I Get Most of the Vaccines My Doctor Recommends

[We’re starting a new short series of blog posts today that we’re calling, “Acquiring a Point of View.” Each post is written by one of our acquiring editors and is inspired, in some way or other, by one (or more) of the books they signed that’s coming out between March and August this year.]

acquiring a point of view


I get most of the vaccines my doctors recommend. Long ago I approved vaccines for my child without a second thought. I shudder at the media reports about disease outbreaks exacerbated by people who refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children. And yet. I understand the whole controversy differently now that I have read Bernice Hausman’s forthcoming book Anti/Vax, which, as the subtitle explains, reframes the vaccination controversy.

Continue reading “I Get Most of the Vaccines My Doctor Recommends”

I Get Most of the Vaccines My Doctor Recommends

Surviving R. Kelly and The Rape of Joan Bellinger

Like many Americans, I watched Lifetime’s six-hour Surviving R. Kelly docuseries earlier this month. The series painstakingly narrates how Kelly leveraged his multiple advantages—of gender, wealth, fame, and age—to victimize teenage black women, whose intersecting inequalities have long been exploited by perpetrators of all races. My recent book, Obscene Pedagogies: Transgressive Talk and Sexual Education in Late Medieval Britain, argues that this racialized sexual disadvantage has its cultural roots in medieval attitudes toward young low-income women. The popular stereotype of the sexually available servant girl responsible for her own exploitation was later racialized so the medieval “wanton wench” became the stereotyped “likely [attractive] Negro wench, about seventeen years of age” advertised for sale in 1781 and the “fast little girl” cited several times in Surviving R. Kelly by those who chose to deny Kelly’s abuse.

We can see the traumatic real-life effects of sexualizing socially disadvantaged young women not only in Surviving R. Kelly but also in premodern legal cases. In Canterbury in 1574, a fifteen-year-old servant named Joan Bellinger appeared before two town officials. She testified that her master, the tailor Stephen Jeffrey, had ordered her to come to him one evening when his wife was out enjoying supper with a neighbor. He grabbed her by the arm and threw her down on a bed before exposing himself to her, pulling up her dress, and raping her. Joan reported that “she did tell him that he did hurte her, and he said, ‘No, Joane, I do not hurte the, for this dothe me good and thee no harme.’” He forced her to swear that she would not tell her parents or anyone else what he had done. Similarly, Jerhonda Pace broke a nondisclosure agreement to say of Kelly’s sexual predation when she was sixteen, “I told him it was a bit uncomfortable…It was painful.”


John Petrean, one of the jurors in Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial, explained why he had voted to acquit Kelly. “I just didn’t believe them, the women,” he said regarding the young black women who had testified about Kelly’s abuse. “The way they dressed, the way they acted…I didn’t like them…I disregarded all what they say [sic].” In other words, his deep-seated misogynoir prevented him from believing their experiences. Similarly, one of Kelly’s former employees said, “I thought, These bitches are crazy.” In contrast, the sixteenth-century witnesses in Joan’s case believed her: three women appointed by the town alderman examined Joan and affirmed “that she…is very sore hurt in her prevy partes, by suche meanes as she hathe confessed.”

Both R. Kelly and Stephen Jeffrey used various forms of power at their disposal—including gender, age, and socio-economic status—to victimize young women disadvantaged by intersecting inequalities. Just as young black women are disproportionately victims of sexual violence, with between forty and sixty percent reporting coercive sexual contact before the age of eighteen, young servant women in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England were similarly vulnerable. Living in urban areas far from their families, sharing close quarters with their employers, and subject to stereotypes that portrayed them as perpetually sexually available, servant girls appear repeatedly in premodern legal records as victims of abuse and exploitation. Katherine Bronyng’s master and mistress forced her to sleep in their son’s bed, resulting in her pregnancy and legal punishment in 1505. Margaret Haburgh’s master impregnated her and killed her baby by throwing it into the sea in 1519.

Both Surviving R. Kelly and these premodern cases remind us how social inequalities have intersected for centuries to produce violence that falls more heavily than some bodies than others. And they remind us, echoing #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, that movements to end sexual violence cannot ignore poor women and women of color, who have borne the disproportionate burdens of victimization and survival for far too long.

Carissa M. Harris is Assistant Professor of English at Temple University and author of the recently published Obscene Pedagogies: Transgressive Talk and Sexual Education in Late Medieval Britain.

Surviving R. Kelly and The Rape of Joan Bellinger

We Were the First


We were the first. Not many get to say that. Well, we do! CUP is 150 years old. So we were around before all the other university presses.

From a marketing perspective this should be a dream. Easy hook, lots of promotion, and so on. But do readers even care? Do they know or want to know that we’ve been doing this publishing thing since 1869? Do authors? What about vendors and other stakeholders? Somehow, I struggle to believe Amazon is going to see we’re 150 years old and immediately order thousands more books!

Regardless, over the past year or so, the marketing team has been brainstorming and planning how to make people take notice of the fact that CUP is the first university press to the sesquicentennial mark. Colleagues from other departments have joined in and we’ve enlisted help from a variety of people on campus. We’ve got the main stuff covered: parties, events, logos, etc. We’ll use those things to let influencers on campus and in the University Press world know about the amazing things we’re doing. But what about the outsiders? Those who might not care so much? Time to get creative. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tell people our story and, perhaps most importantly sell some more books.

150th logo basic white on red flat

Being 150 years old is also an excuse to experiment, to push out some wild and wacky marketing campaigns that perhaps only tangentially use the 150th as their foundation. Videos, podcasts, blogs—content, in other words—will revolve around the 150th but won’t be consumed by it. This catalogue is full of 150th stuff but it’s not the main purpose of the catalogue, obviously! Our new website launched just in time for the 150th and we’ll use the confluence of these two things to move boldly into a content-marketing strategy more suited to the next 150 years (Weeks? Hours?) rather than what’s been done by book publishers for the past 150.

So, we’re 150! Yay, us. And we’re telling you all about it. Lucky you. But, really, from the marketing side of things, this milestone anniversary is all about being the first again. First to try new things. First to change. First to experiment. First to tear it all up and start again. And again. And again. We’re going to the be first to try a whole bunch of crazy things in scholarly book marketing and we hope you enjoy at least one or two of them.

Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director. He likes coming first; it’s a winning thing. This post was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 Cornell University Press Catalog.

We Were the First

Why Strong Governments are Bad for Precarious Workers


Philip Rathgeb, author of the recently published Strong Governments, Precarious Workers: Labor Market Policy in the Era of Liberalization, chatted with our publicity manager Cheryl Quimba. Here’s their conversation:

What is Strong Governments, Precarious Workers about?

It examines why some European welfare states protect unemployed and ‘atypically’ employed workers better than others. While all countries faced the emergence of such precarious workers, some compensated them with better protection and training, whereas others reinforced new divisions within the workforce. The question is, why? Looking at the cases of Austria, Denmark, and Sweden in particular, I find that trade unions are the most consistent force in resisting precarious employment and welfare. What is most striking, however, is that left-right differences between political parties matter less for trade unions – and thus precarious workers – than differences between weak and strong governments. Only when governments are weak can trade unions enforce greater social solidarity in the interest of precarious workers. The book therefore challenges theories that attribute precarity to union clientelism.

Can you explain this relationship between strong governments and precarious workers?

The gradual stages of the liberalization era shifted the balance of class power from labor to capital, which created opportunities for employer associations to push governments in their preferred direction. Governments of the right as well as the left therefore stimulated job creation by liberalizing the labour market. Strong governments are unrestrained in this regard, because they are internally united and have enough seats in parliament. As a result, they can marginalize trade unions to prevent lengthy and costly negotiations. Weak governments, by contrast, need trade unions for consensus mobilization, which creates opportunities for trade unions to strike policy deals for precarious workers. Variations in government strength best explain why trade unions in Social Democratic countries like Denmark and especially Sweden faced remarkable defeats in labor market reform, whereas their counterparts in a Conservative country like Austria remained influential and could thus enhance the protection of precarious workers.

What motivated you to write this book?

What I find striking is the gradual breakdown of the long-term employment relationship in favour of flexible short-term jobs. Among the middle classes of my generation – the so-called “millennials” – this shift is often welcomed, because it can create greater autonomy in working life. You can switch jobs and adapt working hours according to your current life situation or desire for self-realization. This is certainly a great progress for well-educated people without problems in making ends meet or reconciling work-family life.

But I care more about the other side of this story: in-work poverty, unpredictable income, low protection when unemployed or retired. While “flexibility” means greater autonomy for some, it means greater insecurity for others. I wanted to understand when political actors respond to the social demands of workers that are unemployed or on temporary ‘atypical’ contracts, as they face the costs of growing flexibility on contemporary labour markets.

Why do you think this is important?

Precarity is associated with several trends that are detrimental to democracy and society. First, we know that precarious workers are less likely to vote, because they gradually lose faith in the political system. This refers to a process of political resignation so impressively captured by Marie Jahoda, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Hans Zeissel in their seminal study Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal. I vividly remember reading this book when I was in high school, as it has shaped my way of thinking about unemployment ever since. Second, it is clear that precarious workers are more likely to face economic poverty, unequal life chances, poor health, and even an increased relative risk of suicide. Understanding how political actors respond to precarity is thus of great political and social significance in contemporary capitalism.


Philip Rathgeb is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz.

Why Strong Governments are Bad for Precarious Workers

150 Notable Books: The First Books of Cornell University Press

Every press has to start somewhere and produce its very first book. Tracking this book down for Cornell University Press, however, is an impossible task. In late 1869, America’s first university press was mainly a printing house. We produced lecture notes for professors, university documents, and student newspapers on a large steam-driven Hoe printing press. Most of these items were short, ephemeral, and any records vanished long ago. We do not know the name of the first item to roll off the press.

The publication chosen to represent the first book by Cornell University Press, and to be the first entry on our list of 150 notable books, is the 1869-70 University Register. This annual publication contained much of the information you would find on a modern university website. It was a directory of staff and students, a listing of fields of study and graduation requirements, and a description of the university’s founding, mission, and many fine amenities.

CUP first

The director of the press, Willard Fiske, wrote a letter to President A. D. White in August 1869 about his work on the register. He described the contents, gave an estimate for completion of proof pages, and explained his plans for raising money to pay for the publication by including a page of advertising—just as most of the British university presses were doing. Despite all the trappings of modern technology that surround publishing today, these basic elements have remained the same: develop the best possible book, produce it on deadline, and figure out how to pay for it!

In contrast to the unknown first publication from CUP, Comstock Publishing was formed in 1892 for the specific purpose of publishing a particular book. As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the university approached, two professors, John Henry Comstock and Simon Henry Gage, felt this would be a good opportunity to honor their former professor and mentor, Burt Green Wilder. Wilder, a Harvard medical school graduate and former Civil War surgeon, had been a professor of neurology and vertebrate zoology at Cornell since its earliest days.

Comstock and Gage contacted several of Wilder’s former students and asked them to contribute to a Festschrift, a contributed volume of essays meant to honor a respected academic—and the first such book published in the United States. The result was the Wilder Quarter-Century Book, a book of nearly 500 pages, with many plates and engravings. Contributors, in addition to Comstock and Gage, included Anna Botsford Comstock (naturalist and first woman professor at Cornell), David Starr Jordan (first president of Stanford University), Leland Ossian Howard (USDA entomologist), Theobald Smith (pioneering bacteriologist), John Caspar Branner (geologist and discoverer of bauxite), and William Russell Dudley (head of the botany department at Stanford).

These two first publications bookend (if I may) the educational journey at Cornell. The first CUP book introduced prospective students to the university and its many opportunities. And the first Comstock book showcased the many achievements of former Cornell students, out in the world, discovering and disseminating knowledge.

page from Comstock first

Karen Laun is the self-proclaimed press historian and an enthusiast of all things old and dusty. In her spare time she is a Senior Production Editor and also works in the ultramodern world of e-books as Digital Publishing Editor.

150 Notable Books: The First Books of Cornell University Press

The Trouble with Terroir: Wine, Place, and the Meaning of Origins in Modern France

French wine is invariably associated with France’s diverse terroirs, or “sense of place.” Such wines evoke images of medieval castles or bucolic landscapes, time-honored traditions of happy peasants crushing grapes, and artisanship and quality. The French fascination with place is said to be centuries-old, unaffected by upheaval and change. My new book, The Sober Revolution: Appellation Wine and the Transformation of France, tells a different story, showing that the link between wine and place was not an inherent part of French wine traditions but instead gained widespread appeal as a result of some of the most turbulent moments in twentieth-century France: the Great Depression, the racist Vichy regime, the decolonization of Algeria, and France’s entry into the Europe Economic Community.

Except for the small amount of luxury wine that was sold to international elites and upon which the French built their reputation for excellence, for much of the twentieth century, the bulk of French wine came from vineyards of mass production in the Languedoc region of southern France and in French Algeria. Between 1830 and 1962, French imperialists had governed over Algeria, seizing land from the indigenous population and turning the colony into the world’s largest wine exporter. These wines were shipped nearly entirely to France where they competed with a glutted market of French wine. Impoverished peasants and Algerians churned out wine for companies like Gévéor and Margnat. These cheap, standardized wines—not unlike Coca-Cola today—were deemed unfit for foreign markets and sold largely within France to thirsty workers. At a time when piped water was not assured in the countryside and when exhausted workers needed extra calories, Frenchmen reportedly drank over a liter of the stuff a day. The wine industry contributed to a system of land expropriation, economic inequality, racism, hunger, and alcoholism.

Trouble in wine country led to periodic outbursts of discontent and stirred the growing independence movements in Algeria, creating a serious public relations problem for the wine industry. To defend their reputation, industry leaders collaborated with state officials to develop an institution called the National Institute of Appellations of Origin (INAO). The INAO set about classifying France’s regional terroirs, regulating the methods of production of each region’s wines, making these production methods transparent to consumers, and preserving a French tradition of quality that they were creating more than preserving. Through its most prestigious label—the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)—the INAO championed “quality” and “authenticity,” by which it meant wines from mainland France.

The loss of Algeria, rising disposable incomes, and a public health campaign that blamed alcoholism on cheap wine gradually led consumers to turn toward wines with an appellation of origin. In doing so, they unwittingly became complicit in a state project to reconstruct France’s image as historically European instead of imperial. The appellation system excluded peasant and Algerian wine from its elite club and drove up prices, which limited who could participate in the community of appellation consumers—i.e. good-bye to much of the working class and the postcolonial migrants who might have taken an interest in belonging to that community, hello to the pastoral images of the French countryside lapped up by mostly affluent white men.

As markets globalized in the late twentieth century, this sense of place mattered more and more, expanding into other agricultural products and reaching around the world.[1] Instead of threatening the notion of place, globalization created opportunities for producers to give it greater definition. Locavores and food activists have adopted the French appellation model without realizing just how contentious its rise was in France. Stilton cheese, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Mexican Tequila, and Darjeeling Tea are just a few examples of foods and beverages that carry place-based labels. Plans are afoot even to expand the appellation system into the emerging legal cannabis industry in the United States. Big food conglomerates have followed the appellation fad by appropriating these labels. Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy corporation, invests in appellation cheeses. Samuel Adams, owned by Boston Beer Company, the ninth largest beer manufacturer in the United States, now markets a “terroir lager.” To be sure, not all cases of locally-sourced foods conceal some big story of oppression, but we should be wary of the triumphalist narrative of good-versus-evil that prevails in discussions of locavorism and instead pose ethical questions that dig deeper than a given food’s place of production. Who wins and who loses in local food systems?


Joseph Bohling is assistant professor of history at Portland State University

You might also enjoy this Sam Adams ad for “Terroir Lager,” and this Forbes article on appellations of luxury cannabis.


[1] It should be noted that that already in 1925, the Roquefort cheese appellation had been established. Nor were appellations of origin entirely a “French” creation. Early versions of appellations of origin were also found in other European countries. But it was the zeal of France’s centralized state that turned appellations of origin into a system of production that was enshrined in a complex set of laws.
The Trouble with Terroir: Wine, Place, and the Meaning of Origins in Modern France

Environmentally Conscious Must-Reads

A recent report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that we are headed for a global warming crisis much sooner than previously predicted. Prior to this new report, environmental scientists considered the threshold for code-red climate change to be a temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, the IPCC has found that the threshold is more accurately 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. If we carry on as we are without rapid and large-scale changes to protect the environment, scientists give the year 2040 as the benchmark for a global warming crisis. This would mean a widespread death of most coral reefs, more frequent wildfires, worsening food shortages, rising sea levels threatening coastal cities, increased rates of poverty and decreased access to natural resources.

During times like these, we can feel powerless in making a difference regarding these issues that seem so much larger than what’s in our control. The first step, and one we can all take, is getting educated on this pressing matter. Cornell University Press’ motto is, “Changing the World One Book at a Time.” In applying this attitude to the growing climate change problem, we’ve compiled this list of environmentally conscious must-reads.



It is not a question of whether the planet is sustainable; the challenge facing life on Earth—and the life of the Earth—is whether an expanding and high-consumption species like ours is sustainable. Only new resources, new priorities, new policies and, most of all, new knowledge, can reverse the damage that humanity is doing to our home—and ourselves. A sustainable human future, Rhodes concludes in this eloquent, sobering, but ultimately optimistic book, will require a sense of responsible stewardship, for we are not owners of this planet; we are tenants.

“It’s impossible to grasp the whole planet or integrate all the descriptions of it. But because we live here, we have to try. This is not just an artistic compulsion or an existential yearning, still less an academic exercise. It’s a survival issue. This is the only planet we have. We’re stuck here, and we don’t own the place—it would be the height of arrogance to assume that we do. We’re tenants here, not owners, but we’re tenants with hope for a long-term tenancy. We want to extend our lease just as far as we can.”—from Earth



Addressing participatory, transdisciplinary approaches to local stewardship of the environment, Grassroots to Global features scholars and stewards exploring the broad impacts of civic engagement with the environment. Chapters focus on questions that include: How might faith-based institutions in Chicago expand the work of church-community gardens? How do volunteer “nature cleaners” in Tehran attempt to change Iranian social norms? How does an international community in Baltimore engage local people in nature restoration while fostering social equity? How does a child in an impoverished coal mining region become a local and national leader in abandoned mine restoration? And can a loose coalition that transforms blighted areas in Indian cities into pocket parks become a social movement? From the findings of the authors’ diverse case studies, editor Marianne Krasny provides a way to help readers understand the greater implications of civic ecology practices through the lens of multiple disciplines.



In Citizen Science, experts from a variety of disciplines—including scientists and education specialists working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where many large citizen science programs use birds as proxies for biodiversity—share their experiences of creating and implementing successful citizen science projects, primarily those that use massive data sets gathered by citizen scientists to better understand the impact of environmental change.



In a speech delivered in Japanese at Cornell University, Naoto Kan describes the harrowing days after a cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami led to the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In vivid language, he tells how he struggled with the possibility that tens of millions of people would need to be evacuated. Cornell Global Perspectives is an imprint of Cornell University’s Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. The works examine critical global challenges, often from an interdisciplinary perspective, and are intended for a non-specialist audience. The Distinguished Speaker series presents edited transcripts of talks delivered at Cornell, both in the original language and in translation.



Throughout the twentieth century, despite compelling evidence that some pesticides posed a threat to human and environmental health, growers and the USDA continued to favor agricultural chemicals over cultural and biological forms of pest control. In Ghostworkers and Greens, Adam Tompkins reveals a history of unexpected cooperation between farmworker groups and environmental organizations. Environmental organizations and farmworker groups also acted as watchdogs, monitoring the activity of regulatory agencies and bringing suit when necessary to ensure that they fulfilled their responsibilities to the public. These groups served as not only lobbyists but also essential components of successful democratic governance, ensuring public participation and more effective policy implementation.



City of Forests, City of Farms is a history of recent urban forestry and agriculture policy and programs in New York City. Centered on the 2007 initiative PlaNYC, this account tracks the development of policies that increased sustainability efforts in the city and dedicated more than $400 million dollars to trees via the MillionTreesNYC campaign. Lindsay K. Campbell uses PlaNYC to consider how and why nature is constructed in New York City. Campbell regards sustainability planning as a process that unfolds through the strategic interplay of actors, the deployment of different narrative frames, and the mobilizing and manipulation of the physical environment, which affects nonhuman animals and plants as well as the city’s residents.


Brenna O’Donnell is a publicity intern in the marketing department of Cornell University Press and strong advocate for environmental policy reform.


Environmentally Conscious Must-Reads

Refugees and the Making of Modern International Relations

According to the United Nations’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, there are more people displaced by conflict in the world today than at any point since the second world war. An estimated 66 million people are currently displaced, either within their home countries or abroad. Since the 1951 United Nations Convention, a refugee has been defined as a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Although this has been the word’s standard legal definition after its adoption in the post-war period, the 1951 refugee convention has been subsequently expanded to come to terms with the new scenarios created by the Cold War and decolonization. More recently, the challenges posed by globalization have led to a further reappraisal of the 1951 convention, which no longer seems adequate for the reality of twenty-first-century international politics.

Precisely when the 1951 convention inserted the refugee into international law, Hannah Arendt—who had fled to the United States to escape Nazi persecution—situated refugees at the center of political philosophy. In her classic work The Origins of Totalitarianism, published for the first time in English in 1951, Arendt carefully examined the condition of “stateless” people who, in losing their nationality status, were denied the very “right to have rights.” Since then, political philosophers have debated at length the moral obligations sovereign states have toward refugees, discussing whether political communities require closure to preserve the distinctiveness of cultures, or whether it is necessary to rethink the distinction between citizens and aliens as well as the relationship between sovereignty and human rights.

While political philosophy and international relations have been at the forefront of the growing field of refugee studies, history has remained at the fringe of scholarly debate and is often accused of ignoring refugee movements. As a result, refugee studies has largely developed as an ahistorical field that lacks a historical understanding of the many questions it confronts. In reality, our epoch is not the first to struggle with how to define the status of the refugee or how to treat and manage refugee flows. Refugees shaped European and global history well before the modern age; it was only that the “methodological nationalism” of nineteenth-and twentieth-century historians and social scientists failed to see it. In fact, the term “refugee” appears in English in the late seventeenth century as a translation from the French fugié, to indicate the Huguenots who had been expelled from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Already in the previous century the Reformation had provoked a long-term process of religious migration, forcing Christian, Jewish and Muslim minorities to flee and relocate to escape persecution.

My forthcoming book, The Refugee-Diplomat. Venice, England and the Reformation, opens a new chapter in the historical study of refugees by recovering the agency of refugees in early modern diplomacy and showing that even as they were forced into exile they also contributed to shaping the new emerging system of international relations. During the early modern period, when diplomatic practices were not yet uniform or standardized, religious refugees served many different diplomatic functions and were employed as intelligencers, cultural brokers, translators, propagandists, and, at times, even as representatives and negotiators. As I show with a series of case studies, refugees were not merely intermediaries between states or carriers of information for their patrons. On the contrary, in early modern Europe they functioned as a parallel and alternative diplomatic network outside of formal channels, reproducing the authority of states while also subverting it “through their appropriation of diplomatic practices for their own purposes.”


Diego Pirillo is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at UC Berkeley. He specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe and the Atlantic world, with an emphasis on Italy, England and early America.


Refugees and the Making of Modern International Relations


On this national day of mourning and in memory of the 41st President of the United States of America, here is the Philip Zelikow’s Foreword from 41: Inside the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, edited by Michael Nelson and Barbara A. Perry.

The popular image of George H. W. Bush, which has recently been reinforced by an HBO documentary produced by Jerry Weintraub and other Bush friends, is the portrait of an accomplished, good-natured, self-deprecating gentleman and sportsman. All this is true enough. Indeed, Bush seems highly qualified to be the president of any community’s Rotary Club.

This does leave us, however, with a few puzzles.

First, why was this amiable fellow both so successful and so unsuccessful as a politician? It is interesting that Bush’s abilities in winning people over at the personal level, which was abundantly in evidence in foreign capitals and on Capitol Hill, translated so poorly into abilities at the level of mass retail politics.

Perhaps he was not really all that outstandingly successful, except in the qualities that recommended him to Ronald Reagan in 1980 as an appropriate vice president. And then that pairing led to other things. The oral histories compiled by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the perceptive essays in this volume that use them provide insightful conjectures. They portray Bush as a politician who was really, in some sense, outside of his time, an anachronism within his party and perhaps even in the world of American politics.

Second, although Bush practically had the word “prudent” tattooed to his forehead—in purple letters, not scarlet—there is little evidence that he was an especially analytical person in any formal sense of the term. He did read and listen. But his temperament was restless, constantly looking for something to do. He was a deeply emotional person—instinctive, intuitive in his reactions to people and situations. I believe one source of his characteristic inability to express himself very well in public settings is that a long-ingrained filter was in place habitually blocking the facile expression of these impulses. My hypothesis is of a person who forced himself, had seemingly always had to force himself, to pause and reflect. He would then make some big calls, yet do so in a way that seemed so diffident and unhistrionic that their importance might pass without notice.

So, third, we have the public image of Bush the cautious, Bush the prudent, Bush the risk averse. Against that we have the reality of some of the most radical moves any president has overseen in modern times. Part of this is just the empowerment of skillful subordinates in a true administration team—Scowcroft, Baker, Zoellick, the Nick Brady of the important “Brady plan,” Cheney, Sununu, Darman, and others. But some of the biggest calls were very much Bush’s own.

Contrary to much of the historiography, the end of the Cold War featured some breathtaking gambles. Bush and most (not all) of his advisors threw aside initial hesitations about how to make sense of the changes about two months into the new administration, toward the end of March 1989. I was a direct witness to this. Bush and his team (notably Baker and Scowcroft) called for a rollback of Soviet power—eventually to extend to a rollback to borders the Russian empire had not known since the eighteenth century. Throughout human history changes on this scale have happened only as the corollary of bloodily catastrophic war.

Bush unequivocally gambled on an all-out push for German unification and did so publicly—much noticed among world leaders—weeks before the Berlin Wall came down. He presided over the largest change in the U.S. force posture in Europe since the 1950s and the most ambitious nuclear and conventional arms control agreements ever signed before or since. If his agenda is compared to what foreign leaders privately wanted or expected or what public pundits such as Henry Kissinger and George Kennan were advocating in leading newspapers at the time, Bush’s agenda was indeed extreme.

In the immediate aftermath of Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, who in America envisioned or called for the dispatch of 500,000 American soldiers to the sands of Saudi Arabia who were prepared to reverse it? And then seek to do so with full UN support, seizing on the end of the Cold War as its embers were still glowing to revive for the first time since 1945 the long-latent dream of Franklin Roosevelt to make the UN Security Council a body of high-minded “policemen”(FDR’s term)?

All this was afire with political controversy (the resolution authorizing the use of force passed the Senate by only five votes; his son’s 2002 Iraq vote would pass by fifty). That was the context in which, barely a week before the 1990 midterm elections, Bush decided to double the U.S. troop commitment, including reserve call-ups that could touch every American community. The war plan of the theater commander was junked, and Joint Staff stepped in to help craft a far bolder plan, backed by a blank check of presidential commitment. Bob Gates’s recollection of the October 30, 1990, meeting, preserved in his oral history interview, still echoes astonishment even twenty years later. Bush knew what he was doing. A week earlier, Baker and Colin Powell had privately conferred about where all this was going. Both men were uneasy, with Powell clearly wondering whether Bush was really “all in” and then being assured that he was. I believe from that day—October 30—forward, Colin Powell was George H. W. Bush’s man, proud to count himself among a band of brothers.

However one characterizes all this, “prudent” does not do the job. The pictures of the frenetic golfer or fisherman, the self-deprecating, genial but rather hapless toastmaster, do not do the job. And future scholars will want to keep in mind that almost all of the American academic commentators who wrote about George H. W. Bush in the twentieth century can be presumed to have voted against him, based on what they thought they knew at the time.

Nor do such depictions do the job for the 1990 budget agreement, which turned out to be the first and most important of three budget deals struck between 1990 and 1996 that produced a balanced budget by the end of the decade for the first time since the Nixon administration. This book amply describes what this cost Bush. That this came as the country was quietly staggering from an enormous, dimly understood American financial crisis (the so-called savings and loan crisis that began toward the end of the Reagan administration) makes the issue more interesting still. That the budget deficit became the signature issue for the strange and ultimately quite significant third-party candidacy of that eccentric, vengeful snake-oil salesman Ross Perot, only redoubles the historical irony.

If puzzles like these pique your curiosity, make you want to take another look at this rather peculiar one-term president, read on. And then read the oral histories, which are available at The Miller Center. In weighing the value of these oral histories, consider that there are only two kinds of primary sources about the past. There are the material remnants of what happened—documents, coins, statues. Then there are the preserved recollections of the human observers. Some of these recollections take the form of formal memoirs.

From the time it was founded in the mid-1970s, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center placed the study of the American presidency close to the center of its work. From the point of view of basic research into primary evidence, the most obvious way to supplement the work of the National Archives and Records Administration was to organize good oral history projects to set down the recollections of participants before they passed on. A modest effort of this kind was undertaken for the Ford presidency; a better one (helped by James Sterling Young’s involvement) was conducted for the Carter administration. Then Young went on to other work at Virginia and, though director Kenneth Thompson did his best, these efforts went back to a relatively modest scale. This was a pity, because the quality of oral history work being conducted by the presidential libraries had always been up and down, mostly down, and candor was constrained by the fact that the libraries, with their institutional bias toward the presidents whose legacies they embodied, directly ran the projects.

One of my first tasks when taking over the directorship of the Miller Center in 1998 was to revive the oral history work and raise its standards. The goal was to provide as strong a complement to the documentary and memoir record as funds would allow, institutionalizing these practices for every presidency possible. Jim Young came back on board to help; he and I later recruited the current director, Russell Riley, whom we both knew to have been one of Dick Neustadt’s finest students. The oral history work was complemented by another primary research effort, the careful annotated transcription of the presidential meeting and telephone recordings secretly compiled in several presidencies, above all between 1962 and 1973. These two research projects seemed to be the most important primary research projects possible, beyond the compilation of papers and other artifacts long being carried out by the National Archives.

The launching pad for the renewed oral history effort was the presidency of George H. W. Bush. His immediate successor, Clinton, was then still in office. I had served in Bush’s administration in a rather junior position, as a career diplomat detailed to his National Security Council staff, and knew some of the principal figures. The Bush oral history project became a template for those to follow. The Miller Center has now forged partnerships to conduct such projects for the administrations of Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush as well. One of our alumni, Tim Naftali, was also able to use some of this experience to conduct a too-long-delayed and quite good oral history project for the Nixon administration when Naftali became the National Archives’ director of the Nixon Library.

The Bush precedent involved financial support from Bush’s presidential library foundation. They agreed to be fenced off from the research process itself. The Miller Center chose the interviewers, shaped the agenda, conducted the interviews, and then kept the results as private (including from the Bush library foundation) as the respondents wished. That kind of partnership would not have been easy for every presidential library foundation to swallow. And this one had some second thoughts about it, even third thoughts.

From a research point of view, the partnership with the Bush library foundation was fortunate. It set the right kind of precedent for scholarly integrity. That is a credit to Bush himself and the tone he set for some of his former aides who shared these instincts.

It was not as hard for them to set such a standard as it might have been for some other presidents and their aides. They had been involved in a presidency that, though it failed of reelection, had been practically unblemished by scandal and had produced notable policy successes—some of which were known and some of which (they thought) were not adequately known. So these men and women were not as insecure about what scholars would find as some other sets of “formers” might have been. Hence the good precedent.

This volume reflects an initial reappraisal by a superb group of scholars armed with this material along with additional material generated at a fall 2011 symposium that brought them together with Bush administration alumni at the Miller Center. I believe other scholars who take their time with this volume and the underlying material will find both to be quite important in revising our understanding of this very important, misunderstood, and, as discussed above, somewhat peculiar president.



Shaping a City, Ithaca, New York: A Developer’s Perspective

At 320 Pages with 115 photographs, published by Cornell Publishing, an Imprint of Cornell University Press, you will find Shaping a City a fascinating behind the scenes look at why and how Ithaca, NY has grown from a mud flat at the head of Cayuga Lake to the successful miniature metropolis it is today. For Ithacan’s, it is our story, our history, starting in the early 1800’s, and focusing on the most recent 40 years of real estate development. For readers beyond Ithaca, it will become the roadmap for how to shape your own small town from a vacant, under-utilized cross-roads to a vibrant, dense, thriving and attractive small city, and possibly —like Ithaca as recognized in a score of national publications—, turn it into one of the “Best Small Cities in the country.”

This book is my story of financial survival as I began renovating old houses and went on to be selected by the City and Cornell University as the Preferred Developer for Collegetown. It is the story of City politicians building the Commons pedestrian mall on our main street in downtown in 1974, and then rebuilding it again from 2013 to 2015.

It is the stories of over a dozen major developers and their projects, which have contributed to the revitalization of Ithaca—John Novar, Jason Fane, Gus and Nick Lambrou, Andy Sciarabba, Bill Downing, Travis Hyde Properties, Schon  Bloomfield, David Lubin, Joe Daley, Marc Newman and Bryan Warren, John Guttridge, David Kuckuk, Neil Patel, and others.

It is the story of how a group of us salvaged Center Ithaca, the largest building in downtown out of bankruptcy, and how philanthropist Jeb Brooks; music producer Dan Smalls; and our company, Travis Hyde, with assistance from the Tompkins Trust Company and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, saved the 1600 seat historic State Theatre, and the 200 year old historic Clinton House from foreclosure and certain demolition.

It is the story of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing and its significant role in creating affordable housing in our community. It is the story of Carl Haynes and the Tompkins Cortland Community College purchase of the M&T Bank Building for its Ithaca Campus and as a source of income for the College. It is the story of the creation of Coltivare, an upscale farm-to-bistro restaurant that serves as a training laboratory for the Tompkins Cortland Community College students. It is the story of why and how our oldest bank, Tompkins Trust Company, chose to consolidate its operations and construct a new 7-story office building downtown.

And primarily, it is the story of the BID, our local business improvement district, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, for which I served as founding member and president. Our Executive Director, Gary Ferguson has guided us through the formation of two, ten year Strategic Plans that have been created by the stakeholders of downtown, based on professional feasibility studies, the findings of  retail and marketing consultants, and approved by the City Council.

We have recognized that it is arts, dining, and entertainment that drive downtown revitalization, and we have formed a Tax Abatement Program that stimulates downtown development. There is much to appreciate, and much to learn, as developers, city and county staff and representatives, local banks, and often local philanthropists, work together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to create what has been recognized as one of the Best Small Cities in America

City centers are an under-utilized resource in our country and I invite you to read my book, and learn how the principles and values developed in Ithaca and set forth in Shaping a City, can perhaps be replicated in your community.

 Featured event:

Join #CornellPress author Mack Travis for Gallery Night: Book Release for Mack Travis’ Shaping a City this upcoming December 7th, 2019; an event hosted by Downtown Ithaca & The History Center in Tompkins County.



About the author of this blog post: As one of Ithaca’s major developers, as one of the founders, and former president of Ithaca’s Business Improvement District, and as a frequent lecturer at Cornell’s Graduate Program in Real Estate, Mack Travis is uniquely qualified to write this 40-year look back at the people and projects that have shaped Ithaca.

Shaping a City, Ithaca, New York: A Developer’s Perspective