Thursday, April 29, 2010

War and video games

The recently leaked video of a deadly U.S. military attack in Iraq prompted many to note the footage's similarity to a video game. Technology writer Clive Thompson tells NPR's On the Media:
Sure. Predator drone strikes, they're highly virtualized situations, right? I mean, you have someone sitting on American soil or in a nearby country, you know, piloting a drone able to shoot and kill. And so, everything is done through an interface in the same way that everything on a video game is done through an interface.

It’s going to be a constant question for us as a society and for the military whether or not, as they become more game-like, that creates an effect that makes it easier to kill people in a way that you might not want to make it easier to kill people.

Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter have more to say on this topic. Their recent book Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games includes the chapter "Banal War: Full Spectrum Warrior," which takes us through "virtual therapies" developed by the Pentagon to assist U.S. soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and argues that Full Spectrum Warrior is illustrative of a "cyclical connection between the actual and virtual dimensions of Empire," (98) the 21st-century hypercapitalist complex theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

Click here for more information about Games of Empire.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tracing the persistent myth of Native extinction

Historian and author Jean M. O’Brien (Ojibwe) has a very nice Q&A posted at the First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies blog. O'Brien, who is associate professor of history and American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota, is author of Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England, which will be available next month. Her book argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. It draws on more than 600 local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to explore how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.

Says O'Brien:
History can never be truly “objective” in the sense that older historical models tried to insist. Historical questions and texts are always shaped by the intellectual and political climates of the time (among many other things), and critical thinking about historical texts is essential in coming to grips with complex colonial situations that impact Indigenous rights and recognition. Understanding the disparity in power over cultural production, including historical writing, is at the center of imaging the defense of Indigenous rights to land and recognition.

Read the Q&A in its entirety here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

String, Felt, Thread: Challenging distinctions between art and craft

We're sorry we've been a little quiet on the blog lately. Fortunately, we have something to show for it:

A few months ago, we were thrilled when Elissa Auther, author of String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchies of Art and Craft in American Art, agreed to work with us to develop a video about the book and the artists, artworks, and ideas behind it. This book presents an unconventional history of the American art world that chronicles the advance of thread, rope, string, felt and fabric from the "low" world of craft to the "high" world of art in the 1960s and 1970s. It explores such artists as Sheila Hicks, Eva Hesse, Robert Morris, Miriam Schapiro, Senga Nengudi, Barbara Shawcroft, Faith Ringgold, Françoise Grossen, and others who experimented with materials that previously had been dismissed for their associations with the merely decorative, with "arts and crafts," and with "women's work." Within, Auther engages a far-reaching debate: What accounts for the distinction between art and craft?

Without further ado ...

Related links:
>> 3 questions with Elissa Auther.
>> More about String, Felt, Thread.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Never Trust a Thin Cook" makes City Pages' Best Of

The Press is excited to announce that City Pages has deemed Eric Dregni's Never Trust a Thin Cook its Best Book by a Local Author.

(In the interest of full disclosure: Dregni tells us he was once employed at City Pages. We're pretty sure he hasn't bought them off for this honor, though he has hinted at the possibility. The book's content, however, speaks for itself; check out audio readings of a few select book segments here.)

Further UMP connections to the City Pages' Best Of:

Al Franken, best politician and best local boy made good: UMP will release This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount this September. The book is by journalist Jay Weiner, who earned the 2008 Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Award for his coverage of the 2008 U.S. Senate recount.

Children's Theatre Company, best large theater: This fall UMP is publishing a book about the very reason this theater won this award: its ability to reach out to teens who believe they have outgrown what the theater has to offer. The book, Fierce and True: Plays for Teen Audiences, will be released in September.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


This year's Association of American Geographers meeting in Washington, DC, was quite a significant one for University of Minnesota Press. We released the much-anticipated Seeking Spatial Justice by Edward W. Soja, which sold out rather quickly; Stuart Elden's Terror and Territory received not only the 2009 AAG Globe Book Award, but also the Julian Minghi Outstanding Research Award from the political geography specialty group; and Alison Mountz had a successful launch event for her book Seeking Asylum: Human Smuggling and Bureaucracy at the Border. Here are some photos from our time there:

1: Our busy book-exhibit booth featured posters of the three aforementioned titles, along with Richard Hornsey's The Spiv and the Architect.

2: Xiangming Chen poses with his edited collection, Shanghai Rising.

3: Stuart Elden (whom you might remember from this recent post) stands with his book's poster.

4: Outside the conference hotel, an idyllic setting for the season.

5: Author Alison Mountz visited us with colleague Valerie Preston (who appears on the back cover of her book).

6: Author Joseph Nevins (Dying to Live) chats with Mountz at a gathering for the launch of Seeking Asylum. (He also appears on the back cover of the book.)

7: Mountz poses with editor Jason Weidemann.

8: A Single Man spotted at the popular indie Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle (curiously positioned by Christopher Moore ... ?).

Find further AAG info by following the Twitter hashtags #AAG and #AAG2010.

Unable to make it to AAG? You can still download our Geography sale catalog.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Q&A with Stuart Elden: A new look at the concept of ‘territory’

Stuart Elden is professor of political geography at Durham University, UK. He is author of Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, which has recently won the prestigious 2009 AAG Globe Book Award for Public Understanding of Geography (see below for more info).

“In this deftly argued and richly emprical book, Elden shows how, in responding to 9/11 as an act of war, the US government, through its association of al-Qaeda with the Afghan Taliban and in its pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, directly undermined the very territorial integrity norm that the terror of 9/11 was held to have violated. In this way, ‘terror’ sheds light on the continuing political importance of territory.” —John Agnew, author of Globalization and Sovereignty

Q: The AAG Globe Award supports books that enhance the public's understanding of geography. How does Terror and Territory make current events (and their inherent complexity) accessible?

The recognition of the book’s potential to make an impact outside of academia was a very pleasant surprise. I’d certainly aimed to make this book accessible to a wide audience. Compared to my previous work, which had largely been on French and German political philosophy, the subject matter certainly made a difference. I’d made a decision early on that that the theoretical issues—which certainly informed the analysis I offered—would be fairly muted in this book. There is enough in the book and especially in the notes for those interested to follow up the lines of thought. But in terms of the complexity of the events discussed in the book, there are several things to say. It’s clear that certain parts of the media simplify contemporary events, either through a belief that their complexity needs to be muted in order for their audience to understand things, or for more explicitly political reasons. In contrast to that simplification, I try to offer a sense of the complexity, and the conflicting perspectives surrounding such events, but I aimed to be clear in how I did this. Attempts at clarity, and I hope accessibility, don’t mean simplification. Indeed, I’d like to think that readers of the book would come away with a sense that things were actually more complicated than they perhaps thought before. I make special efforts to set the ‘war on terror’ in a broader historical context; to look at places like Lebanon, Somalia, and Pakistan alongside Afghanistan and Iraq; and to discuss some of the issues behind ideas of radical Islamism, ‘weak states’ and international law that are often presented in ways that lack sufficient nuance.

2: How has the ‘war on terror’ complicated notions of territory?

I try to show how events since the end of the Cold War have seen a challenge to ideas of territorial sovereignty—basically the idea that within its boundaries, a state is sovereign. This was initially for reasons of humanitarian intervention over the treatment of civilian populations. Examples would include Kurdistan following the 1991 Gulf War, protections ineffectively discussed in Rwanda and Bosnia, and then this being used as rationale for the war in Kosovo. I argue that a very similar logic can be found in the neo-conservative argument about ‘contingent sovereignty’, that sovereignty was a responsibility dependent on certain codes of behavior, now including harboring of terrorists and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Yet at the same time, the preservation of existing territorial settlements was insisted upon—the idea that Iraq could be allowed to fragment along ethnic or religious lines was strongly resisted; similarly the issues around Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border regions; the breakaway parts of Somalia, and so on. In international law the idea of ‘territorial integrity’, which is enshrined in the UN charter and insisted upon in almost all Security Council resolutions, supposedly combined both of these things: that borders were fixed, and that within them a state was sovereign. So I tried to show how these senses were being split apart today, and often in the very same places. What was interesting was not the simple violation of territorial sovereignty, but the explicit argument against it, often at the very same time that territorial preservation was being insisted upon. I think the ‘war on terror’ has made this more apparent, but the earlier interventions showed this too, and events in Gaza and Georgia since the book was written have demonstrated similar things. There are other arguments in the book of course, about territorial control in so-called ‘weak’ or ‘failed’ states; how territorial or geographical issues feature in the writings and speeches of the neo-conservatives and bin Laden; to challenge ideas that al-Qaeda operates as a ‘deterritorialised’ network by examining the spatial ideas of the base, the camp and the caliphate, etc. More broadly I try to show that ‘territory’ is much more complicated as a concept than is generally acknowledged. My ongoing work tries to provide a historical account of the emergence of the idea of territory in Western political thought.

3: What is one little-known thing everyone should know about your book?

That this is only part of the work I want to do on territory. There is the historical book I just mentioned, which I have been working on for a decade and is now nearing completion, and a planned third volume on philosophy, territory, and globalization that will probably be called The Space of the World.


Stuart Elden will receive the 2009 Globe Book Award for Terror and Territory on April 18th at the Association of American Geographers conference in Washington, DC. You can find out more about the book at Elden's author-meets-critics panel at 10 a.m. April 18th at AAG.

AAG attendees: Visit UMP in the book-exhibit hall at booth #1109! You can find our hours of operation here.
We also encourage you to visit Edward W. Soja's author-meets-critics panel at 12:40 p.m. April 17th at AAG. Soja is author of Seeking Spatial Justice.

Not able to make it to AAG? You can still download a PDF of our Geography sale catalog here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Celebrate "We're Gonna Win, Twins!" with us at Target Field

“Bill Dailey, Won’t You Please Come In.” Billy Ball. The Lumber Company. Ten Acres of Roof. Homer Hankies. Bobblehead dolls. Piranhas. Twins Territory. In 1961, the Twins brought major league baseball to the upper Midwest, becoming the first team to claim with its name not just a city but a region. In We’re Gonna Win, Twins! longtime sports reporter and columnist Doug Grow chronicles a half century of Twins baseball, season by season, from the scrappy stars of Metropolitan Stadium through two World Series in the Metrodome to the opening of a new era at Target Field.

Join the University of Minnesota Press from 2 - 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 24th, as we celebrate the publication of this incredible insider book at Town Ball Tavern, Target Field (Fifth Street Gate Entrance). You'll get the opportunity to meet Doug Grow and check out Minnesota Twins memorabilia from Clyde Doepner, curator for the Twins. (We suggest that fans arrive early, as seating will be limited.) Grow will also be signing copies of We're Gonna Win, Twins!

In the meantime, you might want to check out ...

-Grow's recent appearance on Kare 11's Showcase Minnesota.
-An excerpt of the book published at
-A nice review of the book in Sunday's Star Tribune.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gayla Marty's Memory of Trees: 'A different kind of book'

"The last thing I wanted to do was write another farm memoir," Gayla Marty said recently in an interview with the Star Tribune. "I thought, 'It's boring. There's no market for it. No one would want to read it.'"

With Memory of Trees, Marty has indeed remained loyal to her instincts. From passionate prose about her heartbreaking reaction to the loss of the family farm to drawing a connection between the farm and her student trip to Tunisia, Marty's story is anything but an average rural memoir.

Others seem to agree with Marty. Patricia Hampl has coined Memory of Trees "the elegy for the American family farm we've been waiting for"; the Pioneer Press has declared it a welcome break from your average memoir; and the Star Tribune refers to it as "a different kind of book."

>> Read the Star Tribune's review (published separately from the interview mentioned above).
>> Find out about upcoming book events open to the public in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Maplewood, Stillwater and Cambridge.
>> More details on Memory of Trees.
>>, "A place, a farm, a family": Marty's own website, which includes her blog.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Paul Chaat Smith on CNN: Wilma Mankiller's trail of triumph

Paul Chaat Smith, author of Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, has written a powerful commentary for CNN on the life of Wilma Mankiller, who passed away this week and whose amazing life has made a new future possible for American Indians.

Read about Wilma Mankiller's (as Smith says, who can forget a name like that?) early life, how she was inspired by the '69 Alcatraz occupation, and the challenges this tough-as-nails woman was forced to endure at

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Julie Graham (1945-2010)

We were shocked and saddened this week to learn of the passing of Julie Graham, professor of geography at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Graham wrote under the pen name J. K. Gibson-Graham with collaborator Katherine Gibson. The duo had worked with University of Minnesota Press on three books: Class and Its Others; The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It); and A Postcapitalist Politics. Graham will truly be missed. Our thoughts are with her family and colleagues.

Maitland McDonagh on horror films and the dark dreams of Dario Argento

Maitland McDonagh is a film critic and TV commentator who maintains her own Web site, She was the senior movies editor of from 1995 to 2008. She is the author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento.

1: The Academy Awards this year did what some say was a long overdue salute to the horror genre. There was once a time when horror films were eyed as potential big award-winners (Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist, etc.). What has happened to the genre?

Horror films -- and genre pictures in general -- have always been the black sheep of the movie family and they’re treated accordingly. Frankenstein (1931) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) are far more influential movies than best picture winners like Cimarron (1930-1931) and Oliver! (1968). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween are just as culturally significant as The Godfather Part II and The Deer Hunter, and deserved slots on the 1974 and 1978 best picture ballots more than The Towering Inferno and Heaven Can Wait.

Boris Karloff and Anthony Perkins should have received best actor nominations for Frankenstein (1931) and Psycho (1960). Sigourney Weaver, Deborah Kerr and Claire Bloom more than deserved best actress nominations for Alien (1979), The Innocents (1961) and The Haunting (1963). Freaks (1932) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) merited best picture nominations and Let the Right One In (2008) and Eyes Without a Face (1960) should have been in the running for best foreign-language film.

But while the ne’er-do-well cousin may be more rakishly entertaining (and ultimately more influential) than Aunt Sandra the Supreme Court judge, he or she still isn’t invited to important family gatherings. Movies like The Exorcist, Silence of the Lambs and A Clockwork Orange were acknowledged because William Friedkin, Jonathan Demme and Stanley Kubrick couldn’t be ignored.

2: In what ways has Italian filmmaker Dario Argento had a tangible influence on mass-popular US films such as the Saw, Final Destination, or I Know What You Did Last Summer series?

In more ways than I suspect a lot of modern-day horror movie fans realize.

The slasher movie template — plot-advancing scenes interrupted at regular intervals by bizarre, baroque murder sequences — owes everything to Argento. All the movies in the Saw, Final Destination and I Know What You Did … franchises adhere to it, as do the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween movies.

The basic structure predates Argento; you see it in Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel Ten Little Indians and, later, in Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964), which is generally considered the first giallo. But Argento’s movies perfected the formula: Elaborate, highly aestheticized murder set-pieces defined his movies in the same way that show stopping song and dance numbers define classic musicals.

The clichéd plot of Stormy Weather (1943) pales beside the insouciant physicality of Fayard and Harold Nicholas’ exuberant “Jumpin’ Jive” number; Gene Kelly’s achingly romantic “Singin’ in the Rain” solo eclipses the film’s story of silent-movie actors scrambling to cope with Hollywood’s transition to sound. Those sequences can stand on their own merits as wordless, self-contained narratives. Argento elevated the murder set-piece to the same standalone level.

3: What draws you to Dario Argento's work?

When I first decided to write about Argento, I had seen only The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), Deep Red (1975) and Suspiria (1977). But they all haunted me in a way that dozens — make that hundreds — of other thrillers and horror movies hadn’t.

Argento’s movies had a breathtakingly casual visual sophistication. They used music in an unusually expressive way and hummed with undercurrents that couldn’t be pinned down in a single viewing. They were challenging at a time when many genre movies were glumly formulaic; in the 1970s and ‘80s, Argento’s name guaranteed a movie that was worth thinking about.

4: What makes Argento's films worthy of academic study?

Marginal movies like Argento’s — horror, exploitation, sexploitation pictures — are canaries in the coal mine. They pick up on and respond to unarticulated anxieties bubbling beneath the surface of mainstream cultural consciousness: They’re a window onto the undercurrents that often wind up defining their eras, a glimpse into the future, if you will.

Long before Coming Home (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979), movies like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dead of Night/Deathdream (1974) were addressing the psychological cost of America’s involvement in Vietnam. But while filmmakers like George Romero and Bob Clark were under the radar of mainstream critics, their work was being seen and appreciated by moviegoers who went to drive-ins and grindhouses.

Argento’s movies are part of a larger picture of films that were for years ignored by academic film historians and scholars. If Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds has a legacy, I think it’s twofold: Broken Mirrors both helped legitimize the serious consideration of movies traditionally dismissed as worthless cultural detritus and acknowledged the power of pulp fiction to provoke serious discussion of contemporary cultural concerns.


>More about Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Architect Barbie" may have lost, but the campaign for women in architecture continues


Author Despina Stratigakos may not have won her campaign for Architect Barbie in Mattell's "I Can Be" contest. But she is picking up some serious credit, including an appearance on Architect Magazine's website, for her role in encouraging females to think of themselves as architect material.

“Discussions about diversity in architecture have been growing and developing, but I think there’s a long way to go. I want to see how I can push those further,” Stratigakos recently told the UB Reporter.

-Read Stratigakos' February feature in Buffalo News.
-Click here for information about a 2007 exhibit Stratigakos curated in support of an Architect Barbie (the above photo was taken from the exhibit's brochure).

Despina Stratigakos is author of A Women's Berlin: Building the Modern City.

UPDATE: (5/11/11) After 10 years, Architect Barbie is now a reality.

(5/14/11) - Doll hits stores in August 2011; Mattell agrees to make Architect Barbie its 2011 Career of the Year doll.

(5/16/11) - The American Institute of Architects is launching a Dream House contest in honor of Architect Barbie.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Long live ACORN: Flawed as it was, its closing—and the frequent attacks upon it—are the real tragedies.

Today's post is by Heidi Swarts, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark. She studies religion and social movements in American politics, with a focus on the politics of community organizing in American cities, and has published previously on ACORN and policy innovation and on congregation-based organizing and urban political opportunity and constraints. Swarts is author of Organizing Urban America: Secular and Faith-based Progressive Movements (2007).

ACORN is dead—maybe. Long live ACORN.

The national community-organizing group has been near-destroyed by sustained attacks from the right wing because of its very effectiveness. While some state and local groups have reconstituted themselves, they aren’t ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the single centralized national organization. As I argue in Organizing Urban America, ACORN’s unique national strategy made a major contribution to the American progressive sector. It was fully national and staffed by expert, innovative strategists who could disseminate new campaign ideas through its state chapters all the way down to the city and neighborhood levels. Its local members kept it focused on the issues that mattered to them. The power to run national campaigns at all three levels, using multiple innovative tactics, helped ACORN win pathbreaking national campaigns: against predatory lending by Household Finance, usurious tax “refund anticipation loans” by H&R Block, and winning billions of dollars in community reinvestment from banks. Flawed as ACORN was, the loss of a multi-tiered national organization just when it began to make a major national impact is the real tragedy.

Any half-sentient American could not escape the attacks on the nation’s largest grassroots low-income community organization, which began in earnest during the 2008 presidential campaign. The Republican National Convention saw three major speakers (from both members of the ticket) ridicule and attack all community organizing. Sarah Palin’s famous remark that small-town mayors are kind of like community organizers, “but with real responsibilities,” must have caused a few thousand eye-rolls among organizers responsible for mobilizing hundreds of thousands of citizens in campaigns to hold elected officials accountable: for health care for all, laws banning predatory home loans, bank investment in the communities they formerly redlined, and enrolling eligible Americans in programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—in recent years, probably the country’s most significant anti-poverty program. The IRS runs a national community outreach program with the help of “community partners,” non-profits and community-based groups that spread the word to working people who might qualify. When I spoke to the IRS director of this program in 2007, he enthused about ACORN, which was head and shoulders above other groups in its ability to reach eligible taxpayers through deeply-rooted local affiliates, including members door-knocking in their own neighborhoods. They recruited so many more eligible citizens that the IRS quickly ramped up the number of cities in which it participated.

That, of course, is all history now. While ACORN has long been a target of the right, there is now a well-funded right-wing media infrastructure to bombard the public with distorted accusations of “voter fraud.” ACORN was targeted because it ran the most effective new-voter registration and mobilization campaign among the young, low-income, and people of color, who were likely Democratic voters. ACORN did not engage in “voter fraud” — the casting of fraudulent votes. Some of the thousands of workers they hired engaged in voter registration fraud — filling out inaccurate registration forms that ACORN itself vetted and turned over to state authorities as fraudulent, as required by law. (It is against the law to simply throw them out; officials must ensure that they are illegitimate. This fact was ignored by Fox News, the Republican Party, and the McCain presidential campaign.) The mainstream media abdicated its responsibility to investigate these allegations and simply reported what both sides said.

The nail in the coffin was the stealth operation by two young conservative activists who filmed local ACORN tax-assistance workers advising the purported pimp and prostitute on how to file taxes and disguise their source of income. (Few outlets have reported that in other ACORN offices, they were asked to leave or reported to the police for illegal sex trafficking.) The few local ACORN staffers who took the bait inexcusably were fired. But the damage was done. ACORN lost federal support for recruiting EITC-eligible workers and advising homeowners, and the ripples spread throughout the foundation sector. Although their advice was unethical and outrageous, the few ACORN staffers implicated were cleared of legal wrongdoing; yet conservative provocateur James O’Keefe is facing federal charges for illegally infiltrating Senator Mary Landrieu’s offices in Louisiana.

ACORN internal governance needed reform, knew it, and long since had embarked upon it. But the media assault and loss of funds superseded its efforts. Advocates of social justice had better hope that a phoenix rises from the ashes.