CHR Book Talk: The Fires of Philadelphia by Zachary Schrag

moderated by Scott Berg

Friday, February 18, 2022 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM EST
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Speaker bios:

Though Scott Berg and Zachary Schrag teach in separate departments of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, they share a love of narrative history. In 2019 they co-taught a course on the topic, which they describe in their essay, Scott W. Berg and Zachary M. Schrag, “It Takes Two: Combining English and History to Team Teach Narrative Writing,” Journal of American History 107, no. 4 (March 2021): 968–73, is the author of three previous books: The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro; Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965-2009; and The Princeton Guide to Historical Research.Berg is the author of Grand Avenues: The Story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C.; 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier’s End; and the forthcoming The Burning of the World: The Great Chicago Fire and the War for a City's Soul.


About The Fires of Philadelphia:

America is in a state of deep unrest, grappling with xenophobia, racial, and ethnic tension a national scale that feels singular to our time.  But it also echoes the earliest anti-immigrant sentiments of the country. In 1844, Philadelphia was set aflame by a group of Protestant ideologues—avowed nativists—who were seeking social and political power rallied by charisma and fear of the immigrant menace.

For these men, it was Irish Catholics they claimed would upend morality and murder their neighbors, steal their jobs, and overturn democracy. The nativists burned Catholic churches, chased and beat people through the streets, and exchanged shots with a militia seeking to reinstate order.

In the aftermath, the public debated both the militia’s use of force and the actions of the mob. Some of the most prominent nativists continued their rise to political power for a time, even reaching Congress, but they did not attempt to stoke mob violence again.

Today, in an America beset by polarization and riven over questions of identity and law enforcement, the 1844 Philadelphia Riots and the circumstances that caused them demand new investigation.

At a time many envision America in flames, The Fires of Philadelphia shows us a city—one that embodies the founding of our country—that descended into open warfare and found its way out again.

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