Herstory: Women’s Histories, Memoirs, and Biographies

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of the largest single day protest in US history—the Women’s March—when on January 21, 2017, 4.2 million people marched across the US in more than 600 US cities, and from Antarctica to Zimbabwe, at least 261 more sister marches cropped up worldwide. To celebrate this pivotal protest, UC Press is highlighting titles across subjects as part of our Herstory series, with today’s focus on Women’s Histories, Memoirs, and Biographies recognizing the lives of incredible visionaries and rabble-rousers who shaped history. While just a preview of our publishing “herstory,” these titles will engage your intellect and inspire your activism today, tomorrow, and for future tomorrows.

Race Women Internationalists: Activist-Intellectuals and Global Freedom Struggles (Forthcoming June 2018; preorder today)
By Imaobong D. Umoren

Race Women Internationalists explores how a group of Caribbean and African American women in the early and mid-twentieth century traveled the world to fight colonialism, fascism, sexism, and racism. Bringing together the entangled lives of three notable but overlooked women: Eslanda Robeson, Paulette Nardal, and Una Marson, it explores how, between the 1920s and the 1960s, the trio participated in global freedom struggles by traveling; building networks in feminist, student, black-led, anticolonial, and antifascist organizations; and forging alliances with key leaders to challenge various forms of inequality facing people of African descent across the diaspora and the continent.

Ronnie Gilbert: A Radical Life in Song
By Ronnie Gilbert

Ronnie Gilbert was an American folk singer, songwriter, actress and political activist whose lifelong work for political and social change was central to her role as a performer. Best known as a member of the Weavers, the quartet of the 1950s and ’60s that survived the Cold War blacklist and helped popularize folk music in America, Gilbert continued to tour, play music, and protest well into her 70s and 80s. Covering sixty years of her remarkable life, her memoir is an engaging historical document for readers interested in music, theater, American politics, the women’s movement, and left-wing activism.


Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left
By Emily K. Hobson

A primer for social justice activists today, Lavender and Red tells the political and intellectual history of the lesbian feminist and gay liberation movements that linked sexual liberation to radical solidarity against imperialism, war, and racism. With archival research, oral histories, and vibrant images, Emily K. Hobson intertwines the history of political struggles of the 1970s through the 1990s.



My Name Is Jody Williams: A Vermont Girl’s Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize
By Jody Williams  

Jody Williams is an American political activist known for her work toward the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines—for which she became the tenth woman and third American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s also well-known for her defense of human rights, especially women’s rights, and in 2006, she helped to launch the Nobel Women’s Initiative to spotlight and promote efforts of women’s rights activists, researchers and organizations working to advance peace, justice and equality for women. Her memoir offers a candid look at her lifelong dedication to global activism.


The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century
By Grace Lee Boggs & Scott Kurashige 

“Activism can be the journey rather than the arrival.”—Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs was a lifelong revolutionary, a legendary figure in the struggle for justice in America. The Next American Revolution is a powerful retrospective to Boggs’s participation in some of the greatest struggles of the last century, from anti-capitalist labor movements of the 1940s and 1950s to the Black Power Movement to contemporary urban environmental activism. It is a manifesto for creating alternative modes of work, politics, and human interaction that will collectively constitute the next American Revolution.


Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1964
By Zheng Wang

These socialist state feminists—who maneuvered behind the scenes of the Chinese Communist Party—worked to advance gender and class equality in the early People’s Republic of China and fought to transform sexist norms and practices, all while facing fierce opposition from a male-dominated CCP leadership. Illuminating not only the different visions of revolutionary transformation but also the causes for failure of China’s socialist revolution, Finding Women in the State raises fundamental questions about male dominance in social movements that aim to pursue social justice and equality.


A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov
By Donna Hollenberg

Denise Levertov was a poet, essayist, and political activist whose work focused on social and political issues. She was outspoken in her opposition to the Vietnam War, and helped form the Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam. Additionally, she worked as a poetry editor for The Nation in the ’60s and for Mother Jones in the ’70s, and in 1963, she received the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. This authoritative biography captures the complexity of Levertov as both woman an artist, and the dynamic world she inhabited.



Robots: The Backstories

by Jennifer Robertson, author of Robo sapiens japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family, and the Japanese Nation

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Today robots have become, in the words of a Boston Globe headline from 2014, “the 21st century’s must-study subject.” Unless one is living in isolation or off the grid, one cannot avoid noticing that robots are in the news and entertainment media everyday. The scholarly literature on robots has also expanded exponentially, and the field of robotics is front and center in superheated debates about autonomous cars.

All the media attention paid these days to robots makes it a daunting challenge to write about them, as I realized while organizing my field notes and crafting my book. A major task I faced was to finesse the disconnect between actual robots and the robots that populate science fiction comics, novels, and movies. Although technologically complex, the former are clumsy, slow, and underwhelming compared to the latter. Video PR footage of actual robots moving is typically speeded up significantly, sometimes ten to thirty times their original speed, and is heavily edited to create the illusion of smooth, coordinated movement.

I also had to deal with the fact that the field of robotics and related technologies is evolving so quickly and in so many directions that research focused solely on highlighting the newest gee-whiz models quickly becomes out of date. How to keep my book relevant even after the robots featured in it were obsolete was a major concern. In addition, while seeking to analyze cross-cultural differences in attitudes toward robot-human interactions, I was careful to avoid fueling the stereotype of “the Japanese” as gadget obsessed and culturally prone to desiring robot companions over human ones.

My solution to these quandaries was to explore and interrogate the type of national cultural, social institutional, and gendered family structures within which humans and robots are imagined to coexist. I also researched and crafted substantive historical backstories to help contextualize the “imagineering” of human-robot relationships since the mid 1920s when, newly coined, “robot” (robotto) became a household word. Today, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, whose two separate terms in office bookend my work, is a leading promoter of robotizing the Japanese labor force. His 2007 blueprint for Japan, Innovation 25, anticipated the “robot revolution” formally announced in 2015. Abe is keen on making Japan a society in which robots of all configurations are utilized more than anywhere in the world, from agriculture to eldercare. He is also planning to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase robots in a separate “robot Olympics.” Although the robots displayed will be those made for the civilian market, Abe, like his Euro-American counterparts, is keen on parlaying robots in the lucrative weapons economy.

In Japan, the family or household is the place where robots will be domesticated and even given citizenship. Only in the past few years has this scenario become common in the United States and western European countries as evident in advertisements for gendered domestic robots called “Mother” and “Buddy.” Although it was broadcast in late October that Sophia, an android commissioned by the Saudi government, was the first robot to be granted citizenship, the fact is that the first robot to be granted citizenship was Paro, a Japanese robot seal recognized as the “World’s Most Therapeutic Robot.” Paro was added to his inventor’s family registry or koseki in 2010, which is irrefutable proof of Japanese citizenship.

The family or household is also the framework for a list of robot laws drawn up by writer and cartoonist Osamu Tezuka, the Japanese counterpart and contemporary of Isaac Asimov, whose robot laws are of a more abstract, universal nature. I argue that as Americans and Europeans become more comfortable with the prospect of sociable household robots, they will regard the family as the metaphor and model of human-robot relationships, just as they already do for animal pets.

And, just like in families when a relative passes away, a robot member will be similarly grieved and eulogized. Robot and computer funeral services have been provided by Buddhist temples for several years now. The glum looking humanoid robots on the cover of my book are in a holding cage at Osaka University waiting to be taken to a recycling center. It has never been confirmed if they were memorialized at a temple before being dismantled.

Jennifer Robertson is Professor of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan. She is author of Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan and Native and Newcomer: Making and Remaking a Japanese City.

Make the Han Great Again

by Kevin Carrico, author of The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

Blame placed upon minorities and foreigners. Calls for isolation from the outside world to protect our way of life. Visions of a lost past, the good old days, needing to be recaptured.

For anthropologists gathering in Washington, DC for the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, these concepts will naturally bring to mind recent developments in politics in the United States. But these are also in fact issues addressed in my recent ethnography of race and traditionalism in urban China, The Great Han.

The Great Han is based in fieldwork across China with members of the Han Clothing Movement (Hanfu yundong), a grassroots nationalist group that has emerged in cities across China since 2001. Although “the Han” is China’s majority ethnicity, constituting 92% of the country’s population and playing a dominant role in the country’s political, economic, and cultural life, members of the Han Clothing Movement see the Han as an oppressed people, prevented from realizing their full potential, and thus China’s full potential. Why do these members of a dominant majority ethnicity see themselves as marginalized victims? In my analysis of majority nationalism, I interpret nationalism as an autopoeitic social system driven forward in the tension between boundless national fantasies and inherently bounded national realities, such that the reality of China today is interpreted as not corresponding to a fundamentally impossible yet alluring vision of “the real China.”

In response to this perceived dilemma, movement participants strive to bridge this distance from their “real China,” by promoting a purportedly ancient yet recently invented style of ethnic clothing, alongside reinvented rituals, etiquette, and traditional education. Having established the founding dilemma of Han nationalism in the first half of the book, in the second half I analyse various means by which participants seek to resolve these dilemmas: clothing that stabilizes, naturalizes, and eternalizes a romantic vision of Han identity; ritual that produces sequestered micro-spheres in which their ideal visions can be acted out without interference; and conspiracy theories that provide seamless narratives of Han innocence and goodness. These cultural manifestations of the movement, presented as “traditions,” in fact emerge primarily from the contradictions of the present, serving simultaneously as symptom and fleeting cure.

In tune with the theme of this year’s meeting, Anthropology Matters, I would like to suggest that in this age of newly emerging and revitalized global authoritarianisms, anthropology matters more than ever: a comparative anthropology of nationalism and racism can shed new light on the micropolitics of these troubling new trends, taking critical account of both global dilemmas and unique local experiences.

Kevin Carrico is Lecturer in the Department of International Studies at Macquarie University and the translator of Tsering Woeser’s Tibet on Fire.

Anthropology Matters: Going Back to our Talent for Finding Cracks

by Claudio Sopranzetti, author of Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on December 3rd.

The 2010s opened with waves of popular uprisings. Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, cities across the US and Western Europe, Hong Kong, Korea, and—as Owners of the Map narrates—Thailand were all shaken by massive, and largely unpredicted, political awakenings. Established and secure authoritarian regimes, capitalist common sense, and cultural hegemonies seemed to crack under the weight of collective action. Then, as the decade progressed, those awakenings were often followed by authoritarian push-backs, fascist resurgences, diffused fear and repression. Whether in Washington’s offices, in the ballot boxes of Athens, or on the streets of Cairo, Damascus, and Bangkok hopes have been crashed and shivers of change clouded.

The unthinkable happened twice in the course of a decade; as Marx would have said, first as a tragedy than as a farce. Caught in the midst of this open-ended reality, Owners of the Map asks: how can state power be so fragile and open to challenges at one time and yet so seemingly sturdy only a couple of years later? Specularly, how could protesters who had once fearlessly resisted military attacks now remain silent? And finally why, as social scientists, have we completely missed the coming insurrections and their violent silencing?

Trying to answer these daunting questions—central to contemporary political mobilizations around the globe—gets at the core of the theme of the 2017 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association: anthropology matters, a statement that in its grandiose tone is hardly able to silence the unwritten question mark that follows it. Owners of the Map argues that anthropology does matter, provided it re-directs its attention to his strong suits—namely finding contradictions, fractures, and weak spots in political, economic, and theoretical meta-narratives.

In the last decades, unfortunately, our analyses of power have often gone the opposite direction. We’ve too often focused on the sturdiness of power, the invincibility of capitalism, or—at most—on the small and hidden acts of resistance to its triumphal and disastrous march. This has made many of us into the over-systematic thinkers despised by Henry Lefebvre, people who “oscillate between loud denunciations of capitalism and the bourgeois and their repressive institutions on the one hand, and fascination and unrestrained admiration on the other. [Thinkers who] make society into the ‘object’ of a systematization which must be ‘closed’ to be complete; [and] thus bestow a cohesiveness it utterly lacks upon a totality which is in fact decidedly open—so open, indeed, that it must rely on violence to endure.”

Owners of the Map tells a different story, a story of unresolved tensions and continuous attempts to brush them under the rug, of re-emerging cracks and fault lines, of opposing orders striving in vain to impose themselves, and of collective actions that raise significant challenges when aimed at specific weak spots. Letting these stories go unheard, the book argues, does more than losing an intellectual perspective, it promulgates a praxis of political immobility, a position that in times of mass mobilizations and fascist resurgence will not only make anthropology irrelevant, it eventually will put its practitioners on the stand, on the side of those who could have helped but decided to do nothing. As a discipline we have made that mistake in the past, remaining silent and turning our heads to the horrors of colonialism. Are we going to make it again?

Claudio Sopranzetti is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at All Souls College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Red Journeys: Inside the Thai Red Shirt Movement.

#tsumamototoyochien and Prewar Ideals

by Sabine Frühstück, author of Playing War: Children and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan

In September 2016, the Twitter hashtag #tsukamotoyochien attracted a series of comments on Tokyo’s Tsukamoto kindergarten’s practices of educating three-to-five-year-olds according to prewar ideals. Apparently, the pupils at the kindergarten are taught to recite the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education and to bow to the wartime emperor’s photograph in the hallways; they are also routinely taken to military bases—all with the explicit aim to prepare them to “protect their nation against potential threats from other countries.” One tweet pronounced Japan’s democracy to be dying. Another expressed the concern that these children were being groomed for direct recruitment into the Japanese military. Many other comments highlighted a new urgency surrounding issues of children’s education and their relationship to the nation state, all the while commenting on how “sweet,” “innocent,” and “pitiful” these kindergarteners were.

In July 2017, China’s internet giant Tencent vowed to limit daily playing times on its smartphone hit King of Glory for young players to one or two hours to “ensure children’s healthy development.” Army chiefs declared the same game a threat to national defense. With 80 million.daily users, the game had infiltrated the daily life of soldiers and officers with disastrous effects on their physical and psychological health. More and more service members apparently preferred playing war on their mobile phones games to training for war in the field.

In the meantime, American police killed 86 people, many of them children and teenagers, brandishing guns that looked real but were not.

In our modern world, childhood, war, and play continue to intersect in unexpected ways. Often children are used to validate and legitimize war or, alternatively, sentimentalize peace. Playing War examines the intersections of children and childhood and war and the military, to both identify the insidious factors perpetuating this alliance and rethink the very foundations and underlying structures of modern militarism in Japan and beyond. Japan is not a typical modern nation state; few other nation states have shared Japan’s trajectory, traveling as it did from war after war from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth to the peace and state pacifism known since shortly after 1945. Yet, viewing this intersection of childhood and war through a Japanese lens highlights the malleability of militarism as an enduring modern concept that, paradoxically, relies on a specifically modern and stable notion of children and childhood. Playing War shows how in Japan the interfaces and linkages between childhood and war, children and soldiers were first made during the late nineteenth century and have continued ever since—albeit in dramatically shifting ways.

Sabine Frühstück is Director of the East Asia Center and professor of Modern Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Playing War: Childhood and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan.

Open in order to . . . . Author Anne Rademacher Explains Why She Published with Luminos

by Anne Rademacher, author of Building Green: Environmental Architects and the Struggle for Sustainability in Mumbai

At UC Press, open access—the free, immediate, unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed research and scholarly work—is central to our mission. In celebration of 2017 International Open Access Week (October 23-29), we are highlighting open access publishing initiatives at UC Press, including our Collabra and Luminos publishing programs. This year’s OA Week theme “Open in order to . . . ” is an invitation to answer the question of what concrete benefits can be realized by making scholarly publications openly available. Follow the full blog series here#OAWeek #OpenInOrderTo

We live in an age marked by environmental vulnerability—some of it longstanding, and some completely new. In recent weeks, flooding and storm events seemed to serve as a daily reminder of environmental vulnerability: from Florida to Houston to Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean. Just a few months ago, Mumbai, the setting for Building Green: Environmental Architects and the Struggle for Sustainability in Mumbai, experienced record-setting rainfall and catastrophic floods—just one chapter in the story of 2017’s Asian monsoon, a season marked by floods, landslides, and damaging rains that affected millions across the region and killed well over a thousand people.

The frequency and intensity of storm events is just one environmental condition that cities around the world will have to face if they are to maintain basic services like water, energy, and shelter provision—to say nothing of social well being, public health, and safety. Regardless of our location on the global map, we face the question of whether and how we can realize ecological sustainability and social resilience in the context of an uncertain, but certainly unprecedented, environmental future.

If achieving sustainable cities is a key challenge to humanity, then those who seek to design and implement its components—green buildings, open spaces and parks, cleaner energy systems, and the like—are critically important for forging needed change. We might consider certain kinds of green expertise to be essential to the planners, developers, municipal officials, activists, and architects of our future cities. What are their visions and aspirations for sustainable cities and societies? How is training in a “green” urban profession different from conventional training? And, perhaps most importantly, once one knows the tools of the green expert, what does it take to implement them?

Building Green traces the experience of environmental architects as they study to acquire the skills they need, and then try, post-training, to implement what they’ve learned. By recounting architects’ experiences, the book gives us a sense of the layers of powerful interests, institutions, and history that are fundamental aspects of any kind of urban transformation. It underlines the chasm that often exists between practitioners who are trying to make cities more environmentally sound, and the forces that hold sway over how cities are ultimately built—a key obstacle we must overcome if we are to realize a more sustainable urban future.

Why open access? At the level of a future we share in common—one marked by an uncertain and even unprecedented environment—open access allows readers worldwide to learn from one another. But equally important is the potential for open access publications to reach readers who would otherwise be unable to participate in the conversation or to learn from the experiences beyond their geographic context. In the case of Building Green, it is a chance to widely share one group’s story of forging a greener urban future in a complex and unsustainable present.

Anne Rademacher is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Anthropology at New York University. Her books include Reigning the River: Urban Ecologies and Political Transformation in Kathmandu, Ecologies of Urbanism in India: Metropolitan Civility and Sustainability, and the edited volume Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism.

Building Green is published in University of California Press’s Luminos open access book program. Click here to download a free digital copy.

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Open in order to . . . . Author Paul Barclay Explains Why He Published with Luminos

by Paul D. Barclay, author of Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border” 1874-1895 

At UC Press, open access—the free, immediate, unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed research and scholarly work—is central to our mission. In celebration of 2017 International Open Access Week (October 23-29), we are highlighting open access publishing initiatives at UC Press, including our Collabra and Luminos publishing programs. This year’s OA Week theme “Open in order to . . . ” is an invitation to answer the question of what concrete benefits can be realized by making scholarly publications openly available. Follow the full blog series here#OAWeek #OpenInOrderTo

Based on my ten years of experience as the editor of a digital archive of historical images (East Asia Image Collection), I’ve seen open-access publishing bring together researchers, archivists, and people with personal connections to our materials across vast distances. Thanks to the internet’s ubiquity, persistence, and capillary reach, library staff at the Puli Municipal Library in central Taiwan, and the National Showa Memorial Museum in Tokyo, as well as several private collectors, have found us and since become partners.

In addition, the old photographs, postcards, prints and slides on our website brought descendants of a Canadian missionary, an American Consul, and a Japanese bureau chief, all of whom lived in colonized Taiwan during the 1930s, into contact with us. These viewers, as well as the family of a prominent Taiwanese dissident, have provided our team with advice, corrections, and additional materials while we helped them learn about their family histories.

I predict that the publication of Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border” 1874-1895 (forthcoming in November) on the Luminos open access platform will engender similar types of collaborative relationships, because digitally born content is always just a click away, anywhere in the world where an internet connection exists. More importantly, however, is that the work will reach people I wish to repay for their patience and openness regarding the research for this book. Outcasts is a study of indigenous peoples in world history, viewed through the prism of several native-newcomer encounters in rural Taiwan. Its subject matter, as I’ve learned at workshops, conferences, and field trips involving the descendants of the book’s protagonists, is of great interest to Taiwan Indigenous Peoples, their Han neighbors, and Japanese citizens as well. Open access is the best vehicle for making Outcasts available to the peoples most affected by the stories related in its pages.

Unfortunately, brick-and-mortar bookstores or museum shops that stock academic books are concentrated in a few large cities, while traditional online commerce only operates within the context of a copyright, delivery, and distribution infrastructure that leaves much of the planet’s population underserved. Therefore, I think the Luminos platform has the potential to improve relationships between authors and the communities they write about and to become the occasion for more open-ended collaboration than previous publication models have allowed for.

The author (front left) with colleagues at the National Showa Memorial Museum in Tokyo, 2014

Paul D. Barclay is Professor of History at Lafayette College. He is also general editor of the East Asia Image Collection, an open-access online digital repository of historical materials.

Outcasts of Empire is published in University of California Press’s Luminos open access book program. Click here to download a free digital copy.

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Open in order to . . . be read.

by Kate McDonald, author of Placing Empire: Travel and the Social Imagination in Imperial Japan

At UC Press, open access—the free, immediate, unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed research and scholarly work—is central to our mission. In celebration of 2017 International Open Access Week (October 23-29), we are highlighting open access publishing initiatives at UC Press, including our Collabra and Luminos publishing programs. This year’s OA Week theme “Open in order to . . . ” is an invitation to answer the question of what concrete benefits can be realized by making scholarly publications openly available. Follow the full blog series here#OAWeek #OpenInOrderTo

It’s cliche to quote Dorothy Parker on writing. But I’m going to do it anyway:

“I hate writing. I love having written.”

Parker was on to something. It’s hard to find a writer who luuuuuuvs the act of writing. It’s lonely. It’s demoralizing. It’s definitely bad for your back. But, like childbirth, we soon forget the pain of labor. Having written, we flip through the pages of our new book lovingly, landing on a sentence that brings us unexpected delight. And then—from this rose-colored place of tenuous achievement—we sit down to do it all again.

But Parker also left something out. Yes, writing is awful. Yes, I love having written. But have you tried being read? Yow-zah. That’s the stuff.

For this Open Access Week, let us linger a moment on the joy that we feel when we hear that someone has read our work. We write for ourselves, to put down on paper the ideas and questions that compel us to return to the writing desk, library, and archive each day. But we also write to be read, to share our questions and our ideas, to reach out to those with like-minded intellectual compulsions so that we might, together, take the conversation in new directions.

I published my book, Placing Empire: Travel and the Social Imagination in Imperial Japan, open access because I aimed for just that—to be read by those whose normal book-purchasing patterns keep them far from the Japanese Empire. Why? Because I want to move the history of empire and tourism out of the silos of national case studies and into the realm of global and transnational history. I want us, as a field, to be discussing not only the what of imperial tourism, but also the why.

I’m glad to have written. But, if I’m being real? The goal is to be read.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

Kate McDonald is Assistant Professor of Modern Japanese History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her book, Placing Empire: Travel and the Social Imagination in Imperial Japan was published open access by the University of California Press in August. Placing Empire is available as a free epub at luminosa.org or as an affordable paperback at ucpress.edu and amazon.com. She’d love to hear from you.

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Afghanistan’s Islam: Much More Than the Taliban

by Nile Green, author of Afghanistan’s Islam: From Conversion to the Taliban

At UC Press, open access—the free, immediate, unrestricted, online access to peer-reviewed research and scholarly work—is central to our mission. In celebration of 2017 International Open Access Week (October 23-29), we are highlighting open access publishing initiatives at UC Press, including our Collabra and Luminos publishing programs. This year’s OA Week theme “Open in order to . . . ” is an invitation to answer the question of what concrete benefits can be realized by making scholarly publications openly available. Follow the full blog series here#OAWeek #OpenInOrderTo

In the years after 9/11, perhaps no country in the world became more inextricably associated with Islam than Afghanistan. Book after book was published—about mujahidin and Taliban, Bin Laden and Tora Bora—in which Islam was ever present but never explained. After all, how did Afghanistan become a hotbed for such extreme expressions of Islam; and were things always religiously that way?

Having written a good deal about the history of Islam in the surrounding regions, I decided to fill what was evidently a big gap in our understanding. Not that there were no previous studies: many recondite articles lie scattered in learned journals from Palo Alto to Peshawar. But they leave many holes in the coverage. And what’s always been lacking is a chronological account of the development of Islam in Afghanistan, from the region’s initial conversion from Hinduism and Buddhism through the Muslim renaissance of the medieval Timurids on to the contested history of Afghan secularism and Islamism, and the scope throughout for women’s Islam. Moreover, I wanted to give due coverage to the longstanding Sufi presence in Afghanistan, as well as the fundamentalist versions of the faith that have done so much to extinguish the old ways.

Rather than attempt to write a survey single-handed, I brought together an international team of researchers with origins as diverse as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, and the United States. This was important for all kinds of reasons, perspective and balance not least. But the most important reason was to draw on a pool of varied expertise. It’s easy to write generalizations about Islam in Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s quite another matter to recognize the divergent and sometimes competing forms of Islam manifested not only in different periods but in languages as dissimilar as Arabic, Persian, Pashto, Uzbek, and Urdu.

I chose open access partly because I believe that, after fifteen years of US involvement in Afghanistan, so important a topic should face as few distribution barriers as possible. But my decision was also motivated by a desire to give access to local researchers in Afghanistan (and neighboring countries like Pakistan) who are increasingly able to read English, but who cannot afford expensive books from abroad.


Nile Green is Professor of South Asian and Islamic History at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Sufism: A Global History and Terrains of Exchange: Religious Economies of Global Islam.

Afghanistan’s Islam is published in University of California Press’s Luminos open access book program. Click here to download a free digital copy of the book.

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Border Crossers: First Came the Americans

adapted from Home Bound: Filipino American Lives across Cultures, Communities, and Countries by Yen Le Espiritu

October is Filipino-American History Month, commemorating the landing of “Luzones Indios” at what is now Morro Bay, California on October 18, 1587. Today, we recognize the many valuable contributions Filipinos have made, and the important role they continue to play, as a vital part of American society.

Visit the Filipino-American National Historical Society and hashtags #FAHM and #FAHM2017 for more information on Filipino-American history throughout the month; you can also check out last year’s Filipino-American History Month post featuring Gary Okihiro’s American History Unbound.

Filipinos went to the United States because Americans went first to the Philippines. In other words, Filipino migration to the United States must be understood within the context of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines and in Asia. In 1898, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the United States brutally took possession of the Philippines over native opposition and uprising, thereby extending its “Manifest Destiny” to Pacific Asia. The often-ignored Philippine-American War (1899–1902) resulted in the death of about a million Filipinos, the violent destruction of the nationalist forces, and the U.S. territorial annexation of the Philippines—ostensibly to prepare the archipelago for eventual independence.

The U.S. occupation infiltrated all segments of Philippine society. Politically, the colonial government structured the Philippine government after that of the United States. It was to win over the existing leadership of the Philippines and to pacify Filipino nationalists that the United States adopted the policy of Filipinization: the gradual substitution of Filipino personnel for American administrators and clerks in the colonial government. As early as 1900, Filipinos began assuming positions in the municipal, provincial, and later, in the national governments. However, Americans still controlled the strategic positions that allowed them to formulate and implement policies. Under U.S. colonial rule, the Philippine national economy changed significantly. Foremost among these changes was the further development of the agricultural export economy (begun under Spanish rule), with sugar in the lead, and the growing dependence on imports for such basic necessities as rice and textiles. By its tariff regulations and the subsequent “free trade” between the two countries, the United States fostered this export-import policy and kept the Philippines an unindustrialized export economy—a condition that depleted the country’s economic resources and propelled the eventual migration of many Filipinos.

As a civilian government replaced military rule, the cultural Americanization of the Philippine population became an integral part of the process of colonization. Convinced that education, rather than outright military suppression, was the more effective means to pacify the Filipinos, U.S. colonizers introduced a universal public education and revamped Philippine educational institutions and curricula using the American system as its model and English as the language of instruction. When the Philippine Commission took over civil governance of the Philippines, it kept English as the primary medium of instruction. Filipino historian Renato Constantino contends that through this educational policy, the colonial educational system became an instrument of assimilation or Americanization. With the use of U.S. textbooks, “young Filipinos began learning not a new language but a new culture. Education became miseducation because it began to de-Filipinize the youth, taught them to regard American culture as superior to any other, and American society as the model par excellence for Philippine society.”

Whereas U.S. invasion, annexation, and subjugation of the Philippines have left indelible moral and physical marks on the country and its people, these violent acts have been largely erased from American public memory or obscured by public myths about U.S. benevolence and the “civilizing mission” in the Philippines. But the facts of imperialism are not erasable. The enduring legacies of U.S. empire are present in the Philippine economy, its political structure, its educational system, and its cultural institutions— all of which continue to be dominated or influenced by the United States. The impact of the U.S. empire on Filipinos is also very much present in the United States—perhaps most visible in the presence of large Filipino American communities. Linking U.S. (neo)colonial subjugation of Filipinos in the Philippines to the fate of Filipinos in the United States, Oscar Campomanes insists that “the consequences of [the] inaugural moment of U.S. Philippine relations for latter-day U.S. Filipinos are manifold and extend to their politics or forms of recognition and emergence.”

Yen Le Espiritu is Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of the award-winning Home Bound: Filipino American Lives across Cultures, Communities, and Countries and Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees.