Ideas and Things

Can we be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by American culture and politics? Daily we read or more like hear about political polarization, deep ideological divides, a politicized Supreme Court, protests over race and history. Of course, there are histories and context to each issue and conflict, but sometimes what we need is something more fundamental. Behind all these things are ideas.

Intellectual historians have attracted larger and larger audiences that are hungry for explanations about the origins, contexts, and consequences of ideas that seem more powerful than ever. How do we understand a society riddled by profound contradictions—a society that transitioned, most recently, from Barack Obama to Donald Trump?

Ideas matter. A lot. Most people recognize as much. Intellectual history—the study of ideas in the past—thus has a lot to offer people. With my colleague Andrew Hartman, we have co-edited a collection conceived with this basic fact in mind.

We asked the authors to consider the following question: How might the methods of intellectual history shed light on contemporary issues with historical resonance? Their answers, while rigorous, original, and challenging, are eclectic in approach and temperament. For example, to understand the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between the left and liberals (or supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, respectfully), Hartman argues we need to grapple with the idea of freedom: “The left’s mission—the reason for its existence—was to expand the idea of political freedom, which was limited and went by the name of liberalism, to include economic freedom, a broadened conception that went by the name of socialism. The route to such freedom was class struggle.”

In another essay, David Sehat helps us locate a position from which to look critically at “originalism” or the idea that seems to capture the politicized nature of the present U.S. Supreme Court better than any other. Sehat explains: “Intellectual historians, like all historians, recognize [the] reality of historical change and growth, which is why they have tended to be some of the strongest critics of originalism. They know that the past is different than the present; that time is corrosive of meanings, arrangements, and cultural ideas at particular moments; that its corrosiveness leaves only remnants from the past that historians must pick over to make sense of now-lost worlds; and that the reconstruction of the past is always, as a result, only provisional and partial. As such there is not, historians have suggested, a set of interpretive rules to be followed by which original meaning will be revealed, since that meaning was contested at the founding and has evolved over the centuries.”

But when we come right down to the most pressing questions of our age, we all want to know “why Trump?”

In her essay tracing the genealogy of conservatism, Liza Szefel wonders in an era that is “post-truth” what good is intellectual history to such a question? She offers an answer: “A line of inquiry gaining traction attempts to move beyond rise and fall narratives to examine conservatism not merely as an ideology, grass roots social movement, or party, but as a sensibility, temperament, and mentality. Casting conservatism as an orientation brings into relief values shared by the left and right.” Indeed, intellectual history uses the tools of social history and cultural history to look at the world—as well as world views—of Trump’s working-class supporters. By doing so, Szefel demonstrates how intellectual history identifies the ideas behind all sorts things, including Donald Trump.


 

About the author of this blog post: Raymond Haberski, Jr. is Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He is the co-author of the upcoming #CornellPress title American Labyrinth: Intellectual History for Complicated Times. Take a closer look and pre-order your copy here.

Ideas and Things

The Gospel According to John Cleese

A friend of mine once put forward the theory that art and religion developed to pay homage to, or to pray for, good hunting. He’d been talking about the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux—the idea being that hunting was so central to these folks’ survival that they didn’t just choose, but were compelled, to create the art that today evokes in us so deep a sense of wonder. Of course, if this art sprang from such an elemental well, so too would have the engineering of weapons for the hunt: the triangles of pointed rock, the straight charcoal lines of spears arcing toward their prey. Art and design; geometry and engineering. Sounds something like what we do at Cornell.

And then there is John Cleese, Cornell’s longtime professor-at-large. Since 1999, he’s been visiting, lecturing, listening, and making us laugh. He has been our most surprising tutor, our unexpected long-term guest. Yet as well-known as he is, many Cleese fans (and even Cornellians) have no idea what he’s about outside of his day job. Professor at Large, a new collection of Cleese’s public talks at Cornell, presents a portrait of a mind at work. His topics are wide-ranging, from psychology to religion to screenwriting. But over and over, what reappears in different contexts is a fascination with the creative process, and (usefully) his interest in how to get there, as well as pitfalls to avoid, on the path to the “relaxed, attentive, open, and inquiring states of mind,” that allow creativity to flourish.

As it turns out, Professor at Large is, on one hand, a kind of how-to book for students of creativity. One could unearth a decent cache of listicle points from its pages, if need be. (My favorite, which happens to be from the screenwriter William Goldman: “Read it five or six times, each time with a different color pen.”) It’s also an argument shouted against prevailing winds. Cleese pays due respect to “the practical workaday thinking” that “relies on the application of reason and logic to known data.” However, he warns against a common bias toward “fast, purposeful, logical thinking,” not only in how we pursue success in business and academics, but also in our search for personal happiness.

(Listicle point: Get a cat. “The nice thing about cats is when they grow up, they don’t blame you for everything.”)

The quiet, open space, both physical and metaphorical, that Cleese defines as necessary for creative production will be familiar to practitioners of meditation, to solitary wanderers, and to those seeking to understand with humility the sacred writings of their chosen religion. It (surprisingly) comes as no surprise that much of Professor at Large has to do with religion and mysticism. Cleese makes it clear that they are not necessarily synonyms and are frequently at odds. He is against the certitude of doctrine because of what it stifles: the same openness of mind that summons up creative insight. One might call his writing the Gospel According to Brian, which in fact is the subject of an essay that’s both amusing and profound.

My friend told me that the Neanderthals buried their dead with amulets of sharpened stone. The better to hunt in the afterlife, he said. I’m no scholar, and I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes a good story.

cleese cover


About the author of this blog post: Elizabeth Kim is marketing designer for Cornell University Press, where she continues to look on the bright side of life.

*Original source of featured image: Empire

 

The Gospel According to John Cleese

The smile of the human bomb: an upcoming #CornellPress title

In 2017, nearly six thousand people were killed in suicide attacks across the world. And only a few weeks ago, featured in the morning news, were the reports on a bombing that killed dozens in Pakistan, together with a wave of suicide attacks that took place in southern Syria. Bombs, violence, and suicide attacks seem to transcend the boundaries of geography and time; while the frequency of these episodes remains unchanged. But what have we learned about this ugly side of humanity? And in the aftermath, how can we better grasp these expressions of violence? Is it even possible to stand in a terrorist’s shoes?

In The Smile of the Human Bomb, Gideon Aran dissects the moral logic of the suicide terrorist. Looking into the events that led to the dramatic toll of deaths in 2017, the book is a firsthand examination of the bomb site in the last moments before the explosion, at the moment of the explosion, and during the first few minutes after the explosion. Aran uncovers the suicide bomber’s final preparations before embarking on the suicide mission: the border crossing, the journey toward the designated target, penetration into the site, and the behavior of both sides within it. The book sheds light on the truth of the human bomb.

thomas-griesbeck-488814-unsplash
Photo by Thomas Griesbeck

Aran’s gritty and often disturbing account comes from joining and watching the devout Jewish volunteers who gather the scorched fragments of the dead after terrorist attacks, interrogation protocols, interviews with Palestinian armed resistance members and retired Israeli counterterrorism agents, questioning of failed suicide terrorists in jail, and conversations with the acquaintances of human bombs.

The Smile of the Human Bomb provides new insights on the Middle East conflict, political violence, radicalism, victimhood, ritual, and death and unveils a suicide terrorism scene far different from what is conventionally pictured. In the end, Aran discovers, the suicide terrorist is an unremarkable figure, and the circumstances of his or her recruitment and operation are prosaic and often accidental. The smiling human bomb is neither larger than life nor a monster, but an actor on a human scale. And suicide terrorism is a drama in which clichés and chance events play their role.

As we continue to witness suicide attacks throughout the world, this upcoming #CornellPress title challenges all conventional approaches to the issue, and is a must-read for all of those trying to understand what lies behind terrorists’ motives, and what is unravelling in their minds at the moment of executing such violent and complex acts.

————————–

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is excited about the new wonderful books being published and looking forward to promoting more upcoming fall/winter #CornellPress releases.

The smile of the human bomb: an upcoming #CornellPress title

THE HEADSCARF IN THE UNITED STATES (or the celebration of freedom on this 4th of July)

The Fourth of July is so close you can almost sense it. And to most people, it feels like freedom and independence. But how does it feel to the Muslim American women wearing a headscarf (or hijab) on that day?

The question about the headscarf, its meaning, and, more than anything, the experience of the women that wear it, has fascinated me for a long time. Maybe because some people don’t seem to think much about it, beyond the simple act of wearing a scarf in itself; maybe because to others, it evokes sentiments of distrust and anxiety, led mainly by stereotypical images propagated on TV.

In April 2014 I traveled to Turkey and asked questions about this practice myself. Because I knew little about it, I was surprised to find out that most Muslim women embraced the covering of their hair, and sometimes their whole body, as an expression of their identities. They talked about religious liberty, their sense of femininity carefully embroidered and woven in cloth.

A few years later, as I strolled the streets of Casablanca, Morocco, I was witness to the same phenomena. Arm in arm, gossiping in their burkas, or with smiling eyes in a hijab, women were voicing their beliefs. How is it that I had not seen through the veil of my own cultural bias, unable to understand the subtleties of wearing a head-covering scarf?

HEADSCARF

The issue of Islamic head-covering and the political and social debates on the topic are as multiple as they are complex. This 4th of July, I invite those interested in unveiling its construction and political consequences, to listen to our latest podcast with Bozena Welborne, Aubrey Westfall, and Sarah Tobin, co-authors of The Politics of the Headscarf in the United States.

On this Independence Day, their book provides us with a chance to hear from Muslim American women, to learn about their values and beliefs, and how they express their identities in a country that aims to be the model of democratic pluralism.

 

 

“I love identifying myself as that, as a Muslim American, especially in that order, too, because this is my country and my religion is the most important to me. But after that, like . . .  this is where I was born, this is where I was raised and I was born with these values, American values of tolerating freedom of expression and freedom of religion and freedom of the press, and I think that’s one reason why our country is so successful is because we’re tolerating so much diversity and therefore people from all over the world can come and bring their talents into our country. So, I take a lot of pride in that phrase, Muslim American.”

—The Politics of the Headscarf in the United States (p.162)

 


 

Recommended artist to follow with this post:

http://www.boushraart.com/

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is grateful to have had the opportunity to travel around the world and meet people from various countries, with different cultural values and religious beliefs, and to be part of a diverse, multi-cultural and heterogeneous community.

 

THE HEADSCARF IN THE UNITED STATES (or the celebration of freedom on this 4th of July)

The power of activism: speaking out for clean water in the Hudson River

Earth Day 2018 is around the corner. What can we take from it this year, what can we repeat from the past, and what can we do differently? The story of the Hudson River presented by David Schuyler in Embattled River is a great place to start. An investigative narrative filled with lessons to be learned, it is a call to action for all of us who want to live in harmony with nature, and an example of how important it is to raise one’s voice when it comes to leading change.

My dirty stream

Named Mahicantuck (or “river that flows two ways”) by native peoples long before Hudson’s arrival, the Hudson River has been a key battleground in modern US environmentalism since 1962, when Consolidated Edison announced plans to construct a pumped storage electrical generating power plant at Storm King Mountain. But the pollution and bleak future of the Hudson River was as clear as water even before that, and by 1950, the impact of humans and our abuse of the river’s natural resources was evident.

Still waters

Still waters run deep, and a loose coalition of activists were ready to act and defend the river. Led by Scenic Hudson, and later joined by groups such as Riverkeeper, Clearwater, the Hudson River Valley Greenway, and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, the coalition won the first of many legal and publicity battles that would halt pollution of the river, slowly reverse the damage of years of discharge, and protect hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped land in the river valley.

As Schuyler shows, the environmental victories on the Hudson had broad impact. In the state at the heart of the story, the victory resulted in the creation of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (1970) to monitor, investigate, and litigate cases of pollution. At a national level, the environmental ferment in the Hudson Valley contributed directly to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the creation of the Superfund in 1980 to fund the cleanup of toxic dump sites.

An ongoing battle

As a result of the Clean Water Act and some enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the Hudson River is cleaner than at any time since the dawn of industrialization in the nineteenth century. But the presence of so many chemicals in the water and the flesh of the fish that inhabit it—many of them known carcinogens—makes the efforts of the river’s defenders an ongoing battle, and today the struggle to control its uses and maintain its ecological health persists.

An arm of the sea where salty sea water meets fresh water running off the land, the Hudson River plays a pivotal role in the emergence of modern environmentalism in the United States. Embattled River is proof of what can be achieved when environmental activists stand for nature, and the stories of the pioneering advocates told by Schuyler provide lessons, reminders, and the inspiration to celebrate this Earth Day.

Schuyler SL A3.jpg copy

 

Featured event:

Join the Olana Partnership from Saturday May 26th onwards, and be part of its First Ever Facebook Book Club with author David Schuyler, to discuss his newly published book Embattled River.

 

 

 

Recommended song  for this post:

 

About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is passionate about sustainability and the environment, and as a kid was obsessed with a book called Mi hermana Clara ecologista.

 

 

 

 

 

The power of activism: speaking out for clean water in the Hudson River

Bird Feeding: 4 mystifying facts you didn’t know

Backyard Birds of NewYork by Kate Dolamore
Original watercolor courtesy of Kate Dolamore Art

A recent 1869 Cornell University Podcast revealed that an astonishing one third to a half of the homes in Northwestern Europe, the United States, and Australia are feeding wild birds. We get it, bird feeding is a huge trend. And yet . . . should we do it? Well here’s some food for thought:

Birds of a feather flock together. Or not. When it comes to feeding wild birds, different species that would not necessarily mingle, come together in an unnaturally small area to share food. The dangers of such unique turnout include the spreading of diseases, the attracting of predators, and the consuming of rare foods.

Food for thought. According to the author of The Birds at My Table Darryl Jones, birds are much like humans, and will jump at the opportunity to indulge in sugary or salty foods. In Australia, for example, people often feed birds meat. The Australian Broadcast Corporation asked Jones about this practice, which can lead to obstruction in the bird’s beak and ultimately to bacterial infection. And it gets worse. Birds eating at feeders are now exposed to foods that are intended for human consumption; such as cereals and stock foods, pumpkin seeds, chicken eggs and eggshells, fat, rind, lard, marrow, and table scraps. With an increasing demand for more convenient products and ready-made feed mixes, an entire corporate business dedicated to bird feeding is growing to the detriment of the actual well-being of the birds.

The sky is the limit. Jones roots himself in the idea that mindfulness is key when it comes to bird feeding: “Your feeder is one link in a gigantic chain . . . Your private, personal action of providing food for birds changes the structure of an entire, interconnected ecosystem.” The Conversation joined this debate and posted an article including simple rules to follow when taking part in an activity that “has become acceptable, widespread, and even a sign of moral expression.”

Two birds with one stone. People may think that by putting up a bird feeder they are both helping the birds while undertaking an enjoyable activity, but Jones concludes that the feeders are actually for us. In providing information on how to feed birds responsibly, he is getting the discussion on the table. And he’s not alone. The Sydney Morning Herald featured an article on bird feeding that focuses on doing so with care.

Jones Birds at My Table.jpg copy

All things considered, The Birds at My Table conveys the idea that bird-feeding, done conscientiously, can be a valuable experience. On a human level, it provides with pleasure and personal fulfillment. It allows the average person to connect with nature within the confinements of their own garden and in a sense, bond with the birds. Jones’s book helps fill in the information gaps on how to feed the birds and challenges us to do so with awareness, and to become good hosts.

Find more information on the author or to purchase The Birds at My Table, here.

 

As the American Ornithology Meeting 2018 #AOS18AZ and the Northeast Natural History Conference #NENHC18 are happening, discover more ornithology titles from the press:

 

 

 

Recommended song for this post:

 

About the author of this blog post: Sierra Grazia is a senior writing major at Ithaca College with minors in comparative literature and writing for film, television, and emerging media. When Sierra is not writing or reading, she enjoys spending her time running for her college cross country and track team, taking photographs, and traveling.

 

Bird Feeding: 4 mystifying facts you didn’t know

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month and the Academy of American Poets have come up with 30 different ways to celebrate it. The ideas are creative and include subscribing to a daily digital poetry series featuring more than 200 previously unpublished poems, chalking a poem on a sidewalk or memorizing one, and listening to Mark Doty’s talk, “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now.” NPR has claimed that “you can bet we’re not letting April slip by without a nod to the art of the verse,” inviting listeners to submit a 140-character poem on Twitter together with the hashtag #NPRpoetry, and at Cornell University Press, we feel the same.

Our 1869 podcast interviewing author Susan Eisenberg on her latest book, Stanley’s Girl, a collection of touching poems about gender inclusion, sexual violence and women in the workplace, has inspired us to add one more idea to the list. And for that purpose, we have invited two women at the Press to contribute their own poetic visions of the world. The result is insightful and exciting, and together with our selection of fine poetry books, they make us part of what has become the largest poetry celebration in the world:

 

Baltimore, You Are a Pocket Full of Copper Nails

by Cheryl Quimba

A lot of the time I want to push people

into giant manholes then fly down

to save them, introduce myself as their

long-lost sister who has finally sold everything

to come home. They would be confused but then

so happy for having found something they didn’t know

was lost, and it would feel like a piano playing

beams of colored light against the wall.

In your poems I’m always sad and saying

sad things but in real life I say I am the mountain

sitting on this park bench, so small a microscope needs

binoculars to find me. Baltimore is filled with dirty bathrooms

but no one cares because fun is happening.

Where I live the places where

people die are marked with stuffed animals tied

to lamp posts. There is a store called Hair Strategies

and little kids push strollers filled with

cans of soda up and down the medians.

I like to cross the street like

I’m walking through a casino.

The bells are ringing and ringing

and ringing goodbye.

Quimba, Cheryl. (2015). Nobody Dancing. Publishing Genius Press

 

Meticulous Landscaping

by Ana Carpenter

Here in the passenger side lie Wendy’s bags crumpled by boots

The gentle pungent mulch compacts beneath each nail

Picking at the leather seats to stroke the tattered brail

And decode Dad’s lesson of the day like stringed stray roots:

The ones you mulched over the mornings of summer through July.

Disembarking the diesel F450 with silver smokestacks,

You’re mapping on your hands the clay-dried, thorn-bruised cracks

Wiping the Wendy’s grease on your sister’s off-brand “Nike” slacks

Step out into the cicada-thick air where, like Wendy’s, you fry.

You let the grass prick your bare calves and adjust in the sticky bed

Wiping soil across your forehead, swatting away flying things

And quietly recoiling from the grubs unearthed as dad sings,

Something he beat-boxed under his breath about marriage and rings-

Wash your hands in the cold hose-water until they turn Wendy-hair red.

 

80140106652980L
Order Stanley’s Girl here

 

Other suggested media for our readers on #NationalPoetryMonth:

 

Cheryl Quimba is the Publicity Manager at CUP. She eats, sleeps, and breathes books (but loves a good movie or music debate any day). Follow her on Twitter @ cheryl_quimba.

Ana Carpenter is a member of the Cornell University Class of 2019 and Student Publishing Associate at Cornell University Press. In her free time she likes to sing, salsa, be in the company of dogs of all shapes and sizes, and collect mugs to home-brew cheap coffee.

 

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month

What happens when we feed birds?

Jones Birds at My Table

Feeding wild birds is probably something so familiar, so everyday, so commonplace—so tame perhaps—that we can forget that this is a fundamentally artificial activity. In virtually every case, the types of food we use to attract birds to our house yards—typically mixtures of various seeds but sometimes leaf-overs from a family meal—are entirely different to those they consume in their natural diet. Our feeders also concentrate birds into closer interactions than they would normally tolerate, often bringing together species which would never have anything to do with each other. Even the structure of the feeder itself is starkly unnatural: a swaying glass cylinder or a conspicuous platform, typically in an open and potentially dangerous setting. Continue reading “What happens when we feed birds?”

What happens when we feed birds?

Be an Informed Patient this flu season

patient

Hopefully, you’re not dealing with the flu, but if you are, authors Sara L. Merwin, MPH, and Karen A. Friedman, MD, have some handy tips in their patient-centric book The Informed Patient: A Complete Guide to a Hospital Stay.

As we’re all seeing and hearing on the news at the moment, we’re smack dab in the middle of the worst flu season for some time. Bear in mind that the late fall and winter months usually have the longest wait times for a bed.  Continue reading “Be an Informed Patient this flu season”

Be an Informed Patient this flu season

Women’s Suffrage: The Centennial

Neuman-blog-header-678x381.png

Originally published by From the Square, the NYU Press blog. Reprinted with permission. 

2017 marks the centennial of women gaining the right to vote in New York. Did you know that our great state was a paramount player in the national movement for women’s suffrage? From Woodstock to Williamsburg, Seneca Falls to Chinatown, Buffalo to Battery Park, women in New York were leaders in the movement for sixty-nine years, until suffrage was legalized in 1917. In the city, the women who really changed the course of the cause were a group of elite socialites with names like Astor, Belmont, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt. In Gilded Suffragists Johanna Neuman brings these high class and high power ladies to life, illustrating how they leveraged their social celebrity for political power, turning the women’s right to vote into a fashionable cause. Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello highlight the activism of rural, urban, African American, Jewish, immigrant, and European American women, as well as male suffragists, both upstate and downstate, that led to the positive outcome of the 1917 referendum. In Women Will Vote they convincingly argue that the agitation and organization that led to New York women’s victory in 1917 changed the course of American history. Continue reading “Women’s Suffrage: The Centennial”

Women’s Suffrage: The Centennial