Interview: Charles L. Hughes on Country Soul

Charles L. Hughes, author of Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South, talks about the transformative power of the “country-soul triangle.” Be sure to listen to the free Country Soul Spotify playlist below to accompany your reading!

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Gina Mahalek: What is the “country-soul triangle”? Where did that phrase come from, and why is it so appropriate?

hughes_charlesCharles L. Hughes: I developed the term “country-soul triangle” to refer to a network of recording studios in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. At legendary places like FAME and Stax, black and white musicians produced a wealth of classic recordings in the 1960s and 1970s. Each city had its own successful scene, of course, but I’m interested in exploring the many connections between them—sounds and players traveled back and forth between these three cities, leading the triangle to become a center of the era’s music industry and turning each city’s signature “sound” into an internationally recognized symbol of quality. Musicians in the triangle recorded with a wide variety of artists, but they were most associated with country, soul, and their stylistic blends. So it felt appropriate to term it the country-soul triangle.

GM: Who are some of the prominent artists who recorded in the country-soul triangle that you talk about in the book?
CH: The list of artists who recorded in Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville during this period is truly overwhelming. Even in a book like this, I could only scratch the surface. Still, I tried to discuss as many performers as possible. I talk about soul stars from Aretha Franklin to the Staple Singers to Joe Tex; country artists including Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, and Dolly Parton; and pop and rock artists ranging from the Osmonds to the Rolling Stones to Dusty Springfield. The artists who recorded hits in the country-soul triangle—whether homegrown artists or visiting stars—form a constellation that demonstrates just how significant Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville were to the era’s popular music. It’s really exciting to spotlight them in the book.

GM: Although you talk about many of the famous artists who recorded in the triangle, you focus primarily on the behind-the-scenes musicians at these studios. Why did you choose this approach?

CH: These musicians were the most important reason for the triangle’s success in so many genres. Their versatility and efficiency made them some of the most in-demand players of their era, and they established Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville as places where a wide variety of artists could go to cut successful records. They were also central to the way that country and soul developed artistically and culturally—not only did they develop the actual music, but they established the genres as symbols of race and politics in the 1960s and 1970s. Relatedly, they also dealt with racial politics on the most concrete level, thanks to their ongoing collaborations in the studio. Whether they were well known (like Stax’s Booker T. and the MGs) or less famous (like the FAME Gang in Muscle Shoals), the musicians dealt with the complex realities of racialized sound and an interracial workplace on a day-to-day basis. The results weren’t always positive, and certainly weren’t always equitable, but they were pivotal to understanding their larger historical importance. For that reason, I found them to be the most illuminating people to anchor my discussions.

GM: You suggest that these musicians, and the music they created, weren’t just important to the history of popular music. You also suggest that they had a significant effect on racial politics in the United States. What can the country-soul triangle teach us about this crucial period?

CH: Both country and soul were closely identified with the era’s tumultuous racial politics. Soul was presented as the soundtrack of black America in the period of civil rights and black power, while country became known as the authentic voice of the white working class and the accompaniment for the rise of the conservative “New Right.” At the same time, they were produced in interracial contexts, and the existence of integrated studios was heralded around the world as a sign of integration and progress. I’m fascinated by this contradiction, and I wanted to examine how the musicians helped to shape it throughout this period. Their stories demonstrate the complexity of music’s role as symbol and mechanism of political change in the 1960s and 1970s.

GM: Many readers of Country Soul will be familiar with the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals. What is your own personal response to the film? What do you think it got right, and what else would you like fans of the movie to know?

hughes_countryCH: I really enjoyed Muscle Shoals, and I was particularly happy to see the Shoals musicians get their due credit for their significant role in shaping American popular music of the last 50 years. To see and hear them discuss their achievements, along with so many of the artists they worked with and influenced, was a welcome confirmation of their importance and a wonderful tribute to their accomplishments. On top of that, the film was filled with great footage and sounds, so—as a fan of the music—I was thrilled to watch it. At the same time, Muscle Shoals also reflects a common simplified narrative, particularly in terms of race, that I’m trying to complicate with the book. It presents the Shoals studios (particularly in the early days) as something of a utopia where race wasn’t an issue, but I discuss numerous racial conflicts and more broadly demonstrate that race was a central concern of the musicians working in the Shoals. Additionally, the film focuses largely on white men—most prominently FAME Studios founder Rick Hall—while marginalizing the accomplishments (and criticisms) of the many black artists who participated as both studio musicians and performers. (For that matter, many of the important white contributors got minimized too.) As I discuss in Country Soul, this reflects a larger tendency to credit white people as the visionary heroes and treat African Americans as passive or secondary participants. I not only discuss the historical roots of this narrative, but address its continuing implications. Continue reading ‘Interview: Charles L. Hughes on Country Soul’ »

Adam Wesley Dean on the Creation of Yosemite

dean_agrarian_PBOver on our Civil War blog, Adam Wesley Dean, author of An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era, writes about the birth of Yosemite National Park, and the circumstances that almost prevented its protection as a natural public space. Dean writes:

Yosemite National Park made the evening news on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the top of El Capitan by ascending Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. The climbers’ years of preparation, 19-day free-climb, and personal stories riveted television audiences nationwide. News programs also gave audiences a rare treat: panoramic views of the park’s natural beauty that included cascading waterfalls, granite formations, and snow-dusted trees.

Yet Yosemite almost did not become a national park. Few Americans know that their beloved park with all the twentieth-century history of climbing exploits and family vacations had been vigorously opposed shortly after its birth.

Yosemite has its origins in an 1864 law removing the main valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove from federal lands and giving them to the state of California for management as a site for “public use, resort, and recreation.” Yosemite’s backers, which included railroad businessman Frederick Billings, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, newspaper mogul Horace Greeley, California Senator John Conness, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field, hoped that the park would provide comfort for Americans undergoing a brutal civil war. It was also important to them to make areas of natural beauty available to the public. They believed that everyone—not just the wealthy and powerful—needed to experience Yosemite’s wonders. No doubt Billings and Conness also thought that a nature park would help bring tourist dollars and railroads to California’s fledgling economy.

When Conness steered the bill through the United States Congress and secured President Abraham Lincoln’s signature in 1864, the California Senator conspicuously neglected to inform fellow politicians that two white settlers, Illinoisan James C. Lamon and San Francisco magazine editor James Mason Hutchings, had land claims in the valley. Lamon had settled in the east end of Yosemite Valley in April of 1859 and Hutchings had erected a hotel near Yosemite Falls in the spring of 1864. Both men filed preemption claims, a nineteenth-century legal doctrine granting them the right to purchase the land when the federal government made it available for sale.

Read Dean’s full post, “The Creation of Yosemite,” at UNCPressCivilWar150.com.

Philip F. Rubio: Who Remembers the Nationwide Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970 (and Why Does That Matter)?

rubio_theresWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Philip F. Rubio, author of There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality. Rubio, a historian and former postal worker, brings to life the important but neglected story of African American postal workers and the critical role they played in the U.S. labor and black freedom movements. Having fought their way into postal positions and unions, black postal workers—often college-educated military veterans—became a critical force for social change. Centered on New York City and Washington, D.C., the book chronicles a struggle of national significance through its examination of the post office, a workplace with facilities and unions serving every city and town in the United States.

In today’s post, Rubio marks the anniversary of the U.S. postal strike of 1970 by looking at its importance in both the lives of employees as well as the history of the postal service itself. 

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Who Remembers the Nationwide Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970 (and Why Does That Matter)?

Judging from sparse media references as well as historical scholarship, the answer to that question appears to be, sadly, not a whole heck of a lot of people. But what about those who participated in it? That is a whole other story, as I continue to find out firsthand in recording strike veteran narratives. Their stories, combined with readily available evidence already out there, should help make a convincing case for why this was such an important event in United States labor history. One could even argue that it even deserves as much attention as, say, the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37, where GM autoworkers in Michigan fought for control of the work process and won union recognition for the United Auto Workers union.

In 1970 what happened in a nutshell was this: postal workers had become fed up with working for wages that had lagged so far behind over the years that many were working second and third jobs to make ends meet. In cities like New York and Washington, D.C., many postal workers were even collecting food stamps and welfare. At the time, federal government employees only enjoyed partial collective bargaining rights (provided by Executive Order 10988 in 1962). That meant they had to lobby Congress for pay raises—a process they dubbed “collective begging.”

On March 12, a rank-and-file caucus of Branch 36 (Manhattan-Bronx) of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) spearheaded the demand for a branch strike vote. Striking the federal government has been illegal since 1912. But that is exactly what Branch 36 voted to do on March 17. Picket lines went up at midnight all over New York City. Other NALC branches voted to strike, spreading upstate and into New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania; then west to Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, and California. Together they shut down 671 post offices in dozens of cities and towns across the United States. Clerks, mail handlers, maintenance workers, motor vehicle operators, and other crafts from other postal unions joined what became the largest “wildcat strike ” (one not authorized by a national union) in American labor history. Over 200,000 postal workers struck for eight days. Despite the inconvenience of a total mail stoppage, strikers enjoyed the support of the majority of Americans.

Court injunctions were served on local union leaders, fines were levied, and government officials threatened to break the unions. Continue reading ‘Philip F. Rubio: Who Remembers the Nationwide Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970 (and Why Does That Matter)?’ »

Cian T. McMahon: The Global Dimensions of Saint Patrick

mcmahon_global_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Cian T. McMahon, author of The Global Dimensions of Irish Identity: Race, Nation, and the Popular Press, 1840-1880. Though Ireland is a relatively small island on the northeastern fringe of the Atlantic, 70 million people worldwide—including some 45 million in the United States—claim it as their ancestral home. In this wide-ranging, ambitious book, McMahon explores the nineteenth-century roots of this transnational identity. Between 1840 and 1880, 4.5 million people left Ireland to start new lives abroad. Using primary sources from Ireland, Australia, and the United States, McMahon demonstrates how this exodus shaped a distinctive sense of nationalism. By doggedly remaining loyal to both their old and new homes, he argues, the Irish helped broaden the modern parameters of citizenship and identity.

In the following post, McMahon talks about Irish transnationalism and identity, how the Irish celebration of “Saint Patrick’s feast day” is observed around the globe, and the festival’s origins.

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Energetic celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day, which are now ubiquitous in many countries around the world, reflect the flexibility and dynamism inherent in Irish diasporic identity. My book, The Global Dimensions of Irish Identity, shows that as millions of people left Ireland to settle abroad in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, their notions of selfhood shifted accordingly. A form of what I call Irish global nationalism emerged, characterized by both ethnic solidarity (which described them as Irish) and civic pluralism (which designated them as American or Australian, depending on their final destination). This new, flexible identity served those seeking to simultaneously maintain ties with home while integrating into host societies around the world.

While writing the book, I often thought about the ways in which Saint Patrick’s Day has reflected this balance of both a transnational sense of “Irishness” as well as local attitudes and concerns. Saint Patrick has always proven an opportunity for people to express themselves and their needs, in part because we know relatively little about him and his life. This paucity of hard facts has allowed people down the centuries to mold his reputation to their own needs and designs. When the see of Armagh in the north of Ireland sought to legitimate its primacy over the Irish church in the seventh century, for example, it did so by claiming Patrick had founded it and been buried there (despite no evidence to prove so). Almost a thousand years later, during the Reformation, Irish Protestants depicted Patrick as a man of the bible, impervious to corruption, while their Catholic opponents saw him as an early servant of Rome.

Since they started celebrating it in the seventeenth century, people have always used Saint Patrick’s feast day (March 17) as an opportunity to combine a transnational sense of “Irishness” with an expression of local concerns and needs. Continue reading ‘Cian T. McMahon: The Global Dimensions of Saint Patrick’ »

Book Trailer: The Stigma of Surrender, by Brian K. Feltman

feltman_stigmaApproximately 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 Brian K. Feltman brings wartime captivity back into focus in The Stigma of Surrender: German Prisoners, British Captors, and Manhood in the Great War and Beyond.

Many German men of the Great War defined themselves and their manhood through their defense of the homeland. They often looked down on captured soldiers as potential deserters or cowards—and when they themselves fell into enemy hands, they were forced to cope with the stigma of surrender. This book examines the legacies of surrender and shows that the desire to repair their image as honorable men led many former prisoners toward an alliance with Hitler and Nazism after 1933. By drawing attention to the shame of captivity, this book does more than merely deepen our understanding of German soldiers’ time in British hands. It illustrates the ways that popular notions of manhood affected soldiers’ experience of captivity, and it sheds new light on perceptions of what it means to be a man at war.

In the following video, Feltman shares what initially sparked his interest in the military and social history surrounding prisoners of war during and after World War I and he discusses the psychological impact of captivity on a soldier’s sense of manhood at a time when honor was defined on the battlefield.

This video was produced by the 2014 Visual History Summer Institute at Georgia Southern University.

Brian K. Feltman is assistant professor of history at Georgia Southern University. His book The Stigma of Surrender: German Prisoners, British Captors, and Manhood in the Great War and Beyond is now available. Read Feltman’s recent guest post on this blog, “Blurred Lines: Prisoners of War, Deserters, and Bowe Bergdahl.” Follow the author on Twitter @BrianKFeltman.

Bruce B. Lawrence on ‘Who Is Allah?’

Who Is Allah? by Bruce B. LawrenceOver at islamicommentary.org, Bruce B. Lawrence introduces his new book, Who is Allah? The book is a vivid exploration that offers a unique approach to understanding the central focus of Muslim religious expression. Lawrence writes:

The very name Allah is interwoven into the everyday experience of millions of Muslims. While Allah does not belong to Muslims, Allah is supreme for Muslims. In the Islamic tradition, Allah creates, motivates, and sustains the universe as well as humankind. It is a name invoked over 2500 times in the Holy Qur’an. It is the basis of the ‘witness’ (or shahada), a creed as integral to Islam as is the Shema to Jews or baptism to Christians.

But Allah is also contested. Believing Muslims advocate the superseding power of Allah, while disbelieving or disputatious others claim Allah as the tribal deity, or moon god, of Arabs.

Is Allah the same as God in Christianity or Yahweh in Judaism? Brahmin in the Hindu tradition, and the Buddha (or Bodhisattva) in the Buddhist tradition? Yes, but that easy identity of celestial doorstops, or ultimate spiritual authorities, does not help us understand the contemporary power of Allah.

What is most needed now is to understand both the historical nuance of Allah throughout the past 1500 years and Allah’s relevance today, in 2015.

For Muslims, as for adherents of other religions, intentions as well as practices are paramount in one’s religious life. While the practice of the heart demonstrates how Allah is remembered in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, the practice of the mind examines how theologians and philosophers have defined Allah in numerous contexts, often with conflicting aims.

It is the practice of the ear that marks the contemporary period, as we hear competing calls for jihad, or religious struggle, within the cacophony of an immensely diverse umma, the worldwide Muslim community.

And at the outset of the 21st century Allah has come to loom as large in cyberspace as in the maritime or terrestrial communities claiming Him. That new horizon of possibility—yet to be scanned—provides the leitmotif of my new book, Who is Allah?

Read Lawrence’s full essay at islamicommentary.org. Who Is Allah? will be published in April, but is available for pre-order now.

Lindsey A. Freeman: On the Anniversary of Fukushima

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.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. In today’s post, Freeman shares her experience watching news of that event from another nuclear town half-way across the globe. 

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Saturday March 12, 2011

(The day after)

Richland, Washington

Day’s Inn

CNN is on. Reports of the tri-tiered Japanese disaster spill into the room: earthquake, tsunami, and a possible nuclear power plant meltdown. I sip coffee from styrofoam, pour a package of Quaker apple-cinnamon oatmeal and hot water into a bowl. As the withered apples become partially rehydrated, I try to catch up on the perilous situation across the world.

Other travelers in the room chatter about their positions on nuclear energy and an entirely different form of destruction—the Monster Truck Rally in Pasco that many of them will be attending later this evening. A loud voice booms from a graying man in fading jeans: “They will be talking about this down at and around Hanford on Monday!” A woman in a periwinkle blue cable-knit sweater roars in response, “I don’t care what they say—nuclear power is just NOT safe.” She goes for another doughnut, her arm and its target making an exclamation point.

I am in one of the uncanniest locations to learn of this tragedy on the other side of the globe. Richland was the bedroom community for scientists, engineers, and managers working at the Hanford Site, a top-secret complex created for the Manhattan Project. After the war, Hanford was a key location for nuclear bomb production during the Cold War. Now the site is mostly dedicated to cleaning up after those nuclear adventures.

I am not here for monster trucks, but rather as a researcher of nuclear sites and spaces, so I decide to get going. After a stop at one of the ubiquitous drive-through espresso stands that dot the Pacific Northwest, I drive the eleven-mile stretch to the Hanford Site, past screaming yellow warning signs that alert my attention to “nuclear materials” and remind me that some roads are for “authorized personnel only.” Continue reading ‘Lindsey A. Freeman: On the Anniversary of Fukushima’ »

Timothy P. Spira: The Lure of Waterfalls

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.

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Waterfalls have captivated humans throughout the ages. We encounter them in myths and legends, poetry and painting, music and film. Gods, spirits, and the like are thought to reside amongst waterfalls in many traditional cultures. Waterfalls are powerful places that touch the soul.

Each waterfall has its own unique character. Some enchant you with their softness as water gently glides over bedrock; others impress with the height of their free-falling water; still others awe you with their rage, fury, and power. The constantly falling water, sparkling light, and swirling spray is exhilarating, soothing, and inspiring. Waterfalls seem to sweep away your concerns and make you live in the moment. They also make you feel good. It’s no wonder that where waterfalls occur, hikes to them are the most popular.

Waterfalls are constantly changing. Continue reading ‘Timothy P. Spira: The Lure of Waterfalls’ »

Save big and read American History!

UNC Press American HIstory Sale

Enjoy all of your favorite American History books at a special discount! Enter the code 01DAH40 at checkout to receive 40% off our entire American History collection. Plus, all orders of $75.00 or more are shipped FREE.

Browse the books below for a preview of what’s hot off the UNC Press! To see other Spring 2015 titles and more, visit our website

gura_lifehess_battlehughes_countrybrown_civilsleeper-smith_why_PBbay_toward_PBmcvicar_christian_PBcarroll_mobilizing_PBabreu_rhythms_PBfreeman_longing_PB

R. Douglas Hurt on Agriculture and Confederate Power

hurt_agriculture_PBOver on our Civil War blog, R. Douglas Hurt, author of Agriculture and the Confederacy: Policy, Productivity, and Power in the Civil War South explores how agriculture was a failed source of power for the Confederate South. Hurt begins:

The Civil War ended 150 years ago with Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9. Purists might well argue April 26, when Joseph E. Johnston laid down his arms, or even Andrew Johnson’s official proclamation on August 20, 1866, that for legal purposes the war was over. No matter. By 1865 the military power of the Confederacy no longer offered the chance for independence, and the histories of the Civil war primarily involve the analysis of military affairs leading to that end.

A lesser known failure of the Confederacy, however, involved agriculture. In 1861, Southerners considered agriculture an element of power similar to military power, which, combined, would guarantee secession and independence. They were confident that not only would Union armies not prevail but also that their own agricultural capability would prevent the Union from starving the Confederacy into submission. Southerners could fight, feed themselves, and use cotton as a diplomatic tool—assumptions that in the minds of many already made the Confederacy independent.

By 1865, Southerners’ certainty that agriculture would help them win the war had evaporated. Slavery as an agricultural labor system had collapsed. Where Confederate and Union armies had fought and marched, farmers had lost livestock, grain, and forage. The swath of war was marked by burned fence rails, barns, and buildings and smashed agricultural equipment. Confederate agricultural policy—if it had existed at all—contributed little to the war effort. The Produce Loan program, tax-in-kind procurement, and price fixing for provisions, along with a worthless currency and army foraging had ruined the agricultural power of the Confederacy. It would not come again.

Read Hurt’s full post, “Agriculture and Its Effect on Confederate Power,” at UNCPressCivilWar150.com.

April McGreger: Sweet Potato Pone

mcgreger_sweetSweet potato pone is a southern favorite that can be served any time of the day. Enjoy April McGreger’s delicious recipe for a historical dish while celebrating National Sweet Potato Month this February and all year long!

Recipe from Sweet Potatoes: a Savor the South® cookbook by April McGreger. Copyright © 2014 by April McGreger.

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Sweet Potato Pone

Hundreds of versions of this grated sweet potato pudding or pone can be found in historical and community cookbooks. Creole variations often contain a generous shot of black pepper, which I have come to love. Well- heeled versions might call for orange blossom or rose water. With equal depth and breadth, sweet potato pone is the sixth man of traditional southern cuisine. It is often served as a side dish to pork or game but is also right at home with afternoon coffee or as a simple dessert. According to the late champion of southern foodways and culture Eugene Walter, some even consider it an ideal breakfast with ice-cold buttermilk and hot black coffee spiked with cognac. The elemental flavors of old- fashioned pones appeal to young eaters as well, so much so in the case of my two year-old son that he has earned the nickname Tater Pone.

Makes 6 servings Continue reading ‘April McGreger: Sweet Potato Pone’ »

Lauren J. Silver: Beyond Snapshot Stories: The Power in Youth Representation

silver_system_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Lauren J. Silver, author of System Kids: Adolescent Mothers and the Politics of Regulation. In the book, Silver considers the daily lives of adolescent mothers as they negotiate the child welfare system to meet the needs of their children and themselves. Often categorized as dependent and delinquent, these young women routinely become wards of the state as they move across the legal and social borders of a fragmented urban bureaucracy. Combining critical policy study and ethnography, and drawing on current scholarship as well as her own experience as a welfare program manager, Silver demonstrates how social welfare “silos” construct the lives of youth as disconnected, reinforcing unforgiving policies and imposing demands on women the system was intended to help.

In today’s post, Silver argues for giving youth more than fleeting glances. Rather, we should listen to the stories of their lives, afford them dignity, and reshape social policies accordingly. 

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2014 was marked by protests across the nation insisting that Black Lives Matter. Many decry the justice system, which has failed to indict officers and vigilantes who have killed unarmed black children, while girl victims receive little notice in the press. We have an urgent need to tell and listen to deeper, more nuanced stories about these youth and other youth of color who remain either invisible or hypervisible in marked, stereotyped ways.

Stories matter. Stories shape public sentiment as well as whether we design policies to protect and educate our youth or to warehouse and punish them. As an ethnographer, I tell stories, but not just any stories. I tell multidimensional narratives about youth that span across years, settings, and identities.

What can ethnographers contribute in this digital age of constant and fleeting media snapshots? I believe we can simultaneously show the complexity and dignity of daily lives. System Kids explores how youth experience multiple identities as mothers, teenagers, students, delinquents, dependents, and black girls. These youth are never entirely innocent victims or blameworthy delinquents—their daily experiences, like all of our experiences, are multifaceted and revealed through community.

Let me be clear: I do not believe that a story is necessary to prove a youth’s worth. Every young person deserves respect and care. I am consistently frustrated by the public’s attempt to identify Michael Brown as either a college student or a conniving hoodlum. We will never uncover an identity to justify the fact that Mike Brown, an unarmed black eighteen-year-old, was shot six times by a white police officer and that his body was left on the street for four-and-a-half hours. This reality is simply unjust and no story about Mike Brown will ever make it okay.

Through social media, young people of color are discussing worth and media representation. For instance, Rafael Johns writes at youthradio.org: “A friend of mine launched a depressing conversation recently, and asked me how much I think he is worth. . . . ‘Like, am I worth as much as a candy bar? . . . What would it take for killing me to be excusable?’” Continue reading ‘Lauren J. Silver: Beyond Snapshot Stories: The Power in Youth Representation’ »

Richard Schweid: Will Warming U.S.-Cuba Relations Reveal More Classic Car Treasures on the Island?

Che's Chevrolet, Fidel's Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba, by Richard SchweidWe welcome a guest post today from Richard Schweid, author of Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba. Vintage U.S.-made cars on the streets of Havana provide a common representation of Cuba. Journalist Richard Schweid, who traveled throughout the island to research the story of motor vehicles in Cuba today and yesterday, gets behind the wheel and behind the stereotype in this colorful chronicle of cars, buses, and trucks. In his captivating, sometimes gritty, voice, Schweid blends previously untapped historical sources with his personal experiences, spinning a car-centered history of life on the island over the past century.

In the following post, Schweid considers what classic car treasures may be steered out of the shadows with the new warming of relations between Cuba and the United States.

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One thing a détente between the U.S. and Cuba will do is reveal the truth or falsehood of an urban myth in Havana, which holds that numerous pristine 1950s Detroit models are stored in secret garages across the city. In Havana, when talk turns to old North American cars, people are likely to say that they know someone who knows someone who has a brother-in-law whose father takes care of a vintage model kept under lock and key in a secret garage somewhere in the city. The caretakers are rumored to receive small (very small) stipends from rich car collectors in the States to keep the tires aired up, the chrome polished, and to drive it up and down the block a few times a year, keeping the car in shape for the day when it can legally be brought to the U.S. Like a number of things that people talk about in Havana, it has always been hard to determine if these hidden jewels are the stuff of dreams, or whether they are real.

Of course, in the city’s streets it is not hard to take a taxi ride in some amazing Detroit products that have been extinct for a long time in the States: cars like Packards, DeSotos, Plymouths, or Nash Ramblers. However, despite their rarity, such taxis would not fetch much on the North American vintage-car market. In Havana, these relics are workhorses, battered and strained, rolling through the broiling streets every day carrying goods and people. For economy’s sake, and because no factory replacement parts have been shipped to Cuba from the U.S. since 1960, these cars have been mongrelized and modified with hoses made from old enema bag tubing, gaskets milled from tin cans, and engines converted to diesel by hook or by crook. House paint was applied when their colors faded, and electrical systems were jerry-rigged when they failed. These are not the cars they once were, and not many North Americans would want one in the garage.

Even as rough as a ride in one of these taxis can be, packed with the maximum number of passengers who can be squeezed in and without air conditioning under the Cuban sun, for a gringo of a certain age it is well worth a trip, just for the nostalgic rush. To watch a driver go from first to second gear with a stick-shift on the column, that up-and-out move that belongs to a bygone age of cars and drivers, is a wonderful sight.

Many Detroit models in Cuba belong to the same families that bought them new, before the Revolution. Continue reading ‘Richard Schweid: Will Warming U.S.-Cuba Relations Reveal More Classic Car Treasures on the Island?’ »

Marianne Gingher: ABA Winter Institute 2015

gingher_amazing_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by 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.

In today’s post, Gingher shares some of her impressions from a recent visit to the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute in Asheville, where she met and signed copies of Amazing Place for booksellers from across the country. 

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I sometimes forget how refreshing and necessary a trip to the North Carolina mountains can seem. And I mean “necessary” in a spirit-soaring way. From my neck of the woods in the piedmont, you’re driving west on I-40, rather benumbed by the sameness of it all, and suddenly, somewhere near the Rutherford or Hickory exits, you see the brow of a first mountain. It’s like glimpsing a hint of a drowsing giant.

I have often postponed invitations to the Blue Ridge until all threat of snowy weather has passed. But I am delighted to report that my trip to Asheville on Wednesday, February 11, to sign books and meet booksellers at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute was sunny in every way possible and felt like a celebration. It is deeply gratifying for writers to be around so many folks who are genuinely thrilled about books—and about selling them! Kudos to the planners. Several were from New York and expressed enthrallment with their visit to North Carolina. Gaze out any window of the Grove Park Inn—where the Institute was held—and you can see why: mountains all around, undulating into bluing distances and bristling bare trees like the shiny quills of porcupines. As the sun began to set, clouds turned the colors of valentines.

Conference organizers, bookstore owners and sellers, and authors alike stopped by our Amazing Place table to introduce themselves, inquire about the book’s contents, admire the zippy cover design, and wish Amazing Place a long and happy shelf life. Boy oh boy, were they energized! And this signing event was at the end of a busy conference week.

ABA Winter Institute

Marianne Gingher meets some of her fans at the 2015 ABA Winter Institute. Photo by Gina Mahalek.

Friendliness was the vibe of my entire experience at ABA’s Winter Institute. I’d expected to meet several North Carolina-based booksellers, but I wasn’t prepared for the tremendous interest booksellers from California, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Texas, and Ohio expressed. The thing was, they’d come to North Carolina, seen it with their own eyes, spent time here, liked what they saw, and clearly wanted to share a sense of that experience with their patrons. “Read these folks!” I told them. “You will get all sorts of perspectives on the state, from politics to lyrical meditations on its beauty.” But what I am compelled to add here, for anybody reading this blog and wanting to know more about the book, is that it’s as much about the state of mind of its inhabitants as about the state. The personal narratives in Amazing Place are about individual authors’ specific connections to the state, but they are uniquely personal and have much to do with each contributor’s journey to becoming a writer. Continue reading ‘Marianne Gingher: ABA Winter Institute 2015’ »

Xiaoming Zhang: Deng Xiaoping and China’s Invasion of Vietnam

zhang_dengWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Xiaoming Zhang, author of Deng Xiaoping’s Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991. The surprise Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979 shocked the international community. The two communist nations had seemed firm political and cultural allies, but the twenty-nine-day border war imposed heavy casualties, ruined urban and agricultural infrastructure, leveled three Vietnamese cities, and catalyzed a decadelong conflict. In this groundbreaking book, Zhang traces the roots of the conflict to the historic relationship between the peoples of China and Vietnam, the ongoing Sino-Soviet dispute, and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s desire to modernize his country. Zhang takes readers into the heart of Beijing’s decision-making process and illustrates the war’s importance for understanding the modern Chinese military, as well as China’s role in the Asian-Pacific world today.

Today marks the 36th anniversary of China’s invasion of Vietnam. In today’s post, Zhang examines the still-controversial and shrouded motivations behind the China’s decision to go to war, focusing on the prominent influence that the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had in the events that initiated the war.

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On February 17, 1979, China launched the so-called punitive war against Vietnam, a longtime Cold War ally in the wars against France and America. China and Vietnam stayed locked in hostile relations, fighting along their borders, for over a decade. The lives and property lost in the conflict are beyond comprehension. Today, people in these two countries still bear deep scars from this conflict. Both Chinese and Vietnamese governments remain very sensitive about the subject. This history has been understudied not only in China and Vietnam but also in the West, largely due to lack of access to official records in both countries. Public knowledge and understanding about this war is therefore not much greater now than when the conflict occurred.

Since the early 1990s, studies about China’s involvement in the Indochina Wars have mushroomed, shedding new light on Cold War historiography. But one question that has not been satisfactorily addressed was why China and Vietnam went to war against each other after many years of “brother-plus-comrade” relations between the two nations. A study of Sino-Vietnamese relations in the large historical context, Deng Xiaoping’s Long War embodies several years’ research and writing, offering the latest interpretations about the Sino-Vietnamese military conflict from a Chinese perspective. In the book I retrace the thirteen years of hostility between China and Vietnam and argue that the previous two-decade intimate relationship between the two countries was far more fragile than it had appeared.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the China-Vietnam alliance was formed largely because, at the time, the countries shared a common enemy: the United States. The alliance was doomed to collapse, however, in the late 1960s, as Beijing came to regard the Soviet Union, and not the United States, as its greatest enemy. The Soviet-Vietnamese alliance formed in 1978 prompted Beijing to perceive Hanoi as a convenient proxy for Soviet expansionism in Southeast Asia. More important, such a change of geopolitical landscape convinced Beijing’s leaders that China’s physical security was in jeopardy. This also meant that China’s newly adopted national priority—economic reform—would likewise be threatened by the increasingly unfavorable security environment. Chinese leaders inevitably attached domestic considerations to the nation’s external policies and foreign relations, rationalizing that going to war against Vietnam would help China forge a new anti-Soviet strategic relationship with Western countries.

All these calculations were made by one Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping. His paramount political status and strength of personality played a major role in shaping China’s foreign policy during the last decade of the Cold War, opposing Soviet hegemony while allying with the United States and other Western countries in order to gain their support for China’s economic reform. I am convinced that there was no way of avoiding war with Vietnam in 1978-1979 once Deng had ascended to China’s supreme leadership position. Thus the Sino-Vietnamese conflict could be rightly called “Deng Xiaoping’s War.” Continue reading ‘Xiaoming Zhang: Deng Xiaoping and China’s Invasion of Vietnam’ »