Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lynn Hunt's "History: Why It Matters"

Lynn Hunt is Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA and the author of numerous popular and scholarly history books.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, History: Why it Matters, and reported the following:
Since History: Why It Matters is very short (115 pages of text), page 99 comes near the end, in a chapter titled “History’s Future.” The page makes two key points and makes them efficiently, which is, I hope, one of the best characteristics of this book. At this moment in the final chapter, I am discussing the question of time and history. History is obviously about time, right? Not as much as you might think. Writers of history tend to take time for granted, which means that they take the secularization of time for granted. History is about people acting in the profane world. Yet the sacred has not disappeared. It has migrated, for example, from the idea found in many cultures that rulers are rulers by divine right (they are chosen by a god or gods) to the idea that the nation itself is sacred. This is why history textbooks and historical monuments have aroused such controversy; tearing them down, whether literally or figuratively, seems to some people like sacrilege, a violation of the sacred, whether it’s the nation or a cause. My second point, also about time, concerns the recent effort among historians to push history writing much further back in time. When history emerged as a university discipline in the 19th century, scholars assumed that history began with the advent of writing, about 3500-3000 BCE. This conveniently matched the traditional Biblical chronology which held that the world was created sometime around 4000 BCE. After the findings of geology in the 1800s extended the timeline much further back (now billions of years back), historians did not follow. By linking history to writing, they kept the old chronology. Historians are not going to turn into archaeologists or anthropologists but more attention to this longer timeline gives us a different perspective on the past. I argued, consequently, that history needs all kinds of timelines, from the longest to the shortest, in order to make sense of the past. It all depends on the question posed. These are just two of the ways in which history matters and in which our notion of history is changing.
Learn more about Lynn Hunt and Why History Matters.

The Page 99 Test: Writing History in the Global Era.

Writers Read: Lynn Hunt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Victoria M. Grieve's "Little Cold Warriors"

Victoria M. Grieve is Associate Professor of History at Utah State University and the author of The Federal Art Project and The Creation of Middlebrow Culture. Her research spans childhood studies, visual culture, and cultural politics from the New Deal to the Cold War.

Grieve applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Little Cold Warriors: American Childhood in the 1950s, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…Their exchange reveals another persistent struggle at the heart of the Franklin enterprise, as well as Cold War cultural propaganda more generally. The USIA aimed to change hearts and minds through direct propaganda to a mainstream audience, but USIA-sponsored intellectuals tended to have a longer view and a subtler approach. Franklin operated on the principle that an educated population that enjoyed positive relationships with US-supported institutions and that did not appear to have ulterior motives would be stronger allies in the long term. Smith’s memos and reports repeatedly tout “the political benefits of a non-political book program” to justify Franklin’s title selections, target audiences, and juvenile book projects to the USIA.
Page 99 is about halfway through Little Cold Warriors, in the middle of Chapter Three, and happens to emphasize perhaps the key assertion of the book. At this point, I’m discussing a book program launched by private concerns in the United States but funded by the U.S. State Department. There are, of course, some different priorities at work which soon become points of contention. Should the bookmen emphasize America’s best literature, or should they translate books that paint the U.S. in a favorable light? State Department bureaucrats argue that the use of taxpayer money and Cold War politics demand the latter approach.

But Datus Smith, the head of Franklin Books, argues that “the political benefits of a nonpolitical book program” will in the long run do more to bolster the image of the United States in sensitive regions of the world. By translating juvenile books into Arabic, for example, Franklin Books cultivated a positive image with the next generation of leaders and built mutual relationships of trust and goodwill.

Of course, even Franklin’s “nonpolitical” books were political. I point out on page 99 that one of Franklin’s first and most popular translations from its Cairo, Egypt office was Edward R. Murrow’s This I Believe (1953). Franklin’s adaptation featured the biographies of 25 notable Americans and 25 prominent Arabs, the selection of which required the identification of particular national traits.

Page 99 offers one example of the larger argument of the book – the assumption that children of the 1950s were “nonpolitical” allowed children and children’s culture, such as juvenile books, to be used in explicitly political ways to fight the Cold War. Children’s toys, art exchange programs, advertising, and school civil defense projects all relied on the same assumption.
Learn more about Little Cold Warriors at the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Rory Cormac's "Disrupt and Deny"

Rory Cormac is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Nottingham. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a leading expert among a new generation of intelligence historians, he specialises in British covert operations and the secret pursuit of foreign policy. He has published widely on intelligence and security issues and regularly appears on radio and television. He is the co-author of The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers and featured on Channel 4's Spying on the Royals.

Cormac applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy, and reported the following:
It’s early 1953 and Operation Boot, the covert action to overthrow the Iranian Prime Minister, is dead.

Britain had been waging subversion and political action to undermine Prime Minister Mossadeq and lay the foundations for a coup as early as the autumn of 1951. The Foreign Office simply could not tolerate his nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a vital source of income for a British government still suffering the disastrous economic legacy of the Second World War.

Page 99 of Disrupt and Deny details how, after 18 months of planning, bribing and planting propaganda in the press, British officials entered one of their periodic episodes of cold feet and called the whole thing off.

Taking the page in isolation is both characteristic of the wider book and misleading. The wavering outlined on this page is temporary, albeit reflective of broader Foreign Office caution about using covert action. Time and again, military and intelligence officers expressed deep frustration at what they saw as Foreign Office wetness. Yet, the page is misleading in so far as the chapter from which it is taken actually reveals the integral British role in the eventual overthrow. It tells the story of how Britain made the running on the operation, lobbied the United States to join them, and, despite some division in London, provided support for the chaotic coup. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was thrilled.

Operation Boot is a central episode in the broader history of Britain’s unacknowledged interference in the affairs of others, known as covert action.

First, the perceived success inspired a wave of planning for similar operations across the Middle East.

Second, the episode reveals the stark differences between covert action in this region and that undertaken against the Soviets in Europe (the topic of earlier chapters). Here, MI6 used small scale – if devious – disruptive operations, designed to chip away and gradually undermine Soviet authority. By stark contrast, operations targeting nationalism in the Middle East were free to be far more ambitious and dangerous.

From 1945, successive prime ministers turned to spies and special forces to mask decline and influence the fate of nations in a deniable manner. It is still happening today. The 1953 coup in Iran was just one example.
Learn more about Disrupt and Deny at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 9, 2018

James Loeffler's "Rooted Cosmopolitans"

James Loeffler is Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History at the University of Virginia and former Robert A. Savitt Fellow at the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
The recent news that the United States has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council alarmed many and pleased others. But it surprised no one. For several decades now, successive American administrations have shared an ambivalent relationship with the UN’s international human rights system. The stated reason is frustration with the explicit politicization of human rights. A UN system intended to be a neutral, apolitical body has morphed in the hands of dictators and autocrats into a propaganda weapon directed against the U.S. and its allies, particularly Israel. Even those who think Israel’s human rights record warrants UN scrutiny generally recognize that the Human Rights Council is highly vulnerable to political bias.

Could it have turned out differently? That is the question I discuss on Page 99 of my book, Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century. The founding father of international human rights law, Hersch Zvi Lauterpacht, thought long and hard in the 1940s about how to build a better system of international law that would transcend the dangers of geopolitics. As a Polish-born Jew who helped build the Zionist movement in interwar England and Palestine, he understood that politics and justice were intimately related. He watched in despair as the elaborate League of Nations legal system designed to protect Jews failed to stop the Holocaust.

Still, Lauterpacht hoped that after World War II further atrocities and other harms could be prevented if the world embraced a truly independent, universal human rights system. To succeed, that UN program would require two things: more power and more impartiality. Its officials would need real legal enforcement authority. Along with that, human rights at the UN must be fully insulated from geopolitics.

On Page 99, I describe Lauterpacht’s impassioned efforts to win the British and the American governments over to this vision. In a way, that theme runs throughout the entire book. Lauterpacht formed part of an activist network of Jewish pragmatic idealists who struggled both to make human rights effective and to shield them from the inevitable geopolitical intrigues and glaring hypocrisies that constitute a permanent feature of international diplomacy. Already in the 1940s they learned to their dismay that this was easier said than done. 70 years later, we still grapple with the same dilemma: How can we reset the balance between law and politics for human rights?
Learn more about Rooted Cosmopolitans at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tanya Katerí Hernández's "Multiracials and Civil Rights"

Tanya Katerí Hernández is the Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law, where she co-directs the Center on Race, Law & Justice as its Head of Global and Comparative Law Programs and Initiatives.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Multiracials and Civil Rights: Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test is like some numerical sorcery from a Jorge Luis Borges story, mythical and unfathomable yet accurate all at the same time. On page 99 of Multiracials and Civil Rights: Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination, I describe how the U.S. government refused to add a “multiracial” category to its list of racial categories on the decennial census form in 1997, and instead started permitting respondents to select as many racial categories apply to their racial identity. The page then notes that the most zealous of multiracial category proponents were not satisfied by this government method of enumerating the population of racially mixed residents “because multiple box checking does not directly promote a distinct multiracial identity.” Page 99’s insight into the entire book though is revealed in the assessment that the significance of the census racial category debate:
extends beyond the actual decision of how mixed-race persons should be counted. What is most salient is how the struggles over the census racial categories have fostered a discourse of exalting personal racial identity and characterizing any incursions on expressions of personal identity as a civil rights issue in of itself absent any mixed-race specific material inequality.
The entire book is about interrogating the premise that mixed-race people have racial equality concerns that are not readily addressed by civil rights laws crafted with white versus black discrimination solely in mind. However, after examining the narratives of multiracial-identified persons bringing claims of racial discrimination across the contexts of employment, education, housing, public accommodations, and criminal justice, I found that at the core of each claim was the all too familiar binary of white versus non-white bias.

It turns out that apart from the distinction of articulating a multiracial personal identity, the stories of racial discrimination themselves are not unique and certainly not a cause for questioning the architecture of civil rights laws already under attack by those who are convinced that racial discrimination is no longer a concern that the government should be bothered with. Anti-discrimination law compels judges to concentrate on how claimants are treated rather than how they personally identify. The take away is that the public activism for cultural recognition of a multiracial identity is a misplaced import into the legal context because it obstructs the ability to understand the needs of multiracial victims of discrimination, whose disadvantage clearly flows from white versus non-white group-based racial hierarchies.
Learn more about Multiracials and Civil Rights at the NYU Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Racial Subordination in Latin America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 6, 2018

Anna Tuckett's "Rules, Paper, Status"

Anna Tuckett is Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Tuckett applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Rules, Paper, Status: Migrants and Precarious Bureaucracy in Contemporary Italy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Rules, Paper, Status: Migrants and Precarious Bureaucracy in Contemporary Italy falls at the beginning of the chapter titled “Becoming an Immigration Adviser”. This chapter focuses on the emergence of self-styled immigration experts – or “community brokers” – who help migrants navigate Italian immigration bureaucracy. These brokers have various motives for their assistance work, but one shared outcome is that their brokerage activities enable these individuals to fashion themselves in particular ways. These include fulfilling desires to be professional, gaining standing in their community, satisfying charitable impulses, and fighting for social justice. Crucially, the role of the community broker offers possibilities for gaining social status that are generally not otherwise available to migrants in Italy. For example, by translating documents, interpreting at offices, and filling out basic applications, Mehdi, a Moroccan community broker, was able to eke out a basic living for himself and avoid employment as a fruit picker or other similarly poorly paid wage labor.

The emergence of community brokers goes to the heart of my book’s focus on the productive nature of migrants’ legal and bureaucratic encounters and the unintended consequences these produce. In Italy, migrants generally have very low social and economic status and are restricted to the lowest status and most poorly remunerated jobs. Italian immigration law, which ties legal status to employment, effectively traps migrants in these positions, and is therefore a key factor in their marginalization in Italian society. As I argue in this chapter, however, although immigration bureaucracies function as a mechanism that reproduces migrants’ continued precarity, these brokers are able to turn this mechanism on its head, using immigration bureaucracy as a tool to overcome such marginalization and create alternative career opportunities for themselves. In doing so, they broaden their life horizons in spite of a legal and institutional matrix that is stacked against them.
Learn more about Rules, Paper, Status at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Gabriela González's "Redeeming La Raza"

Gabriela González is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Redeeming La Raza: Transborder Modernity, Race, Respectability, and Rights, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Leonor Villegas de Magnón had two powerful reasons for getting involved in this conflict. First, she knew that the American soldiers would turn the men over to the Federales in Nuevo Laredo once they had recuperated, after which they would be either imprisoned or executed in Mexico. Second, she was committed to the Carrancista cause. She knew that the rebel army needed survivors to fight other battles.
Page 99 focuses on transborder activist Leonor Villegas de Magnón’s heroic efforts to save the lives of injured Mexican rebel soldiers during the Mexican Revolution. The soldiers, followers of revolutionary general Venustiano Carranza, had been struck down during the 1914 Battle of Nuevo Laredo. Villegas de Magnon’s humanitarian work involved receiving the fallen Carrancista soldiers ferried across the Rio Grande river to the safety of the south Texas community of Laredo; housing them in makeshift hospitals; and with a group of nurses and doctors, nursing these battle survivors back to health.

Federalist officials connected to the regime of Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta demanded that the United States release these men to their custody, ensuring that they would either be imprisoned or executed upon returning to Mexico. The rest of the page highlights the ingenious ways in which Villegas de Magnón addressed the transnational realities of trying to protect the human rights of the injured men in the face of an international neutrality law that compelled American officials to acquiesce to the demands of the Huerta regime.

This one story, like many others in Redeeming la Raza, encapsulates the main argument that during the first half of the twentieth century, Mexican American and Mexican immigrant activists in Texas and northern Mexico created a transborder political culture that challenged the more exploitative aspects of modernity and sought to build movements for human and civil rights. On the American side, la raza (ethnic Mexicans--both U.S. born and immigrants) needed to be redeemed or saved from white supremacy and all the exploitative systems informed by racialist thinking. In Mexico, modernity had been ushered in by Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz and the American and European investors he made deals with over the course of his thirty years in power. Mexico’s economic development came at a high social cost, leading to revolution.

The work of revolution in Mexico, like the work of civil and human rights activism in Texas fell not just on the shoulders of men, but also many women, including the women of the White Cross, a medical brigade founded by Leonor Villegas de Magnón. For Villegas de Magnón, helping the injured rebel soldiers was both a humanitarian act and a political one, for she supported the revolution’s attempt to redeem la raza in Mexico by ridding the country of anti-democratic, dictatorial forces.
Learn more about Redeeming La Raza at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Andrew S. Reynolds's "The Third Lens"

Andrew S. Reynolds is professor of philosophy at Cape Breton University. He has published in various history and philosophy of science journals and is the author of Peirce’s Scientific Metaphysics: The Philosophy of Chance, Law, and Evolution.

Reynolds applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Third Lens: Metaphor and the Creation of Modern Cell Biology, and reported the following:
I tried the page 99 test with my book and the results came back indisputably negative. Page 99 of my book on the role of metaphors in cell biology consists of a figure representing gene expression patterns in various types of cells during skeletal development that takes up 75% of the page. This would not give a very accurate idea of what the book is about and would probably turn off all but developmental or cell biologists, when in fact it’s about how scientists use metaphors as a kind of conceptual tool to understand and to physically manipulate cells (and their molecular components) –and how these metaphors can in turn manipulate the scientists if they’re not careful. Finally the book asks the question (and offers an answer), What does the fact that science relies so significantly on language that is literally untrue (metaphor) mean for our philosophical understanding of how science helps us to know about the world and ourselves?
Learn more about The Third Lens at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Montgomery McFate's "Military Anthropology"

Montgomery ‘Mitzy’ McFate is a cultural anthropologist who works on defense and national security issues. Currently, she is a professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

McFate applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Military Anthropology: Soldiers, Scholars and Subjects at the Margins of Empire, and reported the following:
Military Anthropology highlights the experience and thoughts of nine anthropologists who worked directly for the military, beginning with the British colonial era and ending with the Vietnam War.

Page 99 of my book is from the chapter about Ursula Graham Bower and military leadership. Ursula Graham Bower was a British debutante who became an anthropologist and lived among the Naga tribe on the India/Burma border. Although the Naga were patriarchal (with women having limited rights, playing no part in public life, and having taboos associated with them), Ursula Graham Bower recruited, armed, trained, and led them against the Japanese in combat. She was the only woman to have a de facto combat command in the British Army during WWII. How did she do that?
Both the purpose and the context of military leadership in extremis distinguish this form of leadership from other types. While the characteristics of military leaders in combat leave room for disagreement, it seems clear that military leadership, especially in times of crisis, tends to be of the transformative rather than transactional variety. The purpose of both the Naga and the British military effort was almost identical – defense against the Japanese threat. The overall context was quite similar – leadership in extremis. What was remarkably different was the culture of Naga warriors and British soldiers – cultural context. If we accept the proposition that “leadership itself is embedded in its context” and that “one cannot separate the leader(s) from the context any more than one can separate a flavor from a food,” then how do we explain Ursula Graham Bower’s effectiveness as a leader in two vastly different cultural contexts?
Page 99 sets up the argument that leadership is culturally dependent. Although the Naga leadership system was collective, hereditary and male, Ursula Graham Bower was able to become a member of the social collective, establish individual bonds of trust (rather than positional authority) and use the clan system to organize her military units. As this case shows, the cultural context of leadership sometimes trumps the preferred attributes of leadership.

Page 99 is not particularly representative of the book as a whole, since each chapter stands alone and focuses on a different anthropologist.

Some overarching themes do emerge from the book as a whole: The first challenge is that the increasing complexity of war -- combined with the increased flow of information about the complexity of war as it is being fought -- results in a strong need to simplify reality in order to manage time and tasks. This is the complexity problem. The simplification of reality through heuristics such as models, taxonomies, categories and frames enables the military to execute its kinetic missions but also limits understanding of human beings. This is the epistemology problem. Even when military personnel seek to understand their adversaries and the host nation population, they often discover that the culture of their own organizations creates barriers to understanding. This is the way of war problem. In attempting to use social science downrange, the military encounters another barrier; namely, the models, theories and concepts of how a society actually works do not exist in the required form. This is the social theory problem. Now the real trouble begins – actually implementing US foreign policy at the point of a gun. This is the thorniest problem of all: the military implementation of foreign policy.
Visit Montgomery McFate's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Theodore M. Porter's "Genetics in the Madhouse"

Theodore M. Porter, a historian of science at UCLA, has spent much of his career researching and writing on the uses of numbers, statistics, calculation, and data, especially in the human sciences. His books include The Rise of Statistical Thinking, 1820-1900, Trust in Numbers, and Karl Pearson: The Scientific Life in a Statistical Age.

Porter applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Genetics in the Madhouse: The Unknown History of Human Heredity, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The insane asylum as a restful, ordered place grew up in part as the remedy for a disease linked to modern hustle and bustle. It was in a way a backward-looking remedy in an age of industry and progress. It had much in common with communitarian utopian visions of this period, and it did not seem to be working. Hence the problem had to be confronted outside the walls of the institution.
Page 99 the is the final page of part I. The section break corresponds roughly to the year 1860, by which time the rich Atlantic countries had established systems of insane asylums. Far from a panacea, the availability of free or subsidized facilities launched a dismaying, hyper-Malthusian increase of mental patients. Families with means were now fleeing the public asylums, to such an extent that the old idea of madness as a disease of civilization was giving way to madness as harbinger of a fateful degeneration.

From the beginning of this great confinement early nineteenth century, physicians had embraced a broad public-health mission. They would not merely treat and (they hoped) cure their patients, but also give advice to the community on how to prevent this scourge. Their tables of "presumed causes" of insanity, exhibited every year in reports, translated directly into advice for sane living: avoid masturbation, alcoholic excess, undue stress, disorder, and overwork. And the most crucial cause of all: choose carefully your marriage partner. From a social standpoint, heredity was not destiny. This was eugenics avant la lettre, and while sterilization was not yet an option, there already were indications of policy efforts to isolate "fatuous females" (for example) as a remedy for teeming madness.

By 1860, the effort to comprehend inherited insanity from a medical-scientific standpoint was picking up steam. Mostly it was a data project. It required the institutions to keep meticulous records on the interned patients, to track down family members, to count the mad in censuses, and to redesigning tables so they would indicate causal relationship. These research efforts, allied to the eugenic concerns, provide the principal focus of my book.

A plate from the 1880 census of insanity on the facing page, 98, was for the dust jacket by the designer, who made it hauntingly (and appropriately) weird. This table distinguishes effects of hereditary transmission on women and men as well as the degree of danger associated with mental illness of any particular relative, including father, mother, paternal and maternal grandfathers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles. These inquiries into the comparative role of hereditary transmission from (and to) males vs. females were petering out by the 1880s, but institutional data from asylums maintained its hereditary significance right into the twentieth century, perpetuated, now, in the name of genetics.
Learn more about Genetics in the Madhouse at the Princeton University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue