History I Would Re-read

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Some of the history I would re-read. Photo © Bob Trube, 2020.

Until college, I thought history was just one dull fact after another. Then I had several history professors (not even my major) who made history alive, by weaving the facts into a story, connecting cultural forces, people, and events into a narrative that both made sense of the times, and helped make sense of how we got to our own time in history. Since then, I’ve been hooked on reading history. In fact, I couldn’t keep this list to ten (and could easily add to it).

Steven Ambrose, Undaunted Courage. Reading the account of the journeys of Lewis and Clark gives one an appreciation for the amazing accomplishment and improbable accomplishment of their explorations.

Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. As imperialist and colonialist as this is, Churchill offers a magnificent narrative from the beginnings of Britain through the age of exploration to the revolutionary age and the modern global spread of English-speaking peoples. Not only could Churchill speak, but also he wrote well, and made his living off his writing. Some day I would also love to read his six volumes on The Second World War. I’ve read a one volume condensation so this would not strictly be a re-read.

Shelby Foote, Civil War: A Narrative. Foote, a southern historian takes us from Sumter to Appomattox in three volumes that I didn’t want to end

E. H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World. An account of human history in 284 pages. Written for European schoolchildren, Gombrich pulls it off. It was a great summer read one summer. Maybe again this summer.

Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. Guelzo directs the Civil War Era Studies program at Gettysburg College. He lives on the battlefield site. He knows every hill, valley, field and railroad cut and takes us inside the battle better than anyone I’ve read.

Stanley Karnow, Vietnam. Vietnam was the war I grew up with but I did not understand the unfolding and unraveling of the war until I read Karnow’s account.

David McCullough, The Great Bridge. This was my introduction to McCullough and his capacity to weave a fascinating narrative of the Roeblings, father and son, and the challenges of design and construction they overcame to build the Brooklyn Bridge, costing one his life, the other his health.

Candace Millard, Hero of the Empire. One can begin to understand why Churchill was such an inspiring and intrepid figure. Millard, who has also written about Theodore Roosevelt, and the death of James Garfield, gives at once, an account of the Boer War, and the miraculous escape and perilous flight across country of Churchill, working as a freelance journalist captured for ransom by the Boers.

Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower. Philbrick profiles the company of Pilgrims, the religious challenges that drove them to migrate, the new challenges they faced in the New World, and the challenges they presented the native peoples.

Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly. Tuchman is one of the great narrators of history. This was perhaps one of her more polemical books, demonstrating the foolishness and waste of war.

Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty (Oxford History of the United States). Wood traces the early life of the American republic, from the presidency of Washington through the end of the War of 1812, a time when the country’s existence was touch and go. Great writing, as is true of each volume of the history. James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom on the Civil War is excellent.

Donald Worster, A River Running West. Worster chronicles the explorations of the Colorado River, and the surrounding canyons by John Wesley Powell, giving us a stunning portrait of this explorer of and advocate for the American West.

History researched and written well transports us into events being narrated. It makes names and places and events come alive with significance. It can inspire, instruct, and warn. It makes whole civilizations spring to life. And re-reading it may be like going through old family records in the attic. It reminds us of the family from which we descend. The human family.

Review: When Books Went to War

When Books Went to War

When Books Went to WarMolly Guptill Manning. New York: Mariner Books, 2014.

Summary: This history of efforts to supply American servicemen in World War 2 with books.

The war against Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany was not just a war of bullets and armies. It was a war of ideas and books. In 1933, in Berlin’s Bebelplatz, thousands of books were burned. Books by Jews. Books by foreigners. Books that dissented from the views of Mein Kampf. As Nazi armies marched through Europe, they destroyed libraries, and millions of books.

As the United States slowly edged toward war, and then rapidly mobilized after Pearl Harbor, American leaders quickly came to realize that soldiers needed more than barracks and weapons, training and strategy. They needed ideas, and in the many idle hours between intense battles, they needed diversions. They needed books.

President Roosevelt put it well:

People die, but books never die. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny. In this war, we know books are weapons.

Molly Guptill Manning recounts the massive mobilization effort that put over 140 million books into the hands of Americans in the services, and the powerful impact those books had on those who received them.

While libraries existed on posts, those deployed often lacked greatly. The first response was the National Defense Book Campaign, organized by the American Library Association under the leadership of Althea Warren, director of the Los Angeles Public Library. She launched a national book donation drive with a goal of 10 million books. Eventually 18 million were collected in what became the Victory Book Campaign. However, not all the books were suitable for soldiers and most were heavy hardcovers, not idea for someone’s pack or duffle.

Eventually this effort gave way to the American Services Editions, payed for by the military. Cost constraints combined with an effort of mass production of a number of editions led to adopting a paperback format, produced for roughly five cents a book. Each months, sets were sent out to all the service units. They consisted of classics, how to books, modern fiction, history, biography, sports. They were selected with an eye to soldiers interests. They fit in a soldiers pocket and were so popular that they were traded around until they fell apart

Manning recounts how deeply these were appreciated. Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was the all-time favorite, reminding so many soldiers of home. Soldiers could be found reading them on transports and in fox holes, wherever they could find a moments respite. Books weren’t censored for points of view. Some were controversial, like Strange Fruit, an account of interracial marriage, or steamylike Forever Amber. All of these kept soldiers morale up and reminded them for what they were fighting. Eventually, more books were produced than the Germans destroyed, some by those banned authors. In the end, books not only went to war, they won.

Most fascinating to me was how Manning connects this massive book effort with the massive influx of GIs into colleges after the war, and their seriousness about learning. She raises the question of whether the steady diet of good reading the soldiers experienced during the war (which may not have been true of them before) whet their appetites for serious study that “wrecked the curve” for other undergraduates.

I write this review during “stay at home” orders during a pandemic. This is a very different war. We act collectively by isolating. It will be interesting to see the role books play during this war, when so many other forms of entertainment are available on all our devices. Yet books have a power to form ideas, to capture imagination, to re-fashion our world as we enter that of a book. The stories evoked in my minds eye are always richer than the rendering of another. I know the importance of the idea of relief to those on the edge, but I wonder if for some, the chance to have a collection of new titles delivered each month would be a welcome gift. Should there be an equivalent to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library for adults? Will our “time out” be long enough to foster a lifelong love for this literature?

Perhaps someday, someone will write a book of this time titled When Books Sustained a Nation. One an only hope.

Review: Opening the Red Door

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Opening the Red DoorJohn A. Bernbaum. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: An inside account by a founder and President of the Russian-American Christian University, from the surprise invitation received from Russian leadership to its closing.

The period of 1989-1990 was a heady time as the Iron Curtain fell and country after country overturned Communist leadership and talked of embracing democracy. Then the changes came to the Soviet Union itself under Gorbachev and Yeltsin as glasnost and perestroika gave way to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the spinning off of republics as autonomous nations, leaving Russia, a large, but much diminished country, struggling to convert from a command to some version of a capitalist economy, and failing miserably in the effort.

This book originates in that era. A group of Christian college leaders with the Christian College Coalition (now the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) who had ties with evangelical mission efforts to Eastern Europe sought to discern what opportunities this might present to build ties of understanding and opportunities for Christian influence in a country that had been officially atheist since 1917. They determined to explore possibilities for student study and cultural exchanges during a 1990 visit when a more daring proposal came from a Russian governmental official. Please come and set up a faith-based university in Russia!

John Bernbaum, then a vice president with the Christian College Coalition, was part of this delegation and was tasked to follow up this proposal, a task that eventually led to his presidency of the Russian-American Christian University (later the Russian-American Institute). In this work, he offers a first-person account of the history of this initiative from the initial proposal to the decision to close the doors years later.

Bernbaum traces this history from working groups to a joint Russian-American and the first classes in 1994-1995. He recounts the beginnings from agreements and charters, setting up tax exempt status in the US and gaining licenses in Russia. He describes the expansion of the program from initial English Language programs to a full program of undergraduate courses and the first graduation in 2001 (of 19 students). He traces the various moves to different temporary facilities and the nearly ten year process from 2001 to 2010 in securing land, gaining permits, building, and gaining occupancy permits for their own academic facility and the “perfect storm” that led to the closure of the Russian American Institute in 2011 and the sale of its building in 2014. It is a narrative of a both extraordinary and less than perfect Russian-American partnership.

The external events in Russia were critical to this history, as the initially open and supportive relationship with the Yeltsin government gave way to the Putin era, and an increasing chilling of American-Russian relations, coupled with increasing suspicion of any American effort in Russia. At first this manifested in community opposition and bureaucratic delays culminating in a reclassification of their tax status increasing annunal taxes from $2,000 to $500,000 coupled with a refusal of reaccreditation.

The brightest spot in the narratives are the descriptions of the students and their eager welcome and embrace of instruction by a joint American and Russian faculty. We also see how forming deep relationships of integrity with Russian officials overcame many barriers until political pressure became too great. This was matched by the generosity of Bernbaum’s American partners.

The deep regret of course was that international relations finally made it impossible to continue this effort. The narrative offers evidence that the students who came through the program, the many faculty from both countries who taught in the program, and the student exchanges and programs in English and Russian that were formed, built bridges of understanding and equipped a cohort of students with a Christian vision for their work in Russia. One hopes this is a kind of “mustard seed conspiracy” that will one day bear great fruit in Russia, and in American relations with that great country. One also hopes and prays that the spiritual hunger that originated this initiative will be sustained and grow.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Bowery Mission

Bowery Mission

Bowery MissionJason Storbakken. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019.

Summary: A history of the Bowery Mission’s 140 year history of working with those down on their luck on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has often been the last stop for many in New York who are down on their luck: homeless, drug or alcohol addicted, jobless, or broke, sufferers of PTSD and mental illness. In the background of many is abuse and abandonment from an early age. It is thought that the word, “hobo” derives from the intersection of Houston and Bowery.

For many, the Bowery Mission has meant the difference between the end of the road and a turnaround for 140 years. In this book, Jason Storbakken, a former Bowery Mission director who continues to work with the Mission, offers both a history and inspiring description of the ministry of the Bowery Mission that aims to “serve like you are serving a King,” affording tremendous dignity to people who come hungry, dirty, and often times smelly. They receive meals, clothing, hot showers, and for at least some, clean beds.

More than this, they hear what for a number has been a transforming message. Through both chapel services and personal ministry, the book narrates stories of people whose lives have been transformed by Christ. The author describes one of these, Mr. Wynn, addicted to crack cocaine who had attended Bible studies, and had asked about baptism, but when the day came, lingered outside the chapel.

   Just as the last person was stepping from the water, Mr. Wynn dashed down the aisle, pulling a pipe from his pocket and calling, “Baptize me, baptize me!” Shattering his crack pipe on the altar, he leapt into the pool. His splash further soaked my already wet clothes, but my spirit soared, and I could not suppress my emotion as I asked if he was ready to start a new life and if he believed that God forgave and loved him. “Yes,” he declared.

Since then, he has found a home, returned to his work as an accountant, and remained drug and alcohol free. Storbakken also tells the hard stories of those who turn back to old habits, and those who never change, but are nevertheless loved and cared for.

The history is fascinating. In 1879 Albert and Ellen Rullifson began in a rented room at 14 Bowery, gathering with a group of men and women in prayer to launch the Mission. We of the critical role of Louis Klopsch and The Christian Herald  in providing funding and leadership that put the Bowery Mission on a firm footing, of the critical role played by Superintendent Hallimond in shaping the character of the Bowery Mission’s work, how J. C. Penney became a key patron, and the connection hymn-writer Fanny Crosby had with the Bowery Mission. We learn why the doors of every Bowery Mission facility are painted red.

Storbakken takes us through the changing times and transformations in the Bowery and how the Mission continued to adapt while staying true to its gospel message and servant ministry. In the present, the combination of gentrification and the needy results in fascinating contrasts, as well as unusual donations from basketball shoes to sushi. All of this is fitting, Storbakken asserts, for those who they would serve as kings. The theme of how they have consistently treated those on the margins with dignity is a takeaway all of us might consider.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Yale Needs Women

Yale Needs Women

Yale Needs Women, Anne Gardiner Perkins. Naperville, Il: Sourcebooks, 2019.

Summary: The history of Yale’s first women’s class, entering in 1969, and the challenges of transitioning an all-male institution to co-education.

Before the fall of 1969, Yale had been an all-male institution for 268 years. They had a stated goal of admitting 1000 men each year, the future leaders of the country. In 1968, pressure built upon Kingman Brewster, popular president of Yale, to open Yale to women. Male students declared “Yale needs women.” Up until then women were bussed in on weekends from nearby schools to provide a social life. Hardly a satisfactory solution. Other schools like Harvard were co-ed. Faculty and many alumni pressed for this change. Reluctantly, Brewster, and the Yale Board yielded.

The decision was made to admit 230 women in 1969. Elga Wasserman, former Chemistry professor and assistant dean was tasked to handle the transition to coeducation. She recognized they would need “strong” women to enter this all-male domain. This book suggests that the women who were admitted admirably met that criteria, but that it would take more than that. It traces these first four years through the experiences of several of those women. We see how each carved out their own niche while contending with the male-dominated structure of Yale.

To begin with, there was an eight to one imbalance with men. There were heavy pressures to date, and sexual assault and harassment before it was named. Women were distributed among the eight colleges and so isolated from each other. There were no varsity women’s sports. It was an uphill battle to get locks on the bathrooms. Most women had only male faculty.

Elga Wasserman, along with the women, had to fight against the structures that resisted change. Students joined, creating some of the early feminist organizations like the Sisterhood. A couple on faculty, Philip and Lorna Sarrel, led some of the early sexual education work as pioneers in the field. Eventually, Morey’s dropped its male-only dining policy. Wasserman herself struggled, being designated “special assistant” rather than dean or VP.

Eventually advocacy focused on gender blind admissions. Many superior women applicants were rejected in favor of inferior male applicants in the skewed ratio of 1000 to 230. Things would not change until after the first class graduated. Elga Wasserman was one of the casualties. She vigorously advocated and achieved a number of changes, but lost her job after this class graduated.

Today, it is hard to believe some of this went on. The book shows how far more is needed than a change in admissions policy. Structures, policies, and traditions need to change as well. What the book highlights are the pioneers, and some enlightened allies, who persisted, who were the “edge of the wedge” of change.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review e-galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: A History of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport

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A History of Chicago’s O’Hare AirportMichael Branigan, foreword by Christopher Lynch. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.

Summary: A history of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport from its earliest days through to the post-9/11 environment for air travel.

I probably have flown to or through O’Hare at least a couple times a year over the last forty years. I never thought much of the history of the place until a recent trip when I walked past a series of aerial photographs showing the development of the airport over time. I realized then that the place I traveled through had gone through many changes over those past forty years–many I had not noticed.

Michael Branigan, who worked in aircraft maintenance at both Midway and O’Hare Airports shares his love and inside knowledge of these places in this book, which includes many photographs from different eras at O’Hare. He takes us back before the beginnings, when it was a battlefield for the U.S. military’s fight with the Sauk Indians in 1832. Later it became the home of a German settlement known as Orchard Place (from which the airport code ORD comes).

The beginnings of the use of this site as an airport trace back to World War II when McDonnell Douglas sited it’s C-54 Skymaster plant here. Midway Airport was too small, and this prairie site offered the land needed for the plant and runways. The Douglas plant became the first of the air-oriented cities here until its closure following the war. Branigan recounts how Chicago Mayor Ralph H. Burke had the vision for converting this to a major airport facility exceeding what was possible at Midway. The first terminal was developed and opened to commercial operations in the mid- 1950’s. At this time the airport, which up until then was know as Orchard Place Airport, was named after “Butch” O’Hare, a decorated Naval flier who died in action.

Branigan follows the development and rapid growth of O’Hare, the efficiency of its operations (except when the weather did not co-operate, as many of us who have been delayed in O’Hare can attest), transitioning into the jet age, expanding its terminals and facilities to accommodate the jumbo L-1011’s, 747’s, and DC-10’s. As I write, O’Hare handles more aircraft movements than any other airport in the world (Atlanta’s Hartsfield currently handles more passengers), and this book helps one understand how air traffic control, runway layouts and gate services all contribute to O’Hare’s success.

Branigan also traces air travel from the novelty and luxury of those early years to de-regulation and post 9/11 airport security that so many of us tolerate for the hope of secure travel. He recounts the terrible crash of flight 191 in 1979, when the engine of a DC-10 fell off just as the pilots “rotated” the plane into the air and the earlier collision of two planes on the ground in 1972. What is striking to me is that these were the two worst crashes at an airport that achieved over 900,000 aircraft movements in 2018. While one may remember the rare disasters, and the more common delays, what Branigan’s book impressed upon me was what an incredible place O’Hare is, moving so many passengers and flights safely through every day. I wonder if I’ll look at it with different eyes when I fly there in a few weeks for meetings in Chicago…

Review: Losing Earth

Losing Earth.jpg

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019.

Summary: An account of the lost opportunity of the 1980’s to address climate change and the birth of the polarized dialogue that exists to this day.

Did you know that much of the scientific understanding of the greenhouse effect and global warming traces back to the nineteenth century? That in the 1950’s and throughout the Sixties and Seventies, scientists were already warning of global warming and contending that warming connected with higher carbon dioxide levels was already evident? Did you know there was a time when climate change and the science behind it was not a political issue and that political leaders in both parties, and many others in most the the countries of the world, substantially agreed that this was a looming problem that needed to be addressed? That world leaders came very close to an agreement to limit and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 1989? That was thirty years ago. In 1990 human beings emitted more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Instead of cutting that amount, by 2018, the amount was projected at 37.1 billion metric tons and growing.

Nathaniel Rich narrates the story of a lost moment through two figures: Rafe Pomerance, an environmental lobbyist and Gordon MacDonald, a climate scientist. A third figure who plays a prominent role is James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist who compiled massive amounts of data, and gave compelling testimony wherever called upon. Pomerance, came across this finding in a government study on the continued use of fossil fuels: “continued use of fossil fuels might, within two or three decades, bring about ‘significant and damaging’ changes to the global atmosphere.” That was in the Spring of 1979 and changed the course of his life. It led to his interview with Gordon MacDonald, a geophysicist, who was glad that someone beside him finally noticed.

Rich’s book traces their efforts to mobilize awareness and action, culminating in the formation of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and a climate summit in the Netherlands in 1989. Initially, action on climate change was widely supported, at least in public statements. Meanwhile, a transformation began to take place in the fossil fuel industry from studying the issue themselves and reckoning on the consequences of continued fuel use, to a movement of resistance and a challenge to the science, and exercise of increasing leverage. In the climate talks, the resistance of one US figure led to a meaningless agreement to which the US never subscribed, and an increasingly politicized discourse around climate issues. Perhaps the most stunning revelation of this book was that it was not always so.

Rich’s afterword is both hopeful and sobering. He both notes the technological advances that might be turned to action limiting global temperature rises to somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. Yet he also wrestles with the propensity of human beings to not act to address possible dangers down the road and instead prefer their present comfort. He not only condemns in the strongest terms those who twist and deny what they know. He challenges all of us:

We do not like to think about loss, or death; Americans in particular, do not like to think about death. No matter how obsessively one follows the politics of climate change, it is difficult to contemplate soberly an existential threat to the species. Our queasiness even infects the language we use to describe it: the banalities of “global warming” and “climate change” perform the linguistic equivalent of rolling on sanitary gloves to palpate a hemorrhaging wound.

To see how close the world came to a climate agreement on carbon emissions in the 1980’s, to learn of a time when this was not a political football, suggests that it may be possible in the future. To avert the worst possibilities, it is imperative. One concludes Rich’s book wondering, will we seize or miss the opportunity that we have?

 

Review: Confronting Old Testament Controversies

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Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions About Evolution, Sexuality, History, and ViolenceTremper Longman III. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: With a commitment both to the authority of the Bible, and pastoral concern for readers, the author addresses controversial questions about origins, historicity, violence, and sexuality.

This work took a certain amount of courage to write. I suspect there will be a number who read it who applaud what the author says in some places and vehemently disagree elsewhere. Throughout, the author seeks to offer a reading of scripture, particularly the Old Testament that engages the text as a whole and seeks to listen to its overarching  message, that engages scholarship, including scholars, some friends, with whom the author disagrees, and seeks to exercise pastoral care, even for readers who may disagree.

The four issues the author addresses are the controversy of how we read the creation accounts of scripture in light of evolution; whether we can trust that the exodus and Canaanite conquest are historical events, despite claims that they did not happen; how we should think about the claims of divine violence in scripture; and what the Bible teaches about same-sex relations and the pastoral implications of this teaching. My brief summaries of the author’s responses to these controversy should not substitute for a careful reading of his responses, especially if one thinks one differs with the author.

  • On evolution, he both argues against “wooden reading that would lead us to think that it was the intention of the biblical author to provide us with a straightforward description of the how of creation” and equally against those who would deny “a historic fall and concept of original sin.” He contends that the Bible is interested in the who and why of creation while science addresses the how.
  • On history, he affirms the historical reality as well as the theological import of the exodus and conquest narratives.
  • On violence, he believes that attempts to claim God didn’t hurt anyone or that seek to minimize the harm, do not do justice to the biblical text, which, consistent with the New Testament portrays a God who fights against, and finally defeats evil. He actually suggests that the violence of the Old Testament, first against the nations, and later against Israel herself, stand as forewarnings of God’s final judgment.
  • On sexuality, he affirms the historic view of the church affirming sexual intimacy within the boundaries of a marriage between a man and a woman. He thoughtfully deals with key texts and alternative readings. While he holds to what is now called a “traditional” view, he contends he speaks only to the church here and that there are implications of the Bible’s teaching about sexuality that challenge every believer. He opposes crusades against same-sex marriage or the withholding of business services to LGBT persons offered to others.

What I most admired are the gracious ways in which Longman engages and charitably differs with scholars, including one who was a former student, and another who is a close friend. I affirm the ways he shows pastoral concern without compromising theological integrity, modeling a belief that love and truth, story and principle need not be at odds. Finally, I appreciate the thoughtful, nuanced yet concise, responses to four controversies, each of which have been the subjects of multiple complete books. What each have in common are that they represent shifts from historic understanding, arising both from scholarship and other cultural forces. Longman offers a thoughtful restatement of the biblical teaching that weighs the counter arguments and finds them inadequate to justify abandoning historic understandings shared by most of the church through most of its history.

The work serves as a good starting place for someone who wants to read a well-stated “conservative” view (although some conservatives and some evolutionists alike would be unhappy with Longman on evolution) on the four controversies addressed by this book. The documentation points people to the full range of scholarship on each of the questions. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter may help both with personal reflection and group discussion. Most of all, the work models a spirit in desperate need of recovery, that can both speak unequivocally about one’s convictions yet shows charities toward one’s opponents.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: American Academic Cultures

American Academic Cultures

American Academic CulturesPaul H. Mattingly. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Summary: Traces the history and development of higher education in the United States as a succession of seven “generational cultures,” using examples of prominent institutions representing the emergence of each culture.

How did higher education in the United States achieve its present status, whether one considers this desirable or otherwise? Was there a golden age in American higher education, and if so, exactly when was that? These and other questions are much discussed in higher education circles and the topic of numerous historical explorations of higher education in America. Most trace the development from colleges closely tied to the church through the rise of research universities and public, land-grant institutions, down to the present day of our complex multiversities. Most works simply trace a linear development. What is distinctive in Paul Mattingly’s work is the proposal that this development might be understood as a succession of seven overlapping “generational academic cultures” which he discusses in the course of the fifteen “essays” that comprise the book. In each of these, he elaborates the character of these cultures through highlighting examples of prominent institutions, cultural trends, and key figures that represent a particular academic culture.

The seven generational academic cultures he identifies are (the date ranges are my approximations):

  1. Evangelical (1636-1800): These colleges were church-related institutions (Harvard, Yale, etc) that focused on the intersection of piety and intellect and whose character was profoundly shaped by the Great Awakening.
  2. Jeffersonian (1750-1830): As denominational colleges spread southward, Jefferson and the patrician hierarchy of Virginia sought to check the strong denominational indoctrination and paternalistic control through a publicly supported university that expressed the mores and values of the region. The University of Virginia was the educational, and even architectural expression of the ideal of “Mr. Jefferson’s University.”
  3. Republican/non-denominational (1800-1860): The growth of a post-Revolutionary republic and the need to educate business and civic leaders brought an emphasis on “moral character over “true belief,” resulting in even denominational schools broadening their curriculum to accommodate these needs. (I wonder if 2 and 3 are aspects of a single academic culture)
  4. Industrially-driven post-graduate/professional organization (1860-1910): The Civil War marked a watershed in higher education as war-related research and scientific and technological advances resulted in an increasing emphasis on post-graduate research on the European model, and post-graduate professional education. It led to the rise of the land-grant universities propelling both agricultural and engineering and science education, and Charles William Eliot’s efforts to turn Harvard into a “generic” university.
  5. A Progressive (urban-driven) pragmatism with a substantial liberal arts/teaching countercurrent (1880-1930): The rise of American cities and Progressive reforms led to the growth of urban universities that addressed issues of education, health, safety, and labor. This was the period of figures like Thorstein Veblen in sociology and John Dewey in philosophy and education. This period was epitomized by William Rainey Harper’s University of Chicago that fused liberal education with these pragmatic concerns, all within a Gothic architecture harking back to Europe’s great universities.
  6. An internationally-minded academic discourse (1890-1950): The emergence of research-oriented institutions like John’s Hopkins and its impact on the university landscape led to increasing ties with European scholars. The rise of Nazism resulted in a mass immigration of many of those scholars to the United States, where their presence transformed the discourse in fields from psychology to physics.
  7. The current corporate multiversity (1940-present): The ultimate expression of the development of pragmatism, where academic departments and interdisciplinary research vastly expanded in respond to federal research funding. Clark Kerr’s University of California–Berkeley is the epitome of this pragmatic university, organized not around an educational ideology but around the driving forces of research monies and market forces.

The work concludes with a chapter on challenging pragmatism, and indeed, it seems the author has landed on the critical question that this survey raises. Mattingly traces an evolution of higher education from institutions shaped around cultures centered on ideas to ones shaped by increasingly pragmatic concerns. The question this raises is whether our system of higher education exists for anything more than serving the research and vocational training needs of the country?

Mattingly contends that throughout this history, faculty have had a shaping role in the successive cultures of higher education, and believes this will be so in the future. I have to admit to being more dubious about both parts of his proposal. I think his survey actually demonstrates the predominant influence of cultural forces outside the university that shaped successive academic cultures. The culture-shapers he singles out inside higher education are primarily university presidents, and it seems that the prominent ones were those who got on the leading edge of broader cultural changes and led their institutional response to these changes. Furthermore, the corporatization of universities with more power flowing to administration and the adjunctification of the faculty suggests to me an even more diminished influence. I think the author is engaging in some wishful thinking at this point unless a concerted and focused movement of resistance and reform by noted scholars and tenured faculty arises.

The other criticism of this work is that it focuses primarily on elite institutions. While noting democratizing trends in higher education (with some attention on the development of the California State system as an example) relatively little attention is given to the diverse landscape of contemporary higher education from community colleges to the continued existence of liberal arts schools, urban universities (not the University of Chicago but the Wayne States (Detroit) of the university world, as well as the state systems, the comprehensive public universities, and the elite research universities. There is no mention of online education nor the rise of for-profit institutions. Perhaps considerations of space preclude this but it all seems an expression of the extension of both republican values (small “r”) and pragmatic concerns that the author so helpfully highlights.

These criticisms aside, the model of generational academic cultures as a way of understanding the history of American higher education seems quite helpful. It helps account for the very different ethos one finds in the collegiate settings of 1750, 1850, 1950, and today. As I noted, it also highlights the interplay of broader and academic cultural forces. Furthermore, the overlapping nature of these cultures underscores that the transition from one culture to another was never without tensions, throwbacks, and contention around the question of why a college or university exists. Furthermore, any meaningful conversation about the future(s) of higher education cannot exist apart from understanding where we are and how we got here, or a consideration of the cultural forces shaping the discussion. Mattingly’s well-researched and organized work seems to me required reading for any who care about such matters.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Long Books

War and Peace

The Ultimate Long Book

I’ve seen a number of posts lately about the trend toward long books. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books are credited with stimulating these trends. It’s interesting that all the long book lists are fiction. I suspect that part of the attraction is the chance to lose oneself in a really good story that you don’t want to end. I personally found myself wishing that Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See was at least several hundred pages longer. I’ve reveled in Lord of the Rings several time and thoroughly enjoyed Sharon Kay Penman’s fiction. I have a couple Hilary Mantel books on my TBR stack on the recommendations of friends.

Goodreads has a feature on its stats pages that tells you what were the longest books you’ve read each year. I got curious what books would come up. It turns out that my long books with one exception, have been history or biography and the one work of fiction explores an alternate history. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2011 and here are my long books for each year.

Missing Peace2011: Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (880 pages). Ross details his diplomatic efforts in the Middle East during the Clinton years, when negotiators probably got as close to an Israel-Palestinian peace as they ever have, only to see Arafat walk away.

At Dawn2012: Gordon W.Prange, At Dawn We Slept (889 pages). This is Prange’s monumental work on Pearl Harbor at the beginning of World War II.

King2013: Stephen King, 11/22/63 (842 pages). King explores how history might have diffent if Kennedy had survived the attempt on his life.

rise of roosevelt2014: Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (920 pages). The first of three volumes, covering Roosevelt’s early life until the day he learns of McKinley’s death and that he is President.

Bully Pulpit2015: Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit (910 pages). More Roosevelt! Goodwin, looks at the Roosevelt and Taft presidencies. Two big men, one long book.

Lee's Lieutenants2016 (so far): Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee Lieutenants (910 pages). This was the abridged version of Freeman’s study of Lee’s commanders.

King’s ability to spin a tale is well established. But what many haven’t discovered, remembering high school history classes, are that many who write history are a pleasure to read. This was certainly true of the books by Ross, Morris, Goodwin and Freeman. I hope you discover them, along with writers like Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, Winston Churchill (who wrote history as well as made it), David Halberstam (who also wrote some good baseball books–a kind of history), and Arthur Schlesinger.

So if you are looking for something different in a long book, try some history or biography!