Official Launch of The Papers of Martin Van Buren Project

0001Cumberland University is launching The Papers of Martin Van Buren project on Monday, Feb. 15. (Fittingly, that is Presidents Day.) There will be a press conference in the Vise Library at 2:00 P.M. At 3:30, we will be holding a symposium on presidential papers projects in Labry Hall 130. Speaking at the symposium will be:

Mr. James Bradley, The Papers of Martin Van Buren, Independent historian

Dr. Daniel Feller, The Papers of Andrew Jackson, University of Tennessee

Dr. John Marszalek, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Mississippi State University

Prof. Jennifer Stertzer, The Papers of George Washington and the Center for Digital Editing, University of Virginia

The project website is still being developed, but it is live and will give you a sense of what the project entails.

The Failed Preservation of Andrew Jackson Donelson’s Mississippi Home

donelson-house-view-from-northeast-1976-national-register-of-historic-places-photograph-william-c-allen-photographerLongtime readers will remember that I wrote a couple of posts (here and here) about Andrew Jackson Donelson’s home in Bolivar County, Mississippi. The Preservation in Mississippi blog posted about the home today. The post doesn’t add much more information to what I knew before, but I appreciate seeing the photos.

Jacksonian America: 2015 in Review

WordPress prepared a year-end report for this blog. Here are the highlights:

Total blog views: 49,289

Most active month in views: October (7,872))

Ten most-viewed posts of 2015:
1. Debunking the Lincoln-Kennedy Federal Reserve Meme 12,437
2. Andrew Jackson’s Profane Parrot 10,023
3. The Man Who Wanted to Kill Andrew Jackson 2,794
4. Was Calvin Coolidge a Klansman? 1,607
5. Donald Trump: A Modern-Day Andrew Jackson? 730
6. The Tension Between Popular and Academic History 650
7. What Does a History Course on Conspiracy Theories Look Like? 594
8. The Living Grandsons of President John Tyler 459
9. Were Tariffs the Cause of the Civil War? 424
10. The Hermitage Podcast Series: The Corrupt Bargain 422


Andrew Jackson’s Otherworldly Regrets

Betsy Phillips at the Nashville Scene has written an interesting piece on nineteenth-century Spiritualism’s treatment of Andrew Jackson. In particular, she noted the claims by Isaac and Amy Post, in their 1852 Voices from the Spirit World, that Jackson told them that he “was wrong in almost every thing” that he did during his lifetime. If you’re like me, you probably find it hard to believe that Old Hickory apologized for anything, even in the afterlife.

(Betsy’s article made me think of another otherworldly Jacksonian experience that I had a few years ago. Someone contacted me and said that they knew of someone who believed that they were the reincarnation of Andrew Jackson Donelson.)

As Brooke Palmieri, whose post inspired Betsy’s piece, noted:

Dead men cannot verify the truth of the words put into their mouths. Which makes the past into something of a puppet show. Or at least makes history at its core a discipline shaped by desire, the desires we have to make sense of what has happened. . . . Voices from the Spirit World is less about the way in which we are haunted by history than about how relentlessly we might haunt the annals of the past, hunt the dead beyond their graves, draw words from their mouths to make meanings of our own circumstances and support our own causes.


I’ve always wanted to use an Andrew Jackson Zombie pic, and this seemed like a good opportunity.

Palmieri is absolutely right about the Posts and their fanciful revisionist history. I think we can see the same thing happening with those who compare Donald Trump to Jackson, an idea about which I’ve written previously and which continues to persist. Hopefully, we only have a few more weeks of the Hair Apparent’s nonsense until he goes back to firing C-list celebrities.

Donald Trump: A Modern-Day Andrew Jackson?

itempropIn a recent Minnesota Star Tribune editorial, Stephen B. Young, global executive director of the Caux Round Table, calls Donald Trump a modern-day Andrew Jackson. His argument centers on an understanding of both men as populist tribal leaders defending the middle class against “the effete elite.”

Some of Young’s analysis rings true, but he repeats some of the pervasive mythology about Jackson and misses the larger point. In terms of mythology, he describes Jackson as “always ready to fight,” which taps into the falsehood that Old Hickory fought frequent duels (he didn’t) and that he possessed an uncontrollable temper (he actually used his alleged temper deliberately on many occasions). Young also mentions Jackson’s inauguration of the spoils system, “a populist mechanism of tribal loot-sharing.” The seventh president actually didn’t replace nearly as many officeholders as he was accused of, and his reasons were often more complex than putting into place “his own choices.”

Where Young goes especially wrong, and where I think he misses his chance to make an apt comparison between Trump and Jackson, is when he calls Jackson a “frontier populist” fighting for the middle class. Much like Trump, Jackson was an elite member of society, one of the richest men in Tennessee in the years immediately prior to his death in 1845. Yet, he presented himself, and allowed his supporters to present him, as the defender of the common man. As the work of Donald Ratcliffe and others has shown, Jackson was more the beneficiary than the cause of the democratic upsurge of the 1820s.

Donald Trump may wind up as the Republican party’s nominee, and he may even become president. Comparing Jackson to him is inaccurate, though. Whatever Jackson’s faults, and like all of us, there were several, he demonstrated his love for the Union. Can we say the same for Trump?

Library of Congress Digitizes Andrew Jackson Papers

The Library of Congress has digitized its collection of Andrew Jackson’s papers. You can find a description of the collection’s organization at the link.

While the papers have been digitized, they have not been transcribed or annotated. Still, this project opens up enormous possibilities for those who study Jackson’s personal life and political career.

The LC staff is planning to digitize Martin Van Buren’s papers over the next two years, which I’m pretty ecstatic about, for obvious reasons.


How to Teach in an Age of Distraction

If you are in higher education, Sherry Turkle’s piece in the CHE is one that you should stop and read right now.

There are a lot of good thoughts in Turkle’s critique of the inattentive age, but two things stood out to me. One was her emphasis on “intellectual serendipity.” She argues that meeting in person and discussing a text or a project allows room for epiphanies to take place, something that is not easy to do when your interactions are virtual. The second is the need for real, face-to-face relationships within the campus community.

As a professor, I’ve been guilty in the past of focusing too much on getting through content and not enough on allowing serendipitous moments a place to occur. Allowing room for serendipity is something I do more and more often in recent years. I’ve also discovered that hallway or lunch conversations with students and faculty strengthen bonds that carry over into the classroom. Of course, there are boundaries when it comes to students, but I think faculty members can be real with them without altering the power dynamic necessary for objective assessment.

What are your thoughts? Did Turkle’s piece grab you like it did me?

Books for Spring 2016

Conspiracy Theories

Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Univ. of California Press, 2013) ISBN 9780520276826

D.J. Mulloy, The World of the John Birch Society: Conspiracy, Conservatism, and the Cold War (Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 2014) ISBN 9780826519818

Kathryn Olmsted, Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011) ISBN 9780199753956

Elaine Frantz Parsons, Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2016) ISBN 9781469625423

Introduction to Digital History

This is a new course that I am developing as part of The Papers of Martin Van Buren project that I am co-editing. The course will use the Van Buren project as the centerpiece to look at digital history from philosophical and technical perspectives. For that reason, students will read a Van Buren biography, as well as a number of essays on digital history/digital humanities.

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) ISBN 9780812219234–Available in print or free online

Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Eastern National, 2004) ISBN 9781590910290

Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds., Writing History in the Digital Age (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2013) ISBN 9780472052066–Available in print or free online

Jacksonian Democracy

Mark R. Cheathem, Andrew Jackson, Southerner (LSU Press, 2013) ISBN 9780807150986

Cassandra Good, Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015) ISBN 9780199376179

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life (HarperPerennial, 1989) ISBN 0060916060

Jeffrey L. Pasley, The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2013) ISBN 9780700619078

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, abgd. and ed. Michael Kammen (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008) ISBN 9780312463304

Beloit Mindset List for Class of 2019

The annual Beloit Mindset List is out to make people like me feel older than dirt. I wanted to share the misery of middle-age malaise, so here are some highlights:

  • 3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
  • 4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
  • 8. The NCAA has always had a precise means to determine a national champion in college football.
  • 15. The Airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport.
  • 24. When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.
  • 27. Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.
  • 41. The Atlanta Braves have always played at Turner Field.
  • 44. TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks.
  • 46. The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.
  • 48. Amoco gas stations have steadily vanished from the American highway.
  • 49. Vote-by-mail has always been the official way to vote in Oregon.

I’ve never heard most of the sayings from the 18-and-under crowd added at the end of the traditional list, and since I’m pretty in tune with that generation’s pop culture, I’m calling bogus on a few of them. (I’m looking at you, “dankrupt” and “Vatican Roulette.”)

New Book Series on Jacksonian America

Beth Salerno and I are co-editing a new book series at Vanderbilt University Press (VUP). Entitled New Perspectives on Jacksonian America, the series will examine the period from 1812-1861, which generally spans the decades when Andrew Jackson was a significant figure in life and death. The chronological definition of the series recognizes the importance of the War of 1812 in elevating Jackson to national prominence and his continued importance, even after his death in 1845, to United States politics and society in the years leading up to the Civil War. This series will consider any manuscript that addresses the Jacksonian period and its place in shaping the United States during these decades.

Our current advisory board consists of:

John Belohlavek, University of South Florida

Andrew Frank, Florida State University

Lorri Glover, Saint Louis University

Stephen Mihm, University of Georgia

Kirsten E. Wood, Florida International University

You can find submission guidelines at the VUP site. Proposals can be sent to me, Beth Salerno, or VUP Acquisitions Editor Eli Bortz.


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