Dr. Christine Arnold-Lourie
LA PLATA, Md. – Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday when Americans celebrate community, whether by hosting gatherings with family and friends or reflecting on the Pilgrims and indigenous peoples who came together to share a meal 400 years ago. So, it makes sense that it’s a rich research area for CSM Professor of History and Humanities and Social Sciences Department Chair Dr. Christine Arnold-Lourie, who sees herself as a historian of how communities develop, define themselves, and change over time.
“I care about telling a truer, more accurate version of history,” she recently shared. “I look at groups that are excluded and tell their story.”
That kind of storytelling is exactly what Arnold-Lourie does in a new article published in The Review of Faith and International Affairs, where she explores how Americans have long used the Pilgrims’ story to determine who belongs in our country.
“The question I always ask is, ‘who owns this narrative, the American narrative?’” Arnold-Lourie explained. “Who gets to call the Pilgrims their spiritual ancestors?”
The current issue of the journal includes a special symposium marking the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving. This symposium explores “Who ‘Belongs’ at Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Table? Reflections on American History, Identity, and Immigration” and features scholars from institutions across the globe – including CSM’s Arnold-Lourie and contributors from the University of Notre Dame and Harvard Divinity School – discussing topics such as American’s historical memory, migration in American history, and how the first Thanksgiving has been retold in presidential proclamations.
Arnold-Lourie’s article, entitled “‘Inharmonious Elements’ and ‘Racial Homogeneity’: New England Exceptionalism and Immigration Restriction,” looks at how the stories of the Pilgrims and Puritans became the quintessential American story, leading to immigration restrictions that targeted those seen as outsiders.
“New England Protestants were trying to protect their cultural heritage from the people coming in, bringing cultural and religious traditions that they rejected,” she said. “But the idea that America is traditionally white and Anglo-Saxon is preposterous. We always were a diverse people.”
The article grew from a 2015 piece she published in the Massachusetts Historical Review, which traced the first 300 years of the Pilgrims’ legacy, from 1620-1920. That article prompted fan mail for Arnold-Lourie, and more importantly, an invitation to look at the next several decades for this symposium.
That invitation came last May, during a tumultuous time. The pandemic was just beginning — “Pandemic research is a whole different thing,” Arnold-Lourie noted — and she was reimagining courses for online teaching. She was also named CSM’s Humanities and Social Sciences Department Chair in August 2020.
“CSM is lucky to have such a dedicated Americanist and professor of History as a leader on our campus,” said CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy. “Her inclusion in the seminar is a well-deserved recognition of her fascinating work, which gives us new perspectives on history.”
The theme of questioning established narratives comes up often in courses she has developed for CSM, such as “Women in America” and “History of Race and Racism,” where she helps students build connections between the people and issues of the past and their present lives.
“I want students to ask more complicated questions, and I want to empower them to write themselves into America’s story,” she said.
Arnold-Lourie will continue to write the story of America’s communities this month, as she expands on her article in an essay for the Thanksgiving edition of the Berkely Forum, an online platform for public scholarship curated by The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University.
For more information on the seminar visit: https://globalengage.org/publications/faith-international-affairs/symposium-who-belongs-at-uncle-sams-thanksgiving-table-reflections-on-american-history-identity-and-immigration.