Saturday, December 31, 2016

Recapping 2016: Things I Wrote, Read, and Listened To

I love to make end-of-the-year lists of my favorite books and music. Back when I was a high school teacher, I usually had time in late December to compile them and write up a short synopsis. Now that I'm working on my PhD, however, time is limited. I'm able to make the lists, but I don't quite have the time to provide any commentary. With that in mind, I bring you these old tweets to represent the 2016 version of my end-of-the-year book and music lists.

Although there were plenty of other very good books that I read in 2016, at the time of that tweet I felt comfortable with those six standing as my favorites. In the time since December 11, however, I've read another book that I would add to the list: Andrea Turpin's A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837-1917 (Cornell University Press). Perhaps I'm a bit biased -- Turpin is one of my professors at Baylor, and she will be serving on my dissertation committee -- but I think that the book deserves to get a good bit of scholarly buzz among historians in 2017 (it always takes academics a year or two to get caught up on new books, so maybe 2018 is the year of the buzz).

This list still holds up. Margo Price's album Midwest Farmer's Daughter is the only addition I would make.

Along with recapping music and book consumption, for the past couple years I've taken some time to summarize my writing output at the end of each year. Here's the list of my written work in 2016. I expect/hope that 2017 will have far fewer entries, but a far more important one: a completed (or nearly completed) dissertation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On the Omahawks, Omaha's First Big-League Basketball Team

In the next issue of Nebraska History I have an article that details the brief history of the Omahawks, a professional basketball team that existed for a few weeks in 1947. Although mostly forgotten by Omaha residents today, it was Omaha's first major professional sports franchise.

I sent an advance copy of the piece to one of my favorite sports writers, Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald. After he expressed interest in the topic, I wrote a short summary piece about the Omahawks that Chatelain published at his Mad Chatter blog last week. You can check out the blog here.  After the piece ran, I was contacted by The Bottom Line, a sports and news talk show hosted by Mike'l Severe for the Omaha World-Herald. Back when I lived in Omaha, Severe and Kevin Kugler co-hosted a radio show called Unsportsmanlike Conduct. I have yet to find a sports talk show that I enjoy more than Unsportsmanlike Conduct (in fact, I've pretty much given up on trying). So it was a thrill to talk about the Omahawks with Severe.

If you'd like to check out my interview on The Bottom Line, you can go here. Below, you can also read my short piece on the Omahawks that originally ran at the Mad Chatter blog. And for even more on the Omahawks, check out the next issue of Nebraska History.

Omaha World-Herald, Nov. 12, 1947

Friday, July 22, 2016

Writing Roundup: Religion and Sports

I finally settled on my dissertation topic a little less than a year ago: a cultural history of the "Christian athlete" in the modern U.S., with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as the main focus. Since most of my research and reading these days is related to my dissertation, my online writing has followed suit. If you would like to check out some of those pieces, I've listed them below. I plan to keep this page updated if/when I write anything new related to the sports and religion theme (usually the "religion" that I write about is Christianity, but not always).

Monday, February 1, 2016

African Americans and Omaha: A Reading List

Recently I reviewed Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson's Free Radical: Ernest Chambers, Black Power, and the Politics of Race (Texas Tech University Press, 2012), for an academic journal. Although I made a few critiques, I think that Johnson's biography of Chambers is incredibly important. Because Chambers has toiled in Nebraska his entire life, serving since 1970 (with one brief hiatus) as the legislative representative for Nebraska eleventh district, he has not received as much attention on the national level as his talent, charisma, and penchant for controversy deserves. Love him or hate him, Chambers is one of the most fascinating political leaders in Nebraska history. Johnson's biography should be read by anyone interested in the history of the U.S. black freedom struggle or in Midwest, Nebraska, or Omaha history (for more on Chambers, I've written briefly on him elsewhere, focusing on his starring role in the acclaimed documentary A Time for Burning).

In national histories of the long civil rights movement, Omaha often gets mentioned for two things: it was the birthplace of Malcolm X, whose parents served as leaders of Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association in the city during the 1920s, and it was the scene of the horrific riots and mob murder in 1919 of Will Brown, whose assailants posed smiling for the camera as his body burned.

But thanks to Johnson's biography of Chambers, and also to a recent influx of books documenting Omaha's rich history of African American leadership and civil rights protest, readers can now get a much better sense of the struggle and vitality of African American life in Omaha. I've listed three recently-published books that would make great companions to Free Radical below. All of these books tend towards an emphasis on the heroic. That is, while they do not ignore the segregation, mob violence, and police brutality inflicted upon Omaha's African American residents over the past century, they tend to highlight more the resilience of those fighting for justice. I can only hope that over the next few years we'll see even more work of this quality on the history of African American life in Omaha.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Things I Wrote in 2015

In the past year I devoted most of my time to finishing up my PhD coursework and studying for my comprehensive exams (ok, ok, and also to reorganizing my fantasy basketball league into an auction draft format). I also wrote a few things for various online and offline outlets. Continuing with the practice I started last year, here is a brief summary of my non-coursework public writing for the year, organized thematically.

I published one peer-reviewed article in 2015: "From the Pulpit to the Press: Frank Crane’s Omaha, 1892-1896." The article appeared in Nebraska History. You can read an excerpt here or read about the inspiration for the article here at the blog. One unintended consequence of my research: I discovered that a few of Flannery O'Connor's biographers have misidentified her "favorite Protestant theologian."

My favorite piece I wrote in 2015 was published by Religion & Politics as part of their "States of the Union" project. Here's how Religion & Politics explains the project: "We gathered writers from around the country to tell us about where they discovered religion and politics in their states. Both part of a union and cultures unto their own, these states reveal stories of people, places and histories of the American experience." My contribution to the series was titled "Nebraska: A Cornhusker Prays with FCA." Basically, I got to combine all of my favorite things in writing the article: Nebraska, sports, religion. The process of researching and writing that article also played an important role in my decision to change my dissertation topic (but more on that another time, perhaps).

My favorite blog post from 2015: The Rest of Tom Osborne's "Currens Story." For those who don't know, Tom Osborne was Nebraska's legendary head football coach from the 1970s through most of the 1990s. Sometime in the fall, I was taking a break from my prelim reading by doing a bit of dissertation research. As it so happens, my dissertation research involves (among other things) reading about Tom Osborne. While reading, I came across Osborne's familiar story about how a man he identifies as "Rev. Currens" played an inspirational role in his grandfather's life. I decided to do some armchair research to see what I could find out about this Rev. Currens character, and a few hours later I had a Notepad document full of notes and a blog post set to publish. As an added bonus, when I went back home to Nebraska for the holidays, my wife's grandmother told me that she usually doesn't read most of the things I write, but she actually read and enjoyed the Currens post.

Sometimes I get the urge to do completely unnecessary and methodologically amateurish research. My post on Comparing the Religious Affiliation of Omaha's Elites with Omaha's Population, 1910 was one such example. The title of the blog post basically sums up what I was trying to do. It also features a bar graph, if you're into that sort of thing.