Thursday, July 18, 2024

James Graham Wilson's "America's Cold Warrior"

James Graham Wilson is a Historian at the US Department of State.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, America's Cold Warrior: Paul Nitze and National Security from Roosevelt to Reagan, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book describes Paul Nitze’s takeaway from his work on the 1957 report “Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age” (the Gaither Report), and a meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in which Nitze failed to persuade them to take drastic action.

Should you read only page 99 of this book, I think you would get a good sense of what mattered to Paul Nitze. He believed in superior U.S. military capabilities to deter foreign attacks, and that nothing was so provocative to the Soviet Union as U.S. weakness. And he did not hesitate to tell anyone that they were wrong.

There is a quote on page 99 that sums up Nitze’s personality and his approach to individuals—however powerful—who did not accept his logic. After he met with Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, Nitze wrote Dulles a letter that concluded: “Finally, assuming that the immediate crisis is surmounted, I should ask you to consider, in the light of events of recent years, whether there is not some other prominent Republican disposed to exercise the responsibility of the office of Secretary of State in seeking a balance between our capabilities and our unavoidable commitments, equipped to form persuasive policies, and able to secure the confidence and understanding of our allies, whether by direct communication or communication through emissaries.” If Dulles ever responded to that, I have yet to find it.

Dulles and Nitze had never liked each other. Yet—up until 1957—Dulles sought Nitze’s counsel. Why was that? More broadly, how did Nitze command the attention of American presidents and their advisors from the start of the Cold War to its end? This is a fundamental question that I wrestle with in the book. And, when it comes to arriving at an answer, page 99 alone will not suffice.
Learn more about America's Cold Warrior at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Michael Lobel's "Van Gogh and the End of Nature"

Michael Lobel is Professor of Art History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He holds a BA in Studio Art from Wesleyan University and an MA and PhD in History of Art from Yale University. He is the author of Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art (2002) and James Rosenquist: Pop Art, Politics and History in the 1960s (2009). His third book, John Sloan: Drawing on Illustration, was awarded the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art.

Lobel applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, Van Gogh and the End of Nature, and reported the following:
Much of page 99 of Van Gogh and the End of Nature is taken up by a large-scale reproduction of a single work of art: a painting entitled Gauguin’s Chair, which Vincent van Gogh created in the autumn of 1888. The picture, rendered largely in tones of green, purple, and reddish-brown, depicts an elaborate wooden chair; on its seat are perched a lit candle and a couple of books, perhaps popular novels of the day. The long span of green wall at back is punctuated by a gas wall sconce. The several lines of text on the page read as follows:
And to Theo, whom he was constantly hitting up for funds, [Vincent] argued that the expense would pay for itself, since it would give the two artists that much more time to make paintings: “If Gauguin and I work every evening for a fortnight, won’t we earn it all back again?” This is why classifying this span of months as Van Gogh’s gaslight period makes so much sense. It touches on pictorial, practical, personal, and professional matters, all rolled into one.
As it turns out, someone who opened the text to page 99 would get a good sense of the book, for a number of reasons. For one, the large-scale, full color reproduction of a painting signals to the reader the importance of images, and close visual analysis, to the project as a whole. Additionally, even though the page includes just a few lines of text, that passage highlights one of the main takeaways in this particular chapter: that gaslight was a central preoccupation for Van Gogh, particularly during his time in Arles, in the south of France. And this then dovetails with one of the broader aims of the book, which is to connect Van Gogh and his artistic preoccupations to the industrial era in which he lived and worked (gaslight was powered by coal gas, hence underscoring the artist’s involvement in the burgeoning age of fossil fuels). While Van Gogh’s depictions of the natural world have tended to shape how we think about him, Van Gogh and the End of Nature shows that a closer look reveals how industry and pollution were present in his world, and in his work, in many different and varied ways.
Learn more about Van Gogh and the End of Nature at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Andrew Denning's "Automotive Empire"

Andrew Denning is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Kansas. He is author of Skiing into Modernity and coeditor of The Interwar World. His work has also appeared in The Journal of Modern History, American Historical Review, Technology and Culture, and Environmental History.

Denning applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Automotive Empire: How Cars and Roads Fueled European Colonialism in Africa, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Automotive Empire describes the changing nature of French automotive manufacturing in the decade before World War I and during the war itself. It focuses on the now-famous figures of André Citroën and Louis Renault, two manufacturers who spearheaded a revolution in French production away from bespoke, luxury vehicles and toward Fordist mass production that would bear fruit after World War I. Page 99 also begins to tell the story of Adolphe Kégresse, a French engineer who experimented with mounting cars on tank-like tracks to grapple with difficult terrain such as loose sand and heavy snow. The result was Citroën’s autochenille (caterpillar), a vehicle that Citroën was convinced could solve the challenge of the Sahara, which divided France’s North African territories (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) from the massive federation of French West Africa, then comprised of eight colonies.

The Page 99 Test doesn’t give the best sense of Automotive Empire’s arguments and concerns. In fact, page 99 reflects much of the scholarship that has been written about colonial motoring in the past—focused on the actions of European manufacturers and engineers and concerned with technical innovation over everyday use and the effects of technology on individual lives—that this book seeks to expand beyond. As this chapter goes on to show, it was less the technological innovation than the dynamics of state and enterprise that proved significant. The close relationship between manufacturers like Citroën and French military and colonial officials in Africa and Paris forged what I call a colonial-industrial complex, wherein car manufacturers engaged in research and development to produce a so-called “colonial car” that could stand up to the elements and the more rudimentary road infrastructure in Africa. Within this complex, colonial authorities benefitted from the application of technical expertise to the colonial “transport problem,” while the manufacturers garnered attention and acclaim for their technical innovations and the desert tours and stress tests that received rapt attention in the French media on both sides of the Mediterranean.

This test is revealing of larger dynamics of the book, however, in that it offers the background to one of many European attempts to solve the intractable colonial “transport problem.” It exhibits a shared European project that connected colonies across European empires in Africa from 1895 to 1940. Although each empire developed its own solutions, Belgian, British, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese officials each saw automobiles and roads as solutions to the colonial transport problem. The background on French manufacturers from page 99 is indicative of a shared European assumption that technical capabilities could overcome the challenges posed by massive colonial territories, chronic underinvestment in African development, and disregard for the concerns and needs of their colonial subjects. Automotive Empire traces these ambitious European projects of colonial motorization and road construction in Africa, arguing that they created a shared form of “automotive empire” that explains why European colonial projects of this era were so coercive, as well as why they failed to accomplish European goals of organized governance and efficient economic extraction. As the book reveals, the answer lies in the gap between the perceived superiority of European technology and infrastructure and their actual use in Africa by a wide range of African and European drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
Learn more about Automotive Empire at the Cornell University Press website.

Writers Read: Andrew Denning (December 2014).

The Page 99 Test: Skiing into Modernity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 15, 2024

Matthew K. Shannon's "Mission Manifest"

Matthew K. Shannon is Associate Professor of History at Emory & Henry College. He is the author of Losing Hearts and Minds, and editor of American-Iranian Dialogues.

Shannon applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Mission Manifest: American Evangelicals and Iran in the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
Mission Manifest offers a critical history of American evangelicals in Iran during the mid- twentieth century. These evangelicals, primarily associated with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA), lived and worked in pre-revolutionary Iran, especially Tehran, alongside other Americans and their Iranian friends and colleagues. The book contains seven chapters, most of which cover the period from the 1940s to the 1960s. Each chapter focuses on a particular manifestation of the American mission in Iran.

Page 99 is in the middle of chapter 4 and is about the educational manifestation of mission. The page begins with a discussion of how the United Nations inspired the Presbyterian conception of international education at the Community School of Tehran. This was a coeducational, English- language, K-12 school in downtown Tehran that existed from 1935 to 1980. Page 99 provides a biographical portrait of Richard Irvine, the lead administrator of the school from 1951 to 1967, and it unpacks his model of international education, which he actualized at Community School. These Americans were never alone, as the page ends with a discussion of the international faculty, which continues in more detail on the following page.

Page 99 is, in many ways, a microcosm of the book because it demonstrates the ways in which Presbyterian evangelicals engaged with the modern world at brick-and-mortar institutions alongside their American and Iranian colleagues in downtown Tehran. Indeed, Community School occupied an important place in the educational landscape of Pahlavi Iran. For anyone interested in more, please check out the Community School Tehran collection on the Presbyterian Historical Society’s Pearl Digital Archive. Yet there are some missing pieces from page 99. The church is underplayed and the Iranian context could be more pronounced. Moreover, there is no discussion of U.S. foreign relations or the American colony in Iran that was, by the late 1970s, nearly 50,000-strong. These subjects are covered elsewhere in the book.

On the whole, if a reader of Mission Manifest applied the Hafez test – the practice of opening a book of Hafez’s poetry to a random page for insight into one’s future – and found themselves on page 99, they could hardly do better!
Learn more about Mission Manifest at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Chloe Ahmann's "Futures after Progress"

Chloe Ahmann is assistant professor of anthropology at Cornell University.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Futures after Progress: Hope and Doubt in Late Industrial Baltimore, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Minnie did not share her suitcase with me right away. Between 2015 and 2016, we crossed paths each week at Seniors’ Club, a casual gathering hosted at the recreation center by the park. There, elders settled scores through cutthroat Bingo games. I had first arrived as Betty’s guest a few years back, after she gleaned that I liked listening to “the old heads tell their stories.” Once I returned for fieldwork and became a regular, Minnie had begun attending, too. She would sit at the edge selling sodas for a quarter. I sometimes bought a can to say hello, but Minnie only answered with a nod—eyes down, back straight. She was a shy, elegant woman who stood out in a playful group: she sipped her soda through a straw and ate her sandwich with a fork. Sometimes she would listen as other seniors reminisced about “how nice” this place once was, but she rarely did join in herself. “I don't really know anything,” Minnie would say. Then she would walk away.

So I was surprised one afternoon when Minnie tapped my shoulder and handed me her husband's obituary, tied up with a string. “I know it's tacky, but you should know the truth,” she declared. Not knowing what to do, I thanked her. The write-up said that he had died after a years-long battle with cancer. It would be another three months before Minnie approached me again and said she wanted me to look at some papers. It turned out the obituary was just the first in a series of exhibits she had set aside two decades back to help secure a buyout for her neighbors.
Readers turning to page 99 will meet one of the loveliest humans I came to know over 14 years spent working in South Baltimore, where I study the long afterlife of American industry. She curated the archive that taught me most: a collection of news clippings tucked into a suitcase underneath her bed, where she also kept photographs of her late husband.

My book is centrally about the shape the future takes for people after progress narratives reveal themselves to be untenable. But it is just as much about the past that lingers in both bodies and landscapes—that shades the work of hoping here. So, this page is an exquisite introduction.

Minnie had a fraught relationship with the industrial past. She held it close but didn’t like to look at it directly. And for good reason. Her story opens Chapter 2, about a moment in the late Cold War when residents made sick over years of toxic exposure fought for a buyout of their homes. Rather than politicize this long-term violence, they learned to dramatize their imminent demise in the event of an industrial disaster: a studied response to the US state's fixation on apocalypse.

In the sense that they eventually secured a buyout, this argument was a success. But it hinged on an agreement to limit charges to the hypothetical. It proceeded as if the gravest obstacles to life lay then, in the devastating future, and not now, ambient and tedious. Examining how residents came to strike this painful bargain and the bleak conditions that made it seem like their best choice, the chapter considers what it means to acquiesce to an analysis that treats the future as if it matters most. It turns out there is something deeply compromised about participating in a story that contains the local past and stuffs it underneath the bed. There is something very grim about realizing that your hypothetical death matters more to those in power than your real one.

As the page hints, the chapter affirms, and the book explores across its five core chapters, living with industry means living with violence past, present, and ongoing. But—and Minnie’s suitcase also taught me this—there is so much good worth holding onto here.
Visit Chloe Ahmann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Neil Verma's "Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession"

Neil Verma is Assistant Professor of Sound Studies in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. His books include Theater of the Mind: Imagination, Aesthetics and American Radio Drama (2012) and, as coeditor, Indian Sound Cultures, Indian Sound Citizenship (2020) and Anatomy of Sound: Norman Corwin and Media Authorship (2016).

Verma applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book is odd to read on its own. It lands in the middle of a digression about two phases of critiques that writers made of the landmark podcast Serial, whose debut season featured a study of the murder trial of Adnan Syed in Maryland.

On this page I summarize features in the first phase of critiques, which appeared soon after the popular show was released in 2014. In this phase, writers who felt critical of Serial often argued (a) that the reporters failed to engage in broader, more systemic critiques of the criminal justice system, (b) that the lure of compelling characters led podcasters away from ethical journalism, and (c) that the practice of focalizing events through a reporter was inherently suspicious. On that last point, I write about my concept of “audioposition,” which I developed in my earlier book on classic radio drama, Theater of the Mind. Audioposition is a little like the equivalent of “point-of-view;” it is intended to name where we are according to what we hear. I write about it this way on the page: “In true crime […] we ‘are’ usually on a reporter’s desk, in her car, and at her home; often she literally has us in the palm of her hand ‘inside’ her portable recorder moving through a space.” The use of very obvious audiopositioning makes some listeners feel manipulated, and you can understand why: “Any narrative device that betrays rhetorical emphasis on audioposition immediately calls to critical attention other possible audioposition that the piece did not elect to take […].”

Would readers turning to page 99 get a good idea of the overall book? Sort of. My book is about narrative podcast aesthetics from 2014 to about 2020. In it, I study several hundred shows to reveal how podcasts developed a common feeling (usually that feeling is obsession), how they staged searches for knowledge, and how they often seemed so disconnected with predecessors as to seem amnesiac. Page 99 has little to say about all that. However, the book nests my ideas about affect, knowledge and memory within contemporaneous historical critiques. The book also models technical ways to analyze podcasts, such as using pitch-tracking and audioposition analysis. On the latter points, page 99 would give you a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Learn more about Narrative Podcasting in an Age of Obsession at the University of Michigan Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Robert G. Parkinson's "Heart of American Darkness"

Robert G. Parkinson is associate professor of history at Binghamton University. He is the author of The Common Cause and Thirteen Clocks. He lives in Charles Town, West Virginia.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Heart of American Darkness: Bewilderment and Horror on the Early Frontier, and reported the following:
I’m afraid the Page 99 Test doesn’t work exactly for Heart of American Darkness. What does appear, however, is still instructive. In 1765, there were protests in response to the Stamp Act that roiled through Maryland. The man who was to be in charge of selling stamped paper, an Annapolis merchant named Zachariah Hood, found his warehouse pulled down, his likeness hanged in effigy, and his family threatened by patriot crowds who convinced him to flee the colony for New York.

That wasn’t the only problem in Maryland, however. There was also a small financial discrepancy causing strife in the Maryland assembly over significant receipts submitted by the colony’s clerk. While the controversy roiled Annapolis, the assembly would not reimburse any other expenses – including the rather significant bills several western Maryland militia officers had submitted for expenses incurred defending the frontier during the Seven Years’ War and Pontiac’s Rebellion.

One of those outraged officers was Colonel Thomas Cresap, the patriarch of one of the two families featured in Heart of American Darkness. Cresap was furious that a clerk stood in the way of his getting paid, and in late November 1765 called upon his friends and neighbors to force the issue’s resolution. By force if necessary.

What occurs on page 99 is Cresap’s campaign to get his neighbors to join him in storming the capital to end this controversy. For his part, the Maryland governor, Horatio Sharpe, was unsurprised that “the people” were going to “March down in Companies to Annapolis, in order to settle the Disputes.” He saw this threat as a piece that fit with the resistance to the Stamp Act. Men like Thomas Cresap (even though he himself was a member of the lower house of the assembly) were going to bully their way to “liberty” – but only as they defined it.

While this particular page doesn’t reflect the entire thesis and theme of the book, I was taken with the particularity of the threat as I wrote this chapter not long after the events of January 6, 2021. That event, I think, will cast a long shadow over how historians view the origins of the American Revolution and how we think about the actions of a handful of “patriots” as they threatened, cajoled, and pressured men like Zachariah Hood to adhere to their conceptions of “liberty” and “justice.”
Learn more about Heart of American Darkness at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Thirteen Clocks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi's "Ethics for Rational Animals"

Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi is Lecturer in Ancient Philosophy at UCL Greek and Latin. She completed her doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and two postdocs at Thumos in Geneva and at the Polonsky Academy in Jerusalem. She works especially on Aristotle's ethics and philosophy of mind, but she has broad interests in ancient and contemporary philosophy.

Cagnoli Fiecconi applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Ethics for Rational Animals: The Moral Psychology at the Basis of Aristotle's Ethics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ethics for Rational Animals is part of a chapter which focuses on why, for Aristotle, musical education is important for moral education. Even though, for us, the thesis that musical education has anything to do with moral education is outlandish, for Aristotle the two are interconnected. Page 99 explores this connection by arguing that musical education allows those who participate in the performances to recognise fine melodies. This ability, for Aristotle, is related to the ability to recognise fine (or morally good) actions, because fine actions and fine melodies are similar in structure. In addition, page 99 suggests that the training involved in musical education as an introduction to moral education is for the most part perceptual and non-rational. Therefore, it works only as a kind of preliminary training which should be followed up by more sophisticated reasoning.

This page is an accurate reflection of the method at the basis of the book. The aim of the book is to study Aristotle’s ethics in connection with his philosophy of mind and his psychology. On page 99, I employ this method by using Aristotle’s views on perceptual training to elucidate some aspects of his ethical theory. Even if the page captures an important methodological strategy at the basis of the book, it does not of course capture its main overall thesis. This is because page 99 focuses on perception and its role in moral training, while the main aim of the book is to explain why, for Aristotle, knowledge of the human good is sufficient to govern desires and action. I argue that this is the case because practical wisdom, or knowledge of the human good, is persuasive. By this I mean that its task is to engage with and control desires and action, and that practical wisdom is suited to be successful in its task. I then describe the features that make practical wisdom persuasive, and I argue that they explain why, for Aristotle, having bad desires or acting badly count as a form of ignorance.
Learn more about Ethics for Rational Animals at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Chris Armstrong's "Global Justice and the Biodiversity Crisis"

Chris Armstrong is a Professor in Political Theory in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton. He works in normative political theory and is the author of Global Justice and the Biodiversity Crisis: Conservation in a World of Inequality (2024), A Blue New Deal: Why We Need A New Politics for the Ocean (2022), Why Global Justice Matters (2019), Justice and Natural Resources (2017), and Global Distributive Justice (2012).

His current research ranges across issues of ocean politics, conservation justice, natural resource justice, global justice, and climate justice.

Armstrong applied the "Page 99 Test" to Global Justice and the Biodiversity Crisis and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses the phenomenon of biodiversity offsetting, and engages in what I hope is an instructive comparison. People sometimes defend carbon offsetting by saying that offsetting makes our emissions basically harmless: sure, I emit a certain amount of carbon here, but if I pay you not to emit an equivalent amount there, no harm will be done to anyone, because the global temperature will not increase as a result of our actions. On page 99 I am arguing that even if this argument works for carbon, it can't work as a defence of biodiversity offsetting. This is because when biodiversity is destroyed in one place, that inevitably involves various harms being committed, to people or to other animals. Protecting biodiversity somewhere else does not stop that being the case. So biodiversity offsetting is just not a harm-free process.

The passage is fairy representative of the book as a whole – even if the topic of offsetting is a bit niche, the reader opening the book there would get a reasonably good sense of my approach. I am trying to think seriously about the global justice issues that protecting biodiversity throws up. Some of these centre around human interests, and some of them centre around our treatment of animals. I am also trying to throw light on some important real-world policies that political theorists haven’t talked about enough. Biodiversity offsetting is a good example of such policies. There is a good deal more in the book, but page 99 would be an interesting page to start to browse.

The main thing I’m trying to do in the book is to kick-start a proper conversation about the justice and injustice that can be associated with biodiversity conversation. We’ve done so much to think about what climate justice means. But where is the equivalent conversation for the biodiversity crisis? I wrote the book in the hope that I could help bring that conversation about.
Visit Chris Armstrong's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Blue New Deal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 8, 2024

Greg Eghigian's "After the Flying Saucers Came"

Greg Eghigian is a Professor of History and Bioethics at Pennsylvania State University. An expert on the history of the abnormal and the paranormal in the modern world, his research has been supported by NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He is the author of The Corrigible and the Incorrigible: Science, Medicine, and the Convict in Twentieth Century Germany and the editor of The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health, among other works.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, After the Flying Saucers Came: A Global History of the UFO Phenomenon, and reported the following:
So, if you turn to page 99 of my book, you will find yourself at the end one section focusing on the beginnings of flying saucer enthusiast groups in the fifties and the start of a new section on the rise of the two large American UFO groups dominating the scene into the 1970s. And in fact, the Page 99 Test here works really well in capturing a big takeaway from the book – namely, that the fascination with UFOs would not have played out as it has without the work of lots of committed people and organizations.

There is a quote here by Jim Moseley, a very famous social gadfly in UFO circles over the decades. In it, he describes what it was like to be part of these early flying saucer communities:
(W)e had our eccentric uncles, quite loony aunts, and naughty cousins, but we were family, after all, and we were on to something those of the mundane world didn’t— and maybe couldn’t— get. We were certain the answer to the flying saucer enigma was just around the corner, and each of us was playing a part in cracking the case.
I love this quote because it highlights two things that consistently drew people to UFOs. One was the mystery of it all – the idea that they were on a mission to solve a grand riddle, and that they felt they were on the cusp of achieving something momentous. The second thing it shows is how UFOs have brought people together. Shared interest in the subject helped build a sense of belonging and provided a space for getting together with like-minded people. Moseley expresses a sense of great joy that came with getting involved in cracking the UFO case, and this is something that I think a lot of outsiders often neglect to appreciate.
Learn more about After the Flying Saucers Came at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 7, 2024

John Gilbert McCurdy's "Vicious and Immoral"

John Gilbert McCurdy is a professor of history at Eastern Michigan University. He is the author of Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States and Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution.

McCurdy applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Vicious and Immoral: Homosexuality, the American Revolution, and the Trials of Robert Newburgh, and reported the following:
On page 99, we learn that Reverend Robert Newburgh’s penchant for flamboyant clothes led British army officers to observe “the parson is a buggerer.” Newburgh was chaplain to the Eighteenth Regiment and was accused of having sex with a man. Suspicion of buggery was enough for captains in the regiment to try to force Newburgh out of the army. Unable to find physical evidence of buggery, they looked at his appearance, ultimately concluding that a new green coat was proof that the chaplain was a homosexual.

The Page 99 Test works well for Vicious and Immoral: Homosexuality, the American Revolution, and the Trials of Robert Newburgh. On this page, testimony from Newburgh’s trials recounts claims about what Newburgh was wearing and what officers said about it. The book argues that ideas about homosexuality in the eighteenth century were more similar to the present than we might assume. Although historians have argued that sexual identity was created in the nineteenth century, here, in 1774, we have proof that British army officers were making assumptions about a man’s sexual preferences based upon how he looked. A buggerer was not the same thing as a homosexual, but he embodied a unique character marked by his appearance in ways not that dissimilar from a modern-day gay man.

In addition to exploring male-male intimacy in the eighteenth century, Vicious and Immoral puts homosexuality and the American Revolution into conversation with each other. The trials of Robert Newburgh occurred in Philadelphia and New York less than two years before American independence. The officers who sought to evict Newburgh from the army feared that a buggerer could spell doom for the British Empire. For them, a buggerer was a social contagion that linked to the gathering colonial rebellion. Conversely, Newburgh borrowed the language of revolutionaries to argue that what he wore was irrelevant to his ability to perform his duties; he had rights that could not be denied to him based solely on rumor. A few officers in the Eighteenth Regiment backed his claims, and when the war ended, they became citizens of the United States. In this way, Vicious and Immoral suggests that the ideals of the American Revolution implicitly contained the seeds of sexual liberalism.
Learn more about Vicious and Immoral at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States.

The Page 99 Test: Quarters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 5, 2024

Leslie Beth Ribovich's "Without a Prayer"

Leslie Ribovich is an educator and scholar of American religion, race, and education. She is the Director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Public Policy & Law at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

Ribovich applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Without a Prayer: Religion and Race in New York City Public Schools, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Without a Prayer analyzes how the 1958 final report of the New York City Board of Education’s Commission on Integration articulated the Board’s understanding of integration as a value in what the Board called its Judeo-Christian tradition. The Board established the Commission following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. On page 99, I explain that while “the Commission’s recommendations could have contributed to desegregation, had they been acted upon,” a close reading of the report shows that “the Board’s version of integration, the value, involved researching, meeting, and discussing, but not necessarily desegregating.” I also discuss how the report refers to “residential segregation,” but does so without mentioning redlining or other discriminatory practices that led to residential segregation. The page concludes by referring back to a quotation from the final report, citing the Board’s reaction to Brown, that appears on page 97 of Without a Prayer in which the Board said that Brown was “a legal and moral reaffirmation of our fundamental educational principles.” Page 99 explains that “Although the report offered possible actions, because of lack of funding, it ultimately described a value, not an action, and a value that did not require action. The value mythologized the new tradition, Judeo-Christianity, and rendered change unnecessary. In moments of fleeting togetherness, the schools already enacted integration as a moral value.”

This page provides an excellent concrete example of the book’s argument as it addresses how the failure of schools to desegregate happened alongside the persistence of liberal religion in New York City public schools. Someone reading this page alone would get a clear sense that New Yorkers debated the meanings of integration and desegregation and that New York City was home to segregated schools where a centralized Board of Education supported particular religious values. They might also want to know more about the Judeo-Christian tradition the Board cultivated.

The book is structured in three parts to show that while we don’t often think of secularization relating to race and desegregation as relating to religion, in fact, these processes and structures intersect. The first two chapters fall under “Secularization | Race,” the second two under “Desegregation | Religion,” and the final two under “Purposes of Public Education.”

Page 99 comes from chapter 4, “Conflicting Religious Visions of Integration” in Part II. The chapter shows that the Board framed integration as a positive value in what its president called “the morality of our American heritage and of our Judaeo-Christian tradition” (p. 94) in 1963, as schools were supposed to be removing religion due to U.S. Supreme Court cases declaring school prayer and Bible-reading unconstitutional. Yet, New York City schools remained segregated. Instead, the Board supported what I name on page 99 “fleeting moments of togetherness,” such as multicultural celebrations, in which “the schools already enacted integration as a moral value.” At the same time, Black and Puerto Rican communities presented their own visions of integration, some of which included the act of desegregating. For instance, the top of page 99 mentions two major Black Civil Rights Movement figures who served on the Commission, Ella Baker and Kenneth Clark, who held this view of integration. Elsewhere in the chapter and book, I describe Black New Yorkers who adopted narratives of Black redemption in the U.S. nation, as well as Pan-African theologies that rejected public schools in service of new, Black publics.

The Commission’s final report also informs my ongoing research. With a demographer and ethicist, I am working on comparing this 1958 report to a 2019 report on integration in New York City schools to identify what problems and proposed solutions remain consistent and which differ over 60+ years.
Visit Leslie Ribovich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Kathryn Hughes's "Catland"

Kathryn Hughes is emerita professor of life writing at the University of East Anglia and a literary critic for The Guardian. She is the author of Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum and George Eliot: The Last Victorian.

Hughes applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Catland: Louis Wain and the Great Cat Mania, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Catland drops us into the world of Frances Simpson, a leading cat breeder who packaged her expertise and sold it in a series of advice columns under titles like ‘Practical Pussyology’ and ‘Cats for Pleasure and Profit’. Here we encounter Miss Simpson telling her readers how to show their kittens off to their best advantage. An orange ribbon on a ‘blue’ (that is smoky grey) cat looks striking, although you should avoid tying it in such a way that it spoils the animal’s ruff. If you’re worried about your cat getting cold when it is travelling either to the stud or to the cat show, then by all means put it in an appropriate wrapper. Dolls’ clothes are not a good substitute, though, since the arm holes are in the wrong places. Simpson describes her amusement at recently receiving ‘a little lady’ at her stud who was ‘clothed in a very smart jacket, through which her front paws were placed…This puss had also a pair of washleather boots on her back legs, so that her appearance was a little startling’.

When it comes to selling your kittens for a profit, Simpson suggests that eight weeks is the ideal age. This is when they are at their cutest – leave it any longer and they will become leggy, truculent teenagers and much harder to shift. Ever financially practical, Simpson, who is writing in 1903, warns that prices for pedigree kittens are dropping – the best you can expect these days is 3 guineas. Finally, she suggests that a good way of shifting your feline stock is to have professional pictures which you can then use to advertise your wares. As always, Simpson is happy to share the details of a good contact – Mr Landor of Ealing ‘whose clever pictures of kittens are so well known’.

I was initially sceptical, but the Page 99 Test works rather well for Catland. Page 99 showcases one of its major themes, which is the way in which cat breeding had become commodified by the beginning of the 20th Century. Frances Simpson was a clergyman’s daughter, not the sort of person who would usually get tangled up in ‘trade’. And yet, here she is taking a soundly practical and economically-motivated attitude to the whole business – and it was a business – of breeding cats for profit. With her readiness to suggest paid-for goods and services, she invent what might be called cat capitalism. I like the way that we see her here drawing on her aesthetic sense – she was known for her own elegant dress sense - to give advice on how to show your cats off to their best advantage. And there’s a strong dollop of anthropomorphism in evidence here too, which neatly loops back to the work of Louis Wain, who was known as the man responsible for putting cats in pants.

Catland tells the story of how Britain and America transformed their attitudes to cats at the beginning of the 20th Century. Where felines had once been tolerated as ambient mouse-traps, now they were welcomed onto the domestic hearth as much-loved family members. Genteel breeders like Frances Simpson, meanwhile, started to develop distinct breeds from the previous genetic soup: the smooth Siamese with burnt browned tips or the silky Angora that felt like a rabbit to the touch. Zig-zagging through the text is the life story of Louise Wain, the commercial artist whose anthropomorphising illustrations opened an imaginative space in Edwardian culture. Now, when your much-loved tabby slipped out of the bathroom window at dusk, it was quite possible to imagine that she was heading for a session at the hairdresser, a visit to the theatre, or simply the chance to climb up to the rooftops to sing her heart out.
Learn more about Catland at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Alison L. LaCroix's "The Interbellum Constitution"

Alison L. LaCroix is Robert Newton Reid Professor of Law and Associate Member of the History Department at the University of Chicago. She served on the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court and is the author of The Ideological Origins of American Federalism.

LaCroix applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Interbellum Constitution: Union, Commerce, and Slavery in the Age of Federalisms, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands a reader in the midst of Chapter 2, which focuses on a gripping but largely forgotten legal controversy over a ship that docked in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1819, and from which debarked three individuals described in court records as “persons of Colour” – likely free Black seamen who had joined the crew in a Caribbean port. The ship, a brig named the Wilson, and its owner and its captain ended up at the center of a federal-court case that came before two of the great judges of the early-19th-century American bench: U.S. district judge St. George Tucker and Chief Justice John Marshall (both of whom were also Virginians).

Page 99, part of a chapter section titled “The Brig on Trial,” discusses Judge Tucker’s views on whether the Constitution gave Congress the power to regulate the migration or importation of free Black people into the United States. Tucker was “unmoved by arguments” pressed by the brig’s owner “against the constitutionality of the federal statutes” and “launched into a full-throated endorsement of the two species of congressional authority at issue in the case: the power to reinforce state law, and the power to regulate the migration and importation of persons.”

As this synopsis suggests, there is a lot happening on page 99. And the page nicely distills several of the main themes of the book. The subtitle of the book is “Union, Commerce, and Slavery in the Age of Federalisms,” and the focus is the period from 1815 to 1861. I call this the “interbellum period” because it falls between two wars: the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Constitutional history has tended to overlook this era for a number of reasons. First, it didn’t yield changes to the text of the Constitution – there were no constitutional amendments between 1804 and 1865. Second, because of this lack of change to the text, it’s easy to assume that nothing about the Constitution changed during this period. Third, the period appears to lack the grandeur of either the founding era or what the historian Eric Foner calls the “second founding,” the Civil War and Reconstruction. The interbellum period, by contrast, is filled with ugliness and tragedy, including the expansion of slavery, the forced “removal” of Native nations from their land, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, and the subordination of women. For all these reasons, the interbellum period is often – mistakenly – treated as what I term “constitutional flyover country.”

Page 99’s tale of the Brig Wilson is a vital piece of the book’s larger effort to recover this overlooked period in U.S. constitutional history. Moreover, the book focuses on stories and people, using narrative to build a rich picture of this complex, sometimes-rollicking, sometimes-violent era. The tale of the brig gives us larger-than-life characters such as the unforgettably named Captain Ivory Huntress, and it provides a new account of familiar figures like Judge Tucker and Chief Justice Marshall.

This forgotten episode also recasts the way that we understand American constitutionalism today. In modern constitutional law, the federal government derives much of its authority to regulate across a broad sphere – from highways to marijuana to healthcare to civil rights – from Congress’s commerce power. The standard understanding of the commerce power begins with the Supreme Court’s 1824 decision in Gibbons v. Ogden, a case involving steamboats in New York Harbor. But, as the case of the Brig Wilson shows, the law of the commerce power originated several years earlier, and it was deeply entangled with fraught and fascinating questions of race, slavery, maritime power, and the borders between state and federal authority.
Learn more about The Interbellum Constitution at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Marjorie Feld's "The Threshold of Dissent"

Marjorie Feld is Professor of History in the History and Society Division at Babson College. She is the author of Lillian Wald: A Biography and Nations Divided: American Jews and the Struggle Over Apartheid.

Feld applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism, and reported the following:
To turn to page 99 in my book is to read the tail end of my analysis of how the Six-Day War between Israel, Jordan and Syria—also called the June War—proved pivotal to unconditional American and American Jewish support for Israel and to the growth of anti-Zionism in the US and around the world. The page also captures analysis of the significance of the 1973 war between Israel, Egypt, and Syria, known as the Yom Kippur War, the Ramadan War, and the October War. Because the 1973 war was far longer and had far more tragic casualties, American Jewish support for Israel was seen as even more important at its conclusion.

Page 99 attempts to connect these two events with a key dynamic in American Jewish life: the low threshold for dissent with regard to Israel and American Zionism. The book offers new evidence for the role of American Jewish leaders in maintaining that low threshold, marginalizing and even silencing American Jews of diverse backgrounds who did not agree that unity on unconditional support for Israel kept American Jews, and all Jews, safe. In connecting global political conflicts to foreign policy and to domestic narratives of Jewish safety, page 99 offers a useful window into the book’s overarching themes.

The book rests on archival evidence, specifically on the voices of American Jewish critics of Zionism from across the twentieth century, and for this reason the page 99 test does not work well as a browser’s shortcut overall. The analysis on page 99 relies on the work of several of my smart colleagues—Shaul Mitelpunkt stands out above all—as it is setting the scene for the third chapter titled “‘Israel—Right or Wrong’: Anticolonialism, Freedom Movements, and American Jewish life.” Scholars of Israel and Cold War politics such as Mitelpunkt helped me to understand how American Jews carefully positioned themselves in the 1960s and 1970s. Israel and the US formed a Cold War partnership in these years, just as the antiwar, Civil Rights, and other anticolonialist movements gained momentum. Activists in these movements linked Western militarism and colonialism to the oppression of Palestinians in Israel, before and after the 1967 war. Page 99’s information on ideas about Israel’s vulnerability, coupled with deep faith in Israel as central to Jewish safety, is vital to understanding how American Jewish leaders and laypeople navigated these difficult decades. If page 99 is used to test the waters, I hope that readers will dive into the entire chapter and book to learn from the evidence I present.
Learn more about The Threshold of Dissent at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 1, 2024

David N. Gibbs's "Revolt of the Rich"

David N. Gibbs is professor of history at the University of Arizona, with a courtesy appointment in Africana studies. His books include First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (2009).

Gibbs applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Revolt of the Rich: How the Politics of the 1970s Widened America's Class Divide, and reported the following:
Revolt of the Rich starts from the fact that inequality of wealth and income in the United States has increased exponentially during the past four decades, beginning in the late 1970s, as documented by the French economist Thomas Piketty. My book seeks to answer the question of why inequality increased. The answer, based on fifteen years of archival research, is that there was a massive influence campaign by business interests and wealthy individuals that sought to direct a greater share of resources to themselves, at the expense of the majority. Business interests set aside their differences and combined forces, acting with great discipline. In essence, this influence campaign was successful, thus transforming US politics in a plutocratic direction that endures to this day.

Page 99 would not be a good place to gain an understanding of my overall argument about wealth inequality. It addresses a secondary theme, which is: How was it possible to achieve such inegalitarian policies – that were harmful to the majority -- in a Democratic political system? Page 99 addresses this question by looking at how weak the leftist opposition was. During the 1970s, the left lost its traditional focus on the working class and instead directed its appeals to the highly educated. I note how left culture increasingly disparaged working-class males – especially white males – as ignorant, violent, and racist, thus introducing a basic wedge issue into American politics. The elitist character of the left greatly reduced its effectiveness, which ensured that the business led lobby groups met little opposition. The focus on the educated also opened the left to accusations from right-wing politicians that it had become a snob left – an accusation that contained an element of truth.
Learn more about Revolt of the Rich at Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue