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:

Lindsey A. Freeman: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Cthulucene, Atomicocene

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.

In a previous post, Freeman recounted hearing news of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while visiting another nuclear town half a world away. In today’s post, she proposes the naming of a new geologic era.


The Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen suggests that the Anthropocene, our current geologic moment, began with a mushroom cloud at 5:29 A.M. in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945.[1] The Anthropocene is meant to signify the time in the planet’s history when certain geologic conditions and processes were forever changed by humans and their tinkering. Crutzen and others argue that the Holocene, the geologic era since the last Ice Age, a good 12,000 years or so of relatively stable climate activity, was pushed aside by this first fungal-shaped blast and all the gregarious blasts that followed.[2] Scientists advocating this distinction say that it makes sense to start with the Trinity Test because it is easily measurable: this was when widespread artificial radioactivity began to circle the globe.

The Holocene was the geologic period when humans started living in cities. The Anthropocene emerged right before suburbanization. The Anthropocene began with a gadget named for an English poet. The Holocene had seen and contained all written human history up until that point.[3] The Holocene was warm. The Anthropocene is atomic.

Russian scientists were already referring to the Anthropocene in the 1960s. Others were talking about the Anthropocene in the 1980s, during the time of my atomic childhood. The term caught traction again when it was brought up at a meeting of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in 2000 by Crutzen and biologist Eugene Stoermer.[4] A formal decision by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) is still years away. When and if they decide to mark the new cene, they will drive a golden spike into the heart of the dead geologic period.[5] This is not only a metaphor. The ICS is in charge of the Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP)—they are the spike drivers. When a new GSSP boundary has been agreed upon by the ICS, then a golden spike is placed into the geologic section to mark the boundary for future geologists: a fancy period in a sentence of time. Over forty golden spikes dot the globe.

Not everyone is happy with the term Anthropocene: Continue reading ‘Lindsey A. Freeman: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Cthulucene, Atomicocene’ »

  1. [1] Other scientists argue that the change started much earlier, most often citing the Industrial Revolution. Still others argue for the time when widespread farming and agriculture cleared forests all over the globe. Some mark the shift with the proliferation of plastics.
  2. [2] “Mushrooms that are in a close group but not close enough to be called a cluster are said to be in a troop. Mushrooms in a group that is a bit more scattered and irregular (loose discipline!) are said to be gregarious.”
  3. [3] The #Misanthropocene was defined by two American poets, Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr. It begins with: “First of all. Fuck all y’all.” The rest can be found here:
  4. [4] See: Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Will Steffen, and Paul Crutzen. “The New World of the Anthropocene” Environmental Science and Technology 2010, 44 (7), pp 2228-–2231.
  5. [5] Voosen, Paul (2012). “Geologists drive golden spike toward Anthropocene’s base,” Greenwire, Sept. 17,

UNC Press Announces Two New Appointments at Longleaf Services

UNC Press Mainheader

The University of North Carolina Press announced today the hiring of two new positions at its affiliate unit, Longleaf Services. Clay Farr has been named Executive Director of Publishing Services, and Lisa Stallings has been named Editorial, Design, and Production Manager.

Clay Farr has more than two decades of book industry experience, most recently as the Associate Publisher at Basic Books in New York. Previously, he was Vice President of Marketing for the Perseus Books Group.

Lisa Stallings also comes with more than twenty years of experience, most notably at Oxford University Press and as EDP Manager at the University of Arizona Press.

Both of the new positions are associated with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that the Press received in January to create a scaled publishing services platform for the publication of high-quality digital monographs by university presses. Longleaf will create cost efficiencies and economies of scale on a broad range of digital publishing activities, including copyediting, composition, production, operations, and marketing services.

Robbie Dircks, President of Longleaf Services said, “As Longleaf Services embarks on its tenth year of operations, the new publishing tools being developed and offered to our current and future client publishing partners will help to transform and make more efficient the process of publishing academic monographs.” Stallings commented, “I’m both honored and excited to be working on such an important new initiative.” Farr said, “I’m looking forward to engaging with our partners in the university press community to make this new venture a major success.” John Sherer, Spangler Family Director of UNC Press, concluded, “We are very fortunate to be able to bring in such a talented and experienced pair of publishing professionals.”

Founded in 1922, UNC Press is the oldest university press in the South and one of the oldest in the United States.

Longleaf Services Inc. provides total fulfillment services for not-for-profit scholarly publishers. Operating with a collaborative philosophy, it enables client publishers to enhance their competitiveness, improve operating efficiencies, and create economies of scale, resulting in better service to their customers and lowering overall operating costs for both publisher and book buyer. A 501(c)3 organization, Longleaf Services commenced operations in 2006 and serves six university press publishers.

Brian K. Feltman: The Complexities of Commemoration: Remembering the Great War

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, Feltman brings wartime captivity back into focus.

In a previous post, Feltman examined Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s case in the context of historical attitudes toward prisoners of war. In today’s post, Feltman discusses public reactions toward the commemoration of prisoners of war during the centenary of World War I.


From the 888,246 poppies spilling from the Tower of London to the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s controversial ad based on the 1914 Christmas truce, the 100th anniversary of the Great War’s commencement has led to a great deal of centenary commemorations. In some cases, artists and activists from the former belligerent powers have come together to create commemorative artwork in the streets of major cities like London and Berlin in hopes of encouraging passersby to reflect on the significance of the events that unfolded a century ago. Despite widespread recognition of the need to observe the centenary and honor the war’s fallen, however, there has been little consensus over the most appropriate way to do so.

Critics have accused German officials of being less than enthusiastic about memorial efforts. German authorities have not been silent on the subject of commemoration, but they have largely stressed the need to commemorate rather than celebrate the events of 1914–1918 while focusing on the progress that has been made towards European integration. Even among the victorious powers, there has been no shortage of controversy about who deserves to be memorialized. The French government, for example, has come under pressure to recognize soldiers convicted by French military tribunals and executed for desertion or cowardice—charges of a decidedly unheroic nature.

The controversies surrounding the centennial commemorations should come as no surprise. Even in the years immediately following the Great War, Europeans strove to ensure that their particular war experience, or the experience of a fallen loved one, was properly represented in memorials and commemorative events. Monuments to the fallen and public displays of remembrance were pervasive after the war, but some veterans’ groups felt marginalized in the collective memory of the Great War. Continue reading ‘Brian K. Feltman: The Complexities of Commemoration: Remembering the Great War’ »

Andrew J. Taylor: Exploring the End of Consensus

parcel_end_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Andrew J. Taylor, coauthor, with Toby L. Parcel, 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, Toby Parcel and Andrew 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, Taylor offers background on the situation in Wake County that led him and Parcel to write their book.


When a new school board majority elected by Wake County, North Carolina, residents in 2009 began to alter the jurisdiction’s long-standing diversity assignment policy, it drew attention from media outlets across the globe. The story conveyed by reporters was that the county—possibly still believed to be a sleepy southern backwater by many—was fractured in two by this decision, with conservative white suburban residents supportive of the change and a coalition of liberal white urbanites and African Americans in vocal opposition. Although Wake’s school board politics are ostensibly nonpartisan, the new majority had ridden into office on a strong Republican tide that existed as a mild swell in the county just fifteen years before. They instituted, according to stylized accounts, a revolution in policy of similar magnitude.

In reality, however, things were much more complicated than that. One of the most important contributions of The End of Consensus is to paint a more nuanced, and of course accurate, picture of what led to one of the most publicized developments in the nation’s school board politics and the state’s public life of recent years.

The Republican-backed board majority was certainly assisted in its election by broad discontent with an assignment policy that was based on racial and, after 2000, socioeconomic diversity, but there were other reasons why the status quo was changed. The old Democratic board was viewed as out-of-touch, insensitive in its efforts to move students between schools in the rapidly growing jurisdiction, and too supportive of year-round education that many parents with children on traditional calendars worried deeply about. Residents were genuinely pulled between the diversity policy and the new board’s efforts to assign students based upon geographical proximity—the so-called “neighborhood schools” model. Many people saw the virtues of both approaches. Continue reading ‘Andrew J. Taylor: Exploring the End of Consensus’ »

David Gilbert: The Streaming Music Debate: Some Historical Context

gilbert_productWe 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 compares the difficulties of today’s modern music industry with the “Manhattan Musical Marketplace” of the twentieth century, flagging the often disincentivizing disparity between music consumption and artist compensation.


In recent years, growing numbers of established, professional musicians have begun to rethink their relationship to music streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Prime, Beats, and YouTube, which allow customers to listen to a nearly universal selection of music for a small monthly fee (and, in many cases, for free). Once heralded as the undisputed future of music recording, these services are running into backlash from some of the industry’s most popular performers. Taylor Swift recently made news by taking all of her music off Spotify; bands like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Radiohead have refused to stream their albums from the get-go.

In late March of this year, over a dozen of the best-selling artists of the decade (Beyoncé, Madonna, Alicia Keys, Arcade Fire) joined Jay Z to inaugurate his new streaming company, Tidal, which claims to be “the first artist-owned global music and entertainment platform.” In an interview, Jay Z explained why he was getting into the business, citing the need for better quality music (“lossless”) files for the masses, and a better deal for musicians. He suggested that, due to the growing “free” Internet economy and the swell of streaming services, music consumers “are not respecting the music, and [are] devaluing it and devaluing what it really means. People really feel like music is free, but will pay $6 for water.” The concern that streaming services are effectively cutting out the artists who create the content that record labels sell and streaming services circulate is not limited to today’s pop stars. Indeed, increasing numbers of today’s “working” musicians at all levels of the industry are starting to call attention to the paltry incomes their recordings—and in many cases, a career’s worth of recordings—are earning.

Many musicians have begun to publish thoughtful criticisms of both the streaming services and the wider changes in the music industry. Country singer Roseanne Cash, a life-long performer and Grammy winner, recently testified before Congress to demonstrate that for her 600,000 song streams last year, she earned only $104. Most of the money that streaming services are paying for the rights to stream her music are going to her record labels, not to her. In a separate interview, Cash noted, “It’s the fact that everyone gets paid except the music creators. . . . We are creating a culture where content creators are a new servant class, and paid as such.” Yet even with this in mind, she says she doesn’t “want to make the streaming services go away. We [musicians] are not Luddites. We just want to be paid fairly.”

Marc Ribot, the avant-garde jazz guitarist who’s played a sonically large role in Tom Waits’s and Elvis Costello’s recording output as well as Alison Krauss’s and Robert Plant’s 2009 Grammy-winning album Raising Sand, sees even more drastic concerns for the future. After making $87 for 68,000 streams of his album Your Turn (which, he notes, cost $15,000 to make), he argued in the New York Times that unless streaming companies begin to negotiate contracts with recordings artists, rather than record companies, “you can kiss most jazz, classical, folk, experimental, and a whole lot of indie bands goodbye.” To the New Yorker, Ribot said: “Here’s the simple fact that no one wants to talk about. Spotify says it pays out seventy percent of its revenues to rights holders. Well, that’s very nice, that’s lovely. But if I’m making a shoe, and it costs me a hundred dollars to make it, and the retailer is selling that shoe for ten dollars, then I don’t care if he gives me seventy percent, I don’t care if he gives me one hundred percent—I’m going out of business. Dead is dead.” (Ribot makes his most heartfelt case, using the life and death of his Haitian mentor, Frantz Casseus, here.) In a series of thoughtful essays and interviews, former Talking Heads lead man and pop experimentalist David Byrne has been making the case for re-evaluations of the current system, asking without hyperbole: “Do you really think people are going to keep putting time and effort into this, if no one is making any money?”

It is certainly an interesting time for the creation, selling, and distribution of popular music (not to mention less-popular music, like jazz and classical, which encounter even more drastic dilemmas, as recently pointed out at Many of the artists taking a stand against the new status quo in recorded music allude to the history of music making in the United States, often referring back to earlier eras wherein musicians received unfair deals from recording companies and large majorities of performers struggled to make a living, even as a “top 1%” of musicians dominated sales and marketing. This look back to history makes sense.

The marketplace for American music is a relatively recent invention. Continue reading ‘David Gilbert: The Streaming Music Debate: Some Historical Context’ »

William Marvel on Edwin Stanton’s Eulogy for Lincoln: Now He Belongs to the Ages?

marvel_lincolnsOver on our Civil War blog, William Marvel, author of Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton weighs the validity of the eulogy allegedly spoken by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at the deathbed of President Lincoln. Marvel writes:

One of the more touching moments in the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination came when a surgeon announced that the president was dead, whereupon the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, broke the silence. “Now he belongs to the ages,” Stanton ostensibly observed, with a poetic spontaneity for which he was not known.

Numerous people recount some form of the quote, but none of them recorded their memory of the phrase until a generation later, after it appeared in the multi-volume Lincoln biography by his former secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay. Nicolay was not in Washington that night; Hay is often depicted at the bedside, although the room was not big enough to accommodate all who have subsequently been placed around it at the moment of the president’s death.

Hay was an especially talented stylist who would have appreciated such eloquence. He was also a prolific writer, but he apparently only put Stanton’s words in print for the biography of 1890. Charles Taft, one of the surgeons attending the dying president, published his own recollection of the scene three years after the Nicolay and Hay biography appeared, claiming that Stanton actually said “He now belongs to the ages.”

Forty years after the assassination James Tanner, a Veteran Reserve Corps stenographer who was taking testimony in another room, corroborated the Nicolay and Hay quote more closely. A decade after that, a former provost marshal insisted that he was the only one who stood near enough to hear what Stanton said: he remembered it as “Now he belongs to history,” but that rendition enjoyed little circulation or credence.

Had Stanton uttered so memorable a eulogy, it is strange that no one publicized it for a quarter of a century, or conveyed it to the newspaper reporters who swarmed outside the Peterson house, gleaning every detail they could from those passing in and out. If the quote appears in any earlier publication, I have not seen it, and the recitation of such evocative remarks decades later, even by accredited eyewitnesses, is no guarantee of accuracy. The continual retelling of such landmark events can impregnate the minds of actual witnesses with recollections founded less on memory than on external suggestion—besides attracting deliberately fraudulent accounts.

Read Marvel’s full post, “Now He Belongs to the Ages?,” at

Erin A. Smith: What Would Jesus Do?

smith_what_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Erin A. Smith, author of What Would Jesus Read? Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America. Since the late nineteenth century, religiously themed books in America have been commercially popular yet scorned by critics. Working at the intersection of literary history, lived religion, and consumer culture, Smith considers the largely unexplored world of popular religious books, examining the apparent tension between economic and religious imperatives for authors, publishers, and readers. Smith argues that this literature served as a form of extra-ecclesiastical ministry and credits the popularity and longevity of religious books to their day-to-day usefulness rather than their theological correctness or aesthetic quality.

In today’s post, Smith explores the history of the famous slogan What Would Jesus Do? and the phrase’s present-day implications.


“What Would Jesus Do About Measles?” asks Paul A. Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in the opinion pages of the New York Times. Recalling the 1991 measles epidemic in Philadelphia (1400 people were infected; 9 children died), Offit points out that the outbreak was so virulent because two fundamentalist Christian churches that discouraged vaccination were at its epicenter. Public health officials brought the epidemic under control—in part—by getting a court order to vaccinate children over their parents’ protests. Citing the current measles outbreak and the approximately 30,000 children in the United States who are unvaccinated for religious reasons, Offit makes the case for eliminating the religious vaccination exemption. Moreover, Offit thinks Jesus—who stood up for children—would get them vaccinated against measles to keep them safe and to protect others.

Offit is only one of many continuing to invoke the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” (abbreviated WWJD). In the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush claimed Jesus was his favorite philosopher. Al Gore claimed that he asked “What would Jesus do?” before taking any action. The question frames dilemmas about what contemporary Christians should drive (not SUVs) and their diets (a diet plan and cookbook called What Would Jesus Eat?).

The question comes from an 1897 novel, Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? Sheldon was a Congregationalist minister in Kansas, and he originally preached In His Steps as a series of Sunday evening “sermon-stories,” stopping at a cliffhanger each week to bring his congregants back to hear more. It is an account of twelve latter-day (ca. 1890s) disciples who are roused from their comfortable, complacent lives by the death of a homeless man in their town, a man to whom none of them had offered help. They agree to meet after Sunday services each week for a year to support each other in taking no action until they have asked themselves what Jesus would do. This pledge upends their lives. For example, the local college president feels called to leave behind his books and his study to do battle with the liquor interests for political control of their town. A gifted singer renounces a promising potential career singing opera to use her voice bringing souls to Jesus at revival meetings instead.

Before being published as a novel, In His Steps was serialized in the Chicago Congregational periodical The Advance, which paid Sheldon a flat fee and did not seek copyright protection. As a consequence, at least 26 American publishers and more than 30 in the United Kingdom sold more than 8 million copies of the novel (for which Sheldon received few royalties). It was translated into 23 different languages and inspired comic book, stage, and screen versions. In His Steps is still in print (the latest book version is from 2012), and a film based on the novel, WWJD, was released straight to DVD in 2010. Continue reading ‘Erin A. Smith: What Would Jesus Do?’ »

Cian T. McMahon: Immigrant Voices/Immigrant Debate

mcmahon_global_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Cian T. McMahon, author of The Global Dimensions of Irish Identity: Race, Nation, and the Popular Press, 1840-1880. Though Ireland is a relatively small island on the northeastern fringe of the Atlantic, 70 million people worldwide—including some 45 million in the United States—claim it as their ancestral home. In this wide-ranging, ambitious book, McMahon explores the nineteenth-century roots of this transnational identity. Between 1840 and 1880, 4.5 million people left Ireland to start new lives abroad. Using primary sources from Ireland, Australia, and the United States, McMahon demonstrates how this exodus shaped a distinctive sense of nationalism. By doggedly remaining loyal to both their old and new homes, he argues, the Irish helped broaden the modern parameters of citizenship and identity.

In a previous guest post, McMahon traced transnational Irish traditions of Saint Patrick’s Day through history and across the globe. In today’s post, McMahon investigates the distinction between the voices and opinions of Irish and other immigrants from those of native-born white Americans during the nineteenth century.


When I first started studying nineteenth-century Irish-American identity, I soon discerned a puzzling lacuna in the literature. The voices of the migrants themselves were often missing from the narrative. This was especially noticeable in the genre of scholarship known as “whiteness studies.” The theory of whiteness was predicated on the notion that Irish immigrants assimilated into American society by denigrating blacks and thus “becoming white” themselves. Irish immigrants, it was asserted, rejected any common cause with people of color in order to prove their suitability as upright, American citizens. The problem, in my eyes, was that this argument was often based on very little evidence of what the Irish themselves said on the matter. Where were the Irish voices? Why did native-born American attitudes predominate these narratives?

A lack of surviving documents was often cited as an excuse. In How the Irish Became White, for example, Noel Ignatiev compared himself to a paleontologist forced to reconstruct an entire dinosaur “from a tooth.” As a scholar of Ireland, however, I knew there were ample primary sources out there on what the Irish thought about race and racial identity. And as I dug into them in the course of my own research, I realized how much these previous scholars had missed by not listening to the immigrants’ voices. I learned, for example, that the differences between whites (along Celt/Saxon lines) were just as important, in the minds of many Irish, as the differences between whites and people of color.

Moreover, the Irish talked about identity in transnational terms; they thought of themselves as members of a global community, capable of being Irish whether at home or abroad. These conclusions complicated, I realized, what many scholars have taken for granted regarding immigrant identity in the nineteenth century. Continue reading ‘Cian T. McMahon: Immigrant Voices/Immigrant Debate’ »

Michel Hogue: The Metis and the Quiet Violence of the Forty-Ninth Parallel

hogue_metis_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Michel Hogue, author of Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. Born of encounters between Indigenous women and Euro-American men in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the Plains Metis people occupied contentious geographic and cultural spaces. Living in a disputed area of the northern Plains inhabited by various Indigenous nations and claimed by both the United States and Great Britain, the Metis emerged as a people with distinctive styles of speech, dress, and religious practice, and occupational identities forged in the intense rivalries of the fur and provisions trade. Hogue explores how, as fur trade societies waned and as state officials looked to establish clear lines separating the United States from Canada and Indians from non-Indians, these communities of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry were profoundly affected by the efforts of nation-states to divide and absorb the North American West.

In today’s post, Hogue suggests that, despite its reputation as the world’s longest undefended border, the forty-ninth parallel’s presence has rarely been so benign for the Plains Indigenous peoples whose lands the border bisected. Recognizing the patterns of violence that were woven into the fabric of borderland relations along the western boundary between the United States and Canada, he suggests, should recalibrate our understanding of this political boundary and underscore the role of Indigenous peoples in border-making in North America.


“Thus has another good work been wrought in the interest of peace and good order, on our often threatened and imperiled border.” So reported the Helena Weekly Herald on the successful raid by the U.S. Army on a Plains Metis camp just south of the forty-ninth parallel in November 1871. “This colony of British Nomads,” the Montana newspaper explained, “had brought with them large quantities of liquor and ammunition to barter with the Indians for robes and peltries.” These circumstances were part of a disturbing series of reports from this stretch of the forty-ninth parallel through the 1860s and 1870s that suggested that Plains Metis traders from north of the border were encouraging Indigenous peoples in the American West “to make war upon the government of the United States and its citizens.” Reports such as these introduced the Metis to American officials and underscored just how important it was to suppress these cross-border networks if the United States was to secure its northern border.

The Metis are a post-contact Indigenous people born of the encounters between Europeans and Indigenous peoples. The first Metis communities in the North American West emerged amid the displacements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—the expansion of mercantile capitalist markets for furs, the introduction of epidemic diseases, metallic weaponry, and other goods—as powerful new players in this changed world. On the Great Plains, these communities were marked by their distinctive language, dress, artistic traditions, and religious practices, their expansive kinship networks, and by their occupational identities as key players in the fur and provisions trade.

The economic, political, and social relationships that sustained their mobile communities also formed the basis for their expanding economic and military power. Continue reading ‘Michel Hogue: The Metis and the Quiet Violence of the Forty-Ninth Parallel’ »

Martha S. Jones on Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch and the Political Power of Black Women

bay_toward_PBOver at the Huffington Post, Martha S. Jones, coeditor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, puts the nomination of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General in historical and political context. Jones begins:

Glimpse a preview of dynamics that will shape the 2016 election cycle in the contest over Loretta Lynch’s nomination as Attorney General. As the first African American woman slated to occupy that office, Lynch signals a degree to which race and gender no longer determine access to political power in the United States. Even more noteworthy, Lynch has not been alone. Organized black women activists have turned out to lend her their voices and their influence. It is this force in American political culture – that of African American women – that will be aimed at debates about race, gender, and politics in 2016. And they will make a difference.

This moment has been a long time in the making. As far back as 1991, black women organized in support of Anita Hill when she took a seat in the Senate chamber and testified against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Some 1,600 women, organized under the rubric of “African-American Women in Defense of Ourselves,” published in newspapers across the country an open letter that denounced the racist and sexist treatment to which Hill was subjected. Thomas would subsequently be confirmed. Still, black women left a record that cast a long shadow over the Court’s newest Justice as he took the bench.

Lynch’s supporters today are visible and vocal:

Tuning in to Loretta Lynch’s January 2015 Senate hearing, there was no mistaking the depth of her support. The nominee took her seat at a sparsely appointed table, poised to field questions from Senate committee members. It was a stock tableau, except for the field of red that was Lynch’s back drop. The members of the black Delta Sigma Theta sorority filled the chamber adorned in their signature color – jackets, sweaters, blouses, suits, and hats – all of which signaled that black women were present and intended to exercise their political muscles in support of Lynch. A former Delta president, Thelma Daley, explained: “We’re going to flood the people in Congress and speak in newspapers… We need to keep the pressure on.”

That pressure included a media campaign that kept Lynch’s confirmation on the nation’s front burner.

Read Jones’s full article, “Rallying Around Lynch Nomination, Black Women Flex Their Political Muscles,” at Huffington Post.

Martha S. Jones is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @marthasjonesUM.

Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, edited by Mia E. Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Jones, and Barbara D. Savage, is now available.

Stephen Cushman on a Tale of Two Surrenders

Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War, by Stephen CushmanOver at our Civil War blog, Stephen Cushman, author of Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War, observes this month’s  sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War by investigating why the largest surrender of the war is often overlooked. He writes:

The 1969 first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language gives for the etymology of surrender, “Middle English sorendren, from Old French surrendre: sur-, over + rendre, to deliver, RENDER,” and for render,” Latin reddere: re-, back + dare, to give.” What distinguishes surrender from any of its familiar synonyms, formal or colloquial—yield, submit, capitulate, concede, resign (as in a game of chess), give up, cry “uncle,” throw in the towel—is that it implies two steps or stages: first, the verbal or written acknowledgment of defeat and, second, the action of delivering or giving something over.

For the much storied and studied surrender by Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, for example, the two steps or stages took place, respectively, on April 9 and April 12, 1865, and no doubt the sesquicentennial anniversaries of these dates will recall to popular attention, in various media, the familiar and mythologized outlines of each. For the first, which was also Palm Sunday, there will be the details of Grant in his “rough garb” with “a soldier’s blouse for a coat,” as he recalled in his Personal Memoirs (1885–86), meeting Lee in his elegant dress uniform in the parlor of Wilmer McLean’s house and offering him magnanimous terms. For the second, four years to the day after the firing on Fort Sumter, the details most likely will include some version of U.S. general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s many accounts of his reconciliatory salute to the soldiers led by Confederate general John B. Gordon into the village for the formal ceremony of handing over their arms, equipment, and flags. (The development of Chamberlain’s accounts is the subject of a chapter in Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War.)

What about the second major surrender, that of Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston to U.S. General William T. Sherman, at a farmhouse between Hillsborough and Durham Station, North Carolina? There were several smaller, later surrenders, too, the last of them that of the C.S.S. Shenandoah by Captain James Waddell to a captain of the British Royal Navy in Liverpool on November 6, 1865. But the negotiations initiated by Johnston—in a letter written April 13 and received by Sherman April 14, which was also Good Friday and the same day John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater—led to the largest surrender of the war. Although more than 30,000 soldiers in the Army of Tennessee surrendered in North Carolina (fewer Army of Northern Virginia veterans were paroled at Appomattox), in fact the terms signed by Johnston and Sherman officially disbanded Confederate units fighting in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, putting the number of soldiers involved close to 90,000.

Why do most of us hear and know so much less about this surrender, the largest of the war?

Read Cushman’s full post, “A Tale of Two Surrenders,” at

Barbara W. Ellis: 6 Tips for Creating an Eco-Friendly 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 today’s post, Ellis shares some simple ways gardeners can transform their landscapes into eco-friendly environments. Check out her blog, Eastern Shore Gardener, for more gardening ideas. 


Whether you want to redesign your entire landscape, find a project for this weekend, or simply reduce overall outdoor maintenance, taking steps to make your garden greener, or more sustainable, may be the answer. Sustainable landscaping is a way to design and care for yards, gardens, and the larger landscape to create outdoor spaces that are attractive and healthy for humans, wildlife, pets, and the environment as a whole. Growing greener does not have to entail huge effort or become a life-altering process. While enthusiastic gardeners may be inspired to plant a wildflower meadow or create a native woodland garden, far simpler steps also can be beneficial.

Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide presents six principles any gardener can use to enhance their landscape and guide it toward sustainability.

1. Reduce Lawn

Replacing even a small patch of lawn with shrubs or other plants helps reduce water runoff, hydrocarbon use, and chemicals released into the environment. It also reduces maintenance: No more weekly mowing. Smother patches of grass with 8 to 10 sheets of newspaper topped by 3 to 4 inches (or more) of mulch. The following season, plant right through the mulch. Focus on eliminating lawn where grass does not grow well, such as shady areas, or concentrate on slopes or inconvenient patches that take extra time to mow. Ideally, replant with native ground covers, perennials, grasses, or shrubs.

Hostas and native Christmas ferns replace lawn on a slope that would be difficult to mow.

Hostas and native Christmas ferns replace lawn on a slope that would be difficult to mow.

2. Build Plant Diversity

Planting a wide variety of different plants makes a landscape more sustainable because it supports a wider variety of birds and other wildlife. Groups of trees and shrubs underplanted with ground covers, perennials, and other plants create cover and nesting sites for birds and also protect soil and reduce runoff. Dense plantings also help prevent weeds from gaining a foothold. Trees are particularly valuable because of their vital role in cooling the air around them, reducing runoff, and capturing carbon dioxide as well as other pollutants.

3. Grow Native Plants

Planting native plants increases sustainability as well. Native plants are adapted to the soils and weather extremes of the region. Once established, they require less maintenance than many non-native species. Another reason native plants are important is that they form the basis of a rich food chain that begins with insects and sustains cherished native wildlife such as songbirds, butterflies, box turtles, and more. The more natives in the landscape, the richer the food chain and the wider variety of wildlife. Like all plants, natives require good care at planting time, regular watering until they are established, and basic attention through the year to keep them looking their best. Continue reading ‘Barbara W. Ellis: 6 Tips for Creating an Eco-Friendly Landscape’ »

Lauren J. Silver: Enlivening Social Justice through Spanning Boundaries

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 relates the experiences of the students in her college classroom as they participate in “boundary spanning” activities, developing afterschool programs for elementary and middle school students. 


“Why didn’t we learn about this stuff earlier? I can’t believe I’m in college and this is the first time I’m learning in class about present-day racism, sexism, and homophobia.” These are the types of comments that I often hear from students in the classes I teach on Urban Education, Youth Identities, and Gender & Education. Once, a white young woman, a graduate student, broke down in tears during class as she opened up about her sense of shame. She was outraged about the indignities experienced by poor children of color in urban schools and she felt ashamed that she was previously unaware of these realities. I can see on their faces when it begins to dawn on them that not only have their educations been remiss in preparing them to take action against injustice, but also that they have not even been given the tools to see or acknowledge the inequalities of which they themselves are a part.

I always learn from my students. As the Fall 2014 semester began, I had no idea exactly how much I would learn. I was teaching a new civic engagement course in urban education. System Kids centers on the stories of adolescent mothers in a large urban child welfare system. In the conclusion, I share a concept of “boundary spanning”—a relational way of building knowledge, which crosses disciplinary, methodological, and community borders. I argue that we face a crisis of imagination in child welfare and I suggest unique ways of spanning communities of youth in the public’s care with college communities and social justice campaigns.

I’ve learned that boundary spanning is not only relevant for research but also for teaching. Last semester, in small groups, students designed and implemented storytelling after-school clubs with elementary and middle school students at a charter school and a district school in Camden, NJ. The students were to learn about the children’s stories through writing, poetry, art, drama, dance, or other creative approaches and to present their culminating work to our class. The students were themselves a diverse group of young people—crossing racial, ethnic, class, national origin, and community borders.

I felt trepidation as class began because I did not have control over the clubs. Taking a leap of faith and relinquishing my power, I expected a lot of responsibility from my students. I taught my students about the role of high expectations and about being aware of their assumptions in urban schools. They taught me the same lesson. Some students shared openly their susceptibility to stereotypes about urban kids and their fears about Camden. These students were enlightened as the kids whom they perceived to have the biggest negative attitudes ended up being the most passionate participants. Continue reading ‘Lauren J. Silver: Enlivening Social Justice through Spanning Boundaries’ »

Interview: Charles L. Hughes on Country Soul

Charles L. Hughes, author of Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South, talks about the transformative power of the “country-soul triangle.” Be sure to listen to the free Country Soul Spotify playlist below to accompany your reading!


Gina Mahalek: What is the “country-soul triangle”? Where did that phrase come from, and why is it so appropriate?

hughes_charlesCharles L. Hughes: I developed the term “country-soul triangle” to refer to a network of recording studios in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. At legendary places like FAME and Stax, black and white musicians produced a wealth of classic recordings in the 1960s and 1970s. Each city had its own successful scene, of course, but I’m interested in exploring the many connections between them—sounds and players traveled back and forth between these three cities, leading the triangle to become a center of the era’s music industry and turning each city’s signature “sound” into an internationally recognized symbol of quality. Musicians in the triangle recorded with a wide variety of artists, but they were most associated with country, soul, and their stylistic blends. So it felt appropriate to term it the country-soul triangle.

GM: Who are some of the prominent artists who recorded in the country-soul triangle that you talk about in the book?
CH: The list of artists who recorded in Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville during this period is truly overwhelming. Even in a book like this, I could only scratch the surface. Still, I tried to discuss as many performers as possible. I talk about soul stars from Aretha Franklin to the Staple Singers to Joe Tex; country artists including Willie Nelson, Charley Pride, and Dolly Parton; and pop and rock artists ranging from the Osmonds to the Rolling Stones to Dusty Springfield. The artists who recorded hits in the country-soul triangle—whether homegrown artists or visiting stars—form a constellation that demonstrates just how significant Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville were to the era’s popular music. It’s really exciting to spotlight them in the book.

GM: Although you talk about many of the famous artists who recorded in the triangle, you focus primarily on the behind-the-scenes musicians at these studios. Why did you choose this approach?

CH: These musicians were the most important reason for the triangle’s success in so many genres. Their versatility and efficiency made them some of the most in-demand players of their era, and they established Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville as places where a wide variety of artists could go to cut successful records. They were also central to the way that country and soul developed artistically and culturally—not only did they develop the actual music, but they established the genres as symbols of race and politics in the 1960s and 1970s. Relatedly, they also dealt with racial politics on the most concrete level, thanks to their ongoing collaborations in the studio. Whether they were well known (like Stax’s Booker T. and the MGs) or less famous (like the FAME Gang in Muscle Shoals), the musicians dealt with the complex realities of racialized sound and an interracial workplace on a day-to-day basis. The results weren’t always positive, and certainly weren’t always equitable, but they were pivotal to understanding their larger historical importance. For that reason, I found them to be the most illuminating people to anchor my discussions.

GM: You suggest that these musicians, and the music they created, weren’t just important to the history of popular music. You also suggest that they had a significant effect on racial politics in the United States. What can the country-soul triangle teach us about this crucial period?

CH: Both country and soul were closely identified with the era’s tumultuous racial politics. Soul was presented as the soundtrack of black America in the period of civil rights and black power, while country became known as the authentic voice of the white working class and the accompaniment for the rise of the conservative “New Right.” At the same time, they were produced in interracial contexts, and the existence of integrated studios was heralded around the world as a sign of integration and progress. I’m fascinated by this contradiction, and I wanted to examine how the musicians helped to shape it throughout this period. Their stories demonstrate the complexity of music’s role as symbol and mechanism of political change in the 1960s and 1970s.

GM: Many readers of Country Soul will be familiar with the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals. What is your own personal response to the film? What do you think it got right, and what else would you like fans of the movie to know?

hughes_countryCH: I really enjoyed Muscle Shoals, and I was particularly happy to see the Shoals musicians get their due credit for their significant role in shaping American popular music of the last 50 years. To see and hear them discuss their achievements, along with so many of the artists they worked with and influenced, was a welcome confirmation of their importance and a wonderful tribute to their accomplishments. On top of that, the film was filled with great footage and sounds, so—as a fan of the music—I was thrilled to watch it. At the same time, Muscle Shoals also reflects a common simplified narrative, particularly in terms of race, that I’m trying to complicate with the book. It presents the Shoals studios (particularly in the early days) as something of a utopia where race wasn’t an issue, but I discuss numerous racial conflicts and more broadly demonstrate that race was a central concern of the musicians working in the Shoals. Additionally, the film focuses largely on white men—most prominently FAME Studios founder Rick Hall—while marginalizing the accomplishments (and criticisms) of the many black artists who participated as both studio musicians and performers. (For that matter, many of the important white contributors got minimized too.) As I discuss in Country Soul, this reflects a larger tendency to credit white people as the visionary heroes and treat African Americans as passive or secondary participants. I not only discuss the historical roots of this narrative, but address its continuing implications. Continue reading ‘Interview: Charles L. Hughes on Country Soul’ »

Adam Wesley Dean on the Creation of Yosemite

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, writes about the birth of Yosemite National Park, and the circumstances that almost prevented its protection as a natural public space. Dean writes:

Yosemite National Park made the evening news on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the top of El Capitan by ascending Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. The climbers’ years of preparation, 19-day free-climb, and personal stories riveted television audiences nationwide. News programs also gave audiences a rare treat: panoramic views of the park’s natural beauty that included cascading waterfalls, granite formations, and snow-dusted trees.

Yet Yosemite almost did not become a national park. Few Americans know that their beloved park with all the twentieth-century history of climbing exploits and family vacations had been vigorously opposed shortly after its birth.

Yosemite has its origins in an 1864 law removing the main valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove from federal lands and giving them to the state of California for management as a site for “public use, resort, and recreation.” Yosemite’s backers, which included railroad businessman Frederick Billings, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, newspaper mogul Horace Greeley, California Senator John Conness, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field, hoped that the park would provide comfort for Americans undergoing a brutal civil war. It was also important to them to make areas of natural beauty available to the public. They believed that everyone—not just the wealthy and powerful—needed to experience Yosemite’s wonders. No doubt Billings and Conness also thought that a nature park would help bring tourist dollars and railroads to California’s fledgling economy.

When Conness steered the bill through the United States Congress and secured President Abraham Lincoln’s signature in 1864, the California Senator conspicuously neglected to inform fellow politicians that two white settlers, Illinoisan James C. Lamon and San Francisco magazine editor James Mason Hutchings, had land claims in the valley. Lamon had settled in the east end of Yosemite Valley in April of 1859 and Hutchings had erected a hotel near Yosemite Falls in the spring of 1864. Both men filed preemption claims, a nineteenth-century legal doctrine granting them the right to purchase the land when the federal government made it available for sale.

Read Dean’s full post, “The Creation of Yosemite,” at

Philip F. Rubio: Who Remembers the Nationwide Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970 (and Why Does That Matter)?

rubio_theresWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Philip F. Rubio, author of There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality. Rubio, a historian and former postal worker, brings to life the important but neglected story of African American postal workers and the critical role they played in the U.S. labor and black freedom movements. Having fought their way into postal positions and unions, black postal workers—often college-educated military veterans—became a critical force for social change. Centered on New York City and Washington, D.C., the book chronicles a struggle of national significance through its examination of the post office, a workplace with facilities and unions serving every city and town in the United States.

In today’s post, Rubio marks the anniversary of the U.S. postal strike of 1970 by looking at its importance in both the lives of employees as well as the history of the postal service itself. 


Who Remembers the Nationwide Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970 (and Why Does That Matter)?

Judging from sparse media references as well as historical scholarship, the answer to that question appears to be, sadly, not a whole heck of a lot of people. But what about those who participated in it? That is a whole other story, as I continue to find out firsthand in recording strike veteran narratives. Their stories, combined with readily available evidence already out there, should help make a convincing case for why this was such an important event in United States labor history. One could even argue that it even deserves as much attention as, say, the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37, where GM autoworkers in Michigan fought for control of the work process and won union recognition for the United Auto Workers union.

In 1970 what happened in a nutshell was this: postal workers had become fed up with working for wages that had lagged so far behind over the years that many were working second and third jobs to make ends meet. In cities like New York and Washington, D.C., many postal workers were even collecting food stamps and welfare. At the time, federal government employees only enjoyed partial collective bargaining rights (provided by Executive Order 10988 in 1962). That meant they had to lobby Congress for pay raises—a process they dubbed “collective begging.”

On March 12, a rank-and-file caucus of Branch 36 (Manhattan-Bronx) of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) spearheaded the demand for a branch strike vote. Striking the federal government has been illegal since 1912. But that is exactly what Branch 36 voted to do on March 17. Picket lines went up at midnight all over New York City. Other NALC branches voted to strike, spreading upstate and into New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania; then west to Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, and California. Together they shut down 671 post offices in dozens of cities and towns across the United States. Clerks, mail handlers, maintenance workers, motor vehicle operators, and other crafts from other postal unions joined what became the largest “wildcat strike ” (one not authorized by a national union) in American labor history. Over 200,000 postal workers struck for eight days. Despite the inconvenience of a total mail stoppage, strikers enjoyed the support of the majority of Americans.

Court injunctions were served on local union leaders, fines were levied, and government officials threatened to break the unions. Continue reading ‘Philip F. Rubio: Who Remembers the Nationwide Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970 (and Why Does That Matter)?’ »

Cian T. McMahon: The Global Dimensions of Saint Patrick

mcmahon_global_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Cian T. McMahon, author of The Global Dimensions of Irish Identity: Race, Nation, and the Popular Press, 1840-1880. Though Ireland is a relatively small island on the northeastern fringe of the Atlantic, 70 million people worldwide—including some 45 million in the United States—claim it as their ancestral home. In this wide-ranging, ambitious book, McMahon explores the nineteenth-century roots of this transnational identity. Between 1840 and 1880, 4.5 million people left Ireland to start new lives abroad. Using primary sources from Ireland, Australia, and the United States, McMahon demonstrates how this exodus shaped a distinctive sense of nationalism. By doggedly remaining loyal to both their old and new homes, he argues, the Irish helped broaden the modern parameters of citizenship and identity.

In the following post, McMahon talks about Irish transnationalism and identity, how the Irish celebration of “Saint Patrick’s feast day” is observed around the globe, and the festival’s origins.


Energetic celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day, which are now ubiquitous in many countries around the world, reflect the flexibility and dynamism inherent in Irish diasporic identity. My book, The Global Dimensions of Irish Identity, shows that as millions of people left Ireland to settle abroad in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, their notions of selfhood shifted accordingly. A form of what I call Irish global nationalism emerged, characterized by both ethnic solidarity (which described them as Irish) and civic pluralism (which designated them as American or Australian, depending on their final destination). This new, flexible identity served those seeking to simultaneously maintain ties with home while integrating into host societies around the world.

While writing the book, I often thought about the ways in which Saint Patrick’s Day has reflected this balance of both a transnational sense of “Irishness” as well as local attitudes and concerns. Saint Patrick has always proven an opportunity for people to express themselves and their needs, in part because we know relatively little about him and his life. This paucity of hard facts has allowed people down the centuries to mold his reputation to their own needs and designs. When the see of Armagh in the north of Ireland sought to legitimate its primacy over the Irish church in the seventh century, for example, it did so by claiming Patrick had founded it and been buried there (despite no evidence to prove so). Almost a thousand years later, during the Reformation, Irish Protestants depicted Patrick as a man of the bible, impervious to corruption, while their Catholic opponents saw him as an early servant of Rome.

Since they started celebrating it in the seventeenth century, people have always used Saint Patrick’s feast day (March 17) as an opportunity to combine a transnational sense of “Irishness” with an expression of local concerns and needs. Continue reading ‘Cian T. McMahon: The Global Dimensions of Saint Patrick’ »

Book Trailer: The Stigma of Surrender, by Brian K. Feltman

feltman_stigmaApproximately 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 Brian K. Feltman brings wartime captivity back into focus in The Stigma of Surrender: German Prisoners, British Captors, and Manhood in the Great War and Beyond.

Many German men of the Great War defined themselves and their manhood through their defense of the homeland. They often looked down on captured soldiers as potential deserters or cowards—and when they themselves fell into enemy hands, they were forced to cope with the stigma of surrender. This book examines the legacies of surrender and shows that the desire to repair their image as honorable men led many former prisoners toward an alliance with Hitler and Nazism after 1933. By drawing attention to the shame of captivity, this book does more than merely deepen our understanding of German soldiers’ time in British hands. It illustrates the ways that popular notions of manhood affected soldiers’ experience of captivity, and it sheds new light on perceptions of what it means to be a man at war.

In the following video, Feltman shares what initially sparked his interest in the military and social history surrounding prisoners of war during and after World War I and he discusses the psychological impact of captivity on a soldier’s sense of manhood at a time when honor was defined on the battlefield.

This video was produced by the 2014 Visual History Summer Institute at Georgia Southern University.

Brian K. Feltman is assistant professor of history at Georgia Southern University. His book The Stigma of Surrender: German Prisoners, British Captors, and Manhood in the Great War and Beyond is now available. Read Feltman’s recent guest post on this blog, “Blurred Lines: Prisoners of War, Deserters, and Bowe Bergdahl.” Follow the author on Twitter @BrianKFeltman.