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Balkan Legacies: A Q&A with Balázs Apor and John Paul Newman

Balkan Legacies: A Q&A with Balázs Apor and John Paul Newman

June 7th, 2021

We talked to Balázs Apor and John Paul Newman, the editors of Balkan Legacies: The Long Shadow of Conflict and Ideological Experiment in Southeastern Europe.

Balkan Legacies is a study of the aftermath of war and state socialism in the contemporary Balkans. The authors look at the inescapable inheritances of the recent past and those that the present has to deal with.


Q: What was your main motivation for starting this project as editors?

Balázs Apor: The book was the product of a conference in Dublin that addressed the broad themes of memory and identity in Central and Eastern Europe. The conference had several excellent papers that focused on Southeastern Europe and reflected on very similar themes: the legacies of war and communism in the region. It seemed to us like an obvious decision to bring those papers together in a volume in which these issues are analyzed more systematically. We also wanted to offer a comprehensive coverage of the region, so we invited additional experts to contribute. We felt that academic publications on historical legacies in the Balkans either focus on the legacy of wars or the legacy of the communist dictatorship, but they rarely address the two jointly. The primary motivation behind the volume is to offer a joint discussion of the two formative legacies of the 20th Century in the Balkans and explore how they interact with each other.

John Paul Newman: It is exactly as Balazs says – we had organized this large conference in Dublin, and in the aftermath sat down together in a pub and discussed what impressed us about the many papers that we had heard. It was clear that there was some excellent work by established and early career scholars on the many aftermaths of conflict and socialism in the region. It was also clear to us that there existed a kind of Gordian memory knot: that people had certain ideas and attitudes about war, and the Second World War especially, and that people also had a set of ideas and attitudes about socialism – that these attitudes were often entangled, conflicting, and that if we addressed these together we might learn something about the contemporary history of the region. That is what we have set out to do in the book.

 

Q: This volume is titled Balkan Legacies, and you make effort in the introduction of the book to talk about the concept of “legacy” and why you’re exploring it, could you explain that some here?

Apor: The concept of “legacy” is an elusive one. It is used very often in academic discussions, but its meaning is often left vague. There are very few attempts to define what “historical legacy” actually means and how can scholars study them. Our goal with the book was to tap into the literature on historical legacies and offer a contribution to academic debates on the term. In our interpretation, legacies denote structures, ideas, trends, themes, and so on, that revive or endure after radical breaks in history. We also argue for the importance of studying different legacies jointly in order to be able to appreciate the myriad of ways in which they interact with each other. The recent history of Southeastern Europe – or the Balkans – is probably the best case to illustrate this point. The legacies of wars and dictatorships (communist or otherwise) fundamentally shaped social and political developments in the Balkans in the past century and they continue to exert an influence on contemporary societies.

Newman: I suppose we liked the way the idea of ‘legacies’ suggested deeper historical and institutional inheritances. Deeper, that is, than the usual ideas about the past that are articulated in the public sphere in Southeastern Europe. Here, war and socialism are of course extremely important topics, hot button issues in politics, culture, the media, as many of our contributors point out. But often what is said in public is at odds with the historical reality: present-day politicians, for example, are quick to disavow the socialist period in toto, to claim that the period was a parenthetical departure from the true course of the nation, or to claim that if there are still vestiges, this has to do with an ‘unfinished revolution’ that they and they alone can bring to completion. This is a far too common and far too superficial way of interpreting the past, and part of the choice behind the legacies concept was to show another way of thinking about these important issues.

 

BALKAN LEGACIES is available June 15, 2021.

 

Q: You also mention the effects of both long-lasting legacies (institutions, policies, behaviors, and attitudes) and short-term events (revolutions, wars, and violent coups d’état) on societies and legacies. What makes this volume’s take on this somewhat novel?

Apor: In the literature on historical legacies there is a tendency to focus on structures, institutions and long-term developments or phenomena. We argue that short-term events, including revolutions and wars may produce equally significant and enduring legacies. The book contains a healthy balance of case studies focusing on the legacies of short-terms events (wars) and chapters discussing the legacies of enduring structures (dictatorships). The collection of essays should provide the reader with an insight into how different types of legacies function and how they interact with each other.

Newman: Braudel and the doyens of the Annales School would be turning in their grave! But it is true: so many studies of Southeastern Europe have thought in terms of long-term economic, social, and cultural development, and related many of these to the legacies of the Ottoman empire. Of course the Ottoman empire is central to the history of the region, just as it is central to Europe more generally (and to North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia). But we also wanted to show that the complex legacies of more recent conflict and political projects were also central to the way Southeast European societies have taken shape in the 21st century. One of our points of departure was Tony Judt’s opus of European history since the end of the Second World War ‘Postwar’, in which he argues that the shadow of that conflict remained over Europe throughout the Cold War and beyond. We wanted to try to push that premise further in Southeastern Europe, asking that, if this was true, how would it manifest in a region that experienced civil conflict, invasion, occupation, revolution, in the course of these years.

 

Q: How is this volume organized and what are some of the specific subjects covered?

Apor: The volume consists of five thematic parts. The first part contains chapters reflecting on the legacies of wars with an emphasis on the legacy of World War II in Croatian nation-building, the use of the hajduk tradition in Serbian politics at the time of the Yugoslav succession wars, and the Civil War in Greece. The second and third parts of the book collect chapters addressing the legacies of communism. Part 2 focuses primarily on the political sphere in Romania, Albania and Bulgaria whereas the emphasis in Part 3 is on everyday practices and objects (holidays, song contests and Tito memorabilia) that often evoke nostalgic sentiments in present-day societies. Part 4 highlights the role of non-communist legacies in the Balkans with case studies reflecting on monarchical legacies in Bulgaria, the antiquisation campaign in Macedonia, and the importance of (purged) books in attempts to create a usable past in Croatia. The last part of the book focuses on the legacies of war and communism in minority groups, such as diaspora and ethnic minority communities, and disabled people.

Newman: I remember that this was one of the hardest parts of editing this book. We had such an amazing range of scholars, approaching our central questions from such a range of disciplines, and with such a range of topics, too. It was on us as editors to craft this into a thematically coherent book. I hope we have achieved this!

 

Q: What do you want someone reading of to leave with a better understanding of, or, what is the main goal of this project?

Apor: The main goal of this project is to highlight the complexity of historical legacies in the Balkans. Legacies may be short-term or longer-term, they may be invisible and un-reflected and they often interact with each other in a multiplicity of ways.

Newman: Obviously I hope the reader will understand that war and socialism have left important and enduring legacies on the region! But I hope they will understand that this has not happened monolithically, that societies are experiencing these legacies in very different ways, depending on a range of intersectional variables, geography, age, gender, race, religion, and so on. I hope too that, if they didn’t know this plain fact before, they will understand something of the social and cultural vibrancy of the region. Perhaps the reader will be introduced to the ideas and the work of scholars they had not known about before.


Thank you to Balázs Apor and John Paul Newman! If you would like to know more about this book you can order your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off this title and any other order by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


Eleanor Roosevelt, The Jewish Plight, and the Founding of Israel: Q&A with John F. Sears

May 13th, 2021

We talked to John F. Sears, the author of Refuge Must Be Given: Eleanor Roosevelt, the Jewish Plight, and the Founding of Israel, about his motivations for writing the book, some of the new subjects the books covers, and some other aspects of Eleanor Roosevelts legacy.

Refuge Must Be Given details the evolution of Eleanor Roosevelt from someone who harbored negative impressions of Jews to become a leading Gentile champion of Israel in the United States.


Q: What brought this part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy to your attention, and what motivated you to write a book on it?

John F. Sears: When I was associate editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, I helped edit ER’s correspondence from the period 1945 through 1948. In letters she exchanged with President Harry Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall in 1948 about the Truman administration’s position on the future of Palestine, I was struck by how passionately she advocated on behalf of the plan adopted by the UN to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. ER strongly objected to the Truman administration’s plan in March to pursue the establishment of a UN trusteeship for Palestine when the British mandate came to an end in May rather than push immediately for the implementation of the partition plan. I wanted to know the origins of her commitment to partition and of her devotion to Israel once it was established.

 

Q: Though Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps the most studied and popular first lady in American history, this part of her legacy has received little attention. Why do you think that is?

Sears: Good question. In the case of American refugee policy and the Holocaust, historians have focused extensively on FDR and the response of his administration. While they have noted (usually very briefly) that Eleanor Roosevelt advocated on behalf of refugees, she has been treated as a peripheral actor on this issue. In the case of the future of Palestine and Israel, liberals at the time were generally supportive, even enthusiastic about Israel’s founding and accomplishments. Politics have changed since the occupation of the West Bank, and many liberals today are critical of Israel. Perhaps that ER harbored stereotypes of Jews fairly late into her life, embraced Israel uncritically, and was unsympathetic to the Arab political stance on Israel are, for some people, jarring to her image as a great humanitarian. I myself found these topics challenging to deal with.

 

Decorative picture of book cover

 

Q: Eleanor Roosevelt certainly wasn’t always a champion of Judaism or Jewish people, as her views changed drastically over the course of her life. Why is understanding this evolution important in understanding her?

Sears: Eleanor Roosevelt grew up in an antisemitic society and absorbed the social antisemitism of her class. She gradually shed these attitudes as she worked closely with Jewish colleagues in addressing political and social issues. But even after she began campaigning against antisemitism, she continued to harbor stereotypes of Jews and to share the view that there was a “Jewish problem” that could be mitigated if Jews were distributed more widely geographically and among the professions. She does not appear to have completely shed this attitude until World War II or, perhaps, until the success of the Jews in establishing Israel created a different image of the Jew in American culture. But she firmly believed and repeatedly argued that everyone, whatever their religion, race, or ethnic background, was entitled to equal rights. She applied this principle to African Americans as well as to Jews.

ER was ahead of her time in many ways, including in her evolving attitude toward Jews. But it is important to understand that just as many Americans today have recently become more aware of how they continue to harbor racist stereotypes, despite their opposition to racism, ER’s rejection of antisemitism had not completely banished the old Jewish stereotypes from her consciousness. Prejudice is deeply embedded in our culture and not easily rooted out of our minds, even when we strive to do so.

 

Q: What are a few things that are being studied for the first time in this book?

Sears: Eleanor Roosevelt’s partnership with Clarence Pickett, executive director of the American Friends Service Committee, in advocating for the admission of more refugees, both Jewish and Christian, to the United States. The two of them also tried to educate the American public about the contributions refugees made to the country, and they sought to welcome refugees and care for them once they arrived in this country. As honorary chairman of the United States Committee for the Care of European Children, ER had a special concern for unaccompanied child refugees. She and Pickett also fought against antisemitism, which was rampant in the United States at the time.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts to prod Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to speed up the visa process and to facilitate the issuing of visas to applicants who were having difficulty obtaining one. Welles was widely seen as sympathetic to refugees, unlike most of his colleagues in the State Department, but he was captive to the bureaucratic system and to his own rigid personality. He failed to challenge his colleagues regarding the slowness of the visa process and insisted to ER that it was functioning well.

The evolution of Eleanor Roosevelt’s views on the future of Palestine and her ultimate commitment to the establishment of a Jewish state.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s attitude toward the Palestinian Arabs, who, she felt, had wrongly opposed the United Nations plan to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. ER sympathized with the Arab refugees and advocated for their care and resettlement. She regarded the Arab refusal to recognize Israel, negotiate a peace, and resettle the refugees in other Arab countries, however, as the principal cause of ongoing conflict.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s role as World Patron of Youth Aliyah, the organization that brought unaccompanied children to Palestine and later Israel and trained them to become productive citizens and nation builders. ER traveled to Israel four times and toured Youth Aliyah training centers and youth villages. She was fascinated by the various educational strategies employed by Youth Aliyah to integrate newly arrived child immigrants into a unified national culture. She also raised funds for Hadassah, Youth Aliyah’s major sponsor, and visited Hadassah medical facilities when she was in Israel.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s warm relationship with Israel and admiration for its leaders. ER regarded the energy and innovative way Israel approached its own development and the education of children as a model for other newly independent nations to emulate. “There is no country as exciting as Israel,” she said.

 

Q: In an ideal world, how would you like this book to affect ER’s legacy?

Sears: I hope readers will continue to admire Eleanor Roosevelt for the extraordinary leader she was, but gain a more complete and complex understanding of her views and achievements, including her shortcomings. Throughout her career, ER partnered with American Jews in addressing issues she cared deeply about, including refugees, religious tolerance, the civil rights of African Americans, child welfare, public health, and human rights. ER’s devotion to Israel was in many ways the culmination of that career. Yet many people, including Jews, are unaware of ER’s role during the founding of Israel and her ongoing relationship with the new nation. I hope Refuge Must Be Given will illuminate this important chapter in ER’s long and productive life.


Thank you to John! If you would like to know more about this book you can order your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off this title and any other order by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


Studying a Pioneer of Modern Weather Forecasting: Q&A with Jonathan E. Martin

February 22nd, 2021

We talked to Jonathan E. Martin, the author of Reginald Sutcliffe and the Invention of Modern Weather Systems Science.

Reginald Sutcliffe and the Invention of Modern Weather Systems Science recounts the life and scientific contributions of Reginald Sutcliffe, an understudied and underappreciated pioneer of modern weather forecasting.


Q: What motivated you to spend this amount of time documenting Reginald Sutcliffe’s life and accomplishments?

Jonathan E. Martin: When I was first hired at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994, my first assignment was teaching a senior undergraduate course in synoptic-dynamic meteorology – the study of the theory and observations of mid-latitude weather systems.  It was a dream come true since the phenomenology of these storms had fascinated me since childhood and my education and research experience to date had only heightened my enthusiasm for them as it had revealed to me their wondrous physical and dynamical nature.  As I prepared my notes for the course I was to teach that fall, it became clear that Sutcliffe had singularly elucidated the fundamental dynamics of the development of these cyclones, a process known as cyclogenesis, as well as the dynamical explanation for the coincidence of the characteristic frontal zones of such storms and the production of the clouds and precipitation associated with them.  This was the whole franchise of modern weather systems science and it had seemingly sprung from the mind of a single scientist in the late 1930s.  I was struck by the discrepancy between the importance of these contributions to modern understanding of weather systems (which informed the subsequent great advance in numerical weather prediction) and the relatively low profile of the man who had brought them forth.  Twenty years later a sabbatical afforded me the opportunity to begin examining Sutcliffe’s life in detail and perhaps remedy this unjust set of circumstances.

 

Q: When researching for this project were there any surprises that significantly altered your view on Sutcliffe or his legacy?

Martin: The core of my interest in Sutcliffe was his seeming monopoly on fundamental contributions to understanding mid-latitude weather systems juxtaposed with an incongruous obscurity as a scientist.  Nothing in the research that went into the book altered that basic view.  Nonetheless, it was surprising to discover that he was not interested in weather as a boy and, in fact, turned to the Meteorological Office upon graduating with his Ph.D. in Mathematics because there were virtually no other options at the time.  The Meteorological Office officially discouraged research and so a very talented Ph.D. in math was set to really boring tasks in the largely unscientific approach to weather forecasting then employed at the Office.  How, despite such intellectually suffocating circumstances, young Sutcliffe began to wriggle free and eventually elevate the forecasting enterprise to a hard science is an inspiring story.  Another unexpected aspect of Sutcliffe’s intellectual life was that he was a persistent skeptic of numerical weather prediction, perhaps the most unheralded scientific advance of the late 20th century.  Throughout the 1950s, when the enterprise was in its infancy, his main complaint was that it was not as good as what could be rendered by deep knowledge and expert judgement.  This was indeed the case and remained so for a good part of his professional career.  His perspective was sweeping; at the beginning of his career forecasting was a truly unscientific activity.  Then his own contributions elevated it to something much more rigorous.  It seems as though his skepticism was rooted in a frustration that too large a share of forecasting research effort in the 1950s focused on the computer, which was still quite limited.  He commented more than a couple of times later in his life that he thought the computer came too early – implying that important conceptual and theoretical work might have been displaced by an emphasis on tool development.

 

REGINALD SUTCLIFFE AND THE INVENTION OF MODERN WEATHER SYSTEMS SCIENCE is out March 15, 2021

 

Q: The availability of an accurate forecast and our ability to check it is no small feat, yet it has become so routine it is almost taken for granted. What kind of challenge does this provide in touting the accomplishments of someone like Sutcliffe?

Martin: My experience has long suggested to me that most people have some level of interest in the weather.  In fact, I’d venture to guess that meteorology, in the form of weather forecasting especially, is the physical science with which the general public makes is most frequent and familiar contact.  By extension, I imagine that a good number of us who benefit from the easy availability of accurate forecast information probably harbor a companion desire to know something more about where it comes from – to peer behind the curtain a little.  To the extent that such a desire does exist in some segment of the population, I think it provides motivation for coming to know Sutcliffe, his life and his influential accomplishments.  In fact, given the increasing profile of weather and climate issues in the public consciousness, this may the perfect time to begin telling the stories of the pioneers, like Sutcliffe, who helped fashion the modern scientific infrastructure upon which so much of our current predictive capability is built.

 

Q: In the preface of the book you mention that Sutcliffe’s life, in many ways, “was unusually illustrative of the progress often associated with the century in which it was lived”. What do you mean by this?

Martin: The pace of progress in the 75 years since the end of WWII probably exceeds that of any other period in human history regarding advances in medicine, physical science, social issues, technology, and a host of other human endeavors.  Sutcliffe was born into a world where children were still working in factories as opposed to getting a basic education, male life expectancy in Britain was 50, and a reasonably reliable weather forecast hardly existed for the next day.  By the end of his life, child labor was nearly non-existent in the West, a typical British man could expect to live until 74, and outlooks as long as 5-7 days were as routinely accurate as the 1-day forecast had been in 1905. Sutcliffe himself was an agent of substantial change despite the catastrophic interruption to his professional life imposed by the war.  Like so many of his generation, he answered the call to duty without hesitation or complaint, served admirably, and went about rebuilding the world upon returning to civilian life.  I believe that the progress that was made in so many dimensions in the post-war world was a direct result of the intestinal fortitude of men and women whose perspective on civic duty and citizenship mirrored Sutcliffe’s.


Thank you to Jonathan! If you would like to know more about this book you can order your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off this title and any other order by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


Veterinary Science and Infectious Plagues: A Q&A with Norman F. Cheville

February 19th, 2021

We talked to Norman F. Cheville, the author of Pioneer Science and the Great Plagues: How Microbes, War, and Public Health Shaped Animal Health.

Pioneer Science and the Great Plagues covers a century of progress fighting infectious diseases and plagues, illuminating the important role of veterinary research and science.


Q: What was your impetus for writing this book and studying this subject?

Norman F. Cheville: A mystery existed about why America trailed Europe by a full century—from the 1760s to the 1860s—in building science-based veterinary colleges to educate for animal health care. Why? No historian had ever explained that. Turns out, veterinary colleges in Europe has been stimulated by rampant infectious disease, many of them zoonoses—diseases transmissible from animals to humans. Yet in North America, there was a century-long delay. Did it arise from public ignorance of microbes, from national energies miss-directed to war, or from the fraudulent veterinarians working in rural frontiers? There had to be a story there.

Then a celebratory editorial in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association had things backwards; an employee of the National Library of Medicine had written that medicine in North America had been the model for veterinary education. The writer had ignored not only the rich practical science culture but also the difficult but creative contributions to veterinary science in rural America and Canada. In seeking the historical facts, it appeared that much of the history of veterinary medicine has been ignored. In the beginning, I wanted to correct that and to include the important seminal contributions of pioneering scientists who I believed had been left out in the story, e.g., Heinrich Janssen Detmers and Rush Shippen Huidekoper. In progressing, a remarkable historical tableau emerged that drove the remainder of the book on how microbes, war, and public health had changed animal health care in North America.

 

Q: When you started writing this project you may not have expected it to be as topical as it now is. What are some of the most striking parallels between the plagues you talk about in the book and the pandemic we’re facing today?

Cheville: From the start, it was clear that the great plagues occurred in cycles that were driven by national economies, idiosyncrasies of political cultures, and wars. It was also soon clear that in responding to pandemics, the answers provided by science had to be translated into action – a translation that required journalists, informed politicians, and responsible pharmaceutical business; it has been the task of these groups to lead the public into acceptance of social behavior change including use of drugs and vaccines. Early successful scientists had been connected to some form of public information where the press, politicians, and heads of state drove effective actions. At the beginning of the era, the political talents of Jenner (smallpox), Pasteur (fowl cholera, anthrax, and rabies), Koch (tuberculosis), and Virchow (trichinosis) convinced the public and had been the key to their successes. In each succeeding plague cycle, some scientist or science group appeared to fulfill that mission. Virchow solved the problem of trichinosis in pigs in Germany by providing the science behind trichinosis in pork and the on-farm methods to prevent it; he had connections with the Reichstag to implement regulations and laws to mandate action. In America, unlike our early response to the COVID-19 disaster, some plagues led to effective responses. In the first decade of the 20th century food safety for humans appeared because of a scientist, a journalist, and a Congress who understood their responsibility to establish the Food and Drug Administration. For animals of that decade, scientists provided the vaccination method for the disastrous pandemic of hog cholera, the federal government, the research impetus, and the state legislatures (most of them at least) provided the funds and production facilities to stop the disease. Succeeding pandemics of influenza, poliomyelitis, and the prion diseases followed the same pattern. The importance of all this is that when journalists, legislators, or heads of state fail in this scheme, disaster ensues.

What emerged in writing this book was that distortion of veterinary science and education was occurring from two idiosyncrasies of culture – disbelief in science and distrust of government. Spreading misinformation and downright lies, people in these misinformation cults spawned scientology, creationism, anti-vaccination movements, astrology, and other anti-science scams. All of these scalawags were having destructive impacts on science in general and on veterinary medicine in particular. There were other bogeymen – fraudulent veterinarians, scientists that published fake data, dishonest entrepreneurs, and other latter-day snake oil salesmen. The anti-science stance of a disturbing percentage of the public arises from avoiding logic and rational analysis in solving what is basically a science problem. Underlying much of this mischief are the prejudices of the more misinformed segments of human cults of various kinds.

All of this is part of a scary anti-science and anti-government philosophy that has been growing since the 1960s and has been severely exacerbated by the internet and its lack of control.  Failure of the federal government to take command of this issue has allowed COVID-19 to spread throughout the nation before serious efforts of mitigation were finally begun. This is in striking contrast to the outbreak of smallpox in New York City at the end of World War II; then the nation was educated by the presidents, governors, mayors and public health departments; the public was responsive to the needed behaviors, and together acted immediately to prevent spread, vaccinate the population, and track spreaders. Because of our anti-science and anti-authoritarian beliefs (that are now being disguised at some loopy faux patriotism), we have become victims of pandemic viruses. It will get worse unless we correct this nonsense.

Q: As you put it, disbelief in science and distrust in government may be the two largest impediments to the advancements you outline in the book. From the 1860s to now, what do you think makes these so pervasive?

Cheville: There are several factors, the most important of which seems to be the tone set by those in charge. Presidents, state governors, and local leaders must take the steps and walk the walk of responsibility to keep the public informed and educated about the steps that must be taken: surveillance of global infections, monitoring for spread, social behavioral changes that prevent spread, and scientific research that expands production of vaccines and drugs. This often involved subtle communications and seeing that the public is informed correctly. A lethal move is the political re-direction or re-interpretation of science data. In recent times there is the need to regulate the internet, making it conform to public standards of truth – just as newspapers were forced to do in the early 20th century. Today, this is the major route for misinformation and anti-science cults to spread fake news. There is a persistent phony mentality that drives many of these cults, most based upon ignorance and expediencies of money, land, and material things that override the needs for the public good. These scams can only persist when there are deficits in public education. Any lack of a rigorous and demanding educational curriculum for teaching civics, government, science, and propaganda analysis in our primary and secondary schools provides fertile soil for cults.

 

Q: You write at the start of the preface of the book, “Animal health care in North America evolved from farriers and itinerant cow leeches to science-based veterinary medicine in one century, from 1860 to 1960.” When doing your research, what struck you most about the advancement of this era?

Cheville: It was a time when social responsibility moved to regulate the expanding economy. Reforms of the early 20th century regulated dangerous business habits that had spread not only plagues of infectious diseases but episodes of food adulteration and uncontrolled toxic disposals. These reforms gave us the safe nation in which we now live. The demands of regulated capitalism was co-incident with societal reform that promoted education and science. It was a time of public acceptance of science. There was less opportunity for those struggling with personality disorders/mental illness to seriously harm society.

 

Q: You end the book with an epilogue and changes since 1960 with emphasis on a growth in public distrust; how about the future?

Cheville: Things may seem dark at the moment, but there is hope. It takes time, but we will correct our mistakes through education and correction of misinformation, and by regulating the unrestricted falsification of public information. As to Veterinary Medicine and animal health care, these changes have been maintained. The book documents a striking and direct impact of change: the complete reversal in the acceptance of women as veterinary scientists. Not permitted to study for the profession in early times, women veterinary graduates exploded after World War II from near 0 in 1960 to nearly 90% in 2000. This remarkable change doubled the intellectual power of the profession. The change was coincident with an emerging spiritual aura of empathy and responsibility – an understanding of how animal behavior and human-animal connections change when biology goes awry. For the veterinarian, professional responsibilities expanded. One of the remarkable books of the period was James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. It represented the era; scratch away the beautiful Yorkshire dales, the funny humanistic stories, and the cleverness of the writing, the reader is still left with a continuing theme of empathy of the human-animal bond – dealing with animal cruelty in a global production system, with the ecologic health of free-ranging terrestrial mammals in the wild, with dolphins and fish that must be saved from toxic tides in oceanic environments, and of protecting wild birds from suffering infections, starvation and lead poisoning along their intercontinental flyways. Knowledge and skill dedicated to healing animals of many species in a variety of environmental settings provided an unspoken but protective spiritual bond that leads to public trust.


Thank you to Norman! If you would like to know more about this book you can order your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off this title and any other order by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


Recovering the Stories of Early Women Pilots: A Q&A with Fred Erisman

December 18th, 2020

We talked to Fred Erisman, the author of In Their Own Words: Forgotten Women Pilots of Early Aviation.

In Their Own Words takes up the writings of eight women pilots as evidence of the ties between the growth of American aviation and the changing role of women.


Q: What was your main goal in undertaking this project?

Fred Erisman: I’m aiming at recovering and calling attention to some largely unknown or little-examined documents of women’s history. The eight women I discuss are known to aviation historians, but, with the exception of Earhart and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, are otherwise invisible to the larger public. The writings they left behind – Journalism, autobiography, fiction, etc. – help to expand our understanding of the women’s movement throughout its twentieth­-century history. The works give a new window through which to examine the relationship of women and aviation, how women of five decades came to grips with recurring issues of women’s rights and abilities, and how women (as opposed to men) viewed aeronautical technology and the airplane.

In the case of Louise Thaden and Ruth Nichols, their forays into fiction give readers yet another way to see and reflect on how two notable women viewed aviation, the times, and the future. One created an aeronautical dystopia and the other an American aviation utopia, yet both embraced the belief that flight was a special, even purifying, endeavor.

 

Q: Which of these aviators were new to you? Were there any stories that were particularly surprising/impressive?

Erisman: I have to point to the two Ruths – Ruth Law and Ruth Nichols. The more I learned of them the more impressed I became. Ruth Law was among the earliest of the record-setters (1916), made her living as a pilot, expressed what I have to believe was a genuine desire to join the military, and took real pride in being allowed to wear the trousered uniform of the U.S. Army. (This was 20 years before Earhart’s penchant for trousers caused twittering among the public.) Her writings make a strong case for women’s being in the military and, more generally, their calls for being treated on an equal plane with men.

Ruth Nichols impressed me with her vision of an American aeronautical paradise as reflected in her unfinished novel, Sky Girl, and with her early recognition of space as the next “aeronautical” frontier confronting women. At age 58 she presented herself to the American space program and proceeded to blow away tests judging her tolerance for g-forces, weightlessness, and sensory deprivation. She was an outspoken supporter of women in space until shortly before her death, and gives readers a new slant on what constitutes the “right stuff.”

 

 

Q: Do you think the stories of these women and have the potential to ring true even now? Any in particular that you remember?

Erisman: Unquestionably. The stories of these eight pilots are stories of hope, aspiration, challenge, and competency – issues as applicable to the women of today as they are to those of the teens, 20s, or 30s. It just happens that these women chose to face the challenge of a new technology, a profession that had become male-dominated (by default as much as by design), and a society that almost daily was having to adapt to a changing world.

These are all “airplane” stories. Change the specifics, retain the challenges, and they are as pertinent for women of the twenty-first century as they were for those of the twentieth. There is very little distance between our admiring them for all they did, and our admiration for Tammie Jo Shults and the aviation skills that help her to pilot her southwest Airlines 737 to safety after its explosive decompression. The challenges of flying remain, whether in mastering the stick-and-wire craft of early aviation or the sophisticated craft flown by today’s commercial and military pilots.

 

 

Q: Few if any of these aviators identified with the feminist/suffragist movements of their time (you mention this in the introduction of the book), but they all seemed to take their own route advocating for women’s causes, why do you think this is?

Erisman: They were stout believers in the equality and ability of women, but were realists about the mechanisms of change. They all recognized that the profession they loved was male-dominated. They also recognized that it was an individualistic one, in which women could be as effective acting singly as they might be in groups. Aviation was an area where male-female equality could easily and visibly be established; it was much easier for a capable woman aviator to show competence in the cockpit than in business or politics. They chose to stick with the world they knew and demonstrate their capabilities there. A widely expressed goal among the women pilots of the 1920s was “eliminating sex from aviation.” They wanted to be judged as pilots who were women, rather than women pilots.

They had no quarrel with the established movements. Earhart gradually gave them her endorsement, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh became an outspoken women’s advocate late in her career. They simply believed that they could do as well – or better – by going their own way.

 

Q: So it seems aviation provided a unique opportunity for the advancement of women’s causes. Do you feel that these women were able to capitalize on that?

Erisman: Here, too, the answer is “undeniably.” The very novelty of the airplane worked to put the eight in the spotlight, but none of them was shy about using her association with flight to call attention to specific accomplishments or challenges. There were proud of their achievements as women – not necessarily because they were sticking a thumb in men’s eyes, but because they were advancing the public conception and understanding of their gender’s possibilities. That their work related to the larger picture of male/female relations was a bonus.

Harriet Quimby was a journalist, Earhart was married to a publicity genius, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh was married to a celebrity; all three had ready access to means of capitalizing on their deeds and emphasizing their role(s) as women. Without aviation, Katherine Stinson likely would have ended up a Mississippi piano teacher, Louise Thaden the manager of a Kansas coal­ distributing business, and Ruth Nichols a debutante fishing about for a “good marriage.” Each made much more of herself, solely and entirely through aviation.


Thank you to Fred! If you would like to know more about this book you order your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off this title and any other order  by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


Recovering the Stories of Early Women Pilots: A Q&A with Fred Erisman

December 18th, 2020

We talked to Fred Erisman, the author of In Their Own Words: Forgotten Women Pilots of Early Aviation.

In Their Own Words takes up the writings of eight women pilots as evidence of the ties between the growth of American aviation and the changing role of women.


Q: What was your main goal in undertaking this project?

Fred Erisman: I’m aiming at recovering and calling attention to some largely unknown or little-examined documents of women’s history. The eight women I discuss are known to aviation historians, but, with the exception of Earhart and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, are otherwise invisible to the larger public. The writings they left behind – Journalism, autobiography, fiction, etc. – help to expand our understanding of the women’s movement throughout its twentieth­-century history. The works give a new window through which to examine the relationship of women and aviation, how women of five decades came to grips with recurring issues of women’s rights and abilities, and how women (as opposed to men) viewed aeronautical technology and the airplane.

In the case of Louise Thaden and Ruth Nichols, their forays into fiction give readers yet another way to see and reflect on how two notable women viewed aviation, the times, and the future. One created an aeronautical dystopia and the other an American aviation utopia, yet both embraced the belief that flight was a special, even purifying, endeavor.

 

Q: Which of these aviators were new to you? Were there any stories that were particularly surprising/impressive?

Erisman: I have to point to the two Ruths – Ruth Law and Ruth Nichols. The more I learned of them the more impressed I became. Ruth Law was among the earliest of the record-setters (1916), made her living as a pilot, expressed what I have to believe was a genuine desire to join the military, and took real pride in being allowed to wear the trousered uniform of the U.S. Army. (This was 20 years before Earhart’s penchant for trousers caused twittering among the public.) Her writings make a strong case for women’s being in the military and, more generally, their calls for being treated on an equal plane with men.

Ruth Nichols impressed me with her vision of an American aeronautical paradise as reflected in her unfinished novel, Sky Girl, and with her early recognition of space as the next “aeronautical” frontier confronting women. At age 58 she presented herself to the American space program and proceeded to blow away tests judging her tolerance for g-forces, weightlessness, and sensory deprivation. She was an outspoken supporter of women in space until shortly before her death, and gives readers a new slant on what constitutes the “right stuff.”

 

 

Q: Do you think the stories of these women and have the potential to ring true even now? Any in particular that you remember?

Erisman: Unquestionably. The stories of these eight pilots are stories of hope, aspiration, challenge, and competency – issues as applicable to the women of today as they are to those of the teens, 20s, or 30s. It just happens that these women chose to face the challenge of a new technology, a profession that had become male-dominated (by default as much as by design), and a society that almost daily was having to adapt to a changing world.

These are all “airplane” stories. Change the specifics, retain the challenges, and they are as pertinent for women of the twenty-first century as they were for those of the twentieth. There is very little distance between our admiring them for all they did, and our admiration for Tammie Jo Shults and the aviation skills that help her to pilot her southwest Airlines 737 to safety after its explosive decompression. The challenges of flying remain, whether in mastering the stick-and-wire craft of early aviation or the sophisticated craft flown by today’s commercial and military pilots.

 

 

Q: Few if any of these aviators identified with the feminist/suffragist movements of their time (you mention this in the introduction of the book), but they all seemed to take their own route advocating for women’s causes, why do you think this is?

Erisman: They were stout believers in the equality and ability of women, but were realists about the mechanisms of change. They all recognized that the profession they loved was male-dominated. They also recognized that it was an individualistic one, in which women could be as effective acting singly as they might be in groups. Aviation was an area where male-female equality could easily and visibly be established; it was much easier for a capable woman aviator to show competence in the cockpit than in business or politics. They chose to stick with the world they knew and demonstrate their capabilities there. A widely expressed goal among the women pilots of the 1920s was “eliminating sex from aviation.” They wanted to be judged as pilots who were women, rather than women pilots.

They had no quarrel with the established movements. Earhart gradually gave them her endorsement, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh became an outspoken women’s advocate late in her career. They simply believed that they could do as well – or better – by going their own way.

 

Q: So it seems aviation provided a unique opportunity for the advancement of women’s causes. Do you feel that these women were able to capitalize on that?

Erisman: Here, too, the answer is “undeniably.” The very novelty of the airplane worked to put the eight in the spotlight, but none of them was shy about using her association with flight to call attention to specific accomplishments or challenges. There were proud of their achievements as women – not necessarily because they were sticking a thumb in men’s eyes, but because they were advancing the public conception and understanding of their gender’s possibilities. That their work related to the larger picture of male/female relations was a bonus.

Harriet Quimby was a journalist, Earhart was married to a publicity genius, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh was married to a celebrity; all three had ready access to means of capitalizing on their deeds and emphasizing their role(s) as women. Without aviation, Katherine Stinson likely would have ended up a Mississippi piano teacher, Louise Thaden the manager of a Kansas coal­ distributing business, and Ruth Nichols a debutante fishing about for a “good marriage.” Each made much more of herself, solely and entirely through aviation.


Thank you to Fred! If you would like to know more about this book you order your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off this title and any other order  by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


On Many Routes: A Q&A with Annemarie Steidl

December 7th, 2020

We talked to Annemarie Steidl, the author of On Many Routes: Internal, European, and Transatlantic Migration in the Late Habsburg Empire.

On Many Routes is about the history of human migration. With a focus on the Habsburg Empire, this innovative work presents an integrated and creative study of spatial mobilities: from short to long term, and intranational and inter-European to transatlantic.


Q: What is the main goal of this project, and what motivated you to write it?

Annemarie Steidl: The main goal of the book is to contextualize transatlantic migrations from the Habsburg Empire to the United States of America before World War I with the high spatial mobility in the Habsburg Empire to other European regions. Up to five million people from Late Imperial Austria and the kingdom of Hungary went overseas. However, more Austrian and Hungarian nationals moved from western parts of the kingdom to Lower Austria or from the province of Galicia to the grain fields in the German Reich.

I started the yearlong project with an analysis of transatlantic ship passenger manifests from the Norddeutsche Lloyd in Bremen and from the Hamburg America Line. During the research it became obvious that the route to the Americas was only one of various migration routes that people from Austria-Hungary took during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Q: How did you define “migration” and why did you make this distinction?

Steidl: In this book I define migration in its widest sense. This includes all changes of residence irrespective of distance moved or duration of any given stay. A broad definition of migration is one that includes all permanent or semi-permanent changes of residence with no restriction on distance moved. It can describe short-term and permanent changes of residence, as well as patterns of seasonal, circular, or permanent mobility, such as vagrants or traveling people. The term “migration” is applied to international and administrative border crossings, as well as short-distance and transoceanic movements.

Modern territorial states and their bureaucracies create categories like internal and international migration, because administrators need of clear guidelines by which to classify migrants in order to document, tally, and ultimately officially manage these individuals. These administrative classification systems not only obscure the complex daily practices that comprise migration, but diminish the term migration itself by defining it in terms of the state. In order to overcome nationally confined approaches, we have to plead for an open and integrative definition of migration that allows for the incorporation of international and continental as well as temporary movements like seasonal migrations within rural regions, the movement of agricultural servants from villages to towns, and those of traveling artisans and highly mobile soldiers during wartime. New approaches call for an integration of mobility studies concepts and migration research, which would help to loosen strong current associations between the term migration and nation-state logic. This can broaden our understanding of spatial mobility as a fundamental aspect of social life.

 

 

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about migration in this area that you were able to dispel? Or shed a more clear light on?

Steidl: Traditional research on transatlantic migration from the Habsburg Empire most often only focused on one direction – from the empire to overseas – and broadly neglected high mobility rates. Studies on spatial mobility within Imperial Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary, as well as seasonal migrations to the German Empire, Switzerland, or the Romanian Kingdom, were not studied with the transcontinental moves. However, a local study of migration patterns of people from Vorarlberg, the westernmost part of Imperial Austria, gives a clearer picture of these dynamics. Since the late sixteenth century people from the Bregenzerwald and Montafon travelled to German speaking areas in the Southwest, like Alsace Lorrain and as far as Paris, France, mostly as temporary construction workers. These people were well connected, with information networks in the German and French speaking world. In addition, Vorarlberg’s textile production was part of a greater network in Switzerland around St. Gallen. Weavers and their families used to move back and forth within this greater region. It is no surprise that Vorarlbergers were among the first to leave for the new continent through French Harbors in the first half of the nineteenth century, as they already had migration experiences within families and circles of friends.

Traditional migration experiences increased the likelihood of transatlantic migration during the nineteenth century, while other traditions of spatial mobility coexisted. Mobility rates were already high before new transportation and communication technologies were introduced during industrialization. The building of railroads, increased use of steamships, stable communication with regions overseas through mail, and bank services contributed to the enormous growth of transatlantic mobility rates since the 1880s. During the second half of the nineteenth century Vorarlberg’s textile production flourished and provided many jobs for Italian speaking women and men from Trento and other northern Italian regions across the border. While we saw an in-migration from other Habsburg Provinces and the Kingdom of Italy, Vorarlberg’s textile entrepreneurs moved whole factories overseas to New York and New Jersey, taking many of their laborers with them. Vorarlberg was neither a region of emigration nor immigration, rather a province with a high turnover, with people coming and going.

In the last decades before World War I, most Habsburg transatlantic migrants originated from economically weaker provinces such as Galicia, the northwestern areas of the Hungarian Kingdom, and Mediterranean coastal regions in the south of the empire. Due to this most historical research focused on economic distress as the main cause for leaving one’s home country. However, as is the case in Vorarlberg and other prosperous regions of the Habsburg Empire, people more often left for chances in the United States labor market rather than because of abject poverty. These men and women were attracted to America by an incredibly fast-growing economy, new opportunities: cheap land and well-paid jobs in heavy industry, mines, and urban factories.

Q: Why study migration in this manner? What does it tell us about these people?

Steidl: This book deals with a lot of numbers and its analysis is mostly based on statistical data: population censuses in Late Imperial Austria, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the United States of America, ship passenger manifests from the Norddeutsche Lloyd and the Hamburg America Line, as well as local surveys on spatially mobile people. The Habsburg Empire stretched over more than 676,600 square kilometers and, in 1910, housed more than 51 million people who spoke more than ten official languages, followed different denominations and religions, were part of different social classes, and inhabited economically heterogeneous provinces, counties, and smaller regions. The intention of the mostly macro-level focus and quantitative methodical approach was to link migrations of all Habsburg regions to economic, social, and cultural characteristics. This way, I was able to cultivate a more complete understanding of the timing, selectivity, and nature of various migration patterns. I am well aware that this is a rather poor substitute for everyday practices of people living and migrating in the Habsburg Empire. Whenever possible, statistical result will be illustrated by local and individual examples. However, even this flawed evidence offers indication of the extent to which individuals were mobile in the past and that migration was a common experience for a large portion of the population in Late Imperial Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. Some questions can only be answered by numbers.


Thank you to Annemarie! If you would like to know more about this book you can get your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off these titles and any other Purdue University Press book by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


Guiding Patients and Caregivers on Their Parkinson’s Journey: Q&A with Lianna Marie

October 13th, 2020

We talked to Lianna Marie, the author of two new Purdue University Press books, The Complete Guide for People With Parkinson’s Disease and Their Loved Ones and Everything You Need to Know About Caregiving for Parkinson’s Disease.

The Complete Guide serves as the go-to book for comprehensive, easy-to-understand information for all Parkinson’s patients and their loved ones, and Everything You Need to Know provides an essential resource full of useful information for all caregivers of those with Parkinson’s disease.


Q: What about your experience as a caregiver motivated you write these books?

Lianna Marie: My greatest motivation for writing these books was a conversation I had with my mom in her fifteenth year of living with Parkinson’s. She told me back then she wished there was more information available to help her understand and deal with her disease as it was progressing, and written in a way that she could understand (i.e., without medical jargon).

At that point, no one had told us how powerful music could be in helping her mobility, or that there are reasons not to join a support group (there are definitely pros to joining one, but there are also cons), or that sometimes symptoms could disappear just by being really happy. We chatted about these and other useful tips she had learned about living with the disease, and shortcuts she had figured out on her own.

Mom told me she wished she had known these tips earlier, that someone living with the disease could have helped make her life easier, sooner. As a daughter, caregiver, and writer, I felt I could help others like my mom by writing a book that offered practical tips and answered the most pressing questions of someone living with the disease.

 

Q: How important do you feel it is for patients and family members to get this type of information early? What kind of things does your book provide for those in all parts of their Parkinson’s journey?

Marie: Being informed, or “Parkinson’s literate,” as my neurologist friends say, is imperative not only for people with Parkinson’s but their care partners as well. Having an understanding of the diagnosis process, the motor and non-motor symptoms, as well as other facets of the disease and how they may affect you, is essential to learn early on so you can make more informed treatment decisions.

Both books aim to walk a person affected by PD from diagnosis to the end-stages of the disease and give practical information and tips on how to manage the various challenges that a person with Parkinson’s may face.

 

Marie’s THE COMPLETE GUIDE serves as a comprehensive guide to Parkinson’s patients and their loved ones.

 

Q: What convinced you to take a whole book to concentrate on the experience of the caregiver?

Marie: The caregiving book resulted from many years of witnessing the toll caring for someone with Parkinson’s can have on a person if they don’t have the right help and tools. It was initially inspired by my stepdad, who, while caring for my mom in the later stages of Parkinson’s, unfortunately, neglected to care for himself and suffered burnout and significant health issues. Additionally, I learned (through trial and error) many things about how to better care for my mom and wanted to help others save time and energy by putting them all together in an easy to read book.

My ultimate goal is to help caregivers feel less alone and give them hope that they can make it through this often challenging Parkinson’s journey with their loved one.

 

Q: What are you trying to provide with these books that those affected by this disease can’t find elsewhere?

Marie: I am amazed at how little information is out there written by people who have first-hand experience with Parkinson’s disease. Most books, as my mom pointed out when she was first diagnosed in the 1990s, are written by doctors, and often don’t deal enough with the specific day-to-day issues people with PD want help with. Through my AllAboutParkinsons.com website and Facebook page, I’ve been able to ask thousands of people with Parkinson’s what their most significant challenges are, how they’ve coped with these challenges, and address them head-on.

 

Q: What are some steps you’ve taken with the books to make this information as accessible as possible for patients and caregivers?

Marie: By listening to my readers over the past many years, I’ve learned what topics are most important and made sure to include them. I’ve also received many tips from people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers and sprinkled these throughout each book.

As far as the overall structure of the books, I’ve dissected the hard to understand medical information and explained it in layman’s terms. Both books are organized into several sections with shorter chapters so that topics are easy to find and digest. I’ve also included a “words you need to know” section in both books for terms that may be unfamiliar.


Thank you to Lianna! If you would like to know more about these books you can get your own copy or request them from your local library.

You can get 30% off these titles and any other Purdue University Press book by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


Publishing a Memoir a Lifetime Later: Q&A with Frances Pinter

August 31st, 2020

We talked to Frances Pinter, editor of Escaping Extermination: Hungarian Prodigy to American Musician, Feminist, and Activist by Agi Jambor. The memoir was written by Jambor shortly after WWII and is being published for the first time now. From the hell that was the siege of Budapest to a fresh start in America, Jambor describes how she and her husband escaped the extermination of Hungary’s Jews through a combination of luck and wit.


 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about how you came across this memoir? And what motivated you to have it published?

Frances Pinter: Agi gave me the memoir shortly before she died in 1997. It was a while before I got around to reading it as I was very busy with my career. Once I settled down with it, I was shocked because none of this had been spoken about while I was growing up. I’d read many wartime memoirs, but they were often written decades later. As I read and re-read Agi’s memoir I felt it had a quality of freshness that only something written soon after the events could achieve. I passed the manuscript around to friends, all of whom without exception said I must get it published. Now, of course, I wish I’d had the opportunity to discuss it with her, but alas all I could do was read through her papers, now housed in the Bryn Mawr College Library Archive. That’s where I found the material for the afterword I wrote for the book. Publishing this memoir means a lot to me. Many of my generation came rather late to knowing what happened to our families in the War. Eva Hofmann explains why this is so very well in her book After Such Knowledge’. Now, we are desperate to know and understand the mark it’s left, not only on us, but to all of society. Finding a sympathetic publisher is my small contribution to ensuring that we do not forget these horrors and celebrate the strength and resilience of an extraordinary individual.

Q: You mention your shock, what were some details that surprised you the most on your first read through?

Pinter: The clearest details that I didn’t know about were about people I knew nothing about, or that they’d even existed, such as the child Agi gave birth to during the War, or a godson who was killed in Auschwitz. But generally, it was more a sense on reading that I was descending into a Hell, taken by the hand and led down the dark stairs into the deepest crevices of human depravity. That someone so close to me managed to crawl out of it with her head held high and her spirit undeterred still fills me with awe.

 

Picture of the cover of Escaping Extermination a tan book with red lettering

 

Q: Written shortly after WWII and not published until now, this memoir is kind of like a time capsule. How does this affect the way it reads?

Pinter: The writing style reflects the author and it is one of crispness, modern in style, and entirely lacking in self-pity. I think people of all generations can relate to its directness. Working with the copyeditor was an interesting experience. We agreed at the outset that we should leave the text as much intact as possible. Agi’s grammar stands the test of time, but there were some small points raised such as whether to retain practices of the late forties for instance regarding when to use capital letters and when not. Language evolves, and here we see some subtle examples of it. That said, the text reads like a thriller written today with a pace all of its own.

Q: Jambor went on to have a brilliant career in America in her later life. This clearly won’t be covered in the memoir by virtue of when it was written. Does any part of you wish that this project was one she took on later in life, or that you had her whole life’s story in her own words?

Pinter: Alas, yes, it would have been wonderful to have a complete autobiography of this exceptional woman. She was such an inspiration to so many women with her own very specific way of forging a life as a woman on her own in the second half of the 20th century. There is more material about this on the website www.agijambor.org and in the Afterword. Perhaps on reading this memoir a writer will come forth wanting to write Agi’s whole biography. From scolding Albert Einstein when they played duets and he proved incapable of counting correctly, to standing up to McCarthyism and campaigning against the Vietnam War this was one very gutsy woman!


 

Thank you to Frances! If you would like to know more about this book you can get your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off Escaping Extermination and all other Purdue University Press books by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.


The Making of a Caribbean Avant-Garde: Q&A with Therese Kaspersen Hadchity

August 10th, 2020

We talked to Therese Kaspersen Hadchity, the author of The Making of a Caribbean Avant-Garde: Postmodernism as Post-nationalism.

Focusing on the Anglophone Caribbean, The Making of a Caribbean Avant-Garde describes the rise and gradual consolidation of the visual arts avant-garde, which came to local and international attention in the 1990s. The book is centered on the critical and aesthetic strategies employed by this avant-garde to repudiate the previous generation’s commitment to modernism and anti-colonialism.


 

Q: What are some of your main goals in this project? 

Therese Kaspersen Hadchity: Since the mid-1990s the ‘playbook’ for visual arts practices and criticism in the English-speaking Caribbean has changed quite profoundly. My aim is to describe the moment when the spirit of nation building, which surrounded cultural production in the aftermath of the Independence-era, first gave way to a ‘nation-critique’, and then a rejection (implicit or explicit) of the nation as political goal and analytical frame. I wanted to put a frame around this transition, point out its various – and sometimes contradictory – manifestations, and give it a name (i.e. a ‘post-nationalist postmodernism’). It may ultimately end up having a different name, but I wanted to start the process of portraying and assessing it (albeit at a time when the very desire to ‘map’ and ‘name’ things is regarded with some suspicion). Rather than a densely theoretical account of aesthetic and critical dynamics (which nevertheless does occupy the first section of the book), I have tried to show, at the level of lived experience, how a series of converging factors – critical realignments, institutional failures and external pressures – have produced a new ‘common sense’ in the aesthetic choices artists make, in the way they find exposure for their work and in the way Caribbean works are critically framed, when it goes abroad.

 

Q: What are some of those factors that motivated this rejection of “nation building”, and therefore the cultural production inspired by it?

Hadchity: Naturally, the decades leading up to and past Caribbean Independence (most territories in the Anglophone Caribbean became independent in the 1960s and 70s) were full of confidence and optimism about forging new nations built on principles of equality and cultural diversity and the lessons learnt from the region’s traumatic history. Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, this initial excitement was soon curbed by a toxic combination of internal challenges and external pressures: the political establishment was accused of merely having stepped into the former colonizers’ shoes by way of perpetuating patriarchal authority, elitism, and indeed also racism (in the sense that light-skinned Creole people were given opportunities for social advancement, while darker people were left behind). Populations that were internally divided by the mechanics of colonialism itself, fell prey to an equally divisive political dynamic, where those in power simply took turns to ‘service’ their supporters. In some countries, political rivalries, sometimes with ethnic undercurrents, turned lethal. All of this was coupled with the introduction of neo-liberalism and a new era of foreign policy in the Reagan-Thatcher era, which led to local governments being reined in by Bretton-Woods ‘structural adjustment programmes’. Among much else, this meant that the cultural infrastructure envisioned by the anti-colonial movement never really got off the ground. In most territories, Caribbean artists (in particular those who do not merely cater to tourists and home decorators) have therefore had very little institutional support.

Needless to say, all of this has created an atmosphere of frustration and disillusionment not only with the political system in place, but with the very concepts of ‘nation’ and ‘governance’, which have come to be regarded as easily corruptible and inherently coercive. And with the coming of a new era, which to many is defined by tele-communication networks, globalization and new mobility, many artists have simply walked away from the idea of ‘nation-building’ and invested themselves in the notion of fluid and transnational communities, thus making the previous aspiration of improving and fine-tuning the nation-state seem increasingly redundant.

 

Cover of the book The Making of Caribbean Avant-Garde on a silver background

 

Q: In the preface and introduction of the book you touch on what motivated you to take this on, could you speak on that?

Hadchity: I had a small gallery in Barbados from 2000-2010, a period during which an older artistic generation was being forcibly retired by the critical establishment. As I said above, the backdrop for this transition was a widespread frustration with the region’s political and institutional failures, and a sense of being ‘left behind’ by the global art world – disappointments, for which the older generation was held partially responsible.

Meanwhile, the artistic and critical generation that emerged out of the 1990s found a way forward, partly in a critical alignment with postcolonial and diaspora theory, and partly, as I mentioned earlier, in the opportunities afforded by new networking technologies. As much as these choices have opened up new possibilities, I felt the need to question the premises and corollaries of these strategies, and this is where the book gets its polemic tone. There is no question that the vision of the ‘old avant-garde’ had stagnated, but my apprehension that the new critical hegemony seemed to satisfy a series of what one might have regarded as conflicting desires, left me in a state of perpetual consternation and propelled me into this study.

What I think went missing in this period was a direction, which might have combined the older generation’s simultaneous spirit of cultural resistance and affirmation with the sharper and more restless critical eye of the younger generation. In a way, my book expresses a yearning for ‘paths not taken’.

 


Q:
Does this mean you believe that these “paths not taken” may have been found through more collaboration between the ways of the new and old generations, rather than the rejection of the old ways way of thought that we saw?

Hadchity: I am not suggesting that a series of very clear and straightforward options were neglected: by the 1990s, Caribbean artists found themselves in a very difficult spot: the visions they inherited from the ‘old avant-garde’ were often quite problematic in their practical applications. Because their conditions were poorly understood in the wider world, Caribbean artists were also stigmatized by a perceived ‘belatedness’ in an international context.

But rather than walking away from the nation-building project envisaged by the previous generation, I think the new generation might have found ways to critique and develop it, rather than embracing a transnational cosmopolitanism, which is equally problematic. In some ways contemporary artists have in fact found ways to improve their conditions – for example by creating their own cultural infrastructures in the form of ‘alternative spaces’ – but there is a risk of such gestures playing into the hands of the current establishment. Some of the aesthetic strategies Caribbean contemporary artists have embraced (i.e. their methods and themes) are, as I try to explain in the book, similarly ambiguous in their political inflection. What I am arguing is therefore that there are aspects of the contemporary movement, which could be considered remarkably convenient for a neo-liberal imaginary and for the global status quo, but I am not suggesting that the new avant-garde is a product of that imaginary.

 


Thank you to Therese! If you would like to know more about this book you can get your own copy or request it from your local library.

You can get 30% off The Making of a Caribbean Avant-Garde and any other Purdue University Press book by entering the code PURDUE30 when ordering from our website.