Congratulations to Bethel History/Social Studies alum Ben Wright (’05), a graduate student in history at Rice University, whose new book, Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era, is now available from LSU Press! (We previewed it back in April.) Co-edited with Zachary Dresser, the collection’s essays
highlight the diverse ways in which beliefs about the end times influenced nineteenth-century American lives, including reform culture, the search for meaning amid the trials of war, and the social transformation wrought by emancipation. Millennial zeal infused the labor of reformers and explained their successes and failures as progress toward an imminent Kingdom of God. Men and women in the North and South looked to Providence to explain the causes and consequences of both victory and defeat, and Americans, black and white, experienced the shock waves of emancipation as either a long-prophesied jubilee or a vengeful punishment. Religion fostered division as well as union, the essays suggest, but while the nation tore itself apart and tentatively stitched itself back together, Americans continued looking to divine intervention to make meaning of the national apocalypse.
Ben is also a regular contributor to the excellent group blog, Teaching United States History, where he writes about, well, exactly what the title would suggest. For example, his Sept. 12 post explained the importance of starting and ending each lecture with an identical set of “three to five big interpretive questions”:
Now this may seem tedious, and it does require discipline to leave the last five or ten minutes free, but the students love it. In fact, it’s frequently the most cited evidence for the comment that my lectures are clear and well organized. Those comments have little to do with my actual lecturing style. I’m neurotic, I talk too fast, my brain bounces all over the place, and I often can’t resist running down long tangents. But beginning and ending lectures with discussion questions brings order out of my chaos and reinforces the key themes of each class.