Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday Recipe Roundup: Beyond Grape Salad

Saffron and Raisin Buns, known fondly in Sweden as Lussekatter buns.

With the holidays comes the usual flurry of cooking and baking: delicious casseroles and breads, tasty cookies, pies, and other sweets, and grape salad. Okay, maybe not grape salad. (#GrapeGate anyone?) But in any event, we all have our favorite dishes that we love to prepare and bring to our holiday get-togethers.

In the spirit of all things bound to contribute to our waistline this holiday season, we've compiled a few of our favorite recipes from several University of Minnesota Press cookbooks that we hope you'll give a try. Enjoy and we'll see you in the New Year!

Chocolate-Pistachio Cookie Sticks
from The Great Holiday Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

These cookies are utterly irresistible, and you don't need any fancy tools to make them look pretty. The dough molds easily into smooth, fat sticks, and after they're baked they're dipped into chocolate and chopped pistachios.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

For Decoration:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon corn oil
1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add the flour a little at a time, beating at high speed until the dough is smooth.

Press the dough through a pastry tube with a #5 star tip or through a cookie press with a star tip directly onto the prepared cookie sheet to make 2 1/2-inch sticks, spaced about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 minutes, until the cookies feel firm and are just beginning to brown. Slide the cookies on the paper onto a countertop to cool.

While the cookies bake, combine the chocolate chips and oil in a small glass bowl. Heat in the microwave, for about 2 minutes, stirring every 10 seconds until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Or place the bowl over hot water and stir until melted. Place the chopped pistachios in a small bowl.

To decorate the cookies, dip one end of each stick into the melted chocolate, then into the pistachios. Place on the parchment paper and let sit until the chocolate is firm.

Makes about 48 cookies.


Cranberry Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloins are delicate, tender cuts that cook in no time; in fact, the danger is that they'll quickly overcook. Cranberries bump up the flavor and color when added toward the end of the sauté.

2 pork tenderloins, about 1 1/2 pounds each
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup cranberries
1/4 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a large ovenproof skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the tenderloins and sear, rolling them from side to side, until all sides are browned. Remove the pork from the pan and set it aside.

Reduce the heat to medium, and add the onions and cranberries to the pan. Cook until the onions are wilted and the cranberries pop, about 3 minutes. Stir in the white wine, and scrape to loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the tenderloins to the pan, and baste them with the sauce. Put the pan in the oven, and bake until the pork registers 145°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 to 10 minutes. Allow the pork to stand 5 minutes before slicing the tenderloins into medallions. Serve with the pan juices and cranberries.

Serves 4-6.


Maple-Ginger Red Beans
from The Spoonriver Cookbook by Brenda Langton and Margaret Stuart

Better than any baked beans, these red beans are sweet and savory. If you want to add some diced carrots, onions, and celery, simply sauté 1/2 cup of each in a tablespoon of olive oil for 5 minutes and add the sauté to the beans when you add the rest of the ingredients.

1 cup dried small red beans (3 cups cooked) or 2 (15-ounce) cans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt

Soak dried beans for at least two hours, or longer. Drain and rinse the beans.

Put the beans and 3 cups of water in a pot. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the beans for 1 hour or until tender. If there is excess liquid, drain off all but 1/2 cup.

If you are using canned beans or beans cooked earlier, place the beans in a pot and warm them over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Add the maple syrup, ginger, soy sauce, and salt to the beans. Cook for a couple of minutes longer and serve.

Serves 4-6.


Saffron and Raisin Buns (Santa Lucia Buns or Lussekatter Buns)
from The Swedish Table by Helene Henderson

These delicious golden buns begin the magical time of Christmas, a glorious celebration of lights, family, and home. Bake a tray full for an early morning breakfast treat for your own Santa Lucia celebration.

1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 package dry yeast (1/4 ounce or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup salted butter
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon saffron threads, chopped fine and soaked in a few drops of water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (to grease bowl)
2 egg yolks, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons raisins

Preheat oven to 400°F. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine 1 tablespoon sugar, warm water, and yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes or until yeast begins to bubble and foam.

In a small saucepan combine butter, milk, and saffron. Heat until warm and butter is melted, but do not let boil. Let sit for 8 minutes or until temperature falls below 110 degrees. Add milk mixture to yeast in the mixer bowl. Add flour and 1/2 cup sugar and beat with a dough hook until combined and the dough is smooth and workable; if necessary, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time, up to 3 tablespoons. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled (or buttered) bowl, cover loosely with plastic food wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. The dough will be dense and will not rise much.

Divide dough into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into 1-inch-wide, 6-inch-long strips. Coil ends in opposite directions, forming a tightly curled S-shape. Place on baking sheet covered with Silpat liner (or parchment paper) and let rise for 1 hour more. Brush buns with beaten egg yolk and place 1 raisin in the center of each curl, 2 per bun. Bake until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Makes 16 rolls.


And if you are curious about that grape salad recipe, here it is, or another version here that includes cream cheese. A UMP colleague made it and claims it's actually good. I guess you'll have to make it and see (or taste) for yourself.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Goodbye, Marriage Bans. Hello, Duggars.

Two men in handshake during San Francisco Marriage March with banner,
 "We all deserve the freedom to marry." 
Photo from Creative Commons.

Assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio

For about six months I’ve considered writing an update to Gay Rights at the Ballot Box, my book on the history of anti-gay ballot measures from 1974 to 2009. However, I’ve been in the fortunate position of being stymied by the flurry of court cases legalizing same-sex marriage. According to Freedom to Marry, since June 2013, there have been 36 pro-marriage rulings in federal court, 15 issues in state court, and five by federal appellate court.

These rulings frequently have overturned the marriage bans written into state constitutions by anti-gay initiatives that have spread across the country since the late 1990s. The most infamous of these initiatives was the California Proposition 8 in 2008. When I published my book in 2012, these marriage bans were the main form of ballot measure used by the Religious Right to restrict LGBT rights. I had a suspicion that the marriage bans would be overturned by court rulings, although there was the possibility that LGBT campaigns would have to repeal these marriage bans with additional initiatives (and organizers in states like Florida and Oregon were preparing to do so).

Now I can declare that it’s official. The marriage ban ballot measure is dead. I think that these ballot measures, which have happened in over thirty states and have consumed millions of dollars and innumerable other resources from the LGBT community, are never going to be effective again.

However, anti-gay ballot measures are not over. The Religious Right has continued in its longstanding use of referendums on municipal non-discrimination laws that include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Similar to votes this year in Pocatello, Idaho, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, this month voters in Fayetteville, Arkansas, considered whether to repeal the city’s non-discrimination laws. The voters elected to repeal the law by a narrow margin.

When Fayetteville voters considered whether to repeal the law, they were persuaded by the support of nearby conservative reality television stars Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. Michelle Duggar participated in a robocall that reminded me of the first major anti-gay referendum, the Dade County referendum of 1977, which was supported by conservative star Anita Bryant. In her robocall Duggar proclaimed that the law allows “males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls.”

In my book, I document the beginning of this claim that transgender-inclusive laws would allow men to come into women’s bathrooms, and the way Religious Right campaigns use it to create hysteria around LGBT rights. This message about the dangers of transgender-inclusive laws is frighteningly similar to Anita Bryant’s claim from the late 1970s that gay men were trying to recruit and molest children. I’ve been tracking these messages created by the Religious Right during anti-gay campaigns, and increasingly the Right is using fear tactics around transgender women (who they almost always describe as “men” or “men in dresses”) using the bathroom. These messages have been deployed all over the United States during these municipal battles about LGBT rights, including in Miami Dade and my own city of San Antonio. Although marriage bans are dead and gone, anti-gay ballot measures still persist.

As much as some things change, others seem to stay the same.


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

"Amy L. Stone crafts a compelling, deeply textured portrayal of the more than 200 anti-gay ballot campaigns in the U.S. since 1974. Through interviews with movement leaders and other sources, Stone deftly analyzes the tension between winning campaigns and building a sustainable movement, between national, urban activists and local, rural communities, as well as debates over tactics and messaging. Gay Rights at the Ballot Box is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the central, disturbing role anti-gay politics has played in contemporary U.S. politics."—Sean Cahill, Ph.D., Fenway Institute and New York University 

"The chapters on the history of right-wing attacks, the extended Michigan cases, and conservatives’ racist and transphobic smear tactics are especially enlightening, but throughout, Stone writes accessibly about big ideas and everyday actions increasingly central to US politics." —Choice 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The continuing influence of the Mexico ’68 Olympics brand

Lance Wyman, designer, Mexico '68 logo, 1968

Assistant professor of art history at Syracuse University

A recent analysis of financial data provided by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) attempted to quantify how much the Olympic brand is worth today. The analysis, in many ways a problematic one, found it to be worth $47.5 billion dollars, which positions it above Google and second only to Apple, the corporate giants with which it shares the first three spots of the ranking. A question that arises about precisely what kind of value this analysis measures involves the urban dimension of the Olympics: the dilapidated remains of many Olympic sites, many of which become little more than ruins just after the temporary event is over, indicate that the value of the brand tends not to translate into financial gain for host Olympic cities.

Already a powerful corporation by the mid-twentieth-century, at that time the IOC did not quite possess the unified brand identity it possesses today. It is hard to imagine that it would have acquired it without drawing upon branding efforts associated with specific Olympics like Mexico 1968. While Tokyo 1964, its immediate predecessor, had featured ambitious design campaigns, the total design logic of the Mexican campaign—premised on the integration and translatability of consistent formal elements across a wide range of media—was unique.

An international team headed by Beatrice Trueblood and Eduardo Terrazas, and which included figures like Lance Wyman, Michael C. Gross, and Peter Murdoch, among others, was responsible for the effort, which was commissioned by the Mexican Olympic Committee (MOC), headed by architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. Years later, this architect designed the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Lausanne (1986).

The generative image from which much of the campaign stems is Wyman’s Mexico ’68 logo, which combines a series of radiating patterns with the word “Mexico,” the number “68” and the central visual element of the IOC’s brand, the five Olympic rings. Painted pavements surrounding the Olympic sites replicated the same patterns in a variety of colors; postage stamps advertised Olympic events and sites of athletic competitions employing the same formal logic; even the logo itself took on monumental incarnations in a series of urban sculptures located in sites around the capital city.

What exactly was being branded? There was, of course, the ephemeral Olympic event, which lasted between October 12 and October 27, 1968. However, the campaign also advertised to the world, then experiencing a mass media revolution fueled by television—the medium that most significantly increased the profitability of the Olympics in the twentieth century—a distinctive destination, a specific city located in the first developing country to organize such an ambitious undertaking.

Like the Olympic brand itself, the value of the Mexico ‘68 brand is not easy to assess. A landscape of Olympic ruins is not found in Mexico City, whose authorities made strategic reuse of existing sports facilities and, mostly because funds were scarce, built few new ones for the Olympics. And yet, the social and economic cost of the event, which led to the selective gentrification of fragments of the city and took place in a violent environment, was high. On October 2, 1968, ten days before their inauguration, for instance, government forces infamously opened fire against student protesters who denounced the autocratic political regime that commissioned the Olympics.

In strict design terms, the Mexico ’68 brand remains influential. The rainbow pavements designed for the London Olympic Stadium, site of the 2012 summer Olympics, are direct heirs to their Mexican predecessors; Wyman’s career after Mexico ’68, currently the subject of an exhibition in Mexico City, speaks to the influence of that campaign over his wide-ranging practice. And just as the Olympic brand has gradually become tangible and increasingly valuable, a specific Olympics without a clearly identifiable brand would be difficult to even conceive today.

The memory of Mexico ‘68 becomes increasingly relevant as we approach the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the second-ever Latin American city to host such an event. The city is set to host the Olympics shortly after the 2014 soccer World Cup was celebrated in several Brazilian cities this past summer (In Mexico, the order was the reverse: the 1970 soccer World Cup took place in some of the sports facilities used for the Olympics two years earlier).

This past April, the vice-president of the IOC characterized preparations for the Rio Olympics as the ‘worst ever’ in his experience. This critique is reminiscent of the doubts cast on the Mexican authorities’ ability to successfully stage Mexico ‘68, and speak to geopolitical asymmetries that defined the 1960s as well as the present day. The irony is that the social cost of the Olympic brand seems to affect the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds more evenly today than ever before: the militarized ‘pacification’ of Rio de Janeiro reminds us of the tense environment of Mexico ’68 or Beijing during the 2008 summer Olympics; yet the 2012 summer Olympics in London and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, to name only two examples, also took place in militarized, highly divisive conditions. The aggregate of this historical experience should serve the purpose of assessing how much Olympics are worth in a holistic sense; this approach to designing and planning the events may help to bridge the seemingly expanding gap between the profitability of the brand and its concrete effects on the specific sites it visits every few years.


Luis M. Castañeda is assistant professor of art history at Syracuse University and the author of Spectacular Mexico: Design, Propaganda, and the 1968 Olympics.

"An extraordinary piece of research and, more importantly, historical imagination, this book makes its points clearly, with crystalline and imaginative intelligence, and with massive empirical backing."—Mauricio Tenorio, author of “I Speak of the City”: Mexico City, 1880–1930

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ethical Geography: How abolitionists used spatial practice to reject their own authority

Ralph Waldo Emerson ca. 1857. 
Photograph: George Eastman House Photography Collection

Assistant professor of English at Florida International University

I. Toward a New New Abolitionism

Abolitionism, the movement formulated in the United States north to bring about an immediate end to slavery in the US south, was, in its moment, the watchword for rabble-rousing, for the unsettling of social hierarchies, for threats to the racial, religious, and economic order. In the hundred and eighty-plus years since its coalescence as a social movement circa 1830, its fortunes have fluctuated wildly. It has been used as a term of approbation or disdain, from the right and from the left, often depending on the racialized politics of assumed knowledge and posited solidarity that accompany its invocation.

Perhaps abolitionism’s most important period of post-hoc reimagining occurred in the middle 1960s, as white academic historians’ late-dawning acknowledgement of the history-making work of the civil rights movement reframed the terms of their inquiry into its clear historical precursor. This watershed in mainstream historiography brought about a new appreciation of the interracial abolitionist movement, a new focus on the pervasiveness of resistance among the enslaved, and the long-overdue granting of testimonial authority of the ex-slave narrative.

However, this important victory for abolitionist historiography—which perhaps tellingly dubbed both its own efforts and those of the civil rights movement “the new abolitionism”— served to magnify the ethical hazards of interracial advocacy, past as well as present.

As the critic Ashraf Rushdy has noted in his indispensible exploration of the emergence of the neo-slave narrative in African American literature of this period, “At precisely the time when academics were responding to the early civil rights movement by producing newly sympathetic histories of American abolitionists, white northern volunteers arrived in Mississippi and demonstrated to the African American social activists just what was problematic about certain kinds of abolitionists. Many of these white students […] were utterly insensitive to the traditions and cultural practices of the African American people of Mississippi. They also seemed to have brought with them the abolitionist belief in their presumed responsibility for the souls of those whom they would save.”

By this account, academics learned from the civil rights movement what they had forgotten about the historical agency abolitionism, even as the micropolitics of interracial cooperation in the present appeared to mark a certain limit to any purely adulatory view of the abolitionist movement. Thus, we might wish to say, as Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested in 1844, “That we are indebted mainly to this movement, and to the continuers of it, for the popular discussion of every point of practical ethics.” But, from a more suspicious angle, we could just as easily find cynicism, careerism, and an early articulation of the formation now widely known as the “white savior complex.”

We can, after all, see such a movement adumbrated in Rushdy’s own language, in which the ethical lapses of “some abolitionists” shade into a generalized “abolitionist belief” in the availability of enslaved African souls for their saving. It is this version of historical abolitionism that has become a synonym for racial discipline disguised as care.

This contemporary view of abolitionism lodges an important critique of liberalism’s tendency to equate self-determination with the acquisition of a white male political subjectivity. However, it leaves another cherished liberal fallacy largely untouched—the notion that history always discloses forward progress, and that the present always has superior critical leverage on the past. The result of this fact for contemporary cultural studies, I argue, is that we have prematurely ruled out the possibility of abolitionist self-critique precisely because we find its offenses so very familiar.

With Abolitionist Geographies, I make a claim for a new “new abolitionism.” One capable of articulating its own ethical risks, and, crucially, one inclined to use the literary imaginary’s status as the realm of the possible as the place to work them through.

Cutting against the image of the abolitionist as prefiguration of the Civil Rights movement’s bluff white college man striding into Mississippi, the literary abolitionism I examine is precisely concerned with the fight against slavery as a problem of spatial practice.

Abolitionist geography is the name I give to the literary mode in which abolitionists ponder solutions to the problem of their own spatial remove from the institution they are trying to overthrow.

II. Mapping Dissent

“I am looking into the map to see where I will go with my children when Boston & Massachusetts surrender to the slave trade.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Geography, especially understood in narrow terms as cartography, often appears to be the very essence of spatialized discipline. The fixing of borders and mapping of terrain is a technology of war, of nation building, and of conquest. Its salient visual orientation—the aerial view—belongs to the surveillance craft and the skyscraper. This angle of vision required by cartography survives in maps as perpetual reminder of the violence of conquest.

When approached from the post-civil rights-era perspective that emphasizes its compromised motives and unconscious biases, abolitionism comes to resemble mapping and map reading in the intimacy it seems to posit between knowledge gleaned from afar and designs for social reorganization imposed from without. As an aesthetic matter, the abolitionist’s angle of vision seems to assume—indeed usurp—the position of the slaveholder by observing slavery from above, the position of authority, rather from below, the position of resistance uncompromised by power and privilege.

Indeed, in contemporary literary and cultural criticism, the prevailing approach to abolitionism has been to deconstruct its claims to moral authority as too enamored of mastery-by-other-means.

Abolitionist Geographies is committed by contrast to the importance of what used to be called “outside agitators” to social protest movements, and the possibility—indeed urgency—of self-critical activism in the past and in the present. Abolitionist Geographies argues that abolitionism developed a spatial vocabulary through which to probe and conditionally resolve its own ethical contradictions.

One nicely compressed example comes from a letter Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to his brother, William, in 1856, during the particularly fraught period around the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In this statement, “the map” is cast not as a technology for mastery at a distance, but rather as a metaphor for New England abolitionists’ increasing sense of themselves as beset on all sides by a hostile state.

Indeed, the period of the late 1850s produced a number of examples of maps and mapping represented as tools of resistance, critique, and subversion, culminating with John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.

Other examples include:
  •  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s celebration of slave resistance and marronage in Dred (also 1856) in terms of the Great Dismal Swamp’s resistance to mapping:
“The reader who consults the map will discover that the whole eastern shore of the Southern States, with slight interruptions, is belted by an immense chain of swamps, regions of hopeless disorder, where the abundant growth and vegetation of nature, sucking up its forces from the humid soil, seems to rejoice in a savage exuberance, and bid defiance to all human efforts either to penetrate or subdue.”
  • The white antislavery militant Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s admiring biographical sketch of Nat Turner, which circulates a apocryphal story of the rebel as map-reader:
“To this day there are traditions among the Virginia slaves of the keen devices of ‘Prophet Nat.’ If he was caught with lime and lampblack in hand, conning over a half-finished county-map on the barn-door, he was always ‘planning what to do if he were blind;’ or ‘studying how to get to Mr. Francis’s house.”
  •  The Black nationalist Martin Delany’s novel of transnational slave revolt, Blake; Or, the Huts of America, which represented the enslaved person’s escape north in terms of a navigator’s ability to travel long distances by scanning the skies:
After a few minutes “busily engaged with a pencil and paper” the rebel Henry Blake composed a diagram of Ursa Major, and then instructed a group of aspiring fugitives on how to read the relative positions of the stars as the means to find “the North star, the slave’s great Guide to Freedom.”

In contrast to the master’s aerial view, that is, Delany offers a lesson in astronomy as a revolutionary bottom-up alternative, one that can start anywhere, and lead anywhere, and that can be made readily available to the enslaved.

In Abolitionist Geographies, I examine a range of such spatial expressions of abolitionist dissent. Beginning with the 1830s, I trace abolitionists’ attempts to glean lessons from the problematic imperial administration of British West Indian emancipation for their own explicitly anti-authoritarian purposes. In the1840s, I examine Garrisonian abolitionists’ efforts to spatialize the problem of their complicity with slavery, what Garrison called “the guilt of New England,” through the controversial geographic metaphor of “disunion.” Finally, for the period of intensified crisis on the eve of the Civil War, I trace abolitionists’ increasing investment in paramilitary tactics as a spatial manifestation of their ethical claims.  


Martha Schoolman is assistant professor of English at Florida International University. She is the author of Abolitionist Geographies and coeditor of the essay collection Abolitionist Places.

"Abolitionist Geographies offers exciting new ways of thinking about place, time, politics, and form in the antislavery writings of such important antebellum writers as Emerson, William Wells Brown, Martin Delany, and Stowe. Drawing on recent work in diasporic and hemispheric studies, Schoolman shows how key writers of the time made use of spatial experimentation to conceive of the nation well beyond North and South sectionalism. Abolitionist Geographies poses a fresh challenge to scholars of the period to address matters of nation and geography more complexly."—Robert S. Levine, author of Dislocating Race and Nation

Friday, November 14, 2014

#UPWeek: Writing the Continuous Book.

This post is published on the occasion of University Press Week, in which about 30 university presses have published posts on five significant topics: collaboration; your Press in pictures; connections with popular culture; a throwback look at an influential project or series; or #FollowFriday, today's topic on university presses and social media. Find more details about University Press Week here.

The siphonophorae, considered by Gabriel Tarde
to be the embodiment of sociality.

Professor of anthropology and director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Texas at Austin

Books capture and convey the motion of thought as it grapples with topics or conjures up scenes. But does that line of thinking simply come to an end when the book does?

Covers close the book and seal it as complete, perhaps even definitive. What happens in cases where thoughts want to stay in motion? 

The answer generally has been to write another book, which, under the best circumstances, can take years. But developing a short-format e-book and ensconcing it in social media is a means to write a book continuously.

I was mired in the opening stages of my next book—an ethnography of plant biodiversity science in Mexico and Spain—when Jason Weidemann mentioned to me the experimental Forerunners series at University of Minnesota Press. I was enthralled. Immediately, I peeled off a dozen or so speculative ideas that had been cluttering up the simple analytical frame I needed for writing about multisited fieldwork on plants. These were unruly but intriguing thoughts—on whether “natives” are principally plants or people; on how “model organisms” serves as fables guiding bioscience research; or the notion that a horticultural hermeneutic reaches from the Bible to the root directories of cloud computing. These and many more assembled as Aesop’s Anthropology, a series of short essays responding to one basic question: What can we learn about sociality from other species, once we suspend the belief that it is the unique possession and characteristic of humans? You can read it if you’d like; what I’ll principally convey here is how this format and the modes of social media I’ve engaged with to promote it are turning out to be remarkably generative beyond the book itself.

First, the book as “platform”: there’s more to this than marketing metaphorics. Seeing the essays as templates, I’ve been able to write on new topics before Aesop’s was even released. Laying out a framework of speculative ideas allows me to develop them sporadically, in turn, as new instances arise—in the media or everyday life—rather than having to hive to the scholastic argument format. Using a blog site, I am writing new essays that extend the initial inquiries, generally in surprising direction, or certainly ones I didn’t anticipate when I developed the initial frame. Now I don’t have the maddening wait to get something “in print”; I can write it, post it, and move onto the next idea, knowing they’re all coalescing in ways I won’t entirely anticipate. And who doesn’t like to be surprised by where their own writing leads?

Second, there’s Twitter, a medium I abhorred without knowing much about it. I turned to it, also, for reasons I generally loath: marketing! But it has considerably changed my understanding of how I think and write. Yes, there’s the way “networking” can develop into collaborative approaches, new ideas and directions, different conversations, and all that. Through following others on Twitter, I’ve come across articles, symposiums, and research projects that I would have otherwise entirely missed—even though I do a dogged job of keeping up with academic publishing on my various subjects. The biggest impact, though, was when I realized I could use my page as a curated site, collecting the intriguing items I am finding and not yet sure of how to use. For instance, I read more science journals now, keeping up with my plant scientist subjects. Previously, I would’ve been trolling these for tropes and other ideological operations, evidence of “social constructions” of science. Now, though, I’m more inclined to mimic these scientists and compile findings, research protocols, and study subjects into … what? I’m not yet sure. Probably a synthetic account of plants that combines cultural critique with social observations, percolating with natural science facts and theories, all about that particularly charged topic: evolution. I don’t see the final frame yet at all, but I use my Twitter page to write it up incrementally.

Most liberating of all, lets me write with a persona, one that’s emerged from the book project. I don’t use the page for personal updates; rather, I compile quotes and citations—think links—the way Walter Benjamin imagined composing his Paris Arcades project. My profile picture is a siphonophorae—a remarkable marine entity that appears as a single organism (a jellyfish, perhaps) but is actually a massive colony of interlocking individual zooids. Gabriel Tarde considered it as the embodiment of sociality, which helpfully figures the nonhuman dimension I’m striving to learn from. I only post when I’ve come across new scholarly or news items that variously stretch the connotation of “culture” and “social.” When I reread the page, I start seeing connections between trajectories that I didn’t foresee. In this sense, too, I use it to gain some distance from myself by assuming a curatorial stance for this ledger that is gradually materializing. 

The best part is that though I keep accumulating more material than I know what to do with, my anxieties over what to do with it all are dissolving. I’m just watching what unfolds and trying to learn from it all, rather than worrying about how it will fit in the next book—or anticipating all that won’t make it between the next set of covers. 


John Hartigan Jr. is author of Aesop's Anthropology: A Multispecies Approach, one of the first releases in University of Minnesota Press's Forerunners series. He is a professor in the department of anthropology and Director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of Racial Situations: Class Predicaments of Whiteness in Detroit (Princeton, 1999), Odd Tribes: White Trash, Whiteness and the Uses of Cultural Analysis (Duke, 2005), What Can You Say? America’s National Conversation on Race (Stanford 2010), and Race in the 21st Century: Ethnographic Approaches (Oxford 2010). He recently edited Anthropology of Race: Genes, Biology, and Culture (2014). Hartigan’s current research on biodiversity in Mexico and Spain is the subject of his forthcoming book from Minnesota, Care of the Species: Cultivating Biodiversity in Mexico and Spain. His blog, Aesop’s Anthropology, reflects on multispecies dynamics broadly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A sustainable planet is a nuclear-free planet.

What if the movement for climate change joined forces
with the movement for a nuclear-free planet?
Image via Flickr/public domain license.

Paul Garrett Professor of Political Science at Whitman College

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times made an interesting observation by juxtaposing two prominent social movements of our times. The piece pointed out that the People’s Climate March in Manhattan this past month mimicked in scale and scope the June 1982 Nuclear Freeze demonstration in Central Park. Held a generation apart, both massive gatherings identified a “threat to civilization and to life on Earth”—the dangerous warming of the planet for the first, the possibility of laying it to waste for the latter.

Working in tandem with worldwide social movements, both groups sought to generate and harness public opinion to urge policymakers around the world to take action on an emergency of planetary proportions (Teresa Tritch, “From Nuclear Freeze to Global Warming – and Back,” the New York Times, September 23, 2014). The point of Tritch’s piece was to caution climate-change activists to stay focused on specific targets, reminding readers that “32 years after the Central Park gathering, progress on significant arms reductions is going into reverse ...” What the article was referring to here was the recent announcement by the Obama administration that the U.S. was going to spend trillions of dollars over the next three decades modernizing and upgrading its nuclear arsenal. An earlier piece in the same paper had called this escalation a “nationwide wave of atomic revitalization”—a surprise and disappointment to those who had taken seriously President Obama’s occasional rhetorical gesture toward a nuclear-free world. (William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms,” the New York Times, September 21, 2014). Tritch ends her piece by asking: “But what about a generation from now? Will the news in 2046 chronicle a resurgence in fossil fuel exploration?”

Like most uses of historical analogies, Tritch’s attempt is to draw an important lesson from the nuclear freeze movement that may be of value to a different movement that is trying to effect urgent change on a vital problem. In doing so she assumes, with good reason, that both movements share a vision of progressive change and common aspirations about the future of the planet. But what if, instead of working in a solidarity of aims toward a safer and healthier world, the climate change movement itself became a contributor to increased nuclearization? What if, instead of sharing a common destination, the goals of the two movements end up working at cross-purposes with each other? How might that happen?

Carbon-emitting fossil fuels might be the most obvious cause of a warming planet, but there is much disagreement on what could be viable alternatives to coal and oil that are able to sustain existing energy usages. Hence it is that some environmental activists, not so sanguine about the potential of the different sources of renewable energy to meet the ever-growing consuming appetites of a globalizing world, are increasingly looking to nuclear energy as the “clean” panacea for global climate change. For countries like China and India, whose own consuming appetites are growing apace with their population levels (as well as for other developing countries hungry to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous), nuclear energy is the environmentally responsible path to the neoliberal dream. In a capitalist world that feeds on mass consumerism, nuclear energy appears as the magic potion that asks of little sacrifice from those who may find their futures inconvenienced by a warming planet. And there are considerable profits to be made by nuclear energy corporations and their lobbying agents also now pushing for a green future. But what are the implications of such reliance on nuclear energy? 

Furthermore, what do nuclear weapons, whose elimination Tritch discusses, have to do with nuclear energy?

There is an odd disjunction in many discussions surrounding nuclearization where nuclear weapons are abhorred as so dangerous that all efforts need to be expended on eliminating or minimizing their presence and spread, while nuclear energy is celebrated as the liberatory answer to growing energy needs. In fact, in the current negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, Iran is clinging to its “right to enrich uranium” precisely for such liberatory purposes, while the P-5 plus one (composed of the negotiating team of US, Russia, China, UK, France, and Germany) fear that permitting Iran to have that capacity opens up the possibility of Iran crossing over that line where nuclear power become dangerous and abhorrent, i.e., that Iran might develop nuclear weapons. 

Nuclear Desire makes a case for attending to the larger political economy of nuclear power by examining the entire nuclear production process from its origins in uranium mining, through the various stages of conversion, enrichment, and testing, and ending with storage and waste disposal. This process reveals the mundane, everyday forms of dangers that nuclear power poses—in both its energy and weaponized forms—often to the most vulnerable communities in the world that provide the labor and the sites of toxic production and disposal, and whose radioactive effects will be felt for hundreds of thousands of years. The only wartime victim of a nuclear weapon attack, Japan made a commitment to be nuclear weapons-free but now finds even its faith in the liberatory power of nuclear energy imperiled after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. But while our fears of nuclear dangers generally reside in their most spectacular forms—the use of an atomic bomb or a massive explosion at a nuclear power plant—the dangers and costs of nuclear power are vastly greater and much more diffuse, both spatially and temporally, even if much of it remains invisible in calculations that look to nuclear power as any sort of panacea to global warming. 

Instead of thinking of the climate change movement and the anti-nuclear movement as parallel attempts at solving global crises that could learn from each other, perhaps it is time for them to unite their purposes in helping create a denuclearized and ultimately more environmentally sustainable world.


Shampa Biswas is author of Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial Nuclear Order. Biswas is Paul Garrett Professor of Political Science at Whitman College and the coeditor of International Relations and States of Exception: Margins, Peripheries, and Excluded Bodies and Torture: Power, Democracy, and the Human Body.

"Aligning herself with the most vulnerable, and armed with a sharp stylus, Shampa Biswas deftly dissects the sprawling corpus of the global nuclear order. Focusing her analysis on the sinews of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, she tracks and traces the modalities through which ideological allure and enforced abstinence, sanitized events and horrifying accidents, faith in deterrence and flows of deathly waste, commodity fetishism and enlightenment technologies of rule, expensive state security and opaque political economy come together to power this colonial regime. Nuclear Desire offers profound and provocative insights into the hierarchical structuring and colonial governance of contemporary global orders."Himadeep Muppidi, Vassar College

"Nuclear Desire moves us to rethink the route to a nuclear-free world as one that must center reasons of peace and social justice. Shampa Biswas moves beyond well-rehearsed critiques—indeed, beyond critique itself—to give us new insights into how a more secure world might simultaneously be more peaceful and just."J. Marshall Beier, McMaster University

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where do cultures go when they die? The story of Codfish, the Indian, and the phonograph.

When the Edison phonograph was first made in the 1890s, people used it to
record their own voices. It later became one of the first commercially produced
machines when it was used to play music. It worked by vibrating the stylus up and down
while moving across the wax cylinder (Hill & Dale method).
Image credit: Museum of Technology. Via.

Assistant professor of English at Georgetown University

Meet Jesse Walter Fewkes, one of the most influential anthropologists of the late nineteenth century. His colleagues at Harvard University, and later at the Bureau of American Ethnology, called him Dr. Fewkes. But behind his back they liked to refer to him as “the Codfish,” a nickname that I’m willing to bet has a great story behind it.

In March of 1890, Fewkes traveled to Calais, Maine, in order to visit several members of the Passamaquoddy tribe. According to Fewkes, the Passamaquoddy were fated to die out. All that seemed to make their culture authentic and unique—the patterns of their language, the sounds of their music, even the distinctive look of their clothes and art—seemed in danger of disappearing. Their culture needed to be preserved before it vanished into obscurity.

Scores of American ethnographers, amateurs and professionals alike, made trips like Fewkes’s as the nineteenth came to a close. Most were acting on the assumption that the world’s indigenous cultures were destined to be left behind and lost forever as history progressed. But Fewkes differed from his contemporaries in how he wanted to solve this longstanding problem.

On his trip to Calais, he brought along a cylinder phonograph. He wanted to put the Passamaquoddy on wax, so that the sounds of their culture could survive long after the tribe itself had vanished.

In hindsight, this seems like an eminently reasonable thing to do. If you want to record a dying language or a sacred song, what else but a phonograph would you want to bring with you? But this line of thinking obscures just how audacious, just how strange, his actions really were in context. The cylinder phonograph had been perfected only a few years prior, and the unwieldy model that Fewkes wanted to use in the field was ill-suited for traveling to remote locations. At the time, moreover, wax cylinders were notoriously prone to physical deterioration, occasionally wearing out only after a few uses. Fewkes’s contemporaries in the field of anthropology had even dismissed the machine as too unreliable to be of any scientific value.

In short, the cylinder phonograph had all of the promises—and all of the pitfalls—of a new medium. Fewkes’s trip was a technological experiment as much as it was an ethnographic errand. He wanted to harness the power of sound recording to preserve the remnants of the Passamaquoddy, but doing so required a leap of faith.

So why did he do it? Why would Fewkes lug a fragile and unproven machine to Calais, rather than simply rely on a more established method of documentation? And why did so many Americans—anthropologists, explorers, photographers, and filmmakers alike—go to similar lengths in this period, turning to newfangled technologies to fulfill the age-old dream of permanent cultural preservation?

These were some of the questions that inspired my work on Savage Preservation. The more reading and research I did, the more I came to realize that men like Fewkes were motivated by something other than a naïve faith in technological possibility. I came to see that Fewkes and many others in this period believed that cultural differences actually determine our ability to hear and see the world around us. It wasn’t that new devices like the phonograph and the motion picture camera were somehow more accurate or more permanent than other forms of documentation. It was that they were mechanically neutral, untainted by the inborn cultural biases that limit our faculties of perception. Fewkes was thus motivated by racial worldview.

This surprised me. Scholars are accustomed to thinking that audiovisual media mostly work to “construct” ideas about race. But here, in 1890, the reverse was equally true. Fewkes’s ideas about the Passamaquoddy were helping to construct the phonograph. His sense that Indians were irretrievably different, and thus naturally doomed to disappear, enabled him to imagine a social role for the device that wasn’t all that obvious at the time.

Fewkes’s worldview haunts the history of modern media technology. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, anthropologists like Garrick Mallery turned to serial photography—and later, motion pictures—to document Native American sign languages. Filmmakers like Robert and Frances Flaherty experimented with new film stocks in order to capture the tattooing rituals of indigenous Samoans. Photographers like Fred Payne Clatworthy and Franklin Price Knott capitalized on popular interest in the world’s “vanishing races” to pioneer the autochrome, the world’s first commercially viable color photography process.

In short, efforts to preserve disappearing cultures helped to shape audiovisual technologies whose social functions we typically take for granted.

* * *

Was Fewkes right in March of 1890? Were the Passamaquoddy actually dying out, and were the spiraling grooves of the wax cylinder actually their final resting place?

Fast-forward 120 years and decide for yourself. The Passamaquoddy live on, and they have actually had a hand in keeping Fewkes’s old recordings alive.


Brian Hochman is author of Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology. He is assistant professor of English at Georgetown University.

"Savage Preservation is an eye-opening account of the mutually entangled origins of ethnography and the meanings of modern media: recorded sound, color photography, documentary film. Not only does Brian Hochman enrich his readers’ sense of culture as a concept available to historical change, he demonstrates convincingly that North American media studies remains haunted at its core by the racial ‘science’ of earlier generations."
Lisa Gitelman, New York University 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

LGBT History Month: A look at behind-the-scenes groundwork that leads to the headline-grabbing victories.


In October 1994, a group of U.S. activists led by Rodney Wilson, a teacher in Missouri, created LGBT History Month. Adopting a strategy pioneered with Black History Month in the 1970s and Women’s History Month in the 1980s, the activists launched the project as a way to ensure the varied and often unacknowledged contributions of queer people would be collectively recognized and remembered.

Now in its twentieth year, LGBT History Month is annually observed in schools, on campuses, and in the media, and is widely used as a tool for public education. Within queer communities, too, the project has prompted lively, productive debates about reclaiming figures who would not necessarily identify as LGBT, fully representing the rich diversity of the LGBT spectrum, and deciding who or what is iconic enough to include in a growing canon.

One of the things LGBT History Month tends to obscure, however, are the more gradual trends that can’t be crystallized into a single moment or personified by a lone trailblazer. Movements like the push for LGBT rights are animated by committed advocates working in tandem, often with little recognition or acclaim, and typically over long periods of time. As the critical response to Jo Becker’s recent history of the same-sex marriage movement suggests, LGBT histories do not always recognize the activists who labor behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for headline-grabbing victories.

The burgeoning recognition of LGBT rights in global human rights forums offers a good example of a phenomenon that is much bigger than any single activist, victory, or setback might suggest. Last month, the UN Human Rights Council adopted an unprecedented resolution affirming the rights of LGBT people as human rights. Although the resolution was heralded as a significant breakthrough by activists and journalists around the globe, that vote, like other recent developments, was only possible because of the tireless work sexual rights advocates have undertaken over the past twenty-five years.

LGBT history is far richer when it is not concerned with milestones alone, but encourages a deeper understanding of gradual transformations and the day-to-day work of activists who make landmark advances possible. In my upcoming book, Transnational LGBT Activism: Working for Sexual Rights Worldwide, I explore the politics of global LGBT human rights advocacy through an ethnographic study of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). IGLHRC, founded in 1990, was among the first organizations to promote the concept of LGBT rights as human rights, and remains on the forefront of advocacy efforts almost twenty-five years later. One of the arguments underpinning the book is that the growing recognition of sexual rights, like other human rights, is the product of persistent advocacy by committed groups of activists, at IGLHRC and elsewhere. Although they carry legal and philosophical weight, human rights are not static concepts, but are constructed, promoted, and institutionalized by individuals who give them meaning.

And paying attention to activist practice illustrates that the milestones we commemorate in our LGBT histories are seldom, if ever, the product of one brave, just, or visionary individual acting alone. Activists have mentors who guide them, colleagues who challenge and sustain them, and constituencies who inspire them. Even in transnational advocacy—a field where geography and distinctive political systems can create formidable obstacles for collaborative organizing—activists develop ways to share knowledge, strategies, and support in the pursuit of shared goals.

Understanding that movements are bigger than any single milestone or person counsels a much more expansive understanding of LGBT history. In the United States, celebrations of LGBT history often tend to be extremely U.S.-centric, with perfunctory nods in the direction of Alan Turing or the ancient Greeks. It is far rarer to see recognition of figures like Simon Nkoli and Bev Ditsie, who were groundbreaking voices for LGBT people in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement; Karen Atala, who fought a tireless battle to win custody rights for lesbian mothers in Chile; or Victor Mukasa, who won a judgment recognizing that LGBT people had rights under the Ugandan Constitution. Figures like these continue to make pathbreaking advances around the globe—just this month, for example, the trans activist Audrey Mbugua won a judgment from the High Court of Kenya granting her gender-affirming documentation. They also challenge the notion that there is one way that LGBT history might unfold, and vividly illustrate a broader range of goals and strategies.

Individuals around the globe are forging LGBT histories that will be remembered and celebrated, and doing so in very different contexts. Alongside each of them are communities that are reshaping conversations about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and bodily autonomy, and creating the kind of slow, steady, and sometimes imperceptible change that makes the most historically notable victories possible. And by broadening our understanding of LGBT history – beyond the United States, and beyond any single riot or parade, TV episode or book, vote or judicial ruling – the lessons we can take from that history become infinitely richer.


Ryan R. Thoreson is author of Transnational LGBT Activism: Working for Sexual Rights Worldwide. Thoreson has a JD from the Yale Law School and a DPhil in anthropology from Oxford University.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Students on Isherwood: "You Can't Help Smiling," on Cabaret and Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin

Christopher Freeman and James J. Berg, editors of the forthcoming volume The American Isherwood (December 2014), have compiled exemplary essays about writer Christopher Isherwood's craft from their students to share on the Press blog leading up to the publication of their book. This Monday, the authors will be reading at an event hosted by the University of Minnesota English department.

This essay is printed with permission from the author. It has been edited from the original version.

Student, University of Southern California

In the first “Berlin Diary” of Goodbye To Berlin, Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical narrator, “Christopher Isherwood,” famously writes: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking . . . Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed” (1). But which day was that? Adapted into the play I Am A Camera, then filmed, then adapted again into the musical Cabaret, and then into Bob Fosse’s 1972 film by the same name, Isherwood’s Berlin Stories have been “developed” several times but never quite “fixed.” This might be why his stories transitioned so well onto film: they were always moving pictures. Fosse’s Cabaret is a sophisticated and artful attempt at bringing Isherwood’s stories to life. Though it does not necessarily arrive at a grand realization or moment of reckoning for its unpalatable set of central characters, the film’s self-reflexivity and acknowledgement of the surreal quality of its history demonstrates fidelity to the source material. With a more overt directing style than Isherwood’s light authorial touch, Fosse’s stylish film conveys the doom and gloom of Goodbye To Berlin and has fundamentally changed our perception of the power and purpose of the Hollywood movie musical.

Cabaret the film opens and closes on stage. Audiences can see themselves reflected by a funhouse mirror as a cabaret audience at the decline of the Weimar Republic. The use of a large mirror as a set piece is taken from Harold’s Prince’s original Broadway staging, and gives an appropriate Brechtian tone to the proceedings. The Emcee (Joel Grey) appears in the mirror, smiling, then turns to face the camera (he is the only character to do so) to welcome audiences im/au/to Cabaret (“Wilkommen”). We cut to Brian arriving by train to Berlin, filmed through a window—another reflective lens—that he opens. Back in the Kit Kat Club where there are “no troubles,” the Emcee insists “In here life is beautiful/ The girls are beautiful,” as the film cuts to a man putting on a blonde wig and makeup backstage. The mirror then moves to the ceiling to reflect ze Cabaret Girls themselves, with their hairy armpits, grotesque make-up, and sloppy missteps. At the end of the opening number the whole group poses in a dim tableaux, as if taking a photograph, within a frame of flash bulbs. Freely extrapolated from Isherwood’s hints and historical accounts of 1930s Berlin cabaret clubs, Fosse’s Kit Kat Club is black, red, and disorienting. The Emcee’s mocking grin is a sinister dare: enjoy me, trust me, though I am not to be trusted. Barely introducing the film and the book’s two main characters—Brian Roberts (Michael York) and Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli)—the opening number serves as an opening paragraph for what critic Roger Greenspun (respectfully) called Fosse’s “essay in significant crosscutting” (NYT). Before they can be fully welcomed to Berlin, Fosse’s direction makes it clear that, as Chris observes in “The Landauers,” “All these people are ultimately doomed” (Isherwood 177).

The Kit Kat Club is less a conflation of the various nightclubs in Goodbye To Berlin and more an abstracted version. It serves as a microcosm, a crucible where audiences can plainly watch the insidious rise of Nazism in Berlin and the careless, decadent lifestyle that ignored and eventually accommodated its influence.

Neither the Sally of the film nor the Sally of the book is at all concerned with reality. “Everybody’s broke,” she tells Brian upon his arrival to Berlin, laughing off the economic conditions that provided a foundation for the Nazis to blame Jewish bankers and exploit workers’ anxieties to create a nationalistic, racist political party. “Let’s go to the cinema/the Troika/have a drink,” Sally always suggests in “Sally Bowles,” to avoid facing facts (Isherwood 42, 45, 43). She stays in Berlin at the end of Cabaret, and delivers her specious thesis in the title song: “Life is a Cabaret, old chum/ It’s only a cabaret”. She clings to her status as a performer in Berlin, even as Brian departs, even as the Emcee himself bids us “auf wiedersehen.” Liza’s Sally does not seem to speak of the future as she does in the book—but this lack of discussion of the future contributes to the feeling that the future is “unreal” for her (Isherwood 17). As the Club itself becomes infiltrated by “troubles” meant to be left “outside,” the film’s audience understands that the cabaret ignores the grim reality of the moment. 

The film seems only to fail in its forced romance. “Fresh alterations in the book and score notwithstanding, ‘Cabaret’ still follows the double-romance formula of Broadway confections long past,” writes Frank Rich for the New York Times. The movie recasts the “double,” though, joining Fritz and Natalia Landauer together as the star-crossed Jewish lovers, and cutting out Frau Schneider’s relationship with Herr Schultz. The film suffers from its attempt to centralize Sally’s romantic relationship with Brian. The film is truer to the book by making Brian openly bisexual, but trivializes his homosexuality without addressing it, except as a device to break up the unlikely pair. In the book, Sally and Brian fight over work (or lack thereof) and money; in the film, they fight over love and sex. 

Chris first finds Berlin very familiar, nostalgic, “like a very good photograph,” but then interrupts that thought: “No. Even now I can’t altogether believe that any of this has really happened . . .” That ellipsis, like Cabaret’s final drum roll, is not a “fixed” ending but an acknowledgement of the surreal and incomprehensible nature of our grimmest realities. As readers and as audiences, we are indicted as witnesses of a gross spectacle: will we smile? Isherwood and Fosse have their shutters open, but it is the audience that develops the picture as the cymbal and the symbol finally land.


Works cited in the original essay:

Greenspun, Roger. "Movie Review: Cabaret." New York Times. N.p., 14 Feb. 1972. Web.
Grubb, Kevin B. "Cabaret." Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse. 1st ed. New York, NY: St. Martin's, 1989. 141-58. Print.
Isherwood, Christopher. Goodbye To Berlin. The Berlin Stories. New York, NY: New Directions, 2008. N. pag. Print.
Kander, John, and Fred Ebb. Colored Lights: Forty Years of Words and Music, Show Biz, Collaboration, and All That Jazz. Comp. Greg Lawrence. New York: Faber and Faber, 2003. Print.
Rich, Frank. "'Cabaret' and Joel Grey Return." New York Times. N.p., 23 Oct. 1987. Web.
Tropiano, Stephen. Cabaret. Milwaukee, WI: Limelight Editions, 2011. Print. Music On Film.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The making of the book: Behind Twin Ports by Trolley

The bustling corner of Superior Street at 5th Avenue West.
Images: Minnesota Streetcar Museum/Aaron Isaacs.

Author and editor of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums magazine

Initially, I wasn’t intending to give Duluth-Superior the same treatment as the Twin Cities in Twin Cities by Trolley. That all changed in 2009 during a trip to Duluth to give a streetcar history talk to the National Railway Historical Society’s annual convention. Driving over the old streetcar routes and discovering the tracks still poking through the pavement (in some places) was enough to get me going.

Fortunately, though they disappeared in 1939, there’s a tremendous amount of archival material available on Duluth-Superior streetcars. Thanks to a couple of dedicated Duluth trolley fans and the North East Minnesota History Center, the entire corporate files were saved, along with hundreds of vintage photos, paperwork, and other artifacts. I also had the benefit of years of research by Russell Olson, the dean of Minnesota streetcar historians, and a fellow member of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. His 1976 Electric Railways of Minnesota is a go-to source.

Along with Russ, the late Wayne C. Olsen, one of the founders of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, put together a huge personal collection of photos. After his death, these were donated to NEMHC and the Douglas County Historical Society in Superior. NEMHC also has all the Duluth Street Railway Company files.

I’m the archivist for the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, and over the last 20 years, have greatly expanded the photo collection.

Two trainmen pose inside a streetcar.

Then came the windfall that filled in all the blanks. James Kreuzberger, who grew up on Park Point but established his career in Kansas City, was also a longtime member of the streetcar museum. He mentioned that he had been researching the Twin Ports streetcars and intended to write a book some day. I told him I was doing the same and he immediately mailed me a 3-ring binder of his working notes, including a partial draft manuscript. I was floored at how thoroughly he delved into every aspect of the company’s history.

That was in 2009. A year later, Jim died at age 95. His widow contacted the Lake Superior Railroad Museum to donate Jim’s collection. LSRM curator Tim Schandel felt that it would be a better fit for the Streetcar Museum, so he alerted me.

After some discussions with the family, fellow museum member Jim Vaitkunas and I headed for Kansas City to rent a trailer and load it up. Outside Columbia, Missouri, five deer bounded across the freeway and one of them smashed into us. Jim’s SUV sustained $5,000 of damage and that nixed the pickup.

We regrouped and tried again a few months later. Kreuzberger’s collection was amazing in its scope. He had more than 500 photos, many of which I hadn’t seen before. The previously mentioned 3-ring binder turned out to have been only a small part of his notes and manuscript. There were several boxes more that covered chapters missing from the binder.

These portable prefabricated switches were used to detour the streetcars.

After a few months spent cataloguing all of it, I was finally ready to proceed. In this case the challenge was to reduce the huge amount of historic material into something that was accurate, complete, yet not a numbing parade of obscure facts. Most streetcar histories—and there are hundreds of them—are written by trolley fans for trolley fans. They tend to concentrate on the technical end of things, with long chapters on carbarns, equipment rosters, power generation and operations. Twin Cities by Trolley was written for the lay person with a general interest in local history. It had plenty of material to please the trolley fans, but it was full of photos of local landmarks and the human side of things. That crossover appeal worked, so Twin Ports by Trolley follows the same plan. Thanks to the rich trove of company memos and newspaper stories that was available, there is plenty of human interest material to accompany the technical data.

Hope you enjoy the book.


Aaron Isaacs
is the author of Twin Ports by Trolley, which will be available later this month from University of Minnesota Press. He is coauthor of Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul (Minnesota, 2007). He edits Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums magazine and is also the author of Trackside around the Twin Cities andThe Como–Harriet Streetcar Line.

The Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth will host a launch event for the book at 11 a.m. on Oct. 18th. Isaacs will also be giving a reading at Douglas County Historical Society in Superior, Wisconsin, at 3 p.m. on Oct. 18th.

"A wonderful narrative . . . I love reading about Duluth's history, and this book is a real treat."
—Don Ness, Mayor of Duluth

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Extras: Best to Laugh excerpt, trailer series, and discussion guide

In the opening prologue to her latest novel, Best to Laugh, Lorna Landvik writes:

A black cocktail dress, decorated with a smattering of sequins across the neckline, hangs like an art piece on my bedroom wall. Although the integrity of the seams might be compromised, I could probably still squeeze into it, but for me the greater pleasure is looking at it every day and remembering its lessons.

For that same reason, I have two pictures of Hollywood Boulevard in my bathroom, right above the towel rack. One is black and white, circa the 1940s, and in it bulbous limousines are lined up in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. A party has spilled onto the sidewalk and its celebrants are women draped in fur and men in top hats and tails. Some raise champagne flutes and one man holds a lighter, its flame a dot of fuzz. A swirl-haired woman leans into him, her cigarette held in a gloved hand.

The other photograph is in color and shows a blurred wrecking ball about to smash into the side of a white stuccoed building, much of which has already been knocked down. A jagged plaster and wood border frames all that remains of the second floor apartment: a wall decorated with deftly drawn caricatures, hulking silhouettes, and the odd coffee stain.

I keep the pictures and the dress on display because they remind me of the vagaries of life: what’s up can take a tumble, what’s down can bob up, and sometimes what glitters is gold.

When I lived on Hollywood Boulevard, its heyday had long passed and a tired seediness had settled in—the tuxedos threadbare, the fur stoles gone to mange, and the champagne bubbles long since popped. Buses belched smoke where limousines once idled, and a tourist was more likely to have a personal encounter with a pickpocket than a movie star.

Still, the lure was the Boulevard’s reputation and not its reality, and people came from all over the world to study the cement prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, comparing the delicacy of their fingers to Marilyn Monroe’s or their shoe size to Gary Cooper’s; to photograph the names on the pink, black, and gold stars on the Walk of Fame; to rifle through the revolving rack of postcards at Highland Drug and sit at the counter, sipping cherry sodas as they wrote their “Wish you were here’s” in dozens of languages.

And there I was, watching movies and eating popcorn at Grauman’s, roller-skating down the Walk of Fame on my way to work, and buying my toothpaste and tampons at Highland Drug. Wonder of wonders, this international Mecca was my neighborhood.


In Best to Laugh, Lorna Landvik unleashes a host of admirable characters encountered by Candy Pekkala, a young, aspiring stand-up comic performer who moves on a whim from Minnesota to Hollywood in the late 1970s. In our just-released Best to Laugh trailer series, featuring (of course!) Lorna Landvik, we get a glimpse of what's to come in the book—and meet a central character, Madame Pepper, Fortune Teller to the Stars, as she offers solid reading advice to an array of clients. Check out the series on our YouTube channel.


Read the book and itching to talk about it? Lorna Landvik has created a discussion guide for book groups and other readers looking to probe some of the novel's central themes.


Lorna Landvik is the best-selling author of many novels, including Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons, Oh My Stars, and Mayor of the Universe (Minnesota, 2014). She has performed stand-up and improvisational comedy around the country and is also a public speaker, playwright, and actor, most recently seen in an all-improvised, one-woman show Party in the Rec Room.