Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Read an Excerpt from “The Teaching Archive”

December 3, 2020
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As students and teachers look ahead to another semester of remote instruction, many are also thinking back fondly to gathering in classrooms for lively collaborations and discussions. With The Teaching Archive, Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan turn their attention to the classroom, reminding us that the classroom has long been a site of innovation and that the contributions of students themselves are far more intertwined in the history of literary studies than we might imagine. With their innovative new book, Buurma and Heffernan open up “the teaching archive”—the syllabuses, course descriptions, lecture notes, and class assignments—of notable critics and scholars, showing how students helped write foundational works of literary criticism and how English classes at community colleges and HBCUs pioneered the reading methods and expanded canons that came only belatedly to the Ivy League. The Teaching Archive rewrites what we know about the discipline and will be an invaluable resource as we enter a new decade of instruction and scholarship. Read on for an excerpt from the introduction of The Teaching Archive: A New History for Literary Study by Rachel Saagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan or click here to read the introduction in full. A New Syllabus In this . . .

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The Making of a Magazine: A Dialogue with the Team Behind “The Point”

December 1, 2020
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The Making of a Magazine: A Dialogue with the Team Behind “The Point”

Highlighting the first decade of Chicago-based philosophical magazine The Point, The Opening of the American Mind brings together responses to some of the most significant events and issues of the last ten years. We spoke with some of The Point’s team to hear more about the new book, their current work, and how this whole project got started. To learn more about The Point, check out their website: https://thepointmag.com/ First of all, could you each say what your roles are at The Point? Jonny Thakkar: I am one of the editors. This involves a mixture of tasks. Sometimes I’m the lead editor on a piece, in charge of communication with an author, and other times I’m supporting the lead editor of a piece by giving line edits or a second opinion. I have to be on the lookout for potential writers and also for themes and topics that we might want to cover in some way. Finally, I’m also involved in strategic decisions regarding the development of the magazine and its place in the cultural landscape. Anastasia Berg: Like Jonny, I’m also an editor. I solicit and edit pieces for the print magazine and our website and am involved in . . .

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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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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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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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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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Four Questions with Joshua Gunn, author of “Political Perversion”

September 23, 2020
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As election season progresses, we spoke with Joshua Gunn, author of Political Perversion: Rhetorical Aberration in the Time of Trumpeteering. Below, he discusses political rhetoric, structural perversion, public affect, and what Trump (and his Twitter) reveals about American culture. First of all, what got you started on writing this book? Political Perversion originally started as an essay I was writing on the television series, American Horror Story. For a couple of years after the show debuted, I was trying to make sense of why horror television series were turning to perverse scenarios (explicit S&M), perverse villains (Hannibal), and perverse anti-heroes in prime time (Dexter). We have long been used to perversity in cinema—right down to the basic voyeurism of staring at actors in the dark. As a fan of horror, however, this newer prime-time perversity, intended for viewing in more intimate spaces, says something about cultural shifts.   So, after researching the way perversion was discussed in various fields and in popular parlance, I started writing about horror TV around the same time that Trump announced his candidacy. I was watching one of the Republican presidential candidate debates (the one that ultimately orbited around a penis-size repartee), and then it . . .

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5 Questions with Alexander Wragge-Morley, author of “Aesthetic Science: Representing Nature in the Royal Society of London, 1650–1720”

September 10, 2020
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In his new book, Aesthetic Science, Alexander Wragge-Morley explores scientific representation in the early modern period and shows us how vital the role of subjective experience is to the communication of knowledge about nature. It’s a fascinating, groundbreaking reconsideration of the role of aesthetic experience in the history of the empirical sciences, and we sent him a few questions about it. In Aesthetic Science, you explore the relationship between sensory experience and the production of knowledge. What drew you to the topic? What do you like about it? I’d say that there’s a lot to like when you think about the relationship between sensory experience and the production of knowledge. To start, the issue is obviously fundamental—and I like fundamental issues. I don’t think you can give a good account of knowledge production unless you think hard about how the senses—with all the feelings they provoke—give us access to the external world. What’s more, that fundamental question allows you to think about the history of science in new ways. By focusing on how the scientists of seventeenth-century England related to sensory experience, I was able to pull a wide range of disciplines together—disciplines that are usually studied separately. In Aesthetic . . .

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