Silenced Resistance

Today we present an interview with Joanna Allan, author of the book Silenced Resistance, a compelling addition to our series Women in Africa and the Diaspora.

 

Who and what is being silenced in Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea?

In short, I argue in the book that the dictatorial regime in Equatorial Guinea and the Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara (Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa) are committing—and covering up—serious, widespread and gendered human rights abuses with the support of foreign corporations and states, including companies from the USA and UK.  Hypocritically, the responsible parties conceal their crimes with the help of public relations and social responsibility campaigns that claim the regimes and their foreign partners are working to promote so-called gender equality. This is, I argue, “genderwashing.”

 

Saharawi activist Hamadi Zaybour links his son’s disabilities to Moroccan police beating his wife while she was pregnant. He also emphasizes that foreign markets, which pay Morocco to access Western Sahara’s natural resources, have played a role in his family’s suffering.

 

Man looking over Smara refugee camps

Why Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea? 

My curiosity in the two countries was provoked, in a large part, by the lack of information about either of them. My undergraduate studies were in the field of Hispanic Studies, and yet my university was, as far as I know, the only one in the UK to include Western Sahara on the syllabus. Equatorial Guinea did not feature on the course at all. Equatorial Guinea and the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic are the only Spanish-speaking African states. I therefore wondered why these countries received next to no academic attention in my discipline (or in most other disciplines for that matter).  Actually, referring back to the title of my book, missing whole countries from our syllabi is one way we collectively silence Equatoguinean and Saharawi women.

Occupied El Aaiun, Western Sahara’s largest city

I remember the first time I heard of the conflict in Western Sahara. It was around the time of nonviolent activist Aminatou Haidar’s second imprisonment. I was astonished that Saharawi women seemed to lead the pro-independence movement in occupied Western Sahara. This contrasted with the Equatoguinean case, where the opposition to the ruling regime seemed, according to information available at the time, male-dominated. I was therefore compelled to explore the reasons behind this divergence in the gendered make-up of resistance movements. Actually, Equatoguinean women are very much involved in resisting the dictatorship, but their contributions—for a range of gendered reasons that I explore in the book—have attracted less attention.

Pro–independence poster at a demonstration in the Saharawi refugee camps

In the book, you also explore resistance to Spanish colonialism in the two countries.

Yes. Historical resistance movements have shaped the gendered dynamics of today’s resistance efforts, I argue. For example, in the Saharawi case, black Saharawi women’s historical internal struggles against racism and sexism have resulted in the egalitarian principles of today’s pro-independence movement.

Housing in Equatorial Guinea

Also, with regards to who is silenced and whose stories are told, I wanted to ensure that women’s contributions to Equatoguinean independence were recognized in the book. During my fieldwork, woman after woman in Equatorial Guinea recounted memories of women’s activism against the Spanish colonisers, but lamented that these women had not been taken into account. Women will remain silenced until we make the effort to listen to them.

 

Joanna Allan is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Northumbria University.

Remembering the Hometown Boys

Today’s guest-blogger is Brad Larson, director of the Oshkosh Public Museum and author of All the Hometown Boys.

As a boy in the early 1960s, I seldom saw my grandfather. He had divorced from my grandmother in the early 1930s, remarried, and moved away. His relationship with his two young sons was strained, to put it nicely. Yet, as he and my father aged, they occasionally came together to heal wounds. On one such instance, he led my brother and me to the trunk of his car to show us his old army boots.  He told us those heavy, hob-nailed boots still had remnants of encrusted mud in a few small places. “Boys,” he said, “that is the dirt of France.”

I stood there in the summer sun next to his Pontiac, just a ten year old boy, transfixed as he revealed abbreviated stories of his experiences as a teenage National Guardsman in what seemed to be a distant land and an overlooked war. Strange as it might seem in hindsight, those old boots and the stories he told made everything seem genuine. I came to realize that my grandfather, white-haired and old, was once a courageous soldier.

Brad’s grandfather, Martin Larson

My desire and determination to resurrect the stories of Wisconsin’s 150th Machine Gun Battalion might have had its roots in the stories of my grandfather. Indeed, even as a boy it seemed that I was aware that memory is a fickle thing. As I describe in All the Hometown Boys, the 150th was a household name after its creation in 1917, for it was part of America’s celebrated 42nd “Rainbow” Division, a National Guard division that brought together men from 26 states. The nation was justly proud of the exploits and victories of the “hometown boys.”  In welcome home parades, the men were esteemed heroes.

But 100 years later, who remembers the 150th Machine Gun Battalion, or America’s soldiers who released France from almost certain defeat? If 30-plus years of museum work have shown me anything, it is that remembrance of our past is weak, perhaps even fading. I think that impression is especially true for World War I, for the soldiers of America’s first world war do not even have their own national memorial in Washington, D.C.

Memory is what we make it. To honor and remember someone, or some event, requires time, dedication, and effort to ensure we discover and perhaps even pass on the story. True reverence for our past comes not from brief media coverage close to an anniversary, but rather grows in the hearts and minds of everyday Americans. They make the decision that men like my grandfather, or the men of the 150th Machine Gun Battalion, soldiers who gave of themselves, lost their youth and in some cases their life, deserve to be remembered.  We should take joy in discovering their stories.

 

Brad Larson has been the director of the Oshkosh Public Museum since 1989 and has been researching and presenting public programs about the 150th Machine Gun Battalion for many years. He is the author of Voices of History, 1941–1945.

University of Wisconsin Press Welcomes New Editor in Chief

photo of Nathan MacBrienThe University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to announce that Nathan MacBrien will join our staff as the editor in chief, effective June 3, 2019.

MacBrien, most recently a special projects editor at Northwestern University Press, will oversee the University of Wisconsin Press book acquisitions department, including managing the list of publications. An accomplished editor, he held various acquisitions roles at the University of Pittsburgh Press and Stanford University Press. For eight years he served as the publications director for the Division of International and Area Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he established and directed the Global, Area, and International Archive (GAIA), a peer-reviewed imprint publishing new titles in the social sciences and area studies.

With more than twenty years of experience, MacBrien has valuable expertise in the publishing process. While at Northwestern University Press, he managed the editing and production of thirty-five new books each year.

“I am delighted that Nathan will be joining the University of Wisconsin Press,” says director Dennis Lloyd. “In his career he has earned the respect of his colleagues and authors in a range of fields, and his keen ability to shape both a manuscript and a list are skills that will benefit us greatly as we implement the long-planned refocus of our acquisitions output.”

Says MacBrien, “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the talented staff at the press. This is an exciting and challenging time for university presses, and I look forward to the work of shaping the press’s list, both to reflect the changing tides in publishing and to ensure that we continue to publish the best books for our communities of readers in Wisconsin and worldwide.”

About the University of Wisconsin Press
The University of Wisconsin Press, one of the research and service centers housed within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.

Starvation Shore

Today’s guest blogger is Laura Waterman, author of Starvation Shore, a compelling tale based on a true story of polar explorers fighting for their lives.

 

My novel, Starvation Shore, is based on the Greely Arctic Expedition of 1881–1884. Also known as the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, this three-year saga of a little known American Arctic expedition can be equated with the Franklin Expedition for daring and horrific disaster.

This is the story of 25 men who find that surviving in the Arctic requires cooperation to the point of selflessness. But as darkness, vicious wind, and gelid cold confines them to what feels like a prison sentence, what gets laid bare are the fatal flaws and staggering misjudgments.

I began work on this novel in 2008. Researching and writing it has been an epic journey itself. I was drawn to this story because of the hardships that bring us face to face with our true selves. I was curious to join with these men, to see how I would react in a setting that made such physical demands, that required moral, ethical, and spiritual courage.

A group photo of the explorers

This expedition grew out of a desire to counter the enormous loss of men and ships in the Arctic over the last three centuries. In 1881 the United States was part of the International Polar Year that established stations around the icecap. Lt. Greely’s men were there to take meteorological observations and so learn about the Arctic.  They were expected to set a new Farthest North, long held by the British. The U.S. Army was in charge. The equivalent today would be a manned trip to Mars.

Sgt. David Brainard

I used the men’s diaries, particularly Sgt. David Brainard’s, the portion he wrote at Cape Sabine after the men had left the fort they had built at Discovery Harbor, farther north and only 500 miles from the North Pole. The promised resupply by ship had failed because of pack ice. The men had spent a second winter, and as the third winter drew near, Lt. Greely ordered the men into the open boats, a controversial move. They had had supplies enough to make it through a third winter, if they had stayed.

Pvt. Charles B. Henry

That this was an unhappy expedition from the start fascinated me. What was going to happen? Dr. Pavy and Lt. Greely were a mismatch of temperaments. Lt. Kislingbury wished he’d never come.  His senseless acts of insubordination caused Lt. Greely to break him. Sgt. Brainard was sure they had a murderer along, namely Pvt. Charles Henry. Lt. Lockwood, brave, strong, a gifted leader of men—he set the Farthest North record—was prone to depression.

On the other hand, Pvt. Shorty Frederick was there when you needed him. Their young astronomer, Ned Israel, took infectious delight in the mystery of an Arctic night. Photographer George Rice’s glass plates showed a frigid black and white beauty not seen before. Eskimo Jens Edwards died in his boat catching seals for them.

The six survivors on their way home in 1884

When the rescue party arrived in 1884, two thirds of the men were dead. What George Rice had feared, and Sgt. Brainard had tried to prevent, had happened: cannibalism.

I grew up reading about adventure; most children do:  Doctor Doolittle, Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons. When I read Annapurna, Maurice Herzog’s account of the first 8000-meter peak to be climbed, I wondered, had I been along, could I have made it to the top? I began climbing on my homeground. The White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Presidential Range in winter, and learned about winds that can knock you down, visibility so compromised you’re relying on all your senses and your internal compass, and frightening subzero cold. I drew on this experience for writing Starvation Shore. I learned, as Greely’s men did, that we are often capable of more than we had thought possible.

 

 Laura Waterman is an author, environmentalist, and outdoor enthusiast. Her books include The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and CampingA Fine Kind of Madness: Mountain Adventures Tall and True, and Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage.

Announcing the 2019 Wisconsin Poetry Prize Winners

The University of Wisconsin Press is thrilled to announce the winners of our annual poetry prizes! The three winning collections, along with two other honorable mention collections, will be published over the next year as part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series, edited by Ron Wallace and Sean Bishop.

 

Molly Spencer author photo

Molly Spencer.

Molly Spencer is the recipient of the Brittingham Prize for the collection If the house. Spencer is a poetry editor at The Rumpus and teaches at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop. Judge Carl Phillips says, “The eponymous house of If the house is at once literal and figurative. There’s the impulse toward an idea of domesticity that begins here with finding a house within which to shape a life, or try to. . . . Memory, too, is a house here—and in these poems, to make of memory a home becomes an act just as brave and honest—and all the lovelier for both—as the poems themselves.”

 

Sarah Kortemeier author photo

Sarah Kortemeier. Photo by: Jennifer McStotts

Sarah Kortemeier has been awarded the Felix Pollak Prize for the collection Ganbatte. Kortemeier is the library director at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and holds an MFA in Poetry and MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Arizona. According to Phillips, “The poems of Ganbatte use language to give us what photography can’t, always, a sense of the interior, of the sensibility of place and of what has happened there—story and history, Hansel and Gretel and the Holocaust and Hiroshima.”

 

Bruce Snider author photo

Bruce Snider. Photo by: Todd Follett

Bruce Snider is the winner of the Four Lakes Prize for his forthcoming collection, Fruit. One of his previous collections, The Year We Studied Women, was the winner of the 2003 Felix Pollak Prize. Snider is an associate professor at the University of San Francisco and earned his MFA in poetry and playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, VQR, Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Pleiades, Southern Review and Best American Poetry 2012.

 

John Brehm author photo

John Brehm. Photo by: Tracy Pitts

John Brehm’s collection No Day at the Beach will be published as part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series. Brehm teaches at the Oregon Literary Arts and Mountain Writers Series in Portland, Oregon and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of Sea of Faith, which won the 2004 Brittingham Prize, and Help is on the Way, which won the 2012 Four Lakes Prize. Andrea Hollander says of John Brehm’s forthcoming collection, “Evident throughout these irresistible, often self-deprecating poems (‘It’s no day at the beach / being me’) are Brehm’s persuasive wonderings, his engaging explorations, his vital need to know. Open the book anywhere and you won’t want to put it down.”

 

Ambalila Hemsell. Photo by: Lizzie Tilles

Ambalila Hemsell’s poetry collection, Queen in Blue, will also be published in the coming year. Hemsell is a writer, educator, and musician who holds an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. Laura Kasischke praises Hemsell’s Queen in Blue, saying, “She has created a poetry that pulls back the curtain. . . . not knowing this curtain blocked a view of something that, once glimpsed, will change us. She gives us that glimpse. She changes us. A reader could ask no more of any collection of poems.”

 

Submissions for the 2020 awards cycle will be open from July 15 to September 15 of this year. The judge for the upcoming awards will be Natasha Tretheway, whose collection Native Guard won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She was named the nineteenth Poet Laureate of the United States in 2012, a position she held through 2014.

Winners of the 2018 poetry prizes—D. M. Aderibigbe, Michelle Brittan Rosado, and Betsy Sholl—will read their work at the upcoming AWP Conference and Bookfair on Thursday, March 28 at 4PM at Produce Row Café, 204 SE Oak St., Portland, Oregon.

 

About the University of Wisconsin Press
The University of Wisconsin Press, one of the research and service centers housed within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.

For more information on the Wisconsin Poetry Prizes, please visit https://uwpress.wisc.edu/series/wi-poetry.html

The Lost Lives of Greek Vases

Today we present an essay by guest blogger and author Sheramy D. Bundrick, whose book Athens, Etruria, and the Many Lives of Greek Figured Pottery is featured in our series Wisconsin Studies in Classics.

 

Research for Athens, Etruria, and the Many Lives of Greek Figured Pottery included an unexpected foray into scholarly detective work: recapturing the long-forgotten archaeological contexts of Athenian vases collected in the nineteenth century.  Preparing a chapter on vases used as Etruscan cremation urns, I mined volumes of the Bullettino dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica and Notizie degli Scavi for documented examples, and I discovered four whose descriptions matched vases in American museums but which had somehow been orphaned from knowledge of their findspots.  All were sold at the time by the private landowners who oversaw their excavation.  One is now in the Harvard University Art Museums (Figs. 1–2): in the 1876 Bullettino, an amphora of exact description—down to the gestures, garments, and attributes of figures—is recorded as being from Tarquinia, found in a pit tomb where it served as a cinerarium.  Harvard curators Susanne Ebbinghaus and Amy Brauer confirmed that this was new information and suggested I consult papers of the amphora’s donor, Henry Williamson Haynes (1831–1912), at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Archaeologist and Harvard alumnus, Haynes bequeathed his antiquities collection to the Classics Department, which passed to the art museum years later.  Haynes’ travel diary and a letter to his mother state that he visited Tarquinia on 21 May 1876 and met the Marzi brothers, who owned the land where the amphora was discovered.  No mention of buying it, but paired with the Bullettino, these documents permit confirmation of the amphora’s journey from Athens, to Tarquinia, to America.

Figure 1

Why does this matter?  Historically, it didn’t: the Athenian makers and milieu of vases were believed most important, and their Etruscan ownership a blip in time.  But attitudes and disciplines change, and in today’s more globalized, networked world, the purchasers of figured pottery—often far from Athens itself—earn as much scholarly attention as their producers.  In my book, I argue that the symbiotic relationship between workshops and consumers literally shaped the ceramic industry; knowing the biographies of individual vases encourages a better understanding of that relationship.

Take again the Harvard amphora, attributed to an anonymous potter-painter known as the Affecter for the mannered drawing style.  In her 1975 monograph, Heide Mommsen suggested dates of ca. 550–520 B.C.E. for the Affecter’s career and sorted vases into stylistic periods.  Recovering the Harvard amphora’s findspot reveals that at least three amphorae in the earliest phase went to Tarquinia, all depicting gatherings of gods.  Most of the Affecter’s surviving vases traveled to Etruria, raising questions whether he used information from traders to guide his choices of shapes and subjects.  Some of his vases even feature the apparent logos of traders under their feet.  Back in Tarquinia, knowing the Harvard amphora served as a cinerarium yields more questions.  Did the pictured gods, for example—who all had Etruscan equivalents—act as protectors for the dead?  If the deceased’s remains survived, they could be forensically analyzed for information about age and gender, but as was often the case in the nineteenth century, these were discarded.

Figure 2

Reuniting the Harvard amphora with its lost context provides a somewhat happy ending, but the overwhelming majority of vases lack known findspots, either through early discovery and rare documentation or more recent, illicit looting.  The intellectual consequences are considerable: although much can be said about unprovenienced antiquities of any variety, in missing their contexts, their story remains incomplete.  Writing my book, I often found myself challenged by what I could and could not discuss as a result, and I hope my work serves as a call for awareness as much as a contribution of ideas.

 

Figs. 1–2. Athenian amphora attributed to the Affecter, from Tarquinia, ca. 540 B.C.E. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, transfer from the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, bequest of Henry W. Haynes, 1912, 1977.216.2244. (Photos: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College)

 

Sheramy D. Bundrick is a professor of art history at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She is the author of Music and Image in Classical Athens.

Senegal Abroad

Today we present an interview with Maya Angela Smith, author of the new book Senegal AbroadThis book illustrates the experiences of Senegalese people in Paris, Rome, and New York, and is a part of our series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture.

 

How did you become interested in language in the context of migration, and why did you decide to focus on the Senegalese diaspora?

I first became interested in the relationship between language, identity, and setting as a college student. While studying abroad in Paris and Dakar, I experienced the social nature of learning a language and how this social practice varied with context. For me, learning French in Paris was a more challenging experience than learning French in Dakar. Many Parisians seemed to have little patience for language learners, and I was often self-conscious about my French-speaking abilities, worried about making mistakes. By contrast, while learning French in Dakar, I felt less pressure to speak French perfectly, partially because I was simultaneously studying Wolof, the most widely spoken national language of Senegal. Senegal, however, represented a conundrum to me. While I did not sense the same imposition of standard French as I had when studying in France, there was still a reverence for the French language that surprised me. People I met in Dakar insisted that Senegalese spoke the best French in Africa and even better than many people in France. I had not expected an African country to place so much pride in a colonial European language, all the while enthusiastically championing the various national languages of Senegal.

Furthermore, when interacting with people in Dakar, I realized that so many people had either been abroad, were planning to go abroad, or had family members abroad. Senegal, thus, was a mobile space constructed and managed through various diasporic settings. Many of the students at the university in Dakar had spent time studying in France, and I assumed that this mobility was tied to social class. However, I soon found that people from all social classes had access to the world beyond Senegal. For instance, vendors at the Marché Sandaga, Dakar’s largest market, when realizing I was American would tell me about their experiences living in New York City and about how many of their family members were still there. They would proudly show off the English they had acquired. Others, when learning of my travels to Spain and Italy, would talk about their time in these countries, and we would compare our experiences there especially as it pertained to language. These were not isolated incidents. It seemed like everyone had a story from abroad. These informal conversations I had with Senegalese in Senegal thus became a point of departure for a more formal inquiry into language and migration in the Senegalese diaspora.

 

How does your research inform your pedagogy?

My scholarship broadly focuses on the intersection of racial and linguistic identity formations among marginalized groups in the African diaspora, particularly in the postcolonial francophone world. As someone trained in sociolinguistics but who has always been housed in French departments whose primary interest is literary and cultural scholarship, my practice of bringing close textual readings to ethnographic interviews allows me to tell something new about the human condition. In my courses, I give students the tools to think critically about how we as humans engage with our environments and how we act, react, and interact with others. My goal is to help them articulate not only what they experience in their own lives, but to thoughtfully analyze how different communities and societies make sense of the world. In addition to the various forms of cultural production that we analyze in class—language, art, film, music, literature—I often have them grapple with the data I collect. I find that my interview data offer a productive space for students to comprehend the larger social and cultural phenomena that become visible in the themes we explore in class.

 

Speaking of your data, do you have a favorite anecdote from your research?

For my most recent book, Senegal Abroad, I interviewed over 80 people of Senegalese descent across Paris, Rome, and New York as they convey a variety of illuminating experiences on language, blackness, and migration. While it is hard to pick a favorite, I have a tendency to gravitate toward the anecdotes that showcase multilingualism, creativity, and humor. For instance, in winter of 2010, I was eating lunch with some Senegalese acquaintances at a restaurant in Rome. Although Wolof was the most common language used among this group, a regular patron named Idi abruptly switched into Italian to announce that he was discarding his Senegalese identity and claiming an Italian one instead. One of his friends then retorted that if he were so Italian, he should drink his water in Italian, to which Idi replied that drinking was not part of the Italian language. While the group began to argue playfully in Wolof and Italian about national identity and what constitutes being Italian, a man named Bachir exclaimed in French that he was proud to be Senegalese. As the only use of French in the whole exchange, I wondered why he would use French to profess his Senegalese heritage, especially considering the negative position he had taken in previous discussions concerning the role of the French language in Senegal. The linguistic intricacy of this exchange conveys the complexity surrounding where the Senegalese fit in discussions of Italian identity, the role of French as the former colonial language in current articulations of a Senegalese identity, and the agency that people have in negotiating these and other dynamic identities. Importantly, this exchange was happening over laughter and playful teasing as they shared a meal, demonstrating the cultivation of joy even in what many of them view as hostile spaces.

 

Why do you think the work that you do matters?

I place a lot of importance on representation. In this moment where political discourse and the media provide such a skewed and myopic view of immigrants and where their stories are usually told by those in positions of power and privilege, I wanted to find a way for the most marginalized among us to share in their own words the complexity of their lived experiences. Furthermore, in academic scholarship, most of the work on transnationalism depicts African migrants succumbing to economic temptations as the sole reason for migrating and creates a depressing picture of their existence in host countries. While I do not minimize these motivations and difficulties, I go beyond political economy and also concentrate on the pride, passion, and happiness that the people in my research achieve through their reflections on language. Their stories blur the lines between utility and pleasure, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of why and how Senegalese move.

 

Maya Angela Smith is an assistant professor of French and Italian studies at the University of Washington.

History You Didn’t Learn in School

Today’s guest blogger is Donna Urbikas, author of the book My Sister’s Mother, a finalist for numerous awards including the Midwest Book Awards.

With the publication of my hardcover book in 2016, I’ve had many opportunities to present a much under-reported history of World War II Poland and eastern Europe, which has reverberations even today.  Most people, especially Americans, are not aware that not only did Hitler’s Nazi Germany attack Poland on September 1, 1939, but so did Soviet Russia under Stalin just a couple of weeks later, on September 17, 1939.  I’ve learned that that history can be much distorted today when it occasionally emerges from Russia.  Most Communist-era Russians will say that they “liberated” Poland from the Germans, reluctant to mention, if they even know about it, that Russia and Germany had a secret protocol to their Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 23, 1939, better known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact, in which the two aggressors agreed to divide up Poland.  The following graphic, courtesy of author Wesley Adamczyk (When God Looked the Other Way, University of Chicago, 2004), depicts that division.

That secret protocol was a terrible sentence for my mother and my then five-year old half-sister and the hundreds of thousands of Poles and others living in the eastern borderlands of what was then Poland, known as the Kresy. Taken at gunpoint by the Soviet secret police in the middle of the night on February 10, 1940, my mother and sister were deported to a labor camp in Siberia, traveling long hard weeks by cattle car and sled.  Today, those lands where they lived in Poland are Belarus. 

My mother’s arrest and the aftermath of her ordeals surviving hard labor, saving my sister from hunger, diseases, and the sheer harsh climate, impacted my life many years later.  It was only after I became a mother myself could I begin to understand my mother’s war trauma.

My father also suffered as a result of that secret protocol when he was called to duty as a Polish Army officer to fight against the German and Russian invaders.  He was later captured by the Russians and sent to a prisoner of war camp near the infamous Katyń forest where over 20,000 Polish officers and other imprisoned Polish educated men were murdered by the Soviets.

When the mass grave sites were first discovered in 1943, the Soviet Russians blamed the Germans for the murders. Only in 1990/91, with the fall of Communism, did Russia admit their crime, but have since retracted from those assertions.  With the current regime in Russia, it is uncertain whether they will ever take responsibility for such atrocities, invasions, and deportations.

I was born several years after the war ended when my parents were re-united in England, both afraid to return to Communist Poland.  Shortly after, we immigrated to America and my life became far different from my sister’s childhood, thus we had very different experiences of the same mother.

Our mother never really left Siberia and Russia mentally as she relentlessly told her stories. I grew up with World War II as if I had been through it all with them.  Trying to assimilate in America was difficult enough without having to relive the war.

My book is that story of growing up with a mother so impacted by the war that she could not reconcile what had happened to her and my sister.  It is more importantly a good history lesson within a family story of surviving war and its after effects, prevailing over the dark forces of war by not only surviving but thriving.  Thus, it is a story of perseverance in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

 

Donna Urbikas’ website for more info:  www.danutaurbikas.com

Click these links to access the audiobookbook trailer, and a US Holocaust Memorial Museum interview with Donna’s sister, Mira

 

Donna Solecka Urbikas was born in Coventry, England, and immigrated with her parents and sister to Chicago in 1952. After careers as a high school science teacher and environmental engineer, she is now a writer, realtor, and community volunteer. She lives in Chicago with her husband.

 

 

Everyday Economic Survival in Myanmar

Political science professor Ardeth Thawnghmung has just published her new book with us: Everyday Economic Survival in Myanmar, about strategies adopted by ordinary citizens in Burma/Myanmar—most of whom survive on the equivalent of two to five dollars a day—to cope with the economic stresses of everyday life.

What inspired you to write the book?

The book was inspired by my own experiences growing up in Burma under the military regime in the 1970s and 1980s. My family and I employed various survival tactics to supplement my parents’ combined earnings, which barely covered the cost of food and basic necessities. These strategies—multiple poorly paid jobs, painstaking financial management, pooling resources, and engaging in acts of reciprocity and mutual obligation—are still being utilized by many people, even in the freer political and economic environment created by the more reformist governments elected in 2010 and 2015.

A lot has been written about everyday life in poor countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa. How does your book differ from others in this field?

I employ a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates political, economic, social and psychological aspects of coping strategies, analyzing their impacts on collective welfare, the environment, the national economy, and political development. I also examine comparable political and economic situations in Asia, Africa and Latin America to develop systematic categories of informal activities that produce autonomous and self-governing spaces and lead to positive—as well as negative—policy changes for society, or even undermine state capacity and democratization efforts.

How did you collect data, and what were the biggest challenges you faced while conducting research in Myanmar?

This project is based on in-depth interviews and surveys of 372 individuals from all walks of life throughout Myanmar between 2008 and 2015 as well as my own observations and experiences. Many of the challenges I faced are typical for research carried out under authoritarian regimes, including a lack of available data, restricted political environments and concerns about the safety of those who associated with me.

Did any of your findings surprise you?

I was surprised by how prevalent and long-lasting these strategies were, and how creative people became to meet economic challenges in evolving political situations.

Myanmar has recently provoked international outrage over military brutality which triggered the exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh. How does your study of everyday politics in mainly Buddhist areas of the country offer insight into their plight?

The Rohingyas situation is an extreme case where people go about trying to create a sense of normalcy out of difficult situations. However, very little attention has been paid to the majority of Myanmar citizens, whose attitudes toward the Rohingya have been overwhelmingly hostile. While these attitudes are influenced by specific historical and political context that shape and constrain popular behavior, and by the growing anti-Islamic sentiments that we see across the world, they are also a product of responses to decades-old authoritarianism. Some of these individual and collective coping practices help foster self-help and can even challenge the legitimacy and longevity of military rule, but general survival tactics among ordinary people rarely align with the practices that are key to successful transitions to democracy.

Do you think your findings offer advice and insights for the current National League for Democracy government led by Aung San Suu Kyi?

Some survival strategies have negative long-term consequences, not only on individuals and their communities, but also on the environment, public welfare, state capacity, and democratic processes. Both the Thein Sein and NLD governments have attempted to deal with their effects by formulating new regulations and enhancing enforcement mechanisms while rarely addressing the root causes. For instance, successful attempts to act on negative activities from petty corruption, counterfeit products and illegal gambling to illegal mining, and logging and issues such as child labor require not only enhancing state capacity through proper incentives and training for civil servants, but also providing alternative opportunities for those utilizing such methods. These are crucial challenges that need to be addressed by any transitional democratic government with limited resources, particularly the NLD government which is facing elections in 2020.

 

Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung author photoArdeth Maung Thawnghmung is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is the author of several books, including Behind the Teak Curtain: Authoritarianism, Agricultural Policies, and Political Legitimacy in Rural Burma.

Library of Congress acquires and makes available the Omar Ibn Said Collection

The Library of Congress recently acquired and made publicly available online the Omar Ibn Said Collection, which includes 42 original documents in both English and Arabic. Omar Ibn Said was a wealthy, Muslim man in West Africa who was abducted in the early 1800s and sold into slavery in South Carolina. The centerpiece of the collection—a fifteen page autobiography of his life in Africa and the circumstances of his enslavement in America—is the only known surviving American slave narrative written in Arabic.

The University of Wisconsin Press is proud to have published a English translation and facsimile edition of Omar Ibn Said’s autobiography in 2011 titled A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn SaidThe book includes an introduction by translator Ala Alryyes and several contextualizing essays. Alryyes’ translation is presented in facing pages against Omar Ibn Said’s original writing.

In celebration of the Omar Ibn Said Collection’s online debut, the University of Wisconsin Press is giving away a copy of A Muslim American Slave to one (1) lucky entrant: