Periodically, I teach a course that requires a quick introduction to the task of history. It is usually just a brief initiation to how history is done.
Past semesters I used this video.
The distinction between the past and history is often new to students and this video does a great job making this point. In addition, we get to talk about interpretation and others ideas such as causation.
Twenty years ago, Jill Lepore wrote a book on King Philip’s War that received the prestigious Bancroft Prize: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (Vintage Books, 1998). In her volume, Lepore treats this little-remembered but pivotal war in colonial America from the angle of language. The book still has value today, speaking as it does to both the acts and the annals of war, to both the perpetration of war and the perpetuation of its memory. At the same time, it also raises some questions about historical methodology that warrant consideration.
In Protestant circles, medieval Christianity typically represents the least understood period in church history. This is unfortunate. As those who profess belief in the unity of the church across both space and time, Protestants benefit from exploring the nature of Christianity in the Middle Ages, tracing continuities and discontinuities with what preceded and succeeded the period.
A recent treatment of Christianity in the Middle Ages is Kevin Madigan’s Medieval Christianity: A New History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015; source: publisher). In Medieval Christianity, Professor Madigan of Harvard Divinity School offers a fresh historical account of Christianity in the medieval era, seeking to maintain several traditional themes in histories of the Middle Ages while making good on historical research that has furthered our understanding of the topic since R. W. Southern’s landmark 1970 volume, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. And he has done so with an intentionally narratival delivery (xix).
A while back, Emily Rutherford posited that studies on the Church of England in the eighteenth century was the “biggest gap” in current historiography. Rutherford goes on to identify Carolyn Steedman’s Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age as the best exception to this lacuna. In addition to Steedman, one could also add Brent Sirota. With William J. Bulman’s Anglican Enlightenment; Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and its Empire, 1648-1715 (Cambridge, 2015; source: publisher) we can now include a pivotal study that perhaps fills this gap.
At first glance, Anglican Enlightenment seems to have a couple significant limitations. First, is not Anglican Enlightenment an oxymoron? It has long been argued that early Enlightenment in England has stood in opposition to conformist Church of England. The term Anglican Enlightenment is thus rendered nonsensical. Second, despite its title, Bulman’s work is a study of Lancelot Addison, and not the broader overview of the Church of England. This begs the question, could one case study give us a fair assessment of an entire movement such as the Anglican Enlightenment?
Pursuing an active life of the mind offers both intriguing possibilities and inevitable perils. The study of church history is no exception to this reality. Those who have engaged in the exploration of the past know what a fascinating world it holds and yet also the danger that an overwhelming mass of artifacts and writings might bury the historian.
In Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars (Eerdmans, 2014), Richard Mouw offers some perspective to those delving into intellectual endeavors. This short book of seventy-four pages includes nineteen “chapters”—perhaps better called “reflections”—on the work of scholarship. For busy evangelical professors, researchers, and doctoral students, this format offers an opportunity to steal away for a few minutes and think about the craft of scholarship.
I recently listened to Allen Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (audiobook version; Vintage Civil War Library, 2014), and in following his account of this bloody battle, you can’t miss that it illustrates the role of contingency in historical study. That is, history is marked by asking the question, how would things have turned out differently if this or that event had not happened?
In the case of the battle at Gettysburg, the question often goes like this: what needed to happen in order for the Confederates to score a victory at Gettysburg? If only Stonewall Jackson had survived the friendly fire that wounded him two months earlier at Chancellorsville; if only J. E. B. Stuart hadn’t taken so long to get to Gettysburg and provide screening for Lee’s movements; if only Lieutenant General Dick Ewell had pressed forward on July 1 and taken cemetery hill; if only Lieutenant General James Longstreet had started his assaults on July 2 and 3 earlier in the day; if only George Pickett had received the cover he needed to conduct his charge; if only General Lee had pushed his generals to take more initiative or had backed away from a general engagement in early July to find better ground. If only.
As Hamann arranged for the publication of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) with his publisher Johann Friedrich Hartknoch, it was his hope that Kant’s reading of Hume would lead Kant to the same conclusions as Hamann. In 1780, Hamann had begun a translation of Hume’s Dialogues and Natural History of Religion (1779), but due to a rival translation he gave up the project. Despite never completing the translation, Kant requested it in its partial form while writing his first Critique. However, to Hamann’s disappointment the Critique was not what he had expected.
After specifically requesting the proofs to be sent separately from Kant’s package, to avoid awkwardness, Hamann immediately read and reviewed the work. He finished his review on the first of July, several weeks before receiving a copy directly from Kant. Despite completing his review Hamann never published it on account of their friendship and Kant’s financial generosity towards his son’s education.
Picking up from where we left off, part 1 ,1759 was a significant year for Johann Georg Hamann. After a dissolved engagement, Hamann moved back to Königsberg to take care of his father. Over the summer, Hamann was berated by longtime friend and would-be brother-in-law, Christoph Berens, to renege his recent conversion. In support of these efforts, Immanuel Kant stepped in as an appeal to Hamann’s intellect. Hamann rebuffed the two, the latter being the only one who would remain on good terms. The Socratic Memorabilia is not only Hamann’s response to their endeavors, but the initiation to a lifelong career of writing.
Before addressing Socrates’ life, Hamann takes a moment to examine the discipline of history. According to Hamann, history serves as a revelation of God’s truth. Coupling history with nature he states, ‘As nature was given us to open our eyes, so history was given to us to open our ears.’ The significance of properly understanding history is not merely an issue of accuracy. Rather, as God’s revelation, we must understand that history is a reflection of ‘God’s invisible being, his eternal power and Godhead.’
Turkey, stuffing, family, freedom—all good things we associate with Thanksgiving. Yet as this national holiday approaches next week, many of us will remember a portrait of the Pilgrims that skews the actual people who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620.
In his book, The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History (IVP Academic, 2013), Robert Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton College busts a number of myths about the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving. For example, the Pilgrims doubtfully wore silver buckles and stark black garb, instead avoiding anything resembling jewelry and gladly donning bright-colored clothes, especially at a celebration feast. Their Thanksgiving dinner would have lacked any sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, or pumpkin pie. Rather than turkeys, they likely ate ducks, geese, and possibly even eels. These austere figures were also wont to wash down the meal with beer.
Summer is always a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. Here is my top ten reading list for this summer.
1. Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis
The work is an account of an army chaplain commissioned to minister to the Nazis held at Nuremberg. Sure to be thought-provoking.
Why study history? In typical historian fashion, John Fea shows that a one-word answer will not suffice. Just as history is full of complexity, so are the answers to this question.
But complexity should not scare us off. It is the complexity of history that makes it such a rich subject. In Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker, 2013), Fea makes a compelling case for the value of studying history, and some of the answers may surprise the reader.