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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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.

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Dear air conditioner enthusiasts,

You may have heard that June is LGBT Pride Month in these United States, marked by rainbow-banner parades in cities across the country. Boston’s passed a few Saturdays ago (favorite sign: “gender is a drag,” courtesy of a Traniwreck marcher), but I’ll confess, the parade that still means the most to me is the one in New York City, from Greenwich Village to Central Park, held every year on the last Sunday in June. Part of my fascination is historical—I wonder how many participants and spectators will know that this is the 40th NYC pride parade. The first was held in 1970 in commemoration of the riots outside the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street. (You can read a scan of the Mattachine Society’s account of the riot on sociologist Toby Marotta’s excellent Community Roots Archive. And see some photos from the first Gay Liberation Parade, like the one below, thanks to the New York Public Library’s digital archive, here and here.)

Diana Davies, NYPL Digitial ID: 1619943

But beyond the political history, NYC’s pride parade still means the most to me because it was one of the crucial ways I tracked my own coming out. In the four years I lived in the East Village and Brooklyn, I never missed the parade, but my reactions to it kept changing. The first summer, I literally stood a few feet back from the main line of spectators, probably afraid some drag queen would literally grab me, pull me over the metal divider, and force to me to march alongside her (or more likely that my face would somehow appear in a local news broadcast). The second summer, I went with a new set of friends, and cheered on a group I meekly referred to, literally, as “lesbians on motorcycles,” not quite ready to embrace their more common moniker. And the third and fourth summers, I went with my boyfriend—though those two honestly start to blur together, which in itself feels like progress.

I went back to grad school, in part, because I wanted to learn more about the cultural history I felt myself to be a part of—a pursuit in which my laziness has been, and remains, key. The latest case in point: OutHistory’s Since Stonewall Local Histories Contest. The online archive invited readers to post their own exhibits, and the results are pretty extraordinary. Where else could you find a history of LGBT visibility in Bloomington, Indiana—now billing itself as the “fifth gayest place in America”? Or a look at FTM trans mentorship in San Francisco? Or photos from the 1978 Reno Gay Rodeo?

For a lesson in more recent history, you can also spend hours digging through the complete run of Outweek. Though it only lasted from 1989 to 1991, Outweek was an important voice in AIDS activism and awareness, taking a more militant approach than the older Advocate (particularly as co-founder Michaelangelo Signorile began “outing” high-profile sorts). It’s worth downloading some PDFs, just for the ads and cartoons. (FYI: You can also view issues of The Advocate from 1994 to 2006 and Out, co-founded by Outweek columnist Michael Goff, from 1999-2006 on Google Books.)

To view an archive in the making, you should also check out I’m From Driftwood, featuring an impressive range of true LGBT tales. Think of it as a queer Storycorps, which of course has its own share of queer tales.

And one last thing for you theatrical types: a re-mastered video of the great Charles Ludlam’s  silent (and campy) horror film Museum of Wax, thanks to the Outfest Legacy Project.

Yours fabulously,

Stephen

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Dear viewers like you,

The website Snagfilms usually gets pegged as “Hulu for documentaries”—a pretty generous comparison when I think about how many episodes of 30 Rock I’ve watched on our Mac. But while Hulu gives a chance for major TV networks to distribute shows both popular and flagging, Snagfilms shines its spotlight on filmmakers with far less funding and exposure. Most of its documentaries were created in the last ten years, but historians of the recent-but-not-too-recent past will also find ample reasons to browse.

For starters, take a look at Peter Rosen’s beautifully shot 1971 documentary Bright College Years on the student uprisings at Yale in the late 1960s.  It was included in PBS’s “Sixties Legacy” series, first aired in 1979—suggesting just how quickly the decade was commemorated and mourned.

Nick Broomfield’s Tattooed Tears from 1978, meanwhile, provides a look at a maximum security juvenile correctional facility in California. And for something completely different, check out Broomfield’s wry documentary about the British class system, 1973’s Proud to Be British.

The archive also includes some fascinating (if sometimes slow) profiles of artists, including Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, and Orson Welles. The oddest of these by far, however, is Henry Miller Asleep and Awake, a 1975 tour of the famed novelist’s bathroom. Yes. His bathroom, covered with photographs of every subject from “maniacs to whores.” In other words, what you would more or less expect from the author of Tropic of Cancer. As Miller explains, “People often come in here and get lost. They’re in here for, I don’t know how long, and I imagine maybe something happened, that they got constipated or something. But it isn’t that of course. They get fascinated with these pictures.” A little like looking at Jung’s Red Book.

Just two more for your weekend viewing: See what happens when a 7th grade class establishes its own imaginary country in 1979’s The Ruling Classroom. And for all you Internet addicts, see what happens when three college students give up their computers for three weeks in 2008’s Disconnected.

Digitally yours,

Stephen

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To those of you blaming tryptophan for your Monday morning lag,

Tomorrow, December 1, marks World AIDS Day, which seems like a good moment to point to some online resources about the history of the illness, its impact, and the art and activisim it inspired.

The Carpenter Center here at Harvard has organized an extraordinary exhibit on the art of ACT UP (that’s AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) that runs until December 23. For those outside the Cambridge area, you can see many of the powerfully confrontational posters, stickers, and postcards designed by ACT UP artist group Gran Fury online at the New York Public Library.

The Carpenter Center exhibit also includes hours and hours of testimonies from the ACT UP Oral History Project, but you can also visit their site to view excerpts and complete transcripts. Interviewees include ACT UP founder Larry Kramer, journalist Michelangelo Signorile, filmmaker Tom Kalin, and NYC artist Peter Cramer.

For a sense of how AIDS was covered by the mainstream press, check out this 1983 cover story from New York magazine, and this 1985 Time article, which hit the stands shortly after Rock Hudson’s death.

For a more visceral sense of how the queer community itself experienced the frightening and devastating spread of AIDS, I recommend watching Bill Sherwood’s astonishing and unsentimental 1986 film Parting Glances, starring a young Steve Buscemi, available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Even in the 1980s, of course, AIDS was on its way to becoming a worldwide epidemic. UCLA’s AIDS Posters collection includes health advisories from Japan (on the left) to Uganda (on the right).

For the record, at last count, the World Health Organization estimates that 33.4 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen

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Dear reluctant researchers,

As you ponder the results of yesterday’s elections, I thought you might appreciate a visit from the ghosts of political campaigns past. No, I haven’t summoned the spirit of Fiorello Laguardia again. But I have uncovered a fascinating archive from the Museum of the Moving Image: “The Living Room Candidate,” which includes over 300 campaign commercials from the 1950s to the present.

My favorite  of these has to be this jaunty Eisenhower ad from 1952, animated by Disney. As the everymen and women sing, “You like Ike, I like Ike,/
Everybody likes Ike—for president./ Hang out the banners, beat the drums,/ We’ll take Ike to Washington.” Unfortunately, the elephant beating the drum could not vote himself.

Ike for President

Conveniently you can also browse the ads by genre, including my favorite, the always effective “fear.” Some of you out there may remember this charming Lyndon Johnson commercial from 1964, which managed to impress on a nation still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy the imminent danger of nuclear attack. Your daisy won’t help you now, little girl.

Daisy

And if you only have a few minutes, check out the curator’s choice gallery, including this seventies-tastic bio of Jimmy Carter. Though you could be forgiven for thinking the opening music and visuals were introducing a new Laverne-and-Shirley-inspired sitcom, “Jimmy and Walt!” doing it their way.

Jimmy Carter bio

Oh, hell, just one more. How about this disgustingly sentimental ad for George Bush, Senior?

George HW Bush

George HW Bush 2

Is it just me, or are they re-enacting the lobster scene from Annie Hall on the right?

Democratically yours,

Stephen

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Salutations to the slothful,

Travel back with me today to the year 1840, when William Henry Harrison led the Whig party to the White House! Thanks to Cornell’s delightful (and remarkably easy to navigate) Political Americana collection, you, too, can relive Harrison’s glorious slaughter of the Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe with this commemorative lithograph (detail below; click for full image). Or sing along to the National Whig Song! Come on, you know the words: “I’ll sing you now a new Whig song / made to a good old rhyme / Of a fine true-hearted gentleman / all of the olden time.”

harrison

Unfortunately, Harrison’s victory wouldn’t last long—he died within a month of his inaugural address. At which point his followers could secure a print of his last bedridden moments (see below).

Death of Harrison, Susan H. Douglas Political Americana Collection, #2214 Rare & Manuscript Collections Cornell University Library Cornell University

The presidential deathbed portrait was apparently a popular genre all its own. Check out below, George Washington, Andrew Jackson,  Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln, all breathing their last, tearful friends, family, and servants around them (click on images for larger view). Maybe it’s just me, but these scenes definitely bring to mind that final montage from the HBO series Six Feet Under, as well as countless films of the Terms of Endearment variety. Oh, Ann Douglas, where are you now? The “domestication of death” lives on.

Melancholically,

Stephen

Washington's Death, Susan H. Douglas Political Americana Collection, #2214 Rare & Manuscript Collections Cornell University Library Cornell University

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To my fellow followers of Rip Van Winkle,

As some of you may know, Sunday, October 11 marks National Coming Out Day, a day for everyone to show their queer or queer-allied colors—and, in this year’s case, march on Washington for marriage equality. (You can read about the history of Coming Out Day—or COD, if you will—on the Human Rights Campaign website.)

I will confess, I haven’t always been a big fan of COD. I remember my first taste of COD my freshman year of college, where they literally set up a closet door on the grass so people could “come out” of it. Nothing could have felt more terrifying and simultaneously shaming then the demand to step through that flimsy door-frame, as though articulating and accepting one’s sense of difference could ever be accomplished so simply.

Since then, researching the past has definitely helped me to come to terms with the term “coming out.”  So in honor of COD, I point you to one of the periodicals from the early days of Gay Liberation, titled, yes, Come Out. The magazine began publication shortly after the Stonewall Riot in 1969, and has been partly digitized by the useful (though not always easy to navigate) website Outhistory.org (a project of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY).

come out magazine masthead, 1969

Just to give you a sense of its tone, the first lines of the first issue proclaimed, “COME OUT FOR FREEDOM! COME OUT NOW! POWER TO THE PEOPLE! GAY POWER TO GAY PEOPLE! COME OUT OF THE CLOSET BEFORE THE DOOR IS NAILED SHUT!” Before gay liberation (as scholars John D’Emilio and George Chauncey have shown), coming out meant entering into the gay community, but the new metaphor of the closet turned “coming out” into a political act—and demanded a total re-evaluation of the quietly queer lives many gay men and lesbians had lived before.

The New York Public Library also has a wonderful online exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, with some beautiful images culled from their extensive archives, like this one of two members of the Gay Activists Alliance.

Rutgers University Gay Liberation Conference, April 30–May 2, 1971. Photograph by Kay Tobin Lahusen. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs. Copyright Kay Tobin Lahusen. Digital ID: 1606088

A quick subject search their digital image gallery reveals much, much more, including this photograph by Diana Davies of the 1971 Gay Pride march, almost as exciting for its vintage fashion as the banner “Women’s liberation is a lesbian plot.” Think about that next Women’s History Month.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, June 20, 1971 [22]. Diana Davies, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Manuscripts and Archives Division, NYPL, Copyright Diana Davies, Digital ID: 1066141

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Historically yours,

Stephen

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