John Hayes: “Those People”

John Hayes, Hard, Hard ReligionToday we welcome a guest post from John Hayes, author of Hard, Hard Religion:  Interracial Faith in the Poor South, on the history of class and race in the American South.

In Hard, Hard Religion, his captivating study of faith and class, John Hayes examines the ways folk religion in the early twentieth century allowed the South’s poor–both white and black–to listen, borrow, and learn from each other about what it meant to live as Christians in a world of severe struggle. Beneath the well-documented religious forms of the New South, people caught in the region’s poverty crafted a distinct folk Christianity that spoke from the margins of capitalist development, giving voice to modern phenomena like alienation and disenchantment. Through haunting songs of death, mystical tales of conversion, grassroots sacramental displays, and an ethic of neighborliness, impoverished folk Christians looked for the sacred in their midst and affirmed the value of this life in this world.

Hard, Hard Religion is now available in print and e-book editions.

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“Those People”

The classic 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird conveyed a clear message about white supremacy in the South: it was distinctly class-based, sustained and zealously supported by a certain class of whites. The viewer meets this class in the characters of Bob and Mayella Ewell. They wear clothes suited for manual labor, talk in a drawl, get drunk on moonshine, and live a rough cabin in the countryside. They are poor whites, and they present a sharp contrast to the film’s hero Atticus Finch. Finch wears seersucker suits, talks with eloquence and precision, displays the manners of respectability, and lives in a spacious house on one of the town’s prime residential streets. He is middle class, and he stands up for equal justice in the face of the deep racism around him. Despite his heroic stand, though, Finch is unable to secure justice for the falsely-accused Tom Robinson; in the climactic courtroom scene, the Ewells’ deceptive testimony pushes all the emotional buttons of white supremacy and sways the jury into a guilty verdict for Robinson.

Other cultural productions of the time—Eudora Welty’s 1963 essay “Where is the Voice Coming From?”, for example—set forth this class-based account, but my hunch is that To Kill a Mockingbird, both the film and the Pulitzer-Prize winning 1960 novel on which it was based, endures as its most popular expression. It endures, I think, not primarily because it is well crafted (though both the novel and film certainly are), but rather because the message it delivers is consoling: racism is primarily attributable to “those people,” uncouth people on the social margins.Continue Reading John Hayes: “Those People”

Author Interview: Adam Gussow, Beyond the Crossroads

 

Pictured: Adam Gussow author photo; a head-shot of a man who has grey hair wearing a black shirt and kneeling in front of the grill of an automobile.

Adam Gussow (photo by Steven W. Likens

Today, UNC Press Publicity Director Gina Mahalek talks with Adam Gussow, author of Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition, about Sterling Magee, the blues tradition and folklore in the American South, and more.

You can also read Adam’s Book Notes post over at the Largehearted Boy blog, where he also shares a cool Spotify playlist of classic blues tunes.

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Gina Mahalek: The devil and the blues! Do you write about how Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads at midnight—like in the movie Crossroads?  

Adam Gussow: Well, I explore all those topics in depth. But I wrote Beyond the Crossroads, as the title suggests, to dig down through the familiar southern Gothic mythology and figure out why the devil is such an important part of the blues tradition. This meant following the trail back beyond the “birth of the blues” years into the slavery era, when white masters and patrollers were doing evil things and black southerners had a whole lot to say about the devil in their spirituals. In our own time, of course, the “dark” romance is part of the story; I explore Robert Johnson and Crossroads at length in the book’s fifth and final chapter. (No, Johnson did not sell his soul to the devil. And, yes, I’ll give you the true history of “the crossroads” in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which will spoil the party for local tourism boosters.)  But most of the book is about other aspects of the devil and the blues—things that show up, for example, in the more than 125 devil-blues songs I tracked down and transcribed.

GM: I’ve heard people talk about “the devil’s music.”  Is that what your book is about?

Continue Reading Author Interview: Adam Gussow, Beyond the Crossroads

Jeffrey J. Crow: Rethinking North Carolina History

Tise & Crow, New Voyages to CarolinaToday, we welcome a guest post from Jeffrey J. Crow, co-editor (along with Larry E. Tise) of New Voyages to Carolina:  Reinterpreting North Carolina History, on a new way to view North Carolina history.

New Voyages to Carolina offers a bold new approach for understanding and telling North Carolina’s history. Recognizing the need for such a fresh approach and reflecting a generation of recent scholarship, eighteen distinguished authors have sculpted a broad, inclusive narrative of the state’s evolution over more than four centuries.

New Voyages to Carolina is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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Rethinking North Carolina History

When Larry Tise and I published Writing North Carolina History (Chapel Hill, 1979) nearly 40 years ago, we took a straightforward approach. We asked a distinguished group of historians to survey the vast historical literature on North Carolina, evaluate the best works, identify major themes, and establish a historiographical baseline for historians who came after. That book succeeded handsomely, but it carried the interpretation of North Carolina history only to the 1970s.

In the years since, the field of North Carolina history has thrived. Many new works—books, essays, and articles—appear each year. Through historic preservation, historic sites, and museum exhibits, North Carolina’s material culture continues to provide fresh perspectives on the state’s past. With these eclectic new works has come a paradigm shift. Whereas older studies emphasized great white men, chronology, politics, institutions, wars, and a Whiggish faith that history is an inexorable march toward progress, newer works take a much more critical view. Historians have begun to look at race, class, and gender as new tools for deconstructing the past.  The new paradigm focuses on social history, class conflict, gender-based studies, the African American experience (including civil rights), economic development, and working-class struggles.

In putting together the topics and essays for New Voyages to Carolina, Larry and I recognized that the newer studies had yet to penetrate the traditional narrative of North Carolina history. A few examples will suffice. In 1979, H. G. Jones wrote in Writing North Carolina History that the post-World War II era was a period in which historians “fear to tread.” That is no longer the case. Indeed, one could make a compelling argument that at present, twentieth-century North Carolina receives more sustained attention from historians than any other period. In particular historians have discovered the vitality of the civil rights movement. The Greensboro sit-ins on February 1, 1960, represented only one episode in the “long” civil rights movement. Civil rights ferment can be traced to the 1930s, and the struggle to integrate public schools dominated the 1950s and 1960s. For a brief time in the 1970s and 1980s, North Carolina boasted the most integrated schools in the nation. The re-segregation that started in the 1990s continues to today.

Similarly, North Carolina’s reputation as the South’s most “progressive” state has received increasingly skeptical interpretations from the last generation of historians. A “progressive plutocracy,” in the words of political scientist V. O. Key Jr., governed the state for much of the twentieth century. That progressivism meant good roads; efficient government services; tax incentives; cheap, nonunion, and unskilled labor; one-party politics (Democratic); and white supremacy. Democratic hegemony began to unravel with the growth and success of the civil rights movement. Over a generation or more conservatives migrated to the Republican Party and moderates concentrated in the Democratic Party. That fundamental division became apparent with the Republicans’ winning the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010 and the governorship in 2012. How North Carolina’s progressive reputation will fare in the twenty-first century raises provocative questions about the past.

A final example of the rethinking that characterizes New Voyages to Carolina centers on the cultural confrontation between Europeans and Native Americans in the age of exploration. The romantic tale of Sir Walter Raleigh’s failures to plant a colony on Roanoke Island between 1584 and 1587 has generated many histories, poems, novels, and even an outdoor drama. But the Spanish had attempted to establish a settlement in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains twenty years earlier.  Why did these early efforts at European settlement collapse? In short, when the Europeans became too demanding and aggressive, the Native Americans expelled or killed them. For more than a century a combination of Indian intransigence and an uncompromising geology and environment impeded European expansion beyond the tidewater.

Larry and I believe that the essays in New Voyages to Carolina will chart new routes and new destinations for understanding and interpreting North Carolina’s rich heritage. In a previous post, Larry discusses just how the fresh interpretations advanced in this book might revolutionize the traditional narrative of North Carolina history (You can read Larry Tise’s post here).

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Jeffrey J. Crow is former director of North Carolina’s Division of Archives and History and deputy secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

 

Joan Marie Johnson: Supporting the Struggle for Women’s Reproductive Rights

Joan Marie Johnson, Funding FeminismToday we welcome a guest post from Joan Marie Johnson, author of Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy, and the Women’s Movement, 1870–1967, on the anniversary of the founding of America’s first birth control clinic, and the women behind the scenes who made it possible.

In Funding Feminism, Joan Marie Johnson examines an understudied dimension of women’s history in the United States: how a group of affluent white women from the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries advanced the status of all women through acts of philanthropy. This cadre of activists included Phoebe Hearst, the mother of William Randolph Hearst; Grace Dodge, granddaughter of Wall Street “Merchant Prince” William Earle Dodge; and Ava Belmont, who married into the Vanderbilt family fortune. Motivated by their own experiences with sexism, and focusing on women’s need for economic independence, these benefactors sought to expand women’s access to higher education, promote suffrage, and champion reproductive rights, as well as to provide assistance to working-class women.

Funding Feminism is available now in both print and ebook editions.

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Supporting the Struggle for Women’s Reproductive Rights

Just more than 100 years ago, Margaret Sanger, the woman at the center of the birth control movement for five decades in the early twentieth century, opened the first birth control clinic in America. At the time, birth control was illegal: the dissemination of birth control information in the mail was forbidden under the federal Comstock law, which deemed such information obscene. States had various laws banning the distribution or use of birth control devices and information. Given the current political climate, in which not only is a woman’s right to legal abortion under assault, but even contraception is under attack, it is an appropriate time to look back at the women who fought so hard to give women the right to determine whether or not and when to have children.

Sanger opened a clinic in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn on October 16, 1916. The clinic was raided on October 26, resulting in the trials of Sanger, her sister and a volunteer. Notably, Sanger’s supporters included both immigrant women, who had little money and desperately wanted access to birth control information, and many wealthy women who also believed a woman’s right to control her body was essential to women’s freedom. Many of these wealthy women were also fighting for political equality in the women’s suffrage movement.

Continue Reading Joan Marie Johnson: Supporting the Struggle for Women’s Reproductive Rights

Excerpt: Redemption: Carolina Basketball’s 2016–2017 Journey from Heartbreak to History

Lucas: RedemptionToday marks the official publication of Redemption:  Carolina Basketball’s 2016–2017 Journey from Heartbreak to History by Adam Lucas, Steve Kirschner, and Matt Bowers.  We’re celebrating the Tar Heels’ national championship with the official companion book.

Redemption is a behind-the-scenes look at the Tar Heels’ ride to the 2017 national title. Featuring some never before published, exclusive photographs that will take readers from the practice court to the team bus to the locker room, this book is the most complete chronicle of a UNC national championship ever made available. In addition to the full-color images, the book also includes interviews with the players and coaches that can only be found here, a foreword from head coach Roy Williams, and all-new stories from Adam Lucas, Steve Kirschner, and Matt Bowers, who accompanied the team every step of the way.

It is the story of a national championship that was a year in the making. And a must-have book for Tar Heel fans everywhere.

Here’s snippet from the book.  You can read entire excerpt on GoHeels.com.

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The unofficial first road trip of the season took place in October on a quiet trip to Fort Bragg to practice in front of the base’s soldiers. By March, road trips would all seem routine. But in October, especially for the newcomers, it was a new experience. Subconsciously, the players left open the seats usually occupied by Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige.

“Wait a minute,” Joel Berry said as the team sorted through the seating arrangement. “Marcus and Brice aren’t here.”

The comment echoed a stern point made by Roy Williams at a practice earlier that week. When the Tar Heels lackadaisically pursued a rebound, Williams blew his whistle and stopped practice. “Do you see Brice out here?” he asked of the 2016 All-America who grabbed over ten rebounds per game. “He’s not here! He’s not coming back!”

In one very important way, however, the presence of Johnson and Paige did linger. When that duo had arrived in the summer of 2012, along with classmates Joel James and J. P. Tokoto, the Tar Heel chemistry was different. It wasn’t a bad environment, but on a 16-player roster, there were several different groups that rarely mixed. They were close-knit in the locker room, but you would rarely find upperclassmen like Reggie Bullock or Leslie McDonald mixing with rookies like Paige or James …

For more, click over to GoHeels.com.

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Larry E. Tise: A New Narrative for North Carolina History

Tise & Crow, New Voyages to CarolinaToday, we welcome a guest post from Larry E. Tise, co-editor (along with Jeffrey J. Crow) of New Voyages to Carolina:  Reinterpreting North Carolina History, on a new way to view North Carolina history.

New Voyages to Carolina offers a bold new approach for understanding and telling North Carolina’s history. Recognizing the need for such a fresh approach and reflecting a generation of recent scholarship, eighteen distinguished authors have sculpted a broad, inclusive narrative of the state’s evolution over more than four centuries.

New Voyages to Carolina is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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A New Narrative for North Carolina History

“We need a new narrative for North Carolina’s history!”  That is precisely what Jeffrey Crow and I concluded several years ago when we mulled over what lasting legacy we might like  to give the state where he and I have spent decades researching and preserving its past.  This was one of those “eureka” moments that occur only once or twice in a lifetime.  We have devoted ourselves to finding and articulating that new narrative ever since.  We did not lock ourselves in an ivy shrouded tower.  We engaged instead in reading the abundance of articles and books of dozens of smart authors who have assiduously plowed the rich fields of North Carolina’s history over the past twenty or so years. We also engaged many of these historians, journalists, anthropologists, and others in wide-ranging discussions. And some of what we learned is both startling and instructive.

Wars do not explain our state’s history.  Nor do the parade of governors and politicians who have presided over the colony and state of North Carolina for the past three centuries.  Nor do the cyclical fluctuations in the national economy and monetary supply.  To endow these phenomena with benchmark status in our history obscures the unique warp and woof of North Carolina’s past. Nor does it help to busy ourselves in searching an obscure moment in history where North Carolina might have had the earliest English settlement (which failed!), became the first colony to declare independence from England (without a document to verify the claim!), whose troops charged farthest to the front at Gettysburg (who was measuring amidst the blood and gore?), or that was the most “progressive” state in the New South (by what metrics?).  We decided to move beyond these fruitless and unenlightening discussions to more relevant topics.

Continue Reading Larry E. Tise: A New Narrative for North Carolina History

Author Interview: Emily Herring Wilson, The Three Graces of Val-Kill

Pictured: Emily Herring Wilson author photo; a person can be seen standing in the foreground of a photo with bookshelves in the background; she is wearing a pink sweater over a white collared shirt, and has short grey hair and blue eyes.

Emily Herring Wilson (photo by Ken Bennett).

Gina Mahalek talks to Emily Herring Wilson, author of The Three Graces of Val-Kill: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook in the Place They Made Their Own.

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Q: How did you discover this story?

A: I wanted to understand Eleanor Roosevelt as a woman making her own private life—after a troubled marriage and children going away to school—and before she became famous as First Lady, and so I went to Hyde Park in search of her in the place she loved called Val-Kill. A tour of the “Big House,” named Springwood, Sara Delano Roosevelt’s and Franklin’s home, left me with the same lack of affection for it that Eleanor herself expressed. It was cold and formal, large enough to be the home of the President of the United States, as he intended. I went through the woods to Val-Kill, about two miles on the eastern edge of the estate, hoping to see the small cottage that I knew Eleanor and her close friends, Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, had built for themselves, offering Eleanor freedom from her mother-in-law’s dominance. The National Park Service guide beckoned me to an oddly-shaped building called the Eleanor Roosevelt Historic Site, where I was given a tour. Even though inside was warm and inviting, with many small rooms for frequent guests and public rooms for famous guests like John F. Kennedy, it did not seem to me to be the refuge Eleanor, Marion, and Nan had built for themselves. And it was not. It was the official home Eleanor made when she moved out of the cottage and renovated what had been a small furniture factory nearby. I asked the NPS guide where the cottage was, and he motioned toward a nearby building, but explained that it was closed and there was nothing inside to see. I insisted that I wanted to see it, and reluctantly, he took out the key and let me enter. Even though it was empty, the high ceilings, the wooden beams, the rock fireplace, and the windows looking out toward a lake spelled “welcome.” “This is the place,” I said to myself. I wanted to know what communal life was lived here and how the friendship with Marion and Nan shaped Eleanor Roosevelt.

Q: Why did FDR refer to Eleanor Roosevelt, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook as the “three graces”?

A: FDR had a natural gift for fanciful language (and for flattery), and in using this term from Greek mythology he symbolized the ways in which the three inseparable women represented beauty and creativity in their lives.

Q: Why do you believe this period in Eleanor Roosevelt’s life (1922-1936) was so transformative?

A: It was the first time she could live out from under her mother-in-law’s dominance and discover her own needs and strengths. At Val-Kill with Marion, Nan, and other women friends, she learned how to blend the personal (private time to talk) and the political (they embarked on a busy life as progressive Democratic leaders).

Q: Do you think your book will positively or negatively affect the public’s view of Eleanor Roosevelt? How so?

A: This is a very positive view of Eleanor Roosevelt, showing her determination to make her own life and her generosity to friends. Women especially will recognize the importance of friendship and working together, a female attribute many critics deny.

Q: Did your research alter your own perception of Eleanor Roosevelt? In what way(s)?

A: I always blamed FDR as the “bad” husband for having made her so unhappy when he had a romance with Lucy Mercer, but I discovered that he tried to make up for having hurt her by accepting her friends and suggesting that they build the cottage together and that he often tried to please her. I took away a more balanced view of the relationship and saw how essential she was to his public life and how essential he was to hers. I also saw that Eleanor had a tough side—she could be very unforgiving, though she tried.

Emily Herring Wilson: The Three Graces of Val-KillQ: Many books have been written about Eleanor Roosevelt. What was your own most important discovery about her that you bring to light here?

A: Most authors think that her friendship with Marion and Nan ended when she went to the White House, but it did not—although the closeness changed, Eleanor continued to visit them almost up until the time of Nan’s death in 1962, when she herself was very ill and would die in the same year. Most authors also think that FDR gave the cottage to the women—he leased the land to them; they paid for everything themselves. And they hosted many picnics for him and his political friends at Val-Kill, which he loved. Nancy Cook really defined the Roosevelt picnics.

Q: What were some of the challenges that you encountered in telling this story? What evidence would you like to have found that might have enhanced this telling of this story?

Continue Reading Author Interview: Emily Herring Wilson, The Three Graces of Val-Kill

Author Interview: Karen L. Cox, Goat Castle

 

Pictured: Karen L. Cox, author photo; person wearing an all black suite and earrings who has short blonde hair and blue eyes.

Karen L. Cox (photo by Logan Cyrus)

Gina Mahalek talks to  Karen L. Cox, author of Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South 

 

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Overview: Eighty-five years ago, in August 1932, the investigation into the murder of 68 year-old Jennie Merrill of Natchez, Mississippi, made national headlines. That she was born into the southern planter aristocracy and her father was once U.S. Ambassador to Belgium were enough to garner attention. Yet the story that emerged focused on those charged—her eccentric neighbors, Dick Dana, 61, and Octavia Dockery, 68, also born into elite southern families except that by 1932, they lived in squalor in a crumbling down antebellum mansion with all variety of animals, including goats. Their home was nicknamed “Goat Castle” and the pair became known as the “Wild Man” and the “Goat Woman.” Journalists compared their story to those of Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner—a southern gothic narrative come to life. And despite the collection of their fingerprints from inside Merrill’s home, the case never went to trial. Instead, as was typical of the Jim Crow era, the black community was targeted. In the end, the only person to be punished was an innocent African American woman named Emily Burns. She was convicted as an accessory to murder and sentenced to life in prison in the state penitentiary—Parchman—while Dana and Dockery profited from their notoriety. Burns’ sentence was eventually suspended in 1940, and she returned to Natchez. Previous accounts of the case are terribly brief, and focus exclusively on the white principals. This book offers the first extensively researched account of this Depression-era crime, including the national media coverage, while also recovering the story of racial injustice.

Gina Mahalek: How did you discover this story?

Karen L. Cox: As part of my research on a previous book, I was interested in learning more about a tourist event in Mississippi known as the Natchez Pilgrimage. Specifically, why were Americans drawn to tour antebellum homes in this small town on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in the midst of the Great Depression? While working in the state archives, I met Clinton Bagley, a historian and Natchez expert. He said to me, “You should be looking at Goat Castle. Goat Castle put Natchez on the map.” I had him repeat himself, as many people have me do now, “Did you say Goat Castle?” He had. That day, I requested the vertical files of news clippings on this story and knew instinctively that I wanted to pursue this as a book project.

 GM: Why did you write a book about a crime from such a small town as Natchez, Mississippi?

KC: There’s a phrase I often repeat to my students that “all history is local,” a take off of “all politics is local,” because embedded in the history of a locale, one often finds the history of the United States. So while the crime took place in this small town, the historical context of this crime required an examination of the antebellum cotton boom, the planter aristocracy, the domestic slave trade, Reconstruction, the Great Migration, Jim Crow, racial injustice, and America’s fascination with both Old South grandeur and the southern gothic. It also made national headlines and drew tourists to Natchez for several years.

GM: Why do you think this story attracted national attention?

KC: During the Depression, true crime sold newspapers and magazines and served as a cheap form of entertainment for Americans during desperate economic times. Such stories frequently involved the demise of prominent individuals and were fixated on the salacious details of family dysfunction. The murder of Jennie Merrill in Natchez, Mississippi, had all of this and then some. She was referred to as an “aristocratic recluse” and the way her neighbors lived led journalists to compare what was happening in Natchez as something that could have come from the pen of William Faulkner or Edgar Allen Poe—except it was all true. Thus, Natchez provided readers with two distinctive, and yet popular narratives, of Old South grandeur as well as southern gothic.

GM: Why is this crime known as the “Goat Castle murder” when the murder took place at a different house altogether?

Continue Reading Author Interview: Karen L. Cox, Goat Castle

Anthony Chaney: The Royal Scam

Chaney: RunawayToday, we welcome a guest post from Anthony Chaney, author of Runaway:  Gregory Bateson, the Double Bind, and the Rise of Ecological Consciousness, on Steely Dan, Columbia House and the negative-option record club.

The anthropologist Gregory Bateson has been called a lost giant of twentieth-century thought. In the years following World War II, Bateson was among the group of mathematicians, engineers, and social scientists who laid the theoretical foundations of the information age. Blending intellectual biography with an ambitious reappraisal of the 1960s, Anthony Chaney uses Bateson’s life and work to explore the idea that a postmodern ecological consciousness is the true legacy of the decade. Surrounded by voices calling for liberation of all kinds, Bateson spoke of limitation and dependence. But he also offered an affirming new picture of human beings and their place in the world—as ecologies knit together in a fabric of meaning that Bateson said “we might as well call Mind.”

Runaway is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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The Royal Scam

I joined the Columbia House Record Club when I was thirteen or fourteen. A whole box of 8-tracks came for a penny. A number of them were not so good. Cher’s Greatest Hits, for example. I didn’t know enough about music to choose 13 good records. But I got Paul’s Simon’s first two solo records, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night and a best-of Three Dog Night, which were all great.

The Columbia House Record Club is reputed to be a scam. There was a “record of the month” which all members received and were billed for, unless they put a card in the mail by a certain date and declined it. Many people must have put off mailing it in and wound up paying for records they probably didn’t want and maybe never listened to. This is how you make the big bucks, I gather–not off a product but off a natural weakness, like laziness or negligence.

But the Columbia House Record Club didn’t work like that for me. I never forgot to send in the card. How could I forget? I thought about records all the time. That was my weakness. I lingered over the monthly catalogue for hours at a time. I plotted and mulled over potential purchases for days, never bought frivolously. Part of the deal was you had to buy a certain number of records at “regular club prices”–which were high, maybe $7.98. I stretched these required purchases out over the three allotted years. I was more interested in the catalogue’s middle section, with the mark-downs. There you could pick up records for $2 or $3. They would not count toward your required purchase, but here were the smart buys.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, volumes one and two, were among the ones I bought from the cut-out section of the catalogue. I’d read somewhere that he was good, so I figured I could risk a few dollars on him.
Continue Reading Anthony Chaney: The Royal Scam

Stephanie Hinnershitz: Before Loving: How the Naim v. Naim Case Challenges Civil Rights Narratives

Stephanie Hinnershitz, A Different Shade of JusticeToday we welcome a guest blog post from Stephanie Hinnershitz, author of A Different Shade of Justice: Asian American Civil Rights in the South, on the global nature of struggles over civil rights.

From the formation of Chinese and Japanese communities in the early twentieth century through Indian hotel owners’ battles against business discrimination in the 1980s and ’90s, Stephanie Hinnershitz shows how Asian Americans organized carefully constructed legal battles that often traveled to the state and federal supreme courts. Drawing from legislative and legal records as well as oral histories, memoirs, and newspapers, A Different Shade of Justice describes a movement that ran alongside and at times intersected with the African American fight for justice, and she restores Asian Americans to the fraught legacy of civil rights in the South.

A Different Shade of Justice is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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Before Loving: How the Naim v. Naim Case Challenges Civil Rights Narratives

This year has been one of celebration and remembrance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Loving v. Virgnia Supreme Court decision that overturned centuries of anti-miscegentation law in the United States. From a major motion picture to a historical plaque placed in front of the former site of the Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond noting the monumental case, Loving Day (June 12th—when the decision was handed down) commemorates the victory of the bond between Mildred Loving, an African American woman, and her white husband, Richard, over the Virginia Racial Impurity Act of 1924 which barred marriages between whites and “colored” residents.

But this story of the triumph of love over racism is incomplete without a consideration of the largely overlooked 1955 Naim v. Naim case that went before the Supreme Court and also involved an interracial couple from Virginia. Han Say Naim was a Chinese-born sailor who came to New York City during World War II and eventually made his way to Norfolk. While there, he became smitten with a local white woman named Ruby Lamberth and the two began a whirlwind courtship. Shortly thereafter in 1952, Naim and Lamberth eloped to North Carolina in order to avoid Virginia’s strict ban on interracial marriages. By 1953, however, the marriage began to disintegrate.

A major contribution to growing tension between the couple was Han’s quest to remain in the U.S. as a spouse and pursue citizenship. Virginia-based immigration and civil rights lawyer David Carliner worked with the Naims as the pair poured money, time, and other resources into helping Han become a legal citizen. The slow legal slog through paperwork and bureaucracy eventually took its toll on Ruby. Seeking to end the marriage, Ruby went to the Portsmouth Circuit Court in Virginia in 1953 and sought an absolute divorce while alleging that Han committed adultery while he was away working on various ships. Portsmouth judge Floyd Kellam found no proof of Han’s adultery and denied Ruby a divorce; however, he did annul the marriage using the Racial Integrity Act, stating that the marriage was void under Virginia law.

Continue Reading Stephanie Hinnershitz: Before Loving: How the Naim v. Naim Case Challenges Civil Rights Narratives

Save 40% on our new Religious Studies Books!

UNC Press Religious Studies sale

We’ve just launched our 2017 Religious Studies catalog promotion.  UNC Press is now offering 40% off of our latest Religious Studies books (and ALL UNC Press print books)!

Simply enter the code 01REL40 at checkout to get your discount. Additionally, all orders of $75 and above will receive FREE shipping! Be sure to act on this offer before it’s gone!

Browse the books below for a preview of what’s hot off the press in Religious Studies.  Then visit our Religious Studies catalog.

 

Tisa Wenger, Religious Freedom Ula Taylor, The Promise of Patriarchy Max Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People Rachel Lindsey, Communion of Shadows Rachel Kranson, Ambivalent Embrace Monica Bedasse, Jah Kingdom Ahmad, Religion as Critique John Hayes, Hard, Hard ReligionDouglas Winiarski, Darkness Falls on the Land of LightGideon Mailer, John Witherspoon's American Revolution Krister Knapp, William James Holly Folk, Religion of Chiropractic

 

 

 

Douglas Hunter: Dighton Rock, Leif Eriksson, and the Origins of Scientific Racism

Douglas Hunter, The Place of StoneToday we welcome a guest post from Douglas Hunter, author of The Place of Stone:  Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past, on the contested history of Dighton Rock and it’s petroglyphs.

Claimed by many to be the most frequently documented artifact in American archeology, Dighton Rock is a forty-ton boulder covered in petroglyphs in southern Massachusetts. First noted by New England colonists in 1680, the rock’s markings have been debated endlessly by scholars and everyday people alike on both sides of the Atlantic. The glyphs have been erroneously assigned to an array of non-Indigenous cultures: Norsemen, Egyptians, Lost Tribes of Israel, vanished Portuguese explorers, and even a prince from Atlantis. In this fascinating story rich in personalities and memorable characters, Douglas Hunter uses Dighton Rock to reveal the long, complex history of colonization, American archaeology, and the conceptualization of Indigenous people.

The Place of Stone is now available in both print and e-book editions.

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Dighton Rock, Leif Eriksson, and the Origins of Scientific Racism

In May 2017, a man in Portland, Oregon slashed and stabbed three good Samaritans who came to the aid of a Muslim woman he was berating, killing two of them. The suspect arrested for the double homicide was found in online videos giving Nazi salutes and shouting “Hail, Vinland!” The reference to an elusive region of eastern North America that Norsemen attempted to colonize circa 1000 AD was puzzling to journalists and the public, who were horrified by the slayings and hatred. To those familiar with the white supremacist movement, any reference to Vinland, Vikings, Odin, or some other element of Norse history and legend are not hard to decode. But while the suspect in the Portland double homicide may seem to belong to a dangerous fringe of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, their convictions that America belongs to white people has a long history of respectable theorizing and even government policy. Vinland and Vikings are deeply rooted in the national narrative of the United States and the notion of a God-given right of northern Europeans to colonize and rule over it. They are also at the foundation of race science, which is to say scientific racism.

Scratch the surface of neo-Nazi ravings and you will find deeper layers of race theory, white destiny, and civilization that, beginning with the late seventeenth century writings of Olf Rudbeks, began to coalesce into a self-congratulatory northern European worldview called Gothicism. In a nutshell, Gothicism viewed Scandinavia as the root source of western civilization. At times esoteric, ever adaptable and shape-shifting, Gothicism was wont to link Scandinavia to the descendants of Japheth, one of the favoured sons of Noah, whom God commanded to overspread the Earth. The hardy warriors of the Viking age (and other northern “Gothic” tribes, which the influential 18th-century French author Paul-Henri Mallet bound together under a “Celtic” umbrella of race and culture) were transformed from barbaric brutes into the vanguards of western civilization. They overthrew the corrupted Roman south—a rebellion doubled by Protestantism’s overthrow of Roman Catholicism.

Continue Reading Douglas Hunter: Dighton Rock, Leif Eriksson, and the Origins of Scientific Racism

John Hayes: On Class, Religion, and Politics

John Hayes, Hard, Hard Religion Today we welcome a guest post from John Hayes, author of Hard, Hard Religion:  Interracial Faith in the Poor South, on the history behind the increasing importance of class and religion on today’s American political landscape.

In his captivating study of faith and class, John Hayes examines the ways folk religion in the early twentieth century allowed the South’s poor–both white and black–to listen, borrow, and learn from each other about what it meant to live as Christians in a world of severe struggle. Beneath the well-documented religious forms of the New South, people caught in the region’s poverty crafted a distinct folk Christianity that spoke from the margins of capitalist development, giving voice to modern phenomena like alienation and disenchantment. Through haunting songs of death, mystical tales of conversion, grassroots sacramental displays, and an ethic of neighborliness, impoverished folk Christians looked for the sacred in their midst and affirmed the value of this life in this world.

Hard, Hard Religion will be available in October, and can be pre-ordered now.

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On Class, Religion, and Politics

Out of nowhere, it seemed, they rose up and became the decisive factor in a drastic power shift—they being the “white working class.” Apparently obscured by the long-dominant discourse of a vague, expansive “middle class,” here they were, suddenly appearing as a force to be reckoned with, the core of the triumphant Trump phenomenon of 2016. Journalists not previously given to class analysis scrambled to find out who these people were, and peripheral places like Jackson, Kentucky or Clearfield County, Pennsylvania became new objects of media attention. Amidst it all, I was having flashbacks to a dozen years earlier, when another seemingly hidden group had come out of the woodwork and become a potent political force. The they of 2004, as the quickly coalescing postelection analysis had it, was “evangelical voters” with their concern for “moral values.” They broke upon the scene as the deciding factor in that year’s sweeping Republican victories, and observers who had previously displayed little interest in religion now eagerly wanted to know about these evangelicals: who they were, what they wanted, and where they had come from. I was in graduate school at the time, and my area of focus, American religious history, typically drew yawns and blank stares from most of my colleagues. In the wake of the election, it suddenly became a matter of acute interest.

That interest subsided in time, and its fading seemed to coincide with a crystallization of the postelection analysis—2004 would be remembered for “evangelical voters,” and a dozen years from now, 2016 will likely be remembered for the “white working class.” Whether or not those explanations hold up under scrutiny is one thing (I think they are far too simplistic); what interests me more is an ellipsis in the reasoning: how could a certain group be so politically powerful and yet off the national radar of visibility? How could a group be the deciding factor in a national election and yet have its very presence met with a sense of genuine discovery?

Continue Reading John Hayes: On Class, Religion, and Politics

Karen R. Roybal: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Dark U.S. Herencia (Inheritance)

Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960 by Karen R. RoybalToday we welcome a guest blog post from Karen R. Roybal, author of Archives of Dispossession:  Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960, on the upcoming 170th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

One method of American territory expansion in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands was the denial of property rights to Mexican landowners, which led to dispossession. Many historical accounts overlook this colonial impact on Indigenous and Mexican peoples, and existing studies that do tackle this subject tend to privilege the male experience. In Archives of Dispossession, Karen R. Roybal recenters the focus of dispossession on women, arguing that gender, sometimes more than race, dictated legal concepts of property ownership and individual autonomy. Drawing on a diverse source base—legal land records, personal letters, and literature—Roybal locates voices of Mexican American women in the Southwest to show how they fought against the erasure of their rights, both as women and as landowners. Woven throughout Roybal’s analysis are these women’s testimonios—their stories focusing on inheritance, property rights, and shifts in power. Roybal positions these testimonios as an alternate archive that illustrates the myriad ways in which multiple layers of dispossession—and the changes of property ownership in Mexican law—affected the formation of Mexicana identity.

Archives of Dispossession is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: A Dark U.S. Herencia (Inheritance)

February 2, 2018 will mark the 170th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a legal agreement between the United States and Mexican governments intended to end the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The Treaty is the oldest in the nation’s history. Comprised of 23 articles, it details the rights to be afforded to those who elected to become U.S. citizens once Mexico ceded more than 500,000 acres of its land to the U.S. The Treaty is a historical marker of one of the most significant contributions to international law in the nineteenth century that continues to impact peoples of Mexican and Indigenous descent today.

While the document has served as a significant symbol of negotiation between Mexico and the U.S., the path to its signing was anything but simple. With the influx of peoples moving westward in pursuit of a new life and new land in the name of Manifest Destiny, the (South)western U.S. was a contested region throughout much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The idea of individual property ownership that guides our capital-driven market today is what also prompted many Anglo American settlers to seek land they thought would bring them economic success. This conception of property countered the ways in which the local populations of the region understood the intended uses of their land as communal. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo now serves as a symbol of the ways in which the U.S. government reneged its responsibilities for federal protection of Mexican Americans’ political rights and constructed an empire based on a racial hierarchy that placed Native, African, and Mexican Americans at its lowest rungs. As I argue in Archives of Dispossession, the U.S. government used this racial hierarchy to expand its ever-growing empire through the genocide and displacement of Native Americans. This history of settler colonialism is a violent one and should call our attention to the darker herencias, or inheritances, upon which our nation is built.

Archives of Dispossession acknowledges the importance of understanding this darker history; however, the book focuses specifically on Mexican American history, gender, and land adjudication just before and after the Mexican-American War. After the signing of the Treaty in 1848, Mexican Americans were consigned to second-class citizenship and the U.S. government denied Mexican American property rights when it removed Article X, which had validated all Mexican land grants in the Southwest. This process was advanced through the conversion from a Mexican to a U.S. legal system in an effort to establish a political economy that privileged Anglo Americans.

Today, we are only left to imagine what would have happened had the 1847 U.S peace commissioner, Nicholas Trist, heeded President Polk’s order to cease his meeting with Mexican officials to discuss Treaty negotiations. Rather than proceed with the negotiations, President Polk asked Trist to return to Washington, D.C. Trist did not return. Instead, he met with Mexico’s interim president, Manuel de la Peña y Peña. The rest, as they say, is history. While opposition to the Treaty materialized in Mexico and in the U.S., its signing signaled an end to a war and the beginning of an extensive debate over issues of citizenship, property ownership, borders, and slavery; many of these issues still resonate in today’s political climate. Since at least 1848, Mexican Americans have struggled to achieve and maintain their social, economic, and political position within the U.S. nation state.

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Karen R. Roybal is assistant professor of Southwest studies at Colorado College.

Anthony Chaney: Movie Monsters That Disturb Our Sleep

Chaney: RunawayToday, we welcome a guest post from Anthony Chaney, author of Runaway:  Gregory Bateson, the Double Bind, and the Rise of Ecological Consciousness, who ruminates on nature, evolution, and the mind of movie sharks and dinosaurs.

The anthropologist Gregory Bateson has been called a lost giant of twentieth-century thought. In the years following World War II, Bateson was among the group of mathematicians, engineers, and social scientists who laid the theoretical foundations of the information age. Blending intellectual biography with an ambitious reappraisal of the 1960s, Anthony Chaney uses Bateson’s life and work to explore the idea that a postmodern ecological consciousness is the true legacy of the decade. Surrounded by voices calling for liberation of all kinds, Bateson spoke of limitation and dependence. But he also offered an affirming new picture of human beings and their place in the world—as ecologies knit together in a fabric of meaning that Bateson said “we might as well call Mind.”

Runaway is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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Movie Monsters That Disturb Our Sleep

A question: Is the shark in Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws hungry or is it malicious? Hungry, obviously. It comes to the beach town of Amity to feed. Sharks, we have come to understand, are relentless eating machines. Yes, the shark in Jaws is hungry! This hardly need be said, since sharks, even more than wolves, have become our preferred metaphor to express a singular and ruthless striving. The shark is a closed feedback loop. Its striving requires fuel. That striving is simultaneously the point of continuous refueling.

But the people of Amity get hungry, too. The shark interferes with the village food economy, which is why the village powers first deny the shark’s existence and then, when denial collapses, strive to hunt the shark down and destroy it. A post-humanist, or perhaps an animal rights activist, might ask a question at this juncture. Why should we root for the humans in this battle of hunger against hunger, of striving against striving?

Continue Reading Anthony Chaney: Movie Monsters That Disturb Our Sleep

Nicholas Grant: Apartheid South Africa and the 1957 Little Rock Crisis

Winning Our Freedoms Together: African Americans and Apartheid, 1945–1960 by Nicholas GrantToday we welcome a guest blog post from Nicholas Grant, author of Winning Our Freedoms Together: African Americans and Apartheid, 1945–1960, on the South African government’s reaction to the 1957 crisis over the integration of Little Rock Central High School.

Winning Our Freedoms Together examines how African Americans engaged with, supported, and were inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. Bringing black activism into conversation with the foreign policy of both the U.S. and South African governments, this study questions the dominant perception that U.S.-centered anticommunism decimated black international activism. Instead, by tracing the considerable amount of time, money, and effort the state invested into responding to black international criticism, Grant outlines the extent to which the U.S. and South African governments were forced to reshape and occasionally reconsider their racial policies in the Cold War world.

Winning Our Freedoms Together will be out in November 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

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Apartheid South Africa and the 1957 Little Rock Crisis

The world was watching when — 60 years ago this month — nine black honors students attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School in September 1957. The battle over segregation in Arkansas reverberated around the world. Circulating in ways that vividly underlined the failings of American democracy and the viciousness of Jim Crow.

Little Rock placed the U.S. government under intense international scrutiny, illustrating the extent to which race and the politics of the Cold War were intimately bound up with one another.[1] Facing Soviet propaganda attacks that connected American capitalism with white supremacy – and eager not to alienate the leaders of newly independent nations in Asia and Africa – the Eisenhower administration eventually responded by deploying Federal troops to ensure the school’s integration.

As foreign powers lined up to condemn the violence at Little Rock, in South Africa, the apartheid government watched on nervously. The ruling National Party closely monitored the development of civil rights movement. Increasingly concerned that integration would raise uncomfortable questions about the ‘legitimacy’ of the apartheid system, South African officials responded to key racial flashpoints in the United States by sending a flurry of memos back and forth across the Atlantic.

Continue Reading Nicholas Grant: Apartheid South Africa and the 1957 Little Rock Crisis

Karen R. Roybal: Do You Swear to Tell Nothing but the Truth?

Archives of Dispossession: Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960 by Karen R. RoybalToday we welcome a guest blog post from Karen R. Roybal, author of Archives of Dispossession:  Recovering the Testimonios of Mexican American Herederas, 1848–1960, on the importance of archival research.

One method of American territory expansion in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands was the denial of property rights to Mexican landowners, which led to dispossession. Many historical accounts overlook this colonial impact on Indigenous and Mexican peoples, and existing studies that do tackle this subject tend to privilege the male experience. In Archives of Dispossession, Karen R. Roybal recenters the focus of dispossession on women, arguing that gender, sometimes more than race, dictated legal concepts of property ownership and individual autonomy. Drawing on a diverse source base—legal land records, personal letters, and literature—Roybal locates voices of Mexican American women in the Southwest to show how they fought against the erasure of their rights, both as women and as landowners. Woven throughout Roybal’s analysis are these women’s testimonios—their stories focusing on inheritance, property rights, and shifts in power. Roybal positions these testimonios as an alternate archive that illustrates the myriad ways in which multiple layers of dispossession—and the changes of property ownership in Mexican law—affected the formation of Mexicana identity.

Archives of Dispossession is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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Do You Swear to Tell Nothing but the Truth?

On March 29, 1887, María Cleofas Bóne de López was sworn in to testify for a case presented by the U.S. Surveyor General’s Office. She was one of thousands of Mexican American land grant heirs asked to provide permissible documents that would confirm their status as legal property owners. Bóne de López was a member of a Mexican American community whose livelihoods were tied to the land in question, which was situated in La Junta, a small northeastern New Mexico town. The community members in La Junta, along with numerous Mexican American families throughout the U.S. Southwest were undergoing an enormous legal and cultural transition. Anglo American settlers made their way west and a new U.S. legal system was established after the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), which impacted them in significant ways. Bóne de López’s family history is quite intriguing. Her father, Santiago Bóne, was an English immigrant whose real name was James Bonney; it is rumored that he was the grandfather of the infamous “Billy the Kid.” In an effort to fit in to the Mexican community of which he wanted to become a part, he changed his name to Santiago Bóne, married a Mexican woman, and was granted a parcel of land by her father. This parcel was the land to which Bóne de López and her siblings lay claim in 1887.

Continue Reading Karen R. Roybal: Do You Swear to Tell Nothing but the Truth?

Andrew C. McKevitt: Globalization’s Heroes in the Age of Trumpism

Andrew McKevitt: Consuming JapanToday we welcome a guest blog post from Andrew C. McKevitt, author of Consuming Japan: Popular Culture and the Globalizing of 1980s, on the popularity and impact of anime and manga in America today.

Consuming Japan explores the intense and ultimately fleeting moment in 1980s America when the future looked Japanese. Would Japan’s remarkable post–World War II economic success enable the East Asian nation to overtake the United States? Or could Japan’s globe-trotting corporations serve as a model for battered U.S. industries, pointing the way to a future of globalized commerce and culture? From autoworkers to anime fans, this insightful book introduces new unorthodox actors into foreign-relations history, demonstrating how the flow of all things Japanese contributed to the globalizing of America in the late twentieth century.

Consuming Japan is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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Globalization’s Heroes in the Age of Trumpism

As I wrapped up my first book, Consuming Japan: Popular Culture and the Globalizing of 1980s America, the last thing I expected to come across in the deluge of daily news on the 2016 presidential election was the intersection of the Donald Trump campaign and Japanese animation, or anime, one of the Japanese products I examine that came to U.S. shores beginning in the 1960s. In the heat of the contentious Republican primary season from which the reality-TV star would emerge victorious, one party operative criticized his voters as “single men who masturbate to anime.” As someone who’s studied and written about anime fans for more than a dozen years now, this claim seemed one more ugly stereotype to emerge from a moment of nastiness, less a denigration of Trump voters than of the diverse millions of people across the United States who consume anime.

I had this absurd political context in mind when, during the first week of July 2017, I attended Anime Expo, the largest convention (or “con”) in the United States dedicated to the celebration of the many facets of Japanese popular culture. I had been invited to deliver the keynote address at the Anime and Manga Studies Symposium, a four-day academic conference built into Anime Expo’s programming, alongside the hundreds of panels dedicated to favorite anime series, manga, video games, and the “cosplay” that celebrates it all. To me, the diversity on display among the 100,000 attendees at Anime Expo demonstrated the emptiness of claims of anime’s perverse marginality. Fans represented a cross section of a nation in the midst of a decades-long demographic transformation. No doubt, somewhere in a country of 320 million souls, a solitary white male Trump voter sat in his parents’ basement enjoying his favorite hentai (which refers, at least in the United States, to sexually-explicit anime and manga). Actual anime fandom, though, reflects not that stereotype but the reality of a world of increasing global interconnectedness and the challenges a diverse nation faces adapting to it. That diversity has served as a canvass for U.S. fans to confront ideas about race and gender. In one way, then, anime fans are globalization’s champions, especially in a political moment of resurgent economic and ethnic nationalisms.

Continue Reading Andrew C. McKevitt: Globalization’s Heroes in the Age of Trumpism

Lane Demas: Tiger Woods and his career are officially history

Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf by Lane DemasToday we welcome a guest blog post from Lane Demas, author of Game of Privilege:  An African American History of Golf, on Tiger Woods and his legacy for African American golfers.

Game of Privilege is a groundbreaking history of African Americans and golf, exploring the role of race, class, and public space in golf course development, the stories of individual black golfers during the age of segregation, the legal battle to integrate public golf courses, and the little-known history of the United Golfers Association (UGA)–a black golf tour that operated from 1925 to 1975. Demas charts how African Americans nationwide organized social campaigns, filed lawsuits, and went to jail in order to desegregate courses; he also provides dramatic stories of golfers who boldly confronted wider segregation more broadly in their local communities. As national civil rights organizations debated golf’s symbolism and whether or not to pursue the game’s integration, black players and caddies took matters into their own hands and helped shape its subculture, while UGA participants forged one of the most durable black sporting organizations in American history as they fought to join the white Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA).

Game of Privilege is available now in both print and e-book editions.

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Tiger Woods and his career are officially history.

No, this is not another mean-spirited screed; a sportswriter proclaiming the once-greatest golfer can barely hit the ball today, a tabloid promising more lurid details on the star’s “shocking” downfall, or another fan angry that people still care when Woods is now just the such-and-such ranked golfer in the world. (#987, as of this writing)

Can they really not understand why we’re still interested in Tiger? Do they really prefer to read about #986? (No offense to Mr. Jake Roos of South Africa, I’m sure he’s an interesting guy.)

At any rate, I have no idea what the future holds for Tiger Woods on the golf course. I won’t even speculate. What I do know is that the recent attention surrounding his personal and professional “decline” led to a missed opportunity, for this past April marked the twentieth anniversary of his first victory at the world’s most important golf event: The 1997 Masters Tournament at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club. Yes, it’s been twenty years since 44 million U.S. viewers watched 21-year-old Tiger dominate the field, win his first major championship, and tearfully embrace his father Earl on the eighteenth green.

So whether or not his golf career is history, it’s at least time to consider Tiger Woods as history.

Continue Reading Lane Demas: Tiger Woods and his career are officially history

Eve E. Buckley: Science and the Challenges of Social Transformation

Technocrats and the Politics of Drought and Development in Twentieth-Century Brazil by Eve E. BuckleyToday we welcome a guest blog post from Eve E. Buckley, author of Technocrats and the Politics of Drought and Development in Twentieth-Century Brazil, on drought and regional development in Brazil.

Eve E. Buckley’s study of twentieth-century Brazil examines the nation’s hard social realities through the history of science, focusing on the use of technology and engineering as vexed instruments of reform and economic development. Nowhere was the tension between technocratic optimism and entrenched inequality more evident than in the drought-ridden Northeast sertão, plagued by chronic poverty, recurrent famine, and mass migrations. Buckley reveals how the physicians, engineers, agronomists, and mid-level technocrats working for federal agencies to combat drought were pressured by politicians to seek out a technological magic bullet that would both end poverty and obviate the need for land redistribution to redress long-standing injustices.

Technocrats and the Politics of Drought and Development in Twentieth-Century Brazil is available for now in both print and e-book editions

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Science and the Challenges of Social Transformation—Drought and Regional Development in Brazil

In most people’s minds Brazil evokes images of tropical florescence—the Amazon’s rivers and forests, Rio de Janeiro’s artfully designed gardens, coastal beaches lined with palm trees. But the country also has a substantial semi-arid region subject to periodic drought. The sertão of the interior northeast has posed a challenge for Brazilian nation-builders since the late-nineteenth century. Its mixed-race inhabitants of native, African and Portuguese descent rebelled against governing authorities at several points (the most famous of which is depicted in Euclides da Cunha’s epic Os Sertões, published in 1902). Particularly from the 1870s onward, severe droughts precipitated calamitous mass migrations and famine. Even today the sertão remains an area of extreme poverty and minimal state presence; many young sertanejos leave their homes for urban capitals that they hope will offer economic security, settling in the infamous favela slums of Brazil’s major cities.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, bolstered by the success of urban renovations in Rio de Janeiro that improved port sanitation and public health (at least for the middle and upper classes), Brazil’s government determined to undertake scientific development of the sertão. Over the subsequent century, sanitarians, civil engineers, agronomists and economists surveyed the region and applied a range of technological prescriptions that they hoped would remedy the sertão’s various ills. Their plans were modeled on regional development efforts elsewhere in the world, particularly those undertaken in the British and French empires and in the southern and western United States. These middle class Latin American technocrats believed firmly that modern science and technology could remake the sertão’s landscape and, in short order, its culture and economy. Yet they were repeatedly disappointed. Technocrats and the Politics of Drought and Development in Twentieth Century Brazil aims to understand why.Continue Reading Eve E. Buckley: Science and the Challenges of Social Transformation