Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Philip Thai's "China's War on Smuggling"

Philip Thai is assistant professor of history at Northeastern University. His research explores the interplay between law, economy, and society in modern China, East Asia, and the world.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, China's War on Smuggling: Law, Economic Life, and the Making of the Modern State, 1842–1965, and reported the following:
China’s War on Smuggling is a legal and economic history of illicit trade on the Chinese coast from the late imperial period through the early People’s Republic. It traces how official efforts to regulate, tax, and police the flow of goods steadily widened definitions of criminality. Smuggling, the book argues, was a product of iterative encounters between states eager to assert their prerogative and control the economy on the one side, and individuals reluctant to adhere to official strictures on trade on the other.

I was amused by, but skeptical of, the Page 99 Test. Can the essence of any book be revealed by single page—and an arbitrarily selected one at that? Imagine my surprise, then, when I flipped to the page in question. Page 99 comes from chapter three, “State Interventions and Legal Transformations.” It begins with a discussion of efforts by the Nationalist government of China during the 1930s to enforce a newly-promulgated anti-smuggling law as well as widespread resistance state agents encountered on the ground. It recounts a particularly vivid episode of customs agents engaged in door-to-door search for contraband before a village mob attacked the search party “with poles and pelted [them] with tins of pineapple.” It continues with an elaboration of how anti-smuggling campaigns redefined “legal” and “illegal” modes of commerce and patterns of movement, provoking the ire of individuals and communities forced to bear more fetters on their freedom to truck, barter, and trade. Its final sentences highlight the ways militarized interdiction helped broadcast the power of the Nationalist government—especially at the expense of recalcitrant warlords who “feared that the war on smuggling was a Trojan horse that would strengthen and extend central authority into their own localities.” Good stuff all.

Ford Madox Ford’s dictum may not apply to every book, but it certainly applies to mine. In the case of China’s War on Smuggling, page 99 is situated after introductory overviews and right as the book is building momentum in making its argument. The varied descriptions of illicit operations, spectacular violence, and political intrigue—all choked with “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” human drama—are right here on a single page. Apparently, page 99 serves as a perfect showcase for the book’s main themes.
Learn more about China's War on Smuggling at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2018

Stephen W. Sawyer's "Demos Assembled"

Stephen W. Sawyer is professor and chair of history, cofounder of the History, Law, and Society Program, and director of the Center for Critical Democracy Studies at the American University of Paris. He is editor of the Tocqueville Review and associate editor of the Annales. History and Social Sciences.

Sawyer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Demos Assembled: Democracy and the International Origins of the Modern State, 1840–1880, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Demos Assembled opens with a betrayal. Or so it seems.

The book claims to shed light on our contemporary democratic crisis. And yet, page 99 is the first page of chapter 4 entitled “Necessity,” which explores this concept through a figure rarely associated with anything even remotely democratic, Adolphe Thiers. Thiers, the “butcher” of the Paris Commune of 1871, has something to tell us about democracy? It is this paradox that page 99 and the book attempt to grasp.

For all the talk of democratic crisis, our knowledge of democracy’s actual history remains limited. If the notion emerged in its modern usage among western philosophers in the 17th and 18th centuries, following the American and French Revolutions it was largely discredited: Robespierre and Napoleon’s quasi-dictatorship reduced the democratic ideal to dangerous mob rule, or a government fit only for ancient Athens. This suddenly changed in the 1820s and 30s when Andrew Jackson’s “Democratic Party,” radicals in France and Britain, and Tocqueville’s trip to the US all placed democracy front and center. Then, in 1848, democracy stepped out of the crowd and took center stage. Revolutions swept across Europe, all of them entertaining some relationship with the democratic. At the end of this revolutionary wave, Napoleon’s nephew was elected President of France by universal manhood suffrage but soon declared himself emperor. His regime, though dictatorial, was considered to be a “modern democracy” because he maintained universal manhood suffrage.

Demos Assembled shows that this moment marked the birth of a critical history of democracy. When modern democracy took hold, a panoply of thinkers and statesmen began critiquing democracies that existed in the name of democracies alternatively defined. Adolphe Thiers was among them. An opponent of Napoleon III, Thiers elaborated a potent, though ultimately very dangerous, notion of legal necessity as the foundation for popular rule in the modern age. He therefore captures the paradox of democracy’s past: while he used the notion of necessity to brutally crush the Commune, he also consolidated the first lasting democratic Republic in Europe.

A betrayal? Perhaps. But Thiers provides an important – if troubling – entry point to our modern condition. As little as we may ever know about an ideal democracy, our past offers an important lesson: modern democracy was born neither of consensus nor utopia, but of our constant struggle to self-govern and the inevitable challenges of doing so.
Learn more about Demos Assembled at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Seth Perry's "Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States"

Seth Perry is assistant professor of religion at Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States lands in Chapter 4, which happens to be my favorite chapter (so, score one for the Page 99 Test!). The book argues that in early America the Bible was not a “source” of authority, as is often said, but rather a site of authority: a cultural space for editors, commentators, publishers, preachers, and readers to cultivate authoritative relationships. “The Bible” is best thought of not as a specific text, but as a set of relationships sustained by a universe of cultural practices and assumptions. Chapter Four – “‘Write These Things in a Book’: Scripturalization and Visionary Authority” -- shows that this extended to new scripturalized texts that participated both in the resonance of biblical content (they cited the Bible) and in the practices and assumptions of Bible reading as a cultural practice (they were treated like bibles). This part of the chapter is about The Vision of Isaac Childs, a Quaker visionary text originating in 1757 that circulated widely in both print and manuscript throughout the nineteenth century (it was last published in 1929). Childs’s vision was copied, recopied, edited, translated, annotated, and commented upon over the course of well over a century – I’ve seen eighteen manuscript versions and copies of nine printed editions. Page 99 is the beginning of a section pointing out that the significance of Childs’s vision changed through all of this activity even though the text itself mostly didn’t: the anonymous editor of an 1826 edition, for example, added footnotes explaining the vision and applying it to events in his or her own time, far distant from Childs’s own: “While the text remained more or less consistent with a manuscript tradition going back more than seventy years, the novel annotations demonstrated the flexible terms for making meaning in a scripturalized environment.” It’s this constellation of practices that constitutes scripturalization; this is what “bible culture” was all about in the early United States.
Learn more about Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States at the Princeton University Press website.

Writers Read: Seth Perry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 15, 2018

Margarette Lincoln's "Trading in War"

Margarette Lincoln is Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Curator Emeritus at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Trading in War: London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson, and reported the following:
On page 99, customs official, Joseph Pierson, is bludgeoned by a smuggling gang in Deptford, London. It’s 1775, and smuggling from East Indiamen anchored in the River Thames is practically a full-time job for some people. The revenue men are the hated enemy.

“Afterwards, Pierson was taken by boat to the London Hospital. His skull was exposed and beaten in, his chest mangled, and his right arm so badly broken that it had to be laid open to the shoulder.”

Although Pierson’s wife was allowed to nurse him in hospital, he died from his injuries a month later. Members of the gang were pursued and some were brought to justice. The famous Smugglerius, flayed by the surgeon William Hunter and arranged to imitate the position of The Dying Gaul, was thought to have been prepared from the body of one gang member, hanged at Tyburn. He had the muscle formation of a river worker, developed through hard, physical labour.

It was stories like this that got me interested in the riverside life of eighteenth-century London, a topic which has been so often overlooked. These maritime communities were essential to Britain’s war effort, and they also played a key part in preparing ships for voyages of exploration. While some people along the river were undoubtedly engaged in illicit activity, most were employed in roles that were vital for the maintenance of the Royal Navy and the British economy, then heavily dependent on foreign trade. What’s more, as the book shows, women also had vital roles to play in these turbulent times.
Learn more about Trading in War at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dominic Sachsenmaier's "Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled"

Dominic Sachsenmaier is a professor of “Modern China with a Special Emphasis on Global Historical Perspectives” at Göttingen University/Germany. In the past, he held faculty positions at Duke University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sachsenmaier’s main current research interests include China’s transnational and global connections. Among other works, he authored Global Perspectives on Global History: Theories and Approaches in a Connected World (2011).

Sachsenmaier applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled: A Seventeenth-Century Chinese Christian and His Conflicted Worlds, and reported the following:
Page 99 actually raises some questions that are important for the entire monograph. My book deals with an untraveled seventeenth-century Chinese Catholic convert who throughout his lifetime remained a committed Confucian. His name was Zhu Zongyuan, and he was actually one of the most significant Chinese Christian authors of the mid-seventeenth-century. People like Zhu believed that both Confucianism and Christianity or as they called it, the “Learning of Heaven,” were ultimately one and the same teaching. But this was hardly acceptable to many people around them – neither to most Confucian scholars nor to many circles in the Catholic Church.

Page 99 shows that combining traditions like Confucianism and Christianity could lead to huge uncertainties:
Was this really a synthesis between equal parts?... Was the Lord of Heaven (i.e. the Christian God) truly a divine being towering far above the cultural differences of this world? Or was his message, as presented to seventeenth-century China, closely wedded to concepts and contents from Europe? … This was not a theoretical question but also pointed to many practical issues.
Partly writing against his critics in China, the hero of this book, Zhu Zongyuan, spent much ink on questions of this kind. He sought to come to terms with the foreign origins of his faith. This was a formidable challenge since – for a variety of reasons – the “Learning of Heaven” put emphasis on key concepts, liturgies and symbols which were not Chinese but obviously of European origin. I deal with these challenges in one part of my book.

In another part I show that ongoing battles also characterized aspects of Zhu Zongyuan’s life in Catholic communities. He played various roles as a Christian, many of which were entangled with his life as a Confucian scholar in his local society. Yet exactly because Christian life was not – and could not possibly be – strictly separated from Chinese communal and associational life, it was characterized by many inherent contradictions. Both sides of the Chinese-Catholic encounter had to make institutional compromises, and the final product did not always make the “Learning of Heaven’s” more acceptable to a Chinese audience.
Learn more about Global Entanglements of a Man Who Never Traveled at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Alexandra Délano Alonso's "From Here and There"

Alexandra Délano Alonso is Associate Professor of Global Studies at The New School and the current holder of the Eugene M. Lang Professorship for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring. Her work is driven by a concern with the inequalities underlying the causes of migration, the structures that lead to the marginalization of undocumented migrants in the public sphere, and the limited protection of their rights, from a transnational perspective. Her book Mexico and Its Diaspora in the United States: Policies of Emigration since 1848 was the co-winner of the William LeoGrande Prize for the best book on US-Latin America Relations.

Délano Alonso applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, From Here and There: Diaspora Policies, Integration, and Social Rights Beyond Borders, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The program is a place where participants find tools for education and work. But they also find a space for community and solidarity. The participants are learning and at the same time, they feel comfortable in the space. They establish relationships, share values and solidarity. We teach them to read but we also give them information about a job ad, we give them tools (coordinator, Plaza Comunitaria Chicago, 2009).

We are creating a space where people feel recognized, where they realize that as individuals they can do more than work. The Plaza creates a space for growth and opportunity to change their expectations in life. It gives them opportunities to live better, to have better jobs, to speak up, to feel safe, to have self-esteem, to have security. This preparation gives them tools to defend themselves, to avoid abuse, and to aspire to work in better places (coordinator, Plaza Comunitaria, Chicago, 2009).
Page 99 of the book discusses the Mexican government’s Plazas Comunitarias adult-education program, which operates through its 50 consulates in the United States, in collaboration with schools, hospitals, community organizations and prisons. This is one of various initiatives focused on education, health, financial literacy, labor rights and citizenship that Mexico –and to a lesser extent other Latin American countries— have developed in the US in the past two decades to promote access to social rights for migrants with precarious status.

The analysis of these programs is at the core of the book: I discuss the interests that underlie them; the innovative discourse of integration and shared responsibility that has developed around these initiatives--and its limitations; the collaborations between consulates, private and public institutions in the US, and migrant communities that make these programs possible; and the concrete results of these initiatives in terms of improving the material and social conditions of migrants’ lives regardless of their legal status.

Page 99 provides some examples of information from surveys, interviews and reports that demonstrate that even though the reach of the programs is limited (and quantitative analyses of their results are sparse), some of the most significant contributions that they make in supporting migrants is in offering spaces where there is a sense of trust where they are more likely to be receptive to information about and enroll in social programs given the linguistic and cultural familiarity, as well as the assurance that a person’s migratory status is not a factor in being able to participate. The Plazas Comunitarias were initially conceived as spaces where migrant populations could continue the education they could not complete in Mexico by offering literacy, elementary, middle and high school programs, textbooks in Spanish, and online testing tools through the Mexican Ministry of Education. My visits to the Plazas, interviews with participants and with educators revealed that in addition to these original goals, students in the Plazas are also learning English, and completing GEDs and skills certification programs, which have helped them access better opportunities for work, health and education in the US.

The two quotes above from page 99 capture key elements of the argument of the book, which is that these programs challenge traditional notions of integration. First, by including origin countries in a process of English language acquisition, education and understanding of the institutional context that is traditionally assumed as the sole responsibility of the country where they now live. And second, by demonstrating how these transnational spaces of community and solidarity that include a variety of government and non-government actors from the country of origin and destination contribute to integration in the sense of supporting equal access to rights and opportunities for migrant communities.
Learn more about From Here and There at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2018

Thomas F. Gieryn's "Truth-Spots"

Tom Gieryn is Rudy Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Indiana University Bloomington, where he has stayed put for 40 years--except for travels to many truth-spots.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Truth-Spots: How Places Make People Believe, and reported the following:
I feel cheated. Page 99 comes at the tail end of Chapter 5 in Truth-Spots, and only about two-thirds of it is text--the rest is blank. But if I borrow lines from page 100, the start of Chapter 6, to fill in the white space on page 99, the cobbled-together result gives a hint of what this weird little book is all about. Chapter 5 follows pilgrims struggling along The Way of St. James toward Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, drawing on their reminiscences to figure out how the experience affirms (or challenges) their beliefs about life, God, nature and everything else that matters. Chapter 6 explores the architecture of the Thomas F. Eagleton US Courthouse in St. Louis, taking note of how the arrangement of passages and rooms segregates people who play distinctive roles in the pursuit of justice (as defendant, plaintiff, attorney, jury member or judge)--a carefully choreographed sequence of contacts and separations that lends legitimacy to discovering the whole truth and nothing but.

The connection between a tenth century 482-mile pilgrimage route and a federal justice center housed in a 29-story skyscraper built in 2000 is not immediately obvious. It only gets worse when the other chapters are thrown into this promiscuous soup. The book opens at the oracle of Delphi and ends at the ultra-clean laboratory at Cal Tech that persuaded Congress to ban lead from gasoline--in between, I visit Walden Pond; Linnaeus’ botanic garden in Uppsala; Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village outdoor museum; and commemorated birthplaces of identity-based movements at Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall. This sounds like a completely undisciplined and eclectic list of random places--and it is, until you’ve got the concept of “truth-spot” to tie them all together. Each of these places makes people believe: each lends credibility and legitimacy to claims and understandings that have their provenance specifically at that geographic location, ensconced there in natural and built materialities and embedded in narratives about such places that give them meaning and value. All of this comes in a slim 177-page book with a trim size of 8-1/2 x 5-1/2 inches, just the right size for a long plane ride somewhere.
Learn more about Truth-Spots at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Nicole C. Nelson's "Model Behavior"

Nicole C. Nelson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research examines scientists’ assumptions about the natural world and how these assumptions shape scientific practice. She also does research on new technologies in oncology research and clinical care.

Nelson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Model Behavior: Animal Experiments, Complexity, and the Genetics of Psychiatric Disorders, and reported the following:
Model Behavior is an ethnographic study of what laboratory work looks like under assumptions of complexity. Laboratories are spaces where scientists attempt to refine and control nature to get answers to questions that would be impossible to ask in messy, real-world settings, but some phenomena remain maddeningly difficult to study even in these carefully controlled places—a poorly timed fire alarm or the smell of a pet dog might be all it takes to make a mouse hide out in the dark corners of a maze rather than go exploring. Moreover, the more controlled the setting, the further away scientists found themselves from the real-world problems they cared about, such as helping people who suffer from anxiety.

Under these conditions, the scientists that I followed learned to be very cautious about the conclusions they drew from the research they conducted. Page 99 of the book finds me seated next to a scientist who was analyzing data from a mouse experiment on anxiety, eating my lunch as I watched recordings of the experiment with him:
At one point in watching the video I commented, “That guy really likes the open arms” when the mouse that we were watching at the time seemed to be spending more time there than the others. There was silence, and then Dr. Lam said, “Don’t say ‘like.’”…He said that you should never say things such as “the mouse likes the open arms” or “the mouse is less anxious,” you should say things like “the mouse spends a higher percentage of time in the open arms” or “the mouse shows less anxiety-like behavior.”
The exchange recorded on page 99 is a good example of what the ethnographic method is all about—placing yourself in situations where your ignorance will provide opportunities for others to teach you about their culture. My initial lack of understanding of why behavioral scientists used cumbersome phrases such as “anxiety-like behavior” to talk about their mice helped me better understand how they saw their work. For these scientists, the data from animal models was only a tentative first step towards understanding a complex problem, and the language they used served as a reminder that their mouse experiments were only a proxy for human anxiety. By studying with the scientists, I learned to see the nuances they saw in their own data, and to see laboratory work as something other than an activity that produces definitive answers to narrowly-defined questions.
Visit Nicole C. Nelson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Lori G. Beaman's "Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity"

Lori G. Beaman is the Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change, Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa, and the Principal Investigator of the Religion and Diversity Project, a thirty-seven-member international research team whose focus is religion and diversity. She is the co-editor of Constructions of Self and Other in Yoga, Travel, and Tourism: A Journey to Elsewhere (with Sonia Sikka), Atheist Identities: Spaces and Social Contexts (with Steven Tomlins), and Varieties of Religious Establishment (with Winnifred Fallers Sullivan).

Beaman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity, and reported the following:
English writer Ford Madox Ford once said if you “Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” Taking this invitation and directive to heart, I (rather serendipitously) discover that the very first word on page 99 of Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity happens to be Respect, with a capital ‘R.’ There is perhaps no word (both as a noun and a verb), more foundational to my emergent work on deep equality than the notion of respect.

Deep Equality is my rather lengthy reaction to two things: law’s dominance of the notion of equality and the pervasiveness of ‘tolerance’ and ‘reasonable accommodation’ as responses to diversity. Drawing from a range of sources including interviews, novels and films, I argue that the key to living well together is deep equality, and the elements of this are to be found in everyday interactions between people which are characterized by a number of elements, including respect. I approach this from an interdisciplinary standpoint: I am trained in philosophy, law and sociology and I draw from numerous other fields of study, including sociobiology and game theory, to construct my arguments.

Page 99 is in large measure representative of the strategy of the book: using short vignettes I trace the elements of deep equality that are evidenced by those stories. Fortuitously, page 99 includes both a vignette and mentions caring, humour, forgiveness, and generosity as additional elements of deep equality. In the process of sorting out how to live well together the focus becomes similarity—not sameness (i.e. everyone is really the same) and universality, and not difference (insisting on the peculiarity of everyone). This is a tricky balance particularly when religion is thrown into the mix. Consider this quote from page 99: “Some people told stories of protectiveness and caring that were manifested not in a paternalistic way, but as extensions of the agonistic process that creates a shared place of relationship in the everyday”. When religious difference is at the center of a particular conflict or debate, the agonistic process requires a relinquishment ‘rightness’ in order to achieve harmony. Given that the root word agon (‘struggle’ or ‘contest’ from the classical Greek) implies an inherent respect for all actors in a negotiation, agonistic respect becomes the ground upon which difference (religious or otherwise) can be a fertile space for human interaction and flourishing.
Learn more about Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's "Sex and the City and Us"

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where she spent most of her time putting on shows in her parents’ garage, studying TV Guide, devouring Sweet Valley High books, and memorizing every note of every George Michael song. This finally came in handy when she got a job at Entertainment Weekly, where she worked for a decade. She’s now the TV columnist for BBC Culture and also writes for several other publications, including The New York Times Book Review, Fast Company, Vulture, and Billboard. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Seinfeldia: The Secret World of the Show About Nothing that Changed Everything and a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. She now lives in Manhattan.

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sex and the City and Us: How Four Single Women Changed the Way We Think, Live, and Love, and reported the following:
My page 99 is largely dedicated to male critics expressing disdain for Sex and the City’s objectification of men and its “hollow and predictable … portrait of the desperation of the over-30 single woman.” This checks out: It’s a theme throughout my book because it’s a theme that ran throughout the show’s six-year run, not to mention its afterlife. Sex and the City has always struggled for the respect it deserves, and it’s often been reduced to a caricature, but it was more than just a silly show about sex, shoes, and cosmopolitans. I couldn’t have written an entire book about it otherwise.

The early reviews of the show were hilariously melodramatic about their fear of this series celebrating sexually independent single women—and their concern over how straight men would feel, as the women, for instance, discussed a man’s unimpressive penis size. They were also very, very mean at times. (The Washington Post’s Tom Shales, in particular, loved to go after the actresses’ physical appearances, and another male critic called the character of Samantha a “slut.”) This demonstrates the power the show had. It wouldn’t be so scary if it weren’t pushing a seismic shift in perceptions of single women over 30.

Even its glitzier aspects played to this power. The shoes, the nights out, the clothes, and the other indulgences made these women’s lives look enviable. They turned single women from cat ladies into the women everyone wanted to be. They made women want to ask each other, “Are you a Carrie, a Charlotte, a Miranda, or a Samantha?”

In the end, that’s what Sex and the City and Us is about: It’s about the Sex and the City characters and stories that made fans want to live in that world, and it’s about what that meant to all of us. Many young women and men have moved to New York City looking for their own Sex and the City. The show taught us about sex, relationships, friendship, and how to express ourselves through outrageous fashion. In short, it changed lives. I should know. The first line of my introduction is, “I left my fiancé for Sex and the City.”

That’s hardly hollow, predictable, or desperate.
Visit Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The Page 99 Test: Seinfeldia.

--Marshal Zeringue