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A Landscape Critic in the Gilded Age
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer (1851–1934) was one of the premier figures in landscape writing and design at the turn of the twentieth century, a moment when the amateur pursuit of gardening and the increasingly professionalized landscape design field were beginning to diverge. This intellectual biography—the first in-depth study of the versatile critic and author—reveals Van Rensselaer’s vital role in this moment in the history of landscape architecture.
Van Rensselaer was one of the new breed of American art and architecture critics, closely examining the nature of her profession and bringing a disciplined scholarship to the craft. She considered herself a professional, leading the effort among women in the Gilded Age to claim the titles of artist, architect, critic, historian, and journalist. Thanks to the resources of her wealthy mercantile family, she had been given a sophisticated European education almost unheard of for a woman of her time. Her close relationship with Frederick Law Olmsted influenced her ideas on landscape gardening, and her interest in botany and geology shaped the ideas upon which her philosophy and art criticism were based. She also studied the works of Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Henry David Thoreau, and many other nineteenth-century scientists and nature writers, which influenced her general belief in the relationship between science and the imagination.
Her cosmopolitan education and elevated social status gave her, much like her contemporary Edith Wharton, access to the homes and gardens of the upper classes. This allowed her to mingle with authors, artists, and affluent patrons of the arts and enabled her to write with familiarity about architecture and landscape design. Identifying over 330 previously unattributed editorials and unsigned articles authored by Van Rensselaer in the influential journal Garden and Forest—for which she was the sole female editorial voice—Judith Major offers insight into her ideas about the importance of botanical nomenclature, the similarities between landscape gardening and idealist painting, design in nature, and many other significant topics. Major’s critical examination of Van Rensselaer’s life and writings—which also includes selections from her correspondence—details not only her influential role in the creation of landscape architecture as a discipline but also her contribution to a broader public understanding of the arts in America.
Ignoring, Evading, and Trumping the Supreme Court
Based on an award-winning dissertation, Merely Judgment examines what happens after a Supreme Court decision is handed down--in particular how governments and other institutions can derail the implementation of Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action in governmental contracting; also flag burning, hate speech, and school prayer.
Postwar London and the West Indian Novel
In Migrant Modernism, J. Dillon Brown examines the intersection between British literary modernism and the foundational West Indian novels that emerged in London after World War II. By emphasizing the location in which anglophone Caribbean writers such as George Lamming, V. S. Naipaul, and Samuel Selvon produced and published their work, Brown reveals a dynamic convergence between modernism and postcolonial literature that has often been ignored. Modernist techniques not only provided a way for these writers to mark their difference from the aggressively English, literalist aesthetic that dominated postwar literature in London but also served as a self-critical medium through which to treat themes of nationalism, cultural inheritance, and identity.
In The Mind of Thomas Jefferson, one of the foremost historians of Jefferson and his time, Peter S. Onuf, offers a collection of essays that seeks to historicize one of our nation’s founding fathers. Challenging current attempts to appropriate Jefferson to serve all manner of contemporary political agendas, Onuf argues that historians must look at Jefferson’s language and life within the context of his own place and time. In this effort to restore Jefferson to his own world, Onuf reconnects that world to ours, providing a fresh look at the distinction between private and public aspects of his character that Jefferson himself took such pains to cultivate. Breaking through Jefferson’s alleged opacity as a person by collapsing the contemporary interpretive frameworks often used to diagnose his psychological and moral states, Onuf raises new questions about what was on Jefferson’s mind as he looked toward an uncertain future. Particularly striking is his argument that Jefferson’s character as a moralist is nowhere more evident, ironically, than in his engagement with the institution of slavery. At once reinvigorating the tension between past and present and offering a new way to view our connection to one of our nation’s founders, The Mind of Thomas Jefferson helps redefine both Jefferson and his time and American nationhood.
Culture, Politics, and Time in Paris and Tokyo
As society becomes more global, many see the world’s great cities as becoming increasingly similar. But while contemporary cultures do depend on and resemble each other in previously unimagined ways, homogenization is sometimes overestimated. In his compelling new book, James W. White considers how two of the world’s great cities, Paris and Tokyo, may appear to be growing more alike--both are vast, modern, dominating, capitalist cities--but in fact remain profoundly different places.
The Evolving Latino Electorate and the Future of American Politics
The growth of the Latino population is the most significant demographic shift in the United States today. Yet growth alone cannot explain this population’s increasing impact on the electorate; nor can a parsing of its subethnicities. In the most significant analysis to date on the growing political activation of Latinos, Ricardo Ramírez identifies when and where Latino participation in the political process has come about as well as its many motivations. Using a state-centered approach, the author focuses on the interaction between demographic factors and political contexts, from long-term trends in party competition, to the resources and mobilization efforts of ethnic organizations and the Spanish-language media, to the perception of political threat as a basis for mobilization.
The picture that emerges is one of great temporal and geographic variation. In it, Ramírez captures the transformation of Latinos’ civic and political reality and the engines behind the evolution of this crucial electorate.
Race, Ethnicity, and Politics
From Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Ezra Pound
In The Modern Portrait Poem, Frances Dickey recovers the portrait as a poetic genre from the 1860s through the 1920s. Combining literary and art history, she examines the ways Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, and J. M. Whistler transformed the genre of portraiture in both painting and poetry. She then shows how their new ways of looking at and thinking about the portrait subject migrated across the Atlantic to influence Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Amy Lowell, E. E. Cummings, and other poets. These poets creatively exposed the Victorian portrait to new influences ranging from Manet’s realism to modern dance, Futurism, and American avant-garde art. They also condensed, expanded, and combined the genre with other literary modes including epitaph, pastoral, and Bildungsroman.
Dickey challenges the tendency to view Modernism as a break with the past and as a transition from aural to visual orientation. She argues that the Victorian poets and painters inspired the new generation of Modernists to test their vision of Aestheticism against their perception of modernity and the relationship between image and text. In bridging historical periods, national boundaries, and disciplinary distinctions, Dickey makes a case for the continuity of this genre over the Victorian/Modernist divide and from Britain to the United States in a time of rapid change in the arts.
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.