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Can Everyday Body Hair Practices Have Revolutionary Implications?

Breanne Fahs on Unshaved

Though body diversity, body acceptance, and embodied revolt have long informed feminist politics, women’s body hair removal nevertheless occurs at rates I would classify as extraordinary compliance.100Between 92 and 99 percent of women in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and much of western Europe regularly remove their leg and underarm hair, while from 50 to 98 percent of women report that they removed some or all of their pubic hair. Women also remove their body hair at great cost: American women who shave spend in their lifetimes more than $10,000 and two months of their lives managing unwanted hair; that number increases to a full $23,000 for women who wax once or twice per month. Women throughout the world have seen increases in the mandate for women’s body hair removal. Chinese women have become targets of advertising campaigns that teach them to feel shame about their bodies, while Japanese women have become huge proponents of laser hair removal. Hair removal in India has become ubiquitous, with increased use of depilatories and laser hair removal for the chin, upper lip, underarms, cheeks, and bikini area. For German women, who were once averse to removal, 69 percent now remove their body hair. Given what is known about the influence of American television on body shaming and eating disorders in women throughout the world, one can surmise that norms of hairlessness are also being exported with equal intensity.  

Though I have studied the social norm of body hair removal for nearly fifteen years, I continue to find it remarkable that women have been so wholly convinced to adhere to a norm that is purely social and aesthetic, with no notable health or hygiene benefits.101 In fact, doctors have recently begun to urge women to reconsider removing body hair, especially pubic hair, due to the link between hair removal and adverse medical risks, including shaving injuries, lacerations, rashes, abscesses, and abrasions. They also caution about the risk of unnecessary and risky hospitalizations due to uncontrollable staph infections due to body hair removal. And yet, women who removed their body hair reported feeling cleaner, more hygienic, sexier, more attractive, smoother, and more “normal.” Most women remove their body hair not because someone else tells them to but because they want to. Most women argue that removing their body hair is their personal choice, that they enjoy it, and that they would feel “dirty” or “gross” by not removing it.

But, of course, that isn’t really the story. People do not typically make informed and rational choices about grooming, beauty, and aesthetics based on logical outcomes or careful personal analysis, and choices are not all equally choose-able. Body hair removal has become compulsory. Those nonconformists who choose to go against the grain often face great social penalties and find themselves in a condition of, at minimum, exerting effort just to be themselves. At times, they face even more severe forms of social punishment, including derogatory comments, discrimination, social isolation, harassment, threats, and assault. These are the conditions to which we subject women who defy social norms and expectations, who delineate the boundaries of their own bodies on their own terms rather than someone else’s. These are also the conditions within which people make routine, everyday choices about their bodies, as the expectations of rejection, disapproval, and social punishment become possibilities.

The story of women’s body hair removal connects at its core to the story of women’s oppression, to the insidious ways that women’s bodies are controlled, managed, shaped, restricted, constrained, and dictated by outside forces.  Hair is tangled up with a wide variety of powerful institutions that shape the choices women make about their bodies—cultural practices, institutions, formal organizations, families, workplaces, relationships, the beauty and fashion industries, governments, and capitalism, to name a few. Cultural stories about hair—particularly women’s body hair—have their roots in the fundamental belief in the gendering of subject/object relations, where women are told (and then internalize) the story that their bodies are fundamentally wrong in their natural state, and, in tandem with this, that they must alter their bodies in order to be seen as attractive, worthy of love, and inoffensive. 

Body hair is an emotional subject. In every interview I have done and in every piece I have written on this subject, my overwhelming impression is that body hair incites fervor. People feel strongly about their own hair choices and often react badly when women use body hair as a form of rebellion against the status quo. Body hair is also a tool, something that peels away the layers of the culture people live in, revealing its deeply held beliefs about rigid gender roles and normative body choices. Ultimately, body hair is also a place of possibility. It is the perfect site for exposing readers to the allure of social norms, the invisible workings of power, and the possibilities of resistance. Because everyone can relate to the subject of body hair—as we all negotiate the tiny daily choices around managing and grooming our body hair—this work serves as a springboard for more serious conversations about oppression, social identity, patriarchy, biopolitics, and power. Small aspects of our bodies have wide reverberations in the political and social landscape; more importantly, decisions about bodies matter not just to us as individuals but also to the wider political landscape. The workings of how gender operates, how the deep imprint of culture is felt in the individual’s experience of the body, and how cultural stories are made and remade, become visible when looking closely at the story of women’s body hair. And maybe, though this work is never complete, by seeing these stories more clearly, we can render them fragile and vulnerable, and we can see how easily they break apart and are remade anew. 


[100] Merran Toerien, Sue Wilkinson, and Precilla YL Choi, “Body Hair Removal: The ‘Mundane’ Production of Normative Femininity,” Sex Roles 52, no. 5-6 (2005): 399-406.

 “Women Spend up to $23,000 to Remove Hair,” UPI.com, June 24, 2008, https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2008/06/24/Women-spend-up-to-23000-to-remove-hair/64771214351618/?hsFormKey=6c236b2fe21f331cdf53ce23f1415097&ur3=1.

[101] Allison S. Glass, Herman S. Bagga, Gregory E. Tasian, Patrick B. Fisher et al., “Pubic Hair Grooming Injuries Presenting to U.S. Emergency Departments,” Urology 80, no. 6 (2012): 1187-1191.


Breanne Fahs is professor of women and gender studies at Arizona State University. She is the editor of Burn It Down!: Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution and author of Firebrand Feminism, Out for Blood: Essays on Menstruation and ResistanceWomen, Sex, and Madness: Notes from the Edge, and several other works. Her latest book, Unshaved: Resistance and Revolution in Women’s Body Hair Politics, is available now.

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The Hauntings of Local History: Peter Boag on “Pioneering Death”

Admittedly, I see the world in terms of darkness rather than light, and in history as in life, I am drawn more to stories of human pathos than to tales of human triumph. I am bemused by “rosy retrospection”—the penchant of many to reflect on the positives of the past rather than on the negatives and to also, therefore, see the past as somehow better than the present.

Darkness, pathos, and the folly of rosy retrospection comprise the foundation of Pioneering Death. It tells the story of Loyd Montgomery, an impoverished eighteen-year-old who shot and killed his parents and a visiting neighbor on his family’s farm near the western Oregon town of Brownsville late on the fair autumn day of November 19, 1895. Little more than two months later, on a cool morning and just as the rising sun gilded the eastern sky above the Cascade Range, Loyd met his own end on gallows erected adjacent to the Linn County jail in the county seat of Albany.

I first became aware of the Montgomery murders when, back in the early 1980s, I began researching my own family’s history as connected to Brownsville, a community whose origins are rooted in the arrival there in the 1840s of its first white American settlers who came by way of wagons on the overland trails. When I began my work, local historians, the librarian, and museum docents who befriended me mentioned the murders. Given that the Montgomerys were among the most esteemed early American settlers of the area, when these local authorities spoke of that past tragedy, they did so more in hushed tones and as an aside to the official, celebratory “pioneer” history of that community. Clearly, Loyd’s grim tale haunted Brownsville long after it had happened. It took me close to four decades of intermittent research and unremitting reflection to figure out why.

My own digging, so-called, into the Montgomery murders began by accident on January 10, 1987. It was a dreary and rainy Saturday morning when I appeared at the Linn County Historical Museum in Brownsville to conduct research in its collections for my doctoral dissertation. That project later became my first book, and it focused on the environmental history of the southern Willamette Valley. (The reader will detect a clear pattern by now: my preoccupation with history—my need to make sense of its shadows—has taken me back time and again to Brownsville.) The gloominess of that January day and the relative darkness of the room in which I labored provided an atmosphere fitting for what I chanced upon—a photocopy of the special edition of the Brownsville Times for November 20, 1895. Its sole article is entitled “A TRIPPLE MURDER.” It was the first account of that crime to appear anywhere. It was also the one written closest to the event and by someone whose very eyes beheld the aftermath of the tragedy within hours of its commission. Sadly, only random issues from the 1890s of that newspaper are preserved. No issue among those, other than this fragment, comes from the period when the Montgomery murders otherwise lit up the headlines of papers in communities up and down the West Coast.

Albert Cavender, its writer, was the editor of the Brownsville paper. It took some time for word of the violent killings to make its way to his offices. By then, night had already fallen. But the resourceful newsman reached out to local boys—similar in age to the murderer—who, on horseback and with lanterns they must have grasped as tightly as anxiety gripped them, illuminated the way for the journalist as he headed up the country lane into this local heart of darkness. Cavender’s description of the landscape of death that he found there beguiled me—the bodies and the blood; desiccated hop vines in surrounding fields yet clinging to their poles long since the late summer harvest had ended; the Montgomery family’s forlorn and weathered house sitting beneath the sprawling limbs of an immense maple tree; and the canine companion of the neighbor-victim that took up vigil at his slaughtered master’s side, refusing to be lured from it. Those forbidding images and so many others in that two-page document bespoke the poverty, tragedy, darkness, and pathos not just of the victims and the boy murderer but of their community, the larger region, and even the nation.

Cavender’s story had nothing to do with my dissertation’s subject. But it so haunted me that I took a copy of it, promising myself that one day I would do something with it. For the next three decades and more, Loyd Montgomery became an unwelcome companion to me as I struggled to piece together who he was, what he did, how he and his violent actions fit into history, and how to craft a coherent story from it all. As it turned out, I needed those years—time spent at four universities, countless hours in the classroom, and intervals for producing three other books on quite different topics—to collect the research and, more, come to comprehend why Loyd haunted me as much as he did the community that he was more a part of than he was apart from.

Apart from rather than a part of community history is how local memory preferred it. The vast literature that exists on matricide and patricide, moreover, fortifies that construction. That is, psychology, criminology, and other social sciences that dominate parricide studies are by nature disciplines that, with rare exception, are disinterested in the larger, historical forces that I have come to understand contribute mightily to why children have more than occasionally killed their parents. Local tradition and the traditional approaches to explaining parricide had worked together—intentionally, defensively, or both—to bury the truth so deeply about Loyd that I simply needed the time and the education that time affords to unearth it.

As I excavated Loyd’s life, slowly peeling back the accumulated layers of historical and disciplinary sediments and sentiments, a much darker tale revealed itself than simply that of an isolated, though horribly gruesome anecdote. His story is really the underbelly of so many a local Oregon history (and local histories elsewhere in North America) that celebrate the “pioneer” foundations of community, state, and nation. Constructing these histories involved willfully burying the truth about the brutal, murderous, and even genocidal nature of them. But more, the violent expressions within Oregon “pioneer” families were in reality and are in the very wanton act of trying to forget them, an integral part of the story of American-settler violence against Indigenous people. The messy, unresolved, and troubling tension between the darkness of reality and the human need for rosy reflection in all this is just one of the many stories that Pioneering Death exhumes from our haunting past.


Peter Boag is professor and Columbia Chair in the History of the American West at Washington State University. He is author of Re-Dressing America’s Frontier PastSame-Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest, and Environment and Experience: Settlement Culture in Nineteenth-Century Oregon. His latest book, Pioneering Death: The Violence of Boyhood in Turn-of-the-Century Oregon is available now.

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From The Street Smart Naturalist: Spring is Nigh

I am big fan of spring. I love the unpredictable weather, the reemergence of plants and beasts, the frisson of reproductive potential and have long enjoyed watching for signs of the vernal world. Recently, I have been inspired by an unlikely source: George Orwell. (I plan on writing about him in the future so won’t say much now.) In a splendid little essay titled “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” he wrote (in April 1946):

The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing. Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site. Indeed it is remarkable how Nature goes on existing unofficially, as it were, in the very heart of London.

Orwell then asks if it’s “wicked to take pleasure in spring,” considering the challenges of the world, which were certainly epic and severe in post–World War II London, and sadly still are now. Shouldn’t people be more focused on more serious issues than whether a toad appears and pursues his or her life? He categorically rejects those who hold such a view and offers a wonderful sentiment: 

I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and—to return to my first instance—toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.

Here then are a few observations reaffirming the beauty, resiliency, and healing power of spring, in my fair city of Seattle.

Varied thrush – Graham Gerdeman, Macauley Library.

Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) – For the past few weeks, I have been thrilling to the trilling of varied thrushes. These orange-necked, black-bibbed cousins of robins typically start calling at dawn in a haunting, monotone whistle suffused with the mysteries of a mountain forest. Summer residents of higher elevation, they migrate down to hang out with we lowland dwellers from late fall to spring. Oddly, this year is the first that I have noticed varied thrushes in spring—they typically visit our yard in autumn—so it has been an exquisite joy to hear them. The trilling notes feel not only like a rejoicing of spring but also a call to turn one’s thoughts to the mountains.

Crocus (Crocus sp.) – Found in hundreds of locations around the city, these lovely irises are one of the first to provide a nourishment of early season color. With a name derived from the Greek term for saffron, crocuses come in scores of species and originally grew from Portugal to western China. Horticulturists have cultivated about thirty varieties of which five are considered to be commercially important. The best known, saffron (Crocus sativus), comes from the three thread-like stigmas, between 5,000 and 12,500 of which produce an ounce of the fragrant spice. Cultivated by Egyptians and Romans, saffron reached China in the seventh century, and by the fourteenth, it had permeated England, France, and Germany. By the way, you can grow C. sativus in Seattle, though you will more likely encounter one of the many cultivars heralding spring in yards across the city.

Camas, Charles Knowles, Wikipedia.

Camas (Camassia quamash) – Many years ago when we bought our house, I planted a few camas bulbs. Since then, they have spread across our yard, emerging in spring like green signposts of the bounty to come. I am not the first to encourage the growth of these edible roots. For generations, Indigenous people of Puget Sound burnt the prairies south of Tacoma around Nisqually and Fort Lewis and on islands in Puget Sound to foster camas growth, which they harvested in spring. One had to be careful though. As botanist David Douglas noted in April 1825 about camas bulbs: “assuredly they produce flatulence: when in the Indian hut I was almost blown out by strength of wind.” In contrast, botanist William Fraser Tolmie of the Hudson’s Bay Company wrote of the “rich and level prairies . . . [their] surface enamelled with a profusion of blue flowered kamass.” Our camas certainly don’t compare, but I still rejoice when the flowers blossom and blue ponds of shimmering light grace our yard. 

Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) – Noisy, territorial, and garnished by vivid red epaulettes, red-winged blackbirds have been out chattering of late with their distinctive konk-la-ree callsThey are denizen of watery locales, such as Green Lake, the Center for Urban Horticulture, and Echo Lake, where males flaunt their garish shoulder patches as a sign of territoriality. Studies have shown that if the birds intend to fight and protect their turf, they will display their badge of red, but if they are merely “visiting” or “testing” a new territory, they may not display and wait to see what the present owner does. Perhaps we could take a lesson. Be patient and sport red epaulettes but only flare them when necessary. Otherwise, chill out.


David B. Williams is a naturalist, author, and educator. His many books include the award-winning Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s TopographySeattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City, and most recently Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound. Subscribe to Street Smart Naturalist: Explorations of the Urban Kind.

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Announcing New UW Press Book Series: Critical Filipinx Studies

Critical Filipinx Studies is a new book series from the University of Washington Press, edited by Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, founding director of the Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies. This series lifts up the decolonizing identities and cultural productions of people who claim roots to the Philippines and illuminates how Filipinos in America and across the diaspora experience and imagine their everyday lives.

Informed by cultural studies, ethnic studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, this series is necessarily a feminist and queer project. Emphasizing work by scholar-activists who adopt a stance of care—ethical and political commitment—toward the people whose lives animate their work, it traces interracial solidarities, as fraught as they may be, to disrupt racial capitalism’s impulse to both homogenize and propagate
“multicultural” difference.

“I can think of no better partner than the UW Press in launching this historically significant book series in Critical Filipinx Studies. UW has published important texts in Asian American Studies and will continue to be at the cutting edge of Asian American Studies scholarship with this series,” explains Robyn Magalit Rodriguez. 

This series will publish books that engage with some of the following questions: What are the experiences of Filipinx migrants and what about these experiences sheds light on the nature of global racial capitalism? How do Filipinx people resist imperial and neocolonial structures and imagine and organize toward non-extractive, regenerative futures? How are Filipinx people represented across multiple forms of media and in what ways do they counter these representations? How do Filipinx people construct an alternative global archipelago of being and belonging?

“I’m looking for vibrant interdisciplinary projects or projects rooted in various disciplines, including critical ethnic studies, Asian/American studies, history, cultural studies, geography, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. I’m also particularly drawn to books that are theoretically rich but accessible to readers outside of academia. I’d love for these books to be on the shelves at local independent bookstores and public libraries,” adds Acquisitions Editor Mike Baccam.


Proposals for single-authored books across disciplines, from monographs to other compelling nonfiction books that appeal to a broader audience, are welcome for submission. We will also consider groundbreaking anthologies. Queries may be sent to Robyn at robyn@drrobynrodriguez.com and to Mike at mbaccam@uw.edu.

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Can You Hear the Voices of the Girls?

One Left and the Korean “Comfort Women”

Almost a year ago six Asian women, four of them Korean, were shot and killed in Atlanta. More recently, here in western Washington, we have learned of human trafficking centered in a massage parlor. For us, this violence perpetrated against women echoes the victimization of the more than 200,000 Korean girls who were coerced into sexual servitude by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Coincidental with the attack in Atlanta, the ongoing controversy about the circumstances of the Korean “comfort women”—the euphemism by which these girls have come to be known—was rekindled in an essay by a Harvard law professor claiming that the girls were recruited and contracted as sex workers. This essay and the ensuing outrage drew extensive media coverage nationwide.

As the translators of the first Korean novel to focus on the “comfort women”—Kim Soom’s Han myŏng, published as One Left by the University of Washington Press in 2020—we feel it is crucial that the voices of these girls be heard alongside that of the Harvard professor. And it is precisely those voices we hear in the novel, much of the detail based on the documented testimony of the Korean women who survived sexual servitude during World War II but did not break their self-imposed silence until the 1990s. By allowing us to hear of their experiences in the “comfort stations” as girls—some of them had yet to reach their teens and were premenstrual when taken from their ancestral villages in Korea—Kim Soom has restored to historical memory the overlooked and disavowed stories of a marginalized group of women, and by extension countless other victims of human trafficking. It is not just Korean girls who were taken to the “comfort stations”—if we add girls from China, Southeast Asia, the Netherlands, and Japan itself, the number swells to an estimated 400,000, according to scholars. In recent decades we have heard news reports of similar atrocities perpetrated against girls in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Contrary to the presumption of some observers of Korea-Japan relations and the “comfort women” controversy, One Left is not an exercise in Japan bashing. Instead, the novel attempts to remind us that each of the 200,000 girls taken from their homes in Korea was someone’s daughter, sister, and playmate, that the pain of their seizure was felt by families, villages, indeed by an entire nation. By allowing us to hear the voices of these girls, their testimony cited in more than 300 endnotes in her novel, Kim Soom offers us an opportunity to exercise our capacity for empathy and thereby work for reconciliation, healing, and closure.

Please listen to the voices of the girls in One Left and then take note that only 15 survive today. Let us remember these 200,000 girls not as an anonymous group of victims consigned to the remote fringes of our collective memory but as individuals who, like all of us, were each possessed of identity, agency, and family. And let us hope that by hearing their voices we can, in some small way, work for a more humane and a less contentious and divisive future.


Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton are longtime residents of Seattle and translators of modern Korean fiction. Ju-Chan Fulton worked for thirty years for Northwest and Delta Airlines. Bruce Fulton teaches Korean literature and literary translation at the University of British Columbia and is the editor of The Penguin Book of Korean Short Stories, scheduled for publication in 2022. One Left is available now.

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Continuity of Expression: Guest Post by John Keeble

It’s hard to pinpoint how a subject becomes important to a writer’s work, sometimes more difficult for the writer to see than it is for a careful and astute reader. Just how the writer decides what to focus on is evasive, always on the move. Maybe it’s not a decision at all. Maybe by a writer’s nature and the nature of the lived-in world, the writer unconsciously falls into subjects. There is the writer’s background, which produces certain influences and fascinations, even obsessions. There are the barely grasped elements. Then there is the attraction of what is called “literary weather.” Here, issues of little consequence in one time period unexpectedly emerge as riveting topics in another. How are they to be addressed? What network of consciousness makes meaning? Consider the fairly recent, transformative changes in the place of gay and transgender people in our culture, of male dominance, of the nature of white supremacism, and of the regard for people of different races.

My father was a preacher. As a preacher’s kid I was taught that there are important things to say and that a person is obliged to say them when called upon, even when they are difficult. I am from Canada, an immigrant brought to the United States by my parents. From early boyhood through college I lived all over California. I came of age during the sixties and grew up surrounded by anti-gay bias, the misogynist treatment of women, and the assumed dominance by heterosexual men at the portals of power. These were accepted as givens in what seems now my pre-cognizant life; they were woven into the fabric of everything around me, including my mother’s attempts to broaden her role as a “minister’s wife.” I would later see that it caused her great pain. 

Also, during my early teenage years, I learned about “Indian lore” from an amateur archeologist. On Saturdays his family and mine traveled into the California desert in search of artifacts, focusing on burial grounds. We were stocking a San Bernardino museum. Although I learned something about desert Indians in the process, I was in a state of complete ignorance about what we were actually doing. I had utterly no conception of how our taking possession of the artifacts and spiriting them off—arrow straighteners, matates, heavily ornamented stone arrow points and hatchets, even bones—might be seen as white raids on past lives.

My father studied in Berkeley at the Pacific School of Religion with the Christian existentialist and Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich. He then joined the American Congregationalists (now the United Church of Christ) and came to be known for his commitment to integrating inner-city churches. He was “called” by several San Diego–area churches, the chief among which was in National City, one of three “American” communities south of San Diego, the others being Chula Vista, where we had also lived for a year, and San Ysidro. 

Before we moved there, National City had experienced white flight to San Diego suburbs, leaving the church in decline yet still under the control of the few whites who returned to National City for Sunday services. At the time, I am told, San Diego County was second only to Orange County in California for the presence of arch-conservatives. During the very early sixties, the John Birch Society became a force. My father knew his calling was to redefine the church, to allow it to speak for the community, but these outsiders harassed him for installing a Japanese choir director and a Black soprano soloist and for welcoming Mexican Americans to church events. Awkward though he may have been at times, my father was a staunch believer in ecumenical religion. On Sundays after his own services, he gave over the space of the church to a congregation of Samoans, who had no church of their own. Above all, I remember them for their mesmerizing hymn-singing, which I eavesdropped on from the church’s narthex. Unlike our own congregation, this congregation sang in harmony as if it in its entirety were a well-practiced choir, the men with booming bass lines and the women with eerily penetrating melodies.

National City was a navy town. Its high school had a marginal white student majority, yet the closest thing to a nonwhite faculty member was an Iraqi immigrant who taught civics. Nearly equal in numbers to the white students were Mexican Americans, followed by Samoans. There were fewer Black students and fewer still Asian students. I knew of no Native Americans, probably because of my own ignorance, or their quietude, but I counted Mexican Americans among my friends, including a couple of baseball teammates, one of whom went on to play professionally. 

When I left home for my first year at the University of Redlands, two out-of-town church members, John Birchers, took to harassing my mother. My father was often away during this period, and the two men had apparently learned his schedule. They badgered my mother with phone calls, filling them with accusations about the race mixing that was being wrought in the church by her husband. She attempted suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub. I don’t believe she ever fully recovered from this scenario, even though she and my father soon moved far away, to Albany, New York. 

*

In 1980 I published my third novel, Yellowfish, and in it refined two topics to which I would return again and again: racism, in this case represented by a group of illegal Chinese immigrants, and white supremacy, represented by a coterie from northern Idaho’s Aryan Nations. Ruby, the wife of the novel’s protagonist, was conceived as a forceful and independent character. Some thirty years after that book, another novel, The Shadows of Owls, had a full-blown treatment of the Aryan Nations and of an heroic woman scientist victimized by them. This book was intended to partner with a book of short stories, published in 2005, and my latest work, an historical novel entitled The Appointment: The Tale of Adaline Carson. This latter book has a male narrator who recounts the life of a woman who is half Arapaho and explores the roots of American white supremacy. To true believers, this seems to mean the hoped for waning and ultimate disappearance of minority cultures in America and the renewed domination of white men.

I’ve been writing long enough—over fifty years—to look back and see an evolving shape to such subjects, particularly the attraction of this twin obsession—white supremacy and the experience of minorities in the face of it. A major thread includes Native American experience. I have always believed that a part of the writer’s duty is to imagine the world through other eyes. How else is the meaning of interconnections to be understood? I suspect that my old friend and colleague Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe, would feel that a white man has no business writing from the perspective of Natives, that it’s an appropriation and falsification of history. I know she has a point. Still, I persist in investigating my own role and the role of others through these durable fascinations. It’s a fine line between the appropriation of a culture, with salient features unlike my own, and the practice of caring for and having a clear-headed acknowledgment and appreciation of the alien in that other culture.              


John Keeble is the author of eight books, including Yellowfish, Broken Ground (both reprinted by UW Press), The Shadows of Owls (a UW Press original), and The Appointment (Lynx House Press, distributed by UW Press). He is also author of Out of the Channel, the definitive study of the Exxon Valdez disaster, and a collection of short stories. Keeble was co-founder of the graduate Creative Writing Program at Eastern Washington University where he taught for more than thirty years, and has also taught at Grinnell College and three times as the Coal Royalty Trust Chair at the University of Alabama. Most recently he served as Distinguished Visiting Writer at Boise State University. With his wife, Claire, he lives in a house of their own construction on a wooded hillside west of Spokane, Washington.  

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Author Guest Post: Mike Gastineau

Mike Gastineau’s latest book is Fear No Man, which tells the story of the 1991 national championship football team at the University of Washington and the man who led that team to success, Don James. The 2021 UW team suffered through a disappointing 4–8 season that led to a coaching change. Here, Gastineau details five interesting stories involving new Husky coaches.

At any social gathering this winter attended by UW fans, the future of new Husky football coach Kalen DeBoer will be discussed. Some will predict wild success for the new boss, others will caution patience given the state of the program, and still others will offer grave predictions of doom. No matter how loud or confident anyone seems about their prediction, it’s good to remember that no one knows what’s going to happen.

Every story about the hiring of a new coach creates speculation among fans and contains at least a little drama. Some new coaches look good, and things go badly. Some look meh and subsequently become great. Some become exactly what many thought they would become. Here are five interesting stories about men hired to coach at UW.

Rick Neuheisel, 1999

This hire still generates a lot of conversation and speculation as to how things might have gone if UW had stayed within the Don James coaching family.

After the 1998 season, Athletic Director Barbara Hedges decided to dismiss Jim Lambright, who had replaced James after he abruptly resigned in 1993, upset with what he perceived as a lack of support from UW president William Gerberding during an investigation by the then PAC-10 into the program.

Former James assistants Gary Pinkel and Chris Tormey were thought to be the front-runners for the job. Both men had been part of UW’s run of success in the ’80s and early ’90s. Both were now successful head coaches, Pinkel at Toledo, and Tormey at Idaho. They interviewed with Hedges, and fans waited to see which one would get the job.

Desirous of a break from the past, Hedges shocked the college football world by grabbing Rick Neuheisel away from Colorado, making him the second highest-paid college coach in America in the process. Most fans were excited by the move, and Neuheisel’s charming personality won over many of the skeptics.

He had success early on at UW, including a Rose Bowl and near national championship team in 2000, but his stay in Seattle ended like a case of beer bottles being hurled down a stairwell. Caught in lies about his pursuit of the San Francisco 49ers job and his participation in a gambling pool, he was fired in 2003.

A messy lawsuit (eventually settled by a $4.5 million payout to Neuheisel) followed, and many Husky fans believe the fallout from the mess led to the program’s downturn over the next several seasons.

Tormey went on to a successful run at Nevada, while Pinkel built Missouri into a national powerhouse. “What if?” Husky fans wondered for years. “What if?”

Rick Neuheisel. Photo courtesy UW Athletics.

Tyrone Willingham, 2005

On paper, this hire looked good. Tyrone Willingham had enjoyed modest success at both Stanford and Notre Dame. The UW program was still reeling from Neuheisel’s departure and the subsequent lawsuit (which played out over two years) and craved the stability Willingham appeared to offer.

On the field, the hire fizzled like a wet sparkler. Willingham lost seven of his first eight games and ultimately presided over the worst four-year stretch in Husky football history. His tenure engendered so much anger that security was necessary at his radio show during his final season due to threats from fans.

Tyrone Willingham. Photo courtesy UW Magazine.

Chris Petersen, 2014

Here’s an example of a hire that looked good on paper and was great on the field. Chris Petersen came to Seattle after a successful run as head coach at Boise State. His UW teams posted six consecutive winning seasons, made the College Football Playoffs in 2016, and played in the 2019 Rose Bowl. Petersen surprised everyone in college football with his sudden retirement announcement after the 2019 season.

Petersen was popular among fans and boosters. At the age of fifty-five, he appeared to have several seasons left to captain the Husky ship. But he cited an inability to balance his life with the demands the job placed on him before stepping down. His fifty-five wins left him sixth all-time on the list of winningest UW coaches, and had he not left he would likely be third by now.

It was at the end of his run that he made the single second-guessable decision of his UW career when he proclaimed Jimmy Lake as being ready to step into the job as head coach. Maybe Lake would have enjoyed more success and a longer run at UW if his first season (2020) hadn’t been derailed by the COVID pandemic. But it was, and after just thirteen games he was dismissed and replaced by Kalen DeBoer.

Chris Petersen. Photo courtesy UW Athletics.

Gil Dobie, 1908

The general feeling of fans toward this hire is not known, but it’s easy to speculate how some would have reacted if Ye Olde Sportstalk Radio had been invented.

“Here’s Clarence, in a horse and buggy on the waterfront.”

“Thanks for taking my call. I don’t mean to be taken as scurrilous, but we need an Ivy League man. THAT’S where football was invented. What does a chap from North Dakota know about the game?”

Gil Dobie came to UW after two years at North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. He wasn’t a Seattle guy, and he didn’t have a fancy educational background. What he did have was an ability to coach football. In eight seasons at UW, he never lost a game. His teams were 58–0–3 and the Huskies became the biggest powerhouse on the West Coast.

After the 1916 season Dobie had a falling out with UW president Henry Suzzallo and was dismissed. He went on to great success at Navy, Cornell, and Boston College, and his .781 winning percentage is among the best in college football history.

Gil Dobie. Photo courtesy of UW Athletics.

Don James, 1975

The best example ever of a hire that didn’t move the excitement needle at all but ended up being a perfect fit. Don James wasn’t the school’s first choice to replace Jim Owens. That was Dan Devine, who turned down UW when the Notre Dame job suddenly opened.

The second choice thus became the new coach, and the Ohio native was so unknown in Seattle that one of the first things he remembered seeing upon his arrival was a giant sign outside Husky Stadium welcoming new head football coach “Don Jones.”

Fans almost didn’t have to learn his actual name. His first two teams went 6–5 and 5–6, and his third team started the season 1–3, leading to calls for a change. But that 1977 team rebounded to go 7–1 down the stretch, including a Rose Bowl win over Michigan.

Don James. Photo by Doug Glant.

Kalen DeBoer is the thirtieth football coach in UW history, and speculation on how he’ll do is well underway. His first game is Labor Day weekend against Kent State, coincidentally where James worked before coming to UW. James’s career began with his name being misspelled and ended with a statue built to recognize his achievements.

You never know.

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#UPWeek: 10 Publications From The Past Decade That Best Represent UW Press

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Association for University Presses’ annual University Press Week, and member presses are celebrating how we have evolved over the past decade. The story of UW Press’s evolution can be seen through the following ten books published in the last ten years.

No-No Boy (2014. First edition published in 1979)

By John Okada. Foreword by Ruth Ozeki

Initially ignored and quickly forgotten, John Okada’s powerful novel reached a broad audience only after its republication in the late 1970s by a group of activists intent on proving the existence of an Asian American body of literature. Since then, it has remained central in discussions of Asian American literature and resistance on campus and off, and is one of the press’s all-time bestsellers.

The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (2013)

By Mark Fiege. Foreword by William Cronon.

Mark Fiege reframes the canonical account of American history based on the radical premise that nothing in the nation’s past can be considered apart from the natural circumstances in which it occurred. He demonstrates how environmental history permeates the breadth of the United States, including in unexpected places such as the Salem witch trials, racial segregation, and the modern women’s movement.

Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, 50th Anniversary Edition (2014)

By Bill Holm

Through his careful studies of hundreds of artworks, Bill Holm developed a description of and terminology for the visual language used by northern Northwest Coast artists to illustrate inherited crests and tell family stories. His book has become a foundational reference work and study guide for contemporary Native carvers, painters, and weavers looking to draw upon or reinterpret the traditional work of their ancestors.

America Is in the Heart: A Personal History, Second Edition (2014)

By Carlos Bulosan

Carlos Bulosan’s fictionalized autobiography of his journey from the Philippines to Seattle to California reveals the brutal reality of oppression, racism, poverty, and violence experienced by Filipino American migrant workers in the twentieth century. Following UW Press’s reissue of the book in 1973 and against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, it became a critical text in the emerging field of ethnic studies. A masterful, searing critique of US imperialism, America Is in the Heart illuminates the human costs to US exploitation and global capitalism and asks readers to consider whether it’s possible for America to live up to its promise.

Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place, Second Edition (2017)

By Coll Thrush. Foreword by William Cronon

Native Seattle transformed historical understandings of Pacific Northwest urban spaces by centering the region’s Coast Salish peoples in this revealing urban history. Thrush’s research not only restores the foundational stories of Native people within Seattle’s deeper history, but also identifies the processes used to actively relegate Indigenous people to a remote past rather than acknowledging and representing their continued dynamic shaping of the history of cities beyond the Northwest.

Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the “Spring and Autumn Annals” Volume 3 (2017)

Translated by Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg

These three volumes make China’s earliest narrative history available for scholars of the ancient world in an unabridged, extensively annotated translation. The authoritative edition for teaching, research, and citation, it offers facing pages of Chinese and English that enable it to serve the needs of a wide range of researchers.

Flora of the Pacific Northwest: An Illustrated Manual, Second Edition (2018)

By C. Leo Hitchcock and Arthur Cronquist

The first edition of Flora was quickly established as the bible of botanists and gardeners in the region, who used it in the field and in the classroom for a half-century. The second edition, revised by David E. Giblin, Ben S. Legler, Peter F. Zika, and Richard G. Olmstead, incorporates extensive changes in plant nomenclature, taxa new to science, and documentation of new native and nonnative species in the Pacific Northwest, but follows the same now-standard structure.

Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics (2018)

Edited by Lynn Fujiwara and Shireen Roshanravan

This collection, featuring work by both senior and rising scholars, brings together groundbreaking essays that speak to the relationship between Asian American feminisms, feminist of color work, and transnational feminist scholarship. Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics provides a deep conceptual intervention into the theoretical underpinnings of Asian American studies; ethnic studies; women’s, gender, and sexual studies; as well as cultural studies in general.

We Are Dancing for You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies (2018)

By Cutcha Risling Baldy

This courageously personal book about the Hupa revitalization of the Flower Dance challenges anthropological theories about menstruation, gender, and coming-of-age; and addresses gender inequality and gender violence within Native communities. In addition to being widely used in college classes, We are Dancing for You has been distributed to American Indian youth centers, Native rehabilitation programs, correctional facilities, and Tribal libraries across the state of California through the Native Women’s Collective, the nonprofit cofounded by Dr. Risling Baldy.

Artisans in Early Imperial China (paperback published in 2021)

By Anthony J. Barbieri-Low

Taking readers inside the private workshops, crowded marketplaces, and great palaces, temples, and tombs of early China, Barbieri-Low explores the lives and working conditions of artisans, meticulously documenting their role in early Chinese society and the economy. First published in 2007, winner of top prizes from the Association for Asian Studies, American Historical Association, College Art Association, and the International Convention of Asia Scholars, and now back in print, Artisans in Early Imperial China will appeal to anyone interested in Chinese history, as well as to scholars of comparative social history, labor history, and Asian art history.

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The Borders of AIDS by Karma Chávez

In 1983 Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen, two gay men in their twenties, published a manual called How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach, under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Sonnabend. At this early point in the AIDS epidemic, it was unclear exactly how the disease spread—whether from a single agent or a confluence of multiple factors. Because the disease hit already-maligned groups like gay men and drug users the hardest, there wasn’t a widespread rush among medical or public health professionals to find the cause or a cure.

Sentiment among many people in the United States ranged from prejudice to rage to fear. Widespread calls to quarantine people living with AIDS first came from the evangelical right but eventually seemed like a commonsense response to some lawyers, physicians, politicians, and ordinary people, as I detail in my new book, The Borders of AIDS: Race, Quarantine, and Resistance. Gay men like Berkowitz and Callen found themselves in a situation where they alone would be tasked with helping their communities figure out how to relate to one another within the confines of this new and deadly epidemic. Although Berkowitz and Callen got some things wrong, they also got some things right. Perhaps most important, their manual was the first to recommend the use of condoms to men who had sex with other men.

As in the early years of the AIDS pandemic, the past eighteen months living with the COVID-19 pandemic have left people trying to figure out how to safely relate to others. And also like the early years of AIDS, a mix of misinformation and conflicting and constantly changing information has made navigating the social realm feel confusing and risky for many. For those who took pandemic precautions seriously and are now fully vaccinated, having the permission—at least from the CDC—to move about virtually mask-free feels strange.

Over the past several weeks, dozens if not hundreds of reports and advice columns have been published suggesting healthy ways to reenter our communities and how to reduce anxiety when heading back into the world. Such suggestions have become all the more vexing as recent reports cite preliminary research indicating that those who are immunosuppressed, including people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, organ transplants, and autoimmune diseases may not be protected by any of the existing vaccines. As one of my friends with lupus, a chronic autoimmune illness largely impacting women and especially women of color, put it, first they hoarded our hydroxychloroquine, and now the vaccines won’t protect us.

Although AIDS analogies have proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic, at the fortieth anniversary of the medical and public recognition of AIDS, the most important lessons to learn from those early years of the AIDS pandemic in the United States have to do with how people who were most at risk and who were sick chose to protect and care for themselves and each other. In June 1983, when scientists had still not identified the cause of AIDS, a group of a dozen gay men living with AIDS at the Fifth Annual Gay and Lesbian Health Conference formed a People with AIDS advisory committee and wrote a manifesto known as “The Denver Principles.” The principles include recommendations for health professionals, all people, and people living with AIDS, and they insisted upon the rights of people living with AIDS. Several years before the formation of the famed group ACT UP—the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power—the authors of the principles insisted that people living with AIDS take the following actions:

“1. Form caucuses to choose their own representatives, to deal with the media, to choose their own agenda, and to plan their own strategies.

2. Be involved at every level of decision-making and specifically serve on the boards of directors of provider organizations.

3. Be included in all AIDS forums with equal credibility as other participants, to share their own experiences and knowledge.

4. Substitute low-risk sexual behaviors for those which could endanger themselves or their partners; we feel people with AIDS have an ethical responsibility to inform their potential sexual partners of their health status.”

Although the context differs significantly, those who are most at risk for suffering the consequences of a widespread reopening amid the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic would be well served taking a cue from these early AIDS activists. Moreover, in the present day, we have the benefit of decades of organizing by disability justice advocates who insist on putting those most impacted in leadership roles in decision-making, as well as demanding principles such as intersectionality, a critique of capitalism, and cross-movement organizing. Reentering society and being “open for business” are not experienced in the same way by all of us, as some of us will experience severe consequences. Listening to the most impacted people may seem an inconvenience to some, but failing to do so will likely have dire results for many.


Karma R. Chávez is associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Queer Migration Politics: Activist Rhetoric and Coalitional Possibilities. Her latest book, The Borders of AIDS: Race, Quarantine, and Resistance, is available now.

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Black Independence by Robin J. Hayes

“What, to the [enslaved and colonized], is your Fourth of July?”

— Frederick Douglass

On US Independence Day, for years it has been an African American custom to circulate the poignant speech—widely known as “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”—by self-emancipated abolitionist Frederick Douglass.* His iconic oratory points out the stark contrast between America’s exaltation of self-determination through words and its actions of violence, false imprisonment, cultural imperialism, and other human rights violations to block African Americans from having the power necessary to shape their own destinies. Since before Douglass’s time, Black people in the United States and Africa have rebelled against the infantilizing nature of White supremacy by fighting to claim a fair share of the wealth their labor and cultures produce. As revealed in my new book, Love for Liberation: African Independence, Black Power, and a Diaspora Underground, part of what unites Black communities on both sides of the Atlantic is a consensus that the key to protecting Black lives is Black autonomy.

In his speech to a predominately White audience in 1852, Douglass stated plainly that the “rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not me . . . I shall see this day from the [enslaved’s] point of view.” While slyly pointing out the intersection between patriarchy, capitalism, and racism in America, he also highlighted a recurring theme in Black cultures throughout the diaspora: authenticity’s valor versus hypocrisy’s disgrace. American, British, and French empires have all waved the flags of self-determination in public while, for example, turning a blind eye to the mass rape of Black women during slavery. Douglass’s assertion that a nation’s democratic self-image can only be validated by its most marginalized community members became a core belief of the Black freedom struggle in the United States and abroad. 

Just over a hundred years after Douglass confronted his audience, anti-colonial activist and former political prisoner Kwame Nkrumah celebrated the hard-won independence of his country, Ghana. During the festivities, which were attended by prominent African Americans, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Nkrumah encouraged the Ashanti, Ewe, and other tribes in his homeland to see themselves as a shining example of a new era in the diaspora: “From now on there is a new African in the world [who] is ready to fight his own battle and show that, after all, the Black man is capable of managing his own affairs.”

The wave of African independence in the mid-twentieth century—and its accompanying critique of the two-faced nature of colonizing White supremacist institutions—profoundly influenced an upstart generation of African American activists. Malcolm X, Kathleen Neal Cleaver, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) were just a few of the Black Power movement leaders who were frustrated by the slow pace of progress toward racial equality. At the heart of their exasperation was the glaring divergence between American institutions’ stated values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and their willingness to enable the lynching, disenfranchisement, and economic exploitation of African Americans. As a result, Black Power activists began to seek alternatives to the changing hearts-and-minds strategy advanced by Dr. King.

Reaching out across borders, Black Power and African independence activists connected within a diaspora underground. A diaspora underground consists of the physical emancipated spaces in which activists engage and the shared understandings of the past, present, and future that are created in such spaces. This kind of international engagement helps Black activists dismantle dominant gaslighting myths about the benevolence of White supremacy and colonialism. In this diaspora underground, Black Power and African independence leaders were able to ground themselves in an authentic vision of paths toward autonomy and full enjoyment of human rights that they themselves could construct. They discovered a deeper understanding of their roots as well as routes toward liberation that did not depend on changing White hearts and minds.

During his speech, Douglass asked the rhetorical question, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” He responded, “A thin veil to cover up crimes.” Revealing the truth about White supremacist aggression has been part of the continuous work of the Black freedom struggle from Douglass, to African independence and Black Power, to Black Lives Matter. Through the affirmation of authenticity’s valor over hypocrisy’s disgrace, the Fourth of July has also become an opportunity to reflect on the rights Black communities have to assert autonomy over their own bodies, relationships, neighborhoods, and nations. This kind of Black self-determination, which can be nurtured from within, remains the true meaning of independence. 

*The original title of this speech is “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro.”


Robin J. Hayes, PhD, is a contributor to the Atlantic, writer and director of the award-winning documentary Black and Cuba, and creative director of Progressive Pupil.

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Gifts from Their Grandmothers: Megan Smetzer on “Painful Beauty”

A common thread running through the contemporary artworks included in my book, Painful Beauty, is the deep respect for the tangible and intangible gifts received by the artists from their mothers and grandmothers through the beadwork they created. Two ephemeral fragments—a family snapshot of a mother and daughter beading moccasins and a paper beadwork pattern stored in a fruitcake tin—inspired the poignant and powerful artworks by Larry McNeil and Tanis S’eiltin that are critical to my own consideration of the histories of Tlingit beadwork.

Tlingit mothers and grandmothers in Southeast Alaska and elsewhere have known the power of beadwork to feed their families and also affirm thousands of years of connections to the land and its bountiful resources. Yet throughout the twentieth century, their beading has been dismissed by many scholars and collectors as derivative and inauthentic. Tlingit communities, however, have long recognized the strength and resilience of these women through the overt racism and discrimination brought to bear by the institutions of settler colonialism. Through the generosity of the descendants of these beaders, who are telling their stories through contemporary artistic production, the historical significance and impact of these powerful Indigenous women is being shared more widely with the public.

I was first drawn to Larry McNeil’s photographic collage, Once Upon a Time in America, because of the 1943 snapshot at its center depicting his mother Anita McNeil (kaajee seidee) and grandmother Mary Brown Betts (kah saa nák) holding and sewing beaded moccasins. Here was a beautiful illustration of the intangible intergenerational knowledge that fueled so much beading in the mid-twentieth century. I knew, from archival research, that around five hundred women had beaded moccasins and other work for sale through the Alaska Native Arts and Crafts Cooperative from the 1930s to the 1970s. Many contemporary artists I have spoken with shared memories of watching or helping their grandmothers with beaded work. In this print and in his writing, McNeil foregrounds the power of these women through a seemingly mundane activity, which, in fact, was central to their fight for equal education as well as perpetuating intangible Tlingit ways of knowing in a difficult and discriminatory era. I am deeply grateful to Larry McNeil and his sisters, Helen and Patty, for sharing stories of their mother and grandmother with me.

Larry McNeil, Once Upon a Time in America from Fly by Night Mythology series, 2002. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Over the years Tanis S’eiltin and I have discussed octopus bags—distinctive pouches with four pairs of “tentacles” made from wool and beaded with seaweed and floral designs—and how they express historical trade relationships with interior peoples as well as the ways in which Tlingit women transformed them aesthetically to better represent local knowledge. When I first saw photographs of S’eiltin’s untitled armor-like floor-length coat featuring an oversized beadwork pattern depicting an octopus, I was thrilled to see how she had transformed the idea of an octopus bag into a life-size work celebrating Tlingit women.

During my visit to see her coat, Tanis mentioned that she had a fruitcake tin filled with beadwork patterns that dated to her great-grandmother’s era. I was nearly brought to tears when she brought it out. I had been told of these tins filled with patterns, but this was the first time one was shared with me. We pulled out hundreds of delicate pieces of paper, cut from old envelopes and cookbooks, and Tanis shared stories of the women, including her great-grandmother Mary Barries and her mother Maria Ackerman Miller (Ldaneit), who filled the tin over the years. These patterns and others like them adorned hundreds, if not thousands of pairs of moccasins made for sale throughout the twentieth century. The oversize octopus pattern on the coat foregrounds those powerful Tlingit women and their centrality to trade in all its forms, including the relationships that brought octopus bags and other treasures to Southeast Alaska. S’eiltin has drawn inspiration from this battered “box of treasures” to create work for her own children and grandchildren to teach them about their matrilineal legacies. I am so grateful for the opportunity Tanis has given me to write about her work.

Tanis S’eiltin, Untitled, 2017. Photo courtesy of the author.

Tanis S’eiltin’s fruitcake tin holding three generations of beading patterns. Photo courtesy of the author.

Tanis S’eiltin, Untitled, 2017. Photo courtesy of the author.

I extend my gratitude to all Tlingit people, past and present, who have always expressed longstanding cultural practices through the incorporation of new ideas and materials in innovative and creative ways. The histories and stories shared in Painful Beauty are a testament to the power of their art and the strength of their resilience.


Megan A. Smetzer is lecturer of art history at Capilano University.

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Announcing the 2021-2022 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellows

The University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, Cornell University Press, the Ohio State University Press, University of Chicago Press, Northwestern University Press, and the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) today announce the recipients of the 2021-2022 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowships.

These fellowships are generously funded by a four-year, $1,205,000 grant awarded to the University of Washington Press from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the continued development and expansion of the pipeline program designed to diversify academic publishing by offering apprenticeships in acquisitions departments. This second grant builds on the success of the initial 2016 grant from the Mellon Foundation, which funded the first cross-press initiative of its kind in the United States to address the marked lack of diversity in the academic publishing industry.

Please join us in welcoming the 2021-2022 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellows:

Chad M. Attenborough joins the University of Washington Press from Vanderbilt University, where he is a PhD candidate studying black responses to the British abolition of the slave trade in the Caribbean. While completing his research, Chad worked for Vanderbilt University Press as a graduate assistant where his passion for publishing developed in earnest and during which he helped process works for VUP’s Critical Mexican Studies series, their Black Lives and Liberation series, alongside their Anthropology and Latin American list. Chad received his MA from Vanderbilt in Atlantic History and his BA from Bowdoin College in French. His areas of interest include black diaspora studies, imperial and intellectual histories, global migration studies, and critical geographies.

Chad

Fabiola Enríquez joins the University of Chicago Press after having served as Managing Editor for the Cambridge University Press journal International Labor and Working-Class History. She received her BA in History from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. She is currently pursuing a PhD in History at Columbia University, where she is writing a dissertation on the intersection between religion and politics in late-nineteenth century Cuba and Puerto Rico. Her interest in publishing comes as a continuation of these academic pursuits, seeing in acquisitions editing a platform from which to facilitate the global dissemination of knowledge and rescue perspectives that have thus far been underrepresented in historical discussions. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she has been living in Chile for the past two years, and is the proud human to a reformed Chilean street dog.

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Suraiya Anita Jetha is a former contributing editor of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology’s AnthroNews column. She has extensive experience in academic programming, most recently with the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She received a BA in Anthropology from Yale University, an MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies from SOAS University of London, and an MA in Anthropology from the New School for Social Research. She is currently writing a dissertation to complete a PhD in Anthropology and Feminist Studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Her research interests include anthropology, science and technology studies, feminist studies, and ethnography.

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Robert Ramaswamy joins the Ohio State University Press from the University of Michigan, where he is a PhD candidate in American Culture. He recently completed an internship with Michigan Publishing, during which he worked on title selection and user access for the American Council of Learned Societies’ Humanities Ebook Collection (HEB). At HEB, he coordinated with scholars in learned societies across the humanities to include more work from scholars, subfields, and presses that have historically been excluded from “the canon.” His scholarly interests include feminist theory, histories of capitalism, and twentieth-century African American history. He lives in Ann Arbor with his partner, Anna, two dogs, and nine chickens.

Ramaswamy Headshot

Jacqulyn Teoh joins Cornell University Press after working as an apprentice at the Feminist Press at CUNY and a part-time acquisitions assistant at the University of Wisconsin Press, where she was a member of UW Press’s Equity, Justice, and Inclusion working group and helped to prepare a demographic survey of authors as a baseline understanding of diversity, representation, and inclusion. She holds a BA from Pennsylvania State University, an MA from the University of Leeds, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her dissertation looked at the structures of the contemporary literary marketplace with a focus on Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian American writing.

Photo_Jackie Teoh

Jameka Williams is a MFA candidate at Northwestern University in poetry. She received her BA in English from Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. After supporting herself as a pastry chef during her graduate studies, she is transitioning into pursuing a career in book publishing, having interned with independent publisher, Agate, in Evanston, IL. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and she is a Best New Poets 2020 finalist, published by University of Virginia Press annually. She is currently completing her first full-length poetry collection. 

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Shawn Wong, Honored as Advocate for University Press Publishing, Receives AUPresses Stand UP Award

Author, professor, activist, and lifelong advocate for Asian American literature Shawn Wong received this year’s Stand UP Award from the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) during its virtual 2021 Annual Meeting today.

The Stand UP Award honors those who through their words and actions have done extraordinary work to support, defend, and celebrate the university press community. The award is intended to recognize advocates who are not on staff at a member press but who stand up from within the communities that presses work with, speak to, and serve.

Wong, who is Chinese American, was recognized for leading grassroots efforts in 2019-2020 to protect the University of Washington Press’s right to publish the landmark 1957 novel No-No Boy by Japanese American author John Okada (1923-1971), set in the aftermath of Japanese Americans’ incarceration during World War II. At Wong’s urging, and with the consent of the Okada estate, the press (UWP) reprinted the novel in 1979 and has kept it in print since as part of its commitment to a growing catalog of Asian American literary classics. When Penguin Random House unexpectedly issued its own Penguin Classics edition in 2019, asserting that the work was in the public domain, Wong led a social media campaign to call attention to UWP’s work that garnered national and international media coverage, endorsements from Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen and Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, and statements of support from scholars, including the Executive Committee of the American Studies Association. As a result, Penguin Random House agreed to withdraw its edition from US bookstores and also to license an international edition from UWP, with the Okada family receiving royalties on all copies sold.   

“Professor Wong’s social media campaign advocating for the University of Washington Press and the responsible publication of this beloved novel brought attention to the longstanding value of university presses: our commitment to keeping important texts in print, our focus on quality and scholarly/historical significance over profit, the care with which we interact with authors and their estates, and our deep consideration in responsible publishing with respect to marginalized populations,” said UWP acquisitions editor and Stand UP Award nominator Mike Baccam.

“In the process of his successful advocacy, Professor Wong brought the important work we do as university presses into the spotlight,” said UWP editorial director Larin McLaughlin in her nomination letter. She also noted that “ongoing sales of No-No Boy secure a future for our work in a very material way” by contributing to UWP’s annual operating budget; its edition of the book has sold over 170,000 copies at this writing.

In addition to decades of consultation with UWP, Wong created the Shawn Wong Book Fund in Asian American Studies book series with the press in 2019.

Wong has taught at the University of Washington since 1984. He is the author of two novels: Homebase (Reed and Canon, 1979; reissued by Plume in 1990 and again by UWP in 2008) and American Knees (Simon and Schuster, 1995; reissued by UWP in 2005). In addition, he is the editor or coeditor of six Asian American and American multiethnic literary anthologies, including the pioneering anthology Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers (Howard University Press, 1974; 3rd edition, UWP, 2019), and a coeditor of Before Columbus Foundation Fiction/Poetry Anthology: Selections from the American Book Awards, 1980-1990 (W. W. Norton, 1992).

Watch the full announcement video below.

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A Gift of Peace and Quiet: Judy Bentley on the West Seattle Greenbelt and “Hiking Washington’s History”

Armed with more than two hundred white plastic bags, neon-clad neighbors gather at the West Seattle Greenbelt trailhead on a cold, sunny morning in late February 2021. Their mission is to make a trail visible from more than five hundred feet above. At precisely 8:45 a.m., a helicopter will circle the greenbelt with Jean Sherrard’s camera peering out, photographing the bright white squares revealing the trail through the overhanging branches. Sherrard and Clay Eals are preparing a Now & Then column for the Seattle Times.

Photo by Christine Clark.

The bags are the brainchild of Paul West, a member of the West Duwamish Greenbelt Trails group, who brings an ample supply from Puget Ridge Cohousing. (With only a few splotches of mud, the bags will be carefully collected and folded for reuse.) The volunteers start down the trail in small groups to drop their “bread crumbs” ten feet apart. As the temperature climbs above the mid-thirties, the white helicopter circles three times against a clear blue sky, above the waving Hansels and Gretels.

Looking south over part of the West Duwamish Greenbelt. Photo by Jean Sherrard.

In the resulting aerials, the people are mostly invisible and the bag trail is faint, but the views of the ridge on the highlands between the Duwamish Waterway and Puget Sound are stunning. The green fields of South Seattle College and the Riverview playfields frame the greenbelt. Industrial companies hug the river, colorful containers park at port terminals, the First Avenue South Bridge spans the river, and a belt of late-winter brown separates commerce from neighborhoods.

Looking west to the West Duwamish Greenbelt. Photo by Jean Sherrard.

Glacier action that left rocks resistant to erosion created the greenbelt ridge more than sixty thousand years ago. A conifer forest of Douglas fir, western red cedar, and Sitka spruce grew on its slopes.

The Duwamish people lived below the greenbelt along the Duwamish River and its tributaries for centuries; the earliest archaeological record places a village on the river as early as AD 500. As settlers and land developers moved in, the Duwamish were dispossessed, but the spirits (and bodies) of their ancestors live on in the soil and the trees.

A 1920 aerial photo shows the same ridge but with fewer trees. Puget Mill Company extracted what they wanted from the ridge before donating twenty acres to the City of Seattle in 1912 for a park at the north end. The same photo shows Boeing Plant 1 sitting at the foot of Highland Park Way. The newly straightened and dredged river is visible below the tip of an airplane wing. A streetcar line, which ran from the tip of the Duwamish Peninsula south to new communities, shows faintly on the ridge. The green line indicates trails in the 2021 greenbelt.

An aerial photo taken in 1920. Courtesy the Boeing Company.

In the decades after 1920, a brickyard dumped kiln dust on the hillside, neighbors dumped trash, a gravel company mined sand and gravel, and the Seattle Department of Engineering acquired property to build Soundway, a proposed freeway from the First Avenue South Bridge to suburban areas of Burien and southwest Seattle. The state located one of three Seattle community colleges at the top of the ridge in the late 1960s.

“There is no place in the city of Seattle where a buffer between industry and residences is more badly needed,” wrote the unnamed author of a 1970s report advocating the ridge’s preservation under the city’s Urban Greenbelt plan. “It should be left to the following generations as a gift of peace and quiet in our busy, noisy, polluted city.”

Through gradual property acquisitions and the activism of citizens, the greenbelt became that gift—at five hundred acres, it is the largest contiguous forest in the city. The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department and countless volunteers have replanted and restored the forest and created a few good trails and more than a few social trails pounded by hiking boots and running shoes.

Trailhead at Fourteenth Avenue SW and SW Holly Street. Photo by Judy Bentley.

One of those trails is featured in the expanded second edition of Hiking Washington’s History by Judy Bentley and Craig Romano. Although this trail was not in use as an indigenous trail for thousands of years, it crosses an ancient landscape in the industrial heart of the state’s largest city. That makes it historic.


Judy Bentley taught Pacific Northwest history at South Seattle College for more than twenty years and is an avid hiker and author of fifteen young adult books. Her latest book, co-authored with Craig Romano, is Hiking Washington’s History, Second Edition.

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The Most Noble Estuary: David Williams on the Making of “Homewaters”

Homewaters began with a simple idea: Write a book about the human and natural history of Puget Sound. I didn’t know exactly what this would encompass but knew that I wanted to focus on the landscape where I have lived for most of my life. I had a few vague ideas: the three forts (Casey, Flagler, and Worden) at the Sound’s northern entrance; something about Albert Bierstadt’s ferocious painting of Puget Sound at the Seattle Art Museum; the ferry system and the mosquito fleet; and, of course, geoducks.

I knew that more stories were out there, so I began to reach out to friends and colleagues. Over the next six months I interviewed scientists, tribal members, and historians. My standard opening was that I was working on a book about the cultural and ecological history in Puget Sound, and I wanted to know what stories they thought were important.

What stood out for me in these interviews was the passion everyone expressed for this lovely body of water: It is a “beautifully complex ecosystem.” The Sound is a “unique waterbody whose beauty is hardly rivaled.” It is a “microcosm of ecological issues everywhere.” The abundance of the Sound made “us some of the most complex and wealthy people; we didn’t need to migrate.” I also learned that six-gill sharks will eat anything on the bottom, that as herring go so goes Puget Sound, that salmon are narcissistic, and that no one has a handle on kelp slime.

Based on these interviews and my interests, I put together a proposal to address people, plants, and animals and how history could help modern residents understand the present and think about how to pursue a future Puget Sound that is healthier for its human and more-than-human inhabitants. My interviews also impressed upon me the idea that I should focus on overlooked species, such as herring and kelp, which are critical to the ecosystem.

The press accepted my proposal, though they were less than enthusiastic about my title “The Most Noble Estuary.” Two and a half years later, in June 2019, I turned in my manuscript. It totaled 76,184 words with 14,054 words in endnotes. And it had a new title, “Breaking the Surface,” which once again was met with a less than enthusiastic response. Not until another round of editing did we come up with Homewaters.

The main highlight of working on Homewaters was the field time I spent with researchers, which resulted in me filling seven five-by-eight-inch notebooks, by far the most for any book I have written. During my writing journey, I was treated to five types of fresh oysters, some harvested just hours earlier, and given a geoduck pulled up from water sixty feet deep in Agate Passage. (The other geoducks harvested that day traveled more extensively, being overnighted to China.) I crisscrossed Admiralty Inlet, luckily on a calm-water day, in a fourteen-foot Zodiac searching for herring; tagged along as researchers pulled up invertebrates from the Sound’s deepest location (930 feet off of Point Jefferson); and rode all of the Sound’s ferry routes, including several I hadn’t known existed. I also dropped a notebook in the water, was brutally pinched by a mean old Dungeness crab, was confronted by machine-gun-toting nuclear-submarine-protecting Coast Guardsmen, and got stuck on a sandbar with three biologists for several hours when we failed to notice how rapidly the tide was ebbing. I enjoyed every moment.

The other exciting aspect of the book was my dive into history. The Sound has a relatively short written story; not until 1792 did Europeans reach the waterway. But the x̌ʷəlč, as it is known in Lushootseed (pronounced as whulge in English), has a very deep record of human habitation, which stretches back at least 12,500 years, only a couple thousand years after a great ice sheet had rewritten the landscape and then retreated to the north. One of my goals was to weave together these story lines and to explore how the different people who called this place home have responded to the landscape and the more-than-human inhabitants, as well as to each other. 

Of all the books I have written, I am most proud of Homewaters, in part because of its themes of connection and caring. My primary goal is always to write in ways that allow people to develop better connections and relationships to the place they call home. In Homewaters I added a call to act by writing in a manner that I hope encourages people to think more carefully about their actions and their impacts on the health of Puget Sound. I wouldn’t call the book an activist manifesto, but it sends a message that it is up to the residents of the Sound to continue working to improve the waterway for everyone. And based on the people I met and the stories I learned, I truly believe that we are ready to work toward this goal.


David B. Williams is a naturalist, author, and educator. His many books include the award-winning Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography and Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City. Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound is available now.

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What counts as a wetland? It’s complicated: Emily O’Gorman on “Wetlands in a Dry Land”

The reeds were tall, almost reaching the top of our heads. We were on a cattle property that adjoined part of the Macquarie Marshes, a Ramsar-listed wetland in north-central New South Wales, Australia. A small group of cattle wandered along the edge of the reedbed and occasionally disappeared into it and then reappeared farther along. Some had ventured away from the herd, toward a small farm dam. Two brolgas—wetland birds renowned for their spectacular dances on the surface of shallow water—glided past. Here, our group, which was made up of mostly Australian and South African environmental scientists, prepared to go into the reedbeds, into the wetland. But as we stood on this threshold, it was difficult to say exactly where this wetland began and ended. Although we might be tempted see the wetland as natural and the farm as cultural, the farm cattle and wetland brolgas moved easily along and across this threshold. These reedbeds have in fact been deeply shaped by Wailwan Aboriginal people over tens of thousands of years through burning and harvesting the reeds for weaving. The farm dam may have been intended to water cattle, but for the brolgas it presented some additional watery habitat. Within these far-reaching and deeply historical sets of socio-ecological relationships, the category of wetlands sits somewhat uneasily. Indeed, while we might at first think of this category itself as natural, it, too, has a history.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat. While I am more used to writing about archives grounded in particular watery places, researching this agreement for a chapter in my book Wetlands in a Dry Land: More-Than-Human Histories of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin (out in July) made me more fully appreciate that some of the critical sites in a history of wetlands are boardrooms and government buildings. In many ways my research helped me pay greater attention to the category of wetlands itself and in turn revealed that the decisions and disagreements of bureaucrats and scientists in Australia and elsewhere, about what has counted as a wetland and why, have had long-lasting and mixed consequences. I will focus on just some of these.

The Ramsar Convention—initially signed by representatives of eighteen countries in 1971—aimed to coordinate international efforts in wetlands conservation. It reflected and reinforced the goal of many governments and scientists in this period around the world to reframe these as precious places that needed to be set aside for conservation and to shed the negative associations of terms like swamp (long associated with disease). Indeed, it was in this period that wetlands became an international category and an object of conservation shaped by two key factors: multiscalar politics and bird-centrism. Each of these have had particular stakes, creating lasting tensions within wetlands conservation and management.

The new international category of wetlands touched down in and was reshaped by local places. National and global environment movements, Pacific diplomacy, and scientists’ mounting concerns over species and habitat loss converged to shape the Australian government’s involvement in the Ramsar Convention and simultaneously a Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement in the early 1970s. For some Australian government scientists, however, these two international agreements highlighted a paucity of knowledge about what now might be classified as wetlands on a national scale. Individual studies showed that there had been a loss of important waterbird habitat in specific places, such as a 1970 study that indicated 60 percent of wetlands along coastal NSW had been destroyed or degraded largely due to drainage for flood mitigation. Yet any effort to quantify losses more widely was difficult, perhaps amplified by the fact that the wetlands category was relatively new in scientific studies. So in 1972 members of the Australian Committee on Waterbirds—made up of state and federal government researchers and managers—proposed a national wetlands survey focused on waterbird habitat in order to support Australia’s obligations to both the Ramsar Convention and the Japan agreement.

The proposal, “A Survey of Wetland Habitats of Australian Waterbirds,” was approved by the Australian government, but then the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers significantly widened the brief to “go beyond an examination of waterbird habitat” and “encompass all wetland areas so as to be beneficial to a wider section of government agencies.” Ultimately three research divisions—wildlife, land use, and fisheries and oceanography—of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducted separate investigations as to whether such a survey was feasible. Notably, the Australian government researchers did not use the Ramsar definition of wetlands—which encompassed a very wide range of watery places including coral reefs—as they sought to reflect Australian ecologies and concerns within the international frameworks. The three divisions ultimately, but uneasily, decided on a definition that also suited their expertise and the goals of the survey: “wetlands include swamps, marshes, wet meadows, billabongs, lakes, estuaries and coastal lagoons, mangrove flats. These may be temporary or permanent. The mainstreams or main channels of rivers are excluded except for the survey of fishes.”

Each feasibility study soon ran into problems. The Division of Wildlife Research aimed to test methodologies for classifying wetlands according to the needs and populations of waterbirds. Focusing on just six sites in New South Wales, this study  threw into question the practicality of undertaking a continent-wide survey. The diversity of bird species and their different and changing habitat needs made implementing a single methodology too difficult, and constraints of budget and people power meant that comprehensive data simply could not be gathered. The division’s report concluded that a continent-wide survey “might not be the most important step to take next in waterbirds conservation.” What was needed was rather “detailed ecological research.”

The chief of the division admitted that while ephemeral wetlands in Australia were important for their opportunistic use by waterbirds, “no one has yet been able to properly assess them. . . . At present we have no idea how we will overcome that problem when the survey begins.” Dynamic wetlands in a dry continent proved a challenge for any simple process of quantification. The other divisions ran into similar problems. Further, the wetlands survey was being pulled in different directions by the CSIRO divisions and toward three different models: wetlands for birds, wetlands as hydrological entities, and wetlands as fisheries and estuaries.

The three divisions, each seeing major issues with conducting a national wetlands survey, requested more funds and time for pilot studies, which would inform a wetlands survey proper with an estimated cost of AUD$3.3 million over eight years. No additional funding was granted, and the wetlands survey was labeled not essential by the now conservative Liberal government.

In 1979 the acting minister of environment and science stated: “The . . . [wetlands survey was] not implemented because of cost, lack of agreement on a national approach and differences of opinion on the extent to which a national survey should concentrate on the aquatic fauna or the total wetlands ecosystem.” The survey had ultimately become unworkable.

That the survey did not, or could not, go ahead has had a range of implications. Perhaps most significantly, wetlands ecologists have limited ability to give robust estimates of losses, hindering the development of policies for their protection. Instead, a case-by-case and typology approach to wetlands conservation has unfolded, focusing on important or iconic sites that have reasonable historical research behind them. Treated as indictors of the general condition of wetlands, birds have remained central to wetlands conservation, management, and sciences. Yet this view of wetlands is one of birds and not those of other biota. The role of birds in wetlands conservation in Australia presents somewhat of a paradox as they will likely continue to be important, partly for historical reasons, as there has simply been so much research on them in the past that comparisons across time are better founded than for most other animals and plants.

 Wetlands entered history in this period as an international category of conservation, and its history has had significant, and mixed, consequences for the way wetlands are understood and managed within conservation science and governments today. This is a category that we need to keep revisiting and refining, asking what counts as a wetland for whom and with what consequences?


Emily O’Gorman is senior lecturer at Macquarie University. Wetlands in a Dry Land: More-Than-Human Histories of Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin is forthcoming in July 2021.

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OAH Annual Meeting Round-Up of History Titles

We are eager to connect with the history community during the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting. Please visit our virtual booth here.

Here is a collection that highlights some of our recent history titles:

Nisei Radicals: The Feminist Poetics and Transformative Ministry of Mitsuye Yamada and Michael Yasutake

By Diane Fujino

“A delightful blend of biography, social history and poetics that shifts our reading of Japanese American history. Readers will certainly be inspired if not emboldened.”—Karen Umemoto, University of California, Los Angeles

Love for Liberation: African Independence, Black Power, and a Diaspora Underground

By Robin Hayes

“A conceptually rich book. Its theoretical intervention around a ‘Diaspora underground’ is a brilliant framework that speaks to the nature of a radicalized Black Diaspora formed in response to state repression.”—Quito Swan, University of Massachusetts Boston

The Great Quake Debate: The Crusader, the Skeptic, and the Rise of Modern Seismology

By Susan Hough

“Seismologist Susan Hough’s account offers a revealing glimpse of the personalities and issues within America’s geologic community in the early twentieth century. But it also can be read as a cautionary tale about science and society.”—Natural History Magazine

The Port of Missing Men: Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest

By Aaron Goings

“[P]art whodunit mystery, part biography, and part case study of Grays Harbor’s itinerant workers and their labor movement…The Port of Missing Men makes major contributions to both local history and the larger story of industrial capitalism.”—Oregon Historical Quarterly

Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract

By Phil Deloria

“In his evaluation of Sully and her work, Deloria leaves no stone unturned. What results is a compelling model—grounded in comprehensive historical and cultural analyses—for evaluating the works of women artists disconnected from larger art movements. In the case of Mary Sully, our understanding of her art and life reveals a unique approach by a bicultural woman that rejects limited views on American Indian art in favor of one grounded in an imagined American Indian futurity that should most certainly lead us to question our understanding of American modern art as a whole.”—Woman’s Art Journal

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Demystifying Book Titles: Greg Robinson on “The Unsung Great” and “No-No Boy

One of the particular pleasures of shepherding my book The Unsung Great: Stories of Extraordinary Japanese Americans through the publication process has been the chance to work with University of Washington Press, especially with editors Larin McLaughlin and Mike Baccam. A big reason I decided to publish with UW press is the positive experience I had with them on my previous book project, the coedited collection John Okada: The Life and Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (2018). Indeed, it felt like second nature to continue working with UW Press because of the close connections between John Okada and The Unsung Great. Not only do both books center on the histories of remarkable but little-known Japanese Americans but The Unsung Great contains a pair of chapters that are spun off from the earlier project (which itself takes off from John Okada’s groundbreaking novel No-No Boy, also published by UW Press).

One of the Okada chapters of The Unsung Great is an account of the long evolution through which the book John Okada came into existence, and the mechanics of my collaboration with my coeditors Frank Abe and Floyd Cheung. I want to share an interesting aspect of our collaboration that I did not touch on in my account, as it later had a funny sequel. It revolved around the respective value of theory versus experience.

Let me explain. Several years ago when I first joined forces on the Okada project with Frank and Floyd , we all agreed that Frank should serve as our project leader because of his long years of doing research on the life and times of John Okada. Conversely, I volunteered to be our chief representative in discussions with the press over our book contract, and to lead whatever negotiations we would need. The reason for this was that I was the only one among the three of us who had previously published books, and thus had a more concrete idea of what to expect. When the time came to settle on the contract provisions, everything went smoothly, and we were all satisfied with the result.

Fast forward to early 2019, not long after the publication of the book.  Frank and I went on a book tour of Southern California (sadly, Floyd was not able to join us), and we presented on John Okada at various book events. On multiple occasions, audience members asked a longstanding question about No-No Boy: namely, what had led Okada to give that title to his novel, which dealt with a Japanese American draft resister? They noted correctly that the “no-no boys” were in fact the camp inmates who had been ordered to fill out loyalty questionnaires by the US government, had refused for various reasons to give the answers the government wanted, and had been forcibly separated from other inmates and locked up in a high security “segregation center” at the Tule Lake camp. Okada’s book, in contrast, dealt with a Japanese American who—after presumably giving the “right” answers on the loyalty questionnaire—had resisted joining the US Army in protest over the continued confinement of his family in the camp. The audience members regretted the confusion caused by the misleading title and asked us to explain the paradox.

When these questions came up, Frank, as the resident Okada expert, felt obliged to discuss the different theories that scholars had come up with over the years to explain the title. Once Frank had finished, I weighed in—not as an expert on Okada but as a veteran book author. I remarked that in my experience publishers did not always accept an author’s suggested title, and instead they often proposed their own. I recalled that in the case of my first book, By Order of the President, I went through an extended back-and-forth with the publisher, with each of us proposing several alternatives, before I finally came up with the title phrase that satisfied them—and was, in fact, the best choice, I believe. I noted that in the surviving correspondence we had unearthed between Okada and his publisher, the author did not indicate any proposed title for the manuscript that he offered them for publication. This absence, in addition to Okada’s inexperience with publishing, led me to deduce that it was his publisher who had chosen the title, opting for a catchy phrase over strict accuracy.

The audience seemed to react with amusement at the discovery that such an aged and apparently thorny intellectual question actually had a simple explanation. I was reminded of a story I read in Samuel Rosenberg’s book Naked Is the Best Disguise, about T. S. Eliot’s 1935 play, Murder in the Cathedral.  In one scene, Eliot’s characters pronounce a litany that seems identical to one in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale “The Musgrave Ritual.”  Apparently different literary critics debated at length over the relationship between the two: whether they were connected and whether Eliot had adapted Doyle’s words or whether they came from a common source. Finally, Nathan Bengis, an American Sherlockian, announced that he had thought to write Eliot himself about the matter, and Eliot had responded that his borrowing from “The Musgrave Ritual” was deliberate and wholly conscious. So, there are times when complex theories are trumped by simple realities.

And I have a final confession to make: The title The Unsung Great, which pleases me greatly, was chosen by the publisher.


Greg Robinson is professor of history at l’Université du Québec à Montréal and author of several books, including After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Life and Politics and By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.

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Opening Access to Scholarship: Stevan Harrell on the Studies on Ethnic Groups in China Series

UW Press books on ethnicity and ethnic relations in China are now open access—freely available online to anyone who can get on the internet. Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers led off the UW Press series Studies on Ethnic Groups in China (SEGC) in 1995. At the time, it was among a few pioneering volumes in English covering the lives and history of China’s 120 million ethnic minority peoples. Since then we have published twenty-three more books—the newest offering is Jarmila Ptáčková’s Exile From the Grasslands (2020). Scholars now widely consider SEGC to be the most prestigious series concentrating on ethnic groups and ethnic relations in China. We’ve kept the books reasonably affordable, at least for North American and European professors, but as with most specialized academic books, those who can’t afford to buy them often can’t find them in their local library. This is particularly true for readers in China, where libraries often don’t have much of a budget for English-language books, as well as readers in countries where libraries have little budget for specialized monographs at all.

It was thus welcome news when in 2017 the University of Washington Libraries invited the press to participate in a pilot project to make some UW Press books open access, meaning that anyone anywhere with an internet connection could read them online. This joint project was funded by a grant from the Transformation Fund of the Kenneth S. and Faye G. Allen Library Endowment. I asked the series’ authors if they would be willing to participate, and nearly all of them replied enthusiastically, agreeing that any small amount of book royalties lost by people reading their books online rather than buying print copies would be more than balanced out by greater exposure to their scholarship.

There are a variety of formats for online books or digital editions (often called e-books), many of which can be used for either open access or restricted access. For example, there are a lot of books on the UW Libraries website that you can read if you have a UW NetID as a student, staff, or faculty member—reading these books online is like checking out a print copy from the library. Open access is different—anyone with internet access can read an open access book or article. This model of open access is also very different from the one certain journal publishers employ. A respected journal published by one of the big journal publishing houses recently accepted an article I had submitted, and they offered to make it open access if I would pay a modest fee of around $2,800. No thanks. Our model is not like that. It is, for now, grant-supported, meaning that authors contribute nothing other than, as my late aunt used to say, “applying of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair” for the years it takes to make a book.

To host the books, UW Libraries and the press chose Manifold, an innovative platform developed by the University of Minnesota Press, the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, and Cast Iron Coding. Reading a book on Manifold is really a manifold literary experience. You can, of course, just read. But you can also do more. If you are the author, you can add all sorts of material that is not part of the physical book: updates, really geeky footnotes, color photos, even audio recordings or videos.

Resources are available for readers as well. Create a Manifold account, and after you’ve logged in, you can add annotations or comments for your own use, and if the author agrees, you can make those public. Otherwise you can just use them yourself, rather like marking up a print book with marginalia or a yellow highlighter, only not so naughty. You can even use the handy online yellow highlighter pencil, but on your own copy so it doesn’t bother other people.

For teachers, the possibilities are even greater. Use a book as a text for your class without requiring students to buy it. Annotate passages in the book, making them visible to students only, and ask students to make annotations as class assignments or to facilitate class discussions. Students can annotate for their own private use, or for the use of the class, at theirs or the instructor’s discretion. And it’s all free. We know that some of our books, like Jenny Chio’s A Landscape of Travel, have even been used in class projects by high school students.

Manifold is not the only way to find Studies on Ethnic Groups in China in open access format. The press has also worked with Project MUSE, a platform developed at Johns Hopkins University for e-book publication, and with JSTOR, the granddaddy of all online book and article publishing platforms, to make our books openly available there too. They are available from the UW Libraries’ ResearchWorks repository, HathiTrust, and other sites as well.

We now have exciting statistics on the actual usage of the JSTOR and MUSE online editions of the Studies on Ethnic Groups in China books. They are rather spectacular: in 2020, for example, our JSTOR editions were used by readers in 123 countries. We would of course expect a lot of readers in China, given the topics, and indeed our books were accessed by thousands of readers there. And we would also expect readers from European countries, since many of our authors are European. But who would have expected readers in (just to take the Es) Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, and Ethiopia? Or, to sample the Bs, in the Bahamas, Belarus, Belize, Bhutan, Bolivia, and Botswana? Clearly, there is global interest in our books.

Comparative research on use brought even more impressive results. Comparing “hits” or views and downloads of our books on Project MUSE during the period before and after they became open access, the press found that use increased dramatically. In a selected sample of twenty UW Press books on similar topics that are not open access but available as e-books through JSTOR and MUSE, in 2020, the open access books were used about thirteen times as often as books accessible only via library passwords.

Series authors were enthusiastic about the news. Emeritus Professor Thomas Heberer from the University of Duisburg in Germany, commented on the statistics for his Doing Business in Rural China:

I am really impressed about the wide online readership on a global scale as well as almost 100 readers from Germany! This is specifically important and helpful with regard to the visibility of both the books and the authors, and signifies the excellent position of the University of Washington Press in a globalized world! Congratulations!

Professor Susan McCarthy, from Providence College, was equally pleased about the global reach of the series:

I am gratified—and to be honest, a bit stunned—to discover that since being made open access, my book Communist Multiculturalism has been downloaded or read online in sixty-three countries, from Uganda to Ukraine, the Netherlands to Nepal. I am especially pleased that so much of the interest—55% of the “hits” in Project MUSE—appears to be coming from China. . . .  In a ten-month period after open access was enabled, hits on my ebook increased more than eighteen times over, compared to the prior year and half. Enabling open access has allowed my book, published in 2009, to continue to inform debates about the politics of ethnicity, religion, and national identity in China, at a time when such issues are increasingly, globally salient.

Fifteen years ago, e-books were the wave of the future, but now they are commonplace. Five years ago, open access was a radical idea, and whether it can become the norm in the next few years will depend on funding models. But projects like the pilot with Studies on Ethnic Groups in China are an important step toward that goal of equal access regardless of country or social class. We’re proud to be pioneers in this area.  


Stevan Harrell is UW professor emeritus of anthropology and of environmental and forest sciences, and editor of the Studies on Ethnic Groups in China series.

The open-access editions of the books in the series are available on the UW Press Manifold site, among other platforms.

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UW Press Author Roundtable: David Fedman, Ian Miller, and Meng Zhang

Authors David Fedman, Seeds of Control, and Ian Miller, Fir and Empire, joined forthcoming author Meng Zhang, Timber and Forestry in Qing China, for a virtual roundtable about their books on Asian environmental history. Below is their conversation.

What topics in Asian environmental history deserve more attention?

Meng Zhang: This is based on my own interest, but I would like to see more works that take both the environmental and the economic seriously. Don’t get me wrong—environmental histories often have something to say about the economic, as the rapacious drive for profit and consumption is the most obvious perpetrator to be blamed. However, as more environmental scholars are beginning to caution us, we also need to be wary of a danger in elevating the morality of environmentalism to a degree that this discourse could play a similar role in justifying domination—domestically and internationally—as the previous discourse of modernization and development has done. Indeed, we already see a version of how this could play out in David’s wonderful account of how the Japanese Empire mobilized the rhetorical contrast between the Japanese “forest-love” thought and the Korean bare mountaintops. In both environmental and economic history, I hope to see more works that recognize the legitimacy of alternative interests and priorities and bridge the discursive gap between the two fields (rather than treating each other as a footnote).

David Fedman: Where to begin? To me, one of the most striking gaps in the field is geographic: namely, Southeast Asia. I’d love to see more work on the environmental histories of Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, and elsewhere. There are, of course, some great books already written about these places but not much work that crosses borders to connect Southeast Asia to the developmental politics of Japan, China, and South Korea. Another topic begging for analysis in my opinion is historical climatology: how different states and actors have tried to understand the variegated climates that define a unit as vast as China or the Japanese Empire.

Ian M. Miller: To me the biggest gaps in the record are the voices of peoples who lived in and used the forest in ways that were not central to the actions of large states and interregional markets. Asia is home to many so-called forest peoples—from Manchus and Ainus in the north to Hmong, Bataks, and many others in Southeast Asia, and the Adivasi or “scheduled tribes” of India. There has been plenty of anthropological work, especially on India and Southeast Asia, but historical work has yet to catch up. In particular, I would like to see more work done to disentangle these groups and their historical identities and livelihoods from the ways they were classified and controlled by colonial empires in the nineteenth century and nation-states in the twentieth.

What misconceptions about East Asian environmental history would you most like to see dispelled?

DF: For me, it’s the notion that Japan has historically lived in harmony with the landscapes, that contemporary reverence for cherry blossoms and forests is evidence of a unique national relationship with nature. Environmental historians of Japan have long taken aim at this discourse, but it dies hard, especially in the public eye.

What needs for timber in late imperial China prompted changes in forestry?

MZ: Construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing were the main sectors that consumed timber. If we think about the iconic architecture in the urban landscape of early modern China (and East Asia in general)—theaters, guild chambers, temples, ancestral halls, brothels, restaurants, teahouses—all were built with timber logs. The cover design of my book comes from a section of a famous eighteenth-century scroll painting, Prosperous Suzhou, also called Burgeoning Life in a Resplendent Age. As the title suggests, it depicts the lively urban scenes with people from all walks of life in the affluent Lower Yangzi metropole of Suzhou. The section used for my book cover shows two timber rafts floating into the city, supplementing the material bases of this prosperity. In response to such booming demand for timber generated by urbanization, commercialization, and population growth, an interregional trade structure developed over the course of several centuries and expanded to cover thousands of miles, straining natural forests but also motivating regenerative forestry in the remote interior hinterlands. My book has focused on timber production—woods that are big enough to be used for construction and worthwhile enough to be produced and transported across long distances. A big omission is firewood, whose production and consumption remained rather local; even with fuel shortages, high transportation costs meant that firewood had never become worthwhile to transport over very long distances to be used as fuel.

Meng and Ian, your two books examine Chinese forestry in different time periods and with a somewhat different geographical focus, but both suggest that Chinese forest management may have been superior to better-known European approaches. Can you say more about that? To what extent was forestry in late imperial China “sustainable”?

MZ: We often think of the issue of sustainability as either/or, but it really is a gradation of degrees. It also has multiple dimensions: we hope a sustainable pace of resource use is also socially sustainable in that it does not involve the systematic deprivation of a group. From a pragmatic perspective, if the kind of environmental measures that we come up with today can prove to be sustainable, environmentally and socially, for a couple of centuries, I would consider us very able and lucky. The practices of regenerative forestry in late imperial southern China can be called sustainable in this sense: for several centuries, they were able to regenerate timber at a pace that satisfied market and state demands and substituted for natural growths; and the multiple players along the supply chain, from tenant planters and timberland owners to lumberjacks, rafters, brokers, merchants, bankers, consumers, and officials, despite their many conflicts and negotiations, ultimately all had a stake in ensuring the next round of saplings were grown in time.

The way in which private forestry was organized was mundane and ingenious at the same time. It wouldn’t shock any scholar who knows something about late imperial Chinese land tenure that the same contractual formats for rice paddies were used for timberlands. But out of these familiar contractual terms, abstract shares were created and claims on the trees changed hands as liquid financial instruments, liberating the landowners and planters from an excruciating wait for the trees to grow up. This shareholding practice in forestry was in line with (and even anticipated) the proportional liability shareholding structures that were widely used in Chinese business partnerships. If these financial practices sound surprisingly savvy for traditional forestry, one would be even more surprised to learn that they were found in the ethnically diverse, economically less affluent frontier regions of southwestern China. This holds some serious implications for how we think about effective forestry and the history of finance and business in a globally comparative framework. On a personal note, a historian’s happiness really comes from excavating these surprises.

IMM: I would not necessarily say that Chinese forest management was superior to European approaches, because this is ultimately comparing apples to oranges. Compared to European approaches, Chinese management developed in very different environmental conditions and focused on a different type of tree, the China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata). Some characteristics of the fir—including its incredibly rapid and straight growth and its suitability for a variety of purposes, from ships to buildings and chests—meant that management in China was easier. For example, China fir reaches marketable dimensions in twenty-five to fifty years, as opposed to the hundred-plus years needed for oak, which was the principal European shipbuilding tree.

Nonetheless, I would say that the Chinese forest system converged rather quickly to market-based solutions that eventually came to dominate in other places and largely did so without large state interventions that caused some problems in Europe. The Chinese forestry system also has a much longer track record—tree plantations have been cultivated in parts of southern China for close to a thousand years at this point, whereas the history of tree plantations in Europe only really goes back two hundred years. This speaks to a long-term ability to produce enough timber for most uses. Empires in China did tap their frontiers, including the southwest and Manchuria, to supplement the plantations of the interior, but there is also nothing comparable to this huge European quest for timber abroad in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

David, Japan is legendary for its history of forestry, also called “forest-love.” How do your new insights about Japanese forestry in Korea reshape that understanding?

DF: I think my book helps to show how much of this mythology about “forest-love” and reverence is an invented tradition, a process bound up with the rise of the nation-state during the Meiji period. Forest-love is not so much a timeless culture of stewardship as a discourse, one used to nurture emperor-worship and nationalism at home and justify woodland expropriation in colonial territories. This ideological project sat at the very foundation of Japan’s claims to greenification in Korea—and, one could argue, continue to animate more recent incursions into the forests of Southeast Asia.

How can your book inform global conversations around conservation as a tool of colonialism—“seeds of control”?

DF: My book underscores the simple but easily overlooked point that the greening of landscapes is not always a singularly good thing. Although we tend to positively associate greenification with notions of investment and renewal, reforestation can also operate as a tool of expropriation and exploitation. At a time when scientists and activists are calling for massive tree planting schemes to combat climate change, we’d be wise to think more critically about what this breakneck regeneration looks like on the ground for local residents, human and animal both.

What does the study of plantation forestry in particular offer to the study of Asia or environmental history writ large? We all seem to be writing about forest regeneration in one way or another, and I wonder if our collective works don’t offer new perspectives on what some are calling the “plantationocene.”

IMM: This is a really interesting question. I had not heard plantationocene before, and it took me down a very interesting rabbit hole. My perspective on it is this relates to the ways that people have been talking about the anthropocene, which I think are flawed but useful conversation points. There is one definition of the anthropocene—massive human modification of the environment—that starts in deep antiquity. It goes something like this: humans have been modifying grasslands in intensive ways for something like five to ten thousand years, starting with the domestication of grains (which are grasses) and ruminant animals (which eat grasses). There is another definition of the anthropocene that starts with modernity. It goes something like this: humans have been causing indelible changes to biogeochemical cycles for one or two centuries—going back either to the layer of fallout from nuclear weapons in the 1940s and ’50s, or the first large-scale use of coal in the 1800s. Both of those are useful markers of large scale anthropogenic environmental change.

But there is another change point that we need to talk about, which is more or less the watershed of the early modern. Jason Moore has called this the capitolocene and thinks it is about the new ways that markets are interlinked coming out of the Middle Ages. Charles Mann has called it the homogenocene and ties it to Alfred Crossby’s work on the Columbian Exchange, in that 1492 was the first moment since deep prehistory when the American and Afro-Eurasian continents were closely linked and transferred species between them. These are both useful. But there is a third transition that ties them together: the historical moment when intensive human cultivation of things that we might call plantations begin to spread from farms (domesticated grasslands) to forests (domesticated woodlands). This plantationocene comes to a fever pitch in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with the spread of things like rubber, palm oil, coffee, and so on, but I think it begins with the types of plantations that the three of us are talking about in our books.


David Fedman is assistant professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and the author of Seeds of Control: Japan’s Empire of Forestry in Colonial Korea.

Ian M. Miller is assistant professor of history at St. John’s University and author of Fir and Empire: The Transformation of Forests in Early Modern China.

Meng Zhang is assistant professor of history at Loyola Marymount University and author of Timber and Forestry in Qing China: Sustaining the Market.

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Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle

Coinciding with the exhibition of the same name, Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, edited by Elizabeth Hutton Turner and Austen Barron Bailly and co-published with the Peabody Essex Museum, sets the precedent for the next generation of Lawrence scholars and studies in modern and contemporary discourse. The American Struggle explores Jacob Lawrence’s radical way of transforming history into art by looking at his thirty panel series of paintings, Struggle . . . From the History of the American People (1954–56). Essays by Steven Locke, Elizabeth Hutton Turner, Austen Barron Bailly, and Lydia Gordon mark the historic reunion of this series—seen together in this exhibition for the first time since 1958. In entries on the panels, a multitude of voices responds to the episodes representing struggle from American history that Lawrence chose to activate in his series.

While the exhibition was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the long missing Panel 16 was discovered and added to the collection. Lydia Gordon, exhibition coordinating curator at Peabody Essex Museum, wrote about the recent discovery for the museum’s blog:

Months before we put Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series on view at PEM last January, we began to dream that our exhibition of Lawrence’s works depicting the struggle for American democracy would help turn up several lost pieces of the narrative.

Reuniting a lost series is a project of great significance. Struggle. . . From the History of the American People is the only series of paintings by the great American artist that didn’t stick together. We wanted to know why? And, more importantly, where were they? These were the driving questions behind the research to unearth Lawrence’s vision of American history from more than 60 years ago. After years of digging through the archives, papers, exhibition history and connecting with gallerists, private collectors and institutions, we knew enough to account for every painting in the series through their titles and therefore, give all 30 paintings their symbolic and interpretive place within the narrative. However, for two of them, we had no idea what they even looked like. They had disappeared from public memory almost immediately after they left Lawrence’s gallery.

Click here to read the rest of the discovery story on PEM’s blog.

The exhibition travels next to the Seattle Art Museum. It will be on display from March 5 until May 23.  Visit SAM’s website to learn more about the exhibit. Click here for more on SAM’s re-opening and what to know when planning your visit.

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Behind the Book: Robert Chaney on “The Grizzly in the Driveway”

I got to know grizzly bears from the wheelhouse of a fifty-seven-foot tour boat in Glacier National Park. While I had to learn about charismatic megafauna as a floating tour guide, I didn’t anticipate how much conning the ship would affect my writing.

The lesson came clear on July 8, 2020, as I was printing the final copyedited draft of The Grizzly in the Driveway, in which I’d poured thirty years of experience and reporting on North America’s biggest land predator. That morning the to-do list consisted of items like confirming the academic discipline of a biologist, rethinking the proper chapter for a favorite anecdote, and wondering if there was room on the acknowledgments page for a few more shout-outs.

And then the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in. In my day job as a newspaper reporter, the arrival of an appeals court opinion was a front page opportunity. It required a lot of close reading of twenty-five or thirty pages of legalese to glean who won and who lost and how extensive the result might be. Next came a flurry of phone calls to involved sources and knowledgeable observers. Then I’d boil the ingredients down to plain language and good grammar, hit Send, and see the published result online a few minutes later (and in the print version the following morning).

From my perspective as an author, everything in chapter 10—all seven thousand words—was suddenly suspect. The Grizzly in the Driveway explores how humans relate to wild animals both as living creatures (that weigh five hundred pounds, can outrun a horse, and occasionally eat us) and as features of our imaginations and policy. Chapter 10 was all about the latter—the legal world of Endangered Species Act wording, hunting rights, best available science, and standing to sue in court. Real-life grizzly bears were reduced to mortality trends, incident reports, and political action group mascots. And the Ninth Circuit judges had just announced a new version of reality for that abstract domain.

Journalists joke that they write the first draft of history. But when you’ve spent years writing a book chronicling decades or centuries of historical action and something historic happens right now, it’s the authorial version of an out-of-body experience. The world you constructed, with its precisely ordered constellations of logic and occurrence leading to well-fortified conclusions, suddenly wobbles on its axis.

I chose to write about the return of grizzly bears to a crowded American West in 2018 because the topic felt ripe. This keystone predator was reaching self-sustaining population numbers after a century of poisoning, trapping, and persecution. Its journey through the legal machinery of federal Endangered Species Act oversight was nearing a resolution, and the factors that would determine its future—growing recreational and industrial pressure on its habitat, climate change kinking their food supplies, and political and social divisions riling their human neighbors—stirred public conversation.

The risk of taking on a current-events subject is those events might get swept into a current you didn’t account for. The federal government had been trying for years to remove the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List and celebrate the recovery of a threatened animal. But advocates for continued protection consistently found vulnerabilities in the government’s plans and derailed them in court. The most recent attempt at delisting had failed at the district court level, and I had bet it would stay dead on appeal. In my book I framed my closing arguments around the protection advocates’ strategy, assuming they had the stronger logic and evidence.

Back in 1982, while I was piloting the DeSmet around Glacier National Park’s Lake McDonald, a tourist asked me what kind of duck was floating in the water ahead of us. I looked at the black speck and realized it was the nub of a branch attached to a tree trunk floating below the water’s surface. A fifty-seven-foot boat has no brakes and takes a long time to turn; sudden action can send toddlers and their grandparents crashing to the deck, if not over the rail. Ramming a log below waterline at 10 knots doesn’t make a good alternative, and cursing like a sailor has no effect. All you can do is throttle down, adjust course, and warn your shipmates to brace for impact.

As it turned out the DeSmet thumped the log without spilling a single tourist’s soda. And my chapter on the grizzly bear’s legal fate got a last-minute update with little rewriting. Most of those edits went something like “the court of appeals ruled” instead of “the district court ruled.”

The double-vision of writing for a daily print newspaper and writing for a library bookshelf remains bewildering. I think back on how many news stories I filed that neglected the context of decades of social momentum and how many books I’ve laughed at for envisioning a future that failed to materialize.

Those summers I spent in the DeSmet’s wheelhouse served me well. It takes a long time to turn a big thing. Obstacles occur in real time. Cussing won’t help. Steer. 


Robert Chaney is a reporter for the Missoulian. A lifelong Montanan, he covers science and the environment. His new book The Grizzly in the Driveway: The Return of Bears to a Crowded American West is available now.

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Holier Than Thou: Banu Subramaniam on Science and Democracy in COVID Times

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. A new vocabulary for our daily lives has evolved. As people “self-isolate” in their homes, daily schedules have embodied disembodied living. In contrast are those who have no choice but to work because they are “frontline workers.” People practice “physical distancing” by “zooming” throughout the day, then exhibit “zoom fatigue” by the end of it. If anything, life has become decidedly surreal. The unprecedented onslaught of COVID-19 has also revealed striking global patterns, such as the stark differences in leadership styles, economic inequities, unequal power structures, poor social and health infrastructures, and social cohesion. Like many, I have become obsessed with tracking the global pandemic, and in the recent past, a stable pattern has emerged—first in the United States and second in India. Together these two countries are regarded as the world’s oldest and the largest democracies. And in both, COVID-19 numbers are rising at alarming rates.

My book Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism was published by the University of Washington Press in 2019, in the midst of the Indian national election. Results were announced on May 23, 2019. The elections were significant and served as an important test of the success of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its charismatic leader, Narendra Modi. Modi and the BJP’s success in 2014, when the BJP won enough votes, allowed them to form a majority government for the first time in the nation’s history. As some feared, the divisive politics of Hindu nationalism and its virulent anti-minority sentiments grew during its term. Additionally, due to various actions of the government, such as its failed demonetization scheme, the economy remained sluggish and job growth middling. Many wondered if the BJP would win again and, especially, if it would keep its majority. In 2019, the BJP not only won but expanded its majority, giving it a decided mandate.

One of my key arguments in the book is that at the heart of Hindu nationalism is the idea of Hindutva, or “Hinduness,” and the imagination of India as a Hindu nation. Characterizing previous governments as “minority” appeasers, Hindu nationalists boldly (re)claimed India as a Hindu nation. Much of Hindu nationalism is grounded in a politics of injury borne out of the memories of migration and colonial rule. With Hindu nationalists now at the helm, the politics of injury and grievance has been harnessed into a powerful political movement to reclaim India’s great Hindu civilization. Hindu nationalists invoked the grand Vedic past as a prelude to a future India as a Hindu nation, reclaiming its rightful place as a global superpower. More strikingly, Hindu nationalists have selectively, and strategically, used rhetoric from both science and Hinduism, modernity and orthodoxy, Western and Eastern thought to build a powerful and potentially dangerous vision of India as a Hindu nation, what I have called an “archaic modernity.” COVID-19 has acutely revealed how an archaic modernity functions—the movement has mobilized its Hindu majority with authoritarian decision-making and powerful rhetoric and slogans, but overall it has failed to launch an effective response to the global pandemic.

I was born and raised in India but now live in the United States, where I have been tracking the viral drama in both nations. It will be many years before the definitive history of the pandemic can be written, but here I offer some reflections as the pandemic continues to unfold. There are many theories on what characterizes the countries at the top of the list—authoritarian regimes, capricious leadership, ambivalence toward expertise and science, and an inadequately responsive health infrastructure. Both the United States and India fit the bill in this regard, and in both cases, there is much to fault in their leaders and their actions. Narendra Modi and Donald Trump were awarded the 2020 Ig Nobel Prize for Medical Education (along with seven other world leaders) for “using the COVID-19 pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can.”[1] While Trump remained unpopular through his presidency and lost the recent election, it is sobering to note that over seventy-four million people voted for him despite the alarming death toll and his seeming disregard for the suffering of Americans. Although he contracted the virus, his claim that the virus is a “hoax” continues to be chanted by his faithful followers. The experimental treatment he received is beyond the reach of most Americans, yet he seemed untouched by charges of elitism. In contrast to President Trump, Prime Minister Modi remains immensely popular, and in fact, his popularity has grown during the pandemic. It is striking that both leaders are supported by the majority of their communities (white Americans in the United States and upper-caste Hindus in India). Both leaders are charismatic figures who have great social media savvy and hold large public rallies. In discussing the large events the two have hosted for each other, a recent article summarized: “The events offered Trump and the Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi a chance to win political points domestically while cementing their bond as right-leaning nationalist leaders.”[2]

Something is hauntingly familiar in the unfolding patterns of these democracies, and yet they are very different. President Trump has no national plan to contain the virus and has continued to travel maskless and host large gatherings, while Prime Minister Modi has consulted medical experts and doubled down on Western protocols of lockdowns. President Trump has ignored science and expertise; Prime Minister Modi has embraced it.[3] Yet what is “science” in archaic modernity? The blurring boundaries of the contestations of “science” are all around India’s COVID-19 response. The government’s Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy) has issued various advisories during the pandemic that include dubious prevention measures and prophylactics to the virus, such as cow urine, ginger, and turmeric. And the melding of Vedic and modern sciences has led to some very anachronistic moments—from symbolic offerings and the drinking of gaumutra (sacred cow urine) by the All-India Hindu Mahasabha to the worship of new religious deities, such as Corona Mata.[4]

Prime Minister Modi has tried to present himself as a strong and decisive leader, often bordering on the imperious and autocratic.[5] For example, a particularly consequential action involved his imposition of a three-week national curfew in late March 2020 that was dramatically announced with four hours’ notice! This fateful action was particularly significant for millions of India’s migrant workers left stranded in cities and for India’s informal labor market (80 percent of India’s workforce). For many, physical distancing meant hunger, and in innumerable instances, the lockdown was enforced with great brutality.[6] Indians applauded this quick and brave action, and there was an upbeat and congratulatory tone in many newspapers in the early days of the virus. Of course, the rest is history. The three weeks that were meant to help put in place national and local plans to deal with the pandemic were squandered. As predicted by many epidemiologists, once the curfew regulations were lifted, COVID-19 numbers soared. Newspapers and television news chronicled the horrendous plight of the migrants who returned to their villages, many walking, hungry and dehydrated, some dying on the way. With migrants reaching home, the virus settled in every corner of India.

Mr. Modi’s speeches, while motivational, remained opaque and evasive on important details, such as the government’s preparedness and response.[7] In the meantime the government had turned a blind eye to violence against minorities and those speaking out against the government. To challenge the government in Indian democracy today is to be deemed “antinational,” and some individuals have been arrested and imprisoned. The submission of the media, civilian infrastructure, and the judiciary are striking. In sum, the pandemic has served as an important backdrop for a greater consolidation of Hindu nationalism.

But there are signs of resistance. In India, the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, by farmers against the neo-liberalization of agriculture, and against the state response to the rape of a Dalit girl by upper-caste men in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, are all heartening but small signs.[8] The United States, in some ways, presents a more heartening story. The Black Lives Matter protests that spontaneously arose across the country captivated the nation and the world. An engaged citizenry came out to vote in the largest numbers in recent history. Most importantly, President Trump was convincingly defeated. But the weeks after the election have proved sobering, dashing any hope that the United States has turned the page on its recent history. As the country faces its second impeachment proceedings, the future still remains unclear. What has been unleashed will have an enduring significance. What is resoundingly clear in both nations is that despite bold claims as the oldest and largest democracies, fundamental democratic institutions have proven to be far less robust than many imagined. Both leaders have unleashed a specter of majoritarian grievance that powerfully haunts public life and its citizens. We need to contend with the imagined victimhood of the majority, address the gross inequities that undergird that grievance, but, most importantly, mobilize around a vision of justice for all. It is no easy task, but all of our lives, quite literally, depends on it.


Banu Subramaniam is professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity, winner of the 2016 Ludwik Fleck Award from the Society for the Social Studies of Science. Her book Holy Science: The Biopolitics of Hindu Nationalism is available now.


[1] Sumit Arora, “PM Modi Awarded 2020 Ig Nobel Prize for Medical Education,” Current Affairs, September 22, 2020.

[2] Joanna Slater, “What the U.S Election Means for India,” Washington Post, October 29, 2020.

[3] Banu Subramaniam and Debjani Bhattacharyya. “A Viral Education: Scientific Lessons from India’s WhatsApp University,” Somatosphere, May 31, 2020.

[4] Nandini Sen, “Corona Mata and the Pandemic Goddesses,” Wire, September 25, 2020.

[5] Debjani Bhattacharyya and Banu Subramaniam, “Technofascism in India,” n+1 Magazine, May 13, 2020.

[6] Maria Abi-Habib and Samir Yasir. “For India’s Laborers, Coronavirus Lockdown Is an Order to Starve,” New York Times, March 30, 2020.

[7] Ruchi Kumar, “To Tackle a Virus, Indian Officials Peddle Pseudoscience,” Undark, April 19, 2020.

[8] Namit Arora, “Talk Less, Work More,” Baffler, November 23, 2020.