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All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas

In taking their cues from the extant primary-source materials, scholars have written about African “ethnic” communities in the colonial Americas since almost the moment that they began writing about the transatlantic slave trade and its origins. Researchers today are occasionally surprised to discover that even scholars of the Jim Crow-era, such as Ulrich B. Phillips, wrote about these various “ethnic” groups in the Americas. As early as 1918, Phillips gestured to a theory of ethnogenesis—the idea that distinct African identities underwent a collective transformation on American plantations. “Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola, ” Phillips wrote, African people in the diaspora became “instead the American negro.” This statement was one of the earliest expressions of what the historian Michael Gomez has more-recently called the “process whereby Africans [in the Americas] moved along a continuum from ethnicity to race.”[1]

The discussion around African “ethnicities” has a long history in the literature of American slavery. Nonetheless, as a scholarly conversation, it has received an unprecedented amount of attention over just the past quarter century. Case studies by authors like David Littlefield and David Wheat (Rice and Slaves, Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean), surveys by authors like Michael Gomez and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (Exchanging Our Country Marks, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas), and compilations by editors like Paul Lovejoy and David Trotman (Trans-Atlantic Dimension of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora) have all contributed to a renewed interest in studying African diasporic identities through the framework of “ethnicity.” For many of these historians, “ethnicity” serves the simple function of moving our dialogue beyond homogenous portrayals of African peoples in the diaspora. “Ethnicity” helps scholars avoid speaking in the analytically flat categories of “African,” “Black,” or “Negro.” In this sense, the conversation is both well-intentioned and necessary. However, in another sense, the language of “ethnicity” brings with it a series of assumptions that threaten to limit our ability to understand African identities. I address a couple of those limitations in this essay. In doing so, I argue that that framework of “ethnicity” is useful, provided scholars localize their studies, interrogate their sources, and emphasize the inherently creole, dynamic, fluid nature of all diasporic groups.[2] Continue reading “All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas”

A Truly Revolutionary Removal: An Introduction to the “Backlash Thesis” of Politics, Gender, and the American Revolution

Images: The engraving on the left depicts the so-called “petticoat electors,” women permitted to vote in the New Jersey electorate from 1776 to 1807. The painting on the right depicts a Missouri election in the 1850s. As the historian Rosemarie Zagarri writes, the contrast between these images captures a backlash against gender in early America. Although the political process was much more inclusive in the revolutionary era, only white men were empowered by the 1850s.

Introduction: Please excuse me. This historiographical essay begins in an unorthodox way: with a personal story. This past fall, I was serving as a teacher’s assistant for the very first time at UC Davis. I was assigned to Professor John Smolenski’s course, “HIST 17A: History of the United States to 1877.” On Wednesday morning, November 2, Smolenski gave the class a particularly memorable lecture. It was about the age of former president Andrew Jackson, and the theme was “An Age of Removals.” Of course, Smolenski talked about the Trail of Tears, and the removal of the five major Southeast Indian tribes west across the Mississippi River in the 1830s. Then he talked about the ongoing work of the American Colonization Society—their continuing effort to remove free black people from the country in the same era. Last, but not least, he talked about the so-called “petticoat electors.” Now this was a subject that I had come across before, but only in passing, as I skimmed textbooks in preparation for teaching at Solano Community College. Nonetheless, I am ashamed to admit that, as a twenty-eight-year-old PhD student in History, I had never appreciated the subject until Smolenki’s lecture. As most historians of early America know, the “petticoat electors” refers to a group of property-holding women in New Jersey. These women took advantage of a new state constitution from 1776 that did not specifically prohibit women from voting. They voted in local elections from the 1790s to 1807, when new state laws removed them from the electorate.[1]

What is the purpose of discussing the “petticoat electors?” The forced removal of property-holding women from the New Jersey electorate is only one example of what historians often refer to as the “limits” or the “paradox” of the American Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the United States of America as a new nation-state. In the above example of Smolenski’s lecture, the case of these female electors serves to round out a three-dimensional introduction to such limits. The example of the Trail of Tears introduces the limits in relation to Native American peoples; the example of the American Colonization Society introduces them in relation to African-Americans; and, last, the case of the “petticoat electors” introduces them in relation to propertied women. On the one hand, the story of these women has become a standard line in history textbooks, because perhaps no other incident in early American history can so clearly demonstrate the blatant failure of revolutionary ideals—like calls for “liberty” and freedom from British “tyranny, oppression, and slavery”—to translate into increased freedoms for women. On the other hand, the example of the “petticoat electors” is also an introduction to a much larger argument about the history of gender and the founding of the United States. This argument is called the “backlash thesis.”[2]

What is the “backlash thesis?” Well, if you searched the phrase in an online journal database like JSTOR, America: History and Life, or Academic Search Complete, you would probably come away thinking that it was about Southern, white racial conservatism in reaction to the desegregation decision in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. Indeed, the phrase “backlash thesis” is most commonly used in academia to refer to the postwar period of the twentieth century, especially to how the modern conservative movement arose as a direct response to gains that were made in areas such as racial equality, women’s reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights. Much of this work derives from a foundational article by the Civil Rights and legal historian Michael J. Klarman. However, the phrase “backlash thesis” is also employed in the field of early American history. Here it refers to a national conservatism in reaction to gains in women’s and gender rights that accompanied the American revolution and the founding of the country. Perhaps its most vocal advocate—its Michael J. Klarman—is the historian Rosemarie Zagarri, in her 2007 monograph Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic.[3] Continue reading “A Truly Revolutionary Removal: An Introduction to the “Backlash Thesis” of Politics, Gender, and the American Revolution”

“A Presumptive Evidence?” An Introduction to the Historiography of African Provenance Labels in the Early Modern Era

Images: The engraving on the left supposedly depicts a “Coromantyn” person living in the Dutch colony of Suriname in the late-eighteenth century. The picture on the right supposedly depicts a “Congo” person living in South Carolina in the mid-nineteenth century. Both images show an interest in labeling African provenance in the early-modern era.

Epigraphs: “There is a vast difference in the…dispositions of the Negroes, according to the coasts they come from.” – B. Moreton, West India Customs and Manners, 1793[1]

“…good subjects are frequently found in cargoes of the worst reputation, and bad ones in those of the best. The country, therefore, forms only a presumptive evidence of quality, which may mislead…”- Anonymous, Practical Rules for the Management and Medical Treatment of Negro Slaves, 1803[2]

Introduction: Mandingo. Jollof. Ballum. Kissy. Temne. Coromantee. Chamba. Asante. Papaw. Nago. Dome. Igbo. Moco. Angola. Mungola. Kongo. For scholars who work on both slavery in the Americas and the Black Diaspora in what historians often define as the early-modern era (1490s-1830s), at least some of these words will be familiar. They are words that appear to a varying degree in the documentary record of the Atlantic colonies, from English-speaking New York to Dutch-speaking Suriname and Portuguese-speaking Brazil. More precisely, historians call these terms ethnic, national, or provenance labels. They are words that were used by both blacks and whites to differentiate between Africans in the Americas. As contemporary authors indicated, these labels were associated in the minds of early-modern writers with what we generally call ethnicities or nationalities, but what contemporaries more often referred to as “countries,” “nations,” and sometimes even “races.” Even more important, these labels were associated with provenance: areas of the African coast out of which slaves embarked on the Middle Passage. For example, Mandingo was used for people from Senegambia on the Upper Guinea Coast; Ibo for those from the Bight of Biafra on the Lower Guinea Coast; and Congo for those from Congo-Angola in West-Central Africa.[1]

Provenance labels are common in the documentary record of the early-modern period. As the historian Michael Mullin has written, “ordinary people identified Africans as members of particular societies more carefully than scholars have given them credit for doing.” From the engravings that were featured in travel narratives like that of John Gabriel Stedman in 1796, to the black-and-white photographs that were taken by J.T. Zealy in 1850, the evidence demonstrates that many people in the early-modern period had a desire to see beyond monolithic categories like “African,” “black,” or “negro.” Instead, they expressed an interest in representing difference among Africans in both visual and literary forms. However, as the two epigraphs featured above show, these same contemporaries often disagreed about how reliable provenance labels really were for determining the origin, culture, or behavior of an African person who was brought into American slavery.[2] Continue reading ““A Presumptive Evidence?” An Introduction to the Historiography of African Provenance Labels in the Early Modern Era”

From Chicanismo to Chuy: The Long History of the Chicano Movement in Chicago’s Lower West Side, 1965-2015

Note:  For a PDF version of this graduate research prospectus, which includes all of its appendices, please see the following link: From Chicanismo to Chuy — Recovering the Long History of the Chicano Movement in Chicago’s Lower West Side, 1965-2015

INTRODUCTION:

The Chicago Tribune printed historic news on Tuesday night, February 24, 2015. The Mexican-American politician, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, succeeded in forcing a runoff against his opponent in the previous day’s mayoral election. The runoff, scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, became the first runoff in the history of Chicago mayoral elections. Though García lost that race by 11.4%, he had come closer to obtaining the highest office in the third largest city of the United States than any Latino/a politician before him. The closest comparison had been Gery Chico, who became the first Mexican-American to run for the office of mayor in 2011. Nonetheless, García topped Chico’s vote by 9.6% in the 2015 General Election. He captured majorities in every one of the fourteen wards dominated by “Hispanic” residents except for one: the 13th. More specifically, the 22nd, 12th, and 25th wards roughly corresponded to the Latino/a barrios of Chicago’s Lower West Side. García won these wards by ratios of 80%, 75% and 61% respectively. In part, his strong showing drew upon the fact that Chicago Latinos/as were more influential than they had ever been, at 33% of the city’s population, 19% of its voting-age citizens, and a handful of its elected officials. Yet, in order to fully understand these successes, we must go all the way back to the 1960s and 70s.[1]

García had a long and storied career that culminated in the 2015 runoff. More importantly, that career mirrored larger trends in postwar, Mexican-American activism for Civil Rights. He was born in Mexico in 1956, but he moved to Chicago at the age of nine because his father was a farm laborer in the WWII-era bracero program. When the family settled in the growing Latino/a barrios of the Lower West Side, these areas of the city were quickly filling up with both new migrants and displaced, Spanish-speaking wartime immigrants. García found himself in a rare climate of vigorous Latino/a activism known as the Chicano Movement. Many Latino/a residents in the Lower West Side were uniting under the banner of a new, cultural-nationalist ideology called chicanismo. They were agitating against issues like racism, gang violence, community neglect, immigrant and union rights, poverty, under-education, police brutality, joblessness, and urban renewal. [2]

García witnessed chicanismo activism firsthand. When he was thirteen, for example, over one-hundred Latino/a residents gathered in the street to attend a public meeting of ALAS. During this meeting, those present endorsed a local Mexican-American activist named Arthur Vásquez as the next executive director of Howell House, Pilsen’s settlement house, which had historically been home to the white, Presbyterian Czech immigrants. Vásquez became the house’s first Mexican-American director, and the center was re-christened Casa Aztlán. This name was a symbol of chicanismo that memorialized the ward’s demographic tipping point. One year later, in 1970, the city’s decennial census recorded the Lower West Side’s first ever Latino/a majority. The barrios Little Village/South Lawndale and Pilsen/Heart of Chicago have retained that majority to this day.[3]

Continue reading “From Chicanismo to Chuy: The Long History of the Chicano Movement in Chicago’s Lower West Side, 1965-2015”

Like Two Waves of the Same Flood: Comparing John Trudell’s Lines from a Mined Mind and Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song

SHERWIN BITSUI. Flood Song. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2009. Pp. 73 $15.00. ISBN: 978-1-55659-308-6.

JOHN TRUDELL. Lines from a Mined Mind. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008. Pp. vii, 270. $18.00. ISBN: 9781555916787.

Introduction:

“Bitter fruit emerges where bitter seed is sown,” sings the native artist John Trudell in one of his 1999 song-poems called “Blue Indians.” “Economic chains all dressed out as reward/Gender race age edged in love and rage/Oppressorman builder keeper of the cage.” In acerbic pieces like this one, listeners can feel the full force of Trudell’s searing and unabashed voice. A radical child of the 1960s and 1970s, and a leading activist of the nation’s Alcatraz-Red Power Movement, he flings his words like sharpened daggers at what he views to be an oppressive and shallow American society—a society that pollutes the minds of its people with the “toxic waste” of consumerism and the “poison” of “fears doubts and insecurity.” In this poem and others, we experience Trudell’s characteristic critique of First World deceit and decadence. His language is biting and direct. There is not much room for ambiguity in lines like “Industrial reservation tyranny stakes its claim” and “Blue Indians emotional siege in a civilized stain.” In fact, many song-poems in his oeuvre, as they appear in his 2008 compilation Lines from a Mined Mind, are unambiguous and impassioned. They feature “political pimps,” “citizen whores,” and “material junkies.” Readers are informed that they are living in a “broken” and “industrially insane” world of “tech no logic slavery.” We are weathering the “oppressor’s brutality” and “surviving genocide because we have to.”[1]

Then there is the poetic work of the native artist Sherwin Bitsui. His groundbreaking book-poem Flood Song was published in 2009, exactly one year after Trudell’s retrospective anthology. Yet the work is strikingly different. The language is much more subtle, nuanced, quiet, intimate, and deeply visual. Scattered across wide savannas of blank, white space are small pools and rivulets of deep imagery. They spread like oases or trickles in a vast desert. Each one draws the reader’s imagination forward, carrying it upon the back of a meandering and powerful current of contemplative visions. There is a “waning lick of moonlight on the dashboard.” Then, we see “A shower of sparks skate across the morning sky;” and, in continuing, we “inhale earth, wind, water/ through the gasoline nozzle/at trail’s end/a flint spear driven into the key switch.” These images are punctuated and fleeting; yet, somehow they form part of a bigger picture. They are like specific, tactile pieces from the fragmented mosaic that is our memory. They are pieces of evidence for an endangered, lived experience. There is a reality embedded in a thought of “a flashing yellow sign,/blinks between charcoal sheets of monsoon rain.” With each deliberate verb, Bitsui somehow manages to conjure an entire world of feeling within his readers. “It is here,” he writes, “that they scoop the granite stones from your chest/snap each rib shut over the highway leading south.”[2]

Continue reading “Like Two Waves of the Same Flood: Comparing John Trudell’s Lines from a Mined Mind and Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song”

The Sensuality of Sustenance: The Embodiment of Food, Life, and Sex in Natalia Toledo’s Black Flower

Citation: NATALIA TOLEDO, “A Hand in the Bush Makes Sweet Work in the Kitchen.” In The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems. Trans. from the Spanish and the Isthmus Zapotec by Clare Sullivan. Los Angeles: Phoneme Media, 2015. Pp. xi, 244. $16.00. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-939419-46-0.

Image credit: The designs of Natalia Toledo’s poems on amate paper that are featured as images in this post were designed by Mexico City Lit.

Introduction:

“You open your legs wide,” writes Natalia Toledo, “when you sit down in the hammock/so that the chocolate chili of your man/may enter your calabash.” In select poems like this one, “Chocolate Chili Pepper,” Toledo puts the erotic dimensions of her poetry on full display. She constructs intimate pieces that are short and sweet, and descend into palpable meaning like water falling over cliff sides. Throughout, she scatters poignant comparisons between food and sex like rocks on the falls, throwing them into the water’s path to create a confusing and entangled fall of sensuality and sustenance. The reader is left like many subjects of these poems, feeling both hungry and aroused. They crave food and they desire orgasm. Most importantly, they question the very idea of artificial boundaries between two of the most primal activities of human life. One is the ritual crafting of food that resurrects life in its subsequent consumption; the other is the intimate crafting of actual people that reproduces life through the cycle of sex, cooking in the womb, and then birth.[1]

The following essay is a short piece that explores select themes from one section of Natalia Toledo’s Black Flower, a translated compilation of her poetry from 2015. The essay begins with a biographical section on Toledo which is intended to provide context for those who have not heard of her work. The essay will then discuss the interwoven themes of food, life, and sex in her section of poems, “A Hand in the Bush Makes Sweet Work in the Kitchen.” Meanwhile, it will draw upon language from the “Embodiments” track of the Performance Studies discipline. The discipline describes this track in one of its statements by writing that it “deals with questions of representation and documentation of bodies in performance that will encompass not only artist/practitioners but also those working in discursive fields such as literature and languages.” The language of the track also refers to the interaction of “bodies in space” and “bodies in motion.” In the sections of Black Flower relevant to this essay, we will explore how Toledo uses the vehicle of her native language and the themes of food, life, and sex to explore the body as a physical site of sensuality and sustenance, as well as the idea of the “body in motion” as it creates and sustains life.[2]

Continue reading “The Sensuality of Sustenance: The Embodiment of Food, Life, and Sex in Natalia Toledo’s Black Flower”

Becoming Traditional in the Contemporary New: A Relational Analysis of Two Native Authors

JOY HARJO. How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, 1975 – 2002. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002. Pp. xxviii, 242. $17.95. Hardback. ISBN: 978-0-393-32534-8.

LEANNE HOWE. Evidence of Red: Poems and Prose. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2005. Pp. 101. £9.99. Hardback. ISBN: 9781844710621.

In her poem “Song For The Deer and Myself to Return On,” of the compilation How We Became Human, Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek) narrates the story of a Native American person who is living “in a house near downtown Denver.” This character invokes a traditional, Native American hunting song in order to call deer into the house. When these animals arrive, as surely they do, they “wondered at finding themselves” crammed together in this strange and very modern setting. After their initial bewilderment subsided, the deer and the narrator came together and tried to “figure out a song…to get all of us back.” Because, although both parties had gathered together in this urban environment, neither of them actually wanted to remain there. Both the deer and the narrator desired to return to a more “traditional” space, perhaps the space of their ancestral hunting grounds, where they had once lived alongside one another, long before the city of Denver had ever existed. Similarly, in the piece “The Unknown Woman,” from LeAnne Howe’s (Choctaw) book of poems, Evidence of Red, a narrator who is identified only as “The Spirit” regrets that “Copper masks made by my children appear in the Field Museum’s case. They rest in the future—from the past.”[1]

Continue reading “Becoming Traditional in the Contemporary New: A Relational Analysis of Two Native Authors”

Misunderstanding and Unity in LeAnne Howe’s “The Red Wars”

LEANNE HOWE. Evidence of Red: Poems and Prose. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2005. Pp. 101. £9.99. Hardback. ISBN: 9781844710621.

LeAnne Howe’s poem “The Red Wars” is a first-person narration of an anonymous indigenous woman’s encounters with three other Native Americans. Perhaps the piece is autobiographical, and so the narrator is also Howe. This conclusion is possible because both the narrator and Howe are identified as Choctaw Indians and the piece is written in a first-person perspective. The work is also a personal reflection, with the narrator looking back on three specific moments in her youth when she encountered other Native American peoples. It describes the narrator’s attempts to read the bodies and behaviors of these other Natives and come to an understanding of who they are and how they are all related. The structure of the poem is broken up into three parts, and each part represents an individual encounter marked by a different, unique personality. The first encounter occurs in Oklahoma with a Sioux Native named Thunderhawk. The second occurs in Texas with California Red Wing, a native man who is part Dakota and part Navajo. The third encounter also occurs in Texas with a Cherokee man named Jim or Jack.[1]

Continue reading “Misunderstanding and Unity in LeAnne Howe’s “The Red Wars””

A New Place for Stories: Essay On the Idea of Environmental History in the Florida Straits

But if environmental history is successful in its project, the story of how different peoples have lived and used the natural world will become one of the most basic and fundamental narratives in all of history, without which no understand of the past could be complete.

William Cronon, “A Place for Stories”[1]

I am trying to think, to see if I read anything more about Miami…I can’t tell exactly how far we are from there. There are no borderlines on the sea. The whole thing looks like one.

Edwidge Danticat, Krik? Krak![2]

In the year 1990, the Journal of American History hosted its first roundtable on the emerging sub-field of Environmental History. This academic forum included five short responses by a generation of established scholars to a centerpiece article by the historian Donald Worster, a man who had already become a founder of the field. Evident in the forum was an early tradition of disputing the intellectual boundaries of Environmental History, even while they were being formed. On the one hand, Worster called for practitioners to begin “Seeing Beyond Culture” and analyzing “modes of production as ecological phenomenon.” He called for scholars to collaborate with scientists and explore capital–m Man’s relationship to the environment throughout time as a set of “autonomous, independent energies that do not derive from the drives and intentions of any culture.” On the other hand, established historians used their responses to push back on this argument. Writers like William Cronon, Richard White, and Carolyn Merchant called for scholars not to lose focus on the “broader cultural systems in which [agro-ecological modes of production] are embedded.” They asked for us to avoid ignoring cultural categories that existed “below the level of the group” implied by Man, and they asked us not to forget how particular relationships to the natural environment depended upon social constructions like race, gender, reproduction, and class.[1]

Continue reading “A New Place for Stories: Essay On the Idea of Environmental History in the Florida Straits”

Shifting Focus: A Review of Six Works on the El Salvadoran Civil War, 1983 – 2010

The second half of our graduate seminar course, “Social Movements and Radical Politics in the Americas,” has moved us out of the United States and to the small, tropical Central American country of El Salvador. Our objective has been to understand “the emergence and afterlife of radical subjectivity” during the Salvadoran Civil War, which took place from 1980 to 1992. The war was a brutal conflict which, by the estimation of one of our authors, took the lives of 75,000 people, disappeared another 7,000 and displaced as many as 500,000. Over the past five weeks, we have learned about the war through an evolving process that began with an impressionistic overview by a journalist and ended with a detailed ethnography by an anthropologist. As a result of this process, we have greatly expanded our understanding of the men and women who “filled the ranks” of the forces that opposed the Salvadoran oligarchy. Moreover, our knowledge of the conflict has grown in such a way as to mirror the understanding of US academics, who have also built on one another’s work. Nonetheless, the job of understanding El Salvador during the Civil War era is far from over. As this review will address in its closing, there are still a few subjects left to be explored.[1]

Continue reading “Shifting Focus: A Review of Six Works on the El Salvadoran Civil War, 1983 – 2010”

From Diversity to Definition: A Review of New Works in the Field of “Black Power Studies”

 

 

In December of 2009, Peniel E. Joseph, a Professor of History at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, published an article in the Journal of American History that described “a new sub-field” called “Black Power Studies.” In this article, “The Black Power Movement: A State of the Field,” Joseph traced “the evolution of black power historiography” from the late 1960s to the present day. He began with a 1967 book called Black Power, written jointly by the activist Stokely Carmichael and the political scientist Charles Hamilton, and he ended with the historian Thomas J. Sugrue’s 2008 “history of the northern black freedom struggle,” entitled Sweet Land of Liberty.

In the years between 1967 and 2008, Joseph surveyed about two dozen works that addressed a wide range of topics in the subfield “Black Power Studies,” from particularistic expressions of Black Power in individual American cities like New Orleans, Durham, Newark, Baltimore, New Haven, and Philadelphia, to the gender dynamics, violent strategies, and community activism of the Oakland-based Black Panther Party for Self Defense, to the uniquely southern roots of postwar, Black Power militancy. Above all else, to skim through Joseph’s historiography is to recognize that “Black Power Studies” is a dense and dynamic historical subfield, attracting a very broad swath of scholars with a diversity of particular interests. In many ways, this dynamism reflects the elusive and often contradictory history of Black Power itself, a multifaceted activist movement that was both cultural and political, insurgent and mainstream, radical and pragmatic, and local, national, and global in breadth.[1]

Continue reading “From Diversity to Definition: A Review of New Works in the Field of “Black Power Studies””

Steering the Course: Essay on Continuity and Change in the New Deal Era, 1933-1940

The Democratic nominee Franklin Delano Roosevelt entered the White House on March 4, 1933. The former New York governor had won the 1932 election by a landslide to become the thirty-second president of the United States. Once in office, he immediately began enacting a series of wide-ranging domestic measures known as the New Deal. These reforms were designed to address the Great Depression, which reached a tipping point after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. From approximately 1933 to 1940, the New Deal fundamentally altered the texture of American history. Political parties realigned, the federal government’s role in society mushroomed, labor and consumers received support against capital, Progressive legislation redefined welfare, and the landscape was redrawn with new infrastructure. As Jason Scott Smith states, the New Deal was nothing short of a revolution in “state-sponsored economic development.” Eric Rauchway adds that, while “The New Deal did not end the Great Depression,” it was instrumental in healing its wounds. Both unemployment and the economy were steadily improving throughout the 1930s.[1]

Continue reading “Steering the Course: Essay on Continuity and Change in the New Deal Era, 1933-1940”

Criticisms from the Linguistic Turn: A Review Essay on Readings in Historical Theory

TERRY EAGLETON. Literary Theory: An Introduction – Anniversary Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Pp. 240. $18.50. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-8166-5447-5.[1]

ROBERT BURNS, HUGH RAYMONT-PICKARD (eds.). Philosophies of History: From Enlightenment to Post-Modernity, 274-318. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. Pp. 380. $69.95. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-0631-2137-9.

HAYDEN WHITE. “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory.” In History and Theory 23, no. 1 (Feb., 1984): 1-33.

MICHEL FOUCAULT. “What is an Author?” trans. by Robert Hurley et al. In Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, edited by James D. Faubion, 205-222. New York: The New Press, 1998. Pp. 528. $24.05. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-56584-558-9.[2]

ROLAND BARTHES. “The Death of an Author,” trans. by Richard Howard. In ASPEN: The Multimedia Magazine in a Box, no. 5+6, item 3: “Three Essays: Essays with post-modern perspectives” (1967): 1-6. UbuWeb. Web. Accessed November 5, 2015.[3]

The selected readings for this week deal with “New Criticism” in the field of literary theory during the twentieth century. As Eagleton summarizes, during a moment commonly known as the linguistic turn, “the very meaning of ‘literature,’ ‘reading’ and criticism” underwent “deep alteration.” This meant that philosophers began to think more seriously about the hidden functions of language and structure as culturally “self-referential” objects, that is, objects that were defined less by their proposed content than by the “deeper structures of belief” they signified.

Continue reading “Criticisms from the Linguistic Turn: A Review Essay on Readings in Historical Theory”

My Favorite Historical Lecture

James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Debate Video

(Click the link above to skip the commentary and watch the debate)

Since I finished my summer independent study course last week, you will finally stop seeing book reviews on “The Black Atlantic” posted on this blog. For those of you that read some of those reviews, thank you for giving me an audience. Now, I have decided to followup my weekly tradition by posting a video. My favorite historical video. Continue reading “My Favorite Historical Lecture”

Are you Smart Enough for High School History?

As the spring 2014 semester winds down for us Loyola history majors over the course of the next week, I thought that it would be nice to celebrate with something fun, light and easy. For that reason, I am posting on our blog to share with you an interactive website that one of my students at the Howard Area Community Center has recently introduced me to. The site is an online companion to the world history textbook Ways of the World: A Brief Global History with Sources; and it was created by the author and global historian Robert William Strayer. Continue reading “Are you Smart Enough for High School History?”

Manufacturing Sustainability in the Postindustrial Age

Image of Meiji-Jingu forest on the outskirts of Tokyo

Ninety years ago, citizens of Tokyo, Japan, asked their government for permission to honor the passing of their imperial leaders by cultivating a sustainable, forest shrine on the outskirts of town. The result was Meiji-jingu, an “eternal forest” of 120,000 trees, planted on 700,000 square meters of previous “marshland, farms, and grassland.” Based upon the Shinto religious belief that natural deities, called Kami, reside within the wood of sacred forests, the shrine was designed to be a paragon of sustainability. But, while the model of Meiji-jingu proves to be sustainable, it is also anything but natural. An examination of literature in the sub-fields of environmental and urban history reinforces this relationship, suggesting that sustainable environments have indeed existed in the past, but that they have suffered as a consequence of failed stewardship during the industrial era. Continue reading “Manufacturing Sustainability in the Postindustrial Age”

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