We know them from their involvement in community service, in-depth knowledge of knots nobody's ever heard of, helping old ladies across the street, and the occasional appearance in indie cinema, but what do we actually know about the Boy Scouts of America? In his new book, Modern Manhood and the Boy Scouts of America: Citizenship, Race, and the Environment, 1910-1930, Benjamin René Jordan deconstructs the contemporary concepts of masculinity by taking an in-depth look at the groups and factors that led to the creation of the Boy Scouts of America during the first few decades of the twentieth century. The Galleon staff had the chance to catch up with Dr. Jordan earlier this year and ask him a few questions about writing the soon-to-be-published book, and the impression he hopes to leave readers with.
His book comes at an especially interesting time in the life of the BSA as the hundred year-old institution enters an era in which openly gay and female leaders are taking up the mantle of guiding the next generation of scouts, as was announced a year ago in a historic declaration by President Robert Gates. Early trailblazers might not have conceived that this would be the reality that twenty-first century scouting would encapsulate, but Jordan's in-depth unspooling of history may give stakeholders some new thoughts about how the Boy Scouts of America should move forward in the twenty-first century. Below is an interview with Dr. Jordan in Plough Library on the Christian Brothers University campus in February, 2016.
If you'd like to know more, you can read a synopsis of Modern Manhood and the Boy Scouts of America: Citizenship, Race, and the Environment, 1910-1930, and pre-order the book before in comes out on April 25, 2016.
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Contrary to works arguing that both Boy Scouting and mainstream American manhood emphasized primitive virility and martial aggression in the early twentieth century, this book demonstrates that the Boy Scouts of America promulgated a popular new construct of “modern manhood” that combined nineteenth century men's virtues such as self-control and a diligent work ethic with the scientific efficiency, expert management, and hierarchical loyalty developing boys and men needed for a rapidly urbanizing and industrializing society.
Scout leaders utilized a scientific, constructive engagement with nature and resource conservation to teach members such values, and to partner with reformers and businessmen to advance a modern vision of “practical citizenship” and nonpartisan service leadership. The book analyzes a wealth of Scout texts and images, policy and membership debates, and local practices as well as surveys and memoirs of boys and leaders reflecting on their experiences in the 1910s and 1920s. By insisting that modern manhood and practical citizenship represented universal values while actively incorporating European immigrant Catholics, Jews, and labor unionists, BSA administrators helped redraw the bounds of mainstream American manhood and citizenship to include light-skinned (and, gradually, African American), working class urban dwellers and corporate-industrial employees while marginalizing traditional rural farmers of all ethnicities.