Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Counterfeit capitalism and the neomelodica scene in Naples

Street scene near Galleria Umberto, a public shopping gallery in Naples, southern Italy. Here, author Jason Pine discusses the city's neomelodica music scene that makes celebrities out of young singers—and the politics of gaining such fame.


Assistant professor of anthropology and media, society, and the arts at Purchase College, State University of New York

In 2001, the beloved Italian singer Mina ended a near quarter-century absence from public view when she released footage from her recording sessions, Mina in Studio, on the Internet. In the midst of fieldwork in Naples in 2002, I watched on a pirate TV broadcast an alluring music video in which a young boy, Giulio, sang the Neapolitan language song “Passione,” written in 1938 by Libero Bovio. Clearly referencing Mina, the boy’s music video was set in a recording studio. Like Mina, he wore headphones and sung into a mic, but he lip-synched the lyrics, staging liveness.

The gesture was endearing to me. The boy, with his pre-pubescent voce bianca (white voice), pulled it off well. He sang the classic Neapolitan canzone soul-style, set to a slow synth beat and peppered with auto-tuned flourishes at the end. He sang with confidence and verve. He was talented.

When I called the cell phone number that scrolled across the bottom of the screen, the boy’s father answered. I explained that I was researching contemporary Neapolitan music and wanted to meet with them to talk about his son’s experiences on the music scene. The man, exuberantly enthusiastic, offered to bring his son to my apartment at Piazza Garibaldi later that week. They lived in a provincial town outside of Naples over an hour away.

When the boy arrived with both his parents, I had pastries and coffee ready for them. We talked for a long time and enjoyed each others’ company, but I found it virtually impossible to make conversation with directly the boy. I learned little more than that his real name was Fulvio, he was 12 years old, he liked to sing, and loved Michael Jackson’s music, and even this meager information was filtered through his parents. Both mother and father spoke for their son, interrupting me each time I tried to initiate a conversation with him.

I followed the family for several years, getting to know them very well and learning a great deal about the neomelodica music scene. Fulvio’s father, a veteran musician from the milieu, was adamant about guiding his son safely through the treacherous territory it spanned—a contact zone with the organized crime networks called the camorra. The success that he believed lay at the other end of this precarious journey often appeared to me to recede into the shadows. On many occasions, at wedding and baptism gigs and at pirate TV stations, I watched dodgy impresarios approach Fulvio and his father with offers to “make the boy grow.” The errant trajectory of Fulvio’s “becoming a man” took a prominent place in the ethnography I composed. 


In 2011, the fourteen-year-old neomelodica singer Fortuna (fortune, luck), already one of the most talked about and favored singers on the scene, recorded “Lady Lucky”:

“Hollywood, for me, is ‘A Sanità,” (La Sanità is a comparatively poor central neighborhood of the Naples) she sings, “This street, for me, is the world.” They call her Lady Lucky, and like Lady Gaga, she sings for these people, “my people.” In an expansive gesture toward authentic Neapolitanness—a theme found in the repertoires of many neomelodici singers—Fortuna declares, “Not even for a million would I change my life; I want this life of mine to stay the way it is.”

The “authenticity” of neomelodica music has been a point of contention on the neomelodica scene and beyond it. Aesthetically, neomelodica music is decidedly local, saturated with the vernaculars (lyrically, melodically, performatively) of its milieu. Songs can become enormously popular among the hundreds of thousands of fans listening across many regions of southern Italy and among southern Italian immigrants abroad, particularly in Germany, France, and Belgium. But the “authentic Neapolitanness” of these songs tends also to be the very feature that restricts their circulation among other audiences both in the south and nationally. The mixture of worn-out synth disco beats, Neapolitan language lyrics, and microtonal melismas signals for non-fans obstinate, regressive provinciality.

At the same time there is very little to call authentic about a song that is but another note emanating from the massive song production that animates the scene year after year, decade after decade. In musical structure, melody, and in lyrical content and style, the song is quite like the many, many other songs young performers sing as they compete for the attention of neomelodica music fans. However, “Lady Lucky,” written by one of the most successful neomelodici singers to date, Gianni Fiorellino, is more polished than the average song—as is the music video. Fortuna’s success on the scene is most certainly linked to this higher grade in quality.

But some protagonists on the neomelodica music scene, like Fulvio’s father, allude to a kind of counterfeit success. This is when they say that some singers “have certain people backing them.” You can “sing like shit” and yet get plenty of gigs on the wedding and baptism circuit, they say. They are referring to singers who are affiliated with crime boss impresarios who apply pressure to the markets of their circumscribed territories by activating their networks to facilitate the circulation of some singers and the marginalization of others. The result is distorted markets, manually managed mini alternative culture industries each with their affirmative culture.

On the neomelodica scene there are always many morphing rumors that circulate speculations, suspicions, and “certainties” about who is who and how they got their success.

“Counterfeit success” is also the allusion discernible in the critiques of non-fans who describe the neomelodica scene in ways that make it out to be the bad copy of dominant music industry scene, in both its aesthetic and economic practices. Because neomelodica music is produced, circulated and consumed largely in the contact zone where the so-called “informal” and “illicit” economies overlap, it inspires reactions ranging from bemusement and outrage when people see local Neapolitan “stars” performing celebrity like uncanny imitations of dominant music industry icons. The mimetic gestures that conjure in Fortuna’s music video the young “Lucky starlet” (the name she calls herself in her song) operate at the threshold of parody (unwitting, of course) and perhaps threaten in some small measure to expose the artifice of mainstream celebrity and the sinister nature of its affirmative culture.


Jason Pine is assistant professor of anthropology and media, society, and the arts at Purchase College, State University of New York. He is author of The Art of Making Do in Naples. His next ethnographic research topic is methamphetamine and the biopolitics of performance enhancement in the rural Midwest of the United States.

"Exploring musical performance as a pathway to the Neapolitan underworld, Jason Pine shows how the improbable becomes persuasive as he passionately embraces the challenges of uncertainty and vagueness that mark a highly stylized but passionate arena of social interaction. In the intense theatricality of their shape-shifting kaleidoscope of relationships and identities, Pine’s vivid interlocutors challenge the realism of anthropological description through an aesthetic realism of their own, one that dissolves the boundary between art and life."
—Michael Herzfeld, author of
Evicted from Eternity

"With the eye of a cunning journalist and the descriptive skills of a fine novelist, Pine illuminates the murky world of the Camorra and Naples’ neomelodica scene. This is writing culture at its best."
—Fred Gardaphe, author of
From Wiseguys to Wise Men: The Gangster and Italian American Masculinities

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Goodies by Beatrice Ojakangas

Our 6th (and final!) day of holiday recipes from our authors is upon us. Thanks so much for following. We hope you've enjoyed these recipes, and perhaps have been inspired to try a new dish or two.

Day 5: Cranberry tart from Brenda Langton.
Day 4: Hearty, healthful entrees from Jenny Breen.
Day 3: Corn chowder from Atina Diffley.
Day 2: Swedish pancakes from Helene Henderson.
Day 1: Sweet potato and walnut salad from Beth Dooley.


Holiday recipes from Beatrice Ojakangas (from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book)

Joulutortut. Image from

Traditionally in Finland, holiday baked goods are not served until Christmas Eve or, at the earliest, the eve of Christmas Eve. That's when these prune-filled stars come out, signaling the beginning of the Christmas holidays. The day after Christmas is a day for visiting and comparing the quality of the stars from one household to the next! Each baker has his or her own favorite recipe, varying from a flaky puff pastry to a rich and tender butter pastry like this one.

Makes 36 stars.

2 cups (8 ounces) pitted prunes
water to cover
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 cup softened butter

1 slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk
pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes for garnish

Cover the prunes with water and simmer slowly until very soft. Puree and add the lemon juice and sugar. Cool.

For the pastry, mix the flour and baking powder. Stir into the whipped cream and knead in the softened butter. Shape dough into a ball and chill one hour.

On a floured board, roll out pastry to 1/4-inch thickness. Fold dough into thirds, folding first one third over the center, then the opposite third over the center. Roll out to seal the layers. Turn dough and fold again into thirds, making the dough into a perfect square. Roll out, retaining the square shape, to make an 18-inch square. Cut into 3-inch squares. With a sharp knife, make cuts from the corners toward the centers of the squares, each about 1 1/2 inches long. Place a spoonful of the prune filling onto the center of each square. Shape into pinwheel stars by lifting every other split corner toward the center onto the filling.

Cover baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place filled stars on the prepared baking sheets. Mix the egg and milk and brush stars with the glaze. Sprinkle with pearl sugar or crushed sugar cubes.

Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.



This legendary pastry symbolizes Danish hygge, or the "comfortable and good" life. It is always served at Christmas and Easter, as well as on special occasions and anniversaries. Although Danes use any fruit or nut filling in a kringle, almond filling is the favorite.

Makes 1 large kringle

1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit
1/4 cup undiluted evaporated milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds (optional)
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 cup whipping cream
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled

Raisin-Almond Filling:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups golden raisins
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly pulverized cardamom seeds
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Almond Filling:
1 cup, about 1/2 pound, almond paste
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon almond extract

Prune-Port Filling:
1 (12-ounce) package pitted prunes
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup red port wine

Glaze and Topping:
1 slightly beaten egg white
pearl sugar or coarsely crushed sugar cubes or granulated sugar
sliced almonds

In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk, cardamom, 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolks, and whipping cream. Set aside.

In a large bowl, or in the work bowl of a food processor with the steel blade in place, combine the flour and salt. Cut in the butter until butter pieces are the size of kidney beans or process. Add the yeast mixture, mixing only until dry ingredients are moistened. Cover with plastric wrap and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the fillings and have them ready.

To make the raisin-almond filling, bring water to a boil; add the raisins, let stand 5 minutes, and drain. Cool.

In a bowl, cream the butter until soft, and add the cardamom, powdered sugar, and enough cream to make a smooth, spreadable mixture. Add the raisins and chopped almonds.

To make the almond filling, break almond paste into pieces and blend with the almonds, powdered sugar, egg white, and almond extract to make a smooth paste. (This may be easiest to accomplish in the food processor.)

To make the prune-port filling, cook the prunes in water to cover until tender. Mash. Add the sugar and mix until dissolved. Stir in the port. Return to the pan and simmer until mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured board, and dust with flour. Using a rolling pin, pound dough until smooth and about 3/4-inch thick. Roll out to make a 24-inch square. Fold dough into thirds to make a long and narrow strip. With rolling pin, roll again until about 1/4-inch thick and about 36 inches long.

Spread the length of the roll up to 1 inch in from the edges with the filling. Roll up from the long side, enclosing the filling. Brush roll with egg white, then roll in sugar.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease and flour the sheet. Place the roll on the baking sheet in the shape of a large pretzel. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. It will not double. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush kringle again with egg white and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden.


Beatrice Ojakangas is the author of more than a dozen cookbooks, including The Great Scandinavian Baking Book (1999; winner of the James Beard Foundation award) and Great Whole Grain Breads (1993). Her articles have appeared in Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Cooking Light, Cuisine, and Redbook, and she has appeared on television’s Baking with Julia Child. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Cranberry tart and apple sesame kanten by Brenda Langton

It's Day 5 of our holiday recipe spectacular, and we've got some delicious dessert recipes from Brenda Langton, author of The Spoonriver Cookbook (where the following recipes come from) and The Cafe Brenda Cookbook. Enjoy!

This week, we've also featured:
Day 4: Hearty, vegan-friendly entrees with Jenny Breen.
Day 3: Corn chowder with Atina Diffley.
Day 2: Swedish pancakes with Helene Henderson.
Day 1: Sweet potato walnut salad and snack cake with Beth Dooley.


Holiday recipes from Brenda Langton


Serves 10 to 12

This is a festive tart to serve for the holidays, but it is certainly welcome all fall and winter long. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries. There is no need to thaw frozen cranberries, and they are easier to chop when frozen. This is a very simple tart to make. If you have a tart shell already prepared, you can throw it together in just a few minutes.

2 eggs
1/2 cup honey or sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 partially baked tart shell (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the eggs, honey, butter, orange juice, vanilla, and salt. Beat with a whisk until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cranberries, walnuts, and orange zest.

Pour the filling into the prepared tart shell. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden. Place the tart on a wire rack to cool. Let it cool completely before serving.


Makes enough dough to line an 8- or 9-inch tart pan.

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg
1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into  small pieces and drop them into the flour. Work the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives until the  mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add 1 tablespoon of  ice water and stir to combine. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture while stirring with a fork. The mixture  should be moist but not wet and should hold together in a ball. If the mixture seems too dry, add more water  a little at a time until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball. Flatten it into a disk and wrap it in  plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

Flour a work surface. Roll out the dough, starting from  the center and moving toward the edges. Turn the dough and flour it as you go to prevent it from sticking. Roll until the tart dough is 1⁄8 inch thick. Carefully lay the dough in the tart pan.

Trim the excess dough, leaving about an inch beyond the  edge of the pan. Fold in the extra dough and press it against the sides to double the thickness of the sides. 

Chill the tart shell for at least one hour before prebaking or filling it.

To partially bake a tart shell, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the shell with aluminum foil and fill it with dried beans, rice, or aluminum pellets. This keeps the sides  from caving in and the bottom from bubbling up. Place the tart pan on the bottom shelf of the oven and bake for  15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, remove the weights and the foil, and return the shell to the oven for 5
more minutes to dry the bottom crust.

To bake a shell completely, follow the above steps but bake  it for 20 minutes before removing the weights. Return the shell to the oven for an additional 5 minutes. The crust should be a light golden brown.



Serves 6

Kanten is a traditional Asian fruit dessert. It is like a refreshing, creamy fruit pudding. Top it with nuts and fresh fruit. You can vary the juice used to make many different flavors. Apple juice with almond butter is a good combination, and pineapple-coconut juice with sliced oranges is very refreshing. Kanten is pretty served in goblets, and using goblets makes it easy to layer two different flavors.

4 cups apple juice
5 heaping tablespoons of agar flakes
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons tahini

Pour the apple juice into a saucepan. Add the agar flakes and the salt and bring the juice to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the agar dissolves.

Pour the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate the kanten until it sets, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Using a blender, blend the kanten with the tahini until it is smooth and creamy. If necessary, blend in batches. Tahini varies in thickness. If you have very thick tahini, you may need to add a little more juice to get a smooth creamy texture. Pour the kanten into individual serving dishes.

Serve the kanten cold. It's pretty served in stemmed glasses. Garnish it with fresh fruit: try berries, grapes, kiwi, or citrus.

Variations: Use apple-peach or apple-cherry juice and substitute almond butter for the tahini.

Use coconut milk in place of the tahini.


Brenda Langton has been a presence in Twin Cities dining since 1972. She started her first restaurant, Cafe Kardamena, in St. Paul in 1978, and then moved it to Minneapolis and renamed it Cafe Brenda in 1986. Cafe Brenda operated until 2009. In 2006, Brenda opened Spoonriver and founded the Mill City Farmers Market. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and an educator and consultant on healthy eating.

She is author of The Spoonriver Cookbook and The Cafe Brenda Cookbook: Seafood and Vegetarian Cuisine.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Hearty, healthful entrees from Jenny Breen

Day 4 of our six-day holiday recipe blowout continues with heartier, vegan-friendly recipes from professional chef Jenny Breen, co-author of Cooking Up the Good Life: Creative Recipes for the Family Table.

Day 3: Corn Chowder by Atina Diffley.
Day 2: Swedish Pancakes and Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranates by Helene Henderson.
Day 1: Sweet Potato and Walnut Salad and Cranberry Snack Cake by Beth Dooley.


Holiday recipes from Jenny Breen



Serves 8 to 10 

Brussels sprouts intrigued me as a kid. We only had them once or twice a year, but they were like fun little mini cabbages—slightly bitter and light and leafy at the same time. This sauce is what makes them work here. The Brussels sprouts combine with the mellow flavor of the sweet potatoes into a beautiful balance of spicy and sweet.

-1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
-3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (if you don’t have sweet potatoes, any other root vegetable or tuber works great-beets, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, etc.)
-2 leeks, cleaned and sliced thinly
-2 tablespoons olive oil

For horseradish sauce:
¼ cup olive oil
1/4 cup mustard
1/4 cup horseradish
2/3 cup honey (you can substitute ½ cup apple or orange juice)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine sauce ingredients and set aside. Clean and cut Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and leeks and coat with olive oil. Place in large baking pan, pour sauce over vegetables and coat well. Bake in 385 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender and bright colored. 


[vegan option]

Serves 8 to 10 

Not only is this dish beautiful, it is incredibly nutritious and delicious. Winter squash, including pumpkin, perfectly complement any seasonal green. You can use broccoli, greens, cauliflower or green beans depending upon the season. The coconut milk is creamy and rich, but not overly so, and it is a fun and creative way to use squash and pumpkin.

-2 medium squash such as butternut, red kuri, or pumpkin, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
-2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced into rings
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-2 inches ginger, peeled and minced
-1 tablespoon cumin
-1 tablespoon coriander
-1 tablespoon turmeric
-1 tablespoon chili powder
-2 teaspoons cinnamon
-2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
-¼ cup lemon juice
-¼ cup sugar or maple syrup
-2 bunches broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces—about 6 cups
-2 teaspoons salt
-1 16-ounce can coconut milk
-2 cups brown rice cooked in 5 cups water

-1 cup toasted cashews
-1 pound mock duck or chicken breast, chopped and stir fried until browned

Steam squash in large covered skillet until tender, not mushy—about 6 minutes. Remove any extra water. Heat olive and sesame oils, add leeks, garlic, ginger and squash and sauté until leeks are soft, then add the seasoning, juice, and maple syrup. Mix well until pumpkin is coated, then add broccoli, salt and coconut milk. Cover and allow to simmer until broccoli is bright green, then uncover and mix well so all vegetables are coated and tender. Add cashews and mock duck or protein if desired. Serve immediately over brown rice. 


[vegan option]

-3 tablespoons olive oil
-1 medium onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced, or 1 tablespoon dried
-1 tablespoon ground cumin
-2 teaspoons salt
-2 teaspoons pepper
-2 carrots, diced
-6 cups assorted root veggies/tubers, diced (use turnips, parsnips, peeled squash, beets, etc.)
-2 pounds stew meat, diced OR meat alternative (tofu, mock duck, or tempeh)
-1 cup red lentils
-1 cup wild rice (hand-harvested)
-1 32-oz. can diced tomatoes, or 1 quart from your pantry
-8-10 cups stock or water

Heat olive oil and sauté onions until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, spices, carrots and other veggies, and beef or alternative to coat and then add diced tomatoes. Bring to a rolling simmer and cover for about 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally to soften vegetables and cook meat.

Add red lentils and 4 cups of stock and simmer another 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If stew begins to thicken too much and stick to pan, add more liquid. After about 20 minutes, add the wild rice and remaining liquid. Simmer again another 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent any burning or sticking. Continue to add small amounts of liquid to prevent sticking and thickening too much. Adjust according to your preferences. When lentils are full and wild rice has opened, turn heat down to low and keep stew warm and cooking slowly until serving. 



These cookies were born out of my love for Greg Reynold’s cornmeal. I keep trying to think of new ways to use it. They are not dissimilar from the maple cornbread recipe—just a cookie version. The walnuts add a great crunch, and slight bitterness to balance the sweetness of the corn and maple. Try this with other nuts for yummy variations.

-1/2 pound (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
-1 cup maple syrup
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
-2-3 cups cornmeal
-1 teaspoon salt
-½ cup walnuts, chopped

Cream together the butter, vanilla and maple syrup. Add the pastry flour and 2 cups of the cornmeal. Mix until well combined. The dough should be soft, but not sticky. If it is too sticky, add more cornmeal, ¼ cup at a time until proper consistency.

Remove dough from the bowl, and on a floured surface, roll into a log about 15 inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut slices about ½ inch thick. Lay these flat on oiled pan (or silicone pan liner) and bake for about 15 minutes. They will not spread so you can place them fairly close together. Remove from oven when slightly browned and firm.


Jenny Breen has been cooking and baking professionally in the Twin Cities for more than twenty years. She is a co-owner of Good Life Catering (previously Good Life Café) and is a passionate advocate for local and sustainably raised foods. She received a Bush Leadership fellowship in 2009 and returned to school to study public health nutrition and continue her pursuit of healthy food for healthy families in healthy communities on a healthy planet. When not biking or canoeing with her family, she is in her home laboratory, passing along the pleasures of food to her husband, Jon, and their daughters, Solana and Frances. She is co-author with Susan Thurston of Cooking Up the Good Life: Creative Recipes for the Family Table.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Atina Diffley's Corn Chowder

Day 3 of our holiday recipe phase features a nice winter corn chowder from Atina Diffley, author of Turn Here Sweet Corn.

Day 2: Helene Henderson's Swedish Pancakes with Cranberries and Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranates.
Day 1: Beth Dooley's Sweet Potato and Walnut Salad and Cranberry Snack Cake. 

Four generations of the Diffley family come together in August to freeze corn for winter eating. Here, Martin Diffley (left), his grandchildren Emma, Chase, and Blake, and daughter, Eliza, prepare to husk just-picked sweet corn.

Atina Diffley's Corn Chowder

Makes 8 servings

During the corn-growing season, Martin and I eat most of our sweet corn in the field uncooked and fresh. During the holiday season we use our frozen sweet corn to bring the stored sun and warmth into the short winter days. When I was a kid I was taught how to cook “farm-style,” which meant using whatever one has on hand, and knowing how to swap out ingredients because “you wouldn’t be having free time to just run into town to pick up something.” How did my childhood cooking mentors know I’d be so busy! To this day, recipes are simply starting places for me, and most ingredients (and amounts) are fair play for substitution. Feel free to adapt this recipe to use the ingredients you like to eat or that you have on hand.

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
An additional dollop of olive oil or butter
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
¼ cup flour (Use your favorite kind. It’s fine to leave the flour out. The soup will be a little less thick.)
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth or water
2 cups cream or milk or soy/nut/coconut milk

1 cup potato, diced
1½ cup sweet corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme, and sauté about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and stir it in. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the cream or milk and the potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes start to break down. Add the sweet corn kernels. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in the parsley and a dollop of olive oil. Garnish with chopped parsley.


Atina Diffley is an organic vegetable farmer who now educates consumers, farmers, and policymakers about organic farming through the consulting business Organic Farming Works LLC, owned by her and her husband, Martin. From 1973 through 2007, the Diffleys owned and operated Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. She is author of the memoir Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Swedish Pancakes a la Helene Henderson

This week we're enlisting in some of our finest Minnesota authors to give us their favorite holiday recipes. We kicked off this holiday recipe spectacular on Friday with a few goodies from Beth Dooley. Today, we feature Helene Henderson, author of The Swedish Table.


Holiday recipes from Helene Henderson


I always make Swedish Pancakes (from The Swedish Table) for Christmas Eve breakfast, followed by the opening of one gift.

3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Additional butter for cooking
Powdered sugar, simple syrup cranberries (recipe below) and/or whipped cream (optional; for garnish)

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until combined. Heat a 7-inch nonstick or cast iron skillet until hot, or alternatively, if available, use a mini pancake pan. Add a small amount of butter and immediately pour in one ladle full of the batter: quickly tilt pan to spread batter evenly over the bottom. When pancake edges are dry and bubbles begin to appear in the center, flip it with a spatula and cook the other side until lightly brown. Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the pancakes on a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, simple syrup cranberries, and whipped cream.

Simple Syrup Cranberries

Blend 1 part sugar with 1 part water, and heat over low heat until sugar dissolves.

Place your cranberries (amount can be adjusted to your liking) in a heat proof bowl and pour the sugar mixture over the berries to cover. Place the syrup-covered berry bowl on top of a double boiler and cover with a lid, and cook under low heat for 45 minutes. Cool and serve at room temperature.


To get the perfect texture and color I usually do a 60% sweet potato to 40% mashed potato combination.

Ingredients and instructions:
-Take 2 large russet potatoes, peeled, boiled in salted water until soft when pierced through. Mash in a ricer.
-Take 2 sweet potatoes or yams, baked in a 400-degree oven until soft when pierced about 45 minutes. Remove from skin and gently mash.

Combine mashed potato and baked sweet potatoes.

Next ingredients:

4 tablespoons butter (or more)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon hot sauce of choice
1 cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup chopped parsley

Stir the butter into the warm potato/sweet potato mixture and add the cream and the hot sauce. Season to taste with salt. Stir in half of the maple syrup.

The potatoes can be made one day in advance up to this stage. To serve, reheat and garnish with remaining maple syrup, pomegranate seeds, and parsley.


Helene Henderson is an African American, Swedish-born chef who was raised in Luleå, Sweden, where she learned how to cook. She is author of The Swedish Table. She currently runs Malibu Farm, an organic farm where she and her staff offer fresh catering, host special events, and teach cooking classes. You can visit her online at

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday recipe spectacular: Utilize holiday leftovers with Beth Dooley's Sweet Potato and Walnut Salad

We're in a festive spirit this month at UMP and looking for some great recipes to match. We've enlisted in our finest Minnesota authors and cooks to divulge their favorite holiday foods.
Today we're launching a Holiday Recipe Spectacular in which we'll feature one Minnesota author per work day. We'll resume Monday, and by next Friday the 14th, we'll publish a printable document with all recipes included in this blog extravaganza. Please check back for more!


Holiday recipes from Beth Dooley
Author of The Northern Heartland Kitchen and Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook (forthcoming this spring), and coauthor of Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland.

Serves 6 to 8

When you're making those holiday sweet potatoes, bake a few extra potatoes to have on hand for this salad. You may also use any leftover sweet potatoes or squash if they are not heavily glazed or topped with marshmallows. To make this an entree salad, toss in leftover turkey.

1/4 cup white wine or raspberry vinegar to taste
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup walnut or olive oil
1/4-cup cranberry sauce, fresh or canned
2 medium sweet potatoes (about 3/4 to 1 pound), baked and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 fennel bulb, diced
1/2-cup sliced scallions
1/2- cup toasted walnuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, mustard and honey. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream. Stir in the cranberry sauce.

Turn the sweet potatoes, fennel, and scallions into a large bowl. Toss in enough vinaigrette to lightly coat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss in the walnuts just before serving.

Makes one 9-inch cake

Everyone will bet you for this recipe. It’s one of those old-fashioned crowd-pleasers, tender and moist yet not too sweet. It’s terrific with coffee or milk, or even a light beer or sweet wine.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup plain Greek style yogurt or sour cream
1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
Confectioners sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking power, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until blended. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold the flour alternately with the yogurt into the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Fold in the cranberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly then tap the pan to release the air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes up clean, about 50 to 55 minutes. Remove and cool. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.


Beth Dooley has covered the local food scene in the Northern Heartland for twenty-five years: she is a restaurant critic for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, writes for the Taste section of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Star Tribune, and appears regularly on KARE-11 (NBC) television in the Twin Cities area. She is author of Minnesota's Bounty (forthcoming this spring), The Northern Heartland Kitchen and coauthor with Lucia Watson of Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, both published by the University of Minnesota Press. For more of her recipes, check out her blog:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

World-Making and World-Devastation in Adrian Piper's Self-Portrait 2000

Adrian Piper's Self-Portrait 2000 (2000; Scroll-Down Website Artwork) is featured in the introduction to The Reorder of Things by Roderick A. Ferguson. Here, Ferguson explains the significance of this piece to his book. Collection and copyright Adrian Piper Research Archive Foundation Berlin.

Professor of race and critical theory at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

I’m not entirely sure how I found Adrian Piper’s Self-Portrait 2000, the piece in which she “depicts” herself as a downed airplane and traces her descent to Wellesley College’s alleged attempts to “service” her to death as the school’s “only tenured black woman.”

I do know that it was early on in the writing of The Reorder of Things.

I also know that it felt like more than serendipity, like it was supposed to happen.

After writing two books, I now know that I begin writing a new book by imagining it as my version of some classical text. Aberrations in Black was my version of Marx’s Capital: Volume 1. The Reorder of Things is my version of Foucault’s work. Foucault begins The Order of Things with Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. The painting depicts Velázquez as an artist at work in his studio. He is painting King Phillip and Queen Margaret of Spain, but we can only see them through their reflection in the mirror at the back of the room. The viewer bears witness not to the King and Queen, but to the painter at work, the maids of honor (las meninas), the princess that they attend, a little person, a dog, and another child. A nun is chatting away with a man. There is also another man in the doorway at the back of the studio observing the scene. For Foucault, Las Meninas signals the rise of Man and the downfall of the Sovereign as the subject of modernity. Hence, he was interested in the painting because of the way in which it depicts the scene of representation and the painter—a commoner, not a sovereign—as the designer of that scene. To paraphrase Foucault, we can observe the painter and ourselves being observed in this scene of representation. As the painter, Western Man is the force of representation. As the viewer, he symbolizes the object of analysis and its threat of dissection.

Self-Portrait 2000 in many ways seemed to be akin to and critical of Las Meninas. In both portraits, the subjects are absent. Both pieces also signal the rise of a new subject, signaled by the recession of a prior authority: For Las Meninas, the Sovereign; for Self-Portrait 2000, presumably Western Man himself. Both artworks “depict” the conditions for their subjects’ representations. For Las Meninas, Man can only be represented and analyzed in the wake of the sovereign’s downfall. For Self-Portrait 2000, Piper, a minority, could only be represented in the academy because of the social movements of the fifties and sixties that changed U.S. society, movements that—more pointedly—tried to put “the Man” in his place. Both are meditations on what happens when the subject becomes the object of observation and in the case of Self-Portrait 2000, of destruction as well. This aspect of Piper’s piece is what compelled me to open the book with it.

From my first encounter with Piper’s piece, I could see so many people in that portrait. I could also see the dangers of an institution—the academy—that offered both the pleasures of observation and the reality of destruction. When Audre Lorde died I was a sophomore at Howard and remember listening to the report of her death on NPR. When Sherley Anne Williams died, I was finishing up my dissertation at the very university at which she taught. I started teaching at the University of Minnesota the year that Barbara Christian lost her life to cancer. When June Jordan and Claudia Tate fell, I was well into my second year at the U, and Nelly McKay and VeVe Clark passed not long after I completed my first book. Like many of my colleagues who had also been shaped by the worlds that these women created, it seemed that many of the junctures in my life at universities had obituaries appended to them. After a while, I realized that I began to see these deaths as my own version of “where-were-you-when-Kennedy-was-assassinated?”

In this sense, the portrait seemed to diagnose a historical situation—how the conditions within the academy and the struggles that took place on campus yards way back when occasioned the rise and the demise of minorities, in general, but racial minorities, in particular. Self-Portrait 2000 says that the American academy set the conditions for all those things—our entrance, our representation, and our troubles.

It’s the scene of world-making and world-devastation all in one.


Roderick A. Ferguson is professor of race and critical theory at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is author of The Reorder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (2012) and Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (2003).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Calling Hollywood's bluff: Summing up the wild "Love in Vain" saga (Part 3 of 3)

After more than thirty years, the intriguing story behind the battle to bring Love in Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson to the big screen still marches on.

What follows is a final summation of the decades-long struggle to create a film out of "Love in Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson," a screenplay by Alan Greenberg.  
Read Part 1.  
Read Part 2.

Writer, producer, director, and photographer

It was the breakthrough I’d spent five years searching for.

In 1985, Susan Lacy of Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute called. She said that Love in Vain had been selected as the flagship film for the new Sundance production company. All I had to do was attend the Sundance summer session and participate in the workshops, meetings and symposiums, and I’d be given $3.1 million and a map of Mississippi. At first I resisted, telling Ms. Lacy that I had no need for film school. She suggested that I simply make an appearance at the Sundance's June session, then head for the Delta in order to shoot the film during cotton season (as was necessary).

When I got to Provo Valley and checked myself in at Sundance, I was treated to a cup of coffee by Bill Wittliff, screenwriter extraordinaire and Sundance's creative director. He seemed disturbed, and at first groped for words. With heartfelt sincerity and a touch of urgency he lowered his voice and leveled with me. “You shouldn’t be here,” he muttered. “You and your screenplay will be at the mercy of Hollywood hacks who’ve spent their lives trying to do what you’ve already accomplished. They’ll try to rip Love in Vain apart.” I replied that I was not insecure, that they could do and say whatever they want and, who knows, maybe I’d pick up a trick or two.

Soon I was facing a large roundtable with seats occupied by several champions of mediocrity and industry success. Each professed to idealize a film that was both cinematically exceptional and highly commercial. Headed by Frank Pierce, who introduced himself by citing his Dog Day Afternoon as though it were Gone With the Wind, with a stern face told me that he and his colleagues loved my project, but that the weakness of Love in Vain was the screenplay.

I thought to myself, “There’s nothing in Love in Vain but the screenplay.”

At a one-on-one with Robert Redford, he agreed with his roundtable while going on to say that Love in Vain was “a quantum leap beyond any project” he’d seen at Sundance. Yet he said he would not give me the money to produce the film unless I agreed, as director, to have the character of Robert Johnson “smile at least once in every scene, because that’s the way black people are” in the white world.

Soon thereafter I realized that I’d been there for over two weeks, and that the other filmmakers earnestly seeking success at Sundance were being given video equipment to shoot scenes from their projects—while nothing was being made available to me at all. Finally I was able to hurriedly shoot two scenes, one with Morgan Freeman as Old Ike, but instead of being given days or weeks of editing time to prepare my scenes for the last night’s big screening, I wasn’t allowed to edit my work until late afternoon on the day before the screening. Having rushed through the first scene, on the day of the screening I was instructed to finish an hour before the Big Show, even though I was hardly halfway through the second scene. Some time later the Sundance deputies were banging on my editing room door and demanding the two scenes, even if they were rough and unfinished, and I refused. Robert Redford himself tried to barge through the editing room doors, to no avail. When I’d finished both scenes to my compromised satisfaction I took them over to the main auditorium.

The venue was so jam-packed because of the Love in Vain controversy that chairs were removed to house more people. After the last scenes before mine were screened to polite applause, the anticipation of my two scenes electrified the crowd. Positioned up front were members of the roundtable. After the lights darkened and the scenes had been screened, a stunned silence followed, then wild applause. It subsided when little Hume Cronyn, the great septuagenarian actor of many fine films and plays, faced the crowd and said, “I was late for the last scenes and do not know who directed them, but they were by far the best work I’ve ever seen at Sundance.”

Amid renewed applause, Redford and his merry men looked defeated.

Sundance refused to pay my way home to Miami.

And as it turned out, there never was a Sundance production company, and the promised funding for Love in Vain was lost, the victim of a scam. It took the project several years to get over it.

There are countless more tales to tell of the ongoing Love in Vain saga. In 1990, Martin Scorsese signed on to direct the film for Warner Brothers. It would have taken him years to shoot it, so Love in Vain marched on. Then there was a deal for actor-director Tim Blake Nelson to direct P. Diddy as Robert Johnson for HBO. The director and star had a falling out, so that was that. Denzel Washington once contacted me about either starring in or directing Love in Vain. And presently David Lynch is trying to produce and direct the film with French financing.

Love in Vain will be made, fulfilling Hollywood’s ideal of a film of high creative merit that succeeds at the box office. Having struggled for more than thirty years to achieve, it will have called Hollywood’s bluff.


Alan Greenberg worked on Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear, Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, and with Werner Herzog on classic screenplays Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde, and Heart of Glass. His screenplay Love in Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson, which includes a foreword by Martin Scorsese.
"Love in Vain has accomplished what I have tried to do for a long time: that is, to develop screenplays as a new genre of literature which has its own natural right of existence."—Werner Herzog

"It may be the best movie you’ll see all year—even if it’s just inside your head." —Entertainment Weekly

Monday, November 19, 2012

Insomnia? Or evolution?

Should variations in human sleep be targeted for medical interventions?
Cross-posted with the Day In, Day Out series at Psychology Today

Some thoughts on treating dleep maintenance insomnia (when you wake up a few hours after going to bed and cannot get back to sleep).


Something woke you up in the middle of the night. The tug of the need to urinate? A bedpartner’s jerky limb? A loud noise? A startling dream? Whatever it was, the event passes as you bring yourself to unsteady consciousness. You lay in the dark for a few minutes — for what seems like a few minutes — deciding whether or not you’re going to get out of bed, if even to go to the bathroom quickly. After another minute of lying in the dark, your bladder has convinced you to go to the bathroom — maybe then you’ll be able to get back to sleep. But once you’re in the bathroom, you know it’s all over. You’re awake. You hadn’t even turned on the lights for fear that doing so would make returning to sleep impossible, but as you fumble in the dark, you know that night has come to an end and your day is starting very early.

The experience is generally referred to as sleep maintenance insomnia. It is characterized by being able to fall asleep when one wants to, but awakening in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation and drug manufacturers, millions of Americans experience sleep maintenance insomnia on a regular basis. From the perspective of modern science and medicine — and society more generally — this is disorderly sleep. If you wake up after four hours and stay up until the following night, you aren’t getting the amount of sleep you need in order to get through the day. Yet from the perspective of history, being unable to get back to sleep immediately might have everything to do with human evolution.

Humans may have evolved to sleep in a biphasic or non-consolidated fashion, that is, we may be physiologically inclined to sleep in two or more periods over the 24-hour day. We have unambiguous evidence that in pre-industrial Britain and the United States — so before 1840 — that people slept in two periods at night. They would lay down to sleep around sunset or shortly thereafter, wake up around four hours later for a couple of hours, and then sleep again for a few more hours. Today, despite pressures to stop doing so from some quarters, napping cultures thrive in southern Europe, China, Taiwan and elsewhere — people sleep for several hours at night and supplement this sleep with a hefty nap during the day, upwards of two hours.

Sleep is comprised of a series of cycles, which last about two hours for most people. During each cycle, we move through non-Rapid Eye Movement and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. At the end of each cycle, we move towards wakefulness, and this is when people often wake up. When we wake up in the middle of a cycle — due to an alarm clock or emergency — we often feel terrible throughout the day, struggling with an unresolved sleep cycle. (Incidentally, there are now alarm clocks that detect your progression through a sleep cycle and wake you up at just the right time.) When we think about this from the perspective of evolution, waking up every couple of hours to check your environment is a pretty useful adaptation — sleeping deeply through the night puts one at risk of nocturnal predators. But modern society favors consolidated sleep, so those of us who still sleep as our ancestors did are at risk of being diagnosed with sleep maintenance insomnia.

There aren’t any drawbacks to sleeping in a less consolidated fashion. Some evidence suggests that the grogginess we experience upon awakening is lessened and that we wake up more easily when we sleep for shorter periods. But society is structured around consolidated sleep — as I discuss in The Slumbering Masses, very few employers offer onsite napping facilities — and spending 12 to 14 hours in bed each night would cut into work and family time. And so, even though biphasic sleep might work for us physiologically, it might not work so well socially.

This is why sleep maintenance insomnia is treated as a sleep disorder and not normal human variation: it’s disruptive to society. It can be a nuisance to individuals as well — being chronically sleep-deprived can lead to serious social and health problems — but it wouldn’t be such a nuisance to individuals if society was set up to allow for people to sleep the ways they want to. American sleep patterns are more indebted to our ideas about the workday and school day than any basis in human nature or evolution. Some sleep disorders are serious and benefit from medical attention. But people who experience sleep maintenance insomnia might benefit more from a midday nap than a pharmaceutical fix or a large coffee. It’s up to us all to think about how society might better reflect our needs for sleep — to invent social arrangements that benefit us rather than pharmaceutical companies and the corner Starbucks.


Matthew Wolf-Meyer is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life. He blogs regularly here, and is currently writing a series of blog posts for Psychology Today.

"A groundbreaking contribution to our understanding of sleep and its manifold discontents. With scrupulous care, Matthew Wolf-Meyer probes the current state of sleep medicine as well as its absorbing history. At a time when modern society’s dependence on sleeping pills and plush bedding has never been greater, The Slumbering Masses is all the more welcome for its ambitious compass and penetrating insights."
—A. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Was a University Press?

What follows are extracts from University of Minnesota Press director Douglas Armato’s presentation at the 2012 Charleston Conference on Issues in Book and Serial Acquisition. These are snapshots of the history of the university press; debates about the humble "monograph"; and a model for the future of scholarly communication. You can also read the full text here.
Published as part of University Press Week, Nov. 11–17th. Click here for a full blog tour schedule.


· The first book published at an American university was at Harvard in 1636.

· The first formal university press established at Cornell in 1869 – heralding a familiar phenomenon of university publishing operations being closed or threatened with closure, the press at Cornell ceased business just six years later, in 1884, only to be resuscitated in 1930.

· The longest continually operating university press was founded at Johns Hopkins in 1878.

· At the height of the Depression, university presses were being founded at a rate of about one each year, a rate which continued through to the 1970s, when the end of the Federal subsidies for university libraries under the Cold War Era National Defense Education Act began the long slide in library monograph purchases, the “Monograph Crisis,” that gained speed with the “Serials Crisis” of the 1980s and faces new challenges with the movement toward Open Access today.

· In the late 1970s, more than 70% of university press book sales were to libraries, with the rest—to bookstores, to individuals scholars and graduate students, for course use, and overseas—seen as “icing.” That “icing” now overwhelms the cake itself, with libraries accounting for only an estimated 20% to 25% of university press sales. Yet amid this career-long “crisis,” university presses have in fact held their own, with overall sales even increasing by about ten percent over the past, economically difficult, decade.


· At the center of the debate over the future of scholarly communication—and the future of university presses—lies the humble monograph, of which libraries complain they do not get enough use and presses complain they do not get enough sales. Someone always seems to be to blame for the monograph—authors for writing them, publishers for publishing them, libraries for not buying them. A recent blog post from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s estimable Jennifer Howard carried the impatient headline “Ditch the Monograph.” Kathleen Fitzpatrick, in her book Planned Obsolescence proposes that scholarship could be better carried out in blogs than monographs. And my own author, the media scholar and philosophical provocateur Ian Bogost, diagnosed in his recent Alien Phenemonology that too often scholars write “not to be read, but merely to have written.”

· So what is the scholarly monograph and why are we still publishing them? The Webster’s definition of a monograph is “a learned treatise on a small area of knowledge” and most other dictionaries follow suit. But for scholarly publishing purposes, I have my own definition: “a monograph is a scholarly book that fails to sell.” At the time when the University Press Ebook Consortium (now part of Project Muse) was forming, I found myself in a heated argument with a fellow university press director on whether there was any such thing as individual, non-library purchasers of scholarly monographs. After an hour, I finally realized that he exempted from his definition of “monograph” any book that actually sold or had significant course use or bookstore sales. Monographs, thus, are what we in university presses call the books that don’t sell.


· Arguably, libraries and presses have been evolving in different directions, but if that divergence gets much wider it will lead to chaos and to a less-rigorous system of scholarly communication precisely at the moment when the explosion of information and discourse demands more interlinked systems.

· Some will say, have said, that presses are an evolutionary dead end—a “dinosaur”—and eagerly await their extinction in the tar pits of the open web, a commercialized mire that, frankly, is just as likely to swallow libraries. But I wouldn’t count presses out. Presses have innovated constantly and continue to do so. A university press launched Project Muse and we collaborated eagerly in the creation of JSTOR, cornerstones of Humanities and Social Science scholarship. And the e-book programs on both those platforms have the potential to bring new life and usage even to the disparaged monograph. After all, how many believed that journal backfiles could gain such usage before the advent of JSTOR?

· What I see ahead for the humanities and social sciences is an intensely innovative, hybridized environment for university scholarly communication—one that encompasses both open access and nonprofit models, scholarship in university repositories and that published by presses in the established forms of e-books and e-journals, large digital humanities initiatives, and a lively constellation of individual and collaborative scholarly blogs, micro blogs, and websites. In many cases, specific research projects will span and flow across all these forms in what I think of as a process of endosmosis and exosmosis, from less concentrated scholarly forms to more concentrated ones such as the monograph and back again.

· Why are scholarly publishers and specifically university presses needed in this emerging environment when freely available software make self-publishing an option for any scholar and when libraries increasingly are expanding their own missions to become publishers, but without the presses fiscal burden of cost recovery? The answer for me is that publication by a university press, by an entity with a mission that extends beyond its own institution, means something both academically and economically—it is both an evaluative process of editorial assessment, peer review, and faculty board approval and an evaluing in terms of the press' decision to invest financial and personnel resources in a particular author’s work.

· Over the past decades, university presses have sponsored scholarly work in areas that in many cases were discouraged or actively disparaged by university departments themselves—areas such as feminist studies, Chicano Studies, GLBT Studies, emerging areas of inquiry such as work on tourism, sports, and video games. Literary theory as a method flourished on the lists of university presses long before it had more than a toe-hold in language departments, presses focused on African-American history while vestiges of segregation still existed in universities themselves, even areas of science such as human genetics and cognitive science, once both thought of as marginal, were aided by the recognition provided by the presses at Johns Hopkins and MIT. Sometimes accused of rushing to "trendy" areas of scholarship, university presses at their best provide an alternate locus of accreditation for emerging areas of scholarship and scholarly method and, by working across institutional boundaries, help to correct for localized pockets of conservatism. As universities now address their budget crises by combining departments, shuttering interdisciplinary centers, and tightening tenure opportunities, university press imprints will be even more important to innovative and boundary-challenging scholars.

· University presses will survive and continue to evolve for this reason as well —that while new modes of scholarship continue to forecast “the death of the author,” the author is far from dead. Take it from a university press publisher, they bang down our doors, and not just to satisfy tenure and promotion requirements. And scholarly authors care: they revise diligently in response to peer review and editorial feedback, obsess over how their monographs are edited, titled, produced, publicized, and sold. Authorship is more than communication; many of the best academic blog authors are also recent university press authors. As long as there are scholars who consider themselves authors, there will be university presses.


Douglas Armato is director of University of Minnesota Press, where he also acquires titles in digital media and social theory. In collaboration with the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, he developed the Mellon Foundation-funded Quadrant initiative, which seeks to redefine how faculty and presses collaborate in developing publishing programs. He is a past president of the Association of American University Presses and also served two terms on that group's Board of Directors. He has regularly spoken on issues of scholarly communication and digital publishing.

Read the full text of this presentation here.

University Press Week blog tour next stop: University of Illinois Press.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Compelling tales of shipwrecks remind us that Mother Nature tends to have the last say—particularly in November.

Renowned expert on Great Lakes shipwrecks and lighthouses

Every November, my thoughts turn to the Great Lakes and the historic storms that have claimed so many boats during this month. I’ve lived near Lake Michigan for all but four years of my life, and I have seen how quickly and forcefully waves are whipped up, especially by late-fall nor’easters that send water and spray crashing over the rocks near shore. Whenever I see this, I always have the same thought: if the lake is this rough so close to shore, where the seas are breaking up, I’d hate to be out in the middle of the lake, where waves can be so huge that they crash over the rails of vessels unfortunate enough to be caught out in a storm.

I have written extensively about the Great Lakes, the boats lost in storms, heroic rescue efforts, lighthouses and lighthouse keepers, and commercial fishing. Two of my books focused on the wrecks of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Carl D. Bradley, the two largest vessels ever lost in the Great Lakes at the time. I am currently completing a book on the Storm of 1913, a maelstrom so lethal that it sank eight large freighters on Lake Huron in a four- or five-hour period. The sheer power of nature could be observed in that storm, when the Charles S. Price, a 504-foot bulk carrier, was found flipped on its back near Port Huron, Michigan.

The Fitz on Lake Superior (1975), the Carl D. on Lake Michigan (1958), and the Price on Lake Huron (1913)—all of these losses occurred with November storms. All proved, if nothing else, what we already know: regardless of advances in shipbuilding engineering, improvements in weather forecasting, discoveries in science and technology, and utter human courage and willpower, nature can—and occasionally will—have the final say.

The Edmund Fitzgerald might be the ultimate example. When she sank on November 10, 1975, she still ranked among the largest and strongest freighters on the lakes; she possessed the best that modern technology and communications had to offer. Her captain and crew were, in the words of Gordon Lightfoot, “well seasoned.” She appeared to be well equipped to handle anything that Mother Nature tossed at her.

No one will ever know for certain what happened at the moment of her sinking. What is known is that she was hauling 26,000 tons of taconite pellets down Lake Superior when she was caught in a particularly vicious storm. Depending upon whose theory you believe, she either hit bottom on a shoal near the Michipicoten and Caribou islands and ruptured hull plates, leading to her flooding with water and ultimately submarining to the lake bottom when she was overwhelmed by huge waves; or her cargo hold filled with water coming in through her hatches, leading to the same nose dive effect; or she broke in two on the surface and sank very quickly.

The sinking was so sudden that an SOS call was never transmitted, and her demise was so violent that she rests on the floor of Lake Superior in two incredibly damaged sections, the bow portion upright, the stern portion inverted. Twenty-nine men lost their lives.

When people ask me why this particular wreck has captured the public imagination, I usually respond by saying that, first, there was the great interest in Gordon Lightfoot’s song, which put a face on a boat and accident that might have been ignored, and, second, that the mysteries behind her sinking captivates anyone interested in maritime lore. That’s the easy explanation. More difficult—and compelling, I think—is trying to understand why we are drawn to the water in the first place, why we are captivated by boats and ships of all types, why we watch, transfixed, as huge waves break over the rocks lining the shore, why the loss of vessels is both fascinating and tragic.

I was reminded of all this recently when Superstorm Sandy assaulted the East Coast. Media coverage was extensive, with images from scenes in New Jersey and New York to the horrifying photographs of the sinking of the replica of the Bounty—all of which serve to remind us of the mind-boggling power of nature. The storm even made its presence known near my home in Wisconsin, when the waters of Lake Michigan stirred up into an angry, roiling mass of gray-brown. People from all over the city drove down to the lake, so many that a police officer had to direct traffic near a popular shoreline park. If truth be told, I’ve seen the waters stirred up as much in the past when other nor’easters blew in, but I suspect that this one was “must-see” viewing because a name was attached to it.

Whatever the reason, we are driven to watch, as if we need to be reminded of something very, very important.


A lifelong resident of the Great Lakes region, Michael Schumacher is the author of twelve books, including biographies of Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, and Eric Clapton, the award-winning Wreck of the Carl D., and Mighty Fitz, which has just been released with UMP. He has written twenty-five documentaries on Great Lakes shipwrecks and lighthouses.

"Schumacher never fails to bring a sympathetic and knowledgeable view of the story, as well as great respect to the memory of the 29 crew members who died. A rewarding narrative." —Publishers Weekly

"A fastidious history of loss at sea, for casual reader and maritime maven alike." —Kirkus

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How did same-sex marriage gain historic wins at the ballot box yesterday? Three ideas.

Assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio

Last night was a huge victory for same-sex marriage at the ballot box.

This November, voters in four states—Minnesota, Maryland, Maine, and Washington—were faced with ballot measures about same-sex marriage. For the first time, these ballot measures (all except Minnesota) had the potential to legalize same-sex marriage in that state. Already, voters in Maine and Maryland have passed same-sex marriage at the ballot box, a historic first, and voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage. It is highly likely that Washington voters have also legalized same-sex marriage at the ballot.

My book, Gay Rights at the Ballot Box, analyzes the long and painful history of anti-gay ballot measures and how the LGBT movement has grown to fight them. Since the first anti-gay ballot measure in 1974 in Boulder, Colorado, the LGBT movement has fought more than 155 ballot measures across the country. For the last decade, most of these ballot measures have banned same-sex marriage with broad voter support.

How did the LGBT movement go from a losing streak around same-sex marriage to an epic victory? I think the following factors are significant:

Huge Campaigns. All four states launched large campaigns that created broad coalitions, identified potential supporters, raised millions of dollars, and harnessed people power with thousands of volunteers. These campaigns might have been aided by the size of the states in question. All states either had median population size or were quite small, which increases the chances that a large campaign would reach voters. In the case of Maine, volunteers really could speak to all of their supporters, as opposed to past campaigns in larger states such as California, Texas or Florida.

Learning from Past Campaigns. The LGBT movement learned a lot by losses with California Proposition 8 in 2008 and Maine Question 1 in 2009. One of the biggest lessons learned was about political messaging, the messages developed to create political ads and canvassing scripts. This time around, messages in all campaigns were more direct and focused on LGBT rights; there was more visibility of gay and lesbian individuals in these campaigns, and the ads talked about same-sex marriage in a more direct manner. Campaigns in the past have often avoided this directness, focusing instead on constitutional issues or fairness more generally. This directness might have increased the power of political messages to counter Religious Right messages about the dangers of same-sex marriage to children in schools or religious freedom. This learning from past campaigns has included developing new, sophisticated canvassing models through projects like Vote For Equality.

Public Opinion. The last major vote on same-sex marriage was in 2009 with Maine Question 1, and since then public opinion has shifted dramatically toward greater support for same-sex marriage. For the first time a majority of voters and a sitting president both support same-sex marriage. An increasing number of states have also legalized same-sex marriage. These factors have led many scholars and organizers to suggest that there has been a “turning of the tide” for support of same-sex marriage.

Overall, Tuesday night was a historic night for the LGBT movement and its fight to legalize same-sex marriage!


Amy L. Stone is assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio and author of Gay Rights at the Ballot Box.

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