Archive | March, 2014

Review of Understanding Christianity: A Primer for Both Christians and Non-Believers, By Andy Moye

31 Mar

It’s a tall order to explain in less than 125 pages the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, how those generally accepted by a preponderance of denominations came to be so, and how they manifest themselves today. Yet that is exactly what my friend and colleague Andy Moye has attempted to do in Understanding Christianity: A Primer for Both Christians and Non-Believers. This deceptively slim volume contains some weighty information out of all proportion to its size, and evidences the reflections of a learned man who has spent a lifetime studying history, church history, Christianity, and the faith’s detractors. The book is a well-written and carefully argued theological and intellectual treatise that attempts to put into laymen’s terms some of the most complex philosophical underpinnings of the Christian faith.


While Moye purports his book to be a logical and rational response to reasonable questions nonbelievers might have about Christianity, a strength of the book may actually lie in a decidedly less evangelical measure. Drawing on sources ranging from first century philosophers to modern scholars, the author has outlined and explained in a conversational tone the ecclesiastical arguments that both undergird one of the world’s longest-lived and most influential religions and illuminated the existential philosophy of millions of people past and present. The book indeed is a reference source and primer on its subject, and a fast-moving and engaging one at that.


Commemorating The Creek War and the War of 1812

25 Mar

Last weekend Clay and I had the privilege and honor to participate in a two-day symposium staged by Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, entitled “Toward a Larger Stage: The War of 1812, the Creek War and the Idea of America.” A large audience, refreshingly including as many members of the general public as scholars, attended and heard a range of presentations from speakers addressing numerous aspects of the conflict and its centrality to our nation’s history. It was nice to see, and we were humbled to play a small part.

HOBE sign


There was a time when we might have been disappointed that such a symposium, even as robust as it was, would be a highlight of the national commemoration of a crucial turning point in America’s past. All things are relative though, and we have to say that this is one time when activity actually exceeded expectations. Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is THE premier venue for interpretation of the Creek War, and the staff did an amazing job in making this event happen. After years of extensive speaking on the subject of this era in our nation’s past, we realize that Horseshoe Bend and the war it interprets will never have the visibility of some of our nation’s better-known Civil War or Revolutionary War battlefield parks. But exposure and public interest have come a long way in a short time. Events like the one held this past weekend at Auburn demonstrate a strong interest in the Creek War, and we are hopeful that this curiosity will only continue to grow.

Thanks to the staff of Horseshoe Bend NMP and all involved with the symposium for continuing to be proactive in attempting to keep the events of the Creek War and their importance in our nation’s consciousness. We both rank the opportunity to speak at this event as a career highlight.


A Frightening Thought

21 Mar

One of my favorite parts of working in the profession of history is the opportunity to give presentations to the public. It is quite fulfilling to speak to a group of adults who share my passion and knowledge about a subject. Unfortunately, the only problem is that I have noticed the median age of the groups I address is getting older and older.

I understand that the older generation now has the time and perhaps resources to attend lectures and visit historic sites while younger adults are busy working in their own fields or raising a family. I do know, however, that the current trend in education does not stress history to students. As current students get older, work in various careers, and then retire, they lack a solid foundation of our history and heritage that motivates them to visit historic sites and attend lectures of a historical nature. Those currently fifty years and older were given more instruction in history and now that they have more leisure time, have the opportunity to learn more because that interest and appreciation was taught to them throughout school. Our students today are graduating from school with only the barest amount of knowledge about our past and that is frightening thought.

older audience

So, I wonder who will be visiting historic sites and attending lectures forty years in the future. Not only are students not getting taught anything about the past, but perhaps more importantly, they are not told about its importance. Our heritage and appreciation of what came before us is slowly slipping away.


Review of Ghosts of Grandeur: Georgia’s Lost Antebellum Homes and Plantations, by Michael W. Kitchens. (as published in Fall, 2013 issue of Georgia Historical Quarterly)

3 Mar

Author Michael Kitchens notes in the introduction to Ghosts of Grandeur: Georgia’s Lost Antebellum Homes and Plantations that “across the globe, cultures are known, at least partially, by their architecture,” and in the American South that means “column-bedecked plantation manors” (14). At one time there were an estimated 50,000 plantation houses of the type chronicled in this book scattered across the antebellum South. So ubiquitous were they that they seem to have been almost taken for granted as a seemingly inexhaustible cultural heritage resource. It is alarming, then, to realize just how few actually remain standing and how threatened are those extant. Ghosts of Grandeur attempts to make a timely plea for preservation of these homes via a touching reflection on what has already been lost in the state of Georgia. Part eulogy for these grand homes and part history of a formative era in Georgia’s past, the book provides a unique and contextualized look at the architectural gems that have been swept away by the ravages of time. Kitchens accomplishes all this without the overabundance of dry technical details or the shallow and nostalgic embrace of a bygone era that so often renders books of this ilk mere celebrations of design, divorced from any deeper significance.


Kitchens goes about his work in a rather straightforward manner. He balances architectural style, geographic diversity and historical significance in his presentation, dividing his coverage into seven broad regions of the state, each with an “anchor” city. Each section features a brief summary of the general outlines of its historical development prior to the Civil War. He chronicles dozens of homes that are no longer standing; lost through fire, storms, neglect, or intentional destruction in the name of progress. The homes he details were built between the 1780s and the 1860s, with the bulk of what is documented constructed in the four decades prior to the Civil War.

The book, a thick hardcover with ornate end paper and an attractive dust jacket, is a handsome publication, appropriately classic and sturdy given the subject matter. The haunting images contained in it, whose specter-like qualities inspired the book’s title, are its most striking feature. They are, notes the author, “the last remaining views of irreplaceable homes of historic and architectural importance” (11). While many naturally portray structures long past their prime, a great many are poignant exterior and interior views of lively, lived-in spaces. Ghosts is ultimately a book about people as much as buildings, after all. There is a great deal of interesting genealogy contained in its pages, and a great many stories of the rise and fall of family fortunes that will interest a broad spectrum of readers. To answer pressing questions many will surely have: yes, he does acknowledge role of skilled slaves in the construction of the houses discussed, and yes, he does make it clear antebellum manses were the exception, not the norm, in residential architecture in the South. In essence, the book is on one level a sort of remembrance of some of the effaced ruins of a vanished culture, as the planters who financed these homes and the craftsmen who built them belong wholly to another era. The homes featured once stood as silent testimony to both the highest achievements and most perverse failings of a culture whose contentious imprint remains on the state of Georgia and the South as a whole.

The research evident in the book, which necessitated thousands of miles of travel, is tremendous. While the author professes to not be a professional historian and asks to be excused for taking some accounts of homes’ histories, as gathered in part from a variety of local histories of admitted varying quality, for the most part at face value, the truth is he has done work as thorough as the most highly trained practitioners of the historian’s craft. Kitchens has gathered information on razed landmark homes from dozens of public repositories and private collections across the Southeast, sifted through scores of newspapers, and hundreds of books, journals, National Register of Historic Places submissions, interviews, scrapbooks, and assorted other documentation to salvage forgotten chapters of Georgia history.

We would do well to heed Kitchens’ warning that we are not doing enough to save the increasingly scarce antebellum structures that are left in the state. Even if these mansions and the society that produced them are commonly misunderstood and often simplistically over-romanticized, the book is a reminder of the complexity of this chapter of the past and the power of houses as tangible creations that can help us interpret it. The book is simultaneously a jarring commentary on the fragile nature of historic structures and a bleak assessment of the consequences of our collective disregard of the past. He might not be as eloquent as Shelby Foote in Gone: A Photographic Plea for Preservation, and perhaps a bit less artistic than Mary Carol Miller in Lost Mansions of Mississippi or Marc R. Matrana in Lost Plantations of the South, but Kitchens’ book is solid and compelling. It is the only volume of its type chronicling this aspect of Georgia history on a statewide basis, and a worthwhile contribution to an emerging genre that evaluates what we have lost as a commentary on the present and a guide for future. In the end, that is precisely one measure of the true worth of the study of the history.