Saturday, February 27, 2021

Rachel Anne Gillett's "At Home in Our Sounds"

Rachel Anne Gillett lectures in cultural history at the University of Utrecht and writes about race, popular culture, and empire. She focuses on the French Empire but her interests range from Marvel movies, to early jazz, to rugby. Her writing appears in blogs and magazines as well as in academic literature and she can be heard on "Unsettling Knowledge," a podcast about how empire shaped European societies. She is deeply interested in how popular culture reflects and influences social and political life and has pursued that theme wherever she has lived and worked, from New Zealand, to America, to the Netherlands.

Gillett applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, At Home in Our Sounds: Music, Race, and Cultural Politics in Interwar Paris, and reported the following:
Page 99 of At Home in Our Sounds describes the impact of the economic depression on Black performers in France, particularly those working in the nightclub scene. This page mostly analyses a long quotation from a lively and opinionated journalist - the self-styled “street-wolf” of Montmartre. Here’s an excerpt with my introduction and that quotation:
In 1922, French musicians had convinced Raymond Poincaré to pre­sent a “10- percent law” to the National Assembly, but it had been more or less ignored until the Depression hit. By 1935, however, Black American reporter Wiggins, the “Street Wolf,” commented on how the tightening up of labor laws had affected Black musicians:
For what seemed an endless period, from June 1, 1933, when the French 10 per cent law (which completely dissolved all foreign orchestras) went into effect until April 20, 1934 ... there was not one Negro jazz orchestra enter­taining in Paris. French jazz orchestras, with one or two exceptions, failed to prove a big attraction and, as the majority of cabaret goers ostensibly preferred the dance music of dark-skinned musicians, Martiniques and Cubans with their rumba and Biguine music became the rage.
The page 99 test delivers a mixed result for my book. It captures my focus on the lived experiences of black musicians in Paris. I insist, throughout the book, on including voices and evidence from musicians themselves and voila, there’s a substantive quotation from a black American, slap bang in the middle of the page. It also captures one of my arguments about music-making and politics – that these are always related. And because they are related we need to think about how music-making is a form of cultural politics. This page’s focus on the experience of Black Americans, however, and quotation from a Black American male reflects but also deviates a bit from the book as a whole.

The rest of the book contrasts and connects the experience of Black Americans with the experience of French individuals and communities who identified – or were identified by others – as Black. We get a hint of that in the closing comment of the quotation – which tells us Black French musicians are now “the rage.” Throughout the book I show how the jazz craze affected Black Americans, French, and also French society and French colonialism more broadly. The other major absence on this page is that there are no women! But throughout the book I include a lot of women because they were there, they were active, and they shaped the music scene. Women participated in the whole complex of cultural, racial and colonial politics that went along with music-making in interwar Paris.

Finally this page, to my delight, reveals some of the strengths of my writing – fascinating quotations, clearly situated in time and place, that give a slice-of-life, and contain loads of evidence to unpack. To my shame, it also reveals my writing weaknesses - which I thought I’d worked hard to remove! Some jargon, some complex sentences, and extensive footnotes that interrupt the flow of reading. All lessons for the next book!
Learn more about At Home in Our Sounds at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Courtney E. Thompson's "An Organ of Murder"

Courtney E. Thompson is an assistant professor of the history of science and medicine and U.S. women’s history at Mississippi State University in Starkville. She received her Ph.D. from the program in the history of science and medicine of Yale University in 2015.

Thompson applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, An Organ of Murder: Crime, Violence, and Phrenology in Nineteenth-Century America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of An Organ of Murder is the last page of the fourth chapter, where I wrap up an exploration of the “prison as laboratory” by applying Michel Foucault’s notion of the panopticon to the phrenological prison:
[…] While the phrenological gaze within the prison was not persistent or constant in the same fashion as the disciplinary gaze within the panoptic prison, the entry of the phrenologist into the prison added to the observational power and unequal gaze imposed upon prisons, by contributing an aspect of predictive anatomical knowledge and judgment through vision. Phrenologists, including Spurzheim, Gall, the Fowler brothers, and others, gave prison wardens, as well as attorneys and judges, detailed reports on their observations of inmates, sometimes warning wardens of particularly dangerous inmates who might try to escape or behave in a violent manner, and they also acted as expert witnesses on the stand, testifying as to prisoners’ potential for future bad behavior, based on the evidence of their skulls, as discussed in previous chapters. This “laboratory of power” and its disciplinary gaze both produced and were produced by phrenological vision.

The phrenologist also carried this visual regime out of the prison and translated it into daily life. Practical phrenology, by creating and perpetuating a culture of vision predicated on the identification of “good” and “bad” heads, enabled the production of judgment by appearances in daily life, as we shall see in the next chapter. As Foucault observed regarding the mechanism of the panopticon, “the more numerous those anonymous and temporary observers are, the greater the risk of the inmate of being surprised and the greater his anxious awareness of being observed.” As in the prison, so too on the street: power grows more diffuse as more eyes are encouraged and empowered to look and judge. But beyond the structure of the prison, all people are both seeing and seen, an inversion of the dynamic of the panoptic prison that does nothing to dilute the disciplinary power of vision. A student of practical phrenology in midcentury America was primed to engage in panoptic practices on the street, seeking “bad heads” and a propensity for crime before its commission. As Foucault has suggested, a panoptic system “was destined to spread throughout the social body; its vocation was to become a generalized function.” In mid-nineteenth-century America, phrenology provided the means, Foucault’s warning realized: “The gaze is alert everywhere.”
In this case, the Page 99 Test works quite well; if I had to choose a short selection from the book to sum up my major arguments and interventions, this page would be a good choice, as it signals the high stakes involved with the phrenological attention to the question of crime. Phrenology was used in prisons, in courts, and on the streets to distinguish between “good” and “bad” heads, and that resulted in real effects on people’s lives. (This is also, amusingly, the most theory I engage with in the book, with the heavy Foucault influence here; in this, this page is not a great representation of the writing style and overall approach of the text.)

The one important piece missing, however, is the language of criminality. The book explores both language and image: this passage speaks only to the visual culture and visual signs of phrenological criminality. The language used to describe criminal potential, however, was equally significant, leading to long-lasting effects on how we describe criminality in law, medicine, and culture today.
Learn more about An Organ of Murder at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Steven B. Smith's "Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes"

Steven B. Smith is Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and professor of philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including Modernity and Its Discontents.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test works quite well for my book. It is close to the center of the book and as discerning readers know, the middle is always the most important part.

Page 99 begins a section titled “Constitutional Faith” and it introduces the idea of what is unique about American patriotism. American patriotism is rooted in a form of faith or reverence for the Constitution. This quasi-religious faith is sometimes referred to as a civil religion but it is a religion of a peculiar kind.

American patriotism is not rooted in nationalistic beliefs about blood and soil or on religious beliefs about divine promises but has always been based on reason. From our beginnings patriotism has contained a deliberative and self-questioning character. “Who are we?” “What do we stand for?” are questions that have been at the core of our national identity. To be an American is to be continually engaged in asking what it means to be an American.

Patriotism, I argue, is an ancient but often misunderstood disposition. The term derives from the Greek patris (place of one’s ancestors) and the Latin patria (fatherland). Both are inseparable from the word politics. As the name suggests, patriotism is associated with love of country where this means what do we look up to as a people. American patriotism has always had an aspirational quality. It means devotion not only to what we are but what we hope to be as this expressed in our founding documents.

Today patriotism is under attack from both left and right. From the left, cosmopolitans reject it because they think patriotism is like some mafia code of omertà that requires unconditional loyalty and a willful blindness to our national failings. From the right, nationalists basically agree with that premise but choose loyalty over free thought, seeing criticism of America as treasonous. Both of these attacks are wrong. At its best, patriotism isn’t indoctrination into a cult of the nation but a form of moral education. Patriotism teaches that real loyalty to our country involves virtues like civility, law-abidingness, respect for others, responsibility, love of honor, courage and leadership. Rather than saying “my country right or wrong,” patriotism is reflective and self-critical, working to bring America closer to the country it can and should be.
Learn more about Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 21, 2021

John Howard Smith's "A Dream of the Judgment Day"

John Howard Smith is Professor of History at Texas A&M University-Commerce and author of The First Great Awakening: Redefining Religion in British America, 1725-1775.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Dream of the Judgment Day: American Millennialism and Apocalypticism, 1620-1890, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Dream of the Judgment Day appears in a chapter explaining the degrees of millennialism attending the American Revolution. Most of the page is dominated by a paragraph that discusses the reactions Pietist sects had to the Revolution, specifically its being, in their opinion, “the regrettable outcome of civil strife born of an overall inattention to Christian duty.” That particular paragraph is not highly reflective of the book itself, except to underscore the hypocrisy of the Patriots’ demanding liberty and equality for themselves while denying those rights to any who opposed them or, in the case of some Quakers and other neutral religious groups, those who refused to take part on either side of the conflict. American Christians, especially those of radical Protestant persuasions, tend to see the world in starkly Manichean terms of good versus evil. Good Christians stand for Christ and the righteous, and any who does not has sided with Satan and the damned. The American Revolutionaries generally believed that the Revolution was a prophesied event, or otherwise shared a millenarian conviction that it was the beginning of a new era for human civilization, if not the dawning of the Millennium itself. Anyone who questioned or opposed the Revolution was thus lumped with the Antichrist—a trope that has become a feature of American politics even to the present day.

The following paragraph does emphasize an important and timely point that I think my book makes. “Loyalists had long argued that the merchant leaders of the Revolution were a cabal—or a network of cabals—organized to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority of colonists who depended upon them for the necessities of living. Patriots countered by portraying Loyalist elites as sunk in the same corruption that had eaten away the British constitution.” Popular apocalypticists throughout the history of Christianity—especially in the United States—consistently appealed to the concerns of lower-class people in ways that mirror those of elites currying political support. Revolutionaries like John Adams exulted that American victory in the War for Independence was a fulfillment of prophecies in the Book of Daniel, while others employed millenarian rhetoric in order to maintain popular support for independence and—later on—for ratification of the Constitution, anti-French sentiment in the late 1790s, the War of 1812, Manifest Destiny, and both sides of the Civil War, to name only a few examples. Millennialism and apocalypticism are deeply interwoven with the fabric of American society from its beginnings, and remains so to this day.
Learn more about A Dream of the Judgment Day at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 19, 2021

Richard Thompson Ford's "Dress Codes"

Richard Thompson Ford is a Professor at Stanford Law School. He has written about law, social and cultural issues and race relations for The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Slate, and has appeared on The Colbert Report and The Rachel Maddow Show. He is the author of the New York Times notable books The Race Card and Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality.

Ford applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the last page in a pivotal chapter in the book entitled “The Great Masculine Renunciation.” Page 99 addresses the 1844 case of Regina v. Whittaker, which established the rule that English barristers must wear a powdered wig or “bench wig” when appearing before the court.

This in and of itself may seem like esoterica, but it actually reveals a lot: the wig is a great example of the way fashions that began as elite status symbols were used by people lower in the social hierarchy—not just to copy or try to masquerade as the elites but for their own purposes. It is also an example of how status symbols changed from flamboyant and opulent to subtle and elegant. The powdered wig began as a classic status symbol, worn by French royalty as a symbol of masculine virility and royal pedigree. But over time the wig became popular with all social classes. And the wigs themselves got smaller—less ostentatious and more unobtrusive.

This reflected a broader change in men’s fashions in the 18th century, which the psychologist John Carl Flugel called the Great Masculine Renunciation, when “men gave up their right to all of the brighter, gayer, more elaborate, and more varied forms of ornamentation, leaving these entirely to the use of women.” Opulence and ornamentation—once signs of high status associated with honor and magnificence—then became associated with waste, frivolity and vanity. The Great Masculine Renunciation reflected an abandonment of political hierarchy based on inherited status and dynasty and the rise of Enlightenment ideals of industriousness, modesty and self-discipline and—to some extent—equality. So while Louis Quatorze wore a big, full wig, Thomas Jefferson wore a modest, short wig and Benjamin Franklin eventually stopped wearing a wig altogether (George Washington styled his own hair to look a lot like a wig, but apparently did not actually wear one.)

But this new egalitarianism did not extend to women—this was a Great Masculine Renunciation. And the Great Renunciation replaced outdated status symbols that were obvious and easy to copy with new status symbols that were subtle and understood only by those already in the know. Status symbols based on flash and showiness were replaced by status symbols based on refinement and savoir faire.

This kind of male wig now remains only as something highly formal and specialized—like a formal coat with tails, which incidentally, the federal government’s lawyer, the Solicitor General, still wears today when arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States. So the English have their bench wigs and we American lawyers have our antiquated customs too.
Visit Richard Thompson Ford's website.

The Page 69 Test: Racial Culture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Elizabeth Frazer's "Shakespeare and the Political Way"

Elizabeth Frazer teaches political thought and political theory at the University of Oxford. Her publications include Can Violence Ever Be Justified? (with Kimberly Hutchings, 2019), and she is the author of articles about ideals of politics in political thought and education.

Frazer applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Shakespeare and the Political Way, and reported the following:
Page 99 sets out the story of Friar Laurence, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which, as I tell it here, figures Laurence as a magus figure who meditates on the occult qualities of things, relationships, and actions, and also, critically for the book, as a ‘Machiavellian’ political operator who seizes the opportune moment – kairos - and takes the chance. In Machiavelli’s political philosophy, chronos – the flow of events, causes and effects – is important too, of course, but acting with or even against kairos sets political action apart from administration, for instance, or legal judgement. Laurence goes in for ingenious plans, and has to use his persuasive powers to recruit others to his scheme.

I am a bit disappointed with Page 99, partly because of the look of the layout – lots of cites to Shakespeare’s text in brackets. How about Page 171: ‘The idea that politics and magic are deeply intertwined with one another is both preposterous and commonsensical.’? Or Page 35: ‘In Othello we hear two distinct streams of free speech, with different political implications.’

Critics have argued about ‘Shakespeare and politics’ for ages – mainly asking whether the plays endorse a broadly ‘right wing’ view of the importance of stable sovereignty and established social order, or whether they endorse a more ‘left wing’ view with their representations of popular claims for justice and women’s subversion of patriarchy. There is also a good deal of amazing scholarship which shows how the cover of the dramatic stage permits allusions to current events and, especially, evaluations of the character and conduct of monarch and governmental officers that could not be voiced openly. But all this work tends to overlook another aspect of Shakespeare and politics: the plays’ extraordinarily acute and subtle understanding of both the elusiveness and the contested nature of ‘political power’. Plots often pit against one another rival constructions of ‘politics’: as divinely ordained sovereignty, as patriarchal authority (not the same thing), as free speech, or as tumultuous action, as the rightful prize for honourable military violence, as nothing more than economic – financial or commercial – clout, as violent domination disguised as magic capability .... And so on. That’s what the book is about – and I hope it might make a contribution to our twenty first understandings and evaluations of ‘politics’, as well as casting new light on the matter of Shakespeare and politics.
Learn more about Shakespeare and the Political Way at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Liz Heinecke's "Radiant"

Liz Heinecke has an undergraduate degree in art from Luther College, a master's degree in bacteriology from UW Madison and worked as an academic molecular biology researcher before starting her wildly successful online educational platform KitchenPantryScientist.com. She has written seven books teaching kids (and their parents) how to perform simple science experiments at home, including two which pair science experiments with history lessons about scientists. Heinecke is a regular fixture on local TV morning shows including CBS and ABC, and frequently makes appearances for library programs, and at STEM, STEAM and tech festivals. Between experiments and writing, she paints, sings, and plays the banjo. She lives in Minneapolis, MN.

Heinecke applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Radiant: The Dancer, The Scientist, and a Friendship Forged in Light, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Radiant- The Dancer, The Scientist and a Friendship Forged in Light drops in on a conversation between Nobel-winning scientist Marie Curie and her five-year-old daughter Irene, who would go on to win a Nobel prize of her own. Marie describes to Irene how a piece of scientific equipment called an electroscope works. To illustrate the concept, she asks Irene to touch her head and uses her hands to demonstrate how the metallic strips in an electroscope respond to electrical charge.

The page is an excellent representation of the book, which is a creative nonfiction narrative about Marie Curie and the dancer-inventor Loie Fuller. It refers to Marie’s traumatic childhood under the Russian occupation of Poland and to her first exposure to science— through her father’s cabinet of scientific equipment. In addition, it introduces a piece of equipment called an electrometer, which was instrumental in Marie’s monumental discovery of the element radium. The scene also hints to the reader that Marie was a loving mother and a wonderful teacher, whose love of science infused almost every moment of her life and ignited Irene’s love of physics.

Marie Curie met Loie Fuller when the famous dancer asked her for some radium to light her dancing costume. From the time I started writing, I imagined their story on a stage, with Loie spinning like a lily under a rainbow of light and Marie waltzing through her lab, surrounded by glowing tubes of radium. Creative non-fiction allowed me to animate scenes from their lives and invent dialogue based on facts I discovered in autobiographical documents, first person accounts such as Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, letters, personal journals, and newspaper articles. At times, especially in the case of Loie Fuller, who gave hundreds of interviews and kept extensive journals, I was able to incorporate Loie and Marie’s own words into the text.
Visit Liz Heinecke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Dennis J. Frost's "More Than Medals"

Dennis J. Frost is Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences in the Department of History at Kalamazoo College. He is author of Seeing Stars: Sports Celebrity, Identity, and Body Culture in Modern Japan.

Frost applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, More Than Medals: A History of the Paralympics and Disability Sports in Postwar Japan, and reported the following:
The first full paragraph on page 99 of More Than Medals reads:
On the one hand, the APC has clearly distanced itself from the problematic paternalistic and medicalized approach to disability sports that defined FESPIC, especially in its early years, and the APC is committed to empowering athletes with disabilities, particularly by providing them with the biggest stage possible on which to demonstrate their exceptional talents. On the other hand, the broader commitment to regional outreach and social issues outside of sport that lay at the very heart of FESPIC’s mission now appear to have become secondary at best. Where the Games had been a means to an end for FESPIC, for the APC they have become an end—or perhaps more accurately a “core asset” essential to the continued viability of the APC—in and of themselves.
Someone browsing this page would likely find themselves asking, “What is the APC or FESPIC? And why are they being compared?” Deeper interests can certainly originate with those sorts of questions, but in this instance, the page 99 test might disappoint readers. In part, that’s because the paragraphs here wrap up a section addressing international institutional transitions that re-shaped disability sports in Japan and the Asian region. Page 99 highlights the impacts of an organizational merger in 2006 that created the current Asian Paralympic Committee (APC) and dissolved the three-decades-old Far East and South Pacific (FESPIC) Games, which serve as the focus of this chapter. Many people are unfamiliar with even the basics of these disability sports organizations, so the significance of the comparisons on page 99 would be too easy to miss. I also hate to imagine that someone reading this single page would think that the book is only about those types of organizational changes. While that’s definitely an important part of the story, there’s much more to the history of disability sports in Japan that I explore in the book.

Even with those limitations, I did note that page 99 hinted at several of the book’s broader themes, so all is not lost for the test! For one, readers’ potential lack of familiarity with FESPIC’s history speaks to larger questions in the chapter, namely, how does a thirty-year-old organization that hosted multiple international disability sports events largely disappear from popular and even institutional memory? And what might that tell us about the oft-discussed legacies of other sports mega-events?

Comparisons between FESPIC and the APC on page 99 also highlight both the evolution of—and tensions within—efforts to promote sports for people with disabilities in Japan. Like other early disability sports events, the FESPIC Games initially focused on sports as a form of medicalized rehabilitation, but they became increasingly geared toward elite competition. From its origins the APC emphasized the elite nature of disability sports, but as this chapter and others in the book point out, rehabilitation-related understandings of disability sports have persisted, with patterns established decades ago continuing to shape how we view athletes with disabilities today. The reference to FESPIC’s mission on page 99 also serves as a reminder that the significance of disability sports in Japan—even with their more recent “elite” approach—has repeatedly extended well beyond the sports field. The Paralympics and disability sports in Japan have always been about more than medals.
Learn more about More Than Medals at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Seeing Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sushma Subramanian's "How to Feel"

Sushma Subramanian is a science and health journalist whose writing has appeared in Slate, The Atlantic, Elle, Scientific American, Discover and many others. Her radio work has aired on WBEZ and CBC. She has twice been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and was the winner of a Newswomen's Club of New York Front Page Award. She has received research support from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and the Genetics and Behavior Journalism Fellowships. Subramanian teaches journalism as an assistant professor at the University of Mary Washington and advises the student newspaper.

She and her husband are also award-winning Peep dioramists.

Subramanian applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How to Feel: The Science and Meaning of Touch, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss attachment theory. This is a psychological concept that many readers probably already know about. To put it as plainly as possible, the relationship that you have with your parents defines the relationships you have with others over the course of your life. I apply it, additionally, to the way we use touch. Some people might describe themselves as extremely affectionate, and others might say they're more standoffish. Part of that is due to whatever their personal, inborn setpoint is for touch. But early interactions with others also build on that innate characteristic. So for instance, you might be someone who was actually born with a deep need to connect physically with others, but your parents maybe weren't that way. So you learned to suppress over time what you actually need. As an adult, you might say you're touch averse, but there's a lot to unpack under that.

This section is quite personal to me because I am someone who once considered myself to be touch-averse, but I really started to question that assumption as I did my reporting. Does this particular page give a good or poor idea of the entire work, though? Umm yes and no! It's an important thread to the book, to be sure. But I don't want to give the impression that it's a work of psychology or memoir. I try not to write about myself too much, except where it's most necessary, and the book covers a range of scientific fields. I think a lot of what I observe about touch in that section, however, mirrors the way people think about it in other fields ranging from biology to haptic engineering. It's a highly emotional sense, of course.

The book is a mix of hard and soft science, which is why I liked touch so much as a subject. You can write about it in a highly scientific way and also a more poetic and lyrical way. It's impossible to disentangle the sense of physical touch from our feelings, in other words. So this section is just heavier on the feelings end of things.
Visit Sushma Subramanian's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 12, 2021

Nathaniel Robert Walker's "Victorian Visions of Suburban Utopia"

Nathaniel Robert Walker is an Associate Professor of Architectural History at the College of Charleston.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Victorian Visions of Suburban Utopia: Abandoning Babylon, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my new book has almost everything. I was, in fact, rather amazed and delighted to see how many different themes and issues from the book made an appearance on that single page! There was only one thing missing—but it was the most important thing of all. It was as if the page had the whole ice cream shop, including staff and customers, and money was changing hands, but there was no ice cream.

The basic premise of my book is that, before suburbs slowly but surely came to dominate many of our lives in the 1900s, there was a century or two of dreaming for an ideal suburban world…a world far from the dense hustle and smoky bustle of industrial cities, away from the slums and the stones. These dreams took several forms, with the most important being dozens upon dozens of Victorian science-fiction and utopian novels that foretold a future of mechanized, high-tech suburban bliss. To help my readers understand these sometimes wonderful and sometimes insane (and sometimes wonderfully insane) visions, I have to situate them in context, fleshing out the real urban world as Victorian architects worked in it, critics and reformers debated it, and everyday people experienced it. I have to help my readers understand the ways that Victorians drew upon older sources—such as the Bible or popular poetry from bygone eras—and leveraged emerging sciences to condemn cities and raise the possibility of a suburban alternative. Page 99 is full of this contextual discussion and offers almost every species of it. It takes my readers to London in 1847, as an important writer discusses a plan by an architect to disperse the poor of London from their foul rookeries by building new commuter cottage suburbs on railway lines:
…many Victorians saw Moffat’s scheme as a viable path to urban redemption. Andrew Winter of The People’s Journal was absolutely convinced; he argued that the wealthy were already leaving the city behind, such that the commercial and business district of “London proper at night, as far as the houses are concerned, is nearly deserted.” This was a fact, as the suburban fringes had proven so tempting that by the middle of the century, even middle-class families had all but abandoned the heart of London. Most commutes still required lengthy journeys by carriage, omnibus, or foot, but a small number were accessible by train. A three-mile hike from a humble but decent terrace house with a rear garden to a centrally located office would not be unusual for an average clerk, who might even celebrate the exercise.

The time had come, Winter argued, “when the working classes should follow the good example set by their superiors in the social scale.” If one rolled out a map of London and studied its “terrible physiology,” it would become clear that its streets were “but the frontier of a kingdom of which the upper classes know as little as of the interior of Japan.” Slums filled the nooks, lanes, and courts that made up the core of blocks, which “caged” London workers. In the industrial towns, he lamented, people lived in cellars and died young. In dramatic moral terms that can perhaps best be described as Augustinian, Winter argued that the problem cut straight to the original spirit of humanity:
... there is a moral as well as a physical scurvy—as the lime to the sailor in the great ocean, so is the smallest plant . . . to the poor mechanic shut up in our vast brick-and-mortar Babel. Trees, flowers, and “the green garniture of fields” are the natural companions of man, and in proportion to the length of time which you banish him from their society, so will he be distorted from the true image in which he was originally made. It was no idle saying—God made the country, but man made the town.
Page 99 gives us so much: an historical discussion of real London, reference to an architect’s railroad reform scheme, and a healthy chunk of journalistic criticism that summoned the Bible, evoked the ancient writings of Augustine and a dead British poet, threw the gauntlet in terms of hygiene and medicine, fretted over a growing gulf between the classes, and even exhaled a thin whiff of racism. It is Victorian urban criticism in a nutshell. The only thing that is missing is the core of my book: utopian science-fiction visions of a radical new future. So, perhaps Page 99 is perfect in every way. It establishes the urban world of the 1880s, its problems, and its debates, and then, I can only hope, leaves readers wanting to learn more about Victorian dreams for a solution: visions of suburban utopia that could be beautiful and enchanting, while also horrible and destructive.
Learn more about Victorian Visions of Suburban Utopia at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Tina Frühauf's "Transcending Dystopia"

Tina Frühauf is Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University and serves on the doctoral faculty of The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the editor of the award-winning Dislocated Memories: Jews, Music, and Postwar German Culture (2014) and has published widely on German Jewish music culture and twentieth-century music.

Frühauf applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Transcending Dystopia: Music, Mobility, and the Jewish Community in Germany, 1945-1989, and reported the following:
From page 99:
… The peculiar dialectic between cultural change and persistence is an indicator of the complexities the Jewish community faced in reestablishing itself after the Holocaust and for a provisional new beginning. This confluence of two seemingly dichotomous processes, a mobility in its own right, was not limited to Jewish communities. It extended to the cultural mainstream of all occupied Germany during the later 1940s, and music’s role therein is widely acknowledged. Cultural historian Hermann Glaser asserts that “from the very beginning of cultural life in the occupation zones of Germany, discontinuity and continuity were contradictory elements of the same structure, often hardly separated from each other.” According to Glaser there were more continuities than caesuras.

For Jewish communities, continuity and persistence also expressed itself in the fluctuation of numbers. By 1948 over one hundred communities existed again, resurrecting previously disbanded congregations primarily in bigger cities. Most of them numbered fewer than 50 members. Among the larger ones were Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, and Munich in the West, Dresden and Leipzig in the East, and the former capital of Berlin. But the manic exhilaration of the immediate postwar years quickly began to fade. …
This excerpt from page 99 of Transcending Dystopia: Music, Mobility, and the Jewish Community in Germany, 1945–1989 closes the book’s first part, titled “After the Rupture: The Interregnum and the Culture of Rebirth,” which centers on the remarkable return of Jewish musical activity that emerged in occupied Germany against all odds. A world was in ruins, a population so gravely diminished that a rich cultural life seemed unthinkable. And yet, hope and strength led to a rebirth that manifested itself, amongst other things, in musical practices. As such, page 99 captures the cultural significance of the first postwar years from a broader perspective, reading the developments during this time from the angle of continuance versus discontinuation as agents of cultural mobility. This aside, as much as 1945 was a juncture in history, page 99 represents a juncture in Transcending Dystopia—the penultimate page of the first part of the book, after which the trajectory of music in the Jewish communities would take new turns, with the foundation of two very different German states, and in a divided Berlin. The second part, “Music in Motion,” looks at the Jewish communities in West Germany; the third part “The Presence of Absence,” scrutinizes Jewish (heritage) music in East Germany; and the last part, “Music as Vortex” examines the unique case of Berlin. All parts rely on musical practices to draw together three areas of inquiry: the Jewish community, the postwar Germanys and their politics after the Holocaust, and on the concept of cultural mobility. Within these pillars, the chapters of each part cover a wide spectrum of topics from music during commemorations, on the radio and in Jewish newspapers to synagogue concerts and community events; from the absence and presence of cantor and organ to the resurgence of choral music. What binds these topics tightly together is the specific theoretical inquiry of mobility, which also surfaces on page 99.
Visit Tina Frühauf's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Leslie Margolin's "The Etherized Wife"

Leslie Margolin is a professor of rhetoric, sexuality, and counselling at the University of Iowa. His books include Goodness Personified: The Emergence of Gifted Children and Under the Cover of Kindness: The Invention of Social Work.

Margolin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Etherized Wife: Privilege and Power in Sex Therapy Discourse, and reported the following:
At the top of page 99, readers will see a well-known psychologist's (Joseph Wolpe) verbatim description of how he treated a woman who could not tolerate sexual intercourse. Then they will see my reaction to this description:
Wolpe's technique, and this example, are quite famous, but as I read and reread Wolpe's description of how the treatment proceeded, I could not help thinking about the woman, his patient, whose significance as a human appears to have been reduced to that of a receptacle capable of receiving a series of imaginary and real rod-shaped objects into her vagina, culminating in the reception of her husband's penis. Wolpe described the case as a success because, like many of the others described in the sex therapy literature, the woman patient, in the end, was able to accept a penis into her vagina. But the question remains, why did Wolpe exclude any information on her motivation and frame of mind? Why did he see the intercourse goal as so important that it justified portraying her simply as an orifice that needed to learn to accept increasingly large objects until, finally, that orifice could comfortably accommodate a penis?
I believe that page 99 provides an excellent idea of what the book is all about.

This page shows, as does the entirety of my book, how, for decades, women have been objectified and humiliated in what we call "sex therapy."
Learn more about The Etherized Wife at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 8, 2021

Alisha Rankin's "The Poison Trials"

Alisha Rankin is associate professor of history at Tufts University. She is coeditor, with Elaine Leong, of Secrets and Knowledge in Medicine and Science, 1500–1800 and author of Panaceia’s Daughters: Noblewomen as Healers in Early Modern Germany, which won the 2014 Gerald Strauss Prize for Reformation History.

Rankin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Poison Trials: Wonder Drugs, Experiment, and the Battle for Authority in Renaissance Science, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Poison Trials throws the reader into the middle of a gruesome scene at Prague Castle in 1561. It portrays a test of poison and antidote on a prisoner condemned to be hanged. This anecdote was related by the surgeon Claudius Richardus, who worked at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. The very top of page 99 explains that the prisoner was given nothing but bread and water a few days before the test, so that his body would be more accessible to the poison (powdered root of an aconite known as napellus). I then describe Richardus’ excruciatingly detailed account of the poison’s painful effects on the prisoner, followed by the man’s fight for his life once he took the antidote (bezoar). In this case, the man survived, was set free, and was given a small payment for his participation. The page ends by noting Richardus’ interest in creating a “more certain” test than a previous, failed poison trial described earlier in the chapter, and it begins a description of a second trial overseen by Richardus along the same lines.

The Page 99 test works fairly well for my book. It is an important part of Chapter Three, which shows how physicians and surgeons at European princely courts recorded and shared detailed accounts of poison trials, in both private documents and printed books (Richardus’s text was a letter that ended up in print). I argue that these accounts deliberately depicted poison trials as learned, scholarly medical experiments, in contrast to dramatic poison demonstrations conducted in the marketplace by lower-class empirical practitioners. Page 99 also touches on themes that are important in other chapters. For instance, this prisoner was set free and given a payment – a small sign that humans used for potentially fatal tests required special treatment, the main theme of chapter 4 (on early medical ethics). The antidote, bezoar, is a focus in Chapter 5, which places poison trials within the global drug trade and the princely drive to collect exotic naturalia.

At the same time Page 99 misses some important aspects of the book. It makes no mention of the empirical practitioners who play a big role in the book, or of the ancient and medieval precedents to these tests. I also don’t want to reduce the book to the horrifying descriptions of what happens when you give poisons and antidotes to humans. These anecdotes are one of the most striking and sensational aspects of the book, but they only appear in a few chapters, and I am more interested in the questions they raise about experiment, authority, and ethics. The poison trials themselves feel very distant, but the “big questions” of the book are things we are still grappling with today.
Learn more about The Poison Trials at the University of Chicago Press website.

Follow Alisha Rankin on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Molly Merryman's "Clipped Wings"

Molly Merryman is the founding director of Kent State University’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and an associate professor of Sociology. She is also a documentary filmmaker and the Historic Research Producer for the WASP documentary Coming Home (2020). Merryman is the research director for Queer Britain, the UK's national LGBTQ+ Museum.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her classic book, Clipped Wings: the Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, and reported the following:
Page 99 includes part of my written discussion about the Congressional hearings held in order to extend militarized status to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. Because military service was segregated to only include white men, each branch of the military had to request an extension of militarization to include women. As each of these bills came forward, Congress debated larger cultural expectations of women. This was particularly pronounced with the bill for militarizing the WASP, because flying military planes was regarding as a masculine endeavor.

This page focuses on remarks made on June 21, 1944 made by Minnesota Representative Joseph O’Hara, in opposition to the bill that would have extended to Women Airforce Service Pilots the militarized status that they were promised and that the War Department needed to maintain the important war work these pilots were engaged in. The bill was opposed by a lobbying group of civilian male pilots and men who were awaiting military pilot training stateside, in part because these men did not want to serve in combat.

As I write on this page, Representative O’Hara condemned the WASP bill, describing it as a piece of social legislation and referred to skilled military pilots as “very attractive lady pilot(s).”
By constructing the WASP militarization bill as “social legislation,” O’Hara shifted the focus of the bill from legislation that was developed to further the American war efforts to legislation that was shaped as governmental sponsorship of leisurely activities of a privileged group. The assumptions of members of Congress about the intentions and abilities of women pilots specifically and women generally clouded their abilities to recognize the resolution as it was submitted—as enabling legislation sponsored by the Army Air Forces and the War Department.
While most of Clipped Wings addresses the program itself—how it was formed, who the pilots were and what they accomplished—page 99 does get at the pulse of a key struggle related to the program—that of militarization. For sadly, despite the significant accomplishments made by the WASP and the support that the Army Air Forces and War Department had for the program, Congress denied them militarization and disbanded them before the war was won. And they did this because of sexist assumptions, not because of facts. They did it because they and lobbying groups believed that women should not have the right to fly military planes. As a consequence, these women were denied pay, participation in the GI Bill, and many other rights, rewards and privileges that had been promised them when they volunteered to serve.

So while page 99 is not the heart of Clipped Wings, it is the book’s jugular vein—and on this page we begin to see the jugular being torn, an act which effectively killed the participation of women as military pilots for the next 30 years and destroyed the careers of these military pilots permanently.
Learn more about Clipped Wings at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 5, 2021

Jeanne E. Abrams's "A View from Abroad"

Jeanne E. Abrams is Professor at the University Libraries and the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver, where she is also Director of the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, and Curator of the Beck Archives, Special Collections. She is the author of First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role (2018) and Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health (2013).

Abrams applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A View from Abroad: The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, in regards to A View From Abroad, the page 99 test does not work very well for my book. In an effort to compare the European experience of John and Abigail Adams with another prominent early American couple, page 99 focuses not on the Adamses, the subjects of my volume, but instead on the travels of Sarah and John Jay. Jay had served as the president of the Continental Congress, and in 1770 Jay was named minister to Spain in order to seek financial and political support for the new American nation. The Jays and Adamses became friends but came from different backgrounds and led different lives in Europe.

My main thesis in A View From Abroad is that the European journeys of John and Abigail Adams expanded their life experiences and honed their analytical skills. It allowed them a breadth of perspective they could not have experienced in America. They came face-to-face abroad with some of the most powerful people in the world (including the French rulers Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and England’s King George III and Queen Charlotte) and witnessed first-hand national traditions that had been developed there over centuries. Yet their time in the Old World only served to enhance their American loyalties as they were transformed from highly intelligent and articulate provincials to sophisticated world travelers. In Europe, they were exposed to an intellectual and cultural environment far richer than they could have imagined. In significant ways, their sojourn in Europe played a pivotal role in shaping their notions about American identity and nationhood and provided them with a real life frame of comparison. The Adamses returned to their homeland with a set of attitudes towards American society that had been reinforced, strengthened, and even evolved from those they had held when they set out. Their articulate, entertaining writings, particularly their letters to family and friends back home, provide us with an intimate and fascinating portrait of life in 18th century Europe from the royal courts to those who barely earned enough to feed and clothe their families.
Learn more about A View from Abroad at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Tim Harford's "The Data Detective"

Tim Harford, “the Undercover Economist”, is a Financial Times columnist, BBC broadcaster, and the author of nine books (most recently How To Make The World Add Up / The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics) and the podcast “Cautionary Tales”.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Data Detective and reported the following:
Page 99, pleasingly enough, is the beginning of a chapter. It opens with a delightful excerpt from Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man:
Rule Four

Step Back and Enjoy the View


The shortest-lived creatures on the Disc were mayflies, which barely make it through twenty-four hours. Two of the oldest zigzagged aimlessly over the waters of a trout stream, discussing history with some younger members of the evening hatching.

“You don’t get the kind of sun now that you used to get,” said one of them.

“You’re right there. We had proper sun in the good old hours. It were all yellow. None of this red stuff.”

“It were higher, too.”

“It was. You’re right.”

- Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

The newspapers had an alarming message for Londoners in April 2018:

“London’s Murder Rate Is Higher than New York’s for the First Time Ever!” The headlines played into a narrative of gangs gone wild. And if we ignore for a moment that the very definition of “murder” differs on either side of the Atlantic, this claim is also perfectly true. In February 2018, there were fourteen murders in New York City, but fifteen in London.

But what should we conclude? Nothing.

We should conclude nothing because that pair of numbers alone tells us very little. If we want to understand what’s happening, we need to step back and take in a broader perspective.
Not a bad representation of my book - which is an attempt to help readers think more clearly about the world, by being wiser about statistical claims, and wiser about themselves. Each chapter begins with a quotation - they range from Umberto Eco's Serendipities to The Empire Strikes Back, Watchmen, and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Each chapter is phrased as a 'rule'; a habit of mind that I've found it useful to cultivate in my own work as an interpreter of the news and the numbers. Some of my favourite chapters tell a story - about an art forgery, about a computer gone wild, or about how one of the richest and most famous economists on the planet came to grief - but others, like this one, begin with an example and proceed swiftly enough to practical advice
Learn more about the book and author at Tim Harford's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Tim Harford: top 10 undercover economics books.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 69 Test:The Logic of Life.

The Page 99 Test: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

The Page 99 Test: The Undercover Economist Strikes Back.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Jennifer M. Rampling's "The Experimental Fire"

Jennifer M. Rampling is associate professor of history at Princeton University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Experimental Fire: Inventing English Alchemy, 1300-1700, and reported the following:
The test checks out. Page 99 is the last page of chapter two of my book, which summarizes the argument and closes with a bit of foreshadowing of where my story will go. I’ve just spent the chapter outlining a new approach to alchemy in fifteenth-century England, which often appears in the context of patronage. “Sericonian alchemy” is a practice that uses base metals (disguised using the cover name “sericon”) as the prime matter of the alchemical work. It was popularized by George Ripley, an Augustinian canon fallen on hard times who tried to win the favor of an ecclesiastical patron, the Archbishop of York.

Ripley highlighted two advantages of his approach: it’s easily affordable, thanks to its inexpensive ingredients, and it’s multifunctional—sericon is the chief ingredient of the “vegetable stone,” allegedly a powerful medicinal remedy that, when suitably prepared, also transmutes base metals into gold (chrysopoeia). Interest in this profitable substance did not end with Ripley:
Sericonian alchemy would continue to shape English alchemical discourse well into the seventeenth century. By the 1650s, a readerly preference for the transmutational goals of Ripley’s Compound would gradually divert attention from the multipurpose practice outlined in the Medulla, which prized the medicinal vegetable stone above the mineral work. Yet the robustness of Ripley’s alchemy lay not just in its success as a practical rendering of the prestigious pseudo-Lullian corpus, but also in its adaptability to new interpretations based on differing circumstances. By reading “sericon” not only as red lead, but as any one of a variety of leaden compounds—or as a different metal entirely, or even as a nonmetallic ingredient such as tartar—Ripley’s own commentators could substitute new ingredients while still producing interesting chemical outcomes, often with chrysopoeian goals. They could also do so affordably. At once philosophically intelligible, morally unimpeachable, and practically efficacious, Ripley’s vegetable stone would become the constant, yet ever-varying, refrain of English alchemy.
As the spoiler on page 99 reveals, sericonian alchemy became very popular in early modern England—it features in nearly all the alchemical patronage suits addressed to Queen Elizabeth I, for instance. The problem for readers, though, was that “sericon” could be interpreted in many ways. Ripley probably intended a mixture of red lead and copper, but later practitioners substituted other ingredients in their quest for convincing practical results. Throughout the book, I map how this mingling of experimentation and close textual reading gave rise to new kinds of chemistry, while retaining the authority of medieval adepts like Ripley. Sadly, the designated page doesn’t have much to say much about these individual readers, or about the diverse settings in which they worked. And you’ll just have to take it on trust that “pseudo-Lullian” alchemy gets covered in chapter one. Still, if you want a snapshot of my argument, you could do worse than turn to page 99.
Learn more about The Experimental Fire at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 1, 2021

Elliott Young's "Forever Prisoners"

Elliott Young is Professor in the History Department at Lewis and Clark College. He is the author of Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through WWII and Catarino Garza's Revolution on the Texas-Mexico Border and co-editor of Continental Crossroads: Remapping US-Mexico Borderlands History. He is co-founder of the Tepoztlán Institute for Transnational History of the Americas. He has also provided expert witness testimony for over 200 asylum cases and has written for the Huffington Post, the Oregonian, and the Utne Reader.

Young applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Forever Prisoners: How the United States Made the World's Largest Immigrant Detention System, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Forever Prisoners is about the clash between executive authority over foreign affairs and the putative constitutional rights that all people, whether authorized immigrants or not, have within the United States. During World War Two, Japanese Peruvians were kidnapped by the US military in Peru and forcibly brought to the United States to be placed in Immigration and Naturalization service (INS) camps as “enemy aliens.” Even though they were forced to come to the United States, the legal basis for their detention was “illegal entry,” an argument that is so bizarre that it would make Kafka blush. Courts refused to review how the Japanese Peruvians arrived in the country, claiming that this was beyond their jurisdiction, and only upheld the grounds that these individuals had indeed arrived on US soil without authorization. The ulterior motive for these detentions was to exchange these Japanese Peruvians for American civilians captured by the Japanese.

This page gets at one of the central arguments of the book, which is the twisted logic of immigration law and the way that non-citizens in the United States often find themselves subject to detention without the benefit of constitutional protections given the courts deference to executive prerogative in foreign affairs and over immigration. The book covers 140 years of history and the episode involving Japanese Peruvians is just one of the many ways non-citizens have been detained for indefinite periods of time with little recourse to legally challenge their imprisonment. Yet, if a reader was to just read this one page, they would understand the central assertion of the book that the US government has used the immense coercive apparatus of the state to deny liberty to immigrants and other foreign-born people in the country. We stand on the precipice of the possibility for a dramatic shift in the way the new Biden government will approach immigration, but to make true progress, he must move beyond the past 140 years of immigration restrictions and not just the last four years of Trumpism.
Learn more about Forever Prisoners at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue