History

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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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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Six Questions with Thomas Milan Konda, author of “Conspiracies of Conspiracies”

September 3, 2020
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The viral spread and increasing normalization of incendiary conspiracy theories have been one of the most dismaying and dangerous trends in recent American political life. The QAnon conspiracy is most prominent of today’s Internet-borne fringe theories: its influence has even reached the seats of national governmental power, with at least ten current Republican Congressional candidates expressing support for it. We spoke at length with Thomas Milan Konda, author of Conspiracies of Conspiracies: How Delusional Thinking Has Overrun America—called “the most detailed genealogy of American conspiracy theories yet written” by the American Historical Review—to gain some perspective on our current conspiracy crisis. The QAnon conspiracy is increasingly in the news these days—a formerly fringe phenomena that has now wormed its way into the mainstream. How does its rise fit in with what we know about how conspiracy theories work? How conspiracy theories “work” is really two questions: what is their appeal and how are they spread? Their appeal is always the same, and in this regard QAnon works the same way its predecessors did. Its three-part argument is the one that has always shored up conspiracy theories: (1) An insidious, powerful elite (2) secretly manipulates our various institutions from behind the . . .

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Read Excerpts from “The Province of Affliction” by Ben Mutschler

August 31, 2020
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The following are two excerpts from Ben Mutschler’s recent publication, The Province of Affliction: Illness and the Making of Early New England.  The book explores the place of illness in everyday life—the ways in which it shaped families and households and became bound up in governance at all levels. The passages below draw from the introduction to a chapter on smallpox and the politics of contagion, followed by a small portion of a case study based on the diary of Ashley Bowen.  The sailor, ship rigger, painter, poet, husband, and father chronicled the ravages of smallpox as it burned through his town of Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1773—an event at once terrifying and all-too-common in early New England. Perhaps no other affliction in eighteenth-century New England received the attention given to smallpox. Even the most laconic of diarists noted its presence and charted its approach; others devoted entire journals to its rages. Letters written from infected areas to relatives, friends, and business partners survive despite authors’ pleas to burn such material lest the virulent distemper spread further. Newspapers reported on outbreaks throughout the Atlantic world. Chronologies of significant events compiled at the end of almanacs memorialized serious epidemics. Legislative records reveal extensive . . .

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Book Trailer: Hearing Happiness

August 21, 2020
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We're excited to share the book trailer for historian Jaipreet Virdi's new book, 'Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History'! . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Crusade for Justice” by Ida B. Wells, Born on This Day in 1862

July 16, 2020
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Read an Excerpt from “Crusade for Justice” by Ida B. Wells, Born on This Day in 1862

Today marks the 158th birthday of journalist, activist, and civil rights icon Ida B. Wells-Barnett, born into slavery in Missouri on July 16, 1862. Wells, posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for her “outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching,” left a legacy that endures today alongside the continued fight for racial justice. Nearly a century after her death, her work, rather than echoing the past, holds a mirror to contemporary society. She continues to teach us about the hard work of social change and the long road that still lies ahead. As Eve L. Ewing writes in the foreword: “Generations after the passing of Ida B. Wells, her battle continues. We still fight in defense of Black people’s basic humanity, our right to a fair application of the laws of the land, and our right to not be brutally murdered in public. In light of this continued struggle, maybe we don’t need more moving oratory or another inspirational fable about mythological people. Maybe we just need the whole truth.” Today, in celebration of her birthday, we offer “The Tide of Hatred,” an excerpt from Crusade for . . .

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Can We Fill Our Empty Streets?: Brian Ladd on the Role of Streets in City Life

July 9, 2020
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Can We Fill Our Empty Streets?: Brian Ladd on the Role of Streets in City Life

With social distancing protocols in place and many businesses temporarily closed, the current pandemic has drastically changed the public lives of our cities. Eerie videos of cities like New York show a world with fewer cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, while many of us wonder how and when public interactions might resume. Brian Ladd, author of The Streets of Europe, considers not only our current state of lockdown, but also the history and future of city streets, looking at the ways they have changed from pedestrian hubs to high-speed thoroughfares and how we might reconsider their role in city life. In our coronavirus quarantines, many of us miss not only particular people, but also people in general. Pictures of empty streets remind us that we cannot, like the French poet Charles Baudelaire, “melt into the crowd” to “take a bath of multitude” with its “feverish ecstasies.” Will our current feelings of deprivation renew an enthusiasm for the daily throng? Only if we don’t succumb to fear of city life. This pandemic does make it easy to believe that the proximity of other people is primarily a threat. When will it be safe to gather in public again? Never, say pundits who . . .

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Five Questions with Eve L. Ewing

June 15, 2020
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Five Questions with Eve L. Ewing

As a book marketer at a university press, one of the things you’re always looking for is a work of strong scholarship that also can connect with ordinary readers and issues that matter in their lives. In the past few years, one of the best examples we’ve had of that is sociologist Eve L. Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. Published in 2018 to broad acclaim—Ta-Nehisi Coates called it “an important addition to any conversation about the future of public schools,” Publishers Weekly called it “essential,” NPR named it one of the best books of the year, and Diane Ravitch called it “the best book about education this year”—the book struck a chord with scholars and activists alike. Earlier this spring, it was published in paperback, and Chicago also released another project that Ewing had a hand in: a new edition of Ida B. Wells’s classic memoir, Crusade for Justice, with a foreword by Ewing. Those of you who know Ewing from her Twitter feed know, however, that no matter how many projects you name, she’s always up to something more—and that could be anything from publishing poetry to writing comic books. We . . .

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Everybody at a Time like This Should Keep Animals: Read an Excerpt from “The Great Cat and Dog Massacre”

June 9, 2020
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During these strange quarantine months, many of us have been seeking comfort in our animal friends, who have been our companions in isolation and our sense of hope and distraction. In this excerpt from The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War II’s Unknown Tragedy, Hilda Kean looks at a time during the War when we similarly marveled at our pets’ remove from the larger events of the world. In a letter penned in March 1940, the English author, journalist, and criminologist Fryniwyd Tennyson Jesse attempted to explain the mood of wartime London to American friends by incorporating her two cats into the narrative: I watch with a sense of relaxation and pleasure because they know nothing about war. I think everybody at a time like this should keep animals, just as royalties and dictators should always keep animals. For animals know nothing of politics, nothing of royalty, nothing of war unless, poor creatures, they also, knowing not why, are wounded and killed. By situating animals as apart from (human) politics, albeit included in the suffering of war that embraced animal and human alike, Tennyson Jesse suggested that animals conveyed a particular quality needed . . .

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Price V. Fishback on Werner Troesken’s “The Pox of Liberty” and Our Current Tradeoffs between Quarantines and Economic Freedom

April 21, 2020
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Economist and Press author Price V. Fishback shared with us recently his thoughts on a previous Press book that speaks to our current situation and looks at the political and economic history of how the US government has responded to other pandemics. The current crisis has brought into focus the tradeoffs between quarantines and economic freedom.  For an excellent book about the history of these tradeoffs in the United States, read Werner Troesken’s The Pox of Liberty:  How the Constitution Left Americans Rich, Free, and Prone to Infection (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Werner traces the history of how governments at all levels of the American federal system dealt with three deadly and recurring diseases:  smallpox, yellow fever, and typhoid. All of the issues the world is facing today to avoid horrid deaths are discussed in Werner’s book:  inadequate testing, the absence of vaccines, attempts to develop vaccines, tradeoffs between economic losses and quarantines, the uncertainties that the disease might return in the future, and inadequate medical facilities.  The situations developed in the nineteenth-century societies when there were much higher death rates, lower incomes, and at best rudimentary medical care.  In his preface, Werner says that he started out trying to . . .

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