“A Fantastic Affair”: Karl Barth in America, 1962 (a.k.a. “KBUSA” – under advance contract with Fortress Press, ISBN: 978-1-4514-6553-2) provides the first detailed chronicle of Barth’s sole visit to the U.S. in 1962. Barth arrived at a tumultuous moment in American history and found himself embroiled in some of the nation’s fiercest conflicts: touring prisons and inner city neighborhoods and meeting with communist groups, State and Defense Department staff, civil rights activists, business leaders, and White House officials – just to name a few. The book, therefore, will not only shed light on Barth’s later life and work, but also provide a snapshot of American culture in the early ‘60s – from the highest levels of government to the tourist cultures built along with and alongside the developing Interstate Highway System; from Seminary campuses to high security prisons; from Napa Valley to East Harlem.
Of course, completing this project requires extensive travel to various institutions around the country where relevant archives are housed. Research funding in the humanities can be difficult to come by these days, but I will not let that stop me!! I’m turning to Kickstarter in the hope that, with your help, my research can continue unabated in order to meet my publication deadline (Summer 2014).
NOTE: Because funding on Kickstarter is all or nothing, I've set my goal low (enough to cover travel to one or two archives), but see below my "stretch goals" for completing research.
Karl Barth has been described as “the greatest theologian of the 20th century” (though he renounced any claim to that title), and yet his 1962 visit to the U.S. has never been chronicled in detail, despite the legends and lore that surround his seven weeks here.
While Barth was a frequent critic of American culture and politics, his arrival was met with a degree of media fanfare unimaginable for a theologian today. Announcement of his travel plans brought a flood of requests for lectures, public appearances, personal meetings, and television interviews. He was the subject of several national news features, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine. His lectures at Chicago and Princeton drew thousands of attendees, and a small entourage was needed to escort him past the throngs of autograph seekers and reporters.
Though he received the heaviest media coverage for his damning remarks on U.S. prison conditions, Barth traveled to the U.S. not to criticize American culture but “simply to listen and observe,” embarking on sight-seeing excursions from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chicago’s night clubs to Broadway and the Statue of Liberty. And Barth’s determined efforts to understand this tumultuous moment in American history are evident in his tours of prisons and inner city neighborhoods; his encounters with diplomats, civil rights advocates, and religious leaders such as Arthur Schlesinger, Frank Porter Graham, Martin Luther King, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, William Stringfellow, and Billy Graham; as well as in his meetings with businessmen, actors, comedians, scientists, and historians.
“A Fantastic Affair” will therefore offer both scholars and general audiences a novel perspective on America’s past, seeing it afresh through the eyes of a first time visitor who crossed paths with some of our most renowned cultural icons. As Barth wrote just days before his arrival, “perhaps the experience my American friends and foes will have with me will be that of putting a little child in their midst.”
In sum, tracing Barth’s personal and professional activities over these seven weeks offers an intriguing lens through which to explore the changing landscape of religion in American culture over the past 50 years, including:
- religion and the news media
- theology in the academy
- civil rights
- criminal justice and prison reform
- ethics, politics, policy, and intelligence strategy
- collective bargaining
- religion in popular culture
- Barth’s suggestions for American theology and their relevance post-9/11
Distribution and Audience:
The final product will be structured to appeal to several audiences, from a narrower field of specialists to a broader audience outside academia. In addition to its contribution to Barth Studies, the book will also be of interest to scholars in various fields whose work touches on American-European relations in the 20th century, especially as it relates to religion and communism during the Kennedy administration.
Moreover, given the current interest in this time period, inspired by Mad Men (and its various copycats), this project has the potential to attract a much wider “trade” audience. The book will therefore be designed to appeal to this wider readership outside the academy, featuring, for example, informational “insets” with details on the famous/infamous people and institutions associated with Barth’s visit – stories within the story, so to speak – including:
- Allen Dulles (former CIA Director)
- Arthur Schlesinger (Kennedy White House aide)
- Del Close and Avery Schreiber (early cast members of Chicago’s Second City comedy club)
- Dick Gregory (comedian and civil rights activist)
- William Stringfellow (human rights attorney, later indicted by the F.B.I. for harboring members of the Catonsville Nine)
- Ralph Newman (former minor league second baseman and future convicted felon after facilitating illegal tax breaks for Richard Nixon)
- San Quentin, Rikers Island, and Chicago's House of Correction
- Anna Kross (first female Commissioner of the New York Department of Correction)
- Byron Eshelman (Head Chaplain at San Quentin and author of Death Row Chaplain)
- Frank Porter Graham (U.N. representative to India and Pakistan; former Senator and President of U.N.C.)
- Auguste Lindt (Swiss Ambassador; later ICRC Director and Ambassador to Moscow)
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Billy Graham
With your help, the Kickstarter funds will cover:
- Travel to and within D.C. and Boston
- Lodging and meals
- Photocopying/Reproduction costs
- [Also, please note that Kickstarter and Amazon deduct fees of 8-10% from funds raised]
Because Kickstarter support will be crucial to completing the project, donors will receive a number of rewards. For complete details, see the panel to the right. Below are just some samples (designs may vary):
A collection of 1960s postcards (personally handmade reproductions) from each place Barth visited, including a short descriptive paragraph about some aspect of his journey. For example:
Handmade bookmarks with personalized, handwritten thank you message on the back:
Handmade, heavy duty refrigerator magnets:
Period maps, enhanced with info on Barth's activities:
As well as stamps, tote bags, keychains, buttons, and more!
Risks and challenges
Because the book is under advance contract with Fortress Press, there is no risk that it will not be published. (Permissions for photographs might be another story, but that's a little further down the road.)
Therefore, as noted above, the biggest challenge is funding for archival research. Barth's visit left traces all around the country, and, though many archives have been kind enough to digitize relevant documents to send electronically, many others are unable to do so because of the large quantity of relevant material.
In some cases, I may be able to hire local researchers / graduate students to do the research for me, but this often proves equally costly.
Your participation will therefore be essential and GREATLY appreciated!!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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