Patryk Babiracki: Post-Soviet Ukraine: Not Unlike Postwar Poland. What Putin’s Russia (and the West) Can Learn from the Cold War

babiracki_sovietWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Patryk Babiracki, author of Soviet Soft Power in Poland: Culture and the Making of Stalin’s New Empire, 1943-1957. Concentrating on the formative years of the Cold War from 1943 to 1957, Babiracki reveals little-known Soviet efforts to build a postwar East European empire through culture. He argues that the Soviets involved in foreign cultural outreach tried to use “soft power” in order to galvanize broad support for the postwar order in the emerging Soviet bloc. Babiracki shows that the Stalinist system ultimately undermined Soviet efforts to secure popular legitimacy abroad through persuasive propaganda. He also highlights the limitations and contradictions of Soviet international cultural outreach, which help explain why the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe crumbled so easily after less than a half-century of existence.

In today’s post, Babiracki draws a comparison between Ukraine’s present and Poland’s past. Will history repeat itself in this eastern European country?

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Geopolitics matters. Ukraine may be fated to remain in Russia’s orbit as long as the Kremlin has the power to disrupt the country’s westward drift. But unless Russia develops a genuine power of attraction, Ukraine will become a festering imperial sore.

The conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine certainly differs from the “old” Cold War. Yes, just like in the old days, Russia and the West claim to offer alternative solutions to the world’s problems. Each country’s politicians believe that they represent the superior option. But unlike communism earlier, the Russian anti-liberalism hardly constitutes an ideological threat to the West. Russia and the world had already been economically codependent during the Cold War; now they are even more intertwined. Recently, the crashing ruble has shown that the new Russian autocracy is even less of an autarky than its Soviet predecessor was.

Still, today’s Ukrainian battleground resembles Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Like Joseph Stalin in Poland, Vladimir Putin tries to assume control over Ukraine through faits accomplis. Now, as then, the Kremlin actively intervenes in the affairs of its sovereign neighbor. Publicly, the Russian leaders deny any such involvement, and in a well-rehearsed Soviet scenario, accuse the West of meddling instead. In the bipolar world of the Cold War, Stalin needed a supine Poland as a buffer state against the West. Today, against the backdrop of deepening ideological incongruities, political divisions, and international tensions, Mr. Putin clearly wants Ukraine to fill that role.

Much like Poland after World War II, today, Ukraine is a terrain contested by Russia and the West. Much like Poland then, Ukraine may now be doomed—at least until Russia reforms itself or, like the USSR, collapses under the tremendous weight of its own problems. A weak agricultural country with inexperienced, quarrelsome elites, Ukraine has little the West will want to fight for on the long run. Neighboring Russia is big, flush with oil and gas, and desperate to prove its strength to the world. Europe is dependent on Russian oil and business and internally divided, and the United States—freshly out of the recession, pivoting to Asia in its foreign policy, and militarily overstretched throughout the Middle East—is far away anyway.

With oil prices falling, the ruble is tumbling down, and Russia’s immediate economic prospects are grim. But the Russian leaders’ political will to retain Ukraine is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. The lands that became modern Ukraine had been part of Russian empire for three and a half centuries. Vladimir Putin has shown inexhaustible energy in obstructing Ukraine’s rapprochement with the West; Ukraine’s prospective successes in integrating with the EU (or, in a more adventurous scenario, with NATO) would be a heavy blow to Russia’s prestige and to Mr. Putin’s ego. Therefore in the long run, it seems unlikely that any person or institution can prevent the Russian president and his cronies from wresting Ukraine back firmly into the Russian orbit. Continue reading ‘Patryk Babiracki: Post-Soviet Ukraine: Not Unlike Postwar Poland. What Putin’s Russia (and the West) Can Learn from the Cold War’ »

J. Matthew Gallman on the Civil War History of the Word “Shoddy”

Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front, by J. Matthew GallmanOver on our CivilWar150 site, J. Matthew Gallman, author of Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front, writes about the Civil War–era origins of the word “shoddy”:

Writers have good reason to like the word “shoddy.” It is an evocative word, suggesting very much what it in fact means. Today we commonly use “shoddy” to describe poor workmanship. The carpenter who measures poorly, producing corners that are not square, has done a shoddy job. So has the painter who leaves behind paint on window panes or carpets. We might stretch the case to encompass anyone who has worked hastily and without pride in the result. Shoddy work is nothing to admire.

The word “shoddy” originated to describe a poor product and not a sloppy worker. The term, which first appeared in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, came out of the world of textile manufacturing. Shoddy was a sort of cheap cloth made by pressing together scraps of reclaimed wool. This inferior-quality material was inexpensive, but it would not stand up under heavy use. The Civil War saw the heyday of shoddy, both as a textile product and as an evocative term. And the evolving use of the word during the war years speaks volumes about how Northerners used the popular media to make sense of this terrible war.

In the first months of the Civil War, Northerners struggled to produce sufficient materiel to clothe, arm, and feed its new army of citizen-soldiers. A combination of haste, inexperience, and corruption produced some disappointing results. Before long, federal investigations had begun to uncover stories of malfeasance, and hordes of satirists, cartoonists, and poets had taken aim at the purveyors of shoddy goods. In some cases the targets were quite literally textiles that could not stand the test of hard marching. In July 1861 the cover of Vanity Fair—playing on published reports about Philadelphia contractors—showed embarrassed volunteers in dissolving uniforms “closing ranks” so that the passing ladies would not see more than they should. Other satirists expanded the definition of shoddy to include poorly made shoes, burnt coffee, and rotten meat. And whereas the term originally suggested poor products, the fraud investigations also turned up dishonest contractors who intentionally sold under-sized tents and corrupt inspectors who accepted bribes to look the other way.

Read the full post, “Shoddy: The (Sometimes) Strange History of a Civil War Term,” at uncpresscivilwar150.com

Daniel J. Tortora: Why Hollywood Should Take Notice of the Anglo-Cherokee War

Carolina in Crisis: Cherokees, Colonists, and Slaves in the American Southeast, 1756-1763, by Daniel J. TortoraWe welcome a guest post today from Daniel J. Tortora, author of Carolina in Crisis: Cherokees, Colonists, and Slaves in the American Southeast, 1756-1763. In his engaging book, Daniel J. Tortora explores how the Anglo-Cherokee War reshaped the political and cultural landscape of the colonial South. He chronicles the series of clashes that erupted from 1758 to 1761 between Cherokees, settlers, and British troops. The conflict, no insignificant sideshow to the French and Indian War, eventually led to the regeneration of a British-Cherokee alliance. Tortora reveals how the war destabilized the South Carolina colony and threatened the white coastal elite, arguing that the political and military success of the Cherokees led colonists to a greater fear of slave resistance and revolt and ultimately nurtured South Carolinians’ rising interest in the movement for independence.

In today’s post, Tortora makes the case for bringing the history of the Anglo-Cherokee War to Hollywood.

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There’s one question I get every semester as a history professor, most recently at Colby College: “Professor, are we going to watch The Patriot?” I can’t tell if this question is serious or not, but students say my “No” answer and explanation are comical.

History-based films serve as a teaching tool, spark an interest in the past, and provide perspective on issues in modern society. But I have yet to find a gripping, historically accurate film on eighteenth-century southern history.

It is time that Hollywood takes notice of the Anglo-Cherokee War. And here’s why.

Like Carolina in Crisis, a film depiction can:

  1. Promote a more accurate understanding of Indians

A modern film can take viewers into Cherokee town houses and villages, humanizing Indians and revealing the richness of their culture.

A modern film will show Cherokees struggling to preserve and honor their culture and sovereignty, and working for a better future—all familiar themes today.

Include the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Warriors of AniKituwha. Film on location at Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, North Carolina.

  1. Offer a realistic and nuanced view of race relations in the eighteenth century.

The Patriot (2000), albeit exciting and emotive, whitewashes African American slavery. Let’s see African Americans disembarking from slave ships in Charleston harbor, toiling as laborers on plantations and in British armies. Let’s see them fighting for freedom against the odds—like Abram, the enslaved messenger.

A film can show how British policies pit Indians against each other in the eighteenth century.

A film can also powerfully capture the voices of the white defenders of Cherokee rights and sovereignty and those who challenged the status quo when it was unpopular to do so. And it can expose the legacy of eighteenth-century racism.

  1. Clarify the southeastern origins of the American Revolution.

A film can introduce viewers to the diverse cast of characters who played a role in the proceedings in the Revolutionary Era. Let viewers see mobs jeering British soldiers in Charles Town—nearly a decade before the Boston Massacre. Introduce them to Christopher Gadsden, the conservative firebrand who would later design a flag appropriated by the Tea Party movement.

  1. Garner interest in historical sites and boost tourism.

For seven years I have crisscrossed the Southeast researching and investigating, leading tour groups and giving presentations. A film would attract visitors to my favorite can’t-miss destinations: Fort Loudoun State Historic Area; Cherokee, North Carolina; Historic Charleston; Macon County, North Carolina; and Ninety-Six National Historic Site.

What would such a film look like? Continue reading ‘Daniel J. Tortora: Why Hollywood Should Take Notice of the Anglo-Cherokee War’ »

Toby L. Parcel: Can Neighborhood Schools Also Be Diverse Schools?

parcel_end_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Toby L. Parcel, coauthor, with Andrew J. Taylor, of The End of Consensus: Diversity, Neighborhoods, and the Politics of Public School Assignments. One of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, Wake County, North Carolina, added more than a quarter million new residents during the first decade of this century, an increase of almost 45 percent. At the same time, partisanship increasingly dominated local politics, including school board races. Against this backdrop, Parcel and Taylor consider the ways diversity and neighborhood schools have influenced school assignment policies in Wake County, particularly during 2000-2012, when these policies became controversial locally and a topic of national attention.

In the following post, Parcel explains that what seem to be competing interests may in fact be common interests in school assignment decision making in a rapidly growing school system.  

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Are preferences for neighborhood schools and diverse schools really polar opposites? As Wake County has debated policies of public school assignments over the last several years, many have framed the debate this way. Media coverage often juxtaposes assignment plans that promote diversity in schools and classrooms with others that place more emphasis on children attending schools close to home. Citizen groups have formed on both sides. Races for school board have focused closely on candidate preferences.

In The End of Consensus: Diversity, Neighborhoods, and the Politics of Public School Assignments, Andy and I have discovered that despite this very public polarization, many citizens actually favor both diverse and neighborhood schools. Neighborhood schools remain very well ingrained in American life. Possibly this is because that, although private schools have always been an option, the vast majority of adults, including those with children in Wake schools today, attended neighborhood schools growing up in North Carolina or elsewhere. Neighborhood schools also present advantages for children and families, particularly in terms of proximity between home and school. But we have found many of those who value neighborhood schools also strongly support diverse schools, places where children from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds interact and learn together. Can these two preferences be reconciled?

Complicating this picture is the reality that Wake County population has grown quickly but unevenly across the jurisdiction. Combining this with a sluggish system of funding from Wake County itself, school assignment policies became controversial. Just finding space at school for increasing numbers of students became challenging. When this was combined with long-standing and successful student assignment policies supporting diverse schools, conflict became acute. Continue reading ‘Toby L. Parcel: Can Neighborhood Schools Also Be Diverse Schools?’ »

David Gilbert: Who Owns Black Culture?: Racial Appropriation and the Marketplace

The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace, by David GilbertWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by David Gilbert, author of The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace. In 1912 James Reese Europe made history by conducting his 125-member Clef Club Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The first concert by an African American ensemble at the esteemed venue was more than just a concert—it was a political act of desegregation, a defiant challenge to the status quo in American music. In this book, Gilbert explores how Europe and other African American performers, at the height of Jim Crow, transformed their racial difference into the mass-market commodity known as “black music.” Gilbert shows how Europe and others used the rhythmic sounds of ragtime, blues, and jazz to construct new representations of black identity, challenging many of the nation’s preconceived ideas about race, culture, and modernity and setting off a musical craze in the process.

In today’s post, Gilbert explores the idea of black music past and present and how calling out white appropriation of black culture is a way of highlighting ongoing social inequalities.

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Every six-to-twelve months, it seems pop music critics headline the latest example of white appropriation of black styles. Whether it’s the most recent examples of white ladies’ dance moves, white rappers, the “Harlem Shake,” or white R&B singers “singing black” on American Idol, critics are quick to criticize. And for good reason. It is clear that white performers have access to most any style, genre, or performance practice they’re interested in. Just as it is equally clear that entertainers of color rarely have the luxury to perform a dance or piece of music without assuming some form of racial identity, or receiving some form of racial pigeon-holing. What is more, while white “stars” of stages, videos, and webcasts often make significant earnings, black innovators rarely earn comparably. It is a hallmark of the history of pop music in the United States, the black artists who invented new styles of blues, jazz, rock, and rap rarely received fiscal compensation commensurate with their innovations.

Because the racial inequities that pop culture highlights are the same ones that undergird so much of American society more generally, critics are right to call attention to them. Often, single cases of racial appropriation and unequal cultural access highlight social norms that many white Americans prefer to ignore. Yet to peruse online notices of racial appropriation, one might think this was a new or at least recent phenomenon. A turn to American cultural history may help us see that distinguishing an authentically racial sound from an inauthentic one is more problematic than many realize. Not only does the language of black authenticity assume a very constricted, homogenous conception of “black music” and black people, but this game of locating the essential sound of blackness—and documenting white people’s borrowing of it—elides more fundamental issues about social, economic, and political inequalities in the United States, issues that find revealing expressions in pop culture, and music history specifically.

First things first. It is inarguable that black musicians, living and performing in all- or mostly-black neighborhoods, created most of America’s tremendous styles of pop music: ragtime, blues, gospel, jazz, bebop, R&B, rock, soul, funk, hip-hop. Although whites have worked alongside blacks in creating and codifying these styles, they have much more frequently borrowed blacks’ cultural practices, acknowledging neither the roots of the music nor the act of appropriation. One may recognize racial appropriation, in fact, by the degree that white “popularizers” of ragtime, swing, rock’n’roll, or rap claim ignorance, rather than admit their observable source materials. But does this mean these styles of music belong only to African Americans? What does the term “black music” mean in the context of a marketplace where goods, ideas, and cultural forms become transmogrified into commodities, available by purchase (and emulation) to anyone who can afford it?

Even looking back before mass music markets existed in the United States, there are few indications that any music style generated from a single race. Historians have traced aspects of West African music, dance, and singing forms through U.S. slavery and into the Reconstruction period, and echoes of their influence remain in most pop music today. Yet scholars also emphasize the cross-race borrowings that Irish, French, Spanish, Dutch, English, and Native Americans had with Africans throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in urban areas and along waterways connecting the coasts with the hinterland. Whether it’s the African origins of the banjo, the convoluted history of the slave-era Cakewalk dance, or Appalachian fiddle-play, it is hard to locate any essential qualities of a racially homogenous black music in America. Yet questions of racial ownership and origin become both accentuated and concealed in the marketplace.

Music markets obscure original artistic authorship, making a commodity out of the very idea of an “original artist.” Continue reading ‘David Gilbert: Who Owns Black Culture?: Racial Appropriation and the Marketplace’ »

William Marvel: Sacrificing General Sherman

marvel_lincolnsOver on our Civil War blog, William Marvel, author of Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton describes the intense conflict between General Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton shortly after Lincoln’s death. Marvel begins:

As stern and formidable an opponent as Confederate soldiers and civilians found William Tecumseh Sherman, the general always insisted that he would accept them as fellow countrymen as soon as they submitted to federal authority. He proved as good as his word, especially after hearing President Lincoln’s conciliatory instructions at their City Point conference, late in March of 1865. When he cornered Joe Johnston in North Carolina, less than three weeks later, the two negotiated a complicated surrender agreement that essentially established terms for peace and reunion.

It seems odd that neither recognized how far they had exceeded their authority, but both probably considered their proposal justifiable because their political leaders would have the opportunity to accept or reject it. Even Lincoln would surely have disapproved it, because it involved subjects over which he claimed sole authority, such as the restoration of political rights, amnesty, and the fate of state governments. He would, however, never have responded with the wrath shown by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.

Lincoln was dead by the time the document started for Washington. General Grant received it first, and immediately asked Stanton to call an emergency cabinet meeting, at which everyone concurred that the convention was unacceptable. Stanton vehemently condemned not only the agreement but Sherman himself, and he wrote an order for Grant to go to North Carolina and supervise the operations of Sherman’s troops. He also issued a public rebuke through a press release, in which he accused Sherman of violating an express order against such negotiations—although Sherman had never seen that order. Adding insult to injury, he inaccurately blamed Sherman’s cease-fire for allowing Jefferson Davis to escape, and insinuated that the general might have made a bargain that allowed the rebel leaders to get away with the Confederate treasury. Stanton also published Henry Halleck’s order directing Sherman’s subordinates to ignore their commander’s instructions, which Halleck had based on Stanton’s jaundiced information.

Read Marvel’s full post, “Sacrificing General Sherman,” at UNCPressCivilWar150.com.

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett: Digitization with a Bit of Resentment

hartnett_carolinaWe welcome to the blog today a post from Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, author of Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights. This first comprehensive biography of Jewish American writer and humorist Harry Golden (1903-1981)—author of the 1958 national best-seller Only in America—illuminates a remarkable life intertwined with the rise of the civil rights movement, Jewish popular culture, and the sometimes precarious position of Jews in the South and across America during the 1950s. During World War II, the cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, and founded the Carolina Israelite newspaper, which was published into the 1960s. Golden’s writings on race relations and equal rights attracted a huge popular readership. Golden used his celebrity to editorialize for civil rights as the momentous story unfolded.

In today’s post, Hartnett traces some of the technological changes that have transformed the fields of journalism and research, creating both new possibilities and a sense of nostalgia. 

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I’ve been researching Harry Golden for more than a decade, and in the years we’ve cohabited, the reach of technology has stretched back in some extraordinary ways. I often catch myself wondering what he would have made of it all.

Years ago, it took me months to find all of his family’s records of traveling from what was then Austria-Hungary to New York City in 1907. That Harry’s father and older brother traveled separately from his mother and sisters complicated things, as did the fact that throughout his life, Golden gave various years for his own birth, from 1902 to 1905.

When the passenger manifest of the S.S. Graf Waldersee was first transcribed, it rendered Golden’s original surname, “Goldhirsch,” into something unrecognizable. Yet within a couple of years, the family name was there for all to see on genealogical databases, corrected by some patient soul to its proper spelling.

The musty copies of Life and Time and Saturday Review magazines with articles by and about Golden’s unique fight for civil rights that I found at yard sales and in the jumbled backroom of a Portland, Oregon, junk store have since popped up online like so many digitized mushrooms.

These technological leaps shouldn’t surprise me. Growing up in the newspaper business, I collected the fallen metal letters as the journeymen printers in the back shop set the type for my mother’s small newspaper—fingers flying, somehow managing to set whole pages without errors despite the challenge of doing it all backwards as necessitated by the printing method. (All the more impressive given that more often than not, the printers had enjoyed their liquid dinners at the Legion Hall down the street.)

By the time I became a reporter at age 19, the shift to phototypesetting was solidly in the works and by the time I left the Seattle Times in 2003 to research my book about Golden, the whole journalistic process from note-taking to layout took place on computer screens, and the printing press was miles away.

The online riches still do take me a bit by surprise, though. Just this month another record surfaced in a new database, making public the fruits of my painstaking hunt years ago to find out when and how Golden’s sister Matilda had chosen to estrange herself from her family for a life in Hollywood as a clothing designer.

I’ve been asked several times (usually by people of my vintage and older) if I resent this digitizing of my trade. The answer: Only a tiny bit.  Continue reading ‘Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett: Digitization with a Bit of Resentment’ »

Marianne Gingher: Amazing Place Is a NY Times Bestseller

Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers, edited by Marianne GingherWe welcome a celebratory guest post today from Marianne Gingher, editor of Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers. In this collection of twenty-one original essays, some of North Carolina’s finest writers ruminate on the meaning of place, untangling North Carolina’s influence on their work, exploring how the idea of place resonates with North Carolinians, and illuminating why the state itself plays such a significant role in its own literature. Contributors include Rosecrans Baldwin, Will Blythe, Belle Boggs, Fred Chappell, Jan DeBlieu, Pamela Duncan, Clyde Edgerton, Ben Fountain, Marianne Gingher, Judy Goldman, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Randall Kenan, Jill McCorkle, Michael McFee, Lydia Millet, Robert Morgan, Jenny Offill, Michael Parker, Bland Simpson, Lee Smith, Wells Tower, and Monique Truong.

Listen to a podcast episode of WUNC’s “The State of Things” featuring Gingher and contributors Stephanie Elizondo Griest and Bland Simpson.

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It seems fitting that I should document the AMAZING PLACEment of this wonderful book on the New York Times Bestseller List. Thursday, May 7,  2015, I got word it was named #8 by the New York Times Bestseller list for the TRAVEL category. Thanks first and foremost to all the fabulous writers in the book who made it such a hit that people are buying it and telling their pals to buy it! (It would make a dandy graduation present for the North Carolina literature lover in your house! OR simply the homesick-for-North Carolina grad or the grad that knows, to borrow our former Poet Laureate, Fred Chappell’s famous book title, he or she is “one of us forever.”)

I have been touring the state a bit and the response to the book has been genuinely warm and enthusiastic. Book signings sponsored by bookstores like the Regulator in Durham (at Motorco, a fun venue in downtown), Quail Ridge in Raleigh (my high school prom date was in the audience!), Scuppernong in Greensboro, the Bull’s Head Bookshop in Chapel Hill, and Park Road Books in Charlotte have allowed me to share the book’s many treasures. Thanks to some of the contributors who accompanied me on promotion: Michael McFee, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Bland Simpson, Belle Boggs, Stephanie Elizondo Griest, Michael Parker, Fred Chappell, Jenny Offill, and Lydia Millet. It does take a village to convey the fabulous range of the book. Sorry, but I am going to eventually wear out the word “amazing.” Yet to come is a trip to Manteo and Duck’s Cottage Bookstore that I am eager to reschedule for June.

Below is what I hope will be the first of several AMAZING PLACE cartoons!

 

cartoon by Marianne Gingher showing woman at typewriter with text "What do James Taylor, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Wolfe, Virginia Dare, Andy Griffith, the Red Clay Ramblers, O. Henry, Richard Petty, Doc Watson, Billy Graham, and Jesse Helms have in common? This Amazing Place called North Carolina"

© Marianne Gingher

Marianne Gingher is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and editor of Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers (2015) and Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five of North Carolina’s Finest Writers (2009).

Timothy P. Spira: Hiking Rainbow Falls Trail

Waterfalls and Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes, by Timothy P. SpiraWe welcome a guest post today from Timothy P. Spira, author of Waterfalls and Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes. If you love waterfalls, here are some of the best hikes in the Southern Appalachians. And if you love plants—or simply would like to learn more about them—you will be in hiking heaven: naturalist Tim Spira’s guidebook links waterfalls and wildflowers in a spectacularly beautiful region famous for both. Leading you to gorgeous waterfalls in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, the book includes many hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. As he surveys one of America’s most biologically diverse regions, Spira introduces hikers to the “natural communities” approach for identifying and understanding plants within the context of the habitats they occupy—equipping hikers to see and interpret landscapes in a new way.

In today’s post, Spira highlights one of his favorite Appalachian hikes.

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One of my favorite waterfall hikes in the southern Appalachians is the Rainbow Falls Trail in western North Carolina, just south of Lake Toxaway. Beginning in Gorges State Park, the 4-mile (round-trip) trail soon enters Pisgah National Forest, where it follows the Horsepasture River (a designated Wild and Scenic River) along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Four waterfalls occur along this stretch of the river, including Rainbow Falls, a near-vertical cascade about 125 feet high with a large plunge pool at the base. Few waterfalls in the southern Appalachians are as spectacular (and powerful) as this one. When the water levels are up, the falls hitting the plunge pool create a thunderous roar. A slight breeze carries the mist upslope, soaking hikers at the viewing platform across from the falls. If the light is right, you may see a long arching rainbow in the mist.

Rainbow Falls photo by Timothy P. Spira

Rainbow Falls (photo by Timothy P. Spira)

Just past Rainbow Falls is Turtleback Falls, a short but wide waterfall that drops off a ledge that resembles a turtle’s back. In summer, you’ll likely see people (mostly teenagers) sliding off the “turtle’s back” into the cold-water pool below. Continue on the trail another 0.2 miles to Drift Falls. Here the water slides, rather than falls, about 40 feet down smooth bedrock.  The fourth waterfall, Staircase Falls, cascades over a long series of steps and ledges where the Horsepasture River has cut into the gorge.

Along this moderately difficult trail, you’ll encounter a diversity of wildflowers and plant communities with peak flowering from mid-April through May. The trail starts out in a pine-oak-heath community. Oaks and pines dominate the overstory, with dense heath shrubs in the understory, including mountain laurel, gorge rhododendron, and lowbush blueberry. American chestnut also grows here, as does its close relative chinquapin. There aren’t many wildflowers along this section of the trail due to the dense shrub layer.

The vegetation changes to oak hickory forest just before a signpost indicates you’re leaving Gorges State Park and entering the national forest. Breeding birds such as wood thrush, ovenbird, and black-and-white warbler like to nest in oak forests such as this.

About a mile into the hike, the trail begins to follow the Horsepasture River upstream. Continue reading ‘Timothy P. Spira: Hiking Rainbow Falls Trail’ »

Nathaniel Cadle: The Lusitania and the American Century

cadle_mediating_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Nathaniel Cadle, author of The Mediating Nation: Late American Realism, Globalization, and the Progressive State. By the early twentieth century, as Woodrow Wilson would later declare, the United States had become both the literal embodiment of all the earth’s peoples and a nation representing all other nations and cultures through its ethnic and cultural diversity. This idea of connection with all peoples, Cadle argues, allowed American literary writers to circulate their work internationally, in turn promoting American literature and also the nation itself. Reexamining the relationship between Progressivism and literary realism, Cadle demonstrates that the narratives constructed by American writers asserted a more active role for the United States in world affairs and helped to shift global influence from Europe to North America.

In today’s post, Cadle marks the anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the end of the era of American isolationism.

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This past August 1 marked the centenary of the start of the First World War, with commemorations taking place across the planet. May 7, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. Torpedoed by a German U-boat, the Lusitania sank in just eighteen minutes, killing nearly 1,200 people. Well over one hundred of the victims were American citizens, and while the sinking did not in itself cause the United States to declare war—the United States remained neutral for two more years—the event did turn public opinion against Germany and, along with Germany’s continued use of submarine warfare, helped make direct U.S. involvement in the war inevitable.

In a sense, then, the sinking of the Lusitania spelled an end for U.S. isolationism, dramatically demonstrating that the United States was interconnected with the rest of the world to such a degree that the events of the war could have a direct and profound effect on the lives of Americans whether they were combatants or not. More generally, it also set the stage for what Henry Luce, on the verge of the United States’ entry into yet another world war fifteen years later, would famously call “the American Century.”[1] Indeed, Luce viewed the United States’ unwillingness to seize leadership of the international community at the end of the First World War as a lost opportunity to shape world politics for the better, and his essay exhorted Franklin Roosevelt to succeed where Woodrow Wilson had failed.

Luce’s pronouncement that, “in the 20th century,” the United States was “the most vital nation in the world” continues to exert a powerful influence on U.S. foreign policy.[2] Continue reading ‘Nathaniel Cadle: The Lusitania and the American Century’ »

  1. [1] Luce, Henry. “The American Century.” Life (February 17, 1941): 61–65.
  2. [2] Ibid., 63.

Barbara W. Ellis: 10 Tips for Attracting Birds to Your Landscape

ellis_chesapeakeWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Barbara W. Ellis, author of, Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide. What if, one step at a time, we could make our gardens and landscapes more eco-friendly? Ellis’s colorful, comprehensive guide shows homeowners, gardeners, garden designers, and landscapers how to do just that for the large and beautiful Chesapeake Bay watershed region. This area includes Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and part of West Virginia (translating to portions of USDA Zones 6, 7, and 8). Here, mid-Atlantic gardeners, from beginners to advanced, will find the essential tools for taking steps to make their gardens part of the solution through long-term planning and planting.

In a previous post, Ellis describes some simple ways gardeners can transform landscapes into eco-friendly environments. In today’s post, Ellis shares a variety of tips on how to develop your own bird-friendly garden or yard. Check out her blog, Eastern Shore Gardener, for more gardening information. 

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Feeders are just one option for attracting birds to your yard. The way landscape plantings are arranged, the plants you grow, and the gardening techniques you use all play roles in encouraging birds to make a home in your backyard.

Use the ten tips below to welcome a wider variety of birds to your landscape. You will find more information on attracting birds and other wildlife, including lists of recommended native plants, and plants that attract hummingbirds, in Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide.

1. Offer the basics.

Like all creatures, birds need food—primarily insects, seeds, and berries—as well as access to water, cover, and nesting sites to survive and raise families. To attract more birds to your landscape, focus on providing all of these elements.

2. Group your plants.

This is a design choice that creates both cover and nesting sites. Instead of planting solitary trees surrounded by lawn, plant groups of trees underplanted with shrubs, ground covers, and other plants to create island beds or shrub borders.

Shrubs,-perennials,-ground-

Shrub borders underplanted with perennials and ground covers add texture, color, interest, and wildlife habitat to any landscape.

3. Cultivate native plants.

Scientists have found that native plants support many more insects than non-native plants do. This may seem like a bad thing, but it isn’t. Insects are a vital food source for a great many birds, especially when they are raising young. If you can do one thing to support backyard birds, plant a native oak tree (Quercus spp.) because of the many native insects these trees support. Insect-eaters include wrens, bluebirds, phoebes, chickadees, titmice, and many warblers.

4. Grow berries.

In summer, a wide variety of birds include berries as part of a diet that also includes insects and other foods. Berry-bearing shrubs such as viburnums (Viburnum spp.) and trees such as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) produce fruit that attracts a wide variety of species. Plants that hold their berries into fall and winter are vital for birds fueling up for migration and for overwintering species. Consider planting hollies (Ilex spp.), red cedars (Juniperus virginiana), and bayberries (Morella spp., formerly Myrica spp.) to provide food for these species. Continue reading ‘Barbara W. Ellis: 10 Tips for Attracting Birds to Your Landscape’ »

Christina D. Abreu: Cuban Women Singers and the Mid-Twentieth Century Latin Music Scene, or, Celia and Graciela

Rhythms of Race, by Christina D. AbreuWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Christina D. Abreu, author of Rhythms of Race: Cuban Musicians and the Making of Latino New York City and Miami, 1940-1960. Among the nearly 90,000 Cubans who settled in New York City and Miami in the 1940s and 1950s were numerous musicians and entertainers, black and white, who did more than fill dance halls with the rhythms of the rumba, mambo, and cha cha chá. In her history of music and race in midcentury America, Abreu argues that these musicians, through their work in music festivals, nightclubs, social clubs, and television and film productions, played central roles in the development of Cuban, Afro-Cuban, Latino, and Afro-Latino identities and communities. Abreu draws from previously untapped oral histories, cultural materials, and Spanish-language media to uncover the lives and broader social and cultural significance of these vibrant performers.

In today’s post, Abreu highlights the work of two major figures in Afro-Cuban music.

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Often overlooked in studies of Cuban musicians during the golden age of Latin popular music in the United States are the contributions of Afro-Cuban women singers. Two of the most prominent performers during the 1940s and1950s were Graciela Pérez Grillo, lead singer for Machito y sus Afro-Cubans, and Celia Cruz, lead singer for La Sonora Matancera. The focus on Cuban men as singers, musicians, and bandleaders has for too long overshadowed the contributions of Cuban women as innovators and pioneers on the terrain of Latin popular music.

Graciela’s talent, especially when she sang boleros, eventually came to earn her the title of First Lady of Latin Jazz. Yet, this accolade should not be entirely surprising. In the 1930s, she formed part of an all-girl son band, Orquesta Anacaona, which performed in New York City and Paris, challenging the popular belief that women could not play son music. Graciela’s role as a racial pioneer and musical innovator has often been cast aside in discussions of the more well-known Machito, bandleader of the Afro-Cubans, and Mario Bauzá, trumpet player and arranger for the band. In 1942, the Afro-Cubans began their stint as the house band at La Conga, a downtown nightclub on Broadway. Never before had a band comprised mostly of Cubans and Puerto Ricans of color and African Americans been given such an opportunity. All might have been lost when Machito was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. It was thanks to Graciela’s decision to leave Cuba for New York City to take over on vocals for Machito that the band would continue to break barriers.

Celia, hailed today as the Queen of Salsa, is most often credited by scholars and fans for her popularization of the salsa music genre, especially through her collaborations with Tito Puente and the Fania All-Stars in the late 1960s and 1970s. But it was in the 1950s that the singer began to make her mark on the male-dominated music scene, fronting and touring across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States with La Sonora Matancera, one of Cuba’s most popular bands. Continue reading ‘Christina D. Abreu: Cuban Women Singers and the Mid-Twentieth Century Latin Music Scene, or, Celia and Graciela’ »

Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl: A Third Way

'Hotel Life: The Story of a Place Where Anything Can Happen,' by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt GuterlWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl, coauthors of Hotel Life: The Story of a Place Where Anything Can Happen. What is a hotel? As Levander and Guterl show us in this thought-provoking book, even though hotels are everywhere around us, we rarely consider their essential role in our modern existence and how they help frame our sense of who and what we are. They are, in fact, as centrally important as other powerful places like prisons, hospitals, or universities. Guiding readers through the story of hotels as places of troublesome possibility, as mazelike physical buildings, as inspirational touchstones for art and literature, and as unsettling, even disturbing, backdrops for the drama of everyday life, Levander and Guterl ensure that we will never think about this seemingly ordinary place in the same way again.

In today’s post, Levander and Guterl share their unique insights into the world of scholarship and coauthorship, and recount how their book and partnership developed.

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Five years ago, we sat down in the lobby restaurant of the Hotel ZaZa in Houston and decided to write a book together. Surrounded by the high modernism of the lobby restaurant, we laughingly sketched out a book about the inner political and social life of hotels, a sort of analogue, in a way, to French philosopher Michel Foucault’s institutional histories of the prison and the hospital. Our laughter gave us courage. We weren’t, after all, experts on the subject. We were not established scholars of the hospitality industry, and, individually, our scholarly interests didn’t suggest this as a likely topic. We also weren’t aiming to discard our individual labors.

What we really wanted to do was to carve out a new inquiry space, a space we might both imaginatively inhabit, and to think about something we hadn’t ever thought about—really thought about—before.

We’d been friends and colleagues for a half-dozen years, working in subfields and interdisciplines that were productively overlapping and intertwined. We’d read each other’s manuscripts in draft, sat on conference panels together, given research talks at each other’s universities. Why not, we thought, write something, too? Wasn’t this sort of “high-risk, potentially high-reward” experiment, in the end, what tenure and promotion were supposed to support?

Our decision to focus on the inner life of hotels might seem rather whimsical, but it wasn’t. The truth is, we were looking for the right instrument, for an angle on contemporary life that we could use to materially anchor our ongoing conversations about modernity, power, and release, about race, class, gender, and globalization, about a whole lot of things. Getting to the hotel—and getting to that moment of realization at the ZaZa—took us a year or two of back-and-forth in the off hours. Sitting down that day, ticking off on our fingers those points of shared concern, we finally got it; we simply looked around and recognized that we were surrounded by a weird, fascinating material object, with its own culture and politics, an object that could capture all of these dynamic points. A waitress brought us coffee with a flourish, and a small clutch of brown sugar nuggets appeared on the table, with a small silver spoon. Why not, we thought, try to write about all of that?

This notion of a third way—a collaborative identity that makes a distinctive contribution—is important. One of us is a literary critic, with published monographs on representations of gender, the transnational, and the global. The other is a historian of race and nation, with work in the nineteenth and twentieth century American and international contexts. At the early stages of our dreamtime, we tried to find a single project that matched up with something we’d both already done. But nothing grabbed our attention. Until that moment at the ZaZa, the moment when we decided to take a leap of faith in this untried but compelling idea of coauthorship and, not incidentally, when we decided that the interpretive field for such a venture needed to be somewhere conceptually beyond our respective intellectual comfort zones.

It turns out, looking backwards now, that this emphasis on a third way was a fairly radical exception. Coauthorship is a fairly normal practice in the social sciences and physical sciences, where collaborative work is the norm. But the same can’t be said for the humanities, where the very idea of modern authorship is singular, rooted in dominant ideas about creativity, provenance, and individual genius, and where “the book”—composed by the solitary scribe—is still help up as the gold standard.

This continued commitment to the singular, lone author is surprising—and, we think, counterproductive.

Continue reading ‘Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl: A Third Way’ »

Call for Manuscripts: Studies in Latin America open-access short works series

The Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Press invite manuscript submissions for a new joint initiative in open-access scholarly publishing.

Studies in Latin America is a series of short, peer-reviewed works, approximately 20,000 to 35,000 words in length, to be published by the Institute for the Study of the Americas and distributed by UNC Press in digital open-access format as well as print and e-book formats. The Institute and UNC Press anticipate a wide distribution of the scholarship included in Studies in Latin America by taking advantage of the digital publishing environment.

Studies in Latin America will promote new scholarship on Latin America and the Caribbean focusing on the social sciences—principally anthropology, geography, history, political science, and sociology—and feature diverse methodological approaches and perspectives on vital issues concerning Latin America and the Caribbean, past and present. Studies in Latin America welcomes English-language manuscripts by senior scholars as well as by junior scholars. A formal peer-review process will be conducted as part of the publication decision.

For more information and inquiries about submissions, please contact Louis A. Pérez Jr., Director, Institute for the Study of the Americas, at perez@email.unc.edu or at Global Education Center, CB 3205, University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, N.C. 27599. Questions may also be addressed to Elaine Maisner, Senior Executive Editor, UNC Press, at emaisner@email.unc.edu or tel. 919-962-0810.

Visit the Studies in Latin America website: studiesinlatinamerica.lib.unc.edu

Lindsey A. Freeman: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Cthulucene, Atomicocene

freeman_longing_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Lindsey A. Freeman, author of Longing for the Bomb: Oak Ridge and Atomic Nostalgia. Tucked into the folds of Appalachia and kept off all commercial maps, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was created for the Manhattan Project by the U.S. government in the 1940s. The city has experienced the entire lifespan of the Atomic Age, from the fevered wartime enrichment of the uranium that fueled Little Boy, through a brief period of atomic utopianism after World War II when it began to brand itself as “The Atomic City,” to the anxieties of the Cold War, to the contradictory contemporary period of nuclear unease and atomic nostalgia. Freeman shows how a once-secret city is visibly caught in an uncertain present, no longer what it was historically yet still clinging to the hope of a nuclear future. It is a place where history, memory, and myth compete and conspire to tell the story of America’s atomic past and to explain the nuclear present.

In a previous post, Freeman recounted hearing news of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while visiting another nuclear town half a world away. In today’s post, she proposes the naming of a new geologic era.

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The Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen suggests that the Anthropocene, our current geologic moment, began with a mushroom cloud at 5:29 A.M. in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945.[1] The Anthropocene is meant to signify the time in the planet’s history when certain geologic conditions and processes were forever changed by humans and their tinkering. Crutzen and others argue that the Holocene, the geologic era since the last Ice Age, a good 12,000 years or so of relatively stable climate activity, was pushed aside by this first fungal-shaped blast and all the gregarious blasts that followed.[2] Scientists advocating this distinction say that it makes sense to start with the Trinity Test because it is easily measurable: this was when widespread artificial radioactivity began to circle the globe.

The Holocene was the geologic period when humans started living in cities. The Anthropocene emerged right before suburbanization. The Anthropocene began with a gadget named for an English poet. The Holocene had seen and contained all written human history up until that point.[3] The Holocene was warm. The Anthropocene is atomic.

Russian scientists were already referring to the Anthropocene in the 1960s. Others were talking about the Anthropocene in the 1980s, during the time of my atomic childhood. The term caught traction again when it was brought up at a meeting of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in 2000 by Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer.[4] A formal decision by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) is still years away. When and if they decide to mark the new cene, they will drive a golden spike into the heart of the dead geologic period.[5] This is not only a metaphor. The ICS is in charge of the Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP)—they are the spike drivers. When a new GSSP boundary has been agreed upon by the ICS, then a golden spike is placed into the geologic section to mark the boundary for future geologists: a fancy period in a sentence of time. Over forty golden spikes dot the globe.

Not everyone is happy with the term Anthropocene: Continue reading ‘Lindsey A. Freeman: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Cthulucene, Atomicocene’ »

  1. [1] Other scientists argue that the change started much earlier, most often citing the Industrial Revolution. Still others argue for the time when widespread farming and agriculture cleared forests all over the globe. Some mark the shift with the proliferation of plastics.
  2. [2] “Mushrooms that are in a close group but not close enough to be called a cluster are said to be in a troop. Mushrooms in a group that is a bit more scattered and irregular (loose discipline!) are said to be gregarious.” http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/greatlakesdata/Terms/troop269.html
  3. [3] The #Misanthropocene was defined by two American poets, Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr. It begins with: “First of all. Fuck all y’all.” The rest can be found here: https://communeeditions.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/misanthropocene_web_v2_final.pdf.
  4. [4] See: Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Will Steffen, and Paul Crutzen. “The New World of the Anthropocene” Environmental Science and Technology 2010, 44 (7), pp 2228-–2231.
  5. [5] Voosen, Paul (2012). “Geologists drive golden spike toward Anthropocene’s base,” Greenwire, Sept. 17, http://eenews.net/public/Greenwire/2012/09/17/1?page_type=print.

UNC Press Announces Two New Appointments at Longleaf Services

UNC Press Mainheader

The University of North Carolina Press announced today the hiring of two new positions at its affiliate unit, Longleaf Services. Clay Farr has been named Executive Director of Publishing Services, and Lisa Stallings has been named Editorial, Design, and Production Manager.

Clay Farr has more than two decades of book industry experience, most recently as the Associate Publisher at Basic Books in New York. Previously, he was Vice President of Marketing for the Perseus Books Group.

Lisa Stallings also comes with more than twenty years of experience, most notably at Oxford University Press and as EDP Manager at the University of Arizona Press.

Both of the new positions are associated with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that the Press received in January to create a scaled publishing services platform for the publication of high-quality digital monographs by university presses. Longleaf will create cost efficiencies and economies of scale on a broad range of digital publishing activities, including copyediting, composition, production, operations, and marketing services.

Robbie Dircks, President of Longleaf Services said, “As Longleaf Services embarks on its tenth year of operations, the new publishing tools being developed and offered to our current and future client publishing partners will help to transform and make more efficient the process of publishing academic monographs.” Stallings commented, “I’m both honored and excited to be working on such an important new initiative.” Farr said, “I’m looking forward to engaging with our partners in the university press community to make this new venture a major success.” John Sherer, Spangler Family Director of UNC Press, concluded, “We are very fortunate to be able to bring in such a talented and experienced pair of publishing professionals.”

Founded in 1922, UNC Press is the oldest university press in the South and one of the oldest in the United States.

Longleaf Services Inc. provides total fulfillment services for not-for-profit scholarly publishers. Operating with a collaborative philosophy, it enables client publishers to enhance their competitiveness, improve operating efficiencies, and create economies of scale, resulting in better service to their customers and lowering overall operating costs for both publisher and book buyer. A 501(c)3 organization, Longleaf Services commenced operations in 2006 and serves six university press publishers.

Brian K. Feltman: The Complexities of Commemoration: Remembering the Great War

feltman_stigmaWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Brian K. Feltman, author of The Stigma of Surrender: German Prisoners, British Captors, and Manhood in the Great War and Beyond. Approximately 9 million soldiers fell into enemy hands from 1914 to 1918, but historians have only recently begun to recognize the prisoner of war’s significance to the history of the Great War. Examining the experiences of the approximately 130,000 German prisoners held in the United Kingdom during World War I, Feltman brings wartime captivity back into focus.

In a previous post, Feltman examined Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s case in the context of historical attitudes toward prisoners of war. In today’s post, Feltman discusses public reactions toward the commemoration of prisoners of war during the centenary of World War I.

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From the 888,246 poppies spilling from the Tower of London to the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s controversial ad based on the 1914 Christmas truce, the 100th anniversary of the Great War’s commencement has led to a great deal of centenary commemorations. In some cases, artists and activists from the former belligerent powers have come together to create commemorative artwork in the streets of major cities like London and Berlin in hopes of encouraging passersby to reflect on the significance of the events that unfolded a century ago. Despite widespread recognition of the need to observe the centenary and honor the war’s fallen, however, there has been little consensus over the most appropriate way to do so.

Critics have accused German officials of being less than enthusiastic about memorial efforts. German authorities have not been silent on the subject of commemoration, but they have largely stressed the need to commemorate rather than celebrate the events of 1914–1918 while focusing on the progress that has been made towards European integration. Even among the victorious powers, there has been no shortage of controversy about who deserves to be memorialized. The French government, for example, has come under pressure to recognize soldiers convicted by French military tribunals and executed for desertion or cowardice—charges of a decidedly unheroic nature.

The controversies surrounding the centennial commemorations should come as no surprise. Even in the years immediately following the Great War, Europeans strove to ensure that their particular war experience, or the experience of a fallen loved one, was properly represented in memorials and commemorative events. Monuments to the fallen and public displays of remembrance were pervasive after the war, but some veterans’ groups felt marginalized in the collective memory of the Great War. Continue reading ‘Brian K. Feltman: The Complexities of Commemoration: Remembering the Great War’ »

Andrew J. Taylor: Exploring the End of Consensus

parcel_end_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Andrew J. Taylor, coauthor, with Toby L. Parcel, of The End of Consensus: Diversity, Neighborhoods, and the Politics of Public School Assignments. One of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, Wake County, North Carolina, added more than a quarter million new residents during the first decade of this century, an increase of almost 45 percent. At the same time, partisanship increasingly dominated local politics, including school board races. Against this backdrop, Toby Parcel and Andrew Taylor consider the ways diversity and neighborhood schools have influenced school assignment policies in Wake County, particularly during 2000-2012, when these policies became controversial locally and a topic of national attention.

In the following post, Taylor offers background on the situation in Wake County that led him and Parcel to write their book.

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When a new school board majority elected by Wake County, North Carolina, residents in 2009 began to alter the jurisdiction’s long-standing diversity assignment policy, it drew attention from media outlets across the globe. The story conveyed by reporters was that the county—possibly still believed to be a sleepy southern backwater by many—was fractured in two by this decision, with conservative white suburban residents supportive of the change and a coalition of liberal white urbanites and African Americans in vocal opposition. Although Wake’s school board politics are ostensibly nonpartisan, the new majority had ridden into office on a strong Republican tide that existed as a mild swell in the county just fifteen years before. They instituted, according to stylized accounts, a revolution in policy of similar magnitude.

In reality, however, things were much more complicated than that. One of the most important contributions of The End of Consensus is to paint a more nuanced, and of course accurate, picture of what led to one of the most publicized developments in the nation’s school board politics and the state’s public life of recent years.

The Republican-backed board majority was certainly assisted in its election by broad discontent with an assignment policy that was based on racial and, after 2000, socioeconomic diversity, but there were other reasons why the status quo was changed. The old Democratic board was viewed as out-of-touch, insensitive in its efforts to move students between schools in the rapidly growing jurisdiction, and too supportive of year-round education that many parents with children on traditional calendars worried deeply about. Residents were genuinely pulled between the diversity policy and the new board’s efforts to assign students based upon geographical proximity—the so-called “neighborhood schools” model. Many people saw the virtues of both approaches. Continue reading ‘Andrew J. Taylor: Exploring the End of Consensus’ »

David Gilbert: The Streaming Music Debate: Some Historical Context

gilbert_productWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by David Gilbert, author of The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace. In 1912 James Reese Europe made history by conducting his 125–member Clef Club Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The first concert by an African American ensemble at the esteemed venue was more than just a concert—it was a political act of desegregation, a defiant challenge to the status quo in American music. In this book, Gilbert explores how Europe and other African American performers, at the height of Jim Crow, transformed their racial difference into the mass-market commodity known as “black music.” Gilbert shows how Europe and others used the rhythmic sounds of ragtime, blues, and jazz to construct new representations of black identity, challenging many of the nation’s preconceived ideas about race, culture, and modernity and setting off a musical craze in the process.

In today’s post, Gilbert compares the difficulties of today’s modern music industry with the “Manhattan Musical Marketplace” of the twentieth century, flagging the often disincentivizing disparity between music consumption and artist compensation.

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In recent years, growing numbers of established, professional musicians have begun to rethink their relationship to music streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Prime, Beats, and YouTube, which allow customers to listen to a nearly universal selection of music for a small monthly fee (and, in many cases, for free). Once heralded as the undisputed future of music recording, these services are running into backlash from some of the industry’s most popular performers. Taylor Swift recently made news by taking all of her music off Spotify; bands like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Radiohead have refused to stream their albums from the get-go.

In late March of this year, over a dozen of the best-selling artists of the decade (Beyoncé, Madonna, Alicia Keys, Arcade Fire) joined Jay Z to inaugurate his new streaming company, Tidal, which claims to be “the first artist-owned global music and entertainment platform.” In an interview, Jay Z explained why he was getting into the business, citing the need for better quality music (“lossless”) files for the masses, and a better deal for musicians. He suggested that, due to the growing “free” Internet economy and the swell of streaming services, music consumers “are not respecting the music, and [are] devaluing it and devaluing what it really means. People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water.” The concern that streaming services are effectively cutting out the artists who create the content that record labels sell and streaming services circulate is not limited to today’s pop stars. Indeed, increasing numbers of today’s “working” musicians at all levels of the industry are starting to call attention to the paltry incomes their recordings—and in many cases, a career’s worth of recordings—are earning.

Many musicians have begun to publish thoughtful criticisms of both the streaming services and the wider changes in the music industry. Country singer Roseanne Cash, a life-long performer and Grammy winner, recently testified before Congress to demonstrate that for her 600,000 song streams last year, she earned only $104. Most of the money that streaming services are paying for the rights to stream her music are going to her record labels, not to her. In a separate interview, Cash noted, “It’s the fact that everyone gets paid except the music creators. . . . We are creating a culture where content creators are a new servant class, and paid as such.” Yet even with this in mind, she says she doesn’t “want to make the streaming services go away. We [musicians] are not Luddites. We just want to be paid fairly.”

Marc Ribot, the avant-garde jazz guitarist who’s played a sonically large role in Tom Waits’s and Elvis Costello’s recording output as well as Alison Krauss’s and Robert Plant’s 2009 Grammy-winning album Raising Sand, sees even more drastic concerns for the future. After making $87 for 68,000 streams of his album Your Turn (which, he notes, cost $15,000 to make), he argued in the New York Times that unless streaming companies begin to negotiate contracts with recordings artists, rather than record companies, “you can kiss most jazz, classical, folk, experimental, and a whole lot of indie bands goodbye.” To the New Yorker, Ribot said: “Here’s the simple fact that no one wants to talk about. Spotify says it pays out seventy percent of its revenues to rights holders. Well, that’s very nice, that’s lovely. But if I’m making a shoe, and it costs me a hundred dollars to make it, and the retailer is selling that shoe for ten dollars, then I don’t care if he gives me seventy percent, I don’t care if he gives me one hundred percent—I’m going out of business. Dead is dead.” (Ribot makes his most heartfelt case, using the life and death of his Haitian mentor, Frantz Casseus, here.) In a series of thoughtful essays and interviews, former Talking Heads lead man and pop experimentalist David Byrne has been making the case for re-evaluations of the current system, asking without hyperbole: “Do you really think people are going to keep putting time and effort into this, if no one is making any money?”

It is certainly an interesting time for the creation, selling, and distribution of popular music (not to mention less-popular music, like jazz and classical, which encounter even more drastic dilemmas, as recently pointed out at Salon.com). Many of the artists taking a stand against the new status quo in recorded music allude to the history of music making in the United States, often referring back to earlier eras wherein musicians received unfair deals from recording companies and large majorities of performers struggled to make a living, even as a “top 1%” of musicians dominated sales and marketing. This look back to history makes sense.

The marketplace for American music is a relatively recent invention. Continue reading ‘David Gilbert: The Streaming Music Debate: Some Historical Context’ »

William Marvel on Edwin Stanton’s Eulogy for Lincoln: Now He Belongs to the Ages?

marvel_lincolnsOver on our Civil War blog, William Marvel, author of Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton weighs the validity of the eulogy allegedly spoken by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at the deathbed of President Lincoln. Marvel writes:

One of the more touching moments in the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination came when a surgeon announced that the president was dead, whereupon the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, broke the silence. “Now he belongs to the ages,” Stanton ostensibly observed, with a poetic spontaneity for which he was not known.

Numerous people recount some form of the quote, but none of them recorded their memory of the phrase until a generation later, after it appeared in the multi-volume Lincoln biography by his former secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. Nicolay was not in Washington that night; Hay is often depicted at the bedside, although the room was not big enough to accommodate all who have subsequently been placed around it at the moment of the president’s death.

Hay was an especially talented stylist who would have appreciated such eloquence. He was also a prolific writer, but he apparently only put Stanton’s words in print for the biography of 1890. Charles Taft, one of the surgeons attending the dying president, published his own recollection of the scene three years after the Nicolay and Hay biography appeared, claiming that Stanton actually said “He now belongs to the ages.”

Forty years after the assassination James Tanner, a Veteran Reserve Corps stenographer who was taking testimony in another room, corroborated the Nicolay and Hay quote more closely. A decade after that, a former provost marshal insisted that he was the only one who stood near enough to hear what Stanton said: he remembered it as “Now he belongs to history,” but that rendition enjoyed little circulation or credence.

Had Stanton uttered so memorable a eulogy, it is strange that no one publicized it for a quarter of a century, or conveyed it to the newspaper reporters who swarmed outside the Peterson house, gleaning every detail they could from those passing in and out. If the quote appears in any earlier publication, I have not seen it, and the recitation of such evocative remarks decades later, even by accredited eyewitnesses, is no guarantee of accuracy. The continual retelling of such landmark events can impregnate the minds of actual witnesses with recollections founded less on memory than on external suggestion—besides attracting deliberately fraudulent accounts.

Read Marvel’s full post, “Now He Belongs to the Ages?,” at UNCPressCivilWar150.com.