In Defense of National Park Entrance Fees

by Stephen Nash, author of Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change

The Trump administration has announced that it is considering big increases in entrance fees for 17 of the most popular national parks during their peak season. I’m getting lots of emails from conservation groups opposing that.

But our national parks are desperately underfunded and have been for decades. Their natural systems are rapidly degrading, partly as a result of lack of funding for protection, restoration, and for science. In my new book Grand Canyon for Sale, I’ve made the case that park visitors, senior citizens like me included, should pay far more.

Whaaat? You love national parks and public lands and you agree with Trump and his allies, mostly minions of the oil, gas, coal and mining industries who couldn’t care less about the environment?

Not quite. It’s plain that the Trump plan is to charge those higher fees but also to continue drastic cuts of Congressional allocations for park budgets. There’s nothing there to be in favor of, and the threats to public lands will continue to mount.

In a rational political system, policy debates are useful — should we raise fees or not? In a government of chaos and pillage, that discussion is mooted. I’d advocate that instead of spinning our wheels opposing limited measures like new fees, we who love parks and public lands should turn our energies elsewhere.

Organize instead to replace those destructive forces in Congress and the White House. Why mount a campaign against a leaky faucet when the roof is on fire?

We need to remain hopeful, right?, or we cannot fight effectively. But hope isn’t just a mantra, to be chanted with beatific thoughts behind closed eyes. My favorite ecologist, David Orr, has written: “Hope is a verb, with its sleeves rolled up.”

When we return to a time of sane government and parks administration, these points about entrance fees will be worth your consideration:

  • An amazing 38 percent of visitors to Grand Canyon are foreign citizens. They are induced to come and spend money, en route, in Phoenix or Las Vegas or Tusayan. Everyone does well, except the destitute parks.
  • National park visitors put an estimated $15.7 billion into the cash registers of private businesses in local gateway regions, in just one recent year. The money directly supports nearly 174,000 jobs and a $5 billion private-business payroll.
  • At Grand Canyon, we fork over an absurd $30 per carload to be in the park for a full seven days. Tour bus operators only pay $8 per passenger. Helicopter air-tour companies are charged only twenty-five dollars per flyover, sometimes less, often nothing — no matter how many passengers are in the aircraft. Morethan one hundred thousand overflights carry nearly half a million passengers each year.
  • In Kenya, by contrast, each national park visitor pays per twenty-four-hour period, plus an issuing fee, plus a fee for a car, and the entry and exit are time-stamped. Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park costs a hundred dollars per person to enter, unless you’re Ecuadoran. Argentina’s national parks charge a per-person entry fee higher than what Grand Canyon charges per carload. One former superintendent told me that whenever he asks them, visitors say, “You ought to charge us more! We’re okay with that!”

Many national park units don’t charge an entry fee at all and some, for practical and legal reasons, can’t. But a reasonable fee increase at those that do would take in about $1.2 billion a year—at least a billion more than entrance fees total now. And in this happy scenario the usual annual congressional budget allocation would of course stay at current levels too.

Some fraction of that revenue could implement a rolling management plan for climate change on all public lands. “Every young person joining the Park Service now, their entire career will be consumed by climate change and responding to it,” according to Gary Machlis, the science adviser to the director of the national park system. “We need to train them and prepare them for those complexities. We have to take the time to do that.” And we have to pay the money.


Stephen Nash is the author of two award-winning books on science and the environment, and his reporting has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington PostBioScienceArchaeology, and the New Republic. He is Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the University of Richmond.


The Contemporary Afterlives of Sexual Science

By Veronika Fuechtner, co-editor, with Douglas E. Haynes and Ryan M. Jones, of A Global History of Sexual Science, 1880–1960

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


Currently laws and practices relating to sex, gender and sexuality are experiencing momentous shifts on a global scale – be it in the upcoming referendum on abortion in Ireland, the recent recognition of a “third sex” in Germany, last year’s ruling of India’s supreme court that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, or the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia a month ago.  These shifts are usually presented as shifts based on changed social experiences, but they also are based in significant shifts in scientific understandings of sexuality.

Investigating the history of the global traffic of scientific ideas on sexuality has shown us how deeply entrenched particular scientific assumptions about masculinity and femininity still are, e.g., the connection of homosexuality with effeminacy, the hunt for bodily signs for what were considered deviant sexualities, the assumption that monogamy was natural, or the notion that a woman was not to be in charge of her own sexual and/or reproductive life.

Our book A Global History of Sexual Science emerged out of the recognition that these assumptions did not simply migrate from the “West” to the “rest,” but that they were the result of complex, mutually constitutive interactions and global networks.  The field of sexual science emerged not just in Europe and North America but in a variety of global locations, such as India, Chile, or China.  Its proponents in different parts of the world were intensely aware of each other and interacted through publications, conferences, or travel. Moreover, proponents of sexual science in Europe and North America adopted notions forged in exchange with actors in Asia, Latin America and Africa, e.g., the US practice of gender reassignment surgery was heavily influenced by earlier Mexican cases or the German legal understanding of homosexuality was tested and contested in its colonial African courts.  Our book draws attention to many figures who have been forgotten in contemporary work on sexuality or sexual science.  Some of these figures drew from the repressive legal, social and cultural discourses that limited sexual expression and gave the ideological grounds to discrimination and persecution.  But others – and they were at times the very same figures – connected to the liberating discourses, the power of which we are experiencing today.


Veronika Fuechtner is Associate Professor of German at Dartmouth College and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine. She is the author of Berlin Psychoanalytic and coeditor of Imagining Germany Imagining Asia. 

Douglas E. Haynes is Professor of History at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India and Small Town Capitalism in Western India and coeditor of Contesting Power and Towards a History of Consumption in South Asia.

Ryan M. Jones is Assistant Professor of History at SUNY Geneseo and the author of a forthcoming book on Mexican sexuality entitled Erotic Revolutions.


Peasants, Oil, and the Origins and End of the Disastrous Twentieth Century, 1870-1960

By Edward Ross Dickinson, author of The World in the Long Twentieth Century: An Interpretive History

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


In 1930 a professor of demographics at Miami University in Ohio, Warren S. Thompson, published a provocative short book titled Population Problems. Thompson was director of the Scripps Foundation for Research in Population Problems, a position he had been given on the basis of his earlier work on the political implications of world demographic trends. In Population Problems, Thompson offered a rather startling prediction and proposal. “[T]he only way to avoid war” with Japan, Germany, and Italy, he argued, was simply to give Japan and Italy land and resources in Asia and North Africa; and in the case of Germany “the way out is probably more difficult, but if only a tithe of the cost of the next war . . . were devoted to finding a way to avoid it . . . , much could be done to ease the present strains.” The author was not very hopeful that any of this would be done, however. The implication was clear: war with Germany, Italy, and Japan was pretty well inevitable.

In 1930 the Japanese seizure of Manchuria was still a year away; the Nazi seizure of power in Germany was still three years away, and the invasion of Poland nine; the Italian invasion of Ethiopia was still five years in the future. There was no Axis alliance of Italy, Germany, and Japan. The world was sliding ever deeper into the Great Depression. How did Thompson know so exactly what was coming?

The reason is simple: Thompson lived in western Ohio. Western Ohio was historically a crucial part of the heart of the food industry in the United States; and it was near the epicenter of the early oil industry in the USA. Thompson developed an elaborate theory regarding population pressure and the likelihood of war. But that understanding was fundamentally shaped by the fact that he also understood agriculture; he understood oil; and he understood that these were the issues over which World War I had been fought—and over which the next world war would be fought.

The world wars of the mid-twentieth century were in fact responses to two key constraints in the world economy: the relatively low productivity of agriculture, and the differential access of major states to the critical energy resource of the modern industrial economy, petroleum.

This is not to say that World War I was not a giant struggle between imperial states, or that World War II was not a titanic ideological struggle between three modern ideologies—liberal democracy, fascism, and communism. It is also not to say that World War II was not decisively shaped by the idea of “race.” All three things are true. But seen from the perspective of global history—from “60,000 feet,” so to speak—both were wars over food and oil.

With respect to oil, numerous historians have pointed out in recent years that the struggle over access to oil—particularly in the Middle East—was an important contributor to the origins of World War I. That first war was in large part a war over the fate of the territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire, including what are today Iraq, Kuwait, and all the states of the Arabian Peninsula. And the grand strategy of German, Japan, and Italy in World War II was shaped—fatefully, as it turned out—by one critical problem: while the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain had direct or indirect control of plentiful supplies of oil (in the Caucasus region, in California, in Indonesia, in the Persian Gulf region, and in Latin America), these three rapidly industrializing states did not. This was why Japan turned south from the conquest of China to seize French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia); it is why the Nazi Armies turned south from Petrograd and Moscow to push into the Caucuses region; and it is why Italy and Germany launched their short-lived attempt to conquer Egypt from Libya. In each case, these campaigns over-extended the military capacities of these regimes. They would very likely have been defeated anyway, given the enormous industrial superiority of the Allies; but the war had the geographic “shape” it did because of oil.

But while by the 1920s it was clear that oil was the crucial foundation of military power in the short run, in the long run the Axis regimes could only build empires massive enough to stand up to their continent-spanning rivals (the USA, the USSR, and the British Empire) on the foundation of an agricultural sector rich and extensive enough to feed a gigantic industrial population. It was therefore a central problem for each of them that the productivity of agriculture had not risen, in the previous century, remotely as rapidly as the productivity of industry. Wheat yields per hectare in Western Europe, for example, had risen only by about half between 1880 and 1930; in contrast, production of steel had increased around fifteen-fold. Rice yields in Japan rose by less than one eighth between 1910 and 1930, while steel production rose more than twenty-fold. In that context, more food meant more land. And the Soviet Union and China occupied the greatest areas of agricultural land outside North America. Both the Japanese and the Nazi regimes set out to conquer that land, on the assumption that they could displace murder or expel the subsistence farmers (peasants) who occupied a great deal of the land in each case, and transform these areas into export-oriented commercial farming regions as the foundation of industrial growth in the imperial heartland. Italy made similar, though less explicit and ambitious, calculations regarding North Africa.

The two world wars, then, were a struggle for world power in which the two key determinants of victory appeared to be food and energy. Along with the economic and social pressures that generated the titanic revolutions and civil wars of the period (in Mexico, Russia, and China, for example), it was this struggle that made the early twentieth century probably the most murderous period in human history.

Why, then, was the later twentieth century not so murderous? Since 1950 world population has grown faster than at any time in human history or prehistory; world wealth per capita has too; world life-expectancy has lengthened radically as mortality rates have plummeted almost everywhere; average world health and education have improved drastically and rapidly. Repeated, spectacularly murderous episodes—most devastating in Cambodia or Rwanda, for example—are reminders of the terrifying destructive potentials of modern military and social technologies. But clearly those potentials have, thus far, largely been held at bay.

How that happened has everything to do with oil and peasants. The World in the Long Twentieth Century explains how those two “problems” were solved, and how durable the solutions developed in the second half of the twentieth century might be. It also suggests that these problems might in fact be twentieth-century problems which, for fundamentally important reasons, will not be problems of the twenty-first century. That may or may not be comforting, however; it might be preferable to live in a world whose central problems have been solved, rather than in a world whose central problems have not yet been defined.


Edward Ross Dickinson is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of The Politics of German Child Welfare;  Sex, Freedom, and Power in Imperial Germany; and Dancing in the Blood: Modern Dance and European Culture on the Eve of the First World War.


Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Reproductive Perspective

By Laura Briggs, author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump

This guest post is part of our AHA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC, Jan. 4-7. #AHA18


As these years of an acute sense of crisis on the left roll on, I find myself wondering if reproductive politics—at least as encapsulated in my recent book, How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics—is the right subject for these times. From Cornel West’s takedown of Ta-Nehisi Coates to the soul-searching among my Leftbook crew about the failures of the Bernie Sanders campaign, surely the silence we most urgently need to disrupt is about empire, US and otherwise. As Naomi Klein and Opal Tometi recently wrote in The Intercept (in a piece you must read if you haven’t, reframing the rather silly West vs. Coates fight into something much more urgent and important):

“There is no radicalism — Black or otherwise — that ends at the national boundaries of our countries, especially the wealthiest and most heavily armed nation on earth. From the worldwide reach of the financial sector to the rapidly expanding battlefield of U.S. Special Operations to the fact that carbon pollution respects no borders, the forces we are all up against are global. So, too, are the crises we face, from the rise of white supremacy, ethno-chauvinism, and authoritarian strongmen to the fact that more people are being forced from their homes than at any point since World War II. If our movements are to succeed, we will need both analysis and strategies that reflect these truths about our world.”

Empire is my natural first language (as I wrote in books here and here), so why am I carrying around the first book I have written exclusively about the United States at a time when we so urgently need to talk about empire?

Nevertheless, it strikes me that reproductive politics might actually be a powerful way to talk about US empire, most obviously in how it relies on the work of race, nationalism, and the expansion of free market fundamentalism within the borders of the US—and hence, beyond them. I use reproductive politics in the older, socialist feminist sense in which the domain of the “reproductive” is that which is not “productive” in the capitalist sense. Another layer of meaning comes from Black and other women of color feminists in the US like Loretta Ross who speak of “reproductive justice” as not just the politics of whether or not to have children, but also the means to raise them—housing, jobs, food systems, freedom from police brutality, high-quality schools, and the like.

In the War-on-Poverty sixties, government and political movements alike agreed that it was a shared, collective responsibility to make sure that these things were available to all. That was never a promise that was kept, but the power of mid-century social movements was that they could appeal to a shared sense that government and business, alongside religious institutions and neighbors, owed this to the people of a nation. That optimistic sense of what it meant to belong to a society was taken up even more robustly by decolonization and socialist movements outside the US, with their calls for land reform, price controls for staple goods, collective child care, and state-run health care and social security. In the book, I show how the libertarian wind that blew across the country with Reagan (and Thatcher) relied centrally on a racism that was about moral disapproval of others’ families to persuade a majority of people that they not only would accept a smaller social safety net and reduced real wages for all but the top 1%, but wanted such a thing—from associating government transfer payments with (implicitly Black, explicitly immoral) “welfare mothers” to the waves of immigrant deportations that followed Clinton’s “Nannygate,” to lenders who targeted Black and immigrant women in particular for subprime mortgages, and the launching of the Tea Party movement as a claim that the Obama administration was going to bail out “losers’ mortgages” (it didn’t, but that’s another story). The foreclosure crisis was a kind of welfare reform redux, but it unabashedly took down great swathes of the middle class, not just poor folks.

But of course, as the book shows, the place where the US government learned all these moves was in the Third World, where it used debt as a club to undue the kinds of expansive ways that people had imagined the relationship of its people, as structural adjustment programs that operated principally in the realm of relations of reproductive labor–closing hospitals and schools, ending food subsidies, reducing the number of government jobs, and drastically contracting the role of the state in deeply libertarian ways. These were the “reforms” that drove migrants to the US to do nanny work in the first place. They too were accomplished through racism, through a set of claims about the lazy, spendthrift Third World, and could only be secured by closing borders so that those allegedly indolent workers didn’t cross borders to get new jobs as their home economies contracted brutally. These deeply unpopular economic changes, not surprisingly, brought authoritarian rulers to power.

The second conversation that the book is, I hope, contributing to, is about the work of whiteness and evangelical Christianity in producing a certain kind of highly exportable reactionary formation. Thanks to Margaret Atwood and the television series The Handmaids Tale, we can call it Gilead—an authoritarian regime that centers a white/ethno-chauvinist reproduction in nuclear families at the expense of women’s rights, queers, transgender folk, Although Phyllis Schlafly and the rise of right-wing “family values” women caught our attention in the 1980s, many commentators seem to have forgotten about them, and are mystified by the fact that a majority of US white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and Roy Moore in 2017. Meanwhile, these folks have never been closer to power, from Jeff Sessions campaign for “religious freedom” from his perch as attorney general, a campaign to ensure that US law “will never demand that sincere [Christian] beliefs be abandoned,” even or especially if that means denying the right to contraception, birth control, non-heterosexual marriage, or, god forbid, for trans people to use the bathroom. Mike Pence has campaigned for “conversion therapy” for gay folks, an end to abortion rights for women, and has worked to eliminate maternity and prenatal care for poor folks through the failed Republican American Health Care Act and his work to stop Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. Betsy DeVos has begun the systematic transfer of education dollars from public schools to private and charter schools. A host of people at the Department of Health and Human Services have mounted campaigns insisting that birth control doesn’t work and most women who say they are raped are lying.

This political formation, which was launched as anti-feminist and anti-gay, has deep alliances with racist ethno-nationalisms and free market fundamentalism. It is also a profoundly transnational project, traveling first with evangelical Christian missionaries in the Reagan and Bush ersa from Africa to Latin America, and subsequently through Catholic circles. Most famously, the person most associated with the Guatemalan genocide, Efrían Ríos Montt, was a pastor in the Church of the Word from Reagan’s California. The Ugandan “kill the gays bill,” the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 was engineered by Massachusetts pastor Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries, who has also been active in Latvia and Russia. These kinds of conservative Christian political formations followed the opposite trajectory as structural adjustment programs: from the United States to the region we used to call the third world. But in both instances, reproductive and kinship politics become economics and state policy. In a phrase, they’ve all become reproductive politics.


Laura Briggs is Professor and Chair of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of several books on gender and empire, including Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico and, most recently, Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption. She also serves as an editor for the University of California Press American Crossroads series.

Read her previous UC Press blog posts on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and debates over DACA.


Diving into Glass: Reflections on the Blaschka’s 150-year-old Glass Menagerie

by Drew Harvell, author of A Sea of Glass: Searching for the Blaschka’s Fragile Legacy in an Ocean at Risk

Becalmed in the North Atlantic on a dark May evening in 1853, Leopold Blaschka witnessed an other-worldly event. Beneath the glassy surface of the sea, a small green light appeared. Then a second. And a third. “A hundred of these suns light up at a certain distance,” Leopold wrote. “As if they wanted to lure the enchanted observer into a realm of fairies.” He describes a flotilla of bioluminescent jellyfish, drifting midway across the Atlantic. Leopold, a glassworker from Dresden, sketched the shifting colors, tentacles, and ghostly lights. Then he began to imagine the jellyfish forms as glass. Over the next forty years, Leopold and his son, Rudolf, would go on to spin almost 10,000 glass sculptures of 700 unique marine organisms that today populate universities and museums around the world.

Twenty-seven years ago, as Cornell’s new Curator of Invertebrates, I travelled to the Corning Museum of Glass to visit Cornell University’s Blaschka Collection. I entered the cavernous warehouse, filled with rows of shelves and cardboard boxes, and opened a box. Inside was a glass model of the common octopus (Figure 1). Though it was covered in dust, with a gaping hole in the thin glass mantle and a missing eye, I was captivated by the lifelike texture and posture of the sculpture. Inside another box, I found a model of a bright red, orange, and white striped sea slug. At the bottom of another was an Apolemia uvaria jellyfish. The multi-belled, fifteen-inch-high glass masterpiece depicts an animal that trails 30-foot-long tentacles in the Mediterranean (Figure 2). I uncovered hundreds of models, representing a vibrant tree of life, spanning eight phyla and nineteen classes. It was an unprecedented record of marine biodiversity from the nineteenth century.

The siphonophore, Apolonia uvaria CREDIT: Kent Loeffler photo

As a Marine Scientist, I have spent the past three decades studying ocean biodiversity and health in locations like Mexico, Hawai’i, Indonesia, Myanmar and, domestically, in the Pacific Northwest. Many of the reefs and shores that I work on are declining. For instance in 2016, rising ocean temperatures caused deadly coral bleaching and mass mortality of corals worldwide, but notably near Australia, Fiji, and Hawai’i. Bleaching occurs when symbiotic algae, relied on by corals to photosynthesize and transfer energy, abandon their hosts to starve or succumb to disease. The health of colder-water animals are also impacted. In 2013, off the West Coast of the United States, twenty different species of starfish died catastrophically from a lethal virus outbreak that continues to this day. The once-common sunflower starfish, a keystone species, is now endangered and still declining. This is just the damage that we know about. I worry about deaths of ocean critters and the possibility of unseen extinctions due to climate change, pollution and overfishing. The ocean contains many organisms that are difficult to record and monitor. In the midst of unprecedented marine mortality and ocean change, I began to realize that the Blaschka Glass Collection provided my team with a time capsule of biodiversity common in the 1860s. Were our Blaschka animals still in today’s oceans?

Six years ago, with videographer David O. Brown, I began the search for Blaschka matches around the world. In Italy, we dove at the Porto Fino Marine Preserve and located seventeen living matches. One, was the mauve stinger jellyfish speckled in purple dots. Another jellyfish, the tiny by-the-wind-sailor, relied on a raised, iridescent membrane to sail the Mediterranean. In Indonesia, we found vibrantly colored nudibranchs and tiny octopus relatives. In Hawai’i, David and I filmed by night shape-shifting octopi, watching us from coral heads and crevices, reminiscent of the first sculpture that I uncovered in the Corning Museum of Glass. Those stories of our underwater searches are now a book, A Sea of Glass, focusing on the successes and the failures of our global exploration and detailing the fragile existence of those matches still living in our oceans today.

The common octopus, Octopus vulgaris. CREDIT: Gary Hodges photo.

Early in our quest, I dangled nervously on a tether below fifty feet of pitch-black water a mile off the coast of Hawai’i Island. We had come for the bioluminescent jellyfish of the night. We watched a ribbon-like comb jelly, a kaleidoscopic Blashka match, undulating against the current. Another point of light was drifting towards me in the current. A two-lobed jellyfish trolling tentacles that might match our Praya dubia glass sculpture. It was hunting with long, gossamer strands outstretched to capture plankton, but it spooked in our lights. Giant axons in the bell fired powerful contractile muscles that zipped up the tentacles and propelled the jellyfish away. Shivering in the cold and dark, it was time for us to surface. With a final look at the waters, we began to rise with our exhaled bubbles, nervous about our conservation efforts, and regretfully leaving this latest glimpse of the ever changing ocean.

A Sea of Glass won the National Outdoor Book Award, was a top Smithsonian Art-Science Book in 2016, and honorable mention Rachel Carson Award. Fragile Legacy is an award-winning film.


Drew Harvell is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and Curator of the Blaschka Marine Invertebrate Collection. Her research on the sustainability of marine ecosystems has taken her from the reefs of Mexico, Indonesia, and Hawaii to the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. She is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, a winner of the Society of American Naturalist Jasper Loftus-Hills Award, and a lead author of the oceans chapter in the recent U.S. Climate Change Assessment. She has published over 120 articles in journals such as ScienceNature, and Ecology and is coeditor of The Ecology and Evolution of Inducible Defenses.


Donald Trump’s Generous Offer on Jerusalem

By Salim Tamari, author of The Great War and the Remaking of Palestine

As Israel celebrates, and the rest of the world condemns, Donald Trump’s declaration of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it is pertinent to recall on this issue Arthur Koestler’s famous quip, made a century ago in reference to the Balfour Declaration, that “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”

Two unintended consequences emerge from the new U.S. position: first, it brings the status of Jerusalem back to the limelight, after it was pushed to the back burner by the Syrian and Yemeni wars; and second, it has clearly placed the United States outside of the international consensus with regard to any future peace process over the status of the city, or indeed within the Arab-Israeli conflict. This has opened the door to other global and regional actors, particularly Europe, Russia, and Turkey, as future mediators. In fact, some of the earliest responses to Trump’s declaration came from these quarters. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced the possibility of severing diplomatic relations with Israel, and French president Emmanuel Macron announced his total rejection of the “unilateral” U.S. move, which he described as “regrettable” and “against international law and all the resolutions of the UN Security Council.” German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel described Trump’s decision as “counterproductive” to the peace process.

The debate over Jerusalem status happened when Palestinians were commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the first intifada – which some observers will recall exploded over control over Jerusalem’s public space:

The battle for control over the streets of Jerusalem was the most protracted and perhaps due to the centrality of the city in the Israeli strategy of control over the territories, the most crucial. It was sparked by General Sharon’s transfer of his residence to the Old City of Jerusalem on December 14th, 1987, with the onset of the major demonstrations in Gaza. A commercial strike commenced in Jerusalem and continued unabated for forty-one days, igniting a series of solidarity strikes in other West Bank townships, most notably in Nablus and Ramallah.

Jerusalem was then, as it is today, the beginning and end of the intifada. The pacification of Jerusalem as an arena of rebellion during the 1990s did not last, despite Israel’s continuing efforts – including rezoning the city’s Arab periphery, residency regulations, and demographic policies of exclusion – to suppress its Palestinian Arab population and sever it from its Palestinian Arab milieu, for whom it lies at the heart of the question of independence.

Logistically, the U.S. decision brings back the thorny issue of the location for the prospective Jerusalem embassy. One of the likeliest places, it appears, remains the contested territory of the so-called Allenby Barracks, which was sequestered from Jerusalemite Arab Khalidi, ‘Alami, and Ansari families over the last half-century. However, this is a minor detail in a larger issue that concerns the future of the occupied territories and the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two sovereign states. Underlying the objections of the majority of countries, including the United States until recently (that is, until Trump’s election), to Israel control of Jerusalem has been UN General Assembly resolution 181, which affirmed the partition plan for Palestine and the creation of an international zone in Jerusalem known as the corpus separatum. That notion established in the city a special international regime in which both Palestinians and Israelis would have a dual national identity in the city. Given the slow death of the peace process and the de facto withdrawal of the United States from a mediating role, is it time – seventy years later – to revive this plan for Jerusalem?


A leading expert on Jerusalem, Salim Tamari is Professor of Sociology at Birzeit University, Palestine, Director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies, editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly, and author most recently of The Great War and the Remaking of Palestine.

Employing nuanced ethnography, rare autobiographies, and unpublished maps and photos, The Great War and the Remaking of Palestine discerns a self-consciously modern and secular Palestinian public sphere. New urban sensibilities, schools, monuments, public parks, railways, and roads catalyzed by the Great War and described in detail by Salim Tamari show a world that challenges the politically driven denial of the existence of Palestine as a geographic, cultural, political, and economic space.


Rethinking a Global Latin America

This post is published in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington D.C.. Check for other posts from the conference. #AmAnth17

By Matthew C. Gutmann, co-editor of Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century with Jeffrey Lesser 

When thinking about Latin America, most people focus on the impact of the rest of the world on the region. But what if we thought about it in a radically different way? Lets flip the orientation and ask (and show)—what is the impact of Latin America on the rest of the world?

As scholars in the field, we attempted to make this shift in Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century, providing researchers, instructors, and students the opportunity to see—and share—Latin America in a new light.

What important experiments in democratic citizenship first developed in Latin America and have now been popularized across the globe? How does Latin America figure in a G20 world in which Brazil is the seventh largest economy and Mexico about to break into the top ten?

How have Brazilian Portuguese, all the Latin American Spanishes, and Latin American indigenous languages affected the way people talk, read, and even think in other parts of the world, including Portugal and Spain? What of the Latin American booms heard around the world in literature, telenovelas, music, and film? When we ask about sex workers and tourists and drugs in the region, it’s often even more fruitful to look from Latin America out and not just from the outside in to understand historic, contemporary, and future relationships.

Another with the former president of Chile Ricardo Lagos shows the global significance of Latin American creations from Che Guevara to Truth Commissions. With contributions from academics, activists, a poet, scientists, a movie star, and manga artists, on topics from the Latin American in the Vatican to Brazil’s trade of water in the form of soybeans to China to the pan-Latin food craze sweeping the earth, Global Latin America offers sharp and spicy chapters written for the general reader and classroom adoption.

Che Guevara image on man’s cap, Shanghai, 2013. Photo: Matthew Gutmann.

As editors we were inspired by explaining how and why the image of Che seemed to confront us wherever we went in the world, from a t-shirt on a football pitch in Palestine to the cap of a Chinese matchmaker in Shanghai. Sure, images of the bearded face and beret were often devoid of deep meaning, but there was his image, and we wanted to make sense of it. Trying to understand global Che led us to the larger meanings of global Latin America.

The history of Latin America is more than the Triple C’s of Conquest, Colonialism, and Christianity, the genocide, slavery, and immigration brought to the continent by rulers from Europe and the United States. This volume, like others in the GLOBAL SQUARE series, serves to remind us that regions are not just victims but also global players – and never more than today.


Matthew C. Gutmann is Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI), and Faculty Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.


Taking the Knee

by Niko Besnier and Susan Brownell, co-authors of The Anthropology of Sport: Bodies, Borders, Biopolitics

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.

Recent headlines about NFL players “taking the knee” during the national anthem to protest racism in the United States remind us just how important sport can be in our contemporary times. Donald Trump’s irate Twitter responses are clear indications that sport, and what happens in and around sport, places politics front and center, no matter how strenuously some insist that sport should only be about fun and entertainment. It is evident from the furor that the athletes’ actions are not just about conflict between powerful, wealthy white male team owners and the black athletes who play for them, but more importantly about the structures of inequality that run deep in the U.S. and are, if anything, becoming more entrenched.

We need anthropologists to help us make sense of all this—and to serve as watchdogs over the burgeoning global sport industry, headed by non-governmental organizations such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee with budgets and political clout that dwarf those of many nations of the world. Anthropology Matters!, the theme of this year’s annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), encourages anthropologists to talk back to the media pundits, disingenuous politicians, and self-assured economists who dominate public discourse.

This is what The Anthropology of Sport: Bodies, Borders, Biopolitics, just out from the University of California Press, aims to do. The product of a collaboration between three senior anthropologists (Niko Besnier, Susan Brownell, and Thomas F. Carter), the book marks a new phase in our understanding of sport, a sphere of human activity that gained attention in the discipline in the late nineteenth century, but that has not fully coalesced until now. At the AAA meetings, a panel on “Did the Olympics Change Rio? Anthropological Contributions to the Public Debate about Olympic Legacies” demonstrates the importance of micro-level ethnographic research in achieving a deeper understanding of headline-grabbing issues, such as the favela pacification program, urban renewal, security and surveillance, Brazilian nationalism, and massive expenditures of taxpayer money on mega-events.

Two Cameroonian soccer players in the front of the disused roadside tavern they share as living quarters with fellow migrant soccer players in rural Poland, winter 2015 (Paweł Banaś)

The Anthropology of Sport highlights how tried-and-true anthropological concepts shed light on the world of sport—particularly the areas that the bright lights focused on star athletes and sports spectacles throw into deep background shadows. Ethnographic approaches to the gift economy, labor migrations, kinship, gender, sexuality, ritual, nationalism, consumption, capital, and precarity all provide new perspectives on sport in all its manifestations, big and small, festive and tragic, global and personal—explaining practices that often make little sense to other observers. While seeming disconnected, the extravagant cost of Olympic Games and the precarious lives of migrant athletes pursuing contracts in professional clubs are in fact enabled by one and the same structure of global capital, which both underwrites sport mega-events and creates the conditions under which increasing numbers of young men (and sometimes women) and their families in places like Fiji, Cameroon, and Kenya are pinning their hopes for better lives on careers with professional sports clubs in the developed world.

The Anthropology of Sport argues that, ultimately, the ethnographic approach to sport is a particularly productive lens through which to understand the workings of social life and contributes toward a better understanding of the challenging world in which we live.


Niko Besnier is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. He has written extensively on gender, sexuality, migration, economic relations, language, and sport. He is editor-in-chief of American Ethnologist.

 

Susan Brownell is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She is an expert on sports and Olympic Games in China, Olympic history, and world’s fairs. She is the author of Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People’s Republic.


The Culinary Sphere as a Political Arena

by Nir Avieli, author of Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel

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.

In a recent talk on my book Food and Power: A Culinary Ethnography of Israel during a visit to the US, I was asked whether my findings were not in contradiction with Jewish morality, and whether my text would not make for ammunition in the hands of anti-Semitic critics of Israel. For example, wasn’t my definition of the Israeli cuisine characterized by large, cheap portions of low quality resonating with the classic anti-Semitic perceptions of “the Jew” as stingy and greedy? And wasn’t my argument that the accusations by Israelis of Thai migrant workers for systematically hunting and eating Israeli pet dogs implying that Israelis were racists?

Food and Power is indeed a political project. It deals with the misuse and abuse of power in modern-day Israel, and exposes antidemocratic, xenophobic, and racist tendencies that taint the political and public arenas. In this sense, it is a stern critique of contemporary Israeli society. It is not, however, a post-Zionist or anti-Israeli project. Rather, it is a critical analysis of an extremely important cultural realm: The Israeli culinary sphere, which has not been approached thus far as a political sphere, enmeshed in power relations.

Do my findings contradict Jewish morality? While I could have argued that academics were not an authority when it comes to moral standards, I responded that there is no monolithic or agreed upon Jewish morality but, rather, multiple interpretations of what Jewish morality was, some of which can only be described as contradictory. And oddly enough, this is exactly what my findings indicate; that different people in different contexts understand and enact Jewish morality in very different ways: Eating as much as you can no matter the quality may be understood as a manifestation of greed, but also as an expression of vulnerability and fear. Accusing the Thais of eating Israeli dogs may be pure racism, but my findings suggest that this myth has emerged as a partial solution for the shame many Israelis feel regarding the employment of foreign workers in a country that cherished “Jewish labor”.

So while Food and Power approaches some of the negative features of Israeli society, including gluttony, greed, ethnocentrism, racism, patriarchal machismo, and other forms of power abuse, I have dedicated this book to my children,  hoping that the prevailing ethno-messianic and neo-liberal ideologies which have been increasingly dominant since the mid 1990’s will eventually collapse due to their essential immorality, internal contradictions, and lack of practical solutions for the problems and difficulties Israel faces.


Nir Avieli is a Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, Israel.


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.