History

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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Zachary Dorner, author of “Merchants of Medicine,” on the Coronavirus and Black Americans

April 15, 2020
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The death of black Americans due to coronavirus at a disproportionately high rate recalls the ways differential mortality reflects and has shaped ideas of inherent bodily difference in the past. Zachary Dorner discusses this connection using ideas and examples from his book Merchants of Medicines: The Commerce and Coercion of Health in Britain’s Long Eighteenth Century (available in May). Data recently collected by The Washington Post (link) point to stark disparities in morbidity and mortality during the current pandemic between black and white Americans. While upsetting, such a finding does not come as a particular surprise to a historian of medicine and empire. (Nor, for that matter, does it to scholars of race or to people whose lived experience is one of unequal health). Such health outcomes are often the result, intended and not, of longstanding policies and practices used to construct the economic and political realities we live with today. Notably, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has attributed his own cardiovascular issues, and therefore susceptibility to the virus, to the “legacy of growing up poor and black in America.” Structural disparities not only contribute to disparate health outcomes as starkly demonstrated this year by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but historically . . .

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Five Questions with D. Vance Smith, author of “The Arts of Dying”

March 23, 2020
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Five Questions with D. Vance Smith, author of “The Arts of Dying”

How do we talk about one of life’s most persistently hard to describe events: death? Poets, musicians, playwrights, philosophers, theologians, and artists have tried to describe death for centuries, but this question still puzzles us today. With his new book, The Arts of Dying: Literature and Finitude in Medieval England, D. Vance Smith goes back to consider the ways that medieval people thought and wrote about death. We talked with Vance about the book, how people in the Middle Ages thought about dying, the problems of language when it comes to death, and how ideas about death and dying are presented now. He also touches on the particular relevance of these questions today as we face the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic. How do you come to this subject? Was there a particular piece of literature that sparked your interest? I wrote a book a while ago (The Book of the Incipit) about the many ways medieval people thought about beginnings and shaped them in literature, and I started thinking about endings and what Foucault called the “analytic of finitude” then. Dying is the ultimate ending, and I found the intellectual and emotional challenge of writing about it important, but . . .

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An Unflinching Excerpt from ‘The Torture Letters’ by Laurence Ralph

February 20, 2020
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This week on the blog, we're highlighting one of our most timely and important new releases—The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence . . .

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A Political Playlist Just in Time for the Presidential Primaries

February 2, 2020
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We know that many of you will be turning your attention to the Iowa Caucus on February 3rd as the 2020 Presidental Primaries get underway. And if you’re like us, you’re going to need a distraction from the stress and uncertainty of it all–and we have just the ticket! Peter La Chapelle, author of I’d Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music, has put together the ultimate playlist, which captures the deep bonds between country music and American politics since the very beginning. Long before the United States had presidents from the world of movies and reality TV, we had scores of politicians with connections to country music from the nineteenth-century rise of fiddler-politicians to more recent figures like Pappy O’Daniel, Roy Acuff, and Rob Quist. These performers and politicians both rode and resisted cultural waves: some advocated for the poor and dispossessed, and others voiced religious and racial anger, but they all walked the line between exploiting their celebrity and righteously taking on the world. While putting together this playlist, Peter has tried to use songs by the original artists themselves, but in cases where those weren’t available, he first tried to find a . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “The Culture of Feedback: Ecological Thinking in Seventies America” by Daniel Belgrad

December 12, 2019
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Read an Excerpt from “The Culture of Feedback: Ecological Thinking in Seventies America” by Daniel Belgrad

National Horse Day (#NationalDayoftheHorse) is December 13th. And in honor of this equestrian holiday, we’d like to share an excerpt from The Culture of Feedback by Daniel Belgrad focusing on human-animal relationships, particularly those between horses and their humans. The book digs deep into a dazzling variety of left-of-center experiences and attitudes and looks anew at the wild side of the 1970s. In doing so, Belgrad tells the story of a generation of Americans who were struck by a newfound interest in—and respect for—plants, animals, indigenous populations, and the very sounds around them.  In conjunction with the growing impact of ecological thinking and its emphasis on empathy, the Seventies witnessed a new focus on the affective quality of human-animal interactions. Acknowledging the emotional lives of animals demanded moving beyond behaviorist approaches to animal behavior, which remained rooted in the dualism of mind and matter that characterized Enlightenment science. This led to a particular excitement about exploring new forms of human relationship with horses, as these were animals that were known to resist behavioral conditioning. Due to its reliance on empathy and physicality, the new ideal for interacting with animals was often described in ecological texts as a kind of dance. The . . .

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Lewis Raven Wallace: How to Speak Up and Speak Out

November 5, 2019
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It’s University Press Week! Today’s blog tour theme is ‘Speaking Up & Speaking Out’. Who better to reflect on the subject than activist and journalist Lewis Wallace, who was fired from his job in public radio for refusing to stay silent about the harmful and marginalizing myth of ‘objectivity’ perpetuated in the media world? Read on for his thoughts about today’s theme, and scroll for event info and a teaser trailer of Wallace’s new podcast, companion to his debut book, The View from Somewehere. “I was raised to believe that speaking out mattered, that we all had some responsibility to justice and fairness in the world. I remember lodging protests that only a child of privilege would: against the overly authoritarian school lunch supervisor; against a teacher who I believed insulted the sixth grade students’ intelligence. I circulated petitions and self-published newspapers about youth liberation and adult domination. But speaking out comes with consequences that are uneven and unfair, based on your position of power in the world. In my case, speaking out was easy until I came of age and came out as queer, and transgender in the late 1990s. Using my voice then became a necessity, rather than . . .

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Get to Know the Polka King: Read an Excerpt from “American Warsaw”

October 22, 2019
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We may have missed National Polka Day (August 9) and National Accordion Awareness Month (June), but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate a Polka legend any time of the year. And since October is Polish American Heritage Month, it seemed the perfect time to talk about Li’l Wally Jagiello, the Polka King, a favorite performer and icon of Polish Chicago. We’ll let Dominic A. Pacyga tell the story in this piece from his new book American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago. “Walter Jagiello, known as Mały Władziu to his Polish American fans, was born and raised in Chicago. He began playing and singing polka music at the age of eight and started his career on Division Street in those same bars that Algren wrote about, places like the Gold Star, the Midnight Inn, Phyllis’s, Zosia’s, Al’s Village Inn, the Orange Lantern, and the Lucky Stop. Roughly sixty taverns lined Division Street in Polonia, and most offered live music. A consummate performer, Li’l Wally performed nearly nonstop his entire career. His 1956 hit “I Wish I Was Single Again” was on the top 40 charts, a rarity for a polka recording. Jagiello was one of the first . . .

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Excerpt from “On the Heels of Ignorance” by Owen Whooley

October 10, 2019
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October 10 is #WorldMentalHealthDay, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world. In honor, we’d like to share a short excerpt from the introduction to On the Heels of Ignorance: Psychiatry and the Politics of Not Knowing by Owen Whooley. His well-researched history begins with psychiatry’s formal inception in the 1840s and moves through two centuries of constant struggle to define and redefine mental illness as well as the best ways to treat it. Whooley’s book is no antipsychiatric screed, however; instead, he reveals a field that has muddled through periodic reinventions and conflicting agendas of curiosity, compassion, and professional striving to get to where it is today. The history of American psychiatry is a history of ignorance. Underlying psychiatry’s curious past—its repeated crises and dramatic transformations, its faddish theories and epistemic somersaults, its occasional achievements and egregious abuses—is a stubborn, inconvenient fact. Psychiatrists lack basic knowledge regarding mental illness. Madness evades articulation. Charged with the quixotic, perhaps doomed, mandate to impose reason on madness, psychiatrists have searched for an understanding of the mechanisms that produce mental distress, be they psychological, neurological, genetic, or social. These searches have been in vain. The most fundamental . . .

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Calling All Bostonians!

September 12, 2019
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This October, we are incredibly excited to be publishing the landmark volume, The Atlas of Boston History. Get a sneak peak at some of the fascinating maps and part of the preface, including detailed info on the book's content. . . .

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