Politics & Prose

Published on 24 April 2019 under Books

I will join Alan Taylor, Jason Kuznicki, and Ali Wyne for a discussion and book signing for Our American Story at Politics & Prose on Saturday, June 8, 2019 from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

The event is free to attend with no reservation required. Seating is available on a first come, first served basis. Click here for more information.

Applied History Series

Published on 7 February 2019 under Books

On Thursday, February 21st at 12 p.m. I will be on campus at the University of Southern Indiana to discuss my forthcoming book, Our American Story.

USI’s Applied History Series is a collaborative connection between the Department of History and Evansville community members and USI alumnae to discuss ways in which they have used the study of history in their field.

The series is an important piece of USI’s effort to help students and the community understand the craft of history and how we write about the past. In the words of USI’s history department, “History offers original and indispensable ways of looking at human experience because it distinguishes and evaluates continuity amid the forces of change. By means of historical inquiry, the modern world is seen as shaped by the past.”

Update: Many thanks to the students, faculty, and public who attended and prompted valuable discussion with good questions.

Lincoln Day 2019

Published on 31 January 2019 under Books
Lincoln Day 2019

Lincoln historian and author Bill Bartlet, who co-edited Abe’s Youth with me, will be the featured speaker at the annual Lincoln Day program at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial on Sunday, February 10, 2019.

Bartelt is a former employee of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and is the author of There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. He will be speaking about his current research with our book, Abe’s Youth, which focuses on the “Lincoln Inquiry” conducted by the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society in the 1920s. The program will begin at 2:00 p.m. (CST) and will be held in the Abraham Lincoln Hall of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana.

The 2019 Lincoln Day program will include presentation of the colors by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, special music, and other ceremonial activities to honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln and his family. Following the indoor program, the traditional pilgrimage to the gravesite of Nancy Hanks Lincoln for a wreath laying ceremony will be held. All are invited to a reception in the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Hall at the conclusion of the program.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial preserves the Indiana farm where Abraham Lincoln lived for 14 years — from 1816 to 1830, and the site where his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, is buried.

Brian Dirck’s Lincoln in Indiana

Published on 22 October 2018 under Books

I’ve penned a new review for H-Net of Brian Dirck’s Lincoln in Indiana. The review can be found here (with a PDF version here). Books about Abraham Lincoln began springing up immediately after his death and their proliferation seems to have continued unabated to this day. About sixteen thousand books cover Mr. Lincoln. Every aspect of his life and philosophy has been covered in depth at some point by some writer. Why, then, do we need another one? Despite the proliferation of Lincoln books, there remains a dearth of modern material about his youth in Indiana.

Because of its light treatment of certain topics, the book cannot serve as a definitive guide to Lincoln’s youth, but it nonetheless achieves its intended scope—a good, quick primer for those interested in the subject. Despite the tremendous amount of Lincoln material, Dirck identified a void in Lincoln material and offers a much-needed modern, concise history of Lincoln’s life in Indiana.

A Nation Forged by Crisis

Published on 12 October 2018 under Books

In A Nation Forged by Crisis: A New American History, historian Jay Sexton contends that our national narrative is not one of halting yet inevitable progress, but of repeated disruptions brought about by shifts in the international system. Sexton shows that the American Revolution was a consequence of the increasing integration of the British and American economies; that a necessary precondition for the Civil War was the absence, for the first time in decades, of foreign threats; and that we cannot understand the New Deal without examining the role of European immigrants and their offspring in transforming the Democratic Party.

In short, Sexton argues that we can only prepare for our unpredictable future by first acknowledging the contingencies of our collective past. An interesting tidbit in the book is that Sexton also argues the Civil War boosted Northern support for immigration:

Here we arrive at one of the least appreciated factors in the equation that led to the Union victory: the military service of immigrants. Foreign-born recruits provided the Union army with the advantage it needed over its Confederate rival. An estimated 25 percent of the soldiers in the Union army (some 543,000) and more than 40 percent of the seamen in the navy (84,000) were foreign-born. If one includes soldiers with at least one immigrant parent, the overall figure climbs to 43 percent of the Union army…

The demands of war meant that Union officials needed to appeal to immigrants. Military recruitment placards were printed in foreign languages; Union officials presented the war as part of a transnational struggle for republican government, thereby decoupling the idea of the nation from Anglo-Saxon Protestantism…

The military service of the foreign-born did more than enhance the Union’s advantage in the field. It also transformed the politics of nativism in the United States. From the nativism of the 1850s, exemplified by Know-Nothingism and bigoted anti-Catholicism, the Union now moved in the direction of welcoming — indeed, encouraging — foreign arrivals.

Review: Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight

Published on 15 September 2018 under Books

I have a new review published at Compulsive Reader of David Blight’s forthcoming Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster, 2018). Click here to read it. As I note, David Blight’s book delivers the new Frederick Douglass standard-bearer for years to come.

Finding Our Sense of National Identity

Published on 7 September 2018 under Books
Finding Our Sense of National Identity

A bombshell New York Times op-ed by an anonymous author rightly suggests an urgent need to transcend increasing tribalism, which presents a troubling challenge to American civic life. Can we come together around a defining narrative, or make our multiple narratives cohere? Read more about my new book addressing this topic here at the University of Nebraska Press blog.

Review: Identity by Francis Fukuyama

Published on 6 September 2018 under Books

Historians and political scientists love to view history as cyclical, helping give rise to the old maxim that “history repeats itself.” But in 1989 Francis Fukuyama challenged that approach when he famously proclaimed that Western-style liberal democracy’s victory in the Cold War marked “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and “the end of history.”

In Fukuyama’s view, later elaborated in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press), World War II represented a massive struggle between three distinct ideologies: liberal democracy, fascism, and communism. The war destroyed fascism, and 50 years later, Soviet communism failed. For him and many political scientists, history was over. Liberal democracy won and was here to stay. Fukuyama admitted that democracy may suffer “temporary” setbacks but argued, in the long run, it would become more and more prevalent.

Fukuyama’s grand theory envisioned that liberal democracy’s permanence would also bring globalization and a strong middle class. Since democracies engage in less warfare, war itself would even disappear. The new utopia might be a bit boring, but that is a small price to pay for peace and prosperity.

Nearly three decades later, the bold prediction has not yet proven true. Autocratically governed countries continue their ascent, most notably China and Russia, but also scores of other states throughout the globe. The Arab Spring was a dismal failure and democratic countries like Turkey and Nicaragua lurch back toward the international and historic norm of autocracy. Even in the United States, the world’s flagship liberal democracy, elections increasingly involve narrow choices between candidates on the socialist left and the authoritarian, nationalistic right.

These developments suggest our ideology continues to evolve. Are we unsatisfied with liberal democracy? If so, what drives that dissatisfaction? Fukuyama addresses these questions in his new book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). (more…)