Wednesday, 25 November 2015 Covers Theology on Tap

Last night, I delivered a talk entitled "Jonathan Edwards and the Power of Print" for the Camp House's lecture series, Theology on Tap. More than 100 people gathered to drink beer and listed to me gab about some of Jonathan Edwards's publications, most notably his Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737), Religious Affections (1746), Misrepresentations Corrected (1752), and Freedom of the Will (1754).

In my talk, I explained that Edwards did not like the way that some of his most popular books were published, beginning with A Faithful Narrative. He complained bitterly about the mistakes on the title page of the first edition at London, which stated that the revival took place at Northampton and the neighboring towns and villages of New Hampshire (instead of Hampshire County, Massachusetts), and some of the editorial work within the book itself. As I explained in my talk, the irony is that had A Faithful Narrative not been published in London (the publishing epicenter of the English-speaking world), Edwards might not have achieved international fame as a revivalist and theologian.

Edwards also did not like the look of his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, published at Boston in 1746. When he completed the manuscript for Freedom of the Will in 1753, he specifically instructed his literary agent Thomas Foxcroft not to have his next book published in the same manner as Religious Affections. Instead, he wanted Freedom of the Will to look like a previous book that he wrote entitled, Misrepresentations Corrected. The irony here is that Religious Affections was in many ways, a better looking book than Misrepresentations Corrected. The book that Edwards did not like, Religious Affections, had been published as a quarto edition on beautiful, white, watermarked paper that had probably come from Spain. By contrast, Misrepresentations Corrected was published in the less-impressive octavo format and on plain paper. Religious Affections was reprinted some ten times, including once in Dutch, during the eighteenth century, while Misrepresentations Corrected was published only once before the nineteenth century. In fact, Misrepresentations Corrected was Edwards's poorest-selling book.

Using several images in my presentation, I explained why Edwards touted the look of Misrepresentations Corrected. The basic reason is that he liked the generous margins and line spacing of this book. By contrast, Religious Affections was cropped very tightly, and had very little marginal space. Knowing that Edwards enjoyed writing in the margins of his books, it is clear why he liked the look of one book over another.

The day before my talk, a reporter from named Matt Pulford contacted me saying that he would like to write a piece on the Theology on Tap lecture series. Matt is a graduate of nearby Berry College. I scheduled a time to talk with him on the phone, and then I answered some questions at the end of my lecture. Matt expressed an interest in writing a synopsis for each of the Theology on Tap talks going forward, beginning with my lecture. Other than a typo in his article about Edwards ministry at "Newhampton," Massachusetts, I was very pleased with his article and the exposure that he provided for the Theology on Tap series. You can read his article here.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Theology on Tap

Who wouldn't want a free drink and the opportunity to hear a stimulating lecture? If you are in the Chattanooga area on Tuesday, November 24 at 7:30pm, consider stopping in at the Camp House for the next Theology on Tap session. I have the privilege of giving this talk. Below is my abstract.

What difference does the printed word make in the dissemination of ideas? How and why were books published during the eighteenth century? In this talk, UC Foundation Associate Professor of Religion Jonathan Yeager will explain how Jonathan Edwards became an international celebrity because of the way that his books were published. Today we know of Edwards as America's greatest theologian and a leading revivalist during his day, but before the publication of his famous account of an awakening in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734-35, he was known only regionally as a New England pastor. With the success of Edwards's Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God at London in 1737, he went on to write other landmark publications, including his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746), The Life of David Brainerd (1749), Freedom of the Will (1754), and Original Sin (1758). How did the way that these books were published influence the reception of his ideas? Were some of his books more popular than others, and why? These and other questions will be answered in Dr. Yeager's interactive presentation on "Jonathan Edwards and the Power of Print," the subject of which forms the basis of his forthcoming book with Oxford University Press.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Christian Road Signs

In my class on "Religion in Southern Culture," we are reading Charles Reagan Wilson's Judgment and Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis. We recently read as a class chapter 5 on "Southern Religion and Visionary Art," which includes a section on Christian iconography and road signs.

There are a lot of good examples on the web of Christian road signs that we looked at as a class. We talked about how effective these signs were, and whether they could be found in urban and rural areas in the South. I wondered, for instance, how frequent one might find Christian signs in a larger southern city like Chattanooga. Yesterday, one day after our class, my wife and I were driving home from eating lunch in Brainerd (a neighborhood in Chattanooga), and I saw the sign from a local burger joint pictured below.

Monday, 2 November 2015

My First Digital Humanities Project

At the annual American Society of Church History meeting at Washington D.C. in January 2014, I presented a paper entitled, "The Role of Samuel Kneeland and Daniel Henchman as Jonathan Edwards's Chief Printer and Publisher in Boston." The chair of the panel that I was on, Catherine Brekus, challenged me to do some extensive work on Jonathan Edwards's subscription lists. I remember my initial feeling of being overwhelmed at the thought of analyzing Edwards's extant subscription lists, each of which contains hundreds of names. I decided to bite the bullet, however, and dive into a detailed analysis of some of Edwards's subscription lists.

One of my intended projects involved creating digitized subscription maps that would show concentrations of subscribers. Early last summer, I approached UTC's GIS manager Andy Carroll with a proposed project to create digital maps of subscription lists that were included in four of Jonathan Edwards's books, Freedom of the Will (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1754), The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1758), A History of the Work of Redemption (New York: Robert Hodge, 1786), and A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (Elizabethtown: Robert Hodge, 1787). We have now completed these maps and are happy to make them available to the public.

This was the process:

Step #1: Plot the subscriptions on Google Maps

This part of the process took a long time. I spent weeks plotting the names of individual American subscribers on Google Maps, and when I wasn't sure where a particular person resided, I used Google Books and other means to try and locate precisely where that individual was living at the time of the publication.

Subscription list for Religious Affections (1787)
This brings me to an important caveat for these maps: I was not able to plot every single subscriber, and I only plotted the names of people living in America (not Britain). Because some names on these subscription lists did not offer their place of residence, and there were a few common names (such as John Smith) that would be impossible to find information about, I did not plot them. The good news, however, is that I was able to plot over 90% of the subscribers using all the available resources that I had at my disposal. Overall, the maps provide an accurate picture of the concentrations of subscribers for each of the four subscription lists. One final note. Andy Carroll and I are still making a few adjustments to some of the plotted points on the websites that we have created. For the most accurate picture, please continue to check our maps for updates.

Step #2: Turn the Google Maps that I created over to Andy Carroll at UTC

At first Andy tried to use a "honeycomb" grid system to convert my Google Maps to digital forms, but we decided to abandon this initial software program. The major problem here is that the software program that he tried using pulled subscribers to the center of the nearest honeycomb, many times skewing the representative numbers for a particular area. One example is Boston. Because Boston was not located in the middle of a grid point, but rather was the site of a convergence of three honeycomb grid borders, the subscribers in the town were pushed out of the center of the town to locations on the outskirts. Another problem emerged when subscription points on coastal towns were pulled to a grid out on the water, making it appear as though subscribers could be found on parts of the Atlantic Ocean!

Ultimately, Andy settled on heat maps to convert the plotted points on my Google Maps. Below are the links for each of the subscription lists. Simply click on one of the titles, and it will take you to a heat map that we created.