Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit

A variety of factors contributed to the explosion of weight loss culture during and after the Great War, and one especially potent factor was the creep of metrics into daily life. The application of calories to food in the late nineteenth century and the emerging discipline of statistics resulted in well-publicized comparisons of food consumption and body weights between individuals and across populations. At the same time, life insurance statistics were revealing new correlations between excess weight and chronic disease. More and more Americans, meanwhile, were purchasing newly affordable home scales and buying their clothing ready-made, and thus increasingly thinking of their bodies in terms of numbers and sizes instead of, say, just making clothes to fit their individual bodies. Moreover, metrics grew more prevalent in daily life just as the motion picture industry was taking off and as a visually oriented print media continued to expand. Handed the tools to make physical comparisons, Americans eagerly made them. The growing ease of numerical and visual comparisons contributed directly to the valorization of thinness. But what accounts for the moral stigma that leeched onto the idea of being overweight? The answer lies at the heart of the Progressive ideology of self-control, a value that transcended the Progressive Era itself, both supporting and thriving within the enduring associations between thinness, willpower, and beauty.

Excerpt: Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900, by Catherine W. Bishir

For most black artisans in the antebellum South, being born into slavery placed clear limits on their future. No matter how skilled they might be, seldom could enslaved artisans expect to trace the customary path from apprentice to master that white artisans pursued. For Montford, as for a remarkable number of his fellows in New Bern, however, the timing and circumstances of his birth together with his skills, industry, ambition, and relationships enabled him to realize such hopes as he moved from slavery to freedom and became a master of apprentices and slaves, a property owner, and a voting citizen. Only as Montford’s life drew to its close in the 1830s did he and his fellow artisans of color witness the onset of oppressive racial laws that chilled the hopes of New Bern’s black craftsmen for themselves and for their children.

Excerpt: Radical Relations, by Daniel Winunwe Rivers

As the children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers had in previous eras, the children of lesbian feminist families often acted as mediators between their families and a larger society that saw their homes as deviant. Unlike in previous eras, however, the children of lesbian feminist families in the 1970s negotiated the distance between radically open lesbian families and a dominant heterosexual society. Whereas in earlier decades, children of lesbian mothers had moved between their families and mainstream heterosexual society tacitly, the children of lesbian households in the 1970s were much more visible because their families demanded the right to openly exist. These children were bicultural in that they belonged to a vocal oppositional minority culture but also had to operate within the dominant culture that questioned the viability of their families. These children grew up in lesbian households that were more assertive than those of earlier decades, but compared to children of the later lesbian and gay baby boom, they still found their home and family lives to be very separate from mainstream society.

Excerpt: Southern Water, Southern Power, by Christopher J. Manganiello

James B. Duke did not wait for markets to emerge to justify massive capital investments in hydropower; he cultivated industrial consumers. Duke’s company, and other companies that followed, had never envisioned providing service to rural or residential customers.

Excerpt: Hotel Life, by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl

The hotel’s ability to foster trust and nurture people who are otherwise temporarily homeless and dependent has been a long-standing feature of the modern landscape, and this functionality makes the hotel an irresistible magnet for those across the entire socioeconomic spectrum. Kay Thompson famously captured the hotel’s imaginative allure for the vulnerable wealthy in her 1955 fabulously popular Eloise stories, and the resulting marketing of these stories as a distinguishing feature of the hotel she—and her creator—called home attests to the hotel’s ability to incubate new kinds of identity and self-making even for those guests who seem to have it all. A ward of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, the six-year-old Eloise roams the hallways of one of the world’s finest hotels, her mother perennially absent. Without the protecting spaces provided by the hotel’s public and private venues, Eloise would be alone in a dangerous and unprotecting world, but in the generative habitus of the hotel she invents a world rich with play at self-making.

Excerpt: Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist, by Randy D. McBee

Stories such as this one about middle-class riders making motorcycling respectable were common in the early 1960s. Their arrival both coincided with and was the product of the introduction of the Japanese Honda into the American marketplace. Yet despite the enthusiasm that greeted the middle-class rider, ambivalence and frustration also surrounded him. These were serious riders, or so they claimed, yet their critics found it all too easy to dismiss them as “casual” motorcyclists. If anything, their struggle to overcome this claim made their impact on motorcycling more conspicuous than it might have been otherwise, and it brought the issue of class to the fore.

Excerpt: Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism, by Timothy Gloege

The oatmeal market suffered under the weight of too many competitors, with prices often falling below production costs. Crowell saw the solution in the mill’s overlooked Quaker trademark. And so, at a time when most consumers shoveled their oatmeal from open barrels, Crowell’s product appeared on shelves in sealed, two-pound boxes. Richly illustrated advertisements saturated local, then national, print media. Both package and ad featured the iconic Quaker, always smiling jovially and holding a scroll on which was written the single word “Pure.”

Excerpt: The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy, by Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow

Roman toilets, sewers, and drains are important archaeological features that embody ideas relevant to Roman society about cleanliness, physical health, concepts of beauty, and even notions of privacy. If toilets are excavated properly, they can provide valuable data even about the diet and socioeconomic status of users, divisions between households where they are found, construction methods, and maintenance.

Excerpt: The Lives of Chang and Eng, by Joseph Andrew Orser

The Siamese twins had long been used ironically as symbols of American nationalism. The earliest pamphlet about the twins published in the United States in the early 1830s featured a title page image of a flying eagle carrying a banner that read “E Pluribus Unum,” and beneath that was the phrase, “United We Stand.” This appeared opposite a frontispiece that pictured the twins as dark-skinned boys wearing queues and loose Oriental garments. The 1836 pamphlet published under the twins’ direction similarly featured a bald eagle clutching the national shield, beneath which were the words “Union and Liberty, one and inseparable, now and forever.” Analyzing the Siamese twins and American identity, scholar Allison Pingree argued that these exhibition booklets, which juxtaposed the parlance of the day describing conjoinedness—“united brothers” or “united twins”—with the symbolism of the American eagle holding an “E Pluribus Unum” banner in its beak, were playing to political concerns of the period. Even as nationalists appropriated the bond to symbolize union, proponents of states’ rights could claim that “connecting the states too closely was ‘monstrous’ and excessive.”

Excerpt: The Life of William Apess, Pequot, by Philip F. Gura

These accounts were prefatory to what in the Puritan era would have been termed the “application” of Apess’s texts, specifically, how they served as “looking-glasses” or mirrors for white people to see themselves as they were. Look at the “reservations” in the New England states, Apess commanded, home to “the most mean, abject, miserable race of beings in the world,” places of “prodigality and prostitution” where rum corroded the inhabitants’ moral fiber, and sexual exploitation often was the result. “Agents” or overseers appointed by the state offered no help and often participated in the Natives’ exploitation, neglecting to educate them as the law required and helping themselves to wood and other cash crops on tribal lands. And why? It was because of racial prejudice, whites’ unwillingness to acknowledge the simple humanity of the Indians. “I would ask,” Apess wrote, “if there cannot be as good feelings and principles under a red skin as there can be under a white” (155–56).

April McGreger: Sweet Potato Pone

Sweet 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!

Excerpt: Alcohol: A History, by Rod Phillips

One of the earliest printed books on aqua vitae, in this case brandy, was published in Germany in 1476 and recommended a half-spoonful every morning to prevent conditions as varied as arthritis and bad breath. Other physicians wrote of the beneficial effects of brandy for physical ailments (it cured headaches, heart disease, gout, and deafness); as an aid to appearance (it improved the bust and stopped hair graying); and as therapy for emotional and other problems (it banished melancholy and forgetfulness). The inclusion of conditions commonly associated with aging (such as deafness, forgetfulness, and graying) reflects the claims that drinking brandy prolonged youth and thus life itself.

Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir

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.

Excerpt: Behind the White Picket Fence, by Sarah Mayorga-Gallo

The use of non-White bodies by Whites to designate neighborhood space as distinct from racially segregated suburbia is an important commodifying and classifying practice of this white, urban, middle-class habitus. Important to note here is that in Creekridge Park very few White residents have relationships with their non-White neighbors. Whites did, however, regularly refer to non-Whites during our interviews to signal neighborhood diversity and interracial interactions.

Excerpt: The Red Atlantic, by Jace Weaver

Leif Erikson sighted the northern coast of North America in approximately 1000 C.E., calling it Vinland. Shortly thereafter, around 1003, the Vikings founded a settlement in present-day L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. They encountered “Red Indians” (as distinguished from the Inuit), whom they called skrælings, an archaic word of uncertain meaning but commonly assumed to mean something like “wretches.” These meetings are recorded in the Icelandic sagas.

Excerpt: Ain’t Got No Home, by Erin Royston Battat

Yet a closer inspection of the Scottsboro case reveals how complicated was the relationship between African Americans and the Communist Party in the 1930s. The CP championed the working-class and unemployed masses, but these were precisely the people who had terrorized the black boys on the train, falsely accused them of rape, and would have lynched them without the governor’s intervention. Antilynching activists, on one hand, and labor defenders, on the other, relied on diametrically opposed conceptions of the populist masses and the law. Whereas the antilynching movement called for the rule of law to quell mob hysteria, labor defense stood up for workers against a prejudicial legal system. These opposing views posed a challenge to the CP in attracting black members and sympathizers. While communists prophesied a future revolution led by an international proletariat, the most visible form of proletarian collective action in the South, according to some skeptical observers at the time, was the lynch mob.

Excerpt: Island Queens and Mission Wives, by Jennifer Thigpen

Thigpen describes the voyage of New England missionaries to Hawai’i and the political shifts occurring on the island that signaled the powerful role women would play in the cultural interactions that lay ahead.

Excerpt: Framing Chief Leschi, by Lisa Blee

In this excerpt, Lisa Blee examines how the war in Iraq informed the Historical Court of Justice’s decision to exonerate Chief Leschi 150 years later.

Excerpt: Common Threads, by Sally Dwyer-McNulty

In this excerpt from Common Threads by Sally Dwyer-McNulty, she explains the difficulty for women religious to assimilate into broader American culture and fashion.

Excerpt: Talkin’ Tar Heel, by Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser

A worker in the Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte who asks you to “mash the button” for the elevator or to “he’p him tote the computer right yonder” would get a quizzical look or a patronizing chuckle for “talking country” in the towering edifice representing the second-largest financial center in the United States. But those who react in condescension may not realize that this way of speaking was the dialect norm in the city just a couple of generations ago—and probably in the residential home that once stood on this site. As one elderly Charlotte resident, born in 1919, recalled: “I remember when Discovery Place was just a little neighborhood store.”