This spring I’ll be teaching two new courses. This first is a graduate course on “Religion and Capitalism in the United States.” The new history of capitalism is bringing tremendous energy to American history generally, and historians of American religions have been producing lots of great books on the connection between religion and capitalism recently. Here is my first take at a course description:
Religion and Capitalism in the US
It seems obvious that there is some relationship between religion and capitalism, but what is that relationship? Historians of the United States have tried to answer this question in many ways; even more, it was a problem that perplexed the people whom historians study. In this class, you will meet many people whose religion led them to interact with capitalism in incredibly diverse ways. You will meet the Puritans whose work ethic supposedly created capitalism, but who insisted on resting on the Sabbath; Moravian missionaries who made converts and money; slaves, slaveowners, and abolitionists who all claimed the Bible when reckoning with the capitalist system of slavery; a Protestant writer who insisted that Jesus was a businessman, and Catholics who believed Jesus called them to a kind of socialism; Jews who mass-manufactured matzah and who were prosecuted for breaking Sunday “blue laws”; an industrialist who wrote The Gospel of Wealth, and laborers who created churches for the working class; nineteenth-century consumers who turned gift-giving into a ritual, and a twenty-first-century television personality who turned consumption into therapy; converts who thought religion required poverty, and Prosperity Gospelers who thought it promised wealth. You will read primary sources from American history, secondary works in both religious history and the new history of capitalism, and excerpts from theorists of religion and capitalism. Through these readings and your own research project, you are invited make sense of this perpetual historical puzzle.
The second class is called “The Digital Past.” It is a course taught by many people in my department. The class is both a history class, focusing on digital history methods, and a course which meets the university’s IT requirement. Here is the course description for my version of the class (heavily indebted to both Sharon Leon’s version and Stephen Robertson’s):
The Digital Past
In this class, you will to learn to do history using digital tools. The course—which satisfies the university’s IT requirement—teaches the fundamentals of information technology by applying them to a practical problem in history. Throughout the semester, you will work individually and with classmates on a research project about American religious history. You will learn how to do research online, but also how to put those sources in the context of other scholarly work. You will gather data, learn how to question it, analyze it, summarize it, and interpret it. You will create visualizations of datasets, especially maps. But you will also learn how to integrate data with narratives from individual lives. You will learn how to present visual and textual sources online in web exhibits, and you will learn how to write and publish effectively online. Through learning by doing, you will gain many digital skills which are broadly applicable; even more important, you will learn how to use these skills to create arguments and stories. This combination will be useful to you throughout your university career and in your professional life.