Jesus Camp Grows Up

I spent part of this weekend reading God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, by Hanna Rosin. The book centers on Patrick Henry College, founded in 2000 by Michael Ferris, the fundi-gelical conservative Christian activist best known for his work leading the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. (Like it or not, he's one of the reasons people like me got to have the childhood we got to have . . . even if our home education didn't have quite the results Ferris is looking for!)

God's Harvard tells a story that is the natural extension of the 2005 documentary Jesus Camp, which explored Christian evangelical culture as experienced by children ages 7-13. We've leapt over the mid-teen years, and are now introduced to an academically elite group of Christian homeschoolers ready to enter college. You can check out an early draft of a chapter from God's Harvard, "God and Country", which was published by Hanna Rosin in the New Yorker (27 June 2005).

As usual, it is extremely irritating to have "homeschooling" become conflated with conservative Christian homeschooling with barely an acknowledgment. John Holt (whose papers have just been donated to the Boston Public Library!!) and the free school movement are mentioned only in passing, rolled into the early history of "the movement" in such a way that it's never clear there are other ways families choose to home educate besides plunking kids down in front of intelligent design videos, drilling them in the tenets of Christian nationalism, and preaching the evils of toxic popular culture, all the while enforcing dress codes and "courtship" standards.

At the same time, I always find an outsider's perspective on homeschooler cultures fascinating; Rosin's narrative is an ever-shifting mosaic of the familiar and the alien. Whether secular or sectarian, home-educated kids tend to have close relationships with their siblings and parents, be skeptical of mainstream culture and education, and enter their young adulthood with a disconcerting mix of maturity and naivete.

"Homeschooling families," Rosin writes, "tend to judge each other by their views on structure and authority; the Patrick Henry families tend to fall on the strict end of that scale. Homeschool families have no school communities or obvious support system, so they tend to group around gurus or schools of thought" (90). The problem is, the only examples she gives are of the Patrick Henry variety, not the hippie home-educator "free schools, free people" types. Proof, I suppose, of our dwindling numbers. Rosin reports, with numbers similar to those in Jesus Camp, that of the estimated 1-1.5 million home educators (unclear whether she's talking families or young people), a whopping 80% identify themselves as "evangelical Christian" (62).

Clearly, we home-educated feminists are outnumbered by the evangelicals; I guess we'll just have to raise a little more hell!

Further Reading about the Religious Right

Here are a few other fascinating books on the subject of conservative Christian counterculture from the last few years.

1. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg provides a good introduction to the political dimensions of the current conservative Christian counterculture.
2. American Facists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges provides less journalism and more philosophy than Goldberg, suggesting parallels between current Christian political thought and twentieth-century European fascism.
3. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, by Edward Humes and
4. The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, which is brilliantly and lucidly written by Judge Jones, both document the recent ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania schools.
5. God On Trial: Dispatches from America's Religious Battlefields, by Peter Irons (I haven't read this one yet, but it looks good!) provides historical-legal context for the current struggle over the relationship between religion and government.
6. Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith goes beyond its story of Mormon fundamentalism to explore the thin line between faith and madness.
7. The Battle for God, by historian of religion Karen Armstrong, is a dense personal favorite, charting the rise of religious fundamentalism as a response to the modern era.

*Images from www.powells.com and www.amazon.com


Thanksgiving on Middlesex Fells

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to take a mini-vacation from Boston proper, and spent a night at the Friendly Crossways hostel outside Harvard, Massachusetts (the small town, not the University), and then drive to Middlesex Fells Reservation for a hike around the system of reservoirs which supply water for the town of Winchester. Yes! I said drive! I rented a car and was vehicularly mobile (a word I just made up) for the first time in three months. It was both extremely harrowing (in the dark) and giddily liberating (in the daytime).

The hostel was comfortably bare-bones and dark and quiet, in a way only rural areas can be. And Middlesex Fells was beautiful and abundantly populated with people and their dogs. I am not exaggerating when I say virtually every party of walkers had more or more four-legged companions. One woman even exclaimed when she passed me on the path, "You're walking without a dog?!" as if it were an alien concept.

The photographs can be seen above or in larger format at picasa.


A Student at Work

Hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving week. I am actually looking forward, as geeky as this sounds, to having the mental and actual space to spread out my research papers and do a bit of writing. I have two papers due the week following the break, and they will take up most of my time. The way I organize my papers is by laying all the research out on the bed, desk, floor . . . anywhere there is space. So things start to look pretty chaotic when I am in the middle of a writing project!

As a late-night after-writing treat, I have discovered that the screen on my window opens, and that the ledge outside the window is just the right width to hold a wine bottle! So I am able to chill my wine, sans fridge, during the autumn months . . . I just have to be careful to bring it inside to drink before the temperature drops below freezing at night!

Who Will Comfort Toffle?

The Boston Bookfair on Friday was lots of fun, though everything I was remotely interested in exceeded my price range by at least hundreds and often thousands of dollars. There was a lovely photography book with black and white 1950s-era images of the Lake District; a medieval manuscript treatise on medicine, illustrated in full color; a pre-suffrage publication by a minister from Indiana arguing on a Biblical basis for women's right to vote; and a fascinating early obstetrics text by the dude who was responsible for switching the standard birthing position from upright to horizontal (for which he ought to have been flayed).

Children's books, of course, were wonderful to browse. I found a copy of Four Little Kittens ($75.00), which three generations of Cooks will remember, and several E. Nesbits in first edition (priced at in the hundreds).

The most charming new find was a book by Tove Jansson, Finnish author of the Moomin Troll series, Who Will Comfort Toffle? This is the story of Toffle, who is afraid and alone, and his quest for a friend, so that he will not be so scared anymore. One day, he finds a bottle floating on the water and inside is a message from a person named Miffle, who is also scared and lonely. Toffle sets off on a quest to find Miffle, so that they can comfort each other. Of course, the implicit gender roles are knight-and-lady stereotypes, but the pictures were totally charming.

*Images from One More River and The Moomin Trove respectively.


From the (Microfiche) Archives

I am working on a paper right now on the educational philosophy and practice in the utopian Oneida Community, which existed in New York state from 1848-1881 as a religious commune and continues to this day as a company manufacturing housewares. As part of this research, I visited Boston College's O'Neill library, which has a microfiche collection of the community's newspaper, the Oneida Circular. Microfiche is a pain to read--I have been known to get both migraine headaches and severely motion sickness--but the content it enables researchers access to is often excessively diverting.

The Circular functioned as both a venue for the community to evangelize to an external audience and as sort of community newsletter. They seem to have freely culled news items from other publications, usually unattributed, and also share miscellany from the life of the community, such as a note that "the wheat that was stored in the can-shop is nearly all saved, and but slightly injured" (1). Here are some oddments that I discovered while in the midst of "serious" research.

A large lithographic "View of the First American Railway Train" is on exhibition in the Library. It shows simply a line of old-fashioned stage-coach bodies connected together, and placed on car-wheels. Each vehicle contains six solid-looking gentlemen with stove-pipe hats; and their sharp noses and chins are all after the same pattern. The brakeman sits comfortably on the driver's seat with an iron lever in his hands (2).

Seneca Lake is frozen over and people skate from one end to the other. This has never happened before within the memory of white men (3).

Answers to correspondence: "J. Y., Rochester, N.Y.--We should probably have to deny your request for admission as we are full. In any case, very much more acquaintance with you would be necessary. Our Community is not of the nature of a cooperative union, but of a church." (4).

[The] cuttle-fish of the European coast are dwarfed by comparison with some from the coast of Newfoundland. In the American Journal of Science and Art for Feb., Prof. Verrill gives an account of a specimen which became entangled in herring-nets near St. John's, Newfoundland, and was secured after a severe battle. The body was nearly seven feet long with eight arms covered with suckers each six feet in length . . . (5).

We feel warrented in advocating romping girls. They seldom fail to make healthy, happy, useful and not un-refined women. Do let us have more of them! (6)

(1) 1 March 1875, p. 69
(2) 1 March 1875, p. 70
(3) 1 March 1875, p. 72
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) 1 March 1875, p. 70

Image found at the Oneida Community Mansion House website.


Fun With Old Things

Tonight, I am headed to the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair to admire, well, antiquarian books, manuscripts, and prints, in an atmosphere of bibliomaniacal excitement. A group of us are headed down after work, and my friend Hanna is meeting us there. If I buy anything I'll report back with pictures! I doubt anything will be in my price-range (<$25) though. Oh, well, it's fun to window shop!

I also thought I'd share this link from the MHS website. It's our monthly object of the month, which a number of archives have started doing as a way to increase the visibility of their holdings online, and give people a taste of what sort of resources archives have to offer. MIT also has a fun collection on their site.

In the MHS collection, I particularly like the entry showcasing eleven-year-old Sara Putman's dairy, with an account of her 1862 visit to the aquarial gardens, which was an early Boston aquarium.

Everyone have a good weekend!


Charles River Walk

This weekend, we had more beautiful autumn days--colder, but sunnier--and I had enough time (because of the Veteran's Day/Armistice Day holiday) to take a long walk along the Charles this afternoon. The photos can be seen here in miniature or in a larger slide show at picasa.


From the Archives

One of the things I am learning to do at the archives is to answer "ready reference" questions (stuff that doesn't require a lot of knowledge of our actual holdings). One question this week which led me to a fun little discovery was a question from a collector of antiquarian photographs. He wondered if we could point him toward any online sites with images of photographs by 19th c. Boston photographer Elmer Chickering. A Google search brought up this interesting New York Times item from 1887:

A Rash Photographer

Back to research on the Oneida community and New England material culture.


Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

I was first introduced to Guy Fawkes Day as a child by the immortal author E. Nesbit in The Phoenix and the Carpet:

It began with the day when it was almost the Fifth of November, and a doubt arose in some breast--Robert's, I fancy--as to the quality of the fireworks laid in for the Guy Fawkes celebration . . .

Thus, Guy Fawkes will always, in my mind, be associated with magic carpets and imperious, mythical fowl. However, I thought I rather owed it to my profession to be a bit more informed about the actual history that gave rise to the holiday--a spot of unpleasantness, I gather, involving a failed attempt to overthrow the British government, as memorialized in this rhyme:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

So, tonight, my friend Jeremy and I are going from work to the Old State House downtown, where the Bostonian Society is hosting a scholarly lecture on "Bonfires, Effigies, and Brawls: Colonial Boston Celebrates Guy Fawkes Day." You can check out their online exhibit right here on blogspot. Sadly, we doubt that any actual bonfires, effigies, or brawls will be in evidence. . . perhaps we will have to foment a rebellion ourselves?


Emerald Necklace

One of my favorite walks to take in Boston is the route from my dorm along the Emerald Necklace (Olmsted's series of parks) to the Arnold Arboretum. This is the walk I took this morning, which was a glorious autumn day here in the city. I took my camera long and got some photos of the fall foliage (and one example of premature holiday decoration).

Or see the larger pictures at picasa.


From the (Daily Show & NPR) Archives

I don't have anything from the MHS for you this week, but I thought I'd share this video from The Daily Show instead.

I listened to a really difficult Diane Rehm show this week on the subject of our government's refusal to accept internationally recognized definitions of torture, thus leaving open the possibility that we are torturing human beings in the name of national "security."

The show left me feeling angry and frustrated that despite all the moral outrage and rational argument I hear against torture (from both the political left and right!), the administration carries on blithely ignoring us all. It's difficult to feel ownership in a government in which I don't see or hear myself meaningfully represented. And yet I believe we are all responsible, collectively, in some way, for the human rights abuses that our government perpetrates. I haven't figured out how to live up to that responsibility yet, but I guess recognizing it is a small step in the right direction.

Anyway, here's Jon Stewart on the language of the torture "debate."

P.S. I recommend the Diane Rehm segment too, for anyone interested in a more in-depth discussion.