projects&presentations

Alternative Approaches to Studying "Radical" Religious Traditions

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Presentation: Beloit College Spring Symposium 2014

Date: April 2014

Abstract: What does it mean to be “radical?” To someone reading about eighteenth century Moravian Christians, they might seem significantly different from the assumed Christian norm. Over two-hundred years ago, Moravian Christians promoted race and gender equality, along with seemingly “progressive” ideas about the place of sexuality in personal relationships, social communities, and theology. Scholars disagree as to whether Moravian Christianity is a “radical” form of Christianity, or whether it is actually closer to supposedly “mainstream” historical manifestations of Christianity. But more is at stake in the label than simply historical accuracy. If we stop characterizing their theology as “radical,” do the eighteenth century Moravians lose their relevance to modern society? Or, does portraying Moravian theology as a “radical” interpretation of Christian doctrine delegitimize the tradition, both in the eighteenth century and today?Through an analysis of scholarship on Moravian Christian communities, I will show how labeling a religious group as “radical” profoundly changes our understanding of it. I suggest that scholarship would benefit from an alternative approach to discussing religious communities that fail to conform to normative views of a tradition. While recognizing the ways in which the “radical” label can portray a tradition in both positive and negative ways, this approach asks of scholars not only to acknowledge their own motivations and normative positions in studying such groups, but also to recognize how their characterization of a religious community influences how others understand it, and whether they accept it as legitimate.

Historical Consulting for Private Organizations

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Presentation: SHUR Conference

Date: May 2014

Abstract: The opportunity to pursue consulting work in Public History as an undergraduate has convinced me of the profound value of research in the humanities—not only for our understanding of other places and times, but also for our understanding of ourselves as academics, community members, and individuals. As a student of the humanities, I wanted to explore this connection further in my own studies. Through academic research centered on the Beloit, a small, post-industrial town in rust-best Wisconsin, community, I found myself working on two different projects with private organizations. In the first project, I was an archivist for the First Congregational Church of Beloit, Wisconsin for nine months to establish a working archive and database for the church. The second consulting project was as the Historical Intern for Studio Gang Architects. In this position, I was hired to perform historical research on a building to inform the designs that the architecture firm is developing. Drawing on these two experiences in consulting, I will discuss the challenges and opportunities of historical consulting work. In particular, issues with authority, differing expectations, and issues of product versus process. In conclusion, I will show how show consulting as a historian is an important practice for historians as a way to better understand their own research as well as for broadening public awareness of history.

Power and History: Industrial History in Beloit, Wisconsin

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Presentation: Beloit College Spring Symposium 2014

Date: April 2014

Abstract: From its earliest days, Beloit relied on industry as well as agriculture for its economic development. My research focuses on the Powerhouse as a focal point of the history of the community’s development. From 1844 through the late twentieth century, local people’s lives changed by increased access to electrical power in Beloit and the Powerhouse facility played an integral role in this process. Using historical documents, I examine the development of industry in the city, particularly the downtown area and the connecting areas along the Rock River that figure centrally in Beloit. The river itself supported the development of transportation and power generation in Beloit, which allowed for the industry that settled along the river to shape and support the growth of the Beloit community. I will then focus on the Powerhouse facility itself and the ways it changed over time. The Powerhouse, while providing power to Beloit and surrounding areas, also became the focus of industrial tourism that was popular in the early to mid-20th century. It also displays how concepts of safety in industry changed and were shaped by the needs of the community and this tourism. I will also address the ways in which the presence of industry shaped the population diversity in the city, and how that has changed since Beloit was founded in 1836. Finally, I plan to focus on how power and utilities united the community and fostered rural electrification in Beloit in the early 20th century. Industry provided the basis for the rich and diverse culture of Beloit. Analyzing symbolic landscapes, like the Powerhouse site, can shape our understanding of history.