Extraordinary Histories

An opportunity to reflect on the numerous events and figures in American history, Black History Month is more than a month; it is an expansive and growing history of America. The recommended books below highlight poignant historical moments and social movements and exemplary leaders at the front of societal change. Just a sample of the breadth of titles we publish in African American history, and on ethnic studies, more broadly, these titles foster greater understanding of national and world history.


Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
By Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.

In Oakland, California, in 1966, community college students Bobby Seale and Huey Newton armed themselves, began patrolling the police, and promised to prevent police brutality. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement that called for full citizenship rights for blacks within the United States, the Black Panther Party rejected the legitimacy of the U.S. government and positioned itself as part of a global struggle against American imperialism. In the face of intense repression, the Party flourished, becoming the center of a revolutionary movement with offices in sixty-eight U.S. cities and powerful allies around the world. The notions of self-reliance and self-determination were at the core of the Panther’s beliefs, but the Party’s legacy has been largely misunderstood.

With Black Against Empire, historian Waldo E. Martin and sociologist Joshua Bloom provide the most comprehensive, unvarnished examination of the Party and its place in the larger scope of revolutionary and political tides swirling in the tumultuous 1960s. A book Bobby Seale called “profoundly important,” this bold, engrossing, and richly detailed history cuts through the mythology to reveal the political dynamics that drove the explosive growth of this revolutionary movement.

Selected as San Francisco’s 2017 One City One Book.

Houston Bound: Culture and Color in a Jim Crow City
By Tyina L. Steptoe

Beginning after World War I, the city of Houston was transformed from a black-and-white frontier town into one of the most ethnically and racially diverse urban areas in the United States. Tyina L. Steptoe’s award-winning Houston Bound draws on social and cultural history to show how, despite Anglo attempts to fix racial categories through Jim Crow laws, converging migrations—particularly those of Mexicans and Creoles—complicated ideas of blackness and whiteness and introduced different understandings about race. This migration history also examines these racial complexities through music and sound to trace the emergence of Houston’s blues and jazz scenes in the 1920s as well as the hybrid forms of these genres that arose when migrants forged shared social space and carved out new communities and politics.

Winner of the Urban History Association’s 2016 Kenneth Jackson Award, the Western History Association’s 2017 W. Turrentine-Jackson Award, and the Friends of the Texas Room’s 2017 Julia Ideson Award.

Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life
By Marcus Anthony Hunter and Zandria Robinson

When you think of a map of the United States, what do you see? Now think of the Seattle that begot Jimi Hendrix. The Dallas that shaped Erykah Badu. The Holly Springs, Mississippi, that compelled Ida B. Wells to activism against lynching. The Birmingham where Martin Luther King, Jr., penned his most famous missive. Now how do you see the United States?

Chocolate Cities offers a new cartography of the United States—a “Black Map” that more accurately reflects the lived experiences and the future of Black life in America. Drawing on cultural sources such as film, music, fiction, and plays, and on traditional resources like Census data, oral histories, ethnographies, and health and wealth data, the book offers a new perspective for analyzing, mapping, and understanding the ebbs and flows of the Black American experience—all in the cities, towns, neighborhoods, and communities that Black Americans have created and defended. Black maps are consequentially different from our current geographical understanding of race and place in America. And as the United States moves toward a majority minority society, Chocolate Cities provides a broad and necessary assessment of how racial and ethnic minorities make and change America’s social, economic, and political landscape.

Charles Burnett: A Cinema of Symbolic Knowledge
By James Naremore

Considered by the Chicago Tribune as “one of America’s very best filmmakers” and by The New York Times as “the nation’s least-known great filmmaker and most gifted black director,” Charles Burnett is a crucial figure in the history of American cinema and often regarded as the most influential member of the L.A. Rebellion group of African American filmmakers. The first book devoted to Burnett, James Naremore provides a close critical study of all Burnett’s major pictures for movies and television, including Killer of SheepTo Sleep with AngerThe Glass ShieldNightjohnThe WeddingNat Turner: A Troublesome Property, and Warming by the Devil’s Fire. Having accessed new information and rarely seen material, Naremore shows that Burnett’s career has developed against the odds and that his artistry, social criticism, humor, and commitment to what he calls “symbolic knowledge” have given his work enduring value for American culture.

Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels
By Christina Zanfagna

In the 1990s, Los Angeles was home to numerous radical social and environmental eruptions. In the face of several major earthquakes and floods, riots and economic insecurity, policebrutality and mass incarceration, some young black Angelenos turned to holy hip hop—a movement merging Christianity and hip hop culture—to “save” themselves and the city. Converting street corners to open-air churches and gangsta rap beats into anthems of praise, holy hip hoppers used gospel rap to navigate complicated social and spiritual realities and to transform the Southland’s fractured terrains into musical Zions. Armed with beats, rhymes, and bibles, they journeyed through black Lutheran congregations, prison ministries, African churches, reggae dancehalls, hip hop clubs, Nation of Islam meetings, and Black Lives Matter marches. Zanfagna’s fascinating ethnography provides a contemporary and unique view of black LA, offering a much-needed perspective on how music and religion intertwine in people’s everyday experiences.

The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption
By Nikki Jones 

In The Chosen Ones, sociologist and feminist scholar Nikki Jones shares the compelling story of a group of Black men living in San Francisco’s historically Black neighborhood, the Fillmore. Against all odds, these men work to atone for past crimes by reaching out to other Black men, young and old, with the hope of guiding them toward a better life. Yet despite their genuine efforts, they struggle to find a new place in their old neighborhood. With a poignant yet hopeful voice, Jones illustrates how neighborhood politics, everyday interactions with the police, and conservative Black gender ideologies shape the men’s ability to make good and forgive themselves—and how the double-edged sword of community shapes the work of redemption.

Forthcoming June 2018; preorder today.

Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century
By Barbara Ransby 

In the wake of the murder of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the exoneration of his killer, three black women activists launched a hashtag and social-media platform, Black Lives Matter, which would become the rubric for a larger movement. To many, especially those in the media, Black Lives Matter appeared to burst onto the national political landscape out of thin air.

But as historian and esteemed activist Barbara Ransby shows in her highly-anticipated Making All Black Lives Matter, the movement has roots in prison abolition, anti-police violence, black youth movements, and radical mobilizations across the country dating back at least a decade. Ransby interviewed more than a dozen of the movements principal organizers and activists, and she provides a detailed review of its extensive coverage in mainstream and social media. A critical history of the present, Making All Black Lives Matter offers one of the first overviews of Black Lives Matter and explores the challenges and possible future for this growing and influential movement.

Forthcoming September 2018; preorder today.


Introducing American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present

Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture — focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices, on the other. We are excited to announce American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present, a series publishing titles that cover these political and cultural intersections, exploring the ways the events of our past continue to shape our present.

American Studies Now publishes short, timely books on significant political and cultural events while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.

We spoke with editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez to discuss the goals of American Studies Now and how these books can be usedin the classroom and beyond.


What inspired you to develop the American Studies Now series?

Lisa Duggan: We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.

The series is described as “critical histories of the present” — could you elaborate on what this means?

Curtis Marez: Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.

Why the need to publish on a short schedule?

LD: We want to counter the long, slow publication process and relatively narrow circulation of most academic publishing with an option designed for speed and impact, on the timeclock of the political present. Offering broad context provided by deeply knowledgeable American Studies scholars, these books can contribute to classroom and public discussions on issues that matter now.

How will these books contribute to the field of American Studies?

CM: Each book brings American Studies concepts and methods to the analysis of vital contemporary social movements. Authors build on and rethink the field’s historical social movement focus by foregrounding a host of contemporary grassroots movements such as Black Lives Matter, student movements, and movements for sexual justice. At the same time, American Studies Now presents critical accounts of dominant social movements such asthe movement to privatize higher education and to silence dissent; the law and order movement supporting the expansion of police power; climate justice; and the movement for free market fundamentalism that informs contemporary state policies.

Continue reading “Introducing American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present”