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Archive for the 'History' Category

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Joel Migdal on the Historical Contexts of The Present-Day Middle East

Joel Migdal, Shifting Sands

Joel Migdal, author of Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East, recently appeared on the podcast This is Hell!, to provide some historical context to recent events in the Middle East.

In this wide-ranging conversation that starts in the Cold War and winds past the Arab Spring, Migdal discusses the Sunni-Shia-irreconcilability myth, how the creation of Israel and the growth of Arab nationalism shaped the post-WW2 landscape, how monarchies, republics and non-state actors are shifting the regional power dynamics and why new maps won’t save the Middle East, but neither will American presidents.

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Bangladesh, New York, and Florida after the Great Collapse of 2093

We conclude our week-long feature on The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway with three maps from 2393 that illustrate the ravages of climate change on Bangladesh, New York, and Florida. The commentary comes from a twenty-fourth century historian looking back at how twenty-first century leaders failed to react to the growing threats to the environment:

The Collapse of Western Civlization
Bangladesh Among North Americans, Bangladesh—one of the poorest nations of the world—served as an ideological battleground. Self-described “Climate Hawks” used it to levy moral demands for greenhouse gas reductions so that it would not suf­fer inundation, while so-called “Climate Realists” insisted that only economic growth powered by cheap fossil fuels would make Bangladeshis wealthy enough to save themselves. In reality, “unfettered economic growth” made a handful of Bangladeshis wealthy enough to flee. The poor were left to the floods.

The Collapse of Western Civilization, New York City
New York City in the twenty-fourth century Once the financial capital of the world, New York began in the early twenty-first century to attempt to defend its elabo­rate and expensive infrastructure against the sea. But that infrastructure had been designed and built with an expectation of constant seas and was not easily adapted to continuous, rapid rise. Like the Netherlands, New York City gradually lost its struggle. Ultimately, it proved less expensive to retreat to higher ground, abandoning centuries’ worth of capital investments.

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Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Announcing Three Goodreads Giveaways!

We are happy to announce that we are hosting not one, not two, but THREE book giveaways on Goodreads over the next couple weeks! For those looking to learn more about Einstein, we are giving away Jeffrey Bennett’s intuitive introduction to Einstein’s ideas, What Is Relativity?. Interested in the sociology of atheism in the United States? Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster, is the book for you! If your interests run more towards history of capitalism and finance, you should check out The World’s First Stock Exchange, Lodewijk Petram’s account of the 17th century development of Amsterdam as a dominant financial center. Look below for details on entering!

What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter
Jeffrey Bennett

Goodreads Book Giveaway

What Is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett

What Is Relativity?

by Jeffrey Bennett

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Atheists in America
Edited by Melanie E. Brewster

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Atheists in America by Melanie E. Brewster

Atheists in America

by Melanie E. Brewster

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

The World’s First Stock Exchange
Lodewijk Petram

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The World's First Stock Exchange by Lodewijk Petram

The World’s First Stock Exchange

by Lodewijk Petram

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Michael Dumper on Reparation and Restitution

Jerusalem Unbound

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Today, we are happy to present a 2013 lecture by Michael Dumper given at the First Palestinian Conference on Forced Population Transfer, hosted by BADIL. In his lecture, Dumper discusses the history and future of reparations, particularly as they apply to Palestinians.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Jerusalem Unbound!

Part 1:

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Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Introducing Jerusalem Unbound

Jerusalem Unbound

“Thus at the heart of the study of Jerusalem lays the peculiar conundrum of the city–it has little military or strategic value but, at the same time, it is sought after and contested by many.” — Michael Dumper

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Today, we are happy to present Michael Dumper’s Introduction to Jerusalem Unbound, in which Dumper explains why he felt that he needed to write a third book on Jerusalem and lays out the themes that he intends to explore throughout his book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Jerusalem Unbound!

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Jerusalem Unbound, by Michael Dumper

Jerusalem Unbound

This week our featured book is Jerusalem Unbound: Geography, History, and the Future of the Holy City, by Michael Dumper. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Jerusalem Unbound. 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, June 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Images from Capital of Capital: Money, Banking, and Power in New York City

Capital of Capital

The following are some examples of the extraordinary images and historical documents from Capital of Capital: Money, Banking, and Power in New York City, 1784-2012, by Steven H. Jaffe and Jessica Lautin:

New York One-Cent Note
New Yorkers were familiar with paper money before the founding of the Bank of New-York in 1784. In the early republic, the issuing of paper money would become the province of private, state-chartered banks such as the Bank of New-York. City governments and even private businesses also issued notes in payment to employees or vendors.

Greenback
Recognizing that the Northern economy needed a more ample and liquid money supply in order to win the war, Secretary of Treasury Samuel Chase resorted to a radical new plan in 1862 and 1863. The secretary now pressed Congress to authorize the Treasury to issue a new paper currency “bearing a common impression.” These greenbacks as they became known , would enter the economy as the government paid soldiers, sailors, and war contractors with them; as banks made loans and cashed checks for customers; and as citizens exchanged notes from state banks for the federal money.

Women's Banking
The divided spaces of Beaux-Arts banks reflected the diversified operations and activities of Gilded Age banking. Clerks, tellers, and cashiers were separated from the public by elaborate brass grillwork, and female customers were segregated. Responding to the fast-growing population of women depositors while adhering to Victorian gender norms, banks provided women with their own teller windows and maid service.

Depression
Albert Potter evoked the despair of the depression years in New York with the figure of a beggar; Death hovers above.

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Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

New York City as the Capital of Capital — Steven Jaffe and Jessica Lautin on The Brian Lehrer Show

Today, we offer another interview with the authors of Capital of Capital: Money, Banking, and Power in New York City, 1784-2012.

Steven H. Jaffe and Jessica Lautin recently appeared on The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the book and the frequently contentious history of banks in New York City. Among other issues, Jaffe and Lautin discussed why New York City became the “capital of capital,” surpassing Philadelphia and other cities; how New York City became not only the center of banking but also the center of protests against capitalism from the union movement to Occupy Wall Street; how immigration gave rise to savings banks; and whether or not New York City will remain the “capital of capital”

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Blood Online

Blood

This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. In this final post of our feature, we’ve collected a few additional Blood-themed links that we’d like to share. Be sure to enter our book giveaway by 1 PM today for a chance to win a free copy of Blood!

blood
By Gil Anidjar

Via freq.uenci.es

But blood is a metaphor, is it not? It cannot—more precisely, it should not—be read literally in most of the instances I have recalled. The domains of its operations are not to be over-interpreted, as if one could find bits of flesh and drops of blood in the law or in the economy. Besides, blood is a universal! I have begged to differ on a number of counts here, locating these very claims, along with other moments and practices, in a larger, American hematology. I will now content myself with the following remark: the possibility of reading blood spiritually, the insistence on its metaphoricity, rather than on a literality to be exposed and interrogated—in reading the Old Testament, for instance—is precisely what the formulation I offer here seeks to make explicit.

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Friday, May 2nd, 2014

A Critique of Chrisitanity, by Gil Anidjar

Blood

“[T]o inquire after blood was another way to ask whether there is a Christian question, a concept of Christianity even, a manner whereby we have come to know, whereby we have established with any sense of certainty, what Christianity is.” – Gil Anidjar

This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. In this post, we have “A Critique of Christianity,” an excerpt from the conclusion of Blood, in which Anidjar explains why he chose to approach his study of Christianity through blood, and what he learned about Christianity from the experience.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Blood!

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

My Thoughts Be Bloody, by Gil Anidjar

Blood

“What interested me most, though, in the case of vampires, and which turned out to be unavoidable, is that they make manifest an enduring association not so much of blood and life (this is an old and complicated matter which I try to interrogate as well in the book), but of blood and love.” – Gil Anidjar

This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. Today, we have a blog post by Gil Anidjar on the somewhat complicated relationship between vampires and blood in popular culture.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Blood!

My Thoughts Be Bloody
By Gil Anidjar

I had thought I would stay away from vampires.

Which generally might seem like a good idea. Still, I have no particular investment in or animus against them. After all, they are said to be found in many ages and in all kinds of places, and not always nocturnal. Seriously though, Blood was growing, and growing (like a relentless, not necessarily battery-operated, monster), whereas I had already learned from Luise White’s wonderful book, Speaking with Vampires, which addresses the apparently fantastic and widespread stories of vampire firemen found in Africa. Why firemen? In a situation like this, one rarely asks: why vampires? White does. She compellingly argues that these stories constitute complex translations of a deep understanding of Western colonial power, leaving little doubt that there was — still is — something peculiar about Western powers and about their tenacious projections of vampirism in multifarious manifestations. I had nothing to add. Besides, one would have had to be locked away in a cave (or in a coffin) to miss the explosion of vampirism in popular culture, its recent accelerations, from Bram Stoker to Anne Rice, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Blade, from True Blood to (what else?) Twilight. By the way, I am pretty certain this was all around the time I noticed an ad for the New York Lottery that suggestively assimilated this seemingly benign form of gold lust to vampiric desire (but it was meant in a good way). But it was before another public service announcement, by the New York City Office of Emergency Management, rethought the image it had disseminated of a child hanging in a stormy sky to propose safe modes of good parenting as alternatives to throwing you into a disaster zone (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” wrote Philip Larkin, “They may not mean to, but they do”). If you see something . . . But I digress. Today, who would disagree that, whether ancient or modern, vampires are good to think with? (more…)

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Why I Am Such a Good Christian, by Gil Anidjar

Blood

“[B]efore or aside from all that, there is the task of measuring or marking the boundaries and limits of Christianity. How far does Christianity go? How wide does it spread, and what depths does it reach? What divisions does it establish or undo, within and between?” – Gil Anidjar

This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. Today, we are pleased to present “Why I Am Such a Good Christian,” Anidjar’s preface to Blood.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Blood!

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar

Blood

This week our featured book is Blood: A Critique of Christianity, by Gil Anidjar. 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 Blood. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, May 2nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Shifting Sands After the Arab Spring

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. 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. On the final day of our feature on Shifting Sands, we have Joel Migdal’s afterword, in which he looks back at his book through the lens of the events of the Arab Spring.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The Yom Kippur War and the Changing Calculus of U.S. Foreign Policy

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. 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 have an excerpt from the fifth chapter of Shifting Sands, in which Migdal discusses the ramifications of the Yom Kippur War on U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Tiptoeing Through Minefields

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. 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 today’s guest post, Joel Migdal discusses John Kerry’s surprisingly active tenure as Secretary of State.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Tiptoeing through Minefields
Joel S. Migdal

John Kerry has taken on as activist a foreign policy agenda as any secretary of state in recent memory. In the year or so that he has been in office, he has dived into thickets of crises on every continent and on a wide array of issues. Most recently, he derided climate-change deniers as akin to believers in a flat earth. He made his remarks in Indonesia on the heels of the first U.S. environmental agreement with China, with hints that more agreements with other countries were on the horizon. His assault on climate change—and those who do not take it seriously—came during an Asia tour in which he also directed tough words at North Korea, defending U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea. And, at the same time, he leaned hard on South Korea and Japan to repair their frayed ties.

Nowhere has Kerry been more aggressive than in the turbulent Middle East. He has been out front simultaneously on three sets of talks—to end the brutal war in Syria, move Iran away from the development of nuclear weapons, and solve the seemingly interminable Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Any one of these negotiations would have provided him with a full plate. When he came into office a year ago, no one would have bet that any of these initiatives could succeed and, even now, few would bank on more than one of these actually showing results. But Kerry has not been shy about tilting at windmills.
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Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm, by Joel Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. 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 have an excerpt from Migdal’s first chapter, “The Middle East in the Eye of the Global Storm.”

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Shifting Sands!

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East, by Joel S. Migdal

Shifting Sands

This week our featured book is Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East by Joel S. Migdal. 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 Shifting Sands. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, February 21st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Hans van de Ven on the Chinese Maritime Customs Service

The following post is by Hans van de Ven, author of Breaking with the Past: The Maritime Customs Service and the Global Origins of Modernity in China:

“The Chinese Maritime Customs Service helped keep China together at key critical moments … and provided one of the pathways out of which the modern Chinese nation-state would emerge.”—Hans de Ven

Breaking with the Past, Hans van de VenNo China historian can afford to say no to a request for help by a Chinese archivist. We need their good will. So, when the Vice-Director of the Second Historical Archives in Nanjing asked for my assistance in organizing the archives of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, I agreed. Although the archival mountain I had to climb proved higher and steeper than I thought, to be given access to an untouched archive is also any historian’s dream.

Looking back now over the more than ten years that it has taken to bring my history of the Service to publication, it is clear to me that this one chance encounter has changed my view of China in profound ways, and, more generally, that of the past. In an age in which our governing institutions are increasingly found wanting and in which a new parochialism threatens to take hold, it has given me a new respect for cosmopolitan civil service bureaucracies which emerged in the nineteenth century.

The Chinese Maritime Customs Service was an odd sort of bureaucracy, subordinate to the Chinese state but with a senior staff drawn from across the world. In between the Taiping Rebellion of the 1850s and the Communist victory in 1949, it functioned in between weak Chinese governments and overstretched empires. It gained its strength not only by accounting and delivering thirty to fifty percent of central revenue, but also by injecting itself into niches wherever they opened up, including in the building and management of China’s harbors, erecting lighthouses along the whole China coast, providing quarantine services, overseeing China’s bond issues, and purchasing a navy for China.

The men involved in these projects had flaws, they could be blinkered, they could act with unfounded arrogance toward China and the Chinese, and they could be blinded by ambition. But, they also were inspired by a nineteenth century “do-gooding” tradition, shaped as they were by the great liberal thinkers of the age, by Christian values (about which they kept publicly quiet), and the civil service reforms that began in nineteenth century Britain and then spread more widely. The result was the gestation of a Customs Service ethos aimed at keeping borders open, maintaining China’s territorial and national integrity, securing access to China’s foreign trade on the basis of equality, and delivering an efficient and effective bureaucracy.

(more…)

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Mike Chasar on Remembrance Day and the Case of the $400,000,000 Poem

Mike Chasar, Everyday ReadingThe following post written for Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day is by Mike Chasar, author of Everyday Reading: Poetry and Popular Culture in Modern America. The post was originally published on Arcade.

I like to think of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” as the $400,000,000 poem, and not just because its first stanza has appeared on the back of the Canadian $10 bank note—a fact that, all by itself, makes McCrae’s World War I-era verse one of the most widely circulated poems in history. I also think of it as the $400,000,000 poem because, shortly after it appeared in the December 8, 1915, issue of Punch magazine, the Canadian government made “In Flanders Fields” a central piece of its public relations campaign advertising the sale of the first Victory Loan Bonds, printing it, or excerpts from it, on billboards and posters like the one pictured here. According to Canadian Veterans Affairs and other sources, the campaign was designed to raise $150,000,000 but ended up netting—wait for it—more than $400,000,000.

Whoever said that “poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper” clearly wasn’t thinking of McCrae’s rondeau, which is the centerpiece of Remembrance or Veterans Day (November 11) activities worldwide and turned the red or “Buddy” poppy into the day’s icon, manufacture and sale of which has been a regular source of funding for disabled and needy VFW veterans as well as for war orphans and surviving spouses of veterans in the U.S. since 1923. It is memorized by school kids, recited at Remembrance Day events, has elicited all sorts of reply poems and been put to music, and resulted in the restoration of McCrae’s birthplace in Guelph, Ontario, as a museum. In Ypres, Belgium, there’s even a World War I museum that takes its name from the poem.

By most accounts, McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields” in 1915, the day after witnessing the death of his 22 year-old friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, and legend has it that McCrae ripped the poem out of his notebook and cast it aside amongst the blood-red poppies on the battlefield where it was rescued by an onlooker and sent to Punch, which printed it anonymously:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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