Tag Archives: #history

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

Bouldrey-Brian-2016-c

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

Townend-Paul-2016-c

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

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Stone: An Inhuman Ecology: A review and brief interview

The current issue of SubStance: A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism includes a review by Paul Harris of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s book Stone: An Inhuman Ecology (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), which can be viewed on Project MUSE or Highwire. Subsequent to the review’s publication, Harris asked Cohen about his interest in stone and how he came to write Stone.

PAUL HARRIS At the end of your introduction, you cite the “Big Rock,” a glacial erratic on a hill in your neighborhood growing up, as a sort of original inspiration in your lifelong explorations in lithophilia, literary and otherwise.  Can you flesh out a bit more how you came to have a strong affective resonance with stone?  Are there other specific stones or sites that stand out in retrospect as exerting a particularly powerful influence on you?

JEFFREY COHEN I grew up just outside of Boston, not far from Lexington and Concord … and this geographic situation really matters since when I was a small child the USA was celebrating its national bicentennial. The colonial musketeering, parades and flags and tricorns and redcoats were just too much for me. I became obsessed with deeper pasts. I’m sure that’s why I was eventually drawn to medieval studies. But I was also fascinated by the temporality of stone, how erratics like the Big Rock bore witness to a narrative of swamps and dinosaurs indifferent to the small human histories that bubble and pop around them. The Big Rock (what a poetic name!) was close to home and yet a constant invitation to the faraway. What I did not reveal in the book is that I tricked other children in the neighborhood into believing that if you sat on that rock at the right time of day you would be transported into another dimension and likely not find your way back. Well, maybe there is some truth to that.

I should also note that Stone is a book that keeps beginning: I tell a variety of stories for how I started the project in it, of various landscapes and encounters that triggered the project. Although they contradict each other somewhat, all of them are true, in the same way that stone is process more than object.

PAUL HARRIS I like how the physical and narrative powers ascribed to The Big Rock make it become a portal—one might call it a “fantastic” stone….  Your answer broaches a question that often surfaces in relation to deep time or Big History: is a turn to this temporality informed or accompanied by a desire to escape history?  Or at least the politics of the present?

I enjoyed the recursive style and narrative form of Stone very much, and wondered about how such an intricately interwoven book came together, over the “long duration” you reference in the acknowledgements. When did you start working on the text, and what was your method?

JEFFREY COHEN Rather than a fantastic stone I’d call the Big Rock an adventurous one: full of futurity (advent, avenir) through its durability, its intimacy with a long past, its relentless suggestion of possibility. I’m not sure that what such adventurous objects offer is escape from the present exactly: more an unexpected widening of ambit than a flight from particular circumstance. Sitting on the Big Rock was always an essential component of the stories I told: that is, the narratives were always grounded in a time and a place, even if in lithic companionship they attempted to imagine larger prospects.

Stone took a lifetime to compose, since I have always been attracted to the substance. Or maybe the book took about six years to write, with the last three given over almost completely to its composition. It took me a long time to find the form the book wanted, so I discarded tens of thousands of words I’d composed and restructured the volume repeatedly. Once I understood though that the form of the book might perform its argument (because stone is always about recursivity within difference, circuits that open wider at each cycle and yet do come back in time) – and once I realized that I could not pretend that the scholarly and the personal are two disjunct realms — then Stone began to cohere. I was a little too obsessive with the project. Toward the end I injured my shoulder from poor posture at my laptop, a battle scar I still bear. Stone hurts! But I will never tire of its contemplation.

Paul A. Harris is co-editor of SubStance and professor of English at Loyola Marymount University. He served as president of the International Society for the Study of Time from 2004-2013 and edited the recent SubStance issue David Mitchell in the Labyrinth of Time.  His current project is The Petriverse of Pierre Jardin.

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is professor of English and director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at the George Washington University. His recent work includes the edited collections Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory Beyond Green (Minnesota, 2013) and, with Lowell Duckert, Elemental Ecocriticism. Recently he co-wrote a short book called Earth (forthcoming from Bloomsbury in early 2017) with planetary geologist Lindy Elkins-Tanton.

New Books For July 2016

We are pleased to announce three books debuting in July.

 

Gregory-American-Surveillance-cJuly 29

American Surveillance
Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment

Anthony Gregory

From George Washington’s spies to the NSA

“A cogent synthesis of the history of American surveillance and of its conflict with the right to privacy enshrined in the federal Constitution. Thoroughly researched and eloquent,American Surveillance traces government surveillance from colonial times to beyond 9/11.”
—William J. Cuddihy, author of The Fourth Amendment


July 29

Anna Karenina and Others
Tolstoy’s Labyrinth of Plots

Liza Knapp

Reveals why the whole of Anna Karenina is greater than the sum of its plots

“Knapp’s keen eye for prodding out books that play off one another illuminates not only the multiplot novel in its various guises, but the adultery novel as Tolstoy reinvented it, where sexual transgression is forced to serve the quest for God and faith. A mind-expanding book.”
—Caryl Emerson, Princeton University

July 29

Repeat Performances
Ovidian Repetition and the Metamorphoses

Laurel Fulkerson and Tim Stover

Wisconsin Studies in Classics

The uses and effects of repetition, imitation, and appropriation in Latin epic poetry

“Tackles one of the most challenging and rewarding problems in Ovidiana: the question of the author’s penchant for repetition. A marvelous array of contributions retain a reader’s interest and are infused with the same spirit of wit and charm that characterizes Ovid’s own verse.”
—Lee Fratantuono, author of Madness Transformed: A Reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

A vision for a modern, democratic Muslim nation

An interview with James Rush about Hamka’s Great Story: A Master Writer’s Vision of Islam for Modern Indonesia 

Just published, Hamka’s Great Story by James R. Rush explores the life and work of of an influential Indonesian thought leader, his vision for his emerging nation, and his lasting influence on Muslim religious culture. It is published in the University of Wisconsin Press series, New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies.

By immersing myself in his prolific body of public writing, I sought to see Indonesia through his eyes instead of through my own. This was my first goal.

Hamka’s Great Story focuses on a single individual. What drew you to Hamka? And what’s the big picture? I am first and foremost a historian of Indonesia. I went to Hamka to understand Indonesia better. By immersing myself in his prolific body of public writing, I sought to see Indonesia through his eyes instead of through my own. This was my first goal. But because Hamka was such a widely read and influential thought leader, I felt that seeing Indonesia through his eyes could also help us understand the large and important Muslim Indonesian subculture from which he spoke and to which he spoke. This became my second goal. I believe that this is immensely valuable for those of us who are interested not only in modern Indonesia, but also in national identities everywhere, and how religious ideas and identities are enmeshed within them.

If Benedict Anderson was right that nations like Indonesia are imagined communities, we should be asking: What sort of community, exactly, is being imagined for Indonesia? And by whom? To Hamka and other members of his generation (including seminal figures such as Sukarno) fell the remarkable opportunity of “imagining” the nation of Indonesia in the very moments of its historic formation as the Dutch East Indies gave way tumultuously to the Republic of Indonesia. Hamka’s Great Story is exactly this: Indonesia imagined as a modern Muslim nation.Indonesia

Who was Hamka? Hamka (Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, 1908–1981) was a prodigious writer with a popular touch. He wrote beautifully in the Dutch colony’s lingua franca, Malay, which was also adopted in the 1920s as the aspirational national language for Indonesia and called Indonesian. Hamka’s early magazines, books, and novels found readers throughout the far-flung nation-to-be. What gave them their traction, aside from Hamka’s easy style and good stories, was their message. We are living in an age of profound and destabilizing change, he said. We can embrace this change hopefully if we embrace Islam as our guide. Islam can shape our new society and provide its values. Indonesia, our dreamed-of nation, can cohere around it. This positive message touched the zeitgeist. Hamka embellished it prolifically throughout his lifetime, which eventually stretched from the colonial era well into the life of the Republic.

What sort of Islam did Hamka propagate? Like the vast majority of Indonesians, Hamka was a Sunni Muslim. But as a self-described modernist, he declined to identify with the traditional schools of law, or madhhab (Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi’i), and claimed “the Madhhab Salaf, being the school of the Prophet and his companions and of the ulamas who follow his footsteps.” In this, he followed Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida and other reformers based in Egypt, whose ideas he streamed into Indonesia. Like them, he rejected many traditional Muslim practices as superstitions and sought to reconcile Islam with the modern sciences and political advances of the West. Our country, he told his readers, can be both thoroughly modern and thoroughly Muslim. He envisioned a literate, prosperous, democratic Indonesia in which the values of Islam permeated the society at large and provided the basis for ethnic and religious tolerance. In his imagined Indonesia, monogamous marriages would replace polygamous ones, strong nuclear families would supersede shambling extended ones, and rationality and knowledge would overcome myth and ignorance.

Was Hamka an original thinker? Hamka was a brilliant synthesizer of facts, ideas, and arguments that he gleaned from the works of others, most significantly (as he often remarked) from modern Egyptian writers and intellectuals whose work he read in Arabic. Even the plot of his most famous novel was borrowed. Yet, in transposing all of this to Indonesia, he created something new. We can say that the master narrative that underlay his entire body of writing—what I call his Great Story—is both original and unique in its depth and complexity. Its ubiquity in the public sphere in the form of his multitudes of books, pamphlets, newspaper columns, novels, interviews, and, eventually, radio and television programs and audio cassettes made his Great Story a foundational frame of reference for generations of Indonesian Muslims.

Was Hamka’s vision for Indonesia contested? Very much so. Indeed, it was part of a huge public argument about what sort of society and nation Indonesia should become. His ideas comported with the views of the modernist mass organization Muhammadiyah, of which he was a leading figure and popular theologian. But they stood in contention with the more conservative views of Indonesia’s other mass Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama. Moreover, Indonesia’s much smaller community of Christians found Hamka’s assertive propagation of Islam overbearing and, at times, threatening. And its communists, who surged intermittently during his lifetime, belittled Islam and religion altogether. Hamka played a key and sometimes controversial role in this contest over the fate of the nation, which came to a bloody head in the 1960s in a bitter culture war that ended in the massacre of the country’s communists and rule by the army. As all of this played out, he spent more than two years as a political prisoner and, subsequently under the new military government, served ambivalently as head of Indonesia’s first national council of Muslim religious scholars.

Hamka died in 1981. Do his ideas matter today? Some of Hamka’s books remain popular today and his thirty-volumes of commentary on the Qur’an are still widely read. More significantly, however, Hamka’s modernist formulation of Islam for Indonesia underlies much of the discourse about Islam in Indonesia today, even though his role in shaping this discourse has been obscured by the passage of time. As Indonesia struggles with the surge of angry and exclusionist Islamic movements that have found so much traction elsewhere—and, to a degree, in Indonesia, too—his complex, inclusive, and hopeful vision, still so prevalent, makes it harder for the ideas of extremists to take root and grow.

James Rush

James Rush

James R. Rush is an associate professor of history at Arizona State University. He is the author of Hamka’s Great Story, as well as Opium to Java: Revenue Farming and Chinese Enterprise in Colonial Indonesia, 1860–1910, The Last Tree: Reclaiming the Environment in Tropical Asia, and numerous biographical essays about contemporary Asian activists, humanitarians, and public intellectuals in the Ramon Magsaysay Awards book series and website.

 

Bascom planted seeds of the “Wisconsin Idea” in the 1870s

A guest post by J. David Hoeveler. His new book, John Bascom and the Origins of the Wisconsin Idea, has just been published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Bascom Hall, c. 1870

Bascom Hall, c. 1870

Hoeveler-John-Bascom-and-the-Origins-of-the-Wisconsin-Idea-cThe majestic building that sits atop the University of Wisconsin in Madison bears the name Bascom Hall. Thousands of people pass by the building every day, and some may wonder who “Bascom” was. “The guiding spirit of my time,” was what what famed Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette called John Bascom. La Follette felt that Bascom was the real inspiration for what we now call the Wisconsin Idea.

John Bascom served the University of Wisconsin as its president from 1874 to 1887. He came from upstate New York, born in Genoa in 1827, and graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts. He then attended two theological seminaries. Bascom taught at his alma mater for two decades before coming to Madison. He was a prolific scholar and wrote books and essays on theology, philosophy, sociology, and economics. But he did more than that as UW president. He committed himself to social reforms and, in fact, became as outspoken on these matters as any major figure in American higher education at the time.

Bascom’s political philosophy grew out of his liberal Christianity and his understanding of evolution. The latter concept gave Bascom his notion of society as a complex organism, all of whose parts must work in integration with the whole and in cooperation with each other. So believing, Bascom set a higher priority for the collective good, the public interest.

An iconic "W" banner hangs between the columns of Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Nov. 10, 2007. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Bryce Richter Date: 11/07 File#: D200 digital camera frame 6778

Today’s Bascom Hall

Three causes especially gained Bascom’s commitment. First, he advocated for temperance and even voted for the Prohibition party. That cause may suggest to some a moralistic, puritanical strain in Bascom, but it had its progressive side. Some labor leaders and almost all women’s rights leaders of the day supported the campaign against alcohol.

UW women's basketball team, 1897

UW women’s basketball team, 1897

Second, Bascom spoke out strongly for co-education and women’s rights. At the time, respected medical literature often warned against the toll of mental labor on the female body. Bascom ridiculed such notions. He spoke not only for co-education but insisted that the UW abandon the separate curriculums that then existed for men and women students. Bascom defended some policies that leading feminists themselves did not always support. He advocated for woman’s suffrage. He would allow divorce. He even criticized the styles of dress imposed on women—the corsets and bustles popular in the Gilded Age. They conspired, he said, against females’ full and active participation in American public life.

And third, Bascom championed the rights of labor. Here especially he feared the deprivation of a class of people, the workers, and their alienation from the large social organism. Bascom defended the right of labor to organize unions and he justified the right to strike. He also denounced the excessive power of money in America. Who else, among American university leaders of this era, would dare condemn by name the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers? Bascom, though, strongly opposed socialism. He admired business enterprise, and he thrilled to the marvels of technological creativity so visible in the United States. These activities, too, he believed, create the expanded social interconnections that grow and advance human society.

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Robert La Follette and Charles Van Hise

Robert La Follette graduated from the UW in 1879. So did his classmate and friend Charles Van Hise. La Follette became Wisconsin governor in 1901, and Van Hise was inaugurated UW president in 1904. The first graduates of the UW to hold these positions, both La Follette and Van Hise had been students of Bascom. And both drew inspiration from Bascom’s urgent advocacy for the good uses of the state and the ideal of public service. Together, they put the Wisconsin Idea into place.

Fola La Follette, daughter of Robert and Belle Case La Follette, later wrote: “Two students of the class of 1879, Bob La Follette and Charles Van Hise, profoundly influenced in youth by a great teacher, were now, as mature men, collaborating to sustain former President Bascom’s ideal of the relation of a state university to the State.”

So, as discussion about the Wisconsin Idea again rises among us, we might gain in historical perspective and in contemporary understanding if we remember John Bascom, the intellectual source of this “idea.” John Bascom: philosopher, humanist, and a man of religious faith.


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J. David Hoeveler

J. David Hoeveler holds a Distinguished Professorship in History at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He is the author of seven books, including Creating the American Mind, The Evolutionists, and Watch on the Right.