Saturday, August 1, 2015

Peter A. Shulman's "Coal and Empire"

Peter A. Shulman is an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Coal and Empire: The Birth of Energy Security in Industrial America, and reported the following:
My book is about how Americans came to think about energy in terms of national security—not around oil in the twentieth century but coal in the nineteenth. As the United States industrialized, Americans had to learn to think about fossil fuels as strategically important, and precisely how they did so evolved over time.

The story on page 99 involves Ambrose W. Thompson, a businessman and promoter from Philadelphia. In the 1850s and into the 1860s, Thompson attempted to induce the American government to fund his speculative ventures—a steam line to Ireland or China, a coal mine in Panama’s westernmost region of Chiriquí, a colony for slaves freed during the Civil War.

This page has Thompson lobbying the U.S. Navy Department to set up a naval station in Chiriquí, where he imagined American steamers could dock and purchase from his anticipated vast mines of steaming coal. A line from this page captures the mix of commercial desire and strategic imagination that persisted throughout the nineteenth century: “The strategic value of coal in Chiriquí was not a simple geological or geopolitical fact but rather an argument that Thompson used to lobby the United States and New Granada [today Colombia and Panama] to promote his speculative investment.”

This page highlights several themes that appear throughout the book: the significance of law in shaping energy politics (which government had jurisdiction over coal in western Panama, the local one of Chiriquí or the distant capital of Bogotá?), the role of scientists and engineers in evaluating claims of new fuels and sources of power (did Chiriquí have coal at all? If it did, was it suited for American steamers?), and the importance of government action in developing new sources of power (should the navy subsidize the infrastructure of steam power?). These were the kinds of questions Americans found themselves asking ever since.
Learn more about Coal and Empire at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

Writers Read: Peter A. Shulman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Paul Moses's "An Unlikely Union"

Paul Moses is Professor of Journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY and former city editor of Newsday, where he was the lead writer for a team that won the Pulitzer Prize. His book The Saint and the Sultan won the 2010 Catholic Press Association award for best history book.

Moses applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians, and reported the following:
Page 99 in An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians has just twelve lines—it ends a chapter—but it includes one of the quotes that made it so much fun to do the research for this book. It’s from a letter written by Terence V. Powderly, an Irish American labor leader in the late 19th century whose earlier comments on Italians—he had viewed them as strikebreakers who were unfit to be Americans—sounded a bit like Donald Trump’s remarks on Mexicans. Powderly wrote the letter while traveling in Italy, where he got to know Italians and discovered that he quite liked them. From page 99:
He decided that “we have not done our duty by ourselves or by our country, in not getting close enough to our immigrants to hear their heartbeats. If we thought they were wrong we could not set them right by remaining aloof from them.”
And indeed, Irish Americans would eventually draw much closer to Italian Americans, leading to intermarriage on a large scale by the mid-20th century. That’s the story An Unlikely Union tells: how the Irish and Italians went from rivalry to romance. From page 99, Powderly’s change of heart is one piece of that story.
Learn more about An Unlikely Union at the NYU Press website.

Writers Read: Paul Moses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Monique Laney's "German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie"

Monique Laney is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Auburn University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie: Making Sense of the Nazi Past during the Civil Rights Era, and reported the following:
Page 99 describes a very positive moment for most of the central characters of my book, when the German rocketeers and their families, whom the U.S. Army brought to the United States beginning in 1945, were moving to Huntsville, Alabama. Previously, the rocket specialists who designed the V-2 rocket for Hitler’s regime had lived in military barracks at Ft. Bliss near El Paso, Texas. In 1950, they followed the Army’s rocket development program and moved their families to the Deep South state—a pivotal moment for the rocketeers and for Huntsville, but also the first time that the reader hears directly from the Germans I interviewed for this book as they describe their initial impressions of Huntsville.

In the coming decade, Huntsville would become home for approximately 200 German rocket specialists and their families. Despite their arrival with thousands of other newcomers from across the country, many in the once small cotton mill town believe that the Germans were the driving force that transformed its culture and economics, dramatically changing the lives of locals.

Strikingly, one of the first things the Germans talked about when I asked them to describe Huntsville upon their arrival, were the visible effects of Jim Crow segregation. Most members of the first generation quickly tried to set themselves apart from the local white community, depicting themselves as mere bystanders, i.e., outsiders and newcomers, who were trying to fit in by adjusting to local customs and politics. Their children reported more complicated responses, however, and African American interviewees confirmed that the Germans indeed adjusted well, remarking that they simply blended into the town’s white power structure. Not surprisingly, Jewish interviewees had different concerns about the Germans.

With this book I tried to explain why the Germans were continuously celebrated in Huntsville, even after one of the team members signed an affidavit confessing to war crimes under the Nazi regime. Many locals tried to have his name cleared, taking his case all the way to the U.S. president. They did not succeed, but their actions speak volumes about their attachment to the German rocket team. Given that the Germans arrived as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum, I contend that this story tells us something about the history of American race relations as well as the nation’s relationship to Nazi Germany.
Visit Monique Laney's website, and learn more about German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Philip T. Hoffman's "Why Did Europe Conquer the World?"

Philip T. Hoffman is the Rea A. and Lela G. Axline Professor of Business Economics and professor of history at the California Institute of Technology. His books include Growth in a Traditional Society, Surviving Large Losses, and Priceless Markets.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Why Did Europe Conquer the World?, and reported the following:
Why did Europeans conquer the world? They were utterly powerless 1000 years ago, but by 1914, they had taken over 84 percent of the planet. Why did they rise to the top, when for centuries the Chinese, Japanese, Ottomans, and South Asians were far more advanced?

This question has vexed historians and social scientists. But so far they haven’t found a satisfactory explanation. And the question does matter, because Europe’s power determined who had colonies, who ran the slave trade, and who grew rich or remained mired in poverty.

The answer lies with political incentives that drove leaders in Europe not just to make war, but to lavish huge sums on it. Yes, they built palaces, but even Versailles cost French King Louis XIV less than 2 percent of his tax revenue. The rest went to warfare. All that money, as I show, then gave Europeans an insurmountable lead in advancing the gunpowder technology, which was critical for world conquest.

The other major powers in Asia and the Middle East could not match the Europeans’ military spending; the political incentives their leaders faced were radically different. As I explain in the book, they all therefore fell behind militarily, even if they were as rich as the Europeans or fought just as often with guns. And the book also shows why they could “not simply borrow the latest technology” from Europe “and quickly catch up” (p. 99).

Why were political incentives so unusual in Europe? My argument draws upon an economic model, but the ultimate causes were two millennia of political history that set European states on a distinctive path of development and military rivalry and kept similar political incentives from taking hold elsewhere in Eurasia. That is the real reason why Europe conquered the world.
Learn more about Why Did Europe Conquer the World? at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 26, 2015

David McCarthy's "American Artists Against War 1935—2010"

David McCarthy is Professor of Art History at Rhodes College and author of The Nude in American Painting, 1950–1980; Pop Art; and H.C. Westermann at War: Art and Manhood in Cold War America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, American Artists against War, 1935-2010, and reported the following:
Quoting extant imagery allowed Rosenquist to establish connections between military technology and consumer goods, and between the taxation of U.S. citizens and the ends to which those taxes were put. Literally, he visualized these connections in a space that forced viewers to see that their daily lives were not so far removed from the military-industrial complex. Hence the painting served as an “antidote” (in the artist’s words), one designed to “shift gears” so that the art might be an effective means of challenging the status quo. With subsequent exhibitions throughout the rest of the decade and continuing coverage in the press, F-111 became part of the antiwar movement, not as an event contingent upon community coordination as the artist might have hoped, but as potent image nonetheless.
The above quotation is from page ninety-nine of my book. Although lifted from a longer section on James Rosenquist’s canonical painting F-111, the paragraph is indicative of the chapter on Vietnam and, indeed, of the entire book. How so? Certainly in the use of highly charged content. Anti-war artists often worked with recognizable and topical subject matter. Standing apart from government propaganda and mainstream media reporting and editorializing, these artists reconfigured information to help citizens see armed conflict from strikingly adversarial perspectives. Their practice was based on the knowledge that they were uniquely positioned to challenge the status quo because of their skill in presenting ideas visually. How else? The paragraph draws attention to the exhibition of the painting, meaning that we need to remember that the encounter with works of art occurs in actual places. Our experience of the art is both physical and emotional. Sometimes through empathy we are drawn to feel a sense of community with the victims or war. At other times, as with F-111, we are repulsed by the garish color, congested space, and insistence that our consumer pleasures might be linked with the violent subordination of others. This is but one instance of artists using imagination to protest against the use of violence to further the ambitions of the nation state, and reminds us of the long and ongoing tradition of modern artists bearing witness to the trauma of our age.
Learn more about American Artists against War, 1935-2010 at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Olivia Weisser's "Ill Composed"

Olivia Weisser is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England, and reported the following:
At first glance, I thought my book failed the “Page 99 test.” On page 99, I attempt to explain a particular pattern in women’s personal writing from the 1600s. After rereading the page, however, I realized that the focused discussion actually illustrates the overarching argument of the book. The page discusses what I call “mimetic suffering.” This is a tendency of women from the period to mirror the illnesses of loved ones. These women claimed to experience the very same symptoms as their dying husbands and children, as though the aches and pains of loved ones were transposed to their own bodies. I have been unable to find comparable examples by men.

On p. 99, I discuss a possible explanation for this phenomenon. Claiming to fall sick in sympathy with an ailing friend or family member was a popular trope in correspondence from the period. For instance, Lydia Dugard wrote the following note to her lover in 1668: “How much am I afflicted at the bad news of your headache it is cruel to me now and tortures me as much as if I really felt it.” Dugard did not actually develop a headache, of course, but she communicated her concern by describing her emotional distress as a comparable pain. As I explain on p. 99, “Such expressions of compassion perhaps informed more literal articulations of the sympathetic relationship between grief and illness in women’s writing. When overwhelming sorrow caused women to mirror the aches and pains of loved ones, they embodied a common discourse for conveying sympathy.”

This discussion offers a clear example of the larger argument of the book, which is that men and women in the period perceived illness in gendered ways. The discussion also nicely illustrates how I attempt to explain and historicize those gender differences: by looking to the intimate details of seventeenth-century life.
Follow Olivia Weisser on Twitter and learn more about Ill Composed at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 24, 2015

Negar Mottahedeh's "#iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life"

Negar Mottahedeh is Associate Professor in Literature and Women's Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema (2008) and Representing the Unpresentable: Historical Images of National Reform from the Qajars to the Islamic Republic of Iran (2007).

Mottahedeh applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, #iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life, and reported the following:
#iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life is full of images. It is likely too the only book with QR codes that take you to videos from the post-election protests in Iran in the summer of 2009. My favorite image from the book appears on page 99. The image is of a woman about to throw a stone, defying an ultimatum by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to end the protests following the presidential election in Iran in 2009. It is dated June 20, 2009.

About a week earlier, on June 12, 2009, Iranians went to the polls to cast their vote for a new president. Before the polls were even closed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran with 63% of the votes cast. Millions believe that their votes were never counted. The days that followed the election witnessed the largest protests in Iran since the Revolution of 1978-79. Some of the protests in the summer of 2009 were silent, others, were more violent. They were all aggressively suppressed by government forces, killing and wounding thousands of people. The images in the book are by and large viral images that were circulated online with the hashtag #iranelection to document the violence of the state against its own people.

The image on page 99 emphasizes the corporality of 2009 protests and the ways in which the camera responded to this corporality by implicating the viewer’s own body in the texture of the viral image itself. Contrasting the 2009 image to images of women in the course of earlier revolts in Iran in the 1950s and 1970s, I write on page 99:
Indeed one could say that a certain corporality is deemphasized by the “objective” distance of the 1950s and 1970s camera and by the sartorial choices, which either situate themselves within the flows of commercial capital and global fashion or squarely take a stand against the same by virtue of the chador. While we must be vigilant in remembering the presence of young women in militant guerrilla movements such as Cherikha-ye Fada’i Khalaq or Mujahedyn-e Khalq in the 1970s and 1980s, what we witness in the photographs of the 2009 protests is the ordinariness of a gesture which is stripped of all but frustration: a young woman readied to “throw a stone with manicured hand.” Stalwart, this image speaks allegorically of an archived melancholy that spans decades of political loss on the public front for Iranian women in protest.
The figure of the young woman readied to “throw a stone with manicured hand” is allegorical of a fundamental loss for women in revolt. But it is allegorical too in that it shuttles at once between an image of the lone woman corporally present in the midst of the crowd, and a concept that we don’t see: a digital collective elsewhere that is sensorially connected and networked by her image online. Part flesh, part data, the figure of the young woman articulates, as allegory, a politics that hinges on the amorphous web of social media. This is the politics of contemporary networked social movements. The image on page 99 captures the essence of the networked protest movement and of that moment in Iran’s history as an allegory of our collective global present.
Learn more about #iranelection at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Irene S. Wu's "Forging Trust Communities"

Irene S. Wu is a senior analyst at the US Federal Communications Commission. The author of From Iron Fist to Invisible Hand: The Uneven Path of Telecommunications Reform in China, she teaches in the Communications, Culture & Technology Program at Georgetown University.

Wu applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Forging Trust Communities: How Technology Changes Politics, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In China the telecom infrastructure is built to meet millions of users’ demands; therefore, it is robust enough to deliver the government’s information and ideas. If the Internet had few users, it would be useless as a tool to survey the public mood.

Al-Jazeera’s programming engages audiences throughout the region. Therefore, Qatar has the opportunity to influence Middle East politics. People watch Al-Jazeera because it presents facts that other broadcasters have skipped, and its talk shows give voice to the previously voiceless. For Qatar, Al-Jazeera and its audience are a trust community, a source of political capital and ammunition worth as much as money or military might.
Picture a revolution today and it isn’t complete without young activists waving their phones in the air – snapping photos, videoing police brutality, Facebooking and Tweeting and networking with the world. It is easy to forget that governments are vigorously doing the same, perhaps not as fleetly, but often with more capital and skill at their easy disposal. Page 99 of the book falls at the end of the discussion of these government efforts. The chatter online in China is one way for the government to hear what the people are thinking and prepare it to respond better to their demands. Al-Jazeera not only keeps audiences up to date on the latest happenings, it raises the profile of the Qatar government. In both cases these governments are using technology to reach out into the world, to establish their reputation, to assess how they are perceived, and to adapt accordingly. They are widening their “trust communities” of the book title to better position themselves for the next event.

Take a look at the book for more on 20 cases from both the activist and government perspectives, with practical suggestions for both.
Learn more about Forging Trust Communities at the the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vanina Leschziner's "At the Chef's Table"

Vanina Leschziner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, At the Chef's Table: Culinary Creativity in Elite Restaurants, and reported the following:
Sometime after agreeing to put my book to the Page 99 Test, I anxiously picked up a copy of the book to see what I would find. As I was getting closer to the page, it looked like there was a good chance that page 99 would be blank, marking the transition from one chapter to another. A blank page would have been a pretty ironic result. Luckily, page 99 is the beginning of chapter five, and one of the central chapters in the book. Here is the opening paragraph:
Running a high-end restaurant is not an easy job. There is an incessant expectation of excellence in everything from the food to the wine program, décor, and service. The food must be not just flawless but also creative, and chefs need to keep their menus looking novel. This is not so easily done because chefs typically do not have a lot of time to develop new dishes, and because they do not always have the inspiration. There is no one way to manage these pressures and constraints, and chefs vary greatly in how they deal with them.
This book is about the creative work of chefs at top restaurants in New York and San Francisco. Based on interviews with chefs and observation in restaurant kitchens, it examines how and why chefs make choices about the dishes they put on their menus. To answer these questions, I look at a wide range of factors, including chefs’ careers, restaurant ratings and reviews, cognitive patterns and work processes, and how status and social connections influence chefs’ work and careers. Chapter five is about how chefs think about food and how they go about creating dishes.

The opening paragraph of this chapter, quoted above, actually captures some of the central themes in the book, in particular that elite chefs face competing pressures in their work, and must find ways to navigate an uncertain market and make choices between those pressures. Chefs are responsible for the creation of dishes but also for the management of the restaurant, and this limits the time they can dedicate to the creative part of their job, and the dishes they may conceive. They must deliver complex and creative dishes but also run a profitable business in an industry with exceptionally high costs and low profit margins, which manifests itself as contradictory pressures to create original dishes but also offer the familiar foodstuffs that customers are more likely to order. The book explains how they do it, using this as a case study to analyze characteristics common to creative occupations.
Learn more about At the Chef's Table at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jane Dawson's "John Knox"

Jane Dawson is John Laing Professor of Reformation History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She is the author of Scotland Re-formed, 1488-1587 and The Politics of Religion in the Age of Mary, Queen of Scots and has produced editions of a number of primary sources from the period.

Dawson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, John Knox, and reported the following:
When I checked Page 99 I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the pivotal points in the life of John Knox, the Scottish and British Protestant Reformer. It opens with a description of his predicament in the spring of 1555,
By the early morning of Tuesday 26 March, Knox was setting off on the road south, banished from Frankfurt, with a treason charge hanging over his head and not entirely sure what had hit him. Though at the start of the year he had been looking for a way to leave the city, this was not what he had had in mind.
Having fled England after the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor had come to the throne, Knox had served as minister to the English exile church in Frankfurt and become embroiled in a bitter dispute about worship. These ‘Troubles at Frankfurt’ culminated in a ‘furious fortnight’ following the arrival of additional exiles led by Richard Cox, later Bishop of Ely. As page 99 explains,
The attractive rhyming of the Coxians versus Knoxians has encouraged a tendency to explain the Troubles primarily as a clash of single-leader parties. Cox’s speedy victory over Knox has grabbed the headlines and disguised the longer and far less conclusive battles both before and after that furious fortnight.
The campaign was won when Knox’s opponents complained to the Frankfurt City Council about his strong denunciation of Queen Mary in a tract published the previous year. Knox had also attacked Mary’s father-in-law, the Emperor Charles V, leaving the Frankfurt authorities little option but to defend their Imperial overlord. They gave Knox his marching orders and he travelled to Geneva, the city transformed by the Reformer, John Calvin. Knox’s Frankfurt supporters followed several months later and established a new congregation in Geneva. Knox was one of its ministers and this proved the happiest period of his life. Without the defeat and humiliation Knox had faced at Frankfurt, the positive achievements in Geneva would not have happened.
The treatment of Knox split the English exiles and became part of a breach that never fully healed. As the anonymous 1575 tract proclaimed, the Troubles ‘begun’ at Frankfurt were a foretaste of the divisions besetting the Elizabethan Church and came to be seen as the foundation of English nonconformity and the Puritan movement. The liturgical and doctrinal stance that Knox and his supporters adopted during the Troubles led to the production of a new order of worship that was carried into the Reformed Church of Scotland and the Anglophone Protestant tradition.
The fascinating story of Knox’s life shows how the Reformation upheavals changed individuals. For this particular man the Troubles at Frankfurt and the creation of the Geneva congregation were a turning point but they also altered the religious landscape of the English-speaking world. That Genevan congregation’s remarkable productivity created the building blocks for the Puritan and Presbyterian tradition. Knox’s steps along that road from Frankfurt helped shape the world in which we live.
Learn more about John Knox at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue