Tag Archives: #history

The Mostly Nearly Entirely Excited States of American English

Charles Hood, author of Partially Excited States, explains the double meaning behind his title and explores a variety of curious phrases in the English language. His book is published today by the University of Wisconsin Press in the Wisconsin Poetry Series, and is the winner of the 2016 Felix Pollak Poetry Prize. 

Somebody at Yale once asked John Ashbery about his relationship to the English language. One wishes to be polite, but come on now—really? All of your work to all of language? It would be impossible for any of us to answer that, but most especially somebody whose artistic register spans every octave from Abstract Expressionism to parking tickets.

Ashbery said oh no, there must be some confusion. He didn’t work in the English language but in American English, and that included the English language within it. (And saying that, he slipped off to freshen his drink.)

It seems to me American English is like an enormous tiger shark, a monster fish whose gullet contains toasters, clocks, two-by-fours, other sharks, pieces of surfboard, half of a suit of armor. One thing about American English: nobody can accuse us of being all hat and no ranch. Macabre pictures gave Huck Finn the fantods; Mr. Twain also preserved for us galoot, palaver, and forty-rod (rotgut whisky). New words arrive daily: clickbait provides a pleasing spondee in the mouth, but I like older, folksier terms, like whisky jack for gray jay.

Sec. Jardine and Mr. & Mrs. Tom Mix, May 21, 1925. National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

“Hey guys, wait up,” can be a girl pleading with girls as easily as it is gents razzing gents. Dude is equally inclusive: it used to mean a poor surfer, a term extrapolated from dude ranch, whose label came from the Scots for posh clothing, duds. Whatever happened to pen pals? Gumshoes used to get a hinky feeling about a john’s alibi. I’ll sit through hours of late-night noir just to watch people smoke and to listen to them call each other pal, buddy, and doll. Just once I want to start a poem by warning, “Watch it, buster.”

Do you call it a crayfish or a crawdad? Same creek-bottom bug-lobster, but names change by region. The poet Jonathan Williams loved documenting the language of Appalachia. Right before I retire (once it’s too late to get fired), I’ll quote him often, saying of one colleague in particular, “There’s more mouth on that woman than ass on a goose.”

Know Your USA

In my new book, I play with this heritage. The cover photo was taken on a cross-country road trip and the title Partially Excited States I borrowed from material science. Articles in that discipline worry about the “applicability of Kohn–Sham density functional theory.” A sham theory? I’m loving it. But states can mean states of being (when you’re nearly interested, yet not quite) and of course I also mean the fifty U.S. states, all of which I’ve visited at least once. Somebody in a hurry is a highballer; in logging, a high climber is the person who tops a spar tree and hangs the butt rigging. American logging also gives us skidders and peaveys (tools), calks (boots), and slash as a noun—not the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, but piles of leftover branches.

Two people divided by a common language: my California English differs from that of my wife’s family in rural Pennsylvania—“davenport royalty” as I call them in the book—the people who warned me that “to prepare peaches for canning, / first you must scold them.” In hunting, a Texas heart shot means to shoot an animal from behind, through the anus, thus keeping the pelt intact for taxidermy. (Irish karate? To kick a lad after he’s already down.) Some day I want to publish my still-in-progress poem that celebrates aviation slang: to bingo—to abort, be diverted. At the bar, “Let’s bingo.” Judy: target in sight, locked on, got it.

My students mistakenly believe that present times are especially slangy, as if our great-grandparents didn’t get rat-assed, blotto, plowed, or cabbaged. They also expect me to be snobby about “bad” English. No way, brave dudes and dudettes. Best reason to want to live to be 100? Just to find out what our hep cat language plans to do next.

Charles Hood is a writer of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, a photographer, and an artist. His many books include Mouth; South x South; Río de Dios: 13 Histories of the Los Angeles River; The Half-Life of Salt: Voices of the Enola Gay; and Red Sky, Red Water: Powell on the Colorado. A longtime animal spotter, he has seen more than six hundred mammal species and more than five thousand species of wild birds. In his global travels, he has trekked to the South Pole, been lost in a Tibetan whiteout, and recovered from bubonic plague.

New publications, March 2017

We are pleased to announce five new books to be published in March.

March 7, 2017
PARTIALLY EXCITED STATES
Charles Hood

“Simultaneously dazzling, playful, witty, goofy, hilarious, and profound, Partially Excited States carries us through our past into the present and even into our future somewhere in outer space. This is a mature book that manages to be idiosyncratic in its thinking but universal in its concerns.”
—Susan Mitchell

“These poems give us reality entire, ablaze with fires at once heavenly and infernal. This is a poet whose ecstasy and despair present two sides of the same blade, sharpened on a grim and gorgeous world.”
—Katharine Coles

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

March 7, 2017
YOU, BEAST
Nick Lantz

“Lantz gives us what we could least have anticipated, then makes it seem the most natural thing in the world.”
—John Burnside

“Poem by poem, book by book, Nick Lantz is becoming one of our time’s best poets. He knows the blades and shrieks and pleasures and sweet sick twists in our human hearts, and this bestiary forces us to look, hard and long, in our own mirrors. ‘Polar Bear Attacks Woman … Horrifying Vid (Click to Watch)’ is a poem for this moment in the way Auden and Yeats and Rich and Dickey and Komunyakaa gave us poems for their moments.”
—Albert Goldbarth

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

March 7, 2017
THE APOLLONIA POEMS
Judith Vollmer

Winner of the Four Lakes Prize in Poetry

“This book is a trip, or many trips. Here is the creative mind at work and play—its geological layers uncovered, lifetimes and cultures revisited, offered to us in Judith Vollmer’s characteristic voice: curious, tender, and flinty, with its own grave and ethereal music.”
—Alicia Ostriker

“Judith Vollmer’s dwelling-in-traveling poems follow the ‘salt-sweet restless soul’ into labyrinths of mirrors, walls, shrouds, veils, membranes, through portals sussurant with transatlantic chants, through a palimpsest of echoes caught in the undersong of women suffering over the quickness of life.”
—Mihaela Moscaliuc

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

March 14, 2017
THE BLIND MASSEUSE
A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia
Alden Jones

New in Paperback

  • Finalist, Travel Book or Guide Award, North American Travel Journalists Association
    Gold Medal for Travel Essays, Independent Publisher Book Awards
    Gold Medal, Travel Essays, ForeWord’s IndieFab Book of the Year
    Winner, Memoir/Biography, Bisexual Book Award
    Longlist of eight, PEN/Diamonstein Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
    Finalist, Nonfiction, Housatonic Book Award

“It’s smart and thoughtful, but also Jones is cackle-for-days hilarious and the book is a page-turner from second one, when she’s out walking in the dark in her village and bumps into a cow. Please, everyone, read this book!”
Huffington Post

“Wise, witty, and well traveled, Alden Jones has given us a beautifully written book that honors the wandering spirit in all of us. Take this journey with her and return newly alive to the pleasure of moving through the world.”
—Ana Menéndez, author of Adios, Happy Homeland!

March 14, 2017
UNDERSTANDING AND TEACHING U.S. GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER HISTORY

Edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman

  • Best Special Interest Books, selected by the American Association of School Librarians
    Best Special Interest Books, selected by the Public Library Reviewers
    Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBT Anthology
    A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

“An excellent and sturdy resource that offers high school and college teachers an entry point into LGBT history. . . . Contributors deftly tie LGBT content to the broader goals of teaching history, not simply making visible the lives of everyday queer people but prompting critical engagement.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Groundbreaking and readable. . . . Essential for college and university libraries supporting teacher training degree programs and curricula in American history, LGBT studies, and the social sciences. Essential, undergraduates and above; general readers.”
Choice

The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History
John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin, Series Editors

 

 

Reading African American Autobiography

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Eric Lamore, editor of Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism, spoke with us about why it’s necessary to study overlooked texts to gain deep insight into African American life narratives. His book is published today in the Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography series. 

What influence do you think that President Obama has had upon readers and writers of African American autobiography?

In putting together this collection of eleven essays on African American autobiography, I was particularly interested in Robert B. Stepto’s claim that scholars of African American literature need to rethink this canon because the President of the United

1995 edition

1995 edition

States for the last eight years is himself an African American writer. In his book, A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama, Stepto compares relevant parts from Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, with foundational literary texts, some of which are autobiographies. I titled my introduction “African American Autobiography in the Age of Obama” to emphasize this connection.

2004 edition

2004 edition

This election season, I went back and reread Obama’s Dreams, and I was struck by the President’s comments on reading. He wrote in the preface to the 2004 edition of his memoir that he wanted to revise parts of his book, because he would have told his life story differently had he written it later in his life. But, he commented that his 1995 memoir would be read differently as republished in a post-911 world, so he was quite aware of the relationship between text, reader, and context. Part of Obama’s contribution to the study of African American life narratives in the twenty-first century is this important point about the need to reread older life narratives, because cultural and political landscapes continue to change in the United States and around the world. One could reread pertinent African American life narratives from the past, for example, in the context of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

I think Obama’s Dreams also laid an important textual foundation for African American life narrators in the twenty-first century. Though Dreams was first published in 1995, Obama’s explorations of the biracial self, and his search for people and places (including outside the United States) that impacted his constructions of self, are found in much of twenty-first-century African American life writing. The last four essays in Reading African American Autobiography explore these themes. There are striking parallels between Obama’s Dreams and twenty-first-century African American life writing that scholars need to explore further.

How might future scholarship build on the essays in this volume?

The contributors and I collectively make the case that reading these life narratives in the twenty-first century requires scholars to consider a wide array of texts and a host of critical approaches. We also directly address ways that innovative critical frameworks, such as ecocriticism or queer theory, allow scholars to reread seminal life stories from our past in new ways.

Some of the contributors reclaim overlooked texts and lives, including a criminal confession camera manpublished on a broadside in the late eighteenth century, an abridged edition of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography published for children and adolescent readers in nineteenth-century New York, an uplift narrative published after the Civil War that contains important photographs, and autobiographical graphic narratives published in the late twentieth century. The slave narratives published in the antebellum period still remain very important, of course, but my book makes the case that scholars need to spend more time analyzing other overlooked texts and lives. More work needs to be done to recover neglected aspects of African American lives and to dig into texts that have not received adequate critical attention.

FoxyWe also call for studying a wider range of genres. Scholars today can look at the presentation of self in blogs, YouTube posts, graphic narratives, films, and photography, to name just a few genres. The intersection of genealogy and genetics, too, has produced all kinds of new information on African American lives that we need to consider. The printed page is still important, but these other channels make it clear that African American life narrators are telling their stories and exploring the self in ways beyond the writing of a memoir. All these varied explorations have expanded the canon of African American life narrative in dramatic ways. There is no doubt that the field must and will become more interdisciplinary.

In the book, we also look at celebrity life writing in the twenty-first-century. Almost all examples of this in the African American life narrative canon are collaborative projects. It would be fruitful to study that process, especially if there is documentation (transcribed interviews, recordings, and the like) mapping how the celebrity and the collaborating writer worked together.

In the chapter that you contributed to this collection about Olaudah Equiano, you draw on the history of books and publishing to shed light on the complex textual histories of the African American autobiographical tradition. 

Yes, I’ve been influenced by scholarship on early black Atlantic literature and book history. I’veEquiano collage written here about Abigail Mott’s 1829 abridged edition of Equiano’s autobiography. Usually, Equiano is understood as one of the main individuals of African descent involved in the political movement against the slave trade in 1780s Great Britain. The point of my chapter is that there is a whole different story on Equiano if you look closely at the several different editions of his autobiography that were published in the United States, both during his lifetime and following his death. Mott’s 1829 edition, published thirty-two years after Equiano’s death, was aimed at students in the New York African Free School. It is the first edition of Equiano’s autobiography I know of that was edited specifically for young African American readers in the United States.

Mott’s abridged edition is a perfect example of what I referred to earlier as an overlooked text. By looking at more than one edition, we can discover that Equiano’s autobiography was edited and read in the United States differently from editions published in Great Britain. These differences tell us a great deal about how editors and book publishers packaged Equiano’s life in specific ways for their readers. Mott’s edition shows us one of the points where Equiano’s autobiography entered the African American canon (though he clearly viewed himself as an Afro-British subject). Studying abridged, unauthorized, and posthumous editions of early black Atlantic life writing reveals a great deal about the changing histories and contexts of works that shaped the beginnings of the African American life writing tradition.

Lamore-Eric-2016-cEric D. Lamore is an associate professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. He is the editor of Teaching Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative: Pedagogical Strategies and New Perspectives and coeditor of New Essays on Phillis Wheatley.

New books, December & January

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We are pleased to announce these new and soon-to-be-published books.

Published December 6
Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts: Seeking Justice after Genocide
Bert Ingelaere
“This masterful study provides a balanced, nuanced assessment of Rwanda’s local courts, showing how diverse social dynamics influenced both the operations of gacaca and its outcomes in different local communities. Essential reading for anyone interested in transitional justice and conflict resolution, in Rwanda and beyond.”—Catharine Newbury, Smith College
Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

To be published January 10Lamore-Reading-African-American-Autobiography-2016-c
Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism
Edited by Eric D. Lamore
“These provocative essays reveal the exciting state of African American autobiographical studies. The critical approaches explored here—from new-media studies and eco-criticism to reading the interplay between visual and verbal autobiographical acts—not only frame and interpret the life narratives proliferating within today’s digital and popular cultures, they enliven classic literary texts for a contemporary age.”—Angela Ards, author of Words of Witness
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

5526-165wTo be published January 10
American Autobiography after 9/11

Megan Brown
“Demonstrates how several American life-writing subgenres have reflected and responded to national and personal anxieties after 9/11. This accessible and well-argued book is an essential resource for understanding contemporary memoir.”—G. Thomas Couser, Hofstra University
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

 

To be published January 175415-165w
Understanding and Teaching the Cold War
Edited by Matthew Masur
“A superb collection of authoritative, imaginative, and even provocative essays on teaching the history of the Cold War, effectively merging historiography, methodology, and innovative use of primary documents.”—Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century
The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History

John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin, Series Editors

5493-165wTo be published January 17
Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: 
How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway
Michael O’Hear
“Serious students of modern sentencing reforms—as well as everyone eager to understand the roots of, and potential responses to, modern mass incarceration—must have this book on their reading list. O’Hear thoroughly canvasses the dynamic story of Wisconsin’s uniquely important sentencing reform history.”—Douglas Berman, author of the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog

 

 

Readings on Syria and Cuba

2633Cleopatra’s Wedding Present: Travels through Syria
Robert Tewdwr Moss
Introduction by Lucretia Stewart

Robert Tewdwr Moss was a journalist of astonishing versatility who was murdered in London in 1996, the day after he finished this book. He left this lyrical gem as his legacy. Moss’s memoir of his travels through Syria resonates on many levels: as a profoundly telling vivisection of Middle Eastern society, a chilling history of ethnic crimes, a picaresque adventure story, a purely entertaining travelogue, a poignant romance—and now, a record of Syria in the late twentieth century, before the devastation of civil war.

 

5216-165wWinner, Luciano Tomassini International Relations Book Award, Latin American Studies Association
Cubans in Angola: South-South Cooperation and Transfer of Knowledge, 1976–1991
Christine Hatzky

“Hatzky convincingly argues that Cuba and Angola were not mere pawns in a proxy war between the Cold War superpowers, but that both countries worked as independent actors with their own specific interests in a relationship of equal partnership. . . . Well written and excellently translated.”American Historical Review

Angola, a former Portuguese colony in southern central Africa, gained independence in 1975 and almost immediately plunged into more than two decades of conflict and crisis. Fidel Castro sent Cuban military troops to Angola in support of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), leading to its ascension to power despite facing threats both international and domestic. What is less known, and what Cubans in Angola brings to light, is the significant role Cubans played in the transformation of civil society in Angola during these years. Offering not just military support but also political, medical, administrative, and technical expertise as well as educational assistance, the Cuban presence in Angola is a unique example of transatlantic cooperation between two formerly colonized nations in the global South.

 

3495Transgression and Conformity: Cuban Writers and Artists after the Revolution
Linda S. Howe

“A brilliant synthesis of Cuba’s cultural production since the Revolution. Linda Howe offers the ultimate guide to understanding the cultural policies of the island. . . . Fascinating and comprehensive.”
—Cristina García, editor of Cubanísimo

Defining the political and aesthetic tensions that have shaped Cuban culture for over forty years, Linda Howe explores the historical and political constraints imposed upon Cuban artists and intellectuals during and after the Revolution. Focusing on the work of Afro-Cuban writers Nancy Morejón and Miguel Barnet, Howe exposes the complex relationship between Afro-Cuban intellectuals and government authorities as well as the racial issues present in Cuban culture.

 

 

Recounting Yaqui history as an outsider

Hu-DeHart-Yaqui-Resistance-and-Survival-cEvelyn Hu-DeHart, author of the new revised edition of  Yaqui Resistance and Survival: The Struggle for Land and Autonomy 1821-1910, comments on the difficulties of writing history as an outsider and the rewarding feedback she received from the Yaquis she met. The new edition was released by UWP in early November.

To prepare for the new edition of my book,  I wrote a preface entitled “Reading Yaqui History in the Twenty-First Century.” I did not, however, include in that preface two anecdotes about the reaction of some Yaquis to my work. These encounters have given me a lot of personal satisfaction, so here I share them with you, dear Potential Reader, in hope that the stories will spur you to pick up the book and read it.

Shortly after the book was first published in 1984, I was invited to give a talk at the University of Arizona. It was of course near the U.S.–Mexico border and the original Yaqui homeland in Sonora, Mexico, as Pascua Yaqui Tribewell as near Yaqui exile communities in Arizona that had become permanent over the years. After the talk, an older gentleman approached me to introduce himself as a Yaqui. He did not thank me; instead, he told me that his people would not have recounted their history chronologically as I did, because that is not how time plays out for them. Hearing that as a sharp rebuke, my heart began to sink, until he quickly added that perhaps I was a Yaqui in my previous life. I took that gratefully as a back-handed compliment.

Some fifteen years later, I was invited to give a talk on Yaqui history at Humboldt State University in northern California. Afterwards, while having a snack at the campus cafeteria, I was approached by a group of young men who identified themselves as Yaquis. They said that they had grown up in the American Southwest and had read my book. They knew only a few of the great events, they told me, and had not heard of the resistance leaders I wrote about. They then thanked me warmly for giving them back a history they had lost. I was grateful for this direct and sincere affirmation of the book’s worth to the very people it concerned and mattered to most.

Texas Yaqui 2Writing indigenous history as an outsider is a challenging and risky business.  The burden of responsibility to “get it right” for insiders can be balanced only by appreciation for the outsider historian’s craft and authority. When the older Yaqui and the younger Yaquis spoke truth to my power, I was simultaneously humbled and proud during both encounters.

Hu-DeHart-Evelyn-2016-cEvelyn Hu-DeHart is a professor of history, American studies, and ethnic studies, and a past director of the Center for the Study of Race in America, at Brown University. She is the author of Missionaries, Miners, and Indians: History of Spanish Contact with the Yaqui Indians of Northwestern New Spain, 1533–1830.

A brief history of the Irish Nationalist Movement

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Paul A. Townend, author of The Road to Home Rule: Anti-imperialism and the Irish National Movement, provides some background on the turbulent political landscape in Ireland in the late 1800s. The University of Wisconsin Press is publishing this book today in the book series History of Ireland and Irish Diaspora

The Road to Home Rule tracks the relationship of discontented Irish patriots with their place in the British imperial system. As “jingo” imperial policies drove the relentless and often violent imperial expansion of the British Empire of the 1870s and 1880s, Irish political entrepreneurs capitalized on a rising, visceral popular Irish rejection of that system. The story parallels in certain ways the striking current turn in Anglo-American political culture towards anti-globalist populism.

Then and now, an ambitious and rambunctious political minority worked tirelessly, successfully, and, in the minds of the political establishment, unscrupulously, to disturb what many saw as an inevitable progressive march away from the past. This past was bound by localism and resentful identity politics, and this minority sought to move towards a brighter, more prosperous, and mutually advantageous transnational and interconnected future. In Ireland in the 1870s, Anglo-Irish elites led by the lawyer Isaac Butt imagined a new Ireland, ruled by its own parliament but even more closely connected to the British Empire, the great globalizing force of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By granting Ireland local autonomy in the form of “home rule,” Butt argued to anyone in England who would listen that Irish grievances could be settled quickly, and reconciled Irish energy and human capital could be harnessed to help build the rapidly expanding empire.

Identifying with Benjamin Disraeli’s efforts to lead a populist turn in British imperial culture, and to embrace the inspirational potential of imperial grandeur, Butt and others believed that, properly led, Irish soldiers, merchants, and emigrants could leverage their longstanding service to Empire into a genuine partnership for ordering the world’s less civilized peoples. The joint project of spreading Christianity, British law, and building a global economy dominated by British technology, capital markets, communications, and transport infrastructure—railroads, telegraphs, and steamships—would thus transcend generations of petty sectarian animosities and festering grievances. All of this would allow the intransigent “Irish problem” to fade into the history books, a curiosity of the past, overcome forever by the force of progress, prosperity, optimism, and mutual enterprise.

In Ireland, however, this vision was disturbed by unanticipated developments, and was then swallowed up by a wave of frustrated and angry Irish populism. The uncharacteristically unimaginative failure of Disraeli to seize the opportunity presented by Butt’s offer of collaborative partnership frustrated Butt and his Irish allies. Rising economic distress in Ireland occasioned by the disruption of global agricultural markets compounded popular discontent. The situation boiled over as Disraeli, and then his Liberal successor, William Ewart Gladstone, embarked between 1878 and 1885 on a spectacular series of bloody imperial campaigns against Afghans, Zulus, Boers, Egyptians, and Sudanese peoples unwilling to accept Pax Britannica and all its benefits, which they never asked for.

It took the political entrepreneurship of Charles Stewart Parnell, however, and a handful of cosmopolitan allies—many of them globetrotting journalists and foreign correspondents, like the Fenian J.J. O’Kelly or Parnell’s close associate, Cork native Justin McCarthy—to capitalize on the populist opportunity afforded by these wars and economic disruptions. Parnell caught the pulse of Irish disgust and rejected any embrace of British imperial ambition. He worked to marshal anti-imperial Irish public opinion, stirred as it was by imperial violence, appalled by the imposition of “Zulu-whipped” British soldiers on the Irish countryside, and quick to see parallels between Irish, African, and Indian experiences of British power.  Parnell superseded Butt by forging a powerful bond with nationalist sentiment, building a transformative and enormously consequential new Home Rule movement that demanded greater independence and rejected Irish support for the imperial project. He and others used the press, especially the new technologies that encouraged the insertion of political cartoons, to promote a vision of empire building as an exercise in hypocritical brutality.

Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

“Look on this, and on this,” July 1882; comparing the occupation of Alexandria with “Coercion” during the Irish Land War. Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

By strengthening for many in Ireland the connection between opposition to Union and opposition to empire, Parnell made it nearly impossible for himself or his successors to reconcile Irish independence with imperial citizenship. They alienated forever many imperially minded Britons who rightly diagnosed the threat Parnellism posed to the emerging British-dominated global system. As Flora Dixie, the shrewd pioneering war correspondent and sympathetic critic of Parnell, noted at the time, her English friends were disgusted by the apparent unwillingness of a Home Rule Irish parliament led by Parnell to “agree to any imperial policy of the ministry.” “What would be the result,” she wondered, of this fundamental disconnect on foreign policy, “if not political anarchy?”

In embracing nationalism and rejecting the transnational progressivism of their day, these Irish nationalists acted more out of opportunism than ideology. The leaders of the Parnell movement were neither parochial nor anti-modern, but they did enormously frustrate a seemingly inevitable march of history towards a future that many believed would subordinate local economic interests, as well as cultural and political identities, to new power structures and forces of globalization. To achieve their political goals, Parnellite Home Rulers had to stoke public opinion, graphically caricature British power, and work to remind Irish people of their historical grievances. While they often encouraged sympathy and solidarity with other imperial subjects, their sometimes cynical embrace of contemporary racial attitudes also led them to encourage the Irish people to expect political success where less “civilized” peoples failed to resist British power. In their struggle against what they understood to be overwhelmingly powerful political and economic forces, they adopted an opportunistic and ethically fluid approach to building their movement into a transformative revolution.

townend figure 2 blog

“Prophet and Loss.”; Satirizing the occupation of Egypt. Photo Credit: National Library, Ireland

How Brexit might be better understood by contemplating the Irish anti-imperialist campaign is too presentist an undertaking for this historian. But, it is interesting to note how contemptuous Butt and his contemporaries were about Parnell’s efforts, even while they acknowledged the potent destructive political force of charismatically led populist campaigns rooted in economic frustration, fiercely held “local” identities, and resentment of distant and unresponsive elites. As Mitchell Henry, one appalled ally of Butt, put it in a public letter in 1879, the new leadership was “revolutionary and criminal” in its rebranding of Irish patriotism as the rejection of empire. “The object of the Home Rule movement,” he insisted, was “to present Great Britain and Ireland as one empire, united together.”

The lessons of history are often invoked; one of the most important is that it can be very difficult to judge the likely verdict of the future on the choices made in a given present. Parnell remains a national hero in Ireland; his political genius is acknowledged by many who are less sure of the long term consequences of the political movement he led. But to the majority of his politically astute contemporaries, the savvy Irish elites of his day, Parnell was a demagogue who enabled the short-sighted and opportunistic rejection of the best way forward for the Irish people into a better future and a brighter era of cooperation. Because he refused to let go of the past and move on from bitterness and grievance, the argument went, his trading in the emotionally effective but short-sighted currency of anti-imperialism left the Irish outside of the power structures that self-interest dictated they accept and adapt to.

Townend-Paul-2016-cPaul A. Townend is a professor of British and Irish history at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He is the author of Father Mathew, Temperance, and Irish Identity and the coeditor of Ireland in an Imperial World.

 

 

New books for November 2016

We are pleased to announce three new books arriving in November.

Hu-DeHart-Yaqui-Resistance-and-Survival-cPublication Date: November 1
YAQUI RESISTANCE AND SURVIVAL
The Struggle for Land and Autonomy, 1821-1910
Revised Edition
Evelyn Hu-DeHart

A landmark history of the Yaqui people of northern Mexico

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Evelyn Hu-DeHart

“Still stands as the most comprehensive and rigorously researched history of the Yaqui in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hu-DeHart reminds us that in spite of the destruction wrought by the Spanish empire, the Mexican Revolution, and modernization on both sides of the border, the Yaquis resisted and survived.”
—Elliott Young, Lewis & Clark College

“Some works of history are timeless. Yaqui Resistance and Survival is such a book, reminding us never to forget just how brutal and vicious the history of colonialism has been. Here is the history of the Yaqui Indians, who resided in what became the northern Mexican states of Sinaloa and Sonora. From the eighteenth century to the twentieth, they faced missionaries seeking souls, miners demanding disposable labor, and entrepreneurs who wanted them wiped off the face of the earth. The Yaqui fought back to keep their lands, their culture, and ways of life.”—Ramón A. Gutiérrez, University of Chicago

Bouldrey-Inspired-Journeys-cPublication Date: November 22
INSPIRED JOURNEYS
Travel Writers in Search of the Muse
Edited by Brian Bouldrey

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Brian Bouldrey

“The tremendously satisfying and uplifting sense of these essays is the ongoing nature of human pilgrimage, whether to the center of the self or the ends of the earth. After reading this book, I want to go on a journey myself! Highly recommended.”—Antonya Nelson, author of Bound

“Bouldrey has assembled a stellar collection of writers—  true storytellers all—who describe in the most human of terms their varied pilgrimages around the world in search of their elusive muses.”—Booklist

Townend-The-Road-to-Home-Rule-cPublication Date: November 22
THE ROAD TO HOME RULE
Anti-imperialism and the Irish National Movement
Paul A. Townend

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Paul Townend

“A bold and original interpretation in which empire emerges as the essential context—rather than a mere sideshow or backdrop—for the rise of Irish nationalism. To find the origins of Home Rule, we will now need to look not simply at the internal politics of the United Kingdom but at Irish responses to events in India, Egypt, Sudan, and South Africa.”—Kevin Kenny, Boston College

The Politics of the Stalinist Past in Today’s Russia

Russian author Alexander Vatlin gives insight into his book Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police, published this week by the University of Wisconsin Press. With Seth Bernstein providing the translation, Vatlin expands upon Stalin’s legacy today and the issues that still divide the Russian people.

I am delighted that my study of Stalin’s terror at the local level has been translated into English. In this blog, I’d like to frame the book in the context in which I wrote it— present-day Russia. When I wrote the original Russian-language book [published in 2004], the primary point of dispute among Russians stemmed from their opinions about Stalin’s regime. Indeed, this divide remains today. Academic historians have written hundreds or thousands of books with well-researched arguments about Stalinism. Some have even published documents from formerly secret archives, revealing the inner workings of the party-state. Yet among many ordinary people, these works have had little impact. As a colleague commented, a Russian’s view about Stalinism are a question of faith, not knowledge.

Stalin’s era remains the period in Russian history that attracts the most attention from researchers. It is an epoch that allows, even encourages, contradictory interpretations. Take the example of Stalinist forced collectivization: one historian might condemn the campaign as a crime against the peasantry, another lauds it as one of the regime’s great achievements. It suffices to cite a recent survey of Russians on the place of Stalin in history. Over the last several years, approximately 40 percent have claimed that Stalin would be the right leader for Russia today. Among people older than sixty, this figure is nearly 70 percent.

There are three main questions that divide the Russian public’s interpretations of Stalinism:

  1. Did the violence of Stalinism reflect the broader trends of European history in the twentieth century (what historian Eric Hobsbawm called the “age of extremes”)? Or was it a path peculiar to Russia (borrowing from the German concept of the sonderweg in their country’s history), a product of the country’s underdevelopment?
  2. Was Stalin’s regime—despite all its brutality—the only way that Russia could have survived the crises of the twentieth century? In other words, could the country have industrialized so rapidly without the Gulag?
  3. The final question, especially relevant for today: did Stalinism represent a dark age—a historical regression that forced the country to restart its development anew after the dictator’s death? Or was it the opposite—did Stalin drag the USSR into modernity, and now we can forget about the troubles of the past?

In current debates, few (other than the most politicized radicals in the Russian Communist Party) continue to defend the massive state violence of 1937-38, better known as the Great Terror. However, there is still reason to be concerned about the terror’s place in society. It is not that the public celebrates the elimination of so-called enemies of the people, but that Stalinist repression has been effectively forgotten. Scholarship on 1937-38 has almost no popular resonance today. This fact is most striking, because the history of the Great Terror was enormously important during Gorbachev’s perestroika of the late 1980s. Then, new revelations about Stalinist repression drove a moral reckoning in the country and were partially responsible for political reforms. In 1989, 39 percent of those surveyed in said that Stalinist repression was one of the most significant episodes for the USSR/Russia in the twentieth century. By the time my book was published in 2004, that number fell to just 10 percent. When I tried to present my book at a library in Kuntsevo municipal district in Moscow—where the events of my work took place—I was turned away. Administrators from the library said, “We can’t raise our children on that kind of history.”

Russians, the young above all, have turned away from the dark pages of their country’s past. This lack of historical perspective is dangerous—a formula for collective amnesia and apathy. Only a quarter of the locations are known where mass shootings occurred during the Great Terror. The only people currently looking for the mass graves are volunteers who receive no support from the state. The relatives of the repressed in many cases still do not know where their parents and grandparents are buried.

In short, readers of the English-language translation of my book should be aware that Russian historical understandings differ significantly from those in the West. Russians like to quote the poet Fedor Tyutchev’s famous lines:

Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,
No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness,
She stands alone, unique,
In Russia, one can only believe.

Every country has traditions that govern acceptable attitudes toward domestic and international tensions. This behavior formed over hundreds of years, and the resulting national traits are not always laudable. Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore them.

There are several aspects of Stalinist rule that are important for a non-Russian reader to understand. Stalin constructed his dictatorship by working within the Russian tradition of autocratic rule. He also exploited the passivity of ordinary people, who had grown weary of struggling after decades of revolutionary upheaval. The threat of external aggression contributed to Stalin’s ability to form an authoritarian regime. A huge number of ordinary Russians were isolated in the small world of their villages, and many peasants cared little about what was happening in Moscow. These Russians had limited experience with representative democracy. Even today, people’s deference to central leaders is not based on a social contract, but upon fear of the powerful and anxieties about instability.

For all these reasons, both the victims and the executors of the Great Terror could not understand its causes nor comprehend its scale. Perpetrators’ lack of understanding allowed them to deny their responsibility—a phenomenon readers can see among the officers of the Kuntsevo NKVD in my book Agents of Terror. NKVD workers often claimed that they had only fulfilled quotas, that they had completed the number of arrests that leaders had demanded. If agents had questioned the purpose of the terror, let alone objected to it, they could have soon found themselves on the other side of the interrogation table.

This argument was a convenient way for NKVD officers to absolve themselves of guilt. All the main figures in Agents of Terror made similar claims when they were called to account at the end of 1938. As a scholar who works primarily on German history, I could not help but think of a phrase that millions of Germans recited during Hitler’s reign: Der Führer denkt für uns. The Führer thinks for us.

I do not want to suggest that today’s Russians should come to a final understanding about the meaning of Stalin’s regime in the country’s history. It will take perhaps another two or three generations to reach a popular consensus about the era. More important is that individuals work through the past—a process that cannot occur without moral assessments. Asking a personal question—how would I have acted in the place of a victim or an executioner, in the place of a hero or a traitor?—does not permit one to hide behind the straw men of the great villains in history. Strange as it sounds, the history of the Great Terror can have a positive impact on contemporary Russia. It should force every one of us to reflect, so that a tragedy like 1937-38 will not occur again.

 

Alexander Vatlin is a professor of history at Moscow State University. The author of many works in Russian, he is the editor of Piggy Foxy and the Sword of Revolution: Bolshevik Self Portraits.

 

 

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Seth Bernstein is an assistant professor of history at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

 

 

 

New books for October 2016

We are pleased to announce five new books arriving in October.

Publication date: October 11
DEATH IN COLD WATER
Patricia Skalka

The third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series

“Patricia Skalka has pulled off the near impossible—a tale of grisly murder filled with moments of breathtaking beauty. Sheriff Dave Cubiak is the kind of decent protagonist too seldom seen in modern mystery novels, a hero well worth rooting for. And the icing on the cake is the stunning backdrop of Door County, Wisconsin. Another fine novel in a series that is sure to satisfy even the most demanding reader.”—William Kent Krueger, author of Windigo Island

“Skalka has created magic with this excellent police procedural. She confronts Sheriff Dave Cubiak with a kidnapping, snakes, and even a bag of nearly drowned kittens, deftly brought together in crisp, evocative prose. A great read!”—Libby Fischer Hellman, author of Jump Cut

Publication date: October 11
AGENTS OF TERROR
Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police
Alexander Vatlin
Edited, translated, and with an introduction by Seth Bernstein

“Although the literature on the Great Terror has improved markedly over the past twenty-five years, only a handful of case studies consider how the purges took place at the grassroots level. Thankfully, Alexander Vatlin’s pathbreaking work has now become available to English-speakingВатлин1 audiences. One can only hope that Agents of Terror will inspire more research on the purge’s perpetrators and victims as well as on the broader sociology of this brutal period.”—David Brandenberger, author of Propaganda State in Crisis

“Groundbreaking. In the first detailed description of Stalin’s mass terror, Vatlin unfolds the day-to-day working of the Soviet political police who carried out orders to select, arrest, interrogate, and often murder their fellow citizens. An absorbing, heartrending account.”—David Shearer, author of Policing Stalin’s Socialism

Publication date: October 18
A THIN BRIGHT LINE
Lucy Jane Bledsoe

“Merges fact and fiction to create a historically accurate picture of the struggles faced by LGBT people in the 1950s and ’60s; the closeting that was required for professional advancement; and the ways the Cold War pitted pure science against research to benefit the defense industry. A stirring and deeply felt story.”Kirkus Reviews

“This is gripping historical fiction about queer life at the height of the Cold War and the civil Bledsoe-Lucy-2016-crights movement, and its grounding in fact really makes it sing. Like the scientists whose papers she edits, Lucybelle Bledsoe is passionate about the truth. Whether it’s the climate history of the planet as illuminated by cores of polar ice or the pursuit of an authentic emotional life in the miasma of McCarthyism, she operates with piercing honesty.”—Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home

Publication date: October 27
THE PHANTOM OF THOMAS HARDY
Floyd Skloot

“Only the inventive Floyd Skloot could come up with—and gorgeously pull off—an experiment like The Phantom of Thomas Hardy. With the intensity of a fevered dream, he seeks his own self-integration after brain trauma while digging around, assembling, and imagining the history of the elusive Hardy. Blending memoir, reportage, literary analysis, and historical fiction (who does that?) Skloot dazzles with the depth of his research, and enchants with his signature vivid, precise, and thoroughly delicious prose.”—Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of Concussion

“This strikingly original book crosses the boundaries of genre in daring ways, as we observe a fictional self in pursuit of a phantom, another self, the soul of a great author. This is a work of memoir, fantasy, literary biography, spiritual questing—and more. As ever, Skloot draws on deep reserves of intellectual and emotional energy. A remarkable achievement.”—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

Callary-Place-Names-of-Wisconsin-cPublication date: October 31
PLACE NAMES OF WISCONSIN
Edward Callary

“Up-to-date and fully documented, this alphabetical guide to more than two thousand names of Wisconsin’s counties, towns, cities, and villages will be the definitive resource on Wisconsin place names for years to come. Readers—whether locals, travelers, or scholars—will enjoy learning about the unique history of the state as reflected in its place names.”—Luanne von Schneidemesser, senior editor, Dictionary of American Regional English

“The introduction is laced with apt examples of naming patterns and sources. It explains pseudo-Indian names and corrects many fanciful but false popular accounts of name origins. And, Callary includes a helpful pronunciation guide for anyone confronted with Mazomanie, Menomonie, and Muscoda for the first time.”—James P. Leary, editor of Wisconsin Folklore