Beyond Academia

Q&A: Past Present Podcast

Hollie Pich interviewed Assistant Professors Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman-Petrzela, and Neil J. Young (PhD) at the New School in New York City on Thursday October 11, 2018. This interview has been condensed and edited for publication.

Hollie Pich: I wanted to start off by talking about where the idea for the podcast came from. Was it collaborative project, did it come from one person—what’s your origin story?

Nicole Hemmer: I was living in Miami in 2015 and was deciding to branch out from my position as an assistant professor to try and do more public engagement, and knew that I would be leaving the classroom and one thing that I was really going to miss was talking about America history on a regular basis, and so I had this idea I wanted to do a podcast. Initially I thought, I guess I can do a podcast on my own, and then I was talking to Neil and he was like ‘wait a second, I’ve been wanting to do a podcast with you for two years!’ So, we talked about what it would look like as a collaborative podcast. We both are big fans of those roundtable podcasts that places like Slate and NPR do, and so we thought about what it would like to do a roundtable podcast—but there were only two of us, and we needed a third.

Neil J. Young: I had left academia the year earlier. I had finished my PhD in 2008, I taught for 6 years at Princeton, was in a postdoc for a while, and then in a writing program for a while, always on the market for a tenure track job but that had never worked out, and so I had decided to leave academia and focus on full-time freelance writing. The irony was that was the year my academic CV exploded, and I was still feeling a sense of tension and ambivalence about the decision to leave academia. And in one sense I wanted to figure a way that I could still bridge the world even if I didn’t have a traditional academic appointment, to still do historical work, and I’m a huge fan of podcast, a big consumer of them, and as Niki had said I had always had this fantasy of creating a podcast, and wanting to create it with Niki, so it was a serendipitous moment when she suggested it. We were both very interested in replicating the format we were drawn to, which was smart people talking about the world and the things that were happening in the world. I tended to consume podcasts that approached from a political and cultural lens, but as a historian who walks through the world thinking about everything historically, that’s what I wanted to gift to the world. I think that’s been the real fun thing to do, because people actually don’t walk through the world thinking historically, we’re giving them the tools to do that.

Natalia Mehlman-Petrzela: I’m not totally sure how they came up with me as the [third] person! Very different to Niki and Neil, I was clawing my way up the tenure track, but I was similarly passionate about bringing historical insights to a public audience, and I find it very hard to turn down exciting new projects with smart people, even against, sometimes, my better judgment. I’d also never even heard a podcast before. They, like, proposed to me one day in the West Village, and I said ‘that sounds great, so what exactly is a podcast?’ I rationalised that it would be a good idea as “I was already doing some public writing, but it became very clear to me that I couldn’t add another writing commitment into my life, because it takes a long time, it’s a particular kind of mental energy that at least for me, in a traditional tenure-track position, was probably more wisely spent doing scholarly work. The idea that we could somehow turn chatting with a group of our friends into history into a meaningful product–that I felt was the kind of thing I could actually invest my energy in, that wouldn’t be draining in the same way that a writing commitment would be. So I was in.

Pich: All of you have done different public outreach, and have all made an effort to bridge the gap between the scholarly and the public. What appealed about podcasting in particular? What did you think that podcasting as a medium, as a format, would give you that academic writing or talks wouldn’t? 

Hemmer: I was leaving academia–I didn’t realise I was going to land back in a quasi-academic position–and part of being a writer these days is about building a brand, and being understood as an expert in something, but also people feeling an attachment to you. There’s probably no medium that creates more intimacy than audio. Living inside someone’s ear creates a bond that I think is really important. Not just in terms of building out your career as a writer, but in actually connecting with people. There’s actually something really meaningful about that, about being able to have a conversation with people you might not even know. It’s such an interesting experience when you finally do meet people who have been listening to the podcast for a really long time, and their own sense of recognition and something like acquaintanceship if not friendship that comes out of hearing our voices every week. There’s something really special about that.

Young: For me, it’s just a different way to put my voice out into the world. I think of myself primarily as a writer, and yet this has been a really interesting way to stretch myself, and to stretch my thinking skills and stretch my analytical skills and stretch my speaking skills, I feel I’m much more comfortable perfecting a thought, and thinking of the right word. I’m always on the podcast going ‘what’s the word for it…’ It’s not how my brain works but I’d loved the experience of kind of pushing it in that way, and hopefully it’s worked in some ways. I think particularly in the media age we’re in now, there really is this opportunity to literally speak to the public in so many different ways, and I do think the really cool thing [about podcasts] is the intimacy and the sustained audience. I don’t think people are really following my writing around the internet but I do know that there is a sustained audience that every week chooses to hear what the three of us have to say, and that’s a really, really cool thing, and I think the way you can engage an audience and develop an audience, and develop a conversation with them that feels really meaningful.

Hemmer: It’s a different kind of thinking, too, in a way, and I feel like there’s something really valuable about that, about talking your idea through with other people, in a more free-flow kind of way. I think the act of recording the podcast each week is, for me, a really valuable intellectual few hours.

Mehlman-Petrzela: It forces us to think—or at least forces me to think—through things beyond your impressionistic take on something when you read one particular article. We all spend a lot of time in front of our screens. Some of that is productive, mind-expanding time, and other parts of that is not. I tend to find the podcast pushes me to make a greater percentage of that time to be mind-expanding, of reading deeper into an issue, forcing myself to go beyond the quick take on something, particularly when we get into the realms of identities and issues that we either inhabit or in which we’re expert, I would say in those cases we go even beyond the extra mile, to be reading the blogs internal to whatever subculture or whatever group, to really try and be more empathetic and thoughtful in our reasoning, beyond what you would be if you were just picking up the phone to talk to with your friends.

Young: I would add one other point, which was that when Niki and I were concocting this idea and thinking about what it meant, I said to Niki ‘I want to replicate the dinner party conversation that we would have as friends just hanging out. We’re historians, something’s happened in the world, we’re going to talk about it through a historically informed, historically analytical lens. I want to bring that to people who don’t talk about and think it in that way—that’s what we’re doing, we’re opening up a dinner party or opening up a friendship chat to a larger audience.’ This is very different from things we write which, although aren’t written in stone, are written on the internet. There’s a permanence to them. We don’t at all believe what we’re saying is the last word, we think what we’re saying is an initial word on this. We often get feedback from people saying ‘I loved that segment but I really wish you had said this,’ and we always write them back and say ‘no, thank you for saying that.’ This is not an authoritative, complete conversation, it’s the initiation of conversation we hope that you’re having with your friends, with yourself as you’re listening to us, and then back at us too.

Mehlman-Petrzela: We try to be appropriately tentative in that regard while still standing behind what we say, of course, and making contributions. There are definitely segments where I’ve changed my mind or at least backed down. That’s part of the value, I think, of not listening to a prepared lecture or reading a perfectly pad column but listening to reasonably smart people with hopefully a good sense of ethical commitment to try to figure these knotty questions out together. That’s really what we do each week, I think.

Pich: So you said you’re trying to make it like a dinner party atmosphere, but the preparation for a dinner party is cooking the food. What kind of prep goes into an episode of the podcast? What’s the process?

Mehlman-Petrzela: So it all starts with: when should we record? Because we don’t have a standing time, because we all have crazy schedules, and then what should we talk about—this is all via text, bandying that all back and forth—and the roles have switched over time but one of us, right now it happens to be Niki, gets readings together on each of those topics that we decide on. As you probably know as a listener we usually have one political, in our case Trump-related thing (Hemmer: we try to keep it to one or two!) and one that’s cultural and a little wacky and off the beaten path whether it’s La Croix soda or dirndl fashion. Then we set the articles, we set the time, we record.

Young: Niki writes up a script that she sends to us that gives us a framework, or an entry point, into the conversation

Hemmer: If you’ve listened to the podcast you’ll know there’s a set up at the very beginning, and that’s the only scripted part, it’s a way of setting up the issue for readers who might not actually have any idea about what we’re talking about, but will then have enough information to follow the conversation as we go. And then generally I’ll throw out a question to Neil or Natalia and then it’s just kind of off to the races, and we see where the conversation goes. I think we know one another intellectually and personally  well enough that we kind of have a sense of where people are going to go. I think that preparation is really important in getting us past that impressionistic way of thinking about it.

Mehlman-Petrzela: In that regard I do think it differs from some of the other conversational podcasts that are out there, many of which I appreciate. When you listen to something, and I really like Call Your Girlfriend for example, it’s really like a more just like two friends talking who sometimes happened to have read an article or something. To me, I appreciate the density of the conversation in terms of the fact that it is conversational but it is rooted in research and reading suggestions. I guess that comes from being in a discipline where we footnote, and we refer, and we just don’t go off on tangents about our impressions—or we try not to.

Young: I think also part of the prep work is that each of us individually think about the things we imagine we would say in that segment. We may or may not get to all of those points, but I think internally each of us think about as we’re reading, points are coming to mind, and they may or may not—the conversation is going to take turns that we don’t necessarily anticipate, and I think that’s part of the thrill. I think the thing that I like to emphasise what we do to differentiate us from other history podcasts—and there’s a lot of history podcasts out there—they’re giving the history behind something. Certainly to some extent we do that, and in some segments we do it more than others, but the thing I think we really are committed to & the thing I so value about what we do is that I believe we’re modelling historical thinking. So sometimes that’s talking about precedent, sometimes that’s laying the historical groundwork that leads to this thing, other times it’s just us talking about, like, something through a historically analytical lens. We may not ever even evoke a past year or a precedent, but even in talking about it I think we’re modelling a certain type of historical thinking that is of real value to our listeners.

Pich: Who did you think your audience was going to be, and has that married up with who your listeners are (inasmuch as you can know)?

Hemmer: I did think it was going to be a blend of history folks—like historians would be super into it—but I also thought that it would just be casual people who would find out about us through our networks. People like my mum or my friends who aren’t historians but who are generally politically engaged. I do think that we cover politics enough that I think it’s people who want to understand the world a little better, and they might not be that super into history, but they do want to have something to hold onto, and I think that’s what’s made it even more significant in the Trump era. Which actually maps on pretty closely to our podcast itself because we launched in October of 2015, and his campaign launched in June of that year, and so we’ve sort of co-existed, grown-up with Trump as a political figure. It’s been this period in which people want something concrete to hold onto, they want a way of understanding what’s going on in the world, and something like a podcast that’s attacking those issues via history as opposed to maybe a a political platform I think that’s valuable to people in a time when they feel unmoored.

Mehlman-Petrzela: I also think the format, these three issues, it’s much longer and deeper than the kind of quick 24-hour-news-cycle clips or tweets that you get, but it’s still made for a generation or a moment when people are highly distractable and aren’t necessarily going to listen to a longform hour plus thing on one topic. I think the fact we have the three topics, then the what’s making history, is well-suited to both provide more depth than you get in a lot of the current formats but also keeps pace with people’s quick attention spans.

Young: I would just say that I imagined smart and curious people would listen to it, and that’s who I always have in mind when I’m recording the episodes. I think kind of people like me who are consuming similar media that I’m consuming—it actually never occurred to me that historians would be listening to this, and that’s been a real surprise of mine, the high listernership we have from historians at all levels from grad students to high school teachers, to people at all ranks of the academy—but they’re not at the center of my vision when I’m recording, I’m just imagining a smart, informed, curious listenership, that may not think of themselves as historians at all but appreciate the historical understanding we’re bringing to their world.

Hemmer: One of the things I find kind of fascinating about this is once you put something out into the world people interpret it in a bunch of different ways, and they use it in a bunch of different ways. Adding onto what Neil was saying, one of the things I didn’t expect was for people to use the podcast in the classroom. I don’t think we necessarily thought about it as a pedagogical tool, and we certainly don’t shape it to be that, and yet people have found that utility is very gratifying and surprising.

Pich: Do you know how many people tune in? Do you have a sense of your listenership, or is that hard to track?

Young: It’s hard to track, the measurements aren’t entirely precise. We have a sense that there’s about 50, 000 listeners per month, and how that breaks down per episode varies, but we don’t know how precise that actually is. It’s been interesting to know that the realm of podcasting doesn’t necessarily have the precision that I think other forms of media do.

Mehlman-Petrzela: We could do better with analytics, but we are a shoe-string operation.

Pich: How do you see things like podcasts, blogs, and initiatives like Made By History at the Washington Post changing the scholarly landscape? Obviously it’s working to connect scholars with new audiences, but do you think it’s changing the academy in any serious ways?

Hemmer: I think that it’s starting to. I think that if we’d had this conversation ten years ago, when I was coming out of graduate school and doing a little bit of a time freelance writing, there was a real hesitance to even talk about the fact you were trying to reach a broader audience. It was often perceived as wasting your time, why aren’t you working on your scholarship, what are you doing? It was seen as not serious. There has been a sea change in the last ten years, a lot of driven, I think, by the financial crisis and by the collapse in standard, traditional tenure-track jobs, and I think that actually is changing the profession as the feedback loop comes back and now there are conversations being had—still fairly preliminary, still only in some institutions, and still not all the way down to the root of the profession—where departments are thinking about how do we fold in this public-facing work into things like promotion, how do we fold it into things like your work load, can you get course relief if you’re editing a publication at the Washington Post, how should all of this be thought about holistically in terms of who you are as a scholar. So I think that we’ve definitely bridged the ‘this is frowned upon’ to this is something valuable; not sure we’ve bridged the ‘oh, this is valuable’ and now we are going to value it in terms of your time and our money.

Mehlman-Petrzela: The New School is very forward thinking in valuing that work, and I was very proud to write in my promotion materials about the kind of work I do outside the academy. One more thing, though, is that I have also very much experienced that not all public engagement or history writing is valued equally. It’s much more—even here—you say you’re writing about politics historically in the Washington Post or The Nation or The Atlantic, well that’s great. I say that I’m writing fitness history in Well & Good, which is a well-regarded online wellness magazine, that’s much more up in question—both for the topic itself, but also for those kind of audiences. I think this is changing as places like Teen Vogue are being seen as politically active and as more women’s voices are being heard, that there’s a re-evaluation of some of that snarkiness and elitism around those forms of public engagement, but that I think is more slow going, and that’s sort of like a hill that I’ll die on in terms of defending and expanding that.

Young: I feel like I’m the only one here who doesn’t have their foot in the ivory tower any more, but I think all of that is right, how’s it changing the academy? I think it depends what you mean by the academy. I think it’s absolutely changing the individuals who make up the academy, the scholars, that kind of cultural hesitance or aversion to step out and engage is being lessened year by year, and think there’s a real—particularly in history and the humanities—there’s a real excitement about doing this. I think we’ve yet to see the institutional, and the cultural and practical changes at the institutional level, in how it’s valued, and how it goes into things like people getting tenure. But I think to have this conversation in five, ten years from now, I would not be surprised to know at all that these are part of the metrics that go into how universities evaluate their professors.

Hemmer: Also I’m thinking, just quickly, about how graduate students are trained and what kind of jobs they’re trained for. This is still very much dismissed as ‘plan B’ training, but I mean there are increasingly more opportunities outside the academy for scholars who want to be publicly engaged. There aren’t a ton, it’s not necessarily the most financially stable gig, but as those things grow up together it’s going to change I think, in some ways, how graduate students are trained, and I think that changes the academy as well as it changes the way we teach.

Pich: In moving towards a system where we’re valuing these things when we look at things like promotions, and the hiring process, are we just adding something else in? Are we just adding something else to the pile?

Mehlman-Petrzela: There is something to that. Maybe a downside towards moving towards valuing this work is not that it’s valued as much as some of the other things like scholarship or teaching but that it’s another requirement—that, of course, would be unfortunate. And that’s a very real concern. I’m very clear when I’ve different kinds of faculty mentorship things with different people that it’s not that brave to do work beyond the academy, because my number one priority was to make sure I cleared every single one of the traditional benchmarks: publishing a book with a great academic press, writing all these articles, doing exemplary teaching, so that any haters that we’re like ‘oh, she’s blogging for wellness publication,’ I could say ‘check out these journal articles.’ It was very tiring, but it was not a show of courage probably more like ‘I’m going to follow all your rules and do this.’ That being said, I actually don’t think it’s just strategic or cowardly, I actually think all of the core things that make up a traditional academic profile are hugely important. I don’t get a PhD so that I can blog about the history of Jane Fonda, I get a PhD so I can do that deeper work and then have a smart way of transmitting the relevant parts into a public conversation.

Hemmer: Especially in those early years, when it was frowned upon, you really had to excel, you had to do twice as much stuff in the traditional scholarly realm in order to justify doing everything else, and that’s incredibly taxing along with everything else. I do think one place where we might start to see it is with the devaluing of the journal article, I think that’s already happening, and I think what we’re going to see increasingly for historians at least is more focus on the monographs and public-facing work, and less focus on writing journal articles.

Mehlman-Petrzela: I totally agree. The publication time [for journal articles] is so long, they’re behind pay-walls, the viewership is so small, and there are opportunities to write if not 5, 000 or 7, 000 word pieces there is to write 3, 000 to 4, 000 word pieces in respectable places with quasi-peer review. When I wrote for this great outfit Boom California it went out to two other readers, I responded to reader’s reports, and it took four months to publish it as opposed to three years.

Pich: How do you guys manage to balance all of these different things? I think especially for graduate students who come in and try to balance everything it can feel very overwhelming

Hemmer: I think you do have to, as a graduate student, your studies, dissertation, has to be your focus, because you don’t want to be in graduate school forever. But at the same time, graduate school is a time when you are training for a future career and are trying out a bunch of different things, different skills, it doesn’t hurt to try other things. That’s not actually answering your question, because your question is how do you balance it all! In graduate school I think there is a little more, or it feels like there was more, free time in graduate school. I will say, as I was building my freelance career and also teaching a 3-3 load down at the University of Miami, I was working 60 to 70 hour a week. During the campaign in 2016 and 2017 as my book was coming out and I was covering the administration, I was working 60 to 70 hours a week, and I don’t that’s something to encourage, I don’t think people need to live unbalanced lives, I do think that while we’re still in this period where it’s largely an entrepreneurial gig economy way of approaching these new careers, it is very difficult to strike something that looks really balanced. The way that I do it now is that I worked with my job to create a position in which a lot of the overload stuff that I do—like writing for Vox, and editing at the Washington Post—now comes under the umbrella of the expectations of my job. So other things have been pushed out. I don’t teach; my first book came out in 2016 and I’m only now starting on the book proposal for my next book; so I take things at a slower pace, but I can do that because I’m not on a traditional academic clock either. I think part of the challenge, for me when it comes to figuring out how I’m going to balance my time, it comes down to the question of what I value most. What I value most is not necessarily in sync with what the academy values most, and for me I had to make a decision about which of those I was going to follow, and I chose my thing that’s not always the right choice for people.

Young: All three of us have very different personal and professional lives, so each of us are balancing our lives in our own particular ways. I do think Niki is right, and grad school is a time to get your dissertation done, and that should be the focus but I also think there is—I didn’t appreciate it—it is a time you will have a lot more free time than you will have at other points in life, and I started freelancing as a graduate student. It was an opportunity that, somewhat, fell into my lap, and it ended up being something that I got to do a lot as a graduate student. I’m really glad that I did it, because I was able to start building up a good chunk of clips before I even had my degree, and even though I continued in academia I had developed this thing I really, really liked and I knew I wanted to continue doing so I kept doing it, and then when academia didn’t work out I had a really good body of clips underneath me, that was a good thing for me. And so I would say to grad students, if there’s something else that you’re interested in doing now is a good time to start developing that, and you don’t know where it’s going to lead but I think that particularly given the market we’re in, and the market we will probably always be in, you’re well served by thinking about another way you can demonstrate your expertise and your scholarship to the world.

Mehlman-Petrzela: I agree that grad school is a time to really focus on getting your dissertation done, because it’s so long, and it’s so protean, and it’s so few people checking in on you, that I am someone that needs the instant gratification of ‘I wrote 800 words, now it’s up, now I published that, now I’m getting comments.’ I’m actually often grateful that when I was in grad school there wasn’t this all these robust digital opportunities to do things like this because I would’ve been very easily distracted—not that it’s all a distraction. That said, I was very sad for much of grad school, I felt very alone for much of grad school. I love the payoff of research, but being for weeks in archives, not talking to everyone, to me goes against everything that is core to who I am as a loquacious, extroverted human-being. Now in some ways I long for that time—particularly I have two kids, so the idea of going off for three weeks in Sacramento is unbelievable—so life circumstances have forced, have created the opportunity for different sorts of balance. I will say in terms of balancing all the things going on now, professionally–for example I knew that the podcast would be a kind of engagement that would be energising more than exhausting, and it was different from the other stuff I was doing. I could not, as I said, write a column every week. I couldn’t sign up to co-teach another class, because I have so much of that happening, so it seemed to me sufficiently unique, and requiring a different sort of energy than that that I was investing in other parts of my life—but also it would make me better in other parts of my life. It’s true, now I get invited to give a talk somewhere because the podcast and my ability to pull things together quickly, to know where to look, to understand timing a little bit, that becomes much easier. Everything is sort of mutually reinforcing instead of making me spread too thin.

Pich: What advice would you have for someone for wanting to start a podcast?

Hemmer: I think one thing that’s really important, especially because of the number of podcasts that are out there right now, I think you need a really clear vision at this point, of what it is that you actually want to do and what you want to contribute and what niche you want to fill. I think anyone can create a podcast, and throw it out there & see if it sticks, so I don’t think you need to feel hampered by this advice but I do think there is a real value in getting to know the landscape of podcasts. Then don’t let the technology learning curve stop you. The technology is easy to learn, you can pick it up. People who have got themselves through graduate training can teach themselves how to use a sound editing thing. That stuff, you can figure that stuff out, but what you really need to figure out is what your vision for the podcast is, and where it fits in your larger vision for your career, or if you want to be corporate about it, for your brand. Where does it fit in your vision of how you—in the case of historians—how you want to be a historian in the world, and then go from there.

Young: We came in at a time when podcasts were becoming hot but we were fortunate that we came in before the inflexion point before they were everywhere. I think we certainly had a sense of an niche, but we were also fortunate that that niche was not very crowded when we entered into this. I think also the technology part is really an important part here. I think of the three of us I am the biggest luddite, so the fact that now I’m actually the producer of this podcast after Niki did it for several years, you could knock me over with a feather. Every week I’m a little bit surprised to see that it actually uploaded to iTunes and it’s there, but that’s really a very awesome thing that I know how to do, and I’m really proud of myself for, because if it were up to me we would be all writing with quill pens and on parchment. It feels good as a historian, as a scholar, to do something that feels cutting-edge and feels very much part of our technological moment, and I would say it ‘if I can do it, anyone else out there can do it too.’

Mehlman-Petrzela: I agree with all of that, and the next thing—and this is more Oprah-ish advice—is trust your voice, but don’t trust it too much. It’s both for us, historians, who are so accustomed to ‘you don’t write or put anything into the world unless it’s been peer-reviewed and you have footnotes and you’ve been in the archives and you’ve stood on the shoulders of giants, there is a little bit of ‘I’m smarter than 98% of the people offering commentary out there, who am I not to have an opinion. But also being sufficiently humble to do that work that I was talking about, of reading a lot before you go out there are give your opinion, of acknowledging the limits of your experience and knowledge, and bringing that to bear—not in a mealy-mouthed, weak way, but in a way that I like to think we model a kind of admirable way of engaging with the world, which is not being afraid to engage and take a stand but also being very willing and committed to exploring the way other people think about this, and to being empathetic and willing to change our views. To me that is an important part of the podcast, but hopefully also a sensibility you would have before going into something like this.

Nicole Hemmer is an assistant professor in presidential studies at UVA’s Miller Center and author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics (Penn Press, 2016). She is a columnist at Vox and The (Melbourne) Age, editor of Made by History at the Washington Post, and creator and co-host of Past Present, a weekly history podcast.

Natalia Mehlman-Petrzela, Ph.D. is a historian of contemporary American politics and culture and is currently writing a book on American fitness culture, FIT NATION: How America Embraced Exercise As The Government Abandoned It (under contract with University of Chicago Press). She is the author of Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture (Oxford 2015), co-host of Past Present Podcast, the creator and host of a soon-to-be-released History Channel web series, a frequent media guest expert, speaker at universities and conferences, and contributor to national and local news outlets. Natalia is Associate Professor of History at The New School, a co-founder of wellness education program Healthclass 2.0 and a Premiere Leader of intenSati. She holds a B.A. from Columbia and a master’s and Ph.D. from Stanford and is based in New York City.

Neil J. Young is an independent historian, freelance writer, and contributing op-ed columnist for HuffPost. He is the author of We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (Oxford, 2015), and is currently working on a book about the history of one of Hollywood’s most famous icons. Neil holds an A.B. from Duke University and a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Columbia University. He previously taught at Princeton University. He writes frequently about religion, politics, and culture for publications including the New York Times, the AtlanticVoxPolitico, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate. He tweets at @NeilJYoung17.

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