Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Seminal Work about 19th-Century U.S. Women

Welter, Barbara. "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860." American Quarterly 18, no. 2, pt. 1 (Summer 1966): 151-74.

In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a book often credited for its role in sparking 1960s and 70s "second-wave" feminism. Three years later, Barbara Welter, then a history professor at Hunter College in New York, published her still-influential article, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860."

Writing in the same key as Friedan, Welter begins by asserting that the expression "True Womanhood" turned up constantly in popular books, magazines, and journals of the antebellum period. Significantly, writers almost never defined what they meant by that phrase. They could assume that readers already knew (151). In her survey of the literature, Welter identifies "four cardinal attributes" of True Womanhood: piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. These qualities meant everything. If a woman possessed them, even if she had nothing else, she was complete, admirable, and respectable. On the other hand, if she was deficient in these attributes, then even if well-educated, wealthy, and fashionably dressed, she could rightly be considered pitiful, even a danger to the common good. According to the literature, women were needed and expected to personify a unique sort of soft power that holds together an otherwise chaotic world (152).

Regarding the attribute of piety, Welter reports one journalist of the time who wrote that religion is "exactly what a woman needs, for it gives her that dignity that best suits her dependence."  The spirit of true religion, it was said, went hand in hand with the practical things that society needed women to do in behalf of their husbands and children (153). Conversely, wrote a journalist in 1840, "female irreligion is the most revealing feature in human character." It would be better for a woman to be physically dead than morally loose (154).

On the capacities of women, one writer suggested that though female heads were just too small for intellect, they were just big enough for love. Consequently, the true spirit of femininity is "ever timid, doubtful, and clingingly dependent; a perpetual childhood" (160). Women should therefore accept submission as their lot (162). They should not attempt to save the outside world directly. Rather, they should initiate reform indirectly by educating the minds and shaping the hearts of their children (163).

Though advice literature of the time insisted that marriage was best and proper, it also sought to remove the stigma of singleness. For example, some writers mentioned that it was preferable for a woman not marry than to marry for selfish reasons. It was perfectly respectable for some women to be "teachers of the young." Women could forgo or postpone marriage because of "fidelity to some high mission" (169). Nonetheless, marriage was preferable, especially for high-spirited young women. For them, marriage held the power to tame, "cure," and provide them with direction for their otherwise misguided lives (170). Marriage was also the source of women's highest authority. In marriage, a woman both influenced a man and became a mother, rising to "a higher place of being in the scale of being" (171).

The same popular press that consistently advanced True Womanhood also vilified women's rights advocates like Mary Wollstonecraft, Frances Wright, and Harriet Martineau. In reaction to the call for increased rights for women, advocates doubled down on their message that the ideal right and patriotic duty was for women to be keepers at home, to care for their husbands and their children, the coming generation of American citizens (173).

If women were kept at home and held back in this way, what changed? How, for example, did American women manage to gain the right to vote in the early twentieth century? Welter identifies several movements and events of the nineteenth century that combined to make the difference: "social reform, westward migration, missionary activity, utopian communities, industrialism, the Civil War." Precipitated by those factors, she writes, the transformation from True Womanhood to the New Woman of the late nineteenth century was "as startling in its way as the abolition of slavery or the coming of the machine age." Still, as Friedan's book revealed, the old standards and stereotypes managed to survive and make a comeback in American society (173-74).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Winter Storm Goliath Hits Tulia, Texas

So Michele, Ben, and I drove over to Altus, Oklahoma on Thursday, the 24th, so glad to see my folks, my sisters and their families. We had a good time with them, but by Saturday, the morning after Christmas, it was time for us to get home. A winter storm, "Goliath" they called it, was blowing in from the west. We needed to get home to the Texas panhandle before it started snowing.

The winds of West Texas were howling long before we made it to Tulia. But it didn't start snowing until sometime in the wee hours of Sunday morning. We got more snow Sunday night. I took these photos on Monday afternoon, the 28th.

South Bowie Avenue, Tule Creek in the distance
Home Sweet Home
A perfect snow drift along my north fence line 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Puritans: Proto-Liberals or Traditionalist Tyrants?

Hall, David D. A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

This is a different sort of book about Puritans. Instead of focusing on theology and religion, it looks at politics and government. It's also different in another regard: instead of asserting that Puritan government was authoritarian and anti-democratic, historian David D. Hall argues that so much of the Puritan political experiment actually ran in the opposite direction.

From the very beginning of A Reforming People, it's clear that Hall wants to stick up for the misunderstood and much-maligned Puritans. "The argument that runs through this book," he writes, "is plain enough: the people who founded the New England colonies in the early seventeenth century brought into being churches, civil governments, and a code of laws that collectively marked them as the most advanced reformers of the Anglo-colonial world" (xi).

Hall notes that during the 1620s and 30s, the search for a proper balance between liberty and order was a huge question in both England and New England. Along these lines, the big advances emerged in New England, not old England (4). Looking back on the Puritans of the seventeenth century, he explains, observers and historians have taken one of two opposing views. According to some, the Puritan impulse was essentially top-down and authoritarian. They suggest that the Salem witch trials should come as no surprise. According to others, the Puritan outlook was essentially democratic and anti-authoritarian. They point to the development of democratic ideology in nineteenth-century America. Hall argues that both of these common, popular views of New England Puritans are seriously flawed. No, they weren't proto-liberals. But neither were they unfeeling, authoritarian despots.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Race and Politics in Twentieth Century America

Gerstle, Gary. American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

This book explores the most important twentieth-century ideas about what it meant, and means, to be an American. Gary Gerstle sets out to provide a schema, a framework by which readers can understand and make sense of U.S. political, military, and social history during the 1900s.

Gerstle's thesis centers on a competition between what he calls civic nationalism versus racial nationalism. He uses the first phrase to refer to what has been called "the American Creed." That is to say, civic nationalism means American civic principles and rights. It is characterized by its disregard for racial and ethnic distinctions. Consider, for example, the very-American sounding statement, "Here in the U.S., it doesn't matter where you're from or what color you are, if obey the law and are willing to work hard, you'll eventually get ahead." That's an expression of what Gerstle is calling civic nationalism. By contrast, racial nationalism asserts that only people of a certain race and ethnic origin are qualified to lead in America and to enjoy all of the privileges granted by the U.S.

"In this book," says Gerstle, "I argue that the pursuit of these two powerful and contradictory ideals--the civic and the racial--has decisively shaped the history of the American nation in the twentieth century" (p. 5). But this is no liberal-versus-conservative telling of the story. The author says that his is "particularly interested in how liberals and their supporters wrestled with the contradictions between the two nationalist traditions" (6).

In short, Gerstle asserts and sets out to demonstrate that his deceptively simple model--civic nationalism versus racial nationalism--represents a powerful lens through which to look back on the history of the U.S. during the entire twentieth century.

The author acknowledges his dependence on Benedict Anderson's book, Imagined Communities, which, says Gerstle, explains that nations are "sociopolitical creations" and as such are "historically contingent." He also acknowledges the inspiration and direction that came to him through works by W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880; Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom; David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness; Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom; and Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (11-13).

In his "Introduction," Gerstle lays out both his thesis and his interpretation of America during the 1900s. He says that many, perhaps even most American liberals of the early twentieth century believed in "the superiority of a racialized melting pot." But they typically "did not think to include blacks, Hispanics, or Asians in their American crucible" (6). In fact, at that time many Americans with ancestral roots in northeastern Europe believed that even people from eastern and southern Europe would likely never become full-fledged Americans. On the other hand was what liberal Herbert Croly called "the promise of American life," a vision that President Theodore Roosevelt, himself a racist of sorts, placed at the center of his progressivist vision (7).

Gerstle notes that the competition between these two visions of nationhood heated up during times of war. Later, the "Rooseveltian" nation fell apart during the 1960s as a result of the Civil Rights revolution (9). By 1970, "neither the civic nor racial traditions of American nationalism retained enough integrity to serve as rallying points for those who wished to put the nation back together" (10).

In his "Epilogue," which considers the last 25 years of the twentieth century, Gerstle looks back over the wreckage left from the 1960s and early 70s. He says that from 1975 to 2000, Americans identified two new possible and, again, competing directions for the nation: a commitment to multiculturalism versus a renewal of traditional pride in a unified America. He suggests that the presidency of Bill Clinton represented a third option, which drew, in certain ways, on both of those ideas.

I have to confess that as I read American Crucible, I kept waiting for the author to overplay his hand, or for his interpretive framework to break down. From my vantage point, neither of those happened in this book. So I consider Gerstle's thesis a good way of thinking about the history of politics and race in the U.S. during the twentieth century. And, as the great-grandson of people who immigrated to the U.S. from southern Italy in 1897, for me the insights of this book sometimes hit fairly close to home.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Frankie Valli and the Cult of the Saints

So, earlier today I was watching Dan Rather interview the great Frankie Valli. Of course, what stood out to me was something I was personally interested in. Rather asked about Valli's religion. He suspected that since Valli is an Italian-American "Jersey boy," he must have grown up Roman Catholic. Exactly right. Although nowadays, and apparently for a long time now, the singer has shown little devotion to the Church. He mentioned the worldliness of churches. Valli said it seemed to him that all of them were, to one extent or another, businesses.

Valli mentioned that during the years when he and his bandmates were struggling to make a name for themselves, he would often stop by St. Patrick's Cathedral and light a candle. But, again, since those days he's kept his distance from the Church and from religion in general.

Then, Valli said something that really struck me. There's one aspect of the religion of his youth that he still retains: the cult of the saints. No, he didn't use those words. But he did say that if he can't seem to find something he's looking for, he appeals to St. Anthony. He suggested that almost always, after calling on St. Anthony he soon finds whatever it is. Valli also mentioned his regard for St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes.

That one little bit of the interview made me realize, again, what a huge phenomenon the cult of the saints has been throughout the years of Christendom. Of course, I knew that so many cities and towns, counties, hospitals, colleges, days, etc., etc. were named for a particular saint. But until you start to explore this aspect of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, it's easy to overlook its significance through the centuries. In many ways, the cult of the saints is the single largest window on the history of Christianity during the Middle Ages. And, it has maintained its popularity right up to the present day.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Oriard, Michael. Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Hard to believe, it's but true. In years gone by, playing professional football was a job men did, not for as long as they could, but for as long as they had to. There were lots of better-paying jobs. But some men just couldn't get them. So they had to play football instead. Over the last fifty years, the Super Bowl has gone from being a televised championship game to being the centerpiece of an unofficial national holiday in the United States, a day on which Americans eat more than on any other day besides Thanksgiving. In Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport, scholar Michael Oriard tells about the people who were a part of that remarkable transition: the players, coaches, commissioners, and team owners of the National Football League.

Oriard reveals, among other things, that professional football's great triumph in recent times was not inevitable. There were a number of unpredictable factors that combined to make the NFL what it is today. Most of all, he describes and attempts to wrap his mind around the incredible profitability of the NFL. He seems most interested in the sums of money that, as he puts it, "overwhelm comprehension," and the ways all those billions of dollars have changed the game (5).

Given his topic it comes as no surprise that Oriard's sources include major newspapers published in cities with an NFL franchise, the New York Times and the San Francisco Examiner, for example. He also cites magazines like Sports Illustrated and Esquire. But because he is interested in how mountains of money have impacted professional football, Oriard also consults periodicals like ForbesFinancial World, and Street & Smith's Sports-Business Journal. In addition to these sources, he sometimes cites his own personal experience as a standout college football player who went on to play a few seasons in the NFL, and who has followed the on- and off-field drama of the game ever since he hung up his cleats. 

For me, Oriard's observations based on his personal experience were some of the most interesting parts of the book. For example, he describes the early 1970s, when the Super Bowl "was still just a championship game with a huge television audience" but was far from what it has since become. To that, he adds this footnote: "As a Chief, I was entitled to buy two tickets to the game but did it only once, when a former teammate from Notre Dame called to ask if I could get him seats. The idea that I should buy my allotment every year, because they would be worth a fortune to someone somewhere, never crossed my mind" (55). Could anyone do a better job of illustrating the difference between then and now?

Oriard does more than report a mountain of information about the modern NFL. He uses his facts in order to piece together big puzzles that render some impressive portraits, maps of the past that are certainly interesting, and maybe even instructive. For example, the author relates the stories of the labor tension and players' strikes of the 1970s and 80s. He describes them in a way that underscores how these events were all part of the same great struggle, one that lasted from 1974 to 1993. He also paints portraits of two great NFL commissioners, Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue. Oriard suggests that although significantly different from one another, each one was the right man at the right time, and that the lengthy tenures of Rozelle and Tagliabue marked distinct periods of solid growth for professional football.

Highlights in this book for me include a section that tells the unlikely story of the origins and rise of NFL Films. Father and son Ed and Steve Sabol both loved football and movies. Combining their efforts and starting with next to nothing, they made some of the best football films ever produced. Oriard reveals that Steve understood both art and film-making, and that he incorporated his knowledge into the careful crafting of NFL Films. The point here is that these films, first produced in the 1960s, generated a tremendous amount of publicity for professional football. Many kids who grew up during that era remember the films when they were first aired on television, turning the sport into a national obsession.

I also appreciated how, in Chapter 6, "Football in Black and White," Oriard drives home the point that because the genetic make up of individuals is so very diverse and mixed, the social construct we call "race" is nowhere close to being a pure biological category. More than once he also points out that the supposedly-natural superiority of the black athlete can be a two-edged sword. Why? Because someone who asserts that the black person is more likely to be a physically-superior athlete might also suggest that that same black person is more likely to be intellectually inferior.

Overall, I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed reading it most of the time. There were points where the sheer volume of facts and figures was a bit too much. On the other hand, no one can accuse Oriard of playing loose with the facts. He likely has as good a handle on the details of professional football as anyone.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

PhD Reading List for Twentieth Century U.S. History

Okay, so here's my working list of titles for Twentieth Century U.S. History. I got my start on this project in a course I took at Texas Tech with Dr. Sean Cunningham, who is part of my committee for qualifying exams. The list has been a work in progress over the last six months or so. About 8 or 9 titles that also appear on my Religion list were deleted from this one because of the overlap. But from here, I don't think there will be many changes if any.

If I've posted something here at Frankly Speaking on one of these, I've added a link to that title. Sometimes at the end of an entry, I've included a few tags that identify some of the topics of that book.

I've tried to categorize the list, a project I thought might help me get an overall sense of what's here. So far, I've read or a least gotten into about 75% of these titles. Not knowing very much about the other 25% of the books made them harder to categorize. So I might be moving some of them around later. Trying to gain a good bit of mastery over this material should keep me busy for a while.

Background, Survey, General (7)

Kennedy, David M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Klein, Maury. The Genesis of Industrial America, 1870-1920. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Painter, Nell Irvin. Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987.

Patterson, James T. Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Patterson, James T. Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Sitkoff, Harvard, editor. Perspectives on Modern America: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wiebe, Robert. The Search for Order, 1877-1920. New York: Hill and Wang, 1966.

Cold War, esp. Cuban Missile Crisis (7)

Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Imagery of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011. Politics. Society.

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin, 2005. Cold War.

Kennedy, Robert F. Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Introductions by Robert S. McNamara and Harold Macmillan. New York: Norton, 1969. Cold War. Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK Administration. Politics.

Leffler, Melvyn P. The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1953. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.

May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. New York: Basic Books, 1988. Cold War. Gender.

McNamara, Robert S. "The Military Role of Nuclear Weapons: Perceptions and Misperceptions," Foreign Affairs 62 (Fall 1983): 59-80. Cold War. Nuclear Weapons. Military Tactics.

Stern, Sheldon M. The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005. Cold War. Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK Administration.

Culture and Mass Media (9)

Bailey, Beth L. From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Berkowitz, Edward D. Mass Appeal: The Formative Age of the Movies, Radio, and TV. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Mass Media.

Boorstin, Daniel J. The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Atheneum, 1987. Culture. Mass Media.

Culver, Lawrence. The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. New York: Verso, 1996.

Fraterrigo, Elizabeth. Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Pells, Richard. Modernist America: Art, Music, Movies, and the Globalization of American Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011. Culture.

Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. Culture. Media. Movies.

Zeitz, Joshua. Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006. Culture. Society. Women.

Politics (13)

Badger, Anthony J. The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-40. New York: Hill and Wang, 1989. New Deal. Great Depression. FDR Administration.

Brands, H. W. The Strange Death of American Liberalism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001. Politics. Liberalism. Vietnam War.

Cohen, Lizabeth, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939. 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Goldberg, Robert Alan. Barry Goldwater. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. Conservatism.

Kazin, Michael. The Populist Persuasion: An American History. Rev. ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

McGirr, Lisa. Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Postel, Charles. The Populist Vision. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Rodgers, Daniel T., “In Search of Progressivism.” Reviews in American History 10, no. 4 (1982): 113-132.

Rossinow, Doug. The Politics of Authenticity: Liberalism, Christianity, and the New Left in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Rymph, Catherine E. Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism From Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Republican Party. Women.

Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998. Cold War. Senator Joseph P. McCarthy. Political Repression.

Self, Robert O. All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy since the 1960s. New York: Hill and Wang, 2012.

Wills, Garry. John Wayne's America: The Politics of Celebrity. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. Rhetoric. Imagery. Mythology.

Presidents (9)

Brands, H. W. Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Class and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New York: Doubleday, 2008. Politics. FDR. Great Depression.

Dallek, Robert. Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. LBJ. Politics. Texas.

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. Boston: Little, Brown, 2003. JFK. Politics.

Gillon, Steven M. The Kennedy Assassination--24 Hours After: Lyndon B. Johnson's Pivotal First Day as President. New York: Basic Books, 2009. 

Greenberg, David. Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image. New York: Norton, 2003. Memory. Richard M. Nixon. Politics. Media.

Link, Arthur S. Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954.

McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Harry S. Truman.

Pietrusza, David. 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign that Forged Three Presidencies. New York: Union Square, 2008.

Rauchway, Eric. Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003.

Wills, Garry. The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981. Politics. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. Family. JFK.

Race and Civil Rights (10)

Boyle, Kevin. Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age. New York: Henry Holt, 2004. Race. U.S. Cities--Detroit. Law. 1920s.

Borstelmann, Thomas. The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988. Civil Rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. Religion--Black Church.

Brilliant, Mark. The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Race. Civil Rights. California. Politics.

Hobbs, Allyson. A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. Race. Society.

Gerstle, Gary. American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. Race. Theodore Roosevelt Administration.

Gordon, Linda. The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Lambert, Valerie. Choctaw Nation: A Story of American Indian Resurgence. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. American Indians. Oklahoma. Politics.

McLaurin, Melton. Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. 2nd ed. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998. Race. American South.

Roediger, David. Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. Rev. ed. London: Verso, 2007.

Sports (5)

Byrne, Julie. O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Sports. Gender. Religion--Roman Catholicism.

Oriard, Michael. Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Sports. Professional Football. Society. Race.

Pope, S. W. "Sport History: Into the 21st Century." Journal of Sport History 25 (Summer 1998): i-x.

Sammons, Jeffrey T. "'Race' and Sport: A Critical, Historical Examination." Journal of Sport History 21 (Fall 1994): 203-78. Sports. Race.

Vecsey, George. Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game. New York: Modern Library, 2008. Sports--Baseball.

U.S. South and West, especially Texas (8)

Campbell, Randolph B. Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Texas. Politics.

Crisp, James E. Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett’s Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Texas. Archival Research. Textual Criticism.

Cunningham, Sean P. American Politics in the Postwar Sunbelt: Conservative Growth in a Battleground Region. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great America Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Dust Bowl. Social History.

Foley, Neil. The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Phillips, Michael. White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

White, Richard. "It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own": A New History of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Worster, Donald. Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Vietnam War (8)

Berman, Larry. Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent. HarperCollins/Smithsonian, 2007. Vietnam War. Espionage. News Media.

Bilton, Michael and Kevin Sim. Four Hours in My Lai. New York: Viking, 1992. Vietnam War. Military. Law.

Hammond, William M. Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998. Vietnam War. News Media. Society.

Milam, Ron. Not a Gentleman's War: An Inside View of Junior Officers in the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Vietnam War. Military.

Moyar, Mark. Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Vietnam War--Revisionist Interpretation. Politics.

O'Brien, Tim. If I Die in a Combat Zone. 1975. Reprint edition. New York: Broadway Books, 1999. Vietnam War--Memoir/Novel.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Vintage, 1989. Vietnam War. Military. News Media.

Vuic, Kara Dixon. Officer, Nurse, Woman: The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. Women. Gender. Vietnam War.

World Wars I and II, Holocaust (5)

Adler, Selig. "The United States and the Holocaust." American Jewish Historical Quarterly 64 (September 1974): 14-23. Holocaust. World War II. Religion--Judaism.

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. New York: Pantheon, 1986. World War II. Pacific Theater. Japan. Race.

Miscamble, Wilson D. The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. World War II. Pacific Theater. Truman Administration.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon, 1984.

Zieger, Robert. America's Great War: World War I and the American Experience. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

1960s (3)

Anderson, Terry H. The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Flamm, Michael W. Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Isserman, Maurice and Michael Kazin. America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Stories from the Real Mayberry

McLaurin, Melton. Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. 2nd edition. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

This memoir recounts what life was like for a white kid growing up during the 1950s in Wade, North Carolina, a racially-mixed small town. Melton McLaurin, the son of a respected family in the community, learned his lessons about racism and segregation like anyone else would--through day-to-day norms and specific incidents when boundaries were reinforced and tested. The historical value of the book centers on McLaurin's claim that things were essentially the same in most every other small town in the South during that time. He prefers to reveal the world he grew up in through some unforgettable characters and the stories he remembers about them. His chapters have titles like "Betty Jo" and "Sam."

When he wrote this book, McLaurin was a professor and chair of the department of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. So it's no surprise that he often wants to provide a bit of historical context for the stories he relates. But he never overdoes it, never turns his memoir into something like a history lecture.

From beginning to end, the book remains his story of struggling to make sense of what was happening in the cloudy world of his adolescence in the pre-Civil Rights South. He neither accuses nor absolves members of his own family. Instead, he describes them and everyone else in his hometown as people of their time. Fewer and fewer Americans today have a personal past that reaches back as far as the 1950s. It was a separate past, one we should remember and learn from.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

St. Clare's Preternatural Pebble Pick

Reading the processus document for Saint Clare of Assisi, I happened upon one of the more interesting miracle stories I've ever read. According to one witness, a nun who had lived in the same monastery with Clare for many years, "a young boy of the city of Spoleto, Mattiolo, three or four years old, had put a small pebble up one of the nostrils of his nose, so it could in no way be extricated. The young boy seemed to be in danger. After he was brought to Saint Clare and she made the sign of the cross over him, that pebble immediately fell from his nose. The young boy was cured."

The Lady: Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, edited and translated by Regis J. Armstrong (New York: New City Press, 2006), 154.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Long Lost Life of Pope Gregory I

The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great: By an Anonymous Monk of Whitby, translated by Bertram Colgrave. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1968. Pp. ix, 180.

Born in Ireland in 1889, Bertram Colgrave died at Cambridge, England in 1968, the year this book was published. Much of his academic career was focused on the production of facsimiles and critical editions of the lives of saints. For many years, he served as founding editor-in-chief of the series titled Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile.

In The Earliest Life of Gregory the Great, Colgrave's "Introduction" takes up the biggest share of the book (1-70). It includes a section on the world into which the anonymous writer was born, a brief critical biography of Gregory the Great, and helpful information about the history of the Benedictine double monastery at Whitby, home to our author. Regarding date, Colgrave argues that the Whitby writer produced his work sometime between 704 and 714, and that traditions about Gregory that circulated at the monastery represent the writer's primary source, along with a "saga tradition" that likely came from Canterbury.

The Whitby writer also knows the Bible, which he quotes or echoes quite often. Colgrave tells us that although our anonymous monk could tell a pretty good story, he is no Latin stylist. In fact, at a number of points in the text the translator has a hard time knowing what the author was trying to say. Colgrave takes up the question of a possible relationship between the writings of Bede and the work produced by the Whitby writer, and concludes that there is no literary connection between the two. He explains that once Bede had finished his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, it immediately overshadowed the work of the Whitby writer, which fell into obscurity. In the modern era, no complete text of the work was issued until 1904.

Next, Colgrave presents the Latin text and his own translation of the work as one would find in the Loeb Classical Library: the original appears on the left side of an opening with the translation on the right (71-139). As the reader discovers, while some of the stories in this life are a bit pedestrian, the Whitby writer is able to include a few entertaining episodes connected to Gregory. For example, once he was identified as the next Pope, Gregory resisted by hiding, going so far as to hire a few local merchants who carried him out of the city in a casket (ch. 7). Above all, and throughout, the writer celebrates Gregory's devotion to the English people. It was by Gregory's distant influence that England became subject and devoted to the authority of the Roman Church.

The text and translation are followed by an impressive set of "Notes" (140-65) and a "Select Bibliography" (166-67), which supplements the works found in Colgrave's list of "Abbreviations" (viii-ix). The "Appendix" is essentially an index of biblical and other ancient sources that the Whitby writer quotes, or to which he alludes. This part of the book would be especially helpful to students who want to investigate the writer's handling of Scripture, or his knowledge and use of the patristic tradition. A good "Index" of places, names, and topics concludes the book (173-80).

Colgrave's work is the ideal, self-contained study of this particular life. Since its publication, it has no doubt raised scholars' awareness and use of this significant document from the eighth century. The work of the anonymous Whitby writer, with apparently no hagiographical sources behind it, provides a good contrast to Bede's Ecclesiastical History, which, in terms of sources, falls at the opposite end of the spectrum.

After reading this fine study, I still have one question: Why is it that "the earliest life of Gregory the Great" was written at least a century after he died?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What Were Byzantine Icons Up To?

Mosaic icon of St. John Chrysostom

Henry Maguire, The Icons of Their Bodies: Saints and their Images in Byzantium. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. Pp. xviii, 222.

A longtime associate of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C., Henry Maguire is an expert in Byzantine art, literature, and culture. The Icons of Their Bodies, one of his many works, is a satisfying study of Byzantine sacred iconography. The book is written at a level suitable for the novice and is richly illustrated by 167 black-and-white figures.

In his "Introduction," Maguire states that his goal is "to analyze the logic of the saint's image in Byzantium, not from the perspective of a social historian but from that of an art historian. In other words," he says, "it is my main intention to discuss not the role that icons had in Byzantine society but rather the role that society had in the design of icons" (3).

In Chapter 1, "Likeness and Definition," Maguire raises and responds to basic questions like, Did Byzantine artists really know what a particular saint looked like? If so, how did they know? And, why do the saints in Byzantine art look more like caricatures than photographs to us moderns? He answers that people of the Middle Ages were not so naive or unsophisticated that they simply could not produce what moderns would call a genuine likeness, an impression of reality that artists call illusion. Instead, what Byzantine artists succeeded in producing was an impression that would be easily recognized.

In Chapter 2, "Corporality and Immateriality," Maguire begins by noting the differences between typical depictions of soldiers and monks who were saints. While soldiers appear to swagger, monks face the viewer full on, and seem much more two-dimensional. The author asserts that such differences are the result of design. In short, the icons are calculated to communicate that, while the lives of soldiers are filled with action, the lives of monks are pretty straightforward and flat. In this way, he proceeds to discuss the images of ascetics and bishops, evangelists, apostles, and the Virgin Mary. Throughout, his argument is that the nature and activities of different kinds of saints were communicated by their icons through varying "degrees of corporality, motion, and emotive response" (65).

Chapter 3, "Naming and Individuality," sets out to explain how and why Byzantine images differed before and after the Iconoclastic Controversy of the eighth and ninth centuries. According to Maguire, works of art before iconoclasm sometimes depicted the same saint numerous times and lacked inscriptions. By contrast, following the controversy, in the artistic period known as Middle Byzantine, icons appear to be standardized and included inscriptions. The author attributes these changes to church authorities who feared that many people connected the older images to popular magic. In short, change occurred at least in part because the church reacted against heresy and extra-ecclesial power.

The argument of Chapter 4, "Detail and Deficiency," is similar to that of the second chapter. Here, Maguire compares the "visual narratives of the saints," specifically, Saints Nicolas and George, with portrayals of the Virgin and of Christ. While the depictions of the two saints' lives are relatively spare, more abstract, those of Christ highlight both his "special divine status" and "his human nature." The status of the Virgin seems to fall somewhere in between. Although a unique person, compared to Christ, she is depicted in ways that are "more detailed and earthbound" (193-94). Again, the point is that the nature and function of the saints and, in this case, the Virgin and the Christ, strongly influence the ways in which they are depicted.

In a brief, "Conclusion," Maguire provides an overview of his book, and emphasizes that understanding and analyzing the "formal values" of Byzantine art represent the key to understanding it and its reception (199).

The Icons of their Bodies is characterized by simple, straightforward language accompanied by interesting, illuminating figures. This is the way that art history should be communicated.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lord's Supper Meditation

On Zion's glorious summit stood
A num'rous host redeemed by blood!
They hymned their King in strains divine;
I heard the song and strove to join.

The poet who penned those words, about the year 1800, was a man named John Kent. With those words he wrote the the essential biography of every boy and girl, every man and woman who ever placed their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ; every person who ever committed himself to obeying the Son of God in all things.

It's clear that John Kent had been reading the Book of Revelation. In that book a much earlier John, the author of Revelation, caught a glimpse of heaven. There, he saw what he tells us was "a great multitude which no man could number."

There have been a few preachers in my past who sometimes made me think that about 83 people were going to make it to heaven. The Bible says that the real number is untold millions. I like the Bible version better, don't you? It makes me think that I might be there too someday. It helps me understand what Jesus meant when he told his disciples that "God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world; but so that the world through him might be saved." The gospel is good news for sinners!

This is what the Lord's Supper is all about. Jesus left it for us as a reminder. What this reminder says is that, in spite of your sins, if you want to be a part of the family of God; if you want to live for the Lord and make him proud to own you; if you want to be finally saved and live in the presence of God forever, you can.

Having heard the song they're singing in heaven, you can strive to join those blessed people, and make it; all because of what Jesus did when he went to the cross and died for us; when he have gave his body and his blood for you and me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Philosopher, a Hermit, and a Rabbi

Kirschner, Robert. "The Vocation of Holiness in Late Antiquity." Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984): 105-124.

At the time this article was published, Robert Kirschner taught in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. More recently, he has become the Director of the Skirball Cultural Center Museum in Los Angeles.


Kirschner begins his article by asserting that the transition from the world of classical antiquity to that of late antiquity marks a shift from the individual as a cell in the body politic to a more autonomous individual. This change created an atmosphere in which the distinctly holy man, the personification of a connection between heaven and earth, became more common. With that in place, Kirschner states his purpose: "The present paper discusses the vocation of holiness in late antiquity with reference to the pagan philosopher, the Christian ascetic, and the rabbinic sage. It seeks to describe the basic dimensions of each model of holiness" (105).


The "pagan vocation of holiness" was founded upon paideia, a good classical education (106). Pagan holy men tended to come from the circles of independently wealthy people who had plenty of time for study and contemplation. Yet, they were also ascetics who embraced things like celibacy and vegetarianism (106). Such discipline brought to them extraordinary powers, and, in fact, the consummate philosopher might be regarded as the son of a deity (107). Typically, the status of the philosopher showed up in his physical appearance. There was something about his face, eyes, manner, etc. that was different.


By contrast to the philosopher, who lived in the society of the governing class, Christian holy men lived in the place of anti-culture, the desert (109). This can be seen as the philosopher's renunciation taken to an extreme. While the pagan philosopher did not indulge, the Christian ascetic completely cut himself off. While the philosopher might identify demons, the Christian ascetic engaged them in battle (109). The hermit rejected society, which led to apatheia, the absence of feeling, so that one could adequately deal with the demons. The ascetic's power became equal and even superior to that of demons. The physical accomplishments of the hermits were astonishing (111). One way in which the monk was like the philosopher is that both were familiar with the illustration of the athlete in training (111-12). Also, as with the philosophers, "the Christian holy man's personal conduct and demeanor were carefully observed by his disciples" (112). In fact, for the disciple to see the holy man was, in itself, a significant part of the training he sought (113-14). "Having passed beyond human society and the human condition, the Christian holy man spoke powerfully to both. By departing from the flawed orbit of ordinary men, but waging heroic battle against the demons, he recovered the primeval perfection of Adam that existed before the fall from grace. His arduous and unearthly vocation made him visibly holy" (114).


Unlike the pagan philosophers and Christian holy men, rabbis of late antiquity did not have biographers. Thus, in order to make any comparisons the historian is forced to sleuth other kinds of sources, like the Mishnah, Tosefta, the two Talmuds, and the Midrashim. Because these texts are typically juristic, they are unlikely sources of biographical information. Nevertheless, they do relate that the rabbis became much more significant after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. It was then that the rabbis concluded that the authority of Judaism's priesthood, which could no longer function, had been handed over to them (115). Study of the Torah and Mishnah became paramount and made the sages invincible. Attachment to the rabbinic sage, in the minds of some, superseded the disciple's first loyalty to his own father. The student's father brought him into this world, but his rabbi ushered him into the world to come (116). One difference between the Jewish holy man and the other two types is that, in this case, asceticism was rare and mild. Rabbis married, fathered children, lived in houses, and enjoyed good food and drink, albeit kosher. One pattern of continuity is that, with the rabbis as with the other two types, the holiness of the person was visible and important (117). In Judaism, the desire to witness the rabbi in every phase of life was sometimes taken to odd extremes. A student might follow the rabbi into "the bathroom" to see how he took care of his business there. Another would hide under the rabbi's marital bed to learn about his teacher's love-making. (One can only imagine how the rabbi's wife felt about that). The point is that even the rabbi's private actions and gestures were considered instructive and normative. He was in all phases of life the conduit of the divine revelation.


In the classical era, someone becoming holy, or a divine being, was truly exceptional. "[B]ut in Hellenistic and Roman society it was the aspiration of every poet, thinker, and artist to be divinized, to become a 'man of the Muses' " (119). The rabbinic sage, although he represents a separate tradition, "crystallizes a crucial attribute of the holy man: the paradigmatic impact of his person. Down to every detail of his being, the holy man is a divine revelation" (120).

This article is a succinct, concise survey of its topic. It is well written and contains a large number of interesting quotations from primary sources.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Glimpse of What Historians Actually Do

Farge, Arlette. The Allure of the Archives. Translated by Thomas Scott-Railton. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

First published in French in 1989, this book is now available to English readers thanks to what appears to be a very fine translation by Thomas Scott-Railton. As the "Forward" by Natalie Zemon Davis explains, author Arlette Farge is a social historian who has focused on eighteenth-century France. But this book of hers is not another historical monograph. It is, instead, a book about the experience, value, and proper uses of archival research. In other words, in The Allure of the Archives, Farge does not practice her craft so much as she elegantly describes and reflects on it.

The author's approach is to toggle back and forth between descriptive, analytical chapters and brief, autobiographical sections--which tend to reveal how petty and annoying some people in the archives can be, and how one easily distinguishes between veterans and rookies. Along the way, Farge puts in a good word for the necessary task of transcribing old, handwritten documents. Though tedious, she insists that there is something essential and rewarding about such work (15-17).

In a section titled "Her Presence," she notes that if traditional histories often omit women, the archives never do: "In every popular expression of emotion, in groups large and small, women were on the scene and dove in headfirst into the action" (39).

Farge is convinced that the prime way of getting at social history is to focus on conflict: "Why not choose to take a deliberately provocative position on this, and assert that society's character manifests itself through antagonisms and conflicts? It is more important to say this than ever, because today there is a tendency to doubt the centrality of conflict" (43).

In another memorable section, the author describes how it is that some manuscripts are much easier to decipher when they are read out loud: "Nothing looks like anything, unless it is articulated, and the tongue delivers the writing from incomprehensibility" (60). Yet, people in reading rooms are supposed to work silently.

Farge also notes several pitfalls associated with archival research. For example, "you can become absorbed by the archives to the point that you no longer know how to interrogate them" (70). She observes that another common trap is to identify a thesis too early, thereby ensuring that you will "find" exactly and only what you were looking for in the first place.

Nearing the end, the author raises and responds to the question of the relationship between truth and written history. She takes a mediating approach, one that says that, while no historian every produces "the definitive truthful narrative," no historian worthy of the name can ever disregard truth, or fail to care about what is true (95-96). 

Here, I noticed a correspondence between Farge's book and one by Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis titled, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford, 2002). Gaddis notes that, on the one hand, historians have always known that arriving at historical consciousness means you have learned "that there is no 'correct' interpretation of the past" and that "the act of interpreting is itself a vicarious enlargement of experience" (10). On the other hand, he rejects the extreme conclusion that because "we have no absolute basis for measuring time and space" we therefore "can't know anything about what happened within them" (34). Both Farge and Gaddis would agree, I think, that historians can and should identify many things that are true, while at the same time recognizing that one's interpretation of a set of facts is just that, an interpretation.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Who Was a Martyr?

Bowersock, G. W. Martyrdom and Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

This book began as the series of Wiles Lectures delivered at Queen's University in Belfast in 1993. The author, G. W. Bowersock, taught Classics and History at Harvard University from 1962 to 1980. Then, from 1980 until his retirement in 2006, he was Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.

The central thesis of this book is that the terms martyr and martyrdom should not be associated with pagans who were willing to die for a philosophy, or with Jews who were willing to die for their tradition, or with Muslims who were killed in a holy war. Why? Because, strictly speaking, those two terms originated with and belong especially to Christians who lived in the Roman Empire during the second through fourth centuries. Bowersock offers a set of arguments rooted in philology and history in order to show that in the Roman Empire martyrdom meant something very specific.

In Chapter I, "The making of martyrdom," Bowersock attempts to reveal the precise definitions of martyr and martyrdom. He acknowledges that, of course, there were accounts of non-Christians in the ancient world who "provided glorious examples of resistance to tyrannical authority and painful suffering before unjust judges." So, then, what was different about true martyrdom per se? Bowersock answers that there were two things. First, starting with the Christians of the second century in their imperial Roman context, such courage was "absorbed into a conceptual system of posthumous recognition and anticipated reward." Second, and related to the first point, "the very word martyrdom existed as the name for this system" (5).

Chapter II, "The written record," sets out to corroborate the argument of the first chapter along the lines of literary analysis. Bowersock notes that the distinctive literary form called martyrology bears little resemblance to Jewish stories from the Old Testament book of Daniel, or from the second and fourth books of Maccabees. Instead, judging from their narrative technique and literary style, the Martyr Acts most closely resemble "pagan historical fiction" (26). The author concludes that "like the very word 'martyr' itself, martyrdom had nothing to do with Judaism or with Palestine" (28). Furthermore, Jewish martyrology sounds nothing like pre-Constantine Christian martyrology. In those accounts, for example, the victims are asked, according to formula, if they are ready to change their minds. Such inquisitions have a "distinctively Roman character" (37).

Chapter III, "The civic role of martyrs," begins with the simple observation that the martyr acts "take place in the greatest cities of the Roman world" (41). Why was this the case, and why is it significant? Bowersock explains that, from the Roman side, major cities included the deadly legal authority of provincial governors as well as the crowds who would gather for "spectacles of blood sport in the amphitheater." From the Christian side, "martyrdom in a city provided the greatest possible visibility for the cause of the nascent Church, and it simultaneously exposed the Roman administrative machinery to the greatest possible embarrassment" (42). Under these circumstances, pagans and Jews would unite publicly against Christian martyrs, a fact that underscores the author's thesis that martyrdom was a uniquely-Christian phenomenon vis-a-vis imperial Rome.

In Chapter IV, "Martyrdom and suicide," the author describes the eagerness, good cheer, and even laughter of some early martyrs. In many cases, their dispositions reveal a desire for martyrdom that amounted to suicide by state official (59-61). Because of this development, some Christian theologians examined the distinction between martyrdom and suicide. On the one hand, Tertullian argued that if some pagans voluntarily died for false and foolish notions, how much more should Christians be willing to die for the truth of the gospel? On the other hand, Origen and Clement of Alexandria spoke against all forms of voluntary self harm. The debate reached all the way to the time of Augustine, who argued at length that it is wrong to kill oneself or to provoke someone else to kill you, even for what is true. Augustine's verdict combined with the effects of the Constantinian revolution to bring to an end to this major chapter of Christian history (73-74).

Four Appendixes, a "Select Bibliography," and an index round out this book. Each appendix is a commentary or extended footnote on one of the points in the text. The book could have used a map of the Roman world and a few illustrations. At any rate, Bowersock's lectures assert and advance a provocative thesis. One might quibble with a point here or there. Nonetheless, this book is a tour de force that no student interested in the topic should ignore.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Holy Whine" at Pulpit Rock: Connecticut Connections to the Bible-Belt South

Born in Boston in 1706, Shubal Stearns lies buried more than 600 miles to the south and west, in the little town of Staley, North Carolina. Between those two places--at Tolland, Connecticut--Stearns underwent a spiritual transformation. The changes he embraced in Tolland led him to lay part of the foundation of a well-known feature of our modern American religious landscape: the Bible-Belt South.

The Stearns family moved from Boston to Tolland in 1715, when Shubal was still just a boy. An active member of the Congregational church, in 1727 he married a local girl, Sarah Johnson. Years later, his life forever changed with the coming of what we now call the First Great Awakening.

By the 1730s, Puritan churches seemed stale and formalistic. Preachers of the Great Awakening challenged the status quo with emotional sermons that called hearers to a vibrant, all-consuming faith. Stearns heard the most famous evangelist of them all, George Whitefield, when he preached in Connecticut in 1745. Immediately, Stearns identified himself as a New Light, someone who welcomed the message of the revivalists. Even more, he sided with the Separates, radical New Lights who felt they could no longer be members of their spiritually cold and lifeless congregations.

With no church facilities, Separates had to decide where they would gather for worship. In Tolland, they met in the Stearns home on Charter Road. Stearns himself served as minister of the congregation, which grew through the years. But in 1751, the group divided. Some, like Stearns and his family, embraced the Baptist teaching that church membership is only for those who have experienced believers' baptism, adult immersion upon a profession of Christian faith. Soon after he was immersed, Stearns organized a "Separate Baptist" church in Tolland.

Charter Road in Tolland, Connecticut
Weather permitting, people would sometimes gather at Pulpit Rock in Tolland, where they listened to the evangelist preach. Stearns was small in stature. But when preaching, what he lacked in height he more than made up for with over-sized gestures, a piercing gaze, unrestrained emotion, and a sing-song delivery some called "the holy whine." Many listeners who at first didn't care for his style eventually warmed up to his obvious sincerity and devotion.

Three years after his conversion to the Baptist persuasion, Stearns concluded that he should take his message to the colonies that lay south and west of Connecticut. This was part of a historic trend. As scholar Christine Heyrman explains, "evangelical revivals in the northern colonies . . . inspired some converts to become missionaries to the American South." Stearns's brother-in-law, Daniel Marshall of Windsor, was also a Separate Baptist preacher. In 1754, the two men moved their families to Cacapon, Virginia, near present-day Winchester.

After working for months with only moderate response, they received word that people living in the Piedmont section of North Carolina would ride long distances just to hear a sermon. So it was that in late 1755, a company of fifteen people, mostly Stearns and Marshall and their families, migrated to Sandy Creek in what is now Randolph County, North Carolina, where they immediately began a church.

Pulpit Rock in Tolland, Connecticut, one-time gathering place for Separates.
Shubal Stearns sometimes preached here.
With Sandy Creek as his home base, Stearns traveled through parts of North Carolina and Virginia preaching sermons, training evangelists, and planting Separate Baptist congregations. By the time Stearns died in 1771, there were 42 Separate Baptist congregations served by 125 ministers in North Carolina and Virginia. In effect, the migration of the Stearns and Marshall families transplanted the First Great Awakening from New England, and specifically central Connecticut, to the southern back country.

According to the late Sydney Ahlstrom, a Harvard professor and the unofficial dean of American religious historians, those few Separate Baptists who came from central Connecticut were critical to "Baptist expansion throughout the South and the Old Southwest." That's no small difference considering that the dozens of Baptist groups in America today constitute the nation's largest Protestant family.

If I get to another post about this topic, I'll want to say a bit more about the connections between Separate Baptists in the South, like Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall, and the American Restoration Movement, associated with names like Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell.

Some Sources

Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. 2nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004. See Chapter 20, "Evangelical Expansion in the South," especially pp. 317-24.

Bowden, Henry Warner. Dictionary of American Religious Biography. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993. A brief entry on Shubal Stearns appears on p. 514.

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. For cultural background to Stearns's "holy whine," see the discussion of "Massachusetts Speech Ways: Yankee Twang and Norfolk Whine," pp. 57-62. See also Fischer's reference to old British folkways according to which, at least in England's North Midlands, people sometimes assembled "in the open at a standing-stone," p. 446.

Garrett, Paul E. Where Saints Have Trod in the Expansion: Volume One. Barberton, OH: Garrett Publishing, 2009. See especially pp. 21-23.

Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. See esp. pp. 10-11.

Hughes, Arthur H. and Morse S. Allen. Connecticut Place Names. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1976. This unique, outstanding resource does not include a listing for a Pulpit Rock in Tolland. Yet, it does list Pulpit Rocks in other towns, indicating that some of them were gathering places for religious activities.

Humphrey, Carol Sue. "Stearns, Shubal." In American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 20:597-98. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Taylor, C. E. "Elder Shubal Stearns." North Carolina Baptist Historical Papers 2 (1897): 99-105.

Waldo, Loren P. The Early History of Tolland. An Address Delivered before the Tolland County Historical Society, at Tolland, Conn., on the 22nd day of August an 27th day of September, 1861. Hartford: Case, Lockwood & Company, 1861.

A Note of Thanks

Historians publish their writings under their names. But as we see in the "Acknowledgements" sections of their books, they never carry out nor complete the work all by themselves. Far from it. When it comes to communicating history, we should not imagine that the job gets done by Lone Rangers. Instead, we should recognize that collaborative networks of people make it happen. Thank you to George Caruthers for taking me to Tolland, and also to Carl Sallstrom who listened to my story about Pulpit Rock and who eventually located it. Today, the land on which Pulpit Rock stands is owned by Lloyd Bahler and family. Lloyd was nice enough, on the spur of the moment, to show the three of us around the Bahler family property. Thank you!