7 Questions

Five Question for Jennifer A. Jones, author of “The Browning of the New South”

June 20, 2019
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Studies of immigration to the United States have traditionally focused on a few key states and urban centers, but recent shifts in nonwhite settlement mean that these studies no longer paint the whole picture. Many Latino newcomers are flocking to places like the Southeast, where typically few such immigrants have settled, resulting in rapidly redrawn communities. In this historic moment, Jennifer A. Jones brings forth an ethnographic look at changing racial identities in one Southern city: Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  To get a better sense of what inspired Jones to focus her book on this particular city, we sent her a few questions recently about her research. How did you come to follow the line of research that forms the backbone of The Browning of the New South?  In some ways, I came to the research that forms the backbone of The Browning of the New South by accident. I consider myself a race scholar, and for my MA research I had done some ethnographic research on group identity formation among multiracials. I was really interested in how race gets made and wanted to pursue another project that helped me explore that process. I came to Winston-Salem to do research because . . .

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Six Questions for Hollis Clayson, author of Illuminated Paris

May 18, 2019
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Six Questions for Hollis Clayson, author of Illuminated Paris

To celebrate International Museum Day on May 18th, we sent professor of art history and the Bergen Evans Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University, Hollis Clayson, a handful of questions about art and the city of light. Let’s start at the beginning: what sparked your interest in the nighttime illumination of Paris? Was there an artwork, or a trip to the city, that started your research? The book grew out of my interest in the topic of Americans especially artists in Paris which of course grew out of my experiences (from wonderful to terrible) as an American in Paris, an American billing herself as an “expert” on French culture. At the beginning of the enterprise, I was initially focused exclusively on Mary Cassatt (who figures prominently in the book and in other essays of mine), but the light angle only really dawned when I saw a painting in storage at the old Terra Foundation Museum of American Art on Michigan Ave., which is on the cover of the book: Charles Courtney Curran, Paris at Night, 1889.   It made me start asking questions about the American imagination of the Paris night and how it differed from the conception of the modernity . . .

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5 Questions for Robin Wolfe Scheffler, author of “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine”

May 16, 2019
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5 Questions for Robin Wolfe Scheffler, author of “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine”

In his new book, A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine, Robin Wolfe Scheffler explores the United States’s century-long search for a human cancer virus and reveals the ways in which the effort, while ultimately fruitless, profoundly shaped our understanding of life at its most fundamental levels. We sent Scheffler a few questions to learn more about his research, his motivations for writing the book, his recent reads, and more.  How did you wind up in this academic field, and what do you love about it? A British scientist named CP Snow once claimed that the sciences and humanities were two separate cultures, but I’ve never felt that way. I studied history and chemistry as a student at the University of Chicago. I was drawn to these two subjects because they each connected things—chemistry bridged biology and physics, history bridged the humanities and the social sciences. I explored everything from the economic geography of grain elevators to the mathematical modeling of dimerization before a professor suggested to me that studying the history of science might allow me to connect all of my interests. He was right!   Years later I still enjoy working in . . .

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5 Questions for Connie Voisine, Poet and Author of The Bower

April 25, 2019
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In honor of National Poetry Month, we sent Phoenix Poet Connie Voisine a few questions to delve into her writing and reading life and her thoughts on poetry today. Describe your ideal reader. My ideal reader never changes (ideal is ideal), but the person I write to is quite specific and variable. My old mentor, James McMichael, recommended directing a poem to a specific person, to make it rhetorically focused, urgent. I have some writer friends who represent the best of poetry with their rigor, intelligence, wit, and devotion to craft, and to each I have addressed poems and whole books to. My last book, however, was for the reader my daughter will be some day . . . to thank her. Do you see poetry as having a “moment” right now? And if so, why? I can’t answer that question. Probably. But I am more curious about what the moment produces than what generated it. I used to teach a group of women writers whose average age was perhaps 80. Those women could really read poems because they had done it all their lives. I could throw anything at them—language poetry, conceptual poetry, spoken word, as well as John . . .

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5 Questions for Karen Routledge, author of “Do You See Ice?: Inuit and Americans at Home and Away”

April 24, 2019
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Many Americans imagine the Arctic as harsh, freezing, and nearly uninhabitable. But as Karen Routledge shows in Do You See Ice?, the living Arctic—the one experienced by native Inuit and others who work and travel there—is a diverse region shaped by much more than stereotype and mythology.  We sent Routledge some questions recently to delve into exactly how she came to study this unusual topic. How did you end up working as a professional historian, and what do you love about it? I’m a historian for Parks Canada, the Canadian national park service. I was lucky to end up here. When I was a graduate student, I thought I wanted a tenure-track job, and feared I’d be a failure if I didn’t get one. Near the end of my PhD, a Parks Canada historian (my now-colleague Meg Stanley) told me they were hiring. I realized I badly wanted the job. Thankfully I got it, and I’ve been here since 2010. This has ended up being an ideal job for me. I love that Parks Canada projects can reach a wide audience, and that so many local people and visitors are passionate about our sites. I work mostly on project teams . . .

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7 Questions for Andrew Hartman, author of A War for the Soul of America

April 9, 2019
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When it was published in 2015, Andrew Hartman’s history of the culture wars was widely praised for its compelling and even-handed account. Yet, what received nearly as much attention was Hartman’s declaration that the culture wars were over—and the left had won. In the wake of Trump’s rise, which was driven in large part by aggressive fanning of those culture war flames, Hartman has brought A War for the Soul of America fully up to date for this second edition, which look towards the signs of a new politics to come. We sent him a few questions recently to find out what it feels like to be wrong and what he sees for the future. The first edition of A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, argued that the culture wars had basically played themselves out. There would still be skirmishes, but the larger struggle had reached its endpoint, and that endpoint represented an overwhelming victory by the left. Two months after the book was published, Donald Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce he was running for president. So . . . how’s it feel to be wrong? Ha! Well, it’s . . .

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5 Questions for Joy McCann, author of Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean

March 27, 2019
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In her new book, Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean, Joy McCann reveals the secrets of elusive Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean, weaving together sea captains’ journals, whalers’ log books, explorers’ letters, scientific research, and ancient beliefs with her own travels there while researching the book. We sent McCann a few questions recently to learn more about her motivations for writing the book. First, just where is the Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean? This might seem a straightforward question of geography, but you explain in the book that the exact borders have actually been contested since the early twentieth century. The simple answer is that the Southern Ocean flows completely around the Antarctic continent in the high southern latitudes, uninterrupted by any landmass. Unlike the Arctic region, where ocean is surrounded by land, the Antarctic region comprises land surrounded by ocean and encircled by twenty tiny sub-Antarctic island groups. It is the world’s only circumpolar ocean, and it was formally recognized as the world’s fifth major ocean in 2000 because of its distinctive physical and biological characteristics. As I discuss in Wild Sea, however, the question of Southern Ocean geography is complicated. The northern limits of the ocean are indistinct . . .

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