George W. Houston: From a Trash Heap: The Mind of an Ancient Book Collector

houston_insideWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by George W. Houston, author of Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity. Libraries of the ancient world have long held a place in the public imagination. Even in antiquity, the library at Alexandria was nearly legendary. Until now there has been relatively little research to discover what was inside these libraries, how the collections came into being and evolved, and who selected and maintained the holdings. In this engaging and meticulously researched study, Houston examines a dozen specific book collections of Roman date in the first comprehensive attempt to answer these questions.

In today’s post, Houston relates the literary discoveries made by a twentieth-century archaeological team excavating a third-century dump in Egypt.


Amid lengthening shadows late in the afternoon of January 13, 1906, two young British scholars, who with their teams of workers were excavating ancient dusty mounds in Egypt, made a startling discovery. The scholars were Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, both of Queen’s College, Oxford. The site was the ancient town of Oxyrhynchus (the modern Bahnasa), about a hundred miles south of Cairo and west of the Nile. The mounds were the remains of the ancient town dump, vast piles of trash thrown out by the inhabitants of the town over a period of six hundred years or more. Grenfell directed the Egyptian workers, who were divided into teams of four to seven men. The workers searched carefully through the ancient dump, looking for pieces of papyrus, the ancient equivalent of paper; when they found bits of papyrus, they put them in baskets, and Hunt then sorted through the fragments and organized them for future study.

This was not the first time Grenfell and Hunt had searched for papyrus in Egypt—they had begun exploring various sites in 1897—but the discoveries they made at Oxyrhynchus in the winter of 1905–1906 produced astonishingly rich assortments of materials. The bits of papyrus had been preserved by the ultra-dry sands of Egypt, but they were not in good shape. They were trash, after all, and some of them may have been thrown out because they were damaged or torn. Many were bent or crushed or faded. Most survived as small fragments, containing just a few letters or lines of text; some preserved several columns of writing; and a few still contained the equivalent of several pages of continuous text. Most of the papyri that have been found in Egypt have turned out to be documents that, when studied, provide invaluable and fascinating details on ancient daily life; but what Grenfell and Hunt were seeking was potentially more precious still: remains of ancient works of literature. And that is what they found in the afternoon of January 13.

Even a quick look at the fragments revealed the potential value of the papyri in this find, and Grenfell excitedly wrote a friend a few days later: “On Jan. 13 . . . we were fortunate enough to make incomparably the biggest and most important find of classical pieces that we have ever made.” Continue reading ‘George W. Houston: From a Trash Heap: The Mind of an Ancient Book Collector’ »

Christopher C. Sellers: Beyond Environmentalism: Marching toward Climatism

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

In the following post, Sellers reports on the September 21 People’s Climate March event in New York, where he witnessed a new multiracial generation of activists mobilized for justice.

[This article originally appeared at]


Over a month out from the People’s Climate March, while many dwell on what it did not or will not do, let me venture a hopeful prediction, from the longer vantage point of the historian. With a size of surprising, historic proportion, it showed climate activism may well have broken out of the mold of its “environmental” predecessors, established half a century ago. That’s a good thing, not least for those who think of themselves as “environmentalists.”

As has been noted, the closest things we’ve seen in recent decades to the as many as 400,000 drawn to New York City on September 21 were the rally against the Iraq War not long after 9/11, the Million Men and Women marches of the 1990s following in the tradition of civil rights, and a 1982 gathering in Central Park to protest Reagan’s nuclear build-up. Thematically, however, a better historical touchstone is the first Earth Day in 1970, still in many respects the high-water mark for popular demonstrations on behalf of the environment in this country.

Unaided by the organizing facility of modern social media, and without a United Nations summit to target, Earth Day 1970 centered much less on New York City than did the Climate March. A Union Square event, while its single biggest, drew only 20,000 people at its peak moment. And the first Earth Day happened almost entirely inside the United States, compared to the 162 countries that reportedly hosted events this September 21.

Inside America, however, the first Earth Day mobilized far more people—some 20 million according the organizers—across a vaster array of places, not just cities but suburbs too. Through a host of smaller changes, but nowhere more so than through this event, the much older cause of “conservation” cracked apart, revealing a newer and stronger movement,  more massive and popular, just then becoming known as “environmentalism.” Though convened by a senator (Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisc) and led by a national organizing group (Environmental Action), Earth Day seemed to nearly “organize itself” (Nelson’s words), especially around the largest and most sprawling of cities. First and foremost of its achievements was to confirm just how widespread and active was the constituency for what was then a newly woven tapestry of concerns, “the environment.”

A similar transformation may be happening right now. Continue reading ‘Christopher C. Sellers: Beyond Environmentalism: Marching toward Climatism’ »

Doug Orr: The Profound African American Influence on Appalachian Music

Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr

We welcome to the blog today a guest post by Doug Orr, coauthor of the book Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia with Fiona Ritchie. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a steady stream of Scots migrated to Ulster and eventually onward across the Atlantic to resettle in the United States. Many of these Scots-Irish immigrants made their way into the mountains of the southern Appalachian region. They brought with them a wealth of traditional ballads and tunes from the British Isles and Ireland, a carrying stream that merged with sounds and songs of English, German, Welsh, African American, French, and Cherokee origin. Their enduring legacy of music flows today from Appalachia back to Ireland and Scotland and around the globe. Ritchie and Orr guide readers on a musical voyage across oceans, linking people and songs through centuries of adaptation and change.

Ritchie and Orr have four upcoming events in North Carolina this fall, beginning Thursday, November 13, in Charlotte. For more information about upcoming author events and appearances, all featuring live music, check out their author page on the UNC Press website.

In a previous post, Ritchie shares some of her travels over the years that contributed to Wayfaring Strangers. In today’s post, Orr traces the historical influence that African American music and culture had on the development of Appalachian music.


The music of the Appalachians draws its sources from a meandering stream of influences over centuries and distant lands. A substantial Scots-Irish immigration of the eighteenth century, generally through Pennsylvania and down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road into the southern Appalachians, represented the initial and primary source. But over subsequent years and cultural encounters a variety of influences entered the mix: German, English, French, Welsh, Cherokee and African American—what Fiona Ritchie and I refer to as a “musical tapestry” in our book Wayfaring  Strangers. Perhaps none of these influences has been more misunderstood and underestimated than that of African American music and culture.

It is generally known that the American banjo’s origins trace back to West Africa and a gourd-like instrument, the “ngoni,” among other names. However, the plantations were something of an incubator for music of the African American slaves in a variety of forms: the fiddle, learned at the plantation house; the call-and-response work songs from the toil of the plantation fields; spirituals stemming from church worship—often clandestine services or camp meetings with hidden messages of freedom’s call; and the hush lullabies sung by mammies to their babies, and sung with irony to the children of the plantation overlords.

A reciprocal “short loop” saw influences evolve in both directions between blacks and whites. For example, the slaves would hear white fiddlers play at the plantation house, emulate what they heard on their own instruments, and thereafter return the tunes with added interpretations that included more syncopated, improvisational, bluesy, and rhythmic styles, with ultimately a lasting impact on Appalachian fiddle playing, as the music drifted west from the plantations and into the mountains. It has been estimated that at the time of the Revolutionary War over half of the fiddle players in the South were African American. Continue reading ‘Doug Orr: The Profound African American Influence on Appalachian Music’ »

Sneak Peek: Great Reads for Spring 2015

Freshen up your reading list in time for spring with new books from UNC Press. Our Spring 2015 catalog is now live! We have wonderful new books for general readers and the scholarly community. To find out more, search through the interactive catalog above for descriptions or visit our website to see what’s new in subject areas that interest you. All spring books are now available for pre-order. Most books will be available as e-books, too, as soon as the printed copies arrive. If you want to stay on top of what’s new each month in your favorite subject area, sign up for our monthly eNews announcements.

Plus! Our holiday sale is now underway. You can save 40% on ALL our books. Just use discount code 01HOLIDAY at checkout on our website. Plus, spend $75 or more, and shipping is FREE. Start your holiday shopping now!

Some extra good news? Even though our Spring 2015 books haven’t been published yet, you can pre-order them at the sale price now, and we’ll ship the books as soon as they become available. What’s coming along this spring? We’ve got a handful featured below. Browse the interactive catalog above to see the full list.

'The Life of William Apess, Pequot,' by Philip F. Gura'Shrimp,' a Savor the South® cookbook by Jay Pierce'Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South,' by Charles L. Hughes'What Is a Madrasa?' by Ebrahim Moosa'Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women,' edited by Mia E. Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara D. Savage'The Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta,' by Earl J. Hess'Hotel Life: The Story of a Place Where Anything Can Happen,' by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl'Waterfalls and Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes,' by Timothy P. Spira

Interview: Rod Phillips and the world history of alcohol

Rod Phillips, author of Alcohol: A History, talks with Gina Mahalek about beer vs. wine, alcohol vs. water, and the (possible) dawn of a “post-alcohol era.”


Gina Mahalek: This is the first cultural history of alcohol. What was your biggest challenge in writing it?

Rod Phillips author pageRod Phillips: One of the big challenges I had was to create the periods of the history of alcohol because there was no model. To some extent I followed conventional periods, like Classical and Medieval, but more recent periods were trickier. And because this is a global history, I faced the same problems as world historians: periods in Africa and South America don’t align with periods in Europe and North America. So I ended up with a mix of chronological and thematic divisions. I think it works.

GM: What role did the church play in extending wine production up to and beyond the end of the first Christian millennium?

RP: The church was very important in promoting wine production throughout Europe and the wider world. Wine was central to Christian rituals and symbolism and it was needed for communion, so priests needed access to wine wherever they were. But they didn’t need very much because from the Middle Ages to the 1960s, only the priest sipped wine; the congregation took only bread. This means that almost all the wine produced on church lands (including monasteries) was consumed by the clergy as a secular drink or sold on the open market. Monasteries also produced beer and, later, distilled spirits. But it’s possible that the church’s role in alcohol production has been exaggerated because monastic and other church records have been conserved well, while we might have lost the records of much of the alcohol production by other vineyard and brewery owners.

GM: What was the first known instance of prohibition?

RP: When anyone mentions Prohibition, most people think immediately of Prohibition in the United States. But as I hope I show in my chapter on “Prohibitions,” other countries (like Russia, Sweden, and Norway) adopted prohibition policies around the same time as the United States. As for earlier examples of prohibition, the best known and most effective example is Islam. Since the seventh century, Islam has forbidden the consumption of alcohol, and although some Muslims drink, the great majority of Muslims do not. It’s the most successful and enduring example of prohibition in history. Before Muhammad forbade alcohol, a few small Christian and Jewish sects also did so, but they were hardly significant or mainstream.

GM: What is one misconception about alcohol that you hope to dispel?

RP: People are often surprised to learn that alcohol was so widely consumed in the past as an item of diet, rather than as an optional beverage as it is now. There really has been a sea change in the cultural meaning of alcohol as it is now discretionary and consumed for pleasure. On the other hand, it was consumed for centuries because it was nutritious, healthy, and a safe way of hydrating the body.

GM: Why has wine enjoyed more cultural cachet than beer?

RP: It’s true that over the long term, and even today, beer has been thought of as a culturally inferior drink—although today, craft brewers are making beer that they believe is every bit as complex and serious as wine, and terms that have been associated with wine are now being used to describe beer. Originally, it was probably the relative scarcity of wine that gave it cultural value. Wine could be made only once a year, at grape harvest, unlike beer, which could be made year-round from stored grain. Wine was also made in smaller volumes than beer. Relative scarcity made it more expensive and therefore within reach only of the elites. In ancient societies, the elites drank wine and beer, but the masses only drank beer. As the elites monopolized wine, they also associated it with divinity, which reinforced the sense that the rich and powerful were closer to the gods. Continue reading ‘Interview: Rod Phillips and the world history of alcohol’ »

Michael Barkun: Reverse Transparency in Post-9/11 America

Barkun - Chasing PhantomsWe welcome a guest post today from Michael Barkun, author of Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11, which will be available in paperback next month. In the book, Barkun identifies a gap between the realities of terrorism—“violence without a return address”—and the everyday discourse about it among government officials and the general public. Demonstrating that U.S. homeland security policy reflects significant nonrational thinking, Barkun offers new recommendations for effective—and rational—policymaking.

In the following post, Barkun addresses new revelations about government surveillance that have come to light since the original publication of the book in 2011.


I wrote Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11 before Edward Snowden released his massive accumulation of National Security Agency documents. Like most Americans, I was stunned by the extent to which the NSA had penetrated domestic as well as foreign communications. While my book did not anticipate the Snowden disclosures, what we now know about government surveillance is consistent with an argument I made in Chasing Phantoms.

That argument appeared in a chapter I called “Making the Invisible Visible: Reverse Transparency and Privacy.” One of the immediate post–9/11 fears was that terrorists and their weapons of mass destruction would be able to move about indistinguishable from the general population and ordinary articles of commerce. As a result, much of the early emphasis of homeland security was on making these putatively invisible entities visible and thus separate them from the surrounding environment. If this could be done, it would result in a distinction of the dangerous from the harmless. Although many of these ventures turned out to be unsuccessful for technical reasons, the emphasis on bringing supposedly invisible dangers to visibility necessitated infringements upon privacy.

Unlike the covert electronic infringements by the NSA, some other infringements are open and obvious—for example, security check-points at airports and government buildings, or surveillance cameras covering public spaces. These are examples of what I term “reverse transparency.” Continue reading ‘Michael Barkun: Reverse Transparency in Post-9/11 America’ »

Announcing a new book series: Studies in United States Culture

We have exciting news to share as editors Mark Simpson-Vos and Brandon Proia depart for this week’s annual meeting of the American Studies Association (follow #2014ASA on Twitter). UNC Press is proud to announce the creation of a new book series, Studies in United States Culture.

This series will be edited by Grace Elizabeth Hale, Commonwealth Chair of American Studies, Professor of History, and Director of the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia. Hale is author of Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940 (Pantheon 1998) and A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle-Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America (Oxford 2011). Her next book, tentatively entitled “Cool Town: Athens, Georgia, and the Promise of Alternative Culture in Reagan’s America,” will be published by UNC Press.

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.

This new publishing initiative builds on the intellectual origins and historical development of American Studies as a field. Continue reading ‘Announcing a new book series: Studies in United States Culture’ »

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

Behind the White Picket Fence: Power and Privilege in a Multiethnic Neighborhood, by Sarah Mayorga-GalloBehind the White Picket Fence: Power and Privilege in a Multiethnic Neighborhood is the study of a multiethnic and mixed-income urban neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina. In this book, I discuss diversity ideology, which captures the contemporary ways that whites reconcile a national emphasis on egalitarianism with pervasive racial inequality. I argue that diversity ideology focuses on an individual’s intentions; being in favor of diversity aligns one with the humanist principles of equity and justice. Diversity ideology maintains that as long as one is interested in inclusion, s/he is inclusive; no specific actions or outcomes are otherwise demanded. I contend, however, that focusing on good intentions can obscure issues of inequality. If we are interested in equity, we must also focus on inequitable outcomes—even if they are the product of well-intentioned actions. In Chapter 2 of Behind the White Picket Fence, I identify the five ways that Creekridge Park residents define diversity and discuss how these uses, by failing to acknowledge power differentials and focus on outcomes, reinforce the race and class privilege of White homeowners. In this excerpt (pp. 45-48), I discuss how the commodification of Black and Latino/a residents in Creekridge Park is a product of diversity ideology.

A note on terminology: I use the capitalized term “White” to refer to individuals who are White and non-Hispanic. I use the lowercase term “white” to refer to a set of power relations that systemically (i.e., socially, politically, and historically) privilege European descendants and disadvantage racial others. I discuss this distinction a bit more in Chapter 1 of Behind the White Picket Fence. Throughout the book I also use three terms to designate how long residents have lived in the neighborhood: newcomer—less than five years; established resident—more than five and less than fifteen years; and longtime resident—fifteen or more years. For ease of reading, I have omitted identifying each resident quoted in this excerpt as a White homeowner. Unless otherwise noted, the reader may assume each individual discussed below is a White homeowner.

—Sarah Mayorga-Gallo


Diversity as Commodity

In Creekridge Park, White residents also perceived diversity as a commodity. In this white, urban, middle-class habitus, one of the normative responses to non-White bodies was a commodification of their otherness. By commodification I mean that non-Whites are treated as objects rather than people and are used by Whites for their own benefit and satisfaction. In Creekridge Park, what was most often commodified was the presence of non-Whites. The presence of Blacks and Latino/as in Creekridge Park is attractive to some White homeowners because it facilitates the definition of this multiethnic space as desirable. Philosopher Shannon Sullivan’s work on whiteness identifies similar patterns. She writes, “Forbidden longings for contact with the non-white other that are generated out of habits of white domination paradoxically receive an expression that renders them invisible because they are consciously experienced as a wholesome desire for diversity.”[1] So while inequitable power relations are at the root of commodifying practices, because of the diversity ideology these roots are obscured and the desires are framed positively by Whites. This is a great example of the “naturalness” of whiteness—Whites do not see themselves as oppressors and do not interpret their commodifying practices as such. As a result of the privileged position of Whites, the narrative that explains their desires and values as normal and universally beneficial becomes dominant.

Julie, a homeowner and newcomer who lives on Cardinal Street, mentioned her appreciation of the diversity in Creekridge Park: Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Behind the White Picket Fence, by Sarah Mayorga-Gallo’ »

  1. [1] Sullivan, Revealing Whiteness, 126.

Mara Casey Tieken: 60 Years after Brown, Resegregation Is on the Rise

Why Rural Schools Matter, by Mara Casey TiekenWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Mara Casey Tieken, author of Why Rural Schools Matter. From headlines to documentaries, urban schools are at the center of current debates about education. From these accounts, one would never know that 51 million Americans live in rural communities and depend on their public schools to meet not only educational but also social and economic needs.  For many communities, these schools are the ties that bind. This book shares the untold story of rural education. Drawing upon extensive research in two southern towns, Tieken exposes the complicated ways in which schools shape the racial dynamics of their towns and sustain the communities that surround them. Vividly demonstrating the effects of constricted definitions of public education in an era of economic turmoil and widening inequality, Tieken calls for a more contextual approach to education policymaking, involving both state and community.

In today’s post, Tieken discusses the desegregation effect of Brown v. Board of Education, and the more recent reversion toward resegregation in U.S. schools.


Somewhere during these past six decades, our nation reversed course. What had been a slow march towards school desegregation has become instead a rapid retreat from that goal. This about-face is not accidental—and recent education policymaking is largely to blame.

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that found racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. In large measure, the decision worked. Though it took many years—and the added weight of executive orders, U.S. troops, and the Civil Rights Act—slowly, the nation’s schools began to integrate. By the late 1980s, gains in desegregation were significant, particularly for black students. The South saw the largest gains: the year of the Brown decision, no black student was attending a majority white school, but, by 1988, 44 percent were. The South had become the most integrated region of the country.

Delight, Arkansas, was one of the success stories. In a state notorious for its civil rights history, this small rural district quietly works towards desegregation. Through several school closures and reorganizations in the 1960s and 1980s, the Delight school district came to encompass students from six small towns—three nearly all-white, two nearly all-black, and one more racially mixed. The process certainly had its faults: in the closure of its schools, the black community bore a cost the white community never did. Yet it also had a supportive leadership and teaching staff. As a former superintendent explained, “when kids came here, black or white, they were Bulldogs and we all pulled together.”

When I visited Delight for the first time in 2007, I found a desegregated district. Its one K-12 school, with 330 60students, was about 60 percent white and 30 percent African American (with the remaining 10 percent international students, due to a robust international program). More telling than numbers were the details: black students spent the night at the houses of white classmates, the rosters of AP classes listed both black and white students, and the school ran smoothly under the leadership of a black principal and a diverse school board. Delight sometimes struggled with racialized incidents—a racial epithet heard on the playground or a parent’s ignorant comment. But, however imperfectly and incompletely, it was moving towards the promise of Brown.

Today, though, we see a different reality: our nation’s schools are resegregating. Continue reading ‘Mara Casey Tieken: 60 Years after Brown, Resegregation Is on the Rise’ »

Save 40% on Savor the South Cookbooks 10-volume Set


Each little cookbook in our SAVOR THE SOUTH® collection is a big celebration of a beloved food or tradition of the American South. From buttermilk to bourbon, pecans to peaches, one by one SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbooks will stock a kitchen shelf with the flavors and culinary wisdom of this popular American regional cuisine. Written by well-known cooks and food lovers, the books brim with personality, the informative and often surprising culinary and natural history of southern foodways, and a treasure of some fifty recipes each—from delicious southern classics to sparkling international renditions that open up worlds of taste for cooks everywhere. You’ll want to collect them all.

Add to shopping cart: A History of the Book in America, 5-volume setThe first ten volumes published in the series are now available in a hardcover set for $180.00, but for a limited time you can save 40% on this set (and all UNC Press books in print!) by using discount code 01REL40 at checkout. So the 10-volume set can be yours for $108.00. And because your purchase totals more than $75, the shipping is FREE!

Each book is also available individually. Just use discount code 01REL40 at checkout using the links below to get the special savings. (Pssst! These books make great gifts!)

In this set you’ll find:

Buttermilk by Debbie Moose

Pecans by Kathleen Purvis

Peaches by Kelly Alexander

Tomatoes by Miriam Rubin

Biscuits by Belinda Ellis

Bourbon by Kathleen Purvis

Okra by Virginia Willis

Pickles and Preserves by Andrea Weigl

Sweet Potatoes by April McGreger

Southern Holidays by Debbie Moose

Included are almost 500 recipes for these uniquely Southern ingredients.