The 1930s American South was a region of deep racial segregation as the social norms of white supremacy and the terrorism of lynching kept white and black Americans in separate and unequal spheres. The Commission on Interracial Cooperation was an Atlanta-based initiative of white liberals and black leaders to increase understanding and cooperation between the races. Of its many programs, an essay competition called the Tenth Man Contest encouraged white schools to teach black history and culture. At its height, the contest reached 90 school districts in 23 states. Students participating in this program studied numerous textual sources, engaged in a variety of artistic activities, and visited black schools and businesses.
One of the rich legacies of the Tenth Man Contest is an archive of the student papers submitted to the competition. In her article, “‘I feel I am really pleading the cause of my own people’: US southern white students’ study of African-American history and culture in the 1930s through art and the senses” (History of Education, 2018, URL), Professor of Education Christine Woyshner uses this archive to analyze the ways that white high school students understood and interpreted their encounter with the black history, society, and culture. These encounters were often sensuously rich as white students described their visual and aural impressions of African American art, literature, schools and neighborhoods.
I spoke with Christine Woyshner about her article on April 30, 2018.
On Feb 24 2011 I spoke to the Religion Graduate Student (RGS) for the third time. She has now been working on her dissertation for approximately one year. She explained that it was going well but in “fits and starts,” more than she had anticipated. Though it was a little unconventional, she began writing the introduction first because, as she explained, she was having trouble with the overall argument. When she received feedback from her women’s studies group, it was clear that her introduction was not a genuine introduction but different pieces of the chapters she intended to write.
When I asked her to define her topic, it was interesting to hear her say that this used to cause her anxiety. Now she is comfortable in explaining that she is working with an archive, focusing on Nationwide Women’s Program (at the American Friends Service Committee) during 1970 and 1980s. These primary sources will tell us things about blending of the religious and secular in the women’s and the anti-globalization movements.
We talked about the major challenges she was facing, which can be summed up as “time and money.” Struggling to support herself, find time (and mental focus) for her research, while at the same time squeezing some enjoyment out of life takes great effort. We also talked about her various support networks and the roles they play in facilitating her research process and keeping her sane.
This was a fun interview. We laughed a lot. Unfortunately I had to cut some of the laughter due to static…I laugh loudly.
The Fall 2017 issue of The Journal of the West is devoted to the concept of settler colonialism as it applies to the American West. Settler colonialism describes a form of colonialism in which settlers seek to eliminate the indigenous people from their land and replace them with settlers from the metropole. It has been used to describe many historical and contemporary encounters, including those in the United States, Australia, and Israel. Settler Colonialism differs from accounts of, say, the British in India, where the colonizers were intent on subordinating the native population and using it as a labor force to extract wealth.
Historians Lawrence Kessler and Andrew Isenberg contributed an article to this special issue, “Settler Colonialism and the Environmental History of the North American West,” (access restricted to Temple affiliates) which adds nuance and complexity to the standard settler colonial account by using an environmental history approach. The European conquest brought deadly microbes (smallpox, typhus, cholera), domestic animals (horses, sheep, cattle, pigs), and a market-based economic system. Kessler and Isenberg illustrate the ways that both whites and Indians were often responding to unexpected environmental contingencies. They show that between the arrival of Europeans and the eventual US removal of American Indian tribes to reservations in the nineteenth century, there were hundreds of years of trade, negotiation, cooperation and accomodation, in addition to warfare, between the various colonial powers and the natives. Most importantly, the two authors restore some of the agency to Native Americans that settler colonialism accounts often gloss over.
Lawrence Kessler earned his PhD in History at Temple University and is currently a Fellow in Residence at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Andrew Isenberg is a professor of History at Temple University. I spoke to them both on April 3, 2018.
A deadly fire raced through the Imperial Food Products factory in Hamlet, North Carolina on the morning of September 3, 1991. As the fire raged, employees found themselves trapped behind chain-locked exits, which led to the deaths of 25 people. The fire was big news. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and I can remember news reports and descriptions of desperate people frantically trying to escape.
Historian Bryan Simon was in a doctoral program at the University of North Carolina in 1991 and he often drove through Hamlet on his way to visit the research archives at the University of South Carolina. Birthplace of jazz great John Coltrane, prize-winning reporter Tom Wicker, and former Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl wide receiver (and current Eagles radio color commentator) Mike Quick, Hamlet had been a prosperous railroad junction through the first half of the 20th century until the railroads went into decline. By the 1980s, the city government and its inhabitants were desperate to bring new businesses to town. It was during this time that a Pennsylvania company processing chicken parts into chicken tenders moved to Hamlet.
Bryant Simon’s most recent book, The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives (The New Press, 2017), as the subtitle indicates, is about much more than a tragic fire. Instead, Simon uses Hamlet as a microcosm to examine the larger economic and political forces that have transformed the United States. Where policy makers were once focused on creating an economy that produced high manufacturing wages, starting in the 1970s they increasingly turned their attention to an economic model of low wages and cheap products. The fire at Imperial Food Products are part of this story.
I spoke to Bryant Simon on January 23, 2018.
So, the Religion Graduate Student (RGS) has had about seven months to dig into the archival materials of the Nationwide Women’s Program at the American Friends Service Committee. In addition to reading through the corpus of newsletters from the Nationwide Women’s Program, RGS spent much of the summer studying the secondary literature including a number of scholarly works that she plans to model in her writing.
Conscious of her physical and psychological health, RGS’s weekly routine includes running, biking, yoga, and meditation. Despite this level of physical activity, some anxiety creeped in and butterflies fluttered as she looked up at the road in front of her. As she began writing she had to “conjure up all the powers of the universe” just to punch out a few words on the keyboard.
One thing RGS thinks a lot about is identifying a unifying strand that runs through her story. A good story is not sufficient for a dissertation. On top of the story she has to tease out its meaning within the larger context of religious and women’s studies. That’s the challenge she faces and there is no clear road map. She has got to draw her own.
My first interview with RGS was on February 19, 2010. This second interview took place on September 10, 2010. Listen to what RGS has to say on her progress so far.
In early 2010 I began interviewing a graduate student in the Religion Department about her PhD dissertation. I thought it would be interesting to listen to a graduate student as she navigated the dissertation process – which demands autonomy, originality, and a strong work ethic – from beginning to end. The dissertation is like a ritual initiation in which the student is dropped deep into an unfamiliar wilderness area with nothing but a compass and asked to find her way out. Though graduate departments, writing centers, colleagues, and friends lend whatever support they can, it is still an individual process and different from anything the emerging scholar has ever done before: produce an original contribution to her area of study and thus demonstrate that she is qualified to enter the academic profession. Likewise, the many hundreds of how-to books on completing the dissertation can only go so far. It is not surprising that many graduate students never make it all the way through. Perhaps interest in their topic wanes, or anxiety induces writer’s block, financial support vanishes, or other life opportunities arise.
In this first interview with my Religion Graduate Student (a.k.a. RGS), about two months have passed since she passed her preliminary exams. She is preparing herself emotionally, intellectually, and financially for the challenge ahead and has set herself an ambitious goal of completing her dissertation within one to one and a half years. She is working on a group of feminists from the American Friends Services Committee (AFSC) in Philadelphia in the 1970s that developed transnational networks to resist what later came to be known as globalization. She has to figure out how to tell this story, why it is important, how it relates to religion, and what it means.
I spoke with RGS for this interview on February 19, 2010.
Professor Terry Rey
In the second part of my interview with Professor Terry Rey on his new book, The Priest and the Prophetess: Abbe Ouviere, Romaine Riviere, and the Revolutionary Atlantic World, we leave Haiti and the Haitian Revolution behind. Romaine la Prophetess has disappeared and will soon perish in the flames of the revolution. That terrible conflict will continue alongside its European cousin, the French Revolution, until the early years of the next century. A hemisphere away, an exhausted Felix Alexander Pascalis Ouviere washes up on Philadelphia’s shores, having survived an attack on the British brig Catherine by a French privateer in Delaware Bay. Among his few possessions is a letter of introduction addressed to George Washington. Soon Dr. Pascalis will be treating yellow fever victims in that miasmic summer of 1793 in the company of such luminaries as Benjamin Rush. Abbe Ouviere is nowhere to be found.
Here is part two of my interview with Professor Rey. We spoke on September 25, 2017.
Professor Terry Rey
Temple Religion professor Terry Rey is the author The Priest and the Prophetess: Abbe Ouviere, Romaine Riviere, and the Revolutionary Atlantic World. In The Priest and the Prophetess he tells unlikely story about Abbe Ouviere, a politically astute, shapeshifting French priest, and Romaine Riviere, a religiously-inspired, cross-dressing, slave-owning Black military leader, whose lives briefly intersected in the chaotic early days of the Haitian Revolution at the latter’s coffee plantation turned mountain redoubt. Their encounter spanned a few days in which they celebrated the Catholic mass and concluded a military agreement. The fates of Abbe Ouviere, later known as Doctor Pascalis, and Romaine Riviere, whose nom de guerre was Romaine la Prophetess, turned out very differently. While Romaine was soon lost to history, the Abbe made his way to Philadelphia where he launched his medical career by caring for the sick during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic.
In part one of this interview, Professor Rey tells the story of Abbe Ouviere and Romaine Riviere at the start of the Haitian Revolution. In part two, we will follow the Abbe as he sheds his priestly past to become Doctor Pascalis of Philadelphia and New York.
Terry Rey and I spoke on September 25, 2017.
I spoke to Professor David Watt about his new book, Antifundamentalism in Modern America (Cornell University Press, 2017).
Professor Watt is leaving Temple University to begin a new position at Haverford College in Fall 2017. Best of luck, David!
In contemporary American culture the Virgin Mary is associated with Catholic devotion and worship. Because of this, it should come as a surprise to many readers that the mother of Jesus was a general cultural icon in the latter half of nineteenth century Christian America. Temple professor Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez details this history in her new book, The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth Century American Culture (Temple / Amazon). Images and references to Mary proliferated in popular magazines and on the walls of modest and fashionable homes, appealing to both Protestant and Catholic audiences. The Civil War, industrial revolution, and westward expansion transformed the United States. The rise of major urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis drew in rural migrants and immigrants, unsettling religious, gender, and social norms. In these early years of mass society when the old agrarian ways were slipping away, the focus on the Virgin Mary offered a safe and familiar way of talking about and negotiating new female roles in this changing social landscape. Professor Alvarez traces the career of Mary from the declaration of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854 through its fiftieth anniversary in 1904.
I spoke with Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez about her new book on November 7, 2016.