The inspiration for this special issue on Biography and Economics was the realization that economic history often does not focus on individuals and what their personal testimonies can tell us about economics and economic relationships. The issue brings together five articles that address this theme in different ways; the first through the lens of Philip Quaque on the Gold Coast in the eighteenth century; the second the case of the Ologoudou family on the coast of the Bight of Benin; third through biographical perspectives on enslavement in the upper Guinea coast; fourth, through the memories of indentured women in Natal; and lastly through the autobiographical details found in the wills of freed Africans in Brazil.
Following the retirement of longtime editor Paul E. Lovejoy, African Economic History has appointed two new editors. Earlier this year, George Bob-Milliar and Chétima Melchisedek joined the existing editorial team of Mariana Candido, Toyin Falola, and Toby Green. Together, the editors recently launched a social media presence for African Economic History, posting about current events related to African economies as well as important research in the field. You can follow AEH on Facebook and Twitter. Read on to learn more about the journal’s new editors.
George M. Bob-Milliar is a senior lecturer in the Department of History and Political Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, one of the most prestigious public universities in Ghana. He joined the faculty of KNUST in August 2013 and has been involved in research, teaching, and mentoring of students at all levels. He is currently serving as the director of KNUST’s Centre for Cultural and African Studies (CeCASt). In 2012, Bob-Milliar received his PhD from the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, the oldest center for African Studies on the continent. Trained as an interdisciplinary scholar, his research lies at the intersection of history, political ethnography, and development studies. He has published in the preeminent journals in his field of specialization. Bob-Milliar has been a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge, Uganda’s Makerere University, and the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), as well as a guest lecturer at the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany. In 2010, he received the inaugural African Author Prize for the best article published in African Affairs by an author based at an African institution, and in 2012 he was awarded a prize for his contribution to research on African policy issues from the Centre for International Governance Innovation. He sits on the editorial boards of African Affairs, African Review of Economics & Finance, and the Journal of Political Economy and Development.
Chétima Melchisedek is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at York University. Before coming to York, Melchisedek was a senior lecturer at the University of Maroua; a fellow at the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies; the Gordon Henderson Fellow at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa; and a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for African Studies at the University of Basel. He earned a PhD in history from the Université Laval and a master’s degree from the University of Ngaoundéré in Cameroon. Melchisedek is a member of the editorial advisory board of the Canadian Journal of African Studies. His articles have appeared in the Historical Journal, African Studies Review, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, and Afrique Contemporaine, among others. His article in Cahiers d’Études Africaines (2015) was awarded the Prize for the Best Paper on Central Africa by the Central Africa Studies Association, while his paper in Africa Spectrum (2018) won the UFS/AS Young African Scholar Award. Melchisedek guest edited a special issue of the Canadian Journal of African Studies on “Boko Haram beyond the Media” (Volume 54 Number 2, 2020) and is currently co-editing, with Paul Lovejoy, a volume on Boko Haram and Political Distancing (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2021). Chétima is an affiliate member of the African Academy of Sciences and a founding member of the Cameroon Academy for Young Scientists.
As populations are aging, governments around the world are looking for ways to stretch pension programs to accommodate large numbers of retirees. One option is to raise the minimum retirement age, as Germany did in 1999, upping the retirement age for women from 60 to 63. Economists Johannes Geyer and Clara Welteke analyze the impacts of this policy shift in a Journal of Human Resources preprint article. They wanted to know whether women over 60 changed their labor market status as a result of the reform. Did employed women stay in their jobs longer or use unemployment or disability benefits as a way to exit the labor market? Geyer and Welteke joined us to discuss their findings.
Why did you decide to pursue this topic?
Population aging is an enormous challenge for the financial sustainability of public pension systems of many OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Germany is facing a rapid increase in the old-age dependency ratio in the coming years. Already every second person in Germany is over 45 years old and every fifth person is over 66 years old. One way to increase the financial sustainability of the pay-as-you-go pension system is to increase the legal retirement age, thereby extending contribution periods whilst simultaneously decreasing pension expenditures. However, legal retirement age increases often have undesired distributional effects. Furthermore, workers may not be able or willing to work longer and may choose other exit routes from employment. Thus, it is of great importance to gain empirical evidence on the effects of pension reforms that increase retirement age thresholds. Our goal is to gain insights into the effects of this important question and inform policy makers.
What is one takeaway from this research that you’d like to communicate to policy makers?
The increase in the early retirement age for women in Germany resulted in a large employment increase in the affected age group (60- to 63-year-olds). One could conclude that the reform was a success and recommend similar measures for other countries and groups. However, the reform was successful in increasing employment because the labor market was in a good state and women were able to continue their employment. We also find that inactive and unemployed women remain longer in their respective status due to the reform. Another factor was the early announcement of the reform, which gave enough time to adjust career plans.
As a main takeaway, we recommend early retirement age increases as an effective tool to increase employment of the affected group, if labor market perspectives and the health of workers enable such an extension of their working life. Retirement age increases should be announced well in advance and those who are not able to work longer should be offered appropriate support, such as disability pension schemes.
What’s one question that emerged from your research that you’d like to follow up on, or that you hope someone else will explore in the future?
One of our results was that non-working women affected by the pension reform did not return to the labor market while employed women stayed in employment. In a follow-up project, we look at the distributional effects of the pension reform at the household level. More specifically, we wanted to know if the pension led to increased income inequality. Our results suggest that the distribution of available household income is not affected by the reform. One reason for this result is program substitution. The study is forthcoming in Labor Economics. In a current project, we look at health effects of the reform. We use administrative data from German health insurance that contain detailed information about individual diagnoses from medical practitioners’ records. Preliminary results suggest that the reform led to an increase of psychological symptoms.
What are some of the ways in which raising the retirement age could theoretically backfire on governments? Did you find any evidence that this is happening in the case of Germany?
The reform can be considered a success in retrospect. It did not lead to an increase in unemployment or large increases in disability pensions. However, the positive employment effect is strongly related to the good labor market performance at the time. Our results also show that women at this pre-retirement age do not react very flexibly to changing conditions. The results would have been different if Germany had experienced a large recession. Interestingly, this result is also found in other countries, like Australia and Austria. Therefore, governments should also invest more in labor market opportunities for older workers and develop better strategies to bring the older unemployed back to work.
Johannes Geyer is deputy head of the department of public economics at DIW Berlin. He earned his PhD in Economics in 2012. Between 2012 and 2016 he was a visiting professor at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, in addition to his work at the DIW Berlin. His research focuses on issues of social protection and demographic change. For this he uses empirical methods of microeconometrics and microsimulation.
Clara Welteke is an economist at the German Federal Ministry of Finance since April 2019. Her work focuses on pension provision and the sustainability of public finances. Previously, Clara was a researcher at the Public Economics Department and the Gender Economics Research Group at the DIW Berlin. Clara received her PhD from the Free University Berlin and the DIW Graduate Center in 2017. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy & Economics from the University of Bayreuth and a Master’s degree in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics from the University of Amsterdam. After completing her Master’s degree, Clara worked as a consultant for the World Bank. During her doctoral studies, she worked for the OECD in Paris and the European Commission in Brussels.
Science fiction readers may be familiar with the giant sandworms of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or the pequeninos, small pig-like aliens from Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. These species and their surrounding ecosystems puzzle the human explorers that encounter them. In the article “Islands in the Aether Ocean: Speculative Ecosystems in Science Fiction” from Contemporary Literature, Elizabeth Callaway examines these two novels and their strange species, arguing that the authors propose a different way of relating to biodiversity. In this interview, Callaway explains how science fiction can help us question the conceptual frameworks that define our understanding of biodiversity on Earth.
How did you end up looking at science fiction through the lens of biodiversity?
Actually, the interest in biodiversity came first! I’m writing a book about representations of biodiversity, and a version of the article we’re discussing now appears as a chapter. When I was initially thinking about assembling a group of texts that tackle the challenge of representing species in their multitudes, science fiction seemed like a particularly fertile place to start. Within the genre are novels that describe entire planets of living variety. While other types of books mention hundreds of species (memoirs of competitive birders or the nonfiction of E. O. Wilson, for example) SF is really excellent at portraying entire planets of surprising and lively creatures. In addition, these planets can sometime feature what I call “speculative ecosystems,” or sets of interactions among living creatures that do not function the way Earth’s ecosystems do. They’re built on different, imaginative systems, and because they’re so unusual they model alternative stances toward biodiversity.
When it comes to depicting biodiversity, what makes these two novels different from other works of science fiction?
Their “speculative ecosystems” are a key part of what sets them apart. Unlike many worlds that are simple Earth analogues where the environment doesn’t make much of a difference to the story, and unlike novels which feature a planet seeded with Earth organisms (like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy), these are not systems that are analogous to Earth ecosystems or based on Earth species. They’re totally alien (if imagined) worlds. There are other examples that I would include as speculative ecosystems. The most well-known might be James Cameron’s Avatar. That world features ecosystems that work in ways that are very different from those on Earth. Animals can connect to each other with exposed nerve-type organs, there is a central tree that connects the entire planet in a type of neural net, and there’s abundant terrestrial bioluminescence. That said, Dune and Speaker for the Dead, unlike Avatar, do not make the speculative ecosystem into an object of worship or offer any old-school environmental readings having to do with rootedness, sense of place, or living on the land. Rather they explore the speculative variety of organisms on their planet in new ways.
You say that, while we are used to thinking about science fiction as a genre that shows us possible futures for our own planet, science fiction also works “by imagining things that could never be.” How can the “counterfactual” nature of science fiction help us to think about our own environmental challenges?
On one hand it seems like the science fiction texts that imagine Earth futures might be more useful for thinking through current environmental challenges. You think of stories that include biodiversity decline like Phillip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and it’s clear how they’re interested in what animals mean to individual people and also to different human societies. They explore how these meanings might change as species decline. What is particularly interesting to me about science fiction that doesn’t imagine future Earths of declined species, however, is that they experiment with alternative ways to relate to biodiversity. In particular, I think it’s useful that Dune and Speaker for the Dead present a puzzled stance toward biodiversity where one is continually surprised by the way diverse nonhuman organisms interact with each other. I think the mechanics of science fiction itself—the way it explains how the fictional world works by casually throwing out hints rather than presenting sections of exposition—are fantastic for modeling a puzzled engagement that holds space open for recognizing the agency of nonhumans. In science fiction we’re always ready for that clue that changes what we had assumed to be true about the world, and this is especially true for the impossibly strange ecosystems of counterfactual worlds. If we’re curious about how the world works while aware that we can be surprised, then I think that can cultivate an attitude that more easily recognizes the liveliness of the material world including (but not limited to) nonhuman living creatures.
What are you reading right now? (For fun or for serious.)
Emily Dickinson has become my home quarantine inspiration. Whenever my socially-distanced world feels tiny and diminished, she makes me realize that my back yard is only as small as my mind. (Dickinson and I share the good fortune of having a yard.) After reading a few of her poems I see the details of the world as strange and new. In one of her more famous quotations she describes poetry as writing which makes her “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” This is such a fabulously weird way of defining poetry, and it is how her poems make me feel except it is also as if my entire word has had a lid removed, and there’s more room to experience everything. I’m also reading How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, which is beautiful, lonely, and a playful mashup of science fiction and narrative theory.
If you had to pick a favorite species from Arrakis or Lusitania, what would it be?
Given our current pandemic, I am more and more fascinated by the descolada virus that “unglues” DNA and wreaks havoc on the human community of Lusitania in Speaker for the Dead. While I wouldn’t want to characterize the descolada as my “favorite,” it has captured my attention anew. This is the virus that sculpted life on Lusitania, initially creating the plant/animal paired species while driving the vast majority of life extinct. Its world-remaking capabilities certainly feel especially real right now as my own world is being remade in different but comparable ways. Also, the way the descolada simplifies the planet (to put it mildly) is more and more striking to me. I now look at my article’s visualization of the stark ecosystem of Lusitania and imagine a similarly simple social network made of my interactions during social distancing. The story of a virus reshaping a world certainly feels increasingly relevant.
Elizabeth Callaway is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Utah and affiliated faculty with the Environmental Humanities Graduate Program. She researches and teaches at the intersections of contemporary literature, environmental humanities, and digital humanities. Some of her most recent publications focus on climate change in Zadie Smith’s NW, diversity and inclusion in definitions digital humanities, and the speculative ecosystems of science fiction. Her current book project, titled Eden’s Endemics: Narratives of Biodiversity on Earth and Beyond, is forthcoming at the University of Virginia Press.
Ghana Studies journal is proud to welcome two new editors, Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai and Jeffrey Ahlman. Abdulai and Ahlman take over for outgoing editors Carina Ray and Kofi Baku. The UW Press would like to thank Ray and Baku for all their hard work on behalf of the journal over the course of their three-year term. The following is a brief introduction to the new editors.
Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai holds an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge (UK), and a PhD in Development Policy and Management from the University of Manchester, UK. He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Ghana Business School (UGBS), and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester. His research centers on the intersection between politics and development, with particular focus on public sector reforms, natural resource governance, spatial inequalities, social policy and social protection, and democratization. He is the co-author of Governing Extractive Industries: Politics, Histories, Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2018). His published work has also appeared in African Affairs, Politics & Policy, New Political Economy, Democratization, Development Policy Review, European Journal of Development Research, Journal of International Development, and Labour, Capital & Society. He won the prestigious Gerti Hesseling Prize (2017), awarded for the best journal article by an African scholar, and was also recipient of a runner-up position for African Affairs’ African Author Prize for best paper published in 2016/2017. In his new role as co-editor of Ghana Studies, he looks forward to deepening the visibility and multidisciplinary outlook of the Journal.
Jeffrey Ahlman is an Associate Professor of History and the Director of the African Studies Program at Smith College, where he specializes in African political, social, and intellectual history. His research reflects on issues of decolonization, political and social sovereignty, citizenship, and the Cold War in mid-twentieth-century Africa. His book, Living with Nkrumahism: Nation, State, and Pan-Africanism in Ghana, was published by Ohio University Press in 2017. He is currently completing two books. The first is a biography of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, which is under contract with Ohio University Press. The second—under contract with I.B. Tauris—is a history of Ghana since approximately the mid-nineteenth century. His other published work has appeared in the Journal of African History, the International Journal of African Historical Studies, Africa Today, Ghana Studies, and Kronos: Southern African Histories. He looks forward to his new role as co-editor of Ghana Studies, where he strives to further promote the journal as the premier site for the interdisciplinary study of Ghana.
Call for Papers
The editors welcome submissions of original research about Ghana for potential publication in Ghana Studies. Submissions from all disciplines will be considered. Manuscripts of interest could explore, but are not limited to, topics such as:
- Ghana’s 2020 elections
- Ghana’s recent financial crisis
- The political economy of oil in Ghana
- Questions of inequality
- Challenges of structural transformation
- Ghanaian-Diasporic Relations
For full guidelines, please visit http://bit.ly/gssubmissions.
High school students at public schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan, get a pretty sweet deal: if they graduate, they are eligible for the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship that covers up to 100 percent of tuition for any public postsecondary institution in the state of Michigan. A team of economists wanted to explore whether this type of scholarship could increase the number of students who enroll in a university or community college, as well as whether it would impact postsecondary graduation rates. The results of this study, conducted by Timothy J. Bartik, Brad Hershbein, and Marta Lachowska, will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Human Resources. We spoke with the authors about their research process and the origins of their study. To learn more, read the full Journal of Human Resources preprint article, “The Effects of the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship on College Enrollment and Completion,” freely available until the end of May.
Tell us about the history of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship—how did it come about, what is the nature of this scholarship, and what initial questions did you have about it?
The Kalamazoo Promise was initiated in 2005 in a mid-sized, urban school district that had gradually been losing enrollment, but still retained many middle-class as well as low-income students, and in a community that had suffered recent job cutbacks, but still had many college-educated workers. The Promise came about through discussions between the Kalamazoo Public Schools superintendent and anonymous private donors about how to revitalize the community and the school district. The solution? A “simple” gift: any graduate who had lived and attended school in the district long enough could receive a generous scholarship to any Michigan public university or community college. The intent was to grow the local economy and school district by attracting families to the community and boosting students’ educational attainment and—presumably—their local job opportunities. Our initial question, addressed in prior research (Bartik, Eberts, and Huang 2010; Hershbein 2013), was the impact of the Kalamazoo Promise on district enrollment. Our current paper addresses whether the Promise succeeded in increasing educational attainment.
What is one takeaway from your article that you’d like to communicate to readers outside of the economics community?
The Kalamazoo Promise program, which is one specific design of a “free-tuition” program, worked! The program increased the attainment of a post-secondary credential by one-third. If one compares the predicted lifetime increase in earnings from this additional educational attainment with the Promise’s scholarship costs, the program’s rate of return is over 11 percent.
Why did it make sense to publish in the Journal of Human Resources?
The Journal of Human Resources is a top journal in empirical microeconomics and has published numerous articles on the effects of scholarship programs. Therefore, it felt like a natural fit for us. In addition to being well-regarded and influential, it also has a reputation for being a well-run journal.
Will you continue to pursue similar questions, or will you take your research in another direction?
Absolutely! There are relatively few studies of the long-term impacts of college scholarships on outcomes beyond education, such as employment, earnings, or financial health. Two prominent examples of such studies are Judy Scott-Clayton and Basit Zafar’s study of the West Virginia Promise and Bettinger et al’s study of the Cal Grant program in California. But the first of these is a merit scholarship and the second is need-based, and both are state programs; to date, there are no completed studies of workforce impacts of universal, place-based scholarships, even as these have continued to proliferate. With funding from the Strada Education Network, we and teams of other researchers are studying workforce impacts of the Kalamazoo Promise, the Pittsburgh Promise, Knox Achieves (the predecessor of the Tennessee Promise), and the Denver Scholarship Foundation. We expect to have preliminary results presented at conferences later this year, so stay tuned!
If a community is considering implementing a place-based scholarship like the Kalamazoo Promise, what factors should be considered to ensure they achieve the desired results?
This is a great question. Place-based college scholarships vary considerably in both their goals and their parameters and these two factors are not always aligned. Our paper demonstrates that a universal-access program can yield sizable increases in college completion, although it may not be the cost-minimizing approach to doing so. On the other hand, as we discuss in the paper, place-based college scholarships often have other goals besides just increasing educational attainments, such as strengthening K-12 achievement and local workforce and economic development. From our paper and related analyses, we’ve learned a few lessons that other communities should keep in mind:
- Simplicity generally leads to greater take-up. It’s often tempting to impose significant merit or financial need criteria to limit costs or reward “good students,” but the research doesn’t back this up as an effective strategy. Universal scholarships in communities with high financial need can provide simplicity while reducing the likelihood that scholarships subsidize relatively wealthy students. (This is one of the reasons place-based scholarships may be more compelling than statewide ones.)
- Money alone does not fix all problems. Even with one of the most generous scholarships in the country, only about half of Kalamazoo Promise students complete a credential within the ten years over which they can use the scholarship (and less within the first six years). Less generous scholarships often produce even smaller impacts. The Kalamazoo Promise, other scholarship programs, and even colleges have increasingly turned to provide additional supports, such as college coaching and navigators, to help students succeed. These supports have shown potential in several contexts, although we know relatively little about how effective these additional supports are with and without scholarships for tuition.
- To measure effectiveness, good data are imperative. We used National Student Clearinghouse data to measure postsecondary outcomes for our paper, but as more states continue to develop longitudinal data systems that track students from K-12 into college and beyond, it will be possible to create better estimates and examine additional outcomes, such as credit attainment, earnings, or use of social safety net programs. Currently, obtaining these data for evaluations is challenging even for the most successful and well-connected researchers, and often nearly impossible for local communities. States should make it easier for these data to be used for research purposes while protecting student confidentiality.
Timothy J. Bartik’s research focuses on how broad-based prosperity can be advanced through better local labor market policies. This includes both policies affecting labor demand, such as state and local economic development policies, and policies affecting labor supply, such as place-based scholarships. Bartik is co-editor of Economic Development Quarterly, the only journal focused on local economic development in the United States. Bartik received both his PhD and his MS in economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1982. He earned a BA from Yale University in political philosophy in 1975. Prior to joining the Upjohn Institute in 1989, he was an assistant professor of economics at Vanderbilt University.
Brad Hershbein is an economist at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a labor studies research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a non-resident fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. He also serves as the Institute’s director of information and communications services. His fields of interest focus on labor economics, demography, and economics of education, and especially the intersection of the three. His work has appeared in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and American Economic Review. He earned his BA in economics from Harvard College, and his PhD, also in economics, from the University of Michigan.
Marta Lachowska completed her Ph.D. in economics at Stockholm University in 2010. Lachowska has research interests in labor economics, economics of social insurance, and economics of education. Her work has been published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, Journal of Human Resources, Labour Economics, and Oxford Economic Papers, among others. She has been the PI or co-PI of several investigator-initiated grants, including projects funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
Earth Day was a resounding success because the organizers didn’t try to shape a uniform national action. They empowered ordinary people to express their passion for the Earth in whatever way they chose from wherever they were. . . . It was a moment of rare political alignment that elicited support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers. . . . Never could [my father] have imagined that a day dedicated to the environment would inspire millions to action and alter the course of history.—Tia Nelson, from the preface of Gaylord Nelson’s Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise
In 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day. Founded by former Wisconsin senator and governor Gaylord Nelson (1916–2005), the event increased public awareness of conservation work, helped spur the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and led to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. We asked our authors and editors what Earth Day means to them.
Brian DeVore, author of Wildly Successful Farming
To me, Earth Day means community. As Aldo Leopold’s land ethic reminds us, we are all part of a larger community, one that includes plants, animals, watersheds, and soil microbes. If we are to do right by that community in this age of the Anthropocene, it will require working with nature as a not-so-silent partner. I’ve been on many farms that have done this by blending the “wild” and the “tame”—such boundary-blurring doesn’t produce the clean precision we Homo sapiens believe we want, but it most certainly generates the messy resiliency that we need.
John Hildebrand, author of Long Way Round
Fifty years ago, I sat in Crisler Arena at the University of Michigan listening to Gaylord Nelson and others at the first Earth Day and promptly forgetting everything they said. But I still remember the music—Gordon Lightfoot’s “Black Day in July,” a song about the 1967 Detroit riot. I’d worked on a Ford assembly line that summer and a year later rode a bus to classes through Motown’s gutted streets. So Earth Day is forever linked in my mind to a burning city. Why? Because to love the earth means loving all of it, not just the pretty parts.
Dr. Steven Love, editor of Native Plants Journal
My celebration of Earth Day typically looks like any other workaday. The fact is, I generally pay very little attention to this one-day environmental event. Not that I reject principles of conservation. In fact, I think we should all adopt lifestyles in which we conserve water and other natural resources, create habitat for creatures whose world we share, make decisions that reduce human impact, protect our pristine natural areas, and generally make the world a better and more sustainable place to live. My problem with Earth Day is that I believe we should live these principles every day, not celebrate them once a year.
Arthur Melville Pearson, author of Force of Nature
For George Fell, every day was Earth Day. For all he accomplished, he seldom if ever stopped to celebrate because there always remained so much more to do. This Earth Day, marking a milestone anniversary, I plan to stop and think of all The Nature Conservancy has accomplished over the last half century. And the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. The Natural Land Institute. And the many organizations and individuals of the Natural Areas Association. Thanks to George. The next day, I’ll get back to work for all the challenges and opportunities that yet lie ahead.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly reshaped political, economic, and personal realities worldwide, it’s easy to wonder how art will look back on this time. In honor of poetry month, we gathered articles from Contemporary Literature journal that discuss how poetry has grappled with past—and ongoing—national and international crises. From the AIDS epidemic, to 9/11, to environmental racism, to the global refugee crisis, these articles examine poetry that addresses the challenge of representing unimaginable circumstances and lost lives. The articles listed here are freely available until 5/31/20.
“Toward an Antiracist Ecopoetics: Waste and Wasting in the Poetry of Claudia Rankine” by Angela Hume, vol. 57.1 (2018)
I read CITIZEN as the latest installment of Rankine’s twenty-year meditation on the “wasting body”—a figure that, in Rankine’s poetry, accounts for how certain bodies are attenuated or made sick under capitalism and the state, while simultaneously being regarded as surplus by these same structures. While the book is not ostensibly a work of ecological poetry or environmental criticism, one of CITIZEN’s most pointed critiques—a critique Rankine makes in her earlier books, too—concerns the difficulty of relating to or identifying with one’s environment when one has been othered by the dominant white society and, consequently, forced to live with greater amounts of environmental risk.Angela Hume
“Myung Mi Kim’s Vegetal Imaginary and the Poetics of Dispossession” by Melissa Parrish, vol. 59.1 (2018)
As war, regime change, wageless labor, and environmental degradation persist on a global scale, they magnify the vulnerability of the hundreds of millions of people who have long been displaced by capital accumulation…. In this essay, I contend that a poetics oriented toward social dispossession must wrestle with the perpetual violence waged on the representability of people themselves. In this way, lost histories―in their making and survival―are made visible in the act of bearing witness to dispossession across multiple generations and locales. Korean American poet Myung Mi Kim takes up this practice by turning to subjects without subjecthood, whose presence attends to granular scales of life hidden in plain sight.Melissa Parrish
“‘Not Needed, Except as Meaning’: Belatedness in Post–9/11 American Poetry” by Ann Keniston, vol. 52.4 (2011)
[S]everal poems depict [the 9/11 attacks] in ways that draw attention to this problem of representing the “real.” But these poems do so indirectly; they consider the relation between the literal and the figurative through chronological instability, distance, indirection, and estrangement. These are features that trauma theory, following psychoanalysis, has associated with “belatedness,” a version of Freudian Nachträglichkeit, often translated as “deferred action” and described in terms of disruptions in the process of remembering traumatic events. Belatedness is often manifested for trauma victims in repetition, flashbacks, prolepsis, and other forms of temporal instability, and post–9/11 poems sometimes reveal these features…. Belatedness is here not a symptom, as in psychoanalysis, but rather a poetic strategy.Ann Keniston
“Avant-Garde Interrupted: A New Narrative after AIDS” by Kaplan Page Harris, vol. 52.4 (2011)
[Kevin Killian’s 2001 book of poems] ARGENTO SERIES might be a good contender as a contemporary version of Ezra Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska. Like Pound mourning the Vorticist sculptor lost in the trenches of World War I, Killian pays homage to the coterie figures who welcomed and influenced his early writing. Among them are Sam D’Allesandro (d. 1988), Dlugos (d. 1990), Leland Hickman (d. 1991), Steve Abbott (d. 1992), David Wojnarowicz (d. 1992), and Joe Brainard (d. 1994). ARGENTO SERIES gives the impression that these writers were an avant-garde, or something like one, and raises for us the cogent question of what happens when an avant-garde does not develop according to the usual pattern of oppositionality followed by institutional assimilation…. For Killian’s avant-garde, however, one whose genealogy combines the two traditions of gay liberation and modernist experimentation, the neutralizing process happened because of AIDS rather than enticements like literary prizes, endowed chairs, commercial publishing contracts, or M.F.A. reading circuits.Kaplan Page Harris
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, volumes 41–56 (2004–present) of Luso-Brazilian Review are now freely available until May 31, 2020, on Project MUSE. In opening content, the journal joins a wider initiative led by Project MUSE to provide free access to many books and journals, in order to support scholars as they transition to remote teaching and learning. You can find a complete list of free resources on MUSE here.
Luso-Brazilian Review publishes interdisciplinary scholarship on Portuguese, Brazilian, and Lusophone African cultures, with special emphasis on scholarly works in literature, history, and the social sciences. Each issue of the Luso-Brazilian Review includes articles and book reviews, which may be written in either English or Portuguese.
Each year, more high schools across the United States are integrating Advanced Placement (AP) classes into their course offerings, providing students with a cost-effective alternative to general college courses. AP scores are seen to indicate college readiness and a student’s ability to succeed in a specific subject. According to a study recently published ahead-of-print in the Journal of Human Resources, more than 70% of US high schools have adopted AP courses into their curriculum, some even requiring students to take them. In the first-ever experimental study of the AP program, authors Dylan Conger, Alec I. Kennedy, Mark C. Long, and Raymond McGhee Jr. found that the classes succeed in improving students’ skills but conversely may also lead to reduced confidence.
The study offered enrollment in AP biology or chemistry courses to randomly selected students from twenty-three US high schools. At the end of the semester, researchers measured AP- and non-AP students’ ability to analyze and develop arguments about science and participants were surveyed to assess their confidence in the subject, their interest in a future STEM degree, and their levels of stress. As many high schoolers could attest, students in AP science classes were found to have increased stress levels and lower grades due to pressure and rigor. Additionally, taking AP classes decreased students’ confidence that they could succeed in STEM courses in college. But despite the negative impacts, the study found that these classes do successfully increase students’ scientific skill levels and prepare them for college-level coursework, as well as increasing high schoolers’ interest in majoring in STEM in college.
Study author Dylan Conger discussed with us these surprising findings, as well as the origins of tracking AP performance effects. To learn more, read the full Journal of Human Resources preprint article, “The Effect of Advanced Placement Science on Students’ Skills, Confidence and Stress.”
How did you decide to pursue this topic?
My collaborator, Mark Long, and I had been studying advanced high school courses for a few years and we were struck by the lack of causal evidence in support of the AP program despite its near-ubiquitous presence in US schools. Determining how the AP program affects students is difficult because students self-select into the program and teachers often decide which students are allowed entry. We started to brainstorm about how we might successfully randomize access to AP courses. We landed on a research design that was ethical and that would minimize concerns among parents, students, and educators. We decided to focus on AP science courses in particular because these courses were being promoted by policymakers and educators as a key tool for improving the STEM workforce in the US.
Though AP courses are often seen as a tool for college preparedness, how would you explain the low confidence that AP science students have for achieving success college STEM courses?
We spent some time reading the literature from psychology and learned, perhaps somewhat intuitively, that reduced confidence doesn’t necessarily have a negative effect on student performance. In fact, some of the literature suggests that overconfidence can lead to academic failure. AP courses are very challenging and they cause some students to lower their estimation of their own ability. In our study, we found suggestive evidence that this loss of confidence did not interfere with their learning in the AP class itself. We found that the AP students gained more knowledge in science than the students in other honors and regular courses. How that affects learning in college is an open question.
What is one takeaway from your article that you’d like to communicate to a non-specialist?
The schools that participated in our study tend to have above-average shares of low-income students. Many of the students in our study were eligible for subsidized school meals. For these types of schools and students, our findings suggest that the AP program has both benefits and costs. For instance, we find that students appear to have learned more about science in the AP course than they would have learned in other regular and honors courses. At the same time, the AP courses led to worse grades, losses in confidence, and higher levels of stress.
Why did it make sense to publish in the Journal of Human Resources?
As one of the leading journals focusing on policies that promote human capital, the JHR was a natural fit for our paper. The JHR has also been intentional about disseminating the research to a broad audience.
What’s one question that emerged from your research that you’d like to follow up on, or that you hope someone else looks into in the future?
This paper focuses on the short-run impacts of the AP program on students’ cognitive and socioemotional outcomes. Ultimately, everyone wants to know how the AP program influences students’ college-going, and in particular, college-going at selective institutions. We are currently working on a follow-up paper that estimates the effect of AP science on these important life outcomes. We also plan to follow our cohorts for a few more years to determine whether and how the AP science program influences their college graduation.
Dylan Conger is a Professor of Public Policy at the George Washington University and a research affiliate at New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy. Conger’s research focuses on explaining disparities in achievement between social groups and evaluating policies aimed at reducing those disparities.