Because the American Studies field is exceptionally prolific (and the market for apposite books in the U.S. is unusually large), it is impossible to do more than pick and choose a few new titles each month that might cross disciplinary boundaries and showcase some of the latest scholarship. Here are a few recent titles from the ASA’s online list. The abstracts below each entry are not reviews but are taken from the publishers’ blurbs.
Because We Are Human: Contesting US Support for Gender and Sexuality Human Rights Abroad by Cynthia Burack (SUNY Press, 2018)
Around the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people continue to be threatened, attacked, arrested, tortured, and sometimes executed just for being sexual or gender minorities. Since the final months of the Clinton administration, agencies and officials of the US government have been engaging in programs and projects whose stated purposes are to serve goals of justice and equity for LGBTQ people outside the United States. Because We Are Human gives readers an inside look at US sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) human rights assistance programs. Cynthia Burack explores settings where indigenous and transnational human rights advocates meet to fund and strategize SOGI human rights movements. This book also examines key arguments against these programs, policies, and interventions that originate on both the conservative right and the progressive academic left. Burack ultimately recommends support for a US commitment to SOGI human rights and programs that serve the needs of LGBTQ people.
Cynthia Burack is Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the Ohio State University. She is the author of Sin, Sex, and Democracy: Antigay Rhetoric and the Christian Right and Tough Love: Sexuality, Compassion, and the Christian Right, both also published by SUNY Press.
Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity by Lilliana Mason (University of Chicago Press, 2018)
Political polarization in America is at an all-time high, and the conflict has moved beyond disagreements about matters of policy. For the first time in more than twenty years, research has shown that members of both parties hold strongly unfavorable views of their opponents. This is polarization rooted in social identity, and it is growing. The campaign and election of Donald Trump laid bare this fact of the American electorate, its successful rhetoric of “us versus them” tapping into a powerful current of anger and resentment.
With Uncivil Agreement, Lilliana Mason looks at the growing social gulf across racial, religious, and cultural lines, which have recently come to divide neatly between the two major political parties. She argues that group identifications have changed the way we think and feel about ourselves and our opponents. Even when Democrats and Republicans can agree on policy outcomes, they tend to view one other with distrust and to work for party victory over all else. Although the polarizing effects of social divisions have simplified our electoral choices and increased political engagement, they have not been a force that is, on balance, helpful for American democracy. Bringing together theory from political science and social psychology, Uncivil Agreement clearly describes this increasingly “social” type of polarization in American politics and will add much to our understanding of contemporary politics.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Legal Logic by Frederic Rogers Kellogg (University of Chicago Press, 2018)
With Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Legal Logic, Frederic R. Kellogg examines the early diaries, reading, and writings of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841–1935) to assess his contribution to both legal logic and general logical theory. Through discussions with his mentor Chauncey Wright and others, Holmes derived his theory from Francis Bacon’s empiricism, influenced by recent English debates over logic and scientific method, and Holmes’s critical response to John Stuart Mill’s 1843 A System of Logic.
Conventional legal logic tends to focus on the role of judges in deciding cases. Holmes recognized input from outside the law—the importance of the social dimension of legal and logical induction: how opposing views of “many minds” may converge. Drawing on analogies from the natural sciences, Holmes came to understand law as an extended process of inquiry into recurring problems.
Rather than vagueness or contradiction in the meaning or application of rules, Holmes focused on the relation of novel or unanticipated facts to an underlying and emergent social problem. Where the meaning and extension of legal terms are disputed by opposing views and practices, it is not strictly a legal uncertainty, and it is a mistake to expect that judges alone can immediately resolve the larger.
This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent by Daegan Miller (University Of Chicago Press, 2018)
“The American people sees itself advance across the wilderness, draining swamps, straightening rivers, peopling the solitude, and subduing nature,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835. That’s largely how we still think of nineteenth-century America today: a country expanding unstoppably, bending the continent’s natural bounty to the national will, heedless of consequence. A country of slavery and of Indian wars. There’s much truth in that vision.
But if you know where to look, you can uncover a different history, one of vibrant resistance, one that’s been mostly forgotten. This Radical Land recovers that story. Daegan Miller is our guide on a beautifully written, revelatory trip across the continent during which we encounter radical thinkers, settlers, and artists who grounded their ideas of freedom, justice, and progress in the very landscapes around them, even as the runaway engine of capitalism sought to steamroll everything in its path. Here we meet Thoreau, the expert surveyor, drawing anticapitalist property maps. We visit a black antislavery community in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York. We discover how seemingly commercial photographs of the transcontinental railroad secretly sent subversive messages, and how a band of utopian anarchists among California’s sequoias imagined a greener, freer future. At every turn, everyday radicals looked to landscape for the language of their dissent—drawing crucial early links between the environment and social justice, links we’re still struggling to strengthen today.
Working in a tradition that stretches from Thoreau to Rebecca Solnit, Miller offers nothing less than a new way of seeing the American past—and of understanding what it can offer us for the present . . . and the future.
Child Survivors of the Holocaust: The Youngest Remnant and the American Experience by Beth B. Cohen (Rutgers University Press, 2018)
The majority of European Jewish children alive in 1939 were murdered during the Holocaust. Of 1.5 million children, only an estimated 150,000 survived. In the aftermath of the Shoah, efforts by American Jews brought several thousand of these child survivors to the United States. In Child Survivors of the Holocaust, historian Beth B. Cohen weaves together survivor testimonies and archival documents to bring their story to light. She reveals that even as child survivors were resettled and “saved,” they struggled to adapt to new lives as members of adoptive families, previously unknown American Jewish kin networks, or their own survivor relatives. Nonetheless, the youngsters moved ahead. As Cohen demonstrates, the experiences both during and after the war shadowed their lives and relationships through adulthood, yet an identity as “survivors” eluded them for decades. Now, as the last living link to the Holocaust, the voices of Child Survivors are finally being heard.
Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical Is Restaging America’s Past by Renee Christine Romano, Claire Bond Potter, eds.(Rutgers University Press, 2018)
America has gone Hamilton crazy. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical has spawned sold-out performances, a triple platinum cast album, and a score so catchy that it is being used to teach U.S. history in classrooms across the country. But just how historically accurate is Hamilton? And how is the show itself making history?
Historians on “Hamilton” brings together a collection of top scholars to explain the Hamilton phenomenon and explore what it might mean for our understanding of America’s history. The contributors examine what the musical got right, what it got wrong, and why it matters. Does Hamilton’s hip-hop take on the Founding Fathers misrepresent our nation’s past, or does it offer a bold positive vision for our nation’s future? Can a musical so unabashedly contemporary and deliberately anachronistic still communicate historical truths about American culture and politics? And is Hamilton as revolutionary as its creators and many commentators claim?
Perfect for students, teachers, theatre fans, hip-hop heads, and history buffs alike, these short and lively essays examine why Hamilton became an Obama-era sensation and consider its continued relevance in the age of Trump. Whether you are a fan or a skeptic, you will come away from this collection with a new appreciation for the meaning and importance of the Hamilton phenomenon.
Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality since 1700 by Peter H. Lindert, Jeffrey G. Williamson (Princeton University Press, 2017)
Unequal Gains offers a radically new understanding of the economic evolution of the United States, providing a complete picture of the uneven progress of America from colonial times to today.
While other economic historians base their accounts on American wealth, Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson focus instead on income—and the result is a bold reassessment of the American economic experience. America has been exceptional in its rising inequality after an egalitarian start, but not in its long-run growth.
America had already achieved world income leadership by 1700, not just in the twentieth century as is commonly thought. Long before independence, American colonists enjoyed higher living standards than Britain—and America’s income advantage today is no greater than it was three hundred years ago. But that advantage was lost during the Revolution, lost again during the Civil War, and lost a third time during the Great Depression, though it was regained after each crisis. In addition, Lindert and Williamson show how income inequality among Americans rose steeply in two great waves—from 1774 to 1860 and from the 1970s to today—rising more than in any other wealthy nation in the world. Unequal Gains also demonstrates how the widening income gaps have always touched every social group, from the richest to the poorest. The book sheds critical light on the forces that shaped American income history, and situates that history in a broad global context.
Economic writing at its most stimulating, Unequal Gains provides a vitally needed perspective on who has benefited most from American growth, and why.
Peter H. Lindert is Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of California, Davis. His books include Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century. He lives in Davis, California. Jeffrey G. Williamson is the Laird Bell Professor of Economics, emeritus, at Harvard University. His books include Trade and Poverty: When the Third World Fell Behind. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Both are research associates at the National Bureau of Economic Research.