Roundtable: The History of Childhood & Youth: Meg Eppel Gudgeirsson

fullsizerender_2If you missed previous posts in our new roundtable series on the history of childhood and youth, click here. Stop by Wednesday for the finale of this roundtable series!

Today we welcome Dr. Meg Eppel Gudgeirsson, expert in nineteenth-century U.S. religious history and childhood. She completed her PhD from the University of California, Santa Cruz in June 2016. Her dissertation, “Perfect Child, Perfect Faith: Raising Children in Nineteenth-Century Communities,” is a study of how four religious communities raised their children in an effort to embed their differing goals and identity in future generations. The United Society of Believers (better know as Shakers), Oneida Perfectionists, Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Berea abolitionists all created specific communities grounded in their unique interpretations of Christianity in an effort to reform and improve American life through challenging rural and bourgeois notions of family, gender, and race. She is currently working on expanding her research on Berea, exploring the role of children in the community’s goals of integrating education in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Dr. Gudgeirsson is a lecturer in the History Department at Santa Clara University, teaching courses on nineteenth and twentieth-century US, California History, and World History. Continue reading

Following the Fashions: A Basic American Pastime

AJ1Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Amy Sopcak-Joseph, a doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Connecticut. She is working on her dissertation, “Fashioning American Women: Godey’s Lady’s Book, Female Consumers, and Periodical Publishing in the Nineteenth Century.” Follow her @AmySopcakJoseph.

It’s that time of year again: time to stash away all of your white pants and head to the nearest Starbucks for a PSL. Love it or hate it, that sugary “Pumpkin Spice Latte” is more than just a drink that allows us to ingest autumn. The PSL reached cultural-icon status when it became the trendy accessory of someone “basic”–a term encompassing a larger set of consumer choices linked to appearance, food, and leisure activities that signal an uncritical devotion to trends. Calling someone “basic” became a kind of epithet against people who like things that are mainstream or, as some writers have suggested, feminine.[1] Some women have taken ownership of “basic,” embracing it as an identity (see social media posts enthusiastically tagged #basic).

Is being “basic” really that bad? Is someone superior–morally or intellectually–for not liking things that are mainstream? Judging other people’s consumer choices and assigning them political or cultural meaning is as American as apple (or pumpkin?) pie. In the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s, when the United States was transitioning from an agrarian economy to a capitalist one, considerable anxiety emerged about the consumer choices of the burgeoning middle class. Not unlike the criticisms of 21st-century women whose tastes and identity might be called “basic,” some found women’s purchases and self-fashioning to be particularly alarming. Ministers and reformers argued that these choices demonstrated women’s uncritical adherence to the “tyranny” or “evils” of fashion, a devotion that could negatively shape the future of the republic. Continue reading

Guest Post: Elizabeth Seton and Me: Or, How I Almost Wrote a Book about a Saint Without Mentioning God

Today’s guest post is authored by Catherine O’Donnell. Her book, Elizabeth Seton: American Saint was published this month by Cornell University Press. She is also the author of Men of Letters in the Early Republic (UNC Press, 2008) and is an associate professor of history at Arizona State University.

When I arrived at the archive in Emmitsburg, Maryland, my heart sank. My subject was Elizabeth Seton, woman of the early American republic and saint in the Roman Catholic Church, and the archives to which I’d traveled are held on the grounds of her shrine. In order to be at the archives first thing Monday, I’d arrived on a Sunday and decided to see what was happening nearby. The building adjacent to the archives is a minor basilica, so what was happening was Mass. When a guide asked whether I’d visited the Altar of Relics, I winced. I felt oddly guilty about bring my historian’s purposes and questions into this reverent world. I also knew that biographers pride themselves on not writing hagiographies, and that many academic historians pride themselves on not being biographers at all. I felt I was blaspheming both a faith and a profession. Continue reading

“A curious font of porphyry”

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 3.29.59 AMWorking on material culture, my research has taken me to some interesting, if unexpected places. Last summer, it involved waiting outside Saint John’s Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, founded in 1732 as the Anglican Queen’s Chapel. I quickly ran inside to snap some pictures of a baptismal font between back-to-back Sunday services. The Saint John’s font is an impressive fixture, carved from marble in a Continental European baroque style. As a ritual object used in the sacrament of baptism, the font is hardly unusual, but its story is. Continue reading

Q&A with Christopher Grasso, author of Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War

Christopher Grasso earned his PhD from Yale in 1992, taught at St. Olaf College, and came to William and Mary in 1999.  From 2000 to 2013 he served as the Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly.  He is the author of A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut (OIEAHC/UNC Press, 1999) and the editor of Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso’s Civil War (Yale University Press, 2017). His most recent book, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War, was just published by Oxford University Press earlier this month. Dr. Grasso generously agreed to answer a few questions about the book.  Continue reading

Guest Post: Review of Farrelly, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860

Today’s guest poster, William S. Cossen, is an Atlanta-based historian of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, specializing in the intersection of religion and nationalism. He serves as the book review editor for H-SHGAPE (Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era) and am a member of the faculty of The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, the top-ranked public high school in Georgia. Cossen received his PhD in History from The Pennsylvania State University and is currently revising a book manuscript entitled, Making Catholic America: Religious Nationalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

Maura Jane Farrelly, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

51bnna9rw6l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Whether John Higham was correct in describing anti-Catholicism as the “most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history” is a matter of debate.[1] Not as disputed, though, is the reality that, until relatively recently, a great many Americans did view Catholicism as one of the principal threats to liberty and order in the United States. Maura Jane Farrelly’s masterful new volume, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860, traces the development of anti-Catholicism in the United States (or what would eventually become that country) from the establishment of Plymouth Colony to the coming of the Civil War. Farrelly’s work is at once a survey bringing together several decades of scholarly work on American religious, social, and political history, and an impressive example of primary-source research in its own right. For Farrelly, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University, the history of American anti-Catholicism extends beyond questions of religiosity, instead encompassing the meaning and composition of the nation. As she explains in the book’s introduction, “Any understanding of anti-Catholicism…requires us to interrogate the meaning of American freedom and, by extension, the promise of American identity.”[2] Continue reading

Guest Post: George Washington’s Mausoleum: Congressional Debates Over the Work of Monuments

Jamie L. Brummitt is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religion at Duke University and an online instructor for the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Her dissertation “Protestant Relics: The Politics of Religion & the Art of Mourning” examines the lively relic culture that thrived in political and religious life of the United States from the 1770s to 1870s. 

Benjamin H. Latrobe, Watercolor, ink, and pencil of the proposed Washington mausoleum, c. 1800, Library of Congress.

If the recent acts of iconoclasm in Durham and Charlottesville have taught us anything, it may be this: monuments matter. They matter not just in an ideological sense, but in a material sense. Monuments work as material objects because they embody people, memory, and ideas for better or worse. This post examines the proposed construction of a mausoleum for George Washington’s remains by Congress. The proposed mausoleum was entangled in debates about politics, finances, and the material nature of monuments. Many congressmen argued that a monument to Washington should work with his remains to transfer his virtues to Americans. Continue reading