About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

“Born to Chaos” — an Excerpt from Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

We continue our week-long feature on Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, by Phyllis Birnbaum with an excerpt from the book. In the chapter “Born to Chaos,” Birnbaum opens with the last days of Kawashima Yoshiko, while looking back at her exploits, her troubled upbringing and her conflicting legacies in China and Japan:

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of “Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy,” Part 2

Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

The following is part one of our interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army:

Q: Why begin with Yoshiko’s execution?

Phyllis Birnbaum: I didn’t want to tell Yoshiko’s story chronologically, that is, I didn’t want to write she was born, she went to school, she grew up, she died etc. I wanted to be able to jump back and forth in time, and also wanted to digress to other side issues–about what was happening in Manchuria at the time; about Emperor Puyi; about Saga Hiro, the Japanese woman married to Puyi’s brother. So telling readers about Yoshiko’s death at the very beginning is a kind of announcement that the biography is not going to be told in a “this happened, then this happened” style.

Also, as a beginning to a book, her execution is dramatic and, hopefully, catches the reader’s attention!

Q: What was Yoshiko’s attitude towards her own fame? (more…)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of “Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy,” Part 1

Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

The following is part one of our interview with Phyllis Birnbaum, author of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army:

Q: How does Yoshiko Kawashima’s life inspire such divergent, polarizing views?

Phyllis Birnbaum: Yoshiko spent her life shuttling between China and Japan, and even now her reputation is very different in these two countries; this is all the result of Yoshiko’s activities during the Second Sino-Japanese War. For the Chinese, she is still held up as a case of all-purpose evil, a traitor who schemed against China and caused damage that can never be forgotten. To this day, they blame her for starting a war in Shanghai and for otherwise assisting the Japanese occupation. They emphasize the lurid sides of her biography, pointing to the alleged childhood rape by her adoptive father as the cause of an unquenchable sexual thirst and full-scale perversion.

For Japanese, her story takes on another look entirely. In Japan, she is accepted as almost one of their own since she spent much of her youth in the country. Therefore, in Japan, they take a more wistful view of Yoshiko’s escapades. The Japanese emphasize her psychological problems—childhood woes, abandonment, solitude. The Japanese tend to forgive her wartime activities and don’t dwell on the rape rumors. They see Yoshiko as a pitiable character, wronged over and over, by her birth father, her adoptive father, the entire Japanese military establishment, and other males who took advantage of her beauty and her daring.

Q: Part of the difficulty of portraying Yoshiko seems to lie in her own affinity for toying with the truth and fabricating myths. Which traits did she tend to emphasize?

PB: Yoshiko made up different stories about herself at different times of her life. Her disregard for the truth must bring despair to the heart of any biographer. In one particularly outrageous interview, she showed such a stupendous disregard for the facts that she called into question every word she had ever uttered about her personal history. Gall unremitting, falsehoods pouring forth, Yoshiko told about how she was the daughter of the last emperor of China and had been “disguised as a boy to save her from Chinese revolutionists who went to Japan to seek her life.” She was shot three times in the Shanghai Incident and “was carried away as dead, but miraculously recovered.” Her parents were killed in the Chinese revolution of 1911, and her brothers drowned or were poisoned or stabbed. She added that she piloted airplanes, was an ace with a pistol and rifle, could write magazine articles, played musical instruments, sewed, painted, and composed Japanese poetry. Also, she was ready to assume leadership of China, if summoned.

Yoshiko’s embellishments, taken together with the wild newspaper accounts about her during her lifetime, would make the work of tracking down the facts hard enough, but there’s also the 1933 best-selling Japanese novel based on her life that many people—including the judges at her trial for treason—took as her real life story. In many people’s minds, the fictional heroine was the real-life Yoshiko. To make matters worse, Yoshiko also liked to promote this idea that she and her fictional self were identical, putting more distance between herself and the truth.

Since I wanted to write a biography, not a novel, I wanted to stick to the hard facts when available, and when these were impossible to find, I tried to show what was known, what was a fabrication, and what was somewhere in between. That way, readers, along with me, could try to figure what belonged to myth and what really happened.

(more…)

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy

This week our featured book is Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army by Phyllis Birnbaum.

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 Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 17th at 1:00 pm.

Aisin Gioro Xianyu (1907-1948) was the fourteenth daughter of a Manchu prince and a legendary figure in China’s bloody struggle with Japan. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912, Xianyu’s father gave his daughter to a Japanese friend who was sympathetic to his efforts to reclaim power. This man raised Xianyu, now known as Kawashima Yoshiko, to restore the Manchus to their former glory. Her fearsome dedication to this cause ultimately got her killed.

For more on the book, here’s the chapter “Born to Chaos”:

Friday, April 10th, 2015

The Greening of Asia: Businesses’ Role in the World’s Biggest-Ever Environmental Clean-Up

The Greening of Asia

“The best way to move forward is in a three-way partnership, where government sets clear and forceful policies, business creates and invests in products and services to help clean up the environmental mess and civil society acts as an arbiter to see that governments and businesses do what they say.” — Mark L. Clifford

This week our featured book is The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, by Mark L. Clifford. 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. Today, in the final day of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from an article written by Mark Clifford in The World Financial Review in which he discusses how “[t]he challenge of improving Asia’s environment has been translated into business opportunities.”

The Greening of Asia: Businesses’ Role in the World’s Biggest-Ever Environmental Clean-Up
Mark L. Clifford

The East is Black. That, at least, is the conventional wisdom of anyone who has seen pictures of Beijing’s shrouded skies, India’s fetid rivers and the steel mills and cement kilns which blanket much of the countryside with a pall of smog.

Sadly, this dystopian image of Asia’s environmental misery is all too accurate. In China alone, 1.2 million people a year die prematurely from air pollution. Skies in some Indian cities are even dirtier. Large parts of the region are in danger of running out of clean water. Clusters of cancer villages testify to the human cost of fast economic development.

If this sounds like an environmental nightmare, it is. Asia is home to 4.3 billion people, six out of every ten people in the world, as well as to some of the fastest-growing economies. What’s been good for economic growth has come at a high cost for the environment.

Asia’s strategy seemed to be summed up as “get dirty, get rich, get clean.” (more…)

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Mark Clifford discusses how companies are confronting environmental emergencies in Asia

The Greening of Asia

This week our featured book is The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, by Mark L. Clifford. 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. In the video from ChinaFile below, Clifford discusses the many and varied responses of companies throughout Asia to the region’s environmental crises.

The Greening of Asia from ChinaFile on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

From Black to Green: Asia’s Challenge

The Greening of Asia

“Just as Asia’s developed economies in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore adjusted to higher wages by improving productivity and relying on better education and more innovation, so Asia will find a way to profitably do more with less in an era of resource constraints.” — Mark Clifford

This week our featured book is The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, by Mark L. Clifford. 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. In Mark Clifford’s conclusion, excerpted below, he gives a quick overview of how various countries, cities, and businesses in Asia are responding to environmental challenges, and argues that “Asia will find a way to profitably do more with less in an era of resource constraints.”

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Green Shoots Under Soot-Stained Skies

The Greening of Asia

“Asia is approaching a moment of systemic—in some cases, existential—crisis. How Asian countries react to the environmental challenges of pollution, resource shortages, and climate change will determine whether the region will continue along its unmatched path of growth or descend into an increasingly unlivable dystopia.” — Mark L. Clifford

This week our featured book is The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, by Mark L. Clifford. 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. Today, we are happy to feature part of an excerpt from the book that originally appeared on the Asian Review of Books: “Green Shoots Under Soot-Stained Skies.”

Green Shoots Under Soot-Stained Skies
Mark L. Clifford

Beijing’s air is “crazy bad,” according to the U.S. Embassy: choking pollution regularly smothers the capital, reducing visibility to near zero, grounding planes, snarling traffic, and forcing city dwellers to don protective face masks while outside. A widely used air quality index, which in the United States rarely goes above 100 and exceeds 300 only during forest fires and other extreme events, approached the 1,000 level in Beijing in early 2013.

The effect, says a Chinese researcher, is to blot out the sun as effectively as a nuclear winter. Office workers in the capital’s skyscrapers cannot see the streets below, as a bitter, blinding pall settles over a city that hosted the 2008 “Green Olympics.” Beijingers call it “air-pocalypse” or “air-mageddon,” and they have become increasingly vocal about their frustration. “I especially want to know if the party secretary or the mayor are in Beijing these days,” a senior editor at People’s Daily wrote on his blog during record smog in January 2013. “If so, how do they guarantee they can breathe safely in Beijing?” (more…)

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Greening of Asia, by Mark Clifford

The Greening of Asia

“In this well-researched and ultimately optimistic account, Clifford makes the case that environmental policies ‘can and must be fixed’ and gives us examples of companies that have worked to find private-sector solutions. In doing so, Clifford sheds much-needed light on the workings and future of the region’s efforts on the environment, and on the need for governments to set clear rules so that business can do its part to solve the region’s environmental crisis.” — Joseph E. Stiglitz

This week our featured book is The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, by Mark L. Clifford. 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.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Greening of Asia. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 10th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

A Tutorial on Japan-China Relations

Intimate Rivals

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. Today, for the final day of the week’s feature, we have collected four short, helpful videos from the Council on Foreign Relations (all featuring Sheila Smith) that can serve as an introduction to some of the issues that stand between Japan and China, as well as some of the ways that Japanese and Chinese politicians are striving for a peaceful and cooperative future.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Japan-China Relations: Three Things to Know

China’s Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea

China’s Maritime Disputes: Crisis Management

China’s Maritime Disputes: Preventive Measures

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Japan’s Adjustment to Geostrategic Change

Intimate Rivals

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. In today’s guest post, Smith looks at recent events in Japan-China relations, and explains how they relate to her argument in Intimate Rivals.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Japan’s Adjustment to Geostrategic Change
Sheila A. Smith

Adjusting to the rise of China is not simply a task for diplomats or strategists. Rather, the adjustment to new centers of global economic and political influence involves a broad array of social actors.

Today, many in Japan worry about how to manage this complex task. Fishermen, scientists, oil and gas interests, and coast guards all converge on the East China Sea, and today, for the first time since World War II, their interactions could prompt an escalation of tensions to include the Japanese and Chinese militaries. But there are also interests across Japanese society that feel the impact of this transforming China, and Intimate Rivals introduces the variety of advocacies that now shape Japan’s China policy.

Today more than ever, popular perceptions are shaping Japan’s interactions with a transforming China. In polling conducted over the past decades by Genron NPO and the China Daily, Japanese respondents reveal a gradually deteriorating view of China. In the 2014 poll, 93% of respondents had a negative view of China. Even more striking is the more recent evidence in the poll of a growing concern of the possibility of military conflict with China.

Of course, Japanese and Chinese political leaders hold the key to crafting a positive relationship. Last November, after yet another extended period of diplomatic standoff, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and President Xi Jinping met at the Asia Pacific Economic Community meeting in Beijing, opening the way for a resumption of a host of other government meetings that manage this relationship between Asia’s two largest nations. The two governments must address the growing interactions between their societies, solving problems from criminal prosecution to fisheries management and facilitating the travel of millions of citizens that travel back and forth between the two countries.

The photo taken of President Xi and Prime Minister Abe last fall did not suggest that this most recent round of reconciliation will be easy, but it did bring to a close an extended diplomatic estrangement that compounded the danger of maritime conflict. In the months since, Japanese and Chinese officials have begun to address the risk of unintentional incidents in the East China Sea escalating into a much more difficult crisis, and the hope is that the two nations can build a sustainable mechanism for crisis management for the maritime space between them.

While this effort to build cooperation between Tokyo and Beijing resumes, however, the legacy of this new era of contention in their relationship is most conspicuous at home. New generations of political leaders in both countries now see greater opportunity in exploiting the tensions between them. Chinese nationalism has often been seen as a function of the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to legitimize its continued leadership of an increasingly diverse and contentious society.

But in Japan too the domestic balance of interests in support of a cooperative approach to problem solving with China has shifted as Beijing and Tokyo have increasingly failed to come to agreement over their differences. This is particularly important for those issues that highlight perceived vulnerabilities. My book looks at four policy issues where this matters most for Japan’s relations with China over the past decade or so: war memory, maritime boundary management, food security, and island defense.

Contention has become more frequent in Japan’s relations with China, but upon closer inspection of these policy challenges, I find a number of reasons for the declining confidence in Japan that their government can succeed in solving problems with China. On the surface, it would seem that many Japanese see China’s rise as eclipsing Japan’s role as Asia’s leading power, and thus anxiety about Japan’s future is part of the answer. But the more important impact has been the growing belief in Japan that China is not interested in a peaceful negotiation of their differences, not only with Japan but with others as well. The intense confrontation over their island dispute seemed to bring Japan and China close to conflict, and has revealed that the longstanding political channels of communication and confidence that had grounded the relationship in the past no longer existed. The growing worry in Tokyo is that China’s leaders are more interested in undermining the global order upon which Japan has based its postwar foreign and economic strategy.

Demonstrating that Chinese and Japanese leaders are capable of building a different kind of partnership will be crucial in the years ahead. Intimate Rivals suggests that the most important task for policymakers will be to build a track record of success in finding common ground. While there is no national consensus in Japan that organizes around the strategy of confronting China, it is clear that confidence in a cooperative relationship has suffered. Rebuilding popular confidence in the governments’ ability to protect their citizens’ interests will be a challenge.

Designing new approaches to building trust between the two governments is one crucial first step. Just a few weeks ago, the head of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, the Komeito, visited Beijing with the express interest of building party-to-party ties. In fact, these two Japanese political parties have had longstanding ties, but today they must forge new institutional arrangements with the current generation of China’s political leaders. Earlier generations of Japanese and Chinese political leaders negotiated the terms of their countries’ postwar peace, but today, a new generation of leaders must renew their commitment to finding common ground.

Beyond their bilateral ties, however, Japanese and Chinese leaders will also need to consider how they can work together to build regional institutions that will embed their relationship in a more stable and reliable pattern of cooperation. For all of the other Asian nations that have watched the growing tensions between Tokyo and Beijing, the past several years of contention have been alarming. Instead of investing in a future of competition, Chinese and Japanese leaders should begin to articulate and invest in pathways for cooperation that will create and sustain confidence in the region’s future.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Watch Sheila Smith discuss Intimate Rivals

Intimate Rivals

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. We are happy to present an excellent discussion of Intimate Rivals hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations with Sheila A. Smith and CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Contending with China

Intimate Rivals

“Diplomacy alone has been insufficient to bridge the growing number of differences between Tokyo and Beijing. The failure to solve problems has led to growing frustration among the Japanese public. While China cannot be held accountable for all the difficulties in the relationship, adjusting to its growing influence is a new challenge for both governments.” — Sheila Smith

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from Smith’s first chapter, “Contending with China.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Intimate Rivals, by Sheila A. Smith

Intimate Rivals

“This book by one of America’s leading analysts of Japan’s foreign relations is essential reading for anyone interested in Sino-Japanese relations and the impact of domestic political forces on foreign policy.” — Thomas J. Christensen

This week our featured book is Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, by Sheila A. Smith. 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.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Intimate Rivals. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, April 3rd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Two Early Chicago Films Heading to Blu-Ray

The following post is by Michael Smith, co-author with Adam Selzer of Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry

In the introduction to Flickering Empire, Adam Selzer and I quote film scholar Susan Doll who said that it is Chicago’s “best kept secret” that it served as the nation’s filmmaking capital prior to the rise of Hollywood. That the vast majority of the films made in Chicago prior to 1920 have been either lost, destroyed or are otherwise difficult to see partly accounts for Chicago’s neglected status in the official film histories. Fortunately, the two most important Chicago-made silent films discussed in our book have both been recently restored and will receive re-releases on home video in HD in the next year. These releases will hopefully go some way towards giving Chicago the credit it deserves for the important role it played in our nation’s film history. The two films in question are:

His New Job—The one and only film Charlie Chaplin made in Chicago is this delightful 20-minute comedy short, the first he made for Essanay Studios (before fulfilling the rest of his contract at the company’s California branch). The plot sees Chaplin’s familiar “Little Tramp” character showing up to audition for a part in a movie at “Lodestone Studios.” The interior stages at Essanay in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood essentially play themselves as Lodestone and the movie thus becomes a fascinating peak into the process of silent moviemaking, at times achieving a near-documentary quality. The Tramp gets a job first as Production Assistant, then as a carpenter and finally as an extra in what appears to be a prestigious “period” film set in 19th century Russia. Of course, he wreaks havoc on the set and the entire production soon devolves into a state of slapstick anarchy. His New Job will be released on Blu-ray by Flicker Alley in Summer 2015. In the meantime, you can watch an unrestored version of the film here:

Within Our Gates—The earliest surviving feature film directed by an African American is this incendiary drama by the legendary Oscar Micheaux. Evelyn Preer plays Sylvia Landry, a young black woman from Chicago who tries to raise money to save a school for black children in the rural south. Micheaux’s story alternates between scenes taking place in the north and south as well as the past and the present in order to generate a suspenseful climax — a lengthy flashback to the events that led to Sylvia’s adoptive parents being lynched by an angry mob. This lynching scene is intercut with an equally horrifying scene where a villainous middle-aged white man attempts to rape the young Sylvia before recognizing a scar on her chest that identifies her as his own illegitimate daughter. The clever intercutting of this climax intentionally unpacks the racist ideology of the climax of D.W. Griffith’s similarly constructed The Birth of a Nation. Within Our Gates will be released on Blu-ray by Kino/Lorber in February 2016. In the meantime, you can watch an unrestored version of the film here:

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Interview with Michael Glover Smith, Co-Author of “Flickering Empire (Part 2)

Flickering Empire, Michael Glover Smith and Adam Selzer

The following is the second part of our interview with Michael Glover Smith, co-author of Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry. (You can read part 1 here.)

Question: Oscar Micheaux also was part of Chicago’s film history. In what ways was Chicago important for the development of African-American or “race” movies?

Michael Glover Smith: A lot of the early films dealing with race offer “comical” racial stereotypes that are offensive. Even the first Essanay film, An Awful Skate, features a white actor in blackface makeup. William Foster, an enterprising African-American theater manager, founded the first black-owned film production company in 1910. Foster has been quoted as saying, “Nothing has been done so much to awaken race consciousness of the colored man in the nation as the motion picture. It has made him hungry to see himself.” In addition to the earliest shorts by the Foster Photoplay Company, Chicago was home to many other early “race films,” including Peter P. Jones’s The Slacker in 1917 and Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates in 1919. The latter, which we discuss at length in our book’s post-script, is the earliest surviving feature film directed by an African American. It’s not only a great film, it’s a rare and invaluable document of black American culture from that era.

Q: As you mention in the book, Chicago played a role in the censorship of films. What was the legacy of Major M.L.C. Funkhouser in determining what Americans saw at the movies?

MGS: Learning about the role of Chicago’s censorship board in doing research for the book was really eye-opening. The local censorship board, under the auspices of Funkhouser, was actually stricter than the national censorship board. There are a lot of fascinating and funny stories about the board and so that ended up becoming an entire chapter in our book. Funkhouser was reactionary in harshly censoring sex, violence and political content deemed inflammatory but he was also a politically corrupt hypocrite who would throw parties and screen the naughty bits that he had ordered cut from the films. He also allowed the Chicago Tribune to print descriptions of scenes that had been censored, which resulted in him getting favorable publicity from that particular paper. He was quite a character.

Q: So, what happened? What explains the decline of the Chicago film industry?

MGS: There were a complex combination of factors that resulted in the decline of Chicago’s film empire. But, basically, it can be reduced to: 1) the two major Chicago studios were part of the Motion Picture Patents Corporation (or MPPC), a trust that Edison had established in an attempt to monopolize the industry; this trust was sued and forced to disband by the U.S. Justice Department in 1913, 2) most of the independent (i.e., non-MPPC) filmmakers had fled to southern California in order to make movies as far away from Edison and his patent-enforcing “Goon Squad” as possible and 3) the weather and geography of southern California were ultimately deemed more conducive to year-round shooting than Chicago.

(more…)

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Interview with Michael Smith, co-author of “Flickering Empire”

Interview with Michael Smith, co-author of

“A lot of innovations came out of Chicago. There were a lot of ‘famous firsts’ for the American film industry and for movies as an art form—including the first pseudo-documentaries, the first two-reeler, the first slapstick comedy to feature a ‘pie-in-the-face-gag….’”—Michael Glover Smith

The following is part 1 of our interview with Michael Glover Smith, co-author of Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry:

Question: Why does Chicago get left out of the history of early cinema in America?

Michael Glover Smith: The story of American film production begins in New York and New Jersey (where Thomas Edison was headquartered) in the late 19th century. Hollywood didn’t really become the nation’s film-producing capital until about 1915. All official histories are somewhat reductive and I think it’s been convenient for scholars and historians to just skip over the story of Chicago’s contributions to film history, which mainly occurred in in the late 1900s and early 1910s. Even though the contributions of Chicago filmmakers were enormous by any objective standard, it was a fairly narrow window of time when the film industry in Chicago was at its peak and, also, the vast majority of Chicago-made films of that era no longer exist. They’ve been destroyed or lost and it’s never been fashionable to write about films that people can’t see.

Q: How does Chicago’s role in the development change the way we think about the history of movies in America?

MGS: I think a lot of innovations came out of Chicago. There were a lot of “famous firsts” for the American film industry and for movies as an art form—including the first pseudo-documentaries, the first two-reeler, the first slapstick comedy to feature a “pie-in-the-face-gag,” the first films made by African-American directors, etc. We give a rundown in the introduction to the book. It’s entirely possible that movies as we now know them would look very different if not for the contributions of studios like Essanay and Selig-Polyscope and also the independent filmmakers (especially the aforementioned black directors).

Q: What was the role of the 1893 Columbia Exhibit in popularizing film in Chicago and the rest of the country?

MGS: The World’s Fair of 1893 had an enormous influence on the developing film industry. There were several important prototypical movie-exhibition devices that premiered there—including Eadweard Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope and Otto Anschutz’s Tachyscope. A lot of the early Chicago filmmakers went to the Fair and were inspired to start making films based on what they saw.

(more…)

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Book Giveaway! “Flickering Empire”

This week our featured book is Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry by Michael Glover Smith and Adam Selzer.

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 Flickering Empire to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, March 27th at 1:00 pm.

Flickering Empire tells the fascinating yet little-known story of how Chicago served as the unlikely capital of American film production in the years before the rise of Hollywood (1907-1913). Flickering Empire illustrates the rise and fall of the major Chicago movie studios in the mid-silent era (principally Essanay and Selig Polyscope). Colorful, larger-than-life historical figures, including Thomas Edison, Charlie Chaplin, Oscar Micheaux, and Orson Welles, are major players in the narrative—in addition to important though forgotten industry titans, such as “Colonel” William Selig, George Spoor, and Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson.

Friday, March 20th, 2015

A Genealogy of Morgan Stanley

Genealogy of American Finance

This week our featured book is Genealogy of American Finance, by Robert E. Wright and Richard Sylla, with a foreword from Charles M. Royce. Today, for the final day of the feature, we’ve excerpted a sample chapter focused on one of the Big 50: Morgan Stanley.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

Charles Royce’s Foreword to Genealogy of American Finance

Genealogy of American Finance

This week our featured book is Genealogy of American Finance, by Robert E. Wright and Richard Sylla. Today, we are happy to present Charles M. Royce’s foreword to Wright and Sylla’s book, in which Royce focuses on the importance of the Museum of American Finance both in the process of creating the Genealogy and in a broader cultural context.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy!

Foreword
By Charles M. Royce, CEO, The Royce Funds

I was introduced to the leadership of the Museum of American Finance through my friend and television personality, Consuelo Mack, who serves on the Museum’s Board of Trustees. During the course of my initial conversation with President David Cowen, I brought up an idea I have had for years, which is to trace the genealogies — or family trees — of the major American financial firms. I have been working in finance for more than 50 years and have witnessed first-hand many dramatic changes in the industry. So many firms that existed when I first began investing are no longer around.

Given that my firm looks for “value” in companies when we invest, I asked David if there was value in this idea. His response was that, indeed, this would be an invaluable research tool. This book is the first output of that discussion.

As the only independent finance museum in the nation, the Museum often fields calls from researchers inquiring about what happened to certain firms or banks — now defunct or acquired. Many times those questions have been difficult to answer. Moreover, the two main regulatory bodies, The Federal Reserve and the FDIC, do not have complete information and are, therefore, also unable to also answer those questions. According to the Museum’s exhibit team, an area of the “Banking in America” exhibit featuring an abridged genealogy of the Bank of America was the single largest piece of research that went into any section of the Museum’s permanent exhibits. This is largely because more than one hundred years’ worth of merger and acquisition data is so difficult to come by.

My conversations with David and the Museum team resulted in my commitment to underwrite a massive research project to compile these family trees and house them in a central location. It has taken well over a year of research — which included hundreds of hours of archival legwork — to compile these genealogies and make them publicly available.

I applaud Professors Wright and Sylla for their research and writing efforts, which have made this project a reality. As a Columbia University MBA, I am pleased to note that my alma mater has enthusiastically embraced this idea as well, and that this beautiful book has been produced by Columbia Business School Publishing.

Now, if the Museum receives a research inquiry about past financial firms, the staff is able to answer where that firm’s history fits into the modern financial landscape. Or, better yet, people can access the information themselves via this book or the Museum’s website.

This project sheds tremendous light into the dynamic nature of our nation’s financial history. One can never completely understand the future without a comprehension of the past. In an easy-to-read and understandable manner, this book gives a narrative history that is accessible to all — from the newcomer working at a bank to the finance professional, from the student to the scholar, from the practitioner to the regulator.

Please enjoy the book, as each chapter will transport you back in time to see the birth and growth of these 50 financial institutions.