Brian K. Feltman: Blurred Lines: Prisoners of War, Deserters, and Bowe Bergdahl

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, historian Feltman brings wartime captivity back into focus.

In today’s post, Feltman examines the controversial case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in the context of historical attitudes toward prisoners of war.

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On May 31, 2014, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban after nearly five years in captivity. Bergdahl is the only American soldier believed to have spent time as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and his release was greeted with a chorus of cheers from the American public. Although some hailed Bergdahl as a hero, others within the military community quickly alleged that he had not been taken prisoner and had instead deserted his post.

Accusations of desertion prompted many of Bergdahl’s supporters to reconsider their positions and left several congressmen scrambling to delete early tweets that praised his service. While many Americans may be surprised by the heated controversy surrounding Bergdahl’s capture, the Bergdahl affair is only the most recent example of the hazy line separating deserters and prisoners of war.

In many cultures throughout history, surrendering on the field of battle and becoming a prisoner of war has carried a stigma. Battle cries such as “victory or death” or “no retreat, no surrender” serve as proof of the military’s exaltation of soldiers who refuse to accept defeat, even at the cost of their own lives. Soldiers who found themselves in enemy hands have often wrestled with feelings of shame and inadequacy for falling short of these romanticized standards. However, even if prisoners of war could become stigmatized, they faced no punishment or official backlash as long as they behaved with honor in captivity. Desertion to the enemy, on the other hand, is an act of treason that carries severe penalties and ostracism. Continue reading ‘Brian K. Feltman: Blurred Lines: Prisoners of War, Deserters, and Bowe Bergdahl’ »

Christina D. Abreu: In Honor of Professor Juan Flores

abreu_rhythms_PBWe 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 celebrates the life of the late Professor Juan Flores, whose scholarship on Puerto Rican identity and culture has had wide-reaching effects in the field of Latino/a studies and on Abreu’s own work.

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In Honor of Professor Juan Flores, More Than a Scholar of Puerto Rican Culture in New York

Like many others, I learned of the passing of Professor Juan Flores (1943–2014) through social media. Almost immediately, scholars, colleagues, and friends took to Facebook and Twitter to post their condolences, express their profound sadness, and give thanks to a man whose work paved the way for generations of writers who dared to tell stories about Latino/as, diasporic identity, and popular culture.

In his book From Bomba to Hip Hop, Professor Flores argued that Puerto Ricans on the island and in the United States hold an unfavorable and subordinate status because of the island’s colonial relationship with the United States. Puerto Ricans’ unique identity and culture—in the form of popular music, literature, and urban space—differentiate them from other Latino/a groups in the United States; consequently, his findings brought attention to the homogenizing effects of the racial and ethnic terms “Latino/a” and “Latinidad.”

Criticism and embrace of identity terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” have been longstanding in the field of Latino/a Studies. Puerto Ricans, Flores argued, share more in common with African Americans than with other Latino/a groups. He contended that Puerto Ricans and African Americans experience similar forms of racial and ethnic subordination in the United States because of parallels in their location in urban areas, their socioeconomic status, and their position as colonized subjects of the same nation-state.

Flores’s continued engagement with these debates crystallized in the publication of The Afro-Latin@ Reader. In this collection of essays, Flores and his colleague and wife, Miriam Jiménez Román, brought together the recent work of scholars who focus on identifying the presence and contributions of Afro-Latino/as in the United States. Many of the essays also examine the racial and ethnic discrimination faced and confronted by black Latino/as both within and beyond Latino/a communities in the United States. In fact, several pieces feature some of the very Afro-Cuban musicians and community leaders that I focus on in my book Rhythms of Race, including Graciela Pérez, Arsenio Rodríguez, and Melba Alvarado. Continue reading ‘Christina D. Abreu: In Honor of Professor Juan Flores’ »

Christopher C. Sellers: How a Mid-Century LA Environmentalist Got Beyond John Muir

Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America, by Christopher C. SellersWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Christopher C. Sellers, author of Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America, which will be available in paperback in February 2015. Although suburb-building created major environmental problems, Christopher Sellers demonstrates that the environmental movement originated within suburbs–not just in response to unchecked urban sprawl. Drawn to the countryside as early as the late 19th century, new suburbanites turned to taming the wildness of their surroundings. They cultivated a fondness for the natural world around them, and in the decades that followed, they became sensitized to potential threats. Sellers shows how the philosophy, science, and emotions that catalyzed the environmental movement sprang directly from suburbanites’ lives and their ideas about nature, as well as the unique ecology of the neighborhoods in which they dwelt.

In a previous guest post, Sellers reported on the September 21 People’s Climate March event in New York. In the following article, reposted with permission from Boom, Sellers reexamines the legacy of John Muir in light of the broadening environmental issues of the century that succeeded him. This essay originally appeared at boomcalifornia.com on 12/24/2014, the 100th anniversary of John Muir’s death. Sellers writes partly in response to Boom‘s Fall 2014 issue

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[As we mark the centenary of John Muir’s death], the inevitable outpourings of praise need to be tempered with both historical awareness and wariness.

Muir’s legacy runs to the heart of why Americans have had such trouble caring for nature in the places we actually inhabit. Extolling the High Sierra, Muir taught his readers and followers to appreciate a nature that could be truly found only in the most pristine of places, where the human hand seemed lightest.

Yet our biggest environmental problems have long lain not in places like Yosemite, but where human hands appear far more dominant, and nature itself is much harder to see. Muir’s legacy has often impeded our inclination and ability to heed ecological realities that are neither so pristine nor so grandiose, but that thread through our society and our lives. And so Muir’s legacy is inevitably being questioned on this centennial.

But there are other, earlier precedents for productively re-examining Muir’s relevance. The modern environmental movement, which took off after World War II in California as elsewhere, was often concerned with places that were far more populous and built up—suburbs and cities in particular—than Muir’s beloved Sierra.

For at least one prominent mid-century California environmentalist, caring for these places required overcoming Muir’s legacy. Richard Lillard was an English professor and author of Eden in Jeopardy: Man’s Prodigal Meddling with His Environment: The Southern California Experience, published in 1966, and the closest thing Southern California had in those years to an environmental prophet. A Muir acolyte when he first arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s, Lillard never would have written his seminal book had he remained so.

At first, following Muir, Lillard abandoned the city whenever he could, spending his summers as a “naturalist” guide in Yosemite, and even holding his wedding in its outdoor “cathedral.” His tune changed while living in a house he had bought in 1947 in a canyon of the Santa Monica Mountains, close enough to the downtown to lie within the city limits of Los Angeles.

In search of a conservation that was more personal and “deeply lived,” Lillard got to know the natural world that lay around his own house. That growing acquaintance became central to his transformation. He “lovingly raised” his own home garden, and turned a keen eye to the local wildlife, even the weeds. When a disastrous flood and mudslide struck his and his neighbors’ homes, he launched into local politics, reviving a homeowners’ association that pushed city hall for tighter rules on hillside homebuilding.

Sellers blog post photo

Photo from the Richard Gordon Lillard papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

Soon thereafter, writing in his private journal, he rankled at Muir’s legacy. Muir’s admirers, he decided, were “socially immature.” He affirmed instead the inspiration of a Thoreau or Andre Gide who “balance … things well”—the “humane world…of private love and public causes” alongside “the nature he makes his setting.” Part of the reason was that the place Lillard now lived in and cared for faced threats that Muir had never contemplated, threats more associated with suburbs or cities than with wilderness. The great contribution of Eden in Jeopardy was to highlight these threats across Southern California: the heedless paving of roads and rivers, the haphazard raising of roofs across valleys and farmland, the hurdling of tons of smoke and hydrocarbons into the Los Angeles basin’s air. Continue reading ‘Christopher C. Sellers: How a Mid-Century LA Environmentalist Got Beyond John Muir’ »

UNC Press Receives Major Grant from Mellon Foundation

UNC Press

The University of North Carolina Press has been awarded a $998,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York to support the development of capacities at university presses for the publication of high-quality digital monographs. The funding will be used to create a scaled platform where university presses will collaborate to achieve cost efficiencies on a broad range of digital publishing activities, including copyediting, composition, production, operations, and marketing services.

The three-year project, which began January 1, 2015, is being led by principal investigator John Sherer, the Spangler Family Director of UNC Press. It is being built upon UNC Press’s existing fulfillment company, Longleaf Services.

“We are very grateful to the Mellon Foundation for their support of this project,” said Sherer. “As publishing has advanced using digital technology, the benefits of operating at scale have never been more apparent. But most university presses lack access to the kind of scale experienced by commercial publishers. This initiative will provide presses with a much-needed option for collaborating and realizing the advantages of these new technologies.”

Donald Waters, Senior Program Officer for Scholarly Communications at the Mellon Foundation, said: “University presses are seeking to retool their operations to take advantage of digital media and digital workflows to bring new works of scholarship to the broadest possible audiences at the lowest possible cost. The services that UNC Press will develop as part of this grant promise to help a broad set of presses achieve this necessary retooling.”

Barbara Kline Pope, President of the Association of American University Presses, remarked, “This is just the kind of collaboration that will allow university presses to continue to thrive as connectors between scholars and readers—and now to realize the kinds of efficiencies necessary to remain competitive in the marketplace.”

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

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Glenn David Brasher’s Civil War Top 10 from 2014

Do we have a new annual tradition on our hands? Last year over on our CivilWar150 blog, Glenn David Brasher gave us a great roundup of Civil War-related highlights from throughout the year. He’s back at it again with 2014’s big news in Civil War history. You’ll find elections, debates, satire, sincerity, and more. The countdown begins with this moment coming in at #10:

Read the full list over at uncpresscivilwar150.com.

Here’s to a historic 2015: Happy New Year!

Excerpt: Alcohol: A History, by Rod Phillips

Alcohol: A History, by Rod PhillipsWhether as wine, beer, or spirits, alcohol has had a constant and often controversial role in social life. In his innovative book on the attitudes toward and consumption of alcohol, Rod Phillips surveys a 9,000-year cultural and economic history, uncovering the tensions between alcoholic drinks as healthy staples of daily diets and as objects of social, political, and religious anxiety.

In the following excerpt from Alcohol: A History (pp. 111-114), Phillips explores the early development of distilled spirits, “the water of life.”

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The first unambiguous references to distilled alcohol as a beverage date from the thirteenth century. In Spain, a Catalan scholar of Muslim science, Ramon Lull, admired the smell and flavor of his distilled spirit and presciently suggested that it might be an excellent stimulant for soldiers before they went into battle.[1] His colleague Arnaldus de Villa Nova, from Valencia, promoted distilled alcohol as having rejuvenating effects—this two centuries before his fellow countryman Ponce de Leon looked for rejuvenating waters (the Fountain of Youth) in the New World. One of Arnaldus’s scientific preoccupations was identifying ways to maintain or regain youthfulness. His various recommendations included drinking a concoction of saffron, aloes, and viper juice; being cheerful and moderate; and avoiding sex and strenuous exercise.[2] Perhaps it is not surprising that he would think that, in distilled spirits, he had found yet another effective substance. Alcohol, he enthused, “has the power to heal all infirmity and diseases, both of inflammation and debility; it turns an old man into a youth.”[3] Later in the thirteenth century, in Italy, a number of scholars recommended distilled alcohol—which was by then becoming known as aqua vitae, or “the water of life”—for its supposed medicinal values, whether it was consumed or applied to wounds.

Yet before distilling alcohol could gain acceptance and respectability, it became a casualty of the reaction against alchemy. In the fourteenth century, alchemy was declared to be contrary to nature and akin to magic, and it was condemned by church and secular authorities alike. Pope John XXII declared aspects of alchemical theory to be heretical in the early 1320s, and in 1326 the inquisitor general of Aragon, in Spain, started a campaign to suppress it. It was forbidden in England, Venice, and elsewhere, and in 1380, Charles V of France made the ownership of distilling apparatus, which was widely associated with alchemy, a capital crime.[4]

This was not a climate that encouraged the production of distilled alcohol. But some scientists and scholars persisted, and there are occasional but sparse records of spirits production throughout the 1400s, when the pressure against alchemists was gradually relaxed. Michele Savonarola, court physician in Ferrara, published a book on distilling, De Aqua Ardente (On Burning Water, a reference to the fire used to heat the base liquid), in which he stressed the therapeutic effects of spirits and their efficacy in dealing with the plague, which continued to affect many parts of Europe. On the other hand, Leonardo da Vinci designed an improved alembic for distilling alcohol from ale or wine, but only for use as a solvent or as an incendiary for military purposes; he warned against drinking distilled spirits.

By the end of the fifteenth century, distilling alcohol for medical purposes was largely differentiated from alchemy, even though both used the same apparatus. Distilling alcohol had been appropriated by physicians and apothecaries who, in many countries, were given rights to distill, prescribe, and sell spirits. Sometimes the distillate was used in its pure form; at other times it was distilled with flowers, plants, herbs, and spices, each form being prescribed for particular ailments. In 1498, the high treasurer of Scotland recorded a payment of 9 shillings to a “barbar” (barber-surgeon) “that brocht aqua vitae to the King in Dundee by the King’s command.”[5] It was also made in religious houses, where monks and nuns sometimes made medicinal “waters.” In one of the earliest references to distilling in Scotland—a 1494 order for “eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae”—the producer was a member of a religious order.[6]

The health value attributed to spirits was signaled by their generic name, aqua vitae—ironic, because the process of distilling separated the alcohol from the water in the base liquid. The name was replicated in other languages, such as the French eau-de-vie, Scandinavian aquavit, and Gaelic uisge beatha or usquebaugh, which in the 1700s became “usky,” “uiskie,” and “whiskie.” Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Alcohol: A History, by Rod Phillips’ »

  1. [1] William T. Harper, Origins and Rise of the British Distillery (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen, 1999), 11.
  2. [2] Allison P. Coudert, “The Sulzbach Jubilee: Old Age in Early Modern Europe and America,” in Old Age in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: Interdisciplinary Approaches, ed. Albrecht Classen (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2005), 534.
  3. [3] Quoted in Harper, British Distillery, 11.
  4. [4] Ibid., 13–17.
  5. [5] C. Anne Wilson, Water of Life: A History of Wine-Distilling and Spirits, 500 BC–AD 2000 (Totnes, U.K.: Prospect Books, 2006), 149–50.
  6. [6] The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, ed. George Burnett (Edinburgh: H.M. General Register House, 1883), 10:487.

Essential Background Reading on Cuba from UNC Press

On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture, by Louis A. Perez Jr.In light of the sea change in U.S.-Cuban relations, I am delighted to recommend two books to anyone who wants to get up to speed: On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture, by Louis A. Pérez Jr., and Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh.

On Becoming Cuban is a prizewinning, sweeping cultural history that reveals just how really close Cubans and U.S. Americans are.

Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, by William LeoGrande and Peter KornbluhThe just-published Back Channel to Cuba is oracular: opening with invasions, covert operations, assassination plots using poison pens and exploding seashells, and a grinding economic embargo, this book presents a surprising, untold history of bilateral efforts toward rapprochement and reconciliation. Having uncovered hundreds of formerly secret U.S. documents and conducted interviews with dozens of negotiators, intermediaries, and policy makers, including Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter, LeoGrande and Kornbluh entertainingly chronicle how, despite the political clamor surrounding any hint of better relations with Havana, serious negotiations have been conducted by every presidential administration since Eisenhower’s through secret, back-channel diplomacy. What more can I say?

For the full list of our books in Cuban studies, please visit the UNC Press website.

Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir

Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity, by Shabana MirShabana Mir’s powerful ethnographic study of women on Washington, D.C., college campuses reveals that being a young female Muslim in post-9/11 America means experiencing double scrutiny—scrutiny from the Muslim community as well as from the dominant non-Muslim community. Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life Identity illuminates the processes by which a group of ethnically diverse American college women, all identifying as Muslim and all raised in the United States, construct their identities during one of the most formative times in their lives.

Mir, an anthropologist of education, focuses on key leisure practices—drinking, dating, and fashion—to probe how Muslim American students adapt to campus life and build social networks that are seamlessly American, Muslim, and youthful. Mir concludes that institutions of higher learning continue to have much to learn about fostering religious diversity on campus.

In this excerpt (pp. 47-51), Mir explores the challenges Muslim American women face amidst the prevalence alcohol culture on college campuses.

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Muslim Participation/Marginality in College Drinking Cultures

Fatima was an adventurous designer of third space identities, a non-hijabi who was at the same time religiously devout, socially liberal, sexually conservative, and politically aware. When Fatima entered the gates of Georgetown, having newly graduated from a strictly Islamic school, she was horrified to find that some of her Muslim friends drank alcohol. Though the overwhelming majority of Muslim theological opinion agrees that intoxicants (beer, wine, and inebriating drugs) are forbidden to adherents of Islam, this ban like most religious taboos is violated as well as observed. Such is also the case with Muslim American college students, men and women. Indeed, in the world of Georgetown, encountering another Muslim drinker was not a momentous discovery. In a world-weary monotone, Fatima said: “But now it’s just, ‘Oh, he drinks: OK, he’s another one among so many.’” As numbers are crucial in any cultural change, this is significant for the future of American Islam. Religious Muslim American students at Georgetown became more unconcerned with alcohol culture over time, even if they did not drink (and, in this book, I do not even deal with the large contingent of liberal postcolonial elites, students from Muslim countries who filled college bars). Fatima was a proud though jaded teetotaler, profoundly aware of the social consequences on campus of not drinking. I met many Muslims like her, and many unlike her. The contours of Muslim religious identity clouded over in the spaces of youth culture, pregnant with multifarious possibilities—drinking; not drinking; drinking with regular breaks for teetotalism; periods of drinking; hanging out with drinkers; avoiding any spaces with alcohol; and not drinking but passing as drinkers. Being Muslim in alcohol cultures is, like the Facebook status, complicated.
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir’ »

Stephanie B. Jeffries: Free the Phoenix: Fire and Rebirth in Linville Gorge

Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, by Stephanie B. Jeffries and Thomas R. WentworthWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Stephanie B. Jeffries, coauthor (with Thomas R. Wentworth) of Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. This unique hiking guide to the southern Appalachian mountains leads readers to explore the rich forest ecosystems and other natural communities visitors encounter along the trail. Drawing on years of experience guiding forest walks throughout the region, Jeffries and Wentworth invite hikers and nature lovers to see their surroundings in new ways. Readers will learn to decipher clues from the tree canopies, forest floor, and other natural features to appreciate more fully the environmental factors that make the southern Appalachians home to an amazing biodiversity.

In today’s post, Jeffries explores the role of fire in the ongoing life of a southern Appalachian wilderness, Linville Gorge.

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“Hike 22 is on fire!”

It was with a mixture of irony and elation that I typed those five words to my co-author, Tom Wentworth, on November 14, 2013.

Not two days prior, we’d submitted the final manuscript for our book, Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, to UNC Press. Hike 22 leads to the summit of Table Rock. Now it was burning, the result of a runaway campfire in the Table Rock Picnic Area.

Nighttime photographs shot from across the Gorge dramatized the fiery landscape. Local news sites carried stories with dozens of reader comments lamenting the loss of Linville Gorge’s pristine beauty.

But as we discuss in our Table Rock hike chapter, fire is as essential to Linville Gorge as the wild and scenic river that cut its steep sides. The exposed, dry, rocky summits have always been susceptible to summer lightning strikes, and the pine forests there are dynamic. The Table Mountain pine and pitch pine that dominate these natural communities require fire to persist—they need full sun and mineral soil for germination of their tiny seeds and successful growth of their seedlings.

Table Mountain pine, found only in the southern Appalachians, holds onto years of resin-sealed cones, which open only in the heat of a fire. This remarkable strategy ensures that the seeds are released into the ideal environment for germination. Meanwhile, pitch pine can resprout from burned branches and trunks, so a burnt tree can survive and regenerate after a fire. In addition to these fire-adapted pines, wildflowers such as the federally endangered Heller’s blazing star and mountain golden heather need fire to keep their sunny, rocky habitats open.

Without fire, fleshy, evergreen shrubs like rhododendron and mountain laurel form a dense understory, and shade- and drought-tolerant oaks sprout atop the spongy organic soil and crowd out the pines and other species. This vegetation is fire retardant, so the forest is less likely to burn. Thus the pine forests slowly disappear, as older trees are killed by bark beetle or old age and their seedlings perish in the evergreen thickets. Truth is, Linville Gorge’s gnarly pine forests have been struggling ever since humans began extinguishing fires in the name of preservation.

Controversy rages over fire policy in Linville Gorge, which was the first designated Federal Wilderness in the East with the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Currently, the policy is to suppress any fires that threaten manmade structures, but to allow lower-intensity lightning-strike fires to burn. The latest management plan proposes prescribed burns in the Gorge to promote pines and rare plants and to reduce fuel loads. Homeowners in the Gingercake Acres development, perched on the eastern rim of the Gorge, understandably worry about risk to their homes. Advocacy organizations like Save the Linville Gorge Wilderness argue that fire destroys the wild character of the landscape. Skeptics scoff that the Forest Service maintains only an illusion of control over something as unpredictable and powerful as fire.

Burning a Federal Wilderness isn’t easy. The Forest Service, which manages the Linville Gorge Wilderness, cannot use any mechanized equipment in maintenance, management, or, in this case, fighting forest fires. Continue reading ‘Stephanie B. Jeffries: Free the Phoenix: Fire and Rebirth in Linville Gorge’ »

Video: Celebrating 75 Years of ‘These Are Our Lives’

'These Are Our Lives,' by Federal Writers' Project, Regional StaffIn 1935, President Roosevelt founded the Federal Writers’ Project as part of the Works Progress Administration. The FWP employed thousands of historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers struggling through the Great Depression, creating jobs and enabling the artistic expression and preservation of an era. One of the publications that resulted from the FWP was These Are Our Lives, published by UNC Press in 1939. Based on interviews conducted throughout North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, the book collects the “life histories of tenant farmers, farm owners, textile and other factory workers, persons in service occupations in towns and cities (such as bell hops, waitresses, messenger boys, clerks in five and ten cent stores, soda jerks), and persons in miscellaneous occupations such as lumbering, mining, turpentining, and fishing,” wrote UNC Press director and southeastern regional FWP director William Terry Couch.

Upon the book’s publication, Time magazine said, “It gives the South its most pungent picture of common life, the Writers’ Project its strongest claim to literary distinction.” The San Francisco Chronicle called it “praiseworthy from any point of view, whether political, social, or literary.” And the New York Times Book Review declared it “one of the most revealing books that has been written on folkways that largely make the South what it is.”

This past spring the Library of Congress sponsored a 75th anniversary event commemorating the publication of These Are Our Lives. The event featured comments from John Cole, director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, where the FWP archives are held; historian David Taylor; journalist Ann Banks; StoryCorps recording and archive manager Virginia Millington; plus audio recordings from StoryCorps and live readings of the personal accounts found in These Are Our Lives. See video of the event embedded below.

For additional historical context: in 1939, UNC Press was breaking new ground in the publication of works written by and about African Americans, a controversial pursuit for a southern university press of that era.  Continue reading ‘Video: Celebrating 75 Years of ‘These Are Our Lives’’ »