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 na├»ve 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