Year-End Reflection

Like everyone else, I’m shocked that the year has gone by so quickly. And the scary part is that next year will probably fly by even faster with thesis writing and PhD applications…

I’ve learned a ton over this past year, especially in regards to writing and researching. Our classes, and especially working on the thesis proposal and research paper, have really pushed me to refine my argument and put out the best product that I can. Thanks so much to everyone who has offered feedback- you all have been so instrumental in this learning process! Working with primary sources has also been an amazing experience. My undergrad degree didn’t put a huge amount of emphasis on primary source research and so it’s been a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to locate and analyze those sources, but it’s been worth the work!

I’ve also loved the work I’ve been able to do this semester with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Mollin. They are tremendously supportive and have helped me to hone research and grading skills. Overall, it’s been a great, albeit busy, year. Now I’m really excited to dive into thesis research and focus in on my own analysis!

Revised Thesis Proposal

It’s been a stressful last few weeks, but thankfully I have a complete thesis proposal to show for it! I had my committee meeting on Friday and both Dr. Quigley and Dr. Dresser gave me some really helpful suggestions for thinking about my research questions and argument. They also gave me some really useful advice for making the most of summer research.

This time around, the major revisions were a restructured historiography (much more thematic than my first draft), and some refining of my argument throughout (emphasizing the religious worldview that 19th century Americans understood the Secession Crisis within). My proposal is definitely still a work in progress and will no doubt change once I’m able to dive into summer research, but it’s awesome to have something down on paper to work with!

Adventures in Proposal Revising

Nothing much to report today, but I have officially scheduled my first “full” committee meeting for Friday, May 2! Dr. Gitre, my third committee member, won’t be joining us until the Fall, but I’m looking forward to meeting with Dr. Quigley and Dr. Dresser to see what input they have to share about my proposal revisions and summer research.

This week my plan is to get a few more readings under my belt to add to my historiography. I’ll be starting with recommendations given by Dr. Dresser last week when we met, but also will be doing a targeted search in the library for works on nationalism during the Civil War era. My other revisions for the proposal will involve doing some critical thinking about how I’ve phrased my argument and methodology sections. Lots to do and only a week to do it all in!

Revision Plan for Thesis Proposal

I met with Dr. Quigley today about my plans for revising my proposal and thankfully there were very few surprises. The historiography is by far the roughest part of my proposal! Dr. Quigley’s major comment was that my categorization of my secondary sources may be counter-intuitive for the ultimate point that I’m arguing, which is that there were blurred lines between politics and religion during the Secession Crisis. With that in mind, I’m going to do my best to organize thematically as much as possible. I’m also going to try to bring in more sources that deal with the politics of the Secession Crisis, and some that potentially deal with issues of nationalism and citizenship as well.

My methodology could also use some refining. I’m meeting with Dr. Dresser from Religion & Culture next week and I’m hoping that he can give me some insight about how I can approach my sources. As I read more and revise my proposal, I’ll also try to clarify my research questions. My project is more and more becoming about the relationship between politics and religion during the secession crisis, but I think that some of that may have been a bit muddled as I tried to feel out how to articulate my argument section while writing.

There’s a lot of work still to be done, but thankfully I don’t have to start from scratch! The real challenge is going to be shaping that historiography section. Wish me luck!

Proposal Draft Reflections

Writing my first proposal draft was really helpful for thinking through the parameters of my project, but it also left me with an understanding of how much I have left to do! The biggest challenge of this assignment was actually the historiography. When I revise, I’m going to need to really think through what other scholars have said and where my particular argument fits. Right now, my historiography section is pretty general, but for the final version, I think that I should try to connect my project with some other themes- nationalism is one that was recommended by Dr. Quigley.  I also could be more explicit with how I might connect honor to the project as well. As with everyone’s project, I still have more to do with shaping my argument, but that’s something that will remain rough until I can actually get my hands on the primary sources I need to look at!

Overall, writing the draft was exhausting, but it felt great to set something down on paper, even if I know it’ll change over time. I’m just glad that I can write about my topic with something resembling coherence! (That’s half the battle of writing the thesis I’m sure!)

Revised Focus Statement & Methodology (and Bertoti)

The major points that people brought up in regards to my focus statement in class were to be more assertive and more specific about what I’m discussing. I’ve tried to tighten up my focus statement to reflect these things as much as possible at this stage in the project. As far as the methodology goes… this is definitely a work in progress. I talked to Dr. Quigley about some options, but I won’t really know until I do more reading to see what’s out there. I’ll do my best to put something down for now, though it will be rather vague at this point. For instance- I’m not really sure what all is involved with linguistic theory, but I’ll probably need to learn at some point!

Focus Statement:
Nineteenth century Americans lived within a society thoroughly permeated with religious ideology and moral language. In the South, white Protestants combined honor and religious feeling in defense of a southern social order characterized by the racial hierarchy imposed by slavery with few dissenters.[1] In the North, some Protestants used Christianity as a means of disparaging slavery and calling for abolition, while others left such dilemmas to the providence of God and called for peace instead.[2] Both Northerners and Southerners, however, became accustomed in the first half of the nineteenth century to inserting religious discourse into the public sphere normally reserved for politics. In order to examine how people understood the intersection between religion and politics, I will examine how Protestants in Philadelphia and Charleston understood the Secession Crisis of 1860-1861 in religious terms, paying special attention to the language used in religious and popular sources. Philadelphia and Charleston were chosen due to the status of each as a vital commercial and intellectual center of their respective regions. Although each city is unique, my goal is to draw out broader religious and political themes that were present in other areas of the United States at the time. Using sermons, newspapers, letters, diaries, and obituaries, I will explore how Protestants in Philadelphia and Charleston understood their distinctive duties as Christians in relation to debates over slavery and secession. I will argue that the way people understood ‘Christian Duty’ was a vital part of how they interpreted the Secession Crisis and the decision to go to war. Such a study will help to illuminate the ways in which nineteenth century Americans imbued words with distinctive and powerful meanings. These words in turn shaped political debates, expressing passions that resulted in the denial of compromise and the call for war.

[1] Several historians have discussed the ways in which secession served to unite Southern religious leaders in defense of slavery and Confederacy. One notable example may be seen in Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

[2] Fewer studies have been done on the role of religion in the North outside of the Abolitionist movement. One exception is James Moorhead, American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860-1869 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978).

In analyzing my sources, I will rely on several strands of methodology. First, Foucault’s concept of “discourse” will be helpful because of its ability to describe a large system of meaning. Linguistic theory will also be used in the analysis of religious texts, such as sermons. By breaking down the structure of these texts, I will be able to identify the major themes being put forward. Cultural history as a broad framework will also be useful for this study as I seek to identify the religious meanings that attained influence during the Secession Crisis.

Thoughts on Bertoti– I was pretty pleased with how Bertoti went after all of the prep work that went into it. There were a few logistical issues (cups, missing presenters, name tags, etc.), but most of those are pretty unavoidable when putting on events. In terms of next year, it might be worth it to name an event coordinator to troubleshoot any issues that arise the day of. Reporting problems was a bit complicated since so many people had a hand in the conference! But overall, I felt the conference was a success and really enjoyed the chance to hear some great speakers and presenters!

Spring Break Research & Secondary Sources

I had hoped to have more to report after Spring Break, but at least I feel like I have a good idea of where my project is going, which is its own success! The major accomplishment of the last week has been in choosing my northern city to analyze. That decision enabled me to start doing my primary research in earnest, so I’ve located quite a few sermons and newspaper articles particular to Philadelphia, as well as found manuscript collections to look at when I do archive visits! I did accomplish some secondary readings, but I’ve gotten to the point in my reading list that most everything left is very long and generally important enough that I need to read closely, so the process is slow going.

Barring any unforeseen dilemmas (I’m meeting with Dr. Quigley on Thursday to discuss my progress), I will be doing a comparative study of Charleston and Philadelphia during the Secession Crisis. One of the major reasons for choosing Philadelphia is in its size and prominence. Both of these things mean: sources. Philadelphia was a publishing hub of sorts and possessed a healthy religious life with a multitude of churches and denominations represented. I had already considered using Philadelphia, but had originally shied away from it due to how much larger it was compared to my Southern city of choice, as well as the Quaker influence toward antislavery. Over break, however, I stumbled across a really interesting article that helped convince me that Philadelphia was a good choice. (I will describe that article below.)

For the most part, Philadelphia skewed conservative- probably due in part to Quaker influence, as well as in elite ties to the South (see the article below!). However, while many religious leaders encouraged peaceful relations, enough diversity existed in the city to present other views as well. Their are several great archives in Philadelphia (especially concerning Presbyterians) that I expect to help me flesh out the feelings of people not as readily represented in sermons and newsprint. Overall, I’m hopeful that this city will provide a productive ground for comparative study!

Kilbride, Daniel. “The Cosmopolitan South: Privileged Southerners, Philadelphia, and the Fashionable Tour in the Antebellum Era.” Journal of Urban History 26 (2000), 563-590.

Kilbride argues that ties existed between the elite of the South with Philadelphia’s privileged class in the Antebellum Era. These ties resulted in what Kilbride terms a “national social elite” (563) and could be seen in the frequent travel of the Southern upper classes to cities like Philadelphia, which boasted an upper crust culture. Kilbride remarks that the southern planter elite often felt isolated from their regional cultures which they understood to be “vulgar, excessively democratic, and provincial,” and rather preferred to travel to experience a “national upper-class community that transcended regional boundaries” (564). Through travel, elite Southerners formed connections with their northern peers and reinforced their own conceptions of upper class behavior and morality (564). The great thing about this article is in the connection that it provides between Charleston and Philadelphia in particular. I think it’s fascinating to think about how connections were present between people in these cities! Most helpful was Kilbride’s use of travel narratives to demonstrate these connections between people. I’ll definitely be looking into those as a potential source!

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s-1890s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Wyatt-Brown argues that honor was “the ethic which white Southerners believed supported the other two pillars of their society: white supremacy and Christian faith” (xi). I paid most close attention to Wyatt-Brown’s chapters concerning religion specifically in the years leading up the Civil War. He makes the interesting point that Southern clergymen had to, in a sense, court public opinion in order to maintain their influence (166). In other words (and I think that this could be considered the case in the North as well), the preacher had to express ideas from the pulpit that kept generally in line with the opinions of the congregation. That seems to imply that sermons can be used as a means of measuring public opinion (to a certain extent), although perhaps sermons are not fully representative of the preacher’s personal feelings at all times. It would be really interesting if I could locate the personal papers of a few clergymen to gauge how sermons interacted with their own understandings as well as that of the public.

Marty, Martin E. Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1970.

I was not expecting to care for this source- not only is it older than many of the sources I’m using, as well as a general history of Protestantism in America, but it also doesn’t cite it’s data! (No footnotes, no bibliography… one of the oddest things I’ve come across so far!) But it is wonderfully written. Writing for a public audience along with the scholarly community, Marty uses section headings and relatively short chapters to tell a really interesting story. I read the first half of the book, which deals with Protestants from roughly the First Great Awakening (around the 1730s and 1740s) to 1877 and the end of Reconstruction. This book wasn’t as helpful for identifying a specific argument, but it gives great background on the formation of Protestantism in America, both in the North and South. He makes the especially compelling point around Southern religion being much more orthodox and individualistic than in the North (64). This difference seems to account, in part, for why Southern clergymen were much more united than their peers in the North in the years leading up to the Civil War. He also notes that clergy had to be popular in order to maintain their positions of authority (72).

Focus Statement

Nineteenth century Americans lived within a society thoroughly permeated with religious ideology and moral language. In the South, honor and religious feeling combined to defend a southern social order characterized by the racial hierarchy imposed by slavery. In the North, some groups used Christianity as a means of disparaging slavery and calling for abolition, while others left such dilemmas to the providence of God and called for peace instead. Both Northerners and Southerners, however, became accustomed in the first half of the nineteenth century to inserting religious discourse into the public sphere normally reserved for politics. Using sermons, newspapers, letters, and diaries, I wish to explore how Northerners and Southerners understood their distinctive duties as Christians in relation to debates over slavery and secession. Focusing specifically on the cities of Charleston and Philadelphia, I will attempt to argue that the way people understood ‘Christian Duty’ was a vital part of how they interpreted the Secession Crisis and the decision to go to war. Such a study will hopefully help to illuminate the differences between North and South, as well as the motivations of politicians, soldiers, and civilians for going to war.

Article Methodology

This week I chose to read “The Divine Sanction of Social Order: Religious Foundations of the Southern Slaveholders’ World View” by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese. This article is actually the precursor to a larger monograph later published by the authors entitled The Mind of the Master Class. I haven’t yet gotten a chance to read the larger volume, but thought that starting with the article might be a good way of getting a brief overview of methodology and basic argument.

Fox-Genovese and Genovese argue that slaveholders understood the defense of slavery as a positive good to be a necessary step toward the maintenance of Southern social order. Slavery was the mechanism through which a hierarchical system, paternalistic and sanctioned by God, could exist. The authors discuss several ways in which slaveholders and public figures, both religious and secular, spoke of the benefits and moral advantages of slavery. Literal biblical interpretation especially allowed for Southerners to point to the presence of slavery in the Bible and discredit abolitionist arguments.

I quite like the approach that Fox-Genovese and Genovese use in this article. While the majority of their argument revolves around the South, they make sure to provide a comprehensive picture by comparing the South with what is also going on in the North. I also appreciated their use of major political and religious figures to show strains of common thought in the South. Their use of Foucault’s ‘discourse’ also helped to define the religious aspects of Southern social order. There were a few weaknesses to the article as well, though perhaps some of these were due to the shortness of the article and the larger monograph that was published soon after. I’ll be looking to seeing especially if/how Fox-Genovese and Genovese address northerners in the larger volume. In the article, the authors make reference to northern abolitionists to contrast with the southern defense of slavery. While southerners were certainly overwhelmingly concerned with abolitionists, there was more going on in the North and I think that touching on some of that diversity would help to paint a clearer picture of the context of southern thought concerning slavery.

Secondary Sources: Southern Honor, Masculinity, and Identity

Kenneth S. Greenberg, “The Nose, the Lie, and the Duel in the Antebellum South,” The American Historical Review 95.1 (Feb 1990), 57-74.

Greenberg argues that dueling and nose tweaking were used by white men to defend their honor in the antebellum South. Honor was tied to appearance and the nose, as one of the most prominent features of a man’s public appearance, was understood as a representation for the whole man. Greenberg cites examples of nose tweaking or insult that led to confrontations over honor. He also notes that the accusation of lying is the primary insult to southern male honor.

This was a very helpful article. Not only was it highly amusing to read about how seriously nineteenth century men took their noses, it was also a great resource for learning about the basics of honor culture in the South. While Greenberg is discussing the antebellum South, his description of honor being a vocabulary that is “written, spoken, or mimed” as part of “a broader system of meaning” (57) was tremendously helpful. He also notes that this same system of honor was not present in the North by citing examples of supposed slighted honor in the North that didn’t end in the same kind of violence.

Rodney J. Steward, “Christian Manhood and Respectability: David Schenck and the Making of a Confederate Identity,” North Carolina Historical Review 82.1 (Jan 2005), 61-81.

Steward argues that antebellum southern honor combined with evangelicalism to create a new Confederate identity. Focusing on a middle class lawyer in North Carolina, Steward demonstrates how the desire for elite honor among the middle class led some men to pursue secession with religious fervor.

This was another really excellent article. It was very well written and based on the diary and experiences of one middle class man in North Carolina. For how focused it was in that regard, I was really impressed with the general statements that Steward was able to make about southern honor and culture in general. I also was glad to see a middle class perspective, since most of the sources I’m looking at definitely have more roots among the elite. This seemed like an exceptional source, but maybe I can look into diaries or letters left by professionals to get additional perspectives!