University Press Week: Local Voices

Celebrating University Press Week, and the theme, #RaiseUP, we spotlight local voices and our Pennsylvania History series. The books in this series are designed to make high-quality scholarship accessible for students, advancing the mission of the Pennsylvania Historical Association by engaging with key social, political, and cultural issues in the history of the state and region. Series editors Beverly C. Tomek and Allen Dieterich-Ward explain more in this blog entry.

Temple University Press is a leading publisher of regional titles, helping authors of a variety of works on Philadelphia and Pennsylvania share their work with other scholars and general readers throughout the region and the world. As such, they were a natural partner for the Pennsylvania Historical Association (PHA).

The PHA has long published a number of titles, including a “History Studies” pamphlet series that began in 1948. The series was originally envisioned as an adjunct to the association’s journal, but it took on a life of its own as the earlier pamphlet-style publications gradually expanded to modest booklets. These works told the story of various ethnic groups, industries, and workers throughout the Keystone State. Books in the series also discussed Pennsylvania sports, various reform movements throughout the state’s history, and the role of women in Pennsylvania history. As they grew in variety, the booklets gained the attention of educators in classrooms and museums and were increasingly used as textbooks for courses throughout the state.

As the association neared the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the study series, the PHA rebranded it the Pennsylvania History series and decided to partner with a university press to take the booklets to the next level. They wanted the series to benefit from the expertise, resources, and support of a respected academic publisher and to produce high-quality yet inexpensive books in place of the booklets. After investigating multiple publishers, the PHA chose Temple University Press and began an exciting partnership that has seen a significant improvement in the quality of the publications.

In its initial form, the Pennsylvania History series included pamphlets that were stapled at the spine. Written by experts in the field and heavily illustrated, these pamphlets offered introductory overviews of a number of important topics in Pennsylvania history.

The second iteration of the History series included booklets that maintained the PHA’s mission. They remained short in length and continued to include a number of illustrations.

Now, published in partnership with Temple University Press, the Pennsylvania History series features professionally produced and marketed books introducing readers to key topics in the state’s history.

As part of the PHA’s mission to advocate for and advance knowledge of the history and culture of Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region, the series remains committed to providing timely, relevant, and high-quality scholarship in a compact and accessible form. Volumes in the series are written by scholars engaged in the teaching of Pennsylvania history for use in the classroom and broader public history settings. Temple has worked with the PHA to ensure that the books remain affordable while expanding the series’ reach. Since the partnership began, the Pennsylvania History series has released an updated edition on the history of Philadelphia, a new volume on the Scots-Irish in early Pennsylvania, and the first book-length survey on the history of public health and medicine in the state.

Plans for 2021/2022 include a new history of Pennsylvania slavery and abolition by Beverly Tomek and an updated edition of Terry Madonna’s Pivotal Pennsylvania on presidential politics in the Keystone State.

Recalling public health efforts in Pennsylvania

This week in North Philly Notes, Jim Higgins, author of The Health of the Commonwealth, looks back on past epidemics.

By the last half of the nineteenth century, science began to unlock the secrets of infectious disease, most importantly that bacteria and viruses were the cause. No cures for human infectious disease emerged until the 1890s, when antitoxins for diphtheria and tetanus debuted. Even without cures for most infectious disease, public health efforts made remarkable inroads at the turn of the twentieth century in Pennsylvania and across the nation. 

As The Health of the Commonwealth neared its final edits, the new coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic was on the move. Even the barriers posed by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which I suspect millions of Americans depend upon, if unconsciously, to keep a dangerous world at bay, delayed the virus by only a matter of hours once it got aboard a transoceanic passenger jet.

 

The responses of the citizenry in the midst of an epidemic varies. Many quiet people in quiet corners cooked food for neighbors, checked on friends, took care of family, and generally soothed unsteady nerves. Most of those stories went unrecorded in our history. Most go unrecorded today, too. At the same time, there has always been resistance to modern public health measures in Pennsylvania. During a smallpox vaccination effort in 1906, parents allowed their elementary school aged children to parade the streets of Waynesboro, Franklin County with an effigy of the commissioner of health, which they kicked, spat upon, and ultimately burned.  The city council of Allentown declared in late-1918 that the flu, which was just beginning to infect people in the city, was actually nothing more than a “regular” cold. Homes, they suggested, should be kept warm to avoid catching these widespread, severe colds, even as the same councilmen were preparing that day to deal with a severe coal shortage throughout the region. Many people just tried to go about life as if nothing were amiss. Just push through it, they seemed to think, through the years and through the typhoid, smallpox, polio, and HIV tragedies. If one continues to go through the motions of life, eventually the threat will pass and (provided one survives) the stout-hearted (or delusional) person who ignores the presence of an epidemic will…what?  I’ve never been able to figure that part out. I guess the best I’ve come up with is that people who ignore epidemics satisfy a psychological need for control. Or because they are terrified. Sometimes, like now, politicians can harness an epidemic as a vehicle for meeting political ends. It happened in 1918 when Pennsylvania’s response to the flu became a major political issue in the 1918 senatorial race.    

But I’ve got news for you. The way people react to widespread disease outbreaks is nothing compared to the changes that have sometimes followed in the wake of epidemics. A single typhoid outbreak in the obscure town of Plymouth, Pennsylvania in 1885 led to the creation of the state board of health. Twenty years later, another typhoid epidemic in Butler, Pennsylvania led to the creation of the state department of health. Five years after that, Pennsylvania possessed the most aggressive and powerful state health department in the nation. 

On a broader note, the standard narrative for both prohibition and women’s suffrage is that after years of agitation, both efforts finally bore fruit nationally in the period 1919-1920. The war helped accelerate both social efforts. During the First World War, many voices demonized alcohol production because it directed labor, grain, and coal away from the war effort—and because the beer industry was dominated by people with German names. We have forgotten that in late-1918, in Pennsylvania and beyond, the alcohol industry was hit with hammer blows by public health officials who closed saloons and banned alcohol sales as an anticrowd measure in the face of the epidemic of flu. In Pittsburgh, the fight over alcohol sales involved military officials and threats of a near-martial law. The alcohol industry lost a great deal of sympathy during the epidemic. In the case of women’s suffrage, a long, bitter fight for the right to vote was pushed to a quicker successful conclusion by the war. Perhaps the flu epidemic offered national sentiment a final shove. Hundreds of thousands of women volunteered in emergency hospitals during the epidemic. Many were middle class and unacquainted with blood and pus and the sounds and sights of dying. Across Pennsylvania, newspapers, politicians, and civic leaders lauded the work of the state’s women and memorialized those who died with a prominence never before seen in American history.   

I really don’t know—nobody knows—whether the video of George Floyd would have sparked the response it did in the absence of COVID-19. But if the response to systemic racism continues, we might look back on a moment, in the midst of pestilence, when certain things changed in our society. I can’t predict exactly how America will change after COVID-19 fades, but if the history of epidemics teaches us anything, then changes are afoot.    

Election books

This week in North Philly Notes, in anticipation of the upcoming election, we showcase titles on political campaigns and voting.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant
Examines the political impact of Black migration on politics in three northern cities, 1914-1965

Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics, by Susan Herbst
How American politics can become more civil and amenable to public policy situations, while still allowing for effective argument

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele
How and why women run for office

Gender Differences in Public Opinion: Values and Political Consequences, by Mary-Kate Lizotte
Explores the gender gap in public opinion through a values lens

Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City, by John Kromer
How upstart political candidates achieved spectacular successes over Philadelphia’s entrenched political establishment

Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategies in Political Campaigns, by Kelly Dittmar
Explores how candidates and campaign professionals navigate the gendered terrain of political campaigns

Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns, by Charlton D, Mcllwain, and Stephen M. Caliendo
Why, when, and how often candidates use race appeals, and how the electorate responds

On the Stump: Campaign Oratory and Democracy in the United States, Britain, and Australia, by Sean Scalmer
The story of how the “stump speech” was created, diffused, and helped to shape the modern democracies of the Anglo-American world

Latino Mayors: Political Change in the Postindustrial City, edited by Marion Orr and Domingo Morel
The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Campaign Advertising and American Democracy, by Michael M Franz, Paul Freedman, Ken Goldstein, and Travis N Ridout
Surprising findings about the positive effects of political advertising

Choices and Changes: Interest Groups in the Electoral Process, by Michael M. Franz
The most comprehensive book about interest groups in recent American politics

Why Veterans Run: Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016, by Jeremy M. Teigen
Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it matters

Celebrating National Coming Out Week

This week in North Philly Notes, we proudly present ten of our LGBTQ+ titles!

Action = Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France, by Christophe Broqua
Chronicling the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, by Niels van Doorn
Mapping the political and personal stakes of Black queer lives in Baltimore

Disruptive Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirut, by Ghassan Moussawi
The first comprehensive study to employ the lens of queer lives in the Arab World to understand everyday life disruptions, conflicts, and violence

In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood, by Michael Sadowski
In-depth interviews over six years show us how LGBTQ youth survive adolescence, thrive as adults, and find a voice that is uniquely their own

Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America, by Colin R. Johnson
Uncovering the history of gender and sexual nonconformity in rural America, with a focus on the Midwest during the first half of the twentieth century

Officially Gay: The Political Construction of Sexuality by the U.S. Military, by Gary L. Lehring
How the military defined homosexuality and the ways that shaped the gay and lesbian identity and movements

Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America, by Miriam Frank
A groundbreaking history of queer activists who advanced the causes of labor organizing and LGBT rights

Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, by Andrew Israel Ross
How female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men shaped the history and emergence of modern Paris in the nineteenth century

Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire, by Cynthia Wu
Creating a queer genealogy of Asian American literary criticism

Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood, by Cynthia Barounis
Presents an alternative queer-crip genealogy of American masculinity in the twentieth century

Overcoming Isolation in the Great Depression

This week in North Philly Notes, Abigail Trollinger, author of Becoming Entitled, writes about how workers in the 1930’s shed the stigma of unemployment and gained a sense of entitlement, and what we can learn in the age of COVID.

Unemployment is often hugely isolating, even when it happens en masse. It was for workers in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. And considering recent debates over unemployment insurance, it seems that COVID-related unemployment has left many jobless workers facing economic insecurity alone.

Becoming Entitled: Relief, Unemployment, and Reform During the Great Depression tells the story of jobless workers and the urban reformers who worked to redeem them. It was an uphill climb: in the 1930’s, workers faced an American culture that was slow to defend the jobless and a federal government that was unwilling to fund the relief they needed, situations that only seemed to reinforce a jobless worker’s feeling of personal failure. As one worker described in Chicago of that year, “I was out of work two years last month. I have never gone for charity. I was ashamed to go.”

In 1932 Chicago reformers rightly sensed, then, that an unemployed worker’s first step toward survival might be the small step of seeing others like them and shedding their sense of shame. Which is why, in Chicago, the newly founded Workers’ Committee on Unemployment (WCOU) hosted seven hearings across the city that allowed workers to tell their stories, and to hear the stories of their neighbors, their landlords, their grocers, and their kids’ teachers. Once workers saw themselves as part of a group, rather than part of the problem, they were able to craft solutions to the economic crisis facing them. As members of the WCOU, workers offered collective action to solve both immediate and long-term problems.

Was a jobless worker’s electricity shut off suddenly, leaving their family in the dark? A formerly employed electrical worker could come turn it back on! Was a family unable to pay rent and thrown on the street? A WCOU member with a truck could help them move! Was a caseworker routinely cutting clients relief funds? The WCOU was there—protesting at the relief site! And were the state and federal governments failing to provide relief where it was highly deserved and much needed? The WCOU was ready to protest—like the 1932 silent march through Chicago.

What emerged from the hearings, the mutual assistance, and the protests was a sense of worker entitlement, or the belief that jobless workers had the right to ask for protection from the state—that when the economy fails, the state is responsible for preserving the dignity and livelihood of those most impacted. As a WCOU pamphlet on declining relief budgets said, “You are entitled to live.… We can not beg all the time. We must ask and demand.”

Unemployment and isolation. These are not unfamiliar concepts for many Americans right now, as the nation has faced unemployment rates between 8-14% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jobless workers in the U.S. have had support in the form of the CARES Act and some stopgap emergency funds, and yet they, too, face questions about how much relief they really need. Debates in Congress over stimulus plans (the Heroes Act and the Heals Act), in which legislation has stalled over how much weekly income the unemployed should receive (ranging between $200 and $600 a week), suggest that either jobless workers have a miraculous economy of thrift or that they earn more than they say. And on October 5 the Wall Street Journal reported that some states are requesting that workers who were inadvertently paid more than they were allotted should return as much as $8,000 to the state.

Workers in 1932 did not have a pandemic to reckon with, but their story is a reminder of the fact that entitlement is not a given, even in the midst of national crisis. As we approach the 2020 election, let us call for a generous entitlement that offers both relief and dignity to the many thousands of Americans who currently feel isolated in their economic insecurity.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by showcasing our Latino/a Studies and Latin American/Caribbean Studies titles as well as books in our Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music series. (And EVERY Temple University Press book is 40% off until October 31. Use the code FALL4TUP at checkout.

Accessible Citizenships How disability provides a new perspective on our understanding of the nation and the citizen

Afro-Caribbean Religions A comprehensive introduction to the Caribbean’s African-based religions

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music The life and times of one of Cuba’s most important musicians

The Brazilian Sound An encyclopedia survey of Brazilian popular music—now updated and expanded

Caribbean Currents The classic introduction to the Caribbean’s popular music brought up to date

Chilean New Song An examination of the Chilean New Song movement as an organic part of the struggles for progressive social change, deeper democracy, and social justice in Chile in the 1960s and early 1970s

The Coolie Speaks A remarkable examination of bondage in Cuba that probes questions of slavery, freedom, and race

Daily Labors Examining the vulnerabilities, discrimination, and exploitation—as well as the sense of belonging and community—that day laborers experience on an NYC street corner

Democratizing Urban Development Examining how community organizations fight to prevent displacement and secure affordable housing across cities in the U.S. and Brazil

Dominican Baseball From the author of Sugarball, a look at the important and contested relationship between Major League Baseball and Dominican player development

Fernando Ortiz on Music Selections from the influential Fernando Ortiz’s publications on Afro-diasporic music and dance—now available in English

From Puerto Rico to Philadelphia A history of Puerto Rican immigration to Philadelphia

Globalizing the Caribbean Now in Paperback—how global capitalism finds new ways to mutate and grow in the Caribbean

How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A readable account of a life spent in the borderlands between racial identity

The International Monetary Fund and Latin America Chronicling the sometimes questionable relationship between the International Monetary Fund and Latin America from 1944 to the present

Latino Mayors The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Latinos and the U.S. Political System An analysis of American politics from the vantage point of the Latino political condition

Latinx Environmentalisms Putting the environmental humanities into dialogue with Latinx literary and cultural studies Read a blog entry by the editors

Liberation Theology How does the church function in Latin America on an everyday, practical, and political level?

Merengue A fascinating examination of the social history of merengue dance music and its importance as a social and cultural symbol

Música Norteña The first history of the music that binds together Mexican immigrant communities

New Immigrants, Old Unions A case study of a successful effort to unionize undocumented immigrant workers

The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation A landmark history of the New York Young Lords, and what their activism tells us about contemporary Latino/a politics

Not from Here, Not from There/No Soy de Aquí ni de Allá A lively autobiography by a community activist, judge, and public advocate who blazed a trail for Latinos in Philadelphia

Revolution Around the Corner The first book-length story of the radical social movement, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party

Selecting Women, Electing Women Offers an analytic framework to show how the process of candidate selection often limits the participation of women in various Latin American countries.

The Sorcery of Color An examination of how racial and gender hierarchies are intertwined in Brazil

Sounding Salsa Inside New York City’s vibrant salsa scene

Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants A comprehensive analysis of changes in immigration policy, politics, and enforcement since 9/11

Observations on the anniversary of the Partition of India

This week in North Philly Notes, Kavita Daiya, author of the forthcoming Graphic Migrationswrites about global media representations of migration on the 73rd anniversary of the Partition of India.

What do the Google commercial “Reunion,” the Bollywood film Raazi (Agree), Shauna Singh Baldwin’s award-winning novel What The Body Remembers  and the oral history project 1947 Partition Archive all have in common? They all do transnational memory work and remember the mass migrations of the 1947 Partition of India.

This past weekend marked the 73rd anniversary of the decolonization and division of India, and the end of British colonialism. It also marked the creation of two independent nations: Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947, and India became a new secular democratic nation on August 15, 1947. The partitioning of India in 1947 generated the world’s largest mass migration in under nine months: between 12 and 16 million people migrated across the newly etched borders.

Graphic MigrationsIn my forthcoming book Graphic Migrations, I describe the legacies of this pivotal moment in British and South Asian history, with a focus on migrant and refugee experiences. As such, this book uncovers the effects of this Partition on both India and the South Asian diaspora in North America. I am especially interested in how different media represent the precarity of migrants’ and refugees’ lives, as well as their descendants. I map how this precarity is memorialized across media, in ways that create empathy and solidarity for the shared humanity of migrants and citizens.

For example, I analyze South Asian American fiction by writers including Shauna Singh Baldwin and Bapsi Sidhwa as well as Hindi art films like Shyam Benegal’s Mammo; Bollywood cinema, as well as the new genre I call “border-crossing” advertising. In addition, I discuss graphic narratives from Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition, the Digital Humanities oral history project 1947 Partition Archive as well as photography by Margaret Bourke-White and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. This book’s archive is thus eclectic and cross-media, capturing how the Partition migrations are inscribed or erased in public culture in India and its diaspora.

Graphic Migrations is poised at the intersection of Asian American Studies and Postcolonial Studies. It draws upon and extends new directions in Asian American Studies, especially Critical Refugee Studies.  These new directions take a transnational lens to understand how twentieth century conflicts and displacement in Asia have shaped Asian American history. My book’s feminist orientation means that gender is a central part of the story I tell. Talal Asad’s influential theory of the secular in Formations of the Secular is also central here, given that the Partition focalized religious difference. Central to this book’s story is the inspiration of the noted political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s brilliant analysis of statelessness, which, as she argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism, was the defining feature and product of the twentieth century.

My book considers several issues that emerge out of the 1947 Partition and its transnational impact. It explores the complexities of statelessness in India as well as South Asia, and asks: Why has this momentous displacement not been widely memorialized, until recently? How did refugees’ stories, labor, and losses shape ideas about religion, secularism, and belonging in public culture? How were female refugees’ experiences different, and with what consequences? What alternative modes of imagining community and planetary cohabitation, including ‘the secular,’ do stories about statelessness offer us today?

Graphic Migrations is timely and relevant now. More people than even before are migrating or displaced because of war, conflict, poverty, environmental devastation, and other reasons. By one estimate, there are 10 million stateless people, and there are 272 million migrants in the world today. This raises urgent issues about human rights and social justice for nations around the world, who must work together to end statelessness.

My book is a profound reminder of the contemporary stakes of studying the experiences and impact of decolonization and nation-formation in 1947 South Asia, in a transnational feminist mode.

Living amidst constant disruptions that keep on taking new forms.

This week in North Philly Notes, Ghassan Moussawi, author of Disruptive Situations asks, What kind of everyday life strategies can we use in these times?

Since March 2020, we have been living in uncertain and troubling times due to COVID-19, where our lives, everyday routines, and sense of safety have been heavily impacted. However, as we have witnessed, the global pandemic has and continues to affect peoples’ lives differently, where the most precarious people have most been affected by the pandemic. For example, there are higher death rate among communities of color, especially Black, Indigenous, undocumented, queer and trans people of color and communities in the U.S.

What came as a shock to many is the sudden interruption of everyday life as we know it. People are lost, confused, and mourning the loss of their routines and the stability in their lives. While some might say, we are living in “a new normal;” the definition of “new” and “normal” keep changing to the extent that the term “new normal” fails to account for the moment we are living in. The majority of people living in the U.S. today have not encountered such sudden shifts and disruptions in their everyday lives. For queer people and communities of color, however, pandemic and government neglect are familiar; the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s wiped out an entire generation while the Reagan and Bush administrations looked the other way.

We think of these as exceptional times, however, how do scholars account for people’s lives in places where everyday life disruptions and uncertainties about the present and future are normal and normalized? What kind of everyday life strategies can we use in these times?

Disruptive Situations_smMy book Disruptive Situations answers the question above, by looking at the everyday life strategies of LGBT people living in post-civil war Beirut. I ask readers to take a step back and think about what it means to live amidst constant everyday life disruptions that keep on taking new forms. Disruptive Situations comes at a time when we are all experiencing a sense of loss and disorientation, and my hope is that the book might shed light on how people survive constant and imminent disruptions, caused by wars, civil unrest, and everyday violence.

The idea for the book started in 2009, when I found many Euro-American media outlets advertising Beirut as a new destination for gay tourism. Though life in Beirut remains highly precarious, such representations downplayed such realities. My book looks at the period 2005-2016, which was marked by a series of assassinations, an Israeli war in 2006, suicide bombings, a shortage of basic services (such as electricity and clean water), and a garbage crisis. Drawing on fieldwork I conducted in Beirut among LGBT people between 2009-15—during the height of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s suicide bombings in Beirut and Lebanon—I ask how we can account for people’s everyday lives amid uncertainty and violence that has no beginning and no end. People in Beirut have devised the term al-wad’ or “the situation” to capture the complexity of these everyday violence and disruptions.

Using the concept of al-wad’, or “the situation,” I raise questions about spaces beyond Beirut, by asking what it has to say about queer life in contexts where precarity and disruptions are the conditions of everyday social and cultural life. Though the book draws on LGBT people’s strategies, these queer strategies are not necessarily enacted only by LGBT people.

Disruptive Situation highlights these and other issues:

  • How and in what ways has Beirut been marketed as a “gay friendly” destination? For whom, is it “gay friendly? It is class and race—and not gay friendliness—that determines who is able to experience Beirut as “gay friendly;” In Beirut—as now amid the COVID pandemic—race and class primarily determine who gets to experience safety and precarity
  • LGBT individuals’ various negotiations or “queer strategies” in navigating everyday disruptions, with a focus on mobilities and access to space. These includes movements within and across the city, to crossing neighborhood borders, and access to “gay-friendly” spaces and communities of organizing
  • Queer strategies that people use, like accepting contradictions, and creating bubbles as both metaphorical and physical spaces of respite to negotiate life
  • What can everyday queer tactics tell us about the local and regional politics, and everyday life violence and uncertainty? This current pandemic also illustrates how it affects LGBT communities differently based on race, class, gender, and documentation status. Similarly, State and interpersonal violence in the U.S. remain heavily determined by marginalization, with Indigenous and Black communities particularly targeted even in the midst of the pandemic
  • What does it mean to conduct ethnographic research at times of violence and disruption? What does it mean when one’s research gets constantly interrupted and one has to leave their research site due to violence and bombings?

I hope Disruptive Situations will help us better understand both how people negotiate constant major life disruptions and how we can come up with creative ways to conduct research when we live in uncertain times, such as the ones we are currently experiencing.

What the American Irish faced in the nineteenth century

This week in North Philly Notes, Howard Lune, author of Transnational Nationalism and Collective Identity among the American Irish, writes about Irish immigrants in America.

Before I got too far into my early research on Irish nationalism, and before I had recognized the nature of transnational organizing efforts in supporting the long campaign for Irish independence, I was curious about the surprising success of the American Irish in public service fields such as police and firefighting squads. The answer to that puzzle turned out to center on fairly straightforward jobs-for-votes deals with the Democratic Party. But looking into widespread anti-Irish, anti-Catholic activism in the United States in the nineteenth century I was stuck by two patterns. The first was that the language and tactics of “othering” the Irish strongly resembled the tactics used to deny African Americans freedoms and citizenship rights at the same time. The second was that the same ideas have been resurrected with only slightly different language to attack other immigrant groups and African Americans under the present American regime. The continuing existence of discrimination is not surprising. I guess I just expected that we would develop more sophisticated forms of it.

The essential starting point for all of these organized acts of hostility is to present an unquestionable assumption that whenever we say “we” in America we all know that “we” are white, Christian men. Of course, in the 1800s, Christian meant Protestant while Catholic was part of the other, but they still preferred the term Christian. Few nativists ever argued that America was supposed to be white. They simply argued that the non-whites were “invading,” “taking over,” and “replacing” us. They never had to say “our kind” is supposed to dominate in all social, economic, and political institutions. They only had to say that “those people” would be infiltrating all of our spaces if we didn’t stop them. This business of the unexamined “we” sounded like a call to community, solidarity, and fellow-feeling while actually building walls, mobilizing violent mobs, and, especially, preventing others from voting.

Transitional Nationalism_smOther familiar patterns followed. “We” destroyed their schools and claimed that we couldn’t help them when they were so ignorant. We denied them jobs and claimed that we didn’t want such poor people bringing down the quality of life in our cities. We held up the example of the most successful of the whole (in this case, the wealthy Irish Protestants) in order to claim that the rest could obviously succeed too if they weren’t so lazy, or criminal, or whatever frightened us at the moment. We relegated them to slums and then said that no one who lived like that should be trusted with civic responsibility. We passed new laws about labor, vagrancy, and debt to target them, and then declared that they were mostly criminals and scofflaws. Our people raise families. Their people “breed.” And, in the more extreme publications that were commonly read but rarely acknowledged, we lamented the threat to the sexual purity of our white women if those people were allowed to run free.

In the 1800s we depicted the undesirable other as drunks. Today we describe them as probably using drugs.

These patterns, and so many others, demonstrate that the white, Protestant, male center of American life hasn’t really got any tangible complaint with any particular other group. If it did, then we would focus on different supposed attributes of each group pertinent to any given time period. Rather, it seems that the privileged core of the nation desperately fears having to share with others. This fear seems to be just as strong among those who have too much and those who have too little. Either way, the smallest excuse, the least supportable claim, and the most minor differences are enough for members of the culturally dominant group to band together to collectively degrade anyone and anything that could threaten the idea of their dominance. We are willing to allow anyone into college now, as long as they don’t get to be our bosses. We feign shock at each and every obvious example of racist violence but we hate it when people try to address “systemic” inequalities. We admit that the justice system isn’t always just, but we built it up that way in order to keep other people in their place, and we’re not planning to change that. We don’t hang signs that say “no Irish need apply” anymore, but try getting a corporate job interview without a white-sounding name. The Irish are accepted as white now, which almost implies that we have improved as a culture. Yet, with increasing globalization, we have no shortage of “other” people to casually disregard or openly hate. As a people, we are remarkably similar to our forebears, in the worst sense of the comparison.

An interview with author Ryan Pettengill about Communists and Community

This week in North Philly Notes, we interview author Ryan Pettengill about his new book, Communists and Community, which enhances our understanding of the central role Communists played in the advancement of social democracy throughout the mid-twentieth century.

You trace community activism in Detroit during the years 1941-1956, which is during the downslide of the American Community Party [CPUSA]. What accounts for this time frame for your book?
Quiet honestly, the CPUSA had always had a knack for community activism. There have been other scholars that have written about this topic, but much of their attention is concentrated on the period from 1935 to 1939. This era, known as the Popular Front period in which communists made important alliances with liberals and progressives in the struggle against international fascism, was thought to have ended by 1940, largely a casualty of the alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. While the CPUSA did, in fact, enter into a new period in its history, the activism it pursued – especially at the local level in centers like Detroit – largely remained the same. The alliances that communists made with religious and civic organizations that were dedicated to social and political equality remained intact. Moreover, the nature of their activism, in which they would flood City Hall with letters, march in demonstrations throughout neighborhoods, boycott bowling alleys that insisted on Jim Crow policies, or establish “labor schools” for the training of the next generation of activists remained the preferred mode of activism long after World War II ended. Taking this community activism into account helps us understand the CP in a different light. It also helps demonstrate that leftists were central in keeping militant activism alive in the postwar period before it would become much more visible in the early 1960s with the coming of the civil rights movement.

Can you discuss why you focused on post-war Detroit? Sure, it was motor city with a huge industry in America at that time, but what made this city a valuable crucible
Detroit is just…fascinating. I developed an interest in the city as a graduate student and it never really stopped. But to the point of this question, Detroit is outside of the local context in which American communism is typically examined – New York City.  Examining communists and the activism that they sponsored demonstrates that at the local level in places like Detroit there was a level of autonomy in which activists were afforded a chance address local challenges in the way they saw fit despite what the “party line” may have dictated.

Communists and Community_smYou write about how the CPUSA helped underrepresented groups, working toward socioeconomic betterment, creating multiracial workforces, and protecting the foreign-born. Can you discuss this little-known history of Communists playing a central role in the advancement of social democracy and civil rights?
I think communists, with their insistence on analyzing the role that class played in American life, were able to see the unmistakable connections to race. Other scholars have noted that the CP was the only predominantly white institution that took up the matter of systemic racism during the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s. To that end, it attracted civil rights activists like Reverend Charles Hill and Coleman Young, the first African American to be elected mayor of Detroit. As Young put it, the communists and Reverend Hill (an African American Baptist minister) were the only ones even talking about racism in the 1940s.  Young never apologized for running around with radicals so long as it meant the socioeconomic betterment of the black community.

There are interesting stories about housing projects, racism and racial segregation, police brutality, as well as issues involving wages and unionism, etc. What challenges, setbacks, and successes did the CP and its members have?
This may sound obvious but it was the Second Red Scare that accounted for the biggest challenges and setbacks for the CPUSA in Detroit and elsewhere. As I point out throughout the book, the Red Scare and McCarthyism compromised the alliances built between the labor-liberal-leftist coalition that had flourished in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Anticommunists like Joseph McCarthy had built careers on red baiting and liberals who had once been allies of leftists were forced to demonstrate their patriotism by ridding them from unions and civic organizations. That said, I think that what the communists achieved – especially throughout the 1950s – was keeping the concept of militant activism alive in the minds of Detroiters. The 1950s is so often portrayed as a politically tame period and it is no coincidence that McCarthyism was raging throughout the country at the time. The activism that communists sponsored in the postwar period helped lay the foundation for future activism in the 1960s and beyond.

 What observations do you have about the white ethnic backlash and rise of conservatism in the face of the CPUSA’s efforts? (Sounds kind of timely….)
In a perfect world, I would like my book to be read in conjunction with studies that chronicle the postwar economy, the rise of conservatism, and the long descent of the New Deal order. If you read Communists and Community in conjunction with, say, Daniel Clark’s Disruption in Detroit, for example, you can clearly see that the postwar economy was anything but stable and for the bulk of Detroit’s industrial workforce, simply having steady work took absolute precedent over the communist brand of activism that addressed the integration of Detroit’s neighborhoods or reforming policing practices throughout the city. If there is one thing writing this book has taught me is that the working class existed in the abstract and workers did not always want the same things. So, along comes someone like George Wallace who can speak the language of the working class in locales like Detroit and is able to portray himself as the “law and order” candidate and, thus, fracture the working-class coalition that the UAW, leftist activists, and other progressives worked so hard to establish throughout the war years.

How did the radicalism and politicization that gained momentum during that time continue in the decades after? You write that the decline of community activism within organized labor [is] a casualty of the Cold War; that anticommunism played a key role.
I generally think of Carl Winter, Helen Alison-Winter, Nat Ganley, and Billy Allan as placeholders for the future leftists who would come to mainstream protest and dissent in the 1960s and early 70s.  It wasn’t always easy to defend their radicalism but these individuals did so anyway.  When the Michigan Council for Peace led a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. to petition the federal government to peacefully coexist with the Soviet Union, they opened themselves up to all sorts of criticism from the right.  But Reverend Hill led the pilgrimage anyway.  By the 1960s, with the fading of McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare, radicalism was once again a permissible form of political expression.  The activists comprising what might loosely be called the “old left” essentially preserved the institution of community activism.

 

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