Shelby M. Balik’s Rally the Scattered Believers

Shelby M. Balik, Rally the Scattered Believers: Northern New England’s Religious Geography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

Rally the Scattered BelieversAt the beginning of February, Wake Forest University hosted a symposium marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University Press). The list of participants was a “who’s-who” of American religious history: Catherine Brekus, Sylvester Johnson, Mark Noll, Amanda Porterfield, Harry Stout, Grant Wacker (on more of a “who’s-that?” note, I was there, too, feeling honored but absurdly under-credentialed in that company). Each offered reflections on the book’s influence and reach, on his or her personal experience with it, on how its arguments have aged. Hatch, now the president of Wake Forest, offered an eloquent response. (Video of the event is available here.) Continue reading

Q&A with Stephen R. Berry, Author of A Path in the Mighty Waters

9780300204230The following is an interview with Stephen R. Berry, an Associate Professor of History at Simmons College. My review of Berry’s recently-released book, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life and Atlantic Crossings to the New World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) appeared on the blog yesterday. Today, he agreed to answer some follow-up questions about his book and his future research plans. Continue reading

Tempests and Tedium in the Transatlantic: Shipboard Life in the 18th Century

Stephen R. Berry, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life in Atlantic Crossings to the New World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

9780300204230When colonial Georgia was founded in 1732, it carved out a brand new space in the New World. The founders’ intentions were in part for it to serve as a charitable colony, where Britons from overcrowded debtor’s prisons could start anew. It also carved out an English space to serve as a geographic barrier between wealthy South Carolina and rival Spanish Florida. But, as Stephen R. Berry demonstrates in this highly original new study, colonies were not the only spaces that were created and negotiated as the Atlantic World expanded. The ocean, and indeed the ships that carried passengers to and from the New World should also be viewed as spaces in their own right.

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Bernard Bailyn’s Last Act?: An Interview with the Harvard Historian on His New Book

Bernard Bailyn’s contribution to our understanding of early American history is so vast that it’s easy to forget he’s still publishing books. His writings on the American Revolution, begun in the 1960s, remain required reading for any doctoral student studying for orals. And even since retiring from Harvard a quarter century ago, he’s continued to influence the field, perhaps nowhere more than through his promotion of Atlantic history.

Yet even at 92, Bailyn isn’t finished. His new book, Sometimes An Art: Nine Essays on History (Knopf), can be read in a number of ways: as an introduction to his vast corpus of work; a chance to respond to his critics; a reflection on the meaning of history; and, perhaps, a summing up of sorts. “It reflects some of my own work over the years,” Bailyn told me during an interview from Boston. The essays he’s chosen to include, dating from 1954 to 2007, have only appeared in either obscure publications or dated back issues of prominent journals. But in one way or another, he said, they “concentrate on certain major themes” in all his work. Continue reading

Reading the Field from a Book: Some Thoughts on Eric Nelson’s The Royalist Revolution

Eric Nelson’s The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding is, to put it simply, an important book. It is perhaps, the most important book on the Revolution in almost a decade. Yet, at the same time, its argument, methodology, and importance are indicative of (one might say, testament to) the long-standing stasis in which Revolution studies has been mired for a very long time. This post is less reviewing the book itself than exploring its relationship with its historiographical context regarding Revolution studies as a whole and, particularly, its origins and causes. In a sense, I want to read the field from the book rather than the reading the book from the field.[1] Continue reading

Review: Kyle T. Bulthuis, Four Steeples over the City Streets

Kyle T. Bulthuis, Four Steeples over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

foursteeplesIn many respects, Four Steeples over the City Streets is a story about different ways of being Anglican in New York City. It’s also a story about how external social changes influenced and threatened a vision of social order without destroying it. And it’s a story about how different kinds of New Yorkers in the early republic–black and white and male and female–experienced their community in religious terms. Continue reading

Socializing, Speculating, and Speaking French in François Furstenberg’s Philadelphia

François Furstenberg. When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation. New York: Penguin, 2014.

Furstenberg CoverOn the Fourth of July, 1794, two former members of France’s Constituent Assembly gazed from a window across New York’s Bowling Green. Both had arrived in the United States just that year. Back in 1789, they had helped to launch a revolutionary movement for liberal and constitutional reforms. But as the Revolution grew ever more violent and threatened to destroy them, they fled France. The United States, they thought, would be a suitable refuge: the republican spawn of the British government whose constitution they so admired, the new nation whose Enlightenment principles would guard them from the threats of the Parisian mob. They must have been unnerved to see “a host of pro-French radicals” marching towards them that day, the rabble-rousing Girondin ambassador Edmond-Charles Genet at the fore, “singing the Marseillaise and other republican songs,” and hurling insults up to the windows where the émigrés stood watching (80). Continue reading