Category: History

Lincoln Log Podcast Launched

Published on 5 June 2020 under Featured
Lincoln Log Podcast Launched

The Abraham Lincoln Association launched a new podcast titled Lincoln Log featuring conversations with leading historians and other officials about their stories, research, and wisdom. I will frequently serve as host, including as host of three initial episodes with David Blight, Michael Burlingame, and Allen Guelzo. Here’s a trailer for the new podcast.

ALA Lincoln Birthday Events

Published on 14 February 2020 under Books
ALA Lincoln Birthday Events

The Abraham Lincoln Association‘s annual event celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday has come to a close. The Benjamin P. Thomas Symposium featured Carl Guarneri, Manisha Sinha, and Jason Emerson. I was honored to join my colleague Bill Bartelt for the Dr. Thomas F. Schwartz Luncheon and Lecture where we presented on our book, Abe’s Youth: Shaping the Future President. Following lunch we participated in a roundtable discussion with all five speakers moderated by Prof. Michael Burlingame. The evening’s banquet featured Ray LaHood. Here are some images from the affair.

The Decay of Collective Memory

Published on 7 October 2019 under History

As a historian and Beatle fanatic this headline immediately caught my attention: “How We’ll Forget John Lennon.” In the story by Kevin Berger, he reports on fascinating paper by Cesar Hidalgo titled “The universal decay of collective memory and attention.” Hidalgo attempts to measure the way our cultural memory—for instance, the way a hit song or artist lingers, or doesn’t—into a mathematical formula for measuring the way our collective memory fades. The results are remarkable with far-reaching implications. Here below is a brief video summarizing the paper.

Constitution Making in Indiana

Published on 16 August 2019 under Books

In 1851 Indiana held a constitutional convention and the delegates wrote a totally new constitution to replace the one adopted in 1816 when Indiana became a state. This drastic step was made necessary because the earlier document prohibited piecemeal revision.

The new document, ratified by voters in 1852, did allow for future amendment. However, only a few changes were made over the next hundred years and by the 1960s, dissatisfaction had begun to build with the 1852 document and some people called for another constitutional convention to bring it into the 20th century. Such dissatisfaction was not unique to Indiana, with several other states with constitutions of the same vintage also considering constitutional conventions.

In Indiana, many called for a coordinated, piecemeal amendment process in lieu of a convention. Ultimately, the piecemeal approach won out and a constitutional revision commission was created in 1969. This began a process that led to voter ratification of a number of changes to our 1852 constitution, including annual legislative sessions, the governor and lieutenant governor running as a team, and a change in the way the governor deals with vetoes. Separately, a judicial study commission recommended a complete revision of the judicial article, moving from elected to appointed appellate judges.

This initial history of the Indiana Constitution, from 1852 until 1960, was recorded in four volumes of Constitution Making in Indiana. Charles Kettleborough edited the first three volumes (volume 1: 1780-1851, volume 2: 1851-1916, volume 3: 1916-1930) and John Bremer edited the fourth (volume 4: 1930-1960). Thankfully, two new volumes will soon release bringing this important history up to date. (more…)

The Return of North & South Magazine

Published on 19 June 2019 under Books
The Return of North & South Magazine

North & South is back. The magazine (“The Official Magazine of the Civil War Society”) previously operated from 1997 to 2013 as a staple in the Civil War historical community. Founder and editor Keith Poulter explained the return:

With the disappearance of Blue & Gray magazine, I have been inundated with letters and phone calls from people imploring the relaunch of North & South to “fill the vacuum that now exists.” So here goes. This is the first issue of what we are calling the Second Series. Issues in this series will appear six times a year, this time in both print and online form.

For most of its history North & South was regarded as a high-quality publication, perhaps the leading non-university Civil War publication. Despite no affiliation with a university, North & South retained academic rigor and accuracy, offering a wide range of well-researched and annotated articles from leading historians. It helped establish that a quality, glossy Civil War magazine was possible.

Eventually North & South‘s editor Terry Johnston left (some reports suggest he was terminated) and he founded The Civil War Monitor in 2011, which may still be the leading Civil War magazine. Upon Johnston’s departure, Keith Poulter explained a “nuanced shift” he had in mind for North & South:

For example, expect to see a little more emphasis on the military side of things, and a little less social history. The order-of-battle diagrams, so beloved of the wargamers (and many others) among the readers will again become a standard feature.

Unsurprisingly, Johnston’s new Monitor promised more emphasis on the social, political, and economic history of the war. Perhaps Johnston’s departure, and their split in emphasis and approach, hurt North & South enough to force its closure in 2013. Or perhaps the magazine industry’s vulnerability to the internet spelled doom and prevented three major mass-market Civil War publications from surviving at once (Blue & Gray magazine did not cease publication until 2017). Reports also surfaced citing Poulter’s alleged mismanagement, broken promises, and lack of payments to authors as a major factor in North & South‘s demise.

Now with its resurrection North & South claims a strong cast of associate editors like Gary Gallagher, Ed Bearss, Allen Guelzo, and Gordon Rhea, among others, although it is unclear if they are indeed still associated or if the masthead is a carry-over from earlier editions. I watch with great anticipation to see how North & South adapts and survives.

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.

Frontier Thesis

Published on 17 November 2017 under History

Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis,” which burst onto the scene with a famous essay in 1893 titled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” continues to impact the American view of history in fundamental ways. In it Turner argues the frontier shaped American democracy, independence, ingenuity, and optimism. In the process, the frontier also shaped the American story and drove American history. Turner eventually landed a place on the staff at Harvard and shaped generations of historians and public intellectuals, spawning both devotees and critics.

New research from Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein, and Mesay Gebresilasse explores the pervasive and persistent influence of the frontier on American life. Here’s the abstract on their new NBER working paper:

In a classic 1893 essay, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the American frontier promoted individualism. We revisit the Frontier Thesis and examine its relevance at the subnational level. Using Census data and GIS techniques, we track the frontier throughout the 1790-1890 period and construct a novel, county-level measure of historical frontier experience. We document skewed sex ratios and other distinctive demographics of frontier locations, as well as their greater individualism (proxied by infrequent children names). Many decades after the closing of the frontier, counties with longer historical frontier experience exhibit more prevalent individualism and opposition to redistribution and regulation. We take several steps towards a causal interpretation, including an instrumental variables approach that exploits variation in the speed of westward expansion induced by national immigration inflows. Using linked historical Census data, we identify mechanisms giving rise to a persistent frontier culture. Selective migration contributed to greater individualism, and frontier conditions may have further shaped behavior and values. We provide evidence suggesting that rugged individualism may be rooted in its adaptive advantage on the frontier and the opportunities for upward mobility through effort.

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