August 31, 2012

Casual Friday

REMINDER: WHA Proposals Due Tomorrow!

Hi everyone -- your friendly blog editors here, reminding you that proposals for the 2013 Western History Association meeting are due tomorrow.  To see the call and get more details, go to our blog post here, or head over to the WHA website.  Happy Friday!

August 27, 2012

Florida: An Honorary Western State?

by Brandi Denison

This month marks my one-year anniversary of being a Florida resident. In honor of this anniversary and the Republican convention in Tampa, please allow me to indulge an idea that has been brewing since I moved. Since moving to the Sunshine State, I have been gradually piecing together of my new state’s history and I have been struck by the similarities Florida shares with the American West. Allow me to walk you through my cocktail party argument (which, like most cocktail party arguments, is by no means thoroughly vetted—feel free to vet in the comment section).

Via The Last Refuge
1) Florida, like the Trans-Mississippi region, has a lengthy, but largely ignored religious history.

I’m not just talking about the Spanish. (Although St. Augustine, established by the Spanish in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied European city in North America. It served the dual function as a military fort and the base of missionary operations.)

Via Suncycler
In addition to the Spanish Catholic missions, Florida was the site of the first Protestant religious service in North America. In 1562, Jean Ribault led an expedition of persecuted French Huguenots to North Florida. They founded Fort Caroline, which eventually grew into Jacksonville. This was a short-lived colony. In 1565, the Spanish killed Ribault and most of the colonists. This brief history might signal its absence in many narratives of American religious history, but Florida, like the West, undermines the traditional Puritan-based narrative of American religious history.

2) Like many places in the West, Florida boasts a harsh environment.

Via Medical Reserve Corps of Sarasota County
Admittedly, this might be my weakest argument. During the two tropical storms that hit in May and June, we received nearly 15 inches of rain in one week. My hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado doesn’t receive that much rain in one year. Nevertheless, like Westerners, Floridians are persistently aware of the land and its weather patterns. Instead of snow, drought, and wildfires, wind, tornados, and water batter resilient Floridians. While many people have been victims of hurricanes, tropical depressions, and tropical storms, it seems to me that there is a feeling of bravado for having lived through one. (I felt myself falling victim to this, as I was thinking, “15 inches, that’s all you’ve got, Mother Nature?”) This is not unlike the stories of blizzards I grew up hearing from old-timers, or even from one of Annie Proulx’s Wyoming short stories found in Fine Just the Way it Is.

3) Like the West, the arrival of the railroad transformed Florida’s landscape and population.

This point reminds Western scholars that the expansion of the railroad in the nineteenth century was not just a Western project, but a southern one as well. Florida’s railroad hero was Henry Flagler, a business partner of John D. Rockefeller. When he moved to Florida for his wife’s health in 1878, he was charmed by St. Augustine’s tourism potential. Lacking transportation and accommodations, Flagler did what any nineteenth-century oil tycoon would—he built his own railroad and hotel.

Via My Life in Postcards
The railroad was central to Florida’s population increase. In 1880, when Flagler was still planning the railroad, the population was around 250,000 people. By 1910, when he completed the construction of the railroad to Key West, the population had tripled to 750,000 people.

Additionally, like the West, Flagler saw Florida as a gateway to greater trade relationships. Instead of Asia, Florida was the entry point to Latin America, Cuba, and the newly opened Panama Canal. Like the West, it was a land to be traversed for capital gain.

Finally, because of the railroad, business investors began to see Florida as a tourist site and as a place for new settlements. These investors started using booster campaigns to attract new residents, promising paradise. Many people came, but, like many immigrants to the West, they were disappointed to not find immediate paradise.

4) Like the West, Florida has been subject to intense boom and bust cycles over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

In 2007, when the rest of the country was still high on climbing housing prices, the Florida housing market tanked. The Florida housing market was the canary in the coalmine. When NPR’s Planet Money purchased and traced one of those “toxic assets,” they discovered that the majority of the mortgages were in Florida.

This isn’t unusual for a state built on dreams. Flagler’s St. Augustine hotel never attracted the tourists he thought it would, and other entrepreneurs who attempted to attract tourists also ended up with empty luxury hotels. While Florida never had a mineral rush (with the expectation of a phosphate rush in the early 1900s), the boom-bust cycle of Florida fits the economic profile of many places in the American West. Its centrality in the economic downturn also signals that like the American West, Florida is not simply a peripheral state. It decides elections and directs the economy.

5) Like the West, Florida has inspired people to go on quests for mythical places, instilled the desire to create utopian communities, and is fertile soil for New Religious Movements.

The boom/bust cycle might be fueled on these dreams. Starting with Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth, Florida, like the West, has inspired dreams of escape and perfection. Although I can’t recall specific movies, it seems to me that the fantasy of an idyllic orange grove in Florida is akin to the white-picket fence. To many people, Florida represents a place to get away from it all and to start anew. (Of course, as New West historians, we know that this is never possible, and Florida’s folly can be confirmed through Tim Dorsey’s novels.)

Via the Village Voice
This hasn’t stopped people from trying. I’ll skip right over Disney World and mention their master-planned community—Celebration, Florida. Celebration was built on the idea that it was possible to recreate the past of small-town America by making Disney’s Main Street come to life. I only need to remind you of Amy DeRogatis’s excellent book, Moral Geography, which traces the settlement of Ohio by descendents of Puritans who were finally going to get it right. Celebration was a chance for residents to finally achieve the American dream of the perfect community.

The Oratory at Ave Maria University, via Saint Peter's List
In addition to Celebration, there’s Ave Maria, Florida, which was the concept of Tom Monaghan, the conservative Catholic founder of Domino’s Pizza. Ave Maria initially attracted attention because Monaghan stated that the community would prohibit birth control, abortions, and other practices forbidden by Catholic clergy. There was a strong outcry, and Monaghan backed off. Today, Ave Maria is like any other Florida master-planned community with the exception of the Catholic university located in the center of the community. Yet, how many other Western communities were founded on the strict religious ideas of its founder, only to assimilate to the surrounding culture?

I could go on. There’s the Catholic New Religious Movement of Our Lady of Clearwater, the theme park of the Holy Land Experience, and the diversity of religious practices that comes with Cuban immigration. Like the entrepreneurs of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, religious leaders have seen opportunity in Florida to establish communities set apart from the pace of modern life.

I’ll leave my extended points here, but I also would like to mention that like the West, Florida’s history has been defined by a history of immigration and racial, ethnic, and religious diversity. Additionally, like many Westerners, Floridians tend towards libertarian political ideas and general enmity towards the federal government (Governor Rick Scott’s refusal of federal funds linked to the ACA is a case in point). Like the West, Florida is a mixture of rural country (with many acres under federal control) and concentrated city centers. Finally, might Florida serve as St Louis did, as the entry point into the “final frontier?”

Ok, so this is just a fun little exercise. Florida is NOT the West in many ways—the fact that my crackers are always soggy is a constant reminder that I’m not in Colorado anymore. Nevertheless, I find it useful in thinking how a concentrated study of religion in the American West does not need to be regionally specific. Instead, the themes that emerge from a regionally-based study can help us to see the rest of American religious history (or even in points outside the US) in new light.

August 24, 2012

Casual Friday

This announcement came across our desk recently. You might be interested, or know someone who is.

2013 Webb-Smith Essay Competition

$1000 for the best research essay on: "Contested Empire: Rethinking the Texas Revolution"

The Department of History at the University of Texas at Arlington in collaboration with the Center for Greater Southwestern Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington announces the 2013 Webb-Smith Essay Competition as part of the Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures on March 7, 2013. The topic is “Contested Empire: Rethinking the Texas Revolution.” We are looking for students and scholars to submit original, unpublished article-length essays (maximum 10,000 words plus endnotes) that explore Texas during the Mexican period, and which examine the origins and long term ramifications of the events that gave birth to the Texas Republic and its subsequent incorporation by the United States. Preference will be given to papers that attempt to integrate the early nineteenth century Texas borderlands into a broad, geopolitical or multicultural interpretive framework, or which seek in other ways to connect the region and its peoples to a wider world.

The winning essay will be published in a forthcoming volume of the Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lecture Series, published by Texas A&M Press, along with essays by the lecturers, Amy S. Greenberg, Will Fowler, Eric Schlereth, Miguel Enrique Soto Estrada, and Sam W. Haynes.

Deadline for submissions: January 28, 2013

Send submissions either electronically or by mail to:

Jennifer Lawrence
Chair, Webb Lectures Committee
Department of History
UT Arlington, Box 19529
Arlington, TX 76019-0529

For more information about previously published volumes or the upcoming lectures, please write to Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures Committee (see mailing address above) or by email.

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August 20, 2012

Online Resources Roundup

By Stan Thayne

There are a number of online resources available to students and researchers interested in the study of the American West. Though most of these are dedicated to Western history more generally, several are relevant to the topic of religion—which, after all, intersects with every other facet of culture and is only relevant when placed in a broader context. What follows is a brief summary, with links, of several sites that may be helpful to researchers. Our hope is that this roundup (and its deficiencies) might open up a conversation about online resources. So please, jump on in and tell us what resources you have found helpful to your own studies!

The Library of Congress’s American Memory site has a digitized collection of photographs from the Denver Public Library available. The collection is titled History of the American West 1860-1920. Here is how the collection is described at the website:

The images in History of the American West are drawn from the more than 600,000 photographs in the holdings of the Western History and Genealogy Department at Denver Public Library. ...approximately 4,000 images document the place of mining in the history of Colorado and the West and 3,500 that show the lives and culture of Native Americans from more than forty tribes living west of the Mississippi River. To these, the Denver Public Library has added approximately 23,000 additional photographs digitized as part of its large-scale Photodigitization Project.

The National Archives has a digitized collection of Photographs of the AmericanWest: 1861-1912.

In 1986 Patty Limerick and Charles Wilkinson founded the Center of the American West. In addition to selling T-shirts, the site announces upcoming events, provides information on internships and student awards, and also offers a number of forums, podcasts, and links to papers, books, and websites on a number of topics relevant to the study of the American West. The center’s projects include subjects such as Energy, Mining, Water, Land Use, Interior, and more.

The Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, co-founded by Richard White and David Kennedy, offers a number of resources, forums, and fellowships, as well as a blog. Projects include Water in the West, The Rural West Initiative, and Comparative Wests.

The American West Center at the University of Utah offers a number of resources. Of particular interest is their oral history collections, on topics such as Utah Outdoor Recreation, Polio, Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans, and more. Also very useful for those in Indigenous Studies is their digital archive on Utah American Indians and Utah Indian Curriculum Project.

PBS’s New Perspectives on the West site, based on the Ken Burns documentary, is actually quite helpful in a number of ways, providing links to archives, biographical information on a lot of key figures, and even lesson plans on a number of topics, as well as, of course, clips from the film.

The Howard R. Lamar Center at Yale University offers a number of resources and fellowships.

The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies offers a number of fellowships and publications and has a really good oral history project (though interviews are not available online), as well as other resources.

Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library offers a number of digitized collections relevant to those interested in Mormonism and much more, including the Western Waters Digital Library.

TheMountain West Digital Library, a project of the Utah Academic Library Consortium, offers “free access to over 670,000 resources from universities, colleges, public libraries, museums, historical societies, and government agencies, counties, and municipalities in Utah, Nevada, and other parts of the U.S. West.”

Resources for the American West in general are of course much more numerous than those dedicated to Religion in the American West specifically. Though much at the above sites is very relevant, a focus on religion is still greatly lacking at many of the centers for the study of the American West. But there are a number of useful resources here.

For those teaching courses on Religion in the American West, particularly helpful is the Seminar on Religion in the American West (the host of this blog). The Seminar organizes a session at the American Academy of Religion and the site offers a timeline, sample syllabi, primary source documents, a bibliography, and, perhaps best of all, a link to this blog (which is, after all, an extension of said seminar)!

These are just a few of the resources available to scholars interested in the West as a region—or whatever else you may characterize it as. I have surely overlooked several others. What have I missed? What databases, websites, or online collections do you find particularly helpful to your own research interests? Your input just may help someone out with a research paper or conference paper or dissertation or book chapter they’ve been working on. So, please, comment and share…

p.s. See also our Online Resources tab in the sidebar for more links to online collections and databases.

August 17, 2012

Casual Friday

We thought this potential session looked pretty interesting when it came across our desk. Remember the deadline for proposals to the WHA is coming soon!

Hunter Hampton, a Ph.D. student at the University of Missouri, writes: I am interested in forming a panel on religion and the West for the 2013 WHA conference. The paper I would present examines the relationship between Protestant clergy and baseball in western towns. It focuses on ministers and missionaries employment of baseball and muscular Christianity to interact with the lower rungs of western society. Please contact me if you are interested. Submissions are due to the WHA by 1 September.

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August 13, 2012

Curanderismo, Reiki, Acupuncture, and Other Traditional Mexican Medicine

by Brett Hendrickson

I recently attended a summer course at the University of New Mexico entitled “Traditional Healing without Borders: Curanderismo in the Southwest and Mexico.” I’ve been a student of Mexican and Mexican American folk and religious healing for a couple of years now and had wanted to attend this class for a long time. Now that I’ve been (and loved it!), I thought I would share what I’ve been reflecting on since returning to the hot and sticky east coast.

Ceremony with copal smudging at UNM.  Photo by Brett Hendrickson.
Eliseo “Cheo” Torres is the Vice President for Student Affairs at UNM but has a strong side interest in curanderismo, about which he has written a couple of books. He’s the organizer and one of the instructors in the course, and one of the most interesting things he does is to invite around forty curanderos and curanderas from Cuernavaca. These curanderos are professors at a diploma-granting school there that specializes in holistic healing. In addition to their knowledge of “traditional Mexican medicine,” most of the speakers from Mexico also specialized in acupuncture, iridology, reflexology, herbology, a plethora of massage techniques, shamanic drumming, and/or Chinese medicine.

The class is ostensibly about traditional Mexican healing. And, yes, it was. We learned about some traditional maladies such as mal de ojo, empacho, and susto. We learned how to administer a limpia, “cleansing,” with eggs and branches of herbs, and about some of the great folk saints of the borderlands. But, we also learned that curanderismo, even in Mexico today, is incorporating other folk and integrative therapies from around the globe. And we were told many times, explicitly and implicitly, that it is energy that ties all of us and all of these therapies together. As you may know, one of the hallmarks of what Catherine Albanese calls “metaphysical religion” is the sense that we live in a cosmos inundated with energy, energy that we can manipulate for our own weal and woe. This energy is the same the world over. To wit, two different curanderas told me: “Mayan and Chinese medicine are exactly the same.” Maybe they are exactly the same if the person consuming them is using them for exactly the same reasons and in exactly the same way.

As you might imagine, there were a lot of New Age-y people from New Mexico in this class. During a time for discussion, one of them commented regarding the Mexican curanderos: “These people are not considered freaky, New Age, weird in their country.” She continued, “It’s so great and so normalized. In my line of work, people often think I’m so freaky.” In her imagination, at least, Mexico is a place where people who do Reiki as well as limpias are totally normal. This was a new twist on the trope that New Age people seek out the “exotic.” This woman seemed to be romanticizing the exotic so that she could feel more acceptable herself in her own American skin.

So, the questions I’ve been batting around go something like this: What is an “authentic” curandera? Is it ok to mix a whole bunch of local indigenous healing traditions together if it’s indigenous people doing the mixing? What does it mean about the construction of Mexican and Mexican American identity that curanderismo is being more and more framed as an ancient native practice rather than a colonialism-spawned syncretic tradition? Are Mexicans who reclaim Aztec or Maya traditions acting in a way that is inherently Western in its intentions and forms of acquisition and valorization of an imagined utopian past? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these or related questions.

August 10, 2012

Casual Friday

We recently received the announcement below. You may be interested. (Quincy says to tell you that what got her hooked on doing history was her experience doing research at the Oregon Historical Society for her undergraduate senior thesis. Because she was an undergrad, she didn't have one of these nifty fellowships.)

The Oregon Historical Society will once again offer Senior and Graduate Sterling Fellowships in Pacific Northwest History for 2013. Sterling Fellowships support four weeks of research in the Oregon Historical Society Research Library with $2,000 for graduate students and $2,500 for professional scholars. The deadline for applications is October 1. More information is available here.

August 6, 2012

Book of the Month:

Hokulani K. Aikau, A Chosen People, A Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i 

Review by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

I wanted to read Hokulani Aikau's A Chosen People, A Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai'i (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012) the minute I saw it, in part because it represented such an intriguing departure from the extant literature on Mormons in the Pacific Basin. Some very good things have been written on this topic, but I can count the number of works written by indigenous scholars raised in the LDS Church on one hand; and, if we were to count the works written with a theoretical self-consciousness about religious studies as a discipline. . . well, this is it. The author was raised in Utah but comes from a Hawaiian background. She was brought up in the LDS Church, but has since left it. Most interestingly, she rejected the faith personally but was intrigued by its effects on people she knew who had been influenced by the special role ascribed to Polynesian peoples in Mormon history. Now, she was looking to understand that faith that compels so many Hawaiian Mormons to live within what she sees as contradictory understandings of nation, of place, and of sacred history.

The good news is that, while I have some quarrels with the author at a number of points, I came away feeling as though I had learned a great deal, and had been challenged to think about Mormonism—and specifically, Mormonism in a Pacific world context—in new ways. This is, to my mind, the biggest gift one can ask of scholarship.

Aikau’s questions are basic and profound. What does it mean to be Hawaiian and Mormon? How have people understood this identity and made peace with the potentially troubling elements of it? How was Mormonism in turn transformed in its translation to a new context? All of these are terrific starting points, especially the last: most other histories of Mormonism in the Pacific do not acknowledge that the tradition itself might have changed as a result of Anglo-Polynesian encounters. Taking this as her starting point, Aikau traces the history of Mormonism in Hawaii. Her goal is principally to mark the uses of religion as both a means of conjuring social order and a mode of coercion. Helpfully, she brings nationalism into the mix as an important variable: How do Hawaiian LDS relate to (American) nationalist discourses? How can the issues of universalism and ethnic or national particularity be reconciled? How does the Mormon legacy of conquest sit today with those members who are among the conquered?

The five main chapters of the book trace various elements of these questions. The first chapter traces a history of racial discourses in the LDS Church and looks at ideologies of lineage. The author draws here quite a bit from the excellent work of Armand Mauss and Newell Bringhurst on race and Mormonism, but also steers discussion toward the particular assertions about Polynesian peoples and their relationship to Mormon sacred history. In successive chapters, Aikau analyzes a number of relevant issues. She looks at La'ie as a Hawaiian gathering place that had a variety of meanings to Anglo Mormons and Native peoples; in this context, the Mormon notion of gathering meant something distinctive for indigenous peoples. Her reading of these varying interpretations of La'ie as a sacred place adds a richness to understandings of Mormon missionary involvement, and goes far in explaining tensions that developed between Anglo missionaries--bent on establishing a self-sustaining community and willing to employ economic means through sugar production to do so--and Native Hawaiians. The forces of evangelistic expansion, capitalism, and traditionalism meet in her narrative in useful ways; I appreciated her balance in explaining how Mormonism at times abetted, and at other moments hindered, the ability of Natives to conduct their lives as they desired.

The chapters that outline the Labor Missionary Program are especially incisive and important. This initiative enabled the LDS Church to build the Church College of Hawaii in 1956 and the Polynesian Cultural Center in 1963—both organizations that today serve as tremendously important evangelical and educational resources for the Church. Anglo missionaries had their own reasons for investing their labor in these projects (which were questioned by church leaders for perhaps not being enough of a “missionary calling”), and Native members likewise seized the opportunity provided as a means to immigrate to the U.S. Most importantly, again, Aikau is able to provide multiple perspectives, views rife with inequalities, racist and gendered assumptions, and unstated goals, on the development of a modernized Mormon presence. That modernization also had mixed results, dramatically changing the lives of local peoples yet providing them with entry points into U.S. society that otherwise would have been closed off.

The best aspect of these chapters is the access to perspectives that otherwise have not been voiced previously, e.g. the admixture of devotion and willingness to perform a scripted version of race provided at the Polynesian Cultural Center. The representations of Polynesia presented there by Native church members and consumed by hungry tourists abound with ironies and complexities. Aikau is never condescending toward the participants (either Anglo or Native), nor reductive about their experiences. Mormons sell images of happy natives to grateful tourists, and everyone gains. Culture as a commodity is contested and exchanged. The author does not avoid the inevitable losses embedded in these stories, but neither does she romanticize the past. Her perspective remains unrelentingly pragmatic, focused on how current Mormons of all stripes both gain and lose from the changes that modernization has wrought.

As mentioned previously, the author is also consistently attentive to scholarship in religious studies that can help her argument. She frames her discussion initially with the work of Thomas Tweed, and then transitions into doses of Max Weber inflected by Jürgen Habermas and a dash of Mary Louise Pratt. These discussions are all helpful, but ultimately, not nearly as stimulating or rich as the voices of her informants themselves, who speak loudly and clearly about the myriad influences in their lives. At the end, I was left wanting to know more about the lives of people who balance multiple allegiances to church, to a community, and to a place that for most of us represents simply a resort destination put to the service of American desires for paradise.

Editor’s note: Have you read this book? What do you think about it? Join the conversation and leave your thoughts in the comments! If you have a suggestion for a future book of the month, or if you would like to review a book for the book of the month series, please contact us. Next month, Joshua Paddison reviews Glenna Matthews, The Golden State in the Civil War: Thomas Starr King, The Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

August 3, 2012

Casual Friday

Borderlands History is a blog that started this year. It describes itself as "an academic blog which we hope will promote discussion of issues surrounding the history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as well as other borderlands regions." It's not specifically about religion, but you might find it interesting...

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August 1, 2012

REMINDER: WHA Proposals Due in a Month!

Hi everyone -- your friendly blog editors here, reminding you that proposals for the Western History Association are due a month from today.  To see the call and get other details, go to our blog post here, or click on over to the WHA's website.  Happy Wednesday!