Godly Heritage and Plantation Chic: The Case of Vision Forum

Detail from a page of the Vision Forum 2014 catalogA recent news story has me thinking about the weird enduring appeal of the Lost Cause. It seems to me that this news story about a contemporary religious organization might lead us into an interesting case study. Why, at this late date, do so many Americans still want to see the antebellum South as a tragically vanished world of nobility and grace?

Most early Americanists are familiar with David Barton, a conservative activist who argues that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. He’s been mentioned here several times as the most visible proponent of a view that’s common among members of the “Religious Right.”[1] What’s less widely understood is how often his Christian-founding ideology overlaps with a claim advanced by a few other evangelical conservatives: that the Confederacy—and antebellum southern culture, if not slavery itself—are also part of “America’s Godly heritage.”[2] In these circles, in other words, the Founding is sometimes wrapped up with the Old South.

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Howard & Me

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States changed my life.[1]

People's History

My personal copy of the 2003 edition of A People History of the United States. Also featured: my cat Marshall.

I grew up in very historically minded family. My recollections of my boyhood and tween years are filled with sweaty summer memories of traipsing with my mother and sister through every Revolutionary and Civil War battlefield between the mid-Atlantic and Upper South—from Gettysburg to Yorktown.[2] We regularly took the Orange Line into Washington to go to the National Museum of American History. The History Channel, when we had cable, was a regular fixture on our television.[3] All of this history education was very traditional—all Presidents, bloodshed, and American Exceptionalism.[4] My understanding of American history only became more traditional once I entered a conservative Catholic high school.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHThe semester is in full swing, at least in the United States (hang on, UK readers and Juntoists! It’ll be here before you know it!). And here in New England, after a brutal hot spell midweek, it seems that fall weather has finally arrived.  All of which means we’ve got a busy week to review for you. Without further ado, let’s get on with the links!

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Was The American Revolution A Good Thing?

Readers of early American history blogs will undoubtedly have come across the recent kerfuffle regarding the divide between academic and public historians of the American Revolution, which stemmed from a series of posts by Peter Feinman assessing the conference. Much of the debate has centered around this post, in which Feinman chided academic historians for their failure to answer the question: “Was the American Revolution a good thing?” Roy Rogers posted an excellent response to this here last week; J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 had other reflections on Monday (and is continuing to address the topic in other posts).

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History Carnival 121

hlogoThe Junto is excited to be this month’s host of the 121st History CarnivalFor those unfamiliar with History Carnival, it is guest-hosted by a different history blog on the 1st of each month and gathers up links to some of the best history blog-writing on the web. Think of it as The Junto‘s “The Week in Early American History” but for a whole month and not limited to early American history.

Let me begin by saying that the process of hosting History Carnival has been quite an enlightening experience. I realize now that I had little perception of just how much history blogging is going on outside of my own field and sub-fields, and, especially, how much high-quality history blogging is being done. Now on to the links…

Reading and Writing the Early American City described its taking part in the exciting new “Just Teach One” project, which gets faculty to agree to teach one of the project’s documents and keep a record of how they used it.

Digesting the Medical Past explored the Victorian obsession with digestion and stomachs, in particular.

Randall Stephen gave tips on turning a dissertation into a book at Religion in American History.

American Orchard tackled the relationship between apples and Puritans.

Over at Chronikos, Greg Rogers looked at the diary and story of Capt. William Rice in “Constraints on Projecting Imperial Power: The Ordeal of William Rice.”

At The Appendix, Carolyn Arena discussed a valuable priest’s diary for sources about women in “Bellette and Yarico: Working Women in the Colonial West Indies.”

Not Even Past has two entries in this month’s History Carnival. The first one looked at both a Muslim slave in North Carolina and the Constitution. The second is actually two itself . . . “Digital History: A Primer (Parts 1 & 2).”

At the VAHS, Jon Weier looks at how World War I affected the YMCA.

While, at Think Shop, Paul Doolan looks at the broader importance of a television interview by a Dutch soldier who fought in Indonesia in which he revealed Dutch atrocities.

The London Sound Survey examines the ties between “street noise” and “the taming of Victorian London.”

Discover Historical Travel does a great job bringing to life the nation’s “worst tornado disaster” in “The Great Tri-State Tornado of March 1925.”

By now, most American historians are familiar with the work of David Barton, a conservative activist who promotes the idea that the United States was founded by (more or less) evangelical Christians as a Christian nation. This month, Robert Tracy McKenzie, chair of the history department at Wheaton College, looked at Barton’s historiographic forebears, discussing Peter Marshall Jr.’s and David Manuel’s highly influential 1977 book, The Light and the Glory.

At In the Service of Clio, Nick Sarantakes expands on a recent Perspectives essay, proposing a clearer distinction between “public history” and “applied history” as forms of engagement with the concerns of people in various walks of life.

In “Globalizing the Nineteenth Century,” Joseph L. Yannielli discusses what “moral maps” reveal about Americans’ and Europeans’ understanding of themselves as part of the world.

Will the history of the Holocaust have to change as the last generation of survivors passes away? And how might that process illuminate the histories of other horrors? At Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin reflects on an editorial by Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, provoking a lively discussion in the comments.

In April, dozens of bloggers celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, a landmark of digital history scholarship.

At Early Modern Notes, Sharon Howard reflects on some of the project’s useful, and unexpected, implications for scholars.

At medievalfragments, Erik Kwakkel discusses the business of bookselling in medieval Europe, which was more like the modern trade than one might expect.

We’d like to thank everyone who submitted nominations. Next month’s History Carnival will be hosted by Performing Humanity on June 1.

The Founders, the Tea Party, and the Historical Wing of the “Conservative Entertainment Complex”

Following the recent election, much has been made of the alternative reality created by the “conservative entertainment complex.” However, conservative media has not only created its own contemporary reality; it has also created its own historical reality, through what one might call the historical wing of the conservative entertainment complex.

In recent years, men like David Barton, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, among numerous others, have written a number of books on eighteenth-century figures and events. But though they claim to be getting their principles directly from “the founders,” what they are really doing is giving their principles to the founders and the eighteenth century, more generally. This revisionism, promoted by conservative think tanks, was lapped up by hardcore conservatives and perhaps no group of people has been a more receptive audience than those who identify themselves as supporters of the Tea Party. Continue reading

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