What can historical artifacts teach us about history? In his new book Touching America’s History, Meredith Mason Brown uses 20 objects to summon up major developments in American history. He discusses how these artifacts reveal the birth, growth, and shaping of what is now America on this episode of the IU Press podcast:
"King's work is fresh and accessible. It fills key gaps in scholarship on slavery and would make for a worthwhile read for anyone from the casual reader of history to the scholar. As a result, Stolen Childhood is recommended for purchase by academic libraries and public libraries that have strong nonfiction collections." —Tennessee Libraries
"Gerald Sorin’s biography of the Jewish-leftist writer Howard Fast (1914-2003) examines Fast’s life through the lens of his political identity. ... [S]uch a critical view is bound to stimulate new debate over the role of the artist in Cold War America." —Jewish Book Council
Now that the 2012 presidential election is over, how will history remember it? Author David M. Jordan shows that historical memories of elections can change over time. Specifically, he looks at the 1944 presidential race in his book FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944 (now available in paperback). Jordan discusses the fascinating campaign between FDR and Dewey in an interview orignally posted on our blog last year:
Many assume that FDR’s 1944 re-election was a given, but the presidential race was much closer than many recall. Why has the historical memory of this election changed?
I believe that the historical memory of FDR as a candidate who never lost is part of it—“how could FDR even have a close election?”—and the fact that it was very much a part of the war and the war effort. Also perhaps the fact that Dewey lost again four years later tends to lower him in the historical memory.
What were the reasons that the election was so close?
The country seemed to be trending toward more conservatism and the liberalism of the New Deal was fading as the economy improved. A lot of folks were also unhappy with the government-imposed restrictions of the war effort, and the rumors about Roosevelt’s health had some effect, as did all the Communism talk by the Republicans. And, while it didn’t affect the electoral college vote, FDR’s popular vote in the South went down, as the Democratic strength in the South started on its way down.
What is one of the most interesting aspects of the election?
The most interesting aspect of the election in my eyes was the struggle for the selection of the Democratic vice-presidential nominee: the down-grading of Wallace, the push for Byrnes and others, the reluctance of Truman, and, most of all, the “hands-off” and sometimes duplicitous attitude of Roosevelt.
In the preface, you write about some of your childhood recollections of this presidential election. What is your most vivid memory from that time?
What I remember most is my mother’s constant talk about how bad FDR was. I also have a vivid memory of going to my local barber shop and, while waiting, picking up and reading LIFE magazine and a feature on Senate races across the country; I particularly recall reading about Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts and Wayne Morse of Oregon.
FDR’s personal physician made misleading statements about the president’s health to keep the public in the dark about the seriousness of his condition. Do you think it’s possible to keep this kind of information a secret today?
No, I think today’s media would never stand for something like what Dr. McIntire did. Even then, the reporters could see that Roosevelt looked a lot different from before and they felt that there was something they weren’t being told, but they had nowhere else to turn. Today, even if the mainstream media were to go along with some kind of a cover-up, all those magazines that turn up next to the supermarket check-out lines would have a field day with the president’s health secrets.
How did Dewey, who has been described as “cold,” “humorless,” and having “little natural political endowment,” end up securing the 1944 Republican nomination?
The main reason he got it was the fact that Republican politicians across the country felt that Dewey was the only one who could carry New York State against Roosevelt. They looked at what he had done in the 1938 and 1942 statewide elections and they figured he had a good chance of carrying NY (as well as the other eastern states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, etc.). Most of them liked Bricker much better than Dewey, but they didn’t think Bricker had any real chance to crack the eastern-states bloc. And, of course, Dewey had very persuasive agents like Brownell and Jaeckle going around the country pushing his (invisible) candidacy and getting delegates lined up.
What were some new or surprising facts you learned while doing research for your book?
I never knew about Willkie and the Wisconsin primary until I started on the book or the Warren VP-boom that he scuttled or the struggle to permit some sort of military voting.
How long did it take you to complete the research for the book?
Looking back, I would say it was some six or seven years, with my first research trip to Notre Dame to go through the Frank Walker papers.
PW offers the following praise for the book: "Grant never loses sight of the big picture and the essential role the railroads played in American life. He writes with authority and clarity in a work that can appeal to both casual and hardcore enthusiasts."
The VRA remains a topic of impassioned debate: For while reauthorization of certain impermanent provisions of the Act passed "by a wide margin in the House, and unanimous in the Senate" in 2007, the "lopsided tally hid a deep and growing conflict." Next month, IU Press will publish the newest addition to the debate:The Most Fundamental Right: Contrasting Perspectives on the Voting Rights Act, edited by Daniel McCool.
The Most Fundamental Right is "an effort to understand the debate over the Act and its role in contemporary American democracy," and asks whether the VRA is "the cornerstone of civil rights law that prevents unfair voting practices, or ... an anachronism that no longer serves American democracy?" Thus the "conversation" continues.
Visit the IU Press website to find out more information about The Most Fundamental Right, as well as pre-order copies.
Don't Make No Waves—Don't Back No Losers: An Insider's Analysis of the Daley Machine, the late Milton Rakove's classic about the former Democratic mayor's political machine, was featured in the June 26 episode of NPR's Morning Edition. Commentors on the segment, "Four Books to Help You Master Chicago Politics," included NPR's Steve Inskeep; former Chicago Bureau chief for NPR, Scott Simon; Frank James of NPR's It's All Politics blog fame; and former editor of the Chicago Tribune, Ann Marie Lipinski.
As Simon articulates, Rakove respected the organizational abilities of the Chicago Democratic organization and its boss, Richard Daley.
"The beauty of the ward system," he said, "was that you had somebody who lived in your neighborhood whom you could go to and say something as modest as, 'Look, I really need my trash picked up,' which is not modest, if it begins to pile up."
Yet there was also the pervasive sense of inequality and corruption, evinced at alderman's 'ward nights' during the Daley era.
"Every alderman had one," Lipinski, the former Tribune editor, said. "It was this parade of favor-askers, and if you were not somehow beloved or in the good graces of the alderman, you may or may not get your trash can changed that week."
The other works featured in the segment were Mike Royko's Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago; James Merriner's Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago; and Alex Kolowitz's There are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America.
"Originally published in 2006, this fascinating story by Christopher Rund has been brought up to date to commemorate the Indiana Rail Road’s 25th anniversary. ... All in all, a very interesting presentation." —The Michigan Railfan
Today is the first day of spring, and we're celebrating with a 50% off book sale! It can be a daunting task to make a selection from our 2,000+ titles, so we surveyed our staff to see which books they recommend to jump-start your spring reading. We hope you find something you like from the list below, which includes a wide range of interests from American History to Women's Studies! Check out the IU Press website for a complete list of books. Our sale ends March 22, so don't delay purchasing your favorite titles at half off!
As a New York socialite, Alva was known to be domineering, temperamental, and opinionated. In the later half of her life, she converted to feminism and became the most generous donor to the National Woman's Party.
I talked with Professor Hoffert about the history of the women's rights, how issues have changed (or, how they haven't), and how Alva became a remarkable promoter of the women's social movement.
This year’s theme for Women’s History Month is “Women’s Education—Women’s Empowerment.” In your personal experience and professional studies, how have you seen women’s education change?
The changes have been dramatic. When I applied for admission to college in 1961, many elite colleges including the University of North Carolina, the University of Virginia, and the Ivy League schools did not admit women as undergraduates. Now they all do.
One of the accomplishments of second wave feminism was to force the introduction of courses about women across the liberal arts curriculum—in such fields as history, sociology, anthropology, communication, political science. ... And female scholars created programs and departments in women’s studies... Essentially there was a re-evaluation of what constituted an appropriate focus of study. The result was an inclusiveness that was unprecedented.
That is not to say that those changes came easily or that women were treated well when they invaded what had previously been almost exclusively male professional space. ...Remember, if you will, that within the last ten years Larry Summers, President of Harvard University, was fired partly because he publicly denigrated the ability of women to excel in science.
Continuing with this year's theme, do you believe that women's empowerment is a direct result of education? How else can young women feel empowered?
The only way for women to achieve power in American society is through education and organization. Education provides them the intellectual tools they need to identify the structural barriers that prevent women from achieving justice and equality and from controlling their own bodies and lives. Organizing provides them with the strength in numbers needed to challenge those structural barriers and destroy them.
How has the women's rights movement progressed in the past century?
Originally, feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton had a fairly broad agenda for improving the status of women in the United States. The Declaration of Sentiments signed at the 1848 Seneca Falls [New York] Woman’s Rights Convention contained provisions for advancing the status of American women in all aspects of economic, social, political, legal, and religious life. By the time Alva Belmont became a feminist in the early twentieth century the agenda had been reduced to the right to vote.
What issues should modern-day feminists pay attention to?
The issues haven’t changed much. At all levels of society and in all aspects of economic, political, and religious life, women are still second class citizens. Many women are still denied the right to control their bodies. Many women are still the victims of abuse. Many women and their children still don’t have adequate health care. Women are still underrepresented in male dominated fields such as engineering, chemistry, and physics. Most women still make less money than most men. Fortune 500 companies still do not typically appoint women to be their CEOs or to serve on their boards of directors. There are still denominations that refuse to allow women to become full-fledged ministers. Only a few members of congress are female. I could go on and on.
In your book, you discuss how all biographies have a sense of autobiography to them, since the biographer reads their subject’s life through their own lens of personal experiences. Could you expand on this?
It is impossible to spend the time necessary to write a biography and not develop some sort of personal relationship with the subject of your work. You may end up liking or disliking that individual. You may respect or not respect what they did and approve or not approve of the way they did it. It takes years to do the research for a biography and then write it. By the time you have finished, you have an opinion about such matters.
The point I was trying to make is that we inevitably see the world through our own lens and interpret the actions of others through our own experience. Thus the issue is not whether what we write is true but whether our representation of the life of someone else is based solidly on the evidence available to us. That’s as close to the truth as we are ever going to get.
In addition to her generous financial support to the women’s suffrage movement, Alva’s celebrity status was an important part of the social campaign’s success. Would those donations have been as impactful without Alva’s socialite reputation?
Money, and lots of it, always has an impact whether or not it is attached to a celebrity. Alva’s celebrity was important to the woman’s rights movement because it served as an incredibly important form of free advertising. She was a public relations executive’s dream.
Finally, what words of wisdom do you have for the future generations? Or, what do you suppose Alva would say if she saw the world today?
As for words of wisdom—never assume that women will gain and then maintain their rights without a struggle. There has always been and will continue to be a backlash against women’s progress that is supported and organized by those whose interests are served by women’s subordination.
I think Alva would still support women’s rights and be willing to give money to women’s causes. And, given her incredible ego, I think she would still be trying to take credit for the advances that women have been able to gain for themselves.