More About the Author
I am an historian trained in interdisciplinary studies - American studies to be more specific. As a result, although the subjects of my several books published vary, they find common ground in being historical, interdisciplinary, and by-and-large addressing subjects related to American cultural history, which is my primary interest.
By way of a brief introduction to my work, I will provide some background on two of my favorite books - at least thus far - and reference a third that may interest some of you.
The Story of the Salem Witch Trials
Perhaps it was inevitable that as a historian, a native of Massachusetts, and related by marriage to two of the accused I would develop an interest in the Salem witch trials. While still a student, I latched on to the subject whenever appropriate for a research paper. And upon becoming a professor, I took that interest with me -- ignoring the well intentioned advice of my usually wiser mentors not to spend my time on a topic about which so much had already been written.
I found there were some things yet to be discovered concerning the events of 1692, and much to be learned from the episode about the human condition. I also discovered a seemingly endless fascination with the topic among my students. But I faced a challenge. I found it impossible to come up with a reasonable amount of reading for my undergraduate students, which would provide them with a detailed overview of the trials, historical context, and information on the major schools of thought on the subject. What I needed was a single volume which would accomplish all three goals, to which I could add trial records and other primary sources that would provide breadth and depth of understanding.
The Story of the Salem Witch Trials, the first edition of which appeared in 1998, is a relatively brief book written primarily for college students but also appropriate for the general reader. The text runs just over 200 pages, to which I added endnotes, a select bibliography (including electronic resources), and information on the accused. The first two chapters of the book situate what happened in Salem in 1692 in the larger scope of the centuries old Great European Witch Hunt. I then provide a narrative approach to the events of 1692, making the point, as one reviewer put it, that the decisions and actions people make matter and often lead both to intended and unintended consequences. And it includes references to the leading scholarship on the subject, placed throughout the book in locations that present evidence for each school of thought. A brief epilogue addresses the history of witch hunts in the United States after we stopped believing in witches, a subject students find endlessly interesting. Prentice Hall published a second, revised and updated edition of The Story of the Salem Witch Trials in 2010.
The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Intended for a more general audience is The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair (New York University Press, 2003) -- my most widely reviewed book. In 1964, Life magazine called Madalyn Murray O'Hair "the most hated woman in America." It was hardly an exaggeration at the time, given her role in the 1963 US Supreme Court's ruling declaring Bible reading and prayer recitation in the nation's public schools unconstitutional. Unlike other litigants in that and other related cases, it was a role and responsibility she embraced and parlayed into becoming the most visible atheist in America for the next three decades - until she and two of her family members were murdered. This first full-length biography of O'Hair approaches this fascinating figure on two levels. It tells the story of her public life as leader of American Atheists. Making use of her unpublished diaries for the first time, it also provides insights into her largely unknown personal life, which helps us better understand what she did and why.
Currier and Ives: America Imagined
Currier and Ives: America Imagined (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001) is no longer in print, but it is widely available for purchase or through your local library. Lithography was the leading source of visual communication for most of the nineteenth century, and Currier and Ives were by far the leading producers of lithographs - at one point accounting for 95% of all lithographs sold in American. If you are among those, including me at one point, that think that Currier and Ives produced only pretty pictures of an idealized life in America, think again. Check out this book and you will find a window on life in nineteenth-century America, through which you will glimpse a much more realistic portrait of the nation, including "the good, bad, and the ugly."
One Last Note
Most of the edited volumes you will find under my name (commonly co-edited) contain essays presented at conferences in which I had the honor of being involved. Some of these may interest you, as well.
Bryan Le Beau earned his bachelor's in history from North Adams (MA) State College (now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), a master's in United States History from the Pennsylvania State University, and a Ph.D. in American Civilization from New York University. He taught at Creighton University, where held an endowed faculty chair in the humanities. He also served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri - Kansas City and Dean of Institutional Services at the Kansas City Kansas Community College. Currently he is Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of History at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. He has been active in several professional organizations and created and served for seven years as host of the national public radio program, Talking History, which was supported by the Organization of American Historians. He is a regular newspaper columnist and public speaker. He has appeared on C-SPAN's Booktv and been a consultant and contributor to various video documentaries.