Category Archives: Journals

The Archaeology of Northern Coasts

Arctic Anthropology Volume 56 Number 1

While northern Arctic coasts have long been important sites for the study of cultures on a regional scale, the latest issue of Arctic Anthropology, “The Archaeology of Northern Coasts,” focuses on what coastal peoples can teach us about topics of a global scale, particularly climate change.

The peoples of northern coasts have created some of the longest sustained cultural traditions on Earth. However, over time, they have faced threats to coastal and marine ecosystems as well as colonial pressures. The ways in which these cultures have developed and adapted over millennia holds lessons for our shared future, special issue editor Christopher B. Wolff explains:

The regions that many people view as the margins of human civilization are becoming more central to our understanding of the evolution and development of humanity and are providing information about directions forward in a world with increasing cultural interactivity and global climate unpredictability. Understanding the role that northern coasts and marine ecosystems play in this is crucial.

Articles in this issue open a window into the many different ways northern people have built thriving cultures along the Arctic and Subarctic coasts. Topics include a community-based archaeology project to preserve Yup’ik cultural heritage against the effects of climate change; the relationship between foxes and humans during the Late Holocene period on Kodiak Island, Alaska; and Medieval Norse peoples’ use of marine resources in Greenland.  We invite you to browse the table of contents for a full look at the articles in this issue, and read the editor’s introduction.

African Studies Association 2019

This week, the UW Press has been exhibiting at the annual African Studies Association Conference in Boston. The conference is wrapping up, but if you’re attending, there’s still one last day to stop by booth 314 for discounts on books and journals. And if you’re not in Boston, here’s a look at our new and notable titles in African Studies.


Holding the World Together, edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson

Holding the World Together, edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson

Featuring contributions from some of the most accomplished scholars on the topic, Holding the World Together explores the rich and varied ways women have wielded power across the African continent, from the precolonial period to the present. This comprehensive volume, focusing on agency and avoiding stereotypical depictions, features essays on the representation of African women, their role in national liberation movements, their incorporation into the world economy, changing family and marriage systems, economic impacts on their lives and livelihoods, their unique challenges in the areas of health and disease, and their experiences with religious fundamentalism, violence, and slavery.


Health in a Fragile State, by John M. Janzen

Health in a Fragile State by John M. Janzen

Based on extensive field research in the Manianga region of the Lower Congo, Health in a Fragile State is an anthropological account of public health and health care in the 1980s and 1990s after the collapse of the Congolese state. This work brings into focus John M. Janzen’s earlier books on African health and healing, revealing the collaborative effort by local, national, and international agencies to create viable alternative institutions to those that represented the centralized state. With this volume, Janzen documents and analyzes the realignment of existing institutions and the creation of new ones that shape health and healing. 

Throughout, Janzen explores the manner in which power and information, including science, are legitimized in the preservation and improvement of health. Institutional validity and knowledge empower citizens and health practitioners to gain the upper hand over the region’s principal diseases, including malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, and HIV/AIDS.


African Economic History, edited by Mariana Candido, Toyin Falola, Toby Green, and Paul E. Lovejoy

African Economic History

African Economic History publishes scholarly essays in English and French on the economic history of African societies from precolonial times to the present. It features research in a variety of fields and time periods, including studies on labor, slavery, trade and commercial networks, economic transformations, colonialism, migration, development policies, social and economic inequalities, and poverty. The audience includes historians, economists, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, policymakers, and a range of other scholars interested in African economies—past and present.


Spirit Children, by Aaron R. Denham

Spirit Children by Aaron R. Denham

Some babies and toddlers in parts of West Africa are considered spirit children—nonhumans sent from the forest to cause misfortune and destroy the family. These are usually deformed or ailing infants, or children whose births coincide with tragic events or who display unusual abilities. Aaron R. Denham offers a nuanced ethnographic study of this phenomenon in Northern Ghana that examines both the motivations of the families and the structural factors that lead to infanticide. He also turns the lens on the prevailing misunderstandings about this controversial practice. Denham offers vivid accounts of families’ life-and-death decisions that engage the complexity of the context, local meanings, and moral worlds of those confronting a spirit child.


Ghana Studies, edited by Carina Ray and Kofi Baku

Ghana Studies

Ghana Studies is the journal of the Ghana Studies Association, an international affiliate of the African Studies Association. Published annually, Ghana Studies strives to provide a forum for cutting edge original research about Ghana’s society, culture, environment, and history. All of the scholarly articles in Ghana Studies are peer-reviewed by two anonymous referees, coordinated by an editorial team based in both North America and Ghana. Since its first issue in 1998, Ghana Studies has published significant work by leading scholars based in Ghana, the United States, Canada, and Europe. In addition, Ghana Studies features occasional material, source reports, and book reviews. It also serves to provide official notice of fellowships and prizes awarded by the Ghana Studies Association.

Ghana Studies Publishes Special Forum on First Ghanaian Archaeologist

Ghana Studies

The latest volume of Ghana Studies features a special forum in memory of James Kwesi Anquandah, who was a pioneer in the field of archaeology in Ghana. Forum editor Ebony Coletu chatted with the editors of Ghana Studies to describe Anquandah’s legacy and support for interdisciplinary research.


Ghana Studies Editors: For readers who may be new to Ghana Studies or to the field of archaeology, can you tell us why James Anquandah was such a towering figure in the field? 

Ebony Coletu: Professor Anquandah was the first student of archaeology at the University of Ghana in the sixties—and he went on to mentor five generations of archaeology students as a faculty member, along with countless others who were not working in archaeology or even students at the university. Because his research practice was deeply interdisciplinary, he attracted scholars beyond the department, many like myself just dropping in to his office to ask a few questions, but leaving with an exciting mandate to develop new approaches. You hear this in Kwasi Ampene’s article too, how conversations with Anquandah animated a speculative approach to researching musical practices in the Akan Stone Age and Early Iron Age. So Anquandah did not prescribe a method, he inspired methods, really from his energetic curiosity and commitment to telling new stories about the distant past. Also in this forum, Mohammed Mustapha and Wazi Apoh describe his “eclectic method”—which is a multi-disciplinary research protocol Anquandah used to answer complex questions. For him, it was not enough to write from a single discipline, or apply a single method consistently. Instead he wanted to synthesize history, policy, sociology, and art, to help reformulate and deepen the significance of a question and tell a better story about research findings, particularly for publics beyond the academy. 

GS Editors: What distinguishes this special forum commemorating the work and legacy of James Kwesi Anquandah (1938-2017)? 

EC: Soon after he passed, I circulated a call for papers that focused on mentorship as a way to map his influence across fields, thus “reframing the reach of archaeology.” The responses affirmed the call by capturing Anquandah’s marathon commitment to mentoring  (training five generations of archaeologists in Ghana) as well as the ongoing work of decolonizing disciplines. Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann addresses this directly in her essay, when she writes about autoarchaeology, a research practice that foregrounds direct descendants as researchers whose families have lived in or around the excavation site. She enlisted Danish-Ga descendants as researchers at Christiansborg Castle, unearthing artifacts and posing questions collaboratively. As a consequence of centering community-based knowledge production, the project inspires new pipelines for training in archaeology aimed at multilingual researchers who are gaining experience on site. She reframes the reach of archaeology by asking who can do this work and why? For Kwasi Ampene, Anquandah inspired a deep-time approach to Akan ethnomusicology, and in the process he challenges our dependence on sixteenth-century European traveler sketches typically used as evidence of musical practices. Questioning the explanatory power and the historical limits of these images, Ampene goes on to suggest a deep-time alternative: using archaeological research to speculate on the multipurpose use of agricultural instruments to make ancient music, inspired by those used for both purposes today.

GS Editors: You not only guest edited this special forum, you also contributed an essay to it in which you introduce the idea of “descendent epistemology.” Can you tell readers how your conversations with Anquandah helped you formulate this innovative methodology? 

EC: I was fortunate to meet Anquandah in the early stages of my research on Chief Sam, an Akyem merchant who led a diasporic return movement that recruited support from thousands of African Americans to purchase a ship that set sail from Texas, arriving in the Gold Coast in 1915. I had narrow interests in that first conversation. I wanted to reconstruct a fuller version of Sam’s family tree and identify a plausible link to the Sams of Anomabo, who are part of my family. Chief Sam’s life was far from conventional, leaving traces and descendants in multiple countries, including multiple wives and stepchildren. I sought Anquandah’s help to make sense of a more complex family tree. But after reading his interview notes with descendants and talking with him over several years, he began to reflect my questions back to me, noting that my concern with kinship had widened to include the technical matter of diasporic return: what was the status of African Americans who pledged to live, work, and die in African communities? Were they also, in some sense, part of Sam’s family? Sam had proposed to adopt them en masse to facilitate the process of landownership and repair a spiritual wound from separation by slavery. While mass adoption was unsuccessful, those who remained quickly integrated into indigenous communities through other means. I found Sam’s proposal, and colonial attempts to block it, an important antecedent to contemporary debates about diasporic right of return, evidence of kinship, and different routes to Ghanaian citizenship. 

GS Editors: Taken together, what does this collection of special forum essays tell us about the next generation of archaeological research coming out of Ghana? 

EC: The last essay says much on this point. Mustapha and Apoh tell a story about Anquandah’s decolonial legacy, which has shaped their own research itineraries instead of resting on a citational model that preserves what previous generations of Africanist archaeologists prioritized. For example, Apoh’s research builds new sources for the understudied topic of German missionionization and colonization in historical archaeology. While Mustapha pushes back against an exogenous theory of social complexity in the Mamprugu Traditional Area in Northern Ghana by investigating indigenous innovations that led to large scale ancient ironworking. Engmann’s work also sharpens this point by challenging value assessments in the literature, which can determine which places are considered critical to research while marginalizing others. Her work at Christiansborg Castle is groundbreaking for the sheer number of artifacts excavated in a short period of time on a site previously considered marginal. This despite the fact that it served as the seat of several administrations, from Danish governors to Flight Lieutenant John Jerry Rawlings. Though this forum began in a memorial spirit, it was exciting to edit because it features forthcoming interdisciplinary work in Ghana Studies encouraged by Professor Anquandah’s pathbreaking example.


Ghana Studies Volume 22 is available on Project MUSE. Browse the table of contents, which includes the special forum along with other articles and reviews. And if you’re attending the African Studies Association Conference this week, stop by the University of Wisconsin Press booth (#314), where you’ll find Ghana Studies alongside many of our other titles in African Studies.

Freedom of Expression and the Exiled Writer: A Reading List from Contemporary Literature Journal

To mark Banned Books Week, we are sharing a collection of articles and interviews from Contemporary Literature journal featuring writers whose work has been censored, or who have faced government persecution in response to their writing.


“I have tried to write honestly about China and preserve its real history. As a result, most of my work cannot be published in China.”

Ha Jin

Chinese writer Ha Jin came to the United States to complete doctoral studies in American literature and opted to emigrate permanently following the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. From studying literature, he turned to writing poetry and then fiction, and to date he has published eight novels, seven books of poetry, and four short story collections.

In a New York Times op-ed, published a few days before the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, he explains his decision to write in English: “if I wrote in Chinese, my audience would be in China and I would therefore have to publish there and be at the mercy of its censorship. To preserve the integrity of my work, I had no choice but to write in English.” He continues, “To some Chinese, my choice of English is a kind of betrayal. But loyalty is a two-way street. I feel I have been betrayed by China, which has suppressed its people and made artistic freedom unavailable. I have tried to write honestly about China and preserve its real history. As a result, most of my work cannot be published in China.”

In this Contemporary Literature interview, conducted by Jerry A. Varsava, Ha Jin discusses growing up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when books were burned and schools were shuttered, as well as his decision to join the “great [English literary] tradition where nonnative writers [have become] essential writers.”

Read the interview, freely available for the rest of September: “An Interview with Ha Jin”


“If our own literature in Africa is too political, then I think the literature of the U.S. is too apolitical.”

Niyi Osundare

Niyi Osundare is a Nigerian poet known as “The People’s Poet” for his commitment to making poetry accessible to all and reflective of common life. He uses elements of the Yoruba oral tradition, which he transmits through his English-language writing.

In this 2000 interview with Cynthia Hogue and Nancy Easterlin for Contemporary Literature, Osundare describes the struggle of the artist writing under a dictatorship, summing up the situation with this parable: “once an English writer came to an African colleague and complained about the apparent irrelevance of Western writers. The African then told the Western artist, ‘Well, when we talk in Africa, the government listens, but that is not the end of the story. The government listens in a different way. They put us in jail.’”

But democracy also hampers the artist in certain ways, Osundare finds, having emigrated to the US in 1997. Comparing US literature and African literature, he notes, “Democracy leads to the flowering of free opinions, of public consciousness, and, without this, creativity cannot really take place. But democracy also leads to a kind of complacency which may undermine that dissonance and eliminate that kick in the stomach that is necessary for every creative activity. . . . If our own literature in Africa is too political, then I think the literature of the U.S. is too apolitical.”

Osundare believes in a “golden mean” that writers should strive for. And while Osundare’s work often has political themes, Isidore Diala argues in this Contemporary Literature article that the poet’s work contains a “vibrant and sustained global humanistic vision” that has been overlooked by critics who focus too narrowly on the poems’ Nigeria-specific social and political commentary.

Read the article, freely available for the rest of September: “Burden of the Visionary Artist: Niyi Osundare’s Poetry,” by Isidore Diala

And read the interview on JSTOR: “An Interview with Niyi Osundare”


“How might we think about postcolonial state formation and literary form together? Can we determine a relationship between them that goes beyond that of simple opposition?”

Jini Kim Watson on NINOTCHKA ROSCA

In 1973, Filipina writer Ninotchka Rosca was imprisoned under the Marcos dictatorship for her antigovernmental journalism. Later, from exile in the U.S., she wrote a short story collection, The Monsoon Collection, and a novel, State of War, about life during the Marcos regime. In the outlines of Rosca’s biography, argues Jini Kim Watson in her article “Stories of the State: Literary Form and Authoritarianism in Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War,” we find that the “repressive, unchecked (usually third-world) dictatorial state is conceived of in inherent opposition to the freedom and free speech of committed writers.” This vision of the relationship between the writer and the authoritarian state is seen, for example, in the literary and humanitarian organization PEN International, which fights for freedom of expression and strives to protect writers from state persecution.

While writers do face very real persecution, Watson argues that it is dangerous to oversimplify the dynamic between writers and the authoritarian state, since this could imply that third-world states are simply “tyrannical and backwards”—a judgment that privileges Western norms of “good” government and ignores the agency of individual citizens. “How might we think about postcolonial state formation and literary form together?” Watson asks. “Can we determine a relationship between them that goes beyond that of simple opposition?” Watson puts these questions to Rosca’s State of War, examining the ways the novel confounds a simplistic view of state tyranny through formal experimentation and a nuanced narrative.

Read the article, freely available for the rest of September: “Stories of the State: Literary Form and Authoritarianism in Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War,” by Jini Kim Watson


To learn more about Contemporary Literaturesubscribe to the journal, browse the latest table of contents, or sign up for new issue email alerts.

Call for Papers: Native Plants Journal

The editors of Native Plants Journal seek papers on topics related to North American (Canada, Mexico, and US) native plants used for conservation, pollinator habitat, urban landscaping, restoration, reforestation, landscaping, populating highway corridors, and so on. Published papers are potentially useful to practitioners of native plant sciences. Contributions from both scientists (summarizing rigorous research projects) and workers in the field (describing practical processes and germplasm releases) are welcome.

See the journal’s submission guidelines for more information. Questions may be directed to Stephen Love, Editor-in-Chief, at slove@uidaho.edu.

About the journal: Native Plants Journal began in January 2000 as a cooperative effort of the USDA Forest Service and the University of Idaho, with assistance from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The second issue of each year includes the Native Plant Materials Directory, which provides information about producers of native plant materials in the United States and Canada. 

To learn more, subscribe to the journal, browse the latest table of contents, or sign up for new issue email alerts.

Monatshefte Journal Welcomes New Editors

Monatshefte Vol. 111.2 cover

Monatshefte, a journal of German literature and culture, has added two new editors, Hannah V. Eldridge and Sonja E. Klocke. Both scholars are based at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the home of Monatshefte since 1927. Eldridge and Klocke joined longtime editor Hans Adler to produce the most recent issue of the journal, and they will be taking over the reins when Adler steps down at the end of this fall. Monatshefte has been published continually since 1899, and this year, we are excited to celebrate Adler’s legacy (more on that in a forthcoming post!) and to learn about the new editors’ vision, as this foundational journal adapts to changes in the field of German Studies. Here, Eldridge and Klocke introduce themselves in their own words.


Hannah V. Eldridge: I have been at UW–Madison since 2012, first in the Department of German and now in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic, where I received tenure in 2018. My main research area is lyric poetry from the eighteenth century to the present, with a focus on sound, rhythm, and other parasemantic features. Other interests include literature and philosophy. I have published on Hölderlin, Rilke, Cavell, Wittgenstein, Klopstock, Nietzsche, and Grünbein, among others. As a participant in the group “Diversity, Decolonialization, and the German Curriculum,” I am working against my socialization in systems of inequality and to reflect the richness and variety of perspectives  in the German-speaking world in my teaching and research. I hope to bring this learning to bear on my work for Monatshefte as well. Some of my most significant educational and professional experiences have involved giving and receiving feedback, so I’m especially excited to work with authors on revising and rewriting.

Sonja E. Klocke: After holding my first faculty position at Knox College (IL, 2007–2012), I joined UW–Madison in 2012. I was granted tenure in the Department of German in 2016, and have since been part of the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic. My research interests range from the eighteenth century to the present, with a specialization in twentieth- to twenty-first-century German culture and a focus on postwar and contemporary literature and film. I have published on the legacy of the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Holocaust; women’s writing; East German literature and film; contemporary writing on modern exile, migration, and globalization; discourses on illness and the body; and gender theory. As an author, I am grateful for the valuable feedback I have received from colleagues in the past. As co-editor of Monatshefte, I hope to bring these experiences as well as the editing skills I have had the chance to develop to the journal.

On their vision for Monatshefte: Although we are excited to receive articles in our areas of research, Monatshefte will remain a general-interest journal, accepting submissions on all topics in any period of German-language literature and culture. We are looking forward to following in Hans Adler’s august footsteps, and we will be making a few updates to the journal in response to changes in the field. First, and most importantly, we will begin to expand the national and international review boards to include scholars whose intellectual agendas and individual perspectives are not currently represented there. We will also be making some changes to the types of information collected in “Personalia,” the annual report on German departments, faculty, graduate students, and dissertations. Finally, we hope to work with the wonderful University of Wisconsin Press to streamline submissions and editing, as well as to create blog entries and social media posts as a venue for more informal communication with our readers.

An Interview with Poet Rae Armantrout

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we present three interviews with living poets, originally published in Contemporary Literature journal. The interviews are freely available to access until May 1.

Our final poet is Rae Armantrout, a central figure of the Language poetry movement of the 1970s and 1980s who was nevertheless somewhat separate from that collectivity, crafting her own flavor of poetry that over time has remained “distinctive and distinctively fresh, particularly in its allegiance to a honed version of lyric that brings to mind the poetry of Emily Dickinson or George Oppen, and in its attention to the degradations—and the surprises—of American speech that permeate our consciousness and infiltrate even our dreams,” according to interviewer Lynn Keller. The conversation presented here touches on everything from physics to religion to ghosts to feminism. Armantrout discusses her cancer diagnosis and how it has impacted the practice and content of her writing, leading her to write poems more quickly and to dwell on mortality (though she says, “I’ve always had an attraction to the dark stuff anyway. I used to say I was channeling Kali. (Not so funny now.)”). When Keller asks Armantrout about the religious imagery in her recent work, she replies that though she’s not religious, she sees a parallel between religious practice and the act of creating a poem or other artwork:

Who are we talking to when we write? I don’t really think, in my case, that I’m talking to a specific audience; I think I’m talking to myself, but when I’m talking to myself, who am I talking to? It feels very much like when I was a child and I prayed, so it’s not that I actually believe there is an entity called God who hears what I say, but there is this desire to somehow perfect utterance. But make it perfect for whom, you know? I think in a way we are making something for the gods that we don’t believe in.

Read the full interview here, and then go read Armantrout’s poems!


And check out our other poetry month offerings:

An interview with Marge Piercy

An interview with Myung Mi Kim

An Interview with Poet Myung Mi Kim

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we’re presenting three interviews with living poets, originally published in Contemporary Literature journal. The interviews are freely available to access until May 1.

Our second poet is Myung Mi Kim, in conversation with Lynn Keller. Kim, a Korean-American, refers to herself as “as a poet arrived at an uncanny familiarity with another language—or more precisely, as a poet transcribing the interstices of the abbreviated, the oddly conjoined, the amalgamated—recognizing that language occurs under continual construction.” As Keller puts it, in Kim’s hands, language

is subject to fracture and disruption, excision and rearrangement. It functions not as a means of gaining an illusory stability but rather as a register of the often jarring instability of human experience in time, and of the stumblings, the incoherencies, the polyphonic complexity of the immigrant’s experience in and between several cultures.

The wide-ranging discussion presented here touches on the poet’s process, childbirth and family, documentary poetry, poetic forms that privilege visual impact, the pastoral, geological time, the slipperiness of nostalgia, the generative power of silence, migration, and loss and mourning. Kim and Keller’s conversation bounces among so many different topics in part because Kim’s vision of poetry is so expansive and all-encompassing. As she describes it, “Poetry invites a practice of language/perception that embraces mutability, undecidability, the motion underneath and around what’s codified in conventions of language, grammar, syntax, semantics, and so forth. Poetry produces new ways of participating in perception, thinking, historical being and becoming.”

Read the full interview here, and then go read Kim’s poems!


And if you missed yesterday’s post, check out an interview with poet Marge Piercy.

An Interview with Poet Marge Piercy

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we will be presenting three interviews with living poets, originally published in Contemporary Literature journal. The interviews are freely available to access until May 1.

Our first offering features poet, novelist, and memoirist Marge Piercy. Interviewer Bonnie Lyons describes Piercy’s poetry in this way:

Valuing usefulness highly, Piercy writes poems that are accessible to ordinary readers without sacrificing rich imagery and subtle sound effects. Her poetry embodies her belief in the importance of attention in her precise word choice and acute perception. Tikkun olam, Hebrew for “healing the world,” is central to her poetry, which works to awaken her readers’ passionate recognition of all that could and should be changed through human effort.

To date, Marge Piercy has written nineteen volumes of poetry, seventeen novels, and a memoir. When asked how she navigates multiple genres, she characterizes herself as “a poet who also writes novels.” She describes the benefits of her chosen genre:

You can write poetry when you are dying. The Plains Indians would try to have a final utterance. You can write poetry in a prison cell—you can scrawl it on the walls. You can memorize your poems. You can carry them around with you. A novel is a far more artificial construction, and it takes huge amounts of time to write one. If you were fighting as a guerrilla, you couldn’t write a novel, but you could write poetry. A novel is far less portable.

Lyons and Piercy discuss the writer’s long history of social and political activism. Piercy articulates how she has created a balance between activism and writing—two fields of activity that are often felt to be in conflict with one another. Piercy explains,

When I was a full-time organizer, I basically gave up sleeping to write. In my life since then, because I have been able to reach people through my writing, I feel much less of a conflict. In fact, it’s all of a piece with me. I don’t divide things up that way. I don’t make a value judgment that one type of poetry is more important than another—neither my poems about Judaism, or poems about love, or poems about the war in Iraq or the environment.

The interview also touches on the usefulness of poetry, the importance of reading in order to write, poetry as an act of attention similar to a religious practice, making a living as a writer, Piercy’s reputation as an “anti-academic” poet and how poetry can thrive outside of academe, and writing about sex, aging, and the body.

Read the full interview here, and then go read Piercy’s poems!

Employers Look Closely at Your Address, Study Finds

Journal of Human Resources cover imageForthcoming Journal of Human Resources article finds evidence of distance-based discrimination in the hiring process

It’s a vicious cycle: those living in poverty are often unable to afford housing in city centers, putting them far from jobs. And, according to new research set to appear in The Journal of Human Resources, employers may discriminate against job seekers who have longer commutes. This could be one factor making it difficult for many Americans to escape poverty, posits David Phillips, the study’s author.

Phillips had a hunch that a person’s address might impact their chances of getting hired. To measure the effects of distance on an applicant’s performance, Phillips’s team sent 2,260 resumes in response to low-wage position openings (requiring only a high school education) in Washington, DC. The findings were clear: the farther away an applicant lived from the job location, the less likely they were to receive a callback from the employer. To clarify these results, Phillips wanted to determine whether employers looked more favorably on addresses from wealthier neighborhoods, even if they were far from the place of work. When resumes were sent from neighborhoods with similar levels of affluence but different commute lengths, Phillips found that applicants from the more distant neighborhoods received 14 percent fewer callbacks than applicants who lived closer to the job site, even though both applicants could be presumed to have the same socioeconomic status. Overall, Phillips determined that employers weigh an applicant’s distance from the job more heavily than their neighborhood’s affluence.

Phillips, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame, joined us to discuss the genesis of his interest in this topic and the larger implications of this study. To learn more, read the full Journal of Human Resources preprint article, listen to Phillips’s interview with NPR, and check out some of the press that this study has been receiving, here, here, and here.

How did you decide to pursue this topic?

During my dissertation, I spent some time working with a non-profit employment agency in Washington, DC. Most of their clients lived in less affluent neighborhoods in Southeast DC and transportation was a common question. I helped them run a pilot testing whether public transit subsidies could facilitate the job search process for people looking for low-wage jobs. It became clear that their clients were working with major transportation issues. At some point in that project, the idea came up that employers were probably aware of the transportation difficulties that people face and might respond to the address listed on the job application.

Why did it make sense to publish in The Journal of Human Resources?

The JHR has a great reputation for publishing rigorous work on the most important questions in empirical economics. As a result, it reaches a broad audience of applied economists. I thought the paper’s topic would be a good fit for that audience given increased attention to neighborhood effects and urban geography in the literature lately. The JHR also has a track record of publishing correspondence experiments. This paper fits with earlier work by David Neumark and Joanna Lahey that has shown up in the pages of The JHR.

How does the distance bias interact with other discrimination applicants might face—due to class, race, or gender, for example?

Discrimination based on commute distance could compound existing inequity. Other things equal, remote places are cheaper and thus attract people with other disadvantages. For example, on average a black person in DC lives one mile farther from jobs than a white person. Even if employers have a clear, rational, unbiased reason for avoiding people with long commutes, that penalty disproportionately falls on people who face other barriers.

What part of your findings surprised you the most, and why?

An interesting topic is one where you suspect an effect exists where other people think it doesn’t. So, I went into this betting employers care about addresses, and the response to distance was not a surprise to me. I was more surprised that employers do not respond much to neighborhood affluence. I expected employers to really penalize distant, poor neighborhoods both because of their remoteness and because of poverty. And I don’t find evidence of the latter despite the fact that the fake applicants come from very, very different neighborhoods in terms of affluence.


David Phillips

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

David Phillips, PhD, works in the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO) within the Department of Economics at the University of Notre Dame. His research focuses on poverty, particularly as it relates to low-wage labor markets, crime, housing, and transportation. His research has been published in high quality economics field journals and presented widely for policy audiences. Prior to coming to Notre Dame, David received a Bachelor’s degree from Butler University, earned a PhD in Economics from Georgetown University, and worked for 4 years at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.