Gina Mahalek: What was the Manhattan Musical Marketplace that you discuss in your book?
David Gilbert: This is a term that I coined to explain the historical formation of New York City as the center of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. I think that many music fans, musicians, and scholars kind of take for granted that NYC has always been America’s capital of popular entertainment, and I wanted to tell the story about how this came to be. Rather than assume Broadway Theater and Tin Pan Alley song publishing just naturally developed into leading culture industries, I want to call attention to the moment in which these spaces—and their connotations—developed. And I want to emphasize African Americans’ roles in creating both New York’s unique culture markets and important facets of American popular culture.
The reason social critics and entertainers still point out white appropriation when they see it is because the American public, and its leaders, have not matured the way black music and culture have. Even though millions of whites may profess to love and respect black music, their daily decisions—and those of their elected and institutional leaders—indicate that they do not love black people.
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?
Musically, there continues to be a deep stylistic overlap between country and soul. Some of the biggest country stars of today utilize the sounds and songs of R&B, while many contemporary soul and hip-hop artists (particularly from the South) bring the characteristics of country onto their records. Then there are the folks in the middle—many of whom, like Jason Isbell or Valerie June, are from the triangle—who draw from both traditions and blend them together in new and interesting ways. It remains one of the deepest wells of American music.
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.
Contemporary documentary projects such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York thrive today in a spirit similar to that which led the vision of the Federal Writers’ Project and These Are Our Lives. They remind us that every life has a story, and every story matters.
Studies in United States Culture will publish provocative books that explore United States culture in its many forms and spheres of influence. Under the series umbrella, UNC Press seeks interdisciplinary work characterized by big ideas, brisk prose, bold storytelling, and methodological sophistication.
Southern cuisine was a key component in historic preservation efforts in the early twentieth century to promote and sell the South and its racial mores to both tourists and locals. Through constructed memories of southern food from the plantation to the mountain South, sophisticated campaigns were launched to promote the “taste” of the Old South in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Lowcountry flavors of Savannah and Charleston, the fashionable Creole cuisine of New Orleans, and the “authentic” “hillbilly” and “Highlands” foods of the mountain South.
College students were a primary part of the push towards casual dress—there were other factors, including Hollywood and the rise of California as a fashion trendsetter, for example. But college students had the critical mass to initiate widespread change. In many ways they were the foot soldiers of casual dress. In addition to having the numbers, college students lived in a largely self-regulated environment that allowed them to flout convention. Their fashion choices were not driven by social standards prescribed by parents or fashion editors. Rather, they chose clothing that was practical and comfortable—and those two qualities have come to define the modern American wardrobe.
When Bryan agreed to assist the prosecution in the 1925 Scopes trial that would test the Butler Act’s ban of the teaching of evolution in Tennessee, he was anything but new to the debate. Despite his progressive political record on issues such as women’s suffrage, Bryan’s swan song as an anti-evolution crusader was zealous and emphatic. He argued, wrote, and perhaps believed, that this single issue would erode American faith. For Bryan there was no middle, and his readers need only choose sides. His widespread essay on the subject was titled “The Bible and its Enemies,” and he considered the cause the greatest reform of his life. Science and even the experts who defense attorney Clarence Darrow had attempted to call at the trial, were adversaries in a zero-sum game that the world was watching.
I asked him to recall all the people he has worked with—all his union brothers and sisters, down through the years—and count the gay ones. Almost surprised, he said there were none. Of course, he knew as well as I do that there have been many, but that they did not identify themselves as such. My task is then to convince him that their silence was not simply a choice, but rather that it was made in fear, and comes with crippling consequences.
At the turn of the 20th century, roads dominated everyday life. They determined where people could and could not travel, as well as whether or not other people, goods, services and even ideas could reach them. Roads dominated conversations around the ballot box and the dinner table, but good roads eluded most Americans and virtually all Southerners
We would like to congratulate all of last night’s Oscar winners, but there are a few winners who are especially close to our hearts at UNC Press. After the dust of pre-Oscar predictions settled, Twelve Years a Slave arose victorious last night winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay. When director Steve McQueen accepted the Oscar he said, “Everyone deserves not just to survive but to live,” and we could not be more happy that such an important film has received the recognition it deserves.
At critical junctures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, African American history intersected with the national story and altered the American landscape. Whether the Emancipation Proclamation or the March on Washington, black history merges and flows into the wider ocean of the American experience. All of these events, in one way or another, highlight the central role played by African Americans in the national life.
As the movement for the repeal of DADT gained political momentum, dozens of retired military chaplains and civilian religious organizations expressed grave concerns that a repeal of DADT would coerce military chaplains into performing services contrary to the dictates of their religious confession or would effectively silence their protected religious speech about the sinfulness of homosexuality. There were warnings of mass resignations or a mass exodus from the military chaplaincy by evangelical chaplains (who fill most chaplain billets). Ultimately, few chaplains have actually resigned their military commissions as a result of their opposition to the repeal of DADT or the ruling of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional.