Saturday, July 14, 2018

John M. Coggeshall's "Liberia, South Carolina"

John M. Coggeshall is professor of anthropology at Clemson University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, I describe a typical crossroads store in the upper part of South Carolina in the early twentieth century. Just 4 miles from the Blue Ridge, in the valley of the Oolenoy River, the store served the rural surrounding area, including an enclave of African Americans (descendants of freed slaves) living in a little side valley called “Liberia” since 1865. Imagine a few older white farmers sitting on a bench outside the store, sipping “dopes” (soft drinks) and talking about the cotton crop or the weather. Up to the porch shyly shuffles a young black child from Liberia, peddling a basket of blueberries and his mother’s chicken’s eggs. One of the whites disdainfully utters the “N” word as the little boy enters the store. After getting his money for the berries and eggs, and after buying some penny candy, the little boy leaves. Upon his return home, he tells his mother what happened. Outraged, she informs all her neighbors and friends. All Liberia residents refuse to trade at that store ever again; the store eventually closes.

This incident actually happened to the older brother of the current matriarch of the Liberia community, a woman whose family and friends I document in my book. The example illustrates the tremendous pressures on this black community by surrounding whites to humiliate, antagonize, threaten, and drive off these descendants of freed slaves from their ancestral land, especially during the Jim Crow era. At the same time, the fact that the boy’s family and friends refused to shop at this store ever again also demonstrates the resiliency of these upper South Carolina residents, to resist, to retaliate, and still to remain in a predominantly white space since before 1865. The role of the boy’s mother in leading the boycott also demonstrates the recurring theme of strong-willed matriarchs in the Liberia community, extending over generations.

This book chronicles 5 generations of blacks, primarily through the voices of strong-willed women, to present the story of this enclave community by utilizing secondary sources and first-person interviews. Ultimately, it is a story of human resilience.
Learn more about Liberia, South Carolina at The University of North Carolina Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Liberia, South Carolina.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Loka Ashwood's "For-Profit Democracy"

Loka Ashwood is an environmental and rural sociologist at Auburn University. She works with communities to research issues that pertain to agriculture, cancer clusters, land loss, and pollution.

Ashwood applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, For-Profit Democracy: Why the Government Is Losing the Trust of Rural America, and reported the following:
In a book with only three maps, the Page 99 Test effectively finds one of them [below; click to enlarge]. And the map bears crucial data – it shows the racial demographics around the site where the only new nuclear reactors are currently under construction in the United States. Soon, they will join two existing reactors at the Vogtle plant that have long operated in this rural, Georgia community. This is not a simple case of environmental injustice, where risk and exposure hit black people the most acutely. In fact, within five miles of the pant, a majority of residents are white. The map is emblematic of the book’s message that the most-is-best orientation of the democratic state – most people or most money – at the end of the day comes back to make everyone, including at one time more affluent white people, a minority in some sense. No one, in fact, is completely immune.

The only full paragraph on page 99 specifically focuses on the damage rendered by profit’s rule:
In a situation of public for profit, the worth of all communities is beholden to revenue. In a sense, it is similar to the slash-and-burn orientation of rainforest cropping systems. The rich forests are harvested, the land planted hastily with crops for a few seasons until the soil has no nutrients left to give, and fixing the situation would either require an investment of inputs, or a change in production regimes. Both of those methods cost, and so the tiller moves elsewhere, leaving a barren land that was once rich in ecology, and moving elsewhere to feed its insatiable appetite. Such an analogy is symptomatic of the modern US economy. Profit extracts while there is money to be made, only moving on when there comes a better deal. Countless empty storefronts in countless communities attest to the thirst for short-term profits that drives a whip behind American society today.
Visit Loka Ashwood's website.

Writers Read: Loka Ashwood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Jeff Love's "The Black Circle"

Jeff Love is Research Professor of German and Russian at Clemson University. He is the author of The Overcoming of History in “War and Peace” (2004), editor of Heidegger in Russia and Eastern Europe (2017), and translator of Kojève’s Atheism, among other works.

Love applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Black Circle: A Life of Alexandre Kojeve, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book concludes a chapter on two important Russian thinkers preceding Kojève, Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900) and Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903). On that page I conclude my discussion of Fedorov’s main project, which still has the power to stun. For Fedorov sought nothing less than the complete eradication of human conflict in favor of a greater conflict, that between the human being and the “blind” nature which kills and destroys, bringing death into the world. Fedorov develops this project of overcoming nature and death as one of universal resurrection and eternal life for all human beings who have ever lived. This immense, perhaps absurd “bio-political” project provides a fine example of the pursuance of perfection that is a key issue in the book and in Kojève’s thought. Kojève seeks, ostensibly in pursuit of Hegel, to complete or “perfect” the “error” of history as understood hitherto. In a distant echo of Fedorov, Kojève insists that only by overcoming nature, and therewith the inherently selfish fear of death, may we truly correct and complete history whose final goal is the creation of a universal free state. This state is universal and free precisely because it has terminated the attachment to the individual self and self-interest that gave birth to error in the complete immersion of the individual in the state and the state in the individual. Here is at once a project of revolutionary and post-revolutionary action that sees the only way of creating a community as mutual suppression of individual self-interest rather than its cultivation (in contrast to the modern bourgeois nation state). Kojève notes tartly that the supposedly free individual of this latter state is in fact deeply in thrall to fear (the “instinct” for self-preservation, the wellspring of selfishness) and the greatest of all fears, that of death, which, as Kojève reminds us elsewhere, happens only to individuals.
Learn more about The Black Circle at the Columbia University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Black Circle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2018

Paul Thomas Chamberlin's "The Cold War’s Killing Fields"

Paul Chamberlin is Associate Professor of History at Columbia University. He specializes in twentieth century international history with a focus on U.S. foreign relations and the Middle East. His first book, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order, is an international history of the Palestinian liberation struggle.

Chamberlin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace, and reported the following:
Page 99 does indeed prove to be surprisingly representative of many of the ideas present throughout The Cold War’s Killing Fields. In particular, the prevalence of mass violence, the interconnected nature of Cold War geopolitics, and the potential for local revolutionary conflicts to spark larger conflagrations all appear. Likewise, the three key forces of postcolonial revolution, the United States, and the Soviet Union all appear.

The section begins with a 1949 exchange between Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin in which the former brags that his army has killed over 5.5 million people in the last three years and predicts the consequent inevitability of a communist victory in the Chinese Civil War. This is very much in keeping with one broader argument of the book, which is focused on the role of mass violence in shaping post-1945 geopolitics. I maintain that the theme of body counts remains underappreciated in the history of the Cold War. Many leaders across the East-West and North-South divides were very much interested in killing large numbers of people as a means to secure and maintain political power.

Page 99 then turns to a cable from the American CIA explaining that Mao’s coming victory was a matter of grave concern. Many U.S. officials worried that China would become an “advance base for Soviet penetration” into Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. This hits on another key theme of the book, which examines the ways that Cold War leaders tended to view their adversaries as monolithic: Mao’s victory, in the eyes of many U.S. officials, represented a key setback in what was truly a global struggle against the Kremlin-backed forces of communism.

But the impending collapse of Nationalist China presented an array of dangers for Mao and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – as the following paragraph explains. Mao would now be faced with the challenge of transforming a revolutionary party and its forces into the governing regime of a massive country. Even more worrisome was the possibility that the United States might intervene to save Chiang Kai-shek’s regime, sparking a direct confrontation between the world’s greatest superpower and the CCP, which might, in turn, lead spark World War III between Washington and Moscow.
Learn more about The Cold War's Killing Fields at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Global Offensive.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 7, 2018

John Reeves's "The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee"

John Reeves has been a teacher, editor, and writer for over twenty-five years. Recently, Reeves’s articles on Robert E. Lee have been featured in The Washington Post and the History News Network. His next book is on the Battle of the Wilderness.

Reeves applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case against an American Icon, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee, I discuss the indictment of Captain Henry Wirz, the former commandant of Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. In August 1865, just a few months after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, Wirz was charged, along with several leaders of the Confederate States of America, with conspiring to “injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military services of the United States…in violation of the laws and customs of war.” Among the co-conspirators, who were charged with Wirz, was General Robert E. Lee.

After the Civil War, northerners and freedmen were outraged by what they learned about Andersonville Prison, where 13,000 Union soldiers died due to insufficient food and atrocious living conditions. There were approximately 100 black prisoners at Andersonville and they were treated even worse than the white prisoners. President Andrew Johnson was determined to punish all those who were responsible for such horrors. So, that’s why Robert E. Lee and Captain Wirz were charged with war crimes.

The prosecutors ultimately decided to focus solely on Wirz, and they removed Lee from the indictment. Wirz was eventually tried, convicted and hanged. His public execution took place near the United States Capitol. The Judge Advocate General of the Army described Wirz as more of “a demon than a man.”

In the end, Robert E. Lee was never tried for war crimes against Union soldiers. He was extremely upset that the accusations had ever been made in the first place. Many northerners were relentless in their attacks on Lee on this issue, however. An editor for The Liberator argued, “Lee had the power to prevent or mitigate the sufferings of our prisoners, the worst tyrant and tormenter, from the remotest ages of Paganism down to the cruelest instrument of the French Reign of terror, was not so wicked as he.”

Lee was also indicted for treason by a federal court in Virginia on June 7, 1865, though he ultimately escaped prosecution on those charges as well. My book provides detail on the forgotten legal and moral case that was made against Lee in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. I also try to show how an indicted rebel went on to become a hero for both southerners and northerners in the decades after Appomattox.

I believe that “The 99th Page Test” is accurate for my book. Most Americans have forgotten that Robert E. Lee was accused of mistreating Union prisoners. And even though he may not have been responsible for the day-to-day operations at Andersonville Prison, he certainly upheld, as the South’s leading general, the Confederacy’s odious policies toward African American prisoners during the Civil War. Many Americans are unaware of the mistreatment of black soldiers who fought to preserve the Union. That story has been “lost” to us over the past century and a half. By forgetting the indictments of Lee for treason and war crimes, it made it easier for Americans to deify him. That is a central theme of The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee.
Learn more about The Last Indictment of Robert E. Lee at the Rowman & Littlefield website, and visit John Reeves's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Samuel Kline Cohn, Jr.'s "Epidemics"

Samuel K. Cohn, Jr is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow, an Honorary Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Over the past sixteen years, he has focused on the history of popular unrest in late medieval and early modern Europe and on the history of disease and medicine. Cohn's recent books include Popular Protest in Late Medieval English Towns and Cultures of Plague: Medical Thinking at the End of the Renaissance.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Others refused to name it after the French or any other people and referred instead to the disease’s physical signs—‘mala pustularum’ or ‘turgentium pustularum’, as with Heidelberg physician Conrad Schellig and Ioannes Trithenmius—or just the pustules, as with the Spanish physician Marcellus Cumanus, active at Navarra in 1495, even though he described soldiers returning from war in Venice and Milan as carrying it to his home town.
Page 99 falls near the beginning of chapter 5: ‘Syphilis: Naming and Blaming?’ The page questions the long-held belief that after the explosion and spread of syphilis during Charles VIII’s siege of Naples in January 1495, countries blamed one another for the disease: a tit-for-tat verbal battle ensued: Italians calling it the French disease; the French, the mal de Naples, the Germans naming it after the Poles, and so on. Instead, on an unprecedented scale, a wide variety of names for this disease quickly developed, arising from the fact that physicians and others could not agree whether the disease was new or a form of leprosy that dated back to Biblical times, and, as they insisted, a disease needed a name.

These names, however, most often centred on the physical signs of the disease--poxes, pustules, and warts--its seeming relation to leprosy, or after its patron saint, Job. The one name after a country that did stick for a century and a half was the French disease (malfrancese or morbus Gallicus). Yet this name was lodged mainly in medical texts and not with commoners. Moreover, commentators such as Ullrich von Hutten and the famous Florentine statesman-historian Francesco Guicciardini made it clear that calling it after the French was in no way intended to blame them. In the most widely published syphilis pamphlet of the sixteenth century, von Hutten, whose text was entitled, De Morbo Gallico, countered that France was ‘the most civilized and hospitable now in existence’. Finally, no evidence has yet to emerge of any riots or even individual attacks against those perceived as carrying syphilis or against the French or any other foreigners named for the disease during the early modern period: naming was not blaming.

Page 99 reflects a trait running through this book: long-held views about the socio-psychological effects of large epidemics need to be contested. Most notably, diseases imagined as new and mysterious were not the ones most likely to spark blame or violence against the diseased ‘other’.
Learn more about Epidemics at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mary Carter Bishop's "Don't You Ever"

A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, Mary Carter Bishop was on the Philadelphia Inquirer team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of nuclear leaks at Three Mile Island. Her Roanoke Times & World-News series on poisonings and fraud by exterminators and other pesticide users won a George Polk Award and was a Pulitzer finalist.

Bishop applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Don't You Ever: My Mother and Her Secret Son, and reported the following:
This is irresistible, because page 99 in my book does indeed represent one of its central themes — our family’s vulnerable status in our overwhelmingly wealthy community of Keswick, Virginia, where our parents were servants. A passage on page 99 describes my renegade older brother’s thieving and spying on the gentry:
Ronnie roamed Keswick like an undercover agent. He crept around the houses and peered in at the rich people in their dining rooms and in their bedrooms. For all its high-class charm, Keswick, to Ronnie, was a vulgar, craven place. With all his prowling and peering, he was tweaking the monster’s tail. Keswick’s servant class customarily looked the other way at wild behavior by the rich, but here was Ronnie trespassing on Keswick’s most precious commodity: the freedom of the elite to do as they pleased, safe from prying eyes.
Learn more about Don't You Ever.

My Book, The Movie: Don't You Ever.

Writers Read: Mary Carter Bishop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 2, 2018

Emily Abrams Ansari's "The Sound of a Superpower"

Emily Abrams Ansari is a British-born musicologist who studies and teaches the history of 20th- and 21st-century music at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2010 following a Masters Degree at Oxford University and a BA in music from Durham University.

Ansari applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Sound of a Superpower: Musical Americanism and the Cold War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book describes the first stages of one American’s difficult experience of anti-communism in the early Cold War period. This man is Roy Harris, an American composer of classical music who had, until the 1950s, been revered as one of the most significant contributors in the effort to create an American-sounding music. I explore here how that nationalist loyalty began to be called in to question, both by anti-Communists in Pittsburgh, where he lived, and the FBI.

Harris had made a significant political miscalculation during World War II. Keen to write works that contributed to the war effort, he decided in 1942 to dedicate his fifth Symphony to the people of the USSR—then a vital ally of the United States in the fight against fascism. Little did he know, of course, that a decade later, the USSR would be the United States sworn enemy. In this new environment, past pro-Soviet statements—whatever their context—would risk being interpreted as celebrations of Communism.

On page 99 I describe the contents of Harris’s FBI file, where concerns about the Fifth Symphony are articulated. Investigators list descriptions of Harris from informants that were his friends and colleagues, all of whom proclaimed his patriotism and national loyalty. Some are quite amusing, even bizarre: one proclaimed him to be both a “sun cultist” and a “vegetable cultist.” But one commitment Harris had never made was to the “cult” of Communism. Harris was then as loyal to his country and everything it stood for as one could imagine.

Yet Harris’s experience of anti-Communism would sully permanently his deep commitment to his nation and to a national music. He is one of six “Americanist” composers explored in the book whose careers were significantly shaped by the Cold War: the others are Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Virgil Thomson, and Howard Hanson. Some experienced personal, aesthetic, and professional challenges because of the ideological conflict. Some experienced unanticipated—and unprecedented—professional opportunities. All were also obliged to adapt the national style they had developed to serve a new ideological age in which accessible artistic nationalism was all too easily associated with fascism and communism. Very quickly—and with their willing participation—their American-sounding music would be adapted to serve a new vision of what the United States represented on the world stage.
Visit Emily Abrams Ansari's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Edward M. Hallowell's "Because I Come from a Crazy Family"

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. is a graduate of Harvard College, Tulane Medical School, and a Harvard Residency Program in Adult and Child Psychiatry. He is the best-selling author of Driven to Distraction, Worry, and Connect, and has been featured on 20/20, Dateline, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Oprah.

Hallowell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 of Because I Come from a Crazy Family comes at the end of a chapter and only takes about one-fifth of the page. Here it is in its entirety:
I just threw the stupid hatchet. It stuck in the middle of the bedroom door with a shudder. Perfect hit.

He was disappointed. "Go back to bed," he said gruffly. I looked over at my mother, whose eyes were closed. I was glad that she'd passed out. I knew she was safe. And for the first time in the longest while, I knew that I was safe as well.
I am very happy with my page 99 as revealing the quality of the book as a whole, as Ford Madox Ford suggested it would.

The book tells the story of my childhood, and the scene on page 99 shows the conclusion of my drunk stepfather's challenging me to throw a hatchet into the bedroom door and stick it or he would throw the hatchet at my mother's head. This is the kind of antic he subjected us to all the time, but this time, for the first time, I saw through it and knew he wouldn't throw the hatchet at my mother's head. I was not afraid. I also knew I could stick the hatchet. It was a victory for me. At last, I found some safety.

The stories in the book are dramatic, many very funny, the characters colorful, admirable, smart, sometimes tragic, but never bereft. The second half of the book tells of my years in medical school in New Orleans, then my training in psychiatry in Boston.

It is a memoir full of hope, memorable characters, and stories that you won't soon forget.
Visit Edward M. Hallowell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Nora Doyle's "Maternal Bodies"

Nora Doyle is assistant professor of history at Salem College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Maternal Bodies falls in chapter three, which explores the cultural idealization of breastfeeding in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Coincidentally, this was the piece of research that gave birth (pun intended!) to the project as a whole. Looking at historical debates about breastfeeding, I realized that my sources were really talking about the maternal body—how it should be used, what it should look like, and how it should feel. In chapter three, I explore how authors of maternal advice manuals portrayed breastfeeding, and I argue that in the late eighteenth century they began to emphasize maternal breastfeeding as the greatest source of women’s physical and emotional pleasure. This rhetoric of pleasure sought to transform motherhood from a physically grueling and often painful experience to a transcendent one. Or, as I write on page 99,
If pleasure was an inherent part of nursing, then good mothering must be by definition a pleasurable experience. A popular women’s magazine corroborated this idea in a sketch of the ideal mother: “She takes her child to her breast, and imparts that nourishment which the Creator has designed for its sustenance; and in so doing she is conscious of a new principle of delight, physically and morally. The turbulence of love is past, and she has now that tranquil enjoyment best adapted to her health and her moral and intellectual growth.” In obeying the dictates of God and nature, the good mother derived a new form of joy that permeated her body and spirit.
Also on page 99, however, I note that some advice writers acknowledged that breastfeeding could be a physically challenging and even painful experience for women, although they ultimately persisted in their representation of breastfeeding as a delightful experience. This passage gestures to the central tension that structures my book as a whole: the disconnect between the cultural idealization of motherhood and the physical experiences of real-life mothers. I argue that women saw motherhood as fundamentally rooted in the labor of their bodies, and they emphasized the physical challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Their experiences of pain and exhaustion led them to regard motherhood with ambivalence. In American print culture, however, representations of motherhood began to efface the physical work of childbearing and childrearing. In fact, I argue that by the mid-nineteenth century cultural depictions of motherhood had made the maternal body largely invisible and the ideal mother was portrayed as an ethereal influence primarily defined by her emotional work.
Learn more about Maternal Bodies at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue