by William Trollinger
We recognize that visitors to this blog will want to know who we are and how we came to the Righting America project. In our next few posts, we introduce ourselves and our work to illustrate much of the work we’ve done over the past four years.
Books do not just appear out of thin air. They take a painstaking amount of effort to research, develop, write, and re-write. And so we’d like to help others understand how we conducted the work behind our book.
Our professional biographies can be found here, but by way of personal introduction, here’s how we each found ourselves immersed in the study of the Creation Museum and fundamentalism.
Righting America at the Creation Museum grows out of my three decades of historical work on fundamentalism, creationism, and the Christian Right.
I received my Ph.D. in U.S. history, with a focus on the early 20th century, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My dissertation project examined the social and political history surrounding the development of midwestern fundamentalism. I expanded that project into my first book, God’s Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (Wisconsin, 1990).
As I detail in God’s Empire, Riley led the 1920s fundamentalist crusade against theological liberalism and against the teaching of evolution in the public schools. He also created a remarkable grassroots fundamentalist enterprise centered around First Baptist Church of Minneapolis and the affiliated Northwestern Bible School. Riley connected his fundamentalist theology to a far right politics infused with a vicious anti-Semitism that brought him to the attention of the FBI in the years just before World War II.
When I first presented a conference paper on Riley’s politics and anti-Semitism, the commentator (a friend and a very well-regarded historian of fundamentalism) remarked that I had overstated the importance of all this for Riley and moreover, Riley’s bigoted right-wing political commitments did not characterize fundamentalism in general.
But in the decades since that presentation, it has become increasingly clear to me that one cannot understand fundamentalism without understanding its deep connection to ultra-conservative politics and economics.
In short, my previous work on the history of fundamentalism and creationism, and my strong conviction that politics is central to this history, prepared me well for Righting America at the Creation Museum. That, and a terrific co-author whose own academic preparation and experience allowed her to see what I could not have seen!