RiAH at 10: An Appreciation



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By Chris Cantwell

The thing I remember most about the summer of 2007 was feeling lonely. Having passed my comprehensive exams at Cornell University in upstate New York the prior summer, my partner and I had recently made the decision to relocate to Chicago so I could conduct my dissertation research. It was an exciting move as I had grown up about an hour and a half west of the metropolis and had long been fascinated by its history. But it was also an isolating experience as I didn't really know anyone in the city proper. Research only reinforced this sense isolation. My days became spent holed up in archives or alone at my desk reading, writing, reading, and reading some more. At times my only solace was this new thing called Facebook, which my Cornell colleagues demanded I join so we could keep in touch after we moved. But on the afternoon of July 26, 2007, I received an invitation to join an even larger community of friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers.

The first post as it appears in the
WayBack Machine.
I know the exact date because I checked. That day a member of my dissertation committee, Derek Chang, forwarded me an announcement about this new blog called Religion in American History that had launched only a month earlier. When I clicked on the link I was taken to a post authored by a historian I had not heard of before who was writing about a book by another historian I didn't know. The author, of course, was Paul Harvey, the blog's founder, and the post was about Ed Blum's then new book on the religious history of W. E. B. DuBois. I was immediately struck. Here was a network of scholars whose interests aligned with my own; who engaged in conversations on issues relevant both to academic research an the wider world. Here was a community.

Over the course that summer I followed along as Paul Harvey electronically introduced me to a multitude of historians I had yet to meet. And over the course of the next several years Religion in American History became one of the primary means by which I found a circle of friends and colleagues that continues to inspire and sustain me to this day. RiAH turned ten last month; and ten years ago this month I stumbled across the blog. I can think of no better use of my post for this month than to celebrate the community that RiAH now sustains. From the simple, 154-word post Paul wrote on Ed's new book has grown a vibrant network of researchers, writers, and thinkers that now, as John McGreevy recently wrote, "steers the field." This is absolutely something to marvel at and celebrate.

So happy birthday, Religion in American History. Here's to ten years of community and conversation. And here's to blogmeister Paul Harvey, who saw the need and took the effort to anchor and mediate what we so value.

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