Vote for Your Favorite Religious Historian! By John Fea



19 comments

Which American Religious Historians are the Best Writers?

Over the last day or two the subscribers to the H-Net listserv H-Teach (devoted to teaching college history) have been discussing which historians are the best writers. The responses continue to pour in, but the American historians mentioned include: Simon Schama, William Hogeland, John Perkins, Patricia Limerick, Joseph Ellis, Jill Lepore, Robert Gross, Camilla Townsend, William Cronon, Eric Foner, Tim Tyson, Walter MacDougall, Edward Larson, Carol Berkin, H.W. Brands, David McCullough, Allen Nevins, and Samuel Eliot Morrison. Someone also mentioned J.G.A. Pocock!

Let me modify the question for the readers of our blog. Which American religious historians are the best writers? I look forward to reading your responses.

19 comments:

matt bowman at: November 15, 2007 at 12:16 PM said...

Robert Moats Miller.

Grant Wacker.

Anonymous at: November 15, 2007 at 2:54 PM said...

Mark Noll and George Marsden

Spencer Fluhman at: November 15, 2007 at 3:42 PM said...

Leigh Schmidt and Mark Noll. (I love lists . . . why?)

Edward Carson at: November 15, 2007 at 3:55 PM said...

Eric Foner -- I am a fan. I like all of his historical works.

Brian at: November 15, 2007 at 4:00 PM said...

Mark Noll. He weaves complex concepts together in ways that are easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

Kelly at: November 15, 2007 at 4:20 PM said...

I read Harry Stout's epic, _Upon the Altar of Nation_, and I was entranced not only by his ability to craft a story but also how he subtly cracked open the world of masculinity in the Civil War.

I would also have to include Tracy Fessenden and Marie Griffith on my list. Tracy's newest work, _Culture and Redemption_, (of which I consistently sing praise) provides a critical assessment of American Religious History with wit and charm. Griffith's works are well-written because she is able to convey the worldview of her informants and her historical actors with empathy while simultaneously providing thoughtful critical analysis.

John Fea at: November 15, 2007 at 5:02 PM said...

I am not sure if I am allowed to vote in my own poll, but I once again have to agree with Kelly. Not only is Stout's *Sword on the Altar* great, but so is his biography of Whitefield. Marsden is also tough to beat, especially his biography of Edwards. I am also a big fan of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, although she has not written about religion in some time.

John Fea at: November 15, 2007 at 5:10 PM said...

David Grua at the "Juvenile Instructor" http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/
has taken things a step further. He ask his readers to chime in on which Mormon historian is the best writer. And he already has 32 responses!!

Christopher at: November 15, 2007 at 6:16 PM said...

George Marsden is great, and I'll second Matt's vote for Grant Wacker. I love Mark Noll's _America's God_, but find some of his other works a bit dry.

Art Remillard at: November 16, 2007 at 2:21 AM said...

Martin Marty--That guy must write with both hands. Seems like an all around great person too.

Stephen Prothero--I overheard someone calling him a "journalist," intending it as an insult. My take: he writes well and on things people are actually interested in. So if that makes someone a journalist, call me George Will.

Sam Hill--Southern Churches in Crisis is a classic for good reason.

Benjamin Brandenburg at: November 16, 2007 at 9:03 AM said...

Leigh Schmidt, Robert Orsi, and George Marsden. On a side note, this blog is fantastic for PhD students learning the lay of the land.

Randall at: November 16, 2007 at 12:38 PM said...

As far as writing goes... I cast my ballot for Stephen Prothero and Randall Balmer. They have a readership far beyond the field of religious history.

For some awesomely bad writing, see:
The Bad Writing Contest Press Releases, 1996-1998
http://www.denisdutton.com/bad_writing.htm

Jonathan at: November 16, 2007 at 8:20 PM said...

I vote for Mark Noll.

Phil at: November 16, 2007 at 9:51 PM said...

Randall Balmer offers works with breadth and depth yet communicates with clarity--and here I'm thinking of _Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory_.

George Marsden has a way of making one feel like they were there--his biography of Edwards transports me to the 18th century in a way few books do (Tommy Kidd--his former student--manages to do this as well, especially in his latest offering on the Great Awakening).

Robert Orsi and Thomas Tweed have a way of making theory fun and attractive and understandable--_Between Heaven and Earth_ and _Crossings and Dwellings_, respectively.

Ed Blum makes the past come alive and infuses his prose with, at times, poetic sensibility; the prose has a certain rhythm to it. This not only keeps the pages turning in _W.E.B. Bu Bois: American Prophet_ , but winsomely communicates the complexities of Du Bois's life and times.

Russ R at: November 16, 2007 at 10:42 PM said...

If we're talking specifically about good writers, I have to say Sidney Mead and Martin Marty, though I'm guessing they're considered too passé to be read anymore.

David at: November 17, 2007 at 3:11 PM said...

On the non-Protestant list - Sarna is excellent and the late D'Agostino was good though McGreevy is probably the best right now. Noll is best among Protestant oriented types.

Amy at: November 19, 2007 at 7:28 AM said...

I am always complaining about poor writing, here is my 22 cents:

Kathleen Flake, Catherine Brekus, Tracy Fessenden, Ann Braude, David Hall, Jon Sensbach, Colleen McDannell, Randy Balmer, and yes, of course, Grant Wacker. Some of the best writing I have read recently is found in articles. Check out: Rachel Wheeler, Philip Goff, Doug Winiarski, Martha Finch, & Katheryn Lofton for engaging writing and interesting topics.

Anonymous at: November 21, 2007 at 12:30 PM said...

Amy, I am SO thrilled with your list, and was also tickled that someone mentioned JGA Pocock. He is kind of a wild choice. And is Simon Schama really an American Historian? I dig his "Power of Art" show on PBS/BBC.

I was surprised that so many people are on board with evangelical historians such as Stout, Marsden, and Balmer. For my money, Sensbach and Butler are among the best, and I really like David Brion Davis too.

I think it is worth mentioning some old(er) favorites too: Perry Miller, his student Edmund Morgan (who himself has some great students), Francis Parkman...

Anonymous at: November 21, 2007 at 12:32 PM said...

Oh, sorry about my above post. I kind of half-answered questions about both historians of America and of religion in America. But ya'll get the idea.

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