Blog Archives

7 Questions with David Sepkoski, author of “Catastrophic Thinking”

November 23, 2020
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7 Questions with David Sepkoski, author of “Catastrophic Thinking”

We live in an age in which we are repeatedly reminded—by scientists, by the media, by popular culture—of the looming threat of mass extinction. Such apocalyptic talk feels familiar to us, but the current fascination with extinction is a relatively recent phenomenon. As David Sepkoski reveals, the way we value biodiversity depends crucially on our sense that it is precarious—that it is something actively threatened, and that its loss could have profound consequences. In his new book, Sepkoski uncovers how and why we learned to value diversity as a precious resource at the same time as we learned to think catastrophically about extinction. We asked him a few questions about it. In the book, you explain how an “extinction imaginary” helps inform the way we see and value the world around us. Can you give us a quick introduction to that term? A central claim of this book is that scientific ideas and cultural values can’t be cleanly separated: science doesn’t “cause” us to believe certain things about society or politics, nor do political or social values “explain” particular scientific theories. Rather, the science and culture of a particular place and time are tightly interwoven and reinforce each other by . . .

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RaiseUP: Read an Excerpt from “Hearing Happiness” by Jaipreet Virdi

November 13, 2020
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Emphasizing the role that university presses play in elevating authors, subjects, and whole disciplines that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe, the Association of University Presses has chosen “Raise UP” as the theme for this year’s University Press Week, which runs through November 15. “Raise UP” is a particularly apt theme in a time when information moves at faster speeds than ever before across all platforms. It’s critical that scholarship about the most important ideas of the day is nurtured, championed, and made widely available.  We’re proud to participate in the UP Week blog tour, along with our colleagues at the University of Notre Dame Press, the University of Alberta Press, the University Press of Florida, University of South Carolina Press, Bristol University Press, Amsterdam University Press, University of Toronto Press, Bucknell University Press, Vanderbilt University Press, University of Minnesota Press, Harvard University Press, and Columbia University Press, to honor today’s theme of “Active Voices.” What follows is a powerful excerpt from the Introduction to Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History by Jaipreet Virdi, a historian and truly inspiring and active voice for disability rights and awareness. At the age of four, Virdi’s world went . . .

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How What We Eat Has Shaped Our World

November 9, 2020
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How What We Eat Has Shaped Our World

As we enter the holiday season, many of us are beginning to plan festive meals to share with our family and friends (virtual turkey-carving, anyone?). Visions of roasted meats, fresh breads, heirloom vegetables, herbs, spices, and sweet sweet pies abound. But what shaped our modern diets? Why do we eat what we eat, and what does the cultivation of our menus look like? We checked in with the authors of a range of foodie tomes to hear their response to a central question: how has food production and consumption shaped our modern world? Carolyn Cobbold, author of A Rainbow Palate: How Chemical Dyes Changed the West’s Relationship with Food “Man-made chemical additives and industrialization have democratized food consumption by bringing cheaper products with a longer shelf life to more people. At the same time, our trust in food, producers, and science has diminished. We fret about not knowing the provenance of our food while forgetting that billions of people can now eat like kings in cities devoid of farms. We worry about the long-term impact of consuming food filled with synthetic chemicals, but we forget that modern preservatives help to kill the bacteria that rots food and makes us ill. . . .

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What We Can Learn from Election Day 2020

November 4, 2020
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While it may be a while before we learn the final results of Election Day 2020, there is still much that gleaned from the returns to date. Four of our political science authors share their initial takeaways from the outcome so far. Michelle Oyakawa, coauthor of Prisms of the People: Power & Organizing in Twenty-First-Century America From the 1980s forward, the United States government has been increasingly controlled by corporations and the super-rich, who have used their power to institute policies that serve their interests. This has resulted in a highly unstable economy and society, where most workers, through no fault of their own, are unable to forge a secure, decent quality of life. This is not the fault of Republicans or Democrats alone, both parties’ leaders are subservient to super wealthy donors. No matter who ultimately wins the presidential election, the US government will face a crisis of legitimacy driven by the basic realities of extreme inequality, an out-of-control pandemic, and escalating ecological crises because of unchecked climate change. The answers for how to solve these huge problems will not come from researchers in think tanks, academics, pundits on cable news, or members of the existing political establishment. Elites . . .

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A Look Inside “Matisse: The Books” with Louise Rogers Lalaurie

November 2, 2020
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Louise Rogers Lalaurie’s Matisse: The Books is a lavishly illustrated exploration of Henri Matisse’s livres d’artiste, or “artist’s books,” that brings new clarity to the artist’s life and work. Lalaurie recently visited the retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in honor of Matisse’s 150th birthday and here shares her experience of the extraordinary works on display. Art lovers everywhere know the feeling: the thrill of an eagerly anticipated exhibition or permanent collection, as you enter and glance around, spotting shapes, colors, and motifs you may never have met in person but know from photographs, or last saw years ago in another place, or have never seen before all together in the same room. It’s like walking into a party—a distant memory in the weird world of 2020, but one that springs to mind as I follow Marine Prévot, press officer at the Centre Pompidou Paris, from the staff entrance opposite the Tinguely/Saint-Phalle fountain on Place Stravinsky, through a backstage labyrinth of wooden crates. We emerge into Matisse, comme un roman (“Matisse, like a novel”), the 150th birthday retrospective that was planned for spring of this year and postponed until now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gathered in a space with magnificent . . .

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Meet Mary Al-Sayed, Our New Editor for Anthropology & History

October 30, 2020
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We’re excited to welcome Mary Al-Sayed, who recently joined the Press as editor in the Books Division, acquiring new titles in anthropology and history. Mary comes to us from Palgrave Macmillan, where she was senior editor for anthropology, sociology, and migration studies. Ordinarily, we would look forward to introducing Mary in person at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), where you’d have the opportunity to chat with her directly about her interests. Alas, here we are. AAA will be virtual, as will our booth. But we didn’t want you all to miss the chance to get to know Mary, so we’ve put together this little Q & A. Enjoy the interview, and then click through to our Virtual AAA booth to browse the latest, best books in the field, which are available for 40% off with free shipping. We’ll look forward to seeing you in person at next year’s AAA! What are you looking for in a book, and what kind of project gets you excited? I approach most proposals with a really rude question in mind, one that my mother forbade me from asking around second grade: “So what?” (Yes, I was an obnoxious child.) Most proposals an . . .

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A Very October Reading List

October 21, 2020
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In numerous cultures, it is believed, even celebrated, that with the arrival of autumn, the veil between the living world and what lies beyond grows thin—from Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, in Mexico and Spain; to Fed Gede, or Festival of the Ancestors, in Haiti; to Yu Lan, or the Hungry Ghost Festival, in China; to Halloween in the United States. While each holiday is nuanced and unique, October welcomes traditions around the globe that center on mortality. As spirits, ancestors, ghosts, and ghouls parade into our earthly realm, we offer a reading list that will invite you to consider death and dying from a wide variety of vantage points. Is the Cemetery Dead? by David Charles Sloane In modern society, we have professionalized our care for the dying and deceased in hospitals and hospices, churches and funeral homes, cemeteries and mausoleums to aid dazed and disoriented mourners. But these formal institutions can be alienating and cold, leaving people craving a more humane mourning and burial process. Is the Cemetery Dead? gets to the heart of the tragedy of death, chronicling how Americans are inventing new or adapting old traditions, burial places, and memorials. In illustrative prose, . . .

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5 Questions for Catherine Zabinski, author of “Amber Waves: The Extraordinary Biography of Wheat, from Wild Grass to World Megacrop”

October 15, 2020
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It’s harvest season! What better time to dip into agricultural history? Wheat was one of the first domesticated food crops, and for roughly 8,000 years it has been a dietary staple in Europe, West Asia, and North Africa. Today, wheat is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop, and it continues to be the most important food grain for humans. A plant this prolific surely deserves its own biography. In Amber Waves, Catherine Zabinski invites us to follow the evolutionary journey of wheat while exploring its symbiotic relationship with humans. We are introduced to the habits and history of this member of the grass family, how it lives, how it thrives, and how it arrived at its current form. We learn how our ancestors discovered and exploited the grain, which went on to be foundational to the development of civilization—from the wild grasses first cultivated in the Fertile Crescent to the ancient empires that sought to control its production. And in modern times, we discover wheat’s role in the Green Revolution and contemporary efforts to produce a perennial form. From the origins of agriculture to gluten sensitivities and genetic engineering, Amber Waves sheds new light on how . . .

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A “Louder than Bombs” Playlist

September 28, 2020
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Ed Vulliamy’s memoir Louder than Bombs: A Life with War, Music, and Peace, tells the stories of the artists, songs, and concerts that influenced him most. In his career as a journalist and war correspondent, Vulliamy has traveled the globe, bearing witness to many of the most important political and musical moments of the past fifty years. This playlist plays tribute to just a few of the many songs mentioned in Louder than Bombs. It follows some of Vulliamy’s favorite musical memories: Buying blues records in Chicago, working as an extra in the Vienna State Opera’s production of Aida, drinking coffee with Joan Baez, listening to Jimi Hendrix playing “Machine Gun” at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, and seeing B. B. King perform live in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi in 2013. Listen below or at Spotify Read an excerpt from Literary Hub: Everybody’s Here for Mr. B.B. King in Indianola, Mississippi: Ed Vulliamy Feels the Love for the King of the Blues Ed Vulliamy is a former reporter for the Guardian and Observer. He is the author of Amexica: War Along the Borderline and The War is Dead, Long Live the War—Bosnia: The Reckoning. Louder than Bombs is available now from our website or your . . .

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Town Hall: Political Scientists Look Toward the Presidential Debates

September 25, 2020
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With the first presidential debate rapidly approaching, many questions are zipping through voters’ minds. What is the most important topic for them this election? How will they even manage to vote safely during a pandemic? And, if they could, what question would they ask at a town hall debate? We reached out to three of our political science authors to find out which question they would like to ask the candidates. Hahrie Han, coauthor of Prisms of the People: Power and Organizing in the Twenty-First Century One of the greatest challenges in contemporary politics is the broken link between people and government. Even though democracy is supposed to be “of, by, and for” the people, what we find is that government is often unresponsive both to public opinion and people’s activism. How do the candidates think about their own accountability to the public? I would ask, “Elected officials often seem to use people as props instead of being willing to enter into a true relationship of mutual accountability. At best, elected officials treat the public merely as data points for information and input. What mechanisms would you create to ensure that the people affected by the policies you proposed had . . .

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