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 Introduction In March 2001, a small group of historians of American life gathered at Cornell University to share their thinking on how an experience with Catholicism had affected their approach to history.1 Not all the participants were practicing Catholics, but all who gave papers, whatever their current beliefs, were born into Catholic families and thus had been “touched by Catholicism” in a serious manner. How, we collectively wondered, had that experience influenced our historical work? The origins of this conference lay in the occasional discussions between the two co-organizers, Steve Rosswurm of Lake Forest College and me, that began in the late 1990s. While I worked on an article about Herbert Gutman’s influence on writing the history of American working people (which included a discussion of religion), the biographer in me wondered about how familial values may have framed Gutman’s historical thinking, and that of other historians too. This had interested me for some time and, in the process of work for that article, I came across a pointed comment by John McGreevy that whetted my curiosity again. In the introduction to his first book, Parish Boundaries, McGreevy wrote that the “underlying argument” in discussions of class in contemporary historical writing generally assumed “that consciousness formed as a laborer is more important than consciousness developed in the home.” I remain quite sympathetic to McGreevy’s historiographical point, but it was another inference that touched a more personal vein. How did that “consciousness developed in the home”—varied as it may be—affect those of us who wrote history? That our historical sensibilities did not begin with that first graduate seminar was obvious, but how an experi01 .i-x_1-198_Salv.indd 1 11/3/06 9:54:52 AM ence with faith might have influenced my professional work remained more elusive. Discussions with Steve revealed a common interest, and thus emerged the idea for a conference and, ultimately, this volume.2 The focus on Catholicism was partly personal and partly professional. We were quite aware of other collections that gave historians the opportunity to publicly discuss the origins of their work. Although many of these collections emphasized intellectual influences and historiographical trends, there had been some discussion of religious influences as well.3 Yet Catholicism, we felt, remained less explored, an oddity given the increasing numbers of professional historians from Catholic backgrounds in recent decades. It seemed a theme worth exploring beyond our private interests. From the beginning, our efforts revolved around two central ideas. First, we purposely used the broad phrase “touched by Catholicism” to describe one prerequisite. With this wording, we indicated an interest in a wide variety of experiences, including “cradle-to-grave” Catholics; those raised in that faith who later left (and in some cases even later returned ); and converts to Catholicism (although none of the contributors were, in the final analysis, converts). The second guideline concerned the essays themselves. We were not looking for traditional historiographical pieces, important as their discussions can be; rather, we sought more personal essays and extended an invitation to historians to reflect on some of the deeper influences that framed their professional work. Thus, the prospectus, which was widely distributed over the Internet and by more traditional methods, said, in part, that we “wish to avoid the celebratory as well as the maudlin. We do not envision essays that are primarily expressions of faith (or the lack thereof); nor are we looking for essays that desire to ‘settle scores,’ be they old or new. Rather, we seek essays by historians for whom Catholicism proved to be a formative experience and who are willing to explore in a public fashion this aspect (and perhaps others) of their lives as it has influenced their professional work.” This invitation to move from the professional to the personal, and back again, proved unattractive to some, as they felt their historical work should stand on its own. While this was certainly a reasonable approach, others responded to the invitation with enthusiasm. One consequence of this emphasis on a broad personal dimension was that we made a decision early that we would include only published historians. We did this not to ignore younger scholars; rather, the very nature of the essays—a dialogue between the private and the public, the personal and the professional—required it. In addition, a reader curious about themes raised in a particular essay could then have easy access to  Introduction 01.i-x_1-198_Salv.indd 2 11/3...


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