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Society & Culture
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New Books in American Studies

Updated 4 days ago

Society & Culture
History
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Interviews with Scholars of America about their New Books

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Interviews with Scholars of America about their New Books

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iTunes Ratings

14 Ratings
Average Ratings
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Cover image of New Books in American Studies

New Books in American Studies

Updated 4 days ago

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Interviews with Scholars of America about their New Books

Rank #1: Jon Ward, "Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight That Broke the Democratic Party" (Twelve, 2019)

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Yahoo! News Senior Political Correspondent Jon Ward delves into to the oft-forgotten yet starkly dramatic 1980 Democratic presidential primary between President Jimmy Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy in Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight That Broke the Democratic Party (Twelve, 2019). Ward tracks the political origins of the southern moderate outsider and the northern liberal insider, and paints two complex and nuanced portraits. He explains how Carter had long eyed Kennedy as an obstacle to the presidency and how Kennedy eventually grew to view Carter as an obstacle to his policy agenda. The two deeply ambitious politicians would eventually clash on the biggest political stages and break apart the already weakening north-south coalition that had fueled Democratic Party dominance for decades.

Bill Scher is a Contributing Editor for POLITICO Magazine. He has provided political commentary on CNN, NPR and MSNBC. He has been published in The New York Times, The New Republic, and The New York Daily News among other publications. He is author of Wait! Don’t Move to Canada, published by Rodale in 2006.

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Feb 08 2019

53mins

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Rank #2: Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, "Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean" (Princeton UP, 2019)

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In his new book, Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean (Princeton University Press, 2019), historian Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof seamlessly ties together various scholarly subfields into a truly transnational history of anticolonial politics and the Afro-Latino diaspora in the United States. Hoffnung-Garskof, Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan, brings to life the migration stories of black Cubans and Puerto Ricans who founded an intellectual and political movement in nineteenth-century New York. Though exiles and migrants from the Spanish Caribbean were but a fraction of the growing immigrant population during the Gilded Age, this small community of color produced leaders in industry, journalism, and above all, revolutionary struggle. From a small apartment in the center of segregated New York City, a mutual aid organization called La Liga became the political hub for a vast network of exiles of color seeking to liberate Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spanish colonialism. The book provides “a migrants’-eye view” through a collection of microhistories that shed light on the worldviews of a select group of thought leaders and their increasingly intertwined lives. While most of the historical actors featured in this text were afro-descendants, their own racial subjectivities and racialization by external parties took on various forms. This interview delves further into the migrants’ articulations of race – among many other issues – a core theme and line of inquiry throughout the book. In the shadow of a complex and contested historiography centered on revolutionary leaders such as José Martí, Hoffnung-Garskof highlights the invaluable contributions of the Spanish Caribbean’s “class of color.” Black Cuban and Puerto Rican intellectuals did not passively participate in the movement led by Martí, but rather fought to manifest their own vision of what a new interracial democracy could be.

Jaime Sánchez, Jr. is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at Princeton University and a scholar of U.S. politics and Latino studies. He is currently writing an institutional history of the Democratic National Committee and partisan coalition politics in the twentieth century. You can follow him on Twitter @Jaime_SanchezJr.

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Aug 27 2019

1hr 29mins

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Rank #3: Philipp Stelzel, "History after Hitler: A Transatlantic Enterprise" (U Penn Press, 2018)

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The decades following the end of World War II witnessed the establishment of a large and diverse German-American scholarly community studying modern German history. As West Germany's formerly deeply nationalist academic establishment began to reconcile itself with postwar liberalism, American historians played a crucial role, both assisting and learning from their German counterparts' efforts to make sense of the Nazi past—and to reconstruct how German society viewed it. In History after Hitler: A Transatlantic Enterprise (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), Philipp Stelzel puts this story center stage for the first time, positioning the dialogue between German and American historians as a key part of the intellectual history of the Federal Republic and of Cold War transatlantic relations. This monograph explores how these historians participated as public intellectuals in debates about how to cope with the Nazi past, believing that the historical awareness of West German citizens would bolster the Federal Republic's democratization. Stelzel corrects simplistic arguments regarding the supposed "Westernization" of the Federal Republic, emphasizing that American scholars, too, benefited from the transatlantic conversation. History After Hitler makes the case that, together, German and American historians contributed to the development of postwar German culture, intellectual life, and national self-understanding.

Michael E. O’Sullivan is Professor of History at Marist College where he teaches courses about Modern Europe. He published Disruptive Power: Catholic Women, Miracles, and Politics in Modern Germany, 1918-1965 with University of Toronto Press in 2018.

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Dec 02 2019

1hr

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Rank #4: Ruha Benjamin, "Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code" (Polity, 2019)

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From everyday apps to complex algorithms, Ruha Benjamin cuts through tech-industry hype to understand how emerging technologies can reinforce White supremacy and deepen social inequity.

In Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (Polity, 2019), Benjamin argues that automation, far from being a sinister story of racist programmers scheming on the dark web, has the potential to hide, speed up, and deepen discrimination while appearing neutral and even benevolent when compared to the racism of a previous era. Presenting the concept of the “New Jim Code,” she shows how a range of discriminatory designs encode inequity by explicitly amplifying racial hierarchies; by ignoring but thereby replicating social divisions; or by aiming to fix racial bias but ultimately doing quite the opposite. Moreover, she makes a compelling case for race itself as a kind of technology, designed to stratify and sanctify social injustice in the architecture of everyday life.

This illuminating guide provides conceptual tools for decoding tech promises with sociologically informed skepticism. In doing so, it challenges us to question not only the technologies we are sold but also the ones we ourselves manufacture.

Marshall Poe is the editor of the New Books Network. He can be reached at marshallpoe@gmail.com.

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Nov 19 2019

56mins

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Rank #5: Stephen R. Duncan, "The Rebel Café: Sex, Race, and Politics in Cold War America’s Nightclub Underground" (Johns Hopkins UP, 2018)

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The art and antics of rebellious figures in 1950s American nightlife―from the Beat Generation to eccentric jazz musicians and comedians―have long fascinated fans and scholars alike. In The Rebel Café: Sex, Race, and Politics in Cold War America’s Nightclub Underground(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), Stephen R. Duncan flips the frame, focusing on the New York and San Francisco bars, nightclubs, and coffeehouses from which these cultural icons emerged. Duncan shows that the sexy, smoky sites of bohemian Greenwich Village and North Beach offered not just entertainment but doorways to a new sociopolitical consciousness.

This book is a collective biography of the places that harbored beatniks, blabbermouths, hipsters, playboys, and partisans who altered the shape of postwar liberal politics and culture. Throughout this period, Duncan argues, nightspots were crucial―albeit informal―institutions of the American democratic public sphere. Amid the Red Scare’s repressive politics, the urban underground of New York and San Francisco acted as both a fallout shelter for left-wingers and a laboratory for social experimentation.

Touching on literary figures from Norman Mailer and Amiri Baraka to Susan Sontag as well as performers ranging from Dave Brubeck to Maya Angelou to Lenny Bruce, The Rebel Café profiles hot spots such as the Village Vanguard, the hungry i, the Black Cat Cafe, and the White Horse Tavern. Ultimately, the book provides a deeper view of 1950s America, not simply as the black-and-white precursor to the Technicolor flamboyance of the sixties but as a rich period of artistic expression and identity formation that blended cultural production and politics.

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Jun 24 2019

46mins

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Rank #6: Daniel HoSang and Joseph E. Lowndes, "Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity" (U Minnesota Press, 2019)

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Dan HoSang and Joe Lowndes’ new book,Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity (University of Minnesota Press, 2019) documents the changing politics of race and class in the age of Trump across a broad range of phenomena, showing how new forms of racialization work to alter the economic protections of whiteness while promoting some conservatives of color as models of the neoliberal regime. Through careful analyses of diverse political sites and conflicts—racially charged elections, attacks on public-sector unions, new forms of white precarity, the rise of black and brown political elites, militia uprisings, multiculturalism on the far right—they highlight new, interwoven deployments of race in the ascendant age of inequality. Using the concept of “racial transposition,” the authors demonstrate how racial meanings and signification can be transferred from one group to another to shore up both neoliberalism and racial hierarchy.

This podcast was hosted by Lilly Goren, Professor of Political Science and Global Studies at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. You can follow her on Twitter @gorenlj

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Jun 10 2019

55mins

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Rank #7: Kathleen Belew, “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America” (Harvard UP, 2018)

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After the U.S. presidential election in 2016, discussions about white nationalism, supremacists, and neo-Nazis went from being a niche topic to mainstream news. For those who hadn’t been keeping tabs on what we’re now calling the “alt-right,” it was as though they simply burst on to the national stage with the election of Donald Trump. The reality of course was that white power groups had been organizing for a long time, though many of their followers were dismissed as cranks, or if they acted violently, lone wolves. Much of the media coverage that they received actually helped them to remain under the radar by treating their activities as isolated and unique.

Kathleen Belew’s new book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (Harvard University Press, 2018), traces the evolution of a paramilitary movement and the effect it had on white power advocates in the United States. The Vietnam War was particularly transformative in this regard. It culturally alienated many returning veterans from their government and left them feeling that they had been betrayed, but it also provided a certain amount of tactical instruction about how to organize their groups in an effective way. Groups became decentralized and organized around paramilitaries as their relationship with the U.S. government became increasingly hostile, eventually becoming committed to violent revolution. This new method of organizing into small cells went unrecognized in part by the government and segments of the press, which were inclined to treat violent incidents as isolated. This allowed the movement to grow in scope, culminating in part with the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.


Zeb Larson is a PhD Candidate in History at The Ohio State University. His research is about the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to zeb.larson@gmail.com.

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Sep 24 2018

56mins

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Rank #8: Kerry Eggers, "Jail Blazers: How the Portland Trail Blazers Became the Bad Boys of Basketball" (Sport Publishing, 2018)

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In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the Portland Trail Blazers were one of the hottest teams in the NBA. For almost a decade, they won 60 percent of their games while making it to the Western Conference Finals twice. However, what happened off-court was just as unforgettable as what they did on the court.

When someone asked Blazers general manager Bob Whitsitt about his team’s chemistry, he replied that he’d “never studied chemistry in college.” And with that, the “Jail Blazers” were born. Built in a similar fashion to a fantasy team, the team had skills, but their issues ended up being their undoing. In fact, many consider it the darkest period in franchise history.

While fans across the country were watching the skills of Damon Stoudamire, Rasheed Wallace, and Zach Randolph, those in Portland couldn’t have been more disappointed in the players’ off-court actions. This, many have mentioned, included a very racial element—which carried over to the players as well. As forward Rasheed Wallace said, “We’re not really going to worry about what the hell [the fans] think about us. They really don’t matter to us. They can boo us every day, but they’re still going to ask for our autographs if they see us on the street. That’s why they’re fans and we’re NBA players.”

In his book Jail Blazers: How the Portland Trail Blazers Became the Bad Boys of Basketball (Sport Publishing, 2018), Kerry Eggers, who covered the Trail Blazers during this controversial era, goes back to share the stories from the players, coaches, management, and those in Portland when the players were in the headlines as much for their play as for their legal issues.

Paul Knepper is an attorney and writer who was born and raised in New York and currently resides in Austin. He used to write about basketball for Bleacher Report and is currently working on his first book about the New York Knicks teams of the 1990s. You can reach him at paulknepper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @paulieknep.

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Jul 11 2019

30mins

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Rank #9: Timothy Lehman, "Up the Trail: How Texas Cowboys Herded Longhorns and Became an American Icon" (Johns Hopkins UP, 2018)

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In 1866, a sixteen year old cowboy—the name was literal in his case—named J.M. Daugherty bought 1,000 cattle, hired five cowboys, and headed north for Missouri. In Indian Territory, he took the long way around Cherokee land, to avoid paying them for crossing their lands. As Daugherty told it, some Yankee “Jayhawkers” ambushed him, shot some of his companions, and took him prisoner, accusing him of bringing infected cattle into Kansas. Escaping, the teenager found his cowboys, rounded up the cattle, and then brought them to market.

Some of this story is true, and the true parts are probably the strangest. Cowboys were on average incredibly young. Only small numbers of them were able to drive immense numbers of cattle, and drove them for hundreds upon hundreds of miles. And, in the wake of the Civil War, there was always bad blood between “Yankees” in Kansas, and former Confederates in Texas.

But there is much else counterintuitive about cow drives, that didn’t make it into the movies. Cowboys liked vegetables, for one thing. For another, they were one part of continent-spanning industrial economy. That didn’t make it into Lonesome Dove, as best as I recall.

With me to discuss the great cattle drives from Texas is Timothy Lehman, author of Up the Trail: How Texas Cowboys Herded Longhorns and Became an American Icon, published by Johns Hopkins Press (2018) as part of their series “How Things Worked.”

Al Zambone is a historian and the host of the podcast Historically Thinking. You can subscribe to Historically Thinking on Apple Podcasts.

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Oct 31 2019

1hr 3mins

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Rank #10: Kristin L. Hoganson, "The Heartland: An American History" (Penguin, 2019)

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The Great West. Middle America. Flyover Country. The expanse of plains, lakes, forests, and farms, between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains has carried many names. Beginning in the twentieth century, Americans began calling it The Heartland, a term that Dr. Kristin L. Hoganson argues carried a specific meaning that has changed across time. In The Heartland: An American History (Penguin, 2019), Hoganson tracks the global history of Champaign, Illinois – a small place with a large history, and, as a professor of history at the University of Illinois, Hoganson’s home for nearly two decades. The Heartland makes a strong case for the Midwest not as a provincial, isolated, region but rather as a place defined by global connections, diasporas, and a wide array of cultures. The book covers a lot of ground, from Kickapoo history to the story of high-bred cattle to a foray into the history of long-distance ballooning. Throughout, Hoganson maintains that just as scholars study the West and the South, the Heartland is deserving of its own status as part of the American regional canon, not because it looks inward, but because of its long history of affecting historical change and being affected by global events.

Stephen Hausmann is a doctoral candidate at Temple University and Visiting Instructor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of race and the environment in the Black Hills and surrounding northern plains region of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

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Apr 22 2019

1hr 34mins

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Rank #11: David Ray Papke, "Containment and Contagion: Law and the Oppression of the Urban Poor" (Michigan State UP, 2019)

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The law does things, writes David Ray Papke, and it says things, and if we are talking about poor Americans, especially those living in big cities, what it does and says combine to function as powerfully oppressive forces that can much more likely be counted on to do harm than good. Join us as we discuss Papke's book Containment and Contagion: Law and the Oppression of the Urban Poor (Michigan State University Press, 2019) and learn about how law functions in the lives of poor people in the U.S. today.

Stephen Pimpare is Senior Lecturer in the Politics & Society Program and Faculty Fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of The New Victorians (New Press, 2004), A Peoples History of Poverty in America (New Press, 2008), winner of the Michael Harrington Award, and Ghettos, Tramps and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen (Oxford, 2017).

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Feb 15 2019

31mins

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Rank #12: Sarah E. Igo, “The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America” (Harvard UP, 2018)

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Sarah E. Igo is an associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University and the author of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2018). Igo provides a legal and social history of the idea of privacy and how it was first evoked, challenged, written into law and reinterpreted by ordinary citizens in the age of mass marketing and social media. Once the right of elite citizens to protect their reputations, the growth of the bureaucratic state, communications technologies, and the inquiries of experts brought the issue of privacy into view for many more Americans. First defined by legal experts as the “right to be left alone” in bodily, mental and emotional aspects, by the end of the twentieth century privacy came to mean the right to control one’s public narrative. Americans have swung from seeking seclusion in increasingly secure homes to tell-all public confessions, reflecting a dilemma between the desire to left alone and the need to be known. Igo has shed light on why Americans are so conflicted about privacy, navigating the treacherous terrain of the state, the market and their own desire for connection, security, and visibility.


This episode of New Books in American Studies was produced in cooperation with the Society for U.S. Intellectual History.


Lilian Calles Barger, www.lilianbarger.com, is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her most recent book is entitled The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology, Oxford University Press, 2018.

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Aug 28 2018

56mins

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Rank #13: James Baldwin, "Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood" (Duke UP, 2018)

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This 2018 reprint of Little Man, Little Man exemplifies communal and collaborative textual production. The story was written by James Baldwin and illustrated by French artist Yoran Cazac. It was published in 1976 and then went out of print. In this new edition, scholars Nicholas Boggs and Jennifer DeVere Brody write the introduction, while Baldwin’s nephew and niece, Tejan Karefa-Smart and Aisha Karefa-Smart write the foreword and afterword respectively. In Little Man, Little Man, which Baldwin alternately described as a children’s book for adults and an adults’ book for children, we see a slice of a Harlem neighborhood through the eyes of young TJ. The story presents a complex and multifaceted vision of black childhood in America and nudges the contemporary reader to think critically about what it means to see through the eyes of a child and to be seen by those in one’s world.

Nicholas Boggs was an undergraduate at Yale when he discovered James Baldwin's out-of-print "children's book for adults," Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood (1976) at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The senior thesis he wrote about it was published in the anthology James Baldwin Now (NYU, 1999). A subsequent essay on Little Man Little Man that draws on his interviews in Paris with the book's illustrator, French artist Yoran Cazac, appears in The Cambridge Companion to James Baldwin (2015). This research led him to co-edit and write the introduction to a new edition of Little Man, Little Man (Duke UP, 2018), which the New York Times wrote "couldn't be more timely" and Entertainment Weekly hailed as "brilliant, essential." He was interviewed by the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly for their feature articles on Little Man, Little Man and he appeared on Madeleine Brand's Press Play on KCRW , on Black America TV , and on a panel at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture moderated by Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.  The recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Camargo Foundation, he is currently at work on a literary biography of Baldwin, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Annette Joseph-Gabriel is an Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her forthcoming book, Reimagined Belongings: Black Women’s Decolonial Citizenship in the French Empire examines Caribbean and African women’s literary and political contributions to anti-colonial movements.

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Dec 21 2018

39mins

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Rank #14: Bradford Vivian, "Commonplace Witnessing: Rhetorical Invention, Historical Remembrance, and Public Culture" (Oxford UP, 2017)

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On this episode of New Books in Communications, Lee Pierce (she/they) interviews Dr. Bradford Vivian (he/his) of Penn State University on his fabulous new book Commonplace Witnessing: Rhetorical Invention, Historical Remembrance, and Public Culture (Oxford University Press, 2017). In this book, Dr. Vivian asks readers to reconsider our almost sacred regard for the act of witnessing in public culture and consider witnessing as a rhetorical act that we recognize not only because of the transparent truth of the witness testimony but because that testimony conforms to particular expectations of witnessing, which Dr. Vivian calls the “topoi” or commonplaces of witnessing including authenticity, impossibility, and regret. Investigating a variety of public culture texts—from 19th-century speeches to the 9/11 Memorial—Dr. Vivian explores the ambiguity of witnessing as an act of memory and culture and how that act normalizes who has the right to speak truth and how.

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Feb 27 2019

1hr 1min

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Rank #15: Alexandra Minna Stern, "White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination" (Beacon Press, 2019)

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In this episode, Dr. Alexandra Minna Stern and I discuss her latest book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination (Beacon Press, 2019). Our conversation examines the intersections of gender and sexuality, and is they relate to her her research on eugenics, white nationalists, the alt-right, and the alt-lite. We also discuss the influence eugenics and race science has had on nationalist movements throughout history. Dr. Alexandra Minna Stern is a professor of American culture, history, women's studies, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan and is also the author of the prize-winning book Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America.

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Sep 11 2019

1hr 6mins

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Rank #16: Randall Stephens, "The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock n’ Roll" (Harvard UP, 2018)

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I was immediately drawn to the book The Devil’s Music by Dr. Randall Stephens, Associate Professor of British and American Studies at the University of Oslo. Dr. Stephens and I came across one another online and the book, which combines part rock n’ roll history, part American Christianity history, was an absolute delight for me. The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock n’ Roll out now from Harvard University Press (2018), tells the story of how my experiences with rock music in the 1990’s came to be. From the inside cover of the book, “When rock n’roll emerged in the 1950’s, ministers denounced it from their pulpits and Sunday school teachers warned of the music’s demonic origins. The big beat, Billy Graham believed, was “ever working in the world for evil.” Yet by the early 2000s Christian rock had become a billion-dollar industry. The Devil’s Music tells the story of this transformation. Enjoy our conversation.

Greg Soden is the host “Classical Ideas,” a podcast about religion and religious ideas. You can find it on iTunes here.

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Apr 10 2019

55mins

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Rank #17: Sarah Anne Carter, "Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World" (Oxford UP, 2018)

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The metaphor “object lesson” is a familiar one, still in everyday use. But what exactly does the metaphor refer to?

In her book Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World (Oxford University Press, 2018), my guest Sarah Anne Carter reveals that object lessons were a classroom exercise, in wide use during the nineteenth century. She traces them from the Swiss educational reformer Pestalozzi, through his English adherents, to seemingly unlikely outposts of educational revolution as the Oswego, New York school system. And she takes the story into politics, advertising, and racial segregation.

Her book is study of intellectual history and of intellectual culture. But Sarah’s book, and this conversation, is also about asking questions of things which cannot speak. Sarah’s interest in objects comes not simply from her training as an intellectual historian, but as a curator of museums. She is curator and director of research at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, and is passionate about teaching people the history behind the objects that museums contain.

Al Zambone is a historian and the host of the podcast Historically Thinking. You can subscribe to Historically Thinking on Apple Podcasts.

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Jul 10 2019

1hr 2mins

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Rank #18: Jason Smith, "To Master the Boundless Sea: The US Navy, the Marine Environment, and the Cartography of Empire" (UNC Press, 2018)

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Jason Smith discusses the US Navy’s role in exploring and charting the ocean world. Smith is an assistant professor of history at Southern Connecticut State University. He’s the author of To Master the Boundless Sea: The US Navy, the Marine Environment, and the Cartography of Empire (UNC Press, 2018).

As the United States grew into an empire in the late nineteenth century, notions like "sea power" derived not only from fleets, bases, and decisive battles but also from a scientific effort to understand and master the ocean environment. Beginning in the early nineteenth century and concluding in the first years of the twentieth, Jason W. Smith tells the story of the rise of the U.S. Navy and the emergence of American ocean empire through its struggle to control nature. In vividly told sketches of exploration, naval officers, war, and, most significantly, the ocean environment, Smith draws together insights from environmental, maritime, military, and naval history, and the history of science and cartography, placing the U.S. Navy's scientific efforts within a broader cultural context.

Michael F. Robinson is professor of history at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. He's the author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2006) and The Lost White Tribe: Scientists, Explorers, and the Theory that Changed a Continent (Oxford University Press, 2016). He's also the host of the podcast Time to Eat the Dogs, a weekly podcast about science, history, and exploration.

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Dec 06 2019

36mins

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Rank #19: Adam Reich and Peter Bearman, “Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart” (Columbia UP, 2018)

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When we hear about the “future of work” today we tend to think about different forms of automation and artificial intelligence—technological innovations that will make some jobs easier and others obsolete while (hopefully) creating new ones we cannot yet foresee, and never could have. But perhaps this future isn’t so incomprehensible. Perhaps it’s here already, right in front of our faces, at the largest employer in the world. In their new book, Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart (Columbia University Press, 2018) sociologists Adam Reich and Peter Bearman analyze what it means to work at the world’s largest retailer—and the largest provider of low-wage jobs. Through stories from Walmart employees and observations from stores around the country, they provide much insight into their working conditions and the relationship they have with their surrounding communities. But a truly novel approach and broad set of additional methods make the book shine. Inspired by the Freedom Summer of 1964, in 2014 (the 50th anniversary of that pivotal event) Reich and Bearman launched the “Summer of Respect,” for which they hired a team of college students to work on membership registration for OUR Walmart, a voluntary association of current and former Walmart associates. The students fanned out in teams to communities around the United States, and in addition to organizing and gathering data on Walmart workers, Reich and Bearman also examined them upon their return to determine the influence that social justice engagement has on people. Working for Respect, then, goes far beyond the typical “bad jobs” treatment to provide an impressive look at the important role of community in social change.

Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017), about the transformation of low-status occupations into cool, cultural taste-making jobs (cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole animal butchers), and of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City (Princeton University Press, 2014), about growth policies, nightlife, and conflict in gentrified neighborhoods. His work has appeared in such journals as City & Community, Poetics, Ethnography, and the European Journal of Cultural Studies. He is also the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork (Routledge, 2012), a co-Book Editor at City & Community, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Metropolitics, Work and Occupations, and the Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography.

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Oct 29 2018

45mins

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Rank #20: Dawn Peterson, “Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion” (Harvard UP, 2017)

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During his invasion of Creek Indian territory in 1813, future U.S. president Andrew Jackson discovered a Creek infant orphaned by his troops. Moved by an “unusual sympathy,” Jackson sent the child to be adopted into his Tennessee plantation household. Through the stories of nearly a dozen white adopters, adopted Indian children, and their Native parents, Dawn Peterson opens a window onto the forgotten history of adoption in early nineteenth-century America.  Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion (Harvard University Press, 2017) shows the important role that adoption played in efforts to subdue Native peoples in the name of nation-building.


As the United States aggressively expanded into Indian territories between 1790 and 1830, government officials stressed the importance of assimilating Native peoples into what they styled the United States’ “national family.” White households who adopted Indians—especially slaveholding Southern planters influenced by leaders such as Jackson—saw themselves as part of this expansionist project. They hoped to inculcate in their young charges U.S. attitudes toward private property, patriarchal family, and racial hierarchy.


U.S. whites were not the only ones driving this process. Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw families sought to place their sons in white households, to be educated in the ways of U.S. governance and political economy. But there were unintended consequences for all concerned. As adults, these adopted Indians used their educations to thwart U.S. federal claims to their homelands, setting the stage for the political struggles that would culminate in the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

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May 28 2018

38mins

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