Thursday, August 31, 2023

Matthew Bowman's "The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill"

Matthew Bowman received his PhD. in history from Georgetown University. In 2019, he was appointed associate professor of history and religion and Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, where he teaches courses in American history, new religious movements, religions of North America, and Mormonism.

Bowman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill: Alien Encounters, Civil Rights, and the New Age in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill does not, unfortunately, mention Betty and Barney Hill. Nor does it mention their story of alien abduction, which is the broader narrative the book explores. Rather, this page is part of a brief exploration of the career of Morey Bernstein, a salesman who took up hypnosis as a hobby. In the early 1950s, he began hypnotizing a housewife named Virginia Tighe, and was astonished when the woman began speaking in an Irish brogue and describing her life as Bridey Murphy, the wife of an Irish lawyer who died in Belfast in 1864. Bernstein was nothing if not a shrewd capitalist, and this page describes his transformation of Tighe's story into a bestselling book, followed quickly by a movie adaptation.

The story made Bernstein rich. A hypnosis craze swept the nation in the 1950s. It became a popular party trick and a common subject for popular films and novels. But Bernstein also drew critics. A slew of professional psychiatrists and other counselors who used hypnosis warned that neither hypnosis nor memory worked the way Bernstein alleged - human memories are not like gems to be unearthed from the soil of our minds; rather they are constructed in the process of recall. Hypnosis, then, is not simply a shovel for the unearthing, but can actually influence the memories constructed.

Despite not mentioning Betty and Barney, this section is critical both to the way I imagined the book and the sort of argument I wanted the book to make. Betty and Barney Hill saw a strange light in the sky while driving to their New Hampshire home one September night in 1961. In 1964, under hypnosis, they experienced memories of being abducted by creatures from that light and subjected to medical tests before being returned to their car having forgotten it all.

While on the face of it this seems an incredible story, my purpose in the book is to embed it in the culture of the American mid-century, to show how the HIlls's story reflected and was absorbed by other cultural trends. Like, for instance, the growing fascination with psychiatry and hypnosis, the explosion of therapy as a profession and a practice, and the awe with which many Americans approached science.

Betty and Barney Hill's recovered memory led them into many other mid-century cultural conflicts. It became fodder in the struggle for civil rights, as the Hills were an interracial couple deeply involved in the Black freedom movement. It led them out of the conventional liberal politics they shared with many other Americans and toward the New Age and conspiracy theory. But they were able to travel such paths because others, like Morey Bernstein, paved the way.
Visit Matthew Bowman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Ruby Blondell's "Helen of Troy in Hollywood"

Ruby Blondell is professor emerita of classics and adjunct professor emerita of gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. Their books include Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation and Ancient Sex: New Essays.

Blondell applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Helen of Troy in Hollywood, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses the scene in Robert Wise's 1956 epic Helen of Troy where the Wooden Horse is welcomed into Troy. After besieging the city for ten years, the Greek army has left the Horse as a deceptive "gift" which the Trojans are foolish enough to accept. They welcome it with a wild party evoking the decadent entertainments of Roman Emperors and other tyrants in historical epic films of the period, like Quo Vadis and The Ten Commandments. On this page, I argue that this generic parallel gives the scene ominous overtones. When the drunken Trojans fall asleep, the Greeks emerge from the horse and slaughter the Trojans, whose "fatal lapse in vigilance, good judgment, and sobriety results in Troy's total destruction." In its historical and cultural context, the scene has resonances of the Cold War politics of the 1950s, in keeping with the epic genre of the period, where tyrannical Romans and Egyptians often represent the threat of communism. In the words of the science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which came out the same year), "falling asleep is dangerous."

The Page 99 Test is effective in that it provides a good example of the book's overall methodology: the interpretation of ancient world movies and television shows in their specific cultural and political context. It is less effective in that there is no mention of Helen of Troy, the ancient mythological figure around whom the book is built. Nor does this page deal with the broader issues surrounding female beauty and desire of which Helen is emblematic in both ancient Greek myth and in cinema (as I argue in the book's introduction). A further limitation is that, in its focus on one specific moment in Hollywood history, this page gives no indication of the book's broader scope. Helen of Troy in Hollywood ranges over multiple genres in film and television from the silent period to the early twenty-first century. It discusses not just epic films like Helen of Troy (1956) and Troy (2004), but a silent movie (The Private Life of Helen of Troy), episodes of Star Trek and Xena: Warrior Princess, and a TV miniseries (Helen of Troy) from 2003, showing in each case how the figure of Helen reflects concerns about gender and femininity that are specific to the period and genre.
Learn more about Helen of Troy in Hollywood at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Elizabeth Blake's "Edible Arrangements"

Elizabeth Blake is Assistant Professor of English at Clark University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Edible Arrangements: Modernism's Queer Forms, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a very short page of my book. It’s the final few sentences of the final paragraph of the book’s second chapter, on queer obscenity and narratives of hunger:
Indirection both helps elude the censor and enables an especially queer version of obscenity, as it invites the reader to turn back to their own hungers, and see what it is they desire. Indirect obscenity contains a queerness that is not identical to homosexuality but encompasses it; it is queer in that it is not governed by the logic of heteronormativity. More broadly, it is not governed at all. In these texts, desire is a destabilizing force. This is not because it is inappropriately directed but because of its intensity, excessiveness, and insatiability. By writing desire as hunger, even “straight” writers like Joyce and Tagore strip sex of the trappings of sexuality, revealing its power to both ravish and ravage. While the staged obscenity of burlesque mirrors back to the audience what it thinks they want to see (and thereby teaches them what they ought to want to see), these textual obscenities interrogate desire itself, inviting us to imagine what exactly happened inside a walled palace, to attend to the ways our own minds and eyes might stray and where they linger as we move through a text or the world, and finally, to confront the ways our desires construct us.
Even though it only addresses one part of the book’s argument—each chapter pairs a specific literary form with a distinct relationship to food or eating—page 99 provides a good sense of how my thinking about queerness emerges from possibilities illuminated by modernist texts, rather than a fixed understanding of sex and sexuality. While the page only mentions two of the thirteen writers whose work I discuss, the fact that one is Irish and the other Bengali does hint at the breadth of the book’s transnational archive. What’s less obvious is that most of the writers whose work I discuss were not straight (even in quotation marks), and that the book thinks across a range of genres, including poetry, plays, essays, and fiction.

Most pages of the book involve more specific engagement with the literary texts themselves, including a lot of close reading, but this page offers a distilled moment of argument that doesn’t require readers to be familiar with the texts or writers than I’m referencing (though I of course hope that it incites readers’ desire to track them down!). I’m also particularly delighted that this page is all about desire and pleasure, which are central concepts of the book: I argue that modernist writing about eating has the capacity to unsettle ideas about what feels good in both corporeal and textual bodies.
Learn more about Edible Arrangements at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 28, 2023

Wayne E. Lee's "The Cutting-Off Way"

Wayne E. Lee is Bruce W. Carney Distinguished Professor of History at the University of North Carolina.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Cutting-Off Way: Indigenous Warfare in Eastern North America, 1500–1800, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Cutting-Off Way sits at the very beginning of Chapter five, which is a detailed recounting of how first the Tuscaroras and then the Cherokees confronted the problem of home defense against European attacks in the 18th century. Those two Nations chose different combinations of using fortifications and attacking European logistics as they learned about European capabilities and weaknesses over time. This page explains why these particular case studies are effective and revealing, noting that among other things, that analyzing the "most fundamental of military problems—home defense" helps "narrow the evidentiary complexity of decoding the Indians' motives and ideologies of war." This page also emphasizes change and adaptation within Native American methods of warfare. There were key continuities—indeed the book title itself refers to the operational method that retained its value for the entire period—but there were crucial shifts over time as Native American Nations reassessed changes in the threats they faced.

Page 99 represents a reasonably good introduction to the problems the book is trying to solve! How did Native Americans fight? How did they adapt their mode of fighting to European technologies and capabilities? And even more crucially, how did those adaptations themselves change over time. There was no one change from method A to method B. There was constant adaptation.
Learn more about The Cutting-Off Way at The University of North Carolina Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Barbarians and Brothers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Samuel Moyn's "Liberalism against Itself"

Samuel Moyn is Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and History at Yale University and author of many books on the history of ideas and politics in the twentieth century.

Moyn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Liberalism against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Liberalism against Itself falls within the book’s fourth chapter, which is about Gertrude Himmelfarb, the American historian of Victorian England who died in 2019.

The chapter is framed around appropriations in the 1940s of the great nineteenth century Anglo-German Catholic liberal Lord Acton — when Himmelfarb wrote her dissertation and first book on him. And page 99 explores some differences and parallels between her interest in Acton and that of Herbert Butterfield, the then famous don at the University of Cambridge who hosted Himmelfarb during her visit there in 1946-7 to do archival work.

Himmelfarb later became a neoconservative. But she got there from Cold War liberalism, which is the larger topic of my new book. Page 99 is just another example of the strategy I pursue across Liberalism against Itself. The book is a set of character studies, which I pursue on the grounds that individual Cold War liberals can help generalize about Cold War liberalism. But I look carefully at each character to capture their particularity.

Something unique to the chapter on Himmelfarb is at stake on page 99 too. It is common to observe that Cold War liberals were secular Jews, and Himmelfarb was one too. But it is essential that the ambiance and spirit of the movement made much room for Christian thought and theology.

Himmelfarb revived Christianity in order to reject secular theories of progress — which had supposedly led to the Soviet Union and its crimes. The comparison with Butterfield on page 99 was worthwhile to me because he stressed more forthrightly than she did that Christians believe in providence (Acton certainly did), which is just a cousin of the idea of progress.

As I show, Himmelfarb took Acton’s significance to be his insistence on the relevance of moral norms outside history, ones that allowed potentially severe judgment. Butterfield loved Acton (his predecessor as the Regius Professor of History at the university) too. Butterfield, however, found that worship compatible with a less judgmental and more relativistic stance. He had been friendlier to National Socialism than some might like — indeed, decades later Himmelfarb angrily disowned her one-time mentor for that reason. Where Himmelfarb wanted to contest the Soviet Union’s claims to be the vanguard of progress in history, Butterfield couldn’t conceal that those rejecting a rational theory of progress might do so in order to insist that God is working for humanity’s benefit in more mysterious ways. Is that better—or worse?
Visit Samuel Moyn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

The Page 99 Test: Christian Human Rights.

The Page 99 Test: Humane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Drew A. Swanson's "A Man of Bad Reputation"

Drew A. Swanson is Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Distinguished Professor of Southern History at Georgia Southern University. He is an award-winning author of four books on the agricultural, environmental, and rural history of the American South.

Swanson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Man of Bad Reputation: The Murder of John Stephens and the Contested Landscape of North Carolina Reconstruction, and reported the following:
My book’s fifth chapter opens on page 99, with the result that the page teases some important book themes but doesn’t give the reader a clear understanding of the larger book on its own. You learn the chapter title—“Pretext”—which is followed by an epigraph hinting at the revisions of the southern and national ideas about what Reconstruction meant. In that quote, a North Carolina historian named Mary Woodson Jarvis instructed her readers in 1902 that, as she imagined it, “The scallawags, carpet-baggers and negroes who composed the large majority were wholly irresponsible, and launched upon a course of wild extravagance in order to feather their nests at the public expense. The work of this mongrel body could not be checked by the few brave spirits, who fought day and night with desperate persistence, to stem the tide of reckless extravagance and corruption.”

The “brave spirits” who Jarvis so admired as courageous reformers were members of the Ku Klux Klan, and, as shocking as it may seem to us today, her take became the mainstream understanding of what had happened in the state during the tumultuous 1860s and 1870s. The paragraph and a half that follows begins an argument that North Carolina’s political landscape was fractured in ways more complicated than most histories of the late nineteenth century suggest.

Although page 99 by itself doesn’t provide readers a clear understanding of my book—which is a history of a Reconstruction-era political assassination, the search for the killers, and the memory of the event—it does mark a crucial transition in the work. The preceding chapters narrate the political rise and subsequent murder of North Carolina Senator John Stephens and the failed attempt to identify and try his killers. The pages that follow turn to the public memory of the assassination and broader Reconstruction, culminating in a dramatic confession fifty years after the event. It is a story that starts in the violent aftermath of the Civil War on the ground in one North Carolina community, extends to the state capital and the federal government’s response to the Ku Klux Klan, and then resonates in histories, memorials, and popular culture in the decades that follow.

It is the intersection of these threads—the tangled skein of the murder and its memory—that lies at the heart of my book, and in that respect page 99 is vital. For it is in the transformation of events into memory that history is made, and few American historical visions have been more malleable and contested than those of Reconstruction.
Learn more about A Man of Bad Reputation at the The University of North Carolina Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 25, 2023

Joshua Ehrlich's "The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge"

Joshua Ehrlich is a historian of knowledge, political thought, the East India Company, the British Empire, and South and Southeast Asia. Currently Assistant Professor of History at the University of Macau, he received a PhD and MA from Harvard University and a BA from the University of Chicago.

Ehrlich applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The East India Company and the Politics of Knowledge finds the East India Company riven by internal conflict over -- of all things -- a college. It discusses the moment in 1801 when the Company's directors in London realize that the College of Fort William, recently founded by the Governor-General of Bengal, Richard Wellesley, is a vehicle for Wellesley's aggrandizement at the expense of the Company's constitution and their own authority.

The page captures an important moment in the overall narrative but perhaps not one that would be intelligible out of context. The clash between the directors and Wellesley is one of the major "knowledge debates" in the book, but a reader would probably need to read more of the chapter to understand it. The page does reflect the main theme of the book: the politics of knowledge. And it happens to mark almost the exact midpoint of the main text. It is also worth noting that the directors' realization about Wellesley is a turning point: from that moment, they begin to lose their enthusiasm for scholarly patronage.

Whereas since the 1770s, the Company had patronized scholars as a way to "conciliate" political classes in India and Britain, Wellesley's challenge, among other factors, led it to abandon this idea. By the 1820s, the directors and other Company leaders had settled on another idea: demonstrating the Company's good government to publics in both places through the construction of a system of mass education.
Follow Joshua Ehrlich on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Emily Hauser's "How Women Became Poets"

Emily Hauser is a senior lecturer in classics and ancient history at the University of Exeter and was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. She coedited Reading Poetry, Writing Genre, and is the author of a critically acclaimed trilogy of novels that reimagines the women of Greek myth: For the Most Beautiful, For the Winner, and For the Immortal.

Hauser applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, How Women Became Poets: A Gender History of Greek Literature, and reported the following:
How Women Became Poets starts from a single, and unnerving, observation: the first and most famous female poet of ancient Greece, Sappho, had no word to describe who she was. Centuries of male-gendering of the idea of the poet in practice, and the grammatical structure of Greek—which genders nouns masculine, feminine or neuter—meant that the only word available to her, when she sang her songs, was a male one: “male bard”, “male singer”, “singer-man” (the Greek is aoidos). The book traces the journey of Greek literature as it was forged in the crucible of gender: the beginnings, with male-only poets; the processes of shoring up the vocabulary of poets as male; and women writers’ challenging those words to come up with a language to describe themselves and what they did, that was all their own.

Page 99 is a deep dive into one of the case studies of a point in Greek literature where the masculine vocabulary of the poet is being challenged – not by a woman poet, but by a man, the classical Athenian comedian Aristophanes. Aristophanes’ Women at the Thesmophoria – a comedy that was performed in Athens in 411 BCE – is a rib-crackingly funny go at contemporary Greek poets, that imagines the celebrity tragedian Euripides learning lessons on how to be a good poet from a cross-dressing, gender-fluid poet called Agathon. At this point, we’re honing in on the central problem presented by the poet-terms that Aristophanes is poking fun at: a man who is called a poiētēs, a “poet-man” or “maker-man”, will never be able to write properly about women. It’s in the name, Agathon says. (The point is to explain why Euripides is such a misogynist in his plays – Aristophanes’ comic take on the famous poet’s infamous representations of women like Medea.) Here’s a quote from the middle of the page:
Being able to compose poetry, as Agathon has shown in his treatise on gender imitation and the anēr poiētēs, means being able to “do” both men and women. To be a poiētēs, you have to be able to “‘do’ plays about women” (gunaikei’ ēn poiēi tis dramata, 151), and “‘do’ plays about men” (andreia d’ ēn poiēi tis, 154). “We have to compose (poiein) the same way we are,” Agathon finishes at the end of his poetic exposition (167)—just a few lines before Euripides pronounces that he used to be the same as Agathon when he started to write poetry (poiein, 174). Euripides’s description of his past activities of poiein (and its connection to gender-bending by In-law), without a poet-term, right on the heels of Agathon’s delineation of the gender-mimetic activities of the poiētēs, suggests that it is precisely the loss of his gender-mimetic poetic identity (similar to Agathon) that has led to the current problem of his misogynistic representations of women—and thus to the present charge against him by the women at the Thesmophoria. Agathon might, then, look like a double for Euripides at first glance; but he is, in fact, the opposite. He serves to demonstrate just where Euripides fails, in his inability to be gender flexible—both in his poetic representation of women, and in the vocabulary which names him as a poet.
The text goes on to show that there might be some hope for Euripides, though: his final appearance in the play is cross-dressed as a woman carrying a harp (which I suggest might be a sly reference to Sappho herself). Perhaps he has learnt to acknowledge women’s experiences, and women’s voices and poetic identities, after all.

So how does the Page 99 Test work for my book? Across the 289-odd pages of text, there’s a story being told across the sweep of Greek literature, that traces a huge range of different gender-representations in texts from Homer (the epic poet who begins the Greek tradition) to Aristophanes and Plato (the famously anti-poetry philosopher) to Sappho, Nossis, and Anyte (Greek women poets whose voices and new kinds of language I’m foregrounding). Although page 99 of the book represents one kind of deep philological discussion of the way words are used to construct gendered poetic identities in ancient Greek, it doesn’t capture the breadth of the story, or the polyphony of voices – particularly women’s voices – that comes when you put all these texts together and watch how they interact with each other, speak to (and sometimes against) one another. And of course, for me, the biggest problem with the test is that it lands on a piece of poetry written by, and about, a man. If you want to get the whole story – if you want to take the journey to where women’s voices enter the scene – you need to read the whole book.
Visit Emily Hauser's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Mariana Alessandri's "Night Vision"

Mariana Alessandri is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the nation’s first bilingual university. In addition, she and her partner are the founders of RGV PUEDE, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote dual language education in South Texas public schools. They live on the border with their two tesoros.

Alessandri applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Night Vision: Seeing Ourselves through Dark Moods, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Night Vision, I defend a person’s right to grieve hard, to “fall apart” instead of “keeping it together.” I insist that there is no wrong way to grieve. C.S. Lewis grieved hard when he lost his wife, and he was ashamed of his raw, negative feelings. And yet, he published his journals (anonymously) under the title A Grief Observed. The book bombed, but after Lewis died, the publisher put his real name on it, and sales skyrocketed. What readers had thought of as too personal, and even embarrassing, became a source of comfort for grievers worldwide. Page 99 of Night Vision suggests that leaning into grief instead of trying to avoid it can open avenues of connection and self-knowledge we weren’t aware of. Grieving out loud is no less dignified than grieving quietly or privately.

If you were to read only page 99 of Night Vision, you would have a very strong sense of the book as a whole: that it leans toward expressing negative feelings rather than stifling them, that it defends the dignity of people living in all kinds of dark moods. You would get a good feel for the writing, and you would know right away if you would enjoy the book or not. You might feel vindicated for feeling bad, and you might even wish to be more emotionally honest with loved ones. From these paragraphs you would gather that this is not your typical self-help book that asks you to look on the bright side, count your blessings, or #choosehappy. You would know from this page alone that the book will defend the idea that sharing pain with one another is a gift and not a burden. You might even be able to guess that I am an existentialist philosopher who believes that “death gets us all in the end.”

If you only read page 99 on Night Vision, however, you might think the whole book is about grief. What you would not be able to guess is the chapter structure, that the book is about five moods: anger, sadness, grief, depression, and anxiety. You would have no way of knowing that each chapter presents an argument against toxic positivity and for sitting in darkness until our eyes develop a kind of “night vision.” You wouldn’t fully grasp the metaphor, but you would be able to guess at it. You wouldn’t know that I write about my students and myself, as well as ancient and contemporary philosophers. And you wouldn’t know why, at the end of the page, I am bringing up the Anderson Cooper/Stephen Colbert interview…
Visit Mariana Alessandri's website, and learn more about Night Vision at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Liz Przybylski's "Sonic Sovereignty"

Liz Przybylski is Associate Professor in the Department of Music at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of Hybrid Ethnography: Online, Offline, and In Between. Przybylski is an awardee of the National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Sonic Sovereignty: Hip Hop, Indigeneity, and Shifting Popular Music Mainstreams, and reported the following:
In book-length writing, of course there are a lot of strands of ideas that weave together over time. While a single page cannot convey them all, page 99 of Sonic Sovereignty does play with several key points of the book. This page opens with the idea that the radio station Streetz FM, an Indigenous music broadcast and streaming station out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, provided opportunities for Indigenous hip hop artists to be broadcast on-air in the late 2000s and into the 2010s. It continues to argue that the media that circulates in a city both reflects and creates peoples’ ideas of themselves as a collective.

This quotation from the middle of page 99 hits on a theme that unfolds throughout the book: “Sonic sovereignty entails taking control of narratives of what constitutes Indigenous cultural production and, to a greater ex­tent, what constitutes contemporary Indigenous cultural identities, let­ting this be a dynamic process and allowing these narratives to change over time.” The focus on change over time, and the power of Indigenous popular music in particular, is key.

From just this page, a reader also understands that media professionals and musicians shape the book. A quotation from an interview between the author and a radio station music supervisor is the piece that conveys how listeners get inspired to make their own music, and even names some of the Indigenous artists (Inez Jasper, and A Tribe Called Red, now The Halluci Nation), who have shaped popular music through their output. The interviewee, Miss Melissa, is the expert who shows this here.

This page does not contain any of the listening segments woven throughout the book. In these, I offer ways to listen and re-listen to the same passage, encouraging readers to reflect on their own situated perspective, and to be receptive to other ways of listening. These also engage with hip hop ways of listening, such as moving through time by experiencing the memories you have with a snippet of music that gets sampled, or getting into a loop by listening or dancing to a repeated groove. I play with descriptive writing and different kinds of narrative to encourage a variety of reading-listenings from the book’s audience.

Other pages also do a more thorough job of asking and answering questions about media circulation: how do policies, like those in Canada, Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, that privilege music made in-country, impact licensing and listenership? How does streaming audio change audibility, especially for female or nonbinary musicians, or members of other equity deserving groups? And in terms of funding, what kinds of expressions are made possible when musicians are able to move to non-unit-based revenue? These topics are designed to help policy makers and funders, in addition to other segments of the book’s readership.
Visit Liz Przybylski's website.

Listen to the playlist for Sonic Sovereignty. The cover art of Sonic Sovereignty is a piece by visual artist Marc Kuegle, and the featured musician on the cover is Sly Skeeta.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 21, 2023

Richard Halpern's "Leibnizing"

Richard Halpern is the author of books on topics ranging from Shakespeare to Norman Rockwell. At his retirement, he was Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Literature at New York University.

Halpern applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Leibnizing: A Philosopher in Motion, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book occurs in a chapter titled “How to Build a Monad.” In it, I explore the philosopher G.W. Leibniz’s most famous concept--the monad--via a facetious thought-experiment in which I actually attempt to construct one (and of course fail miserably). A monad is a mind, but a mind all of whose perceptions are pre-programmed into it rather than received in real time from an external world. On page 99, I continue an analogy I had established earlier in the chapter between monadic perception and a video game. A video game likewise produces a “world” but generates it through its own algorithmic code rather than from some external reality. On page 99, I complicate things by acknowledging that a monad is not merely like a video game but rather like the (much more complicated) mental experience of playing such a game. I then go on to discuss two developments in contemporary thought that might bear on this problem. One is a notion proposed by some contemporary philosophers that a mind is an “information state” that happens to exist in our brains but could also be instantiated in a computer. The other is the claim by the physicist Stephen Wolfram that very complicated phenomena, including computers, can be generated from very simple algorithms of a kind known as cellular automata.

My book responds somewhat well but by no means perfectly to the Page 99 Test. I do frequently go back and forth between Leibniz—a seventeenth-century philosopher—and more contemporary figures, partly to demonstrate Leibniz’s continuing relevance and partly to help illustrate his sometimes difficult and elusive ideas. But the book’s focus is still mainly on Leibniz, while page 99’s focus is mostly on other thinkers, so the proportions get reversed. In addition, my book alternates between subject matter that is mostly of interest to humanists, such as aesthetics, and materials involving mathematics and science, though of a basic and easy-to-understand kind. But page 99 tilts heavily toward the science side. In fact, the whole chapter does.

My attempt to “build” a monad is based on Leibniz’s claim that both the content of our perceptions and their sequencing is governed by what he calls a “law of the series.” And there is good reason to believe he means by this an infinite series in the mathematical sense, a very simple example of which would be the harmonic series: 1 +1/2 +1/3 +1/4+… In other words, thinking is for Leibniz a mathematical process. This is an example of how he draws on unexpected areas of knowledge in the course of his philosophizing. To formulate his ideas about the monad, he borrows concepts not only from mathematics but from physics, biology, psychology, optics, painting, logic and theology. His distinctive philosophical style results from creating what cognitive linguists call “conceptual blends” of very different kinds of knowledge. It is one premise of my book that Leibniz’s wild and wide-ranging style of thought continues to inspire thinkers in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries and can even provide a usable model for non-geniuses like ourselves.
Learn more about Leibnizing at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Asia Friedman's "Mammography Wars"

Asia Friedman is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware. Her first book, Blind to Sameness: Sexpectations and the Social Construction of Male and Female Bodies (2013), won the Distinguished Book Award from the Sex and Gender section of the American Sociological Association in 2016. She is also the co-editor, with Anne Marie Champagne, of Interpreting the Body: Between Meaning and Matter (2023).

Friedman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mammography Wars: Analyzing Attention in Cultural and Medical Disputes, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Many interventionists focus their criticisms of the USPSTF on the point that there were no specialists in breast cancer on the panel charged with debating the merits of mammography, with the result that their recommendation was based “only” on computer modeling and “the subjective opinion of the panel members, none of whom had any expertise in caring for women with cancer” (Dr. Adams, radiologist). Dr. Cashman, also a radiologist, similarly argues that the panel did not include any “experts in the field”:
There is a lot of things wrong with their, um, analysis and their conclusions. The first thing that is wrong is that there are sixteen members of this Task Force: about twelve physicians and the rest were, uh, nurses, or nurse practitioners or other researchers. And of the twelve physicians, seven of them were either internal medicine doctors or family practice doctors. None were radiologists that do what I do, that screen and diagnose breast cancer. None were surgeons and do breast surgery, and none were oncologists or other specialists that take care of breast cancer patients. And so they had no experts in the field on this panel.
In terms of attention, interventionists thus stress that in evaluating which guideline to follow, what is relevant to attend is how many organizations support the guideline, and whether those organizations represent the opinions of specialists in breast cancer.

Rather than the number of organizations, skeptics emphasize the quality of scientific evidence supporting each recommendation. They also argue for attending to international comparisons to assess the USPSTF recommendation. For example, skeptics point out that the USPSTF issues guidelines only after a careful scientific process of evaluating the state of the research, whereas other organizations (even if more numerous) are not held to as stringent a scientific standard. As Dr. Price, a clinical oncologist with additional training in public health, puts it: “The Task Force uses a different process, you know, a more formal process of systematic evidence review.” Dr. Jackson, a family medicine doctor and academic researcher in public health, similarly contrasts the “evidence-based” process of the USPSTF with what he disparagingly refers to as a “consensus-based” process used by some other organizations: “a lot of organizations out there including medical organizations that do not do evidence-based guidelines and they basically just do, you know, what’s called consensus-based guidelines, so basically just a bunch of guys sitting around a table saying what they personally think.” In addition to using a more strictly scientific process of evidence review, skeptics pointed to the differing standards or criteria by which various
In several ways, page 99 is a good representation of the book: One gets a sense of some of the empirical data (interviews with doctors and scientists), and it is roughly representative of my analytical approach, which often proceeds by juxtaposing narratives to reveal contrasting patterns of attention. That said, it includes only one form of empirical data (out of three included in the book). The discussion is also narrowly focused on different understandings of the United States Preventive Services Task Force’s (USPSTF) mammography guidelines, which decontextualized does not convey the book’s broader aims. These aims include generating empirical insights into debates over mammography as well as theoretical/conceptual contributions to the sociology of attention, which I develop in chapters focused around general themes such as attentional diversity, attentional battles, and attentional weighing.

The context for the discussion on page 99 is that experts disagree over how best to define and measure the benefits and harms of mammography, and even over the validity of the very idea of early detection—thus the title, Mammography Wars. This is not because of a lack of data. No medical screening has been more scrutinized than the mammogram. Rather, as my research suggests, the two sides interpret the existing data through different frameworks of meaning.

My analysis is based on three types of empirical data—interviews with doctors and scientists, interviews with women age forty to fifty, and newspaper coverage of mammography—through which I identify two dominant patterns of thought that define disputes over mammography: interventionism and skepticism.

Briefly, interventionists firmly believe in the benefits of early detection and minimize any possible harms of screening. They are accordingly critical of any effort to delay the age recommendation for mammograms or reduce the frequency of screening. Skeptics are less confident in mammography’s effectiveness and give more weight to the harms of screening, which they also define more broadly than interventionists. They therefore generally advocate delaying the initiation and slowing the frequency of mammography to limit these risks.

On page 99, I am analyzing how interventionists and skeptics each assess the USPSTF mammography guidelines. Specifically, I highlight the way they apply different frameworks of relevance: interventionists emphasize that the USPSTF did not include enough experts in breast cancer and screening, while skeptics point out that the USPSTF’s recommendations are in line with international norms and based on a systematic scientific review of the evidence.
Learn more about Mammography Wars at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Adrienne Russell's "The Mediated Climate"

Adrienne Russell is Mary Laird Wood Professor and codirector of the Center for Journalism, Media, and Democracy in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. Her books include Networked: A Contemporary History of News in Transition (2011) and Journalism as Activism: Recoding Media Power (2016).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Mediated Climate: How Journalists, Big Tech, and Activists Are Vying for Our Future, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book discusses the ambivalence that permeates the internet. That is, it discusses the fact that the internet is capable of being used to both facilitate and obstruct quality information and discussion. I am building here on the great work of Whitney Philips and Ryan Milner, who use the concept of ambivalence to emphasize the positive and negative potential of online cultural expression, rather than in its colloquial sense to refer to indecision (I could go either way) or to refer to ambiguity (I’m not sure what she means).

The page opens with this reference to a memo from Facebook executive that illustrates the essence of platform ambivalence:
Andrew Bosworth describes the company’s intentional disregard for truth, as evidence. “We connect people. That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. … That can be bad if they make it negative. … Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack. … The ugly truth is … anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.
It then goes on to describe some of the efforts by climate activists to call out platforms, and professionals whose work supports them, on their environmental ambivalence.

Here is the rest of my page 99:
This ambivalence has spurred activists to turn their attention to platforms. Climate Creatives, a non-profit association of creatives professions, together with Greenpeace, and the youth civic engagement group Hip Hop Caucus, are leading a coalition of climate organizations calling on the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok to ban fossil fuel advertising from their platforms. Anusha Narayanan, Greenpeace U.S. climate campaign manager explains: “The definition of hypocrisy is social media giants saying they care about environmental impacts while accepting millions of dollars from fossil fuel corporations to peddle their propaganda.”

In the United Kingdom, the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) is trying to ensure ad industry ethics is updated to reflect the contemporary realities of the technology behind advertising today. Harriet Kingaby, co-chair of CAN describes how this especially pertains to climate information. She says that the internet has brought about mass data collection, targeted ads, and enormous amounts of ad space (aka ad inventory), factors that are are “turbocharging climate disinformation.” Advertisers are the major driving force behind platforms. And because platforms are the new gatekeeper, promoting the most salacious content and syphoning us off into like-minded groups, advertisers are complicit in creating this toxic environment, by inadvertently paying to support it.
The tests works! Page 99 is a great one for the reader to get a sense of the whole book and how it details the ways the muck in our communication environment gets in the way of our ability to effectively address the climate crisis, and what people are doing to change that.

The Mediated Climate emphasizes the importance of thinking about the climate crisis not just as a physical world phenomenon, but also a communication phenomenon — a story about our degraded information and communications environment, where bad faith flourishes, making noise and muddling messages while emissions mount and societies struggle to head off catastrophe. It's also a story of journalists, activists, scientists and other professionals of all stripes who are fighting to improve both our physical and media landscapes. And it’s an invitation to join them.
Learn more about The Mediated Climate at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Andrew Payne's "War on the Ballot"

Andrew Payne is a departmental lecturer in international relations at the University of Oxford, where he was previously the Hedley Bull Research Fellow in International Relations and a William Golding Junior Research Fellow at Brasenose College. He serves on the board of Chatham House in London.

Payne applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, War on the Ballot: How the Election Cycle Shapes Presidential Decision-Making in War, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes the reader into a case study of Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the war in Vietnam. It examines an argument some scholars have made in explaining why the president clung to a path of escalation with which he was uncomfortable: that Johnson’s advisory system was organized in a way that stifled debate and promoted hawkish perspectives.

Readers will find qualified support for this claim on this page. It is true that skeptics within the administration, like George Ball, were reduced to playing the role of a “devil’s advocate.” And McGeorge Bundy, the national security advisor, did control the flow of information to the president in a way that marginalized dissent. But if the president was poorly served by his advisory system, he was also largely responsible for cultivating a bureaucratic environment in which loyalty and a conformity of views were so highly prized.

To illustrate the point, the book recounts an anecdote Ball shares in his memoir in which Johnson teased him about his subordinate role in decision-making process.
“You’re like the school teacher looking for a job with a small school district in Texas,” Johnson said to Ball. “When asked by the school board whether he believed that the world was flat or round, he replied, ‘Oh, I can teach it either way.’”

“That’s you,” Johnson continued, “You can argue like hell with me against a position, but I know outside this room you’re going to support me. You can teach it flat or round.”
Even Bundy, the advisor many charge with culpability for filtering out meaningful challenge, understood that getting your views in front of a president was only half the battle.
“You can’t organize against Lyndon Johnson without getting bombed before breakfast, because in his view that’s the final and ultimate conspiracy.”
The Page 99 Test offers a mixed account of the book as a whole, revealing more about its style than the substance of the overall argument it makes.

On the one hand, it offers a representative sample of the kinds of evidence deployed in the book. In addition to the voluminous secondary record, War on the Ballot draws on thousands of declassified documents, presidential tape recordings and original interviews with senior administration officials to build an empirically rich narrative of decision-making in the wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. These sources provide readers with an unprecedented account of what really went on behind closed doors during these historically significant conflicts, unfiltered by spin doctors and stenographers.

Johnson’s penchant for parables and crude analogies, for example, is accurately reflected on page 99. Elsewhere in this chapter we find the president characterizing the war as a football game, comparing peace negotiations to the sale of a house, and sarcastically referring to the ambassador to South Vietnam – a person he considered incompetent and unable to work with anyone – as “Mister God.” Indeed, the president routinely referred to his rivals and opponents as idiots, cry-babies, and much, much worse.

On the other hand, page 99 tells us very little about the central argument the book advances about the role of the electoral cycle in shaping presidential decision-making in war. The way in which the domestic political calendar systematically pulls presidents away from courses of action they deem to be in the national interest is addressed only indirectly here.

Elsewhere in this chapter, though, readers will find plenty of evidence that Johnson’s decisions relating to the “Americanization” of the war were profoundly shaped by electoral constraints. Often, Johnson tells us as much in own words. “I’ve got to win an election,” he told Bundy after one meeting in March 1964 in which escalatory plans were debated, “and then you can make a decision.” As Bundy later recalled, Johnson’s “pre-emptive concern” was to “win, win, win the election, not the war.”

Such evidence of the nakedly political origins of wartime decision-making raises serious questions about the normative implications of electoral accountability and foreign policy. War on the Ballot definitely shows that electoral politics matters, then, but whether it should do so is left for readers to decide.
Learn more about War on the Ballot at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Mark A. Ragan's "Kingdoms, Empires, and Domains"

Mark A. Ragan is an emeritus professor at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at the University of Queensland. From 2000 to 2014, he served as founding head of IMB's Genomics and Computational Biology division. He concurrently served as founding director of the Australian Research Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and later co-founded QFAB Informatics. Ragan is co-author of A Biochemical Phylogeny of the Protists (1978) and numerous peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Cell, Nature, Nature Communications, Nature Microbiology, PNAS, and more. He is a former president and an honorary lifetime member of the International Seaweed Association and currently senior fellow of the Australian Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Society.

Ragan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Kingdoms, Empires, and Domains: The History of High-Level Biological Classification, and reported the following:
Kingdoms, Empires, and Domains explores how the living world has been conceptualized, from prehistoric times up to the present day. Broad groups of natural beings can be discerned in early figurative art, symbolic language, folk taxonomies, and creation myths. High-level concepts of plants and animals were afoot a couple of generations before Aristotle, and became embedded in all manner of esoteric, religious, philosophical and practical traditions. Many beings, however, fit uncomfortably, if at all, into these high-level groups. Different organisms were considered problematic at different times and for various reasons, and our narrative follows these changing currents.

Page 99 of the print edition discusses the Rasā’il (Epistles) of the Ikhwān al-Ṣafā (Brethren of Purity), an “esoteric fraternity” of intellectuals active in Tenth-century Iraq. (The discussion starts at the bottom of page 98, and runs to mid-page 100). For the Brethren, man is a microcosmos, while conversely the world is “a macroanthropos endowed with a body, a soul, a life, and knowledge”. They recognize three (mineral, plant, animal) or four genera (these plus man) of sublunar beings, and arrange them in a hierarchy of “nobility” or “purity” of universal soul. Minerals arise by a coagulation of fundamental substances, while metals arise from mercury and sulphur in a second stage of mixing and natural refinement. Let us quote the paragraphs on plants and animals in full, omitting seven footnotes:
Plants— ‘every body that comes out from earth, is nourished, and grows’ — are of three kinds: trees, crops, and herbs. Unlike minerals, plants cannot be transformed into one another. The vegetative soul brings about seven biological functions: attraction, retention, digestion, expulsion, nutrition, formation, and accretion. The Brethren’s description of the mineral-plant interface is difficult to understand, but involves ‘green manure’ (moss?) and truffles, one a ‘vegetal mineral’, the other a ‘mineral plant’. Other vegetal degrees rank above these, and share with animals the sense of touch. The plant adjacent to the animal degree is the date palm, an ‘animal plant, as some of its actions and states are distinct from the states of plants, even though its body is a plant’ and ‘a plant with regard to its body, but an animal with regard to its soul’. Parasitic plants, which draw nutrition not from the earth but (like a worm) from trees, likewise exhibit the actions of the animal soul. Coral is a plant.

The Brethren classify animals in several ways, employing diverse criteria. With regard to the faculties of soul they recognize five stages: worms that breed in clay (the lowest, ‘almost on a par with plants’, with only the sense of touch); worms that crawl on leaves, with taste and touch; animals which live in the deep sea and other dark places, which additionally have the sense of smell; insects, possessing these plus hearing; and perfect animals, which also have sight. Worms in general are ‘vegetal animals’ because their body ‘grows as some plants do, but it stands autonomously, and because of the fact that it moves its body with a voluntary movement, it is an animal.’ More specifically, the lowest animal is the ‘cane worm’, perhaps referring to the snail.
The text goes on to consider how the Brethren arrange the animals within each class, then returns to their terminology “vegetal animal” and “animal plant”; mentions their argument that the human embryo is successively under the influence of the vegetable (the first four months) and animal souls (months five until birth), with the human soul taking control only thereafter; and concludes with their message that animals have intrinsic worth beyond utility to man: “Animals were created by Allāh, and praise Him as they are able”.

How does the Page 99 Test perform in this instance? Over 449 pages of text, 182 pages of endnotes, and 139 pages of references, Kingdoms, Empires, and Domains explores hundreds of high-level biological classifications, many fundamentally different from that of the Brethren. Their use of storytelling to make an argument is uncommon outside the Arabic tradition, while the availability of modern English translations sets their Rasā’il apart from most Arabic and Islamic works of this era. Like many other ancients, however, the Brethren draw on Pythagoras and Neoplatonism, and the main concepts they put in play – plants, animals, man, borderline beings, hierarchy, soul, form, function, movement – reappear throughout the book. On balance, the Page 99 Test works acceptably well for Kingdoms, Empires, and Domains.
Learn more about Kingdoms, Empires, and Domains at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Scott MacLochlainn's "The Copy Generic"

Scott MacLochlainn is assistant professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his 2022 book, The Copy Generic: How the Nonspecific Makes Our Social Worlds, and reported the following:
If one opens The Copy Generic, I’m not fully sure you would immediately be able to decipher the main themes and thrust of the book. Out of the entire book, page 99 might actually be one of the least legible in terms of the overall thematic! But the chapter that it is part of, Chapter 3, “Source Mimesis: How We Think about the Unauthored and Collectively Owned,” I think does a good job of capturing the book’s overall argument. The book is concerned with describing the importance of the concept of the “generic” for understanding how we collectively navigate and sort through different worlds of media and meaning. So rather than dismissing generic things as copies and knock-offs, or the culturally disused, I argue in the book that to think about the generic is actually to think about how we produce and rely on universals and shared backdrops, and how we need easily accessible ways to categorize and sort things in the world in order to make sense of everything. That can be using generic language, shared templates for urban infrastructures, or musical genres on Spotify. Because I’m an anthropologist, part of the book is ethnographic, with the latter chapters describing how different Christian groups in the Philippines have forged a “generic Christianity,” that is how a shared, baseline form of Christianity had slowly emerged among a community, sometimes as a way to overcome religious difference and sometimes to try to convert one another.

Chapter 3, and page 99, is about media and copyright law, and other spaces that highlight how we need to start thinking differently about ownership and authorship in order to avoid remaining stuck in the quagmire of seeing everything as either originals and copies. While we are increasingly living amidst a social milieu in which the coherence of originality and authorship are fraying at the edges (the recent emergence of AI highlights this—what or who is the origin and author of a piece of writing on Chat GPT?), we often revert to such concepts when we start talking about ownership. Why is this so? The legal system, for example, still struggles with drawing clear lines in copyright and patent law, and inevitably relies on determining some space of originality to be the place in which real value (and thus ownership) inheres.

On page 99, I happen to be discussing something very different—the Irish experience with world’s fairs in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In exhibitions in the Irish capital, Dublin, the country was presented as a modern, cosmopolitan European nation, while at world’s fairs such as those at Chicago in 1893, or St. Louis in 1904, one found readymade full rural and “authentic” Irish villages, laden with Celtic designs and with people handweaving and cooking over open fires. Interestingly, it was often the same people organizing (or authoring) the two versions of Ireland on display. On page 99, I describe how these representations were similarly predicated on well-known generic types of thinking about Ireland and national cultures. Of course, somewhat ironically, the bucolic, parochial aversion Ireland ended up being the most modern version, predicting as it did the future of global tourism, and the commodification of culture, something that Ireland ended up at the centre of a century later.
Learn more about The Copy Generic at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 14, 2023

Andrew Lea's "Digitizing Diagnosis"

Andrew S. Lea is a resident physician in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Digitizing Diagnosis: Medicine, Minds, and Machines in Twentieth-Century America, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Questions about how to describe and represent computers nagged at the hematology team as well. Ralph Engle’s perspective on the nature of the computer—and its relationship to the human—was rather more nuanced than that of many of his contemporaries. Pioneers in biomedical computing frequently lamented that physicians seemed to suffer from the computer allergy more severely than did any other professional group. The unreceptive attitude of many traditional practitioners was widely recognized as a, if not the, central barrier to getting computing technologies out of the research laboratory and into the clinic. In 1966, Stephen Yarnall and Richard Kronmal characterized the “psychological resistance” among physicians to computers in diagnosis. In their view, this resistance had three primary facets: “First, physicians have traditionally approached diagnosis in their own individual manner, and attempts at systematization are generally unwelcome; second, many of the systems introduced to-date have required more, rather than less, work by the physician with no immediate gain apparent to him or his patient; third, physicians, and many laymen, fear computers as strange and impersonal machines which may destroy meaningful doctor-patient relationships and even displace physicians to some extent.”

Engle shared these concerns about an unreceptive, even antagonistic, clinical audience. But it was actually the opposite attitude—uncritical acceptance— that came to trouble Engle more deeply. Physicians, he believed, needed a deep understanding of how a computer program worked; only then would they be able to effectively evaluate its clinical value and, more crucially, its limitations: “It concerns me that some physicians are only too anxious to let a laboratory test or a computer make their decision. These tools should only be one input into the decision-making process. The physician must add his own perspective.” The output of a computer program, Engle warned, can convey a false decisiveness that physicians may be all too eager to accept uncritically. “The aura of finality and correctness of the computer,” Engle predicted, “will be difficult for some physicians to overcome.” The single computer output did little to convey the messy, contingent, partial, and uncertain choices that the developers made in creating the program. The computer’s rigid outputs might convey a false impression of certitude.

Engle feared that the language surrounding computerized diagnosis, with phrasing like “thinking machines” and “artificial intelligence,” may undercut any measured understanding of a computer program’s limitations. Specifically, Engle seems to have feared that a “living” metaphor about the computer risked gradually shading into a “dead” one; that is, he worried that metaphors may lose their status as mere figures of speech and begin to be interpreted as real or literal. Artificial intelligence may come to be taken as intelligence, full stop.
Page 99 of Digitizing Diagnosis does not convey the book’s core arguments, but it does give a nice synopsis of one of its themes: namely, the inner disquietude stirred by the earliest efforts to computerize medical diagnosis. Much of this resistance came from fears that computers would hasten the dehumanization of medicine. As many creators of early computerized systems recognized, doctors’ psychological resistance to computers was a large barrier to the successful implementation of computerized diagnostic programs. Yet the reverse psychological stance—that of openness—also posed threats of its own, as Engle describes here.

This excerpt speaks to a larger problematic that engineers came up against, one that runs through this book. Developers of computer systems frequently found themselves toggling between, and trying to reconcile, divergent conceptions of “the physician”—their attributes, attitudes, and aptitudes. Were physicians rational, learned, and atomistic clinical actors, loathe to see the computer enter the medical realm? Or were they fallible beings, only too eager to outsource their cognitive labor to lab tests and algorithms?

In trying to implement computerized systems, engineers found themselves in what STS scholars have called “the dilemma of application.” On the one hand, adoption of computerized tools depended on physicians not feeling threatened or undermined by them. But on the other hand, the justification for clinical decision support systems was predicated on the assumption that physicians needed help—that their capabilities were limited, their rationality bounded. Many of the same paranoias and paradoxes that plagued early computerized diagnostic systems continue to shape efforts to imagine, create, and implement machine learning algorithms in medicine today.
Follow Andrew Lea on Twitter and visit his website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Hafsa Kanjwal's "Colonizing Kashmir"

Hafsa Kanjwal is an assistant professor of South Asian History in the Department of History at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses on the history of the modern world, South Asian history, and Islam in the Modern World.

Kanjwal applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Colonizing Kashmir: State-building under Indian Occupation, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Tourism and cinema served to territorialize India’s colonial occupation in both its secular modernizing and Hindu nationalist avatars and in some ways highlighted the co-constitutive relationship between the two. It also enabled an unquenchable desire of Indians toward Kashmir (and some Kashmiris) that would continue to undergird India’s strategic rule in Kashmir.
Page 99 of the book is at the beginning of the third chapter, “Producing and Promoting Paradise,” and both provides the argument for the chapter, and also situates how Kashmir historically came to be “special place” in precolonial and colonial texts. The chapter overall examines how tourism and Indian cinema consolidated the desire for Kashmir in the Indian colonial imagination and “reordered a religious, spatial, and gendered imaginary of Kashmir that was both linked to and in need of India. Kashmir was a place to be seen and experienced, and in turn, to claim.” An important overall argument of the book—that Hindu sacred geographies and histories were pivotal to “Nehruvian secularism” in India—is also mentioned on this page. In this way, the Page 99 Test works very well as readers would get a very good idea of some of the broader arguments of the book and the interventions it tries to make in South Asian historiography.

The book examines the different modalities of control that the Indian government and its client regimes used to entrench India’s colonial occupation of Kashmir. These policies were mostly directed at Kashmiris—but, in this case, they were also directed towards Indian citizens. On this page, readers will be introduced to how the governments prioritized an affective attachment to Kashmir through cinema and tourism, which then enabled the average Indian citizen to lay “claim” to Kashmir. The second half of the page then delves into how Mughal and British colonial accounts also used the idea of Kashmir as a “paradise” in order to consolidate their rule.
Visit Hafsa Kanjwal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Mark Valeri's "The Opening of the Protestant Mind"

Mark Valeri is the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. His book Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America, received the 2011 Philip Schaff Prize from the American Society of Church History. He was a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the American Antiquarian Society and a Los Angeles Times Distinguished Fellow in the Culture of the Americas at the Huntington Library.

Valeri applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Opening of the Protestant Mind: How Anglo-American Protestants Embraced Religious Liberty, and reported the following:
Page 99 provides visual evidence for a major theme in the book. It is taken up by an image of an engraving by Hubert-François Gravelot, which served as the frontispiece of Thomas Broughton’s 1742 An Historical Dictionary of All Religions from the Creation of the World to this Present Time. There is little text to explain, but the reader nonetheless could readily identify the central figures. A statue of a calf, atop a pedestal, marks the top half of the scene. It frames a set of large religious structures in the background: a Catholic cathedral, an Islamic mosque, an Egyptian pyramid, and a classical pagan temple. The middle of the scene is dominated by three figures: Moses with the tablets of the Commandments, Mary with a communion cup and a cross, and Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammad and the figurehead for Shiite Muslims, with a copy of the Qur’an.

This image illustrates Broughton’s view of the religions of the world, but the reader would only get the full import of the page by reading the expository text on the two pages that precede and follow 99. The reader of my book will be struck not only by the inclusion of an Islamic figure to illustrate admirable religion but also by the overall point: an Anglican cleric, Broughton, like the other Anglo-American commentators of the mid-eighteenth century, did not validate or excoriate any religion as a whole. They looked for morally commendable traditions within all religions, represented in Gravelot’s engraving by the law of Moses, the piety of Mary, and the moral earnestness of Islam. In contrast, the “idolatrous” figures represent religion-gone-bad, corrupted by priestcraft, irrational zeal, and political power. The image gets to the heart of the argument of the work if read in such terms.

This book traces a change in Anglo-American Protestant perceptions of the religions of the world, and notions of religious conversion, from 1650 to 1765, with special attention to English colonial ventures and missions to Indigenous Americans. It explains the political forces that compelled commentators, including authors of dictionaries of the world’s religions such as Broughton, to abandon previous paradigms according to which all non-Protestant religions were, as a whole, idolatrous, demonic, and seditious. The political circumstances that shaped Broughton’s views, like those of his contemporaries, fostered a robust conception of religious liberty or freedom of religious choice according to moral categories such as toleration and moral reasonableness. This book, then, deals with comparative religions, conversion, missions, and issues of colonial power and race during the English colonization of America.
The Page 99 Test: Heavenly Merchandize.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Joanna Cook's "Making a Mindful Nation"

Joanna Cook is a Reader in Medical Anthropology at University College London. My research interests focus primarily on the UK and Thailand, and extend across a range of different theoretical questions: mental health, preventative healthcare, self-cultivation; mindfulness, politics and well-being in the UK; monasticism, gender and ethics in Buddhist Thailand; power in Southeast Asia; detachment as an ethnographic object and as a theoretical tool; democracy, subjectivity and sociality.

Cook applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Making a Mindful Nation: Mental Health and Governance in the Twenty-First Century, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In interviews with members of the two Houses, this view was qualified somewhat, however, with members commenting that while they valued a sense of support within the mindfulness group, politics was combative, and it would be unreasonable to think that that would change. As a former Liberal Democrat minister told me as we took tea in the tea-room in the House of Lords a few weeks later, ‘This place is set up for opposition. Mindfulness helps me be well within that.’ Nonetheless, she said, mindfulness was far more than just a pragmatic tool. She attributed feeling happier and more settled in herself to her meditation practice; each day she noted her emotional experience on a chart that she kept next to her desk, and this daily practice of awareness supported her sense of well-being.

On its own terms, popular psychology claims to offer insights into pan-human psychological processes of deliberation, choice and emotion. Tracing the social life of psychological ideas, however, it is possible to consider the culturally specific ways in which universalising psychological principles are interpreted and incorporated into how people understand themselves. As psychological knowledge travels, it is interpreted in diverse ways by different people, and is reinscribed with specific ethical and political meaning. By examining the social life of psychology, we might account for the meaning that people attribute to practices, organisational structures and ideas, and we might uncover the internalisation of values, the development of social imaginaries and the aspirations that motivate engagement with practices.
The Page 99 Test is a partial success for Making a Mindful Nation and, as a bonus, there is a section break in the middle of the page, so page 99 covers a couple of key arguments.

Making a Mindful Nation is an ethnography of mental health in Britain, examining the popularity of mindfulness, an awareness training practice originating in Buddhism that has been incorporated into preventative mental healthcare.

On page 99, I first discuss the ways in which British parliamentarians engage with mindfulness. In this short section, I describe their understanding of mindfulness as both a pragmatic mental health support and as an ethical practice for living more fully. This is a key argument of the book: that mindfulness is simultaneously informed by instrumental and ethical values. But, while I conducted anthropological fieldwork with parliamentarians, I also worked with people with a history of depression, mindfulness-based therapists, and political advocates. In the rest of the book, I unpack how this relationship between different values informs mental health interventions, people’s relationships with themselves, political campaigns, and public policy.

In the second passage on page 99, I set up the ‘social life of psychology’, arguing that while psychological ideas refer to the universal structures of human minds, they are incorporated into people’s lives in culturally specific ways. This points to a second key finding of the book: that the category of ‘mental health’ has changed in recent years. In the book, I show that mental health is increasingly thought of as a transversal issue, as important for psychologist as for patients, politicians as for constituents. On page 99, readers get a glimpse of my argument that what we think about the mind matters.
Visit Joanna Cook's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Menaka Philips's "The Liberalism Trap"

Menaka Philips is an assistant professor of political theory in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), and in the Graduate Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto (UTSG).

She received her PhD in Political Science in 2013 from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, and has an MA in Political Science from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Philips applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Liberalism Trap: John Stuart Mill and Customs of Interpretation, and reported the following:
The 99th page of The Liberalism Trap: John Stuart Mill and Customs of Interpretation reads John Stuart Mill against the grain of his customary reception under the sign of ‘liberalism’. Focussing on Mill’s studies of class and inequality, it details how the practice of turning to Mill as the quintessential representative of liberalism has superseded attention to his politics. Though page 99 offers just a snapshot of what aspects of Mill’s politics have been obscured, the larger drama at the heart of The Liberalism Trap looms in the background. In an age where arguments about liberalism—its rise, decline, meaning, prospects and so on—dominate the focus of scholars and pundits alike, refusing to follow this now customary preoccupation is intentionally disruptive. The page illustrates through example the limits our interpretive customs impose on the way we practice—and imagine—politics.

Page 99 comes mid-way through chapter five, which outlines how Mill’s political economy challenges conventional ideological boundaries (in this case, between ‘socialist’ and ‘liberal’). As such, it works specifically to upset long-standing efforts to dismiss or minimize Mill’s socialist leanings and to thereby secure his identification with market liberalism. Instead, as I argue, Mill clearly mediates between “his investments in, and criticism of, socialist arguments,” by looking for ways to balance socialist calls for distributive equality, with defenses of market competition. That negotiation leads him to support worker cooperatives to balance “the individualizing interests of the commercial spirit and the collective aims of democracy.”

Notably, the page also highlights the distinctive approach I take in the book, which is to examine Mill’s political writings comparatively. Where Mill scholarship has traditionally separated his work on issues of gender, class, and empire, the book locates critical points of connection between his proposals for each. There are parallels, for instance, between Mill’s view of the family and his approach to worker cooperatives as key sites of civic education. In his writings on gender equality, Mill notes that the family is the “first school of virtues within which citizens are raised,” making it imperative that the relations between wives and husbands are premised on equality, not subordination. Similarly, Mill hoped that the practices of collective discussion and management entailed in cooperative organizations would make them yet another “great school of that public spirit,” acting to check an “unbalanced influence of the commercial spirit.” In both cases, Mill hoped to ascertain better ways of living and working together, which could expand not only the privileges, but also the duties of democratic citizenship.

Overall, page 99 demonstrates one of the critical arguments I make in the book, that Mill eschews ideological certainties in favor of a politics of uncertainty. In this way, the selection offers a good example of how the book approaches Mill’s politics: it takes seriously his rejection of ideological complacency in favor of experimentation, negotiation, and a disposition towards uncertainty as a fundamental condition of political life. Mill, as the page concludes, is a cautionary radical: his proposals keep “the aims of equity and justice in mind, while remaining characteristically attuned to the different sides of debate over reform.”

The purpose of The Liberalism Trap is to situate these examples in a broader account of what we miss when we rely too heavily on ideological labels to do the work of ‘speaking for’ the texts, authors, or ideas marshalled under those nominalist markers. However convenient it might be to focus on a singular label—or the example of one page—Mill himself would caution us that neither can substitute for wading through the messy, and often borderless work, of political thought and practice.
Visit Menaka Philips's website.

--Marshal Zeringue