Last June, Ben Wetzel, assistant professor of history, became the first faculty member in university history to publish a book with the Oxford University Press.
“Theodore Roosevelt: Preaching from the Bully Pulpit” examines the former president in the context of the American religious environment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It explores Roosevelt's role in the separation of church and state, defender of worldwide Christian unity and “bully pulpit” preachers that stressed morality.
“There's been no scholarly book just on Roosevelt's religion ever published, so my book looks at a well-known figure from a different angle,” Wetzel said. “It explores his own personal beliefs and how they kind of changed over time and how he got along with various denominations and groups.”
Wetzel began working on the project after completing his dissertation in 2016. He was put in touch with an editor based out of Wheaton College working with the Oxford University Press.
The editor approached Wetzel with the idea of doing a biography on Theodore Roosevelt.
Wetzel’s book belongs to a group of books that Oxford publishes. The “Spiritual Lives” series explores the lives of historical figures not known primarily for their religion. Other figures that have been written about in the series include Queen Victoria and Benjamin Franklin.
Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. The company has the highest percentage of journalists in the top 10% of impact factor according to International Scientific Indexing Impact Factor Ranking. Writers that make books with Oxford University Press are more likely to influence the journalism world than authors elsewhere.
“I had a great relationship with the editor and production team there,” Wetzel said. “After I accepted this job, I expressed that I had a really heavy teaching load and they were fine with that. They were gracious and efficient.”
Research for the project consisted of exploring 7,000 of the 150,000 letters that Roosvelt wrote in his lifetime. Wetzel gained access to the Harvard library to read through 20 volumes of published speeches and other personal papers.
Wetzel said he approached the writing process with a posture of humility to balance judgement and grace.
“On the issue of how you judge historical figures, I have come back to Jesus saying (to) take the speck out of your own eye before the log out of your brother's eye,” Wetzel said. “We're going to see things in Roosevelt that we don't like, and it's fine to point that out, but the harder question is to point out where our blind spots are.”
After completing the appropriate research, a number of drafts were sent back and forth with Oxford until completion in the summer of 2020. The entire process occurred over five years.
Wetzel teaches a number of classes, including war in American history and The Roosevelts.
“Seeing his dedication to the topic and genuine compassion for all members of the clan was inspiring and helped me become more comfortable with my own trajectory in the discipline,” junior Elise Wixtrom said about The Roosevelts class.
Since accepting his position as faculty two years ago, Wetzel has enjoyed the community at Taylor outside of the classroom.
“I didn't go here as a student, but I went to a similar faith-based institution. It just very much felt like home when I came and I've enjoyed being here,” he said.
Currently, Wetzel is finishing up his second book. The project is a revised version of his dissertation that looks at how America’s Christian communities debated America’s wars from the Civil War to World War I. It will be released in 2022 with Cornell University Press.