by Edward J. Blum
We’ve only just begun the fall semester, but it won’t be long until book orders are due for the spring. So, as you’re putting in orders for old faithfuls like The Kingdom of Matthias (IBSN: 0195098358) or new loves like Freedom’s Coming (ISBN: 0807858145), you may want to consider the third editions of Major Problems in American History (ISBN: 0495915130). If you’re not familiar with my blog posts, then you need to know that most of them are self-promotional. If you are not familiar with this series, the Major Problems, then you should really get your hands on them. The collections match 8-10 primary documents from a given period or topic with 2-3 scholarly essays that debate the key points. I have used just about every one and students seem to love them. It’s high-quality one-stop shopping (more like Target than Walmart) for primary and secondary sources!
Sadly, the new edition for Major Problems in American History began with a loss. Just before revisions started, editor Jon Gjerde passed away, professor of history at UC Berkeley and author of some amazing books on the West, ethnicity, and rural life,. I joined my colleague Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (author of the fantastic book on the Peace Corps, All You Need is Love) to edit the new editions. Professor Gjerde did an incredible job establishing the main contours for the first volume and it’s his strong architecture I built upon.
The two new volumes highlight the role of religion and culture in significant, entertaining, and critical ways. Volume 1 (through Reconstruction) now has poems from Anne Bradstreet and court testimony from Tituba; it follows the emergence of American civil religion with patriot songs from the Revolution and odes to Washington; it careens into the antebellum period with new doctrines from the Church the Church of Latter-day Saints and salacious exposés on the Kingdom of Matthias. It has prophetic visions from Native Americans, new biblical interpretations from feminists locating egalitarianism in the Bible, and heavenly images of emancipation. For secondary documents, Volume I now has snippets from David Hall’s Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment on the colonial era and Nell Painter’s Sojourner Truth on antebellum religion and reform, where Truth’s adventures are matched with the analysis of Finneyite revivalism in Paul Johnson’s Shopkeepers’ Millennium.
Volume II amped up its religious coverage as well. Lost Cause ministers lionize the South, Brigham Young battles anti-Mormon ballads, Mark Twain satirizes the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson uses new technology to defend the old-time religion, Father Coughlin denounces FDR, Vance Packard laments the religion of America in the Cold War, and Jerry Fallwell calls for the nation to return to the Bible.