Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., recently, my mind went back to where I was fifty years ago. An angry young man in my senior year at Cornell University. There was no King holiday then, as King had been assassinated just the previous year. Mentally and emotionally I was prepared to be one of those African Americans who would meet my destiny in a struggle against oppression and injustice that was much bigger than any one of us, and even much bigger than all of us. I thought we were the generation fingered by history to draw the line on America’s ill treatment of African Americans. It had to stop with us, in our time.

Fifty years ago, America was still in the midst of a battle to secure equal treatment for African Americans in public accommodations, employment, housing, voting, and other civil rights. I remember as a child traveling with my family through southern states like Virginia and North Carolina, and my father stopping at gas stations where, before purchasing gas, he asked if we would be allowed to use the restrooms. Many Americans today forget that this country practiced that kind of segregation. Similarly, at that time African Americans were routinely denied employment opportunities simply because of race. Qualifications did not matter. Many Americans today forget that this country practiced that kind of discrimination. De jure segregation was enshrined in the law, and de facto institutional discrimination was the social norm in America.

The petty discrimination of being denied access to public facilities was intended to dehumanize African Americans, and to proclaim every day that we were different and inferior. And the systemic institutional denial of economic opportunities was intended to ensure that African Americans remained poor and powerless. And each previous decade as you step back through American history was typically more brutal towards African Americans.

But the purpose of reciting this history is not just to remind us of where we have been, but also to focus on how far we have come. It is important to know history, and to understand how the world we live in has been shaped by the past, but it is equally important not to be a prisoner of history. By that I mean there is no point in suffocating our potential for today and tomorrow with ongoing animosity over the grievances of the past. The burden is too heavy. Many racial, ethnic or religious groups have some plausible basis for resentment and animosity about some historical injustice. The historical injustices are not all morally equivalent, but it’s unlikely that we will ever achieve societal consensus on their relative hierarchy. So just as a family cannot heal unless it lets go of yesterday’s anger, so all Americans of every race and creed and ethnicity must be open to reconciliation and healing. If we don’t let go of our racial and social resentments, America will not achieve its potential as a multiracial, multiethnic, and religiously diverse democracy wherein all citizens live in freedom and civic equality.

It seems to me undeniable that African Americans, other minorities, women, and the LGBT community have educational, economic, and social opportunities available today which are unprecedented in American history. Does this mean that our country has overcome all its problems? Of course not! The legacy of hundreds of years of slavery, and physical as well as psychological abuse and neglect, created a scale of human misery and dysfunctionality which cannot be reversed in just fifty years. But is America moving in the direction of becoming the country envisioned in its noble founding documents – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – unequivocally yes!

When I left Cornell in 1972 after completing a graduate degree, I committed to living in accordance with Dr. King’s creed – I would choose my friends and associates based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. That’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

Thomas W. Jones is author of the forthcoming, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir. He is the founder and senior partner of venture capital investment firm TWJ Capital. He previously served as Chief Executive Officer of Global Investment Management at Citigroup; Vice Chairman, President, and COO at TIAA-CREF; ad Senior Vice-President and Treasurer at John Hancock Insurance Company.

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Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Behind-the-scenes with an Acquiring Editor at the 2019 American Historical Association Conference

a-ha
Wrong A-HA?

This year’s meeting was in Chicago, but we were spared the worst of the winds (and denied the pleasures of daylight) in the Book Exhibit, located in the subterranean level of the Hilton Hotel. Had I been wiser about creating some personal time, I’d have taken a break to walk the fabulous waterfront, envy of North American cities everywhere; to visit local museums; to practice the fine art of being a flanneur for an afternoon.

That said, there were memorable moments of site-seeing. An author took me to the incredible landmark deli, Manny’s, for breakfast, where we shared smoked meat (which, at that hour of the morning, had an effect akin to caffeine) and talked about modern Japanese history. Another colleague, Eric Zuelow, editor of our newly launched series, The Histories & Cultures of Tourism, took me for dinner at a world-class Spanish tapas bar, Café Iberico, where we enjoyed one marvelous garlicky dish after another. Between bites, we discussed upcoming author meetings and how best to position Cornell University Press, and our series, with respect to their work.

I cemented existing author relations in the most enjoyable way. Now that the anxieties of peer review were a distant memory, the back-and-forth of committee approvals and revisions were no more, and actual publication dates were assigned for books, we could partake in civilized drinks in a too-loud hotel lobby to reminisce about the process and strategize about promotion, or to discuss future projects. One of my authors, Jay Geller, did a “Live at the Event” podcast with our Marketing and Sales Director Martyn Beeny, about his forthcoming book, The Scholems, and then we had a Mexican dinner, where I found out about his next research question. (I was so impressed that he truly had just the question, not even the suggestion of an answer.)  At moments like these, this editor’s saturated mind found room she did not even know existed.

geller - front

I had hourly meetings with prospective authors. Conversations encompassed everything from the essentials of thesis revision, to the way in the evaluation process works, to the key features distinguishing Cornell University Press as a publisher. Every now and then, I would excuse myself from the meeting to sell books – highly rewarding to get the fruits of our collective labor into customers’ hands – but I heard about many fascinating potential manuscripts.

I also took time to be, à la Jonathan Lethem, a feral booth detective (getting a sense of the shape of other publishers’ current lists, seeing books I would love to have acquired, taking note of interesting cover designs, discovering newly launched book series), and to speak to those colleagues at other presses. We are living in interesting times, as the old expression goes, and it’s informative to get a sense of how others are navigating them.

I got back to the office and committed to kale shakes, low carbs, and a healthy dose of fiction. I am now renewed for the next conference!

Emily Andrew is a senior editor, acquiring manuscripts in the fields of European History, military history, Asian history, and tourism studies. Next time in Chicago, she plans to visit The Green Mill, a staple of the city’s live jazz scene, which has been slinging drinks since before Prohibition.

 

 

Behind-the-scenes with an Acquiring Editor at the 2019 American Historical Association Conference

Left vs. Liberal: How Intellectual History Can Help Make Sense of the Divide

2020

Most Democrats want their party to emerge from the impending primaries united in its effort to defeat President Trump in the 2020 presidential election. This is certainly understandable, especially since many of them assume that Trump’s unexpected Electoral College victory in 2016 partly owes to the divisions sowed by the race for the Democratic nomination, when Hillary Clinton’s path to nomination was slowed by the surprising socialist sensation Bernie Sanders. Another bruising primary season, so the wisdom goes, will doom Democratic solidarity, making it easier for Trump to win reelection.

Dreams of unity notwithstanding, it seems likely that the Democratic primaries will be yet another bitter slog.

Dreams of unity notwithstanding, it seems likely that the Democratic primaries will be yet another bitter slog. This is especially true if Sanders chooses to run again, since many of those who opposed his bid for the nomination remain angry about the role he played in 2016. But it’s likely the forthcoming primaries will be nasty even if Sanders decides not to run, and instead hands the socialist mantle off to another candidate. Continue reading “Left vs. Liberal: How Intellectual History Can Help Make Sense of the Divide”

Left vs. Liberal: How Intellectual History Can Help Make Sense of the Divide

The Economic Interpretation of History as a Way of Understanding American Politics

With the publication in 1913 of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles Austin Beard (1874-1948) became one of the most famous, influential, and controversial historians in America.  His book initiated a trend that for two generations became dominant in the way American history was written and taught. The thirty-seven books that he wrote during his legendary career—some of them with his historian wife, Mary Ritter Beard—sold millions of copies. He was esteemed and reviled for arguing that from the country’s beginnings and at every turning point in its history, American politics had to be understood mainly through the motives and world view of economic elites.

The kinetic energy of the historical process in America did not suddenly stop with the Second World War, Beard contended. In the years immediately preceding that conflict, he took a leading role in what became known as the isolationist movement. Beard objected to this label, seeing nothing isolationist about following the advice given by George Washington in his Farewell Address, for the American people to mind their own business. Creating a society of republican virtue at home would be challenge enough for them, without assuming the burden of international responsibilities. Beard judged the Farewell Address to be the most profound statement ever issued about American foreign policy. The mislabeled isolationist movement sought to do no more than to honor the first president’s teaching about how the United States should relate to the rest of the world in a spirit of amity and comity, playing no favorites and resolutely thwarting all attempts to coopt American power and influence for partisan foreign ends.

When the fighting began in 1939, Beard opposed American intervention, claiming that at bottom the conflict had to do on both sides with the acquisition or retention of markets, territories, and resources, just as the First World War had done. The two wars were one war, in his view, with a twenty-year armistice in between. Both wars had imperialist motives. Even after Pearl Harbor, he continued to claim that the war fundamentally concerned not the evil of Hitler—as of December 1941 Stalin, our ally, was the greater criminal by far—but the greed of competing empires. In two classic works written after the war, he denounced the foreign policy of FDR as a masterpiece of deception about a fictitious war for the Four Freedoms, which served as a distraction from the real war for economic empire.

Beard never could accept the vulgate interpretation of the Second World War. In the triumphalist postwar years, he came under mounting attack as an unreliable historian and a man lacking in patriotism. His economic interpretation of history became increasingly marginalized, as consensus historians plighted to the cause of American exceptionalism dominated the field. Beard’s stock as a thinker continued its downward spiral during the Cold War, which he described at its outset as a straightforward imperialist contest between the United States and the Soviet Union. Whichever side won, the world would be subjected to an imperialist order. In no way a Marxist, he conceded that the imperialism practiced by corporate capitalism stood on a higher plane of morality than did the Stalinist variety. Nonetheless, Americans deceived themselves when they imagined the cardinal policies in peace and in war of their leaders to be about anything but imperial control.

Charles Austin Beard: The Return of the Master Historian of American Imperialism offers a fresh interpretation of the origins and development of “Beardianism,” as a way of understanding the connection between economics and politics in American history. The book is especially timely today because of the manifest way in which America’s policies for the maintenance and augmentation of its empire have confirmed his predictions of what the country’s fate would be in the aftermath of the “good war.”

austin beard


About the author of this blog post: Richard Drake holds the Lucile Speer Research Chair in Politics and History at the University of Montana where he teaches European and American history.

The Economic Interpretation of History as a Way of Understanding American Politics

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

Is tourism a devil’s bargain? Histories and Cultures of Tourism

Tourist season is underway in the northern hemisphere. Scenic towns are filling with visitors, business owners are crossing fingers in hope of massive earnings, and anxious travelers are Googling what to see, where to stay, and what to eat. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, in 2016 there were 1.2 billion international tourist arrivals. Industry watchers are used to seeing growth; they’ve seen little else since the end of World War II. Projections call for much more.

But there is a cost. The sizzling hot summer of 2017 was notable for many things, one of the more striking being the number of news stories recounting communities pushing back against the very tourists who fuel their economies. The BBC reported Spanish leftists sprawled “tourists go home” on buildings and that locals in Lavertezzo, Switzerland, lamented tourists “turning their idyllic valley into “an open air toilet.” The Scotsman suggested that Edinburgh was “losing its soul” to tourism and The Sun cried “boozy Brits are turning Croatian resorts into holiday hellholes.”

There are many different historical questions packed into these two sides of the same coin.  Why are so many people traveling? What attracts them to some sites/sights and not others? How has tourism shaped the environment? Is tourism truly a devil’s bargain? Can leisure travel really shape identities? And of course, there’s a host of queries about politics and policies too.

Tourism history is a comparatively new field of study, but it has gone from strength-to-strength in the past two decades. Historians have reflected on many of the questions above and they’ve uncovered a host of fascinating and often unexpected answers. For example, during the Interwar governments representing nearly every political ideology utilized tourism to various ends. It made better Nazis, promised healthier Soviet workers, and showcased the value of capitalism even in the face of economic turmoil. After the American Civil War, promotion of leisure travel represented a way of forging something approaching a unified national identity. Citizens were told to “see Europe if you must, but see America first.” The national parks, important signifiers of American identity, were a consequence. Much earlier, in the eighteenth century­—when many historians believe tourism was born—, the agonizing conflict over whether tourists represent a good thing or a bad has its roots. Wealthy young men, later to be known as teenagers, were meant to travel around Europe learning languages and good taste. They were supposed to gain cultural capital and a sense of themselves as members of the elite. Sometimes, as with historian Edward Gibbon, the results were positive. More often, the nascent tourists drank to excess, spent trunks of money, engaged the services of prostitutes, and generally behaved badly. Instead of much improved young adults, parents got back wildly gesticulating youngsters prone to speaking with their hands and using exaggerated foreign accents. It was embarrassing. A hearty ongoing debate about the merits of tourism resulted.

To explore the history of tourism is to study a topic that is itself fascinating but also to find a fruitful way of examining just about any subject from a new angle, while at the same time uncovering unexpected connections and relationships. You would not necessarily think of tourism as an important foundation of postwar youth culture, but that is exactly what a recent book suggests. That many of us enjoy visiting mountains and beaches seems almost human nature, but it is more accurately seen in connection with early tourism. You need to learn to interpret a landscape and the language is historically contingent.

As it stands, we know quite a bit, but there is far more to learn. For this reason, Cornell University Press is launching a new book series—Histories and Cultures of Tourism—and I am thrilled to be its editor. We’re anxious to publish the very best tourism history scholarship, keen to showcase intelligent storytelling. It will be a very exciting trip.

 

tourism polygon logo

 

About the author of this blog post: Eric G. E. Zuelow is chair of the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of New England. He is author of A History of Modern Tourism (Palgrave, 2015) and Making Ireland Irish: Tourism and National Identity since the Irish Civil War (Syracuse University Press, 2009). Zuelow is general editor of the Journal of Tourism History and will be editor of the new Cornell University Press book series Histories and Cultures of Tourism.

Is tourism a devil’s bargain? Histories and Cultures of Tourism

Marching Ahead: Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

This last year brought about a sea change nationwide in the ways that women have come together as a social, cultural, and political force. The #MeToo movement has broken years of silence around sexual assault and harassment, women turned out in historic numbers to march on Washington, and women are running for public office at record levels. In fact, multiple media outlets have dubbed 2018 “The Year of the Woman.”

In these times, honoring women’s history takes on special resonance. As such, we’re joining the celebrations the best way we know how—through books! Here’s a selection of the many books we’ve published over the years on women’s history and women’s issues.

Continue reading “Marching Ahead: Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month”

Marching Ahead: Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month