Monday, December 29, 2014

Listening and Learning After the Ferguson Moment

This past fall, I watched from afar as friends and colleagues around the country joined in protests, chanting and displaying now familiar slogans -- Black Lives Matter! Hands Up Don't Shoot! -- and after the failure of Staten Island grand jury to indict Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of Eric Garner -- I Can't Breathe. In Ann Arbor, my graduate school stomping ground, protests over the Mike Brown case also picked up outrage over an event shockingly close to home, the shooting death of Ann Arbor-resident Aura Rosser.

I read tweets and facebook posts, newspaper coverage and blog posts. Like so many other Americans, I set to work on the #Fergusonsyllabus. The events of the past fall have produced an overwhelming amount of writing from experts and observers, activists and pundits, all analyzing and reassessing what we think we know about race and justice in America in 2014.

Then I was invited to participate in a panel organized by the USD Law School on The Ferguson Moment (on which part of this post is based). Where to begin? What stories to tell, what framework to provide to begin to chip away at the complexity that produced Ferguson October?

Like so many Americans, I was surprised by what the Mike Brown shooting, the months of protests, and ongoing and contentious media coverage revealed about our racially divided America. I thought I understood. I thought my training as a historian had provided me with the context and the frameworks I needed to understand race in 2014. But there is always more that we don't understand. 

These cases and the mounting examples of black deaths at the hands of police officers seemed to suggest that there was something about our moment that many of us were missing. What structural context could help me explain these events and the outpouring of grief and anger in response? What could help me explain Why Mike Brown? Why did this case become our national reckoning? What could I learn now so that this coming semester, when I stand in front of my US history survey to tell the story of the so-called American century, I will have stronger, clearer narratives to help make the politics of our moment more comprehensible?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taking the Historiann Book Challenge

Last week, the New York Times interviewed Civil War historian James McPherson about -- books! McPherson is a prolific scholar and a wonderful writer--Battle Cry of Freedom is a classic--and he is also coming out with a new biography of Jefferson Davis. But as historian and blogger Historiann pointed out, the interview presents a very narrow view of what historical scholarship looks like in 2014. Historiann followed this up with an interview of her own and challenged other historians to do the same. And they did!  I can never resist a book meme, though I come a little late to the party (or rather, I have been meaning to post this since last Friday!) so without further ado, here is my response to the #historiannchallenge.  

What books are currently on your night stand [i.e. your personal on-deck]?
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests (which looks amazing -- and the NPR review only got me more excited) and Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow. 

What was the last truly great book you read?
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration is masterful. If you are going to read one book of American history this year, read this. I have been saying that since 2012 and I mean it. From a writing perspective, I also think Warmth is a fantastic model of a different way to structure a work of history. I talked with Wilkerson at the OAH this past spring about how she came up with the structure. Wilkerson stretches the histories of her main characters out over the length of the book, then breaks them up with interstitial chapters that reiterate and carry forward her larger argument and the overarching historical narrative into which the stories of her core characters fit. She explained that in her struggle to invent her own structure, she looked to a range of models, particularly fiction. In fact, the interstitial chapter idea was inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I think this is such great advice, to look for writing models across literary genres, which is especially important for historians who want to speak to a broader, nonacademic audience.

Side note: I also was extremely taken by Leslie Chang, Factory Girls, which I read this summer. I love really smart, well-researched contemporary nonfiction. Chang weaves her own family history into this exploration of the young women who are the majority of Chinese migrant laborers and who are transforming modern China. Without flinching from the abuses and excesses of global capitalism, she pushes back against a tendency to paint these women as passive victims, instead exploring their motivations, struggles, and strategies for "making it" in the new China. 

Who are the best historians writing today? 
I hate “best” questions, but that is what this meme is all about, right? And so without further ado: Jill Lepore. Collect them all. I love scholars who can do really creative but compelling things with unusual or limited sources.

Friday, September 5, 2014

That whole "Well-behaved women" thing...

You've all seen the bumper stickers, T-shirts, coffee mugs.  "Well-behaved women rarely make history." And sometimes the quote is actually (correctly) printed as, "Well-behaved women seldom make history. -- Laurel Ulrich"

Confession: every time I see this, I cringe.

When I ask my students to reflect on whether this popular phrase is a useful way of thinking about women's history, their response is usually some variation on, "Kind of. But..." They point out that this can be read as a statement encouraging women, in the context of popular feminism today, that they don't have to conform to rigid gender codes -- defying the restrictive standards femininity is Good! So the mugs and tee-shirts become about empowerment. But when we actually start to think about the phrase as a notion or theory of history, some wrinkles appear. As one of my students put it, this seems to set up a troubling binary: you are either a "well-behaved" woman who will be of zero interest to "history" or you are a rebel, the kind of woman who breaks barriers and gets noticed. What about everyone who falls between? Those women and their lives and struggles aren't captured in that phrase.

Precisely.

My students also pointed out that the phrase skips over the more interesting question: What does it mean to be "well-behaved" and how has that changed? The premise of most academic scholarship today is that gender roles, like other social roles, are historically and culturally constructed. They change. But neither are they rigidly fixed within any historical moment. That's what makes history so complicated: everyday folk are always in the the process of negotiating and challenging the rules and boundaries and expectations of their world. Sometimes this happens in little ways that don't exactly "make" history but do make historical change, something as small and seemingly insignificant as fertility control. (As the historian Susan Klepp has argued, the biggest untold story of America in the age of Revolutions is that at some point in the late 1700s, women begun to restrict their family size, setting a host of other social and cultural and economic changes in motion. Her book, Revolutionary Conceptions is an extended exploration of how and why that came about.)

What bugs me the most about "Well-behaved women..." is the "make history" part. As it stands, that phrase just doesn't make sense in the context of the politics of women's history. The politics of women's history IS the politics of "making history."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Writing Advice from Around the Web

Fellow writers of all stripes and varietals! Come get your free interwebs writing advice!

As the summer slams to a close many of us are either firing on all cylinders or (more likely) wishing we could find the energy for that final sprint...and probably got a little behind in the race. Remember guys, it's not the speed that counts, but the distance traveled (and also the speed...and the distance...and I'm so done with this dumb metaphor).


I recently stumbled across How I Wrote 4000 Words in A Year from Daily Beast writer Jaime Todd Rubin. He has some great ideas. In particular,

"Focus on content, not word count. What matters to me most is that I write every day, not how much I write. There have been a few days where I’ve written only one or two paragraphs. Quantity will take care of itself as the streak builds.

"Be flexible. Learn to write anywhere and in small scraps of time. If you don’t think it is possible, give it a try—you may surprise yourself. Don’t worry so much about when to write each day. Eventually, you’ll find a comfort zone."

Friday, August 1, 2014

What Gangs of New York Got Wrong

Every Fall, Americanists teaching the US History survey face the same dilemma: To Show or Not To Show clips from the 2002 Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York. It is such a great film. It is such an historically inaccurate bordering on epically WRONG film.

Gangs of New York makes us historians crazy because of its terribly misleading narrative about class, race, immigration, and enlistment in the Civil War. Fortunately, one scholar's work is helping to challenge the myths Scorsese has perpetuated, while  filling in some crucial gaps in our understanding of the relationship between the Irish and the Civil War. Check out Damiel Shiel's piece Gangs of New York: Recruiting the Irish ‘Straight Off the Boat’. And I'll definitely be sharing this fascinating document, "NO RECRUITING IN CASTLE GARDEN" with my students this Fall to cap our discussion of the film.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How the Kids Do Research These Days

Greetings from New York! Here is your bonus shot of the Hudson River from the window of my train car (yes! train car) where I'm drafting this post. This is quite possibly the most scenic metropolitan train commute in America.

 
I've been thinking a lot about the way we do research today and about the way our sources and the research process make us feel.  A few weeks back I was feeling sentimental.  Today I was feeling, well, eye strain.  Allow me to explain.

Today's manuscript source was a fitting object of sentiment: a small pocket diary crammed with two years of notations, consisting of some dry financial transactions—75c for velvet, $10 to Mother, carriage 50c—and day-to-day accounts of the year that changed Charlotte Cushman’s career. The diary begins with her miserable tour of New England theaters in early 1844, follows her decision to give her acting a go in England, then takes a stormy and homesick Atlantic crossing.  Empty entries in late 1844 signal days filled up by sightseeing in Scotland until finally we arrive at Cushman's jubilant account of her successful debut and starring run at London’s Haymarket Theatre in early 1845.

Stirring stuff, huh? I was not filled with warm fuzzies.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Romance of the Archives: The Charlotte Cushman Papers

Greetings from Washington, D.C.! Rather than subject you to touristy pictures, here are some musing from the archive. Lest the exiting stories I tell suggest otherwise, allow me assure you that archiving is not all CSI-level excitement.  ~Dr. L

Today I found something I had never seen before. While wading through endless folders of newspaper clippings charting the career of 19th-century actress Charlotte Cushman, I came across two rectangles of newspaper carefully stitched together. I had to look twice before I noticed the tiny stitching in a white thread, turned brownish with age.

(Stitching? you ask. They didn't have scotch tape in the 19th century!)
Someone, perhaps Cushman, more likely her partner, Emma Stebbins, or perhaps Cushman’s black maid, Sallie Mercer, who worked for Cushman from the age of 14 on, sat down one day and, after carefully cutting out the notice from the pages of a New York paper, threaded a needle and stitched the two rectangles together. Perhaps she put it in a folder or a box or slipped it into the pages of a scrapbook to be glued down later.

Over the next one hundred and fifty years the little column would wind up in a stack of other such clippings, carefully deposited between acid-free paper in an archival box in the chill and dusty corridors of the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. This bleary-eyed historian would take it out, read the notice, marvel at the delicate stitch work, make a note on her computer, take a digital image with her Canon, and put the little stitched clipping back into its dry, dark mausoleum for the next researcher to discover.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sunday in St. Louis

Greetings from St. Louis, the "Gateway to the West." I'm here doing research at the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center for my book, but even historians need a break to do some site seeing! I was particularly excited to visit Cahokia and the Gateway Arch, so I thought I'd share some of my photos with you.

The Mounds of Cahokia
The Cahokia Mounds are what survive of a major metropolis that grew up and thrived from 900 to 1200 in the heart of the American Bottom, the flood plain region of the Mississippi. There were many mounds builders who constructed massive earthworks, and the largest can be found here. At its height, scholars estimate, Cahokia was home to close to 30,000 people. It was a major center of trade, served by networks that reached either end of the great Mississippi. While scholars don't know why Cahokia was abandoned, they suspect it may have had to do in part with the devastation that much a large urban center ultimately had on the surrounding environment.  To learn more, check out Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy Pauketat.


Ridge and conical mounds, like this, were constructed over burial sites or used to marked significant locations.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Out of the Archive: The Dangers of Seeing a Dancer

Fanny Elssler in the shadow dance. N. Currier, 1846. 
I just got back from the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in Toronto, Canada (fabulous city, fun and stimulating conference) where I presented some of my work on the European dancers who toured America from the late-1820s through the 1840s, particularly the Viennese dancer and star of the Paris Opera, Fanny Elssler. From 1840-1842, Americans crowded theaters in cities throughout the country for the chance to see Elssler’s twirls and kicks. Elssler performed in Romantic ballets like La Sylphide but was also famous for her interpretations of European folk dances. Her tremendously popular La Cachucha dance was based on the Spanish bolero. American critics fixated on whether Elssler’s dancing was immoral spectacle – those diaphanous white skirts revealing her (clad) legs! – or “poetry of motion.” Some have argued that the use of such idealized terms to describe Elssler ("divine Fanny") and her dancing worked to manage the “erotic overload” of the performance.  (See for example Maureen Costonis’ 1990 essay, “The Personification of Desire: Fanny Elssler and American Audiences” in Dance Chronicle.) 

In my work, I’m interested in how these celebrities also intersected and informed struggles over American cultural identity and over the presence of different groups in public space. These struggles were of course connected to changing ideas about gender and battles over public sexuality -- for example see Mr. Southworth Goes to the Theater. Elssler was of great interest to “respectable” middle-class white women, which shocked moral reformers who felt that this was not a respectable spectacle. One of my favorite sources illustrating this is an 1847 didactic novel by Timothy Shay Arthur, The Maiden: A Story for My Countrywomen

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mapping Slavery

Here is the latest gadget making the rounds of the historian-net: a time-lapse map of the spread of American slavery using US Census data.  You can use the map to follow the spread of slavery, but also overall population, free population, and free African American population. And make sure you read Mullen's essay, which I found very helpful in showing me ways to read the various imaging possibilities:
A striking way to see the importance of slavery is to look at a map of the total free population: a photo negative, if you will, of slavery. When looking at the density of the population that was free, large swathes of the South appear virtually depopulated. (Perhaps this is what a history book looks like that fails to take includes slaves?)

Check it out! http://lincolnmullen.com/blog/the-spread-of-american-slavery/

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Student Exhibits About Slavery

In my Race and Slavery class this term, I decided to try something new for their final projects. Rather than asking them write yet another paper (they did plenty of that), I tasked them with producing some kind of public exhibit about the history of slavery. They had to think about their audience and the goal of the exhibit. It had to combine textual and visual elements and incorporate different kinds of primary sources.

As anyone who has had to make a compelling Powerpoint for a lecture or talk knows, communicating historical content in a visually appealing way requires a deft balancing act. As a class exercise, I gave them 30 minutes to create an 3-5 panel exhibit about Thomas Jefferson and slavery based on a set of 6 primary sources. They discovered it was harder than it seemed.

The final project also built from conversations in the final weeks of the semester about representations of slavery today. We talked about slavery in film, at museums and historic sites, and in contemporary public life (for example, the recent Donald Sterling incident). I asked them to think about how you would want to communicate some of what you learned this semester to someone who might never take this type of class. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

When Witchcraft was Real

A TV show about Salem?  Fabulous? Or a disaster?

I had to take a break from grading to share the following review of the Salem series over at Books & Culture.  Here's a taste:

The end goal of television is to have viewers watch commercials, so we historians don't expect to learn our history there. However, we can learn what viewers want to learn about history. After watching the first episode of the new TV series Salem, it is obvious that viewers today want to turn The Crucible upside down and hear the witches' side of the story. ... The most startling aspect of Salem is that it oddly vindicates Cotton Mather. TV viewers are apparently ready to watch him ferret out the truth about demonic plans to up-end the social order.

And they, the witches, fight back.  Interesting.  I like the premise of the show. Starting a show with the premise that witchcraft IS real seemed to me to be a great way to probe what is for me the central fascination of the Salem episode: for early Americans, witchcraft WAS real.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thoughts on Rape and Racial Violence in Cinema

It's gradepocalypse 2014 here in (finally, again, after a week of gray drizzle) sunny South Dakota.  Or as my students think of it, FINALS!  While they -- you -- are feverishly reading, writing, studying, we are frantically grading your work.  Keep the coffee, water, vitamins, and whole grains flowing, folks, and we'll make it through to the summer!

I probably won't get back to substantive posting until the grading frenzy abates.  In the mean time here is some food for thought from NYT critic David Itskoff -- for all you Game of Thrones fans in my classes.  We've talked about GoT periodically over the semester, particularly around the question of nudity and violence in TV, and more recently, Jaime Lannister's rape of his sister Cersei.  (For those of you who don't know the score, the article will give you the background on the characters and the controversy.)  As Itskoff explains, critics and viewers are increasingly concerned that rape has become "almost background noise: a routine and unshocking occurrence" on the show, and increasingly, the predominant signal of the violence and brutality of George R. R. Martin's fantasy world:

Monday, April 28, 2014

New Images from the Civil Rights Movement

Check out a selection of photographs from a new book by Martin Berger, Freedom Now!: Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle.  These photographs tell different stories than the iconic images that have come to define the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s in our collective memory.  As you look at this slideshow consider the ways these images are telling a slightly different story than the one in our heads.  What's different here?  What's familiar?  What questions do these images raise for you about the dynamics of the Movement?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Thinking About the Jefferson-Hemings Question

In Thursday's class, I tasked my students with designing an 3-5 panel "exhibit" on Thomas Jefferson, slavery, and Sally Hemings -- explain this group of topics to a public audience.  They were surprised to discover just how difficult it is to distill a LOT of complicated information into concise exhibit panels.  You present the content, raise the questions, but how do you deal with the "answer"?  While the task of the historian is to come up with a compelling and evidence-based argument, museum exhibitors frequently find that sometimes the most effective way to engage the public is to leave the question open-ended, to give your visitor the questions and the tools but let them piece it together.  But what do they need to piece it together?  And where will they go with the answer...?

This class got me thinking about my own explorations of the Jefferson-Hemings controversy...

Some of the facts. You can read a brief "just the facts, ma'am" account of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings at Monticello.org or go back in time and read Madison Hemings' 1873 memoir of his mother's relationship with Jefferson.  While serving as minister in Paris in 1787, Thomas Jefferson developed a sexual relationship with the 14-year-old slave (and the half-sister of his dead wife) who had accompanied his daughter Maria to Paris.  Then the young teenager was confronted with a terrible dilemma.  According to Madison Hemings: 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Upcoming Events! Performance Studies Roundtable

Next Monday I'll be participating in an interdisciplinary roundtable on Drama and Performance studies.  Stop by if you can!
   

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fall 2014 Women's American to 1865

This Fall, I'm teaching the first half of a two-semester women's history sequence.  Last year, in my previous job, I taught a single semester women's history course -- from the "beginning" to the present -- and let me tell you, that was a challenge!  There is so much to talk about, so many interesting lives and stories to explore, you just can't do it "all" in 15 weeks.  I'm really fortunate that my colleague Molly Rozum has enthusiastically decided to split the task with me.  I'll be taking us through the Civil War this Fall.  Find out more below:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Fighting the War with Bacon Grease

Here's something to think about the next time you enjoy a pan of bacon and eggs:


"Don't throw away that bacon grease! For fats make glycerin and glycerin makes bombs... A skillet of bacon crease is a little munitions factory!"

The Atlantic just posed a great article about the Fat Salvage Committee during World War II. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Revisiting ROOTS

We're in our Slavery in Film unit now, and this past week watched excerpts from the 1977 television series Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel of the same name.  Roots was an unexpected overnight sensation, reaching an estimated 130 million viewers and airing in 85% of American homes in its week-long broadcast.  (And Haley's account of his decade-long detective work to locate his ancestors inspired a genealogical craze in the late-70s and 80s.) The series chronicles Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka warrior, and as Haley claimed, his own ancestor, who is captured by slave traders from his home in Jaffure in 1767 and struggles to survive the violence and exploitation of slavery in Virginia. 

While the accuracy of Haley's account has largely been discredited--Roots is no longer regarded as nonfiction--scholars and critics agree that the story of Kunta Kinte was a major correction to existing myths about slavery and black families that also placed African Americans at the center of popular conceptions of American history.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Out of the Archive: Mr. Southworth Goes to the Theater

In my work on theater, I also examine debates about prostitution, which was widespread in antebellum theaters and was also a major preoccupation of 19th-century reformers.  The following piece examines an article in the Friend of Virtue, Boston’s moral reform periodical, which serves as a really effective illustration of the way antebellum reformers thought about gender.  Gender is a concept that is based on the premise that the qualities of biological difference (like sex) are defined and understood differently within different contexts.  Our job as historians is to make visible the different ways historical societies have thought about gender difference, which is commonly expressed in a binary form as masculinity and femininity (but not always!). As you'll see, constructions of gender were at the center of the way reformers thought about prostitution (and the way they tried to tackle it, but that it a topic for another time). 

One March evening in 1846, Sydney Southworth paid a visit to Boston’s National Theatre.  Southworth was a radical reformer and a member of the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, an experimental utopian commune connected with the abolitionist movement.  Boston reformers of all varieties (there were many causes that inspired the religious-minded activists of the 1830s and 40s) were rarely avid theatergoers.  Theater, after all, was a morally bankrupt form of amusement that drew men and women away from the pursuits of industry, discipline, and self-betterment, leading them down a path of sensual indulgence and profligacy.  Southworth wasn’t there for mere sensual indulgence.  As he explained in his letter to the Friend of Virtue, Boston’s moral reform periodical, Southworth was there to investigate the “in-famous...third row,” the part of the theater where men and women “abandoned themselves to the most loathsome of all vice”—that is, the region of the theater set aside for arranging sexual assignations between patrons and clients.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pedestrianism, Sporting Pastime of the 1800s

 Pedestrianism and boxing, sporting pastimes of the 1800s.  From Pierce Eagan, Sporting Anecdotes (London: Sherwood, Nealy & Jones, 1820).

Readers, it has happened. Somebody finally wrote a book about pedestrianism, that strangest of 19th-century sports, popular in England and the United States.  Check out Matthew Algeo's history of Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Sport.  Or listen to an interview with Algeo on NPR.  Sounds like a fun read -- and the perfect addition to a future course of leisure and sport in America.  Most people are familiar with the nineteenth-century origins of baseball, which became a national sport after the Civil War.  But how many of us would include pedestrianism in a catalog late-19th-century pastimes?

Friday, April 4, 2014

James Baldwin on Uncle Tom's Cabin

We’ve just finished up our Uncle Tom’s Cabin unit in my Race and Slavery class with a journey into the Anti-Tom novels and one of my personal favorites, Martin Delany’s unfinished 1859 novel Blake or the Huts of America. This week in my Religion class we read James Baldwin’s 1963 essay “Down at the Cross” (published in book form as The Fire Next Time). This morning, I indulged in this accidental convergence of topics by reading Baldwin’s 1949 essay on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” from Notes of a Native Son. You can read an excerpt or (wonderful internet!) I found a copy of the complete essay.

Baldwin is critical of what he identifies as the actual motivations behind the novel:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Out of the Archive: "What Shall the Girls Do?"

I recently put the finishing touches on a paper I'll be delivering at the Annual Meeting of the OAH (Organization of American Historians) later this month. It's based on a side project of mine on women in the lyceum lecture circuit. Because I can't get every delightful piece of research into a 20 minute paper, I thought I'd share one of my favorites with you: 

In April 1869, an anonymous letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton appeared in The Revolution, the publication of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, titled “What Shall the Girls Do?” The writer identified herself as part of “a class of girls in America” who “belong to the higher rank in life, but…are not obliged to do anything, but they feel a certain necessity for an outlet and a desire to accomplish something toward their own maintenance.” Accomplished in “history, elocution, meta-physics” as well as French and the pianoforte, our writer had dabbled in writing but exhausted her paltry “store of plots” producing “trashy affairs.” She tried to go upon the stage, but was “whisked off into the rural districts” where her “cherished dreams of spell-bound audiences and world-wide renown vanished.” And now, she longed for something more--stimulating.  "I believe in woman's home duties," she assured Stanton, "but they satisfying neither my intelligence nor my soul." What was a girl to do?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Biblical Films and Civil Religion

I love waking up to radio stories that are directly related to what I've been teaching. Check it our for yourself: Biblical Films are Fruitful and Multiplying

Actually, it's kind of eerie. We just watched a clip from Cecil B. deMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments in Wednesday's class. I was talking about religion in the 1950s and we were placing the outpouring of Biblical epics from Hollywood in the context of the Cold War and considering this genre as appealing to this new idea of America as a Judeo-Christian nation.  Or, as sociologist Will Herberg put it in 1955, a nation composed of "Protestant-Catholic-Jew." (You can read a selection from Herberg here.)

Today we'll be talking more about Herberg's analysis of the "American way of life" and considering the degree to which Herberg's own inquiry was driven by a sense that something had been lost in this broad-based generic religiosity of the mid-20th century.

Monday, March 24, 2014

American Religion in Film

This semester, as part of my Religion in American History course, my students will be writing a paper about the representation of American religion in film.  I've been compiling a long list of films, culled from around the web and from my own social networks.  (And I'll eagerly entertain suggestions!)  One of the delights of this project is that it gives me an opportunity to both revisit and discover all of the ways in which cinema has explored religious communities, individual faith journeys, questions of religious identity, and religious debates in American life and history.

Last week, in an introductory lesson on pentecostalism, we watched clips from The Apostle (1994).  Robert Duvall wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which tells of the downfall and redemption of a southern pentecostal preacher as he tries to outrun the law after murdering his wife's lover.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Re-living the Cold War Online

It may seem odd to start out this blog with a post about the Cold War, but one of the delights of teaching the second half of the U.S. history survey is that I get to go spelunking in the amazing resources on youTube.  You heard that right, youTube.  There are so many videos available from this time that I could devote an entire week of classes to watching things like...