History

Alice in Space (in Nature)

November 30, 2016
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Alice in Space (in Nature)

Gillian Beer wrote “History: Untangling Alice” for Nature, synthesizing some of the research from her book Alice In Space, which examines the Alice books by Lewis Carroll via the immediate context in which they landed: the 1860s, a decade rife with new languages and concepts drawn from scientific, linguistic, and educational developments. (Note: this book is so great!) In Beer’s words: When I started writing it more than a decade ago, I wondered how far intuition and familiarity with Victorian intellectual culture should take me in asserting Carroll’s participation in the ideas thronging around him. I had to rely on the Alice books for evidence of allusion and parodies. Now I have a fuller picture of how Carroll used fantasy to pursue thoughts — on radical mathematics and Boolean logic, for example — that he constrained in his professional life as a devout Euclidean. The Victorian culture within which the Alice books were written is largely invisible to us now. It was a period of immense intellectual upheaval in fields from mathematics to language theory, evolution and education. Carroll slips these ideas into the layers of his jokes, sliding infant puns above learned references. He had a teasing openness to the ideas being pursued by his contemporaries . . .

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Free e-book for November: Carl H. Nightingale’s Segregation

November 3, 2016
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Free e-book for November: Carl H. Nightingale’s Segregation

Our free e-book for November is Carl H. Nightingale’s Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Read more and download your copy below: When we think of segregation, what often comes to mind is apartheid South Africa, or the American South in the age of Jim Crow—two societies fundamentally premised on the concept of the separation of the races. But as Carl H. Nightingale shows us in this magisterial history, segregation is everywhere, deforming cities and societies worldwide. Starting with segregation’s ancient roots, and what the archaeological evidence reveals about humanity’s long-standing use of urban divisions to reinforce political and economic inequality, Nightingale then moves to the world of European colonialism. It was there, he shows, segregation based on color—and eventually on race—took hold; the British East India Company, for example, split Calcutta into “White Town” and “Black Town.” As we follow Nightingale’s story around the globe, we see that division replicated from Hong Kong to Nairobi, Baltimore to San Francisco, and more. The turn of the twentieth century saw the most aggressive segregation movements yet, as white communities almost everywhere set to rearranging whole cities along racial lines. Nightingale focuses closely on two striking examples: Johannesburg, with its state-sponsored separation, and . . .

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The Fixers on the Leonard Lopate Show

November 2, 2016
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The Fixers on the Leonard Lopate Show

  The Fixers: Devolution, Development, and Civil Society in Newark, 1960–1990 chronicles the sociocultural revelations behind three decades of change and tumult that manifested in Newark, New Jersey’s postwar decline—and the coalitions of residents, lay activists, public housing policy advocates, black nationalists, white Catholic priests, and other “fixers,” who fought to organize their communities as a form of resistance. Recently, the book was a topic on the Leonard Lopate Show, where author Julia Rabig expanded upon the roles of these individuals in transforming a limited welfare state into a series of collective causes. To listen to streaming audio from the broadcast, click below: To read more about The Fixers, click here. . . .

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Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China (Forthcoming 2017)

September 12, 2016
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Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China (Forthcoming 2017)

Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China won’t publish in North America until March of 2017, but the book is already making waves (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) in the UK, where it was recently profiled by the Economist: THE Chinese mental compass is oriented not north-south as with the rest of the world, but west-east—a consequence of tectonic forces that threw up mountains in inner Asia from which rivers seek a course down through China to the sea. “Twisting around ten thousand times but always going eastward,” said Confucius: it seemed a law of nature. Philip Ball argues in his new book, “The Water Kingdom”, that the two greatest waterways, the Yellow river that flows across the north China plain and the Yangzi that charges through the heart of the country, are both “symbols of the nation” and, for millennia, have been the “keys to its fate.” . . . Nearly all cultures have flood myths and legends. China’s are unusual in that at the heart of them are the engineering challenges of flood control. The first attempts to tame the Yellow river are ancient; the huge Three Gorges dam, which a decade ago turned a fast-flowing stretch into a reservoir the size of . . .

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Our free e-book for August: Rising Up from Indian Country

August 1, 2016
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Our free e-book for August: Rising Up from Indian Country

Our free e-book for August is Ann Durkin Keating’s Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago. Download your copy here. *** In August 1812, under threat from the Potawatomi, Captain Nathan Heald began the evacuation of ninety-four people from the isolated outpost of Fort Dearborn to Fort Wayne, hundreds of miles away. The group included several dozen soldiers, as well as nine women and eighteen children. After traveling only a mile and a half, they were attacked by five hundred Potawatomi warriors. In under an hour, fifty-two members of Heald’s party were killed, and the rest were taken prisoner; the Potawatomi then burned Fort Dearborn before returning to their villages. These events are now seen as a foundational moment in Chicago’s storied past. With Rising up from Indian Country, noted historian Ann Durkin Keating richly recounts the Battle of Fort Dearborn while situating it within the context of several wider histories that span the nearly four decades between the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, in which Native Americans gave up a square mile at the mouth of the Chicago River, and the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, in which the American government and the Potawatomi . . .

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In memoriam: William H. McNeill (1917–2016)

July 19, 2016
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In memoriam: William H. McNeill (1917–2016)

William H. McNeill (1917–2016)—historian, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago (where he began teaching in 1947), and prolific scholar—died July 8, 2016, at age 98. One of his most notable works, The Rise of the West: A History of Human Community, was the first University of Chicago Press title to win a National Book Award, and is often considered a major force in resituating “western” civilization in a more global context. From the New York Times: Professor McNeill’s opus, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963), took 10 years to write. It became a bestseller, won the National Book Award for history and biography and was lauded in the New York Times Book Review by the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. “This is not only the most learned and the most intelligent,” he wrote, “it is also the most stimulating and fascinating book that has ever set out to recount and explain the whole history of mankind.” McNeill went on to write several books for the University of Chicago Press, including Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081–1797; The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000; The Islamic World (coedited with Marilyn Robinson Waldman); Hutchins’ University: A Memoir of the University of . . .

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Love Game in the New York Times

June 10, 2016
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Love Game in the New York Times

From a recent review of Elizabeth Wilson’s Love Game: A History of Tennis from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon (or, In Defense of Scholarly Publishing) in the New York Times: Wilson drop-shots mini-essays on broader intellectual topics like corporate dominance (“McDonaldization”) into the mix, and occasionally hits the mark, as in a paragraph on punk culture: “When Nastase and Connors brought the spectators into the drama this was a distinctly punk tactic, whether they realized it or not.” Caveat emptor for tennis fans, however: It’s an indication of the content and tone of the book that the Baader-Meinhof Group receives two mentions while the late tennis writer, historian and commentator Bud Collins shamefully gets none. No shame in the Indexical Cultural Context (Love) Game. To read more about Love Game, click here. . . .

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Rachel Havrelock on the Sykes-Picot Agreement for Foreign Affairs

May 26, 2016
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Rachel Havrelock on the Sykes-Picot Agreement for Foreign Affairs

  The Sykes-Picot Agreement, ratified on May 16, 1916, was a concord developed in secret between France and the UK, with acknowledgement of the Russian Empire, that allocated control and influence over much of Southwestern Asia, carving up and establishing much of today’s Middle East, along with Western and Arab sociopolitical tensions. The real reason for the divide? The region’s petroleum fields, and the desire to share in its reserves, but not its pipelines. Rachel Havrelock’s book River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line considers the implications of yet another border in the region, the river that defines the edge of the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible—an integral parcel of land for both the Israeli and Palestinian states. With her expertise in the ideologies that undermine much cartography of the region (her book includes a map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement’s splitting of territories), Havrelock understands how the demarcation of influence was central to the production of very specific oil-producing nation states. In a recent piece for Foreign Affairs, appearing a century after the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Havrelock writes about the potential for the region to remake itself, in the self-image of its peoples and their local resources: The dissolution of oil concessions could hold the key to . . .

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Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives

May 20, 2016
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Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives

Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives at Hyperallergic: Okay, but when she dismisses a detractor’s charge that “nothing happened in France in ’68. Institutions didn’t change, the university didn’t change, conditions for workers didn’t change — nothing happened,” I have to wonder. Yes, something happened in the moment, with echoes that went on resonating for a few more years — but really, what long-term upshot did it have? That it’s hard to point to one is sobering, and to brush that aside seems to me too much like turning an uprising into (an unfortunate understanding of) a work of art: useless, complete in and of itself, to be admired, wondered at, and taken as exemplary. From May ’68 to the Arab Spring and Occupy, these beautiful apparitions, so easily quashed, can seem in retrospect a great argument for Leninism, and I can’t help sympathizing with, of all people, the embittered Maoist veteran of May, quoted by Ross, who came away from it with the lesson: “Never seize speech without seizing power.” Except that anyone who thinks they know how to do that is probably deluded. To read the Hyperallergic piece in full, click here. To read more about May ’68 and . . .

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Andrew R. Highsmith on the crisis in Flint

February 10, 2016
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Andrew R. Highsmith on the crisis in Flint

Below follows an excerpt from “Flint’s toxic water crisis was 50 years in the making,” Andrew R. Highsmith’s op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, which builds on the scholarship of his book Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis. Read his piece in full here. *** As with so many environmental disasters, this one was preventable. Evidence suggests that the simple failure to use proper anti-corrosive agents led to the leaching of lead into the city’s water. It has also become apparent that the slow responses of local, state and federal officials to this crisis — as well as their penchant for obfuscation — prolonged the lead exposure. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that Flint’s predicament is simply the result of government mismanagement. It’s also the product of a variety of larger structural problems that are much more difficult to untangle and remedy. Over the past three-quarters of a century, waves of deindustrialization, disinvestment and depopulation eviscerated Flint’s tax base, making it all but impossible to improve — or even maintain — the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Flint — which once claimed 200,000 residents — now contains fewer than 100,000, nearly half impoverished, more than half African American. . . .

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