+ Note on these notes
I began this project for selfish reasons, thinking that having to post these notes would help me to be thorough in my preparation for oral exams, but hopefully you will find them useful as well. The "In Briefs", are my summary sound-bytes, condensed, without judgment, and mainly focused on the author’s argument and contribution with reference to their key evidence. Some summaries are a bit circular, which may reflect the author’s uncertainty or the fact that it was the tenth one written that day. I tried to write these summaries in my own words, which could help you understand a book you have already read even if my use of language is sometimes less specific than that of the author. The “Questions" are rather blunt and they suggest one of the primary goals of the author’s inquiry. The “Quotes,” usually 3 or 4 selected sentences, should be read with due caution. They are not intended to reveal the argument so much as indicators of the author’s style, analytical methods, and often really interesting details that will encourage you to read the book in full. Lastly, the “Conversations" are books that came before and after publication; and the connections I make are not always ones that the authors always made themselves even though the overlap can be quite substantial.
+ 1955, Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R.
In Brief: Hofstadter’s study of populists, progressives, and a bit of the New Deal has often been caricatured even as it remains provocative and influential. The Populists and Progressives were both groups of reformers who saw themselves aggrieved by an array of forces. Even as Populist farmers were firmly embedded in the commercial pulse of America, they embraced an agarian myth that defied reality but helped to calm their anxieties about their declining status in society. While at the time their grievances were specific, they lashed out against the present without offering particularly constructive solutions, and the Progressives were not so different, though they were in a sense even more enigmatic since the movement did not originate out of any economic hardships or depression. They were discontent with the rise of political machines and corrupt business leaders so they set about reclaiming their own status and an older morality. The New Deal on the other hand was shaped in direct response to real problems and as such it sought and provided people with solutions rather than the anxious, angry reform of the preceding forty years.
Questions:Why did reform flower in a strong economy? What is the connection between Populists and Progressives?
Quotes: "This strange convergence of unlike social elements on similar ideas has its explanation, I believe, in this: both the imperialist elite and the Populists had been bypassed and humiliated by the advance of industrialism, and both were rebelling against the domination of the country by industrial and financial capitalists.” (92) “They were less important, and they knew it.” (137) “However prosperous they were, they lived in the midst of all the iniquities that the agrarian myth had taught them to expect of urban life, and they refused to accept them calmly.” (203)
Conversations:Woodward, Origins of the New South; Goodwyn, The Populist Moment; Hahn, The Roots of Populism; Wiebe, The Search for Order
+ 1976, William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism
In Brief: Hutchison traces the influence of modernist thought in Protestantism from the 1870s to the 1930s, which distinguished itself by adapting religion to culture and in seeing the fulfillment of God’s plans in the progress of culture and society. The foundation for this liberal optimism was laid by the Unitarians in the first half of the 19th century; they did not fear complexity and already connected religion with culture. When small liberal denominations like the Unitarians declined by the early 1900s this represented the rise of liberal Protestantism within the major denominations. Yet as liberals ascended, they found increasing tensions within and without, fighting their most prominent battles against the fundamentalists who claimed that liberals had lost sight of Christianity altogether. WWI also created a crisis within this liberal and optimistic theology since it represented anything but progress for culture and society. By the 1930s modernists’ confidence had disappeared even as their ability to adapt endured.
Questions:How did liberal Protestants define Christianity as they moved away from literal interpretations of the Bible? What were the limits to the rise of liberal Protestantism?
Quotes: "This was, in the end, less an effort to adjust religion to culture than an attempt to renounce the long-standing and singular commitment, in Western thought, to what liberals saw as an artificial separation between religion and culture.” (9) “Human civilization, quite definitely including those parts of it reached by Christianity, was as yet unsaved.” (80) “Liberals, in response, averred not only that the modernist method had historically been the one by which Christian doctrines had been formed but also that for most of those who adhered to modernist ways of thought, the actual choice had been between liberal Christianity or none at all.” (258)
Conversations:Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture; Wiebe, The Search for Order; Wenger, We Have a Religion
+ 1979, Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s
In Brief: The Dust Bowl was a major ecological and social disaster rooted in core American assumptions about taking too much from the land and too much capitalism. While the cycles of more or less rain contributed to the Dust Bowl, it was society’s failure to restrain or accommodate itself to any limits that made the tragedy. Other human-induced proximate causes also help explain this event such as farmers' enthusiasm for using tractors to plow up the plains. Furthermore, plains farmers brought on the Dust Bowl with such rapidity that they had not even developed a full attachment to place and the resolution ultimately rested on mining the aquifers rather than a real reckoning of capitalism’s ecological boundaries.
Questions: What is the connection between the Dust Bowl and economic growth? What lessons did Americans take from the Dust Bowl?
Quotes: "The Dust Bowl, in contrast, was the inevitable outcome of a culture that deliberately and self-consciously set itself that task of dominating and exploiting the land for all it was worth." (4) “All across the flat open spaces the tractors steadily plowed away, especially in the second half of the 1920s and on up until the very eve of the dust storms.” (93) “Toward the land itself Haskell’s people developed an ambivalent attitude that revealed as well as anything how inchoate was their sense of place.” (179)
Conversations:Cronon, “A Place for Stories”; Sutter, Let Us Praise Famous Gullies; Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
+ 1980, George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925
In Brief: Marsden shows how Fundamentalists and liberals emerged together and in relation to a rapidly changing culture. Fundamentalists saw liberal theology’s optimism and adaptability as going hand in hand with a declining culture. Marsden argues that Fundamentalists were part of a much bigger rift than simply the rural/ urban divide that has been presented in portrayals of the Scopes trial. WWI served as a crisis for fundamentalists and they wanted people to return to the Bible and away from evolution especially. Yet in fighting liberals, fundamentalists sometimes lost sight of their own ideals, which served to alienate them from many evangelicals who were conservative, but willing to compromise. Thus in most of the South, for example, the battles were actually much more subdued since fewer liberals threatened traditional interpretations. Likewise Baptists suffered fewer conflicts within their denomination since each congregation remained free to draw its own interpretations. Despite Fundamentalist losses such as the humiliation of William Jennings Bryan, on the ground fundamentalism continued to gain adherents who viewed it as a refuge from the problems of modern society.
Questions: What cultural changes explain the rise of Fundamentalism? Why did Fundamentalism persist after its public defeat?
Quotes: "Victory in the Civil War had virtually put out of business the old national coalition for reform which had united against slavery.” (29) “Following the lead of philosophical pragmatism, proponents of the Social Gospel held that the only test of truth was action.” (91) “The battle for the Bible was a battle for civilization.” (164)
Conversations:Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse; Wenger, We Have a Religion; Lears, No Place of Grace
+ 1982, James C. Cobb, The Selling of the South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936-1980
In Brief: Cobb’s study of southern boosters shows how southern leaders promoted development and modernization while preserving the same social and political order. Generous subsidies, natural resources, and cheap labor were the goods which state governors and other boosters advertised in their efforts to attract industry. Their willingness to allow pollution relative to other parts of the United States, or indeed other parts of the world, meant that states and nations also transferred their polluting industries to the South. This cheap labor resulted not only from an anti-union atmosphere but from a longer history of racism which served to cheapen the labor of white workers as well. Facing increasing labor costs in other parts of the country, many low-wage industries did relocate to the South. Meanwhile the higher-skilled and higher paid industries continued to avoid the South, leaving the region as impoverished as ever.
Questions: Did the promotion of industry improve the economic health of the South? Who shaped the development of the South?
Quotes: “Thus, in the interest of continued growth, many of those responsible for recruiting new industry became the reluctant advocates of a peaceful transition to token desgregation.” (122) “The southern states benefited from population growth that had expanded the demand for goods, an ample supply of cheap labor, the greater availablity of energy, and the growing obsolescence of older manufacturing facilities in the North.” (196) “The most obvious example of the persistence of the New South development tradition was the emphasis on low-wage, nonunion labor that continued to characterize industry-seeking efforts.” (254)
Conversations: Woodward, Origins of the New South; Schulman, From Cottonbelt to Sunbelt; Lassiter, Silent Majority
+ 1985, Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West
In Brief: In the process of remaking rivers, water bureaucrats built an oligarchy that served to reduce the power of the rest of the agricultural population, such as the laborers and the small farmers that the reclamation acts were initially intended to support. Worster argues that the reclamation of the arid West has not only caused significant ecological harm through dams and the expansion of agriculture, but has also created a hierarchical hydraulic society in which government engineers and large-scale farmers control most of the resources and political power. Worster views the centralized planning and financing necessary for such large-scale projects as inherently undemocratic. With a limited supply of water, the people who dominated nature and claimed water gained all of the power. Initial support for such projects rested above all else on their projection as part of an agrarian ideal for small, independent farmers, even as investors and technocrats quickly conspired to eliminate the maximum farm sizes laid out in the 1902 National Reclamation Act.
Questions: How did reclamation allow for the centralization of power? Why was the reclamation ideal corrupted so rapidly?
Quotes: “The hydraulic society of the West, in contrast, is increasingly a coercive, monolithic, and hierarchical system, ruled by a power elite based on the ownership of capital and expertise.” (7) “Powell was not unaware that irrigation had a suspicious record in history, associated as it had been in its advanced stages with antidemocratic forces.” (134-5) “The hands that do the grasping are also powerful shaping hands, capable of doling out life and death, wealth and status.” (192) “The power that has accumulated with the domination of western rivers has two faces also, one private and the other public, depending on which way one turns the picture.” (281)
Conversations: Hundley, The Great Thirst; Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature; White, The Organic Machine
+ 1985, Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880
In Brief: Daniel emphasizes the differences between cotton, rice, and tobacco cultivation that account for the varied timing and experiences of modernization. The government’s role in Daniel’s history extends beyond New Deal capital, as officials actively encouraged mechanization. When extension agents taught the latest scientific farming methods to local farmers, they increasingly relied on machines and chemicals as the solution to farmers’ problems. Though tobacco culture resisted mechanization until the 1960s, Daniel’s description of the drastic reduction in man-hours that eventually occurred, makes clear the role that mechanization played in pushing families off the land. Daniel, with his knowledge of the intensive labor required for cotton and tobacco, argues that mechanization did more than the AAA’s reduction regime to push people off the land. In contrast to tobacco and cotton, however rice culture was heavily capitalized from the beginning and did not experience the same wrenching changes as the cotton and tobacco sharecroppers and tenants did in the first eighty years of the 20th century. By the 1980s the three different cultures had converged into similarly mechanized and capitalized processes.
Questions: How could the worst disruptions of agricultural modernization been prevented? What role did mechanization play in pushing people off the land?
Quotes: “Would the tenant class find a savior or would it be the sacrifice to the god of agribusiness?” (105) “Despite the surplus labor clogging the byways of the region, landlords invested their government money in machines and looked with satisfaction at the stable prices produced by government programs.” (183) “Using chemicals, flame weeders, and the picking machine, the Stoneville station had eliminated the need for hand workers.” (248) “Despite the numbing aspects of the old tenure system, it existed in the context of a community life and culture that rural people built to protect and sustain themselves.” (296)
Conversations: Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Petty, Standing Their Ground
+ 1985, Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States
In Brief: A foundational text on history of the suburbs from the 19th century to the 1980s. Transportation is one of the major themes, from the horsecar, to low-fares on commuter railroads, to the interstates, all of which developers manipulated to their advantage as development was pushed to the periphery. Automobiles, and also trucks, work against urban cores while the gas tax provided a reliable source of financing for new highways. Jackson explores the private home as a concept and aesthetic that takes off with cheaper construction after the use of 2x4s, and in the postwar era with vertical integration. Urban crises like diseases and riots further motivated movement out of the city, but the inner-city was placed at a greater disadvantage beginning in the New Deal when the FHA and the Home Owner Loan Corporation created long-term mortgages and gave government support to racism and redlining, which created a self-fulfilling prophecy of declining real estate stock within cities.
Questions:What policies allowed for the rise of suburbs and decline of the inner-city? How did private interests profit from public development?
Quotes: "There was irony in this retreat from commercialism and industry because, amid the dense foliage, somewhere below the streets, pipes and wires brought the latest domestic conveniences to every respectable home.” (72) “Although few eyebrows were raised over the way politics and business were mixed in the development of American suburbs, such tactics were unique to the United States.” (124) “No agency of the United States government has had a more pervasive and powerful impact on the American people over the past half-century than the Federal Housing Administration.” (203)
Conversations: Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside; Self, American Babylon; Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis
+ 1987, Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism
In Brief: Cott explores the emergence of feminism, as opposed to the earlier woman’s movement. Feminism went beyond suffrage and duties to an emphasis on rights and a variety of issues that proved divisive within the feminist movement itself in the period from 1910-1930, though such conflicts and contradictions also persist in the present. The problems feminists faced were partly a result of their success in obtaining suffrage and an incomplete definition of feminism that could not address the class conflicts the movement faced. While upper-class feminists generally supported an equal rights amendment, working-class women viewed such a plan as a threat to the protective labor legislation that they had already obtained. Such older laws might limit the amount of hours a women worked, great if you work on the factory floor, but problematic if you wanted to work in management. Those women that succeeded in becoming lawyers or doctors often chose to fight their battles alone rather than associate themselves with the feminist movement that had helped make such gains possible. Even as many obstacles remained it became increasingly difficult for women to articulate their desire for true equality without facing accusations of preferential treatment or an overemphasis on gender. Cott’s history serves to paint the New Deal in a surprisingly conservative light.
Questions:What caused the fracturing within feminism? How did class divisions emerge within feminism?
Quotes: "That vision combining equality of economic choice with heterosexual intimacy was essential to Feminism in the 1910s.” (42) “But the way she handled the convention, especially the concerns of black women, forewarned that the party’s definition of the purely feminist would this time narrow rather than expand the constituency it sought to unite.” (71) “Hardly more than their critics had feminists solved the problem of how to regard women’s labor in the home when they focused on women’s labor outside it.” (211)
Conversations: MacLean, Freedom is not Enough; Kessler-Harris, In Pursuit of Equity; Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
+ 1987, Jack Temple Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920-1960
In Brief: Jack Temple Kirby asks if the progress achieved by modernization made life better for most southerners. Modernization occurred at various moments among the states and even counties of the South. The consequences of New Deal programs and the embrace of mechanization depended on existing arrangements of capital and labor for the cultures of rice, cotton, and tobacco. That some areas of the South changed more quickly than others, partly explains why Kirby’s study covers a forty-year period. In 1920, the South stood out as a rural region. However, as its countryside depopulated, the South joined the nation as urban. For Kirby, the fact that modernization enveloped the variegated South shows the depth and force of the changes experienced by all southerners. Kirby’s persistent focus on individual experiences allows him to move beyond mere anecdotes. Rural Worlds Lost reveals the explanatory power of such stories. During the transition to machines in the modernization of the South, farmers experienced a vital change in their everyday lives. They missed their mules. In Kirby’s history the central role of the federal government becomes clear by the massive tenant evictions resulting from the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the resulting inflow of cash into farmers’ pockets to pay hired hands and purchase tractors. Avoiding nostalgia, Kirby does not lament the passing of plantations or sharecropping. None of the changes brought on by modernization and progress, Kirby argues, remedied the underlying injustice of life in the South.
Questions: Why was the modernization of the South particularly disruptive? What role did the federal government play in the modernization of the South?
Quotes: “In predominantly black plantation areas, on the other hand, the programs rescued and enriched planter-landlords and inflicted frustration and suffering on the already poor and landless.” (56) “And those who lived through the transformation never overcame the feeling of loss especially of the company of an animal.” (195) “Northern farms were always relatively well mechanized and not so overpopulated; so the social disruption of the rural South in so brief a time seems particularly intense (and traumatic).” (276) “One must assume that economic pushes and pulls comparable to those affecting blacks also drove out whites–1,324,300 of them–even before the Great Depression.” (320)
Conversations: Aiken, The Cotton Plantation South; Daniel, Breaking the Land; Walker, All We Knew Was to Farm; Foley, The White Scourge
+ 1990, David E. Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940
In Brief: Nye studies the spread of electricity in American life. He is interested the physical construction of networks and technological developments, as well as electricity’s impact on society, which he argues revolutionized daily life and individual perceptions of what was possible. Electrification worked hand in hand with consumer capitalism as department stores and skyscrapers were illuminated and new electric goods developed. Nye’s emphasis on the cultural changes that electricity fostered, makes the gap between electric cities and the non-electric countryside appear as a chasm wider than any agrarian myth. While utilities sprang up in cities during the 1880s it was not until the New Deal that most of the countryside was electrified.
Questions: How did electricity change perceptions of what was possible? How did electricity increase the divide between cities and the countryside?
Quotes: "World fairs modeled an idealized future, projecting a man-made universe where every object was in harmonious relationship with an overarching theme.” (47) "It literally carried urban culture out into the countryside, bringing rapid transportation, new consumer goods, city visitors, and the amusement park to small towns.” (137) "To give customers a definite idea of what an electric home would be like, many utilities arranged for the construction of "home electrics," or model homes equipped with every electrical device.” (266) "As these changes suggest, in the United States the new technology generally was used to concentrate economic power.” (385)
Conversations:Hughes, Networks of Power; Leach, Land of Desire
+ 1990, Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939
In Brief: Cohen writes of the conditions necessary for American workers to come together in a union. Focusing on Chicago, Cohen shows that many of the difficulties organizers faced in uniting workers from a wide variety of backgrounds in the 1910s and 1920s were overcome by the 1930s thanks to mass culture, whether through the radio, sports, or chain stores. The Great Depression tested the limits of welfare capitalism and proved especially difficult for ethnic communities while showing workers the benefits of working together for their demands upon both their workplaces and the federal government. Rather than use the New Deal labor laws as an explanation for the rise of the unions you must look at the people who pushed for them in the first place.
Questions: Why did workers decide to unionize? How did a variety of ethnic groups overcome their divisions to unite?
Quotes: "When ethnic leaders fretted over the falling away of the flock, they recognized that members’ economic success could threaten ethnic communities as much if not more than hardship.” (75) “A shared interest in a more public kind of culture, professional sports, began to serve the same unifying function among male workers.” (204) “For many workers, FDR was the federal government.” (283) “Although harder to pin down, the experience of workers at these two plants demonstrates not only how germane workers’ experience with welfare capitalism was to the CIO’s success but also how much it mattered that workers shared a common culture.” (352)
Conversations: Andrews, Killing for Coal; Leach, The Land of Desire; Maclean, Freedom is Not Enough
1990, Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression
In Brief: The Alabama Communists of the 1930s succeeded in organizing a dedicated base by focusing their attention on local conditions like racism rather than directives and theories from faraway. Workers organized in Birmingham while the Share Croppers’ Union, including Ned Cobb, united a group of desperately poor black tenant farmers who ended up facing eviction thanks to federal legislation such as the AAA. Communist activity also revealed divisions within the black community, with Communists finding themselves at odds with the middle-class NAACP, even as Communists gained more widespread support because of their leadership in the defense of the Scottsboro Boys. The party faded from view because of the intense violence its members faced, the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and eventually the Cold War. Kelley sees the Alabama Communists as one of the links in black activists' memory between Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement.
Questions: Why did such a radical movement develop in Alabama? How did Communists adapt to local conditions?
Quotes: "And also like Murphy, Hudson was the ideological product of elders who lived through the revolutionary times of Reconstruction.” (25) “Indeed, the Communist-led rank-and-file committees were the only organized voices within the Alabama labor movement to consistently fight against racial discrimination and to build alliances between strikers in different industries.” (76) "Indeed, the Klu Klux Klan, the League to Maintain White Supremacy, and the Alabama American Legion deftly appropriated Cold War language to legitimize white supremacy before the rest of the world.” (226)
Conversations: Rosengarten, All God’s Dangers; Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Arnesen, Waterfront Workers
1991, Bruce J. Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938-1980
In Brief: Schulman argues that federal policies drove modernization in the South, and in a particular and destructive fashion. In attempting to explain the persistence of poverty and structural racism in the South, he indicts the federal government rather than cotton capitalists and their progeny. Schulman focuses on the period after the AAA funded tenant evictions and tractor purchases to reveal a set of policies that were never even marketed as progressive. Defense contracts in particular brought a massive flow of federal dollars to the South while only benefiting a small portion of southerners, and state leaders dedicated much of their scant resources to federal infrastructure projects. At the same time states outsourced most of their meager welfare spending to the federal government.
Questions: How did federal policies direct economic growth in the South? What were the limits of economic development in the South?
Quotes: "Government policy not only regulated private economic decision-making, but also shaped the local political environments in which those decisions were taken.” (xi) “That fact underlines the limits of defense spending in fostering regional economic growth.” (150) “This salvo of the War on Poverty never challenged the South’s Whiggish political economy.” (193)
Conversations: Manganiello, Southern Power; Cobb, The Selling of the South; Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Hinton, From the War on Poverty
+ 1992, Edward L. Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction
In Brief: The New South was a regression as much as progress, with the few bright moments like Populism quickly distorted by politicians whose personal interests simply did not align with their poorer constituents. The railroad ties together this narrative of diversity in the South, bringing in outsiders, fomenting conflict between towns and the countryside, creating a laboratory for segregation, and providing the mobility that defined the New South. Textile mills were built and northern capital helped to denude the southern timberlands with no concern for its local consequences. Ayers suggests a potential link between mobility and lynchings, in places with shorter histories of relationships between black and white residents violence may have been more likely to occur. With reconciliation segregation and disenfranchisement only increased, but in the face of racism and the oppressive credit system that all small farmers faced, black land ownership also increased. While some Populists worked to overcome racism, the collapse of Populism brought a backlash that did the opposite, however Ayers also emphasizes the new and multiplying ways of life in the South that exist outside the rubric of so-called race relations.
Questions: What are the key divisions of the New South? How did new technologies and towns contribute to the rise of Jim Crow?
Quotes: “While towns in the New South faced powerful economic constraints on their growth, they brought change that could have come in no other way.” (56) “The counties most likely to witness lynchings had scattered farms where many black newcomers and strangers lived and worked.” (156) “Meetings of Alliances throughout the South turned to social activities–picnics, barbecues, and singings–to keep their units going.” (237) “Much of Southern culture was invented, not inherited.” (373)
Conversations: Woodward, The Origins of the New South; Carrigan, The Making of a Lynching Culture; Wilson, Baptized in Blood
+ 1993, William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture
In Brief: Leach describes not so much the rise, as the actual creation of a consumer culture from the late 19th century to the start of the Great Depression. A wide cross-section of elites are responsible for this transformation, at the center are the department store owners like John Wanamaker who were aided by L. Frank Baum, cultural institutions, financiers, or the failure of Protestant leaders to offer significant criticism. Along the way there are advances in distribution and marketing that help to drive this new desire to consume, which is becoming a ends in itself. Store-owners presented consumption as completely divorced from production, the only costs now being cash or perhaps credit, and freedom became confused with choices about consumption of useless, sparkling goods rather than its basis in democracy.
Questions: How was a consumer culture created? What made it possible for people to believe in a culture of abundance?
Quotes: “What was new was the intermingling and application of color, glass, and light to create an extensive public environment of desire.” (40) “Fashion pressed people to buy, dispose or, and buy again.” (92) “But the separateness of consumption made it easy to deny the suffering: The outcome was a greater tendency toward selfishness and a corrosive moral indifference.” (150) “At the same time, the conception of the desiring self, as expressed in capitalist terms and exploited by capitalism, offers a one-sided and flawed notion of what it means to be human.” (385)
Conversations: Zakim, Ready Made Democracy; Chandler, Visible Hand; Lears, No Place of Grace; Wiebe, The Search for Order; De Grazia, Irresistible Empire
+ 1993, C. Vann Woodward, The Burden of Southern History (3rd edition)
In Brief: Woodward is interested in both the peculiarity of the South and the lessons that can in fact apply to the rest of the nation, which has not suffered so much and does not see the past the same way it is understood in the South. Americans could learn much from the southern experiences of poverty, defeat, and violence, rather than assuming a national history of innocence and abundance. Southerners have had to face the history of slavery and discrimination while others have segregated the nation’s moral failings as a southern problem.
Questions: How is the South a unique region? What can the rest of the country learn from the South’s history of defeat?
Quotes: “Now that they are vanished or on their way toward vanishing, we are suddenly aware of the vacant place they have left in the landscape and of our habit of depending upon them in final resort as landmarks of regional identification.” (5) “No one in his right mind can glory in their memory, and it would at times be a welcome relief to renounce the whole Populist heritage in order to be rid of the repulsive aftermath.” (164) “It is no news to teachers, of course, that the lessons taught are not always the lessons learned.” (183) “The one great failure in national history was Reconstruction, and that was the failure to solve the problem of the Negro’s place in American life.” (222)
Conversations:Fields, Racecraft; Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights; Wilson, Baptized in Blood
+ 1994, Linda Gordon, Pitied but not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare, 1890-1935
In Brief: Gordon examines the pejorativization of the term welfare in the period between 1890 and 1935, a word that had once represented health and happiness. The changing meaning of welfare led to a two-track welfare system where social insurance was lauded and well-funded at the same time that public assistance was chronically underfunded and maligned even by its recipients. This unbalanced system not only perpetuated inequality by giving the most money to those who needed it least, but also increased it by stigmatizing and reducing the political power of the poor. The fact that the primary public assistance program, Aid to Dependent Children, was largely created by men and women with good intentions, reveals the importance of understanding the changing meaning of welfare. Class, but especially gender drives this division. Maternalist reformers were eager to tackle the problem of single motherhood and they debated whether or not the solution to this problem should be focused on the children or their mothers, which was ultimately a false and harmful dichotomy. If public assistance was feminized then social insurance was masculinized and depended on false ideas of work and contributions. Men articulated social insurance as a rights claim, whereas mothers’ aid as a right had disappeared by 1935. By contrasting the rhetoric around public assistance and social insurance Gordon shows how the subordinate and gendered position of public assistance served as a foil to further strengthen social insurance.
Questions: Why has welfare become so stigmatized? How have ideas about gender shaped public aid?
Quotes: "Not only did mothers’ aid shape the welfare state, but the debate about it introduced the themes and questions that still dominate welfare policy discussion today.” (37) “What makes maternalism more than just a women’s paternalism, however, is its rootedness in the subordination of women.” (55) “No women’s organization tried to develop proposals that recognized the whole lives of poor women, at home and in employment, with the family and with the market economy.” (99) “We cannot do without the concept of entitlement because it is fundamental to citizenship.” (288)
Conversations: Cott, The Grounding; Blackwelder, Now Hiring; Kessler-Harris, In Pursuit of Equity; Canaday, Straight State
+ 1994, George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
In Brief: Prior to the 1930s there was a vibrant, varied, and vocal community of gay men in New York City. With the end of Prohibition gay men faced greater regulation in a society increasingly anxious about heterosexuality amidst such a visible gay community, and while many homosexual men did not identify as gay, a straight culture did develop its own identity in opposition to homosexuality. Labels and sexual identities varied among ethnicities and classes; there was for example, greater insecurity about manhood among middle-class men than those of the working class, making it easier, on one level, for working-class homosexual men. Meanwhile public spaces, such as bath houses or cafeterias became important meeting places for gay men, this was both a reflection of the inability to interact in private homes and the urban leisure industry which benefited from attracting gay men to their businesses. The backlash and crackdowns against homosexual balls that began in the 1930s served to segregate gay men and create the concept of the closet.
Questions: What are the origins of the gay movement of the 20th century? How did the rise of consumerism foster an expressive gay culture?
Quotes: "Indeed, the gay life of many men was so full and wide-ranging that by the 1930s they used another–but more expansive–spatial metaphor to describe it: not the gay closet, but the gay world.” (7) “So long as they maintained a masculine demeanor and played (or claimed to play) only the ‘masculine,’ or insertive, role in the sexual encounter–so long that is, as they eschewed the style of the fairy, and did not allow their bodies to be sexually penetrated–neither they, the fairies, nor the working-class public considered them to be queer.” (66) “The fairy and the queer, not the medical profession, forced middle-class men to consider the possibility of a sexual element in their relations with other men.” (125)
Conversations: Canaday, The Straight State; Leach, Land of Desire, McGruder, Race and Real Estate
+ 1995, Charles Reagan Wilson, Judgement and Grace in Dixie
In Brief: Wilson explores the central place of religion in southern culture in the 20th century, as one of the primary forces to perpetuate southern distinctiveness. Among the disruptions of modernization, religion provided a basis in tradition even though the resulting products could lead to strange entanglements between say football and christianity. While the Lost Cause once formed the basis of the South’s civil religion, efforts to memorialize the Confederacy now stand in conflict with remembrance of the civil rights movement. On one level it is religion that serves as a unifying theme within what is otherwise a divided and conflicted region, and evidence for this goes beyond the endless number of evangelical churches but in its customs and culture.
Questions:What explains the omnipresence of religious symbols in daily life in the South? How has religion united and divided the South?
Quotes: "If these characteristics have been the key ones in suggesting the nature of the southern religious culture, then its racial caste and social class aspects are revealing of the conflicts within that culture and yet of religion’s role in unifying society in spite of its divisions.” (11) “It showed the interrelatedness of education, sports, and religion.” (39) “The South has been more evangelical than fundamentalist, and these visionary artists affirm that fact.” (82) “The Bible was the book in the South, the good book, connected in the memories of Southerners with home, family, mothers, idealistic values, occupying a place of extraordinary authority in the regional culture.” (115)
Conversations: Woodward, The Burden of Southern History; Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt; Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture
+ 1996, Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit
In Brief: Well before the decline of productivity and lower cost imports of industrial goods from Germany and Japan, Detroit was already in decline as industry fled with many white residents to the suburbs beginning in the heady economic times of the 1940s and 1950s, not just the 1960s. This earlier time frame also creates a different political narrative with much earlier signs of conservatism among the white working class, one in which white Detroiters were both Democrats and segregationists. Even as African Americans continued to move to Detroit, the number of jobs declined with new technology and moves to cheaper labor markets outside the city, while segregation kept black people out of the best-paying jobs. Working-class African Americans and working-class whites found themselves in conflict around the boundaries of segregated neighborhoods and a deteriorating and crowded housing supply. In part the acrimony was fueled by realtors and federal redlining policies that devalued neighborhoods with black residents. Unlike middle-class whites who could simply move to the suburbs, the working-class whites faced fewer options for mobility at the same time that they had a much higher proportion of their savings tied up in their homes–and they viewed integration as a threat to their communities and livelihoods. It was their frustration with these local conflicts that led working-class whites to vote for George Wallace even as they embraced other aspects of liberalism that did not conflict with their “rights.”
Questions: What is the relative influence of deindustrialization and discrimination in the urban crisis? What were the fault lines of post-war liberalism?
Quotes: “The 1949 election revealed the conflicts between the politics of home and the politics of workplace, a conflict exacerbated by racial tensions in rapidly changing neighborhoods.” (84) “Decentralization was an effective means for employers to control increasing labor costs and weaken powerful trade unions.” (128) “But those who were trapped in poor-paying jobs and thrown out of work by deindustrialization remained confined in the decaying inner city neighborhoods that had long housed the bulk of Detroit’s black population.” (188) “The violent clashes between whites and blacks that marred the city were political acts, the consequence of perceptions of homeownership, community, gender, and race deeply held by white Detroiters.” (233)
Conversations: Self, American Babylon; Lassiter, Silent Majority; Connolly, Jim Crow Real Estate
+ 1996, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920
In Brief: Gilmore begins by focusing on the tragic destruction of the black middle class in North Carolina in the 1890s and the vision of hope that middle-class African American women held for their world during a period of lynchings and increasing segregation. Unlike white women, black women attended coeducational colleges that provided them with a classical education: only later does white supremacy change that and industrial education removes those opportunities. While not anti-racist, interracial movements like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were a model of cooperation until black men were disenfranchised and the group moved towards white supremacy, indeed white women were key to shoring it up. Following the 1898 Wilmington race riot, black men were pushed out of the party, leaving it to women to remain in the political world. Gilmore shows how black women used their activism and an identity as clients rather than voters to gain a foothold in the Progressive Era. In the fight for suffrage there is also unity, and anti-suffragists did make explicit racist arguments; whereas many suffragists claimed that race was not at play. Ultimately the election of 1920 has more black men voting than in a long time, though the numbers were still low. The other result of gaining the women’s vote is that violence is largely removed from electoral politics.
Questions: How did middle-class black women contest Jim Crow? How did the women’s suffrage movement relate to the disenfranchisement of African American voters?
Quotes: “Her feminism was not just a response to patriarchy but a response to racial oppression as well.” (20) “Thus, black women temperance activists worried not just about the pernicious effects of alcohol on the family but also about the progress of the entire race, and temperance activities bolstered African Americans’ contested claims to full membership in the polity.”(49) “The answer is that whites intended for it to be, and it would have been even more racist, more exclusive, and more oppressive it there had been no black women progressives.” (149)
Conversations: C. Vann Woodward, The Origins of the New South; Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me; Ayers, The Promise of the New South; Woodruff, American Congo
+ 1997, Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture of Central Texas
In Brief: Foley focuses on the period from 1900 to 1940 when the small cotton farmers of central Texas, whether Mexican, black, or white, experienced a rapid decline in the opportunities, especially landownership, to escape poverty and tenancy. In addition to the high credit costs in place since the Civil War, tenant and sharecropping families faced dropping cotton prices and increasing land prices, that were driven in part by the rise of corporate neo-plantations that relied on wage labor and tractors. The status of white male tenants underwent a particularly steep decline in which their permanent poverty led to middle class white people not only labelling them as white trash, but as racialized, and also feminized because of their inability to resist exploitation and gain independence. Foley highlights several moments when racism impeded class solidarity, such as the Texas Socialists, though white tenants did manage to cooperate with Mexicans. New Deal policies only served to consolidate these losses for tenants and gains for large farms that put their government capital to work buying tractors and relying on Mexican wage laborers.
Questions: How did the consolidation of cotton culture affect racial and gender identities? Why did tractors become so prevalent in Texas before the rest of the South?
Quotes: "In using the title of Davis’s novel for this book, I suggest that the scourge of the South and the nation was not cotton or poor whites but whiteness itself–whiteness not simply as the pinnacle of ethnoracial status but as the complex social and economic matrix wherein racial power and privilege were shared, not always equally, by those who were able to construct identities as Anglo-Saxons, Nordics, Caucasians, or simply whites.” (7) “As whites slipped from share tenants to the racially marked status of sharecroppers, they came perilously close to being racially marked themselves.” (39) “Growers, on the other hand, regarded mechanization as a powerful tool in controlling workers’ wages.” (135)
Conversations: Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Ellis; Johnson, A Revolution in Texas
+ 1997, Lawrence B. Glickman, A Living Wage: American Workers and the Making of Consumer Society
In Brief: Glickman examines the rise of and workers’ acceptance of better-compensated wage labor in the late 19th century following a long history in which Americans defined freedom through independent production rather than wage slavery. Workers took the lead in calling for higher, living wages that would allow them to achieve economic and political freedom primarily as consumers rather than producers. Instead of viewing this as a retreat into the department store, this was a class-conscious, political, and ideological shift led by the workers and organizers themselves, whose demands led to real improvements in their daily lives and as consumers gained power in the wage market. Progressive Era reforms and New Deal legislation around working and living conditions was thus often generated from the bottom-up by this working-class consumerist ideology.
Questions: Can consumerism empower the working class? Why did the working-class turn away from a producerist ideology?
Quotes: “Unlike the producerist schema, which insisted that anything less than exact equivalence was inherently unfair, the consumerist idea of just reward implied, at least theoretically, that workers under the wage system could be free and fairly renumerated.” (26) “Living wage proponents directed their wrath not against the selling of labor but against the unfairness of the sale.” (73) “The consumerist turn that developed with the living wage discourse continued to gain popularity and flourished in the 1930s as never before.” (132) “For living wage advocates, high wages and organized consumption were the very basis of consumption in the republic of wage earners.” (156)
Conversations: Leach, The Land of Desire; MacLean, Freedom is Not Enough; Lichtenstein, Retail Revolution
+ 1998, Ronald L. Lewis; Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920
In Brief: The deforestation of West Virginia happened with great speed from 1880 to 1920, and railroads provided the catalyst, not simply as machines connecting the countryside to wider markets, but also through the financial and political power that came with them. By 1880 Appalachia was no pre-capitalist society, extensive logging, especially along streams, already existed, and its intensification into industrial logging was welcomed by the more developed parts of the state that were already integrated into national markets. Landownership patterns, with much of the land held by absentee-speculators, formed a foundation for increasing inequality and an ethic of timber-mining. At the same time that deforestation destroyed streams, sources of subsistence, and the open-range, farmers in the backcountry faced competition from afar thanks to the spread of railroads even as the local jobs and markets provided by the timber industry disappeared as quickly as they arrived. Timber tycoon politicians and pro-industry judges helped proponents of the timber industry to gain the upper hand in the conflicts over resource use during this time.
Questions: Why was the modernization of West Virginia so economically and socially devastating? How did deforestation happen so rapidly in West Virginia?
Quotes: "The railroad network constructed during this period of transition, however, opened those resources for advanced capitalist development and transferred control of the economy from local farmers to local elites and then to distant investors.” (44) “Hence West Virginia regulations and laws provided a generous delegation of power to private decision makers, but the official machinery for enforcing the regulations governing corporate franchises in the public’s interest was dramatic in its absence.” (107) “They moved to the mill towns to get the cash that would allow them to retain their old ways, but the new cash economy trapped them into a dependency that dragged the family ever deeper into debt in their struggle to survive.” (161)
Conversations: Klubock, La Frontera; Allen, East Texas Lumber Workers; Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Ayers, The Promise; Leach, Butterfly People
+ 1998, Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age
In Brief: Americans used to go abroad in search of ideas and Daniel Rodgers follows what he calls the marginalized American intellectuals on their search for solutions on the other side of the Atlantic. Europeans and Americans faced common problems related to industrialization and the growth of markets. Reformers learned about everything from electrical grid ownership to zoning to social insurance, throughout northern Europe, but largely from Germany. Americans’ transatlantic crossings peaked during the Progressive Era and in turn the United States took the lead with reform during New Deal even as the ideas were sometimes much older, bringing many Europeans to the states in the reverse process of solution seeking. With the end of WWII, Americans lived in very different material circumstances compared with Europe, and few Americans went abroad in search of solutions anymore, leading to a growing insularity and sense of exceptionalism as their experts spread across the globe to show people the American way.
Questions: Why did Americans stop searching for solutions outside the United States? How did European ideas influence the Progressive Era?
Quotes: “On both sides of the Atlantic, the outlines of this world, its modal landscapes and its key sources of discontent and conflict, were increasingly recognizable.” (51) “The Atlantic crossing, in short, remade zoning.” (186) “During their three years on the sidelines of the war, the Americans had followed the mistakes and difficulties of British labor policy particularly closely.” (285) “Postwar Americans found themselves suddenly in the world, but politically they were not of it.” (488)
Conversations: Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled; Katznelson, Fear Itself; Platt, Shock Cities; De Grazia, Irresistible Empire
+ 2000, Ted Steinberg, Acts of God:The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America
In Brief: Steinberg shows how the United States has created and managed its own disasters, even as many Americans attribute these disasters to nature and God alone, not only because of religious roots, but greedy politicians, developers, and the media itself. Examples such as the history of flood insurance reveal how individuals were conscious of the risks created by policies that encouraged floodplain development which have now become embedded as landscapes of hazard. Meanwhile poor people were ravaged by the free market, government, and nature in their flimsy mobile homes found in the floodplain at the same time that the rich and powerful are given handouts for their second homes that are paid for by the rich and poor alike; in both cases only nature is blamed and no lessons are learned.
Questions: What are the legal and social origins of disasters in the United States? Why do people blame nature or God for human-caused problems?
Quotes: “Worse still, by recruiting an angry God or chaotic nature to their cause, those in power have been able to rationalize the economic choices that help to explain why the poor and people of color–who have largely borne the brunt of these disasters–tend to wind up in harm’s way.” (xxii) “The industry’s concern with affordability of mobile homes is simply a way of legitimizing a particular political economy of risk, rationalizing, in the process, why the poor pay so dearly for wind-induced disasters.” (95) “Nobody gave much thought to how chronic staffing shortages themselves were at the root of the natural disaster problem, and yet ample evidence exists that such human factors played a major role in contributing to the disasters of the 1970s and 1980s.” (172)
Conversations:Worster, Dust Bowl; Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside; Schwartz, Sea of Storms
+ 2000, Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy
In Brief: Dudziak examines the Cold War as a major factor in the Civil Rights Movement. In a global battle for the hearts and minds of the many neutral countries, African and Asian nations in particular, the United States government tried to present itself as a better place that left its racism and Jim Crow in the past. Despite its best efforts at relying on propaganda alone and in suppressing the international travel of civil rights activists, the federal government, along with many other citizens recognized the need for real change in order claim a moral superiority. Civil rights activists recognized the power of speaking to the world and successfully channeled the power of the federal government to achieve significant change. Yet this Cold War perspective also served to limit some of the more substantial, structural changes because of a focus on image over substance, in which racist groups were presented as exceptions to the American norm, while structural changes were considered too drastic and in conflict with its capitalist values. These issues also played out on the ground in the United States: the discrimination experienced by African diplomats commuting between DC and the UN had global diplomatic and political consequences.
Questions: How did the Cold War both enable and limit the Civil Rights Movement? How did discrimination in the United States affect Cold War diplomacy?
Quotes: "The Trud story was one example of an increasing tendency of the Soviet Union to exploit American racial problems.” (38) “Measured, at least, by the degree and pace of integration, it may be that Cooper succeeded more in maintaining democracy’s image than in actually desegregating the schools.” (151) “America could be seen as good, even as American racism was abhorrent.” (241)
Conversations: Von Eschen, Satchmo Blows up the World; Ngai, Impossible Subjects; Woodruff, American Congo
+ 2002, Melissa Walker, All We Knew Was to Farm: Rural Women in the Upcountry South, 1919-1941
In Brief: Walker writes of East Tennessee and the important role that women played in providing for their families and some of the ways that they felt increasingly marginalized in the process of modernization. With much higher farm ownership rates than most of the South, many upcountry farmers relied on their farms for self-sufficiency and a community-oriented bartering economy that was eventually subsumed by industry and industrial farming. Sometimes the government was directly responsible for pushing families off the land; the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), for example, flooded out thousands of farms in the name of electricity and progress. Farmers with sufficient capital could resettle on new farms, but poorer farmers did not have that option. They had to leave the land, and in town women’s work became increasingly devalued and forgotten. Just as the division between men and women’s work hardened during this time, Walker argues, so too did class divisions become highlighted. In the rural upcountry, neighbors, regardless of their relative prosperity, worked together during difficult times to help each other in contrast to the class consciousness that developed in towns and factories.
Questions: How did women’s roles change during modernization in the South? How did understandings of community obligation change in the shift to towns?
Quotes: "Nonetheless, the fact that black men usually earned far less than white men in comparable jobs often pushed black women into the labor market.” (24) “In counties with little industrial development, families’ lack of dependence on wage work translated to a lower rate of relief applications.” (36) “Although nearly half of rural families had become dependent on wage labor for at least part of their income, most of the country’s population still lived on the land.” (183)
Conversations:Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds; Holt, Making Freedom Pay
+ 2003, Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race, Power, and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland
In Brief: Self looks at the ways that suburbanization actually was not so much white flight as city building that excluded black people in the greater Oakland area from 1945-1980. At the same time that urban renewal destroyed many black neighborhoods, taxation policies drained resources from the neediest inner cities which was only exacerbated by industry’s flight to outlying areas. Indeed given the regional problems, propositions about property taxes were more important than the Civil Rights Act of 1965, even as the race-neutral language of property taxes was in fact a backlash against black rights. Learning from the Bay area’s radical intellectuals, the Black Panther Party emerged in response to these neighborhood conflicts, seeing their work in line with anti-colonial groups across the world who sought self-determination and local control.
Questions: What are the local origins of the Black Panther Party? How were issues of race and class disguised as issues of rights?
Quotes: “This powerlessness left black Oaklanders vulnerable in the long term to high rents, declining property values, deteriorating housing stock, overcrowding, and redevelopment.” (81) “In truth, cities like Oakland were neither dead nor dying, and proclamations of such in this era were more than tinged with white privilege and remove and an underlying antilock reading of urban America.” (176) “Black power and community empowerment grew up together as concepts in this period as challenges to local political elites and the federal and municipal bureaucracies that controlled civic resources.” (219)
Conversations: Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier; Connolly, Jim Crow Real Estate
+ 2003, Benjamin Heber Johnson, Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans into Americans
In Brief: In the years following the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution many Texans feared that the conflict would spill across its border. Many Mexicans fled the revolution, but from 1915-1917 the Anglos of South Texas saw themselves as undersiege because of the Plan de San Diego which called for an uprising against the Anglos. Several Anglos were killed and the response, led by the Texas Rangers, was the widespread killings (likely thousands) of Tejanos, some murders were random while others served individual purposes, especially the ongoing usurpation of Tejanos landholders. While the state covered up the Rangers’ misdeeds and segregation and dispossession continued, Johnson argues that this event also served to unite the Tejano community and for them to claim their voting rights as citizens of the United States.
Questions:What was the impact of the Mexican Revolution on Tejano rights in Texas? How did Anglo-Texans justify extra-legal violence?
Quotes: “Conspicuously absent from the convention was any mention of how American institutions or politics might offer assistance, or at least be used as tools in the struggle to protect Texas-Mexicans.” (53) “If those clearly recognized as Americans–including those whose whiteness and native-born status were beyond question–were so vulnerable, then what could ethnic Mexicans hope for from the U.S. government?” (154) “The uprising and its impact on the founders of LULAC may have been a critical chapter in the history of Mexican Americans, but early in the twentieth century they were a tiny minority of the nation’s population.” (207)
Conversations: Carrigan, The Making of a Lynching Culture; Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Ellis; Alonzo, Tejano Legacy; Foley, The White Scourge
+ 2003, Erika Lee, At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943
In Brief: If Ellis Island represented the gateway to the United States then Angel Island was the reverse, a place where immigration officials worked to exclude Chinese immigrants following the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Through exclusion the government linked and hardened concepts of race and citizenship, while stigmatizing the remaining Chinese residents in the United States. It was through Chinese immigration that the concept of illegal immigration originated, and the vicious cycle of vulnerability and enforcement that such a label promoted. Chinese immigrants found many ways to overcome restrictions however, such as through the exemption for Chinese merchants, but their success also served to continually intensify the state’s gatekeeping efforts.
Questions: How did exclusion shape ideas of race and citizenship in the United States? Where did the idea of illegal immigration come from?
Quotes: "Because the legal, political, and cultural understandings of Chinese immigrants as permanent foreigners had long been established, nativists’ direct connections between Chinese and Mexicans played a crucial role in racializing Mexicans as foreign.” (33) “Both European and Asian immigrants quickly learned that they could buy steamship tickets for Canada and then attempt a border crossing into the United States.” (170) “The conflation of all Chinese–whether they were legal, illegal, or native-born citizens–as alien threats was reflected both in government policy and in the actions of officials, employers, and the general American public.” (242-3)
Conversations: Smith, Freedom’s Frontier; Ngai, Impossible Subjects; West, The Last Indian War
+ 2003, Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Delta
In Brief: In the first fifty years of the twentieth century African Americans living in the Delta found themselves in constant conflict with the planters who controlled nearly every facet of life and depended on cheap labor. Planters represented the Delta on the national level and controlled the implementation of federal policies like the draft or the AAA on the local level, while progressivism served to further strengthen planter power. While the draft in WWI gave planters more power they also had to negotiate with their workers as many moved in search of higher-paying work, and returning black soldiers sought to gain the rights they had fought for abroad. Activists consciously connected their efforts to the wider anti-colonial struggles throughout the world. When workers organized in Elaine Arkansas in 1919 the result was a massacre that left hundreds of African Americans dead and a government cover-up that the wider African American community saw through if not the majority of national newspapers. Even as conflict remained a constant there was a growing sense of accountability whether through the African American press or in the courts that had taken hold by WWII: in the 1950s and beyond the Civil Rights Movement would rest in part on these earlier, organized battles for justice.
Questions: In what ways was the Delta a colonial empire? What are the grassroots origins of the Civil Rights Movement?
Quotes: “Emboldened by a war that intended to make the world safe for democracy, African Americans returned to Delta towns and villages to demand with their families citizenship and justice.” (74) “Craig ruled his alluvial empire as a separate colony within the broader polity known as the State of Arkansas, drawing few distinctions between the power of the state, civil society, and his own personal power.” (110) “The wartime freedom struggle in the Delta, then, did not occur within a national or global vacuum.” (192)
Conversations: Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom; Kelley, Hammer and Hoe; Duziak, Cold War Civil Rights; Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me
+ 2004, Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America
In Brief: Ngai explores the relationship between race, legal status, citizenship, and the United States as a nation, beginning with the restrictive immigration legislation of the 1920s. These restrictions led to the concept of illegal alien as a racialized term that served to make even naturalized Mexican-Americans subject to suspicion and deportation, not to mention the internment of Japanese-Americans in WWII. At the same time that Asian farm workers were excluded, the United States looked to Mexico as a source of cheap labor while simultaneously creating a border patrol that worked to harden the line between Mexico and the United States. The bracero program served the interests of agri-business while denying rights to the workers themselves. Immigration and exclusion was also closely tied to empire building, although the legal immigration of its Filipino subjects led Congress to end its colonial experiment in order to try and reduce the immigration of non-whites to the United States.
Questions: What is the connection between illegal immigration and nationalism? How did immigration control contribute to the formation of the state?
Quotes: “Thus the invention of national origins was not only an ideological project; it was also one of state building.” (36) “The contradiction between sovereignty and individual rights was resolved only to the extent that the power of administrative discretion made narrow exceptions of the sovereign rule.” (90) “Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1898 that Chinese born in the United Staes were citizens, the premises of exclusion–the alleged racial unassimilability of Chinese–powerfully influenced Americans’ perceptions of Chinese Americans as permanent foreigners.” (202)
Conversations: Lee, At America’s Gate; Johnson, Revolution in Texas; Kramer, The Blood of Government
+ 2005, Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
In Brief: Wow. Shows the fragility of the first postwar decade through the hardships of daily life, the fear of another war, and the need for the Marshall plan. Following their humiliation in WWII the French are painted in a particularly negative light with their obstructionism, agricultural subsidies, and bloody colonial wars that only serve to portray them as more impotent. The Soviets on the other hand are not necessarily portrayed positively given their actions in Budapest or Prague, but much of the Cold War, from its beginning to its end comes across as haphazard and contingent, in such a way that the United States and West Germany find benefits from the Berlin Wall as much as the Soviets. The strengths of the European Union’s predecessors, not only its common market, but its unification of Germany and France help to explain why its inefficiencies could be overlooked for so long at the same time that its expansion took on an air of inevitability. And then there is the issue of history itself, as each nation selectively remembered and purposely forgot much of their recent past in an attempt to move past ideological conflict and any sense of guilt.
Questions: This is after Judt published, but perhaps: Why Brexit??
Quotes: “Fox-like, Europe knows many things.” (7)
Conversations: Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes; De Grazia, Irresistible Empire
+ 2005, Margaret Garb, City of American Dreams: A History of Home Ownership and Housing Reform in Chicago, 1871-1919
In Brief: The suburbs are not simply the product of a pastoral ideal, but in fact newer forms of property and of course all the issues of industrialization are what shaped the suburbs. Homes, once viewed as useful and productive space for families and the wider community, were commodified into investments that signaled a moral and well-off household. In the process property values gained in importance and became linked to homogenous neighborhoods that separated people on the basis of class and race. Working-class Chicagoans, whether white, black, or immigrants lost access to affordable housing as construction, infrastructure, and zoning laws expanded to accommodate the needs of middle-class homeowners. At the same time it became harder for the working-class to use their homes to increase their earnings. Progressive reformers and real estate boosters worked in tandem to present the single-family home as a safe, moral, and financially prudent investment.
Questions: How did single-family homeownership became the ideal for middle-class Americans? What is the connection between the rise of consumerism and homeownership?
Quotes: “The vocal commitment of foreign-born Chicagoans to home ownership stood in sharp contrast to the general indifference of their more affluent, and usually native-born neighbors.” (18) “Prompted by concerns about public health in general, the construction of sewer and water systems ultimately redefined property rights in terms of those who had the authority to demand or reject–and many poorer home owners fought the installation of sewer and water lines on their blocks–those public services.” (91) “Since white land speculators owned most of the buildings occupied by African-Americans, black tenants and civil activists could not deploy property rights claims to demand infrastructure improvements.” (105)
Conversations: McGruder, Race and Real Estate; Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis; Glickman, A Living Wage; Connolly, A World More Concrete
+ 2005, Mary Ting Li Lui, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-Century New York City
In Brief: Lui uses the 1909 investigation into the murder of a white woman, Sigel, and the primary suspect in her murder, Ling, a Chinese immigrant, to explore the creation and fragility of racial and social boundaries in New York City. City newspapers emphasized that Sigel’s voluntary romantic relationship with Ling helped to explain her murder, and the result were attempts to limit such interracial relationships, which had been quite common. The case worked against the independence of white women, but it also brought new restrictions for Chinese men. While Chinatown had long been a diverse place and most Chinese immigrants lived outside of Chinatown, many moved to Chinatown in the face of increasing oppression. Thus, Chinatown was not simply created out of any desire to stick together, rather it was a response to a loss of options for living and working in other parts of the city.
Questions: Why were all Chinese in New York City automatically linked with Chinatown? How did ethnic neighborhoods form?
Quotes: “Despite the fact that the victim and chief suspects neither lived nor worked in Chinatown and that the murder itself did not occur in Chinatown, the press and police nonetheless connected the murder to this part of the city.” (17) “The guidebook made clear that Doyers Street served as the main site of illegal activities occurring within Chinatown, because the street’s bends and folds made perfect hiding places for the quarter’s tong wars and vice activities.” (40) “Leon Ling’s chameleon-like powers dovetailed into popular radicalized views of the Chinese as physically homogenous and undistinguishable to whites, conditioning the public’s acceptance of mass arrests of Chinese men as necessary for their capture.” (176)
Conversations: McGruder, Race and Real Estate; Ngai, Impossible Subjects, Foley, The White Scourge
+ 2005, Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
In Brief: This history makes a political intervention to show how white Americans disproportionally benefitted from government welfare and economic programs from the New Deal and beyond. While some parts were race-specific like military segregation, other programs like social security, which originally excluded positions like farm-workers, were intentionally race-specific despite the claim of color-blindness. A fraction of the massive outlays that the federal government spent on the GI Bill went to African Americans, serving to create a white middle class while helping far fewer non-whites. The effect was a widening gap in which black people may have made gains, but not nearly as much as what white people gained. The fact that most federal outlays happened on a local level only served to further discrimination and limit access to these funds. In light of this history, affirmative action is nothing new, only the beneficiaries would change.
Questions: How was federal spending a form of affirmative action in the twentieth-century? How did local control shape the distribution of federal funds?
Quotes: "By not including the occupations in which African Americans worked, and by organizing racist patterns of administration, New Deal Policies for Social Security, social welfare, and labor market programs restricted black prospects while providing positive economic reinforcement for the great majority of white citizens.” (29) “At no other time in American history have so much money and so many resources been put at the service of the generation completing education, entering the workforce, and forming families.” (143) “Such high-mindedness is too abstract and too removed from the country’s historical record.” (155)
Conversations: MacLean, Freedom is Not Enough; Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis
+ 2005, Victoria de Grazia, Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance Through Twentieth Century Europe
In Brief: De Grazia explores the rise of American consumerism in Europe, though its hegemony was solidified in the years between the end of World War II and the 1960s, much of its base had been laid much earlier in the twentieth century. Rotary clubs, for example, spread throughout Europe in the first decades, succeeding in part because of the American vision of service capitalism, but also because they accommodated themselves to local mores and hierarchies. The empire De Grazia describes is always flexible to a point, and also elusive, presented not as an imposition but as a natural choice that Europeans made. Initially, with people like Woodrow Wilson and well into the Cold War through projects such as the Marshall Plan, the US government actively promoted the American lifestyle and their consumer goods. The Nazis are seen as a challenge to American consumption, ordering many of its victims to consume less and less so its chosen citizens could consume more. The communists meanwhile were increasingly forced to embrace consumerism as well once it took hold in adjacent western countries. One of the results of American consumerism was a leveling of society in which the old elites had more difficulty in distinguishing themselves, but citizens of all backgrounds both feared and desired the depoliticizing force of consumerism in the postwar years. De Grazia also suggests that the common market came into being as much by the desires of American capitalists as it did because of Franco-German needs. As this American empire accommodated itself in a sort of dialogue with European society, it became a global force, such that Europe is as likely to have its own consumer-good multinationals as Americans and has taken on a rationale that is no longer distinctly American.
Questions: How did American consumerism spread throughout Europe in the 20th century? How did citizens react to the depoliticizing effect of consumerism?
Quotes: “So new goods flooded onto the market and businesses in search of customers knocked off cheaper models, the sumptuary lines between classes became more and more porous.” (100) “The competition was Gone with the Wind (1939), which Goebbels had viewed in private after the German navy had procured a print, but which had been barred from release although Margaret Mitchell’s novel had sold the most copies of any book in Nazi Germany after Hitler’s Mein Kampf.” (331) “By the 1960s the working class could be expected to share the same basic equipment as the bourgeoisie.” (445)
Conversations: Judt, Postwar; Glickman, Living Wage; Leach, Land of Desire; Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic
+ 2006, Nancy MacLean, Freedom is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace
In Brief: MacLean focuses on the implementation of labor laws and the workplace as a key part of the Civil Rights Movement. Seeing fairly compensated work as a part of citizenship, African Americans challenged employment discrimination. They were not always successful as Reagan gutted enforcement agency budgets or as construction unions attempted to use race-neutral language to justify racist discrimination. Conservatives shifted from open alliances with southern segregationists to claims of color-blindness and that nothing more needed to be done. Unions also figure in this narrative and MacLean notes how unionization could be a barrier to workplace integration. Especially with a declining industrial economy in the 1970s, white workers felt threatened by any anti-discrimination measure. Critics latched onto any problem associated with affirmative action, drawing attention to the concept of quotas while ignoring the history that it was supposed to overcome, and recruiting new conservatives that had once been on the left. Yet in the process, new opportunities were opened up for other groups that faced legal barriers to employment such as women, and for all groups, the gains, no matter how small and hard-fought, rested on the resources and enforcement power of the federal government.
Questions: What conditions allowed people to succeed in fighting employment discrimination? How did claims of color-blindness impede efforts to fight discrimination?
Quotes: “The burden of history on the present put blacks at a continuing disadvantage.” (55) “Justice proved indivisible: settling one problem yielded the resources to name and face others.” (147) “They insisted that race-conscious methods to achieve the goal of equality of results, in contrast, were a recent deviation that could only bring trouble.” (203) “The battle over higher education thus tutored the right in what had eluded its standard-bearers throughout the glory years of the civil rights movement: a morally and politically legitimate language for continued racial and gender exclusion.” (224)
Conversations: Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White; Lichtenstein, Retail Revolution; Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights
+ 2006, Matt D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South
In Brief: Lassiter argues that historians of the Civil Rights Movement and the busing crises have focused too heavily on massive resistance and then the southern strategy, missing a slightly more moderate and much more insidious response that prevented significant integration. This grassroots movement was rooted in the growing, or rather sprawling, suburbs of the South in places like Atlanta and Charlotte. These areas depended on significant federal subsidies like the home-loans and interstate highway construction that simultaneously served to remove resources from inner-city neighborhoods. However most of the people living in these suburbs only considered their own efforts to live in these nicer neighborhoods, and they opposed busing on color-blind grounds even as their neighborhoods were highly segregated on the basis of race and class. Increasingly such residents saw their entitlements under threat and their political affiliations mirrored those of suburban Detroiters rather than southern segregationists. While never wholly successfully, busing did have more success where all neighborhoods, not just the working-class ones, were required to do their share of busing as in Charlotte.
Questions:Why is there so much de facto segregation when it has been legally outlawed? What were the impediments to busing?
Quotes: "Seeking to revitalize the collapsed middle ground, white moderates in the metropolitan South devised a new class-based desegregation blueprint that discredited the reactionary politics of massive resistance by evading the civil rights vision of good-faith integration.” (18) “And while the debilitating patterns of spatial fragmentation throughout metropolitan Atlanta continue to reflect the long history of rival and class inequality, they do no represent a simple product of white flight from the central city, but instead a suburban synthesis of the gospel of growth and the ethos of individualism at the heart of the middle-class American Dream.” (118) “Instead of a Republican surge, the pivotal election cycle of 1970 sabotaged the centrist GOP tradition in regional politics and paved the way for the ascendance of a group of ‘New South Democrats’ who championed legal compliance and color-blind progress.” (249)
Conversations: Kruse, White Flight; Dochuk, From Bible to Sunbelt; Self, American Babylon
+ 2006, Paul A. Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines
In Brief: Kramer explores the connection between race and power in the United States’ imperial engagement with the Philippines, which makes the United States’ actions appear in line with the other imperial powers of the time. Race was used to justify the presence of the US military and its misdeeds; a rationalization used on both a diplomatic level and among the troops themselves whose experience in using race as justification for violence at home was put to use in the jungle. However Kramer also claims that ideas about race and racism were transformed in the Philippines and then reexported back to the United States. Furthermore as Filipinos emigrated to the United States this changed meanings of both race and imperialism, and led for calls from nativists for the federal government to grant Filipinos independence in order to limit Asian immigration to the United States.
Questions:What was the role of race in the United States’ imperial ambitions? How was the idea of race transformed in the Philippines?
Quotes: “For better or worse–Du Bois was hopeful–imperial history had annexed the world to the ’Negro problem’ and vice versa.” (14) “This racialization of guerrilla war raised the central question of whether Filipinos, in waging a savage war, were owed the restraints that defined civilized war.” (90) “This ‘lively hatred’ was not, however, a projection or an export, but a new racial formation developing on the ground.” (127) “It had been molded in the crucible if revolution and war: the term ‘Filipino’ had been imagined from ‘within’ for purposes of seeking reform and independence from Spain and from ‘without’ by both Spanish and U.S. invaders who cast the islands’ population as a united enemy.” (434)
Conversations: Rosen, Terror in the Heart; Williams, They Left Great Marks; Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights; Ngai, Impossible Subjects
+ 2007, Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism
In Brief: While Wilson may have been more focused on peace and supporting US interests at the Paris Peace Conference following the end of WWI, his comments on self-determination had far-reaching consequences. Manela admits that anti-colonial nationalism existed before WWI, but after supporting the colonial powers in WWI, many colonial subjects saw an opportunity for independence. They seized upon Wilson’s rhetoric taking him, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, to actually mean what he said. Yet the wave and then suppression of anti-colonial movements across the globe in 1919 revealed that Wilson was far more eager to stand behind Great Britain than support his single statement on self-determination with any affirmation. Brutal clampdowns by the colonial powers further increased the disillusionment with Wilson’s false claims. At the same time anti-colonial activists recognized that once released into the debates, they could still use such language to their advantage and for their claims to join the international community, but in the meantime many turned to Leninism as a more supportive path to independence.
Questions: How did anti-colonial activists use internationalism to their advantage? Why did anti-colonial activists take Wilson seriously?
Quotes: “Like Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, and Koreans, as well as many others, Trotter enlisted Wilsonian language on self-determination for purposes far different and more radical than Wilson himself had intended.” (34) “Internationalization threatened to reverse the gains the British had made in legitimating their rule in India since the eighteenth century.” (79) “They had envisioned the coming of a new era of self-determination and equality in international relations, and though their faith in Wilson crumbled when he failed to apply his principles to China, the experience left its mark.” (216)
Conversations: Woodruff, American Congo; Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings
+ 2008, Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War
In Brief: By examining the deeper context in which everything is tied to coal and vice versa–extending all the way back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the planet–Andrews claims that the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado’s coal-mining country resulted from far more than the disagreements between unions and tycoons. In Andrews' history, the formation of coal, the daily work habits, and even the miners' mules influenced the events that followed. Even during peaceful times, mine bosses were regularly met with insubordination: this was the miner's place and they created their own protective rules. Readers learn much about the operation of these work environments, including the constant dangers that miners faced. Such dangers created a common experience; given the great diversity of the miners and their multiple prejudices, they needed more than a union card in order to unite and fight back. Andrews contrasts the stark landscape of 19th century Colorado with the tropical productivity of its marshes during the Cretaceous period: the dead and decomposing material from that time created the coal seams that powered Colorado's boom. The growth of cities like Denver depended not only on new technologies like railroads, but on the coal that powered its factories and streetlights. Coal's costs were unequally distributed, with poorer people most likely to burn dirtier, more polluting grades of coal. Nonetheless, every person was impacted by the use of coal from the heat in their homes to the production of their food, not to mention the coal-powered ships that brought over the many immigrants working in the mines.
Questions: Why did such a diverse group of coal miners unite in armed resistance? How did coal shape the development and growth of the West?
Quotes: “As for the coal miners, they knew full well that their labor made this world go round.” (85) “The close, often violent relationships drivers forged with mules shaped the nature of labor for thousands of underground workers.” (135) "Like the coal dust that blackened white and brown skins alike, workscape dangers held the power to overcome race, ethnicity, and other distinctions." (172) “By making home, community, and electoral politics the key battlefields in the struggle for control of the coalfields, companies unwittingly transformed disputes rooted in subterranean workspaces into an all-out struggle in which the very meaning and fate of America seems to hang in the balance.” (231)
Conversations: Cohen, Making a New Deal; Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre; Mitchell, Carbon Democracy
+ 2008, Christopher Capozolla, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen
In Brief: While political violence had long been a part of the nation’s history, WWI represented a turning point in which Americans chose state power over their local organizations. Woodrow Wilson relied on voluntary organizations in the mobilization effort, but increasingly the state stepped into decide what constituted seditious language. While fearful of the state and its expansion via the draft or in labor conflicts, the voluntarism that was brutally enforced by mobs was anything but voluntary, and many citizens fixated on the state as the only force capable of protecting their rights. As the state came to be the sole enforcer of laws, voluntary organizations that used force came to be seen as vigilantes. On the surface what was at stake was loyalty to the nation, but what emerged was a diminishing sense of obligation to local voluntary associations and a new belief in the state as their legitimate defender. This new faith in the state in turn gave it more power to engage in its own bureaucratic and law-based coercion of those who opposed the war-effort and its other goals.
Questions: How did citizens come to accept state coercion? What made Americans change their minds about mob violence?
Quotes: "But in a culture of obligation, ambivalence about rights abounded, and wartime discussion focused as often on their limits as on their defense.” (14) "The attack on mobs and vigilantism gave new energies to civil libertarians; wartime events that made political violence possible and visible also undermined the legitimacy of that violence.” (119) "Increasingly they did so, not so much in relation to each other but in relation to a newly powerful state.” (147) "The marketplace of ideas sounded like a broadly inclusive vision, but its participants were limited to America's responsible citizens. “ (166)
Conversations:Chauncey, Gay New York; Carrigan, The Making of a Lynching Culture; Cohen, Making a New Deal
+ 2009, Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
In Brief: Canaday credits the parallel rise of "the state" and scientific ideas about homosexuality in creating the gay/straight binary and the closet itself, which emerged from the Progressive Era and fully developed by the 1970s. These developments also lead to a new definition of citizenship that included heterosexuality as one of it criteria. Canaday focuses on three areas of federal policy and bureaucracy: immigration, the military, and welfare. While the Civilian Conservation Corps did not discuss sexuality in the Great Depression, by World War II the military actively discharged soldiers it suspected of homosexuality. After the war the GI Bill’s generous benefits were denied to homosexuals and provided a strong incentive to hide their sexuality from public view. Meanwhile as women joined the military and worked their way up they faced increasing surveillance and suspicion for choosing work over marriage. Immigration policies explicitly denied homosexuals entry into the United States beginning in 1952 further drawing a line around heterosexual citizenship.
Questions: How did citizenship come to be defined as applying only to heterosexuals? What was the result of the overlap between an expanding state and new definitions of homosexuality?
Quotes: “It would no longer be homosexual behavior alone that the army and navy penalized, but homosexual people.” (87) “The World War II policy on homosexuality thus provided not only for formal exclusion, in other words, but also for a degraded kind of inclusion in citizenship.” (142) “It drove deeper the wedge separating homosexuality and citizenship by enabling military and VA officials to pretend that homosexual soldiers had not defended their country, and that they could not meet the obligations of good citizens.” (170) “In contrast to the other cases examined, there was no administrative lag in the regulation of female homosexuality; rather, widespread awareness and concern coincided with an immediate regulatory response.” (213)
Conversations: Chauncey, Gay New York; Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled; Sparrow, Warfare State
+ 2009, Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise
In Brief: Moreton focuses on the cultural homogeneity and cultural contradictions of Wal-Mart and its most loyal customers; showing how it was no accident that Wal-Mart came from such a quiet, rural region. Moreton worries that the neoliberal world of Wal-Mart is replacing citizenship with more fractured loyalties, in essence a reversal of the process that Capozolla describes in Uncle Sam Wants You. For Moreton this world was created both by Wal-Mart and the state. For example, federal faith subsidies sustain the religious and political infrastructure that supplies the company with its white-collar employees. Moreton highlights Wal-Mart’s helpful role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and sees a disturbing logic in the lessons that many people learned from Wal-Mart’s success. In contrast to Wal-Mart, FEMA and other government agencies utterly failed to help the people most in need. Many believed that corporations and churches should have replaced FEMA altogether. Yet the hollowing out of neighborhoods like the lower ninth ward or FEMA itself was partly a result of a free-market ideology preached and funded by Wal-Mart.
Questions: How did Wal-Mart use the economic insecurity of the working-class to its benefit? How did Wal-Mart’s rural origins allow it to expand?
Quotes: “One common denominator that the descriptions often unintentionally illuminated was the heavy public supports that attracted Wal-Mart to town.” (38) “The road from America’s last agricultural periphery to the offices of the Sun Belt service economy ran increasingly through the vocational business departments that served as the primary destination of a booming new college population.” (172) “The postwar service sector that eclipsed the old industrial economy was built on New Deal infrastructure.” (269)
Conversations: Dochuk, From Bible to Sunbelt; Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution; Cappozola, Uncle Sam Wants You; Maclean, Freedom is Not Enough
+ 2009, Nelson Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business
In Brief: Deindustrialization and the rise of the service sector and low wage work have eviscerated much of the American middle class while also sharpening an ideological and political divide. In The Retail Revolution, Nelson Lichtenstein places Wal-Mart at the center of this story. The values, politics, and especially the business practices of Wal-Mart, Lichtenstein argues, built a world in which productivity is achieved at any cost and New Deal values are abhorred. Sam Walton discovered many of his techniques from the other discounters that emerged in the postwar years, but it was Wal-Mart that perfected the idea of logistics, reducing both capital costs and vendors’ leverage over retailers. Costs were wrung out of every step of the process, but Lichtenstein is most interested in Wal-Mart’s declining labor costs. Laws like the Taft-Hartley Act provided a foundation for Wal-Mart’s fight against labor. Even with the weakening of labor laws, Wal-Mart learned that it could further flout them with impunity. The fact that Reagan starved enforcement agencies did not hurt either. Wal-Mart’s technological innovations were often a conservative and conscious response to the demands of labor, as in the instance of the gas system that was developed in order to precut meat and remove the skilled and union prone butchers from its stores. Female “associates” were underpaid and even the men who were promoted to management were overworked. Walton himself led a relatively simple and stable homelife, but the mythologizing of Walton as an everyman billionaire served to create a false ideal. For an increasing number of Wal-Mart employees their low pay and erratic working hours made such stability, financial or social, impossible. The initial source of Wal-Mart’s cheap labor came from the former farm workers of the Ozarks. In this region farms failed at an outstanding rate in the twenty years following World War II, further impoverishing an already poor place. Beginning in the 1970s Wal-Mart benefited from a more conservative political environment. With low property taxes municipalities were starved for funds and fought bitter battles for the sales-tax dollars that a Wal-Mart Supercenter could provide.
Questions:How did Wal-Mart transform consumer and labor practices? How did Wal-Mart benefit both from government spending and retrenchment?
Quotes: “But his retailing genius arose out of a capacity to turn to his advantage the isolation, poverty, and hostility to Yankee commercial ways that had long characterized the small towns and county seats where he would site his first generation of discount stores.” (13) “Many of Wal-Mart’s rural customers–part of its core consumer base–actually benefited from the burst of 1970s inflation as land and farm commodity prices rose rapidly.” (43) “Walton’s success was also connected to the rightward shift in politics, social policy, and culture.” (338)
Conversations: Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; MacLean, Freedom is Not Enough; Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart; Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis; McGirr, Suburban Warriors
+ 2009, Tisa Wenger, We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom
In Brief: Wenger explores how the Pueblo Indians claimed religious freedom for their dances and rituals in the 1920s following a long era of forced assimilation and a denial of ceremonial life for all Native Americans. In part their success relied on new allies, who unlike the Christian missionaries, valued and often romanticized Indian dance ceremonies. Yet Pueblo Indians’ newfound protections for their dance rituals also came at a cost. Such a tradition did not fit neatly into the category of religion given the ways it was embedded in their wider culture and community. Furthermore it allowed other members of the Pueblos to excuse themselves from the dance rituals on the grounds of religious freedom, undermining the communitarian emphasis. In the end these categories and rights were claimed rather than imposed, but such adaptation obscured and sometimes worked against important differences.
Questions: How did the label of religion transform the lives of Pueblo Indians? What is religion?
Quotes: “In some ways, modernist ways of defining ‘religion’ and the ‘primitive’ contributed to the cultural barriers that would prevent Indians from defending land and sovereignty on religious freedom grounds.” (9) “In this way, efforts to ensure parity between Catholics and Protestants excluded Native American traditions from what counted as ‘religion’ in the Indian schools.” (58) “These changes in Pueblo governance and ceremonial life must be understood as one step in a much longer process of cultural adaptation to outside rule.” (230)
Conversations:Ostler, Sioux Plains Colonialism; Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse; Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature
+ 2010, Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies
In Brief: Stein claims that the United States sold out its national industries in favor of Cold War policies that let other countries dump their protected and subsidized goods in their home market. Though started earlier, the free trade policies began to have a real impact on the economy in the 1970s that went beyond the effect of rising oil prices. Given his uncertainty about economic policy, Carter’s actions, such as his support for finance, were no less harmful than Reagan. While German and Japanese industries worked in tandem with their governments on issues of labor, economics, and trade, the United States government had no coherent policy to encourage investment or protection of key industries. Meanwhile the financialization of America that Carter unleashed, led to skyrocketing inequality at the same time that Keynesianism became increasingly suspect even among Democrats unsure about how to deal with rising inflation.
Questions: Why did the 1970s serve as a launching pad for rising inequality in America? What explains the decline of American manufacturing?
Quotes:“Nixon was for tax reform, not reduction, because like most Republicans, as well as Democrats, he believed that the government had important functions.” (25) “Ironically, the fledgling U.S. environmental movement encouraged oil use.” (77) “In most cases, regulation was a matter of interests and politics, not ideology.” (124) “But the inflation rate in 1947 hit 14.4 percent without transforming monetary policy, so this cannot be the complete answer.” (226)
Conversations: Cowie, Stayin Alive; Jacobs, Panic at the Pump; Hyman, Borrow
+ 2010, Karl Hagstrom Miller, Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow
In Brief: During the development of a music industry from the 1880s to the 1920s, Miller argues that music became segregated, whereas earlier musicians and audiences had not made such distinctions. In part this process paralleled and was influenced by the rise of the Jim Crow South, but two other major factors influenced this separation. First the concept of folklore emerged during this time in which folk and their music were not so much discovered as invented. Folklorists relied on differences and unique qualities to assert their claims, and these academic adventurers expressed great disappointment when it turned out that any of the hillbilly songs they had recorded were in fact widespread and popular songs. Meanwhile mass production and the transnational growth of record corporations encouraged market segmentation, resulting in the race records of the 1920s. The southern culture marketed by the record companies was crafted as much in NYC as in the backroads of the South. The rigid authenticity that folklorists sought ended up serving as a marketing tool while limiting black musicians to playing the blues and rural whites to country music when they had once played a much wider range of music that did not privilege a color line.
Questions: Why did musical categories become segregated? How did mass markets limit artists’ repertoires?
Quotes: “Indeed, reviews largely collapsed the distinctions between minstrelsy and folklore, on the one hand, and between the antebellum slave and the contemporary black southerner, on the other.” (101) “He insisted that his black identity was important, yet he did not claim to embody musical authenticity as much as discover it and package it for outsider consumption.” (149) “Finally, local music was produced by corporate globalization.” (185)
Conversations: Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow; Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; Cohen, Making a New Deal
+ 2010, Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class
In Brief: Cowie explores the end of the working class and the changing political landscape of the 1970s, revealing how these shifts went beyond the economic and industrial decline of this era. In the 1972 election Nixon coopted many members of the working-class by emphasizing culture over material issues. Cowie explains why many workers did not view unions favorably. As the younger generation sought reform, older union members sought to retain power and only fought for wage increases, especially once the economy started faltering. Many unionists did in fact oppose the Vietnam War, but they also hated many of the anti-war protestors who came from privileged backgrounds, while their own children were forced to fight, and politicians like Nixon capitalized on such sentiments. Cowie uses Bruce Springsteen to highlight the alienation and souring mood of the working-class at the same time that politicians of all stripes tried to claim Springsteen as their own.
Questions: How did the working-class cease to be viable political identity? How does Bruce Springsteen explain the history of the working class?
Quotes: “This was particularly problematic as we shall see, as the changes in politics continued to pry loose white male workers’ economic identity and drive them toward a more conservative cultural identity?” (72) “As graceless as Nixon’s ideas and plans might have been, he did attempt to fill a void in the nation’s discussion of working people by drafting a powerful emotional pageantry around blue-collar resentments.” (165) “Replacing the skinny greaser-poet of his earlier tours, Bruce Springsteen had become a superhero version of himself, his new pumped-up body accentuated by exaggerated layers of denim and leather, his swollen biceps working his guitar like a jackhammer.” (357)
Conversations: Lassiter, Silent Majority; Stein, Pivotal Decade; Maclean, Freedom is not Enough; Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis
+ 2010, Frank Andre Guridy, Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow
In Brief: Guridy studies how communities were connected and new communities created around an African Diaspora in the United States and Cuba, beginning with the emergence of American Imperialism in 1898 and ending in 1961 when both Washington and Castro demanded different identities and loyalties. Guridy shows that imperialism and internationalism were not one way streets, with ideas influencing and flowing in both directions. These linkages empowered protests against Jim Crow and American Empire, indeed Guridy’s subjects used imperial structures to their own advantage. However as certain forms of racism declined, so too did the connections that sustained these communities. While both African Americans and Afro-Cubans could share common experiences of oppression, they gained strength not only in seeing themselves as part of larger community, but also in lessons about language and culture that gave them new tools of expression and resistance. Guridy focuses on those relatively privileged individuals, like Langston Hughes, who travelled between Cuba and the United States and publicized, consciously or not, their interpretations of the culture of the African diaspora.
Questions: How was a community centered around the African Diaspora actually created? How did empire foster and limit the African Diaspora?
Quotes: “With the growth of tourism in the 1910s and 1920s, United Fruit and other steamship companies transported not only bananas and sugar, but also tourists between U.S. and Caribbean ports.” (7-8) "To publicize Negro artists and writers at home or abroad was to invariably stake larger claims about the state of cultural production in the African diaspora as a whole.” (108) "Scottsboro helped promote the emergence of a new, radicalized Afrodiasporic intelligentsia, not just in the United States, but also in Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean.” (145)
Conversations: Renda, Taking Haiti; Pérez, On Becoming Cuban; Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Ellis
+ 2011, Marsha Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country
In Brief: With degradation of the rangeland from overgrazing, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) set about trying to reduce the number of sheep and goats that the Navajos owned in the 1930s. The effort was a failure, breaking up livelihoods and cultural foundations without fixing the land. The Navajos and New Deal experts talked past one another, claiming that so many sheep were not the problem or placing too much faith in science alone. A disproportionate burden fell on the women whose voices were ignored by both the BIA and the tribal council even though they both owned and had experience with sheep and the land. Had the BIA attended to the cultural meanings the Navajo placed on sheep they might have had more success and while the Navajo were wrong to conclude that too many sheep was not part of the problem, the BIA’s arrogant imposition of its own solution made it impossible for the Navajo to listen as well. While better communication may not have led to a perfect cultural and ecological solution, it certainly would have caused a lot less harm.
Questions: Why was the Navajo stock reduction program such a complete failure? How could government bureaucrats have better understood a complex reality?
Quotes: “On the contrary, they narrated stories about the land that seemed to them the most plausible, in light of the evidence that they found most persuasive (much as historians do).” (33) “The effect of livestock on this brittle environment was cumulative and dynamic.” (141) “This purely economic picture of pastoralism ignored the myriad ways in which livestock intertwined with nearly every aspect of Diné culture.” (231)
Conversations: Melville, A Plague of Sheep; Giesen, Boll Weevil Blues; Sutter, Let Us Praise Famous Gullies
+ 2011, Duncan Maysilles, Ducktown Smoke: The Fight over One of the South’s Greatest Environmental Disasters
In Brief: At any scale copper smelting can be destructive, however as production in the copper mines of southeast Tennessee intensified in the late 19th century it created a full-on environmental disaster, turning farms and forests into deserts thanks to the sulfur dioxide. While the mines had once been a profitable market for local farmers that was impossible if their animals and plants died and they began to file nuisance lawsuits against the copper corporations. By 1907 bigger smoke stacks had further expanded the area of devastation, much of which lay within Georgia, leading the state to file its own suit against the copper companies on behalf of its farmers and also notably its large timber interests. In its Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Company decision, the Supreme Court agreed that Georgia had a right to protect its citizens from interstate pollution. The decision encouraged the copper companies to implement their plans to capture the sulfur dioxide, a technological solution that proved profitable since the sulfuric acid could be used to make fertilizer, and on occasion the companies also dialed back production when the remaining sulfur dioxide caused problems for the remaining farmers. Echoes of the case remain, both in states’ ability to regulate pollution and the emphasis on technological solutions.
Questions: How did people try to balance economic growth and pollution control? How have legal responses shaped pollution control?
Quotes: “The farmers who remained lamented the loss of the market for the grain, vegetables, and fruit they formerly sold to the mining community.” (37) “They then tied the property damage to the state’s direct interest by alleging that smoke-damaged lands lost value, which in turn caused a reduction of property taxes that had already reduced the state’s revenue in the district ‘more than one-half.’” (111) “The trouble for the Supreme Court was that the opposing voices tended to cancel each other out.” (159)
Conversations:Summers, Consuming Nature; Judd and Beach, Natural States; Steinberg, Nature Incorporated
+ 2011, James C. Giesen, Boll Weevil Blues
In Brief: While the boll weevil undoubtedly munched on a lot of cotton, the insect alone cannot explain the collapse of cotton cultivation in many regions of the South. Myths and fear of the weevil, widespread in southern popular culture, led many marginal farmers to flee before the weevil had spread to their county. Likewise government programs were preemptively set in motion and changed people’s relationships with the land. The weevil also served to further concentrate economic and political power. As planters used government resources to their advantage they gained further control over their workforce while lessening competition from those farmers who lacked the capital and clout to control the weevil.
Questions: Why has the boll weevil been credited with such a far-reaching transformation in southern agriculture and life? How did the myth of the boll weevil transform the South?
Quotes: “Men and women passed on their weevil myths in political speeches, private letters, songs, family tales, and conversations on street corners in order to bend the future of the rural South toward their own visions of economic and social destruction and salvation.” (xii) “The company had engineered a cotton variety that could limit the pest’s damage, and it marketed the seed to take advantage of southern growers’ fear of the pest.” (84) “As the boll weevil monument continued to keep watch over downtown Enterprise, the meaning of the pest’s myth became less about fear of its wrath and more about the excuse that it offered.” (128)
Conversations: Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Sutter, Let Us Praise Famous Gullies; Showers, Imperial Gullies
+ 2011, James T. Sparrow, Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government
In Brief: Sparrow looks at both social and state history to understand how the large security state, which emerged at the conclusion of World War II, achieved legitimacy. Roosevelt has to do more than declare war to justify the expansion and intrusion of the government into citizens’ everyday lives. While only a relatively small proportion of the population served in the military, government officials successfully convinced every American that they too were contributing to the war effort whether through taxation or industrial production. It was not state propagandists alone, but rather neighbors and friends who encouraged people to buy bonds and accept a more powerful state as necessary to victory. In turn, people expected more from the state, and their demands on the state, such as for federal anti-discrimination laws led to conflicts along the way.
Questions: How did we authorize the federal government to do so much? In what ways did non-federal employees become an extension of the state?
Quotes: “As the purposes of government shifted from welfare to warfare, the foundations for its legitimacy shifted as well.” (21) “For most Americans, and within much wartime propaganda, liberal self-interest was not a substitute for national obligation, but rather had to be articulated within it, deferring to the thickening logic of patriotism.” (53) “The ambivalent mixture of longing and affection for a lost civilian identity and resentment of bearing most of the burden of wartime sacrifice had powerful effects on servicemen’s identity.” (203)
Conversations: Katznelson, Fear Itself; Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You; Canaday, The Straight State
+ 2011, Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture
In Brief: This is Rodgers’ attempt to theorize the recent past from the oil crisis of the 1970s to September 11 and to understand what he sees as general process of fracture away from a unified society. These changes can be witnessed on both the left and right, whether it is the language of free markers or the obfuscation exemplified by the Foucault mania of the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed Rodgers presents two forms of fracture, one in which the right promotes an individualism that is fueled above all by a simplicity grounded in economic theory, at the same time that there is rising confusion on the left. Thus from both directions, coherent connections and clear structures are dismantled with no concept of society to replace them.
Questions: Why was Freakonomics a bestseller? How did Americans come to question the meaning of every word?
Quotes: “What changed, across a multitude of fronts, were the ideas and metaphors capable of holding in focus the aggregate aspects of human life as opposed to its smaller, fluid, individual ones.” (6) “But for all Coase’s subsequent resistance to simple readings of his work, the concept of the social goods he introduced into the law was powerfully simple.” (58) “For conservative intellectuals fearful of the strange interpretive languages coming out of the humanities departments, worried about challenges to the Great Books canon from women writers and writers of color, nostalgic for remembered seminar talk of the nature of ‘man’ and the meanings of the good life, Bloom’s erudite defense of the idea of timeless things that were true by nature struck an extremely powerful chord.” (175) “What society conjured up now was something smaller, more voluntaristic, fractured, easier to exit, and more guarded from others.” (220)
Conversations: Livingston, The World Turned Inside Out; Stein, Pivotal Decade, Cowie, Stayin Alive
+ 2012, Louis Hyman, Borrow the American Way of Debt
In Brief: Hyman traces the evolution of credit in the twentieth century United States, from the emergence of consumer credit in the 1920s, to the evolution of revolving credit in the postwar years, and finally the financialization of credit in the 1970s. He argues that the loose expansion of consumer credit has not only allowed people to live beyond their means, but it has deprived businesses of investment capital. By the 1990s no one was denied a credit card and financial firms specialized in profiting and organizing such debt into marketable batches that could be resold to investors. Following the stagnation of the 1970s and new legislation that favored finance, corporations increasingly focused on marketing credit rather than producing goods. Consumers meanwhile were faced with rising inflation and low-wage growth, that forced them to rely on their homes as the basis for their consumption. Credit became the only way to make money for the lucky few, while everyone depended on credit to buy things.
Questions: How did changes in credit contribute to the ongoing shift from production to consumption? How does the expansion of credit explain American inequality?
Quotes: “As farmers' children moved to the cities around the end of the century, they brought their ideas of what debt meant: it was dangerous, illicit, and immoral.” (28) “In the competitive retail environment of postwar America, shoppers flocked to the stores that offered them this affordable and flexible form of credit.” (106) “Consumer finance became a source of profit itself, not a means to profit from production.” (144)
Conversations: Leach, Land of Desire; Stein, Pivotal Decade; Lichtenstein, Retail Revolution
+ 2013, Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
In Brief: In the New Deal Era, which for Katznelson extends from the Great Depression into the Eisenhower presidency, democracy itself was threatened by the economic crisis and the proliferation of dictatorships. These fears served to create a series of flawed compromises that empowered interest groups rather than seeking long-term cooperative solutions. Katznelson argues that given the power they held both in terms of their numbers and seniority, Southern Democrats ensured that almost all New Deal legislation fit within or even reinforced Jim Crow, making the New Deal much less radical than it otherwise would have been. Above all, these congressman feared labor legislation, realizing the Wagner Act was a mistake which they corrected with Taft-Hartley Act, though their influence can also be seen in other areas like the exclusions in the Social Security Act. Despite these flaws Southern congressmen did steer the country away from more totalitarian alternatives even as they used fears of the Soviets and nuclear weapons to push forward the massive security state we recognize today.
Questions: How did fear contribute to the building of the modern state? Who capitalized on the fears of the New Deal era?
Quotes: “Liberal democracy prospered as a result of an accommodation with racial humiliation and its system of lawful exclusion and principled terror.” (25) “The dictatorships professed to solve these various problems better than the democracies.” (53) “Fear became permanent.” (349) “An equation that correlated economic growth with military spending had taken hold in the South, and defense spending came to supplant in many ways the region’s prior agricultural dependency.” (427)
Conversations: Judt, Postwar; Schulman, From Cottonbelt; Cohen, Making a New Deal
+ 2013, Adrienne Monteith Petty, Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina Since the Civil War
In Brief: Petty focuses on one section of southeast North Carolina to make a larger claim about small farmers and agriculture in the South. Despite all of the forces working against small-scale farmers focused on their own subsistence, such as commercialization and consolidation, government programs like the AAA, and new, capital-intensive technologies, some of these farmers have survived all the way to the present. In order to understand both their challenges and their survival it is important to study small farmers as group rather than the way they are generally studied as poor white farmers, or black farmers, or Native American farmers. There were differences to be sure: white farmers typically received some of the aid that the government had not directed to the planters and black farmers faced additional burdens such as finding the part-time work that allowed many small farmers to persist. Furthermore racism served as frequent barrier for this group to unite around their common interests, a fact which served to limit all small farmers’ demands for a more equitable market or distribution of government support. The shared agrarian values, the desire for self-sufficiency and independence, served to keep a shrinking but still vital group of small farmers on the land.
Questions: How did small farmers persist in the face of government-supported capitalist agriculture? How did racism effect small farmers?
Quotes: "Closing the range had reduced the number of livestock that farmers could keep, increased the amount of work required to keep them, and forced more farmers to buy food.” (69) "Like New Deal agricultural programs, the GI loan program was administered on the local level, allowing local committees to steer aid to more prosperous farmers.” (139) "For many of them, it was a paradox that, even though the civil rights movement and affirmative action were improving black peoples’ prospects in other endeavors, they were finding it increasingly difficult to farm.” (192)
Conversations: Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost; Walker, All We Knew Was to Farm; Giesen, Boll Weevil Blues
+ 2013, Bernadette Pruitt, The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston 1900-1941
In Brief: Pruitt shows how African American migration within the South, from the countryside to the cities, in this case from rural East Texas and Louisiana to Houston, has shaped the history of the South or the Civil Rights Movement as much as the better known migration from the South to northern cities. African Americans came to Houston fleeing poverty and racist violence in search of better employment opportunities and generally less contingent lives. They built communities that united people across class lines and formed organizations that allowed many migrants and their children to lead the way in gaining rights and economic independence. Their success was also tied to Houston’s economy and its wartime industries and growing oil complexes. Discrimination closed off almost all of the better-paying jobs in these industries, but nonetheless offered regular paychecks that offered stability and money to contribute to community organizations or to buy a copy of the Houston Informer whose coverage extended beyond the black community in Houston to report on the ongoing issues that African Americans faced in East Texas. Likewise, though imperfect, city schools were a great improvement compared with the country schools and led many of its graduates to successful careers in business and public service.
Questions: How did African Americans improve their lives by moving to Houston? How did migration to Houston contribute to the Civil Rights Movement?
Quotes: "Personal contacts also encouraged farmers to abandon their traditional ways for improved opportunities in Houston.” (42) “Like recent migrants, older, established residents in the city had ties to the surrounding countryside and therefore welcomed newcomers into their neighborhoods.” (65) “Racial segregation in the workplace made it possible for African Americans to dominate certain arduous, most but not exclusively bottom-rung and semiskilled jobs such as baseline dock work, adding an aura of solidarity within the African American community that often crossed lines of stringent demarcation–class, education, ethnicity, religions, culture, and skin tone.” (223)
Conversations: Hunter, To Joy’ My Freedom; Broussard, Black San Francisco; Arneson, Waterfront Workers
+ 2013, Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters
In Brief: Brown wants her American readers to reconsider who their real enemies were in the Cold War. She suggests that the Cold War started not because of an aggressive Soviet Union, or the inevitable momentum of an arms race and miscommunication, but because of an unappreciative United States and an opportunistic military-industrial complex. By comparing Richland and Ozersk, the government-run communities designed to keep nuclear workers and their families happy and quiet in the United States and the Soviet Union, Brown reveals surprises like cat-loving teen rebels in the Soviet Union and sometimes extreme conformity in the United States. Both areas exposed many residents to shocking levels of radiation and both residents in turn faced a common foe whether it was in the guise of the secret police of the NKVD or General Electric. However former residents also looked back on their time with nostalgia, appreciating the stability, mild prosperity, and connections they formed despite the loss of freedom that living in such communities entailed. Each site remains heavily contaminated, though the number of people who have been seriously sickened in Ozersk dwarfs those in the United States.
Questions:Why did the disasters of Ozersk and Hanford occur, especially over such a sustained period? What is the common ground of consumerism and state control in the United States and the Soviet Union?
Quotes: "It is counterintuitive that Beria, head of the notoriously secretive NKVD, would turn to the open society of the United States for security models.” (101) “Imagine such spaces of working-class wrath in the halls of a reactor or radio-chemical plant burned with highly radioactive waste.” (136) “As consumption came to define American freedom, Richland and its poorer neighboring towns exemplified the inequities, spatial exclusions, and hierarchies of postwar America.” (148)
Conversations: Kotkin, Magnetic Mountain; Josephson, Industrialized Nature; Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic; Katznelson, Fear Itself
+ 2014, Andrew Needham, Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest
In Brief: Andrew Neeedham argues that construction of the electrical grids facilitated the creation of the Southwest as a cohesive, growth-oriented region in the postwar decades that is also a profoundly unequal landscape in which political and economic power has funneled resources and development away from its Navajo hinterland. Public and private electricity at first fought over the construction of this grid before allying in their recognition that it would only encourage greater growth and consumption. While some Navajo initially welcomed the coal mining and power plants they gained few benefits and suffered the costs of pollution. This was in stark contrast to the blue-skies of Phoenix itself where thanks to the transmission lines the ever-growing number of Sunbelt migrants slept soundly with the hum of their air-conditioners, unaware of the costs of energy production. Boosters funneled federal capital and regulations to their benefit and achieved a level of growth that made protesting such inequality all the more difficult.
Questions: How did electrical transmission transform the political economy of the Southwest? Why have the costs of creating electricity been hidden for most of its consumers?
Quotes: "The Southwest, then, was not merely a regional description but a form of organizing space politically, a means toward claiming resources and contesting their proper distribution.” (15) “By then, the center of Phoenix’s landscape of mass consumption would exist in residential neighborhoods that were almost entirely white, isolated from the neighborhoods of black and Mexican American Phoenicians, and powered by distant power plants on Indian land.” (57) “Finally, that infrastructure fixed these politics in space–in legal spaces as signed contracts and in material form on Southwest’s landscape–as coal mines, power plants, and power lines began to mark the Colorado Plateau.” (125)
Conversations: Jones, Routes of Power; Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside; Mitchell, Carbon Democracy
+ 2014, N. D. B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida
In Brief: Connolly indicts a wide range of actors responsible for building and perpetuating the landscape of Jim Crow in the neighborhoods of Miami. Unlike cities such as Detroit, Miami grew throughout the twentieth century, but much of this growth was financed by the very inequality it produced. Urban renewal and housing projects that razed neighborhoods or put an interstate highway through them extended and locked in existing inequalities in space with the help of federal funding and financing. Miami’s quest to become a tourist destination also contributed to isolating black neighborhoods and all these actions created a reinforcing cycle that contributed to the idea that African American residents hurt property values. Black and white landlords, however, saw great value in black tenants, using segregation as an excuse to offer substandard housing at usurious rates. While black landlords gained wealth and used their standing to advance civil rights, these same leaders were inherently conservative in their faith in property rights and their investment in Jim Crow neighborhoods. Thus a class divide within the African American community served to further undermine the potential for achieving justice.
Questions:Why are segregated neighborhoods so widespread in the United States? Who profits from segregation?
Quotes:"Real estate mattered to the life and death of black political movements because it was property owners who mostly set the agendas for formal civil rights protest.” (11) "Second, expanding land powers, including zoning and eminent domain, promised to give white people fresh instruments for reasserting their perceived social and racial supremacy.” (43) "But such power was only possible because of the racial structure of rental capitalism and the role played by landlords and property managers.” (165)
Conversations: McGruder, Race and Real Estate; Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis; Self, American Babylon
+ 2015, Kevin McGruder, Race and Real Estate: Conflict and Cooperation in Harlem, 1890-1920
In Brief: McGruder shows how the rise of black Harlem from 1890 to 1920 is a story of development and opportunity rather than the competing narrative of decay and conflict. Following the construction of the subway in 1904, African American renters faced increasing pressure from many white landlords to move out, these landlords believed that they could extract higher rents from white renters, and other white homeowners tried to deploy restrictive covenants to prevent black owners on their blocks. Nonetheless African Americans came to Harlem in increasing numbers from both other parts of Manhattan and as part of the Great Migration. Many white business owners, especially the middle-class German-American community, supported African Americans moving to Harlem, suffering from less racism and also seeing the potential for profit, a lesson that almost all of the apartment owners learned over time. The success of the churches and other black property owners in Harlem was built on another counterintuitive trend, as they were pushed out of lower Manhattan the rising land values made it possible for them to buy even larger pieces of real estate in Harlem, including whole apartment buildings that set off a boom for black real estate agents. As the community developed it laid the groundwork for both the Harlem Renaissance and gains in local politics as its residents became a voting block grounded in political and church organizations that voiced their demands for justice.
Questions: Why are there so many false narratives about race and changing neighborhoods? In what ways is the creation of the neighborhood of Harlem a story of cooperation rather than conflict?
Quotes: "The result was the creation of a uniform commodity of land that could be considered for purchase when the appropriate conditions arose.” (16) "A distinction from these earlier settlements, to which blacks gained entry as they declined, was that the Harlem district was relatively new.” (38) "However, the arrival of the subway created the potential for the investors to extract dramatically more income from the properties, and transformed the desirable black renters into undesirable troublemakers who needed to be evicted.” (57) "The growth in Harlem’s black population did not go unnoticed by Republicans.” (160)
Conversations:Connolly, A World More Concrete; Garb, City of American Dreams; Lui, Chinatown Trunk Mystery
+ 2016, Meg Jacobs, Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s
In Brief: Oil really created a lot of political problems and possibilities during the 1970s, but despite this opportunity to act, the conflict between producers and consumers left no one satisfied and generated few useful solutions. Ultimately this panic played into the rise of the right, or rather the death of liberalism, as voters witnessed the failure of regulation and political compromise many came to believe in the ideology of the free market or the need for military intervention. Nixon’s experience regulating prices in World War II led to his hatred of regulation, but it was Carter who contributed to the rightward turn and fought other members of his party to deregulate oil prices. Truckers felt the soaring oil prices more than anyone, yet their violent strikes only made the problem worse, and their politics shifted depending on their needs.
Questions: Why were no productive solutions to the energy crisis implemented? How did Americans lose their faith in government?
Quotes:“In a single blow, these Arab acts against the United States and its allies signaled a substantial shift in international political power to the Third World.” (54) “Carter’s centrist agenda satisfied few in Congress and did not generate much enthusiasm from the public.” (206) “The largest single tax passed on a single industry, this historic measure hardly signaled a victory for liberalism.” (258)
Conversations: Stein, Pivotal DecadeI; Mitchell, Carbon Democracy; Cowie, Stayin’ Alive; Lassiter, Silent Majority
+ 2016, Karl Jacoby, The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave who Became a Mexican Millionaire
In Brief: Jacoby follows the life of William Ellis who was born into slavery in Texas a year before the end of slavery. Ellis used the fictions of both the color line and the border line to his advantage; he passed as a Mexican millionaire in New York City while in Mexico City he presented himself as an American capitalist ready to finance projects under the Diaz regime. The realities of racism and capitalism meant that Ellis constantly faced indignities, life-threatening situations, and bankruptcy, but they also allowed him to capitalize on greed or to prevent most people from second-guessing any of the identities that he chose for himself. Ellis's failed attempt to bring black sharecroppers from the American South to Mexico as colonists to work on haciendas farming cotton in the 1890s, illuminates many aspects of both nations’ history such as the rise of Jim Crow pushing people out or the need for labor on the haciendas still reeling from Comanche raids.
Questions: What are the connections between the color line and the border line? How did Ellis use American imperialism to his advantage?
Quotes: "For all the issues distinguishing the two conflicts–the role of the Catholic Church in Mexico, the existence of slavery in the United States–they were linked by shared tensions over the meaning of citizenship and the question of how to create a national government that struck the appropriate balance between federal and local power.” (30) “But such upward mobility was far more accessible to a bilingual, border-crossing entrepreneur than to sharecroppers unfamiliar with Mexico or the Spanish language.” (118) “And despite her own background as the daughter of a former slave, Vicky helped solidify a notion of mestizaje that continued the marginalization of Afro-Mexicans.” (192)
Conversations: Foley, White Scourge; Hale, Making Whiteness; Guridy, Forging Diaspora
+ 2016, Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America
In Brief: The War on Crime began during the War on Poverty with laws like the 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Act bringing the federal government and its money into state and local policing and prison systems. Yet while policy makers quickly gave up on the War on Poverty, the War on Crime only gained momentum, using the War on Poverty’s expansions of state power to achieve its goals. Rather than ending poverty to fight crime, it became all about simply fighting crime as the urban riots of the 1960s fueled fears of disorder. The War on Crime not only assumed black criminality, but actively created it as federal grants encouraged entrapment. Or like the movie Minority Report, except in real life and with all kinds of faulty assumptions, they targeted individuals and assumed their guilt even before any crime had been committed. Nixon used fears about crime in his campaign and actively planned for the rise of mass incarceration by encouraging prison construction. Many of the programs seemed to actually encourage crime, while harsher prison terms did nothing to discourage offenders, but the results have been terrible for American democracy and the families directly affected by it, even as funding for anti-poverty measures shriveled.
Questions: What is the relationship between the War on Crime and the War on Poverty? Why did politicians double-down on the War on Crime despite its failures?
Quotes: “Statistical discourses rationalized the expansion of the American prison system, sustained harsh sentencing practices, informed decisions surrounding capital punishment, and endorsed racial profiling in general.” (19) “A federal employment drive to create jobs for black men never materialized, but the Johnson administration did, effectively, support a job creation program for police departments with nearly all-white forces.” (94) “By the time STRESS was disbanded in 1974, it had become emblematic of the ways in which plainclothes patrol and decoy operations were used by law enforcement officials to anticipate crime and, in some measure, to encourage it.” (192)
Conversations: Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Cowie, Stayin’ Alive