In the past, women have not often been the focus of historical studies. The following books shed light on their role in past struggles and events.
The first work is by Rebecca Traister and is titled, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Women in the United States are waiting longer to get married today. But the phenomenon of “single ladies” traces its history back to at least the 19th century, where the history of single women was intertwined with struggles such as temperance and abolition. It’s worth looking at this history to understand demographic changes today.
The second book is Cokie Roberts’s Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868, released in 2015. After a war, women have often gained more independence throughout modern history because of their important role on the home front during the conflict. From Southern women leaving Washington, D.C. at the outbreak of the Civil War to the flood of Northern women coming to the capital to help out with the war effort, Roberts examines the changing place of American women during these tumultuous years.
Finally, we have The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney, which was published in 2014. This is the story of ancient Egypt’s longest-ruling female pharaoh, who cross-dressed the part of a king. Cooney looks at the political power plays that helped Hatshepsut rise to power (and stay there) and seeks to solve the mystery of why those that followed her sought to erase her from public memory.
Today let’s look at a small selection of upcoming new history titles from the University of North Carolina Press (UNC Press). Again, these are works that struck my curiosity from their catalog rather than books I have already read.
First up is The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century by Jon Grinspan. This one is interesting because we are in an election season, and young people of my generation don’t vote (but they should! though I am sometimes guilty of this myself) as often as their elders. I never would have thought that this was not the general trend in earlier times.
The next original work is The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina by Sean M. Kelley. The events described in the book took place in the mid-1700s and explores an overlooked segment of African-American history: the first-generation slaves brought to the American continents.
Finally, for anyone interested in podcasts and the new upsurge in popularity of talk radio, this work by Jeff Porter could be a worthwhile read: Lost Sound: The Forgotten Art of Radio Storytelling. Today’s great podcasts have their roots in the shows of storytellers who honed this craft on the airwaves when radio first became widespread in the early 20th century. This is their story!
Thanks for “tuning in” to these new blog posts. I will continue to look at new history works from other university presses as well as from popular publishers in the days to come.
Today I’m going to briefly look at a selection of the Fall 2015 offerings related to history published by my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There are three books that particularly caught my eye. Two of them are related to African-American Studies and the third is about colonialism.
The first, called A Mysterious Life and Calling by Crystal J. Lucky, is an autobiography of a female ex-slave who later became a minister and civic leader during and after the Reconstruction era. This memoir–the first of its kind since most female slaves were forbidden from learning to read and write–was also discovered very recently buried away in a dusty archive. This is always exciting: unearthing new first-hand accounts that may have otherwise been lost to history.
The second interesting work, Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood by Mark S. Fleisher, debunks the stereotype often peddled by the likes of Fox News that “[poor black neighborhoods are] dysfunctional ghettos of helpless and hopeless people.” It’s particularly interesting for me because the author studied a neighborhood in Illinois, my home state.
Finally, Richard L. Robert’s Intermediaries, Interpreters, and Clerks: African Employees in the Making of Colonial Africa analyzes what to me has always been somewhat of a mystery. That is, how the European powers were able to govern vast swathes of continents — their empires — with only a relatively small amount of Europeans (compared to the local population) actually living in the colonies. Roberts’ work looks at the network of locals in colonial Africa that staffed the lower rungs of the European-made bureaucracy.
That’s it for today! Tomorrow, I hope to look at some interesting history titles recently put out by the publishers at Knopf.
Below is a survey of books that were published in the past month or so and look to me like interesting reads (note: I have not actually read these books, and these are previews not reviews).
I’m currently reading William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and one of among many striking things about Nazi Germany is how easily a multitude of religious leaders in that country kowtowed to Hitler’s religious decrees (which needless to say were staggering in their impiety—replacing the Bible in pulpits with Mein Kampf, for instance). Religions like Christianity derive their power from writing and oratory. But if those mesmerizing words are not backed by deeds when the going gets rough (i.e. when the Gestapo will kill you if you continue practicing authentic Christianity) then such sermonizing appears in hindsight like idle chatter.
That’s why I can’t help but admire a guy like Sam Childers. After he converted to Christianity, he traded a life of drugs, motorcycle gangs, and chasing women in America to become a machine-gun armed protector of orphans and other destitute children in violence-ravaged Sudan. That’s some tough, in-your-face Christianity and not of the “Have you heard the Good Word? Here, take a pamphlet” variety. Childers has published a memoir of his experiences. (more…)
One of my favorite things about reading good history books is that it changes the way you see your environment. Familiar places become more exciting, strangers begin to seem more intriguing, traveling becomes a richer experience, and, if you’re lucky, some of one’s ignorant assumptions are challenged and replaced with insights. It’s like discovering again the sense of wonder about the world that we all had as kids.
The new history books published in late June and early July of this year promise to stretch our minds and offer us to look upon our world with new, unwearied eyes. As I mentioned in the first “History Off the Press” post last month, the books I will feature here were or will be published in late June or July; this list is neither exhaustive nor objective; and I have as yet read none of these publications (except for maybe a preview of the first few pages on Amazon.com).
Rivals of the ancient world
Without imagination, historical evidence seems dull and tragic. We can’t help but feel a patronizing condescension toward our ancestors, whose eroded remains of buildings look like something a child sculpted from sand on a beach and whose stories and myths sound like the imaginings of acid trippers or chauvinistic patriarchs or both.
What I like about Andrea Carandini’s new book, Rome: Day One, is his almost playful combination of taking ancient myths seriously and using colorful narrative writing to vivify the ruins of the ancient imperial city in Rome. Carandini uses the archaeological evidence to argue that the myth of the founding of Rome by Romulus is not far from the truth, that “a king whose name might have been Romulus founded Rome one April 21st in the mid-eighth century BC, most likely in a ceremony in which a white bull and cow pulled a plow to trace the position of a wall marking the blessed soil of the new city.” (more…)
Gone are the days when the History Channel disproportionately focused on programs about World War II instead of disproportionately fixating on Bigfoot and Mayan prophecies. Until now. History Channel has a new series which stands apart from the network’s bizarre trend of shows about UFOs, astrology, and monster-hunters. “WWII in HD”, a throwback to History Channel’s roots, is a truly innovative series.
“WWII in HD” features almost exclusively rare color war footage. The effect of this is to enliven the 1940s. It feels like watching film from the Vietnam War, which seems more “real” to me because I associate it with color.
The other outstanding element about this series is the dialogue. The show follows twelve American men and women during their service in the war. They are interviewed as elderly veterans, but when the war footage is shown, the interviews transition into voice-overs by younger men and women. This technique is elegantly executed and makes you aware that these aged heroes of an inaccessible age were once the youth of the world. The dialogue is poignant, and the transitional phrases especially are epic.
Finally, the most lasting impression of the series is the footage of carnage. I have heard veterans speak of that shocking aspect of war – the odor of burning flesh, bodies thickly littering the battlefield, disfigured faces. But hearing about it—no matter how vividly told—can not compare to seeing it in color. Short of smelling the awful stench of war, “WWII in HD” portrays the nauseating reality of indiscriminate and grotesque death in battle.
In one episode, President Franklin Roosevelt asks a war correspondent whether he should allow a documentary film about the Battle of Tarawa to be show uncensored to the American public. The reporter, who had been embedded with the Marines in combat, replied that the soldiers wanted the civilians back home to know that the war was not all about victory and glory. The documentary, which featured graphic portrayals of combat, went on to win an Academy Award and significantly increased the sale of war bonds. Like “With the Marines at Tarawa”, “WWII in HD” is a transformative and balanced memorial to the Second World War.
Tahir Shah is the ideal kind of traveler. While I typically explore a foreign country in a comfortable coach bus with other tourists, Shah travels on a camel with a salt caravan. While I am too self-conscious to speak to the locals, Shah hires an entourage of guides, drivers, and porters to accompany him on every adventure. While I have lodged in all-inclusive resorts (enclaves of America and Europe nestled into Mexico or the Dominican Republic), Shah has been imprisoned for weeks in a Pakistani torture chamber.
Well, that’s going a little too far even for my taste. Tahir Shah, one quickly realizes, is not a traveler of the modern mold. He could care less about wine, golf, and seaside massages. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, his account of travels in Ethiopia, documents Shah’s quest for the source of the legendary treasure from the First Temple in Jerusalem. Shah is not the first to search for the ancient gold mines of Ethiopia, and his manner of conducting his expedition seems almost naive (he got the idea from an obviously-fake treasure map of Ethiopia that he purchased in a Jerusalem marketplace). But while reading the book, one realizes that Shah is not looking to get rich; he is looking for a story. He travels according to the motto, “adventure is only inconvenience rightly understood”. And any adventure is worthwhile if it proves interesting to recall. So getting ripped off by an opportunistic Israeli merchant is no loss. Shah seems to have relished writing about the experience. Even a counterfeit map, in retrospect, can lead one to treasures of a sort.