Female. Education: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ph.D., 1998.
Author and educator. University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, instructor in U.S. history and women's studies.
Mordecai: An Early American Family, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 2003.
Emily Bingham is an independent scholar and historian whose work has explored American social groups and movements. She has traced developments through individuals and their communications with one another, utilizing letters, oral histories, and other records of communication to construct her narrative.
Bingham was a contributor to Women's Voices in the Southern Oral History Program. Her first major work, edited with Thomas A. Underwood, chronicles the activities and writings of the Southern Agrarians, a group of conservative philosophers, after the publication of their famous work I'll Take My Stand. The Agrarians believed that America was concentrating increasingly on economic prosperity to the detriment of human spirituality. Calling for a "conservative revolution," they sought to engage the public in a movement towards land-based traditional communities and away from prevalent concepts of big government and individualism. Bingham and Underwood sought to reexamine the Agrarians in a modern context, and to establish a revised paradigm of "Agrarianism" for the contemporary reader. Robert Buffington, writing in the Sewanee Review, felt that Bingham and Underwood's portrayal of the Agrarians was anachronistic, particularly with regard to the charge that the Agrarians were racist in their policies. "The two historians expect, or pretend to expect, people of another time to share their preoccupations," he wrote. However, Mary S. Hoffschwelle, writing for H-Net Reviews, noted that "Bingham and Underwood's selection of essays, buttressed by the editors' introductions and careful annotations, build a strong case for the importance of looking beyond I'll Take My Stand for understanding the Agrarians' intentions and the fascination they have held for later scholars."
In her next book, Mordecai: An Early American Family, Bingham examines the letters and diaries of several generations of members of the Mordecai clan, a successful Jewish-American family with roots dating before the Revolutionary War. As family members adapted to changing times and conditions, they embraced new lifestyles and ideas (a few converted to other religions and several became members of the free love movement), or sometimes clung to the traditions of old. Throughout this dynamic period, Bingham asserts, what remained the defining feature of the Mordecais was their self-cultivation and loyalty as they sought both to belong to and improve the new nation. Bingham drew on large collections of letters to compose a narrative of the family. As a contributor to Kirkus Reviews noted, "The Mordecai's story is not unique, but it is unusually well-documented." Jenna Weissman Joselit, writing in the New Republic, found Bingham's primary sources painted an especially vivid picture. "At once earnest and straightforward, impassioned and overwrought, charming and fey, the Mordecai letters provide readers of the twenty-first century with a keen sense of what it was like to live, to love, and to wrangle in the nineteenth century," she remarked.
The conversion to Judaism or Christianity by various family members, and the difficulties encountered by the Mordecais as practicing Jews in America, form much of the subject matter of the book. George Cohen in Booklist observed, "The book becomes a history of religious expression, doubting, and searching as the family sought to find a meaningful and appropriate expression of Judaism in the context of their lives." Weissman Joselit thought that insufficient attention was paid to the Mordecai's Jewish identity in the book, and wrote that she found "problematic" Bingham's "understanding of the Mordecai's triangulated identity as bourgeois, Southern, and Jewish." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews, however, felt that Bingham depicted the family with "precision and sympathy," and that her account served as a "story of how America changed Judaism in the nineteenth century." A contributor to Publishers Weekly remarked that Bingham's treatment of the Mordecai's religion was strong, and praised Bingham's handling of difficult subjects presented in the letters. "Bingham's prose is as fluid as fiction but never sacrifices historical insight for narrative drive or soft-pedals such uncomfortable issues as the Mordecais owning slaves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 2003, George Cohen, review of Mordecai: An Early American Family, p. 1373.
H-Net Reviews, February, 2003, Mary S. Hoffschwelle, The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal: Essays after "I'll Take My Stand," pp. 471-477.
Journal of Southern History, February, 2003, Bethany L. Johnson, The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal pp. 223-224.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Mordecai, p. 197.
New Republic, May 19, 2003, Jenna Wiseman Joselit, review of Mordecai, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, February 17, 2003, review of Mordecai, p. 64.
Sewanee Review, summer, 2002, Robert Buffington, review of The Southern Agrarians and the New Deal, pp. 471-477.
Charlotte Observer Online,http://www.bayarea.com/mld/observer/ (March 29, 2004), Elisabeth Ridder, review of Mordecai.