Category Archives: Popular Culture

Digging Into Graphic Narrative

Late in 2015, the journal South Central Review published a special issue on “Graphic Narrative.” The issue featured seven essays and two book reviews on the growing field of scholarship focused on this area of publishing. Nicole Stamant, assistant professor of English at Agnes Scott College, served as guest editor and joined us for a Q&A to take a deeper look at the issue.

How did this issue come together?

scr.32.3_frontNS: In 2013, the Editor of South Central Review, Joe Golsan, was visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. That year, there was a special, interactive exhibit that featured graphic narratives and it got him thinking about how the journal could engage these kinds of stories. The journal is devoted to the intersection of culture and academia, and this special issue is a great manifestation of such dedication. After this experience at the Victoria and Albert, Joe spoke to Nicholas Lawrence, the journal’s Managing Editor, who got in touch with me. Much of my research and teaching revolve around graphic narrative, and when Nick indicated that there was a desire for South Central Review to assemble a special issue on graphic narrative, I thought it was a fantastic idea.

No specific direction or subgenre was indicated for the special issue, which I thought was exciting, too. As I write in the introduction, while we have seen a real increase in overall scholarship about graphic narrative, it’s a particular thrill to have as storied a journal as South Central Review take an interest in it. Frankly, such an interest is a testament to the journal itself—they’re committed to being on the cutting edge of contemporary scholarship. Although my own research focuses on life writing and graphic memoir, I quite liked the idea of an open discussion about graphic narrative and was optimistic that we would get a real variety of analyses. We put out a general call for articles about graphic narrative and received some great submissions. I organized the issue from there, based on trends featured in the essays: an investment both in the unique potential and power of graphic narrative and in how graphic narratives foreground negotiations of representation, of structure and form, of visibility, of the archive, and of publishing itself.

In the intro, you mention that this issue takes for granted that graphic narrative scholarship is needed. How important is it that this kind of analysis is more accepted now?

NS: To be honest, it’s enormously important. We are lucky to be in a literary moment of true proliferation, in a moment in which stories are being told by people who may have had a much more difficult—or impossible—time sharing their stories at other points, and in all kinds of ways. Graphic narrative is one such form, and the fact that we are taking this form seriously, in all of its variability, allows us as readers and thinkers new ways to understand being in this world. We live in a moment saturated with the confluence of text and image, and it makes sense that our storytelling strategies would reflect such intersections. So, paying attention to graphic narrative matters generally; in scholarship, it is perhaps even more crucial to consider issues of representation and diversity of storytelling. Graphic narrative is fundamentally cross-disciplinary, negotiating text and image, and graphic narrative scholarship has the potential to help articulate what it is that makes graphic narrative so special. In addition, scholarship can influence pedagogy, and one of the hopes for this special issue is that these articles allow those who may not be steeped in Comics Studies the opportunity to learn a bit more about what is happening in contemporary graphic narrative and how these kinds of texts can be incorporated into classrooms and shared with students.

What new ground is broken by the articles in this issue?

NS: Importantly, this issue includes articles about outstanding texts that do not yet have a large scholarly presence: Sinéad Moynihan’s analysis of Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro and Jim Coby’s discussion of Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge do a lot of work in the service of these books and these stories. These articles substantively provide nuanced negotiations of history, experience, technology (as with Neufeld’s hyperlinked text), and literary tradition, and it is a real privilege to have had the chance to put them into print. For the contributions about texts that are more well known, the articles add complexity to the conversations: this is particularly true with Robert Hutton’s consideration of the publishing industry—he uses Art Spiegelman’s Maus as a test case for its significance in our understanding of graphic narratives—and Frederik Byrn Kohlert’s negotiation of trauma studies in Phoebe Gloeckner’s work. There are also articles that posit new theoretical foundations about graphic narrative; Nancy Pedri’s work on ocularity and focalization and K.W. Eveleth’s presentation of labyrinthine aesthetics are incredibly interesting and useful. They all work together to, I hope, present readers with a microcosm of the discussions happening elsewhere in scholarship and in classrooms, and they’ve already changed the way I understand and teach these texts.

What does the future hold for serious examination of graphic narratives?

NS: It is such a fantastic time to be reading, creating, and writing about graphic narratives! There are so many important works that academia hasn’t quite discovered, yet, or works that we haven’t given the real attention they deserve. Contemporary graphic narrative allows for untold new ways of considering experience, and continuing studies of comics and graphic narrative should demand close attention to issues of (re)presentation more generally. I hope that we will continue to recover comics and graphic narratives that are buried in the archives; that the myriad forms and modes of graphic narratives challenge our assumptions about lived realities and imagined worlds; and that there continues to be the kind of rigorous, careful consideration about graphic narrative that we’ve seen in the last decade.

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Filed under Cultural Studies, Journals, Literature, Popular Culture

Podcast with Paul R. Josephson

josephson
New Books in Science, Technology, and Society featured Fish Sticks, Sports Bras, and Aluminum Cans: The Politics of Everyday Technologies in an article and podcast interview with author Paul R. Josephson.  Read the article and listen to the podcast here.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy.

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Filed under American History, Business History, Cultural Studies, History of technology, Popular Culture

Is it “propaganda” if it advocates for something you want?

Guest post by Jonathan Auerbach

auerbachBecause I recently coedited a collection of essays on the subject of propaganda, I sometimes get approached by journalists asking me to weigh in on current events. How effective is Putin’s “propaganda” against the West in promoting the separatist movement in Ukraine? How best to counteract gruesome ISIS videos, aimed to entice recruits to jihad, but often described in shorthand as “propaganda”? And lately my inbox has been bombarded with emails urging me to “keep the pressure on” by fighting against the vile “propaganda” of warmongers in Congress who would reject the international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

In all of these cases, “propaganda” is assumed to be a self-evident concept, inherently false and sinister, against which urgent countermeasures and messages (but certainly nothing we would want to call propaganda!) need to be taken. If we step back a minute and try to put this matter in historical perspective, certain insights come into focus.

A century ago, right at the start of World War I, the term was frequently use to refer to any sort of mass advocacy, such as “propaganda” for suffrage or “propaganda” for conservation. In these instances, propaganda in both meaning and practice simply referred to efforts designed to sway public opinions and feelings on a large scale. During and immediately following the war, the meaning and practice of such mass persuasion took on an increasingly negative cast, leading Progressive political commentator Walter Lippmann in 1919 to ominously announce a crisis in democracy triggered by this unregulated “manufacture of consent.”

But what’s the difference between coercion and persuasion, especially in a democracy that relies on a vibrant public sphere and the free flow of information to debate and contest policies and ideas? Who is in charge of such information dissemination? What’s the difference between educating citizens, directing them, and indoctrinating them? How to distinguish among teaching, preaching, and selling, especially when your nation is at war and seeks to boost patriotic morale? Left to their own devices, how can citizens be trusted to sort through such an overwhelming avalanche of factoids and truthiness (as Stephen Colbert put it) to arrive at some rational conclusions about the world we live in? These are the key questions Progressive intellectuals, reformers, and politicians such as Lippmann, John Dewey, Julia Lathrop, and Woodrow Wilson grappled with a century ago, not to mention public relations gurus like Edward Bernays who were intent on engineering and managing the tastes and spending habits of citizen-consumers.

Clearly, these troubling questions remain very much with us today. My new Johns Hopkins University book, Weapons of Democracy: Propaganda, Progressivism, and American Public Opinion, seeks to shed light on our current state of affairs by tracing the changing face and fate of American public opinion in the early decades of the twentieth century as they unfolded before, during, and soon after World War I. By closely looking at Progressive era propaganda in thought and practice, including the inevitable entanglements between social reform and social control that emerged during this period, we put ourselves in a better position to understand how the United States continues to deploy its current weapons of democracy at home and around the globe.

Jonathan Auerbach is a professor of English at the University of Maryland–College Park. He is the author of Weapons of Democracy: Propaganda, Progressivism, and American Public Opinion and the coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Propaganda Studies.

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Pope Francis inspired a “trust community”

Guest post by Irene S. Wu

The visit of Pope Francis to the United States reminded us what is good about the Church: the pull of an ancient creed, the call to a purpose bigger than ourselves, and the comfort of belonging to a caring community. There are many leaders of important institutions, indeed heads of state, who wish their visits would generate the same excitement.

Wu pope-francisThat Catholics welcomed the Pope’s visit is to be expected. That so many others shared their sentiments—Protestants, who in the olden days rebelled against the Catholic Church for one reason or another; others of competing faiths; and possibly a considerable contingent with no faith at all—is the surprise. This large crowd, this contending mix of people, is a trust community.

Trust communities are one in a continuum of social organizations. At one end are networks, which are largely nonhierarchical groups of loosely connected individuals. At the other end are institutions—like the Catholic Church—with hierarchies, formal rules and procedures, membership lists, budgets, and mission statements. In between are trust communities: groups with a shared cause or identity, held together by communication and exchange rather than common locale.

Trust communities can be small. Our towns, counties, sports associations, civic societies, and cultural appreciation clubs are trust communities that are a powerful draw on our time, attention, and loyalty. Also, there are the global trust communities—now more easily accessible to all of us than before—like the Olympics, the World Cup, the environmental movement, or the fight for human rights.

Trust communities are expansive and diverse. A nation’s trust community includes ministries and departments, the media who observe and report, the citizens who engage, the critics who complain, the rivals who compete, and the enemies who war against. Who is outside the trust community? Those who do not care, who pay no heed, and who are unaware. The challenge for many heads of state is to get attention and be relevant—in other words, to expand their trust community.

Trust communities are built on sharing stories and helping each other. Robert Putnam and Lewis Feldstein talked about the power of the personal narrative in building shared attitudes, values, and identities. Trading stories gives people a chance to discover commonality and build understanding. This can involve a visit in person, a timeline on Facebook, or even a Twitter feed. Talking and helping each other is also key. James Walker and Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom used empirical experiments that showed communication substantially increased cooperation in many types of social dilemmas. Reciprocity builds trust.

In the places the Pope visited, preparation required a lot of coordination. Volunteers and community chiefs, religious leaders, and school children all pitched in to help. The process of preparation, the reciprocity and storytelling involved, strengthened the trust community. As the Pope continues to deliver his message, we will see how much social capital this trust community can build to propel forward the Church’s work.

The Pope’s visit was a reminder that money and guns are not the only source of power in the world. Ideas, sharing, cooperation, and trust are forces to contend with as well.

wuIrene S. Wu is the author of Forging Trust Communities: How Technology Changes Politics, published earlier this year by JHU Press. She teaches at Georgetown University and is an analyst at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The views she expresses are her own, and not of the FCC.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount
when you order your copy of
Forging Trust Communities.

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“Most could never forget what they had seen and experienced . . . ” But will we remember?

Guest post by John C. McManus

mcmanusRecently the Anti-Defamation League conducted a worldwide survey designed to measure the extent of anti-Semitic attitudes and knowledge of the Holocaust. Over 53,000 adults in 102 countries were queried by professional pollsters using a data-based research survey method. The results were not encouraging. According to the poll, some 26 percent of respondents admitted to deeply held anti-Semitic attitudes. Perhaps even more disturbing, from an historical viewpoint, is that 54 percent of those surveyed worldwide had never heard of the Holocaust. Overall, almost two-thirds of those surveyed had either never heard of this most monumental of all history’s many great crimes or, worse, they believed it never actually happened.

Not surprisingly, Anti-Defamation League representatives expressed deep disappointment and alarm at such stark evidence of modern day hatred and ignorance. Abraham Foxman, the League’s national director in the United States, said, “The results confirm a troubling gap between older adults who know their history and younger men and women who, more than seventy years after the events of World War II, are more likely to have never heard of or learned about what happened to the six millions Jews who perished.”

Though no less troubled than Mr. Foxman, I was not especially surprised by the results. For several years now, I have witnessed ignorance of the Holocaust in some of my students and especially in popular culture as a whole. On occasion in that same popular culture, I have seen ignorance mutate into outright denial, sometimes out of rebellion against a perceived popular narrative of historical events, sometimes out of misplaced sympathy for anti-Semitic, anti-western, middle Eastern Arabs, and sometimes simply out of sheer hatred for Jews.

As a professional historian, it is not really my intent to become enmeshed in today’s geopolitical controversies. Instead my purpose is to document, chronicle, and analyze the events of the past, while perhaps offering some lessons for our future. My particular focus is on military history, with a specialization in World War II and the history of American soldiers in battle. In eleven books published over the course of more than a decade, I have explored the combat experience for those Americans who do the real fighting in time of war. If there is one theme that has stood out to me, it is the grim, visceral nature of combat for soldiers, especially amid the meat grinder of World War II, by far history’s deadliest war. Many of these same soldiers who fought for their lives on the front lines also liberated or witnessed concentration camps in Germany at the end of the war. Very few had any previous knowledge of the existence of these camps. Over the years, I have been struck by how many of these men told me or other historians or wrote in memoirs or letters that this experience was their most traumatic and unforgettable during the war. Indeed many were never the same after seeing a camp (or multiple camps in some cases). And yet, even though the Holocaust is one of the most heavily documented events in human history, the literature includes very little material about the liberation experiences of American soldiers.

So, in hopes of filling this void, as well as finding out what could have been worse for soldiers than battle, and combating what I perceived as persistent ignorance and denial of the Holocaust, I wrote Hell Before Their Very Eyes: American Soldiers Liberate Concentration Camps in Germany, April 1945. The book focuses on the liberation of three camps—Ohrdruf, Buchenwald and Dachau—during that momentous month in 1945. These three places, I felt, represented the larger whole of the Nazi concentration camp system in Germany, and the story of their liberation conveys a narrative of discovery as American soldiers experienced it that spring. Indeed, it is sobering to realize that the Holocaust was not just a crime of genocide; in a larger sense it was a huge slave labor operation targeting a multitude of ethnic groups, not just Jews. The camps liberated by Americans in Germany were designed for enslavement, not industrial killing of human beings in massive numbers like the death camps in Poland (where the majority of Jewish Holocaust victims lost their lives). As such, the majority of the survivors encountered by American soldiers were non-Jewish eastern Europeans.

Thus, Ohrdruf, Buchenwald and Dachau were not even among the worst camps in the Nazi empire. But they were horrible enough. In these three terrible, pestilential places, young American soldiers came face to face with a dark and upsetting world of human degradation, along with its sickening manifestations of terrible sights and smells—emaciated bodies stacked in heaps, ovens full of incinerated human remains, warehouses filled with stolen shoes, clothing, luggage, and even eyeglasses, prison yards littered with implements of torture as well as dead bodies and, perhaps most disturbing of all, the half-dead survivors of these camps. The troops became familiar with the unforgettable stench of these places, a nauseating mixture of dead bodies, feces, dirty clothing, body odor and, at times, burnt flesh. “There’s nothing else I can remember in my lifetime that remains as vivid and horrible as that,” Bob Cleary, a young lieutenant who led a reconnaissance unit into Ohrdruf, later said. William Charboneau, who was a nineteen-year-old infantryman in 1945, opined more than fifty years after the war, “Until you’ve smelled burnt flesh or decayed flesh, you have no idea what the odor is. I can still smell it today.” Not surprisingly, most could never forget what they had seen and experienced. “The scenes were so deeply etched in my memory that it is impossible to cast them aside–or to forget–or to permit time to dull the sharpness of those horrifying images of hell on earth,” Jerry Hontas, a Buchenwald liberator, said. “The only thing that vanished was our innocence.” Some could never talk about these horrors; others felt a sense of mission to tell the world, especially as they grew old and the world’s memory faded. This is their story . . .

John C. McManus is a Curators’ Professor of History at Missouri University of Science and Technology. He is the author of Hell Before Their Very Eyes: American Soldiers Liberate Concentration Camps in Germany, April 1945 which will be published this month by JHU Press. His previous books include The Deadly Brotherhood: The American Combat Soldier in World War II and Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II Through Iraq.

Read the results of the Anti-Defamation League survey here.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you place your pre-publication order for Hell Before Their Very Eyes.

 

 

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Late-night talk shows (or what keeps me up at night)

Guest post by Rebecca Krefting

I’m a worrier. I worry that I will sleep walk and chug turpentine (it happens). I worry that I will throw myself off a cliff given the right opportunity (that’s a thing). I worry that my neighbor’s cat will give me poison ivy (that’s for real). And I worry about the state of late-night television in the coming years. Without Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s conservative alter ego, where are we headed, what can we expect, and where exactly will I find my nightly dose of satire?

Jon StewartJon Stewart’s run on The Daily Show ends next week. The last taping will be on August 6th, and millions will be tuning in for Stewart’s farewell show. Though the numbers are not in yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if viewer ratings rivaled David Letterman’s final show last May. Relatedly, in December 2014, after nine years and nearly 1,500 episodes, Stephen Colbert hung up his hook as conservative bombast on The Colbert Report. No doubt these changes in late-night talk show hosts will test viewers’ allegiance to the show versus its host, though there are plenty of examples of shows remaining successful with host changes, e.g., The View (boasting the highest turnover rates), The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (formerly hosted by Jay Leno), and The Daily Show (formerly hosted by Craig Kilborn).

Here’s one way these late-night talk shows might have reassured me, keeping my blood pressure within a normal range: Stop hiring only men (and mainly white men at that) as if being a dude is a requisite for the job. Of course, producers can argue that a familiar face will sustain good ratings—that’s why Colbert will succeed Letterman as host of The Late Show on CBS on September 8th. But Stewart’s replacement, South African comedian Trevor Noah, doesn’t quite fit the formula because not many people knew who he was prior to this monumental passing of the baton. You know who would fit the formula if it were just a ratings game? How about: Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, or Chelsea Handler? Janeane Garofalo would also make a terrific host for The Daily Show. She is known for her charged comedy, exhibiting a deft ability to critique the political machinery and a keen understanding of social inequalities. Plus, as the former cohost of Air America’s The Majority Report, she has the right kind of experience to maintain the careful balance of comedy and pointed social critique that Stewart so carefully cultivated. Now that’s a show I wouldn’t miss. Even newbie funny lady Grace Helbig, whose social media metrics were similar to Trevor Noah before he got this ridiculous promotion, would be a viable female candidate up to the challenge of replacing Stewart.

But we got Trevor Noah instead. The same guy who came under fire for some sexist tweets shortly after the announcement was made. I share stand-up comic Patton Oswalt’s views (and many others’) that comics have a right to free speech. And yes, I understand that social media is the new drawing board for testing material, a place where comics can flex their creative muscles.

However, I also live by the rule WWJD? (What Would Jon Do?), and I am pretty sure he wouldn’t have peddled such schlock.

I am not optimistic that The Daily Show on Noah’s watch will deliver the biting political commentary that it did under Jon. More likely, the show’s writers will adjust to Noah’s personality and comic personae, altering its deliverables and making it a new show with different content, as when Stewart replaced Kilborn many years ago.

Here’s what else I know: late-night talk shows, especially on cable channels, are going to pander to the widest audience possible. Colbert will make a terrific host for The Late Show—that is, if you enjoy a watered down version of the Colbert that stole my heart. With ingénue Noah as mouthpiece for The Daily Show and a network-friendly Colbert, someone hardly recognizable, I fret that real political satire (at least on television) is a thing of the past. And, with the 2016 elections looming, we need such voices more than ever.

kreftingRebecca Krefting is an assistant professor in American Studies and the director of the Media and Film Studies Program at Skidmore College. Besides being a worrier, she is the author of All Joking Aside: American Humor and Its Discontents. Follow her on Twitter: @beckrefting.

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Fall books preview: history

Fall 2015 very largeWe’re excited about the books we’ll be publishing this fall—and pleased to share this series of “Fall Books Preview” blog posts! Be sure to check out the online edition of JHUP’s entire Fall 2015 catalog, and remember that promo code “HDPD” gets you a 30% discount on pre-pub orders. We continue of our preview posts today with forthcoming books in history:


pettigrewLight It Up: The Marine Eye for Battle in the War for Iraq
John Pettegrew

Light It Up examines the visual culture of the early twenty-first century. Focusing on the Marine Corps, which played a critical part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, John Pettegrew argues that U.S. military force in the Iraq War was projected through an “optics of combat.” Powerful military technology developed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has placed war in a new posthuman era.

“A bold, complex, wonderfully written book with a revolutionary thesis: that technologies of seeing and the outlook of marines combine to form a ‘projection of force’ beyond the traditional meaning of the concept. Provocative and original.”—William Thomas Allison, Georgia Southern University, author of My Lai: An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War

Available in October


dowdGroundless: Rumors, Legends, and Hoaxes on the Early American Frontier
Gregory Evans Dowd

Rumor—spread by colonists and Native Americans alike—ran rampant in early America. In Groundless, historian Gregory Evans Dowd explores why half-truths, deliberate lies, and outrageous legends emerged in the first place, how they grew, and why they were given such credence throughout the New World. Arguing that rumors are part of the objective reality left to us by the past—a kind of fragmentary archival record—he examines how uncertain news became powerful enough to cascade through the centuries.

“Skillfully written, informative, and stimulating. More than just a collection of rumors and the stories they generated, this book is a smart exploration of the issue of hearsay and the limitations in the evidence historians depend upon to craft their narratives.”—Colin G. Calloway, Dartmouth College, author of New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America

Available in January 2016


traversHodges’ Scout: A Lost Patrol of the French and Indian War
Len Travers

Pieced together from archival records, period correspondence, and official reports, Hodges’ Scout relates the riveting tale of young colonists who were tragically caught up in a war they barely understood. Len Travers brings history to life by describing the variety of motives that led men to enlist in the campaign and the methods and means they used to do battle. He also reveals what the soldiers wore, the illnesses they experienced, the terror and confusion of combat, and the bitter hardships of captivity in alien lands. His remarkable research brings human experiences alive, giving us a rare, full-color view of the French and Indian War—the first true world war.

“Fascinating, vivid, and highly informed. Travers is a master of foreshadowing and verisimilitude. This is the social history of war at its best.”—Gregory Evans Dowd, University of Michigan, author of War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire

Available in December


reinbergerThe Philadelphia Country House: Architecture and Landscape in Colonial America
Mark Reinberger and Elizabeth McLean

In this masterly volume, Mark Reinberger, a senior architectural historian, and Elizabeth McLean, an accomplished scholar of landscape history, examine the country houses that the urban gentry built on the outskirts of Philadelphia in response to both local and international economic forces, social imperatives, and fashion. The Philadelphia Country House explores the myriad ways in which these estates—which were located in the country but responded to the ideas and manners of the city—straddled the cultural divide between urban and rural. Illustrated with nearly 150 photographs, more than 60 line drawings, and two color galleries.

“Reinberger and McLean have succeeded in illuminating the nature and significance of a specific building type in colonial America, the country house or seat, focusing on those around the city of Philadelphia. The scholarship is extremely sound, the documentation is profuse, and the book effectively presents a tremendous amount of information on a significant topic that deserves elucidation. No comparable study exists.”—Damie Stillman, University of Delaware Professor Emeritus

Available in October


mcmanusHell Before Their Very Eyes: American Soldiers Liberate Concentration Camps in Germany, April 1945
John C. McManus

On April 4, 1945, United States Army units from the 89th Infantry Division and the 4th Armored Division seized Ohrdruf, the first of many Nazi concentration camps to be liberated in Germany. In the weeks that followed, as more camps were discovered, thousands of soldiers came face to face with the monstrous reality of Hitler’s Germany.

Military historian John C. McManus sheds new light on this often-overlooked aspect of the Holocaust. Drawing on a rich blend of archival sources and thousands of firsthand accounts—including unit journals, interviews, oral histories, memoirs, diaries, letters, and published recollections—Hell Before Their Very Eyes focuses on the experiences of the soldiers who liberated Ohrdruf, Buchenwald, and Dachau and their determination to bear witness to this horrific history.

“This is a history that demands to be published. The use of personal witness accounts is the only way to capture the essence of the traumatic experience the American soldiers had to deal with.”—Daniel D. Holt, editor of Eisenhower: The Prewar Diaries and Selected Papers, 1905−1941

Available in November


condonShays’s Rebellion: Authority and Distress in Post-Revolutionary America
Sean Condon

In this concise and compelling account of the uprising that came to be known as Shays’s Rebellion, Sean Condon describes the economic difficulties facing both private citizens and public officials in newly independent Massachusetts. He explains the state government policy that precipitated the farmers’ revolt, details the machinery of tax and debt collection in the 1780s, and provides readers with a vivid example of how the establishment of a republican form of government shifted the boundaries of dissent and organized protest.

“The deepest account of the rebellion I have read, the book keeps a strong narrative line and grows in drama as it proceeds. Undergraduates should cherish this work. Riveting.”—Barry Levy, University of Massachusetts–Amherst, author of Town Born: The Political Economy of New England from Its Founding to the Revolution

Available in July


josephsonFish Sticks, Sports Bras, and Aluminum Cans: The Politics of Everyday Technologies
Paul R. Josephson

In Fish Sticks, Sports Bras, and Aluminum Cans, historian Paul R. Josephson explores the surprising origins, political contexts, and social meanings of ordinary objects. Drawing on archival materials, technical journals, interviews, and field research, this engaging collection of essays reveals the forces that shape (and are shaped by) everyday objects. Ultimately, Josephson suggests that the most familiar and comfortable objects—sugar and aluminum, for example, which are inextricably tied together by their linked history of slavery and colonialism—may have the more astounding and troubling origins

“Josephson draws readers into the complexities and fascinations of the study of technological history. A lively and provocative book.”—David E. Nye, University of Southern Denmark, author of Technology Matters: Questions to Live With

Available in November

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Filed under American History, American Studies, History, History of technology, Popular Culture, Publishing News, War and Conflict

Blues, smoke, and shadows: jazz in “musical” noir films

Guest post by Sheri Chinen Biesen

The Society For Cinema & Media Studies hosts Sheri Chinen Biesen for presentation on this topic at the 2015 SCMS annual conference.

Jazz music flourished in “musical” noir films, which were distinctive for showing smoke, shadows, and bluesy nightclub performers. The music recalled Harlem’s Cotton Club, where, according to Aljean Harmetzs obituary for Lena Horne,  the “customers were white, barely dressed dancers were light-skinned blacks, Duke Ellington was the star of the show, and the proprietors were gangsters.” Musical noir featuring jazz performances in murky cabaret joints evoked Jazz Age speakeasies and illicit affairs, challenging Hollywood censorship. Low-lit lounges, the enthralling minor key sounds of musicians, and blue film scores suggested censorable activity in after hours nightspots. Some especially notable examples of musical noir films featuring jazz and set in smoky, atmospheric nightclubs include Blues in the Night (1941), Jammin’ the Blues (1944, with Lester Young), Phantom Lady (1944), To Have and Have Not (1944, with Hoagy Carmichael), Gilda (1946), The Man I Love (1947), New Orleans (1947, with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday), Young Man With A Horn (1950, with Harry James), Sweet Smell of Success (1957, with Chico Hamilton), Elevator to the Gallows (1957, with Miles Davis score), Paris Blues (1961, with Duke Ellington score), and A Man Called Adam (1966, with Benny Carter score).

Harold Arlen, known for playing music infused with “the wail of the blues” and writing music for Harlem’s Cotton Club, composed jazz for Blues in the Night, which involves a musician who goes insane after tangling with a femme fatale singer. Warner Bros. wanted Duke Ellington for the film, but cast Jimmie Lunceford’s big band instead. In the film, Lester Young leads a jazz noir jam session. Meanwhile, censors believed that another film, Phantom Lady, implied that musicians jamming in a sexual jazz “jive” sequence were drug addicts. Hoagy Carmichael plays jazz in To Have and Have Not as Lauren Bacall sings and seductively entices men at the bar. In Gilda, Rita Hayworth sings the bluesy “Put the Blame on Mame,” dances, tosses her hair, and performs a striptease in a jazz nightclub. She peals off her gloves, inviting viewers to unzip her strapless gown—before she is yanked off stage and violently slapped by misogynist beau Glenn Ford. Jazz music conveyed the blues amid smoke and shadows in musical noir Blues in the Night, Jammin’ the Blues, To Have and Have Not, Gilda, The Man I Love and Young Man With A Horn, where femme fatale Bacall grabs a jazz musician’s hair in a torrid embrace as taglines clamor: “Put down your trumpet, jazzman–I’m in the mood for love!” Ellington’s somber blue tones in Paris Blues and Davis’ haunting jazz score in Elevator to the Gallows (Lift to the Scaffold/Ascenseur pour l’échafaud) evoke loneliness as a doomed femme fatale wanders late-night streets aimlessly searching for her illicit lover (who killed her husband for her). In A Man Called Adam, the titular character destroys himself performing to Benny Carter’s score as Nat Adderly plays. As postwar Hollywood shifted to color films, Arlen penned the moody after hours torch song “The Man That Got Away” for noir musical A Star Is Born (1954). In that film, director George Cukor reimagined the blues, smoke, and shadows of jazz musical noir in brooding color.

This piece grows out of research for my book, Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films, in which I examine the connection between jazz music, film noir, and Hollywood jazz musicals in noir musical cinema. I will be presenting a talk at the 2015 Society for Cinema & Media Studies Conference in Montreal based on this research.

Sheri Chinen Biesen is associate professor of film history at Rowan University and the author of Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir and Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films.

*(Note: Quote from Aljean Harmetz, “Lena Horne,” New York Times, 9 May 2010, A1.)

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Should we bring historians to the movies?

Guest post by Thomas Leitch

Why do otherwise intelligent and discriminating people routinely come away from movies like Selma, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything under the impression that their fictionalizations of history are true? Can’t they tell the difference between real life and the movies?

In a word, no, they can’t, says Jeffrey M. Zacks. Zacks, a professor of psychology and radiology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of Flicker: Your Brain on Movies, argues in a column in the 15 February issue of the New York Times that “our minds are well equipped to remember things that we see or hear—but not to remember the source of those memories”—because “our brain’s systems for source memory are not robust and are prone to failure.” Whether we read something in the newspaper, see footage of it on television or online, or watch it in a movie theater, we come away with much more vivid and precise memories of the content than the source. So we store memories from these very different sources in much the same way, and draw on them as equally authoritative when we search our memories for information.

So far, so illuminating. My only quarrel with Professor Zacks’s perceptive analysis of why people so routinely confuse movies with real life even if they know the movies are fictional concerns its last two sentences: “Having the misinformation explicitly pointed out and corrected at the time it was encountered substantially reduced its influence. But actually implementing this strategy—creating fact-checking commentary tracks that play during movies? always bringing a historian to the theater with you?—could be a challenge.”

The suggestion that bringing a historian along would protect me from indiscriminately remembering misinformation in movies implies that historians are uniquely qualified to pass judgment on factual accuracy. But in fact Professor Zacks’s whole column makes this assumption because it conflates history with what Professor Zacks calls “facts” and “the real world.” As police officers across the country agree, however, there’s a large and troublesome gap between even eyewitness testimony and the facts concerning real-world events. Sergeant Joe Friday was wrong: since the best testimony in the world is still testimony, not even the most reliable witness can give the police just the facts.

Historians are obviously more reliable than eyewitnesses in some ways. They’re more reflective, more disinterested, more likely to check their hypotheses against multiple sources. But since their testimony is always based on other people’s testimony, they’re less reliable than eyewitnesses in other ways. In addition, there are too many examples of biased histories (e.g., North Korean history textbooks, along with any number of textbooks produced around the world during wartime), racist histories (Woodrow Wilson’s History of the American People), and factually inaccurate histories (Michael Bellesisles’s Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture) to justify any such assumption. Since the main reason for writing history, in fact, is to correct earlier histories, it’s doubtful that even historians trust other historians quite as completely as Professor Zacks thinks the rest of us ought to do. If they did, there would be no need for any further histories, only periodic updates, and historians would vanish.

I’d certainly agree that historians and filmmakers adopt very different attitudes toward history, facts, and the real world. But I’d still want to make distinctions among those three different subjects. And although I’m happy to acknowledge that filmmakers often play fast and loose with the facts, even when they advertise their products as “inspired by true events,” I’m a lot less confident than Professor Zacks that historians are so disinterested, reliable, and authoritative that they have a monopoly on the truth. So the next time I take a historian to the movies, I’ll be sure to follow it with dinner—not so that the historian can set me straight, but so that we can talk over the movie as more or less equally intelligent adults. I’m all for watching movies with a critical eye, but I’m not ready to farm out that job to the historians unless they understand that I plan to keep an equally critical eye on them. Meanwhile, I wonder exactly who’s going to be producing those fact-checking commentary tracks Professor Zacks mentions, and what makes them so sure that they have a corner on the truth, too.

leitchThomas Leitch is a professor of English and the director of the film studies program at the University of Delaware. He is the author of  Wikipedia U: Knowledge, Authority, and Liberal Education in the Digital Age and Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From “Gone with the Wind” to “The Passion of the Christ” and is the coeditor of A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock.

 

 

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Recommended Reading: Cinema Studies

With the Academy Awards set for this weekend, we want to aim a key light on our terrific books in film history and cinema studies. Call the gaffer!

luzziA Cinema of Poetry: Aesthetics of the Italian Art Film
by Joseph Luzzi

“Luzzi brings a set of powerful resources to his new study: a vast erudition, an ear finely attuned to inter-arts allusions, and an ability to discern the workings of poetic tropes within the language of cinema. The result is a deepened understanding of the category of the aesthetic as it relates to Italian film criticism and an affirmation of the riches that this body of canonical films offers to scholars and lay connoisseurs of the seventh art.”—Millicent Marcus, Yale University


Music in the Shadows $20.97 (reg. $29.95) FORTHCOMINGMusic in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films
by Sheri Chinen Biesen

“The book nicely balances in-depth historical research and previous film noir scholarship with fresh ideas and a writing style that is both evocative and concise. The author doesn’t force the films into the model of her theory; instead the films guide the theory, a quality often lacking in film writing. Music in the Shadows ultimately succeeds on two levels, both in providing an entertaining and enlightening read, as well as an impetus to watch previously unseen films and rewatch familiar classics with a new perspective.”—Noir City


osteenNightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream
by Mark Osteen

“Only a few of the many books on film noir are essential. This is one of them . . . A smart, clearly written book.”—Choice

“Mark Osteen manages to add something new and substantial to the discourse on film noir—an examination of the ways in which the American Dream is subverted, challenged, and ultimately discounted by the harsh realities of a noir universe, which more directly aligns itself with society than with the phantom hope of endless upward mobility.”—Wheeler Winston Dixon, University of Nebraska, Lincoln


Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy, by Paola Marrati, translated by Alisa Hartz
When Stories Travel: Cross-Cultural Encounters between Fiction and Film, by Cristina Della Coletta
Math Goes to the Movies, by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross
Cinematic Illuminations: The Middle Ages on Film, by Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Shichtman


Film Adaptation and Its Discontents: From Gone with the Wind to The Passion of the Christ, by Thomas Leitch
The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, by David Welky
Unless the Threat of Death Is Behind Them: Hard-Boiled Fiction and Film Noir, by John T. Irwin
Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons, by Jonathan Rosenbaum

 

 

 

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