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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.

A Short Discussion on the Zuo Reader with Editors Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg

To celebrate the recent release of the The Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan Reader: Selections from China’s Earliest Narrative History, editors Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, and David Schaberg had a virtual conversation about the guide to the study of early Chinese culture and thought. Below is their conversation.

Wai-yee Li: Our intention in putting together the Zuo Reader was to emphasize that Zuozhuan is not only a valuable source of historical understanding but also an indispensable source of information about early Chinese culture and thought. Consequently, rather than organize the passages selected for it in chronological order, we have organized them according to fifteen topics or themes. As we explain in the introduction, our selection of topics is somewhat arbitrary, although we do believe they cover issues that recur and illustrate the variety and richness of the full text.

David Schaberg: This topical organization of the reader is not meant to obscure Zuozhuan’s importance as a work of history. In fact, it can give modern students a keen sense of how important historical memory and historical writing were to the early Chinese and can convey some of what they aimed to accomplish in their historical writing. Beginning in the eighth century BCE, the work already shows a fascination with details of social and cultural change and the continuous unfolding of new challenges. The text also conveys a strong sense of how governing practices and rituals helped define the early Chinese world and laid the foundation for a broader set of East Asian political debates and institutions. The Zuo Reader can also convey a sense of China’s role as one of several historical cultures to have defined itself in part around an early set of texts and religious practices.

Stephen Durrant: Not only does the Zuo Reader convey an understanding of an ancient culture and history but it also reminds us how many problems and issues broached remain relevant. So often as we read about the past, even the deep past as in the case of Zuozhuan, we suddenly realize that we are also reading about ourselves. This was brought home to me just recently while reading papers written by men at the Oregon State Penitentiary who were using the Zuo Reader in a class on Chinese narrative. Their papers discussed such issues as the passages concerning “Succession Struggles” (ch. 2) and what they might tell us about the recent controversy over presidential succession here in the United States. They struggled with the complex personalities of Chong’er (ch. 4) and King Ling of Chu (ch. 10), comparing some of the character traits and life experience of those ancient Chinese personalities with their own problem-fraught pasts. And they argued as they read “Laws and Punishment” (ch. 9)—men who have all had direct experience with our legal system—whether or not Shuxiang was right in saying, “Why should there be any penal codes at all? When the people have learned how to contend over points of law, they will abandon ritual propriety and appeal to what is written.”

DS: These kinds of personal responses highlight the advantages of being able to read Chinese history through a translation like the reader rather than a summarized overview. A summarized overview would be effective in relating historical facts, but it would omit something that the materials in the Zuo Reader do exceptionally well: they convey historical actors’ individual responses to facts, often quoting conversations and long speeches. Both in reading quoted remarks and in reading the historical narratives themselves, students encounter the attitudes and emotions of the ancients and learn to experiment with seeing the world through the values that are written into the text. The difference is something like that between giving someone a fish and teaching them to fish. By reading the narratives gathered in the Zuo Reader, students will get a direct sense of the kinds of historical stories Confucius and other thinkers knew and took into account in their arguments.

SD: Moreover, a handy one-volume collection of these narratives facilitates using it in comparative courses. For example, a course on comparative early historiography would use it alongside portions of the Hebrew Bible and the writings of classical Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides. In fact, we believe from a pedagogical perspective, the Zuo Reader is highly serviceable.

DS: Not only might it be used in comparative courses but it also could be used as the main reading in a class on early Chinese historiography, paired with supplemental materials from other early Chinese texts, or it could be used in a course on the history of Chinese prose narrative. Moreover, the topical arrangement is particularly suitable to a course on early Chinese thought, perhaps by pairing chapters on subjects with especially relevant “Masters” texts: “Law and Punishment” with The Book of Lord Shang or Han Feizi, “Ritual” with Xunzi’s “Discourse on Ritual,” “Confucius” with Analects. Whatever the course, there are a variety of ways a teacher might use the Zuo Reader in the classroom: organize weekly discussions around one or two chapters, using the chapter topics to introduce the discussion and steadily building the interconnection of themes each week; break students up into small groups for close reading of narratives, then bring them back together to share their readings; have students identify a theme or character in it and investigate it further in the complete translations; have students examine the use of poetry citation and recitation in speeches; have students write a speech or narrative in the style of Zuozhuan; and so forth.

WY: The Zuo Reader is wonderful for the classroom also because the narratives are condensed and often provocative. Because of its long and complex process of formation, Zuozhuan often contains multiple perspectives on the same issue. For example, we find arguments both for and against the right of the people to protest unjust policies, both praise and suspicion of centralizing power, both idealistic and cynical views of ritual propriety, and so on. In our choice of passages, we have made sure to bring out these differences. In a classroom scenario, students can be easily organized to debate the different positions and processes of reasoning underwriting various passages. Those who have some knowledge of later Chinese history may be surprised by the more varied views of loyalty and political hierarchy in the Zuo Reader. Unlike the elevation of imperial authority and glorification of the subject’s absolute loyalty in some later materials, students will find in it lively debates on whether the expulsion or even assassination of a ruler can be justified or questions on the proper balance of power between the Zhou king and the lords. Some of the moral precepts readily associated with the “Chinese Tradition” take on different contours in the Reader. Also, because Zuozhuan is both interested in offering judgments and committed to “respecting the facts,” it ends up with stories of surprising moral complexity. Dissecting such nuances will be really fun in the classroom.


Stephen Durrant is professor emeritus of Chinese language and literature at the University of Oregon. Wai-yee Li is professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University. David Schaberg is professor of Asian languages and culture and dean of humanities at UCLA. Their joint translation of Zuo Tradition / Zuozhuan: Commentary on the “Spring and Autumn Annals” was awarded the Patrick D. Hanan Book Prize for Translation, sponsored by the Association for Asian Studies.