Essential Background Reading on Cuba from UNC Press

On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture, by Louis A. Perez Jr.In light of the sea change in U.S.-Cuban relations, I am delighted to recommend two books to anyone who wants to get up to speed: On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture, by Louis A. Pérez Jr., and Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh.

On Becoming Cuban is a prizewinning, sweeping cultural history that reveals just how really close Cubans and U.S. Americans are.

Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, by William LeoGrande and Peter KornbluhThe just-published Back Channel to Cuba is oracular: opening with invasions, covert operations, assassination plots using poison pens and exploding seashells, and a grinding economic embargo, this book presents a surprising, untold history of bilateral efforts toward rapprochement and reconciliation. Having uncovered hundreds of formerly secret U.S. documents and conducted interviews with dozens of negotiators, intermediaries, and policy makers, including Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter, LeoGrande and Kornbluh entertainingly chronicle how, despite the political clamor surrounding any hint of better relations with Havana, serious negotiations have been conducted by every presidential administration since Eisenhower’s through secret, back-channel diplomacy. What more can I say?

For the full list of our books in Cuban studies, please visit the UNC Press website.

Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir

Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity, by Shabana MirShabana Mir’s powerful ethnographic study of women on Washington, D.C., college campuses reveals that being a young female Muslim in post-9/11 America means experiencing double scrutiny—scrutiny from the Muslim community as well as from the dominant non-Muslim community. Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life Identity illuminates the processes by which a group of ethnically diverse American college women, all identifying as Muslim and all raised in the United States, construct their identities during one of the most formative times in their lives.

Mir, an anthropologist of education, focuses on key leisure practices—drinking, dating, and fashion—to probe how Muslim American students adapt to campus life and build social networks that are seamlessly American, Muslim, and youthful. Mir concludes that institutions of higher learning continue to have much to learn about fostering religious diversity on campus.

In this excerpt (pp. 47-51), Mir explores the challenges Muslim American women face amidst the prevalence alcohol culture on college campuses.


Muslim Participation/Marginality in College Drinking Cultures

Fatima was an adventurous designer of third space identities, a non-hijabi who was at the same time religiously devout, socially liberal, sexually conservative, and politically aware. When Fatima entered the gates of Georgetown, having newly graduated from a strictly Islamic school, she was horrified to find that some of her Muslim friends drank alcohol. Though the overwhelming majority of Muslim theological opinion agrees that intoxicants (beer, wine, and inebriating drugs) are forbidden to adherents of Islam, this ban like most religious taboos is violated as well as observed. Such is also the case with Muslim American college students, men and women. Indeed, in the world of Georgetown, encountering another Muslim drinker was not a momentous discovery. In a world-weary monotone, Fatima said: “But now it’s just, ‘Oh, he drinks: OK, he’s another one among so many.’” As numbers are crucial in any cultural change, this is significant for the future of American Islam. Religious Muslim American students at Georgetown became more unconcerned with alcohol culture over time, even if they did not drink (and, in this book, I do not even deal with the large contingent of liberal postcolonial elites, students from Muslim countries who filled college bars). Fatima was a proud though jaded teetotaler, profoundly aware of the social consequences on campus of not drinking. I met many Muslims like her, and many unlike her. The contours of Muslim religious identity clouded over in the spaces of youth culture, pregnant with multifarious possibilities—drinking; not drinking; drinking with regular breaks for teetotalism; periods of drinking; hanging out with drinkers; avoiding any spaces with alcohol; and not drinking but passing as drinkers. Being Muslim in alcohol cultures is, like the Facebook status, complicated.
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir’ »

Stephanie B. Jeffries: Free the Phoenix: Fire and Rebirth in Linville Gorge

Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, by Stephanie B. Jeffries and Thomas R. WentworthWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Stephanie B. Jeffries, coauthor (with Thomas R. Wentworth) of Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. This unique hiking guide to the southern Appalachian mountains leads readers to explore the rich forest ecosystems and other natural communities visitors encounter along the trail. Drawing on years of experience guiding forest walks throughout the region, Jeffries and Wentworth invite hikers and nature lovers to see their surroundings in new ways. Readers will learn to decipher clues from the tree canopies, forest floor, and other natural features to appreciate more fully the environmental factors that make the southern Appalachians home to an amazing biodiversity.

In today’s post, Jeffries explores the role of fire in the ongoing life of a southern Appalachian wilderness, Linville Gorge.


“Hike 22 is on fire!”

It was with a mixture of irony and elation that I typed those five words to my co-author, Tom Wentworth, on November 14, 2013.

Not two days prior, we’d submitted the final manuscript for our book, Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, to UNC Press. Hike 22 leads to the summit of Table Rock. Now it was burning, the result of a runaway campfire in the Table Rock Picnic Area.

Nighttime photographs shot from across the Gorge dramatized the fiery landscape. Local news sites carried stories with dozens of reader comments lamenting the loss of Linville Gorge’s pristine beauty.

But as we discuss in our Table Rock hike chapter, fire is as essential to Linville Gorge as the wild and scenic river that cut its steep sides. The exposed, dry, rocky summits have always been susceptible to summer lightning strikes, and the pine forests there are dynamic. The Table Mountain pine and pitch pine that dominate these natural communities require fire to persist—they need full sun and mineral soil for germination of their tiny seeds and successful growth of their seedlings.

Table Mountain pine, found only in the southern Appalachians, holds onto years of resin-sealed cones, which open only in the heat of a fire. This remarkable strategy ensures that the seeds are released into the ideal environment for germination. Meanwhile, pitch pine can resprout from burned branches and trunks, so a burnt tree can survive and regenerate after a fire. In addition to these fire-adapted pines, wildflowers such as the federally endangered Heller’s blazing star and mountain golden heather need fire to keep their sunny, rocky habitats open.

Without fire, fleshy, evergreen shrubs like rhododendron and mountain laurel form a dense understory, and shade- and drought-tolerant oaks sprout atop the spongy organic soil and crowd out the pines and other species. This vegetation is fire retardant, so the forest is less likely to burn. Thus the pine forests slowly disappear, as older trees are killed by bark beetle or old age and their seedlings perish in the evergreen thickets. Truth is, Linville Gorge’s gnarly pine forests have been struggling ever since humans began extinguishing fires in the name of preservation.

Controversy rages over fire policy in Linville Gorge, which was the first designated Federal Wilderness in the East with the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Currently, the policy is to suppress any fires that threaten manmade structures, but to allow lower-intensity lightning-strike fires to burn. The latest management plan proposes prescribed burns in the Gorge to promote pines and rare plants and to reduce fuel loads. Homeowners in the Gingercake Acres development, perched on the eastern rim of the Gorge, understandably worry about risk to their homes. Advocacy organizations like Save the Linville Gorge Wilderness argue that fire destroys the wild character of the landscape. Skeptics scoff that the Forest Service maintains only an illusion of control over something as unpredictable and powerful as fire.

Burning a Federal Wilderness isn’t easy. The Forest Service, which manages the Linville Gorge Wilderness, cannot use any mechanized equipment in maintenance, management, or, in this case, fighting forest fires. Continue reading ‘Stephanie B. Jeffries: Free the Phoenix: Fire and Rebirth in Linville Gorge’ »

Video: Celebrating 75 Years of ‘These Are Our Lives’

'These Are Our Lives,' by Federal Writers' Project, Regional StaffIn 1935, President Roosevelt founded the Federal Writers’ Project as part of the Works Progress Administration. The FWP employed thousands of historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers struggling through the Great Depression, creating jobs and enabling the artistic expression and preservation of an era. One of the publications that resulted from the FWP was These Are Our Lives, published by UNC Press in 1939. Based on interviews conducted throughout North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, the book collects the “life histories of tenant farmers, farm owners, textile and other factory workers, persons in service occupations in towns and cities (such as bell hops, waitresses, messenger boys, clerks in five and ten cent stores, soda jerks), and persons in miscellaneous occupations such as lumbering, mining, turpentining, and fishing,” wrote UNC Press director and southeastern regional FWP director William Terry Couch.

Upon the book’s publication, Time magazine said, “It gives the South its most pungent picture of common life, the Writers’ Project its strongest claim to literary distinction.” The San Francisco Chronicle called it “praiseworthy from any point of view, whether political, social, or literary.” And the New York Times Book Review declared it “one of the most revealing books that has been written on folkways that largely make the South what it is.”

This past spring the Library of Congress sponsored a 75th anniversary event commemorating the publication of These Are Our Lives. The event featured comments from John Cole, director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, where the FWP archives are held; historian David Taylor; journalist Ann Banks; StoryCorps recording and archive manager Virginia Millington; plus audio recordings from StoryCorps and live readings of the personal accounts found in These Are Our Lives. See video of the event embedded below.

For additional historical context: in 1939, UNC Press was breaking new ground in the publication of works written by and about African Americans, a controversial pursuit for a southern university press of that era.  Continue reading ‘Video: Celebrating 75 Years of ‘These Are Our Lives’’ »

Lisa Wilson: Cinderella and Her Still Evil Stepmother

A History of Stepfamilies in Early America, by Lisa WilsonWe welcome a guest post today from Lisa Wilson, author of A History of Stepfamilies in Early America. Stepfamilies are not a modern phenomenon, but despite this reality, the history of stepfamilies in America has yet to be fully explored. In her book, Wilson examines the stereotypes and actualities of colonial stepfamilies and reveals them to be important factors in early United States domestic history.

In today’s post, Wilson explores the history of the “evil stepmother” trope in Western history.


Why do we need to have evil stepmothers?  After two recent remakes of Snow White—Mirror, Mirror (2012) and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)—we are now turning to Cinderella (a non-animated Disney film) due to come out in the spring of 2015. Fairy tales with evil stepmothers have become a bit of a cottage industry in the film industry as of late. Why do these stories and in particular the characters of evil stepmothers still have an audience?

Looking at the history of the evil stepmother stereotype I think explains some of the staying power of these familiar tales. Although stepmother characterizations have been negative since as far back as ancient Greece, in Western culture the need for evil stepmothers became more urgent in the United States in response to a new idea of the proper family in Enlightenment Europe. Sentimental families, as they were called, became the ideal for the rising middle class in Western Europe. A sentimental family was a child-centered one with a loving companionate couple at the helm. Mothers took on an increasingly important role in society as middle-class families found a new way to display their social status. The nineteenth century brought a new layer of similar priorities centered on a loving home and the woman who made it, as her husband toiled away outside this new domestic haven thanks to the Industrial Revolution.

So what does the cultural rise of loving mothers have to do with stepmothers? Continue reading ‘Lisa Wilson: Cinderella and Her Still Evil Stepmother’ »

Mara Casey Tieken: The Children “Left Behind”

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

In a previous post, Tieken compared the effects of Brown v. Board of Education with recent resegregation in U.S. schools. In today’s post, Tieken evaluates the apparent failure of the No Child Left Behind Act in light of a more holistic view of education.


It’s 2014, and we failed.

This year, according to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, 100 percent of our nation’s students were to achieve proficiency in reading and math—a target that we came nowhere close to hitting. This failure has long been predicted, leading many to claim that it is NCLB that’s the real failure. And NCLB is a failed policy—but not simply for its punishing absolutism. The real failure lies in its most basic assumptions.

NCLB, passed with bi-partisan support in 2002, required states to administer standardized tests in reading and math and publicly track schools’ and districts’ achievement on these tests. Schools and districts had to make “annual yearly progress” toward this goal of 100 percent proficiency, a deadline to be reached this year.

Thousands failed well before 2014—unable to make their state’s required “adequate yearly progress”—and, with this failure, these schools faced one of the law’s increasingly severe sanctions, including state takeover and closure. But now states are in the uncomfortable position of informing parents that, because 100 percent of students are not proficient in reading and math, all of its schools are “failing.” Most avoided this fate through waivers issued by the Obama administration; these waivers offered states flexibility in meeting some of the act’s requirements, including the 2014 deadline, in exchange for adopting other policies favored by the administration, such as expanding charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to student achievement. But, waivers or not, it’s still 2014, and we are left with the wreckage of all this failure.

Much has been made of NCLB’s flaws, particularly its reliance on test scores and the severity of its sanctions. The realism of NCLB’s target is also worth questioning, especially for an educational system dependent upon a wholly inequitable funding structure. And many have questioned it, even assuming—mistakenly, it turns out—that the sheer rigidity of its goal guaranteed its repeal.

But the Act has another flaw, deeper and more consequential than its 100 percent proficiency mandate. Continue reading ‘Mara Casey Tieken: The Children “Left Behind”’ »

Enter to Win a Signed Copy of New York Times Bestseller ‘Wayfaring Strangers’


Update 12/12/2014: And our 5th and final winner is J. Ihasz in New Hampshire. Congratulations!

Update 12/11/2014: Winners have been drawn! Thanks, everyone, for signing up. We’ve got more good stuff on the way. I’m still waiting to hear back from one winner, but so far our winners include:
L. Foster in Mississippi, A. Mitchell in Maryland, C. Panke in Indiana, and T. Williams in Mississippi. Congrats, all!

Congratulations to Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr, whose book Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia is a New York Times Bestseller!!

To celebrate, the UNC Press is giving away 5 signed copies of Wayfaring Strangers to subscribers of our monthly e-newsletter. To register, just enter your email address, then choose which subject areas most interest you. We will draw 5 winners from among the names on our Music, Travel, and Appalachian Studies subscriber lists, so be sure to register for one (or more!) of those lists in order to qualify.

sign me up!

The drawing will be held Wednesday, December 10, 2014. Winners will be selected from subscribers of each of the mailing lists in the above categories and will be notified by email. We will update this post once we’ve gotten in touch with the winners. Good luck!

[Rest assured: We do not sell or share our email lists. We send e-mails to announce new books and to offer special discounts. You only get book news about subject areas that interest you.]

Stay connected by liking the Wayfaring Strangers Facebook page or following Fiona Ritchie on Twitter @fiona_ritchie.

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

“[Ritchie and Orr] strike all the right chords in this pleasantly tuneful survey of the history of the evolution of Scottish music in Appalachia.”—Publishers Weekly

“Non-musicians will have no trouble appreciating this work’s context, and even those well versed in the subject will find new insights here.”—Library Journal

“Filled with maps, woodcuts, paintings, and photographs of impossibly picturesque Scottish and Irish locales, the book is a treasure trove of imagery and information. Music lovers, prepare to be transported.”—BookPage

“A readable and epic tale tracing the flow of Scottish music. . . . [Ritchie and Orr] tell a story remarkable for its breadth and depth, conveying the drama of Scottish emigration via Ulster to Appalachia, by a people who clung to the music and song they held dear, and bequeathed it to America.”—Scottish Life Magazine

“Represents an extraordinary feat of research, together with copious interview material. . . . A joy to read from cover to cover, it also rewards just dipping in and out.”—fRoots

“Except for my family, there is nothing I love more than being a part of the ‘living tradition’ captured in this book.”—Rosanne Cash

This #GivingTuesday, Become a UNC Press Club Sustainer

It’s Giving Tuesday at UNC Press! To celebrate this national day of giving, UNC Press invites you to become a Sustainer of the UNC Press Club by signing up for automatic monthly giving through Network for Good on our website.

What is the UNC Press Club? The Press Club is a group of book lovers who, through their membership, help the Press recruit leading authors and make their publications available in numerous formats. As a nonprofit publisher, roughly 80% of the UNC Press budget comes from the sale of books. Private gifts from corporations, foundations, and individuals like you make up over 12% of our budget.

What’s in it for you?

  • Press Club members get special invitations and access to UNC Press authors, news, and events.
  • UNC Press is a not-for-profit business, so your gift is a charitable, tax-deductible gift.
  • If you become a Sustainer before Wednesday, December 31, your name will be entered into a drawing for your choice of one of the “essential” UNC Press book sets listed below.

For what you might spend on a cup of coffee or lunch with friends, you can become a UNC Press Club Sustainer and be a part of our publishing excellence. Sign up today!

Essential UNC Press North Carolina Nature & Travel Books

Essential UNC Press Civil War Books

Essential UNC Press Religious Studies Books


Essential UNC Press African American Studies Books

african amer

Sarah Mayorga-Gallo: What We’re Missing When We Talk about Integrated Neighborhoods

mayorga-gallo_behind_PBWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Sarah Mayorga-Gallo, author of Behind the White Picket Fence: Power and Privilege in a Multiethnic Neighborhood. The link between residential segregation and racial inequality is well established, so it would seem that greater equality would prevail in integrated neighborhoods. But as Mayorga-Gallo argues, multiethnic and mixed-income neighborhoods still harbor the signs of continued, systemic racial inequalities. Drawing on deep ethnographic and other innovative research from “Creekridge Park,” a pseudonymous urban community in Durham, North Carolina, Mayorga-Gallo demonstrates that the proximity of white, African American, and Latino neighbors does not ensure equity; rather, proximity and equity are in fact subject to structural-level processes of stratification.

In today’s post, Mayorga-Gallo examines the “white codes” present in multiethnic neighborhoods that hinder racial and residential integration.


What is the relationship between residential segregation and racial inequality? Scholars have spent decades analyzing data and arguing that residential segregation is the “linchpin” of racial inequality in the United States. The conclusion that many draw, therefore, is that residential integration is the key to reducing racial inequality. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, not quite.

In my study of Creekridge Park, a multiethnic, mixed income urban neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina, I found that racial stratification can still be reproduced even when different racial-ethnic groups live next door to each other. Creekridge Park is home to white, black, and Latino/a residents, and is “integrated” according to common social science definitions. Through a series of in-depth interviews, participant observation, and a household survey, I found that local social norms actually reinforced high interracial social distance. Contemporary understandings of diversity fuel these interactions.

Many social scientists use spatial measures, such as the dissimilarity index, to understand social processes of inequality. However, without acknowledging the structural and ideological racial context in which segregation takes place, we mistake a symptom for the cause. As a result, we may overlook the inequity of statistically integrated and multiethnic spaces—especially when they are accompanied by exaltations of diversity and progressivism. For example, residents of Creekridge Park scored more liberally than the national average on racial attitude questions, and most white residents I spoke with lauded the neighborhood’s diversity. They criticized the racially segregated “blah” suburbs and specifically sought out a “mixed-up” urban neighborhood. Based on these characteristics, one might assume Creekridge Park is the kind of place where positive interracial interactions would flourish. So how do we explain these seeming contradictions?

What I found is that codes of conduct (which I call white codes) maintain high interracial social distance between white and nonwhite residents in Creekridge Park. These codes of interracial conduct dictate appropriate neighborhood behavior between whites and residents of color and help explain why white residents had mostly white social networks despite living in a multiethnic, statistically integrated neighborhood and praising the neighborhood’s diversity. Diversity ideology, which I discuss at length in Behind the White Picket Fence, is an important part of creating these neighborhood norms.

What do white codes look like? Continue reading ‘Sarah Mayorga-Gallo: What We’re Missing When We Talk about Integrated Neighborhoods’ »

‘Tis the Season to Save

Save 40% on ALL books!

Be jolly this holiday season with a whopping 40% off every print book at from UNC Press—no exceptions! Just enter 01HOLIDAY at checkout. And if you order $75 or more, the shipping is FREE. Below are some great gift ideas. Browse our website to find the perfect book for everyone on your holiday list.

Place your order by December 7th for guaranteed delivery by December 24th.

But there’s more! Get 40% off any Spring 2015 book in our new catalog when you preorder using 01HOLIDAY at checkout.

Note: Forthcoming books will be shipped as soon as they are published. 

Alcohol: A History, by Rod Phillips The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region, by Marcie Cohen Ferris moose_southern Finding Your Roots: The Official Companion to the PBS Series, by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, by William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People by Carol Reardon and Tom Vossler summers_ordeal What Is Veiling?, by Sahar Amer The Gift of the Face: Portraiture and Time in Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian, by Shamoon Zamir brownell_showbiz wolfram_talkin Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests: An Ecological Guide to 30 Great Hikes in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, by Stephanie B. Jeffries and Thomas R. Wentworth Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr The Storied South by William Ferris

Debbie Moose: Thanksgiving Relish Tray

moose_southernWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Debbie Moose, author of Southern Holidays: a Savor the South® cookbook, a cook’s celebration of the richly diverse holiday traditions of today’s South. Covering big traditional holidays such as Christmas and Mardi Gras, this must-have addition to the Savor the South® cookbook collection also branches out into regional and cultural holidays that honor newer southern traditions, including recipes from real cooks hailing from a range of ethnic traditions and histories. The cooks’ stories accompanying the recipes show how holiday foods not only hold cherished personal family memories but also often have roots in a common past that ties families together in a shared southern history.

In today’s post, Moose shares her favorite family Thanksgiving tradition, and its evolution over the years.


Everyone has favorite holiday traditions—especially, it seems, at Thanksgiving. Unlike the Christmas season, which runs on seemingly for half a year, Thanksgiving is focused on merely one day. And that day is all about the food.

Grandma’s giblet gravy. Auntie’s corn pudding. Sister’s sweet potato casserole. Each of us cherishes that one special dish which, if it were absent from the overflowing bounty, would lead us to declare “it isn’t Thanksgiving.” And it doesn’t matter if there are so many other dishes that you can’t see the tablecloth and those who don’t share the same attachment look at you a little oddly.

My Thanksgiving gotta-have-it: The relish tray.

Even if no one else spears a single item from it, it just has to be there.

My attachment to the Thanksgiving relish tray began with my grandmother, whose tray contained her homemade pickled peaches, homemade bread-and-butter pickles, homemade watermelon rind pickles—and store-bought, bright red, spiced apple rings. The rings sort of came out of left field and I don’t know the story behind them, but as a kid I loved their sweet, Technicolor addition. Continue reading ‘Debbie Moose: Thanksgiving Relish Tray’ »

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

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

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


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

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

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

Christopher C. Sellers: Beyond Environmentalism: Marching toward Climatism

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

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

[This article originally appeared at]


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

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

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

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

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

Doug Orr: The Profound African American Influence on Appalachian Music

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sneak Peek: Great Reads for Spring 2015

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

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

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

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