Saturday, January 30, 2021

Ellen Lamont's "The Mating Game"

Ellen Lamont is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her 2020 book, The Mating Game: How Gender Still Shapes How We Date, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Mating Game: How Gender Still Shapes How We Date drops in on heterosexual men discussing the logistics of the marriage proposal. More specifically, is it okay for women to propose to men and would it bother them if a woman proposed? Most claimed no. They viewed themselves as egalitarian men, open to a relationship with feminist women. As Brad said, "I'd be open to being proposed to. Again, that would just reaffirm the type of woman I'm attracted to - strong, independent - so yeah, I'm open to it." Mostly though, we see that while they may be open to this idea in theory, they still expected to be the ones to propose marriage. They assumed most women were very eager to get married, saw themselves as potentially more reluctant or slower to commit, and so they took on the role of moving the relationship forward.

Page 99 reflects the key argument of the book, but I think readers would have trouble understanding how without more context. The Mating Game is about why, in spite of massive transformations in the gender system and increasing desire for egalitarian relationships, heterosexual young adults continue to date in ways that reinforce gender inequality. One of the key findings is that although young adults claim to want and support gender equality, they still view men and women as fundamentally different. As shown on page 99, most view women as more interested in long term commitment and men as more interested in casual sex. Interestingly, this isn't the case among the people I interviewed. But this narrative is so pervasive - and consistently reinforced through popular media, self-help resources, and even friends - that people buy into it even when it doesn't reflect their own feelings or experiences. Page 99 gets at this tension between stated desires and actual practices as young adults struggle to reconcile egalitarian goals with conventional expectations for dating and relationship building.

But the Page 99 Test does miss another important part of The Mating Game. The book is not only a comparison of how heterosexual women and men navigate dating and courtship, but also compares heterosexual to LGBQ young adults. LGBQ young adults are explicitly challenging gendered dating practices and are forming more equal relationships as a result. This group demonstrates the potential in reimagining romance in ways that do not rely on tired gendered tropes.
Visit Ellen Lamont's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Rachel Blum's "How the Tea Party Captured the GOP"

Rachel M. Blum is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How the Tea Party Captured the GOP: Insurgent Factions in American Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of the book’s concluding chapter: “When Factions Take Over Parties.” Two quotes serve as epigraphs. The first is from Federalist 10 (“There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.”), and the second is from political philosopher Hannah Arendt (“The real question to ask is: what will we lose if we win?”) The two paragraphs of text that follow juxtapose the two general perspectives that I encountered in my research: one that took the Tea Party seriously, and one that did not.

Page 99 performs very well as a single-page summary of the book. It introduces the question that motivates the concluding chapter: What do factions (and parties) lose when factions win? Each of the chapters of the book considers a question about factions in the U.S. party system, ranging from what factions are to how factions are structured. With this empirical foundation established, the concluding chapter explores the tradeoffs between the benefits of factions (e.g., providing avenues for dissent in a two-party system), and the costs (e.g., pushing a party to the extremes, causing chaos in nominations).

The two paragraphs of text leave the reader with a brief summary of the many interviews and conversations I had with Tea Party activists and critics, highlighting the depth of my research. They also invite the reader to consider their own perspective on the Tea Party. Do they regard it as a political force to be reckoned with? Or do they write it off as an awkward episode? These questions grow timelier by the day, as we continue to witness the impact a faction can have on the country as a whole when it seizes the reins of power from one of the two major parties. The Tea Party was not powerful enough on its own to run a successful presidential candidacy or influence policymakers. But through a process of strategically undermining the Republican party in downstream elections and co-opting its organizational machinery, the Tea Party was able to shake its host party—and the country—to its core.
Visit Rachel Blum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

James E. Mueller's "Ambitious Honor"

James E. Mueller is Professor of Journalism at the University of North Texas. A veteran reporter himself, he is the author of Towel Snapping the Press: Bush's Journey from Locker-Room Antics to Message Control and Tag Teaming the Press: How Bill and Hillary Clinton Work Together to Handle the Press.

Mueller applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Ambitious Honor: George Armstrong Custer's Life of Service and Lust for Fame, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins with a quote from a letter Custer wrote to his wife, Libbie. Custer told her that the newspapers are praising him, but the recognition is only important to him because it would make her proud. Page 99 then quotes a newspaper story that paints a florid word picture of Custer’s “golden locks” and cavalier-type uniform: “Whenever he orders a charge, he always leads in person, and bursts upon the enemy with a yell equal to that of any of the Rocky Mountain aborigines.” The page quickly segues into an account of Custer in action at the beginning of the 1864 battle of Trevilian Station, a fight in which his command charged excitedly to capture a Rebel baggage train but was in turn surrounded by the enemy, foreshadowing what would happen to him at his famous Last Stand in 1876. Page 99 ends with Custer determined to fight his way out of the trap.

The test works fairly well because page 99 includes a mix of press coverage, Custer’s attitude toward his celebrity, and a historical account of his actions in the battle, including a quote from his official report. The book relies heavily on Custer’s own writings—including letters, newspaper and magazine articles, and his official reports—to demonstrate that he was an imaginative, engaging writer who had the soul of an artist and a passion to lose himself completely in whatever he was doing at the moment. Page 99 shows that he was aware of his own celebrity and knew how to cultivate it. It shows his passion for the great love affair he had with his wife. It shows his enthusiasm sometimes got him in trouble.

Other passages of the book explain these themes more explicitly, but page 99 gives an impression of what the book is about.
Learn more about Ambitious Honor at the University of Oklahoma Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Michael Brenes's "For Might and Right"

Michael Brenes is Associate Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and Lecturer in History at Yale University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, For Might and Right: Cold War Defense Spending and the Remaking of American Democracy, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
Some Cold War Democrats in Washington, D.C., also fought aggressively to defeat the [Limited Test Ban] treaty. Through their control of the Senate Preparedness Investigating Committee— a committee organized with the purpose of increasing military spending— Democratic Senator John Stennis from Mississippi and Thurmond held hearings where men like the hawkish General Curtis Lemay, who had close ties to the American Security Council, testified against the treaty. But the LTBT was approved in September 1963 by a Senate vote of 80–19, after being backed by considerable public support. The LTBT was unable to achieve a sustained détente between the Soviet Union and the United States during the 1960s, but it was a milestone in the Cold War. The treaty was the first major accord between the two super-powers in the postwar era whose intent was to ameliorate the arms race. For these reasons, the treaty’s opponents viewed its ratification as the beginning of a process that would culminate with a communist takeover of the United States.
Page 99 details the legislative outcome following the debate in the U.S. Congress to ratify the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which prohibited atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. The administration of John F. Kennedy proposed the LTBT as a measure to ease tensions with the United States and the Soviet Union following the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. The treaty followed ambitions for a failed “Open Skies” initiative by President Dwight Eisenhower in the mid-1950s that would have allowed the United States and Soviet Union to monitor (through aerial surveillance) nuclear production and planning in each other’s countries for the purposes of international transparency—and to limit the fear of mutual assured destruction (MAD) through nuclear war.

Divisions among Democrats over the LTBT represent a central tenet of my book: Democrats’ support for massive defense spending in the 1940s and 1950s to fight global communism largely benefited the Republican Right and its domestic and foreign policy agendas. For Might and Right is primarily about how a bi-partisan coalition of national actors collude to maintain and increase America’s defense budget for both ideological (in the case of right-wing politicians, Cold War liberals, anti-communist activists, and military personnel) and material reasons (which motivated workers and corporate executives in the defense industry, labor unions, and community boosters in towns that depended upon military contractors for jobs.) Because of the Kennedy administration’s efforts to reduce tensions and cut defense spending after the fallout from the Cuban Missile Crisis, anti-communist Democrats (like Stennis and Thurmond) gravitated further to the Right—and worked alongside conservatives and Republicans to maintain and expand America’s defense budget. These “Cold War Democrats” then justified their hawkish positions with arguments that cuts in the defense budget would increase unemployment and decrease economic growth in the United States. And a strong economy is needed for a robust national defense, they suggested. This argument was appropriated by the conservative Right in later years, particularly by Republicans like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, who as president in 1981 oversaw the largest increase in military spending since the Vietnam War, and a time when the country suffered from high unemployment and wage stagnation. Increased defense spending solved America’s problems at home and abroad, suggested Reagan.

Page 99, and the book overall, shows how the Cold War became a problem for Democrats once some of them tried to abandon defense spending without limits—which many Democrats, or Cold War liberals, still supported after the 1960s. Republicans rose to political power in the 1960s and 1970s by claiming that Democrats had turned their back on the economic stability and national security of Americans. Members of the GOP would be the ones to restore American might, to “make America great again”—or so they said.
Learn more about For Might and Right at the University of Massachusetts Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 25, 2021

David Pearson's "Rebel Music in the Triumphant Empire"

David Pearson is a music historian, saxophonist/composer, and educator. He is an adjunct assistant professor in the music department at Lehman College, and earned his Ph.D. in musicology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. As a saxophonist, Pearson has performed modernist and contemporary classical, modal jazz, punk, rap, and more, and currently plays in the Afrofunk band Digital Diaspora.

Pearson applied the “Page 99 Test” to Rebel Music in the Triumphant Empire: Punk Rock in the 1990s United States, his first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 might not show everything my book is about, but it does highlight a central element: music analysis of punk, especially of the expressive nuances that made punk songs so meaningful to their audiences. This page comes towards the end of a chapter on punk as propaganda music, and this particular section is devoted to Naked Aggression, one of the seminal political punk bands of the 1990s. It starts in the middle of an analysis of the song “Revolt,” showing the band’s skill at concentrating the message down to a chant-like refrain and punktuating that refrain musically on multiple levels. Then it moves to an analysis of Naked Aggression’s “Religious Fools,” a somewhat atypical punk song in that it uses classical-guitar style figuration and melodious singing in the verses. In any event, the song rocks (check out the refrain!), and Naked Aggression’s musical tirades against Christian fundamentalism unfortunately remain quite relevant to today’s political situation.

From page 99:
Figure 2.23: Chorus and verse riffs from Naked Aggression, “Revolt”

power chord motion. Naked Aggression heightens the energy at the end of this already high-octane chorus by increasing the rhythmic motion of the riff, rapidly alternating D and C power chords under an even-rhythm chant of the typical punk sentiment, “We must resist authority.” The verses that follow (if verse is the right word here) use a similar strategy with a different musical feel. The KSA is cut in half, a tresillo-rhythm groove emerges, and the riff starts off more subdued by virtue of the palm-muted guitar. But in each verse, as the lyrics culminate in a repeated chant, the power chords ring out rather than being palm-muted on the pitch D that begins each bar, with the drums increasing in dynamics and activity for these chants. Thus each time the song’s message is boiled down to its simplest and direct form, the music is brought to a peak of intensity. While this simplicity of message risked becoming cliché, and Naked Aggression was criticized for this in some record reviews, the forward momentum leading to culmination in song structures, as well as expressive nuances such as slight variations in guitar strumming, are what made this simplicity effective as propaganda music.

Besides this reliance on simplicity and straightforward hardcore punk style, some songs delineated Naked Aggression from standard formulas by putting Phil Suchomel’s and Kirsten Patches’ backgrounds in classical music to use, with “Religious Lies” providing one salient example. The refrain section, shown in figure 2.24, displays the band’s propensity for cross-rhythmic groove, with its E-minor riff and vocal chant—“Re-li-gious fools want to con-trol our lives, fuck them!”—in a 3+3+3+3+2+2 rhythmic pattern.

The verses, by contrast, take on an entirely different character than the emphatic accents of the refrain, as shown in figure 2.25. While the bass plays an F♯ –D–E (i–♭VI–♭VII) progression accompanied by a drumbeat looser than that of the chorus and emphasizing the arrival of each new root, the guitar plays figuration betraying Phil Suchomel’s training in classical guitar. Rather than yelling, Kirsten Patches uses a softer timbre that she would have cultivated in her choir days and delivers each vocal line with far more melodic motion than is the norm in punk (when punk vocalists do “sing,” they usually just follow the root motion). In this and prior examples, Naked Aggression used changes in key and distinctions between major and minor chords in a way far different from most punk bands, with different sections in contrasting keys, the guitar figuration providing clear major or
One of the great joys of writing this book was that I interviewed a few punk musicians, including the vocalist of Naked Aggression, Kirsten Patches. Their words and ideas became central to the narrative of the book, alongside lots of quotes from punk zines. It was tremendous fun going back to the music after I had done my interviews, transcribing the guitar riffs, and thinking about how the musical details were part of punk conceptions of how to convey a strident message. The idea of “propaganda music” is generally considered in the negative sense in the United States, largely owing to Cold War narratives. But in punk, there was a very real sense of trying to come at people with a strong political message and move audiences to act on those political messages. I hope my music analysis conveys a sense of how much thought and heart went into these songs, and that people who love this music like I do will appreciate my explanations of what makes these punk songs connect with us on a visceral level.
Visit David Pearson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Jeffrey C. Sanders's "Razing Kids"

Jeffrey C. Sanders is Associate Professor in the Department of History, Washington State University. He is the author of Seattle and the Roots of Urban Sustainability: Inventing Ecotopia (2010).

Sanders applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Razing Kids: Youth, Environment, and the Postwar American West, and reported the following:
Page 99 briefly recounts the history of the famous St. Louis “baby tooth” study organized by Washington University’s Dr. Louise Reese and the Greater St. Louis Citizen Committee for Nuclear Information. This example captures many of the key themes of Razing Kids. At a time when the US government was less than honest about the risks posed by continued testing of nuclear bombs in the desert Southwest and the Pacific Proving ground during the Cold War, the study invited families to donate their children’s teeth so that researchers could establish a baseline of data about the level of dangerous and cancer-causing radioactive strontium 90 in the bodies of children. The study drew attention to hinterland test sites in the West, but also helped to inspire citizen scientists and political activists in the West and throughout the United States as they built a case for the limited Test Ban Treaty. As baby boomer children came to embody environmental risks, these activists helped to build a constituency that fought to end atmospheric nuclear testing and help to build a postwar environmental movement.

While Razing Kids mostly emphasizes people, places, and events in the western united states, page 99 describes events in St. Louis. But the test works perfectly for capturing the book’s key themes explaining the way environmental history often shows the relationships between places, people, and ideas that may seem regionally distinct but are in fact connected to national and even global issues.

After World War II, people living in the United States reconceived their relationship to the environment and to youth. With this book I argue that this was no coincidence. These developments were inextricable. With the double meaning in the title – Razing Kids – I hope to capture the central and contradictory role that children played in the development of both heightened environmental concerns and increasing environmental inequality after the war. To raise healthy youth in an era that supposedly elevated children and family also seemed to require razing, or at least neglecting, the environments and health of some youth so that others could thrive. This contradiction centered on youth and deepened during the twentieth century. The postwar American West showcased this dynamic at different scales. I show how workers, policy makers, and reformers linked their anxieties about youth to environmental risks as they debated wartime housing developments; worried about the impact of radioactive particles released from distant hinterlands; or obsessed over how riot-riddled cities, rural work camps, and pesticide-laden farms would affect children.
Learn more about Razing Kids at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2021

William Sites's "Sun Ra’s Chicago"

William Sites is associate professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and the author of Remaking New York: Primitive Globalization and the Politics of Urban Community.

Sites applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book Sun Ra’s Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes early in Chapter 5 of the book, where I analyze the urban context and hermeneutic import of a set of writings from the early 1950s by Sun Ra and his colleagues in the Thmei Research group. In this sense, the test effectively drops the reader into an intellectual world that does much to illuminate Ra’s music to come. These texts, or polemical broadsheets, take the form of fifty typed sheets of paper that at first glance offer a series of disconnected and obscure religious commentaries on race and the Bible. Close reading, however, reveals a quite coherent – if deeply disturbing – vision of postwar black Chicago as a world in spiritual and cultural crisis, the catastrophic legacy of a multi-millennial racial lie that can only be exposed through creative re-readings of Biblical scripture:
The broadsheets are harshly dismissive of the conventional forms of black communal striving and self-assertion in the postwar American metropolis. The respectable term ‘Negro,’ for example, is here associated— via the quasi-biblical etymologies typical of these writings— not with race pride but with racial death.
Question: Does the Bible contain anything about the Negro?

Answer: Yes. Jesus said, “Let the Negro bury the Negro.” . . . Unfortunately for the Negro the word Negro means dead body . . . The Cemetery itself is named after the word Negro: Necropolis or City of the dead. The word Niger is a Latin word meaning Black and Simon the Apostle upon whom the Church was built was called Niger because he was a Black Man.

Question: Is it better to be a Negro or a Niger?

Answer: Negro means dead body . . . Niger means black . . . If you like death and like being one of the Living dead then call yourself a Negro and continue to be rejected by the world as firstclass citizens.
Elsewhere in the broadsheets, the African Americans of the early postwar city are seen as lost beings: ‘THEY HATE THE THOUGHT OF BEING WHAT THEY ARE . . . THEY WANT TO BE WHITE RATHER THAN THE BLACK AND BROWN THAT GOD MADE THEM.’ Lost souls, they are compared to the residents of the fallen biblical cities of Babylon and Tophet, oblivious to their own imminent destruction.
The chapter goes on to investigate how these texts and their themes emerged from a heterodox religious milieu centered in Washington Park on Chicago’s South Side, where various black nationalist, Ethiopianist and Orientalist understandings of history became the intellectual raw material for the Thmei group’s iconoclastic vision of racial oppression and African American emancipation. In subsequent chapters, I explore how Sun Ra later in the decade carried this critical-utopian sensibility into musical performance and creative cosmology. Drawing from the community’s religious counterculture to reimagine the musical traditions of South Side nightlife culture, Ra and the Arkestra – a jazz ensemble that melded swing, bebop, blues, Latin dance music, Africanist percussion, pop exotica, space chant and more – increasingly offered themselves to local audiences as interplanetary emissaries from an ideal future. Sun Ra, refusing the oppressive reality of a shadow world on Earth, promised an entirely new, black-centered civilization in outer space.

The modern city, and postwar Chicago in particular, loomed large as inspiration for Sun Ra’s space vision. Much like earlier utopians from Sir Thomas More to Le Corbusier, Ra found in the city – in his case its black public spaces, its dynamism, its endless appetite for serious entertainment – the stimulant for his own notion of an African space world where ancient past and technological future might come together. Filled with new and unsettling sounds yet old songs too in reimagined settings, Sun Ra’s utopian music imparted a double existence to the streets and trains of Chicago, mingling the immediate experience of daily life with dreams of other, better worlds. Sun Ra’s Chicago, by exploring its protagonist’s urban spaces and places, reconstructs the social and cultural grounding of a musical imagination that gave expressive shape to twentieth-century Afrofuturism.
Learn more about Sun Ra’s Chicago at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 22, 2021

Charles Kenny's "The Plague Cycle"

Charles Kenny is a writer-researcher at the Center for Global Development and has worked on policy reforms in global health as well as UN peacekeeping and combating international financial corruption. Previously, he spent fifteen years as an economist at the World Bank, travelling the planet from Baghdad and Kabul to Brasilia and Beijing. He is the author of The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease, Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More, and The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest Is Great for the West. He earned a history degree at Cambridge and has graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and Cambridge.

Kenny applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Plague Cycle and reported the following:
Page 99 is the opening of The Plague Cycle’s sixth chapter on the history of sanitation, “Cleaning Up.” It introduces the instinctual and behavioral response to stay clean to avoid infection, discussing the fact that high status apes get the best grooming services. And it reports on recent academic studies linking the spiciness of cuisines to the burden of infectious diseases where they developed (Norwegian cooking: bland, Mexican cooking: hot). I hope that gives a good taste of the whole: the book is meant to be an accessible, enjoyable account of humanity’s struggle with infectious disease that is grounded in the latest research.

The chapter discusses sewage systems from the 5,000 year old network in Mohenjo Daro in modern day Pakistan through the efforts to clean up London during the Black Death to the massive infrastructure and workforce that underpins sanitation in today’s New York City. And it is a reminder that a lot of the techniques we’ve needed to control infectious disease are both very old and still very much under-utilized.

While medical technologies like vaccinations and antibiotics have allowed megacities to grow even in places where sewage networks, trash trucks and sanitary inspectors are underfunded and underdeveloped, the infectious threat lingers when we don’t clean up. Children are much more likely to be infested with worms or to come down with a deadly case of diarrhea. The food and water that people consume is more likely to harbor microbes from cholera to campylobacter. If they are unsanitary, factory farms are more likely to spawn a new disease that could jump species --like Nipah virus did from pigs or measles from cattle.

And Covid-19 has brought back into fashion some long-utilized sanitary techniques. I discuss in the book that while Marco Polo was in China he attended a banquet at which the waiters had “their mouths and noses swathed in fine napkins of silk and gold, so that the food and drink are not contaminated by their breath or effluence.” It is another a sign that for all the technological progress we’ve made against infectious disease over the past hundred years, we could still benefit a lot more from everyone using ancient approaches from social distancing through tracing and isolating the sick.
Visit Charles Kenny's blog and learn about his six favorite books.

The Page 99 Test: The Upside of Down.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Heath Brown's "Homeschooling the Right"

Heath Brown is an associate professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. He has worked at the US Congressional Budget Office as a Research Fellow, at the American Bus Association as a Policy Assistant, and at the Council of Graduate Schools as Research and Policy Director.

Brown applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Homeschooling the Right: How Conservative Education Activism Erodes the State, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Homeschooling the Right contains a table that shows how state homeschooling laws vary from tightly regulated to largely unregulated in comparison to how charter school laws vary. So, for example, Arkansas has a low regulation homeschool law but a high regulation charter school law, while Pennsylvania has a higher regulation homeschool law and a low regulation charter school law. In Pennsylvania, parents are required to have a high school diploma to be a homeschool teachers whereas in Arkansas there are no minimum education requirements.

A reader would get a very good idea of the whole work. One of the central arguments of the book is that these two school choice policies, homeschooling and charter schooling, that appear so similar actually function very differently. This is the result of very different coalitions of supporters of each policy, but also the consequence of the design of each, homeschooling which allows near total freedom to parents, even in a high regulation state, compared to charter schooling which remains largely embedded in the public school system. Page 99 shows this contrast in a clear way that a reader would appreciate the longer argument of the book without even reading another page.

If you read just page 99 of the book, you'd understand an analysis later in the book about the relationship between homeschool organizations and public policy. What makes homeschooling policy so unique is that it has created this vast network of state and local organizations, providing everything from curricular help, teacher mentoring, and lobbying. This is because the laws are designed to disconnect homeschool parents from many of the services they'd receive from a conventional public school. In contrast, charter schools remain connected to the public school system, so parents have fewer needs to be filled and are lest apt to form organizations.

This matters in the book because it seems like it is related to the state laws that I summarize on page 99. I find that homeschool organizations are more numerous in low-regulation states compared to high-regulation states. Arkansas, a low-regulation state, has around five homeschool organizations per 100 students, while Pennsylvania, a high-regulation state, has just under two.

It is this dense network of homeschooling organizations that has sustained the policy overtime, allowed homeschool activists to exert pressure on state legislators, and even to influence presidential campaigns. These are political dynamics largely absent from charter school politics, also because homeschoolers have faced much less organized opposition than charter school advocates, who confront strong opposition at every turn.
Learn more about Homeschooling the Right at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Immigrants and Electoral Politics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Susan Lee Johnson's "Writing Kit Carson"

Susan Lee Johnson is the Harry Reid Endowed Chair for the History of the Intermountain West at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Writing Kit Carson: Fallen Heroes in a Changing West, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Writing Kit Carson makes sense of the book’s subtitle, Fallen Heroes in a Changing West. The book as a whole weaves the life stories of two obscure white women, nonprofessional historians, who researched and wrote about the frontiersman Christopher “Kit” Carson in the 1960s and 70s just as western folk heroes like Carson were tumbling from their pedestals. Both Quantrille McClung and Bernice Blackwelder were westerners themselves, having grown up in Colorado and Kansas, respectively, and the book reveals how their origins shaped the histories they wrote. It explores the relationship between women historians and male historical subjects and between academic and amateur historians during an era when the field of western history professionalized: Blackwelder and McClung published on Carson in 1962, the same year that the Western History Association was founded. The book also examines the seductions of gender in the context of racialized power—how white women have given gendered selfhood shelter, letting their racial selves run wild, untended and too often malign. Underneath these stories runs a current of thought about how what we know about the past depends on the conditions of our knowing. Necessarily, then, I’m also a character in the book, not an omniscient observer, since my own production of historical knowledge, my own relationship to the West and its once-celebrated pioneers, must be at issue as I examine those of McClung and Blackwelder.

Page 99 marks a crucial turning point because it begins my narration of Kit Carson’s fall from grace, which followed the publication of Blackwelder and McClung’s work. While criticism of Carson had long circulated in Indigenous and ethnic Mexican communities, given his role in American Indian dispossession and in the U.S. conquest of the Mexican North, now those criticisms burst onto a wider stage, prompted first by an Indigenous anthropologist’s complaints about a Carson portrait displayed in a Colorado College ROTC exhibit and then by the campaign of a Mexican American civil rights group to change the name of Kit Carson Memorial State Park, in Taos, New Mexico, to Santiago Lujan Memorial State Park, which would honor a Native soldier from Taos Pueblo who perished in World War II. On page 99, I explain that even though “the decline in Carson’s reputation was a century in the making,” it was “the effects of political gravity that pulled him down to earth . . . in the 1970s.” But the gravitational pull did not originate in the Navajo Nation, which had “the gravest historical grievance against Carson, given his role in the brutal 1863-64 Navajo campaign conducted by the U.S. Army,” a campaign that ended in the Long Walk of the Diné to a reservation far from home. Instead, I explain on the following page, “the outcry against [Carson] arose along a corridor that he had known well, stretching from the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado south into the Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico.” The response of both professional and nonprofessional western historians to this outcry, including the reaction of McClung and Blackwelder, and the way social movements more generally shaped the field of western history going forward, inform my arguments about how we know what we know about the past and how that knowledge is shaped by the conditions of our knowing. While scholars have considered such questions, I contend that critical and reflexive biography allows us to ask questions about identity and subjectivity, about knowledge and politics, more difficult to pose in traditional hyperopic histories.
Learn more about Writing Kit Carson at the University of North Carolina Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Aaron Passell's "Preserving Neighborhoods"

Aaron Passell is associate director of the Urban Studies Program at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is also the author of Building the New Urbanism: Places, Professions, and Profits in the American Metropolitan Landscape (2013).

Passell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Preserving Neighborhoods: How Urban Policy and Community Strategy Shape Baltimore and Brooklyn, and reported the following:
Much of the page is taken up by a graph showing the steadily and significantly increasing White population of central Brooklyn, New York, between 2000 and 2015 (from about 5% to about 25%). I argue, following Sampson (2012), that this is a comparatively rare case of gentrification occurring in much the way that neighborhood activists fear it will, with working and middle-class Black residents displaced by upper-middle class Whites.

The Page 99 Test would mislead readers about Preserving Neighborhoods. It points to a case of gentrification in the long-time Black neighborhoods of central Brooklyn, but misses the point of my research which is about how local activists use historic preservation regulation to mitigate this process in Brooklyn. It also misses the radical contrast – a kind of most-different case comparison – with Baltimore and how preservation regulation has been used there to encourage neighborhood revitalization. Historic preservation, neighborhood change, and the relationship between the two all operate differently in the context of different degrees of development pressure (rapid growth vs. decades of shrinkage).

Page 99 presents evidence of neighborhood change, but does nothing to reveal the underlying processes. The intention of the book is to unpack these processes and to complicate our understanding of them, indicating how diverse they can be from city to city, even neighborhood to neighborhood. I show that historic district designation can be a mechanism for neighborhood change, but that it should not be mistaken for a uniform influence. Not only do preservation efforts function differently in different contexts, but their most significant contribution may be indirect, as a form of community-building, rather than simply saving the built environment.
Visit Aaron Passell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 18, 2021

Susan B. Levin's "Posthuman Bliss?"

Susan B. Levin is Roe/Straut Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Smith College. In addition to numerous articles in both bioethics and ancient Greek philosophy, she previously published two books in the latter area.

Levin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Posthuman Bliss? The Failed Promise of Transhumanism, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls within my scientific challenge to Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu’s claim that the exogenous addition of serotonin could be a pillar of a universal program of bioenhancement intended to augment two moral attitudes: altruism and our “sense of justice.”

In Unfit for the Future, they worry that if there exists “too much pessimism about the possibility of moral bioenhancement,” it may be “prematurely dropped” from consideration as a promising research project. Therefore, Persson and Savulescu promise to show “how moral behaviour can be influenced by biomedical means in order to demonstrate that moral bioenhancement is not just a theoretical possibility, but has been practised.” They fail to distinguish between the uncontroversial claim that biotechnological measures may affect behavior, in some fashion or other, and the far stronger assertion that such measures could improve character itself in precisely the ways that the success of their program required.

On thin, evolutionary-psychological grounds, Persson and Savulescu maintain that altruism and “a sense of justice” belong already to our biological constitution. As a result, these moral attitudes could, purportedly, be strengthened through neurobiological and genetic manipulation. Page 99 occurs in the section of Chapter 3 where I argue that they fail to provide practical proof of concept for moral bioenhancement. The case studies that anchor my refutation of Persson and Savulescu’s claim to have offered precisely this involve two neurotransmitters, oxytocin and serotonin, and genetic considerations centered on genes’ nuanced and indirect relationship to complex phenotypic traits, such as kindness, trust, and aggressiveness.

In the ensuing section of Chapter 3, I show that their attempt to provide theoretical proof of concept for moral bioenhancement also fails. It becomes crystal clear that their failure on the practical side is no accident: whether the focus is moral or cognitive bioenhancement—the top priority of transhumanists overall—humans are simply not neurobiologically or genetically constituted such that they could be manipulated in the ways that transhumanists insist will eventuate if we but commit adequate resources to the endeavor.

Page 99, on serotonin, illustrates a misconstruction of human biology that plagues transhumanist argumentation for bioenhancement across the board. Although the immediate focus of page 99 is quite specific, it instantiates one of the book’s prominent themes: that transhumanists’ aggressive biotechnological agenda ignores humans’ neurobiological and genetic complexity. Embracing that agenda would produce, not the lofty elevation they tout, but human ruination.
Learn more about Posthuman Bliss? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Noah Wardrip-Fruin's "How Pac-Man Eats"

Noah Wardrip-Fruin is Professor of Computational Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he codirects the Expressive Intelligence Studio. He is the author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies.

Wardrip-Fruin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, How Pac-Man Eats, and reported the following:
In How Pac-Man Eats, the top of page 99 is a full-width image. At first glance it might appear to be a game screenshot, but on closer examination it’s a composite, showing an artist-made character skin posed both at street level and on a rooftop in the game Grand Theft Auto III.

The composite is made from Jim Munroe’s video, “My Trip to Liberty City.” Page 99 picks up after I have quoted the first line of the video’s voice-over, “Mm-kay. This is just some of the video from my trip to Liberty City.” From there it continues:
One of the first things that Munroe’s character does is refuse the game’s mission system. He’s asked to “introduce a bat” to the face of another criminal, and Munroe reflects: “You know, I just didn’t feel like it. It was a great day, it was beautiful out, the sun was shining. And I don’t even play baseball. Much less, you know, want to kill someone with a baseball bat.”

He changes the game’s avatar into a “Canadian Tourist” skin, so as not to confuse anyone else by having a thug-like appearance.

Next, Munroe’s character refuses driving. While everyone’s heard of all the cars in Grand Theft Auto, he feels like the best way to get to know a city is to walk around on foot. He demonstrates the beauty one can find by walking up to a rooftop—pointedly ignoring the valuable hidden package spinning at its top—and takes in the almost-setting sun and the street scene below. Then he notices a distant stand of trees that may be a park.

Back at street level he tries to “ask directions” to the park but finds an impolite response from everyone he meets (as GTA III players know, there is no way to ask anyone anything, only a way to bump into them). He tries to take in the natural beauty, but falls in the water and ends up at the hospital. On the way home he tries to catch a cab, but they all pull away (as GTA III players know, it is because he refuses to engage the carjacking mechanic), leaving him behind.
In the case of How Pac-Man Eats, the page 99 test finds a key example, but other pages must be read to understand why it is key. At this point I’m discussing the idea that video game players are most interesting when they are not doing what game designers expect of them. They may be opting out of the apparent rules or inventing new, creative modes of playful engagement with games. I’m asking: What are players really doing in these cases?

To answer that requires a step back. How Pac-Man Eats argues that we have consistently mis-identified the fundamental elements of video games. Most discussions of game fundamentals focus on “mechanics”—the things players are invited to do. I argue that mechanics are themselves supported by a set of “operational logics,” which enable things such as player control, object collision, and resource accumulation and expenditure. These logics are fundamental elements of “playable models,” the procedural representations through which we experience games’ physical space, combat, character progression, and more.

When you’re focused on mechanics, “My Trip to Liberty City” looks like someone refusing everything the game invites them to do. But How Pac-Man Eats argues that even if players are ignoring the high-level rules and expectations built into the game design, even if players are refusing the core mechanics meant to be at the center of the gameplay experience, these same players are deeply engaging the game’s logics and models. Munroe’s rooftop visit is a celebration of GTA III’s spatial movement model, while refusing to be motivated by the “rewards” meant to entice movement. In a later part of the video, to earn money again after his unfortunate hospitalization (no Canadian socialized medicine in Liberty City), he decides to try street busking. This involves “miming” by triggering the animations of the combat model without a target. That is, he exploits aspects of the combat model, while refusing to employ the mechanics it supports.

In short, this example helps reveal how logics and models help us understand what players are doing and how games respond, no matter how players approach games. Even if, as players, we choose not to address the problems the designers imagined us solving, or choose to deliberately subvert them, our play is always grounded in the environment defined by the logics and models.
Learn more about How Pac-Man Eats at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Stacy G. Ulbig's "Angry Politics"

Stacy G. Ulbig is a professor of political science at Sam Houston State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Angry Politics: Partisan Hatred and Political Polarization among College Students, and reported the following:
Flipping to page 99 of Angry Politics, the table of correlations presented at the top of the page will likely capture the reader’s eye. The table examines the connections between media consumption and feelings of partisan hatred among a sample of college students. Perusing the remainder of the page, readers will take away the message that, in general, young potential voters, especially partisan Independents, who consume more media are more likely to express hatred of, and a desire to, physically harm those who hold partisan leanings different from their own.

After viewing page 99, a reader may infer that this tome focuses on the ways in which the mass media affect partisan attitudes. Yet the central thesis of this book does not focus on the influence of media or other demographic and attitudinal characteristics. Instead Angry Politics makes the argument that partisanship operates much the same as social identities to breed in-group affinity and out-group antipathy, and that they can operate in much the same way as connections to ethnic or religious groups to create and sustain hatred of out-group affiliates.

In light of the rancorous 2020 presidential election and the many protests that occurred across the nation, this may not seem surprising. Yet expressions of such hatred were prevalent as early as February, 2015, when the college students studied in this book were interviewed. Even nascent voters who paid little attention to politics expressed enmity toward, and a willingness to engage in physical violence against, people holding partisan attachments that differed from their own. Further, the book examines the ways in which such sentiments can lead to an unwillingness to socialize or cooperate with counter-partisans. Though much of this book offers a rather pessimistic view of American politics, it concludes by offering some specific ideas about the ways in which focusing on protecting an open market of ideas and discussion, and prioritizing critical exploration of a wide spectrum of opinion on college campuses might build a more civil and cooperative political future.
Learn more about Angry Politics at the University Press of Kansas website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2021

Gavin Weightman's "The Great Inoculator"

Gavin Weightman is a historian and former documentary filmmaker. He has written extensively on the history of science, and is the author of Eureka, The Frozen Water Trade, and The Industrial Revolutionaries.

Weightman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Great Inoculator: The Untold Story of Daniel Sutton and his Medical Revolution, and reported the following:
This page includes an account of the way in which Daniel Sutton and his brothers, all who made their living offering inoculation against smallpox in the 1770s in England, were branching out into new and a less certain fields. Daniel had made his fortune offering his skills to a middle class clientele who recognised his exceptional gifts. He had devised a way of injecting a small piece of smallpox infection, taken from a sufferer, into the arm of his patients. He accommodated them in rented houses where they ate and slept for weeks at a time until they were immune and no longer infectious. Inoculation was, for the most part, a luxury for those who could afford the hefty fees. But in time Sutton faced many rivals and was forced to adopt a new business plan. He would get together a scheme in which the wealthy funded the inoculation of the poor.

Daniel’s brothers, who were at times his acolytes and at other times his rivals, followed suit plying their trade in different parts of the country. A Mr Sutton in Newcastle-upon-Tyne who introduced himself as “ brother of Mr Daniel Sutton in London” proposed to “ inoculate the poor with the concurrence and support of the Nobility (and others) by subscription.. At this time, when the labour of the inferior mechanic and husbandman will scarcely provide clothing for their family…it is hoped than any proposal toward the benefit and preservation of that body of people will meet with due encouragement.”

By the time this advertisement appeared in 1770 general inoculations of whole towns and villages had become quite common. This got round the problem of the infectiousness of those inoculated. If there were just one or two treated in community they could start an epidemic if not kept in isolation. If everyone was inoculated at the same time there was no danger. The Suttons were called upon to carry out these mass inoculations which were lucrative. But an innovation introduced in 1798 wiped out Daniel’s reputation as the Great Inoculator.

Another country surgeon, Edward Jenner, successfully treated a boy not with smallpox but with a less virulent disease called cowpox. Jenner dignified cowpox with a Latin name variola vaccinae ,or “smallpox of the cow.” Jenner’s “vaccination” was safer than Sutton’s inoculation chiefly because those vaccinated could not spread smallpox. Jenner owed a great debt to Sutton but he never acknowledged it. The Great Inoculator seeks to restore Sutton’s rightful place in medical history.
Visit Gavin Weightman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Eureka: How Invention Happens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Michael D. Hattem's "Past and Prologue"

Michael D. Hattem is Associate Director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. He has taught history at Knox College and Lang College at The New School.

Hattem applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Colonists saw distinct parallels between the years leading up to the Civil Wars and their circumstances early in the imperial crisis. “As the King,” one patriot noted, “cannot by his sole authority lay a tax on the people of Britain without their consent, as in the famous case of ship money ... so the King and Parliament cannot, for the same reason, lay a tax on America without their consent.” Another asked rhetorically, “Was not the raising taxes by ship money, &c. Without the consent of the good people of England who were to pay them, and arbitrary courts of trial, contrary to the rights of Englishmen and the ... principal grievances and causes of civil war in the reign of Charles I?” The issue of taxation at the start of the imperial crisis—and, more broadly, the issue of the relationship between the authority of the state and the liberty of the subject—brought colonists’ historical memories of Charles I and the Civil Wars to the fore…. Describing the situation in 1768, the Reverend Andrew Eliot wrote to a friend, “I am sure this will put you in mind of 1641.”
At its heart, Past and Prologue is a book about how colonists (and, later, Americans) during the revolutionary era understood the past, how those understandings changed, and how they informed how people made sense of the present. Page 99 discusses how colonists during the crisis with Britain in the 1760s understood the history of England’s Civil Wars and how, to some extent, they saw their present through the lens of the past. So, while not somehow being indicative of the book’s arguments as a whole, page 99 of Past and Prologue, as shown by the excerpt above, is somewhat emblematic of the book’s memory-based approach to the topic of the American Revolution.

Page 99 is part of the crucial third chapter, which is a turning point in the book’s narrative because it explores how colonists started to think very differently about the meaning and legacy of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Previously, the Glorious Revolution had served as a foundation of colonists’ identity as free subjects within a British empire. Much like many Americans today, colonists in the 1760s believed they enjoyed more freedom and liberty than people from other countries or empires and that 1688 had made it possible. But as Parliament sought to strengthen Britain’s administrative grip on the empire in the 1760s and 1770s, many colonists began to reconsider the Glorious Revolution, seeing it not as having laid the foundation of their liberty but as having created a situation in which Parliament could act as arbitrarily and without redress as any seventeenth-century tyrannical monarch. This reconsideration of British history contributed to colonists’ perception that perhaps they were not as British as they had thought and helped make conceiving a political break in the years that followed a viable possibility.

In many ways, this, too, is reminiscent of the present as many Americans in the last few decades have begun to reconsider the meaning and legacy of the American Revolution in a much more critical manner than previous generations. In addition to introducing readers to the topic of memory and its role in the American Revolution specifically, I hope Past and Prologue will also give readers the intellectual tools to think critically about how the past is used in our own contemporary political culture and society and to make these kind of connections for themselves.
Learn more about Past and Prologue at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Sabina Henneberg's "Managing Transition"

Sabina Henneberg is Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in the School of International Service at American University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Managing Transition: The First Post-Uprising Phase in Tunisia and Libya, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Managing Transition begins chapter 4, which analyzes the Libyan National Transition Council (NTC). The NTC is the second of the two cases of “first interim governments” studied in this book, alongside its Tunisian counterpart, the Tunisian Provisional Administration (TPA). The NTC and TPA both formed in the immediate wake of an authoritarian collapse in early 2011 and assumed the tasks of maintaining stability and organizing democratic elections. Page 99 gives a brief summary of how the NTC formed and the actions it took during its tenure, as well as the challenges it faced in fulfilling its tasks. Importantly, the page also alludes to the fact that each of the NTC’s actions as first interim government in Libya would have repercussions later on.

The information on page 99 is helpful for the reader in gaining an understanding of the book’s content, because it paints a broad picture of one of the case studies and highlights one of the book’s key arguments – namely that first interim governments play a decisive role in shaping the direction of an attempted democratic transition. It also mentions in passing certain points of comparison with the TPA, although these do not give an adequate understanding of the ways in which the book uses comparisons to illustrate the role first interim governments play during democratic transition. Indeed, page 99 cannot possibly give a full representation of the book because it focuses only on the Libyan case, which looked entirely different from the Tunisian case despite the remarkable parallels in circumstances under which the two interim governments formed.

The book as a whole sets out to achieve two broad goals only partially captured on page 99. First, it uses two empirical cases from North Africa to introduce the theoretical proposition that the phase between anti-authoritarian uprisings and first democratic elections is critical in understanding attempted regime change, and the authorities who manage this phase face enormous constraints, such as the need to move as rapidly as possible under extremely difficult conditions. Second, it provides a historical record of two instances of first interim governments, documenting in detail the actors, institutions, and strategies that defined each one and the ways their actions were both shaped by the past and had significant impacts on later post-uprising phases. In Tunisia, for instance, a historical shared sense of state and an existing network of legal experts and human rights/democracy activists helped the TPA draft key interim laws, including an electoral law for governing the first post-uprising elections. These laws laid the blueprint for later democratic reforms. In Libya, on the other hand, where a sense of national identity and strong state institutions have historically been absent, the NTC struggled to fend off internal challengers and ended up taking decisions that were later deemed mistakes. These included deputizing the large number of militias that emerged during the armed struggle against Qadhafi, leading to an inability to establish an effective state security apparatus, and revising the electoral law at the last minute such that the new elected congress would no longer be in charge of appointing an assembly to draft a new constitution. This in turn created confusion around the elections and ultimately stalled the constitution-writing process.
Learn more about Managing Transition at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Amanda Frisken's "Graphic News"

Amanda Frisken is Acting Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Professor in the American Studies Department of SUNY College at Old Westbury.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her 2020 book, Graphic News: How Sensational Images Transformed Nineteenth-Century Journalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 deals with a period of transition when daily newspapers moved beyond sensational headlines and news copy with dramatic line illustrations that made the news more sensational. “Illustrations attract the eye, and stimulate the imagination,” according to a young William Randolph Hearst (in 1887), in his bid to boost the visual power of his father’s San Franscisco Examiner. In late 1890, after months of speculation about the Ghost Dance among the Lakota Sioux, daily newspapers around the country named Sitting Bull the central instigator of the movement at the Sioux reservations, at least in part to gin up circulation. Page 99 shows how daily news producers combined familiar characters, faces, and story lines to misrepresent what was happening, even as they pioneered visual journalism.

Sitting Bull was a peripheral figure in the Ghost Dance, but as a well-known celebrity, established in American lore as “the man responsible for the killing of General George Custer,” his image helped make visual coverage easy for the commercial press. News artists far from the scene could rely on souvenir photographs and book plates to generate their line illustrations of the unfolding crisis in the Plains West. Through Sitting Bull’s image and other distortions, the Ghost Dance crisis became fodder for the illustrated dailies, such as Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and Hearst’s Examiner. In the process, daily news images shaped how people saw the story unfold, separate from text reporting.

Page 99 shows how illustrated dailies sought to maximize their audience through “playbill-style images of characters and settings that delivered dramatic punch.” Distorted images made the dance seem warlike; portraits of Sitting Bull exaggerated fears of indigenous resistance. Eye-catching news images that blurred the line between information and entertainment were effective news “bait,” as Pulitzer saw them. They proved attractive to news consumers – and to the advertising revenue that kept the dailies in business. Before it was technically possible to reproduce photographs in the daily press, sensational news illustrations proved that images were powerful – and lucrative – forms of mass communication.
Learn more about Graphic News at the University of Illinois Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 11, 2021

Francesca Polletta's "Inventing the Ties That Bind"

Francesca Polletta is professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling and Protest Politics and Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements, and coeditor of Passionate Politics: Emotions in Social Movements.

Polletta applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Inventing the Ties That Bind: Imagined Relationships in Moral and Political Life, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, Inventing the Ties that Bind: Imagined Relationships in Moral and Political Life, I describe how New Yorkers—better known for their fractiousness than their harmony—worked together to come up with ideas for redeveloping Lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attack. They had participated in a series of public forums to solicit public input into the rebuilding process, and I was interested in how they, as distinct from forum organizers, understood their participation.

So yes, this page does provide a good sense of my overall argument, which is that Americans have a rich language for cooperating across differences. Indeed, it is richer than civic reformers often imagine. Today, we often hear calls for Americans of different backgrounds or political allegiance to meet one another, share personal stories, develop a sense of empathy for the other’s experience, and—it is hoped—develop the broader solidarity that can overcome our scarily deep political and social divisions. There is nothing wrong with such efforts, I argue, although, each one of the steps in that process is much harder than often recognized. More important, though, I suggest that we pay more attention to the ways in which ordinary Americans talk about cooperating.
Interviewees, especially those who participated in Listening to the City [one of the forums], also suggested that they were representative of the public in a more political sense. "I felt I was a representing a voice of the city," one said. Another explained her participation by remarking that "I think the voice of the residents [of Lower Manhattan specifically] needs to be heard." One interviewee was disappointed "that there wasn't more Hispanic representation." She went on, "The Hispanic community is abdicating responsibility here." Another observed that "the majority of people were in the demographic age thirty-five to fifty-four, so I would have liked to see more African Americans and other nationalities in that age group." An interviewee who found himself at a table with mainly Cantonese-speaking Chinatown residents wished that there had been "demographically a better cross-section ... so although in my table the Chinatown view was overrepresented, it means that on other tables that view wasn't even being expressed."

Two interviewees likened Listening to the City to the United Nations, again alluding to a body made up of representatives. It is also a body whose members are charged with finding compromises in the interests of the greater good, and this too seemed to have been important to participants. Many interviewees talked about the group's ability to reach compromises and, indeed, about their own willingness to compromise as something they had appreciated. As a Listening to the City participant recounted: "I guess I come from a higher income family than some of the people at the table, and other people have different priorities. You can’t ignore them when there is someone in front of you rather than just a statistic. You have to say, ‘I guess they’re right, we should compromise on this fact, on affordable housing,’ and things like that.” Another noted, “Some of my opinions were changed but nothing drastic, more compromises that I could see.” A woman said she was pleased to discover that “people are much more willing to compromise” than she had thought.
Organizers of public deliberative forums, like the ones in which these New Yorkers participated, are adamant that forum participants are not representative of the public. Thinking of themselves that way might lead them to believe that their joint recommendations should have the force of public will, which they do not. And forum organizers are adamant that compromise is antithetical to the spirit of deliberation. Compromise is about cutting the best deal one can, rather than being open to changing one’s opinions and interests based on what one learns in the forum.

But the participants I interviewed seemed to think about representation and compromise differently. They did not just want to speak from their own experience; they wanted to take into account the priorities of other groups—including people who were not at their table. They used the analogy of the United Nations to capture the diversity of views they wanted to consider—and to signal their determination to go beyond simply trading opinions. Compromise, too, they understood differently than organizers did. It wasn’t narrow bargaining aimed at preserving one’s interests, but rather a way to acknowledge change in one’s opinions without seeming to be a pushover. In sum, paying attention to the ways in which Americans think about the ties that bind—and act on those ties—offers possibilities for civic action and solidarity that we might otherwise miss.
Learn more about Inventing the Ties That Bind at the University Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Carolyn A. Conley's "Debauched, Desperate, Deranged"

Carolyn A. Conley spent her academic career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she served as Director of Graduate Studies and Department Chair. Her research focuses on criminal violence in the British Isles, and she also taught Celtic history, the history of Britain and the developing world, and historiography.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Debauched, Desperate, Deranged: Women Who Killed, London 1674-1913, and reported the following:
I would say that the page 99 test is partially valid for my book. Three spousal homicides on page 99 certainly match the title. One woman killed her husband during a drunken brawl, one killed her abusive partner out of desperation, and a third was suspected of poisoning her husband. The woman who beat her husband to death was acquitted, the battered wife received a relatively light sentence. The suspected poisoner was executed even though she argued that she had been “deprived of reason” and she had nearly died from eating the same dish that killed her husband. But the female poisoner represented premeditation as well as treachery. Further, the woman had violated the established order by “taking away the life of him to whom you owed allegiance.” Poisoning was one of the very few types of homicides in which men enjoyed no physical advantage.

Though the cases do demonstrate the three categories of female killers generally, women who killed their husbands represented a special category legally and culturally. The rate at which women were accused of killing their husbands remained flat for the entire two and a half centuries covered in this book, even though the rates for other types of homicide fluctuated wildly. However, the change in the response to such homicides did correspond to larger trends as women were increasingly likely to be seen as incompetent rather than evil. Killing a husband was legally an act of petit treason until 1828 and several women were burned at the stake for it during the late seventeenth and eighteenth century. By the early twentieth century many women who might have burned two hundred years earlier were acquitted or given light sentences on the assumption that a woman’s biology meant that she often “might have no very clear idea of what she was doing.” Women defendants were treated more leniently by the early twentieth century as the courts concluded that women’s inherent intellectual limitations meant they were not fully responsible for their actions. One of the most frustrating conclusions of this book is that such condescension saved many women from the gallows and progress is never strictly linear.
Learn more about Debauched, Desperate, Deranged at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Alison M. Parker's "Unceasing Militant: The Life of Mary Church Terrell"

Alison M. Parker is department chair and Richards Professor of American History at the University of Delaware.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Unceasing Militant: The Life of Mary Church Terrell, and reported the following:
Page 99 is part of a chapter entitled “The Black Elite: Finances, Militancy, and Family,” in my biography of the civil rights activist and feminist, Mary Church Terrell. On this page, Mary (“Mollie”) Church Terrell is writing to her husband, Robert (“Berto”) H. Terrell, lamenting that neither of their daughters seemed prepared to “represent the race” to the majority white population that was always ready to dismiss Black Americans as inferior:
It was particularly difficult for Mollie to see her daughter refuse to apply herself to her language studies. After all, one of her proudest moments at Oberlin College involved reciting Greek in front of an impressed Matthew Arnold, the visiting English writer, who openly declared he had not believed anyone “of African descent” could correctly pronounce Greek. Although stung by his racist presumptions, Mollie was gratified to have proved him wrong and to have represented her race well. Berto Terrell, of course, was also an accomplished linguist.

Other talented black parents shared the Terrells’ problems. On a visit to Memphis, after a conversation with a childhood friend about her sons, Mollie reported to Berto, “My darling Husband…. Fannie came over and talked several hours about the utter worthlessness of her two boys. It is really pathetic to see how utterly good for nothing children of well-to-do, ambitious parents are. The parents have all the pride and aspiration while the children have practically none.” Mollie then declared, “If Mary does not improve, if she continues to show such a lack of interest and pride in her High School course as she has manifested up to date, I am going to use heroic measures for a short while, at least.”

As it became clear that their daughters seemed unlikely to shine academically, Mollie and Berto decided to cultivate their musical talents. The desire to foster their daughters’ musical abilities derived in part from the valuable social and performative aspects of playing music as a form of cultural capital and status. They expected each daughter to become an accomplished musician who could play at least one instrument and sing well. Mollie began to find practice sessions more rewarding: “P[hyllis] is improving so much on the piano….She is such a comfort to me now. She seems to be taking pride in her work.” Genuine dedication, whether academic or musical, were precisely what Mollie was yearning for from her children.
The page 99 test gets at some of the key points of the chapter and, to some degree, the book. The Terrell couple were both born into slavery but ended up far surpassing the limitations and burdens of their family histories of enslavement to become well-educated, prominent activists and professionals. Mollie Church Terrell earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Oberlin College and Berto Terrell earned his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and his law degree from Howard University. The couple met in the late 1880s while teaching Latin and Greek at the prominent M Street Colored High School. Mollie Terrell was appointed to as the first African American woman on the Washington, D.C. school board in 1895 and Berto Terrell became the first African American justice of the peace in 1901. As members of the Black elite, the Terrell couple deliberately used their education and prominence to advocate for civil rights and educational rights for all African Americans.

While raising their daughters, the Terrells hoped and expected that they, too, would show by their attainments and deeds what Black Americans could do and achieve, in spite of the painful legacies of enslavement. Their daughter, Phyllis, for instance, was born in 1898, at the peak of lynching in the U.S. and at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) allowed Jim Crow to take hold of the South and, ultimately the nation. It was terribly discouraging for prominent activist parents like the Terrells, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington to find that their treasured, comparatively privileged children were not doing well in school and did not seem to have their fighting spirit. Leading Black activists often put intense pressure on their children, who did not always rise to their parents’ high expectations.

The rest of the biography moves on from page 99’s focus on her disappointed parental expectations, however, to reveal Terrell’s determination to continue being a leader in the struggle for civil rights. She gratefully accepted her mother’s help with childcare and her husband’s loving partnership and full endorsement of her radical activism, including her work with the likes of John Milholland, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Ida B. Wells to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mollie Church Terrell fought passionately for the rights of all Black children to live in a society without violence, segregation, and discrimination.
Learn more about Unceasing Militant at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 8, 2021

B. Brian Foster's "I Don't Like the Blues"

B. Brian Foster is assistant professor of sociology and southern studies at the University of Mississippi.

Foster applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, I Don't Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds me sitting at a coffeeshop in Clarksdale, Mississippi, talking with 27-year-old resident P.J. Echols. In the part of the conversation captured on page 99, there is a quote that does well to summarize what I Don't Like the Blues is about. P.J. says, "Clarksdale is not just the blues, right? Let's highlight the people who led those movements, that started those efforts, those visionaries." He clapped then held his hands together, giving his words a beat. "Those innovators, those creators, those disruptors…Those people made the blues, created the art, built the infrastructure." His voice took on the rasp of a preacher. As our conversation continues, P.J. continues emphasize his point: the town of Clarksdale, which has emphasized blues tourism in its economic plan since the early 1980's, has more to offer its residents than the blues.

The test works; and it actually works in two ways. First, at the most basic level, the conversation captured on page 99 pretty effectively the thesis of the book: black residents of Clarksdale, Mississippi are frustrated with and tired of the town's heavy emphasis on blues tourism. Among other things, they believe that by focusing only on the blues, local elected officials and stakeholders deemphasize other important parts of the town's history, and ignore a whole segment of local residents. The second way that the test works is that it requires us to sit with and think about a seemingly mundane interaction, a conversation between a local resident and I. That's also a part of the argument that the book makes: there is value and meaning in even the most mundane parts of black lived experience.

I Don't Like the Blues is informed by more than 200 conversations with black residents of Clarksdale, Mississippi—conversations like the one, with P.J. Echols, captured on page 99. In these conversations, which I had between 2014 and 2019, I heard something over and over again that confused me. In the world's most famous "blues place" the people who created the blues were telling me they didn't like the blues. Talking about the blues made them sad. It made them feel left out and ignored. It made them angry and skeptical. The point of the book is to document and unpack these feelings.

The punchline of the book is that the blues evokes different feelings because people see it as a stand-in for different things. For many, the blues represents "hard times from back in the day," times that they don't like to think too much about. For some, the blues represents a type of entertainment and recreation (e.g., a blues festival or blues club performance) that they aren't interested in. And for some, the blues represents a failed approach at economic development. However black residents defined the blues, at some point they were clear with me that they didn't like it.

You hear that on page 99 from 27-year-old P.J. and on page 5 from 71-year-old Mrs. Irene Sandiford, and on page 44 from 45-year-old Mac McIntosh
Visit B. Brian Foster's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

John M. Hobson's "Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy"

John M. Hobson is Professor of Politics & International Relations at the University of Sheffield and is a Fellow of the British Academy. His books include The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation (2004) and The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics (2012).

Hobson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy: Beyond the Western-Centric Frontier, and reported the following:
Given that this is a 506 page book comprising some 190,000 words, so the objective chance of page 99 being significant for the whole book’s argument are slim – indeed a 1:506 chance! But if I could choose one page that is absolutely central to the book’s core argument it would be… page 99. This describes the twelve-sided Indian cotton textile (export) trading system that spanned Afro-Eurasia after 1500 and which reached out to the New World after about 1571. Its significance lies in my claim that India via its export of cotton textiles played one of the most important roles in weaving together what I call the “first global economy” (c.1500–1850). Moreover, India’s dominance of global cotton textile markets equipped its merchants with “global structural power”, through which much of the global economy was organised. For in addition to constituting the world’s single most important trading commodity, these textiles also became a universal means of exchange that both fuelled further transactions of non-textile commodities and enabled the emergence of other key global trading commodities. For example, the products/raw materials that the African slaves produced in the New World, including raw cotton, cacao, sugar, rum, coffee and tobacco, were made possible by the fact that the main commodity that the African slavers would accept in exchange for African slaves was Indian cotton textiles. But, while the British in particular had become dependent on re-exporting these textiles in order to purchase the African slaves, so the former became increasingly frustrated and sought to develop their own cotton textile sector. However, in order to compete with the superior Indian product, they had no choice but to mechanise production such that by the 1820s they finally came to export more of the British-made product. Accordingly, Indian cotton textiles and Indian structural power formed the basis not only of the first global economy, but they prompted the industrialisation of Britain through what I call the “Afro-Indian global cotton whip of necessity”, which in turn enabled the transition from the first to the second modern capitalist global economy after about 1850.

But why this emphasis on Indian cotton textiles? The key framework of the book is to challenge Western-centric conceptions of the global economy that award a hyper-agential power to the Europeans while the non-Western peoples are, by contrast, denigrated as but irrational and passive such that they contributed nothing to the creation of the global economy. This book instead focuses on the agential contribution of Indians, Chinese, West Asians, and Africans as well as Europeans, and reveals how they all entwined together not least through the trade in Indian cotton textiles as collectively they created the first and second global economy.
Learn more about Multicultural Origins of the Global Economy at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue