May Day for Media Workers

May Day, “International Worker’s Day,” is a curiously un-American holiday. Celebrated by labor groups and political parties outside the United States, it began in 1890 as a global day of solidarity to commemorate those who lost their lives in Chicago’s Haymarket Square while demonstrating for an eight-hour workday. Haymarket, a symbol of labor’s rising activism, also sparked America’s first major “red scare,” a political backlash that created tensions within the U.S. labor movement and hived it off from its counterparts around the world. That legacy is still with us, as most American labor organizations 9780520290853continue to frame issues through the prism of national interest. Even in Hollywood, labor groups describe their most pressing challenges in terms of “runaway production,” which is industry parlance for out-sourcing. Consequently, many workers fail to grasp the larger set of forces that is killing jobs, intensifying workplace pressures, and undermining creativity. They also have a hard time making connections between the challenges they face and those confronted by counterparts overseas. Interestingly, the situation isn’t so different in Bollywood (Mumbai), Nollywood (Lagos), and Prague, as demonstrated by two dozen scholars in Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor, a newly released UC Press volume that’s also available through the Luminos open access platform.

As these scholars show, motion picture production practices in cities around the world are growing more closely aligned under the pressures of media globalization and corporate conglomeration. Distribution protocols and audience behaviors are also converging. Although these transformations offer fresh opportunities for media makers and their fans, they also open the door to managerial strategies that exact a heavy toll on workers and make it difficult for them to organize and respond. Interestingly, one of the most widely shared complaints is about the long workdays that run well past the eight-hour limit advocated by Haymarket demonstrators more than a hundred years ago!

A demonstration by VFX workers outside the 2013 Oscars when “Life of Pi” was winning the special effects award only two weeks after the company that made the effects went bankrupt and the workers were fired. Learn more here.

Precarious Creativity provides a window into the everyday lives of film, television, and video game workers, while also offering a critical perspective that makes connections and comparisons across the globe. Essays also reflect on the prospects for labor activism and transnational organizing. We are therefore delighted to have the opportunity to release it on the Luminos open access platform where it is already reaching a global audience. Only weeks after publication Precarious Creativity has been accessed by readers in Nigeria, India, and the Czech Republic; and it has generated a bit of buzz stateside as well, even in Hollywood.

So here’s to May Day, and to greater awareness of the diverse yet interwoven challenges facing media workers around the world!

curtin_photoMichael Curtin is the Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Professor of Global Studies in the Department of Film and Media Studies and cofounder of the Media Industries Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His previous books include The American Television Industry; Reorienting Global Communication: Indian and Chinese Media Beyond Borders; Playing to the World’s Biggest Audience: The Globalization of Chinese Film and TV; andDistribution Revolution: Conversations about the Digitial Future of Film and Television.


eca5eb6b9121c94762157af75cda5077-bpfullKevin Sanson is a Lecturer in Entertainment Industries at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. He is coeditor of Distribution Revolution: Conversations about the Digital Future of Film and Television and Connected Viewing: Selling, Streaming, & Sharing Media in the Digital Era and is part of the founding editorial collective of Media Industries, the first peer-reviewed open-access journal for media industries research.


Living at the Edges of Capitalism

The newly released Living at the Edges of Capitalism explores communities living in exilic spaces, or spaces outside of state capitalism—Cossacks on the Don River in Russia, Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, and prisoners in long-term isolation. Andrej Grubačić and Denis O’Hearn write from their personal experiences and solidarity with these groups. We’re happy to present an excerpt from the Preface below, which explains how they came to write this book:

The subject of this book is exile. Not in the sense it is usually expressed: as a longing for something lost or a hope to return to what one once had. For us exilic life is not Victor Hugo’s “long dream of hope,” a nostalgic longing to return to something, but rather a journey of hope for a future that has not yet been. The instances of hope we have chosen to research for this book are provided by people who left or were banished from places of discontent and sought something better.

Both of us hold an interest in exilic community that comes from our own experiences. We have both lived in places that attempted something akin to exilic community, one of us in a war zone where people had to practice mutual aid in order to exist, the other in a historic experiment in self-management. Both experiments ended, one in a peace process and a return to “normal” electoral politics, and the other in a tragic war and split-up of the trans-ethnic political community. Along the way, both of us became exiles in the usual political sense, unable to return to our communities because we were hunted by corrupt state police forces.


Andrej Grubačić is Professor of Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is the author of Wobblies and Zapatistas and Don’t Mourn, Balkanize!

Denis O’Hearn is Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton and the author of Inside the Celtic Tiger: The Irish Economy and the Asian Model; The Atlantic Economy: Britain, the US, and Ireland; andNothing But an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, the Irish Hunger Striker Who Ignited a Generation, among other titles.

Hiding in Plain Sight Explores the Pursuit of War Criminals, from Mengele to Kony

This story, written by Andrea Lampros, first appeared on the UC Berkeley School of Law website on April 12, 2016 and is cross-posted here with their kind permission.


More than three decades ago in a forensic laboratory in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Berkeley Law’s Eric Stover held the bones of the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.

“Standing there looking at the skeleton, I thought, how could it be that this war criminal, who fled Auschwitz in 1945, could end up here on the other side of the earth? And what about all the other Nazis who were walking free in Latin America, where were they and why hadn’t they been caught?”

That question stirred by Mengele’s bones stayed with Stover as he went on to investigate wartime atrocities committed by political and military leaders in more than a dozen countries. Investigations took him to Srebrenica in 1996 where, two years earlier, Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic had overseen the massacre of 8,000 men and boys in one of the worst atrocities on European soil since World War II; and then to war-torn Iraq where he and forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow uncovered graves of Kurdish victims of Saddam Hussein’s “Anfal” campaign in the late 1980s; and, more recently, to northern Uganda to interview child soldiers who had escaped from  Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Six years ago, Stover teamed up with Berkeley Law’s Alexa Koenig and Arizona State’s Victor Peskin to try to understand why so many states ignore their legal obligations to arrest and try war crimes suspects. The result is the just-released Hiding in Plain Sight: The Pursuit of War Criminals from Nuremberg to the War on Terror (University of California Press). 

Telling one story at a time, the authors follow the flight—and on again, off again pursuit—of war criminals throughout modern history: from Nazis to today’s high-level suspects, including President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Liberian warlord Charles Taylor, and the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden. They probe the ebb and flow of political will to arrest and try perpetrators of war crimes, and they culminate in the sea change prompted by the war on terror when the U.S. shifted from vocal proponents of international law to explainers of “American exceptionalism”—justifying the use of killer drones, black sites, and torture.


Eric Stover doing forensic work in Guatemala in the 1980s, at the site of a mass grave.

The book opens with Mengele, known as “the Angel of Death,” and his Nazi counterparts, Adolf Eichmann and Klaus Barbie, slipping into the chaos of post-war Germany.

Unlike other SS officers, Mengele avoided having his blood type tattooed onto his arm or chest (to keep his skin unmarred). Such a tattoo would have been a dead giveaway to the Americans that they had a potential war criminal on their hands.  Instead, the Auschwitz doctor fled on a so-called “rat line” of safe houses set up by Nazi sympathizers to the Italian port of Genoa, where he boarded the North King, a passenger ship bound for Argentina.

Through Argentina, Paraguay, and finally Brazil, Mengele lived and worked, even managing a small farm where he skillfully treated sick farm animals, employing techniques honed on the hideous experiments he performed on humans during the Holocaust.

Although aware and fearful of the Nazi hunters on his trail, Mengele lived simply, but with relative freedom, until he drowned while swimming in the ocean near Sao Paulo in 1979.

Stover—the first to engage U.S. forensic scientists in international war crimes investigations—traveled to Brazil as part of a team of American and German scientists tasked with their Brazilian colleagues to examine remains buried under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard, but believed to be those of Josef Mengele. Analysis of the skeleton’s gapped teeth and a fractured hip, and ultimately, DNA evidence, proved that the bones were in fact those of Josef Mengele.

The case of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, infamous architect of the “Final Solution,” was more satisfying for those seeking justice. Instead of seeking extradition, the Shin Bet (akin to the Israeli FBI) abducted him off a street in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, where he had fled in the aftermath of World War II.  While the kidnapping was illegal, the Israeli court that tried him adhered to the principle of male captus, bene detentus (badly captured, rightly detained), which permits court cases to proceed even when a suspect is captured illegally.

In December 1961, Eichmann was successfully convicted of numerous international crimes against humanity, and more, for his role in the Holocaust. His trial, which was broadly televised, spurred a renewed interest in using courts to account for violations of international law.

Fugitives of the Balkan Killing Fields

In early 1996, just after driving west with his wife, Pamela Blotner, to make a new home in Berkeley and direct Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, Stover traveled to Bosnia. He worked with a team of investigators assembled by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to investigate war crimes committed by forces under the command of Karadzic and Mladic.

At the time, both men were living openly in Bosnia despite the presence of more than 60,000 NATO troops. The strategy of U.S. military commanders and their European allies was to keep the peace by a massive show of force, even if it meant cooperating with warlords. That policy eventually changed, and Karadzic was finally apprehended in 2008, followed by Mladic’s arrest three years later.

Just last month, more than two decades after the Srebrenica massacre, the ICTY sentenced Karadzic to 40 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. (Read CNN article with Stover comments on case).

Mladic, who was Karadzic’s first in command, will learn of his verdict early next year. (Stover, Peskin, and Koenig wrote a story for Foreign Policy, upon the Karadzic decision last month.)

“Making arrests boils down to political will,” Stover said, echoing a central theme of the book. “In order to have international justice, governments must have the fortitude to enforce arrest warrants. Yet many states ignore this legal obligation because they fear it will imperil their political or security interests.”

Omar al-Bashir, whose image appears on the book’s cover, is a case in point. The sitting Sudanese president is charged by the International Criminal Court with genocide and crimes against humanity for the killing of hundreds of thousands in Darfur, and yet he travels freely throughout Africa. Al-Bashir touched down in South Africa in 2015 without incident or arrest.


Alexa Koenig

Unbound by the Law

Author Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center, whose research spans military detention, Guantánamo, and the use of drones in the “war on terror,” said that Hiding in Plain Sight takes a critical look at American exceptionalism.

“We tell the story of post-9-11 U.S. policy when the use of drones and illegal detention indefinitely changed our relationship to international law,” Koenig said.

The authors relate the story of Abu Zubaydah, operations commander of al-Qaeda, who was flown to a so-called “black site” in Thailand and Poland. He is believed to be the first detainee in the war on terror subjected to torture or what the Bush Administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” including waterboarding, pro-longed stress positions, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and beatings.  The Washington Post later reported that senior U.S. officials were concerned that “not a single significant [al-Qaeda] plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaydah’s tortured confessions”


Victor Peskin

In the book’s Epilogue, Stover, Peskin and Koenig quote former ICTY prosecutor Louise Arbour on the recent shift in U.S. policy: “The entire system of abductions, extra-legal transfer, and secret detentions is…a complete repudiation of the law and the justice system,” she said. “No state resting its very identity on the rule of law should have recourse or even be a passive accomplice to such practices.”

Stover said Hiding in Plain Sight ends at this pivotal place—where the under-resourced International Criminal Court remains bound by the law, pursuing an elusive justice, while states, including the United States, ignore the very laws they promulgated.

“Until this situation is rectified,” the book concludes, “murderers will get away with murder, and torturers will retire with pensions.”

Keith Watenpaugh on the Ottoman History Podcast

Keith Watenpaugh, author of Bread from Stones, was interviewed on the Ottoman History Podcast:

The First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire are defining moments in the political history of the modern Middle East. This narrative is usually told through the lenses of the breakup of empire, the successes and failures of national movements, and the colonial involvement of British and French Mandates in the region. In this episode, Keith Watenpaugh offers a different approach to this story through a critical look at the role of American humanitarian organizations such as Near East Relief admist the war and its aftermath, which is the subject of his new monograph entitled Bread From Stones (UC Press, 2015). In the podcast, we discuss how the massive displacement of the First World War, the Armenian genocide, and the need to care for refugees in the postwar Middle East contributed to the evolution of aid and charity organizations and the creation of what scholars see as modern humanitarian structures and ideologies. Prof. Watenpaugh describes how Americans came to see their unique humanitarian relationship with Armenians and other communities in the Middle East, and we discuss how the historical study of humanitarianism as an ideology in its own right changes not only the historiography of the region but also the way we think about present-day humanitarian crises.

Listen to the podcast here. 

April Goodreads Giveaways Round-Up

We’re excited to bring you more Goodreads giveaways this month! Entries are free, and all Goodreads members residing in the United States are eligible to win. Just click to enter!  Be sure to visit our Goodreads profile often, as new giveaways will be appearing every month– and don’t forget to review, rate, and add your favorite UC Press books to your Goodreads shelves.

Check out the following giveaways for new and upcoming Press books.


The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home
by Joyce Goldstein 

(click for Goodreads giveaway)

The New Mediterranean Jewish Table is an authoritative guide to Jewish home cooking from North Africa, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and the Middle East. It is a treasury filled with vibrant, seasonal recipes—both classic and updated—that embrace fresh fruits and vegetables; grains and legumes; small portions of meat, poultry, and fish; and a healthy mix of herbs and spices. It is also the story of how Jewish cooks successfully brought the local ingredients, techniques, and traditions of their new homelands into their kitchens. With this varied and appealing selection of Mediterranean Jewish recipes, Joyce Goldstein promises to inspire new generations of Jewish and non-Jewish home cooks alike with dishes for everyday meals and holiday celebrations.

(Giveaway ends on May 8th.)


Hiding in Plain Sight: The Pursuit of War Criminals from Nuremberg to the War on Terror by Eric Stover and Victor Peskin

(click for Goodreads giveaway)

Hiding in Plain Sight tells the story of the global effort to apprehend the world’s most wanted fugitives. Beginning with the flight of tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals and their collaborators after World War II, then moving on to the question of justice following the recent Balkan wars and the Rwandan genocide, and ending with the establishment of the International Criminal Court and America’s pursuit of suspected terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11, the book explores the range of diplomatic and military strategies—both successful and unsuccessful—that states and international courts have adopted to pursue and capture war crimes suspects. It is a story fraught with broken promises, backroom politics, ethical dilemmas, and daring escapades—all in the name of international justice and human rights.

(Giveaway ends on May 8th.)


Rembrandt: The Painter Thinking by Ernst van der Wetering

(click for Goodreads giveaway)

Even during the artist’s lifetime, contemporary art lovers considered Rembrandt van Rijn to be an exceptional artist. In this revelatory sequel to the acclaimed Rembrandt: The Painter at Work, renowned Rembrandt authority Ernst van de Wetering investigates precisely why the artist, from a very early age, was praised by prominent connoisseurs. He argues that Rembrandt, from his very first endeavors in painting, embarked on a journey past all the foundations of the art of painting that, according to (up until now misinterpreted) contemporary written sources, were considered essential in the seventeenth century. Rembrandt never stopped searching for solutions to the pictorial problems that confronted him; this led over time to radical changes in course that can’t simply be attributed to stylistic evolution or natural development. In a quest as rigorous and novel as the artist’s, van de Wetering reveals how Rembrandt became the best painter the world had ever seen. Gorgeously illustrated throughout, this groundbreaking exploration reconstructs Rembrandt’s closely guarded theories and methods, shedding new light both on the artist’s exceptional accomplishments and on the practice of painting in the Dutch Golden Age.

(Giveaway ends on April 18th.)


Living at the Edges of Capitalism: Adventures in Exile and Mutual Aid by Andrej Grubacic and Denis O’Hearn

(click for Goodreads giveaway)

Inspired by their experiences visiting Cossacks, living with the Zapatistas, and developing connections and relationships with prisoners and ex-prisoners, Andrej Grubacic and Denis O’Hearn present a uniquely sweeping, historical, and systematic study of exilic communities engaged in mutual aid. Following the tradition of Peter Kropotkin, Pierre Clastres, James Scott, Fernand Braudel and Imanuel Wallerstein, this study examines the full historical and contemporary possibilities for establishing self-governing communities at the edges of the capitalist world-system, considering the historical forces that often militate against those who try to practice mutual aid in the face of state power and capitalist incursion.

(Giveaway ends on May 8th.)


The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
by Carlos Castaneda

(click for Goodreads giveaway)

In 1968 University of California Press published an unusual manuscript by an anthropology student named Carlos Castaneda. The Teachings of Don Juan enthralled a generation of seekers dissatisfied with the limitations of the Western worldview. Castaneda’s now classic book remains controversial for the alternative way of seeing that it presents and the revolution in cognition it demands. Whether read as ethnographic fact or creative fiction, it is the story of a remarkable journey that has left an indelible impression on the life of more than a million readers around the world.

(Giveaway ends on May 8th.)


Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent edited by Pratapaditya Pal

(click for Goodreads giveaway)

Puja and Piety celebrates the complexity of South Asian representation and iconography by examining the relationship between aesthetic expression and the devotional practice, or puja, in the three native religions of the Indian subcontinent. This stunning and authoritative catalogue presents some 150 objects created over the past two millennia for temples, home worship, festivals, and roadside shrines. From monumental painted temple hangings and painted meditation diagrams to portable pictures for pilgrims, from stone sculptures to processional bronzes and wooden chariots, from ancient terracottas to various devotional objects for domestic shrines, this volume provides much-needed context and insight into classical and popular art of India. Featuring an introduction by the eminent art historian and curator Pratapaditya Pal; accessible essays on each religious tradition by Stephen P. Huyler, John E. Cort, and Christian Luczanits; and useful guides to iconography and terms by Debashish Banerji, this richly illustrated catalogue will provide a lasting resource for readers interested in South Asian art and spirituality.

(Giveaway ends on May 8th.)


UC Press Authors at This Weekend’s LA Times Festival of Books

LA Fest

UC Press is headed to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend and we hope to see you there! The Festival will be held April 9-10 on the USC campus in downtown Los Angeles.

We have a number of current and former authors speaking at the Festival; among the highlights:


Former LA Times Book Editor and Critic David Ulin will talk about Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles. Part personal narrative, part investigation of the city as both idea and environment, Sidewalking is many things: a discussion of Los Angeles as urban space, a history of the city’s built environment, a meditation on the author’s relationship to the city, and a rumination on the art of urban walking.  Exploring Los Angeles through the soles of his feet, Ulin gets at the experience of its street life, drawing from urban theory, pop culture, and literature. Whet your appetite with an excerpt from the book.

David will be participating on three panels:

  • SATURDAY, APRIL 9, 2016, 10:00 a.m.

Fiction: The Art of the Short Story

Moderator: David L. Ulin

Karen Bender, Tara Ison, Lincoln Michel

  • SATURDAY, APRIL 9, 2016, 2:30 p.m.

The Art of the Essay

Moderator: Dinah Lenney

Emily Rapp Black, Meghan Daum, David L. Ulin, Geoff Dyer

  • SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2016, 10:00 a.m.

Fiction: The Art of the Real

Moderator: Isaac Fitzgerald

Elizabeth Crane, David L. Ulin, Anne Enright, Diana Wagman


We’re also delighted to be able to highlight Gabriel Thompson’s biography of Fred Ross, one of America’s most influential community organizers, America’s Social Arsonist. Ross’s activism began alongside Dust Bowl migrants, where he managed the same labor camp that inspired John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. During World War II, Ross worked for the release of interned Japanese Americans, and after the war, he dedicated his life to building the political power of Latinos across California. He is perhaps best known for mentoring both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Techniques and strategies Ross developed are widely used by activists today. Read more about the book by clicking here.

Gabriel will be joined by Tom Hayden, Pulitzer Prize-winning Cesar Chavez biographer Miriam Pawel, and fellow UC Press author, William Deverell on a panel focused on activism:

  • SUNDAY, APRIL 10, 2016, 11:30 a.m.

Rise Up: Power to the People

Moderator: Thomas Curwen

William Deverell, Tom Hayden, Miriam Pawel, Gabriel Thompson

Before or after you’ve had your fill of the many fascinating panels, please come take a look at new titles and old favorites from UC Press in the combined Skylight/UC Press booth. Our friends on the Skylight staff will be happy to help you find/order any UC Press titles that pique your fancy.

This is just a small sample of what’s on offer at this incredible celebration of all types of books. Check out the Festival’s website for the full program and more information.

If you’re in Los Angeles we hope to see you there!

Join Us at the 2016 Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting in Providence, RI!

University of California Press is exhibiting at the 2016 OAH Annual Meeting! The meeting convenes April 7 – April 10, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. This year’s theme is “On Leadership,” exploring any aspect of leadership in American history.

Please visit us at booth #433 in the Rhode Island Convention Center for the following offers:

  • 40% conference discount on all orders
  • Request exam copies to consider for course adoption
  • Enter for a chance to win $100 worth of books by subscribing to UC Press eNews

Please see our flyer at our booth for our latest releases. Acquisitions staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow OAH’s Facebook, @The_OAH, and hashtag #OAH2016 for current meeting news. Catch up on our recent blog posts on History here and on American studies here.

Beyoncé, Creoles, and Modern Blackness

By Tyina Steptoe, author of Houston Bound

Beyoncé is a black woman. This isn’t exactly earth-shattering news; after all, the 34-year-old, Houston-born entertainer has one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Yet, since the release of the video for her song “Formation” on February 6, an avalanche of tweets and think pieces have heralded the arrival of an unapologetically black Beyoncé.

Set in New Orleans, the “Formation” video features a platinum braid wearing, hot sauce-loving black woman who adores afros and her “Negro nose.” Helmed by award-winning director Melina Masoukas, the clip also prominently features images associated with the Black Live Matter movement. In one scene, a group of militarized police officers stand in front of a dancing, unarmed black boy. Another shot shows a wall tagged with the words “Stop shooting us.” These are not words or images typically associated with Queen Bey.

One day later, Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime performance featured a bevy of black female back-up dancers dressed like Black Panthers in berets and afros. Some of the women later posed with a sign that read “Justice 4 Mario Woods.” Woods was a young African American man slain by police officers in San Francisco on December 2, so the display indelibly links Beyoncé to recent protests against police killings. Some white fans reacted angrily. By Monday morning, the hashtag #BoycottBeyonce circulated on social media, and one group of detractors planned a boycott (though that didn’t quite pan out in the way they’d hoped.) “Saturday Night Live” spoofed negative white reaction with a video called “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.” To her fans and critics, it was clear that Beyoncé has made her racial identity and modern racial politics central to her public image in 2016.

While watching clips of the video and TV performance, I was struck by one particular aspect of the new song – Beyoncé’s rejection of a monolithic blackness. In the lyrics to “Formation,” Beyoncé does more than proclaim black pride during a particularly tense period of race relations. She also highlights the diversity that has historically existed among African Americans.

My daddy Alabama
Mama Louisiana
You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bama.

As sociologist Zandria Robinson writes, “Beyoncé rides a southern genealogy that traverses the Deep South from Alabama to Louisiana to Texas, back and through, with stops in between.” As she takes us on that journey, Beyoncé reminds us the gumbo blend of cultures that form modern blackness. By asserting that “Texas bama” is a mixture of Negro and Creole, she also makes those two distinct categories. Indeed, Beyoncé is descended from Gulf South societies where those labels have referred to different groups at different times.

The notion that Creoles represent a different racial group from “Negro” has been shaped by the history of southern Louisiana. Most people who identify as Creoles of color are descendants of gens de couleur libre (free people of color), a group with roots in French Louisiana. Gens de couleur libre often had white fathers and enslaved African mothers. Emancipated by their fathers, this mixed-race population formed a separate group in colonial Louisiana. They married one another and formed communities throughout the southern parishes. Some owned land; the wealthier ones even owned slaves. Gens de couleur libre considered themselves to be neither white nor black, but a combination of both races. Their descendants, who referred to themselves as Creoles of color after the Civil War, continued to stress their racial and cultural hybridity.

Beyoncé’s family has roots in that society. The name Beyoncé is derived from her maternal family name, Beyincé. The Beyincé family traces its roots to French Canada, where an ancestor named Jean-Baptiste Marchesseau was born in Quebec in 1782. Before the Civil War, Louisiana-born members of the Beyincé clan lived in Saint James, Iberia, and Vermilion parishes. In a 2015 interview, Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles Lawson (née Beyincé) counted an “enslaved African maternal great-grandmother and paternal grandfather from Bordeaux, France” as part of the family tree.

Like thousands of Creoles of color, members of the Beyincé family migrated to Texas in the twentieth century. Tina Beyincé was born in Galveston after her parents located there sometime after 1940. They joined an exodus of Creoles of color who relocated to the Lone Star State in the aftermath of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Most moved to Houston, where they built a community called Frenchtown in the northern section of the city’s Fifth Ward. The Beyincé family settled in nearby Galveston. For many of the Creoles of color who moved to Texas in the twentieth century, “Creole” and “black” referred to two different groups.

Relations between Texans and Louisianans could be tense. Knowles Lawson told Ebony magazine that black nuns at her Catholic school in Galveston treated her poorly as a girl. Meanwhile, some black Texans claimed that Creoles acted superior. Indeed, as New Orleans native Yaba Blay reminds us, “people who are light skinned, with non-kinky hair and the ability to claim a Creole heritage have had access to educational, occupational, social and political opportunities that darker skinned, kinkier-haired, non-Creole folks have been denied.”

By the late twentieth century, however, “Creole” was less of a racial marker than an ethnic one. Catholicism, French surnames, Creole/Cajun cuisine, and zydeco music defined Creoles, regardless of whether their ancestors were free in 1860. Furthermore, generations of Creoles of color lived in or near black communities. In Houston and Galveston, the groups frequently shared neighborhoods and institutions. They also intermarried, as when Tina Beyincé married Alabama-born Matthew Knowles. The “Texas bama” roots mentioned in “Formation” refer to the merging of two cultures, one from the Anglophone southeast, and another from French Louisiana.

“Formation” isn’t the first time Beyoncé has referred to her Creole roots. Her 2008 song, “Creole,” also asserts this identity:

So all my red bones get on the floor
And all my yellow bones get on the floor
And all my brown bones get on the floor
Then you mix it up and you call it Creole

In both “Creole” and “Formation,” Beyoncé positions herself as a mixture of different places and colors. That heritage, however, does not negate the fact that she is a black woman. Blackness is a broad enough spectrum to encompass a Creole ethnic identity.

But even as modern Creoles proudly assert their identity, they have been largely ignored outside of the Gulf Coast. Americans rarely consider ethnicities within the category of black. When we discuss racial blackness, we tend to portray African Americans as a monolithic group. Beyoncé’s repeated references to her Creole heritage illuminate debates over skin color and privilege, but also the complexities of African American identity. Premiering during Black History Month 2016, “Formation” reminds us of the wide array of cultures, cuisines, colors, and controversies that exist within modern black America.

Tyina L. Steptoe is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Arizona.

Houston Bound

UC Press Books in the News

We’re kicking off a recurring series of posts today which highlight UC Press books of note that have been featured recently in the media. Since we continually strive to publish works that will be relevant for the long term, note that many of the titles highlighted below are from the recent past. Additionally, we’ll be highlighting forthcoming releases (and in this installment: a very exciting, early preview of Rebecca Solnit‘s newest book, coming fall 2016).

Lead Wars

Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of Children co-author Gerald Markowitz was interviewed on Boston NPR affiliate station WBUR’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook“, discussing how “Our National Lead Problem is Bigger Than Flint.”

Why Busing Failed

Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation (coming April 2016) author Matt Delmont wrote an article/opinion piece for on the anniversary of what is considered the largest civil rights protest in US history (NYC, 1964), during which 460,000 students took part in a one-day school boycott to call for improved schools and educational equality, and to protest school segregation.

Scholar Denied

The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology by Aldon Morris was reviewed in last month’s Berkeley Journal of Sociology by Boston University Professor Julian Go. Go states that “Du Bois is often noted to be the first “black” sociologist, but Morris’ point here is that Du Bois more rightfully deserves to be among the first empirical sociologists, period.”

Infinite City

A mention in the New York Times of the highly anticipated third volume in Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Atlas’ series, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas (the previous bestselling volumes being Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas), appeared on February 3rd. Nonstop Metropolis ties into the Queens Museum‘s biannual International exhibition which “will take New York City as its subject, and Ms. Solnit will organize a series of unorthodox works and public programs with the artists Mariam Ghani and Duke Riley.


Spring 2016 New Releases Preview

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(pictured above: a view of our office’s Editorial Dept. area)

Spring 2016’s new release review galleys and advance copies are beginning to hit our desks here at UC Press HQ in beautiful Oakland, California. We’re planning and finalizing outreach strategies so that the word gets out regarding these deeply researched and important works within their respective disciplines.

America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century by Gabriel Thompson 

America Social Arsonist

Until now there has been no biography of Fred Ross, a man who believed a good organizer was supposed to fade into the crowd as others stepped forward. Raised by conservative parents who hoped he would “stay with his own kind,” Fred Ross instead became one of the most influential community organizers in American history. His activism began alongside Dust Bowl migrants, where he managed the same labor camp that inspired John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. During World War II, Ross worked for the release of interned Japanese Americans, and after the war, he dedicated his life to building the political power of Latinos across California. Labor organizing in this country was forever changed when Ross knocked on the door of a young Cesar Chavez and encouraged him to become an organizer.

Crossing the Kingdom: Portraits of Saudi Arabia by Loring M. Danforth (available March 2016)

Crossing the Kingdom

With vivid descriptions and moving personal narratives, Danforth takes us across the Kingdom, from the headquarters of Saudi Aramco, the country’s national oil company on the Persian Gulf, to the centuries-old city of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast with its population of undocumented immigrants from all over the Muslim world. He presents detailed portraits of a young woman jailed for protesting the ban on women driving, a Sufi scholar encouraging Muslims and Christians to struggle together with love to know God, and an artist citing the Quran and using metal gears and chains to celebrate the diversity of the pilgrims who come to Mecca.

Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus by Krin Gabbard (available now)

Better Git

Krin Gabbard takes a careful look at Mingus as a writer as well as a composer and musician. He digs into how and why Mingus chose to do so much self-analysis, how he worked to craft his racial identity in a world that saw him simply as “black,” and how his mental and physical health problems shaped his career. Gabbard sets aside the myth-making and convincingly argues that Charles Mingus created a unique language of emotions—and not just in music. Capturing many essential moments in jazz history anew, Better Git It in Your Soul will fascinate anyone who cares about jazz, African American history, and the artist’s life.

Rembrandt: The Painter Thinking by Ernst van de Wetering (available now)

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Rembrandt never stopped searching for solutions to the pictorial problems that confronted him; this led over time to radical changes in course that can’t simply be attributed to stylistic evolution or natural development. In a quest as rigorous and novel as the artist’s, van de Wetering reveals how Rembrandt became the best painter the world had ever seen. Gorgeously illustrated throughout, this groundbreaking exploration reconstructs Rembrandt’s closely guarded theories and methods, shedding new light both on the artist’s exceptional accomplishments and on the practice of painting in the Dutch Golden Age.

The Principia The Authoritative Translation and Guide by Isaac Newton (available now)

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In his monumental 1687 work, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, known familiarly as the Principia, Isaac Newton laid out in mathematical terms the principles of time, force, and motion that have guided the development of modern physical science. Even after more than three centuries and the revolutions of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, Newtonian physics continues to account for many of the phenomena of the observed world, and Newtonian celestial dynamics is used to determine the orbits of our space vehicles. This beautifully packaged new edition is available in both hardcover and paperback.

Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright, and Dry by John Winthrop Haeger (available now)


Riesling Rediscovered looks at the present state of dry Riesling across the Northern Hemisphere: where it is grown and made, what models and objectives vintners have in mind, and what parameters of grape growing and winemaking are essential when the goal is a delicious dry wine. John Winthrop Haeger explores the history of Riesling to illuminate how this variety emerged from a crowded field of grape varieties grown widely across northern Europe, offering a comprehensive, current, and accessible overview of what many consider to be the world’s finest and most versatile white wine.

Be on the lookout for more upcoming release preview roundups to be featured here over the next few months.