Friday, September 30, 2022

Alena Pirok's "The Spirit of Colonial Williamsburg"

Alena Pirok is assistant professor of history at Georgia Southern University.

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Spirit of Colonial Williamsburg: Ghosts and Interpreting the Recreated Past, reported the following:
Page 99 is the end of the fourth chapter’s fourth section. It does not encapsulate the whole book, but it does illustrate a key point. On this page I am interpreting data, connecting the dots for readers, and describing how mid-twentieth century Colonial Williamsburg struggled to explain itself to guests without employing a rhetoric of ghosts and hauntings. The first line reads; “These evocative descriptions were meant to conjure the past and to train people how to take time and enjoy all the city’s observable elements.”

This page sits within the chapter titled “A Magnificent Stage Setting” that tells the story of how Colonial Williamsburg’s leadership sought to better explain the restoration to guests. The sections preceding the fourth talk about the series of consultants that Colonial Williamsburg hired to investigate why guests did not seem enthused with the site. The chapter’s title comes from a consultant’s assessment that touring the restoration felt like being on set for some great show that never began. The fourth section is where I introduce the efforts to combat that feeling. I focus on celebrated early museum studies scholar Edward Alexander and his innovative “mood approach” to interpreting the restoration. I explain the power behind Alexander’s interpretive theory, framing it as rather phantasmagorical but ultimately flawed due to its concentration requirements. Page 99 concludes the section exploring how despite his inventive efforts, twentieth-century distractions continued to make it difficult for guests to connect with the restored eighteenth-century world. In total, page 99 is a good example of the book’s intellectual, as well as narrative, contribution, but does not stand alone.

This page, and the larger chapter, represent the important middle bit of the book’s story. Missing from this excerpt is the larger discussion of how ghost stories inspired the restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia in the early twenty century, how the institution recreated the emotional connection that ghost stories once offered thorough first-person interpreters in the late twentieth century, and what Colonial Williamsburg’s twenty-first-century ghost tours and Halloween events reveal about the institution and the nation’s more recent past.
Follow Alena Pirok on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Minh-Ha T. Pham's "Why We Can't Have Nice Things"

Minh-Ha T. Pham is Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in Media Studies at the Pratt Institute and author of Asians Wear Clothes on the Internet: Race, Gender, and the Work of Personal Style Blogging.

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Social Media’s Influence on Fashion, Ethics, and Property, reported the following:
I’d say that the Page 99 Test mostly worked for Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

It’s on page 99 where I introduce Diet Prada, the most famous example of the phenomenon of online anti-fashion piracy shaming that is the subject of my book. (I term this phenomenon “crowdsourced intellectual property regulation.”) As I explain beginning on page 99, Diet Prada presents an instructive example of this phenomenon for a number of reasons. First, Diet Prada's online reach and influence on the industry—what many call “the Diet Prada effect”—are enormous. Second, Diet Prada exemplifies the professionalization of the kind of unwaged, informal, armchair regulatory work that has become so widespread on the Internet and that the global fashion industry is increasingly reliant on. (Crowdsourced IP regulation is just the latest stage in the digital reorganization of fashion work--something I've been tracking for about a decade.) Third (and paradoxically), Diet Prada diverges from this phenomenon in fundamental ways because its determinations of creativity and copying don’t take for granted the racial and colonial assumptions of mainstream western intellectual property thinking. In other words, Diet Prada’s exceptionality “proves the rules” of crowdsourced IP regulation that I analyze throughout my book.

If the reader only read the chapter on Diet Prada (which begins on page 99) or began the book from page 99, they would have a useful understanding of the problems and potential of “crowdsourced IP regulation.”
Visit Minh-Ha T. Pham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Richard Kieckhefer's "The Mystical Presence of Christ"

Richard Kieckhefer is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies with a joint appointment in the Department of History at Northwestern University. His books include Unquiet Souls, Magic in the Middle Ages, Theology in Stone, and European Witch Trials.

Kieckhefer applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, The Mystical Presence of Christ: The Exceptional and the Ordinary in Late Medieval Religion, reported the following:
It would never have occurred to me, but page 99 of my book actually does showcase several key themes in my book. The medieval figure highlighted on that page is Dorothea of Montau, and of the many individuals discussed in the book she is the one who comes up most often. She is featured prominently in several chapters, and then there is an entire chapter about her toward the end of the book. She is particularly useful for the connection between ordinary and exceptional experience: the accounts of her life depict her as interacting with a rather imperious Christ in the most ordinary of domestic and devotional settings, but also as enraptured and indeed tormented by Christ as a ferocious bridegroom. Page 99 furthermore opens up the fluid boundary between intuition and perception, which is crucial for the book. And one reads on that page about the importance for Dorothea of Christ’s divine nature. Historians have long assumed that late medieval Christians were fully absorbed in the humanity of Christ, but readers familiar with pages 1 to 98 will know that my book argues for the salience of Christ’s divine nature.

Just out of curiosity, I opened my book at random to a few others pages, to see if they would pass the “test” as well. Page 180 talks about Margery Kempe, another key figure, and discusses her experience of Christ’s Passion. A reader who began with that page might think of my book as arguing an all too familiar understanding of late medieval religion. Page 241 discusses the German “sister books” and the role of devotional art. That section is important, but again it does not really get at the key themes in my book. Page 286 brings us back to Dorothea of Montau and to her relationship with her confessor and hagiographer. Such female-male relations are crucial for an understanding of late medieval piety, and I do have some new things to say on the subject, but again I would not say that this page gets at the heart of my book.

So there we have it. There may still be other pages that work as well as page 99, but that page works better than the others I looked at.
Learn more about The Mystical Presence of Christ at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Trevor Price's "Ecology of a Changed World"

Trevor Price is Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. He earned a PhD in ecology from the University of Michigan and spent seventeen years on the faculty at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Speciation in Birds (2007).

Price applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Ecology of a Changed World, reported the following:
Page 99 [inset below left; click to enlarge] consists mostly of a figure that describes the difficulty of making predictions about the future. The chapter is most original one in the whole book. We rely on anticipating future trends, but often get predictions wrong, exemplified by weather forecasting. Why is this, and what does it mean for planning going forward (hindsight is always 20:20)?

People would indeed get some idea of the book from page 99, especially coupled with the book’s title. The basic issue with this page is that there is no biology in it: Virtually every other page in the book would have a biological example.

The page is part of a chapter emphasizing how and why we need to include uncertainty in making predictions (i.e., make statements such as ‘the probability that a fire will happen this year is such and such’). Difficulties of prediction come in two flavors, as explained by the Inter-Governmental panel on Climate Change:

The first is called value uncertainty: a great number of variables affect outcomes, some of which we can’t measure accurately and others which we don’t even know. In the example on page 99, hypothetical factors that led to a fire starting in a certain town include someone dropping a cigarette (very hard to predict), and the number of dry days preceding. The number of dry days could be measured and used to make predictions that are not simply guesses, but still much uncertainty remains.

The second kind of uncertainty is termed structural uncertainty, which results from interactions between various factors, amplifying effects beyond what we might expect from considering each alone. For example, long droughts may create especially stressful times leading to more smoking, thereby substantially increasing the probability of fire . When several factors all get magnified at once we can enter a completely new realm (e.g., bigger fires than ever seen before), in what is colloquially termed ‘a perfect storm’ or ‘tipping point’.

We note that uncertainty can be reduced by considering averages. While 10 years from now, we can’t predict the temperature on a certain day or when a storm will happen, we know with near certainty that it will be warmer and sea levels higher. Likewise, we were virtually certain that there would be a pandemic this century, but could not predict it would start in 2019.

The role of multiple factors is quite important for understanding the unusual aspects of the mass extinction we are facing. Unlike past mass extinctions, a confluence of factors – Climate change, Over-harvesting, Pollution, Habitat loss, Invasive species, Disease (“COPHID”) – are all impacting nature at once. The importance of recognizing that it is ‘not just one thing’ threatening nature is an underlying theme as the book goes through COPHID.
Learn more about Ecology of a Changed World at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 26, 2022

Pedro Monaville's "Students of the World"

Pedro Monaville is Assistant Professor of History at New York University Abu Dhabi.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Students of the World: Global 1968 and Decolonization in the Congo, reported the following:
From page 99:
Soon after the tenth anniversary, Benoît Verhaegen, a professor of political science at the university, gave a very well-attended talk on campus. To him, Lovanium was not African, not democratic, and also not a real university. Although his talk detailed this critique of the institution, it also argued that students were similarly part of the problem: years of conditioning in Catholic boarding schools had meant that they entered the university “totally sterilized culturally and intellectually, and therefore totally aseptic to revolutionary ideas.”

Verhaegen himself was a man of paradoxes. A self-proclaimed Catholic Marxist, he had volunteered as a young man to fight with the Belgian army in the Korean War. Yet, he seemed to find no excuses for the contradictions he saw at play between the students’ rhetorical radicality and their continuous abidance to the ethos of the defunct Belgian-Congolese community. Known for his sharp tongue, Verhaegen did not disappoint when he concluded that “Lovanium students are not even denied their freedom of expression, since they have nothing authentic left to express.” This was a harsh judgment, but many students in the audience took it as a call for action. A few weeks after the talk, in March 1964, during an extraordinary general assembly, AGEL’s new president, Hubert Makanda, declared that students were past the point of polite discussions with the academic authorities, and “the time of resistance and violence starts now.”

The same Makanda launched the first successful strike at Lovanium. It was organized as a military operation, with designated “generals” who swore an oath to the student revolution and coordinated a campus blockade, marches, and occupations of administrative buildings. On the morning of the strike’s first day, Father Edouard Liétard, the head of student dorms and restaurants, saw that students had blocked all entry points to the campus. Puzzled, he went to Gillon’s office to share the news. “The rector immediately sensed that it was serious. I remember very well how struck I felt by the gravity of his reaction,” he told me when we met in 2010. While Lietard and Gillon were discussing, a group of students was standing on the other side of the door, planning to take over the rector’s office. Pierre Lenoir, Gillon’s assistant, physically interposed himself. Tensions quickly mounted and “the whole thing nearly boiled over,” as Yvon Bongoy, one of AGEL’s leaders recalled during an interview.
Page 99 in Students of the World narrates the first hours of a dramatic student strike at Lovanium University (today the University of Kinshasa) in 1964. Students protested against the fact that, while Congo had been independent for nearly four years, its higher education system still needed to be decolonized. This was particularly true on their campus, where Belgians made up the overwhelming majority of the staff and faculty, including the university’s rector Luc Gillon. Ten years earlier, Lovanium had been the first university allowed to open its doors in Congo, as the African branch of Belgium’s oldest university, Louvain. Students wanted to end this relation of dependency with Belgian academia. They demanded more Congolese professors and courses relevant to their own context. The General Association of Lovanium’s Students (AGEL) had pushed for these demands for months, but to no avail. This is the context in which students decided to occupy the campus until full satisfaction of their platform.

One key argument in my book is that conflicts over inadequate university structures radicalized and emboldened students. Discontent about the unfinished decolonization of higher education led a generation of young Congolese to embrace revolutionary political projects that challenged the status quo well beyond university campuses. The 1964 strike at Lovanium was one of the critical protests that accelerated this left turn in students’ political imagination.

Does it mean that my book fully validates the Page 99 Test? Yes and no. The description of the strike actually only begins halfway through the page. The first half reflects on a previous event, a talk by a Belgian professor named Benoît Verhaegen. Verhaegen was a towering figure at Lovanium, as a very rare outspoken faculty who did not hesitate to confront the powers that be. Each time student protests erupted at Lovanium, the university leadership accused Verhaegen to be their secret mastermind. This implied that students were being manipulated by a shrewd provocateur, but my research shows that rector Gillon and other university leaders blew Verhaegen’s influence of on the student movement out of proportion. As a result, I only mention Verhaegen briefly in the book, and my main focus is on the students themselves. Yet, at some occasions, Verhaegen shaped conversations on campus in ways that directly impacted student activism. This was the case in 1964 and it explains his cameo appearance on page 99.
Follow Pedro Monaville on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Edward F. Fischer's "Making Better Coffee"

Edward F. Fischer is Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University, where he also directs the Institute for Coffee Studies. He has authored and edited several books, including The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing.

Fischer applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Making Better Coffee: How Maya Farmers and Third Wave Tastemakers Create Value, reported the following:
Page 99 provides an example of the historical angle to my work on coffee, although it does not give much of a sense of the overall book. Cultural anthropology, my field of study, is all about context. In an hour-long talk, I would probably spend more than half the time providing the context for the specific topic at hand. Thus, we tend toward long-form writing, such as this book. In it, I connect the high-end coffee market in the U.S. to the lives and livelihoods of the folks who grow it in places like Guatemala. To understand the circumstances of Maya farmers, it is important to know the colonial and neo-colonial histories that have led up to this moment. On page 99, I look at the history of nineteenth century German coffee producers in Guatemala—a coffee oligarchy that depended on cheap, mostly coerced, labor from Maya communities. This page describes the perception that German immigrants to Guatemala were bringing with them modernity, industry, and progress—as well as their light skin and European culture. That German coffee oligarchy is still around, although today much of the country’s production comes from smallholding Maya producers, many of whom used to work as seasonal labor on the large plantations.
Learn more about the book and author at Ted Fischer's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Good Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Remica Bingham-Risher's "Soul Culture"

Remica Bingham-Risher, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, is an alumna of Old Dominion University and Bennington College. She is a Cave Canem fellow and Affrilachian Poet. Among other journals, her work has been published in the New York Times, the Writer’s Chronicle, New Letters, Callaloo and Essence. She is the author of Conversion (2006) winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, What We Ask of Flesh (2013) shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Award, and Starlight & Error (2017) winner of the Diode Editions Book Award. She is currently the Director of Quality Enhancement Plan Initiatives at Old Dominion University and resides in Norfolk, VA with her husband and children.

Bingham-Risher applied the Page 99 Test to her newest work, and first book of prose, Soul Culture: Black Poets, Books and Questions that Grew Me Up, reported the following:
On page 99 of Soul Culture, we’re a few pages into an essay, “Girls Loving Beyoncé and Their Names” about what I learned from the poet Forrest Hamer, how Beyoncé became a bridge connecting me and my daughter and how we should all take care to listen to the in-between. We're also, almost to the page, at the exact halfway point in the book. Here’s a passage found there:
Sonsoréa was a lot more like I might have been after my parents divorced, if either had chosen to remarry. Respectful, kind enough, but on guard always. Like her, I, too, was wary of love in real life—not the kind New Edition told me was possible, but the falling-apart kind that was unbearable if people who were supposed to be grown up, responsible, didn’t actually know everything, even ruined things, barely listening to us or each other. At thirteen, my parents split up, I was the best soloist in middle school choir, and I met Sonsoréa’s father, years before she was ever imagined.
The Page 69 Test works remarkably well for Soul Culture. I was a little shocked at how each of the recurring threads of the book—talking with a particular Black poet I interviewed, ruminating on what I learned from being in their orbit and studying their work, how all my different identities blended together at home or on the page and even some of the hybridity of the work i.e. portraits, footnotes, Q and A exchanges, etc.—all showed up on page 99.

On one hand (and still in my heart of hearts), Soul Culture is my love letter to the elder poets who helped me figure out my own path as a writer. On the other hand, it’s a snapshot of my life, my growing into myself with the help of family, friends, and innumerable good books. On page 99, I am trying to figure out how to be a mother to children I’ve inherited and I’m beginning to wonder what it means when our parents create us and pull our names (and lives it seems) out of thin air. It’s miraculous really, our coming to be, and all the things we’ll desire for ourselves outside of what others have made for us make up the big questions of our lives. Every time I put pen to page, I’m really just trying to articulate a question I have about the world. In the intro to Soul Culture, I explain: “The enduring question I ask daily—when writing, when watching the news, when praying—about Black folks is: How is it possible we’ve survived? Soul culture is rooted in deep pain, longing, and incessant innovation, so this book is about singular experiences illumined by memory, mortar made possible by genius, grit, mother-wit, and sleight of hand.”
Visit Remica Bingham-Risher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2022

Alexandra Horowitz's "The Year of the Puppy"

Alexandra Horowitz observes dogs for a living. Her research began more than two decades ago, studying dogs at play, and continues today at her Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College. She is the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know and three other books: On Looking; Being a Dog; and Our Dogs, Ourselves. She lives with her family of Homo sapiens, Canis familiaris, and Felis catus in New York City.

Horowitz applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves, and reported the following:
The ninety-ninth page of The Year of the Puppy finds us eight weeks into the life of the litter of puppies from which our new pup -- our new family member -- will be chosen. We've followed the rambunctions of a litter of eleven mixed-breed pups, born of a dog surrendered at a shelter in Georgia when she was discovered to be pregnant, and fostered by a good samaritan and skilled pup-fosterer until the puppies are adopted. At week 8 of their lives, they are about to leave the natal nest and enter their new homes. Here I write about the science of this time of their life, developmentally, including their entrance into a second socialization period -- a time when they are maximally open to new people, sounds, smells, contexts:
All puppies are still approaching new people and dogs with confidence and a wagging tail--and that is why researchers believe this is the best time to place a pup into a human home. Mom has completed weaning and is probably highly irritated with her pups; they are getting more aggressive in their play with one another. They are cognitively quite advanced from their abilities two months ago....brain activity is already adult-like, organized completely differently than when they were neonates.
Raising a puppy is half chaos, half pleasure. My scientific memoir about raising a puppy is half description -- anecdotes of her life as a very young pup, her integration into our family, and her coming into herself -- and half the science (such that exists) of the stage of life that she's in. Insofar as page 99 is in the latter, scientific part, it represents at least some of the book. Had I written the book with the Page 99 Test in mind, I would have included much more about Quid, our puppy, or her siblings. These little furry sweet potatoes are the heart of the book, and the science is only there in service to interpretation about what they're doing, what's happening to their bodies and brains, and who they are.
Visit Alexandra Horowitz's website and the Dog Cognition Lab website.

The Page 99 Test: Inside of a Dog.

The Page 99 Test: Our Dogs, Ourselves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Colin Woodward's "Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash"

Colin Woodward is an archivist who holds a PhD in history from Louisiana State University. He is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War and the host of the American Rambler history and pop-culture podcast.

Woodward applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Cash and his bandmates soon realized they couldn’t function as three acoustic guitar players. Cash’s strengths as a singer was never questioned, but he was the one who ended up with the acoustic. Grant picked up the bass, while Perkins got hold of an electric guitar. None of the men had any musical training to speak of. Even so, Cash and the Tennessee Two made the most of their limitations. What is amazing is that men in their mid-twenties—with day jobs and wives, and no musical training or understanding of show business—pursued music as seriously as they did. Becoming proficient on guitar is no easy feat, especially without lessons. As a guitarist, Cash kept to strumming and picking. Grant set himself to learning the upright bass, on which he attached pieces of tape so he could follow the notes on the fret board. The difference between upright and electric bass, Peter Cooper has written, is “like driving a tank and flying a plane.” Marshall eventually became adept at both.

As the group’s sole electric guitarist, Perkins had the most difficult task of all three musicians in providing riffs and lead lines that gave shape to Cash’s songs. Perkins painstakingly worked out his lead parts, note for note. His playing was primitive compared to the guitar wizards of the late 1960s and 1970s. Even by 1950s standards, though, Cash and the Tennessee Two could not have kept up with contemporaries such as the Pennsylvania-based Bill Haley and the Comets. The solo on “Rock around the Clock” remains one of the best guitar breaks of all time. The Tennessee two couldn’t play like the Comets. Still, as a guitarist, Luther had one essential virtue: he was distinctive. And people—not least among them Perkins’s later replacement, Bob Wootton—admired and emulated him. Luther might have been limited, but the stripped-down Sun style became the gold standard for rockabilly. Many of the most successful and revered bands, from the Rolling Stones to the Beatles eschew extended instrumental breaks. They took lessons from what Cash, Perkins, and others at Sun did: say it well in a song and do it under three minutes. What Cash and the Tennessee Two created was “boom-chicka-boom” or the “Cash sound.”
I’m lucky in that page 99 of my book gives a good idea of what Country Boy is about. It talks about Cash getting his start in Memphis in the mid-50s. Despite the fact that he and his bandmates—the Tennessee Two—were not trained musicians, they were talented, persistent, and lucky enough to be born in a time when an unknown singer with no credits could walk into a studio (not just any studio, but Sam Phillips’s Sun Records, where Elvis got a start) and get an audition. One could say that the book really begins on page 99. Here, we see Cash coming up with his signature “boom-chicka-boom” sound.

What’s more, the fact that Cash was limited musically kept him more rooted than I think it would have if he was a proficient guitar player. In his voice and playing there was an honesty. Proficient players can make great music, too, but Cash was playing in the country tradition, which depended on “three chords and the truth.” We see him approach songwriting like this again and again in the manner of his heroes like Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. And for many Cash fans, his work at Sun was the best music he ever recorded. On page 99, we see Cash becoming Cash the musician. I wanted to delve into that moment and the process when thing really came together for him.

More than any other book, Country Boy: The Roots of Johnny Cash goes into Cash’s early life and what made him who he was. Musicians, no matter how well known or obscure, come from somewhere. And Cash’s story growing up in Arkansas during the Great Depression is a fascinating one. Many roots musicians aren’t really connected to the place where their music came from. But Cash’s music emerged from the South where he was born and raised. He drew on blues, gospel, folk, pop, and country to make his distinctive music. For him, Arkansas wasn’t just a place he left once he began his career. He returned often over the years, not just to visit family, hunt, and fish, but play memorable concerts. My book uses Cash’s days in Arkansas to tell his larger story.

Cash never forgot where he came from. Despite the personal and drug problems he had later in life, Arkansas kept him rooted. In his mind, he never really left it.
Visit Colin Woodward's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Michael A. Verney's "A Great and Rising Nation"

Michael Verney is assistant professor of History at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. In 2017, he was a fellow at the Baird Society Resident Scholar Program at the Smithsonian Libraries. His next project will be a study of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry’s Japan Expedition and the North Pacific Exploring Expedition of the mid-1850s.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, A Great and Rising Nation: Naval Exploration and Global Empire in the Early US Republic, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Wilkes’s new base of operations was a massive room named the Great Hall, on the second floor of the U.S. Patent Office… On entering, visitors would have been immediately struck by the grandeur of the space before them. The Great Hall dominated the upper floor; at 273 feet long, sixty-three feet wide, and more thirty feet from floor to ceiling, it was one of the largest rooms in Washington. A series of red rectangular pillars stood watch over the gigantic space, which stretched far out of sight through two wings on either side. Above, a central, stained-glass atrium arose like a daffodil pyramid surrounded by blue poesies. Visitors had only a moment to take in the space before being greeted by a friendly and “courteous” doorman. He may have taken their coats and umbrellas if it was raining, asked them to sign the register of visitors (though few ever did), and might have good-humoredly pointed out a few architectural flaws. The distractions during this conversation would have been many: murmuring echoes, the tap and scuff of shoes on marble, and most of all, the main attraction itself: a maze of tall wood and glass cases, full of specimens and expanding out in all directions.

Wilkes had worked hard to re-fashion the Great Hall into a pleasing, organized, middle-class space…
The Test almost works. Page 99’s opening reference to Charles Wilkes, a Commander in the antebellum US Navy, reflects the book’s focus on mid-ranking naval officers. These were men who, like Wilkes, yearned to attain personal and national glory through leading naval exploring expeditions around the world. Their energies and vanities add tension to the book and drive much of its narrative plot. This page also hints at one of my core arguments: that committing the United States to a career of global imperial expansion was never solely the work of overambitious naval officers like Wilkes or government elites; instead, it required considerable buy-in from influential domestic constituencies. Page 99 is part of a section arguing that Wilkes’s displaying of the Navy’s natural and anthropological specimens at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, encouraged white middle-class US citizens to embrace naval voyages of discovery. They saw them as supplying novelty, pleasure, and education. Finally, this page is representative of my attempts to write as vividly and engagingly as possible. The text excerpted here draws from a real visit to the National Portrait Gallery, which was formerly the National Gallery.

What is missing from page 99 is the diplomatic dimension of my argument. Exploration boosters like Wilkes were inspired by European voyages of discovery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They craved the esteem of the Great Powers of Europe and believed that embarking the US Navy on scientific exploring expeditions would win them plaudits in European capitals. After all, Congress partly established the National Gallery, the nation’s first publicly funded museum of natural history, to match the cavernous public museums of Western Europe. To get that full analysis, however, a reader would have to voyage beyond page 99.
Follow Michael Verney on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Jesse Olsavsky's "The Most Absolute Abolition"

Jesse Olsavsky is Assistant Professor of History at Duke Kunshan University.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, The Most Absolute Abolition: Runaways, Vigilance Committees, and the Rise of Revolutionary Abolitionism, 1835–1861, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In the 1850s, the Vigilance Committees more firmly organized what they sometimes called the “submarine railway” or the “‘Peoples Line’ of steamboats.” In the early 1830s and 1840s, mainly Black sailors had worked informally to help fugitives stow away, then directing them to antislavery offices or sailors’ homes upon arrival in the North. Such work involved great risk, greater yet after 1850. Being caught helping runaways in southern ports meant jail time or worse. Being caught in transit by an unsympathetic captain meant severe physical disciplining or dismissal from the job. For the fugitive, it meant reshipment south. Still, sailors helped runaways “constantly.” The committees devised various strategies to as­sist sailors in their dangerous work. The BVC had agents on board ships, as well as “friends in the seaports of the south,” to inform them which Boston-bound ships contained fugitive stowaways. In one case, the BVC received a telegram about a vessel hiding a fugitive on its way to Bath, Massachusetts, rushing members there to meet him. Sailors welcomed them aboard the designated ship only to inform them that the fugitive had jumped ship a few days earlier, after the captain tried making arrangements to hand over the runaway to the police. The BVC even devised plans to deploy a “pirate” boat “off the capes of Virginia” to resist “pilot boats” that “boarded and searched every coasting vessel for fugitive slaves.” It additionally employed maritime workers directly to rescue fugitives from arriving ships. Austin Bearse, a sailor, and Henry Kemp, an Irish laborer, led the BVC’s maritime wing. They relied upon Black dock­workers and sailors as informants, while the committee gave them money to build a yacht. Upon receiving word of an arriving fugitive, Bearse, Kemp, and occasionally other members, including Wendell Phillips, William Bowditch, or John Browne, as well as any wharf workers interested in helping would get on the yacht, sneak onto the suspected ship, and rescue the runaway. Bearse and Kemp succeeded in doing this dozens of times. The BVC paid the two men up to fifty dollars for some of their more dangerous rescues.
The Page 99 Test works. The Most Absolute Abolition is the first full-length study of the interconnected networks of the vigilance committees, of how they organized the Underground Railroad, learned from thousands of runaways, exacerbated the sectional crises of the 1850s, helped plan John Brown’s raid, and revolutionized abolitionism in the process.

Vigilance Committees were urban antislavery organizations, formed throughout the north, committed to defending Black neighborhoods from police and slave catchers, and to helping runaways escape from the “prison house” of slavery. Committee members came from all walks of life. Most were African American, working class, or Women. They were also prominent abolitionists, maroons, sailors, feminists, wayward intellectuals, reprobate ministers, and other outcasts from America’s racist, conformist civil society. They built up an elaborate network of allies in the South, in Canada, in Haiti, in the British Isles, and helped as many as 10,000 enslaved people in their self-liberation by land and sea.

Page 99 gets at two crucial elements of my book. First, it shows the ways abolitionists in vigilance committees mobilized diverse networks of working-class people to assist thousands of freedom seekers to resist enslavement. Second, it shows the key role of maritime workers and maritime routes to the Underground Railroad. Very often the Underground Railroad is seen as something organized on the land. The enslaved often escaped by water too!
Learn more about The Most Absolute Abolition at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 19, 2022

Steve Waksman's "Live Music in America"

Steve Waksman is Elsie Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music at Smith College, Massachusetts. His publications include the books Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (1999) and This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (2009), the latter of which was awarded the 2010 Woody Guthrie Award for best scholarly book on popular music by the U.S. chapter of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM-US). With Reebee Garofalo, he is the co-author of the sixth edition of the rock history textbook, Rockin' Out: Popular Music in the U.S.A. (2014), and with Andy Bennett, he co-edited the SAGE Handbook of Popular Music (2015). His essays have appeared in such collections as the Cambridge Companion to the Guitar, Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop, Metal Rules the Globe, and The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre and Popular Music.

Waksman applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Live Music in America: A History from Jenny Lind to Beyoncé, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Live Music in America throws the reader into the middle of an event from 1872, the World’s Peace Jubilee held in Boston during the summer of that year. A sort of analog to the giant music festivals of today, the Jubilee was the second such event produced by U.S. bandleader Patrick Gilmore, following his 1869 National Peace Jubilee. It comes up in chapter two of the book, which focuses on the performance career of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a pivotal group of African American singers who toured the U.S. and internationally in the years following the American Civil War. It was a huge milestone in the career of the Jubilee Singers to sing at Gilmore’s second Jubilee – the concurrence of the term “Jubilee” is notable and something I discuss elsewhere in the chapter. On page 99, the reader finds background history about Gilmore’s Jubilee, which went on for more than two weeks and featured music and performers from several European nations along with the U.S. The Jubilee Singers were one of only two Black attractions scheduled to appear at the Jubilee, and they scored a significant success singing the selection “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord” in conjunction with a choir of over one-hundred voices.

Does the Page 99 Test work for Live Music in America? Yes and no. Yes, because the book is full of these kinds of detail-rich accounts of specific performances from throughout the history of American music, from 1850 forward. These are moments of the book where I use historical documents to bring the past back to life and to recover episodes of live performance that have in many cases been largely forgotten. The focus on an event of such giant scale is also in keeping with the book’s interest on how live music often entails large collective gatherings that are integral to the experience. Gilmore staged the Jubilee in a specially built coliseum designed to hold some 70,000 people that was located along Boston Common. The whole event was done with scale in mind – a chorus of over 10,000, an orchestra of over 1000 – in many ways foreshadowing the enhanced size of festivals and concerts that would become more commonplace from the mid-twentieth century forward. The focus on a group of African American performers on page 99 is also a good reflection of many of the book’s themes. I consider race relations to be central to the story of American music and of live music especially, and this is the first portion of the book where that theme comes to the foreground.

Where the Page 99 Test fails, is that a reader who opened to this page without knowing anything else about the book would probably have a hard time getting oriented. The story of Gilmore’s World’s Peace Jubilee, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ appearance there, takes shape here without a lot of larger explanation regarding the book’s main themes or focus. Like much historical writing, a lot of Live Music in America concentrates on a kind of storytelling. I tell a plethora of stories throughout the book, all of which are ultimately connected, but not every page clearly indicates where the connections lie between one story and the next, or between isolated events and bigger themes. This is a page that mainly guides the reader through a lot of information necessary to understand why the events under discussion are worth knowing about. Hopefully, at least, it would pique a reader’s curiosity enough to want to know more.
Learn more about Live Music in America at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Lars Chittka's "The Mind of a Bee"

Lars Chittka is Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at Queen Mary University of London.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book The Mind of a Bee, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Mind of a Bee contains just a single paragraph, the last sentences of the summary of a chapter about bees’ remarkable spatial memories. Yet you can discern a few key messages of the book. Bees owe their seemingly peaceful and vegan lifestyle to forebears who lived by very different rules: not only were these ancestors carnivorous, but in fact they were nature’s cruellest killers – parasitoid wasps that paralyse their prey, to be consumed alive by the wasps’ offspring.

The book is about bees’ astonishing intelligence – we have discovered in the last few decades that they can count, recognise images of human faces, learn simple forms of tool use, copy such techniques by observing each other, and might even be conscious. How did these remarkable abilities evolve in a miniature brain of an insect? The summary on page 99 reminds us that a key element in the evolution of intelligence of bees was the switch, in a Triassic wasp-like ancestor, from a vagabond lifestyle to being the owner of a home – constructing a nest that contained the offspring, which required frequent commuting between this home and foraging sites with the nutrition required for larval provisioning. This lifestyle brought with it a transformation of the brain. The so-called mushroom bodies, insect brain areas for multisensory integration and memory storage, ballooned in size to accommodate the required additional memory capacity.

The possession of a home came with a selection pressure for precise spatial memory: the ancestor of bees that failed to remember their nesting site would have lost her “babies”. We learn in this chapter that bees have thus evolved very impressive cognitive capacities. They can navigate with high precision over miles, use a sun compass, polarised light and landmark memories. They remember multiple feeding sites over long periods and link them in an efficient manner, much like a travelling salesman does.

The paragraph on page 99 summarises how the increased memory capacity in bees’ distant ancestors prepared them for becoming the intellectual giants of the insect world: to become careful shoppers in the floral supermarket, where bees not just learn to associate flower signals with rewards, but also learn to manipulate the often-complex “puzzle boxes” that are flowers, and even learn concepts and rules that distinguish multiple different flower types from unrewarding ones.
Visit Lars Chittka's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 16, 2022

Patricia Illingworth's "Giving Now"

Patricia Illingworth is an author, philosopher, and lawyer who works on some of the most urgent social, ethical, and human rights problems that face people and their communities. She has been a Fellow at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and most recently, Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is Professor of Philosophy and Business at Northeastern University.

Illingworth applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Giving Now: Accelerating Human Rights for All, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Giving Now introduces Chapter 8, entitled, The Fierce Urgency of Now. This chapter explores philanthropy during COVID-19, a time when need was great, and philanthropy stepped up to meet it. That said, many very wealthy people did not do enough to help during this crisis. The Chapter explains how philanthropy changed during COVID-19 and what those changes tell us about philanthropy, donors and human rights. Page 99 begins the analysis under the subheading Same Storm, Different Boats, describing COVID-19 and how it impacted people differently. Although we were all affected by the pandemic, it was devastating for some communities, while the wealthy and healthy suffered minimally. Page 99 underscores that donors increased their giving during COVID-19 in response to the pandemic’s brutal assault on human rights, visible to all. Although people gave more during the COVID-19 pandemic, many donors did not give enough to meet their human rights responsibilities. Page 99 is an excellent overview of the human rights approach to philanthropy developed in Giving Now.

Applying a human rights analysis to the nonprofit sector helps to identify the ethical issues raised by giving, solve those issues and provides a mechanism for preventing human rights violations. I draw primarily on the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (GP). The GP were ratified in 2011 and have been applied to for-profit organizations. I make the case that under the GP individuals and nonprofits also have human rights responsibilities. How does this play out?

This analysis is developed using case studies. I consider Sackler philanthropy and whether nonprofits should accept donations from the Sackler family given the role that Purdue Pharma, (owned by the Sacklers), played in the opioid epidemic. I also look at whether MIT should accept donations from pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Since the donors were responsible for human rights violations in both cases, I maintain that their donations should be refused. When nonprofits accept donations from donors who have violated human rights, they are complicit in those violations. There are other moral problems inherent in these cases, such as the risks associated with reputation laundering and moral licensing which I also discuss. I also look at MacKenzie Scott’s approach to philanthropy and highlight the ways in which it supports human rights.

The GP hold that enterprises should respect human rights and ensure that they are not implicated in the violation of human rights. They also state that organizations should practice human rights due diligence. This involves transparency, or put differently, knowing, and showing. When practiced, due diligence can prevent the violation of human rights, or at the very least ensure that nonprofits are not complicit in the violation of human rights. I offer a due diligence framework that can be used by donors, nonprofits, and fundraisers to ensure that they mitigate their adverse human rights impact.
Learn more about Giving Now at the Oxford University Press website and visit Patricia Illingworth's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Health of Newcomers: Immigration, Health Policy, and the Case for Global Solidarity by Patricia Illingworth and Wendy E. Parmet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Amanda H. Podany's "Weavers, Scribes, and Kings"

Amanda H. Podany is Professor Emeritus of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and the author of Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East and The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction. She is also the author and instructor of an audio and video lecture series for Wondrium called Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization.

Podany applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Weavers, Scribes, and Kings: A New History of the Ancient Near East, and reported the following:
When you reach page 99 in Weavers, Scribes, and Kings, you are immersed in the life of Baranamtara, queen of the Mesopotamian city-state of Lagash, who lived in the early 24th century BCE. You will have already read about her role as the administrator of a large estate, called the “House of Women,” where she oversaw hundreds of workers, and about her diplomatic relationships with queens of other city-states, along with her ritual journey around the kingdom during the largest annual festival. Page 99 starts with the statement that, in leading the festival this way, “She was reminding the people of the kingdom of her legitimacy as queen and bringing her subjects together in a shared celebration.”

The page moves on to a statue that Baranamtara commissioned of herself. “The royal statues must have taken up considerable space in a temple. Eight are mentioned by name as receiving individual offerings… After Baranamtara’s death, her statue joined this group, along with a statue of her husband Lugalanda.” Lugalanda was the king who ruled Lagash at this time, but we know much less about him than about Queen Baranamtara, because her archives have been excavated, and his have not.
Although these dead royals were not called gods, in the minds of the people of Lagash, the distinction between immortal gods and mortal monarchs might have been a little hazy. Statues of royal family members stood in temples, just like statues of gods. Both the statues of dead monarchs and those of gods needed food, drink, and clothing.

It is often argued that most Mesopotamian royals were not divine, in contrast to Egyptian kings who were, but the hard-and-fast line between god and human that we perceive now was probably a lot more porous in the mind of an ancient Mesopotamian. The average person might have had trouble distinguishing between the divinity of deities and deceased royals. It’s clear that queens were in the same category as kings in this regard—both required offerings. In fact, there were almost as many queens as kings among the venerated statues.
I’m pleased to report that the Page 99 Test works well; you would get a good idea of the spirit of the book from this page. Throughout the book I have included microhistories of men and women from all walks of life to explore the culture and events of the ages in which they lived. Some are of “Big Names” of ancient Near Eastern history, such as Sargon of Akkad, Enheduana, Hammurabi, and Ashurnasirpal II. Others are of powerful people who are less well known, like Queen Baranamtara, Shamash-hazir (a high official working for Hammurabi), and Adad-guppi (a 100-year old priestess). Many others are of people who were not powerful at all, like child laborers who worked for a temple, Zum, a weaving woman who oversaw one of Baranamtara’s workshops, and an enslaved couple named Nabu-utirri and Mizatu who ran a brewery.

On page 99, my discussion of the statues of gods and kings underlines one theme of the book: religion was not something the Mesopotamians recognized as a concept, or even had a word for. The world was teeming with deities, whose actions were inextricable from the rest of experience. The Mesopotamians saw no clear lines between the divine and the secular. The royal statues, which were believed to contain some part of the spirit of the person represented, provide an interesting example of this.

One way in which the page is not typical, however, is that it includes no quotes from ancient texts, which are found throughout the book.
Follow Amanda Hills Podany on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Brotherhood of Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

E. Claire Cage's "The Science of Proof"

E. Claire Cage is Associate Professor of History at the University of South Alabama. Her first book Unnatural Frenchmen: The Politics of Priestly Celibacy and Marriage, 1720-1815 won the Baker-Burton Prize from the European History Section of the Southern Historical Association.

Cage applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Science of Proof: Forensic Medicine in Modern France, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book analyzes medical practitioners' efforts to detect malingering, or the practice of feigning medical conditions for specific purposes. Malingering became a pressing concern in legal medicine, also known as forensic medicine, in France largely in response to the introduction of conscription during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century medical publications on the subject detailed the tactics that medical practitioners employed when treating suspected malingerers. These works also revealed how lay persons’ expanding medical knowledge made them increasingly adept at malingering.

The treatment of this subject on page 99 features some of the central themes and key arguments in my book. These include the considerable challenges that medical men faced in performing medicolegal work, whether combatting malingering (Chapter 3), investigating death and performing autopsies (Chapter 1), detecting poisonings (Chapter 2), examining reproductive matters and crimes (Chapter 4), or evaluating the signs of sexual assault (Chapter 5). Despite these challenges, many practitioners of legal medicine articulated great confidence in their abilities and findings as part of broader efforts to establish authority and to raise the profile of their profession. Some medical men warned that failing to expose malingerers would harm not only their individual reputations but also the field of medicine itself. On page 99, I also allude to debates that emerged within the medical community in the latter half of the nineteenth century on whether doctors’ efforts to expose malingering, which included threats, painful procedures, and the use of anesthesia, had gone too far and risked the dignity of their profession. Readers who turn to page 99 would be able to get a general sense of my book’s argument and approach as well as a more specific examination of the possibilities and pitfalls for doctors tasked with detecting malingering in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France.
Learn more about The Science of Proof at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 12, 2022

Kathleen Lubey's "What Pornography Knows"

Kathleen Lubey is Professor of English at St. John's University. She is the author of Excitable Imaginations: Eroticism and Reading in Britain, 1660-1760 (2012).

Lubey applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, What Pornography Knows: Sex and Social Protest since the Eighteenth Century, and reported the following:
On page 99, I’m unpacking a description of erotic dancers from a 1749 pornographic novel called The History of the Human Heart. The passage contains sexual action in the main text, plus a lengthy footnote supposedly added by an erudite “editor”:
The pornographic description is complete without reference to men’s bodies or their capacity to penetrate.

In this original edition, the posture-girl episode is textually overrun by a footnote offering feminist speculations on the action in the main text. In the note, the editor questions a passing remark made by the author that the posture girls possess a natural feminine attribute, defining the concept instead as a longstanding cultural invention. Disputing common consensus, the editor claims that social fictions are devised to impose strict codes of conduct on English women, curbing their knowledge and ambition. He goes on to imagine the chaos of a culture without modesty in which the sexes encounter each other without cultural interference—that is, without clothing.
I was gobsmacked to see that on page 99, I’m discussing the passage that quite literally launched this entire book project. The point I’m making there is that in the midst of a sexual spectacle that titillates its reader by objectifying women, this little-known text turns our attention primarily to a feminist analysis of moral categories that are oppressive to women in eighteenth-century Britain. This philosophical move flies in the face of what we typically think pornography does—encourages masturbation, shuts down its users’ intellect, stokes misogyny. That pornography advances a far more complex, feminist project is the central argument of my book—so the Page 99 Test is apt indeed, bringing the reader straight to my most persuasive evidence.

When I first closely read Human Heart in the British Library over a decade ago, I was amazed to find that a description of women dancers masturbating is reduced to two lines per page, edged out by a massive footnote that tells the reader modesty is an invention of moral philosophers designed to reduce women’s autonomy. The collision of genital action with philosophical argumentation was an absolute revelation, and I thereafter undertook years of a research seeking feminist content in early pornography. I found loads of it, resulting in this book. My research took me into later periods as well—the Victorian period and countercultural era—where, amazingly, I discovered that pornographic editors reprinted these eighteenth-century texts and edited out, as though with a scalpel, its feminist content. In addition to proving a feminist past to pornography, What Pornography Knows also shows how pornographers actively and intentionally purged the genre of its social conscience, and I conclude by asking how we might approach pornography today with an openness to its critical insights.
Follow Kathleen Lubey on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Katherine M. Zinsser's "No Longer Welcome"

Katherine M. Zinsser is an Associate Professor of Community & Prevention Research in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from George Mason University and her B.A. from Smith College. She studies classroom interactions, supports, and policies that impact young children's emotional well-being and the well-being of the professionals who care for them. Her work has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Spencer Foundation, the American Psychological Association's Society for Community Research and Action, the Foundation of Child Development, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, her research team ( conducts action research in collaboration with community stakeholders and practitioners.

Zinsser applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, No Longer Welcome: The Epidemic of Expulsion from Early Childhood Education, and reported the following:
The casual browser taking No Longer Welcome off the shelf in a bookstore or library and flipping to page 99 would find themselves towards the end of a chapter. This page reiterates the focus of the chapter – that relationships hold great power in early education and, when well and positively formed, connections between parents and teachers can be one our most ubiquitous and potent tools to prevent the expulsion of children from preschools.

The top of page 99 includes a summary of a mixed-method study of parent-teacher relationships among children who were previously expelled from a childcare or preschool program. In line with other sections of the book, quotes on this page provide insight into teachers’ lived experiences working in early childhood education. Down the page, the reader is reminded of the inherently social nature of learning and the critical role that home-school connections play in supporting children’s academic motivation and achievement over time. Finally, in setting up the transition to the next chapter, page 99 reiterates a central tenant of the book: that to resolve our nation’s early childhood expulsion crisis, we must examine the whole ecological system in which childcare is provided.

In general, the Page 99 Test works reasonably well for this book – this page hits several themes and introduces some key players (parents, teachers, children but not program administrators or policy makers). However, most readers would likely pause early on page 99 and ask themselves, “Wait, kids get expelled from preschool?” which is a common response when I tell colleagues about my program of research. Hopefully, readers would be motivated then to examine the Table of Contents to see where they can learn more about the rates, causes, and consequences of this disciplinary practice, as well as the systemic drivers of inequity in who is often expelled (namely boys, Black children, and children with disabilities) and promising policy and practice solutions.
Learn more about No Longer Welcome at the Oxford University Press website, and visit the SETL Lab website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Saida Grundy's "Respectable"

Saida Grundy is a feminist sociologist of race and Assistant Professor of Sociology, African American Studies, and Women's and Gender Studies at Boston University. A proud graduate of Spelman College, she received her PhD in Sociology and Women's Studies from the University of Michigan and often contributes to the Atlantic.

Grundy applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Respectable: Politics and Paradox in Making the Morehouse Man, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Even low-income and working-class respondents had a preexisting vague notion that such moneyed Black families existed from television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but living among the sons of these families in an up-close residential atmosphere unveiled the sometimes obvious but more often nuanced class markers and cues that many students were observing for the first time in their peers. Davis and Waller learned a new language of class recognition in their earliest days on campus. Fittingly, their realizations about class bookended each other in terms of where they located and articulated their class positions. I found Davis, whom I had known over the years as a friend of my sister, instantly likeable and charming over the phone. He presented himself as the consummate professional in his high-paced career at a premier public relations firm.

His self-deprecating humor about his early days as a freshman, however, made it clear he had not always been this way. He arrived on campus mesmerized not only by the buffet of backgrounds among his classmates but also by the opportunity to be in a place with so many peers on the same academic trajectory. Even though his public high school in a solidly middle income majority Black suburb enrolled over 3,000 students, Davis was one of only two Black males in the school’s rigorous college preparatory program. Few of his high school peers shared his social experiences, such as participating in the city’s “Beautillion,” a biennial coming-of-age ball for highschool-aged Black boys sponsored by various exclusive Black social clubs such as Jack and Jill of America, an invitation-only organization for well-heeled Black mothers and their school-aged children.

“I had a diverse group of friends and got along with everybody that I wanted to,” Davis recalled. “But there were certain differences in the way I grew up, some of my understandings of the world and some of the things that I [had done.] For instance, I was Beautillioned in my last year in high school. I went to Jack and Jill teen conferences, and most of the people I went to high school with had no idea what the hell that was.”
Respectable’s page 99 is deep into the ethnographic observation of what happens when a group of vastly diverse Black men from all over the country arrive on campus as freshmen at Morehouse College, the nation’s only Historically Black College for men. To land on this page without the previous pages’ descriptions may be disorienting, but the reader would immediately recognize a conversation about social class and how Black men who never really got much opportunity to think of their class position previously (in predominantly high schools, for example, their racial subjectivity was paramount to their identity) begin to realize how class is communicated within Black spaces, and what they do and do not have in common with the social standings of their classmates. Page 99 is an accurate slice of my work because Respectable truly is an analysis of race, gender and class. Furthermore this page is a snapshot of what the book emphasizes throughout— that class and gender make meanings of Blackness within Black spaces. Radicalization occurs not only in interracial encounters but in intraracial contexts, which is what is on display on this page.

What I like about these reflections by Davis and Waller (respondent pseudonyms) is that they are learning a new class language— not necessarily verbal, and often based on observable cues— about how to articulate class in themselves and detect it in others. There are many exceptional sociological studies on class in school settings, but what I like about this passage is that it does something none of those works do in emphasizing a racially specific class language. These aren’t cues what anyone would pick up outside of a Black space and setting. These young men were learning the specifically African American markers of class that would be lost on an outside observer. They came to school with some of this language, and they picked up even more as they interacted with other students. Over and over again the men in my study remarked upon a simple but overlooked truth about HBCUs: Black people are vastly diverse and in this and other passages men are not only relishing in that diversity but they are learning where they are located within it. When one removes the controlling variable of racial heterogeneity, Black people in Black spaces have rare opportunities to amplify all the other parts of themselves from ethnic differences to class and sexuality spectrums. In Black spaces, Black people are allowed to be dynamic in ways that we are otherwise limited under the white gaze.
Learn more about Respectable at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 9, 2022

Tyler R. Bamford's "Forging the Anglo-American Alliance"

Tyler R. Bamford is a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command.

He applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Forging the Anglo-American Alliance: The British and American Armies, 1917-1941, and reported the following:
Readers who open Forging the Anglo-American Alliance to page 99 will find themselves dropped into the tumultuous aftermath of World War I. Trying to come to terms with the enormous losses of the Great War, some British and American writers feared the imminent decline of Western Civilization. Many Britons and Americans naturally responded by embracing pacifism, advocating disarmament, and decrying nationalism as an antidote to prewar militarism and arms races.

As page 99 explains, however, career British and American army officers took a very different view of the war. The destructiveness of the conflict reinforced their belief in maintaining a strong army as a guarantee of their nations’ security. The officers’ similar military perspective set them apart from popular mainstream writers of the Lost Generation such as Ernest Hemingway, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves, who emphasized the darker side of the war and captured the growing postwar cynicism of traditional institutions. Instead, army officers on both sides of the Atlantic accepted that war was a normal occurrence that was both necessary and glorious.

British and American officers’ wartime experience as allies also gave them many fond memories of fighting together. The wartime recollections of British and American officers provided common ground that allowed them to build friendships and trust with much greater ease than they had before the war. This was a crucial factor in expanding the personal relations that ultimately laid the groundwork for the British and American armies’ effective cooperation during World War II.

The Page 99 Test works remarkably well as a way for any potential reader to get a sense of the major themes in Forging the Anglo-American Alliance. This book endeavors to illustrate the many factors that drew British and American army officers together in the two decades prior to World War II, and page 99 discusses one of the most important, the legacy of World War I. Readers who choose to read the entire book will find the officers’ friendly relations all the more surprising in light of the hostility that many of their nations’ citizens harbored toward their former allies after the war. One of the major elements of the book that page 99 does not allude to is just how many areas in which British and American officers found common ground after World War I. They cooperated in policing their respective empires, occupying Germany, foiling alleged communist conspiracies, and sharing the latest military technologies. Yet even though page 99 is only a small extract, it is a representative sample of the book because, like the work as a whole, page 99 emphasizes the experiences and outlook of British and American soldiers and the strengthening links that drew them together.

The views and conclusions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy.
Follow Tyler R. Bamford on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Emily B. Finley's "The Ideology of Democratism"

Emily B. Finley holds a PhD in Politics from The Catholic University of America and a BA in Classics from Trinity University (San Antonio, TX).

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, The Ideology of Democratism, and reported the following:
Page 99 is curiously representative of The Ideology of Democratism as a whole. Analyzing the political thought of one of the twentieth century’s most influential Catholic philosophers, Jacques Maritain, this page captures some of the major themes of the book as a whole. Maritain is regarded as one of the West’s champions of popular rule, but, like other “democratists,” his understanding of democracy is one that obviates the need to consult the actual people. From page 99:
Maritain’s vision of global governance overlooks the historical reality of the libido dominandi and of local resistance to dictates from faraway places. What Maritain fails to realize, his critic Kolnai argues, is that “a wholesale dethronement of power by a stroke of a pen . . . directly invites the despotic rule of one massive totalitarian power claiming to determine the lives of men, without stopping short at individual rights or Church autonomy, on behalf of their general and identical ‘liberty,’ so as to make the concerted unity of their ‘wills’ fully manifest and valid.”82 In other words, seeking to eliminate power for the sake of liberty only creates a situation ripe for totalitarian “liberty” of the Rousseauean variety. People will be “forced to be free” under the democratist general will.
The Ideology of Democratism contends that the Social Contract of Jean-Jacques Rousseau nearly lays the blueprint for our modern, imaginative conception of democracy. While pretending to treat the people as sovereign, this new understanding of democracy that I label democratism, conceives of an abstract General Will in the place of the actual historical desires of the people. It necessarily requires the direction and guidance of a knowing elite for the unfolding of this “democracy.” Maritain is one example of a philosopher-planner who would do away with historically evolved norms in order to allow a more “democratic” way of life to unfold—according to his designs. The paradox of democratism is that its rational schemes for liberation and equality result concretely in the greater concentration of power into the hands of the few at the expense of the people.
Learn more about The Ideology of Democratism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Alexander Mikaberidze's "Kutuzov: A Life in War and Peace"

Alexander Mikaberidze is Professor of History and Ruth Herring Noel Endowed Chair at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. He holds a degree in international law from Tbilisi State University and a Ph.D. in history from Florida State University. After working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, he taught European and Middle Eastern history at Florida State and Mississippi State Universities and lectured on strategy and policy for the U.S. Naval War College. Mikaberidze specializes in the 18th-19th century Europe, particularly the Napoleonic Wars, and the military history of the Middle East. He has written and edited some two dozen titles, including the critically acclaimed The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History (2020).

Mikaberidze applied the Page 99 Test to his new book, Kutuzov: A Life in War and Peace, and reported the following:
On page 99, I discuss one of the unexpected turns in Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov’s long and interesting career, namely him becoming a diplomat. The page starts with the discussion of the end of the Russo-Ottoman War of 1787-1792 and the key provisions of the Treaty of Jassy that ended the conflict. One of them called for exchanging ambassadors “to guarantee the auspicious peace and sincere friendship between the two empires.” Russian Empress Catherine needed a capable and dependable individual “who could settle relations with the Turks, defend Russian interests across the Ottoman realm, and maintain peace along the empire’s southern borders for the foreseeable future.” After careful consideration, the empress decided to eschew professional diplomats in favor of battle-tested military professionals, and , on November 6, she announced the appointment of Kutuzov as the new Russian ambassador plenipotentiary to the Sublime Porte. This appointment startled many in Russian society but there were good reasons for it. “By choosing a man who had just recently trounced the Turks on the fields of battle, she was sending a clear message to the sultan: toe the line or risk a new war and fresh humiliations.” This analysis continues into the next page.

I do not think the Page 99 Test works well for this book. While it refers the reader to an important twist in Kutuzov’s career, this page does not represent the book well since it devotes much of the space to the discussion of the treaty provisions and arrangements for the exchange of the envoys. I certainly prefer other parts of the books, not the least of them the scenes of Kutuzov commanding troops in battles like Austerlitz and Borodino, or him leading the assault on the Ottoman fortress of Izmail.
Learn more about Kutuzov: A Life in War and Peace at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue