Writing at the Pietist Schoolman blog, Grace College history professor Jared Burkholder penned an open letter to Tim and David Barton in response to the Bartons’ claim that Christian historians don’t rely on primary sources (see these links for more on the Bartons’ claim). The letter begins:
Dear David (and now Tim) Barton,
Maybe you can clarify something for me. Why do you continue to insist that because you read primary sources you have a unique voice when compared to professional Christian historians like me, who you say fail to make use of original sources?
I am hardly the first to be annoyed by this, but suffice it to say this is utterly incomprehensible to me. Primary sources are to historians what hammers are to carpenters; what keyboards are to composers; what language is to writers. They are the tools of our trade, the most basic implements we learn to use.
Go read the entire letter, it is a hammer. Burkholder concludes:
Whatever the reason, stop lying. Stop using this absurd line that citing primary sources and original documents somehow means you are unique or magically makes you an authority. We all use original documents. It is so routine that it’s difficult to believe this requires being said at all. It is literally what we do for a living.
Jared’s letter is important business. Barton’s work has been used by Eric Metaxas and is reportedly consulted by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Not only is he reaching millions with false stories, he trashes legitimate historical work done by actual historians, including many Christians. His defamation of academic historians has caused widespread confusion (read the comments) about who people can trust to tell them the truth about American history.
Hope you enjoy this 33 Miles song with some acting by some teens who appear to be having a great time.
For a more cerebral Thanksgiving read, check out the series from last year on Thanksgiving from the vantage point of several historian friends. The contributions of my distinguished colleagues John Wilsey, Jared Burkholder, Barry Hankins, Andrew Mitchell, Fred Beuttler, and Gary Scott Smith are well worth revisiting.
Last week, I asked my historian colleagues to opine about what the public should know about Thanksgiving. I am pleased and thankful for the responses I received. The series will run through at least Thanksgiving Day. Today, Jared Burkholder discusses the political aspects of the first thanksgiving.
Jared S. Burkholder is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana. He co-edited The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Anabaptism and Evangelicalism (Wipf and Stock, 2012) and Becoming Grace: Seventy-Five Years on the Landscape of Christian Higher Education in America (BMH Books, 2015).
Its good to remember that the “First Thanksgiving” probably had more to do with politics than fellowship, especially if seen through native eyes. Although we might be tempted to think of New England’s native residents as falling into categories of either “friendly” or “hostile” depending on how they got along with Europeans, Indians were, like most of us, intent on protecting their assets and gaining advantages. Treating foreign peoples, including Europeans, as either friends or foes was based on strategic self-interest.
Constructing their settlement at Patuxet (Plymouth) in 1620, the pilgrims had thrust themselves into the middle of a complex system of tense rivalries and alliances among various Indian nations. The Wampanoag, which had been devastated by sickness as a result of earlier contact with Europeans, likely saw their interaction with the pilgrims as an opportunity to garner allies that could help defend against the neighboring Narragansett, who had escaped the plague of 1616 and were powerful enemies. Even Tisquantum (“Squanto”) was playing politics, as Governor Bradford admitted, likely attempting to leverage relationships for his own purposes. Thus, the first thanksgiving was not so much a Sunday afternoon potluck of food and good feelings, but rather an opportunity for testing boundaries and political posturing.
Want a good read on the political angles of the “First Thanksgiving”? See this engaging Smithsonian article, Native Intelligence.
For all articles in this series, click Thanksgiving 2014.
Grace College history professor Jared Burkholder today published an interview with me on fact checking David Barton’s claims.
Go check it out. Being an historian, Burkholder’s questions were thoughtful and included some analysis of his own. For instance:
Jared: In my mind, Barton’s problem is a methodological one rather than simply getting things wrong. And often the issue is that his faulty approach leads to misguided interpretive conclusions. Simply put, Barton does not engage in the critical study of history. Historians are trained to be critical, which means they must be ruthless questioners and skeptics – especially of themselves. They seek to maintain a certain amount of distance between themselves and the events they narrate so the conclusions are as objective as possible. Historians are expected to make arguments, or course, but one’s judgment is supposed to be free from bias. This is not to say that this is a perfect process; perceptive readers can usually detect at least some bias in all sorts of historical writing. Sometimes we even categorize historians in one school of thought or another based on their bias. But sometimes it becomes apparent that a writer’s presuppositions or a particular political or religious agenda is overtaking the careful process of questioning that makes for solid and useful historical writing. This is certainly the case with Barton. Warren, would you agree? If you could boil it down to a few sentences, what is the crux of the matter regarding Barton’s historical work? In other words, is there a root issue, which in your opinion, leads to “bad history?”
You can read my answer and the rest of our exchange at the Pietist Schoolman.