Video: Sulmaan Wasif Khan on China, Tibet, and the Complications of “One Country, Two Systems”


In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, leaving the People’s Republic of China with a crisis on its Tibetan frontier. Sulmaan Wasif Khan tells the story of the PRC’s response to that crisis and, in doing so, brings to life an extraordinary cast of characters: Chinese diplomats appalled by sky burials, Guomindang spies working with Tibetans in Nepal, traders carrying salt across the Himalayas, and Tibetan Muslims rioting in Lhasa.

What Chinese policymakers confronted in Tibet, Khan argues, was not a “third world” but a “fourth world” problem: Beijing was dealing with peoples whose ways were defined by statelessness. As it sought to tighten control over the restive borderlands, Mao’s China moved from a lighter hand to a harder, heavier imperial structure. That change triggered long-lasting shifts in Chinese foreign policy. Moving from capital cities to far-flung mountain villages, from top diplomats to nomads crossing disputed boundaries in search of pasture, this book shows Cold War China as it has never been seen before and reveals the deep influence of the Tibetan crisis on the political fabric of present-day China.

In the following video, Khan talks about China’s takeover of Tibet, the complications of the “one country, two systems” policy of governing, and the importance of the role of non-state actors in shaping the trajectory of empire.

Muslim, Trader, Nomad, Spy: China’s Cold War and the People of the Tibetan Borderlands from ChinaFile on Vimeo.

Sulmaan Wasif Khan is assistant professor of international history and Chinese foreign relations at the Fletcher School, Tufts University. His book, Muslim, Trader, Nomad, Spy: China’s Cold War and the People of the Tibetan Borderlands, is now available.

Interview: Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett on Harry Golden, ‘Carolina Israelite’

In the following interview, author Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett talks about her new biography of Jewish American writer and humorist Harry Golden, Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights.


Gina Mahalek: Who was Harry Golden?

hartnett_kimberlyKimberly Marlowe Hartnett: Harry Golden (1903–1981) was a Jew, a writer, a humorist, a bit of a con man, and a fearless advocate for civil rights. He and his family immigrated to New York’s Lower East Side in 1907 from what was then Austria-Hungary, and is now Ukraine. His high-flying career on Wall Street ended in 1929 with a scandal, a trial for fraud, and a prison sentence. Struggling to make ends meet as an ad salesman, he landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1940, and soon launched his homely little newspaper, the improbably titled Carolina Israelite. His first book, Only in America, was a surprise bestseller in 1958, and was followed by several other popular books, including four more bestsellers, and scores of magazine and newspaper articles.

GM: Let’s start with the title: How did Harry Golden make us care about Jews, the South, and civil rights?

KMH: Golden had a gift for confronting controversial issues and talking about them in ways that educated and entertained people. He exposed racism in all its guises and deconstructed anti-Semitism, and he did it with wit and originality. By the late 1950s he had a very wide readership. Golden became a sort of cultural matchmaker in his speeches and writings. He introduced whites to blacks, Gentiles to Jews. His endless stream of anecdotes gave northerners a glimpse of Dixie and southerners a sense of the Lower East Side. Once he got his reader or listener to laugh—and it never took long—he could get them to question the status quo. Golden was a contrarian; earthy and sophisticated, well-read and sentimental, brave and irreverent. His following was appropriately diverse as a result. It helped that his life encompassed some of the most fascinating and telling events in America’s modern history.

GM: Such as?

KMH: Golden’s life story is a bit of a Forrest Gump tale. His family was part of the great wave of newcomers in the early twentieth century that shaped and enriched this country. He grabbed money with both hands during the frenzied 1920s stock market. When Brown v. Board of Education sounded a death knell for “separate but equal,” he was cheering with students on the campus of a southern black college. He wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson, and exchanged warm letters with Robert Kennedy and Billy Graham.

While bus boycotts, protest marches, bombs, showdowns on schoolhouse steps, and black-voter registration were all over the nightly news, Golden had a front-row seat. He cajoled audiences into donating to nearly every major Jewish organization in the country, as well as the NAACP, the Urban League, and others.

He broke bread with NASA insiders as Apollo 11 headed for the moon. He faced angry college audiences when he refused to condemn Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam. Anywhere big news was breaking, Golden seemed to be there.

GM: Is Golden best described as a journalist, humorist, or Jewish activist?

KMH: It’s not easy to label Golden! He was not a conventional newspaper reporter; he rejected many of the usual rules of engagement by reporting on the momentous civil rights story while he participated in it himself. He was often deadly serious and hilarious in the same piece of writing. He was most definitely not a model Jewish activist—he regularly horrified Jews in Charlotte and beyond with his sweeping (often self-aggrandizing) criticisms of what he saw as their passivity or hypocrisy on racial issues. Nor was he a member of the Jewish literary intelligentsia of his day. Yet Golden managed something that most editorial pages and people he liked to call “super sophisticates” did not: he held on to his moral outrage over racism. He truly believed that America could and would do better. He was a pop-culture star and was recognized by many of the civil rights movement’s leaders as an effective ally. In 1963, in the revolutionary document, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. cited Golden as one of a small number of whites who wrote in “eloquent, prophetic, and understanding terms” about the civil rights struggle.

GM: How did Golden become so influential?

hartnett_carolinaKMH: First, he had a deep love for America. Despite accurate criticism that he took a sentimental, simplified view of the immigrant experience, Golden hit on a theme that resonated with an enormous range of people when he reflected that this country gave newcomers “hope and life,” and they in turn gave back everything from poetry and music to medical breakthroughs and world-changing inventions. As he liked to say: “There has never been a more even trade.”

He was also an unabashed self-promoter, very funny, and at the start of his fame he had a writing style that was fresh and appealing. Golden was essentially a blogger before blogs (or the Internet) existed. He wrote in a catchy, short-essay style, and was fast on the draw with one-liners that delighted the press, keeping him in the public eye. His satire would not be out of place in a Seinfeld episode. He created a series of “Golden Plans” to solve various societal ills, beginning with the Golden Vertical Negro Plan, which urged removal of chairs from classrooms, playing off the ludicrous Jim Crow practice that allowed mixing of races as long as people were not seated. He wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea, but he was the funniest—and surely the best at promoting his own cleverness.

And, finally, he had fortuitous timing. As “brotherhood became a civil religion,” as historian Leonard Rogoff has so aptly put it, Golden’s brand of Yiddishkeit—cultural Judaism—and his “we’re-all-on-the-same-ball-of-yarn” view of his fellow man were very appealing.

GM: You call him a “blogger before blogs existed.” How did he reach so many people pre-Internet? Continue reading ‘Interview: Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett on Harry Golden, ‘Carolina Israelite’’ »

Martha S. Jones and Barbara D. Savage on roundtable discussion, ‘Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women’

Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, edited by Mia E. Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara D. SavageThis week the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) hosted a six-day roundtable on Toward an Intellectual History of Black Womenthe new volume edited by Mia Bay, Farah J.Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara D. Savage. Over on the AAIHS website, editors Jones and Savage respond to the conversation.

Jones writes:

No question posed here spoke to me more than that asked by Kientz Anderson in her Introduction to this roundtable: “Who are intellectuals?” This question was that which guided our work from the outset. I hope it isn’t revealing too much to say that, in one important sense, crafting a response was not very difficult. Yes, we searched, probed, rethought, and reimagined women of the past as thinkers and producers of ideas. Of course we stretched understandings of genre, and overthrew conventions of sites for and means of production. We looked hard to find black women and their ideas in new and unexpected places. It was work. But it was also easy in that the women about whom we wrote had always been there, waiting for us to hold them up to the light. They were intellectuals even before we set out to write their histories, of that I am certain.

There is, however, another version of Kientz Anderson’s question and it is: “Are we intellectuals?” What happens, I’d like to consider, when we hold up the mirror and ask whether the editors and contributors to Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women are themselves intellectuals? Are we the sorts of producers of ideas that warrant such an esteemed and carefully guarded designation? I’ll pause here to shift voice; I speak only for myself when I say “I’m not certain.” The question led me to make a self-assessment. It turns out that intellectual is a label I cannot don easily. I may term myself academic, professor, historian, or scholar, even doctor in some settings. But intellectual is something I cannot quite call myself. It is awkward, ill-fitting, and when the words pass over my lips—“I am an intellectual”—I immediately feel I am over-reaching.

I was raised to be a doer. It is a quality I likely share with many of the women chronicled in Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women. As a girl, I won the most praise for what I could do, rather than for my ideas. Continue reading ‘Martha S. Jones and Barbara D. Savage on roundtable discussion, ‘Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women’’ »

Michael H. Hunt: The Pentagon’s Durable Asian Fairy Tale

hunt_arc_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Michael H. Hunt, author of Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam, coauthored with Steven I. Levine. Although conventionally treated as separate, America’s four wars in Asia were actually phases in a sustained U.S. bid for regional dominance, according to Hunt and Levine. This effort unfolded as an imperial project in which military power and the imposition of America’s political will were crucial. Devoting equal attention to Asian and American perspectives, the authors follow the long arc of conflict across seventy-five years from the Philippines through Japan and Korea to Vietnam, tracing along the way American ambition, ascendance, and ultimate defeat. They show how these wars are etched deeply in eastern Asia’s politics and culture.

The authors encourage readers to confront the imperial pattern in U.S. history with implications for today’s Middle Eastern conflicts. They also offer a deeper understanding of China’s rise and Asia’s place in today’s world.

Featured below is a crosspost from Hunt’s blog, On Washington and the World. In his post, Hunt evaluates the opinions in Washington, D.C., concerning U.S. relations with eastern Asia. 


The Pentagon’s fairy tale history of U.S. involvement in eastern Asia appears alive and well. So at least statements made by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter during his recent visits in Singapore and Vietnam suggest. Following the lines of the mythology that seems to exercise strong appeal in official U.S. circles, Carter claimed that the United States, by playing a pivotal military role in the region over the past seven decades, has “helped maintain peace and stability.” (See the transcript of his address in Singapore on 30 May and his interview in Vietnam with the BBC dated 1 June.)

The notion of the U.S. military as a force for peace and stability doesn’t hold historical water now any more than when Carter’s predecessor invoked it. (See my earlier post on this topic.)

From the late 1940s Washington extended the Cold War struggle from Europe to Asia and in the process spawned regional disorder. U.S. policymakers recruited clients, created dependencies, and resisted calls for revolutionary change wherever they were heard throughout the region. In defense of the status quo, U.S. forces fought in Korea and Vietnam, helped defeat insurgents in the Philippines, and devastated Cambodia from the air. These efforts twice resulted in costly military collisions with China, first in Korea and then in Vietnam. To the surprise and dismay of the U.S. political class and military leaders, neither confrontation with Beijing went well—and this at a time when Mao Zedong’s China was just getting on its feet. (Readers interested in the details are invited to consult Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam, which I coauthored with Steven I. Levine.)

An important shift in the early 1970s has no place in Carter’s simple generalization about America in Asia. Continue reading ‘Michael H. Hunt: The Pentagon’s Durable Asian Fairy Tale’ »

Video: Barbara Ellis on Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping

Watch: Barbara Ellis is author of Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide. In this video produced by The Chestertown Spy, Ellis talks about the origins of the book, her lifelong interest in plants, why she doesn’t use herbicides, and more.

Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping, by Barbara EllisFormer managing editor of gardening books at Rodale Press and publications director at the American Horticultural Society, Barbara W. Ellis is the author of Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide and Covering Ground: Unexpected Ideas for Landscaping with Colorful, Low-Maintenance Ground Covers, among other books.

Steve Estes: Cameras and Cops

Charleston in Black and White: Race and Power in the South after the Civil Rights Movement, by Steve EstesWe welcome a guest post today from Steve Estes, author of Charleston in Black and White: Race and Power in the South after the Civil Rights Movement. Once one of the wealthiest cities in America, Charleston, South Carolina, established a society built on the racial hierarchies of slavery and segregation. By the 1970s, the legal structures behind these racial divisions had broken down and the wealth built upon them faded. Like many southern cities, Charleston had to construct a new public image. In this important book, Estes chronicles the rise and fall of black political empowerment and examines the ways Charleston responded to the civil rights movement, embracing some changes and resisting others.

In today’s post, Estes puts the killing of Walter Scott in the context of the history of police policy and race relations in Charleston.


Video recordings of police brutality in the past year, including the horrific shooting of Walter Scott in the South Carolina Low Country, have led many to argue that body cameras will solve the problems of racial profiling and brutality in law enforcement. While body cameras do bring accountability to both police and suspects, they are no panacea to cure this systemic problem.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, urban police departments struggled with similar problems of racial tensions and police brutality. They addressed these problems in three ways. First, the concept of community policing got cops out of their cars and put them back on the beat to meet the people they served and protected. Second, urban police forces aggressively promoted diversity through affirmative action, hiring trailblazing African American and Latino chiefs for the first time in history. Finally, police forces began to prioritize hiring better-educated officers. All three of these strategies were successful in helping to professionalize and diversify city police departments across the country.

I saw this first hand in my research on Charleston, South Carolina, in the post–civil rights era. In 1960 Charleston had a police department that was almost entirely white, policing a city that was majority African American. By the 1970s, a new chief had implemented community policing. By the early 1980s, the city had hired its first black (and Jewish) chief, Reuben Greenberg. Greenberg continued community policing and required all new hires to have a college degree. White and black Charlestonians embraced Greenberg as both a symbol and catalyst of real change.

At this same time, however, the Charleston police department and departments around the country were deployed to fight two “wars” on the home front. Continue reading ‘Steve Estes: Cameras and Cops’ »

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Carolina in Crisis, a film depiction can:

  1. Promote a more accurate understanding of Indians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Clarify the southeastern origins of the American Revolution.

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

  1. Garner interest in historical sites and boost tourism.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

William Marvel: Sacrificing General Sherman

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

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

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

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

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

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett: Digitization with a Bit of Resentment

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marianne Gingher: Amazing Place Is a NY Times Bestseller

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

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


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

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

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


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

© Marianne Gingher

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

Timothy P. Spira: Hiking Rainbow Falls Trail

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

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

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

Rainbow Falls photo by Timothy P. Spira

Rainbow Falls (photo by Timothy P. Spira)

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

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

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

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

Nathaniel Cadle: The Lusitania and the American Century

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

1. Offer the basics.

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

2. Group your plants.

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


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

3. Cultivate native plants.

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

4. Grow berries.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl: A Third Way

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit the Studies in Latin America website: