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Interviews with Historians about their New Books
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Interviews with Historians about their New Books
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Daniel T. Fleming, "Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day" (UNC Press, 2022) Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (UNC Press, 2022) tells the history behind the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the battle over King's legacy that continued through the decades that followed. Creating the first national holiday to honor an African American was a formidable achievement and an act of resistance against conservative and segregationist opposition. Congressional efforts to commemorate King began shortly after his assassination. The ensuing political battles slowed the progress of granting him a namesake holiday and crucially defined how his legacy would be received. Though Coretta Scott King's mission to honor her husband's commitment to nonviolence was upheld, conservative politicians sought to use the holiday to advance a whitewashed, nationalistic, and even reactionary vision of King's life and thought. This book reveals the lengths that activists had to go to elevate an African American man to the pantheon of national heroes, how conservatives took advantage of the commemoration to bend the arc of King's legacy toward something he never would have expected, and how grassroots causes, unions, and antiwar demonstrators continued to try to claim this sanctified day as their own.Daniel T. Fleming is lecturer at the University of New South Wales and an Honorary Post-Doctoral Fellow at Macquarie University.E. James West is a UK-based historian and writer. He is the author of Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America (Illinois, 2020), A House for the Struggle: The Black Press and the Built Environment in Chicago (Illinois, 2022) and Our Kind of Historian: The Work and Activism of Lerone Bennett Jr. (UMass, 2022). Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
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Itay Lotem, "The Memory of Colonialism in Britain and France: The Sins of Silence" (Palgrave MacMillan, 2021) In The Memory of Colonialism in Britain and France: The Sins of Silence (Palgrave MacMillan, 2021), Itay Lotem explores the remembering of empire in Britain and France. By comparing these two former colonial powers, the author tells two distinct stories about coming to terms with the legacies of colonialism, the role of silence and the breaking thereof. Focusing on memory as an ongoing, politicized public debate, the book examines the afterlife of colonial history as an element of political and social discourse that depends on actors’ goals and priorities.Itay Lotem earned his Ph.D at the University of London, Queen Mary and is currently a senior lecturer in French Studies at the University of Westminster.Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
Daniel T. Fleming, "Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day" (UNC Press, 2022) Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (UNC Press, 2022) tells the history behind the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the battle over King's legacy that continued through the decades that followed. Creating the first national holiday to honor an African American was a formidable achievement and an act of resistance against conservative and segregationist opposition. Congressional efforts to commemorate King began shortly after his assassination. The ensuing political battles slowed the progress of granting him a namesake holiday and crucially defined how his legacy would be received. Though Coretta Scott King's mission to honor her husband's commitment to nonviolence was upheld, conservative politicians sought to use the holiday to advance a whitewashed, nationalistic, and even reactionary vision of King's life and thought. This book reveals the lengths that activists had to go to elevate an African American man to the pantheon of national heroes, how conservatives took advantage of the commemoration to bend the arc of King's legacy toward something he never would have expected, and how grassroots causes, unions, and antiwar demonstrators continued to try to claim this sanctified day as their own.Daniel T. Fleming is lecturer at the University of New South Wales and an Honorary Post-Doctoral Fellow at Macquarie University.E. James West is a UK-based historian and writer. He is the author of Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America (Illinois, 2020), A House for the Struggle: The Black Press and the Built Environment in Chicago (Illinois, 2022) and Our Kind of Historian: The Work and Activism of Lerone Bennett Jr. (UMass, 2022). Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
John Goodall, "The Castle: A History" (Yale UP, 2022) In The Castle: A History (Yale University Press, 2022) Dr. John Goodall presents a vibrant history of the castle in Britain, from the early Middle Ages to the present day.The castle has long had a pivotal place in British life, associated with lordship, landholding, and military might, and today it remains a powerful symbol of history. But castles have never been merely impressive fortresses—they were hubs of life, activity, and imagination.Dr. John Goodall weaves together the history of the British castle across the span of a millennium, from the eleventh to the twenty-first century, through the voices of those who witnessed it. Drawing on chronicles, poems, letters, and novels, including the work of figures like Gawain Poet, Walter Scott, Evelyn Waugh, and P. G. Wodehouse, Dr. Goodall explores the importance of the castle in our culture and society.From the medieval period to Civil War engagements, right up to modern manifestations in Harry Potter, Dr. Goodall reveals that the castle has always been put to different uses, and to this day continues to serve as a source of inspiration.This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
Nicholas Ferns, "Australia in the Age of International Development, 1945–1975: Colonial and Foreign Aid Policy in Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia" (Palgrave MacMillan, 2020) In the voluminous literature on the history of modernisation theory and its associated concept of development since the end of World War II, much of the focus lies on the efforts undertaken by developed nations—most notably the United States and Soviet Union—to establish a model for developing countries to build not just their economies but their nations as well. Eschewing this paradigm, Dr Nicholas Ferns’ excellent monograph Australia in the Age of International Development, 1945-1975: Colonial and Foreign Aid Policy in Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia (published by Routledge in 2020) provides a rich and important intervention that highlights how the ideas and practices that underpinned international development were shaped not only by the Cold War superpowers but by middle powers like Australia as well. Focussing particularly on Australia’s development aid efforts in Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia through its own formulation of the ‘New Deal’ for the former and the Colombo Plan for the latter, Ferns brings to light the complexity of a country caught in the middle of its own perception as being between a developed and developing nation, between British and American economic and developmental influences, and between serving as a colonial power in its own right while also supporting anti-colonial movements.Bernard Z. Keo is Lecturer in Asian History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia who specialises in decolonisation and nation-building in Southeast Asia. He can be contacted at: b.keo@latrobe.edu.au. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
Christopher Craig, "Middlemen of Modernity: Local Elites and Agricultural Development in Meiji Japan" (U Hawaii Press, 2022) Christopher Craig’s Middlemen of Modernity: Local Elites and Agricultural Development in Meiji Japan (U Hawaii Press, 2022) is a thoroughly research and engaging study of the role of local elites in the modernization of the Japanese countryside in the prewar era. “Agriculture,” Craig’s writes, “is given short shrift in the story of Japanese modernity. Farming and modernization seem to exist at opposite ends of a spectrum.” This is true for both contemporary historians, who tend to neglect agricultural modernization, and the Meiji government who dedicated little attention and resources to agriculture. Thus, with the state focused more on the emblematic goals of mechanization, urbanization, and a modern military, it fell upon local elites in villages across the country to bring rice production into the modern era. Middlemen of Modernity is a comprehensive study of the role of these elites. The book is studded with stories of individual actors that remains closely connected to Japan's development and presents a history of agriculture from the early Meiji period to the postwar American occupation.Craig’s chooses the area of Miyagi as his case study. Miyagi is a region often associated with failure and disaster. Known mostly as the site of the 3.11 disaster, and often associated with backwardness and underdevelopment (even as “Japan’s internal colony”). Miyagi, Craig’s shows, was one of the most prosperous agricultural regions in Japan prior to 1945. The drivers of this prosperity were the chihō meibōka (local notables). Local meibōka, like “Mayor Straw Sandals” Kamata Sannosuke, who became the emblematic figure of the movement, supposedly occupied the exact place government planners prescribed for them. Meiji-era agricultural policy called for village elites to mobilize their wealth and local reputations to introduce improved farming methods, transform the physical landscape, and increase agricultural production. Yet, as Craig shows the meibōka had their own agendas vis-à-vis both the government and their fellow farmers. Craig’s work shows the multi-directional nature of state-society interactions during this era. The book tells an important unknown story of the role of rural civil society in Japan’s modernization (a story often told through the lens of Tokyo and top-down modernization) and demonstrates that “agriculture was neither contrary nor ancillary to the larger project of modernization” of Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries, but an important driver of change.Ran Zwigenberg is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
John Callow, "The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition" (Bloomsbury, 2021) On the morning of Thursday 29 June 1682, a magpie came rasping, rapping and tapping at the window of a prosperous Devon merchant. Frightened by its appearance, his servants and members of his family had, within a matter of hours, convinced themselves that the bird was an emissary of the devil sent by witches to destroy the fabric of their lives. As the result of these allegations, three women of Bideford came to be forever defined as witches. A Secretary of State brushed aside their case and condemned them to the gallows; to hang as the last group of women to be executed in England for the crime. Yet, the hatred of their neighbours endured. For Bideford, it was said, was a place of witches.Though 'pretty much worn away' the belief in witchcraft still lingered on for more than a century after their deaths. In turn, ignored, reviled, and extinguished but never more than half-forgotten, it seems that the memory of these three women - and of their deeds and sufferings, both real and imagined – was transformed from canker to regret, and from regret into celebration in our own age. Indeed, their example was cited during the final Parliamentary debates, in 1951, that saw the last of the witchcraft acts repealed, and their names were chanted, as both inspiration and incantation, by the women beyond the wire at Greenham Common.In The Last Witches of England: A Tragedy of Sorcery and Superstition (Bloomsbury, 2021), Dr. John Callow explores this remarkable reversal of fate, and the remarkable tale of the Bideford Witches.This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
Craig L. Symonds, "Nimitz at War: Command Leadership from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay" (Oxford UP, 2022) Only days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tapped Chester W. Nimitz to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. Nimitz was not the most senior candidate available, and some, including his new boss, U.S. Navy Admiral Ernest J. King, considered him a desk admiral, more suited to running a bureaucracy than a theater of war. Yet FDR's selection proved nothing less than inspired. From the precarious early months of the war after December 7th 1941 to the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay nearly four years later, Nimitz transformed the devastated and dispirited Pacific fleet into the most powerful and commanding naval force in history. From the start, the pressures on Nimitz were crushing. Facing demands from Washington to mount an early offensive, he had first to revive the depressed morale of the thousands of sailors, soldiers, and Marines who served under him. He had to corral independent-minded subordinates--including Admiral Bill Bull Halsey and General Holland Howlin' Mad Smith--and keep them focused on shared objectives. He had to maintain a sometimes-fraught relationship with his Army counterpart Douglas MacArthur, and cope with his superiors, including the formidably prickly King and the inscrutable FDR. He had to navigate the expectations of a nation impatient for revenge and eventual victory. And of course, he also confronted a formidable and implacable enemy in the Imperial Japanese Navy, which, until the Battle of Midway, had the run of the Pacific.Craig Symonds' Nimitz at War: Command Leadership from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay (Oxford UP, 2022) reveals how the quiet man from the Hill Country of Texas eventually surmounted all of these challenges. Using Nimitz's headquarters--the eye of the hurricane--as his vantage point, Symonds covers all the major campaigns in the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. He captures Nimitz's composure, discipline, homespun wisdom, and most of all his uncanny sense of when to assert authority and when to pull back. In retrospect it is difficult to imagine anyone else accomplishing what Nimitz did. As Symonds' absorbing, dynamic, and authoritative portrait reveals, it required qualities of leadership exhibited by few other commanders in history, qualities that are enduringly and even poignantly relevant to our own moment. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
Ramon Pacheco Pardo, "Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop" (Oxford UP, 2022) If there’s a country that “punches above its weight”, it’s South Korea. It’s home to some of the world’s largest and most important companies, and the source of pop culture that dominates Asia—and even planted a foothold in the West.But the country’s growth would have been astounding to those at the end of the Korean War. The Republic of Korea was poor, devastated by war, and stuck deep in Cold War politics.Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop (Hurst, 2022) by Ramon Pacheco Pardo tells the story of Korea over the past sixty years, charting the country’s path through dictatorship and democracy to the economic and cultural powerhouse it is today.In this interview, Ramon and I talk about Korea–what it was like after the war, how it became a mature democracy–and what makes the book’s title, Shrimp to Whale, especially apt.Ramon Pacheco Pardo is Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, and KF-VUB Korea Chair at the Brussels School of Governance. He is also a non-resident adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies Korea Chair, and a non-resident fellow at the Sejong Institute.You can find more reviews, excerpts, interviews, and essays at The Asian Review of Books. Follow on Facebook or on Twitter at @BookReviewsAsia.Nicholas Gordon is an associate editor for a global magazine, and a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
Corey Robin, "The Enigma of Clarence Thomas" (Metropolitan Books, 2019) Most people can tell you two things about Clarence Thomas: Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment, and he almost never speaks from the bench. Here are some things they don't know: Until Thomas went to law school, he was a black nationalist. In college he memorized the speeches of Malcolm X. He believes white people are incurably racist. In The Enigma of Clarence Thomas (Metropolitan Books, 2019), Corey Robin--one of the foremost analysts of the right--delves deeply into both Thomas's biography and his jurisprudence, masterfully reading his Supreme Court opinions against the backdrop of his autobiographical and political writings and speeches. The hidden source of Thomas's conservative views, Robin argues, is a profound skepticism that racism can be overcome. Thomas is convinced that any government action on behalf of African-Americans will be tainted by this racism, and that the most African-Americans can hope for is that white people will get out of their way. There's a reason, Robin concludes, why liberals often complain that Thomas doesn't speak but seldom pay attention when he does. Were they to listen, they'd hear a racial pessimism that sounds shockingly similar to their own. Cutting across the ideological spectrum, this unacknowledged consensus about the impossibility of progress is key to understanding today's political stalemate.Corey Robin is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.Caleb Zakarin is the Assistant Editor of the New Books Network (Twitter: @caleb_zakarin). Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport our show by becoming a premium member! https://newbooksnetwork.supportingcast.fm/history
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