The Event that Never Was and the Invention of Tradition
Host Jana Byars talks with Jesse Spohnholz, professor of history and director of The Roots of Contemporary Issues World History Program at Washington State University in beautiful Pullman, Washington, to talk about his penultimate book, The Convent of Wesel: The Event That Never Was and the Invention of Tradition first published in 2017 by Cambridge University Press and out 2020 in paperback.
The Convent of Wesel was long believed to be a clandestine assembly of Protestant leaders in 1568 that helped establish foundations for Reformed churches in the Dutch Republic and northwest Germany. However, Jesse Spohnholz shows that that event did not happen, but was an idea created and perpetuated by historians and record keepers since the 1600s. Appropriately, this book offers not just a fascinating snapshot of Reformation history but a reflection on the nature of historical inquiry itself. The Convent of Wesel begins with a detailed microhistory that unravels the mystery and then traces knowledge about the document at the centre of the mystery over four and a half centuries, through historical writing, archiving and centenary commemorations. Spohnholz reveals how historians can inadvertently align themselves with protagonists in the debates they study and thus replicate errors that conceal the dynamic complexity of the past.
The conversation covers the book, of course, with a good discussion about how history is done.
Last spring, WORT Radio talked with WSU historian Matthew Sutton on the show about the apocalyptic politics of the American evangelical right.
Today, we’ve invited him back to discuss his latest article in the New Republic, “The Capitol Riot Revealed the Darkest Nightmares of White Evangelical America” and do a deep dive into the recent history of white evangelicalism and its host of seeming contradictions, how “evangelical” has evolved to be more of a political identity than a religious one, and what we might see from this group in the future now that Trump is out of office.
Matthew A. Sutton is a history professor at Washington State University, where he teaches courses in 20th century United States history, cultural history, and religious history. He is the author of several books, including American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press, 2014) and, most recently, Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War (Basic Books, 2019).
Washington State University Tri‑Cities will host a free seminar discussion on exclusion and segregation in the mid-Columbia region on Tuesday, Jan. 26, as part of the WSU Common Reading Program.
This event, which takes place from 4–5:30 p.m. online, coincides with the launch of the third book in the “Hanford Histories” series that documents historical accounts and realities of the Hanford Site and surrounding regional area.
Both the book and event parallel themes in this year’s WSU Common Reading book, “Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah, who lived in racially-segregated areas in South Africa.
“As part of the Common Reading program, WSU freshmen read an assigned book that introduces students to the value of research, power of ideas and interconnected ways in which disciplines across WSU approach similar issues,” said Tracey Hanshew, WSU Tri‑Cities history faculty member and coordinator for the event. “Because these conditions and societal views mirror local mid-Columbia history, the seminar contributes to the student experience by highlighting the common community value of the Common Reading program.”
During the event, WSU Tri‑Cities history faculty Robert Bauman and Robert Franklin will specifically discuss racial segregation and resistance to discrimination in the mid-Columbia region.
How 150 years of apocalyptic agitation culminated in an insurrection
By Matthew Avery Sutton, WSU professor of history
White evangelicals believe they see truths that you and I cannot.
While Americans around the country watched an inflamed mob overrun the Capitol on January 6, the evangelical participants in that mob saw something else: a holy war. Insurgents carried signs that read “Jesus Saves,” “In God We Trust,” “Jesus 2020,” and “Jesus Is My Savior, Trump Is My President.” One man marched through the halls of Congress carrying a Christian flag, another a Bible. They chanted, “The blood of Jesus covering this place.”
As law enforcement authorities and media outlets track down and identify these insurrectionists, we are beginning to understand who they are and what they wanted. Amid the QAnon adherents, antisemites, neo-Confederates, and revolutionary cosplayers were the evangelical faithful: those who see themselves as the vanguard of God’s end-times army. Their exultant participation in the riot represented some of the most extreme political action that any group of evangelicals has taken in recent history.
These Christians apparently believe that they had no choice but to try to overthrow the Congress. For months, various evangelicals have claimed in sermons, on social media, and during protests that malicious forces stole the election, conspired to quash Christian liberties, and aimed to clamp down on their freedom to worship and spread the Christian gospel. They felt sure that the final days of history were at hand and that the Capitol was the site of an epochal battle. As one evangelical from Texas toldThe New York Times, “We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light.”
Much has been made about the evangelical community’s relationship to Donald Trump.
By Lawrence Hatter, WSU associate professor of history
Americans are struggling to make sense of the chaotic scenes of armed insurrectionists rampaging through the halls of the Capitol on Wednesday. In such moments of crisis, it is only natural that we look to what we know. For some historians and pundits, that meant the parallels to the attempt by British forces to burn the building on Aug. 24, 1814.
Understanding both the similarities and differences between the two sieges is critical to properly safeguarding this citadel of democracy — and democracy itself — moving forward.
While security in the Capitol undoubtedly will be tightened and reinforced, truly protecting the building and its symbolism in our democracy requires addressing the root causes of the assault. That means holding leaders accountable for encouraging the insurrectionary attempt by deliberately lying to their followers about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Only buttressing security at the Capitol would represent a failure to recall that while the similarities to historical events are important, so too are the differences. It would leave the building — and our democracy — exposed to further assault.