Web Reviews

Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture,

By June 3, 2013

For those of you not familiar with it, the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture, headquartered at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), is a leading “research and public outreach institute that supports the ongoing scholarly discussion of the nature, terms, and dynamics of religion in America.” Among others things, they sponsor and host academic conferences, publish the bianual Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, and host a seminar for Young Scholars in American Religion (whose roster of mentors and seminarians reads like a who’s who of the best and brightest in the field).  

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The Beginning of Better Days

By March 18, 2013

First I must say this: Hooray! The publication of the Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes has been a long time coming—one hundred and seventy one years, to be exact. The Beginning of Better Days: Divine Instruction to Women from the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Sheri Dew and Virginia H. Pearce, presents powerful words and meaningful experiences, both with the Nauvoo Relief Society and with its interpretation.

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Never an Atlas so Handsome

By February 6, 2013

First, a confession: I’m a stats dropout. It was the one course in college that I dropped. If someone had told me that it was something a historian actually should know, maybe I would have stuck with it (or maybe not). These days, I’m a dolt when it comes to sigma values and such, but I do love a good visualization of statistics. And if digitization and “big data” are the next frontiers in humanities research, then statisticians, especially those who can find compelling ways to visualize data, will find themselves in high demand.

Nowadays, data-crunching needs computers of mind-blogging speed and the results are enlivened with visualizations of breathtaking complexity and beauty (one of my favorites turns the NY subway schedule into a haunting musical map). But in the late 19th century, the U.S. government crunched monumental stacks of data, like those collected in the decennial census, using just paper and pencil, index cards and a whole bunch of person-hours — but nonetheless managed to make some of the most stunning data visualizations ever conceived. The “golden age” just may have been the successive publication of three big statistical atlases using information gathered in the 1870, 1880 and 1890 censuses, replete with gorgeous lithography and chock-full of Progressive social scientific hubris.

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