JHU Press Blog
by eea | Monday, August 20, 2018 - 12:00 PM
Here is a strange confession for someone who has been for most of the past forty years a historian of the early American republic: I have been fascinated by Theodore Roosevelt and his times since the age of fifteen. That year, as a tenth grader, I happened to find in my parents’ collection a book by Hermann Hagedorn, entitled The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill . This book portrayed TR as a man of such energy, wide-ranging intelligence, and self-confidence that I could not resist him. Afterward, I quickly developed a teenage obsession with Roosevelt that did not abate until about halfway through college, where some of my favorite professors (in the early 1970s) let me know that an unquestioning admiration for such an imperialist president did not fit with the anti-Vietnam mood on campus. So, I learned my lesson and conformed. Later, after becoming a teacher myself, a keen interest in Roosevelt—a sense that somehow I could understand him—came back, though of course in a more balanced way than it had occurred years before.
In addition to that, I had never entirely lost my childhood interest in wars and war heroes. As an adult, the issue...Read More
by eea | Friday, August 17, 2018 - 12:00 PM
As a graduate student in early American literature, I came across a mystery on the title pages of several hymnals from the US’s first decades. Many of these books shared a similar idea in their subtitles, variants of “for the use of religious assemblies and private Christians.” How did that work, I wondered? How could books be designed for public and private use? Those questions stayed with me, and they eventually led me on an archival adventure through dozens of libraries, forming the basis of The Hymnal: A Reading History . The public singing of hymns has caught the attention of musicologists and church historians, but what turned out to be a massive culture of public and private reading has been nearly invisible since its demise in the late nineteenth century.
That invisibility came, in large part, from a fundamental change in the design of hymnals. From about 1860 to 1890, a new kind of book gradually took over churches and publishing markets: heavy, expensive, amassing hundreds of hymn texts between staves of printed music. These books stayed in the churches that bought them for the use of their congregants, associating their use with...Read More
by eea | Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:00 PM
Many people have asked me why I wrote the book and why I chose the title, The American Lab . Much of the motivation arose out of the events associated with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s 50 th anniversary in 2002, the last major event that I organized as Director of the Laboratory. The year preceding the final anniversary celebration was filled with retrospective looks at all the major areas in which the Lab had worked -- nuclear weapons of course, but also lasers, energy, environment, basic science, and even biology. In nearly every field the Lab had contributed significantly, and in some cases changed the landscape. It also became clear that Livermore was almost alone among the large national labs in having no comprehensive history of its evolution and achievements. There were many books about Los Alamos, histories of Sandia, Brookhaven, the Jet Propulsion Lab and several others but nothing on Livermore other than newspaper-like summaries on the occasion of various anniversaries.
So after the anniversary events had faded away I began to explore the limited written record and also to take oral histories from people who had been at the Lab in its early...Read More
by eea | Monday, August 13, 2018 - 12:00 PM
Most journalists believe in their heart that they “have a book in them.” Too often, however, events and circumstance prevent most reporters from digging into that compelling story. Reporting assignments pile up. Your editor says, “Leave of absence? Are you joking?” The entire media industry experiences massive downsizing and journalists are suddenly writing press releases instead of releasing a best-seller.
The story behind Streamliner: Raymond Loewy and Imagemaking in the Age of American Industrial Design begins at a newspaper. I was the main feature writer at the Altoona Mirror in central Pennsylvania in 1987 and the subject of a profile had a book on his desk open to a photo of a huge streamlined locomotive. The caption in agate type was “S-1 locomotive, built in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Designed by Raymond Loewy." Since all news is local, to mangle a Tip O’Neill phrase, I wrote a 1,500-word story on the design and construction of the S-1. I spoke to almost two dozen retired railroaders and read Raymond Loewy’s “Industrial Design” and “Never Leave Well Enough Alone.” Then I moved on to other things.
But Loewy’s story nagged at me. Before I worked at the...Read More
by eea | Friday, August 10, 2018 - 12:00 PM
Although “Franken” has in the cultural zeitgeist become a watchword for the power of science to destroy humanity, Mary Shelley had a far more open view of science. Don’t mistake the messenger, Victor, for the message. In fact, in her day, “science” had a lower status than the arts, and hardly anyone made their living by doing science. This lower status meant that the power and value science now has fuels a paranoid reading of the scientific past as if this anachronistic wariness has the power to cleanse the present and to do away with any present obligation to work against the difficulties science presents. Even more surprising, in her day, science and ethics went hand in hand in part because science and feeling were aligned. Goethe, we recall, praised the “tender empiricist.” Good scientists feel the beauty of nature and use that beauty to fuel their careful observations. Perhaps the most important provocation Shelley's novel can make is to get us to think about the costs of the separation between science and ethics, and why science seemingly turned its back on sensibility and feeling.
What, you may be wondering, in a novel teeming with death, underwrites my claim...Read More
by bjs | Thursday, August 9, 2018 - 10:00 AM
A pair of Haverford College librarians recently published " False Starts and Breakthroughs: Senior Thesis Research as a Critical Learning Process " in the journal portal:Libraries and the Academy . Haverford students have to complete a senior thesis or work featuring comparable research. Margaret Schaus and Terry Snyder researched students in two majors to determine how future students could better use the research options available to them. The pair joined us for a Q&A on the study.
What value do you see in senior theses written by students at your college?
Students in all departments identify questions they want to answer, compile or generate data, and build arguments. For many students the research and writing lasts a full year with independent inquiry in archives, communities, and laboratories. The thesis represents a culmination of the work done in an academic department and a shared experience among seniors. At the same time, it promotes individual thinking and connections with the wider scholarly community. Students in our study often reported thesis research as a revelation because of its depth, complexity and unexpected power to change their thinking....Read More
by eea | Wednesday, August 8, 2018 - 12:00 PM
One of the claims I make in Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century is that the feeling of not having time to read is almost as old as books themselves. We tend to imagine that when books were new media people struggled to put them down, a bit like tablets or smartphones today. But I went into this project knowing that many eighteenth-century readers felt as distracted from their books by work, by duty, and by magazines, broadsheets, and newspapers as I do by my email. Even back then, more sustained reading was something people hoped to do, or to have done -- something they did in snatches -- something dependent on the ebb of work that came with Sunday or the seasons.
Since finishing the project I’ve had cause to think a bit about this claim especially as I’ve started going with my family to a remote cabin without Internet. Being there has made me realize that all of us, and my kids in particular, find it much easier to sink into books there than they do at home. Perhaps our modern lack of reading time is more specifically connected...Read More
by bjs | Tuesday, August 7, 2018 - 10:00 AM
Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay came out in 2000, but still resonates in literary circles nearly 20 years later. The Spring 2018 issue of MFS Modern Fiction Studies featured " The Politics of Escapistry: Harry Houdini, Nostalgia, and the Turn from Critique in Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay ," by Iain Bernhoft , a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Providence College . Bernhoft joined us to talk about his essay and the staying power of Chabon's work.
How did you come to develop this essay?
When I initially read Kavalier & Clay , I was particularly interested in the way Chabon’s novel confronts traumatic history very indirectly. His approach to the Holocaust, for instance, is at once folded into the novel (both in plot and in some literary motifs or devices) and also held at a distance. You’d think that this would’ve keyed me in to the significance of Houdini in the text, but it was only when I was writing my dissertation—on how and why...Read More
by eea | Monday, August 6, 2018 - 12:00 PM
For generations, school children remembered the Webster-Hayne Debate by memorizing the ending to Daniel Webster’s Second Reply to Robert Y. Hayne. Its soaring articulation of nationalism and American nationhood—“Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable”—became a catchphrase for what American union meant. In one sentence, it summed up the Massachusetts senator’s career. For over 100 years after Webster first spoke those words in 1830, one could find them in history books and oratory manuals. They adorned statues of Webster and the facades of public buildings. Yet in modern times the debate has been relegated to a few lines in college textbooks. Why has the Webster-Hayne Debate been largely forgotten? That question led me to write The Webster-Hayne Debate: Defining Nationhood in the Early American Republic . Not only did I rediscover the history of the debate itself, but also how the debate illustrates the different ways in which Americans have understood what it means to be a nation.
Then and now, Webster’s dazzling oratory tends to overshadow the underlying meanings behind the Webster-Hayne Debate. Webster believed that the United States was a nation created by the people and held together by a single...Read More
by eea | Thursday, August 2, 2018 - 12:00 PM
Why should medical organizations look to faith communities as partners for health programs? Haven’t religious institutions lost their influence in America?
These are questions I am sometimes asked when people learn that much of my work is devoted to building alliances between medical organizations and religious congregations, especially if they have heard about a 2012 report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life that received widespread attention. This report, cleverly titled “Nones on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” revealed that between 2007 and 2012 the number of Americans who reported no religious affiliation (“nones”) increased from just over 15% to just under 20%. While this is certainly a significant increase, the authors note that almost all of this growth in the numbers of religiously unaffiliated occurred among young adults, and they go on to present survey results that demonstrate the United States remains a “highly religious country.” For example, 90 percent of adults ages 65 and older reported a religious affiliation, as did 84 percent of those in the 50- to 64-year-old age group. And even among younger generations, the majority of adults still reported being religiously affiliated – 77 percent of those ages...Read More