Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Read an Excerpt from “The Importance of Being Urban” by David A. Gamson

August 19, 2019
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Read an Excerpt from “The Importance of Being Urban” by David A. Gamson

Summer days are slipping away and back-to-school season is upon us. With that in mind, we’ve put together this short excerpt from David A. Gamson’s The Importance of Being Urban: Designing the Progressive School District, 1890-1940. The book focuses on four western school systems—in Denver, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle—and their efforts to reconfigure public education. In an era of accelerated immigration, shifting economic foundations, and widespread municipal shake-ups, reformers argued that the urban school district could provide the broad blend of social, cultural, and educational services needed to prepare students for twentieth-century life. These school districts were a crucial force not only in orchestrating educational change but in delivering on the promise of democracy. The anomalous expansion of cities, no matter how celebrated by urban boosters, nevertheless troubled educators who worried about the unique hazards that the urban environment posed to growing children. The agrarian traditions that had once anchored country life had already begun to slip away, sparking anxiety among many late nineteenth-century educators, who feared the negative consequences that might befall pupils who were reared away from the natural world. For their part, university-based researchers called for investigations into the impact that urban influences had on the mental . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion”

August 13, 2019
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Although Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) was one of the most famous scientists in the world at the time of his death at the age of ninety, today he is known to many as a kind of “almost-Darwin,” a secondary figure relegated to the footnotes of Darwin’s prodigious insights. But this diminution could hardly be less justified. Research into the life of this brilliant naturalist and social critic continues to produce new insights into his significance to history and his role in helping to shape modern thought. Wallace declared his eight years of exploration in Southeast Asia to be “the central and controlling incident” of his life. As 2019 marks one hundred and fifty years since the publication of The Malay Archipelago, Wallace’s canonical work chronicling his epic voyage, read on for an excerpt from the editors’ introduction to An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion—a collaborative, interdisciplinary new book that celebrates Wallace’s remarkable life and diverse scholarly accomplishments. Although Wallace’s four years in the Amazon Valley had convinced him he was on the right track as regards a causal relationship between geography and evolution, his thoughts on the mechanism of transmutation had actually not advanced much, nor did he now have collections . . .

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5 Questions with Colin Koopman, Author of “How We Became Our Data”

July 29, 2019
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From banking to social media, our lives are becoming ever-more entwined with our data, and questions about the truthfulness and privacy of our records feel increasingly pressing. In his new book, How We Became Our Data, Colin Koopman takes us back to where this explosion of record-keeping all started. To understand more about our data and why it’s so important, we asked Colin a few questions. He shows us how central data is to so much of our lives and what it has to do with cultural phenomena from redlining to The Great Gatsby and Buzzfeed quizzes. First, can you give us a quick introduction to the “informational person” —who does this term describe? Informational persons live through, are recognized by, and reflect on themselves in terms of their data. How We Became Our Data describes how, in a period of a few quick decades in the early twentieth century, it became obligatory for us to live as informational persons. Why does this matter for us now? In short, because we are poignantly aware of how much of our lives are today transacted in terms of data. Consider social media selfhood and mass surveillance dossiers as two convenient exemplars. The . . .

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What Atari and the “Worst Video Game of all Time” Can Teach Us About the Crisis in American Public Service

July 24, 2019
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What does American public service have in common with a hastily produced video game adaptation of Spielberg’s E.T.? If you’ve endured the DMV—or, really, any overworked government office—you might find it difficult to identify which was described as “a confusing mess that left frustrated and disoriented.” No, this isn’t a Yelp review of the USPS; it’s NPR’s take on the 1982 video game, published on the film’s thirty-fifth anniversary. Like the American government, Atari had to defend against a serious reputation crisis. E.T. would change how people saw Atari, and the company found it difficult to correct that perception despite the later success of Q*bert and Ms. Pac-Man. Today, the government faces the similar challenge of changing people’s minds about the quality of public services with serious consequences in some cases for its continued ability to provide them, including to those without access to private-sector alternatives. The following is an excerpt from Good Enough for Government Work: The Public Reputation Crisis in America (And What We Can Do to Fix It) by Amy E. Lerman, where she describes what happened at Atari and what the “worst video game of all time” can teach us about American public service today. . . .

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Summer Book Club Feature: Five Questions with Jennifer Jordan, Author of “Edible Memory”

July 16, 2019
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Now that the dog days of summer are truly upon us, we hope you’re staying cool lakeside or under a shady umbrella with our summer #ReadUCP Twitter book club pick, Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods by Jennifer Jordan. And if you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s not too late! We’re reading throughout July and August, so there’s plenty of time for reading in-between watering your tomato and pepper plants or checking out the latest at the farmers’ market. (And there’s a handy discount code below.) Though we’ll soon be announcing dates for our Twitter chats with Jennifer, we decided to get things started with a few questions about what inspired her interest in heirloom foods and what’s next on her plate. Where did your interest in heirloom fruits and vegetables come from? I’d say it came from two sources, one personal, one sociological. I’ll submit this photo as evidence of the personal part. I grew up in California in the 70s, and my parents (both teachers) had a cooperative garden when I was tiny. Amazingly, one of the babies I grew up with ALSO became a sociology professor! So my childhood was surrounded . . .

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It’s Independence Day! Read an Excerpt from “Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose”

July 4, 2019
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In the years after the Revolutionary War, the fledgling republic of America was viewed by many Europeans as a degenerate backwater, populated by subspecies weak and feeble. Chief among these naysayers was the French Count and world-renowned naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, who wrote that the flora and fauna of America (humans included) were inferior to European specimens. Thomas Jefferson spent years countering the French conception of American degeneracy. The American moose, which Jefferson claimed was so enormous a European reindeer could walk under it, became the cornerstone of his defense. Convinced that the sight of such a magnificent beast would cause Buffon to revise his claims, Jefferson had the remains of a seven-foot ungulate shipped first class from New Hampshire to Paris. Unfortunately, Buffon died before he could make any revisions to his Histoire Naturelle, but the legend of the moose makes for a fascinating tale about Jefferson’s passion to prove that American nature deserved prestige. In Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose, first published in 2009 and reissued in paperback this year, Lee Alan Dugatkin vividly recreates the origin and evolution of the debates about natural history in America and, in so doing, returns the prize moose to its rightful place in . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Edible Memory,” Our Summer Book Club Pick

July 1, 2019
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Today is the first day of our seasonal Twitter book club #ReadUCP. For our first pick, we invite you to join us throughout July and August to read and discuss Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Vegetables and Other Forgotten Foods by Jennifer A. Jordan, while sharing stories and photos from our gardens, markets, kitchens, and plates. To get things started, here’s a little homegrown taste of what you’ll find inside the pages. Forgetting Turnips What kinds of changes have vegetables undergone over time? And what are the fates of particular vegetables in this era of heirloom food? When I began my search in mainstream food writing for coverage of forgotten turnips, celery, and other less glamorous vegetables, I found very little. Particular blogs, authors, and chefs zeroed in on particular heirloom vegetables at various moments, but there was no comparison with the coverage of heirloom tomatoes or apples. My initial inclination was to think that this silence reflected forgetting. But in fact these supposedly forgotten vegetables inspire extremes of devotion in some seed savers, gardeners, and farmers, and it is to these people (more than to urban diners and famous chefs) that they owe their survival. My research into . . .

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Nine Tips from Wendy Laura Belcher, author of “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks”

June 25, 2019
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January 1 might be the traditional time for resolutions, but the summer often brings on the warm-weather resolve to finally get some writing done, especially from those who see a dip in workload or other requirements this time of year. At the same time, the summer is full of distractions that offer easy excuses to put writing goals off until another day—sometimes until Labor Day suddenly arrives. Wendy Laura Belcher is the author of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks and is an expert on helping academics finish their writing projects. Here she offers nine tips on how to motivate yourself to finally sit down and get writing. Many academics find sitting down at the computer and starting to write to be the most difficult challenge facing them. One of the reasons for this, as one of my students put it so well, is that “if I never start, then I never fail.” Another is getting out of the habit of writing—or never having had a writing habit. While tough to overcome, this obstacle does have some straightforward solutions. Make other tasks contingent on writing An excellent way of dealing with the difficulty of getting started is to make . . .

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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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Read an Excerpt from “Redefining Success in America: A New Theory of Happiness and Human Development”

June 17, 2019
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In recent months, the news has been filled with the ongoing fallout of a college admissions scandal in which dozens of wealthy parents—including Hollywood stars—stand accused of bribing their children’s way into elite undergraduate institutions, presumably in a bid to guarantee them long-term success. But while the salacious combination of celebrity, money, and crime has consumed our attention, we’ve ignored some important central questions: Are the beliefs that motivated the purported crimes based in reality? Do an elite education and a successful career really guarantee a fulfilled, happy life? In his timely new book, interdisciplinary psychologist Michael B. Kaufman shows us that the answer is an emphatic “No.” Returning to the legendary Harvard Student Study of undergraduates from the 1960s and interviewing participants almost fifty years later, Kaufman reveals that formative experiences in family, school, and community largely shape a future adult’s worldview and well-being by late adolescence, and that fundamental change in adulthood, when it occurs, is shaped by adult family experiences, not by ever-greater competitive success. As the Harvard Class of 1964 at the heart of the study celebrates fifty-five years since graduation, and as controversy continues to swirl over college admissions and the long-term value of an . . .

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