Where Photographs Meet Words: A #WorldPhotoDay Reading List

Tomorrow is World Photo Day, a celebration bringing together millions of photographers worldwide to share their stories and inspire global change through the power of photography. A snapshot of some of our great photography titles is below; be sure to check out our photography subject page to browse even more titles, as well as our previous World Photo Day posts.

In the Fields of the North / En los campos del norte by David Bacon 

In this landmark work of photo-journalism, activist and photographer David Bacon documents the experiences of some of the hardest-working and most disenfranchised laborers in the country: the farmworkers who are responsible for making California “America’s breadbasket.” Combining haunting photographs with the voices of migrant farmworkers, Bacon offers three-dimensional portraits of laborers living under tarps, in trailer camps, and between countries, following jobs that last only for the harvesting season. He uncovers the inherent abuse in the labor contractor work system, and drives home the almost feudal nature of laboring in America’s fields.

Told in both English and Spanish, these are the stories of farmworkers exposed to extreme weather and pesticides, injured from years of working bent over for hours at a time, and treated as cheap labor. The stories in this book remind us that the food that appears on our dinner tables is the result of back-breaking labor, rampant exploitation, and powerful resilience.

 

The Uses of Photography: Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium edited by Jill Dawsey 

The Uses of Photography examines a network of artists who were active in Southern California between the late 1960s and early 1980s and whose experiments with photography opened the medium to a profusion of new strategies and subjects. Tracing a crucial history of photoconceptual practice, The Uses of Photography focuses on an artistic community that formed in and around the young University of California San Diego, founded in 1960, and its visual arts department, founded in 1967. Artists such as Eleanor Antin, Allan Kaprow, Fred Lonidier, Martha Rosler, Allan Sekula, and Carrie Mae Weems employed photography and its expanded forms as a means to dismantle modernist autonomy, to contest notions of photographic truth, and to engage in political critique.

Contributors include David Antin, Pamela M. Lee, Judith Rodenbeck, and Benjamin J. Young. Published in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

 

Freedom Now!: Forgotten Photographs of the Civil Rights Struggle by Martin A. Berger

In this groundbreaking catalogue, Martin Berger presents a collection of forgotten photographs that illustrate the action, heroism, and strength of black activists in driving social and legislative change. Freedom Now! highlights the power wielded by black men, women, and children in courthouses, community centers, department stores, political conventions, schools, and streets. Freedom Now! reveals that we have inherited a photographic canon—and a picture of history—shaped by whites’ comfort with unthreatening images of victimized blacks. And it illustrates how and why particular people, events, and issues have been edited out of the photographic story we tell about our past. By considering the different values promoted in the forgotten photographs, readers will gain an understanding of African Americans’ role in rewriting U.S. history and the high stakes involved in selecting images with which to narrate our collective past.

 

The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology edited by William A. Ewing and Barbara P. Hitchcock 

Published to accompany a major traveling exhibition, The Polaroid Project is a creative exploration of the relationship between Polaroid’s many technological innovations and the art that was created with their help. Richly designed with over 300 illustrations, this impressive volume showcases not only the myriad and often idiosyncratic approaches taken by such photographers as Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ellen Carey, and Chuck Close, but also a fascinating selection of the technical objects and artifacts that speak to the sheer ingenuity that lay behind the art. With essays by the exhibition’s curators and leading photographic writers and historians, The Polaroid Project provides a unique perspective on the Polaroid phenomenon—a technology, an art form, a convergence of both—and its enduring cultural legacy.

Contributors: William A. Ewing, Barbara P. Hitchcock, Deborah G. Douglas, Gary Van Zante, Rebekka Reuter, Christopher Bonanos, Todd Brandow, Peter Buse, Dennis Jelonnek, and John Rohrbach.

 

Artist as Reporter: Weegee, Ad Reinhardt, and the PM News Picture by Jason E. Hill

Active from 1940 to 1948, PM was a progressive New York City daily tabloid newspaper committed to the politics of labor, social justice, and antifascism—and it prioritized the intelligent and critical deployment of pictures and their perception as paramount in these campaigns. With PM as its main focus, Artist as Reporter offers a substantial intervention in the literature on American journalism, photography, and modern art. The book considers the journalistic contributions to PM of such signal American modernists as the curator Holger Cahill, the abstract painter Ad Reinhardt, the photographers Weegee and Lisette Model, and the filmmaker, photographer, and editor Ralph Steiner. Each of its five chapters explores one dimension of the tabloid’s complex journalistic activation of modernism’s potential, showing how PM inserted into daily print journalism the most innovative critical thinking in the fields of painting, illustration, cartooning, and the lens-based arts. Artist as Reporter promises to revise our own understanding of midcentury American modernism and the nature of its relationship to the wider media and public culture.

 

Uncertain Histories: Accumulation, Inaccessibility, and Doubt in Contemporary Photography by Kate Palmer Albers

The compulsion to dwell on history—on how it is recorded, stored, saved, forgotten, narrated, lost, remembered, and made public—has been at the heart of artists’ engagement with the photographic medium since the late 1960s. Uncertain Histories considers some of that work, ranging from installations that incorporate vast numbers of personal and vernacular photographs by Christian Boltanski, Dinh Q. Lê, and Gerhard Richter to confrontations with absence in the work of Joel Sternfeld and Ken Gonzales-Day. Projects such as these revolve around a photographic paradox that hinges equally on knowing and not knowing, on definitive proof coupled with uncertainty, on abundance of imagery being met squarely with its own inadequacy. Photography is seen as a fundamentally ambiguous medium that can be evocative of the historical past while at the same time limited in the stories it can convey. Rather than proclaiming definitively what photography is, the work discussed here posits photographs as objects always held in suspension, perpetually oscillating in their ability to tell history. Yet this ultimately leads to a new kind of knowledge production: uncertainty is not a dead end but a generative space for the viewer’s engagement with the construction of history.

 

Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe by Rebecca A. Senf and Stephen J. Pyne

Using landscape photography to reflect on broader notions of culture, the passage of time, and the construction of perception, photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe spent five years exploring the Grand Canyon for their most recent project, Reconstructing the View. The team’s landscape photographs are based on the practice of rephotography, in which they identify sites of historic photographs and make new photographs of those precise locations. Klett and Wolfe referenced a wealth of images of the canyon, ranging from historical photographs and drawings by William Bell and William Henry Holmes, to well-known artworks by Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and from souvenir postcards to contemporary digital images drawn from Flickr. The pair then employed digital postproduction methods to bring the original images into dialogue with their own. The result is this stunning volume, illustrated with a wealth of full-color illustrations that attest to the role photographers—both anonymous and great—have played in picturing American places.

Rebecca Senf’s compelling essay traces the photographers’ process and methodology, conveying the complexity of their collaboration. Stephen J. Pyne provides a conceptual framework for understanding the history of the canyon, offering an overview of its discovery by Europeans and its subsequent treatment in writing, photography, and graphic arts.

 

The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen

The Last Pictures, co-published by Creative Time Books, is rooted in the premise that these communications satellites will ultimately become the cultural and material ruins of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, far outlasting anything else humans have created. Inspired in part by ancient cave paintings, nuclear waste warning signs, and Carl Sagan’s Golden Records of the 1970s, artist/geographer Trevor Paglen has developed a collection of one hundred images that will be etched onto an ultra-archival, golden silicon disc. The disc, commissioned by Creative Time, will then be sent into orbit onboard the Echostar XVI satellite in September 2012, as both a time capsule and a message to the future.

The selection of 100 images, which are the centerpiece of the book, was influenced by four years of interviews with leading scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, and artists about the contradictions that characterize contemporary civilizations. Consequently, The Last Pictures engages some of the most profound questions of the human experience, provoking discourse about communication, deep time, and the economic, environmental, and social uncertainties that define our historical moment.


#CharlottesvilleCurriculum, #CharlottesvilleSyllabus: UC Press Edition

Over the past few days, we received an influx of requests from faculty for books that provide context around the tragic events in Charlottesville. We’ve curated the list of titles below. Our hope is that this list serves as a resource for instructors preparing for fall courses, and that the books offer a foundation of understanding for students and readers.

Relevant Forthcoming Titles

Easily and quickly request exam and desk copies online by visiting any of the books’ pages above. If you need assistance in choosing the right texts for your course, we’d be glad to help, contact us here.

For other relevant resources, follow #CharlottesvilleCurriculum and #CharlottesvilleSyllabus, and read the Charlottesville Curriculum.


Behind the Curtain: A North Korean History Reading List

With the ongoing tension between the United States and North Korea, we mined our backlist for titles to help us better understand our shared history. Below, a list of recommendations:

For the General Reader

The Reluctant Communist: 
My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea
Charles Robert Jenkins (Author), Jim Frederick (Author)

In January of 1965, twenty-four-year-old U.S. Army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins abandoned his post in South Korea, walked across the DMZ, and surrendered to communist North Korean soldiers standing sentry along the world’s most heavily militarized border. He believed his action would get him back to the States and a short jail sentence. Instead he found himself in another sort of prison, where for forty years he suffered under one of the most brutal and repressive regimes the world has known. This fast-paced, harrowing tale, told plainly and simply by Jenkins (with journalist Jim Frederick), takes the reader behind the North Korean curtain and reveals the inner workings of its isolated society while offering a powerful testament to the human spirit.

“Jenkins’s book is oddly compelling. The blank ordinariness of his character brings out the moral and physical ugliness of life in North Korea.”—New Yorker

“However we judge Mr. Jenkins’s actions so many years ago, “The Reluctant Communist” is itself an act of redemption. This extraordinary book opens a window on a world of fathomless evil, and it tells a heartbreaking story — of a life lived in adversity and conducted with a mixture of fortitude, resignation, tenderness and regret. Clearly Charles Robert Jenkins emerged from his years of ordeal with his Americanness intact. True patriotism can come in many forms.”—Wall Street Journal

For the Scholar

Rationalizing Korea:
The Rise of the Modern State, 1894–1945
Kyung Moon Hwang (Author)

The first book to explore the institutional, ideological, and conceptual development of the modern state on the peninsula, Rationalizing Korea analyzes the state’s relationship to five social sectors, each through a distinctive interpretive theme: economy (developmentalism), religion (secularization), education (public schooling), population (registration), and public health (disease control). Kyung Moon Hwang argues that while this formative process resulted in a more commanding and systematic state, it was also highly fragmented, socially embedded, and driven by competing, often conflicting rationalizations, including those of Confucian statecraft and legitimation. Such outcomes reflected the acute experience of imperialism, nationalism, colonialism, and other sweeping forces of the era.

“[Breaks] new ground… [Hwang has] offered readers an ambitious challenge: one directed to Korean studies, but also one also carrying its implications far beyond.” —Cross-Currents

“Kyung Moon Hwang has given us a model of the disciplined historian’s view, a work that goes beyond the idea that Korean modernization was a sudden result of pressures from Japan and the West. Rather, by connecting the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he demonstrates that its seeds are to be found in habits of mind and social life under Korea’s traditional bureaucratic state.” —Donald N. Clark, Trinity University


Finding Women in the State

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

This is our final guest post published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Thank you for reading!

Hundreds and thousands of Chinese women from diverse backgrounds had joined the Communist Revolution between the early 1920s and late 1940s. Like many of their male comrades, many Communist women had died in battlefields or on execution grounds in their fight against the warlords, Japanese fascists, and Nationalist government. When the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war in 1949, there were five hundred and thirty thousands women members in the CCP who now became the state power holder. Except for a few books in English presenting portraits of Chinese Communist women who endured tremendous hardship in the vicissitudes of the revolutionary journey, these women who had been an important part of the epic of the Communist Revolution curiously vanished in scholarship examining the CCP’s leadership in building a socialist country.

Parallel to the absence of Communist women in scholarship in and outside China have been the dominant narratives of how the party-state did or did not liberate Chinese women. Accomplishments or failures in advancing women’s equal rights and social economic progress have been unfailingly attributed to a monolithic abstract entity – the party-state, a patriarch paradoxically adopting many pro-women policies in the socialist period. If feminist scholars in the English speaking world since the 1980s have shown logical coherence in criticizing the Chinese patriarchal state’s failure to fulfill its revolutionary promise of women’s liberation, scholars in post-socialist China have articulated many contradictory statements without historical research, from “Chinese women have been the most liberated in the world,” to “a crime of Maoist women’s liberation was to have masculinized Chinese women.”

Based on archival research and interviews of Communist women who were officials of the socialist state at various administrative levels, my book reveals the concealed and erased history of socialist state feminists’ endeavors to materialize their visions of socialist revolution. Continuing an anti-feudalist New Culture agenda, state feminists operated in diverse fields including the film industry to transform patriarchal cultural norms and promote gender equality laws, discourse, and practices. Their conscious combat against sexism in and outside the CCP constituted a contentious “gender line” of struggle within the power structure of the Party. Excavating a hidden feminist history in the Chinese socialist revolution, my book presents the first scholarly effort to investigate the high politics of the CCP and examines the demise of a socialist revolution from a gender perspective. I also raise critical questions of methodology in scholarship dealing with specific historical moments but without a historical approach.


Wang Zheng is Professor of Women’s Studies and History and Research Scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories and the coeditor of From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, Translating Feminisms in China,  and Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era.


Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory

By Valerie Stoker, author of Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory: Vyasatirtha, Hindu Sectarianism, and the Sixteenth-Century Vijayanagara Court

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

The fall of 2016 was an interesting time to publish a book on the relationship between religion, identity, and politics. As we know, the United States elected a president in November who ran on an openly Islamophobic platform and who, within the first weeks of his administration, has made dramatic changes to American immigration policy.

Trump’s election is part of a general 21st-century wave of resurgent nationalism, populism, militarism, and religious and ideological conflict that are responses to broader social and economic change. My book, Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory, looks at a time and place quite removed from our contemporary lives: the South Indian empire of Vijayanagara in the early 1500s. But, not unlike recent reality, this empire was marked by high levels of immigration, foreign trade, a rapidly changing economy, and new patterns of religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Much as in today’s world, these changes generated both anxiety and opportunity. I wrote this book in part to elucidate how Vijayanagara’s leaders managed these changes and what impact this management had on traditional social units like Hindu monasteries. How did people understand the differences between themselves and others and how did the machinations of the state affect these processes of identity formation?

To explore these issues, my research focused on the relationship between the Vijayanagara Empire’s most famous king, Kṛṣṇadevarāya, and the Hindu monastic leader, Vyāsatīrtha. In the field of Indian religious history, Vyāsatīrtha is best known as a sectarian polemicist who wrote several texts devoted solely to criticizing the views of rival religious traditions. But my work shows that he was also an agent of the Vijayanagara state who worked closely with rival religious communities on projects that helped Kṛṣṇadevarāya expand the state’s functional apparatus. This type of collaboration between religious rivals, who were often also linguistically and regionally distinct, was something the Vijayanagara court actively patronized for many reasons. Such collaboration created cosmopolitan nodes throughout the empire that became hot-beds of economic activity as well as cultural and intellectual exchange. My book re-reads Vyāsatīrtha’s polemical works as an attempt, not solely to criticize other systems of thought, but to engage with them in order to clarify both the boundaries and commonalities between different religious traditions. I argue that this very clarity provided the basis for successful collaboration in daily life.

Thus, by creating a religious cosmopolitanism that was inextricably linked to a variety of practical endeavors, Kṛṣṇadevarāya and his agents shaped a social environment that not only avoided religiously based conflict but supported socio-economic mobility in highly diverse settings. Of course, not everyone flourished within this framework. Because the Vijayanagara court’s patronage was selective, it was also exclusive. And there was plenty of militarism in Vijayanagara statecraft, directed both at rival polities to the north and recalcitrant groups within the empire. Nevertheless, the approach of the sixteenth-century Vijayanagara court to ideological and other differences provides a striking contrast to today’s political rhetoric and reminds us of the value in studying India’s past.


Valerie Stoker is Associate Professor of South Asian Religions and Director of the Master of Humanities Program at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan

by Marcia Yonemoto, author of The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

During the final month of the bruising 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Inoguchi Kuniko, a member of Japan’s parliament and former Minister of State for Gender Equality and Social Affairs, registered her disappointment at the coarseness of American political discourse, and remarked that “when the glass ceiling breaks, there are a lot of injuries that a woman must bear.”[1] This struck me as a valid but curious statement, coming as it did from a high-profile female member of the conservative wing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and staunch ally of current Prime Minister Abe Shinzō. For despite the Abe government’s vigorous endorsement of “womenomics,” its policy program to increase the number of women elected to public office, in high managerial positions in business, and in positions of authority in public life in general, Japan is still far from reaching the government’s target goals—indeed, at least by the measures of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Japan is trending downward, not upward, in terms of resolving persistent gender inequality.[2] So in speaking about the danger of shattering glass ceilings, was Inoguchi simply expressing sympathy for then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton? Was she speaking from her own perspective as one of a spate of women cabinet ministers in the Abe government, many of whose terms in office were cut short by campaign-finance and other scandals? Or was she speaking in the abstract, ruminating perhaps not about when women in Japan break the glass ceiling, but if they ever will?

These particular questions can’t be answered with any certainty, but it is clear that roles and perceptions of women in Japanese public and private life continue to evolve, to raise questions, and to spark debate. I address very similar issues in my book, The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan, except my focus is on women in the seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries. The book explores the challenges women encountered when trying to reconcile confining social norms with individual autonomy, obligations to others with desires of their own, and limited public authority with myriad forms of private power. While the early modern military state often has been viewed as authoritarian and oppressive, its social and political controls were far weaker than those enjoyed by state today. And while the government articulated cultural norms and ideals of propriety, it lacked the comprehensive authority to enforce them, and this allowed considerable latitude for women to learn, to work, to write, and to play in ways contemporary observers may find surprising.

[1] “U.S. Presidential Campaign Shocks Women Around Asia-Pacific,” Asahi Shinbun/Reuters, 10/20/2016.

[2] Japan’s overall ranking dropped from 101st out of 145 countries surveyed to 111th out of 144. By comparison, the United States’ overall ranking also went down between 2015 and 2016, dropping from 28th to 45th. See World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2015, accessed at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/ and World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, accessed at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/ . Other data, however, show some progress—a 2016 Cabinet Office poll showed that for the first time, a majority of Japanese adults (54.2%) believed that “women should continue working even after they have children.” Maiko Ito, “Majority for First Time Says Mothers Should Continue to Work,” Asahi Shinbun 11/14/2016, accessed at: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201611140005.html


Marcia Yonemoto is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of Mapping Early Modern Japan: Space, Place, and Culture in the Tokugawa Period (1603–1868).


Challenging the Notion of “Globalization” as a 21st Century Phenomenon

by George Dutton, author of A Vietnamese Moses: Philiphê Binh and the Geographies of Early Modern Catholicism

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

In the second decade of the twenty-first century it has become a truism that we have finally entered the era of the “globalized.” It takes little effort for historians to produce a wide range of evidence to suggest that this is not the case, and that the phenomenon of “globalization” is one found already in the ancient worlds. This is particularly true with respect to the various “world religions” that emerged between the 5th century BCE and the 7th century CE, each of which gradually, and occasionally rapidly, travelled to distant corners of the globe. A particularly good example is Roman Catholicism, whose initial spread was relatively modest, but which then took advantage of the sailing ships of the “Age of Discovery” to span the globe. Unlike the other world religions, Catholicism has developed an elaborated ecclesiastical hierarchy that reaches around the world with implications for local Christian communities.

Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, agents of the Christian church reached the farthest corners of Asia and slowly built up communities of local Catholics. One of these groupings was founded in the coastal reaches of the Red River in the northern part of what is today Vietnam, and was then often called Tonkin. Initiated by Portuguese Jesuits, this community of Catholics grew to several hundred thousand in less than half a century. These mission fields soon drew the attention of other orders – Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and secular mission societies – and priests from a range of nations – Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, among others.

The Christians in coastal Tonkin found themselves both served by the European priests that were in their midst, and profoundly shaped by ecclesiastical conflicts and decisions emanating from the Catholic centers of power in Rome and the Iberian Peninsula. While local Christians experienced a substantial measure of autonomy imparted by distance and the logistics of communication, they were still subject to church politics in Europe. Thus, the papal recall of all Jesuits priests in Tonkin in 1678 sent shockwaves through the community. The order to divide Tonkin into two vicariates that same year further shook the local Catholic communities, who found themselves now experiencing elements of their faith in ways shaped by differentiated approaches to ritual and emphasis. A century later the formal dissolution of the entire Jesuit Order in 1773 further rattled Tonkinese Catholics, now finding themselves subject to new ecclesiastical leadership whose dictates and expectations were often at variance with their long-standing traditions.

While those loyal to the deep rooted Portuguese Jesuit tradition defied their new overseers, this was not sustainable and in 1796 they dispatched one of their own, the recently ordained Vietnamese priest, Father Philiphê Binh, to Portugal on their behalf. This community understood the global forces of Catholicism, and the nuances of its politics. They became active participants in defense of their traditions and sending their emissary to Europe was an indication of their engagement in the church politics of the period. Vietnamese Catholics recognized, far more than most Vietnamese, the degree to which they themselves lived in an era of “globalization.” What happened beyond their borders in remote political capitals had profound and measurable impacts upon both their material and spiritual lives.

Father Binh’s emergence as a priest and representative of his community on a journey half way around the world to defend its spiritual traditions is the subject of my book. While in substantial measure it is the story of a particular man and the complex contours of his life, it is also very much a tale of the ways in which eighteenth-century religious globalization had profound repercussions for Catholics in Tonkin. It is thus a reminder that peoples in seemingly remote corners of the globe were already then active participants in a world where the reach of ideas and politics was no less extensive than in the twenty-first century, even if it travelled at the speed of sailing ships rather than fiber optics.


George E. Dutton is Professor of Vietnamese History in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A Vietnamese Moses is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


PBS documentary signals anew the pivotal character of 1995

by W. Joseph Campbell, author of 1995: The Year the Future Began

PBS is set to air on Tuesday an “American Experience” documentary about the deadliest spasm of home-grown terrorism in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

The program revisits a crime staggering in its cruelty. The bomber, a 27-year-old Army veteran of the Gulf War named Timothy McVeigh, parked a rental truck packed with explosives outside the Murrah federal building on the morning of April 19, 1995. He said he intended to punish the federal government for episodes like the fiery disaster two years before at the Branch Davidian compound in Texas, site of a prolonged standoff with the FBI.

field-of-empty-chairs
The “field of empty chairs” outdoor memorial that occupies the site of the bombing.

On the Murrah building’s second floor, commanding a view of the street where McVeigh parked the truck, was a day-care center. Among the 168 people killed in the attack were 19 children, the youngest of whom was three-months-old.

McVeigh was executed for his crimes and his principal co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, was sentenced to life in prison.

The forthcoming documentary offers more than reexamination of a wanton terrorist attack: Its airing reminds us of the enduring significance of a watershed year — the subject of 1995: The Year the Future Began, my 2015 book with University of California Press.

It is not difficult to encounter these days telling evidence of the pivotal character of 1995. The ugly 2016 presidential campaign was made uglier by Donald Trump’s periodic references to Bill Clinton’s dalliance with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton’s clandestine affair, which nearly cost him his presidency, began in November 1995 during a partial shutdown of the federal government which, itself, became a source of lasting, bipartisan enmity in national politics.

Popular fascination still percolates about the 1995 O. J. Simpson double-murder trial — as suggested by two critically acclaimed cable series that aired last year on FX and ESPN. The programs, respectively, reenacted the case and revisited Simpson’s celebrated football career and subsequent misdeeds.

The programs were much-watched, suggesting that something in the national consciousness remains unresolved about the Simpson case. Although Simpson was acquitted of viciously killing his former wife and her friend, most Americans now believe he was guilty of the crimes.

An potent measure of lasting importance of any year lies in whether or how long its major events resonate. Clearly, the watershed moments of 1995 reverberate still.

The bombing at Oklahoma City was staggering in its toll, perplexing in its heartland setting, and done without warning. Those elements contributed to a vague but enduring sense of insecurity in America, and the bombing marked the onset of unexpectedly dangerous times.

Indeed, the bombing projected consequences that have been felt long afterward, notably in the rise of preemptive security measures that became ever tighter, and ever more conspicuous, after 1995.9780520273993

Oklahoma City was a wake-up call in domestic security. As I wrote in 1995, the bombing’s lasting consequences lie “not in awakening Americans to the deadly threat of domestic terrorism, nor in exposing vulnerabilities of American life. The epiphany was not of that sort. Rather … the bombing at Oklahoma City signaled the rise of a more guarded, more suspicious, more security-inclined America, of what can be called ‘a national psychology of fear.’”

Striking evidence of a preemptive, security-first mindset emerged soon after the bombing. Before dawn on May 20, 1995, authorities set up concrete barriers to detour vehicular traffic from two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue nearest the White House in Washington, D.C. The closure was ordered unilaterally, without notice or public debate. And it was permanent.

The capital grew bunker-like after 1995. An architecture of defensiveness became plainly visible and the numerous barriers and steel gates lent a shabby and wary look to the heart of Washington. The Washington Post observed years later that the Oklahoma City bombing “ended the capital’s life as an open city.”

Oklahoma City also re-exposed a deep flaw in American news coverage of sudden and dramatic major events: A tendency to indulge in latent stereotypes and to get it badly wrong.

In the hours after the bombing, suspicions fell squarely if vaguely on Middle East terrorism, and the news media rode that angle hard. Connie Chung, an anchor on CBS, declared, for example: “This is the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil ever. A U.S. government source has told CBS News that it has Middle East terrorism written all over it.”

Shock was thus palpable when, two days after the attack, McVeigh was arrested in the bombing and brought briefly before television cameras. The suspected terrorist was no foreigner. He was not from the Middle East. He was lanky, white, and American.


photo of W. Joseph CampbellW. Joseph Campbell is a professor at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C. He is the author of six books, including 1995: The Year The Future Began.


The Rhythms of History

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Historical Association conference in Denver, January 5-8. When sharing this post on social media, please be sure to use the hashtag #AHA17!


by Jeremy Davies, author of The Birth of the Anthropocene

The American Historical Association’s annual conference begins today, and the panel I’d most like to attend is no. 142, “The Anthropocene in History,” chaired by John McNeill (I wrote about Prof. McNeill’s most recent book here). Being used to more modestly-sized British conferences, I’ve never seen an academic conference panel take place in a ballroom, as the programme claims this one will.

It’s an interesting title: “The Anthropocene in History.” Does the proposed new “Anthropocene” epoch of geological time really belong inside history? Or, on the contrary, does historical time belong inside geological epochs like the Anthropocene? Or neither? Perhaps instead we should think of historical and geological time units as coupled to but distinct from one another: they might weave together like, well, dancing partners.

If y9780520289970ou’re like Jedediah Purdy, and think that the Anthropocene means “the end of the division between people and nature,” then for you the Anthropocene obviously isn’t a historical concept (because when exactly were people divided from “nature” in a way that they aren’t today?). But if you’re a geologist, and you think that the Anthropocene can be dated to the year 1952, then you’re at odds with normal conceptions of history in a different way. If the Anthropocene began in 1952 then the geological epoch that preceded it, the Holocene, must have lasted from 9700 BC to AD 1952. That’s a much, much longer and yet much more specific periodization than the ones historians are usually comfortable with (compare, say, the “Gilded Age”). And you’re implying that the Anthropocene itself might run from 1952 until—when? AD 13,604?

Either way, can the Anthropocene really be made to fit “in” history? I think that all depends on what you mean by history. The geologists’ idea of the Anthropocene suggests that the planet has changed so radically in the last few centuries that a whole new chapter of geological time has begun. That new beginning will still be recognisable through changes in the fossil record in hundreds of thousands of years from now.

In other words, although it used to be practical and convenient to study the geological history of the Earth in one corner of a university, and to go somewhere else to study “history” in the only sense that matters to 99% of the panels at the AHA conference, that’s no longer the case. Now, the two have started treading on each other’s toes.

So I’m glad that there’s a panel on the Anthropocene at the AHA. It won’t be easy for geologists and historians to end up in each other’s arms, intellectually speaking, but it might be worth it.

One of the panellists is Julia Adeney Thomas, the author of a brilliant essay arguing that if historians of the human-sized world must now start listening to the slow music of the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere, that means they’d better also tune in to the microscopic level as well. 90% of the cells in your body are actually bacterial rather than “human,” Thomas notes, and this “microbial part of us” alters “with such rapidity that the number of bacteria, in the right conditions, can double every twenty minutes.” I like the idea of a ballroom in which so many clashing rhythms might all be heard at once. But then I’ve never been much of a dancer.


Jeremy Davies teaches in the School of English at the University of Leeds. His book The Birth of the Anthropocene is available now. For more of his writing on the anthropocene era, please visit Made Ground.

The New World History and a Brief History of the AHA

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Historical Association conference in Denver, January 5-8. When sharing this post on social media, please be sure to use the hashtag #AHA17!


by Ross E. Dunn, one of the editors of The New World History: A Field Guide for Teachers and Researchers

Teaching and research in world history began to manifest the characteristics of an intellectual movement in the immediate decades after World War II. The broad aim of The New World History, which UC Press published a few months ago, is to survey that movement’s growth and diversification from the postwar period to the present, including numerous observations on the role of the American Historical Association in those developments. Our volume, a collection of forty-four essays plus introductory reflections, includes contributions from the movement’s early thinkers. Marshall G. S. Hodgson’s 1954 article on hemispheric interregional history, a seminal exposition of his distinctive way of thinking about the whole human past, appears in The New World History. In 1959, Philip Curtin, who is also represented in our book, founded the University of Wisconsin’s program in comparative tropical history, the first graduate world history program in the United States. Four years later, William McNeill published The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community. In an essay reprinted in The New World History, McNeill ponders that achievement and how he might have done it differently twenty-five years later. Hodgson, Curtin, McNeill, and other scholars greatly enlivened the prospects of world history as an academic field. In fact, Curtin served as president of the AHA in 1983 and McNeill in 1985.

9780520289895Since the 1980s, the movement has inspired or encouraged many new institutions and programs, new periodicals, new theoretical formulations, and new disciplinary innovations such as global environmental history, transnational history, and big history. The founding of the World History Association in 1982 was a singular development, and the AHA generously supported it. The AHA hosted one of the WHA’s earliest organizational meetings, and for many years members gathered at the AHA convention, holding a winter business meeting and sponsoring panels. The AHA has recently honored two WHA members with the association’s presidency, Ken Pomeranz in 2013 and Pat Manning in 2016. Several WHA members, including myself, are attending this year’s Denver conclave partly to hear Manning’s presidential address and to recognize his singular contribution to the world history movement. I’m proud of the fact that Pat and I started graduate school together in Phil Curtin’s “The World and the West” course at Wisconsin. The New World History naturally includes a piece of Pat’s work. It’s a selection from his essential book Navigating World History that elucidates the theory and methodology of comparative world history. In all, nine contributors to our volume are on the AHA program, presenting papers or chairing panels.


The New World History is a comprehensive volume of essays selected to enrich world history teaching and scholarship in this rapidly expanding field. The forty-four articles in this book take stock of the history, evolving literature, and current trajectories of new world history. These essays, together with the editors’ introductions to thematic chapters, encourage educators and students to reflect critically on the development of the field and to explore concepts, approaches, and insights valuable to their own work. The selections are organized in ten chapters that survey the history of the movement, the seminal ideas of founding thinkers and today’s practitioners, changing concepts of world historical space and time, comparative methods, environmental history, the “big history” movement, globalization, debates over the meaning of Western power, and ongoing questions about the intellectual premises and assumptions that have shaped the field.

Ross E. Dunn is Professor Emeritus of History at San Diego State University, author of The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century, and coauthor of Panorama: A World History.

Laura J. Mitchell is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, author of Belongings: Property, Family, and Identity in Colonial South Africa, and coauthor of Panorama: A World History.

Kerry Ward is Associate Professor of History at Rice University and author of Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company.