Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘african-americans’ Category

Dear weekend awaiters,

This is the second installment of a new Lazy Scholar feature, pairing news items with historical archives.

Slate‘s TV Club is diligently following and debating the new season of Mad Men. If you haven’t watched (is that possible?), it’s a 60s scholar’s dream, with carefully reconstructed interior design, fashion, and, yes, language. A few weeks back, Ben Zimmer at the New York Times Magazine offered an inside look at the writers’ efforts to keep the dialogue historically accurate. Scholars of advertising and consumerism, of course, will be thrilled, too, even if the show fictionalizes the origins of many real-life advertising campaigns. Sorry folks, Don Draper did not coin Lucky Strike’s slogan. People were enjoying their “toasted” cigarettes as early as 1919, as this ad shows. Until next Sunday night, you can ponder more of the history behind Mad Men by checking out the beautiful exhibit, The High Art of Photographic Advertisement, thanks to Harvard Business School’s Baker Library. One wonders, were those “Luckies” even more tempting in color?

• Moving on to the big screen, top critics are divided about Eat, Pray, Love, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir about her post-divorce trip to Italy and elsewhere. You can follow the globe-trots of some earlier American women courtesy of  Brigham Young University’s American Travelers in Italy archive, with digitized copies of travelogues by Sophia Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Louisa May Alcott. The Little Women author had this to say about Rome: “Felt as if I had been there before and knew all about it. Always oppressed with a sense of sin, dirt, and general decay of all things.” Not exactly the stuff of summer movies.

• Officials and locals in Louisiana debate whether it’s safe or wise to re-open commercial fishing grounds after the Gulf oil spill. Between 1921 and 1932, LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries employee Percy Viosca, Jr.,  documented the state’s coasts, and captured many photos of its fishing industry. You can view images like the one below on the Viosca Collection from LSU.

• After much research, McSweeney’s presented the “Editor’s Choice Award” to their favorite “e-Reader”: the Newspaper. It “outclassed its rivals both in terms of size and elasticity” and its “display could be read at full size or, when flipped open, twice its normal width.” Fellow ironical Luddites will enjoy the Library of Congress’s amazing, easy-to-navigate, and free Chronicling America Archive, with searchable copies of newspapers dating from 1860 to 1922, including The Texas Jewish Herald, The Salt Lake Evening Democrat, The Ohio Valley Worker, and the Daily Tombstone of Tombstone, Arizona. Here’s a look at some beachfront fashions from a 1916 issue of the New York Herald-Tribune, “an afternoon gown of black silk.”

• Speaking of fashion, this just in: Urban Outfitters’s fall catalog was shot entirely in and around my adopted summer home, Northampton, Massachusetts. Have the grounds of Smith ever looked so co-ed? You can download the catalog here. And you can see historical images of Smith here, thanks to the college’s library. Below, some ladies play leapfrog on the ice for the Sophomore Carnival of 1922.

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Yours currently,

Stephen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Dear regular readers,

Today the Lazy Scholar is experimenting with a new feature called Old News, in which current news items are paired with archival finds. Let me know if you like it!

• The New York Times ran a taste-test of strawberry ice cream, only to find that the not-so-local, not-so-artisinal Häagen-Dazs variety beat out the pricier competitors. You can try making your own from scratch, following this recipe for Crushed Strawberry Cream from 1907’s Ice Cream and Candy Makers’ Factory Guide, courtesy of the Smithsonian’s Trade Literature Collection. Many more cool images and texts can be found on their Flickr page.

• You might have heard: the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage. But the fight for marriage equality has deeper roots than you might think. Listen to track 4 from this digitized 1970 episode of “Gay Perspective,” a radio show produced by the Milwaukee-based Gay People’s Union. In this installment, a lesbian couple relates how they sought a marriage license from the Milwaukee County Clerk and were quickly denied. As one woman put it, “Love is not meant to be hidden…. And I won’t hide it. If I don’t get a license now, I’ll keep trying, and keep trying, and eventually I’ll get one.” There’s much more to hear and see in the Gay People’s Union Collection, brought to you by University of Wisconsin.

• Speaking of marriage, in Real Simple, Daily Show correspondents and spouses Samantha Bee and Jason Jones offer advice to make your holy matrimony “divorceproof,” including this useful bit of wisdom: “If you’re irritated by your partner, imagine him as a small child.” For some more tried and true advice, read Marie Carmichael Stopes’ 1918 text Married Love, digitized by UPenn. Its frankness so scandalized readers, the book was banned in the U.S. until 1931. Here’s one of its raciest images: a”curve showing the Periodicity of Recurrence of natural desire in healthy women.”

• The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Postal Service is apparently ailing, as, wouldn’t you know it, people have switched increasingly from paper mail to the electronic variety. You can start mourning the passing of stamps by checking out Arago, the collections site of the National Postal Museum. Take, for example, these 1979 “Endangered Flora” stamps. Because one endangered species deserves another.

• Courtesy of the Library of Congress, the Denver Post has put online 78 beautiful color photographs taken from 1939 to 1943 for the Farm Security Administration. To those used to imagining the 1930s and 40s in black and white, the color images have a way of bringing that period a little bit closer. You can view many, many more on the Library of Congress site, including this photo of a Florida “juke joint.”

Yours currently,

Stephen

Read Full Post »

To the Vitamin-D-deprived,

Last year, Norman Podhoretz, neocon pioneer and Commentary editor from 1960 to 1995, published the tauntingly titled book Why Are Jews Liberal?. He might have come to different conclusions (or even a subtler question) had he more closely read Michael Staub’s Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America. In that nuanced 2002 study, Staub skillfully untangles the complex and fierce political debates that divided Jewish communal leaders and intellectuals from the 1940s into the 70s and 80s, whether over the “Jewishness” of social radicalism, the connections between Zionism and the civil rights movement, or the impact of the sexual revolution.

Staub, professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, is also the author of  Voices of Persuasion: Politics of Representation in 1930s America (1994), and the editor of the indispensable sourcebook The Jewish 1960s, a collection of readings ranging from the Holocaust to Soviet Jewry.

What projects, large or small, academic or non-academic, are you working on now? And/or what projects have you recently completed?
I am now finishing a book, Madness is Civilization: When the Diagnosis was Social, 1948-1980, to be published by the University of Chicago Press sometime late in 2011. It’s an intellectual and cultural history of anti-psychiatry in the postwar U.S., with chapters on the roots of anti-psychiatry already in the 1940s and 1950s, on the work and influence of R. D. Laing, Erving Goffman and Thomas Szasz in the 1960s, and on radical and feminist therapy and popular psychology in the 1970s.

What non-digital resource would you recommend
The guide to the Underground Press Collection.

What digital resource would you recommend?
The Chadwyck Periodicals Archive Online Collection.

What is the best research or writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Turn your problems into your solutions. When you run into interpretive difficulties, use that as a clue to the more complex argument you need to be making.

What was the inspiration behind your dissertation?
The inspiration for my dissertation began with a class I never took. While an undergraduate at Hampshire College, Prof. Barry O’Connell (at Amherst) mentioned to me a course he had offered the year before on Depression-era culture. I asked for the syllabus. Some years later as a grad student in American Civilization at Brown, I developed my own undergraduate seminar on the Great Depression based on Barry’s class. This in turn led to my teaching Agee and Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a book I had not previously read. The students may have been baffled, but I was totally intrigued. And I started to formulate my dissertation on documentary and ethnographic expression during the 1930s and writers’ struggles to experiment with form and style to convey to readers the perspectives of the dispossessed.

What advice would you give someone working on their dissertation?
No good can come from trying to hit a moving target. Do not begin a project by thinking about what the marketplace can bear—or what might sell. By the time the manuscript is done and ready for publication, all will have moved on and changed.

How does your teaching connect to your research?
I teach literature and writing in an undergraduate English program, but my research is in American history. In many respects, I consider myself fortunate to be able to move between different disciplines when I teach and when I write. Occasionally there is overlap, for example when I had the chance to co-teach a course on Holocaust history and literature, and was able to draw on Torn at the Roots—which reperiodizes the evolution of Holocaust consciousness in America—and The Jewish 1960s.

What’s the one book or article published before 1970 that has most influenced your work?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, an early classic of the New Journalism and a remarkable retelling of the American twentieth century. It’s also an oral history, a fact-based literary genre with which I have long been fascinated.

What was the last thing you read to seriously inspire or haunt you?
John Le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man, a chillingly plausible account of a person subjected to what euphemistically is known as extraordinary rendition.

What do you see as the most annoying tendency in contemporary scholarship?
A lack of passion.

Read Full Post »

Dear sun bathers,

Today the Lazy Scholar talks to a decidedly un-lazy historian, Davarian L. Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College. Baldwin’s  first book, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The Great Migration, and Black Urban Life, published by UNC Press in 2007, offers an inspired look at the labors and leisures of African-Americans who settled in Chicago in the 1910s and 20s. Touching on figures from famed boxer Jack Johnson to “beauty culture” pioneer Madame C. J. Walker, and topics from “race films” to baseball, Baldwin deftly reveals the political, economic, and social debates behind urban consumer culture. Anyone who studies race, gender, or popular culture should prepare to add it their summer reading lists, and maybe their fall syllabi, too.

What projects are you working on now?
I am actually working on two pretty major projects that have me both excited and overwhelmed. One I am completely done researching, which is Land of Darkness: Race and the Making of Modern America. In this project I take on the long-held axiom that the U.S. social sciences have provided us with modern ideas about race.  I use a close reading of the ‘Chicago School’ at its turn of the twentieth century origins to examine how the lived experiences of race in the city in fact shaped the rise of the U.S. social sciences and their impact on urban public policy throughout the twentieth century.

The second project UniverCities offers a series of case studies to unpack the meaning of urban universities and their attendant medical centers as the dominant employers, real estate holders, policing agents, and educational and health care providers in almost every major metropolitan center in the country.

What digital resource(s) do you rely on, or would you recommend?
For my earlier work, I loved “African-American Newspapers and Periodicals,” but now for my more contemporary studies, I must admit that reading the responses to articles and essays on blogs and websites is quite telling for me about the tenor, especially of a heated cultural issue. So for example, when there was all of this uproar around the comments Serena Williams made to a line judge, the pages of comments did not offer a scientific data set but were fascinating and horrifying nonetheless (can you tell I am working on an essay on the Williams Sisters?)

What non-digital resources would you recommend?
I still love Raymond Williams’ Keywords and the new American Studies version is quite helpful as well.

What is the best research or writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Especially for historians, who have to manage both the archival and the transmission of that material, we can tend to get bogged down in endless archival work which then makes getting to the writing very difficult even after the archival bits are “completed.” The best advice I got was after you feel like you have done enough archival research to establish a basic argument and vision and all the research is fresh in your head…just write the story. Many of us tend to write and pause at every sentence to find relevant sources. Don’t worry about all that, draft the story and then go back and find the appropriate quotes and sources. Again this is after you have a pretty firm sense of the data. I have been told, by people with whom I shared this advice, that it’s quite liberating!

What was the inspiration behind your dissertation?
I definitely think it was a my mother. She worked in a factory in the Midwest, but once she got off work (and even on the job) she told these amazing stories, was a mathematical genius and wore these amazing haute couture dresses. SO my basic premise was that everyday folk think and produce knowledge and it is our limitation as scholars for not peering into the world and ways in which people think, create, and debate ideas beyond the church and the seminar room, so in my case consumer culture and consumption itself.

What advice would you give someone working on their dissertation?
Someone has already said it here but write on a topic that you LOVE, something that can sustain you for many years on even the days when you don’t want to write. Also even though the current academic marketplace in some ways requires us to write award wining dissertations. I really see the dissertation as a glorified data dump, simply because once you think about a book version the ways in which your imagined audience changes (from a committee of maybe 5 to hopefully hundreds) profoundly transforms your written voice. So that is also some advice: audience. Be clear about who you are speaking to and why, in any piece of writing.

How does your teaching connect to your research?
Trying out ideas on students is amazing, not just to see if the ideas fly but to gauge whether you, the writer/teacher, has delved deep enough into an idea (and come out) with an ability to make that idea legible to a wider audience beyond specialists. But also I have tended to move away from teaching just my research. I think the academy went through that general trend and now we have a generation of students who can speak expertly about their teacher’s expertise but struggle to situate it within larger conceptual, temporal, and spatial contexts.

What’s the one book or article published before 1970 that has most influenced your work?
CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary. I was abhorred (in some ways) by his Edwardian haughtiness but that he could be so pretentious and still come out with this amazing examination of colonization/decolonization through CRICKET! Truly Amazing! I don’t think enough culture scholars read that book, but then most don’t know cricket, but in some ways you don’t have to.

What was the last thing you read to seriously inspire or haunt you?
I think Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums, both because this factual account almost mirrored sci-fi work that I had been reading by people like Paolo Bacigalupi and also because of its amazing global breadth without losing a depth of argument.

What primary source do you dream of finding?
The blueprints that the shopping cart man was pushing around in Ellison’s Invisible Man.

What website most often draws your attention away from work?
Definitely music websites and blogs, especially BBC Radio’s Benji B show…I ALWAYS have to have music to make it through writing projects.

What do you see as the most annoying tendency (or tendencies) in contemporary scholarship?
I definitely see beautiful prose, great stories, polished arguments, but I am missing a messy sense of urgency in writing and thinking out loud THROUGH, not before writing. I am most annoyed by conferences where, the constant spectre of the market, forces young scholars to take a polished 40 page paper and boil it down to 15 minutes with perfection. I miss the days of conferences when you brought an idea at the start of your thinking and tried it out on an audience expecting critique and revision…I miss that.

Read Full Post »

To the domestically-inclined,

Break out your horseradish everybody! Passover is officially here, bringing with it gefilte fish, chocolate-covered matzo, brisket, and all the other healthy treats you’ve come to associate with the feast of the unleavened bread. In truth, perverse as it might sound, I do look forward to Passover every year, I suppose because it’s a family-centered, home-bound holiday, unlike Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Plus, I kind of like matzo. You know, until day four, when I start screaming at anyone in a twenty-foot radius eating a croissant. 

For the digital scholar, unfortunately, there is no single archive that provides a wealth of Passover-related ephemera, so I’ve had to cast a wide net. For starters, you can get your holiday off to a good start listening to a genuinely catchy album by Julliard and Jewish Theological Seminary grad Gladys Gewirtz. Digitized by FAU’s Judaica Sound Archives, Gewirtz’s Seder Party encourages us all to become “Seder Paraders,” and includes piano accompaniment by Long Island dentist Len Meinwald. (No joke, he continued to record into the eighties!) My favorite song, though, has to be, “Let’s Go Shopping,” an ode to the Passover grocery experience.

Marketers have known for a while that Passover shopping is, indeed, big business. The Reform Advocate reported in 1909 you could see ads for “Chad-Ghadye Ketchup,” named for the popular Passover song. Still Maxwell House has gone down in advertising history for the sheer chutzpah of their now-ubiquitous haggadah. Click here for some scans of an early edition, proclaiming their instant coffee the “Cantors’ Choice for every day enjoyment.” Manischewitz, too, knew a good act to get in on, producing a Yiddish/English pamphlet of Tempting Kosher Dishes for Passover, digitized by the incredible National Yiddish Book Center.  Their product line-up hasn’t changed much since then.

Truly, though, you’ve never seen Mr. Peanut looking so jaunty in that top-hat as he does in 46 Ways To Better Passover Meals brought to you by Planter’s Peanut Oil. (But eaters beware : the kosher status of peanut oil is a still a source of rabbinic debate!). 

Not all Passover publications are quite so product-placement-heavy. The Internet also hides a countless array of Haggadot. For a sampling, here is one from 1883, one from 1908, one from 1910, and one from the 1920s.

Last but not least, video-lovers can curl out on their couch and watch this rather remarkable footage from the 1969 Freedom Seder, organized by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in a black church on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assasination. And you can thank another underappreciated digital resource, my parents, forwarding me Martha Stewart’s tour of the Streit’s Matzoh Factory.

Yours in recline, 

Stephen

Read Full Post »

Dear deadline dodgers,

Regular readers may have noticed my online output has slowed lately, for which I can only blame the short days, the rainy weather, and that fine art some call “dissertating.” Alas, in my delinquency, I missed a chance to offer a Black History Month missive—so I hope you’ll accept this belated attempt.

One of the most vivid records of the African-American past come through studio photography—posed portraits of men and women, often donning their finest suits and dresses. The Duke University Library, for one, holds the beautiful collection of Michael Francis Blake, who opened shop in Baltimore in 1912. The majority of his subjects are now unknown, like the woman on the left who posed in Blake’s studio, and the man on the right, who posed outside.

The Smithsonian, meanwhile, has a striking archive of black D.C. photographer Addison Scurlock. Most of his images come from later decades, and hint at both improvements in photographic technology and in African-American status.  Here are two photographs circa 1940, on the left, one of Sergeant Eddie Gibson, on the right, one of Mrs. Lucretia Guy on the right.

 

One would have to do a closer investigation to see if Blake and Scurlock’s photographs feel more intimate, more knowing, than those of some of his white contemporaries. How did the power dynamics shift, the conversations in the studio change? Case in point, University of Virginia’s digital archive of portraits by white photographer Rufus Holsinger’s work. It includes hundreds of images of African-Americans from Charlottesville and the vicinity, throughout the nineteen-teens, like the two below.

George S. Cook, meanwhile, picked up photography and then taught it to many others throughout the late nineteenth-century South. He would later buy many of his students’ negative, eventually amassing thousands. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Through the Lens of Time puts his collection of African-American portraits on view. They are not not without moral ambiguity. Some of the photographs seem to delight in validating stereotypes, like this one of a boy hugging a watermelon.  Yet others seem intensely vivid, like the one below of a boy in a patchwork hat. The names and identities of the photographers, like their subjects, have since been lost, leaving the images alone to speak for them.Until next time, I remain yours tardily,

Stephen

Read Full Post »