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Not Even Past

Barack Obama and the Burden of Race

Thomas J. Sugrue

Barack Obama, in his acclaimed campaign speech discussing the troubling complexities of race in America today, quoted William Faulkner's famous remark "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." In Not Even Past, award-winning historian Thomas Sugrue examines the paradox of race in Obama's America and how President Obama intends to deal with it.

Obama's journey to the White House undoubtedly marks a watershed in the history of race in America. Yet even in what is being hailed as the post-civil rights era, racial divisions--particularly between blacks and whites--remain deeply entrenched in American life. Sugrue traces Obama's evolving understanding of race and racial inequality throughout his career, from his early days as a community organizer in Chicago, to his time as an attorney and scholar, to his spectacular rise to power as a charismatic and savvy politician, to his dramatic presidential campaign. Sugrue looks at Obama's place in the contested history of the civil rights struggle; his views about the root causes of black poverty in America; and the incredible challenges confronting his historic presidency.

Does Obama's presidency signal the end of race in American life? In Not Even Past, a leading historian of civil rights, race, and urban America offers a revealing and unflinchingly honest assessment of the culture and politics of race in the age of Obama, and of our prospects for a postracial America.

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Obama, Clinton, Palin

Making History in Election 2008

Liette Gidlow

Election 2008 made American history, but it was also the product of American history. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin smashed through some of the most enduring barriers to high political office, but their exceptional candidacies did not come out of nowhere. In these timely and accessible essays, a distinguished group of historians explores how the candidates both challenged and reinforced historic stereotypes of race and sex while echoing familiar themes in American politics and exploiting new digital technologies._x000B__x000B_Contributors include Kathryn Kish Sklar on Clinton's gender masquerade; Tiffany Ruby Patterson on the politics of black anger; Mitch Kachun on Michelle Obama and stereotypes about black women's bodies; Glenda E. Gilmore on black women's century of effort to expand political opportunities for African Americans; Tera W. Hunter on the lost legacy of Shirley Chisholm; Susan M. Hartmann on why the U.S. has not yet followed western democracies in electing a female head of state; Melanie Gustafson on Palin and the political traditions of the American West; Ronald Formisano on the populist resurgence in 2008; Paula Baker on how digital technologies threaten the secret ballot; Catherine E. Rymph on Palin's distinctive brand of political feminism; and Elisabeth I. Perry on the new look of American leadership.

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Opting for Elsewhere

Lifestyle Migration in the American Middle Class

Brian Hoey

"Do you get told what the good life is, or do you figure it out for yourself?" This is the central question of Opting for Elsewhere, as the reader encounters stories of people who chose relocation as a way of redefining themselves and reordering work, family, and personal priorities. This is a book about the impulse to start over. Whether downshifting from stressful careers or being downsized from jobs lost in a surge of economic restructuring, lifestyle migrants seek refuge in places that seem to resonate with an idealized, potential self. Choosing the "option of elsewhere" and moving as a means of remaking self through sheer force of will are basic facets of American character, forged in its history as a developing nation of immigrants with a seemingly ever-expanding frontier. Building off years of interviews and research in the Midwest, including areas of Michigan, Brian Hoey provides an evocative illustration of the ways these sweeping changes impact people and the communities where they live and work as well as how both react--devising strategies for either coping with or challenging the status quo. This portrait of starting over in the heartland of America compels the reader to ask where we are going next as an emerging postindustrial society.

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The Other Great Migration

The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941

Bernadette Pruitt

The twentieth century has seen two great waves of African American migration from rural areas into the city, changing not only the country’s demographics but also black culture. In her thorough study of migration to Houston, Bernadette Pruitt portrays the move from rural to urban homes in Jim Crow Houston as a form of black activism and resistance to racism.

Between 1900 and 1950 nearly fifty thousand blacks left their rural communities and small towns in Texas and Louisiana for Houston. Jim Crow proscription, disfranchisement, acts of violence and brutality, and rural poverty pushed them from their homes; the lure of social advancement and prosperity based on urban-industrial development drew them. Houston’s close proximity to basic minerals, innovations in transportation, increased trade, augmented economic revenue, and industrial development prompted white families, commercial businesses, and industries near the Houston Ship Channel to recruit blacks and other immigrants to the city as domestic laborers and wage earners.

Using census data, manuscript collections, government records, and oral history interviews, Pruitt details who the migrants were, why they embarked on their journeys to Houston, the migration networks on which they relied, the jobs they held, the neighborhoods into which they settled, the culture and institutions they transplanted into the city, and the communities and people they transformed in Houston.

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Primitive America

The Ideology of Capitalist Democracy

Paul Smith

One of the most confounding aspects of American society—the one that perhaps most frequently perplexes observers both domestic and foreign—is the vast contradiction between what anthropologists might term the “hot” and “cold” elements in the culture. The hot encompasses the dynamic and progressive aspects of a society dedicated to growth and productivity, marked by mobility, innovation, and optimism. In contrast, the cold embodies rigid social forms and archaic beliefs, fundamentalisms of all kinds, racism and xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, cultural atavism, and ignorance—in short, the primitive.


For cultural critic Paul Smith, the tension between progressive and primitive is a constitutive condition of American history and culture. In Primitive America, Smith contemplates this primary contradiction as it has played out in the years since 9/11. Indeed, he writes, much of what has happened since—events that have seemed to many to be novel and egregious—can be explained by this foundational dialectic.


More radically still, Primitive America attests that this underlying stress is driven by America’s unquestioned devotion to the elemental propositions and processes of capitalism. This devotion, Smith argues, has become America’s quintessential characteristic, and he begins this book by elaborating on the idea of the primitive in America—its specific history of capital accumulation, commodity fetishism, and cultural narcissism. Smith goes on to track the symptoms of the primitive that have arisen in the aftermath of 9/11 and the commencement of the “Long War” against “violent extremists”: the nature of American imperialism, the status of the U.S. Constitution, the militarization of America’s economy and culture, and the Bush administration’s disregard for human rights.


An urgent and important engagement with current American policies and practices, Primitive America is, at the same time, an incisive critique of the ideology that fuels the ethos of America’s capitalist culture.


Paul Smith is professor of cultural studies at George Mason University and the author of numerous books, including Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production (Minnesota, 1993).

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Radical Chapters

Pacifist Bookseller Roy Kepler and the Paperback Revolution

by Michael Doyle

Long a hub for literary bohemians, countercultural musicians, and readers interested in a good browse, Kepler's Books and Magazines is one of the most well-known independent bookstores in American history. When owner Roy Kepler opened the store in 1955 he changed the book industry forever as a pioneer in the “paperback revolution.” The notion of selling texts in inexpensive paperbound volumes was revolutionary in the publishing trade and Kepler's focus on stocking these inexpensive books put him at the forefront of the movement. Paperback-selling was not the only revolution Kepler supported, however. In Radical Chapters, Doyle sheds light on Kepler’s remarkable contributions not only to the book industry but also to pacifism. Recalling the tumultuous politics of the last century, he highlights Kepler’s achievements in advocating radical pacifism during World War II, anti-nuclear activism during the Cold War era, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. During those decades, Kepler’s Books played an integral role, creating a community and space to exchange ideas for such notable figures as Jerry Garica, Joan Baez, and Stewart Brand. Doyle’s fascinating chronicle captures the man who inspired that community and offers a moving tribute to his legacy.

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Remembering America

How We Have Told Our Past

Lawrence R. Samuel

American history is ubiquitous, underscoring everything from food to travel to architecture and design. It is also emotionally charged, frequently crossing paths with political and legal issues. In Remembering America, Lawrence R. Samuel examines the place that American history has occupied within education and popular culture and how it has continually shaped and reflected our cultural values and national identity. The story of American history, Samuel explains, is not a straight line but rather one filled with twists and turns and ups and downs, its narrative path as winding as that of the United States as a whole.
Organized around six distinct eras of American history ranging from the 1920s to the present, Samuel shows that our understanding of American history has often generated struggle and contention as ideologically opposed groups battled over ownership of the past. As women and minorities gained greater power and a louder voice in the national conversation, our perspectives on American history became significantly more multicultural, bringing race, gender, and class issues to the forefront. These new interpretations of our history helped to reshape our identity on both a national and an individual level. Samuel argues that the fight for ownership of our past, combined with how those owners have imparted history to our youth, crucially affects who we are. Our interpretation and expression of our country’s past reflects how that self-identity has changed over the last one hundred years and created a strong sense of our collective history—one of the few things Americans all have in common.

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Representation and Rebellion

The Rockefeller Plan and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914-1942

By Jonathan H. Rees

"Rees makes effective use of new sources to give a more nuanced understanding of the operation of one of the nation's more progressive company unions. He makes a strong case, in his conclusion, for the argument that, whatever the limitations of company employee plans, they provide workers with more protection than no union, and they often plant the seeds for the emergence of truly independent unions."—Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Business History Review

In response to the tragedy of the Ludlow Massacre, John D. Rockefeller Jr. introduced one of the nation's first employee representation plans (ERPs) to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in 1915. With the advice of William Mackenzie King, who would go on to become prime minister of Canada, the plan - which came to be known as the Rockefeller Plan - was in use until 1942 and became the model for ERPs all over the world. In Representation and Rebellion Jonathan Rees uses a variety of primary sources - including records recently discovered at the company's former headquarters in Pueblo, Colorado - to tell the story of the Rockefeller Plan and those who lived under it, as well as to detail its various successes and failures. Taken as a whole, the history of the Rockefeller Plan is not the story of ceaseless oppression and stifled militancy that its critics might imagine, but it is also not the story of the creation of a paternalist panacea for labor unrest that Rockefeller hoped it would be. Addressing key issues of how this early twentieth-century experiment fared from 1915 to 1942, Rees argues that the Rockefeller Plan was a limited but temporarily effective alternative to independent unionism in the wake of the Ludlow Massacre. The book will appeal to business and labor historians, political scientists, and sociologists, as well as those studying labor and industrial relations.

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Right in Michigan's Grassroots

From the KKK to the Michigan Militia

JoEllen McNergney Vinyard

"A real contribution to Michigan history that gets to the root of the movements in twentieth-century American history that upon reflection can bring a certain discomfort and unease." ---Francis X. Blouin, Director of the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan Throughout the twentieth century, Michigan became home to nearly every political movement in America that emerged from the grassroots. Citizens organized on behalf of concerns on the "left," on the "right," and in the "middle of the road." Right in Michigan's Grassroots: From the KKK to the Michigan Militia is about the people who supported movements that others, then and later, would denounce as disgraceful---members of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s, the followers of Father Charles Coughlin in the 1930s, anti-Communists and the John Birch Society in the post–World War II era, and the members of the Michigan Militia who first appeared in the 1990s. The book explores the complex historical circumstances in Michigan that prompted the emergence of these organizations and led everyday men and women to head off, despite ridicule or condemnation, with plans unsanctioned and tactics unorthodox, variously brandishing weapons of intimidation, discrimination, fearmongering, and terror. Drawing heavily on primary sources, including the organizations' files and interviews with some of their leaders and surviving members, JoEllen Vinyard provides a far more complete portrait of these well-known extremist groups than has ever been available.

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Right Moves

The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture since 1945

Jason Stahl

From the middle of the twentieth century, think tanks have played an indelible role in the rise of American conservatism. Positioning themselves against the alleged liberal bias of the media, academia, and the federal bureaucracy, conservative think tanks gained the attention of politicians and the public alike and were instrumental in promulgating conservative ideas. Yet, in spite of the formative influence these institutions have had on the media and public opinion, little has been written about their history. Here, Jason Stahl offers the first sustained investigation of the rise and historical development of the conservative think tank as a source of political and cultural power in the United States.

What we now know as conservative think tanks--research and public-relations institutions populated by conservative intellectuals--emerged in the postwar period as places for theorizing and "selling" public policies and ideologies to both lawmakers and the public at large. Stahl traces the progression of think tanks from their outsider status against a backdrop of New Deal and Great Society liberalism to their current prominence as a counterweight to progressive political institutions and thought. By examining the rise of the conservative think tank, Stahl makes invaluable contributions to our historical understanding of conservatism, public-policy formation, and capitalism.

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