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Archive for the 'American History' Category

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Soul Dollars

Down the Up Staircase

“Harlem was full of contradictions for anyone who dared to look. Mamie Canty, my mother’s seamstress, was also a fulltime bookie for Harlem kingpin Nicky Barnes, one of the biggest drug dealers in the city.” — Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch

This week, our featured book is Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, by Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s preface.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Down the Up Staircase!

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Introducing Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family

Down the Up Staircase

“We owned a three-story brownstone in Harlem, the kind built for a rising moneyed class. Now it stood as a testament to our family’s rise and demise over the century. Its walls echoed the voices of three generations of a black middle-class family: the hard-won glories of my grandfather, the whispered regrets and concessions of my parents, the fall from grace of their firstborn, and the wrenching blow that came with the death of their second.” — Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch

This week, our featured book is Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, by Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s preface.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Down the Up Staircase!

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family

Down the Up Staircase

“Bruce D. Haynes’s story is a classic American tale—which combines the big themes of history with the gritty reality of a single family’s extraordinary story.” — Jeffrey Toobin

This week, our featured book is Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, by Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

The Historical Case for Asia Strategy

By More Than Providence

“Is the United States capable of grand strategy? Two centuries of American engagement with Asia and the Pacific strongly suggest that the answer is yes. American grand strategy has been episodic and inefficient, but in the aggregate it has been effective.” — Michael J. Green

This week, our featured book is By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783, by Michael J. Green. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the conclusion.

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Introducing By More Than Providence

By More Than Providence

“Over the course of two hundred years, the United States has in fact developed a distinctive strategic approach toward Asia and the Pacific. There have been numerous instances of hypocrisy, inconsistency, and insufficient harnessing of national will and means. There have been strategic miscalculations— particularly before Pearl Harbor, on the Yalu River, and in Vietnam. In the aggregate, however, the United States has emerged as the preeminent power in the Pacific not by providence alone but through the effective (if not always efficient) application of military, diplomatic, economic, and ideational tools of national power to the problems of Asia.” — Michael J. Green

This week, our featured book is By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783, by Michael J. Green. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the introduction.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of By More Than Providence!

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Michael Green on Rex Tillerson’s Beijing Visit

By More Than Providence

This week, our featured book is By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783, by Michael J. Green. In a recent appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition, Michael Green tells Steve Inskeep about what the Chinese think of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as Tillerson meets with Chinese officials as part of a trip to Asia.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of By More Than Providence!

Monday, March 27th, 2017

Book Giveaway! By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783

By More Than Providence

“Michael Green’s magisterial study is a timely and insightful reminder of the deep and long-standing ties between East Asia and the United States, and the complex interplay between our economic and security interests, and our values, a dynamic which has shaped US policy for two and a half centuries. It is an indispensable point of reference for students and policy makers seeking to understand a critical region where history casts a long shadow, notwithstanding the extraordinary changes of recent years.” — James Steinberg, Syracuse University and former deputy secretary of state

This week, our featured book is By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783, by Michael J. Green. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

A Stroke of the Pen

Chow Chop Suey

“Forty years after the Johnson-Reed Act had slammed the door on immigration from most of the world, people had generally stopped expecting further chapters to unfold in the story of immigrant cooking. Not even culinary snobs had reason to suppose that the new law [the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965] would ever affect anybody’s ideas of what to have for dinner in Minneapolis, Tallahassee, Boise, Spokane, Houston, or New York.” — Anne Mendelson

This week, our featured book is Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey, by Anne Mendelson. To start the week’s feature off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s prologue.

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

The History of Chinese Food in the United States

Chow Chop Suey

“Wasn’t this sudden culinary coinage simply a travesty of honest Cantonese cuisine? Well, perhaps ‘travesty,’ but not ‘simply.’ The whole story is not at all simple. We would be wrongheaded to forget that chop suey and kindred inventions like American-style chow mein or foo young took on – and possess to this day — a vigorous life of their own in American culture. For more than a century they have given millions of white (and black) diners a pleasure not to be discredited by cavils about authenticity. By my lights, they represent a permanent enrichment of the American table, first accomplished by a community under siege.” — Anne Mendelson

This week, our featured book is Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey, by Anne Mendelson. Today, we are pleased to present an article on the intertwined history of Chinese immigrants and Chinese food in the United States.

The History of Chinese Food in the United States
By Anne Mendelson

“Go back to China!” a white woman screamed at New York Times deputy Metro editor Michael Luo during the homestretch of the 2016 presidential election. The taunt is vicious even now. But at one time in this country it often presaged not hateful stares but either deportation proceedings or homicidal violence.

Chinese entering California in the 1850s with hopes of gold or at least jobs soon found demagogues accusing them of malignantly undermining honest white workingmen’s wages. One result was a series of federal laws allowing Chinese manual laborers to be deported, after a year’s hard labor, unless they could produce official certificates of residency. Another was an eruption of arson and lynchings during the 1870s and ‘80s, frequently sanctioned by local authorities.

Cantonese-born fugitives from murderous xenophobia in the Far West not only founded the Chinatowns of the Midwest and the Eastern seaboard, but managed to invent an unexpected culinary novelty that white people called by the garbled name “chop suey.” For all its ignominious modern reputation, chop suey represented a pioneering gambit in American racial politics. It turned to surprising account a hated minority’s reputation as fine cooks.

One of the few things agreed on by both hostile and friendly Westerners was that, as an English newspaper correspondent stationed in China declared in 1857, “Every Chinaman has a natural aptitude for cookery.” A phenomenal talent for cooking to please white employers had earned Chinese men a niche as household servants even in Sinophobic California. Meanwhile, they cooked for themselves with great skill whenever possible, drawing on a supply network of ingredients imported from Hong Kong to San Francisco and later New York.

Refugees from lynch mobs began settling in New York’s old Five Points district at around 1870 and promptly founded restaurants serving Cantonese cuisine, widely regarded as China’s finest. Some white New Yorkers were intrigued enough to become regular chopstick-wielders at these eateries by the late 1880s.

Within a decade, the Chinese struck gold by carefully reading the dominant race’s preferences. They improvised an ingenious marriage between Cantonese-style stir-fried dishes and some striking effects inspired by their prior experience in cooking for white people. The winning formulas depended on plenty of sugar in glossy, starch-thickened sauces liberally laced with soy sauce and browning agents. The idea was to imitate roux-bound gravy from a Western-style roast while introducing supposedly “Oriental” touches.

White patrons joyously devoured the new dishes under such names as “chicken chop suey,” “beef chop suey,” or “shrimp chop suey.” These jumbled labels reflect linguistic cross-purposes. The Chinese characters for the same items indicate “chao [stir-fried] chicken,” “chao beef,” and so forth. But the English term “stir-fry” did not yet exist. The technique was unintelligible to people who had never seen the workings of a Chinese kitchen. Encountering the romanization “chow chop suey” (“chao mixed bits”) for a dish of stir-fried innards and offal, somebody cluelessly latched onto the last two words and ended up baptizing America’s first nationwide ethnic-crossover food craze.

With unerring instinct, Chinese restaurant cooks had fashioned a cuisine that appeared exotic and adventurous to the target audience while staying safely within a middlebrow white American frame of culinary-cultural reference. The combination of very rapidly prepared food – stir-frying is the ideal short-order cooking method – with atmospheric décor featuring Chinese lanterns or dragon motifs was an instant draw.

“Chop suey” caught on from coast to coast with a speed made possible by the new miracle of wire services distributing syndicated copy from big-city newspapers to the boondocks. By 1910 it was well on its way to being the stock-in-trade of Chinese restaurants in every metropolis, small city, and large town throughout the contiguous United States.

Wasn’t this sudden culinary coinage simply a travesty of honest Cantonese cuisine? Well, perhaps “travesty,” but not “simply.” The whole story is not at all simple. We would be wrongheaded to forget that chop suey and kindred inventions like American-style chow mein or foo young took on – and possess to this day — a vigorous life of their own in American culture. For more than a century they have given millions of white (and black) diners a pleasure not to be discredited by cavils about authenticity. By my lights, they represent a permanent enrichment of the American table, first accomplished by a community under siege.

At the height of “Go back to China!” rabble-rousing cloaked in the mantle of patriotic support for jobless native-born workers, an undaunted segment of the despised Chinese community in America responded by reaching across racial divides through the medium of food. The chop suey-style cuisine that it created may be more resoundingly American than Delmonico’s, the Golden Arches, or Trump Grill.

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Introducing Chow Chop Suey

Chow Chop Suey

“It may seem unnecessary for a food historian to rehash events that have been abundantly chronicled by political and social historians. But I believe that readers of a book on Chinese American food will be well served by being asked to recognize these matters.” — Anne Mendelson

This week, our featured book is Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey, by Anne Mendelson. To start the week’s feature off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s introduction.

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey

Chow Chop Suey

Chow Chop Suey is an eye-opener, a book that will give everyone a deep appreciation of the exquisite skill required to produce authentic Chinese food and the sweep of history that brought Chinese cooking to America. Anne Mendelson’s prodigious research has given us a highly respectful, insightful, refreshing, wonderfully written, and utterly compelling account of the role and plight of Chinese restaurant workers in this country. I learned something new on every page.” — Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and author of Soda Politics

This week, our featured book is Chow Chop Suey: Food and the Chinese American Journey, by Anne Mendelson. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Whose Identity? Which Politics?

Desegregating the Past

“Even when museums like the NMAAHC explore into painful content like racial violence and terrorism, it is seen as delving for the purpose of presenting a resilient identity narrative. And they do. But so does the National Museum of American History in its presentation of Americana, from Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to the two hundred year-old flag from the American Revolution. The relegation of museums like the NMAAHC to the stuff of identity politics neutralizes those driven by white nostalgia.” — Robyn Autry

The following is an excerpt from an article by Robyn Autry, author of Desegregating the Past: The Public Life of Memory in the United States and South Africa, originally posted at the Huffington Post.

Whose Identity? Which Politics?
By Robyn Autry

In the weeks following the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in late September, a historic presidency ended, and then hundreds of thousands of people converged on the National Mall as another shocking one began. The NMAAHC hosted a widely popular alternative inauguration organized by Busboys and Poets, increasing its symbolic power as a place of resistance and celebration. How can we make sense of the throngs of people still flocking to the Mall to visit that nation’s first black history museum in a political climate openly hostile to so-called identity politics?

The NMAAH is not an identity museum per se. Neither is the National Museum of the American Indian, nor the Latino and Asian Pacific history museums also under consideration. Or, at least they are no more driven by the desire to celebrate identity than the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or the National Museum of American History, or even the National Air & Space Museum. In fact, all historical products, whether they be national museums or history textbooks, contain facts and fictions about who we are, or dream of being in relation to lives already lived and lost and those still in the making. In effect, they all offer different interpretations of how great America was (or wasn’t) and how we can all do better.

While there is nothing wrong with projects aiming to interpret or represent collective identities, ‘identity-driven’ is a label used to distinguish them from those museums viewed as more objective or less biased. Museums dedicated to representing the lives and cultures of people of color are seen as self-affirming celebrations that some see as divisive and fixated on what makes us different. Critics also charge that these museums offer less historical context and material evidence or artifacts, relying instead on personal testimonies, multimedia displays, and sweeping summaries. In short, they are thought to be touchy-feely. Even when museums like the NMAAHC explore into painful content like racial violence and terrorism, it is seen as delving for the purpose of presenting a resilient identity narrative. And they do. But so does the National Museum of American History in its presentation of Americana, from Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to the two hundred year-old flag from the American Revolution. The relegation of museums like the NMAAHC to the stuff of identity politics neutralizes those driven by white nostalgia.

After decades of political maneuvering, fundraising, and development, the NMAAHC opened on September 24, 2016. Televised and streamed online, the extraordinary occasion was marked by heartfelt words from President Obama, Congressperson John Lewis, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith, and musical performances of Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and Angélique Kidjo. Even more noteworthy, were the 30,000 ordinary people who visited the first weekend, and the tens of thousands who have followed them. With lines circling the building, the museum has been so popular that timed-passes are still being used to manage crows and to allow more people to traverse the 350,000 square foot museum. The passes available online are booked through June 2017, with a limited number being offered for same-day visitors.

How can we account for such keen interest in the museum, from the millions of dollars raised to the thousands of people clamoring to get inside? It’s as much about an insistence that identity is indeed political, as it is about collective yearnings to see that which has been kept off limits, to venture into those spaces that unsettle official accounts and expose the social fissures we already fully know exist.

Read the article in full at the Huffington Post.

Friday, November 18th, 2016

Richard Plunz on Housing in New York City

A History of Housing, Richard Plunz

We conclude our week-long feature on New York City books with A History of Housing in New York City, by Richard Plunz, who recently appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the book.

In the interview, Plunz discussed the unique historical situation that New York City confronts today with a combination of a housing shortage and an affordability crisis. As Plunz explains, the efforts of Mayors Bloomberg and DeBlasio have largely been frustrated for a variety of political and economic reasons. With new little land in the City to build upon, solutions to the problem are somewhat elusive.

Plunz also talked about the future of public housing and ways in which neighborhood can become more integrated. Needless to say, the city’s most famous real-estate figure was also discussed and Plunz expressed skepticism that the president-elect would pay much attention to housing for those not in the upper classes.

Finally, Plunz considers his favorite part of the book, which was Bronx in the 1920s. It was during this period that many immigrants moved out of the Lower East Side and built great housing in the Bronx and created a vibrant community of associations and neighborhoods.

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

The Prehistory of Brooklyn Bridge Park

A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park

We are continuing our focus on New York City books with A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park: How a Community Reclaimed and Transformed New York City’s Waterfront, Nancy Webster and David Shirley.

In the introduction, Webster and Shirley examine the prehistory to the park and how the area, which was once a bustling pier fell into disuse. By the 1970s, the piers had become abandoned and it was at this point that the Brooklyn community stepped in to imagine the space as a possible park on the water.

At the end of the introduction, we’ve included some images from how the park looks today.

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

An Interview with Gayle Rogers, author of “Incomparable Empires”

Gayle Rogers, Incomparable Empires

“But we should ask ourselves why we (and anyone, globally) might wish to study foreign literatures? To make ourselves better, more well-rounded humans? That’s a lofty and often immeasurable goal. To understand better the cultures that we fear, the cultures of the markets our country is entering, to understand our own syncretistic pasts? All complicated, too. And then, how much is enough?”—Gayle Rogers

The following is an interview with Gayle Rogers, author of Incomparable Empires: Modernism and the Translation of Spanish and American Literature:

Question: What was the role of empire in shaping how Americans saw themselves and their culture over the past century?

Gayle Rogers: I have always had a profound interest in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the “splendid little war” that set into motion many trends that are still unfolding in our contemporary moment. I came across this amazing speech from 1899 by William Graham Sumner, a famous sociologist and anti-imperialist. It was called—and this is not a typo—“The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” Sumner believed that this new stage of American imperialism, marked by the country’s first overseas interventionist war, would ultimately ruin the country, just like imperialism had ruined Spain over the course of several centuries. He claimed that the United States had “beaten Spain in a military conflict” but was “submitting to be conquered by her on the field of ideas and policies.” In other words, we were on a course to become the new Spain—a formerly great empire that had gradually lost all of its foreign territories (including large swaths of the United States itself) and, at the turn of the twentieth century, found itself bankrupt, broken, and largely forgotten on the world stage.

This notion that a growing empire would cause America’s cultural ruin led me to the larger issues that this book takes up: namely, the relationship between geopolitical power (often exercised through imperialism) and literary eminence. A common narrative holds that the United States was a minor or second-rate literary scene at least until the late 1800s—that we were derivative, that we mostly imported British and French texts that held higher and more enduring cultural value. And then, we emerged onto the global literary stage right around the moment that we began acquiring overseas territories, consolidating our new territories and states in the west and southwest, and intervening all across the western hemisphere. In essence, against Sumner’s claims, American empire meant the birth of a globalized American literature.

Q: So, greater empire, greater literary prominence?

GR: The Spanish-American War looks like a well-placed axis in which the United States surges and Spain declines, with geopolitical and literary fortunes neatly yoked together in both cases. Of course, it’s not so simple, and as I knew from reading a good deal of literature of the early twentieth century, many leading authors believed that such a narrative was either horribly misleading or, if accurate, the signal of a terrible future for America in particular.

Q: To what extent are the imperial fortunes of Spain and the United States unique, or how do they speak to larger cultural or literary questions?

GR: I realized that this case study—the U.S. and Spain—actually framed a host of larger issues about the way we write literary histories: the models and assumptions we rely on, the trajectories and paths we follow in them. The modernist author John Dos Passos looked at the state of literature in the mid-1910s and concluded that great eras of empire actually strangle fruitful literary production, and so, he hoped that America’s new empire would quickly collapse in order to allow its literature to truly flourish. He saw a model in post-imperial Spain, where his peers like the novelist Pío Baroja were headlining what he believed was a new golden age of Spanish letters in the wake of an empire’s collapse.

(more…)

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

A 19th Century Populist Revolt Against NYC’s Elite — An Excerpt from “In Pursuit of Privilege”

In Pursuit of Privilege, Clifton Hood

“The draft riots were carried out by desperate people who had serious grievances against the established order yet who lacked access to political and social channels for seeking redress for their grievances. Resorting to force because they had few alternatives, the rioters conducted reprisals against members of social groups and institutions whom they blamed for their suffering.”—Clifton Hood, In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City’s Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis

One of the most violent challenges to New York City’s elite was during the Draft Riots in 1863. Clifton Hood writes about the riots in his new book In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City’s Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis. In the passage below, Hood describes how white working-class frustrations led to violence against African Americans and the elite:

Irish immigrants lived in appalling poverty and endured ethnic and religious discrimination from the Protestant majority. In the six months since President Lincoln had made the abolition of slavery an official war aim by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, speeches by Fernando Wood and other Peace Democrats had stoked Irish fears that the freed slaves would compete for jobs and drive down wages. And now, with the passage of a conscription law designed to rectify the manpower shortages caused by the wartime slaughter, the federal government proposed to tear working-class men from their families and send them to the butcher’s yard, all, it seemed, to elevate African Americans above white workers.Worse yet was a provision of the conscription law permitting anyone who had been drafted to secure an exemption by paying a $300 waiver fee, a stipulation that put the burden of combat on the poor.

The draft riots were carried out by desperate people who had serious grievances against the established order yet who lacked access to political and social channels for seeking redress for their grievances. Resorting to force because they had few alternatives, the rioters conducted reprisals against members of social groups and institutions whom they blamed for their suffering. Mobs assaulted sites associated with the Republican Party, such as the offices of the New York Tribune and the home of its editor, Horace Greeley, and symbols of police and military authority, like police stations and draft offices. Yet their prime targets were African Americans. A large crowd attacked the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, clubbing to death a nine-year-old girl who was discovered hiding under a bed. African American men were beaten and sometimes killed and mutilated. The bodies of African American men were hung from trees and lampposts. Their homes were destroyed. By the time that five regiments dispatched from the Gettysburg battlefield could restore calm, at least 105 people died and another 2,000 were injured.

To read more:

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Book(s) Giveaway! 3 New Books on New York City!

This week we are very excited to be featuring three new titles in New York City history: In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City’s Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis, by Clifton Hood; A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park: How a Community Reclaimed and Transformed New York City’s Waterfront, by Nancy Webster and David Shirley; and the revised edition of A History of Housing in New York City, by Richard Plunz with a foreword by Kenneth T. Jackson.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of each book to one lucky winner! To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, November 18 at 1:00 pm.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Interview with Richard Plunz, author of “A History of Housing in New York City”

Richard Plunz, A History of Housing in New York City

“Beyond doubt the large question facing New York housing production today has to do with a market that can not provide for the half of our households that are low income…. One can hope that growing public pressure bottom-up can merge with a top-down realization that we need to innovate in order to grow and prosper as a competitive and cosmopolitan global urban entity.”—Richard Plunz

Tonight, Richard Plunz will be at The Museum of the City of New York to discuss the revised edition of his classic book, A History of Housing in New York City. Below is an interview he recently had with the State of the Planet, part of the Earth Institute:

Question: What prompted you to revise the history?

Richard Plunz: The book has had a long shelf-life and is still very much in use, such that it seems important to update it to include the period of the past two decades. As well, the changes that the past 25 years have brought seem especially important to keep in the public eye, as housing becomes a growing concern in New York. Indeed, housing production plays an essential role in forming our culture and economy, and at present is too little recognized as such. For example, housing should be considered “resilient infrastructure,” but is rarely considered as such. And “climate resilience” obviously must engage where and how people live, let’s say the “soft” side of the equation, in addition to heavy infrastructure. Amazingly, infrastructural discussion in the present presidential campaign is limited to roads and bridges and shorelines, rather than to city fabrics, even as every city faces “affordability” issues of one form or another.

Q: Looking over the past 25 years, what do you see as the most significant changes or trends in housing in the city?

RP: There are many changes, and many are substantial improvements in the quality of life in the city relative to the rather dark days of the 1980s, which is when the earlier edition ends its narrative. As Ken Jackson describes so well in his preface, the Bronx is no longer burning, the pathologies of crack cocaine are no longer with us, and all of the advantages of our density are apparent as we move into an age when urban resilience is synonymous with well-being both local and global. Yet there is a dark side to this transformation. Neighborhoods have gentrified to the great detriment of long-term residents who are displaced; the positive economics have not abated the homeless dilemma; the robust housing market is limited to the high end, [and] that leaves half of the city with little recourse. And if the growing lack of equity in terms of access to adequate housing will not abate, how will we be able to resolve our long-term economic and social viability.

Q: You say in your preface to the revised edition of A History of Housing in New York City that New York has had the most severe housing problems, and also been a center for innovation and reform. In updating the story, where now do you see the worst problems, and where do you find innovation, and perhaps reform?

RP: Beyond doubt the large question facing New York housing production today has to do with a market that can not provide for the half of our households that are low income. And while both Mayors DeBlasio and Bloomberg tried various measures to stimulate this production, it remains unacceptably flat. The last mayoral campaign was won based on this question of fundamental inequities. But our tools for stimulation are too limited, and therefore innovation must somehow break out of normative models. One can hope that growing public pressure bottom-up can merge with a top-down realization that we need to innovate in order to grow and prosper as a competitive and cosmopolitan global urban entity.

(more…)

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Alan Schroeder on How Twitter is Changing Presidential Debates

Presidential Debates, Alan Schroeder

“The explosive growth of Twitter brought not just a dramatic increase in the number of users in 2012 but also a radical shift in the way presidential debates are viewed, critiqued, won, and spun. By exponentially broad­ening the conversation, Twitter, along with other social media, forced campaigns and the press to reconfigure their approach to debates.”—Alan Schroeder, Presidential Debates

In the following excerpt from Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail, Alan Schroeder considers the impact that Twitter had on the 2012 presidential debates and the way campaigns use social media.

2012: THE YEAR OF TWITTER

The general election debates in 2008—three between Obama and McCain, one between Biden and Palin—generated a combined total of around half a million debate-related tweets. Four years later, the firrst Obama–Romney debate alone inspired 10.3 million tweets, making it the most tweeted-about event in American political history up to that point, and the fourth most tweeted-about telecast of any kind. By the time the series ended in 2012, some 27.5 million debate-related tweets had been sent—fifty-.ve times as many as in the previous presi­dential race.

Impressive as these statistics are, they tell only part of the story. The explosive growth of Twitter brought not just a dramatic increase in the number of users in 2012 but also a radical shift in the way presidential debates are viewed, critiqued, won, and spun. By exponentially broad­ening the conversation, Twitter, along with other social media, forced campaigns and the press to reconfigure their approach to debates.

A key effect of Twitter was to transplant the locus of debate reaction from after to during the event, with live responses delivering an ongo­ing nationwide verdict. According to Democratic debate adviser Ron Klain, “It definitely moves the power over how this event is interpreted from a postdebate spin game to an in-the-debate Twitter game.” What was once a closed loop—journalists covering the debate, campaigns seeking to influence that coverage—is now open to the public at large. And the public has eagerly jumped on board.

“Twitter has become the natural companion to the televised experi­ence,” according to Adam Sharp, head of government and elections for Twitter in Washington, D.C. “It has taken us back to the idea of every­body gathering together on the couch to share the experience of watch­ing this pivotal event in history—but now, that couch is big enough to .t the whole country.”

Shortly after the first Obama–Romney debate, Dashiell Bennett of the Atlantic summed up the shift in an online post entitled “Twitter Won the Presidential Debate.” “The idea of watching such a key national event without the instant reactions of your fellow tweeters has become almost unthinkable,” Bennett said. “If you’re just watching on TV and not tak­ing part in (or at least following) the simultaneous online conversation, then you might as well not even be paying attention at all.”

Debate reaction on Twitter and other social media took some unfore­seen turns. Bluefin Labs, a social analytics company in Cambridge, Mas­sachusetts, conducted a study of social media conversations as part of its Crowdwire initiative, which focused on the presidential election of 2012. According to Crowdwire, more women than men commented about the first debate by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. “It pulled in a lot of women who don’t typically talk about political shows,” Crowd-wire concluded; “younger women in particular.” Over the course of the remaining debates, women continued to outnumber men as social media commenters.

Researchers found that nearly one in ten of those who wrote on so­cial media about the opening Obama–Romney debate were tweeting or posting about a televised event for the first time. “The Super Bowl and several entertainment-awards shows have drawn responses from large numbers of newbies,” according to Crowdwire. “But this is the first time a political event has sparked such a large in. ux.” To a great extent, debate reaction on Twitter centered upon specific phrases and moments. Mitt Romney’s reference to Big Bird inspired more than 250,000 tweets. President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” line sparked more than 105,000, and Joe Biden’s use of the word malarkey produced 30,000. Romney’s oddly constructed phrase “binders full of women,” intended to accentuate his commitment to gender diversity, rose to number one on Twitter’s trending topics. Each of these examples became amplified both during and after the debates in parody accounts, Facebook groups, web searches, and visual spoofs.

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Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Alan Schroeder on the Debating Styles of Kennedy and Nixon

“Kennedy ran for president not just as a politician, but as a leading man. In the debates as in the overall campaign, this positioning paid off. Presumed stardom led to genuine stardom.”—Alan Schroeder

The first televised presidential debate took place, of course, in 1960 pitting John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Their first debate has become historic if not almost mythological in its importance and its legacy for the modern presidential campaign. In his introduction to Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail, Alan Schroeder takes us behind the scenes of that now-legendary debate.

Below, we’ve also included an excerpt from later in the book in which Schroeder analyzes the performances of Kennedy and Nixon. In assessing the performance of JFK, Schroeder writes, “Kennedy ran for president not just as a politician, but as a leading man. In the debates as in the overall campaign, this positioning paid off. Presumed stardom led to genuine stardom.”

Nixon had actually very skillfully used television to his advantage while vice-president. His famous “Checkers” speech and the “kitchen debate” with Khrushchev showed his ability to to command the media spotlight. While fatigue and illness certainly played a part in Nixon’s weak performance, it can also be attributed to his lack of understanding about the nature of the debate. Schroeder explains, “Nixon had fundamentally misconceived the event, viewing it as a rhetorical exercise, while Kennedy approached it as a television show.”

In addition to the excerpt below, we also offer a clip from that first debate: