Bruce B. Lawrence on ‘Who Is Allah?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsey A. Freeman: On the Anniversary of Fukushima

freeman_longing_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Lindsey A. Freeman, author of Longing for the Bomb: Oak Ridge and Atomic Nostalgia. Tucked into the folds of Appalachia and kept off all commercial maps, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was created for the Manhattan Project by the U.S. government in the 1940s. The city has experienced the entire lifespan of the Atomic Age, from the fevered wartime enrichment of the uranium that fueled Little Boy, through a brief period of atomic utopianism after World War II when it began to brand itself as “The Atomic City,” to the anxieties of the Cold War, to the contradictory contemporary period of nuclear unease and atomic nostalgia. Freeman shows how a once-secret city is visibly caught in an uncertain present, no longer what it was historically yet still clinging to the hope of a nuclear future. It is a place where history, memory, and myth compete and conspire to tell the story of America’s atomic past and to explain the nuclear present.

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


Saturday March 12, 2011

(The day after)

Richland, Washington

Day’s Inn

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

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

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

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

Timothy P. Spira: The Lure of Waterfalls

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


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

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

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

Save big and read American History!

UNC Press American HIstory Sale

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

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


R. Douglas Hurt on Agriculture and Confederate Power

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

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

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

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

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

April McGreger: Sweet Potato Pone

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

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


Sweet Potato Pone

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Marianne Gingher: ABA Winter Institute 2015

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

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


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

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

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

ABA Winter Institute

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Adam Wesley Dean on an Industrial North and an Agricultural South

dean_agrarian_PBOver on our Civil War blog, Adam Wesley Dean, author of An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era, challenges the common historical misconception that the pre-Civil War North was comprised mainly of industrialized and urban populations, while the South was primarily an agricultural society. Dean argues that an accurate view of history will bring clarity to some of the motivations behind the Civil War. Dean writes:

Americans often feel comforted in the stories they hear about the past. A former professor of mine used to joke that some passionate visitors to Gettysburg Battlefield Park had memorized the familiar tales of action in the Peach Orchard and Little Round Top given by the park’s historians. One of these favorite stories is the old account of the coming of the Civil War. The narrative goes something like this: an agrarian South of farmers and planters sought to resist the coming of a modern industrial economy by seceding. Even as late as 2008, the Virginia Standards of Learning listed that one of the “cultural” reasons for why the war happened was that “the North was mainly an urban society in which people held jobs,” while the South “was primarily an agricultural society.”

The truth, of course, is much different. Of the North’s population, over 14.5 million lived in rural areas with a population of less than 2,500, while only 5 million lived in what any reasonable person could call an “urban society.” Roughly 60% of northerners worked on farms. Most farms were small, with the average varying between 113 and 169 acres in the states that stayed loyal to the union. The vast majority of historians and museums have long known these figures and their implications for understanding the war. Why, then, does the state board of education cling to the old story? Perhaps the public feels at ease in labeling the slave-holding Confederacy as something distant, something foreign, a relic of a bygone era, rather than a society in many ways just as capitalist and worldly as our own.

Even more critical, as my book An Agrarian Republic shows, if the public continues to understand the war as a conflict between an industrial North and an agricultural South, they cannot possibly understand the world that nineteenth-century Americans inhabited. Since most northerners were farmers, they carried the values and norms cultivated by this lifestyle into politics.

Read Dean’s full post, “An Industrial North and an Agricultural South,” at

2015 African American History Month Reading List

The study of African American history is a year-round endeavor for UNC Press, but in honor of African American History Month, we’d like to highlight the great new work we’ve been able to publish in this field recently. Here are books on African American history, culture, and modern society from UNC Press over the past year, plus a few that will be available later this spring and are available for pre-order now.

To browse our complete African American studies collection visit the UNC Press website.

Here’s our reading list. Click on an image below to start the slideshow.

Gary W. Gallagher on Working with Harry W. Pfanz

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of esteemed Gettysburg historian Harry W. Pfanz. He served ten years as a historian at Gettysburg National Military Park and retired from the position of Chief Historian of the National Park Service in 1981. He was also author of three major works on the battle of Gettysburg published by UNC Press, which are now available separately in print and together in an omnibus e-book. UNC Press published those works thanks in part to the guidance of series editor Gary W. Gallagher. Over at our Civil War 150 site, Gallagher offers a remembrance of their long professional and personal connection.

Gallagher begins:

I have the fondest memories of working with Harry Pfanz in the very early period of developing a Civil War list at UNC Press. In the mid-1980s, Matthew Hodgson, who served as director of the Press from 1970 to 1992, had a number of discussions with me about how such a list might look. We agreed it should be expansive in scope, including books on military and nonmilitary aspects of the conflict and open to historians from inside and outside the academic world. Matt had extensive experience in commercial publishing before going to Chapel Hill and prophesied—correctly, as it turned out—that studies of battles and campaigns probably would sell better than any other titles. Harry’s eventual contributions to UNC Press’s Civil War America series underscored the prescience of Matt’s thinking.

Gettysburg--The Second Day, by Harry W. PfanzI told Matt in the fall of 1985 that Harry had a big manuscript devoted to part of the battle of Gettysburg. Impressed that Harry was chief historian of the National Park Service and had spent many years at Gettysburg National Military Park earlier in his career, Matt asked to see a sample chapter. Harry sent him one, prompting a very enthusiastic reply (Matt usually was not given to obvious enthusiasm). “I have read your chapter with considerable interest,” Matt wrote Harry in December 1985, “and would very much like to read your manuscript in its entirety.” Matt closed with an assurance that UNC Press “has committed itself to publishing (on a continuing basis) outstanding manuscripts on the Civil War and its leaders.”

Harry promptly delivered a narrative of more than 1,000 pages devoted to fighting on the southern end of the battlefield on July 2. After going through the entire text with great care, I assured Matt that it was as an absolute model of the genre that “quickly should take its place among the classic Civil War tactical studies.” I made the same point to Harry a bit later. He responded with his usual quiet modesty, expressing the hope that what he had written would please Matt and the Press. “It covers well known ground that has been scratched but not plowed,” he observed, adding with understatement: “The subject ought to have considerable appeal.”

Gettysburg—The Second Day was published in December 1987 and became an instant success. It set a standard for tactical studies that few other historians, before or after, have equaled.

Read Gallagher’s full post, “Remembering Harry W. Pfanz as a Historian and Friend,” at

Thomas J. Brown on Confederate Retweeting

brown_civilOver on our Civil War blog, to mark the 150th anniversary of Sherman’s March to the Sea, Thomas J. Brown, author of Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina, will partner with the Historic Columbia Foundation for a “live tweet” event from 15 January to 20 February. Brown writes:

My research on South Carolina sites of Confederate memory for Civil War Canon has sharpened my interest in new ventures in public history. For the upcoming anniversary of the burning of Columbia (February 17), I am joining with the Historic Columbia Foundation (@HistColumbia) to “live tweet” Sherman’s March from January 15 to February 20 (#ShermansMarch). The sesquicentennial Twitter feed invites comparison with an ambitious centennial account of Sherman’s visit, the eighty-page commemorative issue published by the two daily newspapers then in Columbia. Both renditions of the oft-told tale propose to refresh the past by presenting history in media used for dissemination of current news. Both initiatives illuminate the relationship between forms of commemoration and implications of Civil War stories.

The February 1965 newspaper shared features with monuments, reliquaries, historic preservation projects, and other Confederate lieux de mémoire developed during the century after the war. The special issue played against the everyday discard of newspapers by seeking a lasting influence. A friend of mine who grew up in Columbia in the 1970s recalls that his grandmother kept her copy in the top drawer of the secretary bookcase in her living room. She would take it out annually on the anniversary of the fire and review the articles and illustrations with her grandson, recalling stories she had heard as a child in Columbia in the 1910s and 1920s and discussing local sites of memory that the two had visited together. This pattern followed rituals of remembrance associated with Lost Cause shrines. The newspaper purported to speak for the community. As in other commemorations, the forging of a collective voice was a negotiation. In this case, the prominence of corporate advertisements nudged the publication more toward pride in Columbia’s recovery than toward the claims of irreparable grievance that often characterized civic memory of Sherman.

Twitter is more similar to commemorative forms that have flourished since the mid-twentieth century. It appeals to commercialized recreation rather than ritualized reverence, much as the Confederate battle flag gained visibility through college sports and sustained influence through sales of t-shirts and beach towels. Enthusiasm for social media is part of the celebration of technology that has recently reshaped memory of the Hunley submarine. The concept of historical “live tweeting” resembles efforts of Civil War re-enactors to reproduce conditions of the past, such as the real-time unfolding of events, though my day-by-day chronicle does not pretend to offer the “period rush” some hobbyists find in simulation.

Read Brown’s full post, “Confederate Retweet,” at

Marcie Cohen Ferris: Civil Rights, Lunch Counters, and North Carolina Basketball

The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region, by Marcie Cohen FerrisWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Marcie Cohen Ferris, author of The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region. Ferris presents food as a new way to chronicle the American South’s larger history. Ferris tells a richly illustrated story of southern food and the struggles of whites, blacks, Native Americans, and other people of the region to control the nourishment of their bodies and minds, livelihoods, lands, and citizenship. The experience of food serves as an evocative lens onto colonial settlements and antebellum plantations, New South cities and Civil Rights–era lunch counters, chronic hunger and agricultural reform, counterculture communes and iconic restaurants as Ferris reveals how food—as cuisine and as commodity—has expressed and shaped southern identity to the present day.

In today’s post, Ferris examines the role of food in the story of Charles “Charlie” Scott, the first African American scholarship athlete at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and others in the 1960s who sought change in the American South.


Civil Rights, Lunch Counters, and North Carolina Basketball

Many thanks to Coach Terry Holland for his contributions to this essay through the powerful stories he shared on the occasion of his 50th class reunion at Davidson College in June 2014. My husband Bill Ferris is a member of this remarkable Class of ’64, and he and his dear friend Joe Howell participated in the heated civil rights activism in the region that summer.—MCF

The summer of 2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer and the passage of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. Across the South, thousands gathered to commemorate this moment and its impact on American life. (Listen to the Southern Foodways Alliance’s compelling speakers and oral histories and watch Kate Medley’s moving film series, Counter Histories for a taste of the SFA Summer Symposium in Jackson, Mississippi, June 20–21, 2014, which explored this historic era.) In The Edible South, two chapters examine southern food landscapes from the Jim Crow laws of the 1950s to the passage of the historic civil rights legislation in the 1960s, a time when segregated barbecue cafés, bus station restaurants, and dime store lunch counters became battlegrounds during the civil rights movement. White and black southerners, including a young athlete, struggled against racial injustice, such as the indignity experienced at segregated dining venues throughout the South.

In 1966, Charles “Charlie” Scott (b. 1948 in NYC) became the first African American student to attend the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill on an athletic scholarship. He decided to attend UNC rather than basketball powerhouse Davidson College after a wrenching moment at a small café in Davidson, North Carolina. Former Davidson College basketball star Terry Holland, who both played and later served as assistant coach under the college’s legendary coach Lefty Driesell, and UNC law professor and civil rights attorney Daniel H. Pollitt, who was a passionate advocate for social justice in Chapel Hill during the 1950s and 1960s, vividly recall Scott’s historic decision. Pollitt worked with Dean Smith, UNC’s beloved basketball coach (1961–1997) and Robert Seymour, progressive minister at the Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, to recruit Charlie Scott and to help integrate the university community.

As a high school senior, Charlie Scott was an outstanding athlete and valedictorian of his class at Laurinburg Institute, a private preparatory academy for black students that was founded in 1904 in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Frank McDuffie, whose parents founded the Institute, was the headmaster and coach who counseled talented student athletes like Scott during their college recruitment process. Scott had committed to Davidson during his junior year. In the spring of 1966, McDuffie, his wife and son, and Charlie Scott stopped by Davidson for an impromptu visit with the coaches. Driesell and Holland had gone to lunch at one of Davidson’s two restaurants, a small lunch counter named The Coffee Cup. A secretary in the basketball program told the McDuffies that the coaches were eating lunch and provided directions to the restaurant. The national signing day for basketball players was about a month away. Continue reading ‘Marcie Cohen Ferris: Civil Rights, Lunch Counters, and North Carolina Basketball’ »

Doug Orr: A Young Pete Seeger Encounters Music of the Appalachians

Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to AppalachiaWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Doug Orr, coauthor, with Fiona Ritchie, of the New York Times bestselling book, Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia. 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.

In a previous post, Orr traced the historical influence that African American music and culture had on the development of Appalachian music. In today’s post, Orr celebrates the life of the late Pete Seeger (1943–2014) on the one-year anniversary of his death, recounting young Seeger’s life-changing encounter with Bascom Lamar Lunsford, banjos, and Appalachian music at the 1936 Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville.


“Your granddaddy changed my life.” Just a few months before Pete Seeger passed away last January at age 94, he uttered this greeting in meeting Ed Herron, grandson of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Appalachian song collector, banjo and fiddle player known as the “Minstrel of the Mountains.” Ed had made it a point to cross paths with Pete in Connecticut, where Pete was traveling through, displaying the energy and zest for life that characterized his long life. Pete enthusiastically grabbed Ed by the shoulders, expressing heartfelt gratitude for a life-changing experience seventy-seven years before.

Lunsford, who was from Madison County, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, had founded in 1928 the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, which exists today as the oldest continuous folk festival in the nation. It is a celebration of Appalachian music and dance featuring a three-night gala of performers young and old. Lunsford was one of the foremost Appalachian “songcatchers,” and up until his death in 1973 at age 91, he collected over 3000 songs, fiddle tunes, square-dance calls, and stories, journeying the back roads into the deepest mountain coves and hollows to seek out the timeless music. His music also took him to Europe, and he was invited to the Roosevelt White House to perform for Britain’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Pete was seventeen years of age in 1936 when he accompanied his father to Asheville to attend Lunsford’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. Continue reading ‘Doug Orr: A Young Pete Seeger Encounters Music of the Appalachians’ »

Video: Tomas F. Summers Sandoval Jr. on what history tells us about our present

Tomás F. Summers Sandoval Jr., author of Latinos at the Golden Gate: Creating Community and Identity in San Francisco, spoke at a San Francisco event where he discussed current issues for Latino communities in the city and how history might not be synonymous with the past.

Connect with Summers Sandoval by visiting his blog, Latino Like Me or following him on Twitter @tfss.

Tomás F. Summers Sandoval Jr. is associate professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o studies and history at Pomona College and author of Latinos at the Golden Gate: Creating Community and Identity in San Francisco. Read his guest posts, “Out of Many, Uno” and “Community History in the Path of ‘Progress.'”

Brian K. Feltman: Blurred Lines: Prisoners of War, Deserters, and Bowe Bergdahl

feltman_stigmaWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Brian K. Feltman, author of The Stigma of Surrender: German Prisoners, British Captors, and Manhood in the Great War and Beyond. Approximately 9 million soldiers fell into enemy hands from 1914 to 1918, but historians have only recently begun to recognize the prisoner of war’s significance to the history of the Great War. Examining the experiences of the approximately 130,000 German prisoners held in the United Kingdom during World War I, historian Feltman brings wartime captivity back into focus.

In today’s post, Feltman examines the controversial case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in the context of historical attitudes toward prisoners of war.


On May 31, 2014, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban after nearly five years in captivity. Bergdahl is the only American soldier believed to have spent time as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and his release was greeted with a chorus of cheers from the American public. Although some hailed Bergdahl as a hero, others within the military community quickly alleged that he had not been taken prisoner and had instead deserted his post.

Accusations of desertion prompted many of Bergdahl’s supporters to reconsider their positions and left several congressmen scrambling to delete early tweets that praised his service. While many Americans may be surprised by the heated controversy surrounding Bergdahl’s capture, the Bergdahl affair is only the most recent example of the hazy line separating deserters and prisoners of war.

In many cultures throughout history, surrendering on the field of battle and becoming a prisoner of war has carried a stigma. Battle cries such as “victory or death” or “no retreat, no surrender” serve as proof of the military’s exaltation of soldiers who refuse to accept defeat, even at the cost of their own lives. Soldiers who found themselves in enemy hands have often wrestled with feelings of shame and inadequacy for falling short of these romanticized standards. However, even if prisoners of war could become stigmatized, they faced no punishment or official backlash as long as they behaved with honor in captivity. Desertion to the enemy, on the other hand, is an act of treason that carries severe penalties and ostracism. Continue reading ‘Brian K. Feltman: Blurred Lines: Prisoners of War, Deserters, and Bowe Bergdahl’ »

Christina D. Abreu: In Honor of Professor Juan Flores

abreu_rhythms_PBWe 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 celebrates the life of the late Professor Juan Flores, whose scholarship on Puerto Rican identity and culture has had wide-reaching effects in the field of Latino/a studies and on Abreu’s own work.


In Honor of Professor Juan Flores, More Than a Scholar of Puerto Rican Culture in New York

Like many others, I learned of the passing of Professor Juan Flores (1943–2014) through social media. Almost immediately, scholars, colleagues, and friends took to Facebook and Twitter to post their condolences, express their profound sadness, and give thanks to a man whose work paved the way for generations of writers who dared to tell stories about Latino/as, diasporic identity, and popular culture.

In his book From Bomba to Hip Hop, Professor Flores argued that Puerto Ricans on the island and in the United States hold an unfavorable and subordinate status because of the island’s colonial relationship with the United States. Puerto Ricans’ unique identity and culture—in the form of popular music, literature, and urban space—differentiate them from other Latino/a groups in the United States; consequently, his findings brought attention to the homogenizing effects of the racial and ethnic terms “Latino/a” and “Latinidad.”

Criticism and embrace of identity terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” have been longstanding in the field of Latino/a Studies. Puerto Ricans, Flores argued, share more in common with African Americans than with other Latino/a groups. He contended that Puerto Ricans and African Americans experience similar forms of racial and ethnic subordination in the United States because of parallels in their location in urban areas, their socioeconomic status, and their position as colonized subjects of the same nation-state.

Flores’s continued engagement with these debates crystallized in the publication of The Afro-Latin@ Reader. In this collection of essays, Flores and his colleague and wife, Miriam Jiménez Román, brought together the recent work of scholars who focus on identifying the presence and contributions of Afro-Latino/as in the United States. Many of the essays also examine the racial and ethnic discrimination faced and confronted by black Latino/as both within and beyond Latino/a communities in the United States. In fact, several pieces feature some of the very Afro-Cuban musicians and community leaders that I focus on in my book Rhythms of Race, including Graciela Pérez, Arsenio Rodríguez, and Melba Alvarado. Continue reading ‘Christina D. Abreu: In Honor of Professor Juan Flores’ »

Christopher C. Sellers: How a Mid-Century LA Environmentalist Got Beyond John Muir

Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America, by Christopher C. 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, Christopher 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 a previous guest post, Sellers reported on the September 21 People’s Climate March event in New York. In the following article, reposted with permission from Boom, Sellers reexamines the legacy of John Muir in light of the broadening environmental issues of the century that succeeded him. This essay originally appeared at on 12/24/2014, the 100th anniversary of John Muir’s death. Sellers writes partly in response to Boom‘s Fall 2014 issue


[As we mark the centenary of John Muir’s death], the inevitable outpourings of praise need to be tempered with both historical awareness and wariness.

Muir’s legacy runs to the heart of why Americans have had such trouble caring for nature in the places we actually inhabit. Extolling the High Sierra, Muir taught his readers and followers to appreciate a nature that could be truly found only in the most pristine of places, where the human hand seemed lightest.

Yet our biggest environmental problems have long lain not in places like Yosemite, but where human hands appear far more dominant, and nature itself is much harder to see. Muir’s legacy has often impeded our inclination and ability to heed ecological realities that are neither so pristine nor so grandiose, but that thread through our society and our lives. And so Muir’s legacy is inevitably being questioned on this centennial.

But there are other, earlier precedents for productively re-examining Muir’s relevance. The modern environmental movement, which took off after World War II in California as elsewhere, was often concerned with places that were far more populous and built up—suburbs and cities in particular—than Muir’s beloved Sierra.

For at least one prominent mid-century California environmentalist, caring for these places required overcoming Muir’s legacy. Richard Lillard was an English professor and author of Eden in Jeopardy: Man’s Prodigal Meddling with His Environment: The Southern California Experience, published in 1966, and the closest thing Southern California had in those years to an environmental prophet. A Muir acolyte when he first arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s, Lillard never would have written his seminal book had he remained so.

At first, following Muir, Lillard abandoned the city whenever he could, spending his summers as a “naturalist” guide in Yosemite, and even holding his wedding in its outdoor “cathedral.” His tune changed while living in a house he had bought in 1947 in a canyon of the Santa Monica Mountains, close enough to the downtown to lie within the city limits of Los Angeles.

In search of a conservation that was more personal and “deeply lived,” Lillard got to know the natural world that lay around his own house. That growing acquaintance became central to his transformation. He “lovingly raised” his own home garden, and turned a keen eye to the local wildlife, even the weeds. When a disastrous flood and mudslide struck his and his neighbors’ homes, he launched into local politics, reviving a homeowners’ association that pushed city hall for tighter rules on hillside homebuilding.

Sellers blog post photo

Photo from the Richard Gordon Lillard papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

Soon thereafter, writing in his private journal, he rankled at Muir’s legacy. Muir’s admirers, he decided, were “socially immature.” He affirmed instead the inspiration of a Thoreau or Andre Gide who “balance … things well”—the “humane world…of private love and public causes” alongside “the nature he makes his setting.” Part of the reason was that the place Lillard now lived in and cared for faced threats that Muir had never contemplated, threats more associated with suburbs or cities than with wilderness. The great contribution of Eden in Jeopardy was to highlight these threats across Southern California: the heedless paving of roads and rivers, the haphazard raising of roofs across valleys and farmland, the hurdling of tons of smoke and hydrocarbons into the Los Angeles basin’s air. Continue reading ‘Christopher C. Sellers: How a Mid-Century LA Environmentalist Got Beyond John Muir’ »