Friday, May 20, 2022

Ron E. Hassner's "Anatomy of Torture"

Ron E. Hassner is Chancellor's Professor of Political Science and Helen Diller Family Chair in Israel Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include War on Sacred Grounds, Religion in the Military Worldwide, and Religion on the Battlefield.

Hassner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Anatomy of Torture, and reported the following:
Anatomy of Torture uses evidence from the archives of the Spanish Inquisition to explore the nature of torture. I read and analyzed many hundreds of hand-written manuscripts from the 15th and 16th centuries. These manuscripts show that the Inquisition succeeded in using cruel torture to extract reliable information. But they also show that the process of doing so was lengthy, costly, and that the information extracted was not new: It was used to confirm existing suspicions, not to produce new leads. The Inquisition treated evidence extracted by means of torture with suspicion. Both of these findings – the nature of torture and the reliability of evidence – have implications for current U.S. torture policy.

Page 99 is a good representation of one type of evidence that I use in the book: detailed testimonies that allow me to look closely at who was and was not arrested and tortured, who collaborated, and whether their evidence was truthful. This page summarizes the misfortunes of twelve individuals from the secret Jewish community in Mexico in the 16th century. Because these were Jews pretending to be Christians, they were persecuted as heretics. The goal of the Inquisition was not to find out what they believed (which could not be proven one way or another) but to show that they secretly participated in Jewish customs: they lit Shabbat candles, kept kosher, fasted on Yom Kippur, etc.

The trials summarized on page 99 are sorted in chronological order and show who condemned whom among the twelve. Two things become immediately obvious. First, the dates show that the Inquisition did not torture until very late in the process, after most of the members of this community had collaborated with the courts. Second, those tortured had already been identified by multiple others prior to their torture. Torture provided no new names. It confirmed names that had been offered by other witnesses in the absence of torture.
For example, Violante Rodríguez was a marginal figure in the community, an aunt of Manuel de Lucena. Arrested in April 1595, she refused to name other conversos in her community. Yet, as table 1 illustrates, the court had heard about her Judaizing from Antonio Henríquez, Manuel de Lucena, and Catalina Henríquez even prior to Rodríguez’s arrest. Further witnesses testified against her during the first nine months of her imprisonment. Only then, in January 1596, after she met several reprimands with silence, was she tortured with three turns of the rope. I quoted from her torture at length in chapter 1. She incriminated five fellow Jews, including her own daughter, Isabel.
Learn more about Anatomy of Torture at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: War on Sacred Grounds.

The Page 99 Test: Religion on the Battlefield.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and Gwendolyn Mink's "Fierce and Fearless"

Fierce and Fearless: Patsy Takemoto Mink, First Woman in Congress is the first book-length biography of Mink, co-authored by historian Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and political scientist and Mink’s daughter, Gwendolyn Mink.

The authors applied the “Page 99 Test” to Fierce and Fearless and reported the following:
Page 99 of our book consists of these three sentences: “In her Capitol Hill office only a couple of days after returning from Paris, the first trickle of hate mail arrived. One postcard read, “I see you have appointment with Vietcong and North Vietnamese while you were in Paris. Did you go there for ‘instructions’?” This culminates the story of Mink’s feminist peace collaboration with sister congressmember Bella Abzug (D-NY). They traveled to Paris in 1972 to dialogue with Vietnamese representatives, most notably Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, to see if they might advance the cause of ending the U.S. war in Viet Nam. The trip aptly foregrounded how feminism, peace, and collaboration constituted the core of Mink’s policy and political commitments.

Anyone who has read the book will recognize one theme of Patsy Mink’s life that the sentences point to: bold and steadfast affirmation of principle even against naysayers and haters.

Page 99 concludes the third of eleven vignettes that provide first-person renderings of key political veins that run through Patsy Mink’s life. A curious browser who lands on this page might explore further to find that our book contains two narrative voices, one that bears witness and one that provides historical perspective. By dividing the story into clearly marked vignettes and historical chapters, we hope to give readers insight into the interwoven personal and political experiences of a public life.
Learn more about Fierce and Fearless at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Sam Lebovic's "A Righteous Smokescreen"

Sam Lebovic is associate professor of history at George Mason University and the author of Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Righteous Smokescreen: Postwar America and the Politics of Cultural Globalization, reported the following:
On page 99, the reader will be plunged deep into the details of U.S. passport policy in the 1940s, particularly the ways in which U.S. passport practice deviated from international standards being debated at United Nations conferences which sought to liberalize, if not eliminate, travel documents in the postwar world. They will learn, for instance, how much more expensive U.S. passports were than passports issued by Switzerland or Portugal, how this made money for the U.S. government, and how the U.S. lied about these facts when reporting to the UN.

Readers seeking to apply the page 99 test will therefore get a good flavor of the approach and style of the book, which is very interested in bureaucratic politics, and in tracing out how U.S. attitudes to the international exchange of ideas have been shaped by self-interested and frequently hypocritical positions articulated by particular sectors of the U.S. state. They will get a sense, too, of the method of the book, which is based on deep research in bureaucratic and diplomatic archives.

But they will get no sense of the stakes of these questions, nor will they have any reason to care about these details. That is unsurprising. Page 99 falls two-thirds of the way through the third of the five chapters of the book. In fact it falls pretty smack in the middle of the 195 pages of this deliberately short book.

To understand why it is worth zooming in on such apparently mundane details, readers will need to read what comes before and after it. Both in the chapter, which reveals the place that travel documents played in the international liberal imaginary, and then shows how obscure bureaucracies like the Passport Division sought to preserve control over the American border with consequences that last today. And in the book as a whole, which shows how paying attention to things like passport regulations – what I call “quotidian world ordering” – reveals a great deal about America’s vision of global liberalism after World War II, and then helped render the U.S. curiously isolated from foreign influences and networks in the 1950s, when visas and passports were denied to those espousing “un-American” ideas.

That strikes me as a pretty happy outcome for the test. My favorite works of history draw connections between seemingly unrelated topics, contextualize obscure details within broader developments, and thus rethink the grand themes of history. To do so, they need time to take you into the weeds, and the time to bring you back up. It would be a pretty boring book that, like a candidate running for office, hit its talking points on every page.
Learn more about A Righteous Smokescreen at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Alvin Eng's "Our Laundry, Our Town"

Alvin Eng is a native New York City playwright, performer, acoustic punk raconteur, and educator. His plays and performances have been seen Off-Broadway, throughout the United States, as well as in Paris, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou, China. Eng is the interviewer/ editor of the oral history / play anthology Tokens? The NYC Asian American Experience on Stage. His plays, lyrics, and memoir excerpts have also been published in numerous anthologies. Eng’s spoken-word videos, songs, storytelling, and commentary have been broadcast and streamed on National Public Radio among others. He is a a two-time appointee to the Fulbright Specialists roster of Theatre / U.S. Studies scholars and a three-time recipient of NYSCA/ NYFA Fellowships.

Eng applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new memoir, Our Laundry, Our Town: My Chinese American Life from Flushing to the Downtown Stage and Beyond, reported the following:
Page 99 is a very good representation of the scope and tone of my memoir. On that page is a passage that explores my 1987 visit to an English language class in Guilin, China in their equivalent of high school. My mother and I were traveling with a small group of North American tourists and we were the only non-Caucasians. On this day, a rainstorm had cancelled our planned outdoor activities and somehow we were invited to visit this English language class. My mother sat out this visit. To quote from the text:
As soon as I entered the English class, whispers started buzzing around and smiles grew from welcoming to cunning as the teacher introduced her visitors. Finally, a delegation of the tallest boy in the class and a petite pig-tailed girl came forward. If she had been born twenty years earlier, this petite pig-tailed girl would have definitely been a Red Guard. Acting as both his agent and interpreter, the petite pig-tailed girl declared: “He would like to arm wrestle you!”

Taken aback, I sort of uttered, “Well . . . gee . . . I don’t know about that.”

The petite pig-tailed girl relayed my response in Chinese to her tall comrade. A round of whispers whipped around the room, and a new strategy was whispered into the ear of the petite pig-tailed girl.

“The friendship is first, the match is second,” she counter-offered. But her body language was screaming, “Let’s get ready to RUMBUUUUUUUULLLLLL!

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I politely declined. But the students were just getting started.

“Hey! If there was a war between the United States and China,” challenged a boy from the back row, “who would you fight for?”

“Yeah, who would you fight for?” the class started shouting—more or less in unison. But most aggressively, they were chanting in English.

The teacher finally chastised the students and regained order.

After a long pause in this calm after the storm, I finally said, “I think I’d move to Canada.”
Page 99 is from a chapter entitled “A Sort of Homecoming: But Where Are You Really From?” The chapter compares vignettes from my first trip to China with working in the 1980s rock music biz of NYC in my early 20s. In “the biz” I was regularly asked, “but where are you really from?” by many of my peers and even some musicians. For an American-born Chinese, was this any worse or bizarre than being asked by teenage students in China, “who would you fight for” if a U.S.-Sino war broke out? The finale of the memoir is in direct contrast with the Guilin episode. The final chapters revolve around teaching and creating a Fulbright devised theatre residency. The residency’s primary theme was inspired by the Chinese artistic influences on Thornton Wilder’s Americana play, Our Town. The 21st century Hong Kong college students now accepted and appreciated working with an Asian American professor. Throughout the book, as throughout life, the questions remain more or less the same, but the answers and revelations are always very different.
Visit Alvin Eng's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 16, 2022

Stephen L. Moore's "Patton's Payback"

Stephen L. Moore, a sixth generation Texan, is author of more than twenty books on World War II and Texas history.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Patton's Payback: The Battle of El Guettar and General Patton's Rise to Glory, reported the following:
The ninety-ninth page of Patton’s Payback is a segue that sets up the final failure of the U.S. Army’s campaign commander in North Africa, Lieutenant General Lloyd Fredendall, thereby setting the stage for the introduction of a fiery new leader, Lieutenant General George S. Patton.

Page 99 ends with: “The Americans had been stunned with the bold Axis thrust at Faid Pass. This time the alert Ranger patrols at Dernaia Pass were bypassed and the Allies would be surprised again at a different Tunisian mountain pass called Kasserine.”

Lieutenant Les Kness and his squad of Darby’s Rangers have just completed a grueling twenty-mile march through the Tunisian desert. The elite Army special forces group under Lieutenant Colonel Bill Darby would soon face the taunting rants of their new commander-in-chief for their failure to be in proper uniforms. But over the course of the next two months, Darby, Kness, and their Rangers would earn the respect of “Old Blood and Guts” for their daring assaults against German and Italian outposts.

George Patton’s rise to campaign commander is set up by the U.S. Army’s terrible showing at Kasserine Pass, which is hinted at on Page 99. In the six weeks that followed the introduction of Patton as the Army’s new leader, his Rangers, artillerymen, armored divisions, and infantry would face the best of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the desert near El Guettar.
Visit Stephen L. Moore's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Battle for Hell’s Island.

The Page 99 Test: As Good As Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Michelle R. Warren's "Holy Digital Grail"

Michelle R. Warren is Professor of Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College, Her publications include History on the Edge: Excalibur and the Borders of Britain (2000) and Creole Medievalism: Colonial France and Joseph Bédier's Middle Ages (2011), along with several edited volumes.

Warren applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Holy Digital Grail: A Medieval Book on the Internet, reported the following:
Page 99 is a great representation of my book. If the browser opens here, the first words are actually in the header right next to the number 99: “Merchants, Chivalry, Data.” This is the subtitle of Chapter 2, which is about the medieval London guild for fur traders and artisans, the Skinners. Surprisingly, these three words also express really well the overall topic of my book: medieval merchants created a book about chivalry whose meaning has been transformed by digital technologies. Throughout my book, I analyze how data both preserve and erase the past—and how merchant capitalism is still making books on the internet, creating new cultural values just as chivalry did in fifteenth-century England.

The rest of page 99 tells three interconnected stories that also illustrate themes that weave through the whole book: how literary texts interact with historical events, how nationalism motivates book collecting, and how religion becomes political.

The page starts with a heresy trial that took place in 1415: the accused, a skinner named John Claydon, was condemned for owning a book that challenged church doctrines. The second paragraph turns to a related event in church politics that took place a few years later: in 1417 English officials claimed that English Christianity was the oldest in Europe because it had been established by Joseph of Arimathea, who cared for Christ’s body after the Crucifixion. Page 99 ends by noting that around the same time, Joseph’s story was translated into English by Henry Lovelich, a skinner like Claydon.

Remarkably, all the main characters of my book are mentioned on page 99: the translator Henry Lovelich, his patron Henry Barton, their guild the Skinners, Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail, and King Arthur. Together, Lovelich and Barton planned an illustrated book that would have enhanced the social status of their guild. The book was designed to make merchants more like the aristocracy in their reading practices, knowledge of national history, and ownership of luxury goods like illustrated books. Later, the book was preserved for its value to the English Reformation and then variously catalogued, edited, and photographed over the centuries until it reached the internet in 2009 as part of Parker Library on the Web. By following this one book through its many transformations, my book shows how myths endure despite drastic changes in technology, language, and culture.

When I was writing Holy Digital Grail, I tried to imagine that readers could start almost anywhere—and the page 99 test has shown how true this idea can be!
Follow Michelle R. Warren on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 13, 2022

Clayton Butler's "True Blue"

Clayton J. Butler is a postdoctoral fellow at the Nau Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, True Blue: White Unionists in the Deep South during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and found that the illustration there did not reveal the quality of the whole. So he tried out page 69 to see if it gave a good preview of book and reported the following:
From page 69:
They condoned emancipation as a necessary war measure, just punishment, and future check on the slaveholding class—but retained a deep-seated antipathy toward African Americans the war did nothing to alter. For these atypical white Alabamians, the salvation of the Union—with or without slavery intact—subsumed all other concerns over the course of the war.

In all, 2,066 soldiers enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry between 1862 and 1865, representing about two-thirds of the estimated total of Alabamians who took up arms for the Union. They forged a creditable military record over the three years of its existence and possessed a political significance to contemporaries on both sides that has been largely overlooked by current scholars. As Alabama historian William Stanley Hoole noted, 'the very existence of the First Alabama Cavalry entitles it to special consideration.' His own history of the regiment, however, is a somewhat boilerplate military history. Deeper investigation of the formation, career, and legacy of the regiment, as well as the stories of the men who comprised both its leadership and its rank and file, illuminates many of the complex facets of white Unionism in the state and in the Deep South as a region.

Alabama Unionists before Federal Occupation

During the period of more than a year between secession and the first arrival of Federal troops in northern Alabama, life for Unionists in the state had become increasingly fraught and precarious. Accounts of future soldiers and their family members recorded in diaries, letters, Southern Claims Commission files and other forms almost universally attest to the dire situation they faced as a result of their national allegiance. Confederate partisans attempted to enforce fealty to the new nation through intimidation and violence; especially after the institution of the Confederate draft in April 1862, even an outwardly neutral stance became untenable. As John Terry, a Cherokee County Unionist later testified, 'things got ... hot about the time the conscript law passed.' Men of military age could either report for Confederate service or face immediate forced conscription. The prospect induced many who still refused to fight against the Union to seek refuge in the woods. Women, nonmilitary-age men, and at times even enslaved persons helped to develop and sustain support networks for these 'lie-outs' which allowed Unionists in northern Alabama to carry on a dogged resistance to the draft."
Page 69 of my book (page 99 proved to be an illustration) would give browsers a direct look at the broader themes, if not the more minute details and vignettes, of the book as a whole. Page 69 finds us wrapping up the introduction to the third chapter, which centers on the First Alabama Cavalry, and beginning the discussion of the experience of Alabama’s white Unionists before the Union army’s first arrival in the state in 1862. The first sentence on the page refers one of the most important takeaways of the book— specifically, that Alabama’s white Unionists by and large did not oppose the Confederacy out of any any profound opposition to slavery and certainly not out of any sympathy for the enslaved. Indeed, with the Union’s integrity later assured by the early 1870s, they would help deliver the state back to the Democratic Party, banish the agents of so-called Radicalism, and “redeem” it from Republican rule. Alabama's white Unionists later abandoned black Alabamians politically, realigned with former rebels on the issue of race, and consigned their former Unionist comrades to another century of oppression and Jim Crow, an ignominious postscript to their Union service during the Civil War. Ultimately, though they made a brave and bold choice to oppose the Confederacy, solicitude for the plight of the enslaved almost never had anything to do with it. They were certainly Unionists -- True Blue -- but not for the reasons we might wish. The truth of history, as ever, is more complicated.
Follow Clayton Butler on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Keith Thomson's "Born to Be Hanged"

Keith Thomson is the author of several novels, including Pirates of Pensacola and the New York Times bestseller Once a Spy. The former Columbia history major also writes nonfiction for the New York Times, Garden & Gun, and the Huffington Post on a range of topics, including national security and piracy. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

Thomson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his nonfiction account of the first pirate expedition into the Pacific, Born to Be Hanged: The Epic Story of the Gentlemen Pirates Who Raided the South Seas, Rescued a Princess, and Stole a Fortune, and reported the following:
This is easy, because page 99 is smack in the middle of the April 23, 1680, clash between Spanish soldiers and the English pirates who are the heroes of Born to Be Hanged.

Originally there were 366 of them, banding together in the Caribbean with the intent of being the first buccaneer company to raid the Pacific. On their way to their first major target, Panama City, things went horribly wrong, as things so often do, and, on the morning of April 23, only sixty-eight of them arrived in the Bay of Panama, exhausted from rowing dugout canoes all night through a tropical storm that had waylaid the rest of their company. There were far too few of them to raid the city, even if they were in peak condition. But before they could retreat, they found themselves on the verge of being run down by 260 Spanish soldiers in three warships the size of 747s. Somehow, the pirates got it into their heads that they could defeat the Spaniards.

The resulting battle was arguably the greatest in pirate history, if not all of maritime history, and, not to give anything away, but page 99 is as representative as any in Born to Be Hanged of the Englishmen’s courage and resourcefulness—and insanity.
Learn more about the book and author at Keith Thomson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Once A Spy.

The Page 69 Test: 7 Grams of Lead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 9, 2022

R. Isabela Morales's "Happy Dreams of Liberty"

R. Isabela Morales is a public historian based in New Jersey. She is the Editor and Project Manager of Princeton University's expansive public history initiative, The Princeton & Slavery Project; her research for the project has been featured in the New York Times. She is also the Digital Projects Manager at the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, central New Jersey's first Black history museum.

Morales received her Ph.D. in history from Princeton University in 2019, specializing in the 19th-century United States, slavery, and emancipation.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom, and reported the following:
Page 99, near the middle of my book, opens at a critical moment in the Townsends' lives: the first stirrings of civil war. When the family was freed in early 1860, they expected that they would soon receive the inheritance that would help them complete their education, buy land and homes, and start new lives as free people in Ohio and Kansas. Yet when Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860 and southern states responded by seceding from the Union, the Townsends saw their dreams of financial security begin to slip away.
With war looming, the estate Cabaniss once considered 'abundantly solvent' was at risk. Three days after Lincoln's election, the lawyer wrote a Mississippi planter that he was 'almost in despair' over the state of the country. With an antislavery president in office and Alabama likely to secede, Cabaniss 'entertained some doubts as to the propriety of proceeding with the sale' of the rest of Samuel Townsend's land and slaves. ... He had already sold land and slaves on credit; if he made the wrong decision now, the Townsends might never receive their full inheritance.
The Townsends' father, the wealthy Alabama cotton planter Samuel Townsend, had promised his once-enslaved children equal shares in his $200,000 fortune. With the outbreak of the Civil War, however, the Townsends were cut off from communication with Samuel's attorney S. D. Cabaniss, who managed the estate, and Cabaniss wouldn't be able to send the Townsends money from their inheritance for the next five years. This was a turning point in the Townsends' lives, as well as the lives of millions of Americans who would be affected by the Civil War.

Page 99 also points to the problematic origins of the freed Townsends' inheritance. The fortune Samuel's children hoped to inherit one day had been built by slave labor, as well as the sale of other enslaved people who weren't related to their master by blood. In some ways, the Townsends' inheritance looks like wealth redistribution: from an enslaver to the enslaved people he once owned. But that wealth was built on exploitation, and the Townsends were beneficiaries of that system too. It's just one example of the complexity of the Townsends' lives and experiences that I explore in Happy Dreams of Liberty.
Visit R. Isabela Morales's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Paul Craddock's "Spare Parts"

Paul Craddock is a cultural historian and award-winning author based in London. His debut book, Spare Parts: A Surprising History of Transplants was a Daily Mail Book of the Week and won the Special Commendation of the Royal Society of Literature Giles St Aubyn Awards.

Craddock is a Science Museum Group Senior Research Associate (SMGSRA), an Honorary Senior Research Associate of UCL’s Division of Surgery, and a Visiting Lecturer at Imperial College London.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Spare Parts and reported the following:
Page 99 of Spare Parts is largely dedicated to an etching from 1705, of a blood transfusion from a lamb to a man. The slither of text below the image is the beginning of an introduction to George Acton, a sixteenth-century English doctor who proposed that you might treat epilepsy with a transfusion of cat’s blood.

In a way, page 99 gives a rather good idea of what Spare Parts is about. Most people think transplant surgery and transfusion are twentieth-century inventions, and the excerpt introduces some of the seventeenth-century ideas about transplants. My book is all about surprises (in fact, its subtitle in the UK is ‘the surprising history of transplants’), and this is certainly one of those. It’s complete with an image showing a rather disturbed man looking away as a transfusionist sees to his operation. His donor – the lamb – is looking similarly disturbed with an almost human face, and is looking away in the opposite direction. It looks simultaneously macabre and hilarious. And this is another way page 99 is indicative of the whole: Much of the history in Spare Parts feels incredibly silly, at least to someone with a British sense of humour. The idea of transfusion itself isn’t funny, of course, but we can affectionately chuckle at scientists earnestly assuming that a transfusion recipient might turn into a sheep. There’s some evidence, in fact, that people at the time loved to laugh at such silliness – plays were written poking fun at scientists for such outlandish suggestions, as playwrights created characters who had transfusions in order to transform into various creatures. So, the test worked in those few ways: it’s indicative of the kind of story a browser will come across, it gives an impression of the sheer age of transplant surgery as a medical idea, and it presents something of the inherent creativity and quirkiness in the history of this remarkable surgery.
Visit Paul Craddock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue