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The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
The debate over the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings rarely rises above the question of "Did they or didn’t they?" But lost in the argument over the existence of such a relationship are equally urgent questions about a history that is more complex, both sexually and culturally, than most of us realize. Mongrel Nation seeks to uncover this complexity, as well as the reasons it is so often obscured.
Clarence Walker contends that the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings must be seen not in isolation but in the broader context of interracial affairs within the plantation complex. Viewed from this perspective, the relationship was not unusual or aberrant but was fairly typical. For many, this is a disturbing realization, because it forces us to abandon the idea of American exceptionalism and re-examine slavery in America as part of a long, global history of slaveholders frequently crossing the color line.
More than many other societies--and despite our obvious mixed-race population--our nation has displayed particular reluctance to acknowledge this dynamic. In a country where, as early as 1662, interracial sex was already punishable by law, an understanding of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship has consistently met with resistance. From Jefferson’s time to our own, the general public denied--or remained oblivious to--the possibility of the affair. Historians, too, dismissed the idea, even when confronted with compelling arguments by fellow scholars. It took the DNA findings of 1998 to persuade many (although, to this day, doubters remain).
The refusal to admit the likelihood of this union between master and slave stems, of course, from Jefferson’s symbolic significance as a Founding Father. The president’s apologists, both before and after the DNA findings, have constructed an iconic Jefferson that tells us more about their own beliefs--and the often alarming demands of those beliefs--than it does about the interaction between slave owners and slaves. Much more than a search for the facts about two individuals, the debate over Jefferson and Hemings is emblematic of tensions in our society between competing conceptions of race and of our nation.
William Temple Hornaday and His Controversial Crusade to Save American Wildlife
The late nineteenth and early twentieth century were a brutal time for American wildlife, with many species pushed to the brink of extinction. (Some are endangered to this day.) And yet these decades also saw the dawn of the conservationist movement. Into this contradictory era came William Temple Hornaday, a larger-than-life dynamo who almost uncannily embodies these conflicting threads in our history.
In The Most Defiant Devil, a compelling new biography of this complex figure, Gregory Dehler explores the life of Hornaday the hunter, museum builder, zoologist, author, conservationist, and anti-Bolshevist crusader. A deeply religious man, he was nonetheless anything but peaceful and was racist even by his era’s standards, going so far as to display an Mbuti pygmy as a "living specimen" in a zoo. A passionate hunter, Hornaday killed thousands of animals, including some of the last wild buffalo in America, but he was far ahead of his time in his influential views on the protection of wildlife. Hornaday designed and built the New York Zoological Park (which became the Bronx Zoo) and was chief taxidermist for what would later become the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.In this single, fascinating individual, we can discern some of the Progressive Era's most destructive forces and some of its most enlightened visions.
City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920–1980
One of Planetizen’s Top Ten Books of 2006
"But for Birmingham," Fred Shuttleworth recalled President John F. Kennedy saying in June 1963 when he invited black leaders to meet with him, "we would not be here today." Birmingham is well known for its civil rights history, particularly for the violent white-on-black bombings that occurred there in the 1960s, resulting in the city’s nickname "Bombingham." What is less well known about Birmingham’s racial history, however, is the extent to which early city planning decisions influenced and prompted the city’s civil rights protests. The first book-length work to analyze this connection, "The Most Segregated City in America": City Planning and Civil Rights in Birmingham, 1920–1980 uncovers the impact of Birmingham’s urban planning decisions on its black communities and reveals how these decisions led directly to the civil rights movement.
Spanning over sixty years, Charles E. Connerly’s study begins in the 1920s, when Birmingham used urban planning as an excuse to implement racial zoning laws, pointedly sidestepping the 1917 U.S. Supreme Court Buchanan v. Warley decision that had struck down racial zoning. The result of this obstruction was the South’s longest-standing racial zoning law, which lasted from 1926 to 1951, when it was redeclared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the fact that African Americans constituted at least 38 percent of Birmingham’s residents, they faced drastic limitations to their freedom to choose where to live. When in the1940s they rebelled by attempting to purchase homes in off-limit areas, their efforts were labeled as a challenge to city planning, resulting in government and court interventions that became violent. More than fifty bombings ensued between 1947 and 1966, becoming nationally publicized only in 1963, when four black girls were killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
Connerly effectively uses Birmingham’s history as an example to argue the importance of recognizing the link that exists between city planning and civil rights. His demonstration of how Birmingham’s race-based planning legacy led to the confrontations that culminated in the city’s struggle for civil rights provides a fresh lens on the history and future of urban planning, and its relation to race.
Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies
The New York Times–bestselling author Donald McCaig has established an expansive literary career, founded equally on books about working sheepdogs and the Civil War novels Jacob’s Ladder and Rhett Butler’s People, the official sequel to Gone with the Wind.
In his new book, Mr. and Mrs. Dog, McCaig draws on twenty-five years of experience raising sheepdogs to vividly describe his—and his dogs June and Luke’s—unlikely progress toward and participation in the World Sheepdog Trials in Wales.
McCaig engagingly chronicles the often grueling experience—through rain, snow, ice storms, and brain-numbing heat—of preparing and trialing Mrs. Dog, June, "a foxy lady in a slinky black-and-white peignoir," and Mr. Dog, Luke, "a plain worker—no flash to him." Along the way, he relays sage advice from his decades spent talking with America’s most renowned dog experts, from police-dog trainers to positive-training gurus.
As readers of McCaig’s novels will expect, Mr. and Mrs. Dog delivers far more than straightforward dog-training tips. Revealing an abiding love and respect for his dogs, McCaig unveils the life experiences that set him on the long road to the Welsh trial fields. Starting with memories of his first dog, Rascal, and their Montana roadtrip in a ’48 Dodge, McCaig leads us into his thirties, when he abandons his New York advertising career to move to a run-down Appalachian sheep farm in the least populous county in Virginia. This 1960s agrarian adventure ultimately brings McCaig, Luke, and June to the Olympics of sheepdog trials. In his narration of one man’s love for his dogs, McCaig offers a powerful portrayal of the connection between humans and their animal companions.
Edwardian Fiction and the Emergence of Modernism
By 1901, the public museum was firmly established as an important national institution in British life. Its very centrality led to its involvement in a wide range of debates about art, knowledge, national identity, and individual agency. Ruth Hoberman argues that these debates concerned writers as well. Museum Trouble focuses on fiction written between 1890 and 1914 and the ways in which it engaged the issues dramatized by and within the museum.
Those issues were many. Art critics argued about what kind of art to buy on behalf of the nation, how to display it, and whether salaried professionals or aristocratic amateurs should be in charge. Museum administrators argued about the best way to exhibit scientific and cultural artifacts to educate the masses while serving the needs of researchers. And novelists had their own concerns about an increasingly commercialized literary marketplace, the nature of aesthetic response, the impact of evolution and scientific materialism, and the relation of the individual to Britain’s national and imperial identity.
In placing the many crucial museum scenes of Edwardian fiction in the context of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century cultural discourse, Museum Trouble shows how this turn-of-the-century literature anticipated many of the concerns of the modernist writers who followed.
How Continental Presumptions Gave Rise to the United States of America
In one of Common Sense’s most ringing phrases, Thomas Paine declared it "absurd" for "a continent to be perpetually governed by an island." Such powerful words, coupled with powerful ideas, helped spur the United States to independence.
In The Nation's Nature, James D. Drake examines how a relatively small number of inhabitants of the Americas, huddled along North America’s east coast, came to mentally appropriate the entire continent and to think of their nation as America. Drake demonstrates how British North American colonists’ participation in scientific debates and imperial contests shaped their notions of global geography. These ideas, in turn, solidified American nationalism, spurred a revolution, and shaped the ratification of the Constitution.
Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth–century studies
Thomas Jefferson's Philosophical Anthropology
Although scholars have adequately covered Thomas Jefferson’s general ideas about human nature and race, this is the first book to examine what Maurizio Valsania terms Jefferson’s "philosophical anthropology"—philosophical in the sense that he concerned himself not with describing how humans are, culturally or otherwise, but with the kind of human being Jefferson thought he was, wanted to become, and wished for citizens to be for the future of the United States. Valsania’s exploration of this philosophical anthropology touches on Jefferson’s concepts of nationalism, slavery, gender roles, modernity, affiliation, and community. More than that, Nature's Man shows how Jefferson could advocate equality and yet control and own other human beings.
A humanist who asserted the right of all people to personal fulfillment, Jefferson nevertheless had a complex philosophy that also acknowledged the dynamism of nature and the limits of human imagination. Despite Jefferson's famous advocacy of apparently individualistic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Valsania argues that both Jefferson's yearning for the human individual to become something good and his fear that this hypothetical being would turn into something bad were rooted in a specific form of communitarianism. Absorbing and responding to certain moral-philosophical currents in Europe, Jefferson’s nature-infused vision underscored the connection between the individual and the community.
Alternative Modernities in Literature, Visual Art, and Film
In a comparative and interdisciplinary analysis of modern and postmodern literature, film, art, and visual culture, Monika Kaup examines the twentieth century's recovery of the baroque within a hemispheric framework embracing North America, Latin America, and U.S. Latino/a culture. As "neobaroque" comes to the forefront of New World studies, attention to transcultural dynamics is overturning the traditional scholarship that confined the baroque to a specific period, class, and ideology in the seventeenth century. Reflecting on the rich, nonlinear genealogy of baroque expression, Neobaroque in the Americas envisions the baroque as an anti-proprietary expression that brings together seemingly disparate writers and artists and contributes to the new studies in global modernity.
Elisabeth Scott Bocock of Richmond, A Memoir by Mary Buford Hitz
Some cities, through hardship or glory or a combination of both, produce extraordinary women. Richmond in the early twentieth century, dominated by its prominent families and still haunted by the ghosts of its Confederate past, produced a galaxy of such characters, including Ellen Glasgow, Mary Cooke Branch Munford, and Lila Meade Valentine. Elisabeth Scott Bocock, Victorian in values but modern in outlook, carried on this tradition with her unique combination of family wealth and connections, boundless energy, eccentricity, and visionary zeal. Her daughter Mary Buford Hitz's candid memoir reveals the pleasures and frustrations of growing up with a woman who expected so much from her children and from the city whose self-appointed guardian she became.
Elisabeth Bocock's vision was of a city that would take historic preservation seriously, of a society that would accept the importance of conservation. Impatient with process and society's conventions, she used her enormous personal magnetism to circumvent them when founding many of the institutions Richmond takes for granted today. In the creation of the Historic Richmond Foundation, the Carriage Museum at Maymont, the Hand Workshop, and the Virginia Chapter of the Nature Conservancy she played the dual roles of visionary and bulldozer. While part of a tradition of strong southern women, Elisabeth Bocock's tactics were unique, as she sought to convince others of both the practical and aesthetic links between preservation and the environment.
One of the "five little Scotts," children of the founder of the investment firm Scott & Stringfellow, she grew up with great privilege, and she schooled her children in how to take advantage of such privilege and how to ignore it. Whether in their winter residence at 909 West Franklin Street in Richmond or at their summer home, Royal Orchard, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in her household she insisted both on achievement and on avoiding boredom at all costs.
As Mary Buford Hitz recounts with intelligence and feeling, her mother often seemed like a natural force, leveling anything that stood in its way but leaving in its wake a brighter, changed world. Never Ask Permission is not only a daughter's honest portrait of a charismatic and difficult woman who broke the threads of convention; in Elisabeth Scott Bocock we recognize the flawed but feisty, enduring character of Richmond.
American Modernism and World War I
Adopting the term "new death," which was used to describe the unprecedented and horrific scale of death caused by the First World War, Pearl James uncovers several touchstones of American modernism that refer to and narrate traumatic death. The sense of paradox was pervasive: death was both sanctified and denied; notions of heroism were both essential and far-fetched; and civilians had opportunities to hear about the ugliness of death at the front but often preferred not to. By historicizing and analyzing the work of such writers as Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner, the author shows how their novels reveal, conceal, refigure, and aestheticize the violent death of young men in the aftermath of the war. These writers, James argues, have much to say about how the First World War changed death's cultural meaning.