Sunday, June 26, 2022

Austin Sarat's "Lethal Injection and the False Promise of Humane Execution"

Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and Chair of Political Science at Amherst College. His books include Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty (2014) and The Death Penalty on the Ballot (2019).

Sarat applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Lethal Injection and the False Promise of Humane Execution, and reported the following:
Page 99 does not offer a particular insight into the whole of the book. It discusses one particular way in which states have responded to lethal injection's increasing problems. Three states, Arizona, Idaho and Oklahoma, include provisions in their execution protocols instructing officials what to do if a condemned inmate goes into cardiac arrest while being prepared for the execution. Those provisions instruct them that they should provide medical assistance and keep the inmate alive so the state can kill them on its terms. This is one of the most bizarre aspects of America's death penalty system.

My book offers many insights into the bizarre and often unusual world of lethal injection. But its real purpose is to offer both a short history of this execution method and its current status. That history shows that instead of being carefully designed, well thought out, the development of lethal injection was slipshod and unscientific. That is one of the reasons it has proven to be America's least reliable and most problematic execution method.

The problems with lethal injection have increased dramatically in the last decade as states have experimented with new drugs and drug cocktails. And, as they have encountered new problems, states have improvised and given officials responsible for carrying out executions either detailed instructions of the kind discussed on page 99 or enormous discretion with which to keep the machinery of death running.

My book exposes the illusory quality of this country's search for a humane method of execution.
Learn more about Lethal Injection and the False Promise of Humane Execution at the Stanford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 24, 2022

Susan H. Brandt's "Women Healers"

Susan H. Brandt is a Lecturer in the Department of History at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her PhD in History from Temple University. Brandt completed a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her dissertation on women healers was awarded the 2016 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. Women’s History by the Organization of American Historians.

Brandt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Women Healers: Gender, Authority, and Medicine in Early Philadelphia, and reported the following:
In her mid-eighteenth-century medical recipe manuscript Elizabeth Coates Paschall, a Philadelphia merchant and healer, asserted her ingenuity and authority with the bold strokes of her pen. Friends, kin, neighbors, and strangers sought her health care advice. On page 99 in my book, Women Healers, we find Paschall describing her experiments with the medicinal herb, nightshade. In addition to documenting her remedies, Paschall’s uniquely discursive manuscript describes patient interactions as well as women’s complex networks of medical information gathering and scientific experimentation.

Paschall transcribed a recipe for rheumatism that was “a True Copy” given to her by the healer Sarah Way of Chester County, who got it from her nephew Dr. John Pyle, who had migrated to North Carolina. With botanical precision, Paschall recorded the properties of Eastern black nightshade gleaned from her own experiences and from the botanical and medical texts that she checked out from the Library Company of Philadelphia. However, Paschall voiced concerns about the toxicity of nightshade. Before experimenting with this recipe on herself or using it to treat patients, Paschall jotted down a reminder to “inquire of John Bartram or Sons if that be wholesome taken inward.” Paschall’s cousin, John Bartram was internationally recognized as the King’s Botanist in North America, and his sons were pharmacists. They connected Paschall with transatlantic scientific networks that included luminaries such as Carl Linnaeus, the founder of botanical taxonomies. John Bartram’s wife, Ann Mendenhall Bartram, was a recognized healer who also participated in far-reaching webs of botanical information sharing and knowledge production. Page 99 describes how Paschall gave Ann’s medical expertise equal weight with that of the Bartram men. However, Ann Bartram exemplifies women healers who are almost invisible in an archival record that privileges the writings and accomplishments of male physicians and scientists.

A reader browsing page 99 would get an excellent idea of the key themes in my book, which include women’s engagement with eighteenth-century Enlightenment science and their appropriation of the authority of science to legitimize their healing practices. Elizabeth Paschall’s recipe book and her medical networks allow us to view the history of science from a grassroots rather than a top-down perspective. Paschall ignored prescriptive literature that denigrated women as too irrational to pursue medicine and science. Her recipe book is replete with her own innovative recipes and treatments, followed by the confident accolades “cured to admiration” and “cured when the doctors failed.” Euro-American, Native American, and African American women’s specimen exchanges and information sharing demonstrate that they were active participants in the construction of scientific knowledge at local, intercolonial, and transatlantic levels. Paschall and her colleagues recognized the emerging authority of empirical science, and they deployed its new rhetoric and methods of observation, experimentation, and documentation to authorize their healing practices. One of the main goals of my book is to write women healers back into the history of medicine and science.

Moreover, although women such as Paschall and Bartram were recognized as skilled healers in their communities, their practices are difficult for historians to recover. Women’s healing cultures were often transmitted through oral rather than written networks, leaving behind only shadowy traces.

Apart from a few foundational studies, women’s medical work, authority, and contributions to the health care labor force remain understudied. Page 99 highlights the variety of sources that I mined to unearth women’s practices, which include recipe manuscripts, letters, family papers, material objects, newspapers, local histories, and published herbals. My research demonstrates that Euro-American, Native American, and African American women continued to play a central role in health care in the greater Philadelphia area well into the nineteenth century. Professional women physicians, pharmacists, and nurses would later build on this foundation.
Learn more about Women Healers at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Paisley Currah's "Sex is as Sex Does"

Paisley Currah is a Professor of Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Currah has written widely on transgender issues, including on topics such as discrimination, sex reclassification, and the transgender rights movement. He is the co-founder of the leading journal in transgender studies, TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

Currah applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sex Is as Sex Does: Governing Transgender Identity, and reported the following:
Opening up to page 99 of my book, one finds the beginning of a chapter titled, “Till Birth Do Us Part: Marriage, ID Documents, and the Nation-State.” On this page I describe both the left and the right’s criticism of identity politics, and of a transgender identity politics specifically: “For those critical of identity politics, the transgender rights movement often stands as its reductio ad absurdum, fixated as it seems to be on pronouns and bathrooms.” For the left, LGBT rights movements seek nothing more than inclusion and exclusion in the neoliberal order. For the right, it’s the erosion of traditional gender norms that’s the problem.

The Page 99 Test works very well for Sex Is as Sex Does: it introduces readers to the chapter that is, in my view, the heart of the book. In it, I ask, how is it possible that one might have an F on their driver’s license or birth certificate but be classified as M for other purposes? What should we make of the contradiction? On the following pages, I explain that, for identity documents like driver’s licenses, the standards for changing the M or F have generally been reformed to make it easier for transgender people to negotiate daily life—from opening a bank account to getting pulled over for a speeding ticket. But when trans people have had something to win or lose—in marriage cases involving money or child custody, for example—judges were much more likely to rule that one’s sex classification is fixed at birth for life.

This chapter articulates the book’s larger argument: when it comes to government decisions, sex as in M or F or now X, depends on the context, not on any ideal definition. The book’s approach is novel, and perhaps to many, a bit counter-intuitive. Rather than taking “transgender” and “transphobia” as analytical starting points, the book argues that decisions about the classification of trans people were historically a consequence not simply of transphobia but of other governing projects—from the gender-based oppression of women to mass incarceration to state surveillance.
Visit Paisley Currah's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Matt Easton's "We Have Tired of Violence"

Matt Easton is a writer and a human rights researcher and advocate. The author of We Have Tired of Violence: A True Story of Murder, Memory, and the Fight for Justice in Indonesia, he has lived and worked in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, India, and Zimbabwe and now resides in New York.

Easton applied the “Page 99 Test” to We Have Tired of Violence and reported the following:
We Have Tired of Violence tells the story of one of the most remarkable and effective human rights lawyers Indonesia has ever seen. In September 2004, six years after he helped to bring three decades of authoritarian rule to an end, Munir boarded a plane in Jakarta, stopped briefly in Singapore, and then died on the long flight to Amsterdam.

Not long after Munir’s burial, his wife Suci asked to meet with the state airline, Garuda Indonesia, to learn more about what happened to her husband. She was also following up on a memory that nagged at her. A few days before Munir died, a man calling himself “Polly from Garuda” had called to ask when her husband was traveling. She’d told him, but immediately regretted it.

In October, at the end of a meeting with the head of the airline, Suci had asked if he had an employee named Polly. The airline employed thousands of pilots, but he’d answered without hesitation that there was, in fact, a co-pilot with the unusual name of Pollycarpus.

The scene on page 99 takes place soon after, in the beginning of November 2004. Accompanied by Munir’s friend and colleague Poengky, Suci is in the middle of a second meeting, this time with the crew from the first leg of Munir’s fatal journey, Jakarta to Singapore, on which he had eaten his last meal and spent his last healthy hours. Suci and Poengky have just learned a new and puzzling piece of information: Munir had been seated in business class.
“Why was he in business class?” Poengky asked. “Didn’t he have an economy ticket?”

[The purser from the flight] explained that while greeting passengers in business class, she’d been excited to recognize Munir, as she considered herself a fan. Munir had taken a seat that was assigned to a co-pilot flying to Singapore for an assignment. Onboard upgrades were very unusual, but the co-pilot assured her it was fine. His name was Pollycarpus.

Suci and Poengky asked to meet Pollycarpus.
The rest of the page describes the setting of her meeting with the co-pilot soon after. By the end of that meeting, Pollycarpus’s strange and inconsistent answers make Suci deeply suspicious:
Suci’s suspicions began to coalesce, until a thought came to her hard and sharp. It’s him. He did it, she told herself. Just keep him talking.
Just days later, a leaked Dutch autopsy revealed that Munir had been poisoned with a massive dose of arsenic.

The Page 99 Test gives a good sense of We Have Tired of Violence. The page reveals an early breakthrough in the unofficial murder investigation by Munir’s wife and friends, weeks before the police opened a file on his murder. You can see that the book has elements of a police procedural, charting the determined and creative efforts of Munir’s family and friends and a few committed police investigators to excavate the truth. But the story is also about the limits of investigation within a justice system corroded by its authoritarian past. Even years after the arrival of democracy, the system favors those with political influence, many of them familiar faces from the old regime.

Page 99 is also illustrative of the tone and style of the book. I tried to let the events and the protagonists speak for themselves, with just enough background to allow the reader to place them within Indonesia’s rich historical and political context. Like many narrative nonfiction authors, I sought to recreate scenes and dialogue based on any sources I could locate. For Suci’s meetings with the airline, I used contemporary notes of the meeting, a few photos, courtroom testimony, and interviews with participants in an effort to create an accurate, vivid scene with just enough details to allow readers to picture it, even though they may have little knowledge of Indonesia.
Visit Matt Easton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Matthew E. Kahn's "Going Remote"

Matthew E. Kahn is Provost Professor at the University of Southern California. He is author of eleven books, including Unlocking the Potential of Post Industrial Cities (joint with Mac McComas) and Adapting to Climate Change.

Kahn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Going Remote: How the Flexible Work Economy Can Improve Our Lives and Our Cities, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Going Remote, I discuss how the locational choice of startup firms will be affected by the rise of Work from Home (WFH). In our recent past, startups ranging from Facebook to Uber moved to where the "action was" in order to be close to venture capitalists who finance such firms and to be physically close to the types of workers they needed to hire. Startups don't always succeed and this means that young workers have wanted to live in an area featuring many startups such that if one fails, they can move to another startup without having to uproot their lives by moving across the nation.

As more startups rely on WFH, these firms can even be virtual without having a physical location. This reduces their upfront costs and allows them to hire global talent. Such firms retain the option to open a physical location in the future. The nation's airport system, roads and trains allow such footloose workers to be physically connected to our major technology hubs such as Silicon Valley for face to face meetings.

Page 99 provides a good test for my book because it demonstrates how I think about the consequences of the rise of WFH in our Post-COVID economy. A "silver lining" of the COVID shock is that millions of us have experienced what we gain and lose from Working from Home. In my book, I argue that persistent WFH will change American's economic geography. Every firm and every qualified worker will have to think about the costs and benefits to them of engaging in WFH on at least a part-time basis. On page 99, I explore how startup firms can make the most of WFH. If we hadn't experienced the COVID shock, many startups would have followed the old tried and true method of renting real estate in some commercial building. The leadership of a startup knows what face to face interactions must take place in order for the firm to thrive. Such startups will be more likely to recruit a higher morale, more diverse workforce if the workers have the freedom to work from anywhere.

I do cringe at one typo I see on page 99. The grammar is correct but I used the wrong word and it changes the meaning of a key sentence. Cher has a hit song; "If I Could Turn Back Time." If I could turn back time, I would rewrite my sentence to make the following point. Urban economists cannot run randomized experiments where we randomly assign startups to locate in a Silicon Valley or to Nebraska or to be working from home. Since, we can't run such experiments we must rely on observational data as we observe which firms are productive and where they locate. These spatial patterns do not prove that the firm's location caused the firm to thrive. Why? We will never know the following "what if"; Facebook thrived when it located in Silicon Valley. Would it have been equally effective had it located elsewhere? My typo destroyed my attempt to teach the reader about whether great companies move to great places or do great places make companies great.
Follow Matthew E. Kahn on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Heroes and Cowards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 20, 2022

John Suval's "Dangerous Ground"

John Suval is a Research Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, serving as an Assistant Editor of The Papers of Andrew Jackson.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dangerous Ground: Squatters, Statesmen, and the Antebellum Rupture of American Democracy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dangerous Ground centers on pleas to Congress by American settlers and officials in Oregon for their region to gain official territorial status, recognition that would bring greater security, federal infrastructure, and, most crucially, U.S. patents for their land claims. The action takes place during the anxious period between the Oregon Compromise of 1846 and the Oregon territorial act of 1848, a time marked by bloodshed between whites and Native Americans and concerns over the abiding influence of Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company. To their frustration, Oregonians faced stiff resistance to integration into the American fold from southern lawmakers because they had barred slavery several years earlier.

The Page 99 Test works surprisingly well for Dangerous Ground, with important dimensions of the book’s arguments and methodologies appearing in full view. The study reveals how Jacksonian Democrats rose to dominance in the 1830s and 40s by taking a novel stance towards squatters in the West, promoting an ethos of aggressive land-taking that contributed to an era of unprecedented territorial conquests. Unlike their Federalist and Jeffersonian forebears who denounced and sought to hinder illegal settlers, Democrats hailed squatters as patriotic pioneers and aided their land grabs with preemption laws, Indian removal, and saber-rattling toward rival empires. Squatters, in turn, helped secure U.S. claims to large swaths of the continent, while forming a strong, expanding base for Democrats. Such was the quid pro quo of Squatter Democracy, a marriage of interests that transformed the partisan landscape and map of North America. The U.S.-Mexico War proved a turning point, particularly after David Wilmot, in August 1846, attached a proviso to an appropriations measure barring slavery from any land conquered from Mexico. For southerners, the Wilmot Proviso posed an existential threat. Where Democrats from the North and South had previously unified behind a squatter-driven expansionist platform that paired the acquisition of Oregon with the annexation of Texas, slavery proponents now fiercely resisted organizing a territory for Oregon. Years later Stephen A. Douglas would recall the contentious debates over Oregon as the moment when “squatter sovereignty” began to bedevil the country.

Methodologically, the page captures the give-and-take between squatters in the West and politicians in Washington, an uneasy alliance that brought the U.S. to the shores of the Pacific and Democrats to power, but created fissures that would grow even more acute in the lead-up to the Civil War as squatters waged war over the place of slavery in America’s future.
Learn more about Dangerous Ground at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Gregory Nobles's "The Education of Betsey Stockton"

Gregory Nobles is professor emeritus of history at Georgia Institute of Technology and a historian who has written extensively on the era from the American Revolution to the Civil War. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman.

Nobles applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom, and reported the following:
From page 99:
And so the Stewarts and Betsey Stockton found themselves ashore, likewise “most probably forever.” They also found themselves in less than commodious accommodations. The main house in the missionary enclosure— “which at home would be called small,” Stockton observed— had been essentially prefabricated, with wood measured and cut in Massachusetts, then shipped around Cape Horn to Honolulu, and assembled on-site in 1821. It didn’t have sleeping room for everyone, so most of the missionaries occupied small huts on the surrounding grounds. “We had assigned to us a little thatched house in one corner of the yard,” Stockton wrote, “consisting of one small room, with a door, and two windows— the door too small to admit a person walking in without stooping, and the windows only large enough for one person to look out at a time.” The missionaries came together for meals in the main house. As aboard the Thames, Stockton took note of the social arrangements: “The family all eat at the same table, and the ladies attend to the work by turns.” Stockton took her turn, and she found value in the time she spent serving the others: “Had I been idle, I should not in all probability been so happy in my situation as I was.”

Stockton kept to the enclosure most of the time, but she ventured away on a few occasions to fetch milk from another compound about two miles away— the home of Anthony Allen, one of the most significant Americans in Hawaiʻi, and certainly the most notable African American. Allen had first come to Hawaiʻi as a mariner in 1810 or 1811, and the following year he returned to settle on Oʻahu. Up to that point, though, his life had been anything but settled, a “story of wanderings & adventures,” as he told it, that took him around the world, eventually to the Pacific and remarkable success.
The Page 99 Test works to the extent that it catches Betsey Stockton arriving in Hawaiʻi in 1823—a critical turning point in her first 25 years of life. Born in 1798 in Princeton NJ, she was “given, as a slave” into the household of the Rev. Ashbel Green, a prominent Presbyterian pastor in Philadelphia who became the president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1812. During her adolescent years, Green emancipated her from slavery but kept her in his household as a servant until 1822, when she joined one of Green’s former students, Charles Samuel Stewart, as part of a “missionary family” sailing from New Haven to Hawaiʻi. She would be the only single woman and the only Black person aboard the whaleship Thames for five months, enduring turbulent seafaring, physical suffering, and spiritual trial. The main source of comfort came in her increasingly close connection to Charles Stewart, his wife Harriet, and their son, Charles Seaforth, born at sea just before the Thames came in view of Hawaiʻi.

And so Betsey Stockton and the Stewarts went ashore to take up their missionary duties. Stocktonʻs missionary contract called for her to be “employed as a teacher of a school, for which it is hoped she will be found qualified.” Qualified she certainly proved to be, and she started the first school for the makaʻāinana, or ordinary people of the islands, a significant and successful achievement. In Hawaiʻi, Betsey Stockton embraced the calling she would follow for the rest of her life, teaching people of color of the lower classes.

The Hawaiʻi chapter of her life came to a premature end, however. Harriet Stewart became too ill to remain in the islands, and the Stewarts returned to the United States in 1826, with Betsey Stockton accompanying them. She remained a loving and loyal friend of the Stewart family throughout her life, but she also pursued her own path as a teacher, returning to Princeton in 1833, where she became a founding member of the town’s Black Presbyterian church and the sole teacher at the sole—and segregated—school in Princeton’s sizeable Black community until her death, in 1865. In the face of America’s racism, which permeated the North no less than the South, Betsey Stockton engaged in a grassroots struggle for decades, working to keep a Black community together in a nation coming apart. Her persistence, I argue, was a form of resistance.
Learn more about The Education of Betsey Stockton at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 17, 2022

Daniel Laurison's "Producing Politics"

Daniel Laurison is an associate professor of sociology at Swarthmore College and the associate editor of the British Journal of Sociology. He researches and writes on social class and political inequalities. His previous book was The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged (coauthored with Sam Friedman).

Laurison applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Producing Politics: Inside the Exclusive Campaign World Where the Privileged Few Shape Politics for All of Us, and reported the following:
Page 99 in its entirety (from Chapter 4: The Room Where it Happens):
and subjective measures of merit are almost guaranteed to benefit people whose race, gender, class origin, education, and other characteristics resemble other staffers already in place. This is homophily in action.

One reason this is a problem is fairness and equity—ideally, anyone who wants to work in politics and is willing and able to do the work ought to have an equal shot at a career. Ideally, there would be clear paths to entry and criteria for good work (and reasonable working hours, while we’re at it) so that people from all walks of life might be able to make their living in politics if they’re moved to do so. That ideal applies equally to any field, really.

But politics is special, because politics by its nature affects all of our lives. It makes a difference to all of us what campaigns do, insofar as what they do matters for who participates and how, and how people see and understand politics and politicians and government. If campaigns are making ads that speak primarily to people like their staff, or even actively generate hostility against people unlike them, that affects us all. If campaign staff advise candidates that certain policies will never fly, or that they should tone down their feminism or play up their machismo, that constitutes a large part of American political cultural content. If campaign teams believe that the White working class loves racism and hates redistribution (they actually, on the whole, like both), or that nonvoters will never vote (when they can in fact be effectively mobilized), then they will craft campaigns based on those beliefs. (fn 11) When the people running campaigns are so different from the rest of us, chances are that many people will continue to see politics as something for “other people.”
The Page 99 Test worked a lot better than I thought it would. This page gives you a pretty good idea about many (of course not all) of the main themes in the book, and I wouldn’t be sad if someone used this page to decide whether to read the whole book.

Basically all of what’s on page 99 is part of one of the central things I want to get across in Producing Politics. The last paragraph makes the case that campaigns and what happens in them are important, and not only because campaigns culminate in elections that determine who holds political power; they’re also important because they deliver information about what politics, and who it’s for, and what it can do. And for the big swathe of potential voters who don’t pay much attention to politics or news, the messages created by campaigns, the contact they get or don’t get from parties, they may not be getting connected to politics any other way.

That paragraph also alludes to the fact that a lot of the decisions campaign professionals make are not (and in many cases can’t be) driven by research.

The middle paragraph alludes to another key point - that the way political work is set up makes it very difficult for people who aren’t white men from fairly well-off backgrounds to break in, and even more difficult for anyone who wants to have some semblance of balance or a family life to stay in politics. And the fragment at the top is a nice illustration of how work in sociology (along with political science) informs the book overall.

Another key point the book makes that’s not really present on page 99, though, is that campaign professionals too often view voters as simply data points in a war they’re fighting against the other side, rather than people who might be recruited into their efforts. That way of doing politics–combined with a lot of campaigning based on conventional wisdom and group-think–is bad for our democracy and part of, as one of my interviewees put it, “why people really hate politics.”
Visit Daniel Laurison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Alison Macor's "Making The Best Years of Our Lives"

Alison Macor received a Public Scholars grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for her new book Making The Best Years of Our Lives: The Hollywood Classic That Inspired a Nation, about the 1946 blockbuster that influenced the way we talk about PTSD. She's also the author of Rewrite Man: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Warren Skaaren (2017) and Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas, which won the 2012 Peter C. Rollins Book of the Year Award. She holds a PhD in film history and taught for more than 20 years at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas State University, Austin Community College and the Austin Museum of Art. A former film critic, she currently works as a freelance writer and ghostwriter and lives in Austin with her husband and son.

Macor applied the “Page 99 Test” to Making The Best Years of Our Lives and reported the following:
Page 99 in Making The Best Years of Our Lives concludes a discussion about the filming of one of the emotional high points of the movie: the nighttime kitchen sequence between the handless veteran Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) and his girlfriend Wilma Cameron (Cathy O’Donnell). It is a pivotal moment in the couple’s relationship, which has been fraught ever since Homer returned from the war. The mood of the scene is complex, with elements of film noir, melodrama, and even horror in the way it is framed, lit, shot, and scored. The sequence actually starts in the kitchen and ends in Homer’s second-floor bedroom. As I write in this section, it is one of the movie’s most important sequences, and it features the production’s least experienced actors.

This particular page takes the reader through the filming of the bedroom portion of the sequence, from its complicated lighting setups to screenwriter Robert Sherwood’s screen direction. It also describes how the sequence was shot to comply with the directives from the Production Code Administration’s Breen Office, the industry’s self-censorship organization run at the time by Joseph Breen.

This section describes how director William Wyler worked with his actors on the emotionally charged scene: “Wyler was patient with Russell and O’Donnell throughout the filming of the sequence, aware that he was asking a lot of the most inexperienced actors in the Best Years ensemble. While O’Donnell struggled to convey a certain amount of impatience with Homer during the kitchen conversation, Russell downplayed his emotions too much in an effort to express Homer’s reticence and vulnerability. ‘Not acting,’ scribbled the script clerk on take after take.”

Page 99 also reveals how the Breen Office had flagged the sequence’s final moments, which include a kiss between the unmarried couple in a bedroom at night. “Before the fade-out . . . it should be clearly indicated that Wilma is about to leave the room,” Breen wrote of the scene in the first version of the script.

I think this page offers a pretty great snapshot of the book as a whole. If readers were to flip to this while browsing through the book, they would get a sense of how Making Best Years combines behind-the-scenes detail about the production and release of the movie with insight into its key players and what they brought to the project. The brief background on the Breen Office’s response to the scene in the script and their warnings about how it should be handled also offers industrial context for Hollywood circa 1946, when Best Years was filmed, something I do throughout the book.

I have to admit I was holding my breath as I turned to page 99 for this test, but I am delighted that it includes this important scene. It is quite possibly my favorite sequence in the entire film.
Visit Alison Macor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Mark Clague's "O Say Can You Hear?"

Mark Clague is associate professor of musicology and American culture at the University of Michigan; associate dean at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance; and codirector of the American Music Institute. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Clague applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of "The Star-Spangled Banner", and reported the following:
War not only gave birth to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” it is pivotal to understanding the song’s role in American life. The American Civil War, in particular, forged the connection between flag and song. Most importantly, it sanctified the song as a symbol of patriotic devotion through the ultimate sacrifice—the willingness to lay one’s life down in service to the nation.

Page 99 of my book O Say Can You Hear? falls in the middle of chapter 4—"The Banner at War.” This chapter is emblematic of my approach to telling the anthem story by focusing on big-picture themes and ideas. I both want to make the story vivid and accessible, while showing how the song has grown and changed with the nation.

The page is dominated by an illustration of a Civil War recruiting poster that seeks to inspire African Americans to enlist in the Union Army. Although not permitted to fight until 1863, Blacks soon made up 10% of the Union Army. The poster features a Black soldier with sword raised aloft. He holds an American flag with a ribbon that reads “Freedom to the Slave.” In the text, I discuss how Francis Scott Key’s song became a rallying cry of the Union Army and thus helped to end the evil of slavery. While it took the U.S. Congress until 1931 to make it official, “The Star-Spangled Banner” truly became the nation’s anthem in 1861. Civil war made “The Star-Spangled Banner” sacred.

A major goal of the book is to examine if and how Key’s song can still serve today as a unifying statement for all Americans. I argue that our anthem remains viable and valuable, but the question is complex. One approach is to explore the song’s long history as a vehicle for social protest—its ability to make social conflict audible. A surprising discovery was the 600+ lyrics that have been sung to the tune in U.S. history. These include patriotic songs, but also campaign songs and protest lyrics demanding an end to slavery, advocating prohibition, arguing for women’s suffrage, and welcoming immigrants by translating Key’s text into other languages. These alternate lyrics were the viral memes and tweets of the 19th century. Their words were reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, not only to highlight important issues facing the nation, but to inspire Americans to action by leveraging the emotional power of music.

For me, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is American history. Rather than an immutable icon, the song resonates across more than two centuries to show how the American democratic experiment has always been a raucous and rebellious balancing act. On one side are the passions of individual Americans fighting for what they believe is best for the nation. On the other is a belief shared by all Americans that what unites us—particularly the values of freedom, equality, and courage celebrated in the anthem lyric—is key to bringing out the nation’s best.
Follow Mark Clague on Twitter and visit the Star Spangled Music Foundation website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 13, 2022

Francesca Lessa's "The Condor Trials"

Francesca Lessa is a lecturer in Latin American studies and development University of Oxford. She is also the author of Memory and Transitional Justice in Argentina and Uruguay and the honorary president of the Observatorio Luz Ibarburu (Uruguay).

Lessa applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Condor Trials offers a snapshot of several core themes at the heart of the book. If browsers open to that page, they will be in a central chapter entitled “The Condor System,” which unpacks in detail the inner workings and mechanisms of transnational repression that South America’s criminal states agreed in late 1975 to hunt down political opponents beyond borders. The page begins with a quote from a Uruguayan female political activist who lived in exile in Buenos Aires which painstakingly articulates the dramatic context in which refugees lived in July 1976, seeing their friends and loved ones disappear at the hands of the security forces. Page 99 quotes her exact words, saying: “Each time, I thought, that’s it, it’s my turn, and yet it wasn’t. You could touch the fear.”

The rest of page 99 narrates the spiral of violence that was unfolding in Argentina after the March 1976 military coup, with thousands of people murdered or disappeared, including hundreds of refugees who had called Argentina their home for several years. Two thirds of page 99 are occupied by a section called “Liquidating the MIR,” which focuses specifically on the case of Argentine militant Patricio Biedma, who was the representative of the Chilean Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) to the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta (JCR) in mid-1976. Biedma was at the time responsible for helping the remaining MIR militants in Argentina flee the country, as well as coordinating the transfer of funds and messages for the JCR between Argentina and Chile. Throughout 1976, the security forces targeted and disappeared at least 20 MIR activists in Buenos Aires, including Biedma himself in July.

Page 99 is a great representation of The Condor Trials and the first core theme at the heart of the book, namely transnational repression. The page remarkably features four key elements that permeate the entire book. First, how transnational repression meticulously targeted refugees living in Argentina in the 1970s, especially militants from Uruguay and Chile. Second, the US government’s knowledge of the practices of joint collaboration by South American security forces as well as their brutal methods of repression, which included the murder of political and trade union leaders in exile. Third, the key role played by the Automotores Orletti clandestine detention centre in Buenos Aires, which was the main secret prison associated with Condor in 1976 where hundreds of foreign exiles were tortured and disappeared. Fourth, the simultaneous targeting by the security forces of both revolutionary guerrilla militants and political as well as social activists, while also cutting these groups’ access to the funds that sustained their resistance and opposition to the military regimes.

Page 99, therefore, captures clearly the book’s focus on the concerted efforts by South America’s military dictatorships to target political opponents beyond borders through transnational repression. In the 1970s, South America became a zone of terror for those who were targeted, and of impunity for those who perpetuated the violence. Browsers should, however, keep on reading beyond page 99 to explore the book’s second theme, transnational justice. The second half of The Condor Trials analyses how networks of justice seekers gradually materialized and effectively transcended national borders to achieve justice for the victims of these unspeakable transnational horrors. The story of transnational terror in South America, which page 99 brought to the fore, ultimately became one of justice seeking. Owing to the tireless work of survivors, victims’ relatives, lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, as well as judges and prosecutors, over 100 South American former civilian and military officers, including formers dictators, heads of state, and government ministers, have been convicted of transnational human rights violations against more than 260 victims. If you want to be inspired by the resilience of justice seekers and their search for accountability for past atrocities, dive into The Condor Trials.
Follow Francesca Lessa on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Carolyn Vellenga Berman's "Dickens and Democracy in the Age of Paper"

Carolyn Vellenga Berman is an Associate Professor of literature and Co-Chair of Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College, The New School, in New York City. She is the author of Creole Crossings: Domestic Fiction and the Reform of Colonial Slavery. Her articles have appeared in Victorian Studies, Victorian Literature and Culture, Novel, Genre, and Nineteenth-Century Contexts and collections ranging from Just Below South to The Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature. She serves on the advisory board of the North American Victorian Studies Association and the editorial board of Dickens Studies Annual.

Berman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Dickens and Democracy in the Age of Paper: Representing the People, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Dickens and Democracy in the Age of Paper, you’ll find a description of Charles Dickens’s 1835 sketch “The Parlour.” This vignette features a man speaking to the crowd in an alehouse, but it’s a great example of the kind of rhetoric observed by Dickens in his work as a parliamentary reporter. Political bombast abounds: “What is an Englishman?” the man asks. “Is he to be trampled upon by every oppressor? . . . What’s freedom? Not a standing army. What’s a standing army? Not freedom.” Dickens emphasizes the performative aspects in his account: “and the red-faced man, gradually bursting into a radiating sentence, in which such adjectives as ‘dastardly,’ ‘oppressive,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘sanguinary,’ formed the most conspicuous words, knocked his hat indignantly over his eyes, left the room, and slammed the door after him.”

Does this sample reveal the quality of the whole book? Yes. It’s typical of my procedure throughout the book: using quotes from Dickens to show how parliamentary discourse was spreading across the social field in the nineteenth century. I particularly emphasize how Dickens reflects on this diffusion, to comic effect. In this case, we see not a member of the House of Commons, but a drunk saying, “if I was a Member of the House of Commons . . . I’d make ’em shake in their shoes.” This dynamic is key to Dickens’s fiction.

Page 99 also foregrounds the parliamentary debates on slavery and emancipation in the 1830s, another leitmotif of the book. Parliament voted to abolish slavery in the British colonies in 1833, but only after a period of “apprenticeship” for the enslaved, which extended until 1838. I argue throughout the book for the formative importance of these political debates in Dickens’s work.

The larger story I tell in the book involves two kinds of publications emanating from Parliament: not only the newspapers and other commercial publications representing Parliament to the public, but also the vast expanse of official publications representing the People to Parliament—and then sold to the public as readers.

For Dickens and other commentators, this historical period was an “age of paper.” I love it that page 99 ends with the word “paper,” in another quote from the sketch: “a numerous race are these red-faced men,” so, “just to hold a pattern one up . . . we took his likeness,” and “that is the reason why we have written this paper.”
Learn more about Dickens and Democracy in the Age of Paper at the Oxford University Press website and follow Carolyn Vellenga Berman on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Brian P. Levack's "Distrust of Institutions in Early Modern Britain and America"

Brian P. Levack is John E. Green Regents Professor Emeritus in History at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written widely on the legal, political, and religious history of early modern Europe. His books include The Civil Lawyers in England 1603-1641: A Political Study; The Formation of the British State: England, Scotland and the Union, 1603-1707; The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, which has been translated into eight languages; Witch-hunting in Scotland: Law, Politics, and Religion; and The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West. He is the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America.

Levack applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Distrust of Institutions in Early Modern Britain and America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book focuses on the decision by the government of Charles I in 1626 to force his wealthier subjects to lend the Crown money with no guarantee of repayment. This forced loan, coupled with the imprisonment of five knights who refused to pay it, contributed to the loss of trust in Charles’s government, which in turn led to its collapse in 1641 and the abolition of the monarchy in 1649.

Although this page touches on one of the themes of the book, which is the connection between the loss of trust in financial and political institutions, it does not provide an adequate statement of the idea of the entire work. In particular, it does not say that the book deals with the development of distrust in a wide range of political, legal, financial, commercial, and ecclesiastical institutions during the early modern period, which stretched from the early sixteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Nor does page 99 explain that the book, whose main focus is Britain, also deals extensively with American history during the colonial period and that of the early republic. The last chapter also compares the loss of trust in the early modern period with the crisis of institutional trust in the United states and Britain in the last fifty years, especially in the first two decades of the twenty-first century.

I would like to bring to the attention of the prospective reader two important features of the book that its brief descriptions by the publisher does not discuss. The first is the central importance of the seventeenth-century political philosopher John Locke, who is the main subject of Chapter 2 and in a certain sense the main figure in the entire book. Locke’s theory of trust, formulated in his Two Treatises of Government (1689) became an essential tenet of Anglo-American political culture.

The second is my argument that trust in institutions is more difficult to build and retain than trust in people we know personally. The reason for this is that the officials who staff central governments, judges of superior courts, directors of corporations, heads of national banks, and high-ranking clerics in national churches are known to most people only by reputation or exposure in the media. Building trust requires frequent interaction between parties, which is difficult to achieve between the members of local communities and the faceless “strangers” who run large public institutions.
Learn more about Distrust of Institutions in Early Modern Britain and America at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Megan Threlkeld's "Citizens of the World"

Megan Threlkeld is Michael G. and Barbara W. Rahal Professor of History at Denison University. Her first book, Pan American Women: U.S. Internationalists and Revolutionary Mexico (2014), analyzed U.S. and Mexican women’s efforts at cooperation during the years of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940).

Threlkeld applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Citizens of the World: U.S. Women and Global Government, and reported the following:
The reader who opens Citizens of the World to page 99 drops in on Rosika Schwimmer and Lola Maverick Lloyd shopping their plan for world government. Schwimmer and Lloyd were feminist pacifists who in 1937 founded the Campaign for World Government and published Chaos, War, or New World Order? What We Must Do to Establish the All-Inclusive, Non-Military, Democratic Federation of Nations. Their plan was a radical populist vision for a world parliament that would include all nations and peoples, abolish war, and represent all world citizens equally. As part of their publicity efforts, they approached three different organizations, looking for support: the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the United Pacifist Committee, and Federal Union, founded by journalist Clarence Streit. As the reader of page 99 would learn, all three groups turned them down.

Our imagined browser would not come away from page 99 with an accurate impression of the book’s larger arguments. I wrote this book because I wanted to know what women in this era meant when they called themselves, as Schwimmer and Lloyd did, “citizens of the world.” Though none of the nine women I profile in the book explicitly defined the phrase, and though there were myriad differences in their backgrounds and worldviews, I argue they meant three things. First, the phrase signified a demand to participate in shaping the world polity, particularly through a strong intergovernmental organization or a world federation. Second, it was an expression of women’s obligation to work for peace. Some of the women in the book were pacifists, others were not, but they all agreed a global government was the only way to end war, and thus they had a responsibility to help create one. Third, it was a call for gender equality. These women knew that unlike the white men who dominated international relations, they could not take any form of citizenship for granted. Their use of the phrase deliberately evoked citizenship’s equalizing potential, even though in practice many of them excluded people of color from its full benefits.

The page 99 reader would, however, get a sense of one of the book’s underlying themes, which is that women had a hard time drumming up support for world government, especially in the radical form Schwimmer and Lloyd envisioned. Despite popular support for the League of Nations and the United States’ central role in founding the United Nations, most Americans remained unwilling to relinquish the degree of sovereignty a genuine world government required. Even peace activists like members of WILPF and UPC, who believed in international cooperation and wanted to end war, rejected the concept as unrealistic. But Schwimmer and Lloyd promoted world government for the rest of their lives, because that was what they felt world citizenship obligated them to do.
Learn more about Citizens of the World at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Jefferson Morley's "Scorpions' Dance"

Jefferson Morley is a journalist and editor who has worked in Washington journalism for over thirty years, fifteen of which were spent as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. The author of Our Man in Mexico, a biography of the CIA’s Mexico City station chief Winston Scott, Morley has written about intelligence, military, and political subjects for Salon, The Atlantic, and The Intercept, among others. He is the editor of JFK Facts, a blog. He lives in Washington, DC.

Morley applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Scorpions' Dance: The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Scorpions' Dance delivers the readers to commanding heights of American power circa 1968. The scene is a hotel suite in New York City. President-elect Richard Nixon has summoned CIA director Richard Helms for a meeting. The two men, who first meet in the opening pages of the book in 1956, have achieved their life ambitions. For two years Helms has served as chief of the powerful intelligence service with a budget in the billions and license to kill in service of American interests overseas. Nixon has been president-elect for barely ten days but he is already seizing the reins of power. On the recommendation of outgoing President Lyndon Johnson, Nixon informs Helms he is keeping him on as director. The savvy spymaster exits by a freight elevator. So this test works very well. Page 99 captures a key moment in the book. The partnership that will culminate four years later in the arrest of CIA burglars at the Watergate office complex--and the ultimate downfall of both men-- begins on this page.

But that is not all. After a subchapter heading “Honeymoon,” Page 99 goes on to tell the story of Helms’ wedding and this too is apt because future Watergate burglar Howard Hunt gives Helms a wedding present, an indicator of their longstanding friendship that will not end well. In his thank you note Helms alludes to Hunt’s spy novels. “I must confess I am awed by your ability to produce these goodies,” Helms writes, “but then I remember you have never failed to extricate your heroes from impossible situations.” Helms and wife Cynthia then fly on to Jamaica where they stay just down the road from the estate of Sir Ian Fleming, the former intelligence officer turned spy novelist and author of the James Bond books. So the browser who opens to this page will find two others key themes of the book: Helms’ largely unknown friendship with Nixon’s burglar in chief, and the way in which the fictional world of spies is woven into the real world of the secret intelligence profession.
Visit Jefferson Morley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Paul Kaplan and Daniel LaChance's "Crimesploitation"

Paul Kaplan is Professor of Criminal Justice in the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University. He is the author of Murder Stories: Ideological Narratives in Capital Punishment (2013). Daniel LaChance is Winship Distinguished Research Professor in History at Emory University. He is the author of Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States (2016).

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Crimesploitation: Crime, Punishment, and Pleasure on Reality Television, and reported the following:
Page 99 consists entirely of two pictures--still images taken from the popular and critically acclaimed Netflix series Making a Murderer. Making a Murderer told the story of a man called Steven Avery's wrongful conviction for a serious crime, exoneration after a long stay in prison, and conviction for a second crime--a murder. The first image on page 99 is of decaying automobiles with weeds growing around them, a representation of the scrapyard where Steven Avery lived with his extended family. The second image is of Steven Avery's father, Allen Avery, standing in his overgrown garden while stuffing a piece of lettuce into his mouth.

Crimesploitation explores the cultural significance of crime-focused reality television. The book considers both lowbrow crime TV, such as Cops, and also 'middlebrow' programming, which we argue is exemplified by Making a Murderer. The images on page 99 illustrate a central theme of Making a Murderer, the impoverished nature of Steven Avery's social world. Avery lived literally in a junkyard; his father behaved in a slightly unseemly way while being filmed for the program. Making a Murderer embodied a kind of 'poverty porn' in its destitute portrayals of the Avery family and its environs. We argue that this theme in middlebrow crimesploitation, exemplified by Making a Murderer, exploits its subjects and is designed more for voyeurism than critical documentary. To the extent that these two images capture that part of crimesploitation's argument, the test works well. Of course, absent any text (except the Figure Captions) these images lack explanation and context. In that sense, the test fails.

The main thrust of Crimesploitation is that crime-focused reality TV exploits viewers' fears and desires around crime. These programs are a major feature in the Anglo-American cultural mosaic that has grown alongside a neoliberal political-economic regime that promotes fear-based racist and exclusionary law-and-order politics. But with too much order, inhabitants of controlled societies seek ways to experience freedom from the iron cage. As Jack Katz explained, crime can be seductive and sometimes fun. Page 99 of our book captures a small but important part of the story of crimesploitation, an example of the limits of corporate entertainment to critically engage the legal system.
Learn more about Crimesploitation at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 3, 2022

Eric Jay Dolin's "Rebels at Sea"

Eric Jay Dolin is the author of Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to the new book and reported the following:
Page 99 of Rebels at Sea lands the reader right smack in the middle of a very large section--in fact, an entire chapter-- that describes how Benjamin Franklin, as part of a diplomatic mission that included Silas Deane and Arthur Lee, used American privateers as a means of getting France to form an alliance with the United States against Great Britain. The basic idea was that by successfully encouraging France to both clandestinely and, sometimes rather openly, to allow American privateers to use and launch from French ports on the continent and in the Caribbean, Franklin and his peers ramped up the historic animosity between the two ancient European rivals to a fever pitch.

The critical turning point in the Revolution was the defeat of British general John Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga, but privateering, while not causing a sharp turn in American fortunes on its own, helped create the situation in which a great American victory could prove decisive in bringing France into the conflict. With respect to American privateering in the Caribbean, historian Alan G. Jamieson presents a persuasive argument. The activities of those privateers “were not a major cause of the war between Britain and France in 1778, but it is clear that they played a part in sharpening the enmity between the two nations, as well as striking at the British merchant community in an area where it was particularly sensitive, the West India trade.”

A similar case can be made for the importance of American privateering out of France. Taken as a whole, America’s privateering success was, as historian Sam Willis has written, “part of a broader narrative of American successes in 1776 and 1777. Together, [all of these successes] demonstrated on an international stage that the Americans were committed to their revolution and that the British were vulnerable, and they heightened the tension between Britain and her traditional European enemies. In short, they created the opportunity for foreign intervention.”

Unfortunately, the text on page 99 only hints at this larger and most fascinating story, by talking about the subterfuges France used to allow American privateers to dispose of their prizes in French ports even though that violated treaties France had with Great Britain, and, incidentally, made the British furious. Here is that text:
That led to some creative solutions, including privateers selling their prizes far away from French ports to Frenchmen who, in turn, brought the prizes in as their own vessels. Other times, privateers would remain offshore, where they would disguise their prize as something other than a British merchantman. A skeleton crew would then sail the prize into Dunkirk (Dunkerque) or other French ports where it would be sold, whereupon the crew would return to its privateer, flush with cash. American privateers also made liberal use of the “distress” clause in the treaty, claiming that their prizes were leaking, for instance, allowing the French to let them in. Once in port, the prize could quickly and quietly be sold. As one nineteenth- century historian observed, “Distress, of course, became a chronic condition of the American privateers in European waters.”
So, I think page 99 would give the reader a poor idea of the entire book. Sorry, Ford Madox Ford, in this case, your observation fails to be of any value in capturing the "quality of the whole."
Visit Eric Jay Dolin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

The Page 99 Test: Brilliant Beacons.

The Page 99 Test: Black Flags, Blue Waters.

The Page 99 Test: A Furious Sky.

Writers Read: Eric Jay Dolin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Anadelia A. Romo's "Selling Black Brazil"

Anadelia A. Romo is an associate professor of history at Texas State University. She is the author of Brazil's Living Museum: Race, Reform, and Tradition in Bahia.

Romo applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Selling Black Brazil: Race, Nation, and Visual Culture in Salvador, Bahia, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works surprisingly well for Selling Black Brazil. Page 99 is a full-page image, one of over ninety images printed in the work, and so it represents nicely my focus on visual culture in Brazil. The image itself is an advertisement for airline travel in Brazil from 1946, the early years of the domestic travel industry there. It shows three figures looking up at an airplane, which is depicted as a “magic carpet” capable of connecting people from different regions of Brazil. Each of these figures is dressed in the distinctive garb of a particular region: the Northeast, the South, and Bahia. The state of Bahia is represented by a woman dressed in a skirt and turban, an iconic wardrobe that marks the “Baiana,” who is usually styled as an Afro-Bahian female street vendor. These regional types had a longer history in Brazil and across the Atlantic, but gained new salience in the mid-twentieth century to promote “authentic” cultures that one could experience through travel. The argument of my book is that Blackness was used to promote Bahia within Brazil, a process that proved both celebratory and inclusive as well as stereotyped and limiting. Critically, I show that visual culture was especially powerful in linking Blackness with Bahia. To chart the changes in this visual culture I use the iconography of travel guides. These guides were produced in growing numbers within Bahia through the decade of the 1950s to promote the state, and especially its capital city of Salvador. In the end, the image captures my focus on visual culture, the creation of racialized stereotypes to promote a region, and the centrality of travel for distilling an area’s essence for others. These are all central points in my book, so I’d have to conclude the test works pretty well.

The limitation to the test is that I don’t have any of my own writing on page 99, and that the image on that page is for Brazil as a whole. In this sense the national focus of page 99 sets the larger scene for the work, but is a little bit farther from the heart of the book itself which centers around images from vibrant illustrators and photographers who worked in Bahia almost exclusively. So while page 99 doesn’t capture all the nuance of the story, it still captures enough for a reader to get a glimpse into the way national identity and Blackness developed in complicated ways over twentieth-century Brazil, and how Bahia was at the center of that process.
Learn more about Selling Black Brazil at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Susan Grant's "Soviet Nightingales"

Susan Grant is a Reader in Modern European History at Liverpool John Moores University. She is the author of Physical Culture and Sport in Soviet Society.

Grant applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Soviet Nightingales: Care under Communism, and reported the following:
Page 99 brings us to the Stalinist 1930s and examines the role of nurses in Soviet society. It details the list of duties that Soviet nurses had to perform, a lengthy list indeed that covers more than half a paragraph! Soviet nurses, and other mid-level medical workers such as orderlies, had a great deal of work to get through. Coupled with this is a discussion of changes in middle medical education that were connected to new Stalinist policies and the new ideological standards that nurses were expected to meet. By the late 1930s nurses had to study modern history, the Soviet Constitution, math, Latin, and the Russian language in addition to medical and scientific classes.

The themes that emerge from the discussion of nurses and medical work on page 99, for example gender, values, education, and ideology, inform the book more generally. In discussing these themes here and elsewhere, I show how nurses became crucial symbols of the Soviet state. We see the increasingly paternalistic and conservative state turning to nurses as symbols of care and culture. As such, nurses had the potential to be ideal intermediaries between the state and society. But if they were to represent the state, then these nurses – almost all women – had to be cultured and educated. The idea of nurses as cultured and cultural workers is significant and one that reappears in later years. This page, and this part of the chapter, also sets the scene for debates about how the Soviet state and society interacted with nurses. It captures important questions about specialization and the kinds of skills nurses should acquire. Overall, we see how nursing and healthcare work are bound up with the state.

The book foregrounds how nursing and nurses were indelibly connected to broader social and political developments in the Soviet Union. It examines the nuances and complexities of the wider Soviet project and relates these to the history of nurses and healthcare workers. Although the Soviet state was brutal, violent, and repressive, it nonetheless drew on nurses to help show that socialist society was caring and compassionate. More broadly, I argue that the skills and work of nurses and other healthcare workers need to be properly recognised, and that ‘care’ needs to be taken seriously.
Learn more about Soviet Nightingales at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Frank C. Keil's "Wonder: Childhood and the Lifelong Love of Science"

Frank C. Keil is Charles C. & Dorathea S. Dilley Professor of Psychology at Yale University, where he is also a member of the Cognition and Development Lab. He is the author of Developmental Psychology: The Growth of Mind and Behavior and other books.

Keil applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Wonder: Childhood and the Lifelong Love of Science, and reported the following:
From page 99:
… children, are wizards with computers in ways that I will never know. In a few minutes they are immersed in novel video games while I am still trying to move my agent. They figure out how to use new apps or software without reading any instructions and can seamlessly blend many software programs together to accomplish a task. I surrender completely to their greater abilities in this area. But what have they mastered? If today’s computers were cars, have they learned how they work or have they merely learned how to drive them? They seem to have become experts at learning user interfaces, not at how the underlying code or physical components work.

Perhaps twenty-first-century children are learning a higher level of “mechanism” covering how programs and apps causally interact, but that isn’t how they usually talk about their skills. Their knowledge resembles procedural routines more than programming skills. If you ask a teenager to give examples of how loops, queues, stacks, and arrays interact in simple programs, you may be met with a blank and sometimes hostile stare. Most teenagers’ coding skills don’t seem to be symbolic equivalents of advanced mechanical understanding. If they were, companies would not be madly scrambling to find even marginally competent programmers. Today’s youth, the so-called digital natives, often seem to be gliding along on the surface of a vast system that they do not understand at all. They may have remarkable “native” skills at using and learning to use software-intensive interfaces, but if the real programmers have done their jobs well, the actual workings of those devices may be not at all transparent to those mastering the user interface. Software- shuffling skills at the user level may be completely different from knowing how and why. Teens may know that graphics processing unit chips are better for machine learning but not how they speed up processing. These gaps in understanding will only get worse as deep learning systems solve more and more problems for us. If a company comes up with an improved facial recognition system, people are unlikely to ask how its mechanism has changed. Even experts in the area just assume it arises from a more powerful deep learning system, which is a black box resistant to any useful interpretable explanation of how it works.

In short, the world of artifacts has been radically transformed in the past fifty years. Readily apparent underlying mechanisms have vanished into mazes of circuits and blocks of silicon with millions, and often billions, of transistors. I remember when my father brought home a ten-transistor portable radio, describing it as a huge technology leap over our prior six-transistor… “
Above is the full text from page 99 of Wonder. It resonates surprisingly well with several of the core messages of the book: Well before children start formal schooling, they reveal a drive to uncover the mechanisms that underlie and give rise to all that they encounter. I describe this drive as a joyous urge to wonder “why” and “how”. Page 99 relates to this early emerging passion to know more about mechanisms. This passage links to another central theme – wonder becomes suppressed in most children around age five or six; and the decline of wonder may be worsening as fewer and fewer devices have revealing innards. Page 99 asks whether today’s children inhabit “mechanism deserts,” where insides no longer readily reveal how devices work. This is part of a broader discussion how wonder becomes stifled in children and may stay suppressed for a lifetime, resulting in disengagement from science and susceptibility to misinformation. But that future is not inevitable. Wonder illustrates how to avoid lives of impoverished understanding with barely any sense of the remarkable causal underpinnings of all that is around us. A large body of recent empirical research tells us what we can do as individuals and as groups to maintain and revive wonder at any age. Page 99 may not be the very best page for capturing the whole book, but it is certainly a good one.
Learn more about Wonder: Childhood and the Lifelong Love of Science at The MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 30, 2022

Ran Abramitzky and Leah Boustan's "Streets of Gold"

Ran Abramitzky is professor of economics and the Senior Associate Dean for the Social Sciences at Stanford University, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and a former co-editor of Explorations in Economic History. Leah Boustan is professor of economics and director of the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton University. She is also co-director of the Development of the American Economy Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and serves as co-editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. Her prize-winning scholarly book, Competition in the Promised Land, examines the effect of the Great Black Migration from the rural South during and after World War II.

Boustan applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success, and reported the following:
As it turns out, page 99 in our book is focusing on the exceptions, not the rule. Most of Streets of Gold tells the optimistic story of the upward mobility of immigrants to the US – and especially their children – over more than a century of American history. We compare immigrants from the Ellis Island generation 100 years ago, most of whom hailed from Europe, to immigrants from around the world today.

What we find surprised us: the children of immigrants from nearly every country, especially those from poor families, do better economically than the children of U.S.-born residents. This pattern has held true for more than a century.

However, there is one group that we worry about, and that is children who arrive to the US without papers. These undocumented children can face numerous barriers is trying to gain an education and find a job. In the past, nearly all immigrants entered the US legally, whereas today around one-quarter of immigrants are undocumented.

Yet, the number of children of immigrants who are undocumented is far smaller (only around five percent) because any child who is born on US soil is automatically a US citizen. Page 99 in Streets of Gold picks up the story of this small but disadvantaged group and emphasizes that they might not enjoy the same upward trajectory as their peers.

One element of this page that is consistent with the rest of the book is the way that we weave together data and story-telling. Many of the findings in the book are based on ‘big data’ from millions of immigrant families. But we also introduce stories of immigrants whose experiences illuminate these broader trends. For example, on page 99, we tell the story of Margarita, an undocumented high-school graduate whose immigrant parents only received a fourth-grade education. Yet, Margarita finds herself working with her mother (“It’s kinda ridiculous,” she says, “why did I even go to school?”). This story was originally told to the sociologist Roberto Gonzales and we reproduce it here.
Learn more about Streets of Gold at the PublicAffairs website.

--Marshal Zeringue