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.


#7CheapThings: Cheap Lives

excerpted from A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore

Welcome to the seventh post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

#7CheapThings care book coverIn the case of every cheap thing so far, we’ve seen organized acts of resistance. Women, wageworkers, Indigenous People, and even those members of the ruling class on whose fortunes the sun has set—all have fought, more or less successfully, against the requirement of their subservience. In response, capitalists developed new strategies to forge new frontiers and to deepen existing ones. This cat-and-mouse game of resistance, strategy, and counterstrategy has been the history of capitalism’s ecology. Governments, merchants, and financiers scaled new heights of creativity and destruction in the search for profit. But capitalism’s ecology has also expanded and consolidated itself through prodigious experimentation in the arts and science of social order. Among the more durable and flexible technologies of social control is one that has become so familiar that it’s easy to forget its novelty and peculiarity: the nation-state.

The argument of this chapter is that capitalism’s ecology has shaped the modern nation-state and vice versa, through the colonial frontier, through the interactions between early capitalists and “savages,” and through the technologies of communication that capitalism fostered at its inception. The ordering and reordering of Society through cheap things has always proceeded by both force and suasion, coercion and consent. To maintain hegemony is, as Antonio Gramsci observed, to recruit and maintain forces from across society in a bloc that is able to continually outmaneuver its rivals. In the pursuit of order and control, the idea of “the nation” became affixed to the state in ways that few could predict and which continue to shape the planet.

Keeping things cheap is expensive. The forces of law and order, domestic and international, are a costly part of the management of capitalism’s ecology. We’ve titled this chapter “Cheap Lives” and not “Expensive State” because we want to focus not on the institutions of government but on their processes and consequences. Technically, lives aren’t a cheap thing in the way that the others are—but it would have made for an infelicitous title to admit this earlier. Understand how capitalism has made “cheap lives” a strategy of cheap nature, and you understand not only the forces required to keep money, work, care, food, and energy cheap but also how the most sophisticated and subtle modern institution, the nation-state, still draws on early modern roots and natural science to manage modern life. More important still, as states confront the limits of their ability both to manage the lives in their charge and to provide conducive environments for liberal capitalism, we’re reaching the end of an era of cheap lives. We make this argument not with relish for the successor to the liberal nation-state but out of concern for what may follow. We’re astute enough students of history to know that what comes next might be far worse.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore author photo careJason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


Behind the Iconic Protest Posters of the AIDS Activist Movement

By Avram Finkelstein, author of After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images

Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize a movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with the words “Silence = Death.” Here, Avram Finkelstein, cofounder of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, reveals the process behind some of the most iconic protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic. #WorldAidsDay#DayWithoutArt.


Silence = Death, The Silence = Death Project, 1986 poster, offset lithography, 33 1/2 × 22 in.

In 1981, the man I was building my life around started showing signs of immunosuppression, before AIDS even had its name. By 1984, he was dead, a year before Rock Hudson was outed by the disease and died, and years before Reagan ever uttered the word.

It was a time I felt very alone, so in late 1985 I co-founded a men’s consciousness raising group with five friends. We met every week, loosely assembled around feminist organizing principles. We began each session by talking about our new lives in the age of AIDS, but by the end of every meeting we were talking about the political crisis that was forming.

Because of my upbringing, the political poster had always played a role in my understanding of social change, but to be young in the late 1960s was to be political anyway. By 1968, the East and West Villages in New York were papered with manifestos, meetings announcements, and demonstration flyers. When young people needed to communicate with each other, we used the streets.

So I proposed we do a poster about AIDS.

We worked on the poster for months, and put it to bed in late 1986. I had no idea what might happen, but I knew we couldn’t be the only ones who were enraged. We weren’t. Within weeks of our posting them in early 1987, the activist community it came to represent formed, ACTUP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power).

AIDSGATE, The Silence = Death Project, 1987 poster, offset lithography, 34 × 22 in.

AIDSGATE was the second poster by the Silence=Death collective, designed specifically for the third ACT UP demonstration, a June 1, 1987 action in Washington DC. It was the first national civil disobedience addressing AIDS, which we saw as a unique opportunity to formally indict Reagan for his lack of response during the early days of the crisis, and its disproportionate impact on women and communities of color. The text crawl across the bottom of the poster reads: “54% of people with AIDS in NYC are Black or Hispanic… AIDS is the No. 1 killer of women between the ages of 24 and 29 in NYC… By 1991, more people will have died of AIDS than in the entire Vietnam War. What is Reagan’s real policy on AIDS? Genocide of all Non-Whites, Non-males and Non-heterosexuals?… Silence=Death.”

When collective member, Oliver Johnston (1952-1990), was finalizing the mechanical for the printer, he unilaterally decided Reagan didn’t look evil enough, and made his eyes hot pink. I’m convinced it is the sole reason this poster was included in the 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art Andy Warhol exhibition, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years. 

The Government Has Blood on Its Hands, Gran Fury, 1988, poster, offset lithography, 31 3/4 × 21 3/8 in.

On July 19th, 1988, the New York City Commissioner of Health, Stephen Joseph, suddenly halved the number of estimated AIDS cases in NYC, a move that threatened to drastically reduce funding for AIDS services. The cut was purportedly based on cohort studies in San Francisco’s gay community.

ACT UP NY declared war against him. During a sit-in at Joseph’s office a copy of his itinerary was taken, and it became the basis for a campaign spearheaded by an ACT UP affinity group. Several Gran Fury members were involved in the effort to remove Joseph from office, myself included, leading Gran Fury to design a pair of posters featuring bloody handprint images. One read “You’ve Got Blood On Your Hands Stephen Joseph. The Cut In AIDS Numbers Is A Lethal Lie,” and the other targeted then mayor of New York City with the text, “You’ve Got Blood On Your Hands, Ed Koch. NYC AIDS Care Doesn’t Exist.”

That same year, ACT UP decided to target the regulatory agency responsible for the testing of potential AIDS therapies in the US, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Given the high and rapid mortality rate, it had become clear that any risks the medications carried could not exceed the risks of non-intervention, and that the clinical trails for the safety and efficacy of these drugs were de facto healthcare for individuals confronting the fatal disease.

Gran Fury, nationalized the bloody hand specifically for the FDA action the statistic “One AIDS Death Every Half Hour.” The FDA action was the turning point for the AIDS activist movement, leading to the streamlining of the drug approval process, the parallel track drug access and compassionate use protocols, and the inclusion of People Living With HIV/AIDS, people of color, and women on research advisory boards.


Avram Finkelstein is a founding member of the Silence = Death and Gran Fury collectives. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

His book, After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images , is available now.

After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism. It tells the personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement and demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis. Compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists.”—Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind

“This book is essential for understanding the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement. After Silence will be an invaluable resource for artists and activists of all ages.”— Ken Gonzales-Day, Professor of Art, Scripps College


Destroying Yemen: Brothers and Friends Alike, Where Art Thou?

This guest post is part of our MESA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18-21. #MESA2017DC


By Isa Blumi, author of Destroying Yemen: What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World, forthcoming January 2018

I wrote Destroying Yemen with the fumes of anger, frustration, and resignation still potent; friends, family, and enemies alike got whiff and knew to stay away. I cannot help, with now almost 1000 days of incessant violence directed at 18 million Yemenis, to feel my initial, and interim inspiration to write, has any hope of changing a thing. Indeed, it was my conclusion, somewhat reconfirmed in light of the recent events in the region, that ultimately my frustration, fear, and outrage cannot offer much support to the real corrective force of Yemeni resistance. As this book begins its journey as part of a public discussion over what has happened in South Arabia, I hope, therefore, to initiate not only an exchange of reactions, denunciations, and snide competitiveness, but an acceptance to ask broader questions about just what we are doing when writing about Yemen, the larger region, and indeed world.

In much of this effort to account for why Destroying Yemen constitutes the concluding strategic calculation of hitherto obscured global interests, I have tried to identify historic roots, as much as future consequences, to chaos in South Arabia. I believe it is not a regional issue, confined to an arena secured by think-tankers or regional experts. Rather, the destruction of Yemen, as a project, an agenda, a frustrated last-ditch strategic shift, implicates a much broader array of interested parties. This is a war with deep roots, reflective of ideologies that expected, demanded, and justified violence to impose an entirely self-serving process of wealth sequestration. Yemen for decades, in other words, has been at the forefront of globalist projects that objectified Yemen’s millions as collateral to a more potent concern with the natural resources that lay under their feet.

Like most scholars working on the region, I fell in love with Yemen. I had the good fortune to experience Yemen as it just became a unified potential reality in the early 1990s. Traveling the breadth of this stunning land, my wish to keep it entirely romantic could not resist, in the end, the intellectual potential of my growing interests. In Yemen, I recognized counter-narratives that begged for deeper analysis. As evident in Destroying Yemen, I refuse, for example, to surrender the relevance of the Ottoman story in Yemen’s modern story; and in this book, I feel I have made my most emphatic case yet for just how crucial it is to bring historic depth to what are clearly not uniquely (post)modern phenomena. Indeed, Yemen’s destruction is so systematic, so deep a crime, largely because of Yemeni resistance to Empire—be it Ottoman and British, or non-governmental agencies empowered by a mission enshrined in neo-liberal discourse. In this respect, I wrote a book that is contemporary as much as historically revisionist.

And yet, I write while millions are going hungry, dying of cholera, and terrorized (but not defeated) by bombs made in the United States, France, Britain, and Sweden. In this light, I end this blog post as I end my book:

… there has been little to admire from the world’s entanglements with beautiful Yemen. In the end, we must conclude that the imprint of would be global hegemons’ ambitions on Yemen takes its most enduring form in graves, bombed medieval cities, and a whimper from starving children no one wants to hear. And with this stark reality, I have nothing left to do. This in the end is just a book.


Isa Blumi is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Turkish Studies at Stockholm University. In addition to Destroying Yemen What Chaos in Arabia Tells Us about the World he is the author of Ottoman Refugees, 1878–1939, Foundations of Modernity, and Reinstating the Ottomans.


Beyond Racialized Divides: Understanding Africa Today

This guest post is published during the African Studies Association conference in Chicago, occurring November 16 – 18, and prior to the American Anthropological Association conference in Washington, D.C., occurring November 28 – December 3.  

By Dorothy Hodgson, co-editor of Global Africa: Into the Twenty-First Century with Judith Byfield

For decades, the continent of Africa has been imagined as divided into two distinct zones: “sub-Saharan Africa” and “North Africa.” Although these phrases are seemingly about geography, they index more troubling legacies of racialized ideas about the relative superiority and modernity of lighter-skinned “Arabs” in the north over their predominantly “black” neighbors living south of the Sahara. By conceiving of the Sahara desert as a blank space, such noxious notions persist, masking the connections and inequalities between north and south produced by long histories of trade, travel, migration, enslavement, conquest, colonial rule, religious evangelization, and more.

An Interconnected Whole

Global Africa challenges this racialized divide, demonstrating the intellectual and political value of understanding the continent as an interconnected whole. François-Xavier Fauvelle documents the extensive international trade between West African kingdoms and polities in northern Africa and beyond during Africa’s “Global Golden Age” (AD 700-1500). E. Ann McDougall describes the settlements, sites, and support that enabled three very different women to traverse the Sahara centuries later. Zakia Salime explores how contemporary musicians of Raï and Rap in Morocco and Algeria intentionally combine sonic elements from elsewhere to convey their political message of Pan-African solidarity. Other authors examine the circulations of textiles (Victoria Rovine), religious ideas (Cheikh Anta Babou), Pan-Africanism (Hakim Adi), illicit financial flows (Masimba Tafirenyika) and more throughout the continent and beyond.

Africa is an extraordinarily vast and diverse place. Yes, there are regional differences in language, heritage, history, and politics. But to ignore the interconnections among regions, or to reify and reproduce a false belief that the continent is divided by a vast “empty space” into two starkly different halves, obscures the vibrant flows and entanglements of people, ideas, and practices across these areas. As scholars, we have an obligation to confront such false assumptions and racist imaginaries with stories, histories, and other evidence that reflect and represent the continent as a whole.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Read Chapter 1, the Introduction, of Global Africa. And see more titles on African Anthropology and African History. Global Africa is part of the Global Square Series.


Dorothy L. Hodgson is Professor of Anthropology and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the Graduate School – New Brunswick at Rutgers University.

Judith A. Byfield is Associate Professor of History and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Cornell University.


#7CheapThings: Cheap Energy

excerpted from A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore

Welcome to the sixth post in our #7CheapThings blog series! Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. How has the cheapening of these things made the world safe for capitalism? Follow along to find out.

#7CheapThings care book coverCapitalism’s ecology has a distinctive pyrogeography, one that is part of the fossil record. Indigenous People had thoroughly modified New World landscapes through fire. In eastern North America, they coproduced the “mosaic quality” of forest, savannah, and meadow that Europeans took for pristine nature. Between Columbus’s arrival and around 1650, disease and colonial violence reduced Indigenous populations in the Americas by 95 percent. With fewer humans burning and cutting them down, forests recovered so vigorously that the New World became a planetary carbon sink. Forest growth cooled the planet so much that the Indigenous holocaust contributed to the Little Ice Age’s severity. By the middle of the seventeenth century, some of the early modern era’s worst winters were being recorded across Eurasia and the Americas. Not coincidentally, it was an era of bitter war and political unrest, from Beijing to Paris. To reprise an idea from the introduction, it would be wrong to characterize this episode of genocide and reforestation as anthropogenic. The colonial exterminations of Indigenous Peoples were the work not of all humans, but of conquerors and capitalists. Capitalogenic would be more appropriate. And if we are tempted to conflate capitalism with the Industrial Revolution, these transformations ought to serve notice that early capitalism’s destruction was so profound that it changed planetary climate four centuries ago.

For many commoners in Europe and beyond, forests and woodlands were—and remain—as essential to survival as food. The destruction of the commons involved more than the creation of hunger. It also removed common rights to gather wood, imposing a poverty of fuel and construction material. In feudal Europe, demographic and settlement expansion in the eleventh and twelfth centuries led to conflict not just over farmland but also over access to forests, which had become lucrative income sources for nobles and kings. When England’s King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, it’s significant that he was also compelled to sign a second document at the same time: the Charter of the Forest. Where the Magna Carta turns on legal and political rights, the Charter of the Forest was about “economic survival”: securing for peasants something called estovers, a broad category of subsistence wood products. The Forest Charter was an assurance of English commoners’ access to fuel, food, and building materials.

In Germany, as Peter Linebaugh notes, “the first great proletarian revolt of modern history, the Peasants’ Revolt of Germany in 1525, demanded the restoration of customary forest rights.” These included rights to use “ ‘windfall wood, rootfall trees, and inbowes,’ where these latter were defined ‘also only to so much thereof as the bees do light on, and the honey that shall be found in the tree, but not to cut any main bough or tree itself by color thereof.’ ” People have been fighting for centuries over the fuel and construction material that wood can become. It’s worth mentioning all this because it’s too often forgotten that capitalism’s energy revolution began not with coal but with wood—and with the privatization that forest enclosure implies.

This is not to privilege a European and North American history of energy over the histories of deforestation in, say, China. Notwithstanding the moderating effects of the forest police, China’s great deforestation one thousand years ago had consequences that persist today: at ten cubic meters (353 cubic feet), the country’s per capita forest reserves are an eighth of the world average. But China’s world-ecology wasn’t committed to global conquest. Europe’s was.

The reason to look at energy in Europe lies in the different use of fuel—a kind of cheap nature—as an intrinsic part of capitalism’s ecology. Cheap energy is a way of amplifying—and in some cases substituting for—cheap work and care. If cheap food is capitalism’s major way of reducing the wage bill, cheap energy is the crucial lever to advance labor productivity. The two can function as a logical sequence, even if the actual history is more complex. First, peasants must be ejected from the commons. These new workers must find wage work in some form. Second, the workshops and factories that employ these workers have to compete with one another. And while there’s a long history of bosses’ overworking their employees, the competitive struggle between capitalists is ultimately decided by labor productivity. We normally think of labor productivity—that is, the production of more commodities per average hour of work—as something determined by machines. But capitalist machines function because they draw on the work of extrahuman natures, and these have to be cheap, because the demand is limitless. For this reason, the enclosure of terrestrial commons coincided with the enclosure of the subterranean world. At the very moment when peasant life was turned upside down in sixteenth-century England, the country’s great coal mines were pumping out coal by the thousands of tons. Here a new layer of cheapness emerges in our picture of the world: capitalism’s global factory requires not just a global farm and a global family, but a global mine as well.

In this chapter we explore how energy became one of capitalism’s cheap things through energy revolutions in Europe and the Americas, and what cheap energy means for the twenty-first century’s global ecology. Energy qualifies as a “thing” insofar as it is transformed from part of the web of life into a commodity to be bought and sold. Fossilized life becomes stuff for a fire and an engine’s fuel tank only through capitalism’s ecology. But capitalism’s energy system does several tasks at once. It makes both energy and inputs cheaper: cheap coal makes cheap steel; cheap peat makes for cheap(er) bricks. This reduces the costs of doing business and enhances profitability. Cheap energy also helps keep labor costs down, by controlling one of the largest costs (after food) in a family budget. While enclosure made energy more expensive for most peasants by removing their access to the commons—where, in many parts of the world, collecting resources had fallen to women—it also pulled workers into the cash economy, where they had to pay for their building materials and fuel. Controlling energy costs was another way to manage and sustain cheap work.


Raj Patel care author photoRaj Patel is an award-winning writer, activist and academic. He is a Research Professor in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin and a Senior Research Associate at the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University. He is the author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and The Value of Nothing.

Jason W. Moore author photo careJason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.


Meet Us at MESA. Save 40% on These Titles in Middle Eastern Studies

If you’re headed to the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association this week in Washington, D.C. (Nov. 18-21), be sure to visit UC Press at booth #21 for a 40% discount. Our recent titles in Middle Eastern studies encourage understanding of the region, its politics, and its histories, offering a wide variety of topics appropriate for your research or classroom use.

Take early advantage of the conference discount and start saving today.  Visit our MESA page to browse these titles and more

Throughout the conference, follow along on our blog as we share guest posts from our authors. #MESA2017DC


Academic Freedom in the Era of Trump

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


Something unthinkable happened in the United States in the last few years: hundreds of academics, senior scholars, graduate students, and untenured faculty came forth in support of an academic boycott of Israel. Beginning in 2013, the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions expanded rapidly with one major academic association after another endorsing the boycott and adopting resolutions in solidarity with the Palestinian call for an academic boycott.

But this movement emerged several years after Palestinian academics, intellectuals, and activists called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004—and after years of military occupation, failed peace negotiations, ever-expanding and illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, ongoing home demolitions, the building of the Israeli Wall, repression, and military assaults. All of these events and the military occupation of Palestine itself have been endorsed, defended, and funded by Israel’s major global ally, the United States. The academic boycott and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are thus embedded in a significant aspect of the U.S. political and historical relationship to the Middle East, and in a particular, cultural imaginary of Palestine, Palestinians, and Arabs in general, that has become an increasingly central concern of American studies.

I consider this progressive-left academic solidarity to be a potential expression of academic abolitionism. The notion of academic abolitionism is not focused on redeeming the U.S. academy—just as it is ultimately not focused on redemption for the U.S. imperial state—as much as it is ongoing beyond the liberal discourse of academic freedom to highlight other kinds of freedoms, and un-freedoms. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit with occupation and apartheid is only one component of a larger politics of refusal grounded in academic abolitionism. An abolitionist view challenges the complicity of the U.S. academy with global militarism, carceral regimes, and settler colonial circuits of power, in which Israel is a key player.

Indeed, the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Trump’s victory spurred more vigorous and vocal progressive mobilization on campuses and in communities, with solidarity campaigns binding together movements against police violence and militarization, and for racial justice, immigrant rights and sanctuary, gender and sexual rights, indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and freedom in Palestine. The historic Women’s March in January 2017, which mobilized masses of people to come out in the streets against Trump after his inauguration, was called for by prominent feminist activists such as Angela Davis and Palestinian American Linda Sarsour, who have advocated for BDS as part of a feminist politics. The International Women’s Strike on March 8, 2017, explicitly included a call for “the decolonization of Palestine” in its platform, and for the dismantling of “all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.” These campaigns build on the solidarities that were created in previous years as the BDS movement made linkages with Black Lives Matter, the antiwar and prison abolition movement, labor unions, faith-based activists, and feminist and queer groups.

As “White supremacy” became a term permissible in discussions on major cable news networks about Trump and his alt-right followers, there were also growing conversations about Zionism, the ways it can become imbricated with anti-Semitism on the right, and the need to challenge racial supremacy and White privilege. Palestine has become central to all of these major contemporary debates and resistance movements. Omar Barghouti writes about the struggle for liberation, equality, and dignity waged through BDS:

The global BDS movement for Palestinian rights presents a progressive, antiracist, sophisticated, sustainable, moral, and effective form of nonviolent civil resistance. It has become one of the key political catalysts and moral anchors for a strengthened, reinvigorated international social movement capable of ending the law of the jungle and upholding in its stead the rule of law, reaffirming the rights of all humans to freedom, equality, and dignified living.

Our South Africa moment has finally arrived!

There really is no turning back.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Boycott! is available now as an e-book, and forthcoming in print.


Teaching Public History with The Public Historian

For the past few months, articles from The Public Historian (TPH) have been featured in a blog series by the National Council on Public History showcasing how TPH articles have been used effectively in the classroom. With the American Studies Association conference this week, we thought it fitting to highlight the first three blog posts in the teaching series, along with their accompanying TPH articles. Learn more about The Public Historian at tph.ucpress.edu, and follow the rest of the blog series on the NCPH blog History@Work.


Exploring the historic and current landscape at Paneriai, outside Vilnius. Image credit: Aaron Shapiro

Paneriai, Poland, and “Public History and the Study of Memory”
By Aaron Shapiro

I find The Public Historian indispensable not only for keeping up with the field but also for introducing students to public history scholarship. And while I regularly assign more recent articles, I often return to David Glassberg’s “Public History and the Study of Memory” (vol. 18, no. 2, Spring 1996) in my undergraduate course, “Introduction to Public History.” Continue reading…

 

 

Scott Joplin Historic Site, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo credit: Kevin Saff, CC BY-SA 2.

Teaching uncomfortable narratives in public history courses
By Jennifer Black

…As I set to work revising my syllabus, I searched for readings that could appropriately set up public investment in the telling of history, while outlining the role of public historians in framing that narrative. I selected an article on Civil War reenactors as a lead-in to our discussion of the current flag debates, and the article by Timothy Baumann, Andrew Hurley, Valerie Altizer, and Victoria Love, “Interpreting Uncomfortable History at the Scott Joplin State Historic Site in Saint Louis, Missouri” (The Public Historian 33, no. 2 (2011): 37–66), as a bookend to the discussion. Continue reading…

 

Display from “St. Louis in the Gilded Age” exhibit, Missouri History Museum, curated by Katherine T. Corbett, St. Louis, Missouri, 1994. Photo credit: Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.

“A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry” in the public history classroom
By Jeff Manuel

When Tammy Gaskell posted to the History@Work blog asking public history educators to recommend articles from The Public Historian that work well in the classroom, I immediately replied with several options. At the top of my list was Katherine Corbett and Dick Miller’s “A Shared Inquiry into Shared Inquiry,” which appeared in the winter 2006 issue. I teach an introductory public history course at a regional public university in Illinois. Continue reading…


A Deeply Divisive Victory One Year Later

One year since the electoral victory of Donald Trump, the nation remains divided as ever as both the left and right endeavor to process and understand what the 2016 outcome says about our current political condition. These new releases explore inequality and power in America,  taking a longer view at how we got here and the politics that brought Donald Trump to power.

Race and America’s Long War examines the relationship between war, politics, police power, and the changing contours of race and racism in the contemporary United States. Spanning the course of U.S. history, these crucial essays show how the return of racism and war as seemingly permanent features of American public and political life is at the heart of our present crisis. In the epilogue, author Nikhil Singh addresses the deeply divided country and what he calls the two Americas:

Long before Trump emerged, the GOP was the most politically entrenched, racially homogeneous far-Right political party in the Western world, one that mobilized and welded together social conservatism, a near-fanatical commitment to upward wealth redistribution, climate-change denial, the rejection of socially useful public spending, hostility to taxation in support of transfer payments to the poorest and most vulnerable, racially coded appeals to law and order, and anti-immigrant animus. Its ascent was aided by opposition to gains in formal equality, particularly the reproductive rights of women, the civil rights of racial and sexual minorities, and the ethno-racial diversification of U.S. public institutions and public culture—including schools and universities. Republican public policy was informed by moral panics about crime, drugs, and welfare, and legal resistance to moderate reforms such as affirmative action, antidiscrimination remedies, voting-rights protection and abortion rights. The last time the Republican Party controlled all three branches of government was in 2001, and we know what ensued then. Before that, the last occurrence of this special alignment was 1928, right before the Great Depression. . . .

Donald Trump, who led a consistent and consciously racist opposition to Obama’s presidency, is now in ascendancy. With Trump, the violent contradictions of the inner and outer wars are laid bare. For unlike Obama, Trump based his appeal on the promise to intensify divisions along lines of race, nation, and religion. His additional vow to abandon climate-change mitigation denies the very problem of the imperiled ecology that humans share. Trump poses an old question: who is entitled to freedom and security—or, more precisely, to the freedom of an unlimited security and the security of an unlimited freedom? One of the hallmarks of liberal-democratic claims to superior civilization has been the commitment to mitigate boundless violence in the name of boundless freedom for everyone. Though the oppositions between Obama and McCain, or Obama and Bush, or Obama or Clinton and Trump, are convenient shorthand for all those characteristic efforts to distinguish good from bad U.S. nationalism (that is, the civic from the racial, the patriotic from the jingoistic, the democratic from the statist), Trump reminds us that one feature is constant: to make (American) history, one still needs the stomach to make victims. Read the first chapter here.

In How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump, Laura Briggs says we can’t understand the rise of Trump, or combat the forces he represents, without attention to reproductive politics. Briggs brilliantly outlines how politicians’ racist accounts of reproduction were the leading wedge in the government and business disinvestment in families.

When Donald Trump, vying for the Republican presidential nomination, first hit the front page of every paper in 2015 and generated Twitter storms, it was by saying that Mexico was sending “rapists” to the United States. Aside from strumming an old string in US politics by seeming to defend a violated, victimized (white) womanhood from a racialized other (the lynching story, or before that, the Indian captivity narrative), he also got it wrong in an interesting way: the majority of migrants from Mexico to the United States are women, in significant part because changes in reproductive labor in the United States have made the work of caring for the house, the children, the elderly, and people with disabilities something that, increasingly, someone had to be hired to do—and Latinas, in particular, got those jobs. Our public conversations about race, immigration, and same-sex marriage center around questions of children, households, and families. (Or, to put it the other way, our conversations about reproductive politics are deeply about race, just as they are about sexuality.) When we think about feminism and careers, abortion, and assisted reproduction, it is perhaps more obvious that we are talking about reproduction, but I want to argue that we are thinking as much about the politics of how to raise children and the economy at large as we are the simple facts of pregnancy and birth. When we talk about the economy, we are talking about reproductive politics, because families and households are where we live our economic situation. Reproductive politics are, in fact, so powerfully central to everything else we talk about in the United States that whether we look to wealth and poverty, schools and policing, financial speculation in the housing market (and single mothers as a particular niche market to be targeted for subprime mortgages), or even foreign policy (think about overpopulation and development, international adoption, the ever-renewable fight about aid funding for birth control and abortion, or burqas and the politics of modest dress and family relations in the Islamic world). In the United States, there is no outside to reproductive politics, even though that fact is sometimes obscured. Read the first chapter here.

While Donald Trump insists that Chicago is a “total disaster” and evokes the “carnage” on its streets,  author Andrew J. Diamond says the city evokes so much that is patently American. His book Chicago on the Make: Power and Inequality in a Modern City traces the evolution of urban societies and the history of neoliberalization that created stark inequalities. It is a quintessential modern American city.

As the symbol of a triumphant industrial past, Chicago also emblematizes another of the country’s grand narratives: its long tradition of immigration and cultural pluralism. If in recent years the increasing economic insecurity of middle-class Americans has fueled the growth of anti-immigration sentiments, especially in the southwestern states along the Mexican border, the cherished idea of the United States as a country of immigrants persists. Well recognized is the fact that waves of immigrants and African American migrants worked many of the jobs that made Chicago and the United States with it an industrial giant during the American Century. The urban landscape in the minds of most Americans is a multiethnic place that mixes distinct ethnoracial communities and cultures, and in this sense Chicago once more appears as the prototypical American city. . . .

The term neoliberalization is invoked not merely to connote the implementation of a package of economic-minded policies that had inadvertent social and political consequences—such policies were in fact implemented and they did have important social and political consequences, especially beginning in the early 1990s under Richard M. Daley. A more important dimension of the story of neoliberalization being told here involves revealing how market values and economizing logics penetrated into the city’s political institutions and beyond them into its broader political culture. This political history of Chicago seeks to understand from both the top down and the bottom up how this happened and how the advance of neoliberalization crippled the political forces standing in opposition to it: labor unions, municipal reformers, neighborhood planning boards, civil rights organizations, and a range of other political organizations that sought to challenge injustices within the prevailing social and political order. Read the introduction here.