Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The View from a Mile High City

Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Denver, Colorado to take part in a conference on university honors programs.  It was a great time to be out in Denver, I met colleagues from around the country, got to tour the city, and came home with all sorts of new ideas for the honors program at Butler University.

Part of my time was spent taking part in a City-As-Text exercise.  My group traveled to the Colorado State Capitol building as well as Molly Brown's house (she of unsinkable/Titanic fame).  It was a wonderful time, with some breathtaking views.  The steps up to the statehouse itself have been confirmed via GPS to be a mile above sea level -- and if you take the tour, your view can get even better, via the observation deck that is around the golden dome.

In what little down time I had, I did some further exploration of the city, witnessing Denver as a city proud of its past in many ways, excited about its future, and grappling with issues caused by growth, tourism, and homelessness (the climate, both environmental--generally temperate with 300 days of sunshine--and political contribute to all three).  I even managed to get a little writing and revising done on my next book.

As an author, I know all to well what it means to grapple with a text.  But the rewards (and most often they aren't monetary) are worth it.  I have been thinking about that quite a bit as my third book (Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites) is due to come out this month.  As I relate in the book, at one point I never thought I would return to the world of wets and drys (which was, after all, the topic of my first book).  But with this new book, I got to engage that material in new ways, and found if not new understanding, at least new ways to view the Prohibition Era.  You don't always have to look at things from the mountain top perch, but some times doing so helps you appreciate the view.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Back to the Land of the Sycamores

Last night, I had the honor of speaking in Terre Haute, Indiana to speak to the Wabash Valley Genealogy Society (you can visit their website here).  My topic was Prohibition in Indiana and despite the weather (storms moved through during my talk and all the way home), there was a great turnout and lively discussion.  It was a wonderful event and I am thankful I got to share with them a bit about my own research on the noble crusade.

It is perhaps fitting that I spoke in Terre Haute when I did.  Looking back, my professional career started there (I had to travel to take the GRE at Indiana State University my senior year of college).  And so, in talking about Prohibition, which was the focus of my dissertation-turned-first book, I got to bring it back full circle.  As an added bonus, in Prohibition is here to Stay, Terre Haute graces the pages several times--both because of the breweries and saloon-based political corruption there, but also because the Reverend Edward S. Shumaker was a pastor for a time there in his early ministry (before he made prohibition his reform).  But it was also fitting because a month from now, my third book Interpreting the Prohibition Era will be published by Rowman & Littlefield.  As that date gets closer, I grow more excited by the fact that I was given the opportunity to "go back" to the time of wets and drys and think about Prohibition yet again and in new ways.

Not every historian or academic gets that kind of opportunity.  And while my current research has taken me far from saloons and churches (in some respects), who knows, maybe I'll come back to it again.  After all, as I was reminded last night, there are still many stories waiting to be told in places both near and far away!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Gift of Blurb

As readers of this blog already know, my third book is set to be released in November.  Published by Rowman & Littlefield, with the support of AASLH, the book is part of the new Interpreting History series, which looks at historical events and how Museums and Historical Societies have and can discuss them.  Back in the summer of 2012 I was contacted about the possibility of writing the book on Prohibition, an opportunity that I accepted.  Getting to return to the world of wets and drys was a fun intellectual experience, and getting to investigate how institutions (both large and small) have attempted to discuss and convey "the noble experiment" to visitors was a good deal of fun as well.

I was pleased to discover earlier today that the back cover review blurb has been uploaded to the book's website.  I am equally pleased to share it with you all now:

"Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites is exactly the kind of book that busy interpreters, curators, and museum administrators need. Well-researched and lucidly written, it combines a brief history of prohibition with incisive guidelines for interpretation. Lantzer offers an informative account of the long war between “wets” and “drys” in slightly less than fifty pages. His guidelines demonstrate the enduring relevance of prohibition while offering suggestions for telling meaningful, engaging stories about it. Interpreting the Prohibition Era is sure to become a standard resource for public historians and museum professionals. In fact, by reminding us that prohibition left no part of the nation untouched, the book shows why its story deserves to be told – and how sites large and small can incorporate it into their programming."Daniel Vivian, Assistant Professor of History and Director of Public History Program, University of Louisville

 I am thankful to my editors at Rowman & Littlefield, the members of the AASLH for entrusting the volume to me, and Dr. Vivian for the very kind review.  I hope the eventual readers also find it "well-researched and lucidly written" as well.

UPDATE:   There is now a second back blurb review up (thank you to Eloise Batic, who was so helpful with the entire project):

"Interpreting the Prohibition Era at Museums and Historic Sites is a must-read for any museum professional seeking to uncover the Prohibition era in a museum gallery or program setting. Tapping into public interest by celebrating objects and stories from the local perspective is a wonderful opportunity for museums, but this book will help program developers understand the context in which their story sits. Taking the local story and asking the variety of contextual questions posed in this book will help museums explore the widest possible angle of history and spark countless new interests on the part of visitors."
Eloise Batic, Director of Exhibitions Research and Development, Indiana Historical Society

Friday, September 19, 2014

In the District

When I was in middle school, the biggest event of 8th grade was going on the Washington, D.C. trip.  For most of my peers, it was probably a big deal to go on a trip without their parents.  For me, the excitement came from going to Gettysburg and then getting to see the nation's capitol first hand.  For a "history geek" in the making, nothing could be more exciting.  There are days when I still am thankful for that trip, for Richard Smith (my middle school history teacher), and that may parents let me go on it!

I have been to D.C. multiple times since then, most only research trips.  The last time I left in the middle of a snow storm.  But this year I had the opportunity to come out to the District and teach an intensive seminar on D.C. and the Civil War as part of Butler University's Semester in Washington, D.C. program.  The students in my seminar are drawn from Butler students who are here, as well as several from our partner school, Centre College in Kentucky.  Over the course of the past two days, we have talked a good deal about the war, and today we did some tours that tied some of our discussions together.

Our first stop was the U.S. Capitol.  Our tour was facilitated by Indiana Congresswoman Susan Brooks.  It was wonderful to get to take my students into the very rooms so much of the history we had discussed.  From the dome (which was being worked on during the Civil War).... the Old Supreme Court room, where the Dred Scott decision was rendered by Chief Justice Roger Taney...... the Old Senate Chamber, where the Compromise of 1850 was put together, and where Charles Sumner's desk was/is (where he sat when Congressman Preston Brooks nearly killed him by beating the abolitionist with his cane).

After we were done on the Hill, we headed out to Arlington National Cemetery.  Here we visited Robert E. Lee's mansion, which holds connections to George Washington and to the Civil War (as it was occupied by Union forces early on in the war, which led to the plantation grounds becoming a cemetery).

But for me, one of the highlights (beyond getting to spend time with some really great students) was finding the grave of Marion Anderson, Butler's Civil War Medal of Honor Winner.

I have really enjoyed the opportunity to teach this course, and to do "history on the ground."  It is something I would do again, and that I would encourage others in my profession to do as well.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Listen to the Radio

I had the great pleasure, for the second time, to be a guest on Hoosier History Live today.  The only radio program in the nation dedicated to state history that takes calls from listeners.  Carried on WICR 88.7 (on the campus of the University of Indianapolis) the program tackles a new topic every week.

The first time I was on the show, the topic was interesting facts about Indiana's history.  My contribution was to discuss some of the communities that disappeared (chief cause, the creation of reservoirs), the final resting place of Uncle Tom (yes, the Uncle Tom), the "anti-Dillinger" police post in Goshen (always a favorite), and the origins of the name "Wakarusa" (well, maybe!).  

But today's show focused on Prohibition.  As I often tell students, it is a topic that is near and dear to my professional heart.  So, I got to talk a bit about my first book, and Book 3 as well (as the State Museum is about to host the traveling exhibit from the National Constitution Center).  That I also got to see an old graduate school friend (who now works at the Indiana State Museum) was just icing on the proverbial cake.

So, thank you Nelson and Molly, for putting this show on each and every week.  Next week's show, in which the guest is my dissertation adviser, Prof. James Madison, who is going to talk about his new book, Hoosiers, is sure to be a treat for listeners!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thoughts at the End of Summer

I have had a wonderful summer.  It has been hectic at times, it has flown by in many ways, it has seemed short (no doubt because of the cooler temperatures).  But it has been a wonderful time filled with lots of time with my kids, fun, travel, relaxation, seeing family and friends, and a general sense of accomplishment and even some relaxation.  It has been an exciting summer on the professional front, not only in preparation for a new school year and the exciting things I hope to do with the University Honors Program at Butler, but also in signing a contract for a manuscript (Book 4), finishing two book chapters (that will appear as part of a collection in honor of Indiana's upcoming bicentennial), getting a release date for Book Number 3--which came about because of Book 1, and starting work on a new manuscript (Book 5)!

Because it has been all those things, this summer has also led me to think about some questions (which relate back to The Mainline aka Book 2) and which I hope to address at some point this Fall in a number of blog posts (as time and schedule allow).  But as I sit here tonight, listening to crickets chirping away outside with the occasional firefly floating by in our backyard, I am also troubled by developments half a world away.  I have written previously about the situation in the Ukraine and in Nigeria, and won't be returning to those situations tonight.  Rather, I have been thinking about the ongoing situation in Iraq.  What follows is not political (though I have both personal political as well as professionally historic opinions on the topic to be sure) about what the United States should (or should not) be doing and why (though, again, I have policy convictions on the matter), rather it is an attempt to express and remind readers of a current humanitarian, historic, and (yes) religious crisis that is engulfing that country.

A bit of background:  We should remember that Iraq is (as I often tell students), a "made up country."  That is, until the twentieth century, there was no Iraq and no Iraqis.  It was part of several different empires (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greco-Macedonian), on the fringes of some others (Roman, Byzantine), and a part of the Ottoman and British empires more recently.  As such, it is (to borrow the wonderful phrase of Benedict Anderson, "an imagined community" in many ways--filled with people of various religious, cultural, and ethnic identities, united by circumstance and various "fictions" as a nation.  It was not until the First World War (if you've not read this, do so) and its aftermath that Iraq came into existence.  Not because of history, but because of the political need of the victorious Allied powers.  It was a battle ground (if only briefly) during the Second World War, and really only became an important part of American foreign policy in the late twentieth century.  Indeed, in the span of little more than a decade, the United States has fought two wars in Iraq, and as I write this (one might argue) is now fighting its third.

A year ago almost, I wrote about the situation in Syria, and whether or not U.S. intervention was compelled by Just War Doctrine or not.  My point tonight is not to ask if U.S. action in Iraq meets those criteria or not (though I think it does much better than the debate that faced us a year ago), but rather to highlight and remind those of you who find your way here of what the group formally known as ISIS is doing to Iraqis they disagree with (both religiously, culturally, and one might assume as well, politically).

While I have been enjoying my summer, ISIS has gone on the march.  Destroying historic sites that withstood previous wars and conquests unharmed.  They have targeted religious shrines (both Christian as well as Islamic ones).  They have sought to slaughter those who do not see the world as they do.  In their rhetoric, they might talk of re-establishing a caliphate, but what they have embarked in is little more than a genocide against those who disagree with them in both matters of faith and of politics, as well as the systematic destruction of ancient shrines and temples -- effectively seeking to not just destroy the opposition, but wipe clean the memory that such people (and their beliefs) ever existed.

As an American, I was glad to see the United States finally take some action against ISIS.  As a Christian, I pray for those who are in the path of ISIS--especially my brothers and sisters in the faith.  As a religious person, I was pleased that people of faith have condemned what ISIS is doing (both within the Christian tradition as well as within the Islamic tradition).  But someone who loves the past, who has dedicated their professional life to preserving and passing on history, I weep at what ISIS has done. 

Change, as I often tell my classes, is not the same as progress.  And I am outraged at the "changes" ISIS has unleashed upon Iraq (and portions of Syria).  The obliteration of the past, the murdering of innocents, is not progress for Iraq or the world.  Instead, it is a reminder that whatever progress we have made since the great wars of the twentieth century, it is progress held together only by the common thread of civilization and our common humanity.  Defending those things, should know no labels, whether partisan or religious.  And that is something I was reminded of as this summer comes to an end.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Servant Leadership

Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on the final presentations of students who took part in the Butler (University) Summer Institute.  This year there were 29 young scholars, representing every college on campus and a wide variety of majors, who spent over two months researching under the direction of a member of the faculty.  Many of them will take that summer research and turn it into either a departmental or university honors thesis.  As I have told several people since BSI came to a close, it was by far one of the most enjoyable (and varied) academic "conferences" I have been to in a very long time.

For the purposes of this little blog of mine though, one of the presentations stood out.  It was on servant leadership in the United Methodist Church by Brittney Stephan, a rising senior at Butler.  Brittney has been interning with a local congregation (with the approval of the Indiana annual conference), studying the topic of servant leadership (for more, see the following) and what both laity and clergy mean by the term.

Like the other presentations, it was interesting and well done.  Perhaps it struck a chord with me though because of my work on the Mainline.  While I did not look at servant leadership, the idea that there might be a disconnect between the different levels of a denomination (top level bureaucracy, clergy, laity) over terms, ideas, or pronouncements was hardly surprising.  That there has not been more study of these kinds of issues is surprising.  Perhaps in the future, there will be.