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

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Jonathan Connolly's "Worthy of Freedom"

Jonathan Connolly is assistant professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Worthy of Freedom: Indenture and Free Labor in the Era of Emancipation, and reported the following:
Worthy of Freedom is about a system of indentured labor migration created shortly after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. From the early 1840s to the end of the First World War, this system brought more than a million Indian workers to sugar-producing colonies across the empire. As such, it played a crucial role in shaping the “history of emancipation”—a complex history of conflict and change—and the meaning of “freedom” after slavery.

Opening the book to page 99 parachutes the reader into a set of arguments about the discursive normalization of indenture during the 1850s. Earlier chapters explain that indenture caused a public scandal when planters began recruiting (and policing) migrant workers fifteen years earlier, in the immediate aftermath of abolition. At that point, many British observers denounced indenture as a covert revival of slavery. But this changed over time, alongside broader conceptions of free labor and emancipation. Chapter 4 explains how and why. The chapter argues that new forms of social-scientific analysis reshaped debate on indenture, displacing older antislavery critiques. Drawing on wide-ranging scholarship on nineteenth-century race thinking, it then shows that hardening attitudes toward race, linked to a growing consensus that emancipation had “failed” economically, served to legitimize the penal structures surrounding indenture. Finally, it explains that an important economic shift—increases in sugar production and profit following large-scale labor migration—consolidated public support for indenture as the 1850s wore on. Page 99 introduces this third strand of argument:
The prospect of economic failure had been a catalyst for indenture from the beginning. But starting in the mid-1850s, a new economic story—a story of growth rather than decline—altered the material basis of support for indenture. By the end of the decade, nearly 370,000 Indian workers had arrived in the colonies. In Mauritius, British Guiana, and Trinidad, the impact was transformative. Against the “failure” of emancipation, indenture soon stood for economic success.
So, does this encapsulate something important about the book as a whole? Yes! It brings us to the heart of one of the book’s core subjects, which is how indenture gained legitimacy as “free labor” and how perceptions of the system related to wider conflicts over the meaning of emancipation. Page 99 also hints at the book’s general interest in relating ideas and political culture to economic change. But because change over time is so important to the book, skipping to page 99 also leaves a lot out. One’s sense of what’s shifting in chapter 4 depends on earlier material. When one reads the Times of London celebrate indenture on page 98, the impact of such language is amplified having read the same newspaper stridently condemn indenture nearly two decades earlier on page 21. The book’s core arguments concerning ideology, law, and state power all move forward chronologically. It’s of course easy for me to say this, but to appreciate the book’s arc of historical change, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Learn more about Worthy of Freedom at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Jared Schroeder's "The Structure of Ideas"

Jared Schroeder is Associate Professor of Media Law at University of Missouri School of Journalism. He is the author of The Press Clause and Digital Technology's Fourth Wave: Media Law and the Symbiotic Web (2018) and co-author of Emma Goldman's No-Conscription League and the First Amendment (2019).

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Structure of Ideas: Mapping a New Theory of Free Expression in the AI Era, and reported the following:
The Supreme Court, for a brief moment, was of two minds about the nature of the space for discourse. Justices both sought to create an expansive marketplace of ideas that protected the most amount of speech possible and, concurrently, protect the space from forces that would distort the flow of ideas. That’s what page 99 of The Structure of Ideas covers.

I would not pick page 99 as a representative of the entire book. The passage catches me in the middle of identifying the conceptual development of the Supreme Court’s understandings of the space for discourse. Justices eventually tossed aside the idea that the marketplace of ideas should be protected from distortion and leaned fully into an expansive, generally unregulated space where almost any expression is protected.

A reader opening to that passage, and that passage alone, would get the kernel of an idea about one of the book’s narratives about the past, present, and future of the space for human discourse, but they would not engage with the overall context of the book. Overall, that passage is doing somewhat specialized work and is far less thematic than many other areas of the work.

Page 89 gets at crucial themes about the overall structure of the space for discourse and Page 119 begins to explore the impact of non-human speakers, such as AI, on the space for discourse. So, perhaps, I was both early and late. In either case, page 99 is a foot soldier passage in a work filled with historical narratives and crucial concepts about the development and future of the space for human discourse.
Learn more about The Structure of Ideas at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 28, 2024

Robert Goodin's "Consent Matters"

Robert E. Goodin, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University, specializes in political theory and public policy. He was founding Editor of the Journal of Political Philosophy and General Editor of the eleven-volume Oxford Handbooks of Political Science. A Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, he has been awarded the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science and the Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research.

Goodin applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Consent Matters, and reported the following:
Ninety-nine is an odd number and it is an odd page in my book Consent Matters. It comes at the end of a long chapter introducing various different 'modes of consent' – explicit consent, tacit consent, presumed consent and implicit consent. All of those can, in suitable circumstances, be valid ways of giving consent. What I discuss on page 99 – David Estlund's 'ought-to consent' – is not. Just because you ought to give someone your consent to do something does not mean that that person actually has (or may properly proceed as if they had) your consent to doing it. As I had argued in chapter 1, to consent is to do something, internally (mentally) in the first instance and externally (performatively, typically communicatively) in the second. Until and unless you have actually done those things, you have not consented. It may have been wrong not to have done so, but that does not make it all right for others to treat you as if you had done when you haven't.

Most of my book is devoted to operational questions about consent: evoking it, invoking it, revoking it. There are some things we should ask consent for before doing, but even asking for consent to do them would be offensive. Revoking consent would be wrong after someone else has already performed the consented-to action. And if you revoke it before that, you must at least compensate others for the costs that they reasonably incurred in preparation for acting on your now-revoked consent. And so on.

Mistakes about consent loom large in the book. Jack says or does something that has led Jill to think – reasonably but, as it happens, wrongly – that she has Jack's consent to her doing something. Those are not genuine cases of consent because Jack lacked the requisite internal mental attitude (he did not intend to consent). But externally he has said or done something that has led Jill to reasonably conclude that he had consented. If Jack knew, or could and should have known, that Jill would understand his words or deeds that way, then Jack should be treated 'as if' he had consented. Jack should permit Jill to do what he seemingly consented to permitting her to do, or at least Jack should compensate Jill for her reasonable costs in acting in reliance on his seeming consent. That is not because he genuinely consented but, instead, because he led her on (in ways he could and should have realized) in thinking that he consented. If Jack misled Jill 'deliberately fraudulently', he should be regarded as having literally forfeited the rights that his deliberately false consent purported to waive. Where consent was falsely signalled through 'innocent error' or 'culpable negligence', then Jack should be allowed to 'correct the error' and 'take back' his apparent consent – but not without compensating (to a greater or lesser extent) Jill for costs she bore in reasonable reliance on Jack's misleading indications of consent.

Consent Matters finishes with a discussion of three 'special cases'. One concerns political consent conferred through voting. Two others involve 'consent of the uncommunicative', one concerning 'simulated necrophilia' and the other a hunger striker who internally wishes for assisted feeding but cannot externally say that they consent for fear of betraying the other hunger strikers.
Learn more about Consent Matters at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: On Complicity and Compromise by Chiara Lepora and Robert E. Goodin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Don H. Doyle's "The Age of Reconstruction"

Don H. Doyle is the author of The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War and other books on America and the world in the Civil War and Reconstruction era. He is professor emeritus of history at the University of South Carolina and has had visiting appointments at universities in Britain, Italy, France, and Brazil.

Doyle applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Age of Reconstruction: How Lincoln's New Birth of Freedom Remade the World, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Age of Reconstruction is an excellent illustration of Ford Madox Ford’s axiom. It is the opening of chapter four and the place to tell readers where we have been, where we are going, and what I am trying to make of it all. Chapter Three, “The Mexican Lesson,” tells the little-known story of the United States’ role in forcing France to withdraw the armed forces they sent to protect the throne of Maximilian, the ill-fated Austrian archduke Napoleon III had installed as Emperor of Mexico. Chapter Four, “Russia Exits,” takes up the evacuation of North America by another European empire when, at the end of March 1867, a few days after the French left Mexico, Secretary of State William Seward concluded a treaty between the United States and Russia to purchase what became Alaska. Historians have routinely treated the Alaska Purchase as a lark, which skeptical members of Congress ridiculed as “Seward’s Folly” or, my favorite, “Walrussia.” The treaty did meet stiff opposition in Congress, partly because many Republicans were at odds with Seward due to his loyalty to President Andrew Johnson and because taking over non-contiguous territory, never mind the colony of a European empire, seemed to contradict republican principles. Charles Sumner, a Radical Republican leader in the Senate, turned the tide with a magnificent speech that portrayed the Alaska Purchase, just as I interpret it in the following chapter, as part of a massive geopolitical shift in which European empires retreated from the Western Hemisphere. Out of this came a new Monroe Doctrine whose slogan, “America for Americans,” expressed a Pan-American vision of the Americas as a haven for independent republics free of European imperialism and slavery.

The epigraph for Chapter Four has Sumner telling Congress that by this treaty, “we dismiss one more monarch from this continent. One by one they have retired; first France; then Spain; then France again; and now Russia; all giving way to that absorbing Unity which is declared in the national motto, E pluribus unum.” Unlike France, Spain, and Britain, Russia had befriended the Union during the Civil War. On the contrary, the Alaska treaty stimulated a popular idea that Russia and America, despite their vast differences, were forging a bond based on their common enmity toward European powers and commitment to the abolition of unfree labor. Though the friendship between Russia and America may have been exaggerated, it served to justify the Alaska Purchase and ennoble America’s post-Civil War vision for the hemisphere.
Learn more about The Age of Reconstruction at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Cause of All Nations.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Aziz Rana's "The Constitutional Bind"

Aziz Rana is the incoming J. Donald Monan, S.J., University Professor of Law and Government at Boston College. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Dissent, n+1, the Boston Review, and Jacobin. He is the author of The Two Faces of American Freedom.

Rana applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Constitutional Bind: How Americans Came to Idolize a Document That Fails Them, and reported the following:
Page 99 explores the early twentieth century changes various reformers and activists proposed to the federal courts, given the growing sense that the judiciary was beholden to business interests in a way that thwarted essential and widely backed policies for addressing extreme economic inequality and workplace domination. These judicial reforms would have “dramatically restructured” the bench through everything from term limits to checks on the power of judges to overturn legislation, such as by requiring “supermajorities for Supreme Court decisions to be binding” or “granting Congress the power to override court rulings through legislative action.” The page then highlights how discontent with the Supreme Court spilled over into concerns about whether “the constitutional system as a whole was truly democratic.” For a range of activists at the time, the Court’s intransigence seemed of a piece with how numerous features of the constitutional system, as embodied by the state-based structures of the Senate and the Electoral College, placed profound hurdles in the path of broad sentiment.

Taking a step back, the goal of the discussion on page 99 is to underscore a feature of that era’s constitutional culture that would be surprising for many Americans today. In those years, politically relevant politicians, commentators, and activists thought seriously about the need for radical constitutional change. They treated the existing text as a template for legal-political governance, just one among many possibilities, and that increasingly failed to fulfill collective ends. In recent decades, however, the Constitution instead has become deeply enmeshed with a pervasive and shared story of national peoplehood. It is not simply a decision-making apparatus, but also stands for a vision of the American project—intertwining liberal equality, market capitalism, and extensive checks and balances at home with the promotion of American primacy abroad. By contrast, at the beginning of the last century none of these ideological components of today’s constitutional compact would have been taken for granted. These were disparate strands that did not necessarily fit together and the document itself faced real skepticism during a period of profound political uncertainty.

The Constitution Bind is thus not an ideal fit for the Page 99 Test, since the page only captures a small slice of the book’s overall arguments. Still, page 99 does offer context for the book’s larger animating question: How did Americans come to embrace, so deeply, their Constitution along with a very specific account of text and nation? I argue that this particular embrace is a distinctly twentieth century development, one tied—perhaps surprisingly—as much to transforms in the global system as to those at home. It was bound up with the United States’ move from a regional settler polity to a globally dominant power. In hinting at this shift, page 99 speaks to the pre-history of modern constitutional veneration. It presents the conflicts that swirled before our more familiar narratives took hold.

At the same time, page 99 also provides a glimpse into another central element of the book. I discuss how the official story of the Constitution is exhausted today. This is because many of the critiques from that first Gilded Age have proven accurate, and the existing legal-political system—along with the vision of U.S. exceptionalism that eventually grew around it—does not now serve most Americans. As a consequence, there is value in thinking deeply again about the range of alternative constitutional visions that once circulated in public debate. In this way, the reforms on page 99 are an initial invocation of the vast array of ideas developed by Black, Indigenous, feminist, labor, and immigrant reformers across large swathes of the twentieth century. Today, their visions remain vital, if under-utilized, starting points for confronting our own dilemmas.
Visit Aziz Rana's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Patrick Moser's "Waikīkī Dreams"

Patrick Moser is professor of writing and French at Drury University. He is the author of Surf and Rescue: George Freeth and the Birth of California Beach Culture and the editor of Pacific Passages: An Anthology of Surf Writing.

Moser applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Waikiki Dreams: How California Appropriated Hawaiian Beach Culture, and reported the following:
After an introductory quote from the Los Angeles Times, page 99 begins:
Mary Ann Hawkins (1919–1993) was fifteen years old when she ran into Gene “Tarzan” Smith for the first time at Corona del Mar. “Pretty Mary Ann Hawkins,” as the Los Angeles Evening Post had called her, a “tall, slender’ swimmer for the Los Angeles Athletic Club who had won the national junior championship in the 880 freestyle in 1933.”
The rest of the page (the first of Chapter 4) provides further biographical details for Mary Ann Hawkins, tracking her rise as the greatest waterwoman of her generation in California during the Great Depression: swimmer, surfer, paddleboard champion—and lifeguard aspirant who, as an unofficial participant in the annual physical test, performed “on a par with the swimming prowess of the regular contenders” (i.e. the men) and yet was never offered a job because women at the time were not allowed to be lifeguards. This century-old gender bias still impacts surfing today in terms of fewer female surfers because surf culture in California grew out of the lifeguarding profession.

The Page 99 Test captures well “the quality of the whole.” Readers will gain a good sense of my path to treating broader ideas of appreciation and appropriation of Native Hawaiian culture during the interwar period: through the biographies of the top influencers. Hawkins and the other historical figures all have such interesting stories. I wanted to showcase their accomplishments by dropping into story-telling mode myself and (hopefully) pulling readers into the day-to-day lives of these women and men who had an important impact on the rise of California beach culture. Who were these young people and what did they do that made such a difference? To answer these questions, each chapter begins with a critical moment in the life of the influencer and then spirals out to capture the intersections where personal appreciation for all things Hawaiian turns into appropriation of Native Hawaiian land, culture, and racial identity.

While readers would gain a sense of the quality of the work by reading page 99, they would not necessarily fathom the broader directions that work would take them in. To help readers along that path, I use storytelling techniques—character development, detail and description, dramatic tension—to encourage them to turn the page. Part of the great debt that surfing owes to Native Hawaiian culture is its prevalence for “talk story.” I hope that Waikīkī Dreams acknowledges that influence in its own way.
Learn more about Waikīkī Dreams at the University of Illinois Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 24, 2024

Elsa Devienne's "Sand Rush"

Elsa Devienne is Assistant Professor in US History at Northumbria University. Her work has won the Willi Paul Adams Award awarded by the Organization of American Historians for the best book on American history published in a language other than English. She regularly appears on radio, podcasts, and TV shows to speak about her research in English and French.

Devienne applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Sand Rush: The Revival of the Beach in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles, and reported the following:
How do you feel about a highway being built on your favorite beach? Not so great, I imagine. Then I would recommend you flip quickly through page 99 of Sand Rush because you’ll see the image of a highway project planned for Venice Beach in the 1930s. Yes, that’s right. In the 1930s, what I call the “Los Angeles beach lobby”, that is a group of engineers, businessmen and public officials interested in modernizing the city’s shoreline, planned to artificially enlarge Venice Beach and build on it a massive highway. Thankfully, this never came to fruition but it’s a great example of the beach lobby’s goal: developing modern beaches for a middle-class, automobile public.

Page 99 falls half-way through chapter 3, where I describe the emergence of this beach lobby. Horrified by what they viewed as eroded, dirty, and crowded shores, this group of mostly white men set on to remake the coastline, which they saw as intimately linked to the city’s fate. Page 99 is not only home to this shocking illustration of their vision for Venice; it goes into their shrewd work getting all coastal property owners on board. Now I should give some credit to the beach lobby. While their plans for beach highways may seem horrifically dated to us, they also pushed for key legislation to plan the coastline at the regional level, taking into account ecological phenomena such as littoral drift. They also campaigned successfully for public beach acquisition, which means we can all access and enjoy most of the county’s shorelines.

The Page 99 Test works well for Sand Rush in the sense that it highlights one of the key primary sources for the book: the archives of the beach lobby who campaigned for the California coastline throughout the 20th century. The California Beaches Association, the lobby’s main organization in the 1930s, published a monthly newsletter which I mined extensively to write the book. Without those, I wouldn’t have been able to understand how LA became the testing ground for these engineers and planners to imagine what a modern beach should look like.

Yet page 99 fails in showcasing the breadth of the book. Sand Rush describes the modernization campaign that transformed LA into one of the world’s greatest coastal metropolises. But it also explores how ordinary Angeleno/as responded to these transformations and the role that Hollywood played in spreading the hallmarks of LA beach culture across the world. The book follows black entrepreneurs, bodybuilders, Hollywood stars, Venice beatniks and beach-crazed teenagers as it charts the making of this most iconic site in international imaginaries.

In other words, if you were to stop at page 99, you’d think the book investigates the beaches from an environmental and urban planning lens. But Sand Rush is, in my view, a lot more! It’s a combination of urban, environmental, social, cultural, policy, and body history. It’s as much about bulldozers transporting sand to eroded beaches as it is about Pamela Anderson reinventing the silent-movie-era bathing beauty phenomenon for the late 20th century. This richness of sources and topics is what I loved about writing Sand Rush and I hope the readers enjoy it too!
Learn more about Sand Rush at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sara E. Davies and Jacqui True's "Hidden Wars"

Sara E. Davies is Professor of International Relations at Griffith University, Australia and Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEVAW).

Jacqui True is Professor of International Relations at Monash University and Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEVAW).

They applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, Hidden Wars: Gendered Political Violence in Asia's Civil Conflicts, and reported the following:
When you open page 99 of our book you learn that sexual and gender-based violence in situations of protracted conflict, can be hidden, silenced, and kept in private spaces. Page 99 falls in the middle of Chapter Four, ‘Probing Silences in the Philippines’, the second of three empirical chapters in the book that examines patterns of reporting sexual and gender-based violence in three protracted civil conflicts in Asia: Burma, the Philippines and Sri Lanka – from 1998 to 2016. The book’s premise is that while there has been increased international awareness of widespread and/or systematic sexual and gender-based violence as crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, most attention has focused on situations recognised by the UN Security Council as meeting the definition of ‘conflict-related’ sexual violence. However, there are many situations around the world where sexual and gender-based violence is systematic, widespread, and targeted against particular groups, but is not identified as connected to the patterns of armed conflict. As a result, conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence is under-reported. In the book, we argue that the political support required to safely report this violence is often lacking, but needs to be taken seriously by the international community.

Returning to page 99, the page under examination has two paragraphs. The first paragraph concludes a section on what we know about reported sexual and gender- based violence in the Philippines on the politically fragile island Mindanao where there has been decades-long protracted conflict as well as the rise of violent extremism over the past decade. We find that while local actors understand that sexual and gender-based violence is associated with local-level armed conflict, the violence is rarely recorded as being related to conflict events. Violence against teenage girls and young women from different clans, may escalate armed violence or be a form of retaliation by armed groups, but it is rarely recorded by authorities as such. As a result, the impunity for perpetrators is high, and the culture of accountability in the Philippines government to end these crimes is low.

In the second paragraph on the page, we discuss the patterns of sexual and gender- based violence reported in Mindanao between 1998 and 2016. We find that they were closely associated with key conflict-related events. Namely, the highest level of sexual violence was recorded in 2010 and 2014. The former (2010) was associated with the settlement of disputes amongst clans during a fragile negotiation phase (2009-2014), which included the Zamboanga siege in 2013 by an armed group that was excluded from the peace process. The large-scale displacement of people as a consequence of the siege was associated with higher rates of sexual violence. Even though the Philippines government was aware of this relationship between conflict and sexual violence and the need for early warning reporting and monitoring, there was no system put into place during the peace process.

So, if you opened our book at page 99, you would be able to glean two of its key ideas: First, conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence is frequently under- reported in situations of protracted armed conflict. Thus, the patterns between political violence and gendered violence are not apparent. Second, and consequently, we don’t identify the political conditions necessary to make reporting of this violence safe and to improve our knowledge and responses to it. While Hidden Wars meets the Page 99 Test, two further contributions of our book are not evident on this page.

First, our book explains why describing acts of sexual and gender-based violence as gendered political violence transforms how we understand conflict. We examine the societal conditions in each context, Burma, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, to explain why gender-targeted violence may be advantageous to armed actors to secure political gains at particular junctures of the conflict. Second, our knowledge of widespread and/or systematic acts of sexual and gender-based violence should not be dependent on a political process on the UN Security Council that determines which violent situations can be called ‘conflict’. In so many situations we observe only the tip of the iceberg of conflict because violence is not counted and there are no institutions to report to or safe pathways for victim-survivors. Reporting sexual and gender-based violence is fundamentally a political act. It is inseparable from conflict dynamics, political struggles, and local understandings of gender relations.

We focus on silence and power – including the power to report and when violence receives attention – in this book. We argue that a key focus for researchers in each situation of concern is to identify the preventative and protective factors that can improve reporting and build institutional capacity at the ‘early warning’ stage to reduce the risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Scholars have an important role to play in breaking silences that perpetuate impunity alongside and in collaboration with local actors.
Learn more about Hidden Wars at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Arang Keshavarzian's "Making Space for the Gulf"

Arang Keshavarzian is is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. He is the author of Bazaar and State in Iran: Politics of the Tehran Marketplace (2007) and coeditor of Global 1979: Geographies and Histories of the Iranian Revolution (2021).

Keshavarzian applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Making Space for the Gulf: Histories of Regionalism and the Middle East, and reported the following:
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, British colonial officers devised treaty systems to extend their authority in the Indian Ocean world and forge alliances with select ruling families on the Arab coast of the Persian Gulf. While the treaties empowered the British Navy and enhanced commercial rights of British subjects, it helped recognize specific families and shaykhs as rulers of Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai, and other port cities and coastal regions of the Arabian peninsula. Page 99 discusses protests and movements in the 1930s that critiqued and challenged this political configuration. During these economically volatile times, a combination of merchants, seamen, dissident members of ruling families, and pearl divers called for the creation of councils (or majles) to pass laws to review spending, revenue and invest in public works. Even if these attempts to build political accountability were short-lived and unsuccessful, these movements were also part of the formation of collective national polities and histories that cut across imperial imaginations and geopolitical conceptions of the Gulf as a regional unit.

This page does illustrate the contested nature of imperialism and captures the multiplicity of actors that occupy and travel through the Persian Gulf. These are central themes in Making Space for the Gulf. It also denaturalizes monarchical rule on the Arabian Peninsula and gestures to the book’s emphasis on thinking of geography as shapeshifting and relational, rather than static and existing prior to society.

Where the test falls short is that page 99 does not capture the overall puzzle motivating the book. Making Space for the Gulf seeks to understand what it means for the Persian Gulf to be a region and how the multiple conceptions and social processes of region-making reflect struggles and generate conflicts across the past century and a half. The book presents regionalism as aspirational, representational, and a set of structured practices that taken together help us understand the contradictory ways the Persian Gulf is viewed as a regional whole as well as fractured and variegated. This page does capture some of the tensions generated by one specific regionalization project, the British creation of a set of protected states, but can’t fully articulate the layered histories and multiple vantage points that I try to chart across the book.
Learn more about Making Space for the Gulf at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 21, 2024

Matthew D. Morrison's "Blacksound"

Matthew D. Morrison, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a musicologist, violinist, and Associate Professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Blacksound: Making Race and Popular Music in the United States, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[African Americans were largely seen as] property, unable to claim rights for their own bodies, unequal in producing work deemed worthy of property claims (as they were also viewed as subhuman through the systematization of slavery). Under these conditions, the very aesthetics they produced became sources of property to be copyrighted and claimed by white music industrialists through sheet music, through other publications, and in their own performances within the exploitative models of the developing popular music industry.

Blackface effectively established the commercial industry between the United States and United Kingdom, and it provided the aesthetic/sonic basis of popular sound and culture in both nations, albeit to differing degrees. The theatrical form created scripts of black performativity (developed within Blacksound) that became racialized as “authentically” black and often degenerate when taken up by black people. For white people, the same scripts were thought of as “othered,” through which they could freely express and imagine/construct their own self identity. Blackface allowed white performers to take blackness on and off at will, both on and off the minstrel stage, and their audiences bore witness to the transformative acts within their own imaginaries, safely distanced from having to actually be and experience blackness.

(White) Europeans/European-Americans had the ability to simultaneously insert themselves into the ruse of the blackface mask and, in turn, blackness, while being able to remove the minstrel mask and/or reassume more proper performances of citizen in their public selves. Blackface performance allowed white people to negotiate their bodies, personhood, and construction of whiteness by reveling in blackness under the rules of Victorian and antebellum societies. At the same time, this culturally homogenized group vis-à-vis blackness was able to carefully and effectively manage the commercialization, circulation, and absorption of the very aesthetics that were exploited in the performances of the black musicians from whom they originated. The following chapter considers how the aesthetic of intellectual performance property became even more subtly embedded into the formalization of blackface minstrelsy and the amalgamation of Blacksound through Stephen Foster, one of its most prolific composers, known affectionately as the “Father of American Popular Song.”
As it turns out, page 99 provides a snapshot into the larger thesis and political stakes of my book, Blacksound. This page happens to be the last page of Chapter 2, which is also the end of Part I of my book. The book is organized chronologically: Part I addresses the development of commercial music through blackface minstrelsy during the antebellum era under slavery, while Part II considers how blackface’s commercialization throughout the nineteenth century shaped the emergence of the commercial music industry and music copyright at the turn of the twentieth century in the establishment of Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville, Broadway, film, and the popular recording industry–all taking place during the Jim Crow segregation era.

Because page 99 is essentially the end of a conclusion, it directly lays out my study of the legacy and impact of blackface minstrelsy on the making of American popular music, its industry, the construction of race and race-relations, anti-blackness, culture and politics. It also foreshadows the discussion in the following chapter/Part of how we begin to develop notions of intellectual property (in music) during slavery, as mostly white blackface performers, producers, and audiences took up ephemeral black performance aesthetics in sheet music and in live minstrel acts.

Blacksound is defined most simply as the sonic complement to blackface minstrelsy that serves as the foundation of American popular music, its industry, culture, politics, and entertainment. One thing that the page misses is that a major aspect of the book is deep musical and cultural analysis of mostly non-recorded music performances (both commercial and folk) throughout the nineteenth century to support the thesis and demonstrate how Blacksound is constructed and shifts over time. But overall, if someone read this one page, they would have a general (though not nuanced) understanding of the overall book and concept of Blacksound.
Learn more about Blacksound at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue