History

The Democratic Surround

February 24, 2014
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The Democratic Surround

The jacket copy for Fred Turner’s The Democratic Surround summarizes the book:

In this prequel to his celebrated book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Turner rewrites the history of postwar America, showing how in the 1940s and ’50s American liberalism offered a far more radical social vision than we now remember.

One of the tricks of writing jacket copy, of course, is condensing the voluminous particularities of scholarship into an affable soundbite that neither undermines the intelligence of its reader nor offends the sensibilities of its author, who is most often the expert on her particular topic. The copy for Turner’s book is a classic example of this—and the excerpt below, from a recent post at Public Books, demonstrates just how much depth informs that single, sparse sentence. This is nothing new: the marketing of scholarly works has been around at least as long as the 1771 edition of  Encyclopedia Brittanica and parallels roughly the development of industrial capitalism. Maybe it is because I’m a fan of Turner’s work that I find the pantomime between what’s printed on the jacket and what informs that encapsulation so fascinating—or perhaps it is . . .

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Michael Kammen (1936–2013)

December 19, 2013
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Michael Kammen (1936–2013)

Michael Kammen (1936–2013)

“Underpinned by exhaustive research and abundant documentation, Professor Kammen’s books, essays and criticism—he was a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and other publications—were noteworthy for remaining accessible to the general reader. His work, which stood at the nexus of history, folklore, psychology and sociology, helped cast the form of the modern scholarly field known as memory studies.”

This clip, culled from the New York Times obituary, helps contextualize the prolific contributions of Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, American culture scholar, and longtime Cornell University professor Michael Kammen, who passed away earlier this month after a long illness.

The Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture emeritus at Cornell University, Kammen authored more than a dozen volumes situated between history, remembrance, and the composition of American character, including People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, which won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for history. In addition to his frequent scholarship and journalistic contributions,  Kammen also served as past president of the Organization of American Historians (1995–96) and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His final book Digging Up the . . .

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Excerpt: Looking for Strangers

December 5, 2013
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Excerpt: Looking for Strangers

An excerpt from Looking for Strangers: The True Story of My Hidden Wartime Childhood by Dori Katz

INTRODUCTION

I knew it was my mother when the telephone rang that morning, not only because she always called me around that time on Sundays, but also because I thought the ring sounded angry and reproachful.

“So, you’re really going to Belgium,” she said, wasting no time for introductory niceties when I picked up the phone.

“Hi, Mom, fine—thanks, and you?” I answered, and then told her that I hadn’t changed my mind. She repeated all the objections she had already voiced when I stated my intentions to search for the strangers who had hidden me during the war. She reminded me that it had been over forty years ago. “You were a child then; for you, it was nothing,” she told me. “You can’t possibly remember anything about that time; those people did it for money. What makes you think they’ll be glad to see you ? Besides, they’re probably dead by now.”

“I don’t care,” I replied. “I want to find . . .

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The Kennedy Assassination, boomers, and TV journalism

November 22, 2013
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The Kennedy Assassination, boomers, and TV journalism

Among the literature surrounding the assassination of JFK and its establishment as a cultural hallmark for baby-boomers, Barbie Zelizer’s Covering the Body occupies a unique space. For these boomers, coming of age on the cusp of resurgent neoliberalism, our then-burgeoning involvement in Vietnam, the rise of televised mass media, and an engulfment in social protests that attempted (some successfully) to engender change in the struggle for civil, racial, and gender rights, JFK’s assassination was and remains a memento mori for all sorts of abandoned ideals, fraught causes, would-be and could-be scenarios, as well as a dark reminder of both whispered conspiracies and also how acts of violence distort our desire for meaning in a randomized universe. Anyhow: I teach conspiracy in the context of an art school as a nostalgia-driven metanarrative and secular form of maximalist knowing, something akin to Wallace Stevens’s sense of a “supreme fiction,” mixed with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s notions of paranoid and reparative readings. Conspiracy theory—the cultural circulation of doubt that surrounds determinate events and indeterminate context—lets us perform a profound and manic kind of grief-work about the systems that fail to position us in knowing and trusting relation to them. With regard . . .

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J. Carter Brown and Capital Culture

November 18, 2013
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J. Carter Brown and Capital Culture

Neil Harris’s Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience tells the story of J. Carter Brown, an aesthetic impresario whose tenure as director of the National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992 transformed twentieth-century museum culture and left a legacy of flashy showmanship, global clout, and unprecedented growth. Below follows an excerpt from the book, taken from the chapter “Minister of Culture: Shaping Washington,” which finds Brown positioning his roles at the National Gallery and the Commission of Fine Arts into something akin to an unofficial minster of culture.

***

Writing to Carter Brown in 1960, in response to the news of his planned move to Washington, his friend Tony Athos ventured a prediction. The presidential campaign was still going on, but Athos prophesied that when “we get a President who can provide moral, intellectual as well as economic leadership, I have no doubt that you will be the youngest cabinet member in history & the first for culture.” Despite John F. Kennedy’s election, the United States would not create a cabinet position for culture. But beginning in the 1970s, . . .

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Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto

October 18, 2013
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Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto

Camilo José Vergara is the kind of person of whom it might be said, “the epithet ‘polymath’ wouldn’t be cliché.” His photographic work, which often applies a time-lapsed and documentary style to the de-urbanization of American cityscapes, is both complicated and mirrored by his interests as a sociologist and ethnographer, themselves often focused on fracture, erosion, decline, and transformation. In 2002, he won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” which cemented his reputation as one of our foremost chroniclers of the “urban.” His most recent book Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto, sees him returning to many of the same locations over the course of decades (beginning in 1970) in order to document a community that is constantly changing, demographically and architecturally.

From a recent Publishers Weekly starred review of the book:

MacArthur Fellowship recipient Vergara’s archival stills are full of movement; the historic Baby Grand becomes King Party Center, a gift store, and then a Radio Shack. An ordinary address, 65 East 125th Street, first photographed in 1977, is transformed over the course of 13 photographs, becoming the Grocery Candy Smoke Shop, then a Sleepy’s, and finally, in 2011, a . . .

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Notre Dame Football and eighteenth-century revolutionary ephemera

October 9, 2013
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Notre Dame Football and eighteenth-century revolutionary ephemera

Actual page from a program distributed by the University of Notre Dame at the Michigan State–Notre Dame game on September 21, 2013, with FEATURED ACADEMIC Julia V. Douthwaite, professor of French and Francophone studies and expert on the French Enlightenment, the Revolution, and French–English relations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—

From Douthwaite’s The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France:

Consider a Juicy Couture print advertisement of 2010. A Marie Antoinette look-alike with an enormous pink hairdo stares out at viewers dolefully. She is cradling, with one hand, a huge bottle of perfume that has a bird perched on top, and gesturing suggestively, with her other hand, to her nether parts. This portrait’s subtle repurposing of the Greuze painting Jeune Fille qui pleure son oiseau mort (1765) or the eighteenth-century motif of a girl lamenting her pet bird’s demise or escape (read her lost virginity) makes a provocative commentary on the queen’s rumored promiscuity while inviting consumers to try it on for themselves. Or consider the bizarrely menacing “Napoleonic” ad campaign for Dolce and Gabbana clothing launched in 2006, one of whose advertisements showed two . . .

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The Rise of Secularism

July 19, 2013
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The Rise of Secularism

When it comes to American religious history, few books have caused as much debate as John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America. In the book, Modern uncovers surprising connections between secular ideology and the rise of new technologies that opened up new ways of being religious in the nineteenth century, and he challenges the strict separation between the religious and the secular that remains integral to the discussions of religion we engage in today. The Immanent Frame describes the debate thusly:

Modern’s understanding of secularism and his argument that mid-nineteenth century American religious movements are in some sense responsible for the secularizing ethos which the majority of them opposed. From Modern’s perspective secularization represents not the separation of the religious from the profane but the opportunity for religion to discover within the secular its true meaning.

Religion thus confronts modernity not by disappearing but inventing modern figures to adapt to the novelty of the technological age, and to redefine itself.  Perhaps Modern’s most compelling example of these claims is mid-nineteenth century American evangelicalism—specifically its reliance on modern media and technologies.

At last fall’s American Academy of Religion conference, the book was the subject of a panel . . .

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Edmund S. Morgan, 1916-2013

July 10, 2013
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Edmund S. Morgan, 1916-2013

We are saddened to hear of the passing of award-winning historian Edmund S. Morgan (1916-2013) this week. Over his sixty-year career, Morgan authored many books on the history of colonial and Revolutionary America that became required reading for students of history. The University of Chicago Press has been proud to publish one of these, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, since 1956. Now in its fourth edition, The Birth of the Republic remains the classic account of the beginnings of American government. This edition features a foreword by Joseph J. Ellis, who lauded Morgan’s achievements in the book and in his impressive career:

Apart from its uplifting argument, part of the appeal of The Birth of the Republic is its prose style, which is blissfully bereft of academic jargon, sophisticated but simple in a way that scholarly specialists find impressive and ordinary readers find comprehensible. Morgan makes the story he is telling take precedence over the note cards he has assembled. He regards narrative as the highest form of analysis, and he has a natural gift for telling a story, silently digesting mountains of historical evidence to produce the distilled essence of the . . .

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Carole Emberton on Paula Deen, SCOTUS, and the VRA

June 26, 2013
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Carole Emberton on Paula Deen, SCOTUS, and the VRA

In a recent piece for the History News Network, scholar Carole Emberton (whose Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South published this month) takes on the Paula Deen controversy, both prior to and in light of SCOTUS’s recent decision on the Voting Rights Act:

For the past few days, there has been much ado about Paula Deen’s use of a certain racial epithet. It’s not much ado about nothing, however, as many of her defenders would like to us believe. This incident, along with a seemingly unrelated case now before the Supreme Court, challenge our understandings of what history is and what it means for the nation’s political life.

Both Deen and her defenders plead her case by arguing that she is old and southern and therefore cannot help using such language. Her great-grandfather owned slaves. She grew up under Jim Crow. “She’s just from another time,” concluded one patron of her popular restaurant. Perhaps it is ironic that the patron was of the race that bears the stigma of the racial epithet that the chef admitted using. Perhaps not. For both Deen and her unlikely defender, the past is like . . .

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