Protestant Relics

Protestant Relics

“To the Memory of,” hand-colored lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, New York, c. 1845, ~ 14 x 10 inches. Image from the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

I am currently revising my book manuscript Protestant Relics in Early America. It offers an original analysis of the material culture of death and mourning in Protestantism from the late 1700s to 1860s. Using images, objects, and texts as evidence, the book presents a new historical argument about Christian materiality in early America.

Despite historians’ insistence that Protestants stopped using relics after the Reformation, this book contends that a new attitude towards relics emerged among Protestants starting in the late eighteenth-century. There is overwhelming written and material evidence that Protestant women, men, and children collected mourning objects of the dead which they referred to as “relics.” These objects took form as bodily relics (corpses, bones, hair, blood, etc.) and contact relics (bibles, images, vases, jewelry, pieces of burial shrouds, etc.). This book examines the Protestant relic practices that emerged in colonial America and the early United States around George Whitefield, George Washington, and ordinary women, men, and children. 

This project has received numerous research awards, including:

  • a Filson Fellowship from the Filson Historical Society;
  • the Amanda and Greg Gregory Fellowship from the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington;
  • the Anthony N. B. and Beatrice W. B. Garvan Fellowship in American Material Culture from the Library Company of Philadelphia;
  • a Research Fellowship from Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library;
  • a fellowship from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC);
  • research awards from Duke University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.