Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit

A variety of factors contributed to the explosion of weight loss culture during and after the Great War, and one especially potent factor was the creep of metrics into daily life. The application of calories to food in the late nineteenth century and the emerging discipline of statistics resulted in well-publicized comparisons of food consumption and body weights between individuals and across populations. At the same time, life insurance statistics were revealing new correlations between excess weight and chronic disease. More and more Americans, meanwhile, were purchasing newly affordable home scales and buying their clothing ready-made, and thus increasingly thinking of their bodies in terms of numbers and sizes instead of, say, just making clothes to fit their individual bodies. Moreover, metrics grew more prevalent in daily life just as the motion picture industry was taking off and as a visually oriented print media continued to expand. Handed the tools to make physical comparisons, Americans eagerly made them. The growing ease of numerical and visual comparisons contributed directly to the valorization of thinness. But what accounts for the moral stigma that leeched onto the idea of being overweight? The answer lies at the heart of the Progressive ideology of self-control, a value that transcended the Progressive Era itself, both supporting and thriving within the enduring associations between thinness, willpower, and beauty. Continue Reading Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit

Angela Pulley Hudson: On Racial Passing, Posing, and Posturing

Dolezal’s purported blackness (and Indianness) was not a temporary costume, but was more like the racial shifting that anthropologist Circe Sturm and a number of other writers have outlined and it is not uncommon in the history of the United States. In Real Native Genius, I examine this phenomenon through the lives of Okah Tubbee and Laah Ceil, two apparently non-Native people who remade themselves as Indians during the mid-19th century. Like Dolezal, Laah Ceil was raised as a white woman, and the two cases raise similar questions. Why would a white woman abandon the abundant privileges of whiteness to pass as a racial minority, particularly given the long and brutal histories of white supremacy and settler colonialism that did and do endanger people of color? What combination of fantasy and necessity enabled their transformation? What benefit(s) did/do they derive from their imposture? Continue Reading Angela Pulley Hudson: On Racial Passing, Posing, and Posturing

Interview: Cecelia Tichi on Jack London’s Fight for a Better America

Gina Mahalek: Jack London is well known for his adventure novels, like The Call of the Wild. But apart from tales such as the one about a dog in the Yukon, who was he? And why does he matter today?
Cecelia Tichi: Jack London (1876-1916) was the most popular U.S. writer of the early 20th century, the first to earn $1 million. In a career spanning twenty years, he published fifty books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous essays. His books sold well internationally and have been translated into several languages. He continues to be one of the most famous and esteemed writers in the world—arguably better known and respected abroad than here in the United States. Continue Reading Interview: Cecelia Tichi on Jack London’s Fight for a Better America

Excerpt: Hotel Life, by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl

The hotel’s ability to foster trust and nurture people who are otherwise temporarily homeless and dependent has been a long-standing feature of the modern landscape, and this functionality makes the hotel an irresistible magnet for those across the entire socioeconomic spectrum. Kay Thompson famously captured the hotel’s imaginative allure for the vulnerable wealthy in her 1955 fabulously popular Eloise stories, and the resulting marketing of these stories as a distinguishing feature of the hotel she—and her creator—called home attests to the hotel’s ability to incubate new kinds of identity and self-making even for those guests who seem to have it all. A ward of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, the six-year-old Eloise roams the hallways of one of the world’s finest hotels, her mother perennially absent. Without the protecting spaces provided by the hotel’s public and private venues, Eloise would be alone in a dangerous and unprotecting world, but in the generative habitus of the hotel she invents a world rich with play at self-making. Continue Reading Excerpt: Hotel Life, by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl

Excerpt: Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist, by Randy D. McBee

Stories such as this one about middle-class riders making motorcycling respectable were common in the early 1960s. Their arrival both coincided with and was the product of the introduction of the Japanese Honda into the American marketplace. Yet despite the enthusiasm that greeted the middle-class rider, ambivalence and frustration also surrounded him. These were serious riders, or so they claimed, yet their critics found it all too easy to dismiss them as “casual” motorcyclists. If anything, their struggle to overcome this claim made their impact on motorcycling more conspicuous than it might have been otherwise, and it brought the issue of class to the fore. Continue Reading Excerpt: Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist, by Randy D. McBee

Helen Zoe Veit: The Great War and Modern Food

One thing World War I doesn’t bring to mind is food. But it should, because during World War I the rise of industrial food processing, nutrition science, and America’s first food aid program revolutionized American food on almost every level. World War I made food modern, and understanding how that happened is key to understanding food today. Continue Reading Helen Zoe Veit: The Great War and Modern Food

Excerpt: The Lives of Chang and Eng, by Joseph Andrew Orser

The Siamese twins had long been used ironically as symbols of American nationalism. The earliest pamphlet about the twins published in the United States in the early 1830s featured a title page image of a flying eagle carrying a banner that read “E Pluribus Unum,” and beneath that was the phrase, “United We Stand.” This appeared opposite a frontispiece that pictured the twins as dark-skinned boys wearing queues and loose Oriental garments. The 1836 pamphlet published under the twins’ direction similarly featured a bald eagle clutching the national shield, beneath which were the words “Union and Liberty, one and inseparable, now and forever.” Analyzing the Siamese twins and American identity, scholar Allison Pingree argued that these exhibition booklets, which juxtaposed the parlance of the day describing conjoinedness—“united brothers” or “united twins”—with the symbolism of the American eagle holding an “E Pluribus Unum” banner in its beak, were playing to political concerns of the period. Even as nationalists appropriated the bond to symbolize union, proponents of states’ rights could claim that “connecting the states too closely was ‘monstrous’ and excessive.” Continue Reading Excerpt: The Lives of Chang and Eng, by Joseph Andrew Orser

Interview: David Gilbert on the birth of the Manhattan musical marketplace

Gina Mahalek: What was the Manhattan Musical Marketplace that you discuss in your book?

David Gilbert: This is a term that I coined to explain the historical formation of New York City as the center of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. I think that many music fans, musicians, and scholars kind of take for granted that NYC has always been America’s capital of popular entertainment, and I wanted to tell the story about how this came to be. Rather than assume Broadway Theater and Tin Pan Alley song publishing just naturally developed into leading culture industries, I want to call attention to the moment in which these spaces—and their connotations—developed. And I want to emphasize African Americans’ roles in creating both New York’s unique culture markets and important facets of American popular culture. Continue Reading Interview: David Gilbert on the birth of the Manhattan musical marketplace

David Gilbert: Who Owns Black Culture?: Racial Appropriation and the Marketplace

The reason social critics and entertainers still point out white appropriation when they see it is because the American public, and its leaders, have not matured the way black music and culture have. Even though millions of whites may profess to love and respect black music, their daily decisions—and those of their elected and institutional leaders—indicate that they do not love black people. Continue Reading David Gilbert: Who Owns Black Culture?: Racial Appropriation and the Marketplace

Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl: A Third Way

Our decision to focus on the inner life of hotels might seem rather whimsical, but it wasn’t. The truth is, we were looking for the right instrument, for an angle on contemporary life that we could use to materially anchor our ongoing conversations about modernity, power, and release, about race, class, gender, and globalization, about a whole lot of things. Getting to the hotel—and getting to that moment of realization at the ZaZa—took us a year or two of back-and-forth in the off hours. Sitting down that day, ticking off on our fingers those points of shared concern, we finally got it; we simply looked around and recognized that we were surrounded by a weird, fascinating material object, with its own culture and politics, an object that could capture all of these dynamic points. A waitress brought us coffee with a flourish, and a small clutch of brown sugar nuggets appeared on the table, with a small silver spoon. Why not, we thought, try to write about all of that? Continue Reading Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl: A Third Way

Interview: Charles L. Hughes on Country Soul

Musically, there continues to be a deep stylistic overlap between country and soul. Some of the biggest country stars of today utilize the sounds and songs of R&B, while many contemporary soul and hip-hop artists (particularly from the South) bring the characteristics of country onto their records. Then there are the folks in the middle—many of whom, like Jason Isbell or Valerie June, are from the triangle—who draw from both traditions and blend them together in new and interesting ways. It remains one of the deepest wells of American music. Continue Reading Interview: Charles L. Hughes on Country Soul

Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir

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. Continue Reading Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir

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

Contemporary documentary projects such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York thrive today in a spirit similar to that which led the vision of the Federal Writers’ Project and These Are Our Lives. They remind us that every life has a story, and every story matters. Continue Reading Video: Celebrating 75 Years of ‘These Are Our Lives’

Announcing a new book series: Studies in United States Culture

Studies in United States Culture will publish provocative books that explore United States culture in its many forms and spheres of influence. Under the series umbrella, UNC Press seeks interdisciplinary work characterized by big ideas, brisk prose, bold storytelling, and methodological sophistication. Continue Reading Announcing a new book series: Studies in United States Culture

Interview: Marcie Cohen Ferris on The Edible South

Southern cuisine was a key component in historic preservation efforts in the early twentieth century to promote and sell the South and its racial mores to both tourists and locals. Through constructed memories of southern food from the plantation to the mountain South, sophisticated campaigns were launched to promote the “taste” of the Old South in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Lowcountry flavors of Savannah and Charleston, the fashionable Creole cuisine of New Orleans, and the “authentic” “hillbilly” and “Highlands” foods of the mountain South. Continue Reading Interview: Marcie Cohen Ferris on The Edible South

Save 40% on ‘A History of the Book in America’ 5-volume set

The 5-volume set of ‘A History of the Book in America’ is now available in paperback at a special discounted price. Don’t miss out on this limited-time offer. Buy the set and save big! Continue Reading Save 40% on ‘A History of the Book in America’ 5-volume set

Excerpt: Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women, by Blain Roberts

On the whole, black southern women forged a more intimate—and more active—relationship with the burgeoning world of beauty than did white southern women. Continue Reading Excerpt: Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women, by Blain Roberts

Excerpt: Common Threads, by Sally Dwyer-McNulty

In this excerpt from Common Threads by Sally Dwyer-McNulty, she explains the difficulty for women religious to assimilate into broader American culture and fashion. Continue Reading Excerpt: Common Threads, by Sally Dwyer-McNulty

Interview: Deirdre Clemente on Fashion Trends and College Students

College students were a primary part of the push towards casual dress—there were other factors, including Hollywood and the rise of California as a fashion trendsetter, for example. But college students had the critical mass to initiate widespread change. In many ways they were the foot soldiers of casual dress. In addition to having the numbers, college students lived in a largely self-regulated environment that allowed them to flout convention. Their fashion choices were not driven by social standards prescribed by parents or fashion editors. Rather, they chose clothing that was practical and comfortable—and those two qualities have come to define the modern American wardrobe. Continue Reading Interview: Deirdre Clemente on Fashion Trends and College Students

Angie Maxwell: The Long Shadow of Scopes

When Bryan agreed to assist the prosecution in the 1925 Scopes trial that would test the Butler Act’s ban of the teaching of evolution in Tennessee, he was anything but new to the debate. Despite his progressive political record on issues such as women’s suffrage, Bryan’s swan song as an anti-evolution crusader was zealous and emphatic. He argued, wrote, and perhaps believed, that this single issue would erode American faith. For Bryan there was no middle, and his readers need only choose sides. His widespread essay on the subject was titled “The Bible and its Enemies,” and he considered the cause the greatest reform of his life. Science and even the experts who defense attorney Clarence Darrow had attempted to call at the trial, were adversaries in a zero-sum game that the world was watching. Continue Reading Angie Maxwell: The Long Shadow of Scopes