History

Magic, Mayhem, and Maps in the Harlem Jazz Age

October 10, 2018
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  Historian Susan Schulten takes us on a deep dive into the fascinating story behind a favorite map from her new book, A History of America in 100 Maps. In 2016, the Beinecke Library at Yale University paid $100,000 to add Elmer Simms Campbell’s energetic profile of interwar Harlem to its celebrated collection of black history and culture. The Library described Campbell’s image as a “playful rendering” of the age, but it also captures the complex dynamics that made Harlem the cultural capital of black America. Campbell’s success may even have surprised him. After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, he moved to Manhattan in 1929 to seek work, though faced a string of rejections due to his race before catching a break at the newly founded Esquire magazine in 1933. For the next four decades, Campbell supplied the magazine with cartoons and illustrations that shaped its knowing, urban, and often cheeky sensibility. Though he initially struggled to find work, Campbell immediately found in Harlem’s jazz scene. He quickly befriended Cab Calloway, who, along with Duke Ellington, presided over legendary performances at the Cotton Club. The men became drinking buddies and regulars at Harlem’s famed clubs and speakeasies, all of . . .

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Trapped in an inescapable flood of information – it’s sink or swim

September 26, 2018
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Trapped in an inescapable flood of information – it’s sink or swim

Has there ever been an era in human history in which communication slowed down? Or is the increasing rate at which information is shared a historical constant? My money’s on the latter. In attempting to navigate the flood of information online, which seems in no danger of slowing down, it’s pretty much sink or swim. So why not invest some time checking out Professor of Education and History at Stanford University Sam Wineburg’s new book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone). Confronting head-on the deluge of information that modern technology has made available, and offering crucial tips for navigating it, Wineburg’s book is of value to citizens and students alike, offering readers a tool set for vetting and verifying the myriad sources of information we encounter online, while laying bare the many rhetorical devices used to spin and bias purportedly factual information. Recently Slate magazine has invested a decent sized chunk of their online real estate to what Wineburg has to say, with an eye-opening interview with the author as well as an excerpt from his new book in which Wineburg offers an insightful and penetrating critique of Howard Zinn’s classic, A People’s History of the United States. Wineburg . . .

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Free eBooks from The University of Chicago Press – Building the American Republic, Volumes 1 and 2

January 10, 2018
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Free eBooks from The University of Chicago Press – Building the American Republic, Volumes 1 and 2

Donald Trump takes the podium outside the Capitol Building to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States–freeze frame, record scratch, cue up the intro to that one song by The Who, and a narrator chimes in: “Now I bet you’re wondering how we ended up here?” Flashback to a bunch of seasick Europeans disembarking from their ship on the eastern shores of the new world–to the surprise and perhaps amusement of some of the locals who are just out for a stroll. And so begins the first volume of our magisterial new two-volume history of the United States, Building the American Republic. Okay, that’s not really how it starts–but it totally should be if anyone ever wants to option the television rights! Right now though you can see how the books really begin yourself by downloading the e-books of both volumes at buildingtheamericanrepublic.org absolutely free. With the need for an informed electorate more clear now than ever, these books, written by two of the foremost experts on American history working in the field today, are an indispensable asset in understanding America’s past and present, and what can be done to guarantee its future. At a time when knowledge . . .

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Going home for the Holidays? Take Scott Tong’s Fascinating Family History with You.

December 15, 2017
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Going home for the Holidays? Take Scott Tong’s Fascinating Family History with You.

Looking for something to listen to on the long road/flight/L ride to Grandma’s house? Well look no further, because Marketplace correspondent Scott Tong has been hitting the podcast circuit in the past week to promote the publication of his new book A Village with My Name: A Family History of China’s Opening to the World. In the tradition of Marketplace‘s fascinating coverage of the latest topics in business and economics, Scott Tong’s book takes an intimate look at China’s long and challenged ascendancy to the global political and economic powerhouse that it is today, as told through the life stories of members of his own extended family. The recent Marketplace interview with Kai Ryssdal does a great job of summarizing the book, touching on most of its most salient points, while a longer interview with Tong on the Sinica podcast (Warning: Contains spoilers) should get you most of the rest of the way to Grandma’s. Tong is also doing quite a few book signings and events early in the New Year, including one in DC on the 3rd and one in San Francisco on the 9th. Check out the UCP author events calendar for more upcoming dates on Tong’s book tour. . . .

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Our Latest Longest War . . . still going on

August 23, 2017
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Our Latest Longest War . . . still going on

On Monday night, President Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, where American forces have been fighting since late 2001. He gave few details, but the general indication was that the war would go on–with possibly as many as 4,000 additional troops–and that the strategy wouldn’t differ markedly from those followed by the Bush and Obama administrations. Aaron O’Connell, retired Marine lieutenant colonel, Afghan war veteran, and the editor of our collection of analysis of the Afghan war by those who have fought it, Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, talked with NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday. That was before the president’s speech, but O’Connell had a sense of what he was likely to say, and he wasn’t impressed: Nobody thinks 5,000 more troops is going to end the war in Afghanistan. For context, we have about 8,400 American troops there now. And at the height of the surge in 2011, we had 100,000. So adding 5,000 more won’t end the war. The hope is that it will buy the Afghan government a bit more time to bring the Taliban to a negotiated peace, or at least to halt the loss of momentum and halt the Taliban advance. . . .

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You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

July 23, 2017
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You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

Well, define “news.” Because what we have to offer is nearly a century old–but it’s also little known. Over at Aeon, Julia Mickenberg has written a piece drawing on her book American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream about the almost unknown stories of the many American women who moved to the young Soviet Union in the early part of the twentieth century in search of a better life. Most of these were ordinary women, tempted by promises of greater freedom, more equality, and a broader spectrum of rights than they could have in the United States at the time. But a few were famous–including dancer Isadora Duncan; you can read about her Soviet years in  an excerpt from the book at Lapham’s Quarterly. See? Nary a word about secret meetings, dodgy dossiers, or anything contemporary. It’s okay sometimes to live in the past–especially when that past reminds you of long-forgotten (if ultimately tragic) dreams of the future. . . .

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The Real Million Dollar Baby

June 23, 2017
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The Real Million Dollar Baby

“Claressa Shields is the Real Million Dollar Baby,” Sarah Deming’s piece from our new anthology The Bittersweet Science: Fifteen Writers in the Gym, in the Corner, and at Ringside, first ran at Deadspin. Here’s an excerpt from that essay below. More at Deadspin, of course. *** Claressa Shields was born in Flint, Mich., the middleweight champion of hard-luck towns. Her dad was an underground fighter called Cannonball who went to prison when she was two. Her mother was an imperfect protector. When Cannonball got out, Claressa was nine years old and already a survivor. Father and daughter drove around Flint in his big burgundy van, trying to make up for lost time. Cannonball told Claressa it was a shame nobody else in the family boxed. All the Shieldses could fight; most of the men had gone to jail, and some of the women, too. He said prison was a cycle somebody had to break. He said it was sad how Muhammad Ali had all those sons and none of them followed him into the ring. “Laila did,” said Claressa. “She’s a bad girl,” said Cannonball. Claressa thought he was telling her to box. Her favorite cartoon was The Powerpuff Girls, about three little superheroines who . . .

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Supersizing Urban America

May 19, 2017
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Supersizing Urban America

Here’s a clip from a recent Huffington Post interview with Chin Jou, author of Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food with Government Help, after the jump. *** Your book begins with an excerpt from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation discussing the role the SBA has played in the fast-food industry’s expansion. Why did this capture your curiosity? Why did you feel this was a story worth telling? I reread the Fast Food Nation excerpt in 2010. At the time, I was studying the history of obesity as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, so obesity was on my mind a lot. The Fast Food Nation excerpt, which was about the federal government’s loan guarantees to fast-food franchises, struck me because it occurred to me that such policies may have inadvertently and indirectly contributed to the obesity epidemic ― an epidemic that the government was in the process of trying to reduce with initiatives like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move.” The notion that the government may have indirectly contributed to the obesity epidemic was not a new idea ― Michael Pollan is perhaps most famously associated with promulgating the idea that agricultural subsidies for crops like corn and soy contribute to the relatively low . . .

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Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves

May 17, 2017
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Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves

Below: an excerpt from the NYRB review of Marie Jenkins Schwartz’s Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves. *** In 1794, a year after her husband John Todd died, Dolley Payne Todd married James Madison. She had grown up in a modest, slave-owning family in Virginia, though her Quaker parents liberated their five slaves while she was in her teens. But when Dolley and her young son Payne Todd moved to Montpelier, Madison’s Virginia estate, where more than a hundred slaves worked, she took to the part of plantation mistress as though she had been born to it. Fully engaged in running her household, she supervised the domestic slaves and even monitored some who toiled outside—field workers and artisans. Not least, like all other plantation mistresses, she was the “keeper of the keys,” a position, Schwartz notes, founded on the premise that slaves would steal anything they could if given the chance. For that infraction, Dolley once resorted to temporarily banishing her maid Sukey from the mansion. Years later, Madison expressed sympathy for the arduous tasks performed by women like his wife. According to the English writer Harriet Martineau, who visited Montpelier in 1835, the former president said, with an obtuseness . . .

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Colin Dickey on Hilda Kean’s The Great Cat and Dog Massacre

May 12, 2017
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Colin Dickey on Hilda Kean’s The Great Cat and Dog Massacre

After the jump: an excerpt from Colin Dickey’s review of Hilda Kean’s The Great Cat and Dog Massacre, at the Los Angeles Review of Books.  *** Pets were like members of the family, and it is here that the real truth of the matter may emerge. In the run-up to the war, many parents spoke candidly of how they would poison their own children rather than force them to live under German occupation. “I have been collecting poisons for some time with guile and cunning,” one housewife reported to the social research project Mass-Observation. “I have sufficient to give self, husband and all the children a lethal dose. I can remember the last war. I don’t want to live through another, or the children either. I shan’t tell them, I shall just do it.” Her sentiment was echoed by numerous others in Britain that summer before the war. “I’d rather see my two boys dead,” a 45-year-old father said. “I’d poison them if I thought it was coming.” When war came, however, no mass murders of children took place. Instead, it appears, many people sublimated this impulse toward mercy killing by exercising it on their animals instead. The mass poisoning of children, . . .

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