Top Young Historians: 122 – Katherine Carté Engel

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

122: Katherine Carté Engel, 3-28-11

BASIC FACTS

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University, 2004 – Present
Area of Research: Early American Religious History, German Immigration, Transatlantic Pietism, Backcountry
Education: Ph.D., American History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2003
Major Publications: Carté Engel is the author of Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), the 2010 Dale W. Brown Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, awarded by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Katherine Carté Engel JPG
Carté Engel is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:
“Religion and the Economy: New Methods for an Old Problem,” Early American Studies 8(3), Fall 2010, 482-514;
“The Evolution of the Bethlehem Pilgergemeine,” in Jonathan Strom and James Melton, eds., Pietism in Two Worlds (New York: Ashgate, 2009), 163-181; With Jeffrey A. Engel, “On Writing the Local within Diplomatic History: Trends, Historiography, Purpose,” in Jeffrey A. Engel, ed. Lives and Consequences: the Local Impact of the Cold War (Palo Alto and Washington, DC: Stanford University Press and Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2007) 1-32; “‘Commerce that the Lord Could Sanctify and Bless’: Moravian Participation in Transatlantic Trade, 1740-1760” in Michele Gillespie and Robert Beachy, eds., Pious Pursuits: German Moravians in the Atlantic World (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007), 113-126; “Bridging the Gap: Religious Community and Declension in Eighteenth-century Bethlehem, Pennsylvania,” 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, 11 (2005), 407-442; “The Strangers’ Store: Moral Capitalism in Moravian Bethlehem, 1753-1775,” Early American Studies 1(1), January 2003, 90-126, Winner First Place, Colonial Society of Pennsylvania Article Prize, 2003.
Awards: Carté Engel is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
2010 Dale W. Brown Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, awarded by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies;
ACLS Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship, 2009-2010 Competition Year;
SHEAR Research Fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia-Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 2010;
American Philosophical Society, Franklin Research Grant, 2009;
Pew Young Scholars in American Religion, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, 2007-2009;
McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Barra Postdoctoral Fellow, 2004-2005;
First Place, Colonial Society of Pennsylvania Article Prize, 2003;
Yale University, Center for Religion in American Life Dissertation Fellow, 2002-2003;
Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) Research Fellow, 2001;
Program in Early American Economy and Society-Library Company of Philadelphia Dissertation Fellow, 2000-2001;
DAAD Sprachkursstipendium, Goethe Institute, Iserlohn, Germany, 1999.
Additional Info:
Formerly Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, Camden Campus, 2003-2004.

PERSONAL ANECDOTE

When I talk about my first project, Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America, I am often asked if I’m a Moravian. For me this moment always crystallizes the challenges of using a case study to prove a broader point. Despite the denomination’s pivotal importance to the rise of evangelicalism in the eighteenth century, its relatively small size today has meant that most people assume only an insider would choose to devote so much time to its history. I’m not a Moravian; I came to the study Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s early history as a graduate student interested in the social history of religion in the diverse middle colonies, in how religion interwove with and was shaped by the market economy, in transatlantic religious community. To look at these big issues in the close way I wanted to, I needed examine a single cohesive community, and the Moravians fit the bill.

My first trip to the Moravian Church Archives in Bethlehem came in 1996, when I started working my dissertation proposal. The archivist at the time, Rev. Vernon Nelson, was cautiously welcoming. He inquired if I spoke German. I didn’t. He steered me towards some account books which had been kept in English, and he probably expected I’d never be back. A few weeks later I defended my dissertation proposal. One of the committee members asked if I spoke German, and I glibly responded that I would learn it. That glibness evaporated when I had to get down to work, however. I relocated to Germany and, when I came back, I got a little apartment in Bethlehem, just in time to take the old German Script course offered annually by the Moravian Archives. Then I became a fixture in the archives, working at what seemed to me to be a snail’s pace through a mountain of eighteenth-century documents.

At first this seemed profoundly isolating. I was hundreds of miles from my grad program, and I knew no one well. But here I found the unexpected benefits of doing a close study. The archives supported its own particular community. A grandmotherly office manager. Two Moravian ministers with children older than me. A septuagenarian philanthropist with boundless passion for the maps of eighteenth-century Bethlehem. A former Catholic priest who fled the Nazis in his native Germany. In a fit of silliness, I dyed my hair red to see if anyone would comment. No. As soon as I let them, however, I was taken in by this warm, caring, and intellectually lively community of folks whose love for Bethlehem’s past was a graduate student’s dream. Life improved again when another woman started a major research project, and she brought boundless good humor to the mix.

Any historian who’s encountered the Moravians knows that they kept unparalleled records, filled with the tiny details a social historian loves, yet always with an eye to the wider world. You can ask nearly any question of these sources, big or small, and find some version of an answer. Just as important for me, however, was the help I received from their modern custodians. They never appeared to tire of my tiny finds. They let me spread enormous account books across long rows of tables, and then leave them there for weeks. They spent hours tracking down random bits of evidence I might want to see. They helped me sort out cramped and difficult handwriting. They brought me along for lunch at the local diner, which, since I’m disinclined to spend more than a nanosecond in the kitchen, kept me from giving all my money to the local convenience store. Most important, they were deeply supportive of scholarship. They never attempted to influence how I or any other visitor interpreted the materials in the archives. Much has changed at the Moravian archives since I did the bulk of my research – new leadership and exciting new projects-but the Moravian historical community’s most important gift to scholars has not changed. It continues to be a place that supports intellectual exploration of all kinds.

I’m now working on a very different project, a study of how the American Revolution changed the idea and the practice of international Protestantism. It requires work in more than a dozen different archives, using a wide variety of sources. While I came to this project in much the same way as I did my work on the Moravians, and I find this set of questions about religion and politics as compelling as I did the last set about religion and the economy, I will miss the chance to get to know a single community so closely.

QUOTES

By Katherine Carté Engel

  • The relationship between religion and economic life is one of the thorniest and most intractable topics people have found to argue about. It has provoked some of the most enduring historical scholarship of the modern era and simultaneously fueled some of the noblest jeremiads. At the crux of the dilemma is an elusive problem. Religion and the selflessness of true faith (particularly though by no means exclusively in a Christian context) appear to be in eternal conflict with the process of material accumulation that drives a market economy. And yet, though the conflict between religious faith and economic life seems inevitable, numerous exceptions leap to mind, where devout souls prospered, or wealth seemed to further religious ends. …. In daily life, the moments where religion was brought to bear on the economy were small, subtle, and frequent. Should a merchant take advantage of an ignorant buyer, or would the application of his business savvy violate his faith? Should a church’s trustees use an innovative and complicated means of finance, such as a corporate structure? Should a missionary sell goods to prospective converts, potentially mingling commerce with the message he or she tried to convey? These were the nitty-gritty questions about the morality of economic life faced by religiously minded early Americans, and when they arose the idea of a grand historical conflict between religion and the market offered little clarity. Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America JPGThe Moravians’ experience points to the fundamental problem created by examining the question of religion and economic life in isolation from the rest of life, be it politics, immigration, race, gender, war, or (literally) the price of tea in China. When mundane transactions are the terrain under examination, the scholars’ lens is focused in very tightly. Yet such an approach also places the story on a much wider stage, for those transactions were part of an economy and political system that circled the Atlantic, encompassing four continents and many peoples. Bethlehem declined, but the insidious rise of acquisitiveness within the hearts of its residents was not to blame. For the Moravians, the pivot point came from another quarter entirely. The community’s ties to a church hierarchy in Germany connected it to events and developments in far distant quarters. The Unity’s circum-Atlantic presence created opportunities for it, such as the Commercial Society, that drew on the Caribbean and South American plantation economies. Likewise, the multiple pressures of the Seven Years’ War, financial and, closer to Bethlehem, racial, sharply curtailed the Moravians’ religious choices. The result was ineluctable: a renegotiation of the role of religion in Bethlehem’s economy. The individualized economic ethic that characterized Bethlehem’s religious life in the last quarter of the eighteenth century was fully Moravian, but it was fundamentally different from what came before. — Katherine Carté Engel in “Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America”

About Katherine Carté Engel

  • “The argument Engel makes is sophisticated, detailed and original…..She draws on an impressive range of primary and secondary sources and organizes the argument in a compelling way, in clear prose. In terms of the quality and originality of scholarship, this volume clearly stands [out].” — Dale W. Brown Book Prize in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies Award Committee
  • The book award judges selected Religion and Profit from a pool of 28 books nominated for the award this year. One judge notes that Engel’s book is “engaging and well-written at the same time that it is well-researched and makes excellent use of primary sources,” and that it “links the focus group (Moravians in Bethlehem, Pa., in the eighteenth century) with broader scholarship, challenging major historical/sociological assumptions about the relationship between religious belief and economics.” Another says that “the argument Engel makes is sophisticated, detailed and original….She draws on an impressive range of primary and secondary sources and organizes the argument in a compelling way, in clear prose. In terms of the quality and originality of scholarship, this volume clearly stands [out].” — “Katherine Carté Engel receives 2010 Brown Book Award”
  • This well-researched and carefully organized study traces the history of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, from its founding in 1741 as an outpost of the international Moravian movement through the tumultuous events of the Seven Years’ and Revolutionary Wars into the much altered circumstances of the early-nineteenth century. Its focus is the interconnection of religious and economic spheres that made the Moravians’ New-World experience so unusual in its own time and so intriguing for later historians. …. With her extensive use of German as well as English sources, her close attention to local events and world developments, the book is a noteworthy example of Atlantic history at its best. — Mark A. Noll, Catholic Historical Review
  • There is a lot going on in Katherine Carté Engel’s Religion and Profit. At its center, the book explores the intersections of religious ideals and economic activity over the course of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s journey from a communal to an individual economy. Along the way, Engel discusses the relationship between this Moravian community and the Indian missions it was founded to support, the critical role played by the Moravian Brethren’s transatlantic trade ties, and the impact of the Seven Years War; she also takes on earlier analyses of religion and economics-specifically Perry Miller’s declension model. This makes for a wide-ranging and fascinating book. — Elizabeth W. Sommer, Journal of American History
  • Engel has successfully marshaled complex sources for an excellent, textured, and nuanced tale awash in the tides of war, racial tension, and internal religious differences to examine the dynamic interplay of religion and profit among Moravians in the Atlantic world. — Jeff Bach, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
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