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October 8th, 2015

Wall Streeters: Michael Milken, Junk Bond King, Part 1

Wall Streeters

“While the investment logic for junk bonds may have been compelling, their lack of liquidity in the marketplace often remained a final stumbling block for the potential buyer. With few buyers and sellers in the high-yield bond market, investors faced an unwelcome prospect of holding a bond to its maturity date as the only sure way to be paid. Milken solved that liquidity issue by assuring those investors that Drexel would always be ready to buy or sell the bonds it was promoting.” — Edward Morris

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Today, we have an excerpt from Morris’s explanation of Michael Milken’s rise to prominence on Wall Street.

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

October 7th, 2015

Wall Streeters: J. Pierpont Morgan

Wall Streeters

“Pierpont had a quick and practiced financial mind, but he was also a large man with a commanding, sometimes terrifying presence. He spoke infrequently, but often explosively, and always with the certainty of someone whose word was challenged at peril. A persistent but unverified story circulated about Pierpont’s throwing “Jubilee Jim” Fisk (among the most notorious of the nineteenth-century robber barons) down a flight of stairs when a railroad negotiation turned into a business brawl.” — Edward Morris

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Today, we have an excerpt from Morris’s section discussing J. Pierpont Morgan, a pivotal figure in the history of American finance.

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

October 6th, 2015

Has ‘Financialization’ Been Good for Us?

Wall Streeters

‘Most perplexing of all has been the continued existence of banks that are “too big to fail.” After the hundreds of billions of dollars used to bail out the eight mega-banks following the 2008 debacle, most of the same banks have only grown larger, and the banking industry more concentrated—and more politically influential. In the banks’ defense, their continued growth has made it possible for them to repay the rescue money that was provided to forestall their financial collapse; yet the repayments are hardly sufficient recompense for the widespread and long-lasting economic hardship suffered in the aftermath of the crisis.’ — Edward Morris

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. Today, we have an excerpt from Morris’s conclusion, in which he explains his goal in writing his book, and asks readers to consider the finance sector’s increasingly powerful role in the economy, particularly in light of the 2008 financial crisis.

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

October 6th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Transracial Adoption, Sport in India, and More New Books!

In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption
Rhonda M. Roorda

Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India
Ronojoy Sen

Terror, Religion, and Liberal Thought (Now available in paper)
Richard B. Miller

Migrant Friendships in a Super-Diverse City: Russian-Speakers and their Social Relationships in London in the 21st Century
Darya Malyutina. Foreword by Claire Dwyer
(ibidem Press)

Variations of Suburbanism: Approaching a Global Phenomenon
Edited by Barbara Schönig
(ibidem Press)

October 5th, 2015

An Interview with Steven S. Lee, author of “The Ethnic Avant-Garde”

The Ethnic Avant-Garde

“Up until Black Lives Matter, there was a lot of talk about ‘post-race’ and ‘post-identity,’ which now seems awfully naïve. I think my book helps us to grasp the ongoing salience of racial and ethnic divides, namely, by explaining how these divides were reinforced after the interwar years.”—Steven S. Lee

The following is an interview with Steven S. Lee, author of The Ethnic Avant-Garde: Minority Cultures and World Revolution:

Q: What do you mean by “the ethnic avant-garde”?

Steven S. Lee: Two things. First, it’s a historical grouping comprised of minority writers and artists from around the world who, particularly in the 1920s and 30s, drew inspiration from the Soviet Union. They saw interwar Moscow as a beacon of both world revolution and cultural experimentation—Moscow as a center for both the Communist International (Comintern) and the international avant-garde. Rather than shared phenotype or descent, what bound this group were the forms in which it trafficked, namely, the defining techniques of the Soviet avant-garde—montage, fragment, interruption. For instance, the ethnic avant-garde encompasses Langston Hughes’s translations of Vladimir Mayakovsky; abstract suprematist shapes depicting the Bolshevik Revolution as Jewish messianic arrest; and a Soviet futurist play about China that became Broadway’s first major production with a predominantly Asian American cast.

But I also present the ethnic avant-garde as a utopian aspiration, one that exceeds the interwar years and the Soviet Union and that persists into the present. It’s the dream of advancing simultaneously ethnic particularism, political radicalism, and ar¬tistic experimentation—a dream largely crushed by Stalinism and the Cold War, but which I trace forward to Red China, 1960s activism, and contemporary American writing. As a result, we get to see the global scope and experimental potential of minority cultures, debunking the notion that particularism yields provincialism.

Q: How did you arrive at this grouping?

SSL: It’s been a roundabout journey. The project began in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where I spent a year comparing Soviet Korean and Korean American literature. In 1937, Stalin deported approximately 180,000 Koreans from the Russian Far East to Central Asia, suspecting that they might serve as Japanese spies. And yet this wasn’t only a tragedy. The strides that Soviet Koreans made and continue to make, particularly in the cultural and political spheres, are just astounding. For instance, the Soviet Union’s greatest cult rock star, Viktor Tsoi, was half-Korean.

While working on this project in Tashkent, a friend told me about Langston Hughes’s 1932 visit to Uzbekistan and about his little-known, Moscow-published book that favorably compared the Soviet “East” to the American South. From there, the project began to grow broader in scope—from Soviet Koreans to Soviet “national minorities” as a whole, and to the contrasts between American multiculturalism and its Soviet counterparts. I became particularly interested in the long, troubled history of American minorities who saw the USSR as a “frontier of hope” (to quote the Jewish American philosopher Horace Kallen).

Of course, many of the figures I follow eventually became disillusioned with Soviet policies; some of them perished during the Stalinist terrors. However, in trying to understand the allure of what Claude McKay called the “magic pilgrimage” to the USSR, it’s important to keep in mind that these writers and artists weren’t just interested in official policies. They were also drawn to the creative possibilities opened by the likes of Sergei Eisenstein and Vladimir Mayakovsky—this lionized branch of the international avant-garde which, as Slavists well know, had itself long been fascinated by minority and non-Western cultures.

Q: How does the ethnic avant-garde change our understanding of the historical avant-garde of the interwar years?

SSL: One of my aims has been to highlight the interwar avant-garde’s inclusive, decolonizing potential, and the key has been to think about avant-gardism as the estrangement of time and history. Following the lead of Walter Benjamin and Peter Osborne, as well as Slavists like Masha Salazkina and Jane Sharp, the book uses “ethnicity” (with its connotations of the past and descent) to highlight the avant-garde’s ability to interrupt linear progress.

Allow me to elaborate. Typically, we see the avant-garde as future-oriented—the revolutionary vanguard and artistic avant-garde as agents of progress—but of course, there are plenty of instances of cutting-edge artists and writers looking to the past for inspiration. Picasso’s incorporation of African masks, Pound’s interest in Confucianism, and Eisenstein’s Mexican film project are well-known examples. The book adds several more to the mix: for instance, we see the futurist Mayakovsky attempting poetry in an “Afro-Cuban” voice, praising Diego Rivera for painting the “world’s first Communist mural,” and then relaxing at a leftist Jewish summer camp on the Hudson.

What I argue is that Mayakovsky and his fellow Soviet avant-gardists embraced (and often identified with) minority peoples and cultures in order to rethink linear progress, and in the context of the Comintern such efforts had a uniquely radical, decolonizing function. This is because the Soviet avant-garde’s efforts to estrange history complemented the Comintern’s efforts to do the same—to coordinate a world revolution that would include peoples of all backgrounds and all stages of historical development.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 5th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance

Wall Streeters

“Enjoyable to read, easy to understand, Wall Streeters is a compendium of the last 150 years of ups and downs in American finance. Ed Morris uses the informative lens of biography to bring this history alive, and they are all here, from the saints to the sinners. Along the way readers will learn the problems and value of finance and Wall Street to our nation.” — David Cowen, president, Museum of American Finance

This week, our featured book is Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance, by Edward Morris. 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 Wall Streeters. 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, October 9th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

October 2nd, 2015

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

This week on the Beacon Press blog, Kay Whitlock discusses five myths about violence in America in an attempt to highlight the distinction between the widespread perception of hate crimes in America as isolated and individually-motivated incidents, and the idea of a culturally-perpetuated, structural violence that she believes more accurately characterizes these events.

Duke University Press has posted an article, “How to Start a New Journal,” that brings attention to five new journals, including the Transgender Studies Quarterly, that have been founded in response to new pressing issues, calling attention to the merits of the academic journal as a versatile, accessible medium for discussion about ideas that demand attention.

In a post on the Harvard Education Publishing Group blog, Shayla Reese Griffin discusses the discrepancy between the belief in segregation as a problem of the past and the alarming reality of what many U.S. classrooms today still look like. Her solution is a recommitment to the active practice of integration, beginning with a collective and mindful undoing of unconscious fears, biases, and prejudices.

In light of International Translation Day, Helen Constantine discusses the implications of widespread translation practices in a post on the Oxford University Press blog. It isn’t considered strange, for example, for a writer from Gaza to write his novel in English, but there are very few English writers who would write a novel in Arabic. Constantine brings up fascinating questions about translation, building up barriers, and breaking them down. (For further information about this fascinating topic, check out two Columbia UP books: The Fall of Language in the Age of English, by Minae Mizumura, and Born Translated, by Rebecca Walkowitz!)

This past week was Banned Books Week (September 27 through October 3), and the University of Texas Press has announced that it will be launching a new comic book studies series called the World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction Series, which will publish books that bring an analytical and interdisciplinary approach to defining the comic book studies field. The blog has included an excerpt of the recent issue of The Velvet Light Trap dealing with censorship in the comic book industry.

A recent post on the Yale University Press blog discusses an trend in state-level justice reforms in many southern states as well as Utah, Pennsylvania, and California that make it easier for those incarcerated to gain access to education and training that can greatly improve their prospects in post-incarcerated life. This has given rise to the hopes of a shift of penal reform in a less punitive direction.

Thanks for reading! As always, we hope that you enjoyed the links. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

October 2nd, 2015

American Individualism Challenged

Beyond Individualism

“The individualism that Americans embrace is all-too-often seen as an attack on the core values of more traditional societies. In such contexts, individualism is all too easily characterized as uncontrolled materialism and hedonism aimed at undermining the long-established commitments and practices of communities opposed to outside intervention.” — George Rupp

This week, our second featured book is Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp. Today, on the final day of the week’s features, we are happy to present an essay by Rupp, in which he argues that the individualism embraced by both liberals and conservatives in American politics has a deleterious effect on both American domestic and foreign policy.

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

American Individualism Challenged
By George Rupp

Especially in this campaign season, the cause of individualism is claimed across the conservative-liberal spectrum of contemporary U.S. politics. Conservatives affirm individual initiatives and embrace the liberty of individuals, often grounded in religious convictions. Liberals insist on the freedom of individual expression and action and view social order as the result of agreements among consenting individuals.

Yet this apparent agreement as to the merits of individualism has led, not to shared positive outcomes, but rather to a catastrophic under-investment in public goods.

Government funding for education at all levels has declined. The same is true for investments in the research that has undergirded global competitiveness. Similarly, the infrastructure for transportation requires massive attention. Less immediately evident but even more compelling for the long term is the imperative of care for environmental sustainability. In all such areas, the United States faces a tragedy of the commons even as private interests dominate in all sectors.

The under-investment in social goods is accentuated by the increasing spread between the income and wealth of the very top stratum of society and all other strata—not only the poor but also the middle class and even significant segments of what used to be the well-to-do. This increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth is in any case troubling. But it is especially challenging when it includes reduced upward mobility not only in comparison with past American patterns but also compared to other Western societies that have significantly better recent records of movement from lower to higher income levels.

The challenges in domestic patterns have international ramifications as well. The most basic ones result from what will be an increasingly evident lack of international competitiveness over the long term. Reduced upward mobility, declining educational attainments, and smaller investments in infrastructure and research will all over time have powerfully negative consequences.

There are also current effects on international relations. The fact that the United States devotes proportionately less of its resources to global development than virtually all other wealthy countries is one measure of under-investment. But an even more direct impact of American individualism is evident in conflict areas around the world.

The individualism that Americans embrace is all-too-often seen as an attack on the core values of more traditional societies. In such contexts, individualism is all too easily characterized as uncontrolled materialism and hedonism aimed at undermining the long-established commitments and practices of communities opposed to outside intervention. Instances of these antagonistic positions are inescapable in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq among many other conflicts.

In confronting the appeal of such characterizations, responses can and should highlight the myriad ways in which individualism is not antagonistic to the traditional values of community. There will unavoidably be areas of tension and disagreement—for example, in regard to the role of women or the prerogatives of elders. But what is crucial is to affirm the value of traditional communities and acknowledge that there are limits to the entitlement of individuals.

One point of conflict that is potentially an area of collaboration is religion. Religious allegiances can easily become a source of mutual antagonism. Indeed, inter-religious contention and distrust have at quite a few times—regrettably including the present—been drivers of hostility. Yet there is remarkable agreement across the entire range of religious traditions that individual attainment need not be opposed to affirming the value of community. Put positively, the faith, the insight, and the conviction of the individual presupposes a nourishing and supportive community.

While this mutual support is affirmed in Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and other initially Asian communities and also in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, it is not immediately evident in some of the more strident forms of modern secular individualism. This fact renders alleged American imperialism the more plausible as a target for attack. It is therefore incumbent on the U.S. for both principled and pragmatic reasons to embrace and commend the values of communities as fundamentally compatible with the core principles of individualism.

Both liberal and conservative traditions have contributions to offer. The individualism of conservatives includes explicit recognition of the role of the community in shaping the identities of its members. Religious communities figure prominently in this process, but voluntary associations of all kinds are also included. Similarly, the individualism of liberals includes the aspiration for community as well. In this case, the community is much more likely to be secular and at its most ambitious is universal in scope, seeking in principle to include all individuals everywhere, albeit often with little focus on particular local communities.

The challenge for both conservative and liberal advocates of individualism is to allow their shared albeit not identical commitment to community to gain enough traction to overcome the under-investment in public goods that is impoverishing our common life.

October 1st, 2015

Introducing “Beyond Individualism”

Beyond Individualism

“Against the backdrop of [my] experiences across a considerable range of locations both in this country and abroad, Beyond Individualism offers a serial overview of my recent efforts to think and act in ways that resist the power of special interests and press toward more inclusive communities.” — George Rupp

This week, our second featured book is Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp. Today, we are happy to present Rupp’s introduction to his book, in which he explains how his experiences over a long and fascinating career have led him to the ideas he presents in Beyond Individualism.

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

October 1st, 2015

Interview with Jill Stauffer, author of Ethical Loneliness

Ethical Loneliness

“We live in a world where every relatively privileged life relies on the use of misery: the clothes we wear and the food we eat come from abusive labor conditions, the super-wealthy hide their money in tax havens to avoid contributing to larger social benefit, powerful nations pay corrupt elites in underdeveloped nations for natural resources at rates that benefit everyone except the people living in those underdeveloped nations, and it is all legal.” — Jill Stauffer

The following is an interview with Jill Stauffer, author of Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Not Being Heard.

What made you write a book about political repair that focused on loneliness rather than on politics or the work of institutions?

Jill Stauffer: I wrote Ethical Loneliness in response to a gap I felt in discussions people were having in various settings about how to respond to harm. Political reconciliation, transitional justice, political forgiveness and apology, legal adjudication of mass violence, truth commissions, international courts—all these are ways of responding to harm, focused to varying degrees on a discourse of repair. And yet it seemed to me that often, in conversations about these important forms of response, some things were being left unsaid. Forests were being discussed, but trees neglected, I might say. In all these discussions of repair, I kept finding too many moments where institutions designed to hear failed to listen well, and so also failed those they were most meant to serve.

So I set out to try to put a name to this thing that seemed to slip through the cracks of current conversation. I found my way to an answer when I started reading the writings Jean Améry, a holocaust and concentration camp survivor famous for defending the political value of resentment over forgiveness. Reading his work while thinking about Emmanuel Levinas’ early phenomenology—written while held in a forced labor camp during WWII—led me to come up with the term “ethical loneliness,” a name for a double abandonment. Ethical loneliness is the experience of being abandoned by humanity compounded by the experience of not being heard when you testify to what happened.

Can you offer an example of how “ethical loneliness” gets produced?

JS: It might happen when interviewers taking testimony from holocaust survivors want to hear stories of resilience and so cannot hear tales of a self’s destruction; at a truth commission where a political concern with forgiveness means stories of justified resentment go unheard; or in a court of law where the need to establish the facts of a case pushes to the side a larger story of harms caused and worlds destroyed. It might also arise when testimony about a complex story of disrespect and abuse is reduced to a standard rape story due to selective listening or political goals; or when academic discourse analysis takes testimony aiming to demonstrate strength and loss and transforms it into a story only about pain; when the legalized goal of isolating victims from perpetrators fails to see how porous the lines between the two can be in protracted complex conflict; or when those empowered to judge do not adequately understand the context in which histories and stories are conveyed, or the forms they might take, for indigenous or other minority communities. These are all sites where even people who very much want to hear well, do justice and create a better future may fail to do any of that. And that will leave many people feeling unheard, invisible, lonely or worse.

What causes ethical loneliness?

JS: Well, it’s a failure of hearing, but you’re asking why people fail. Reasons for it are just as varied as the occasions where it occurs. Those who fail to hear well may be focused on the facts of the case or the established laws and procedures. They may have a political interest in a restorative discourse. They may be overwhelmed by how far the demand for help exceeds their capacity to offer assistance. Or they may be protecting themselves from the trauma of hearing.

But I think it goes beyond that as well. As I wrote the book, I asked myself how it could be that “bad hearing” was so widespread. And I came to the thought that at least part of the problem resides in the stories we (those of us who care about justice and believe it ought to be fairly equally distributed) tell ourselves about what we owe and how we come to owe it. We want to believe in liberal political theory’s tale of autonomy not only because, for many of us, we find it all around us as we get formed as people—it is a prevalent story. But we also want to believe in a simplified autonomy because it can be too frightening to admit that, just as we were made into who we are by lots of forces beyond our control, including our fellow human beings, we can be destroyed by other human beings. Meaningful autonomy only exists where there are others who will respect its boundaries. And much of what keeps some safe while others get harmed is moral luck, nothing earned or deserved. It can be terrifying to think it, but I see no way out of that truth.
And so we tell ourselves that we are only responsible for what we’ve done and intended, and perhaps we also believe that people get what’s coming to them. But we forget to reason our way to the conclusion that comes from that starting point: that our aspirations toward a better justice will remain unrealized if that’s the story we tell ourselves about responsibility.

How does that follow?

JS: Well, let’s admit up front that sometimes it does work to say that a person is responsible for something she has done, and that the balance disturbed by that bad act can be set aright by some kind of punishment or paying of compensation. That probably works for some kinds of harms. But that story of legal culpability does not correspond to most of the forms of harm discussed in the book: where what causes harm and destroys worlds is not (or not only) individual people who set out to do harm, but also whole ideologies rallied around supporting that harm, supported actively or passively by large populations—nearby or distant, sometimes even the whole world—standing by and doing nothing to resist them. We might like to call these “innocent” wielders of harm bystanders and beneficiaries, but I’m not sure those terms are rich enough to communicate a sense of what actually builds or destroys a world.

But how does believing I’m only responsible for what I’ve set out to do mean that there won’t be better justice?

JS: We live in a world where every relatively privileged life relies on the use of misery: the clothes we wear and the food we eat come from abusive labor conditions, the super-wealthy hide their money in tax havens to avoid contributing to larger social benefit, powerful nations pay corrupt elites in underdeveloped nations for natural resources at rates that benefit everyone except the people living in those underdeveloped nations, and it is all legal. Most individuals benefiting from that misery have not participated directly in imposing oppressive or violent conditions. And so they may think they cannot be responsible for what happens. My point: many will be left unprotected and without recourse even in a world where everyone lives up to their legitimate legal duties and does nothing more than that. More is needed. But in order to see that you have to tell yourself a different story about where responsibility comes from and who bears it. If you believe in a justice beyond bare legal culpability, then you have to accept responsibility for more than what you’ve done and intended.

And how do you tell that story in the book?

JS: To get at where a sense of responsibility beyond bare culpability could come from, I had to work through a phenomenology of how selves get built not as autonomous units but in a dependence on others. I show how that is true not only in dire situations where human vulnerability is exploited, but in daily life, where one’s own possibilities and daily actions are made easier or more difficult by a variety of human-made contexts. Only that story makes sense of how human beings can be destroyed by other human beings, with or without violence (that is, destruction is not only physical but can also be emotional or social). And it begins to dismantle the attachment many of us might have to current ideas self, autonomy and responsibility that only tell half of the story. I don’t discard autonomy (it is a valuable possession!), but rather put it back in relationship with the vulnerability that also defines us as human beings. That vulnerability is not all bad! It brings us love and various kinds of pleasure along with the danger of harm and loss.

OK. So if I care about justice in way that transcends legal institutions, I have to give up my attachment to my limited-version story of responsibility. Is that all?

JS: That’s a step. The book doesn’t just gut you of your autonomy and leave you there. It also gestures at ways out of this deeply rooted impasse. I suggest renewed attention to the human capacity for revision, and a revision of our limited ideas about desert. For anyone living in the wake of an unjust past that should have been otherwise, revision can be a life-saving talent. But it is rarely accomplished by one person acting alone.

What do you mean by revision?

JS: It doesn’t mean denying that the past happened (it isn’t “revisionist”). But it reckons with the different kinds of stories each of us can tell ourselves about the past, over time. We all know that the meaning of past events changes for us over time as we age and/or as our lived context changes. That’s revision. I argue in the book that this, also, is the source of a broad social responsibility. For someone living in a community where what happened to her is widely acknowledged as a wrong that should not have been permitted and will not be allowed in the future, it will be easier for her to narrate the past as over rather than continuing into the present moment than it will be for someone whose losses aren’t acknowledged or who is still surrounded by people who do not treat her with respect or care. In that case the past will not be past. In the wake of massive violence or longstanding oppression, it is everyone’s job to contribute to building a world where positive rather than negative revisions are possible.

So the book sets out a phenomenology of ethical loneliness, discusses how current discourses about truth commissions, international tribunals, political reconciliation and transitional justice contribute to furthering justice but leave important goals unthought, collects together testimony from diverse institutions and a wide range of persons whose worlds have been further destroyed when their words were not properly heard, thinks carefully about the human capacity for revision—for remaking the world—and asks what desert could mean in the wake of all that.

September 30th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp

Beyond Individualism

“Rupp writes with great clarity and wisdom, and also with unmistakable moral conviction about issues with which he has direct personal engagement. Beyond Individualism is a book of passionate advocacy.” — David N. Hempton, dean, Harvard Divinity School

This week, our featured book is Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities, by George Rupp. 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 Beyond Individualism. 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, October 2nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

September 30th, 2015

Periodization and Globalization — Jacques Le Goff

In the following conclusion to Must We Divide History Into Periods?, Jacques Le Goff examines the relationship between globalization and the way we understand history:

By now it will be plain that I dissent from the view of most modern historians in seeing the Renaissance, not as a separate period, but only as the last subperiod of a long Middle Ages.

Periodization in the Western tradition goes back to the earli­est Greek thinking about history (Herodotus, fifth century BCE) and, still further, to the Hebrew Bible (Daniel, sixth century BCE). Even so, it did not become a matter of broad agreement among historians until quite recently, the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, when the writing of history itself underwent a transfor­mation: what had been a purely literary genre was now considered a branch of knowledge worthy of being taught to the young. As a subject of instruction it responded to a desire, as well as a need, to make sense of the great spans of time over which human soci­eties have developed. Calendars made it possible to organize the moments of daily life. Periodization satisfied the same purpose, but over a longer term. The question arises whether this human invention, if it is to have lasting value, has to correspond to some objective reality. It seems to me that it must. In saying this, I do not refer to the world as a physical system. By “reality,” I mean human reality—the lives actually lived by people, particularly in the West. The history of these people’s lives, so far as we are able to reconstruct them on the basis of the various materials available to us, constitutes a distinguishable chapter of human experience having its own characteristic features. One of these is a distinctive rhythm of events that causes the history of people in the West to coincide with a particular succession of periods.

The act of periodizing is justified by all those things that make history a science—not an exact science, of course, but neverthe­less a social science that rests on an objective foundation built up from documentary and other sources. Now, the events that these sources describe unavoidably follow a certain course: as Marc Bloch used to say, the history of societies unfolds over time. Since history, by its very nature, evolves, it is inseparable from time. Historians have no choice but to try to bend chronology to their own will. At the same time, they cannot help but find themselves under its sway. To the extent that the conditions of life undergo change, all the more indispensable does periodization become for the historian.

The idea of a longue durée, a term due to Fernand Braudel and widely used by historians since, has been objected to on the ground that it has the effect of blurring periods, if not actually erasing them. To my mind there is no contradiction. Not only is there room for periods in the long term, they are a necessity—for the attempt to explain events that have both a mental and a physical dimen­sion, as historical events inescapably do, requires a combination of continuity and discontinuity. It is just this advantage that the idea of a longue durée offers the historian when it is supplemented by the freedom to divide the course of history into periods.

The question of the rate of historical change—or, to put it another way, how quickly one period gives way to another—I have left to one side because it seems not to have really interested any­one until the modern era. People during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, unlike historians of the recent past and the present day, were more impressed by how slowly history changes. There have been few, if any, genuine revolutions. François Furet was fond of saying that the French Revolution lasted for almost the whole of the nineteenth century. This, by the way, is why many histori­ans, including ones who subscribe to the notion of a specific period called the Renaissance, have resorted to the expression “Middle Ages and Renaissance.” If one century falls under this head more naturally than any of its neighbors (and for just this reason displays unrivaled richness and creativity), it is surely the fifteenth.

My own view is that we will come nearer to the truth, and with greater hope of thinking about periodization in a way that stands to make the study of history both feasible and rewarding, if we consider that periods are typically long and typically marked by phases of significant, though not epochal, change. In the case of the Middle Ages these subperiods are usefully called renaissances, a term that joins a sense of novelty (naissance) to the idea of a return to a golden age (the prefix re- pointing backward in time while sug­gesting a resemblance between past and present).

There is another reason to suppose that dividing history into periods is not only possible but necessary. Of the two perspec­tives that arouse the greatest enthusiasm among historians today, the long term and world history (the latter a consequence of the largely American interest in developing the idea of a global past), neither one seems to me incompatible with periodization; quite the contrary. I repeat: unmeasured and measured time coex­ist. Periodization, however, can apply only to limited domains, or areas, of human civilization. The task of a world history is to discover the relations among these domains. Periodization and globalization are therefore complementary, not contradictory.

But historians must be careful not to confuse, as they have too often done until now, it seems to me, the idea of globalization with that of standardization (or homogenization, as it is sometimes called). There are two stages in globalization: the first consists in communication, the coming into direct contact of regions and civilizations that previously were unfamiliar with one another; the second is a phenomenon of absorption, a fusing of cultures. Until now humanity has passed through only the first of these stages.
Periodization presents historians today with splendid oppor­tunities for fresh research and analysis. Thanks to periodiza­tion, both the manner in which human history is organized and the manner in which it changes over time, over the long term, is becoming clearer.

September 29th, 2015

Jacques Le Goff’s Preface to “Must We Divide History Into Periods?”


“I trust I have not lost sight of the broader question with which I began, namely, whether history is a unified, continuous whole or whether it is broken up instead into segments of greater or lesser length. To put the question another way: does history really need to be divided into periods?”—Jacques Le Goff

The following is the preface to Must We Divide History Into Periods? by Jacques Le Goff:

This essay is neither thesis nor synthesis. It is the culmination of many years of research and reflection about the periods of history, particularly Western history. The Middle Ages in Europe have been my companion since 1950, the year I obtained my teaching license. Fernand Braudel chaired the examination committee, alongside the medievalist Maurice Lombard.

I have carried this work inside me for a long time, then. It has been nourished and sustained by ideas that are dear to my heart and that I have tried to express in various ways in the years since.

History, like its subject, time, appears to be continuous. But it consists of changes as well. Historians have long been accustomed to identifying and defining these changes by dividing the continu­ous stream of events into segments that initially were called “ages” and then “periods.”

I wrote this book in 2013. The pace of globalization, as it is called, has now become so rapid that its effects are felt more directly with every passing day. I have looked back over more than six decades, the period of my career as a historian, but also, tak­ing a longer view, over more than six centuries, in order to recon­sider the various ways in which historians before me have thought about periodization, whether in terms of continuity or disconti­nuity, and the various ways in which they have interpreted his­torical memory.

Studying these different types of periodization makes it pos­sible, I believe, to detect the existence of what may be called a “long” Middle Ages—and this all the more if we take a fresh look at the various ways in which historians have tried since the nine­teenth century to make sense of the Renaissance and what they imagine to be its pivotal position in the history of the past thou­sand years.

In treating the general problem of how history passes from one period to another, in other words, I examine a particular case: the alleged novelty of the Renaissance in relation to the Middle Ages. The present work seeks to establish the major characteristics of a long Middle Ages in the Christian West that extends from late antiquity (between the third and the seventh century) to the mid­dle of the eighteenth century.

But I do not therefore overlook the fact that the history of the Christian West is part of a global narrative. No one writing history today, or in the future, will be able to avoid the problems that arise in trying to carve up the past, only now on a larger scale. I have written this book in the hope, too, that it may make some prelimi­nary contribution, however modest, to this necessary task.

If the “centrality” of the Renaissance is at the heart of my con­cerns, together with the obligation to reexamine a widely held conception of the Middle Ages that a lifetime devoted to scholar­ship has convinced me is too narrow to be useful, I trust I have not lost sight of the broader question with which I began, namely, whether history is a unified, continuous whole or whether it is broken up instead into segments of greater or lesser length. To put the question another way: does history really need to be divided into periods?

September 29th, 2015

New Book Tuesday! The China Boom, Marx After Marx, and More New Titles!

The China Boom

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World
Ho-fung Hung

Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism
Harry Harootunian

The Lioness in Winter: Writing an Old Woman’s Life
Ann Burack-Weiss

A Political Economy of the Senses: Neoliberalism, Reification, Critique
Anita Chari

Sewing Women: Immigrants and the New York City Garment Industry (Now available in paper)
Margaret Chin

For His Eyes Only: The Women of James Bond
Edited by Lisa Funnell
(Wallflower Press)

The Road Movie: In Search of Meaning
Neil Archer
(Wallflower Press)

Realism as Protest: Kluge, Schlingensief, Haneke
Tara Forrest

September 28th, 2015

Book Giveaway! “Must We Divide History Into Periods?” by Jacques Le Goff

For the first half of this week our featured book is Must We Divide History Into Periods? by Jacques Le Goff.

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 Must We Divide History Into Periods? to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Thursday, October 1 at 1:00 pm.

“Le Goff was one of the truly great historians of our time, and his final reflections on the nature and responsibilities of our craft are lucid, profound, and humane.” — R. I. Moore, Newcastle University

For more on the book you can read the chapter Prelude: Periodization and the Past:

September 24th, 2015

The Self-Critique of a Pope

Pope Francis Among the Wolves

“Bergoglio’s leadership of the diocese of Buenos Aires and then the presidency of the Argentine Episcopal Conference from 2005 to 2011 were formative: they taught him that governing is not just issuing orders but listening, building consensus, and resolving problems by taking the time to assess them in depth.’” — Marco Politi

This week (just in time for the Pope’s visit to the East Coast!) our featured book is Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution, by Marco Politi. Today, we have an excerpt which focuses on Francis’s history in South America during a time of political turmoil.

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

September 23rd, 2015

The Face of a Parish Priest

Pope Francis Among the Wolves

“Francis has proclaimed a church that does not ‘lock itself up in small things, in small-minded rules,’ does not transform religion into ideology but concentrates on the essential message: ‘Jesus Christ has saved you.’” — Marco Politi

This week (just in time for the Pope’s visit to the East Coast!) our featured book is Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution, by Marco Politi. In our second post, Politi describes some of the central characteristics that have defined Francis’s papacy so far, with a special focus on the Pope’s interaction with the Catholic people.

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

September 22nd, 2015

Announcing the winner of the first annual Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award

Columbia University Press, in conjunction with the Office of the Provost of Columbia University, is pleased to announce that Wael B. Hallaq is the winner of the first annual Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award for his book The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament.

Wael B. Hallaq is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) at Columbia University.

Ellen Lukens, Sylvia D. & Mose J. Firestone Centennial Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia School of Social Work and Co-Chair of the Columbia University Press faculty publication committee says Hallaq’s exceptional work was chosen because “in this powerful critical reflection on our times, Hallaq draws on historical and religious narratives to examine the limits of both Islamic and Western concepts of the modern state in light of the often misunderstood moral demands of Shari’ah. His writing illuminates the need for dialogue between Islamic and Western thought in an effort to confront the forces that threaten ecological sustainability and moral and communal prosperity in a global setting.”

The Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award is given to the Columbia University faculty member with a book published by the Press in the two years prior that brings the highest distinction to Columbia University and Columbia University Press for its outstanding contribution to academic and public discourse. The winner is selected by a jury composed of the current members of the Press’s faculty publication committee.

A ceremony to honor the winner will be held on September 24, 2015, at the Casa Italiana at Columbia University. The author of the winning book receives a certificate and a cash award of $10,000.

You can find more information about the award here.

September 22nd, 2015

Francis’s Fear

Pope Francis Among the Wolves

“Now, on 13 March 2013, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, president of the conclave, was asking him if he accepted his election. Bergoglio answered yes without hesitation, and he added in Latin: ‘Vocabor Franciscus in memoriam sancti Francisci de Assisi’ (I will be called Francis in memory of Saint Francis of Assisi).” — Marco Politi

This week (just in time for the Pope’s visit to the East Coast!) our featured book is Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution, by Marco Politi. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Francis’s Fear,” the second chapter of Politi’s book, in which he tells the story of how Francis was chosen as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

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

September 22nd, 2015

New Book Tuesday! Wall Streeters, Green Capitalism, Beyond Biofatalism, Sebald & More!

Wall Streeters

Our weekly listing of new titles:

Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance
Edward Morris

Green Capital: A New Perspective on Growth
Christian de Perthuis and Pierre-André Jouvet. Translated by Michael Westlake

Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World
Gillian Barker

Sebald’s Vision
Carol Jacobs

Gleisdreieck: Parklife Berlin
Edited by Andra Lichtenstein and Flavia Alice Mameli

Imagineering Cultural Vienna: On the Semiotic Regulation of Vienna’s Culture-led Urban Transformation
Johannes Suitner

Video Theory: Online Video Aesthetics or the Afterlife of Video
Andreas Treske

Partisans in Yugoslavia: Literature, Film, and Visual Culture
Edited by Miranda Jakisa

European Visions: Small Cinemas in Transition
Edited by Janelle Blankenship and Tobias Nagl

Germany 1916-23: A Revolution in Context
Edited by Klaus Weinhauer, Anthony McElligott, and Kirsten Heinsohn

The Transcription of Identities: A Study of V. S. Naipaul’s Postcolonial Writings
Min Zhou

After the Storm: The Cultural Politics of Hurricane Katrina
Edited by Simon Dickel and Evangelia Kindinger

Zeitschrift für interkulturelle Germanistik (Journal of Intercultural German Studies)
Vol. 6, 2015, Issue 1
Edited by Dieter Heimböckel, Ernest W.B. Hess-Lüttich, Georg Mein, and Heinz Sieburg