry Me Back: The Domestic Slave Trade in American Life.  When we hear the phrase “slave trade,” most of us think of the traffic in human bodies between Africa and the Americas.  It’s easy to forget how ubiquitous the internal trade was before the Civil War, and how profoundly it shaped the course of American history.  Deyle puts the domestic slave trade back at the center of the story where it belongs with research that is downright awe-inspiring in breadth.

By selecting only one book from each class, I’ve left out a lot of fantastic stuff, but I think these titles are the cream of the crop.  If you’re a fellow grad student, maybe you’ll see something here that will help you out.  And if you’re neither a student nor a historian, I encourage you to dive in anyway, so you can enjoy some of the best the discipline has to offer.

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Filed under American Revolution, Civil War, Colonial America, Graduate School, Historiography

David Barton’s new TV gig

America’s favorite pseudohistorian now has his own show on the three-ring circus that is the Trinity Broadcasting Network.  That’s a formula for comedy gold—not as much as all that gilding on TBN’s sets, perhaps, but still quite a bit.

He’ll be in good company over there.  TBN evidently has a thing for self-appointed experts with dubious credentials.  One of their shows used to feature would-be creation scientist Carl Baugh, whose claims are so fatuous that even his fellow young Earth creationists have denounced him.

Barton’s apparent immunity from criticism never ceases to amaze me.  You’d think a guy who has been shown to be wrong as much as he has would eventually lose a little credibility.  I suppose when the criticism is coming from “a few dedicated liberal individuals,” you can afford to shrug it off.

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Filed under History and Memory

Barton and Jefferson ride again

Back when Thomas Nelson withdrew David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies from publication, Barton claimed that Simon & Schuster would release a new edition in 2013.  Whatever arrangement he thought he had with S&S must have fallen through, because it never happened.

Two years on, it looks like he’s finally found somebody to reissue it: WND Books, the publishing arm of WorldNetDaily.

If the PR is any indication, it seems that Barton and his associates, like the French monarchists before them, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing:

Despite the wildly popular success of the original hardcover edition, a few dedicated liberal individuals campaigned to discredit Barton’s scholarship and credibility, but to no avail.

Wait, to no avail?  Dude, they found so many errors and misrepresentations that the original publisher pulled it from circulation.  That’s kind of why you’re writing this ad copy for a new edition in the first place, remember?

Nice try with the circumstantial ad hominem, too.  “A few dedicated liberal individuals” sounds so much better than “numerous historians and evangelical commentators.”

I will say, however, that the new cover looks a lot sharper than the old one, so it’s got that going for it.

(Hat tip: Warren Throckmorton)

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Mark Noll is speaking at UTK on Oct. 21

Here’s a really great opportunity for those of you interested in the Civil War and the history of American religion.  Dr. Mark Noll is coming to the University of Tennessee this month to deliver the Charles Jackson Lecture.  His topic is “The Bible and the Civil War: Before, During, and After.”

There aren’t many people in the historiography of religion or the realm of evangelical scholarship that cast a longer shadow than Noll.  His many books include America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and the forthcoming In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783.  He is Francis A. MacAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of the National Humanities Medal.

The 2015 Jackson Lecture is on Oct. 21 at 5:00 P.M. in UT’s Alumni Memorial Building, Room 210.  It’s free and open to anybody, so come by if you’re in the Knoxville area.

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LMU will host fourth “War in the Mountains Symposium”

Cross-posted to the blog of the Abraham Lincoln Institute for the Study of Leadership and Public Policy

Lincoln Memorial University and the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum will host the fourth “War in the Mountains” symposium April 17-18 as part of the ongoing commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  This event is free, but registration is required by April 9 due to limited seating.

The theme for this year’s symposium is “Religion, Death, Martyrdom, and the Civil War.”

  • Warren Greer, Director of of the Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail: “Action and Reaction: How Enlightenment Ideals Influenced
    American Religion from the Great Awakening through the
    Civil War”
  • Dr. Michael Toomey, Associate Professor of History at Lincoln Memorial University: “Under Fire: Lincoln’s Religion and the Civil War”
  • Dr. Earl Hess, Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History, Lincoln Memorial University: “Arguing Over the Civil War Death Toll: Does it Really Matter?”
  • Dr. George Rable, Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History, University of Alabama: “God as General: Was There a Religious History of the American Civil War?”

This event also features a Q&A session, tours of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum vault, and a book signing by the speakers.  The sessions will be held in LMU’s Hamilton Math & Science Building, Room 100.

To register or for more information, call the museum at (423) 869-6235 or e-mail Carol Campbell at carol.campbell@lmunet.edu.  The first 150 registrants will receive a free gift.

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Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War

This historian gig is messing with my culture war

David Barton recently responded to Gregg Frazer’s critique of his Jefferson book in WORLD Magazine:

Throckmorton’s original assault on my book managed to avoid its major points and instead criticize minor and even obscure facts, and this new attack by Frazer seems to suggest that this “debate” may become a never-ending discussion over less and less. With so many important cultural battles that desperately need our focused attention, it seems a misuse of time and energy to continue arguing over relatively inconsequential points with those who profess to hold the same common Christian values, so I will now resume my efforts attempting to beat back the secularist progressive movement that wrongly invokes Jefferson in their efforts to expunge any presence of faith from the public square.

I found this response interesting for two reasons. First, I think Barton is understating both the number and the seriousness of the issues his critics have raised. There comes a point where so many errors and misinterpretations accumulate that it’s not a matter of a few tiny nicks, but something more like the old Chinese punishment of death by a thousand cuts.

Second, what to make of Barton’s statement that defending his work against fellow believers is a misuse of time and energy?  Does this mean he’ll only be responding to “secularist” critiques from now on?  It almost comes across as a tacit admission that his historical writing is merely ammo for the culture war, and that he’s not really interested in teaching history for its own sake.

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Filed under American Revolution, Historiography

Bummer

Today is the anniversary of an event that is familiar to students of American religious history, one which has come to be called the “Great Disappointment.”

No, not that one.  I mean the Great Disappointment of 1844, in which, contrary to the expectations of thousands of Millerites, the world did not come to an end.  You’d think people who build their reputations on a painstaking study of Scripture would eventually get around to reading Matthew 24:36, but it’s one of the most widely ignored verses in the Bible, right up there with Matt. 5:44, Matt. 5:281 Cor. 6:7, and the last part of Leviticus 19:19.

On a different note, if you’d like information about a battlefield preservation opportunity, click here.

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