Tuesday, October 20, 2020

David Menconi's "Step It Up and Go"

David Menconi spent 28 years covering music and art for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., writing about everything from gospel to heavy metal. Those years in North Carolina’s musical trenches inform his new book Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, a chronicle of nearly a century’s worth of The Old North State’s musical history.

In applying the “Page 99 Test” to the book, he reported the following:
From page 99:
That same year, Doc’s daughter Nancy also told me a story about a backstage well-wisher who had recently congratulated Doc on becoming a great-grandfather.

“Naw,” he drawled in his mountain deadpan. “I’m just average.”
It is entirely fitting that page 99 of Step It Up and Go falls within the chapter about the late great Doc Watson, who casts a long shadow across his native state in terms of both music and sensibility. One of the giants of 20th century music, Watson was discovered during the folk revival and became a beloved icon on the festival circuit – a blind man from the Western North Carolina mountains who could flatpick faster and cleaner than anybody ever had. Over the half-century before his death in 2012, Watson won just about every accolade and honor one could win in music.

But for all that, he also maintained the humble demeanor of a sideman and never cared much for people making a fuss over him. When the North Carolina town of Boone commissioned a Watson sculpture to be placed downtown, where he used to busk on the street in his pre-fame days, he would only give it his blessing if the plaque read, “Just One of the People” (which it does).

That is a mindset common to North Carolina’s greatest musicians, a roll call that includes luminaries like banjo master Earl Scruggs, R.E.M.’s early producer Mitch Easter and modern-day hip-hop producer Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit. Across decades and styles, they all share traits including ingenuity, working-class populism and the sense that artistic independence trumps career concerns. If North Carolina seems like “The Dayjob State,” it’s because going pro doesn’t change much about the music people play there.

Elsewhere in Step It Up and Go, Watson’s sideman Jack Lawrence spoke to this when he noted that Watson had a very utilitarian view of music. Had Watson been able to see, Lawrence speculated, he probably would have been a mechanic or carpenter who just picked a little on the weekend.

“Ask Doc how he wants to be remembered,” Lawrence said, “and guitar-playing really doesn’t enter into it. He’d rather be remembered just as the good ol’ boy down the road.”
Visit the author’s blog.

The Page 99 Test: Ryan Adams: Losering.

My Book, The Movie: Ryan Adams: Losering.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Niklas Frykman's "The Bloody Flag"

Niklas Frykman is Assistant Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Bloody Flag: Mutiny in the Age of Atlantic Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 is concerned with the aftermath of the 1796 mutiny on the Dutch frigate Jason, a mutiny that probably conforms to what most people think mutinies in the age of sail were like: an unruly crew rising up in the middle of the night, seizing the ship, and sailing it to the nearest port in a blaze of alcohol-fueled glory. In this case, there was also a political dimension, or so Captain Donckum claimed when afterwards he was called upon explain how it was that he had lost control of his men, and with that of one of the Dutch navy’s precious few frigates. The answer was simple, Donckum argued, for his men had not only been a bunch of unreliable “runaways and deserters,” they also had counted among them a good number of counter-revolutionary Orangist traitors, who clearly would stop at nothing to hurt the new Batavian regime, including even outright treason.

A reader who stopped at the bottom of page 99 would be left with the impression that Captain Donckum was right, and that the Jason mutineers, like many other malcontents in the Batavian navy, were driven by an intense hatred for the new revolutionary regime. But in the book I suggest that a close reading and careful contextualization of their politics paints a far more complex and complicated picture than simple reaction. Indeed, on the very next page I demonstrate that it was only a minority of primarily petty officers who professed genuine loyalty to the overthrown regime of Stadtholder William V of Orange, mostly because the revolution had brought to an end the upward trajectory of their careers within the service. Most ordinary seamen, by contrast, had initially embraced the promises of social renewal that came with the revolution, but when the conditions of service in the Batavian navy turned out to be as lousy and exploitative as they had been under the old regime, they turned on their new officers with a violent vengeance.

It was a pattern that repeated itself again and again, first in the French, then in the Dutch, and finally in the British navy. As war consumed the north Atlantic world in the mid-1790s, naval seamen in each navy initially rallied to their country’s cause, but anger and disappointment at the conditions of their service soon triggered waves of shipboard revolt that eventually flowed together into a single, genuinely Atlantic, transnational revolutionary movement at sea. Far from expressing a hope of return to the conditions that prevailed onboard European warships under the old regime, the cosmopolitan mutineers of the 1790s brought together elements of contemporary radicalism with the ancient egalitarian customs of the sea to forge a new form of politics we may think of as revolutionary maritime republicanism. Tracing the rise and decline, and lasting legacy of that political tradition lies at the heart of my recently published book, The Bloody Flag. Page 99, I am sad to say, does not quite capture it.
Learn more about The Bloody Flag at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 16, 2020

Tony Keddie's "Republican Jesus"

Tony Keddie is Assistant Professor of Early Christian History and Literature at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Class and Power in Roman Palestine and Revelations of Ideology.

Keddie applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels, and reported the following:
From page 99:
For all of his disclaimers about not getting involved in politics, America’s favorite crusader [Billy Graham] was a vocal supporter of war for decades—from Korea to Iraq. Graham soothed any presidential or popular Christian anxieties about the injustice of war by depicting military intervention abroad as a strategy for spreading Christian democracy in an increasingly communist world. Graham envisioned the Third World as the site of an apocalyptic struggle between American Christianity and the Soviet Union’s pagan communism. “God may be using Communism as a judgment upon the West,” he warned about North Vietnam.

Graham was more influential than ever during the Nixon presidency. For the first time in history, Graham led a full-blown worship service as part of President Nixon’s inauguration in 1969. He also introduced the first of what would become regular Sunday worship services in the East Room of the White House. The ministers who presided over these services, which were attended by conservative Christian politicians and corporate leaders alike, were hand-picked by Graham to ensure that their politics aligned with his and Nixon’s—that is, that they preached a Jesus who favored Small Government, traditional family values, and whatever other Republican causes came to the fore.
Page 99 of Republican Jesus nicely captures the way that a key figure in the emergence of the American Christian Right, Rev. Billy Graham, used anti-Communist fear-mongering as a tactic to gain support for right-wing politics. It highlights how he contributed to the construction of conservative Christianity and capitalism as God’s antidotes to “pagan stateism”—a boogeyman created to conflate liberal Christians and supporters of the New Deal with communism, fascism, and Nazism abroad. This promotion of Small Government, free market capitalism as the proper and inevitable political expression of Christianity receives critical attention throughout the book. Graham, his allies, and his son Franklin also appear as major influencers in the shaping of right-wing Christian politics throughout the book.

This page also notes that Graham employed a tendentious interpretation of Jesus to bolster his politics, but it does not indicate that much of the book (particularly the second half) is devoted to debunking the Right’s version of Jesus—“Republican Jesus”—on the basis of biblical and ancient historical evidence. Whereas the first half of the book explains who the Republican Jesus is and where he came from (that is, his origins as an interpretive paradigm in the modern era), the second half of the book takes on the task of showing why right-wing influencers most common interpretations of gospel texts are historically and logically problematic. To do so, these chapters restore their cherry-picked texts to their original literary and historical contexts by closely analyzing them in light of their first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman settings.
Learn more about Republican Jesus at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn's "Ars Vitae"

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn is professor of history at Syracuse University. She is the author of a number of essays and books, including Black Neighbors (winner of the Berkshire prize) and Race Experts.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living, and reported the following:
A reader glancing through Ars Vitae (Latin for the art of living) and lingering on page 99 would find a brief introduction to a movement I describe in my second chapter, “A New Stoicism.” At the top of the page a paragraph mentions just a handful of the institutions, websites, and events that signal a resurgence of interest in our times in the ancient school of philosophy of Stoicism, which the chapter goes on to explore. At the bottom of the page, after the subheading “Ancient Stoicism,” a paragraph begins introducing the ancient school and some of its concepts and early luminaries.

Browsers would get a surprisingly accurate sense of the book as a whole through this window onto Stoicism, ancient and modern. Ars Vitae explores the ancient and contemporary versions of five movements or schools of thought—Gnosticism (a religious movement) and the Greco-Roman schools of Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Platonism—treated in each of the five main chapters of the book. By encapsulating the ancient and modern Stoic movements for the purpose of launching Chapter Two on the New Stoicism, page 99 suggests the organization of each of the chapters, which begin by introducing the modern renewal of interest, go back in time to delve into the ancient movement, and come forward again to investigate the new form of the school of thought. This page even suggests the organization of the book itself, which begins with an Introduction describing what I see as a new cultural movement we can discern in both popular culture and scholarly sources today, a kind of new classicism, and then goes back in each chapter to pick up main themes of the ancient schools and forward to assess the significance of the contemporary echoes and reverberations of those schools and, by the Epilogue, the movement as a whole.

This browser’s shortcut reveals a great deal about the book by presenting in miniature the design, conceptualization, and structure of argumentation—of our philosophical adventure, as one reader has described it. For a reader leafing through the volume, page 99 might act as a tiny microcosm of the work as a whole. I hope it, like the Introduction and the introductory sections of each chapter, might pique the reader’s interest with the fascinating signs of a resurgence of interest in ancient Greco-Roman philosophies of eudaemonia, happiness or well-being. I hope these pages might feel like an invitation to explore these schools of thought together via total immersion and partake in an ancient yet enduring conversation about how to live. Such an adventure can allow for deeper explorations of life questions than those of the more fleeting or superficial forms of self-help in our contemporary therapeutic and consumer culture and can help us in these fraught and divisive times to consider more practical and meaningful alternatives.
Learn more about Ars Vitae at the the University of Notre Dame Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 12, 2020

Craig A. Monson's "The Black Widows of the Eternal City"

Craig A. Monson is the Paul Tietjens Professor Emeritus of Music at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of several books, including Nuns Behaving Badly (2010), Divas in the Convent (2012), and Habitual Offenders: A True Tale of Nuns, Prostitutes, and Murderers in 17th-century Italy (2016).

Monson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Black Widows of the Eternal City: The True Story of Rome’s Most Infamous Poisoners, and reported the following:
Page 99:
… Maria continued with a description that precisely matched Giovanna’s in every detail. The pair had simmered the mixture over the fire for about two hours, until they heard the Ave Maria sounding, then let it stand overnight. The next morning Giovanna unsealed the jar, and emptied it into a glass bottle. They threw the dregs from the jar down the privy and simply tossed the jar out into the street.

“A little of the dough from around the jar fell on the floor,” Maria concluded, “and a little cat of mine ate it. The next evening, I found her dead. I skinned her and discovered her flesh had turned tawny red. So I figured the dough had poisoned her.” Another house pet had unwittingly paid the ultimate price to confirm the lethalness of Giovanna’s brew. Significantly, a similar ruddiness had characterized the corpse of Giuseppe Cencietti, the barber of Tor di Nona, and the cadavers of other, more recently departed husbands.

Maria went on to make another eye-opening claim: she suspected Giovanna might even have begun exporting her liquid to the suburbs. Once, when Maria came to visit at Santa Prassede, Giovanna’s current young woman exclaimed, “Don’t you know there’s a woman from Palestrina who’ll pay ten scudi to get some of that liquid to kill her husband?” Giovanna had even enlisted another woman from Palestrina as a runner, to make deliveries: the cartel, it seemed, had continued to expand. From then on Maria could hardly pretend ignorance of the extent of the enterprise, even as she determinedly persisted in presenting herself as an innocent bystander, simply observing it all.

Maria Spinola only revealed her final details about the poison recipe some weeks later, when Stefano Bracchi eventually inquired about her friendship with Gironima Spana. Their acquaintanceship had blossomed almost a decade earlier, during the Jubilee of 1650, when their paths crossed at Santa Maria Maggiore, while both joined the throngs of pilgrims making the rounds of the papal basilicas to garner an indulgence.

In the midst of their pilgrimage, conversation turned from piety to poison. “We chatted about many things, and, in particular, Gironima confided to me that she knew how to make a certain liquid to kill people. When I asked how, she told me she made one type with arsenic and lead and another with cooked eggs, which she said was an oil, just perfect for putting people away. She also said she made one sort with a toad, boiled inside a cooking pot over a slow fire.”

According to Maria, one of Gironima’s concoctions thus contained that prime ingredient of stereotypical witches’ brew in the public imagination:...
Page 99 introduces several of The Black Widows of the Eternal City's recurring motifs, chief among them, the notorious poison that terrified Rome (especially its male residents) after police discovered several widows who had used it to kill their husbands—rumor said no fewer than 500. For centuries writers speculated about the poison’s ingredients, as toxicologists variously suggested drippings from a butchered pig smeared with arsenic, pig slobber, white phosphorous, or strychnine. But the pope kept the transcript of the investigation under lock and key, “so nobody could learn how to make this poisonous potion, with which these cruel murderesses did away with so many.”

Under interrogation, Maria Spinola, one of the five chief protagonists, eventually hanged in Campo de’ Fiori, solves this mystery. Her co-conspirator, Giovanna De Grandis, decocted the lethal elixir from lead and arsenic, acquired from a renegade priest. (Apothecaries refused to sell arsenic to women.)

Maria also describes alternative recipes from Gironima Spana, the case’s most notorious perpetrator, who would eclipse all others in subsequent accounts and appears in many modern compendia of “serial killers.” Maria did not get Gironima’s standard recipe quite right, however: she in fact added antimony to the lead-arsenic mixture, which gave it an extra kick “so that very little does the job.”

Maria’s allegation that Spana stewed up toads must have strengthened her reputation as a witch: toads were commonly recognized as witches’ familiars and a favorite ingredient in their cauldrons (“Toad, that under cold stone / Days and nights has thirty-one / Swelter’d venom sleeping got, / Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!” Macbeth IV, 1).

Maria’s cat was not the only poisoned pet. Animal victims become a leitmotif as poison purveyors and police investigators force the mixture down the throats of dogs and the occasional pig, then sit by to observe the results. Maria’s flayed cat’s inflamed flesh perhaps explains why murdered husbands often “looked better dead than alive.”

Page 99 does not address the book’s chief protagonists, however: the wives of innkeepers, lineners, barbers, and butchers, who turned to Maria, Giovanna, and Gironima for their lethal liquid and whom Spana eclipsed in subsequent accounts. These forgotten, ordinary women are at the center of this story. They represent the 17th-century Roman abused wife, her strength to fight back, her brief success, and her ultimate defeat by powerful men and a society that offered her little recourse.
Learn more about The Black Widows of the Eternal City at the University of Michigan Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Nuns Behaving Badly.

The Page 99 Test: Habitual Offenders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Carl Smith's "Chicago’s Great Fire"

Carl Smith is Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English and American Studies and Professor of History, Emeritus, at Northwestern University. His books include Chicago and the American Literary Imagination, 1880-1920; Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman; The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City; and City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Chicago’s Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test would give the reader a good if not entirely complete sense of Chicago’s Great Fire. As it happens, there is less of my writing on page 99 than on most of the other pages, since more than half of page 99 is occupied by a haunting photograph of a lonely figure amidst the ruins of downtown Chicago [image left; click to enlarge]. The photographer was George N. Barnard, who only a few years earlier had documented the war-ravaged ruins of Atlanta and Charleston. He had moved to Chicago a few months before the fire. But Page 99 is still a good test because this photograph is one of some seventy powerful contemporary images, most from the collections of the Chicago History Museum, that are essential to the book.

My contribution to page 99 discusses the ways in which eyewitnesses to devastated Chicago marveled at how imaginatively suggestive the ruins were. While the city of Chicago was less than forty years old, the fire seemed to invest it almost magically with a history it didn’t have. The blocks and blocks of fallen buildings, “full of the charm of mystery and darkness,” recalled not a raw American, but the faded glories of distant and legendary places of the past. Post-fire Chicago evoked the ruins of ancient Cairo, the Parthenon, and the Colosseum.

While most other pages in the book present a compelling narrative of the titanic fire and the city’s rapid and robust recovery, they resemble this page in that the story is always told through the eyes of the people who experienced the events recounted. The book frames the disaster and rebuilding above all as a human drama. Of the thousands of sources that drive the narrative, the key ones are always the words of those who were there.
Learn more about Chicago’s Great Fire at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Shannon E. Reid & Matthew Valasik's "Alt-Right Gangs: A Hazy Shade of White"

Shannon E. Reid is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Matthew Valasik is Associate Professor of Sociology at Louisiana State University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Alt-Right Gangs: A Hazy Shade of White, and reported the following:
Page 99 places the reader in the middle of a quintessential chapter on understanding the evolution and use of digital technologies (i.e., the Internet, social media, etc.) by the white power movement over the last three decades. Page 99 also examines the emergence of the broader alt-right social movement. The page starts with providing an example of a cloaked website, which intentionally disguises the authorship to conceal a political agenda and acts as a form of propaganda. These cloaked websites are a precursor to today’s “fake news.” As individuals are further removed from an event, either temporally (e.g., the Holocaust, the Civil War, etc.) or spatially, their ability to discern the legitimacy of a website is reduced. This is particularly concerning for youth who may be digitally savvy but lack literacy in critically evaluating media or lack an understanding of racial inequality making them susceptible to cloaked white power websites and providing an entry point for youth into the alt-right rabbit hole.

Page 99 then transitions to talking about an incident in video game journalism referred to as Gamergate. While the events behind Gamergate are tangential to the alt-right, the repercussions of this event are quite substantial for the alt-right in two distinct ways. First, alt-lite provocateurs (e.g., Mike Cernovich, Milo Yiannopoulos) gained notoriety among both the alt-right and manosphere, providing a bridge between the extreme and mainstream. Second, Gamergate greatly influenced the online activism of the alt-right, particularly their online trolling techniques, which mirrored the misogynistic practices of manosphere trolls.

While the Page 99 test does showcase an important element of alt-right gangs, their adeptness in the digital realm, it fails to capture the large argument that the book is setting out to make. The argument is that these white power groups, particularly alt-right gangs, may originate and exists in an online environment, however, their actions do not solely remain in a digital setting but transcend and manifest in the real world. The results of which are often violent in nature. As such, it is necessary to actually think of practical solutions that have been successfully used on similar groups (i.e., street gangs) on how these prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies can be adapted and utilized to combat alt-right gang violence. Overall, the Page 99 test does a mediocre job at introducing browsers to the gist of the book.

Alt-Right Gangs: A Hazy Shade of White provides a concise synthesis of alt-right gangs through an interdisciplinary perspective by engaging with an array of academic literatures to develop a more holistic understanding of these white power groups. It is through this broader perspective that enables one to identify the limits of existing studies and what research is still needed. The overall goal is to provide a foundation, such as a usable definition that is operationalized, for future studies and/ policy initiatives to be able to systematically examine alt-right gangs.
Learn more about Alt-Right Gangs at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Ernest Freeberg's "A Traitor to His Species"

Ernest Freeberg is a distinguished professor of humanities and head of the history department at the University of Tennessee. He has authored three award-winning books, including The Age of Edison.

Freeberg applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Traitor to His Species lands us in the midst of the event that first got me thinking about writing this book—the great horse and mule flu of 1872. That fall a mysterious epizootic disease broke out, first in Toronto and eventually all across the continent, that brought the American economy to the brink of disaster. In one city after another, the horses and mules that were essential to human well-being got sick. About 5 percent died, and most of the rest came down with a debilitating disease that could turn fatal if the animals were forced to work. Whole cities and major industries were forced to shut down, stranded without the partnership with horses. Reviewing the many devastating consequences of this horse plague, on page 99 I explain: “Shipping companies lost small fortunes every day that the disease continued. Wharves all along the Atlantic coast overflowed with boxes, crates, and bales that could not be moved…Perishable goods rotted on the docks….Some shippers ran newspaper notices imploring customers to come pick up their own packages if they could.”

In researching this brief but shocking event, what I have called “America’s First Energy Crisis,” I first encountered Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, the nation’s first animal welfare organization. Using the authority granted him by a law of his own devising, he parked himself in major intersections of New York City, halted trolleys and carts drawn by sick horses, and demanded that the animals be sent back to their stables—thus saving their lives, while inconveniencing many humans who were keenly feeling their dependence on horse power. Since Bergh ultimately became the central character of my book, and is notably absent on Page 99, then I’d have to say that this interesting test fails in this case.

Most of the other pages in the book would tell you this: Bergh was a fascinating character whose defense of animals made him a hero to many, a laughingstock to others, and a pest to those who resented his “meddling” with their right to use animals any way they pleased. Bergh came to the work in 1866, at the age of 53, after decades as a wealthy heir and failed playwright. A sudden conversion to the anti-cruelty cause made him what some called “The Riddle of the 19th Century,” a celebrated reformer who was soon joined by thousands of women and men who formed SPCA organizations across the country. Over two decades in the work, Bergh not only rescued sick horses, but fought against all sorts of animal abuse—from dog fights to elephant acts. His colorful career tells us much about how our relationship to animals has changed for the better, and how much of his campaign against cruelty remains unresolved.
Learn more about A Traitor to His Species at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Age of Edison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Gregory A. Daddis's "Pulp Vietnam"

Gregory A. Daddis is professor and the USS Midway Chair in Modern U.S. Military History at San Diego State University. He is author of Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam.

Daddis applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines, and reported the following:
What were the cultural sources of sexism and misogyny in Cold War America? Did sexual harassment stem, in part, from how women were portrayed in popular culture? When young American soldiers deployed to Vietnam in the mid-1960s, did some of them see sexual violence against Vietnamese women as somehow acceptable given what they were reading as young teenagers?

These were some of the core questions I pondered while reading through scores of Cold War era men’s adventure magazines, what some collectors call the “macho pulps.” These crowd-pleasing periodicals – which monthly sold in the hundreds of thousands – featured catchy titles like Man’s Conquest, Stag, and Adventure for Men. Within the mags’ pages, pulp writers fashioned their manly protagonists as both heroic warriors and sexual conquerors. These were “real men,” defending the nation from the foreign and domestic threats of the Cold War years.

In these same magazines, however, women were reduced to sexual objects that typified mid-twentieth-century sexism. In the pulps, men controlled women, whether in the bedroom or on the battlefield. (The magazines, meanwhile, often portrayed female spies using their bodies as weapons of war and luring unsuspecting American GIs to their demise.)

Take, for instance, an advertisement from Honor House Products promoted in the July 1959 issue of Battle Cry [image left; click to enlarge]. The tag line? “‘Stuffed’ Girl’s Heads.” For only $2.98, pulp readers could purchase a woman’s plastic head – with “saucy glittering eyes, full sensuous mouth and liquid satin complexion” – mounted on a genuine mahogany plaque. Here was a “unique trophy” that offered the chance for “every man to boast of his conquests.” While the ad drew attention to the heads’ life-like appearance, it also bragged that “one of the nicest qualities is that they don’t talk back.”

Such misogynistic representations of women filled the pages of adventure magazines. And yet they were not far, if at all, outside the cultural norms prevalent in the 1950s and early 1960s. While the pulps may seem anachronistic today, they resonated with their core audience – white, working-class men, the same demographic group that made up the bulk of American ranks in the Vietnam War.

Did men’s adventure magazines, and ads like the one I examined on page 99 of Pulp Vietnam, contribute to sexual violence in Vietnam? It’s difficult to prove, though certainly worth exploring. My sense is that the pulps opened up a rhetorical space for readers to think along the lines of sexual conquest, to deem most all women as objects and as opportunities – for sex, for proving one’s manhood, and for demonstrating power in the larger Cold War era.
Learn more about Pulp Vietnam at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test:Westmoreland's War.

The Page 99 Test: Withdrawal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Jane Caputi's "Call Your "Mutha'""

Jane Caputi is Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University. She is the author of The Age of Sex Crime; Gossips, Gorgons and Crones; and Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power and Popular Culture. She has also made two educational documentaries: The Pornography of Everyday Life and Feed the Green: Feminist Voices for the Earth.

Caputi applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Call Your "Mutha'": A Deliberately Dirty-Minded Manifesto for the Earth Mother in the Anthropocene, and reported the following:
The page 99 test works only in part for Call Your “Mutha’” as the book’s structure is not linear. Rather it progresses one way and then flips the script. The book begins by naming the paradigmatic motherfucking (expressed in genocide, femicide, and ecocide) that is the basis of the new geological age, the Anthropocene (Age of Man), and then turns to an avowal of respect and devotion for the Earth, the ultimate “Mutha’” (always placed within quotes to acknowledge my debt to the genius of Black English). The Black oral tradition reports that motherfucker was invented by enslaved children to name the White slavemaster who raped and impregnated their mothers. His abuse, exploitation and commodification of the enslaved women’s productive and reproductive powers is mirrored in the master class’ aim to dominate and exploit Mother Earth (a complex scientific and spiritual concept, particularly in Indigenous traditions). The Anthropocene is the Age of the Motherfucker, with motherfucking understood as “forced sexualized entry into, harm, domination, possession, spirit-breaking, exploitation, extraction, and wasting of another for reasons of power, pleasure, plunder, and profit.”

The page 99 test does work for the first half. There, I discuss the ecological need for limits and quote Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “Good is knowing when to stop.” I contrast this with an “eco-modernist” demand for environmentalists to be more “positive,” to stress prosperity, and no longer rely on verbs like “’stop.” I disagree, concluding that: “words like ‘stop’ and ‘constrain’” are required “to address standard frontier violation, extraction, theft, occupation, trashing and dumping. Respect for the word stop is so necessary because the environmentally abusive culture is at root a rapist one.”

That page does not, though, indicate the theme of the second half of the book, focusing on the intelligence and autonomy of Nature-Earth as the “Mutha’”. As the word motherfucker evolved it developed an alternate meaning of a formidable and indomitable force. I identify a narrative characterizing Africana and Indigenous philosophies, art, popular culture, activist discourse, Afrofuturism and world myth warning that the environmental catastrophes now unfolding are evidence not only of Man’s spectacular destructiveness, but also that the “Mutha’” is turning away no longer sustaining the patterns that allow human existence. Hence, the imperative to call, to invoke, the “Mutha’”.
Learn more about Call Your "Mutha'" at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Adam Slez's "The Making of the Populist Movement"

Adam Slez is Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia, where he joined the faculty in 2013.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Making of the Populist Movement: State, Market, and Party on the Western Frontier, and reported the following:
If a reader were to open The Making of the Populist Movement to page 99, the first thing that they would see is a large graphic depicting the network of connections between South Dakota towns and the owners of the grain elevators used to load crops onto railroad cars. The surrounding text describes how to read the figure and the interpret the results. Insofar as it draws on network-analytic concepts such as tie density and blocks, the language used here is admittedly technical. At the same time, these technical details are also translated into substantive statements that bear on the larger historical argument regarding the origins of electoral Populism in South Dakota. For example, the last full sentence on the page reads, "In general, tie densities tend to be quite low due to the fact that the vast majority of owners are tied to a single place.” This line foreshadows a longer discussion regarding the position of independent elevator owners in a market network help together by owners operating elevators in two or more places.

Does the Page 99 Test work in this case? The test works in the sense that page 99 captures one of the defining elements of the book’s style, as well as one of the book’s main empirical findings. Stylistically speaking, one of things that distinguishes this book from a more traditional narrative history is the use of quantitative data. What the graph on page 99 shows is that the coupling between the railroad corporations and the companies that owned the grain elevators was so strong that you could see the organizing effect of the railroad simply by looking at the connection between towns and elevator owners. This is consistent with the book’s argument that the underlying geography of the market was a byproduct of decisions made by railroad officials who had the power to dictate where market infrastructure would and would not go. This created a situation in which the interests of the railroads and grain buyers came head-to-head with those of the farmers who depended on the market for their livelihood.

For as much as page 99 speaks to key aspects of the book, it is by no means a perfect reflection of the book as a whole. While the use of quantitative data sets the book apart from otherwise similar works, the style of writing seen on page 99 is far from typical. And while the findings reported on this page are critical to the development of the argument, they do not, in and of themselves, reflect the structure of the narrative as a whole. The main argument is that electoral Populism emerged as a response to the expansion of state and market in the American West. The book is structured accordingly, in the sense that the first part of the book examines the expansion of state and market, while the second part of the book examines the subsequent response, focusing in particular on the formation of social movement organizations, regulatory agencies, and political parties. This would not be apparent if you were to take page 99 on its own. Yet page 99 comes just pages before the transition to the second part of the book, at which point the connection between market-building and the Populist response is laid bare in anticipation of what is to come over the course of the next three chapters.
Learn more about The Making of the Populist Movement at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 2, 2020

Julie R. Posselt's "Equity in Science"

Julie R. Posselt is an Associate Professor of higher education in the USC Rossier School of Education and was a 2015-2017 National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation postdoctoral research fellow.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Equity in Science: Representation, Culture, and the Dynamics of Change in Graduate Education, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Equity in Science falls in chapter 5, which is titled, “Inclusive Design and Disciplinary Boundary Work in Applied Physics.” It is part of an extended profile of a powerful young Black man, Joe, working as an administrative staff member in a physics PhD program; in spite of the program having mostly white professors, it had earned a strong, positive reputation for serving Black students.

This reputation wasn’t an accident. On this page and the ones around it, we see how Joe’s presence and leadership enabled both more Black students to enroll and white faculty to learn how to best serve them.

Joe, on this page, helps the program chair understand a Black student's behavior in a closed-door, “heart to heart” conversation. “You know as much as I know that you care about students,” Joe says. "But I don’t think you’re quite getting it.” The chair, to his credit, is not defensive and at the end of the day, responds with gratitude. Joe’s work here is the work of cultural translation, which I define as sustained effort to decode, value, and apply perspectives that are different than the ones into which the mainstream has been socialized.

For illustrating an example of cultural translation, which is a core theme of the book, Equity in Science passes the Page 99 Test.

It also turns out to be a surprisingly good window into the book’s intellectual approach. The book presents a comparative case study of academic organizations that have been working to become more inclusive. I use these methods to build theory about institutional change toward equity in science, and page 99 presents both the examples described above as well as the following excerpt:
It is worth pausing here to ask why cultural translation is necessary. Decades of research indicate that it is not uncommon for white faculty to hold different expectations from doctoral students of color about what constitutes good mentoring and student performance, especially surrounding notions of rigor and support. These expectations are just one of many areas in science and graduate education where symbolic and social boundaries meeting can generate misunderstanding and friction…. Until the academic community institutionalizes a shared belief that ‘good science’ involves awareness of the ways that subject matter and social dynamics are entangled, those at the core of the academic community need cultural translators: people who make plain the social dynamics hiding in plain sight.
It was my hope in centering Joe’s role within the program to center the power and necessity of the invisible labor that people of color engage in daily without recognition or compensation. Case after case, I saw in my research -- and we can see our own workplaces daily-- how Black lives matter to the wellbeing of organizations. If we want a world in which protests and social disruption are unnecessary, white folks need to keep learning and provide for one another the cultural translation that is usually led by those who also bear the costs of interpersonal and institutional racism.
Learn more about Equity in Science at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tahseen Shams's "Here, There, and Elsewhere"

Tahseen Shams is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Toronto - St. George, and the 2020-21 Bissell-Heyd Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the United States of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Here, There, and Elsewhere: The Making of Immigrant Identities in a Globalized World, and reported the following:
Here, There, and Elsewhere is about how, contrary to common perception, immigrants’ identities are shaped by geopolitics not just in the immigrant sending and receiving countries but also in those places beyond the homeland and hostland—places I conceptualize as “elsewhere.” Based on ethnographic data, in-depth interviews, and analysis of social media activities of South Asian Muslim Americans, it shows that different dimensions of these immigrants’ “Muslim” identity category tie them to different “elsewhere” contexts, such as those in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. But “elsewhere” does not mean everywhere. A place beyond the homeland and hostland by itself is not important to the immigrants’ identities. Just how a faraway foreign land becomes salient to the immigrants’ sense of self depends on an interplay of global hierarchies, homeland politics, and hostland dynamics.

Page 99 picks up this very thread to summarize how: 1) “elsewhere” contexts, by interacting with hostland dynamics, add global dimensions to immigrants’ homeland ties; and 2) how the homeland’s historic and ongoing sociopolitics make certain places more salient as “elsewheres” than others in the immigrants’ worldviews. The summary, which concludes Chapter 3, “Global Dimensions of Homeland Ties,” also reflects the dynamism of the elsewhere framework. It says:
“Homelands are not geopolitically static or isolated once their people leave for the United States. South Asia has long maintained relationships with the “elsewhere” Middle East, the effects of which have influenced various aspects of society in the immigrants’ homelands, including politics and religious life. These interconnections with “elsewhere” have come to affect immigrants by shaping not only their national and Muslim identities but also the ways they are perceived by the larger host society. In addition, the subcontinent’s past at the hands of British colonizers is still salient in the worldview of South Asians, including those who have immigrated to the West. The remnants of these countries’ colonized past are deeply rooted in their language, politics, religious life, and community-building. South Asian Muslim Americans are aware of the continuing conflicts between the West and the Muslim world. Their perceptions of these geopolitical conflicts shape how these immigrants navigate their Muslim-ness in the hostland, collectively locate themselves at the global level, and bring their worldview into their political engagements. These understandings of homeland-“elsewhere” dynamics are critical to getting a clear picture of the ways in which immigrants function as vectors of globalized ideas and perceptions…”
This paragraph also presents a crucial piece of the book’s central arguments—that immigrants are “vectors of globalization” who both produce and experience the interconnectedness of societies, not only the societies of origin and destination, but also, the societies beyond. Migration Studies, as a result of its focus on the dynamics exclusively between the sending and receiving countries, largely overlooks the impact of places beyond the homeland-hostland paradigm and consequently fails to see how “elsewhere” and the events transpiring them shape immigrants’ lives and identities. My book extends the scholarship by systematically showing how places beyond the homeland and hostland—“elsewhere”—shape how immigrants view themselves—i.e. self-identification with “elsewhere”; and how these places shape how others in the hostland view these immigrants—i.e., identification of immigrants by others in relation to “elsewhere.”

From this perspective, the page 99 test works for my book fairly well! But I encourage readers to read the rest of the pages too, as they show in other ways just how meaningful yet overlooked “elsewhere” is to the lives of both immigrants and of those around them.
Visit Tahseen Shams's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Aaron Shaheen's "Great War Prostheses in American Literature and Culture"

Aaron Shaheen is the George C. Connor Professor of American Literature at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he teaches courses in American modernism. His previous book, Androgynous Democracy: Modern American Literature and the Dual-Sexed Body Politic, was published in 2010. He has published articles in PMLA, Modernism/modernity, Modern Fiction Studies, and a number of other journals.

Shaheen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Great War Prostheses in American Literature and Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 opens to the introductory section of a chapter that analyzes Laurence Stallings’s long-forgotten 1924 novel Plumes and, to a lesser extent, Stallings's screenplay for the commercially successful 1925 war film The Big Parade. I note that the novel is largely autobiographical, detailing the ways in which both author and main character chose a bone graft and heavy brace to save a wounded leg that would have been better off amputated and supplemented by a prosthesis. I then explain that the ensuing pages of the chapter analyze “not only the potency of the spirit that possesses men to fight wars, but also the spirit that the novel finds infecting them once they are wounded.”

Anticipating that many of my readers will have little, if any, familiarity with Plumes, the summary that constitutes the bulk of page 99 makes only fleeting gestures toward my book’s larger thrust, which is to track the ways in which Great War-era prostheses were designed to embody the spirit or personality of their wearers. This prosthetic vision could be found not only in novels and films, but also government rehabilitation publications, and even the prosthetic masks of a classically trained sculptor. Readers of page 99 would have to infer these larger dimensions of the book, but I certainly wouldn’t fault them if they couldn’t.

Still, I think page 99 can whet readers’ appetites, not only for my book, but for Stallings’s wonderful novel, as well as for The Big Parade, to which the novel is often compared. The prosthetic devices worn by veteran amputees of recent wars may not look much like those worn by amputees of the Great War; but this book attempts to show that our current-day desire to make artificial limbs transcend their cumbersome materiality stretches back over 100 years. Just as important, the book contends that even though organized religion took a big hit in the age of total war and mechanized weaponry, the human impulse to seek out forms of spiritual transcendence persisted, especially in the realm of medical technology and the various media that depicted it.
Learn more about Great War Prostheses in American Literature and Culture at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Lorri Glover's "Eliza Lucas Pinckney"

Lorri Glover is the John Francis Bannon Endowed Chair in the Department of History at Saint Louis University. She has written extensively about early America, including Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries.

Glover applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eliza Lucas Pinckney: An Independent Woman in the Age of Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eliza Lucas Pinckney describes the opulent house where Eliza lived in the 1740s, in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Hers was the largest, most elegant private residence in the city. When she left for England in 1753, successive royal governors rented the East Bay mansion, seeing it as a suitable home for the most powerful person in the colony. The page, while essential to illuminating Eliza’s lifestyle, does not capture the heart of the book—just as the lavish home did not capture Eliza’s heart. Part of page 99 reads: “Eliza’s education and personality made her quite adept at the role of refined lady. She acted her part. But sometimes she found it all a bit boring in comparison to botanical experiments.... Though she resided in the most majestic house in Charleston, Eliza’s mind, as a descendant explained, ‘does not seem to have dwelt on furniture or bric-a-brac’.”

The chapter that includes page 99 also covers an outlying decade of Eliza’s life: when she was filling more traditionally “female” roles as a wife and mother. Most of the rest of her adult life—the years before she married and the decades after she became a widow—Eliza was a quintessential planter-patriarch. We are unaccustomed to imagining colonial women as commercial planters, much less patriarchs. But Eliza met the responsibilities, exercised the racial power, and enjoyed the community authority that came with the role. She was, long before the Revolutionary War, proudly independent. “There is,” she said as a still-young widow in the 1750s, “no body to call me to account.” She bought that autonomy through brutal enslavement of people of African descent.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney recovers the life of an audacious agricultural innovator, a boundlessly curious Atlantic wayfarer, a ruthless enslaver, and savvy business entrepreneur who was also a woman. She kept a lifetime of writings, in which she was incredibly frank and reflective. Readers of the biography can, I hope, see in a new light the tumultuous unfolding of the Age of Revolution and better understand the far-reaching ambitions and wide-ranging roles of eighteenth-century women.
Learn more about the book and author at Lorri Glover's website.

The Page 99 Test: Founders as Fathers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Derek W. Black's "Schoolhouse Burning"

Derek W. Black is a Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law and the Ernest F. Hollings Chair in Constitutional Law. He is one of the nation’s foremost experts in education law and policy. He offers expert witness testimony in school funding, voucher, and federal policy litigation and his research is routinely cited in the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He is also a regular commentator in popular media.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy discusses the challenges of establishing school systems in the South following the Civil War and emphasizes the freedmen’s role in overcoming those challenges. I write, “Having opened the schoolhouse door and all that it promised in terms of citizenship and democracy, Congress dared not close it. The freedmen, among others, would not tolerate it. . . . They, more than anyone, fully appreciated that transitioning to a permanent education system was crucial to their future place in the world.” The remainder of the page discusses how African Americans began to organize and demand the constitutional right to education.

This glimpse into the post-War period gives readers a good sense of the book’s overall themes. It reveals how Congress and the Freedmen saw education, citizenship, and democracy as tightly interconnected. It also reveals that America’s evolution toward a more perfect union has always involved struggle. A system of public schools came into being because African Americans fought for it.

A reader, however, might mistake the book as limited to the Civil War. The book, instead, covers the nation’s education and democratic history from founding to today, using our historical values to evaluate current policies.

But if readers were going to land in one historical period, the immediate aftermath of the war would be the one I would choose for them. Jim Crow segregation largely erased or whitewashed the freedmen’s pivotal role in constitutionalizing public education. So the basic telling of this story is important and eye-opening. I believe it will force a lot of readers to rethink what they “know.”

The freedmen’s pursuit of education is also emotional, so much so that it regularly caught me off guard. I found and was able to tell of slaves’ and freedmen’s very first encounters with education and what it meant to them. The stories often felt like something pulled from a Hollywood script rather than diaries and journals. The importance of education can seem overblown today, but the freedmen’s experience dispels that notion.

Finally, the post-war period is the most constitutionally significant in our history. It literally reframed our state and federal democracies and the right to education, serving as an anchor for the book’s thesis.
Visit Derek W. Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 25, 2020

Michael J. Schreffler's "Cuzco"

Michael J. Schreffler is associate professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Design at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Cuzco: Incas, Spaniards, and the Making of a Colonial City, and reported the following:
I can't help but wonder if the designer of my book knew about the observation attributed to Ford Madox Ford, because the photograph and accompanying text on page 99 are surprisingly effective in encapsulating the themes of the book. The photo shows a trio of massive undulating stone walls rising on a hilltop above Cuzco, a city situated more than 11,000 feet (3353 m) above sea level in the Andes of Peru. Cuzco was the sacred center and capital of the Inca Empire, which by the early-sixteenth century extended from Quito (Ecuador), in the north, to Santiago (Chile) in the south. It housed palace compounds for the Inca rulers and their kin, festival halls and plazas, and a temple dedicated to a solar deity. The walls in the photograph form part of a complex known as Sacsahuaman, whose relationship to the city it overlooks remains the subject of debate. Francisco Pizarro and the Spaniards he led in the invasion and conquest of Inca Peru (1533-34) called it a fortress, a designation that has shaped understandings of the site to today.

The text beneath the photograph on page 99 considers why the Spanish identified Sacsahuaman and other works of Inca architecture they encountered as fortresses. Pizarro and many of his followers had spent their earlier years in Spain, where towns overshadowed by hilltop fortresses took shape throughout Castile in the wake of the "reconquista," the fall of the kingdoms of Islamic Iberia to the forces of Christian kings. The hilltop fortresses built for caliphs became the castles of feudal lords and royal governors, a transformation demonstrated most famously by the Alhambra, the Nasrid dynasty's sprawling citadel in Granada taken in 1492 by the armies of Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs. For the Spanish, the Inca city and its hilltop fortress constituted a coherent urban form that was eminently suitable for adaptation as a colonial town. Other parts of the city, too, seemed familiar. At the foundation of Spanish Cuzco in 1534, Pizarro appropriated the Inca plaza as a plaza mayor, an adjacent festival hall as a church, and palaces and temples throughout the city as residences for the first Spanish settlers. Unlike the case of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, where widespread destruction preceded the establishment and construction of colonial Mexico City, the initial transformation of Inca Cuzco to Spanish Cuzco occurred through ritual, writing, and speech. The Spanish would soon come to realize, however, that the infrastructure of the Inca capital, which for many Andean men and women embodied aspects of Inca sacred history, was more resistant to adaptation than they had imagined.
Learn more about Cuzco at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Benno Weiner's "The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier"

Benno Weiner is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University and co-editor of Conflicting Memories.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Concerned that elites often expressed enthusiasm but harbored anxieties, the provincial directive added that propaganda needed to be carried out first among indigenous Tibetan leaders. Having secured their support ‘in action’ as well as ‘in words,’ ordinary herdsmen would also develop faith in the [Chinese Communist]Party. By paying close attention to propaganda work, assigning local leaders to appropriate positions with real responsibility, and consulting with them in good faith, provincial leaders insisted, “We can win over the majority and minimize resistance.”
When the Chinese Communist Party marched into the Sino-Tibetan borderlands of Amdo in late-Summer 1949, its leadership was painfully aware that it lacked a pre-existing presence in the region, could count on few friends, and had only a rudimentary understanding of the region’s demographic, economic, or sociopolitical makeup. Given these obstacles, obtaining the cooperation of indigenous Tibetan, Mongol and Muslim elites was considered absolutely vital. Page 99 is part of the introduction to a chapter focusing on these relationships. It is not the sexiest chapter. There are no armed confrontations between the state and local Tibetan communities, for example. Instead, there are seemingly endless meetings—to which Tibetan headmen rarely show up on time, if they show up at all. While a browser who opened the book directly to page 99 would be hard pressed to grasp its scope, the issues that are introduced are crucial for understanding the CCP’s early and ultimately failed efforts to “gradually,” voluntarily,” and “peacefully” integrate the Tibetan frontier into the new Communist state and nation.

The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier argues that the CCP’s goal in 1950s Amdo and other ethnocultural borderland regions was not just to construct a state, but to create a nation. While the former might have been accomplished through force, the latter required the construction of narratives and policies capable of convincing Amdo’s inhabitants of their membership in a wider political community. For this reason, the CCP employed a strategy known as the United Front. In short, this referred to a transitional period during which class struggle would be deemphasized in favor of forming alliances with the region’s religious and secular leaderships. As outlined in the quote above, the idea was that through the charisma and authority these people possessed, the Party would be able to implement its progressive program while gaining direct access to the masses. Eventually, the fruits of these policies would convince the masses to request full political integration and the transformation to socialism. At that point, the period of the United Front would draw to its peaceful conclusion.

As I note on page 99, however, the CCP’s program was riddled with “ambivalences and tensions embedded in a system that combines centralized political power with meaningful popular participation.” First, it relied on indigenous elites to create the conditions for their eventual elimination as a privileged class. Second, although the United Front was meant to operate through “consultation” rather than compulsion, power relationships between the CCP and society ensured that both decision making and coercive capacities were always in the hands of Party elites. This came to head in 1958 when the United Front was abandoned in favor of immediate, forced collectivization. This led to large-scale rebellion, which was brutally put down with tens of thousands arrested and many thousands killed. Amdo and the rest of the Tibetan Plateau were integrated through overwhelming and often indiscriminate use of state violence, a violence that persists in the memories of Amdo Tibetans and others. Six decades later, history confirms that Party leaders had been correct about one thing: while ethnocultural violence can be an effective tool of state making, rarely is it a successful means of nation building.
Learn more about The Chinese Revolution on the Tibetan Frontier at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Jack Meng-Tat Chia's "Monks in Motion"

Jack Meng-Tat Chia is Assistant Professor of History and Religious Studies at the National University of Singapore. His research focuses on Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia, Buddhist modernism, Chinese popular religion, and Southeast Asia-China interactions.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Monks in Motion: Buddhism and Modernity across the South China Sea, and reported the following:
Monks in Motion tells the story of Chinese Buddhist migration in the twentieth century. It explores the connected history of Buddhist communities in China and maritime Southeast Asia through the lives and careers of three prominent monks: Chuk Mor (Zhumo, 1913–2002), Yen Pei (Yanpei, 1917–1996), and Ashin Jinarakkhita (Tizheng, 1923–2002). In this book, I coin the term “South China Sea Buddhism” to refer to the forms of Buddhism in maritime Southeast Asia—which use Mandarin Chinese, Southern Chinese dialects, and Southeast Asian languages in their liturgy and scriptures—that have emerged out of connections across the South China Sea.

Page 99 of Monks in Motion falls in Chapter 3, “Yen Pei: Humanistic Buddhism in the Chinese Diaspora.” This chapter of the book introduces readers into Yen Pei’s religious career, offering a window into larger and more complex dynamics of Chinese migration and transregional Buddhist circulations in the South China Sea, during the second half of the twentieth century. On page 99, Yen Pei had just migrated to Singapore and assumed the abbacy of Leng Foong Bodhi Institute in 1964. I explain why Yen Pei saw an urgent need to reform and restructure his temple:
… Mahāyāna Buddhism as practiced by the Chinese majority in Singapore was “mainly ritualistic.” This was because the religious activities in Chinese Buddhist monasteries and temples were limited to lighting joss sticks and the chanting of scriptures. Ong also notes that most Buddhists visited temples to seek blessings and recite the sutra, but they had little knowledge and understanding of the Buddhist doctrines. Furthermore, Buddhist temples and organizations organized few Dharma lectures and propagation events. Although many Chinese Buddhist monasteries had resident monks, many of them were ritual specialists rather than Dharma teachers. In addition, Ong notes that the lack of suitable religious spaces could also be attributed to the dearth of Dharma propagation activities.
In essence, page 99 pretty well sums up the developing situation of Buddhism in a newly independent Singapore and sets the stage for deeper discussion on Yen Pei’s career. The following pages of this chapter examine Yen Pei’s Singapore career in two phases: the first as the abbot of Leng Foong Bodhi Institute (which he later renamed as Leng Foong Prajna Auditorium) from 1964 to 1979, and subsequently, as a social activist and founding chairman of the Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services from 1980 to his death in 1996. Throughout his career in Singapore, Yen Pei promoted ideas of Humanistic Buddhism which began in China during the Republican period, brought over to Taiwan, and later transplanted to Singapore.

Going beyond page 99, the book demonstrates how Chinese migration contributed to the spread of Buddhism and establishment of new Buddhist institutions in maritime Southeast Asia. As I write on page 11: “Chinese migration and the spread of Buddhism cannot be understood in isolation, and each monk is treated as a case study to show different aspects of Buddhism in particular locations. These three cases do offer a range of diversity by which to demonstrate the multifaceted nature of South China Sea Buddhism.”

Yet, there remains much to learn about patterns of Buddhist circulations in the South China Sea and the ways in which modernist Buddhist ideas overlapped with, and perhaps, facilitated one another. I hope as readers learn about Yen Pei and the other monks in Monks in Motion, they will look and re-look at the connected histories of Buddhist communities in this region with fresh eyes—More stories of South China Sea Buddhism remain to be told.
Visit Jack Meng-Tat Chia's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 21, 2020

Imraan Coovadia's "Revolution and Non-Violence in Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela"

Imraan Coovadia is a writer and the director of the writing programme at the University of Cape Town. He has written a number of novels, essays, and critical works on authors from Adam Smith and George Eliot to V.S. Naipaul and Vladimir Nabokov.

Coovadia applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Revolution and Non-Violence in Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela, and reported the following:
From page 99 (without footnotes):
Several insights in this passage attracted Gandhi’s attention. First was the out-of-date description of a ‘commercial company’ as the agent of empire, a commonplace about the subcontinent before the 1858 assertion of royal power over the East India Company after the previous year’s mutiny. Gandhi interpreted Tolstoy’s description to mean a mercantile policy imposed for the benefit of the centre. Then there was the disproportion in numbers which Tolstoy observed (‘a nation comprising two hundred millions’ versus ‘thirty thousand’). Next came the unexpected and pleasing comparison of national characters (‘weak and ordinary people’ versus ‘vigorous, clever, capable, and freedom-loving people’).

Taken together, these directed Tolstoy’s verdict that ‘the Indians have enslaved themselves’. It would be echoed in Hind Swaraj: ‘The English have not taken India; we have given it to them.’ The argument suggested that imperial power could be undermined by a withdrawal of cooperation, as recommended in The Kingdom of God, but experience showed the limitations of the proposal. The relative durability of the empire led to fruitful speculation on Gandhi’s part as to how the cooperation of the dominated was secured and what the process of decolonization would involve.

The literary device employed in the passage is the one long associated with the style of Tolstoy: defamiliarization. Defamiliarization, or estrangement, reveals an apparently ordinary state of affairs as extraordinary, producing wonder or horror at some circumstance which has been hidden in plain view. Custom, habit, tradition, and ideology conceal themselves by the fact of long familiarity, requiring the application of estrangement to be raised to consciousness.

Victor Shklovsky, the Russian Formalist critic, placed Tolstoy at the centre of his investigations into the nature of literary discourse, while identifying defamiliarization or estrangement as the structuring element of imaginative texts. For Shklovsky, defamiliarization is the essence of literature: ‘Defamiliarization [ostranenie] of that which is or has become familiar or taken for granted, hence automatically perceived, is the basic function of all literary devices’ (emphasis added).
I think this page gives browsers a fair idea about the book's contents. The book has to do with the connections between Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela--how they related to each other, how they tried to understand the world around them, and how they connected our perceptions to the realities of politics. It also has to do with the connection between radical politics and reading.

But really this is a book about the single most important theme of this year: non-violence and the creation of a non-violent relationship between the people and the state. It is about three leaders, who were very familiar with the use of violence, who turned against it and spent their lives trying to reduce violence and antagonism (this is an interesting paradox not just in the case of Mandela, who actually set up an organisation for guerrilla warfare, but also for Gandhi, who served in the armed forces of the British empire, and Tolstoy, who was a lieutenant in the artillery). It's a book about Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela as readers as well as writers (of books, memoirs, stories, letters, and speeches). And writing it was one of the most surprising experiences of my life as I came to appreciate how deep the thinking and feeling of these three revolutionaries went.
Learn more about Revolution and Non-Violence in Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Mandela at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Erica Wright's "Snake"

Erica Wright's essay collection Snake was recently released as part of Bloomsbury's Object Lessons series. Her latest crime novel Famous in Cedarville received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. She is the author of three previous novels including The Red Chameleon, which was one of O, The Oprah Magazine's Best Books of Summer 2014. Her poetry collections are Instructions for Killing the Jackal and All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned.

Wright applied the “Page 99 Test” to Snake and reported the following:
From page 99:
All of which is to say, nature has a better handle on its business than humans, but that doesn’t stop us from meddling. […] Like birds, reptiles can also redistribute seed and are a food source themselves. If that doesn’t turn your head, there are plenty of nonvenomous snakes that kill and eat the venomous ones. In North America, we have the indigos and the kingsnakes. In South America, there’s the bona fide assassin the mussurana that dines on vipers. (The mussurana is technically venomous, but harmless to humans.) Snakes’ potential for advancing life-saving drugs seems endless.
The short answer is yes, page 99 is a pretty good representation of the book as a whole. This excerpt falls in the last essay where I make a final plea for why the snake should be appreciated rather than feared. There are always unforeseen consequences when messing with ecosystems. Consider the python invasion of the Everglades. (Not for nothing, invasive plant species are doing just as much damage—if not more—and receiving a lot fewer headlines.) In this chapter I discuss the owner of a dog kennel in Florida who killed the snakes he found in his facility only for the place to be invaded by rats. It took years and thousands of dollars to fix the problem.

Also, researchers learn so much from snakes. Not only does venom have a wide variety of medicinal uses (and is being explored as a treatment option for diseases ranging from cancer to muscular dystrophy), but snake movement is currently being studied in hopes of improving search-and-rescue robotics. The Georgia Tech Complex Rheology and Biomechanics (CRAB) Lab studies sidewinders and western shovelnose snakes for their ability to navigate tricky terrains.

Page 99 also hints at a theme I explore throughout the book: humans are a lot more dangerous than snakes.
Visit Erica Wright's website.

My Book, The Movie: Famous in Cedarville.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 19, 2020

James R. Skillen's "This Land is My Land"

James R. Skillen is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Calvin University. He teaches at the intersection of environmental history, law, and science, including regular field courses on federal lands in California, Nevada, and Oregon. He is author of The Nation's Largest Landlord: The Bureau of Land Management in the American West and Federal Ecosystem Management: Its Rise, Fall, and Afterlife.

Skillen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, This Land is My Land: Rebellion in the West, and reported the following:
When readers turn to page 99 in This Land Is My Land: Rebellion in the West, they find a map of federal lands in Catron County, New Mexico. The county is 4.5 million acres, roughly the size of New Jersey, with a current population of around 3,500. The federal government owns and manages about three quarters of the county and pays no property tax, so federal management decisions about logging and grazing are critical to the county’s economy.

The test works remarkably well in this case. Page 99 has one of eight maps that I included in the book, and these maps capture fully half of book’s broader story.

Geographer John Wright once wrote that land tenure is the spatial musculature of the American West, “and places are best seen as shifting stages where the exercise of power and resistance to it vie for dominance.” The distinctive character of the West stems from the fact that the federal government owns roughly half of all land in the eleven western states and Alaska, which means that land use decisions are public and overtly political. Legal title to these lands may be clear, but the meaning of federal ownership and management is hotly contested, particularly by those who have mixed their labor with the land. This Land Is My Land tells the story of public land conflicts over the last forty years, as older claims to these lands have been challenged by new public values.

What page 99 does not capture, though, is the broader context of these conflicts. I explain how “sagebrush rebellions” shifted from regional protests, waged by westerners with a material interest in federal lands, to a national protest against federal authority itself, waged by a growing infrastructure of conservative think tanks, foundations, law firms, and politicians. And that shift is a microcosm of the politics that elected Donald Trump president in 2016 and may reelect him in 2020.
Learn more about This Land is My Land at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 18, 2020

Mary Rizzo's "Come and Be Shocked"

Mary Rizzo is a writer and educator specializing in modern U.S. cultural history, urban studies, public humanities, and digital humanities.

Her book, Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire, examines battles over the image of Baltimore by famous and infamous artists and city agencies trying to woo tourists and residents, showing how culture shapes cities and vice versa.

Rizzo applied the “Page 99 Test” to Come and Be Shocked and reported the following:
Page 99 of Come and Be Shocked: Baltimore Beyond John Waters and The Wire focuses on one of my research favorite finds for this book about cultural representations of Baltimore. Chicory magazine was a poetry and arts magazine published from 1966-1983 by the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Funded by the War on Poverty, Chicory published the unedited writing of black working-class and poor residents. As this page suggests, it had multiple audiences. For white liberals, Chicory offered a peak into the ghetto and was intended to channel rioutous impulses into writing during an era of civil unrest. Black authors, however, also used its pages to offer, “counternarratives to sociological theories like the culture of poverty and to urban and human renewal…[and] critique the institutions of the state,” including the police. Chicory, which has been digitized, is as relevant now as it was then as an indicator of debates in the black community.

While I love this chapter on Chicory, readers would get a distorted view of the book from it. They might expect that most of the book is about grassroots cultural production by people of color. While there are other examples, sadly, they were difficult to find. White writers, filmmakers, and other artists dominate the representation of Baltimore, even though it has been a black majority city for decades. Readers are more likely familiar with high-profile representations of the city like John Waters’ movies (including three iterations of Hairspray) and David Simon’s TV shows, Homicide and The Wire. I struggled to find black people representing their city, scouring sources and archives, not because they weren’t making them, but because they were not given the funding and distribution of Waters or Simon. In addition to Chicory, I discuss Baltimore club music, a sexually-explicit dance music pioneered by African American producers and the novel Poor, Black and In Real Trouble by Jerome Dyson Wright, and other examples of urban fiction, an often-disparaged literary genre written by African Americans that tells stories of drug dealers, sex workers, and street life. What these few examples show is not a lack of cultural production by African Americans in Baltimore but how the residential segregation of Baltimore into the “two Baltimores,” as Lawrence Brown and others have said, has shaped cultural representations of the city as well.
Visit Mary Rizzo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue