Give thanks to Sarah Josepha Buelle Hale

Most Americans know the story of Thanksgiving, but the woman who helped ensure its status as a national holiday, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, is a little less well known. Hale was an educated woman, prolific writer (of novels, poems, essays, and even the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”!), magazine editor, and an advocate for women’s education and numerous other causes—including the cause for a national day of thanks.

Hale portrait, 1831
Portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale, 1831, by James Reid Lambdin

Bruce David Forbes explores Hale’s legacy in his new book, America’s Favorite Holidays: Candid Histories:

“In 1846, with Godey’s Lady’s Book [the magazine Hale edited] as her base of influence, Hale began writing strongly worded editorials every year promoting Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and the November issues of her magazine were filled with Thanksgiving poems, heartwarming short stories about family gatherings for Thanksgiving dinner, cooking advice, and much more. Hale understood that the first step was to persuade as many states as possible to adopt the holiday, and then a national mandate might follow.”

Hale letter to Lincoln
1863 letter from Hale to President Lincoln discussing Thanksgiving

“The bandwagon rolled along, pushed by Sarah Josepha Hale and supported by New Englanders scattered throughout the nation. New York had adopted the holiday in 1817, and Michigan in 1824, but the greatest number of states joined in the 1840s. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa added Thanksgiving in the 1850s. By 1860, Thanksgiving had been officially proclaimed in thirty states and two territories; territories sometimes declared the holiday even before they received statehood.”

Hale didn’t live to see Thanksgiving legally become a national holiday, but as we can all attest today, her efforts were certainly not in vain!

See here for other recent posts on the history behind our holidays.

Did You Know? 7 Facts about Halloween

The way that Americans celebrate Halloween is so culturally established that it’s often difficult to imagine it without its many defining themes and icons. But the way these long-standing traditions were established can be a mystery. How did this holiday come to be the way that it is today, and how is it still changing?

Before you don your costume, here are some facts about Halloween’s past you might not have known from Bruce David Forbes’ America’s Favorite Holidays.

1. The Halloween that we know today has roots in the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain.

“Celts believed that this was the one time of the year when the veil between earthly reality and the spirit world was especially thin. . . With their attention focused on the spirits of the dead and on ghosts and fairies, the Celts countered dread and uncertainty with bonfires to push back the darkness, and perhaps with ritual dancing and masks or costumes, either to hide from the spirit creatures or to scare them away. This belief in a temporary opening between this world and the otherworld helps set the tone for what eventually becomes known as Halloween.”


2. Halloween’s name comes from the Christian observance of All Saints’ Day.

Some speculate that this holiday, moved from early May to the first of November to supplant the secular Samhain. “Whatever the motivation, November 1 became All Saints’ Day, eventually in Ireland too, and a century later All Souls’ Day was added on November 2 and became widely adopted in the western church by the 1300s. All Souls’ Day was mostly a time of prayer on behalf of the dead who were in purgatory, temporarily between heaven and hell. . . There was the evening before All Saints’ Day, called All Hallows’ Evening or Eve, and then the day itself, All Saints’ Day, also called All Hallows or Hallowmas.”

"Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

3. The Black Death contributed to Halloween’s darkly humorous focus on skeletons and death.

The plague, which terrorized Europe in the late Middle Ages, “gave rise to a morbid sense of humor and a gruesome fascination with skeletons and paintings of the Dance of Death or the Dance Macabre, which became absorbed into Halloween imagery. As summarized by Halloween historian Lisa Morton, ‘The new common obsession with depictions of skeletal Grim Reapers found a natural home in a festival once thought to be the night when the dead crossed over into the world of the living.'”

Wickiana54. The witch trials in the late Middle Ages influenced many key themes of both Halloween and Shakespeare’s Scottish play.

Scotland, a Celtic nation, had thousands of witch trials during the period between the late 1500s and early 1700s. “The first major examples were the North Berwick witch trials, begun in 1590, which garnered a lot of attention because King James VI of Scotland presided over them himself. . . . In a union of crowns, this James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, and only a few years later Shakespeare wrote his renowned play Macbeth, which includes Scottish kings, murderous plots, and witches. The trials of North Berwick incited ongoing fear of witches, prompting over two thousand additional trials in Scotland in the following years. Witches, the Devil, brooms, and black cats had become a part of Scottish culture.”

"Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o'-lantern" by Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Traditional Irish halloween Jack-o’-lantern” by Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

5. The iconic Halloween pumpkin could have been a Halloween turnip.

“In Ireland, small lanterns were created by
hollowing out a turnip or a beet and placing a candle inside, to light the way as people ventured through the night. The flickering light from the lanterns looked similar to the flashes of light that arose from peat bogs or marshes, flashes that appeared mysteriously and vanished quickly and were believed to be ghosts or fairies. . . . When the Irish came to the New World they found a new kind of squash, the pumpkin, native to North America and much larger than the turnip of old. The Irish quickly adopted the pumpkin as a replacement, again carving it and placing a light inside, creating what has become the bright orange symbol for the modern Halloween.”

6. Trick or treating really did involve actual tricks in early America.

Trick or treating, again carried over from Scottish tradition, comes from the practice of ‘guising’, or appearing in disguise. “As it developed in Scotland in particular, young adults in costume went door to door on the evening of October 31 to entertain by singing songs, telling stories, or performing sleight-of-hand tricks in return for something sweet. . . . The crowds solicited food and money, but in many cases they were more interested in pranks, and the phrase “trick or treat” arose in that context. The first known published use of the phrase appeared in Canada in 1927, and the first Halloween appearance in the United States was in a 1934 Oregon newspaper. . . So-called tricks, seen as good fun by the perpetrators, were indeed carried out, but many recipients viewed this activity as threatening. Unhinging front gates and discarding them blocks away, overturning outhouses, or splashing paint on buildings were no laughing matter for many citizens.”


7. Halloween is one of the fastest-growing holidays for consumers.

Although several other holidays rank above Halloween in purchases every year, including Valentine’s Day and even the Super Bowl, Halloween spending is still at an all-time high. “In 2014, the National Retail Federation’s annual consumer spending survey indicated that Americans would spend $7.4 billion for Halloween. Of this, $2.8 billion, or 38 percent, was for costumes. (The other two major Halloween expenditures are candy at $2.2 billion and decorations at $2 billion.) Subdivided, $1.1 billion was for children’s costumes, but even more—$1.4 billion—was for adults. There was even $350 million budgeted for pet costumes!”

Learn more about the curious and oft-surprising histories of American’s culturally important holidays in America’s Favorite Holidays.

“Everyone’s Entitled to One Good Scare”: Halloween Horror in America’s Favorite Holidays

From its beginnings as the Celtic festival of Samhain to its connections to the Christian All Saint’s Day to its domestication for children in the early 20th century, the celebration of Halloween has undergone a dramatic, centuries-long metamorphosis. Even the modern traditions of gore and terror are a relatively new invention, following 50 or so years of sanitized, family-friendly trick-or-treating and costumes alone.


Bruce David Forbes explores the candid history of Halloween’s return to horror, and adult participation in its festivities, in America’s Favorite Holidays:

Theatrical poster for Friday the 13th (1980).
Theatrical poster for Friday the 13th (1980).

John Carpenter’s 1978 movie played a role. … Halloween‘s success helped launch at least two other horror movie series, Friday the 13th, featuring Jason (eleven sequels and a remake), and Nightmare on Elm Street, with Freddy Krueger (seven sequels and a remake), plus countless other films, some gory, some frightening, some spoofs.”

“The surprise success of this low-budget movie and its successors can be explained at least partially by the desire of young adults to be included in Halloween festivities. From their perspective, this was a night for pretending and experimenting, for some release from societal inhibitions, and for playing with adult themes of fear and death, all of which was missing from a sanitized children’s costume parade. The movies helped add young adult participation back into Halloween.”

Theatrical poster for The Nightmare Before Christmas, (1993).
Theatrical poster for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

“Tim Burton, the noted film director and producer and co-writer of The Nightmare before Christmas, summarized the spirit of Halloween very well: “To me, Hallowe’en has always been the most fun night of the year. It’s where rules are dropped and you can be anything at all. Fantasy rules. It’s only scary in a funny way. Nobody’s out to really scare anybody to death. They’re out to delight people with their scariness, which is what Hallowe’en is all about.”

Learn more about the history of Halloween, Christmas and other seasonal standbys in America’s Favorite Holidays, releasing this month.

The 2015 Western History Association is Alive in Portland!

University of California Press is loading up our wagon with books and hitting the Oregon Trail for the 2015 Western History Association Annual Conference. The meeting convenes October 21-24 in Portland, Oregon.

Please visit us at booth 20 in the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower to check out our latest titles and receive the following offers:

  • 40% conference discount on all orders
  • Request exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win $100 worth of books! Join our eNews subscription

Explore this year’s conference theme “Thresholds, Walls, and Bridges” throughout our award winning California and Western History lists. These titles cover a spectrum of topics ranging from history, music, politics, race, and immigration.

Please see our conference program ad for our latest offerings. Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow @WhaHistory for current meeting news.

American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders

by Gary Y. Okihiro

This was previously published on our blog, and is being reposted to coincide with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Toronto. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and October 11th.

American History Unbound coverAsians and Pacific Islanders, indeed, people of color have transformed the history of the United States. When seen from their perspective, American history is revealed in new light. The narrative begins not with the nation but with the world. The U.S. emerged from Europe’s oceanic search for Asia. Engulfed were Africa, Asia, and America in that expansion, which involved material relations and discourses that created Europe. At first, a periphery of the British Empire, the settler colony later emulated the core as an imperial power; extra-territorial conquests and colonization are central features of U.S. history. Land, taken from native peoples on the continent and on islands in the Caribbean and Pacific, and labor, supplied by enslaved, indentured, and wage laborers, were the resources that built the nation. From the start, “free white persons” delimited the republic’s members. When nonwhites, including Asians and Pacific Islanders, became U.S. citizens with rights, they instigated an American revolution.

Gary Y. Okihiro is Professor of International and Public Affairs and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. He is the author of ten books, Island World: A History of Hawai’i and the United States (2008) and Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones (2009). He is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Studies Association, received an honorary doctorate from the University of the Ryukyus, and is a past president of the Association for Asian American Studies. American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders is out now.


Banned Books Week: For Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more after this year’s Banned Books Week festivities, here are some suggestions to deepen the conversation about freedom of speech and the censorship of literature and other media through the years.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn9780520266100-1
Mark Twain (Author), Victor Fischer (Editor), Lin Salamo (Editor), Harriet E. Smith (Editor), Walter Blair (Editor)

Read the oft-challenged classic! This 125th Anniversary edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is expanded with thoroughly updated notes and references, and a selection of original documents—letters, advertisements, playbills—some never before published, from Twain’s first book tour.

See more of our Mark Twain titles here.





Film Criticism, the Cold War, and the Blacklist: Reading the Hollywood Reds
Jeff Smith (Author)

This book examines the long-term reception of several key American films released during the postwar period, focusing on the two main critical lenses used in the interpretation of these films: propaganda and allegory. Produced in response to the hearings held by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that resulted in the Hollywood blacklist, these films’ ideological message and rhetorical effectiveness was often muddled by the inherent difficulties in dramatizing villains defined by their thoughts and belief systems rather than their actions. Whereas anti-Communist propaganda films offered explicit political exhortation, allegory was the preferred vehicle for veiled or hidden political comment in many police procedurals, historical films, Westerns, and science fiction films. Jeff Smith examines the way that particular heuristics, such as the mental availability of exemplars and the effects of framing, have encouraged critics to match filmic elements to contemporaneous historical events, persons, and policies.


9780520283381The Essential Mario Savio: Speeches and Writings that Changed America
Robert Cohen (Editor), Tom Hayden (Editor)

This compendium of influential speeches and previously unknown writings offers insight into and perspective on the disruptive yet nonviolent civil disobedience tactics used by Mario Savio during the 1960s Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, California. The Essential Mario Savio is the perfect introduction to an American icon and to one of the most important social movements of the post-war period in the United States.




8975.160Outspoken: Free Speech Stories
Nan Levinson (Author)

With the government granting itself sweeping new surveillance powers, castigating its critics as unpatriotic, and equating differing opinions with abetting “America’s enemies,” free speech seems an early casualty of the war on terrorism. But as this book brilliantly demonstrates, to sacrifice our freedom of speech is to surrender the very heart and soul of America.

Nan Levinson tells the stories of twenty people who refused to let anyone whittle away at their right to speak, think, create, or demur as they pleased. In an engaging, anecdotal style, Levinson explores the balance between First Amendment and other rights, such as equality, privacy, and security; the relationship among behavior, speech, and images; the tangle of suppression, marketing, and politics; and the role of dissent in our society. These issues come to vibrant life in the stories recounted in Outspoken, stories that—whether heroic or infamous, outrageous or straightforward—remind us again and again of the power of words and of the strength of a democracy of voices.


9780520248601The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten
Gerald Horne (Author)

Before he attained notoriety as Dean of the Hollywood Ten—the blacklisted screenwriters and directors persecuted because of their varying ties to the Communist Party—John Howard Lawson had become one of the most brilliant, successful, and intellectual screenwriters on the Hollywood scene in the 1930s and 1940s. After his infamous, almost violent, 1947 hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, John Howard Lawson spent time in prison and his career was effectively over. Lawson’s life becomes a prism through which we gain a clearer perspective on the evolution and machinations of McCarthyism and anti-Semitism in the United States, on the influence of the left on Hollywood, and on a fascinating man whose radicalism served as a foil for launching the political careers of two Presidents: Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In vivid, marvelously detailed prose, Final Victim of the Blacklist restores this major figure to his rightful place in history as it recounts one of the most captivating episodes in twentieth century cinema and politics.

9780520242319Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War, Updated with a New Preface
John R. MacArthur (Author), Ben H. Bagdikian (Foreword)

Now updated with a new preface that examines the current conflict in Iraq, this brilliant work of investigative reporting reveals the government’s assault on the constitutional freedoms of the American media during Operation Desert Storm. John R. MacArthur’s engaging and provocative account is as essential and alarming today as when the first paperback edition was published.



9780520239661Policing Cinema: Movies and Censorship in Early-Twentieth-Century America
Lee Grieveson (Author)
White slave films, dramas documenting sex scandals, filmed prize fights featuring the controversial African-American boxer Jack Johnson, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation—all became objects of public concern after 1906, when the proliferation of nickelodeons brought moving pictures to a broad mass public. Lee Grieveson draws on extensive original research to examine the controversies over these films and over cinema more generally. He situates these contestations in the context of regulatory concerns about populations and governance in an early-twentieth-century America grappling with the powerful forces of modernity, in particular, immigration, class formation and conflict, and changing gender roles.This book develops new perspectives for the understanding of censorship and regulation and the complex relations between governance and culture. In this work, Grieveson offers a compelling analysis of the forces that shaped American cinema and its role in society.

The 2015 American Studies Association is Coming to Toronto!

Join University of California Press this fall at the 2015 American Studies Association Annual Meeting. The meeting convenes October 8-11 in Toronto, Ontario.

Please visit us at booth 300 in the Sheraton Centre Grand Ballroom West to purchase our latest American Studies publications. We’re also offering the following promotions for attendees:

  • 40% conference discount.
  • Submit exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win $100 worth of books! Join our eNews subscription

Our American Studies Association list is comprised of an interdisciplinary selection of titles perfect for research and course usage. While at our booth, explore topics ranging from American history, music, politics, race, and immigration. We’ll also offer subscription rates for our history journals.

Please see our conference program ad for our latest offerings. Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow @AmerStudiesAssn and hashtag #2015ASA for current meeting news.



Natalia Molina interviewed on the New Books Network

Earlier this month, David-James Gonzales interviewed Natalia Molina about her work and her new book, How Race is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts.

New Books in History is part of the New Books Network, a collection of podcasts hosted by the Amherst College Library dedicated to public discourse and the discussion of new books by their authors.


Listen to the full interview on the New Books Network’s website, which also features David-James’ full review of the book.

Natalia Molina is Associate Dean for Faculty Equity, Division of Arts and Humanities and Associate Professor of History and Urban Studies at the University of California, San Diego and author of Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1940 (UC Press, 2006)

Art in World History

By Sonal Khullar, author of Worldly Affiliations 

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts. 

The purpose of art, Amrita Sher-Gil wrote in 1936, was to “create the forms of the future.” Art was not limited by existing social and political conditions. Indeed it aimed to transform notions of nation and world. Unlike her counterparts in India, notably in Bengal, during this period, Sher-Gil did not believe there was an Eastern alternative to modernism, modernity, and the West. Indian artists would have to embrace oil painting, material conditions, and the historical present, and not look back to an idealized, spiritual, and premodern past. Sher-Gil’s model of making art and identity that resisted colonialist and nationalist norms proved influential in twentieth-century India.

Worldly AffiliationsWorldly Affiliations excavates a distinctive trajectory of modernism in the visual arts in India and emphasizes its cosmopolitan aims and achievements. It focuses on four artists —Sher-Gil, M.F. Husain, K.G. Subramanyan, and Bhupen Khakhar—who challenged the canons, disciplines, schools, and institutions of British colonialism and Indian nationalism. For these artists, cosmopolitanism was a critical response to colonialism, a way of asserting citizenship in national and international community that had been impossible under colonialism. This cosmopolitanism entailed a thoroughgoing investigation of categories such as East and West that propelled globalizing processes such as capitalism and colonialism. For the period I discuss in the book, the East was associated with the village, crafts, tradition, and nationalism, while the West was associated with the city, art, modernity, and colonialism. Artists challenged these associations, but the terms East and West remained active in various forms during the twentieth century.

Reflecting on the discipline of art history in the twentieth century, Subramanyan wrote: “Most histories of World Art emanating from European centres of culture present Europe as their main scene. . . . The arts of the rest of the world are side scenes that hook on to some point or other of this historical structure, or ladder of evolution: the arts of Africa, Pre-Columbian America, Oceania to the early stages; of Asia, to the middle (I still remember that when I visited the Edinburgh Museum in the mid-fifties all Asia was marked on a large cultural map displayed in its lobby as the Medieval world).” Subramanyan, like the other visual artists examined in Worldly Affiliations, deployed cosmopolitanism as a means to challenge logics that divided the world into East and West, medieval and modern, primitive and cultivated. This cosmopolitanism was a hallmark of modernism as it came to be practiced by artists in twentieth-century India, who explored worldly affiliations through unlikely—if ingenious—visual connections, synthetic gestures, and diverse archives of Eastern and Western cultural practice.

Sonal Khullar is Assistant Professor of South Asian art at the University of Washington. Her research interests include global histories of modern and contemporary art, feminist theory, and postcolonial studies. She is writing a book, The Art of Dislocation, on artistic collaboration as a critical response to globalization in South Asia since the 1990s.

Breaching the Frame

By Pedro R. Erber, author of Breaching the Frame

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts.

The late Hariu Ichirō, one of the “three greats” of Japanese postwar art criticism, once told me that his most resilient memory of a trip to Brazil as commissioner to the 1977 São Paulo Biennale was of a book by the Brazilian poet and art critic Ferreira Gullar. Hariu claimed to have read this book, Vanguarda e subdesenvolvimento (Avant-garde and Underdevelopment) looking up word by word in a Portuguese dictionary. Almost thirty years later, he was still able to summarize the main argument of the book, according to which the very concept of the avant-garde art contradicts the condition of supposedly peripheral cultures, condemned, as they are, to lag behind the cultural capitals of the West.

Not only in narratives of twentieth-century art but whenever we talk about world history, the old notion that Europe and North America constitute the centers from which modernity spreads centrifugally throughout the rest of the world, although much criticized, is still hard to shed. Pascale Casanova’s conception of a “world republic of letters,” structured around a capital and its peripheral dependencies, is symptomatic in this regard.

breaching the frameBreaching the Frame: The Rise of Contemporary Art in Brazil and Japan examines the emergence of avant-garde movements in two supposedly peripheral locales. In investigating the apparent paradox of avant-garde art in the periphery, it disrupts our understanding of the belated, the advanced, and the contemporary. It tells a story of the emergence of contemporary art that goes beyond the local and particular, while refraining from representing world history as a single, unified narrative.

Pedro R. Erber teaches in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University. He holds a Ph.D. in Asian Studies from Cornell University, M.A. in philosophy from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, and B.A. in philosophy from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Erber is the author of Política e verdade no pensamento de Martin Heidegger and articles on intellectual history, art, literature, and aesthetics.