Tag Archives: #history

Archives of Terror: Reasons for Hope

Today’s guest blogger is Seth Bernstein, translator and editor of Alexander Vatlin’s Agents of Terror. The book is to be released in paperback this week.

Alexander Vatlin’s book Agents of Terror is one of the finest exemplars of Russia’s archival revolution. At the end of the Soviet Union and especially in its aftermath, Russian archives declassified millions of files and provided public access to the records. These documents remain the basis for thousands of scholarly and popular works that have appeared since the late 1980s. Vatlin, a Moscow State University professor, based his work on an especially coveted source—investigation files from Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937-38. Focusing on the lower ranks of Stalin’s secret police (the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, NKVD) and their victims in one district, it reveals the motivations and logistics of mass terror through a gripping micro-history.

[Above] A home in Kuntsevo District in the 1930s. The area faced repression from NKVD officers profiled in Agents of Terror.              

 Since the mid-1990s, declassification has slowed or reversed in some cases. Reclassification of documents primarily affected access to the archives of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Recently researchers have revealed disturbing news that the FSB has destroyed records from the GULAG administration.

There have been less publicized archival closings as well. In 2006, a Russian law forbid archives and other institutions from releasing files containing personal information for 75 years. The nominal aims of the law are laudable. In practice, however, archival administrators have limited access to files that reflect poorly on the Soviet state because of fear or their own convictions. Among these collections are the case files that Vatlin used in Agents of Terror, a collection of the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Two years after the original Russian text appeared in 2004, the research behind the book became impossible to replicate.

There is recent news that should encourage those who wish to see post-Soviet archives become more open, especially those who would like to see more research like Vatlin’s Agents of Terror. With the passing of 75 years on the dates of most of the archival files, a group of graduate students at Moscow State University (MGU) and the human rights organization Memorial agreed with GARF to digitize the entire collection of case files. Vatlin used roughly 500 case files from the terror from one district as a microhistory of Stalinist repression. In contrast, the MGU students are leading a team that will digitize approximately 100,000 files. The digitized collection will be published at the site Open List, a collaborative database of victims of Stalinist repression.

The project has great potential as a scholarly database, of course. For scholars working on the history of state repression, the history of Stalinism or using quantitative methods to explore other aspects of history and society, the collection promises to be a major source of data. More importantly, though, the database helps to fill a moral void that Vatlin exposed in Agents of Terror. In the conclusion, he states that his work is just a “fragment of an immense tragedy”:

 “In the fairy tale of the snow queen, a kingdom fell into an age of
darkness when a cursed mirror broke into myriad pieces, sowing
frosty indifference among its people. As in this fable, the living
fragments cast asunder in Soviet power’s war against its people
will weigh upon us until they are retrieved and placed into the light
of day—to the very last person.” (144)

Open List is one example of a group working to put these pieces back into place. Even as archival access has become more difficult in some instances, researchers, NGOs and state employees continue their work to bring new evidence to light about the Soviet past.

 

 

Seth Bernstein is assistant professor of history at Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He is the translator of Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016) and Liudmila Novikova’s An Anti-Bolshevik Alternative: The White Movement and the Civil War in the Russian North (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018), and the author of Raised under Stalin: Young Communists and the Defense of Socialism (Cornell University Press, 2017).

 

The Other Paris

 

Post-Colonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light, a new book by today’s guest blogger Laila Amine, is published this week in the series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture

When I meet new people and they hear my French accent, the conversation often veers to Paris, its beauty, its rich culture, or to the dream of one day visiting the City of Light. Their fantasy of Paris (and France more broadly) and my experiences as a child of North African immigrants in government subsidized housing could not be more different. In the cultural imaginary of Paris, there is little room for the working class multi-racial outskirts, unless the subject is Islamic culture and the subjection of women and queer subjects.

The Paris imagined in Maghrebi, African American and French immigrant cultures was both invisible in the scholarship and hypervisible as the “Badlands of the Republic” in French mainstream media. Like the city of the Francophile tourists, this other Paris is largely an imagined territory, albeit associated with crime, unbridled patriarchy, and violence.

Un-shackling the sensational and the Paris outskirts, this book chronicles everyday life in the impoverished sectors of the French capital in various contexts and cultural traditions. We find versions of Postcolonial Paris in post-World War II Maghrebi and African American expatriate fiction, 1980s beur fiction and cinema, and contemporary French immigrant cultures. Together, works by Driss Chraïbi, Mehdi Charef, William Gardner Smith, Faïza Guène, J.R., and Princess Hijab register the shifting politics and grammars of race in a nation where it does not appear on the census and where the public overwhelmingly condemns it as an Anglo-Saxon importation.

Spanning 1955 to 2015, authors of African descent have pondered the French tyranny of universalism and interrogated the myth of Paris as a space of liberation for the African diaspora. Some of the most well-known Francophiles, such as James Baldwin, also wrote about a French capital marred by colonial exclusion. By desegregating the cultural study of Paris to include its impoverished outskirts, the book reveals that writers and filmmakers have deployed Franco-African intimate encounters to articulate the political exclusion of racialized subjects. In the colonial and contemporary eras, their narratives of intimacy can help us better understand the ways in which gender and sexual difference work(ed) to construct, maintain, or challenge racial boundaries.

Postcolonial Paris would not have been possible without the numerous scholars of Postcolonial French Studies, Paris Noir, and Black Europe who paved the way, including Sylvie Durmelat, Anne Donadey, Nacira Guénif-Souillamas, Trica Keaton, Alec Hargreaves, Jarrod Hayes, Michel Laronde, Neil MacMaster, Adlai Murdoch, Mireille Rosello, Paul Silverstein, Tyler Stovall, and Benjamin Stora.

Laila Amine is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was born and grew up in France.

How Nazis co-opted German folklore studies

Our guest blogger is James R. Dow, whose new UWP book is published today: Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia.

Traditional costumes, Folk Art Museum, Innsbruck. Photo by Reinhard Bodner.

“Oh, what a wonderful career you must have had, a specialist in German folklore! All those fairy tales and legends, beautiful folk songs, charming costumes , and those delightful buildings we’ve seen in open-air museums.”

Well, it’s more complicated than that. German folklorists and linguists included world-famous scholars, beginning with the Brothers Grimm and continuing well into the twentieth century. As the Nazis rose to power, however, these disciplines were distorted into racist pseudoscience. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Inheritance), folklore became a tool for constructing a unified German realm and a manufactured lineage from ancient and “pure” Germanic and Nordic blood.

German folklorists and linguists were certainly not alone in selling out to the National Socialist regime, but they were called on to provide the ideological base for Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (SS-Ancestral Inheritance). A total of fourteen men and two women, mostly highly educated, became part of cultural commissions sent on a mission to two German-speaking areas: the province of South Tyrol in Italy and Gottschee in Slovenia.

Himmler assigned them to research “the space, spirit, deed, and inheritance of the Nordic races of the Indo-Germanic realm.” The commissions adhered to a belief in a stream of blood, but it proved to be nothing more than a popularized concept of “race,” with everything based on the self-deluding construction of a unified Germanic realm. This was pseudoscience masquerading as hereditary science.

The commissions found pre-Christian tales, ancient Germanic customs, worship sites, architecture, songs sung in parallel fifths, and the last remnants of a Gothic language still very much alive in the mountains, valleys, and villages of the Southern Alps.

Cow decorated with a floral swastika. Photo courtesy of Josef Rainer.

Why is this important? Himmler’s project was arguably the largest field investigation of traditional folklore in history, and the depth of the research carried out on that “Gothic” language, Cymbrian, is unparalleled. But the research was done as part of multiple projects of the SS-Ahnenerbe, which also included conducting medical “research” on prisoners in the concentration camps at Dachau and Natzweiler. When Wolfram Sievers, the business director of the Ahnenerbe, stood trial in Nürnberg in 1946, one piece of evidence brought against him was his collection of Jewish skulls, most likely from Natzweiler. You can view part of his trial on YouTube.

This was state-sponsored research, and some of the researchers were from the same universities where German excellence in scholarship had been unquestioned. The entire undertaking in Italy and Slovenia became nothing less than an affront to honest and responsible scholarship, state-mandated or otherwise. Public sector folklore studies and linguistic documentation today can learn much from this unprecedented and unparalleled occurrence in the annals of the humanities and social science scholarship.

James R. Dow is a professor emeritus of German at Iowa State University. He is the author of German Folklore: A Handbook and The Study of European Ethnology in Austria. He is the editor of numerous books, including The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythologyand Legend and The Nazification of an Academic Discipline.

 

Talking about civilian complicity with the Pinochet regime’s violence

Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet by Michael J. Lazzara is published this week in the series Critical Human Rights. We spoke with Lazzara about issues raised by his book.

Q. Why is it so important to talk about civilian complicity now, more than forty years after the September 11, 1973, coup that put General Augusto Pinochet in power?

A. In the midst of the Cold War, the Pinochet regime (1973-1990) came to power as a violent reaction against democratically elected President Salvador Allende’s “Peaceful Road to Socialism.” Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship resulted in the murder, disappearance, and exile of thousands of Chilean citizens who longed to build a more just and equitable society, as well as the torture of tens of thousands more. Throughout the 1990s, the early years of Chile’s transition to democracy, people almost exclusively attributed the Pinochet regime’s human rights violations to the military, the most egregious perpetrators. Yet we know that dictatorships are always supported behind the scenes by a cast of complicit civilians who play roles—major or minor—in perpetuating the violence and who, through complex processes of rationalization, manage to turn a knowing blind eye to the torture and murder of their fellow citizens.

The stark reality is that many of those who supported the Pinochet regime “behind the scenes” in the 1970s and 1980s remain active in politics, business, and other sectors today. Victims, their families, artists, academics, journalists, lawyers, and concerned citizens have struggled for decades to fight for memory and create a culture of respect for human rights. To a great extent, they have succeeded. But we can’t easily forget that memory and human rights constantly find themselves under attack from political and economic forces that still perpetuate certain violent attitudes fostered under dictatorship.

Q. Is the public discourse of these civilian accomplices relevant for thinking about the “post-truth” era in which we’re living?

A. Definitely! My book is not only about civilian complicity in Chile but also about how civilian accomplices remember and justify their past actions and commitments. I use the phrase “fictions of mastery” to talk about the vital lies (or partial truths) that such accomplices spin, both publically and privately, in order to live with themselves or to convince others that they were acting in the “best interest” of the country or out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Clearly, our contemporary scene is full of individuals who spin stories to advance particular agendas or maintain their hold on political and economic power. My book deconstructs and “outs” such self-serving fictions—and actors—while also advocating for a need for accountability (moral, ethical, and even judicial, when applicable).

Q. Your work provocatively suggests a relationship between complicity and complacency. How are these two concepts linked?

A. The question is important because it forces us to ask: Who is complicit? My book answers this question boldly, even somewhat controversially. It asserts that the spectrum of complicity is vast—that it includes not only those who participated directly in the dictatorship’s crimes but also those who knew what was going on but stood by and did nothing. Even more assertively, I argue that the vast spectrum of complicity in Chile may very well include certain people who years ago fought for revolutionary change and social justice and who now, decades later, wholeheartedly embrace the neoliberal model that the General and his civilian economists espoused. I call these revolutionaries-turned-neoliberals “complacent subjects” and wonder if their political stance, interested in protecting their own status and wealth, might be construed as a form of complicity with the dictatorship’s legacy.

Q. The Chilean dictatorship ended nearly three decades ago. Many analysts praise the country’s transition to democracy as highly “successful.” Why is it important that we continue thinking today about the legacies of the Pinochet regime?

A. Many people, especially economists outside of Chile, have called Chile an “economic miracle” because its economy did relatively well when compared to other countries in the region. This may indeed be true by some measures. But we cannot forget that Chile’s economic strength has its origins in a dark history of torture, disappearances, and murders. We also can’t forget that, despite its economic growth, Chile remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Moreover, socioeconomic inequality has sparked massive protests and deep disenchantment with political elites from across the ideological spectrum.

The past does not go away. Anyone who goes to Chile today can see and feel signs of the dictatorship’s legacy everywhere. It’s palpable! The political and economic class that sympathized with the dictatorship is now back in power, and the dictatorship’s constitution, penned in 1980, remains in effect. There are still families who have not located their disappeared loved ones. And despite the valiant efforts of those who have struggled to create a culture of human rights and justice, every so often people in positions of power appear in the media denying past human rights violations or explaining them away. Schools avoid talking about the recent past, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Lots of families remain politically divided. For all of these reasons, it is just as important now as it was in the 1980s and 1990s that we continue the fight for accountability, truth, and justice.

When I began researching Civil Obedience, eight years ago, almost no one was talking about civilian complicity with the South American dictatorships. The topic was complete public taboo. Over the past five or so years, important works of journalism have started to address the subject, and it is now commonplace to hear people in Chile use the term “civilian-military dictatorship” (dictadura cívico-militar). I hope that my book will help fuel an honest debate about the uncomfortable ways in which Chile’s brutally violent past still maintains a hold on the present.

Michael J. Lazzara is a professor of Latin American literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Davis. His several books include Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory and Luz Arce and Pinochet’s Chile: Testimony in the Aftermath of State Violence.

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors 

 

New Books & New Paperbacks, May 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

May 8, 2018
Death Rides the Ferry
Patricia Skalka

“An intricate, intriguing plot in which Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak can stop a ruthless killer only by finding the link between a spate of murders and a forty-year-old mystery.”—Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series

“Skalka is equally skilled at evoking the beloved Door County landscape and revealing the complexities of the human heart, as Sheriff Cubiak’s latest case evokes personal demons. This thought-provoking mystery, set in a beautiful but treacherous environment, is sure to please.”—Kathleen Ernst, author of The Light Keeper’s Legacy

 

May 15, 2018
Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet
Michael J. Lazzara

Critical Human Rights

“Original, engaging, and direly needed. Lazzara, one of the leading scholars writing on human rights, memory, and trauma in Chile and Argentina, looks at the many ethical positions civilians have latched onto to save face in the decades since the Pinochet dictatorship.”—Greg Dawes, author of Verses Against the Darkness

“Provocative, conceptually powerful, and fluidly expressed, Lazzara’s book forces a reckoning with the active, ample ways Chileans violently transformed politics, the economy, and the social fabric to lasting effect and amid ongoing denial. The arguments and implications extend well beyond Chile to our own politics and societies.”—Katherine Hite, author of Politics and the Art of Commemoration

 

May 29, 2018
Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia
James R. Dow

“Unshrouds folklore’s manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. Dow has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler’s cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today’s cultural politics. A great achievement.”—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions

“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler’s Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna

 

May 31, 2018
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946

Now in Paperback
James P. Leary

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest

• Grammy Nominee
• Winner, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music

“A stunning work of curation and scholarship. . . . Whether you’re a music-maker or just a listener, reader, and thinker, there’s a surprise on every track and every page.”Huffington Post

“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”Library Journal

“A landmark. . . . Attains the highest standards of folklore studies.”Journal of Folklore Research

J.D. SALINGER, NAZIS, AND VEDANTA HINDUSIM

Eberhard Alsen’s new book, J.D. Salinger and the Nazis, is published today. We interviewed Alsen about his work.

 

Q. When did you first read any fiction by J.D. Salinger?

A. I became a Salinger fan in 1966 after reading “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and the rest of his Nine Stories. After that I read the other six Glass Family Stories. Only much later did I read The Catcher in the Rye, the novel for which Salinger is best known.

Q. What is it about Salinger that led you to become a scholar of his work and life?

A. By following up on the many references to Vedanta Hinduism in Salinger’s stories I discovered that he had been taking courses at the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York. I enrolled in a seminar similar to the one Salinger took, and I travelled from Cortland, New York, to New York City every Friday for six months. This was in 1977. In 1978, I was invited to a Ramakrishna Center retreat on an island in the St. Lawrence River where we did an intensive study of the Upanishads. Salinger had attended that same retreat a few years earlier. In short, Salinger inspired me to convert to Vedanta Hinduism.

My first Salinger book, Salinger’s Glass Stories as a Composite Novel, is an interpretation of the seven Glass Family Stories in terms of their Vedanta ideas. The impetus for that book came from Salinger’s inscription in a book he gave to his teacher Swami Nikhilananda. In that inscription, he says that he wrote Franny and Zooey “to circulate the ideas of Vedanta.”

Q. In your research on Salinger’s WWII experiences, what discoveries surprised you?

A. Everyone who has written about Salinger’s war experiences claims that the nervous breakdown he suffered after the end of the war was due to the stress of combat. But Salinger was not a combat soldier. He was an agent for the Counter Intelligence Corps. The daily reports of his CIC detachment in the National Archives show that he never fought the Germans in battle because he did his CIC work well behind the front lines.

Q. As a native of Germany, what special skills or insights were you able to bring to the research of this book?

A. First of all, I still read and speak German very well because, after I moved to the United States in 1962, I have regularly gone back to Germany, on three occasions to teach at German universities. I therefore had no problems evaluating German documents relating to Salinger’s activities in Germany.

Also I have a good understanding of the German military that Salinger faced because my father was an officer in the Wehrmacht and because I myself served in the post-war German Army.

And finally, I understand what Salinger’s problems were in rounding up old Nazis after the end of the war because my father was a Nazi, and I have many documents relating to my father’s denazification.

CIC officers at work

Q. Did Salinger participate in the Denazification Progam, and what did that program entail?

A. After his discharge from the U.S. Army in November of 1945, Salinger signed up for an additional six-month stint as a special investigator for the Counter Intelligence Corps. His task was to track down and arrest Nazis who had gone into hiding, so they could be brought before a Denazification Court. Even before Germany and Austria had been completely occupied, the Allies––the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France––had created the Denazification Program. Its aim was to remove all Nazi officials from positions of influence and to punish all former members of the Nazi Party for having supported an evil regime.

Eberhard Alsen

Eberhard Alsen is a professor emeritus of English at Cortland College, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including A Reader’s Guide to J.D. Salinger and Salinger’s Glass Stories as a Composite Novel.

A grim anniversary: the Sedition Act of 1918

Our guest blogger today is Eric B. Easton, whose book, Defending the Masses: A Progressive Lawyer’s Battles for Free Speech, has just been published.

The year 2018 marks the centenary of many important events in American history, including the horrific flu epidemic that killed millions and the armistice that ended World War I. Free speech advocates will note with sadness that 2018 is also the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Sedition Act—draconian amendments to the Espionage Act that Congress had passed the previous year. As summarized in Geoffrey Stone’s Perilous Times, the new amendments enacted on May 16, 1918, forbade anyone, during wartime, to:

  • willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the government, military, or flag of the United States; or
  • use any language intended to bring the government, military or flag of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute; or
  • willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, advocate the curtailment of war production, or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest doing any of these; or by word or act support the enemy or oppose the United States.

The Sedition Act was repealed in 1920, but it should be remembered today for the arguably honorable, if misguided, reasons why some in Congress supported enactment. Stone quotes Senator William Borah, a progressive Republican from Idaho: “I know this is a drastic law, and I would not support it . . . unless I believed it necessary to prevent things far worse.” While most legislators supported the act to put down dissent, Borah and others thought the law was needed to preempt mob violence against dissenters.

Today, the First Amendment is under stress from numerous challenges that require society to weigh conflicting interests.

Today, the First Amendment is under stress from numerous challenges that require society to weigh conflicting interests. College administrators try to balance the cherished tradition of free speech on campus against the possibilities that some kinds of speech may lead to harassment or violence, or cause members of the campus community to feel unwelcome or less safe. Social media platforms struggle to balance open access for all against the risks of cyberbullying and “fake news.” And the U.S. Supreme Court is, even now, seeking to balance the right of a gay couple to purchase a custom-designed wedding cake against the baker’s purported free-speech right to refuse to express his art in support of same-sex marriage, an institution he opposes on religious grounds.

Protection of privacy, reputation, and cultural sensitivity continue to trouble free-speech advocates today.

While these problems do not raise the existential issues that dissent and reaction in wartime present, they do test the resiliency of the First Amendment in the face of conflicting values. Historically, laws against blasphemy, sedition, and obscenity have repeatedly challenged free-speech values, just as protection of privacy, reputation, and cultural sensitivity continue to trouble free-speech advocates today.

Eric Easton

Resolving these conflicts has been a tortuous process, with more than a few missteps along the way. First Amendment doctrine has largely evolved to overcome bad legislative decisions, almost always in the direction of providing more protection for speech. As we work through these contemporary problems, we would be wise to keep the Sedition Act in mind and the harm that even well-meaning advocates can do to by suppressing free speech to advance other values.

Eric Easton is a professor of law at the University of Baltimore and the director of the LL.M. program in the law of the United States. He is the editor of the Journal of Media Law & Ethics and the author of Mobilizing the Press: Defending the First Amendment in the Supreme Court.

New Books & New Paperbacks, January 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

January 9, 2018
Defending the Masses: A Progressive Lawyer’s Battles for Free Speech
Eric B. Easton

“An early twentieth-century champion of the cause of free speech for the American people, Gilbert Roe has found an ideal interpreter in Eric B. Easton, whose own legal background serves him well in analyzing Roe’s brilliantly argued wartime freedom of speech cases.”—Richard Drake,author of The Education of an Anti-Imperialist

“Gilbert Roe was a remarkable person who associated with and defended the rights of many of the most fascinating people of the Progressive Era. Easton brings all these stories to life in his wonderfully accessible biography.”—Mark Graber,author of Transforming Free Speech

 

January 9, 2018
In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand
Tyrell Haberkorn

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies

“Powerfully uncovers and documents many episodes of state intimidation and violence in postwar Thailand. Haberkorn deftly probes the nature and domestic actions of the Thai state and holds it accountable for its own history.”—Ben Kiernan, author of The Pol Pot Regime and Viet Nam

“This stunning new book goes far beyond Thailand’s heartrending experience of serial dictatorship without accountability and state formation grounded on impunity for crime. Haberkorn also compellingly engages Thailand’s place in the rise of human rights movements. Her documentation of an ‘injustice cascade’ reorients the study of global history and politics.”—Samuel Moyn, author of Human Rights and the Uses of History

“Required reading for anyone who wants to understand modern Thailand. Haberkorn reveals a state where political violence is normalized as it has established and maintained a narrow royalist and elitist regime.”—Kevin Hewison, editor of Political Change in Thailand


January 9, 2018
Now in paperback
Winner of the Kulczycki Book Prize in Polish Studies
Primed for Violence: Murder, Antisemitism, and Democratic Politics in Interwar Poland
Paul Brykczynski

“An outstanding and welcome contribution to scholarship on Polish nationalism, the history of antisemitism, political violence, fascism, and democratic politics [that] will resonate with the public at large as we grapple with contemporary challenges to democracy across the globe.”Slavic Review

“This assiduously researched, impeccably argued, and well-illustrated book should be required reading for anyone interested in modern Polish history and/or the evolution of the Polish nation more broadly.”Polish Review


January 16, 2018

Tragic Rites: Narrative and Ritual in Sophoclean Drama
Adriana E. Brook

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

Presenting an innovative new reading of Sophocles’ plays, Tragic Rites analyzes the poetic and narrative function of ritual in the seven extant plays of Sophocles. Adriana Brook closely examines four of them—Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus—in the context of her wide-ranging consideration of the entire Sophoclean corpus.

“Brook throws new light on the representation of rituals in Sophoclean tragedy, especially of incomplete, incorrectly performed, or corrupted rituals that shape audiences’ and readers’ emotional, ethical, and intellectual responses to each play’s dramatic action and characterization, concern with identity and community, and ambiguous narrative and moral closure.”—Seth L. Schein, author of Sophocles’ Philoctetes


January 23, 2018
Conflicted Memory: Military Cultural Interventions and the Human Rights Era in Peru
Cynthia E. Milton

Critical Human Rights Series

“Brings to light how military ‘entrepreneurs of memory’ strategically place memory products in a memory marketplace. A major intervention in debates about Peru’s internal armed conflict of the 1980s and ’90s and its aftermath, which will interest scholars in many disciplines and regions.”—Paulo Drinot, coeditor of Peculiar Revolution

“This incisive analysis of Peruvian countermemories explores the military’s seemingly failed cultural memory production, its lack of artistry and inability to suppress evidence. Though the military is unable to fully reclaim heroic and self-sacrificing patriotism, Milton nonetheless recognizes its success in shaping memory politics and current political debates.”—Leigh Payne, author of Unsettling Accounts

“Impressively documents the military’s diverse interventions in Peru’s culture—memoirs, ‘truth’ reports, films, novels, and memorials—and its numerous attempts to censor cultural productions that challenge its preferred narrative.”—Jo-Marie Burt, author of Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru

35 Years of Anthropological Controversy

Our guest blogger is Peter Hempenstall. His new book, Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology, is now available.

When I tell people the title of my book, half of them (those who are not anthropologists or historians of the Pacific region) puzzle over the name: who on earth was Derek Freeman? If I mention Margaret Mead, some suddenly nod vigorously. Wasn’t there some controversy thirty years ago when Mead’s iconic status was suddenly thrown into dispute? Yes, I say, that’s where Derek Freeman comes in.

Freeman in his later years

In January 1983 Harvard University Press published a book which sparked the longest, most acrimonious controversy in the history of cultural anthropology during the twentieth century. The book was Derek Freeman’s Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, which was a refutation of Margaret Mead’s little study from the 1920s, Coming of Age in Samoa. Mead’s book had exercised a powerful, energizing influence on American social sciences and culture with its message of how the cultural environment shaped the way humans developed through adolescence. Freeman’s book, and his subsequent battles to defend a portrait of Samoa that was diametrically opposed to Mead’s, provoked tremors across anthropology, particularly in the United States, where Freeman was vilified and dismissed as a dangerous heretic.

Freeman in 1951 standing on an Iban longhouse platform in Borneo

The disruptive figure of Derek Freeman is the subject of Truth’s Fool. Freeman was a New Zealand anthropologist, a mountaineer, who had worked among the head hunting Iban of Borneo, had spent years among Samoans studying their culture, was given a respected chiefly title in that hierarchical society, and spoke fluent Samoan. The repudiation of Mead’s arguments, and the statements that Freeman made in support of a new kind of anthropology that took biological drivers seriously in the evolution of human cultures, threw up dangerous questions about the nature of human being. For American scholars in the Reagan years, Freeman seemed to invoke the threat of racial theories once more invading the social sciences.

Freeman working at home in a woolly hat, the figure of eccentricity

The last two decades of the twentieth century were full of rancorous dispute that had the character of rolling warfare between Freeman and American cultural anthropologists. Freeman spent the last thirty years of his life, until his death in 2001, defending his arguments in a vain attempt to convince his adversaries about Mead and to herald a new anthropology. Echoes of the confrontations find their way into the literature today, and Freeman’s name still has the power to arouse emotion.

The Mead debates and their fallout are at the center of Truth’s Fool. It lays out the labyrinthine twists and turns of arguments that raged from the 1980s into the new century. But it also deals with the second part of Freeman’s Mead campaign, his arguments about the evolution of humans as higher primates, and the relation between their genetically predisposed behavior and the creation of their cultures. Freeman’s refutation of Mead was originally intended as the prelude to a future anthropology, in which his colleagues would learn from neuroscientists’ discoveries about brain functions and apply them to the study of behavior in culture.

And then there is the biography of Freeman himself, which I argue cannot be ignored or underplayed in understanding this alleged antipodean “monster.” Freeman’s reputation is that of a brilliantly cantankerous man, unforgiving in debate, and carrying a career-long vendetta against Margaret Mead. Truth’s Fool examines these claims closely and seeks to peel back the gargoyle features with which he has been endowed by his adversaries. Who was Derek Freeman as a person? How is he to be defined beyond the cult of hostility and the regular ritual denunciations that seem to have grown around him? And what does all this say about anthropology itself and its manner of dealing with dissenters in its midst? I hope Truth’s Fool enlarges the narrow world in which anthropologists have confined Freeman and introduces a three dimensional historical figure of significance, rather than the cartoon-cutout figure he has become for many.

Peter Hempenstall is an emeritus professor of history at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and a conjoint professor of history at the University of Newcastle in Australia. His many books include Pacific Islanders under German Rule and the biographies The Meddlesome Priest and The Lost Man: Wilhelm Solf in German History (coauthored with Paula Tanaka Mochida).

Publishers’s note: The University of Wisconsin Press has published many books on the history of anthropology, including another book on the Mead-Freeman controversy, The Trashing of Margaret Mead. You can also browse our 12-volume History of Anthropology series.

New Books, December 2017

December 12, 2017
Prisoner of Pinochet: My Year in a Chilean Concentration Camp
Sergio Bitar

“A compelling account, a best seller in Chile … and an important contribution to the country’s understanding of itself.”
Foreign Affairs

“Democracy is fragile, and only fully appreciated when it is lost. Sergio Bitar, now one of the most prominent political leaders in Chile, recounts the story of the 1973 military coup and his imprisonment in a direct, unsentimental style that sharply highlights the dramatic events he narrates.”
—Isabel Allende Llona

Critical Human Rights Series
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

December 19, 2017
Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology
Peter Hempenstall

Truth’s Fool documents an intellectual journey that was much larger and more encompassing than Freeman’s criticism of Mead’s work. It peels back the prickly layers to reveal the man in all his complexity. Framing this story within anthropology’s development in Britain and America, Peter Hempenstall recounts Freeman’s mission to turn the discipline from its cultural-determinist leanings toward a view of human culture underpinned by biological and behavioral drivers. Truth’s Foolengages the intellectual questions at the center of the Mead–Freeman debate and illuminates the dark spaces of personal, professional, and even national rivalries.

“A perceptive intellectual biography of Freeman’s evolving character, enthusiasms, and academic career that led to his fateful pursuit of Margaret Mead.”
—Lamont Lindstrom,author of Knowledge and Power in a South Pacific Society