Monthly Archives: May 2015

Behind the Covers: Radical Theatrics

Final cover design

Final cover design

As part of a series of guest posts, UW Press Designer Dustin Kilgore walks us through the various design concepts that eventually brought him to a book’s final cover:

Craig Peariso’s Radical Theatrics: Put-ons, Politics, and the Sixties analyzes the theatrical actions of the 1960s counterculture movement and finds that, contrary to popular belief, their over-the-top antics were more than attention-seeking displays. From Occupy Wall Street and Flood Wall Street to the creative Keystone XL pipeline protests, such theatrics are still considered effective by the diverse groups within American society expressing political dissent.

To mirror the book’s approach of using contemporary 1960s source materials in its analysis, I thought the book’s overall design should feel as much from that time period as possible without being nostalgic or resorting to tired stock protest imagery.

The image research included print ephemera  and documentary photography of protests as diverse as the October 21st March to “Levitate the Pentagon” to humble Quaker pray-ins in front of the White House.

Selected image research.

Selected image research.

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Q&A with ‘Proving Grounds’ author Neil Oatsvall

Proving Grounds coverThe essays in Proving Grounds: Militarized Landscapes, Weapons Testing, and the Environmental Impact of U.S. Bases give us the most comprehensive examination to date of the environmental footprint of U.S. military bases both at home and abroad. Though critical of the military’s presence across the globe, the book does point to a few examples where the armed forces were actually ahead of the curve—at least compared to the private sector—in terms of self-regulation. Still, the majority of cases in Proving Grounds look at the damaging consequences—both intended and unintended—of building bases and testing weapons, from wiping out indigenous plant and wildlife to the contamination resulting from the disposal of Agent Orange after the Vietnam War.

In Chapter 2, historian Neil Oatsvall looks at how deeply policymakers engaged with environmental science at the dawn of the nuclear testing era. Contrary to popular belief, he finds, U.S. leaders actually did take scientific considerations seriously as they tried to take a lead in the burgeoning nuclear arms race. However, though their intentions may have been well-meant, given the limits of their environmental knowledge at the time, they were clearly in over their heads. We asked Neil to elaborate on this contradiction.

–Ranjit Arab, Senior Acquisitions Editor

Q: What led you to pursue your research? Who or what were some of your inspirations?

Neil Oatsvall: Two books made me want to be an environmental historian: Don Worster’s Dust Bowl and Ed Russell’s War and Nature. It’s a funny coincidence that I went to the University of Kansas to study with Don, and when he retired Ed replaced him. Russell’s work in particular sparked many questions in me. Nature and culture are frequently intertwined, as are technology and culture—but how has human culture mediated the interaction between the natural world and technology? And how has warfare served as an historical flashpoint where these relationships can be more easily examined?

These questions and others led me to research defoliation during the Vietnam War and then nuclear technologies and the environment.  You could say I’ve been drawn to the more charismatic technologies, if technology could ever be so described. And warfare to me was always one of those spectacles so horrifying that I couldn’t look away, like the Titanic sinking.

In addition, I grew up too late in the Cold War to be scared of nuclear weapons destroying the world and in Raleigh, North Carolina near the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant. This meant that nuclear technologies never seemed like the specter of death to me—they were just captivating pieces of technology. Thus this lifelong fascination with nuclear technologies combined with my coming of age as an historian right around the time Ed Russell and Richard Tucker started the historical subfield of war and environment. It was a logical topic in that way.


Historian and author Neil Oatsvall

Historian and author Neil Oatsvall

Q: What was one of the more surprising finds you came across along the way?

Neil Oatsvall: My most surprising find revolved around early plans to test nuclear weapons on Amchitka Island, further detailed in my chapter in Proving Grounds. I was shocked to find military planners talking seriously with administrators from the Department of the Interior about sea otters and how Amchitka being a successful breeding ground might derail testing plans. Ultimately it was geology, and not otters, that scuttled early testing plans on the island. But the mere fact that the 1950s U.S. military wrestled with how nuclear tests might affect vulnerable sea otter populations was truly unexpected.

Q: How did the military and the federal government conceive of environmental science, broadly, during the early Cold War?

Neil Oatsvall: Different historians might answer this in different ways, but I would say environmental science was just another tool in trying to improve the U.S. geopolitical position as much as possible. Understanding ocean currents and the ocean floor’s topography helped with submarine warfare. Knowledge of the atmosphere and air currents helped detect and interpret foreign nuclear tests. And Jake Hamblin has even shown in his recent book Arming Mother Nature how environmental science was factored into plans for potentially using catastrophic environmental disasters for military purposes. Learning about the environment was not necessarily a goal in and of itself, but it was a means to an end.

Q: Did you detect any sustained, strong pushback, even during the era of nuclear testing, against the idea that such testing was making America safer?

Neil Oatsvall: There certainly was resistance to the notion that testing was making the nation safer, and from a variety of sources. Linus Pauling was a particularly important scientist-activist, awarded the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-nuclear activism. But the archives are littered with both formal and informal pushback. For example, a 1958 anti-nuclear weapons letter, signed by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Christian ethicists Albert Schweitzer and Martin Niemöller (among others), implored President Eisenhower, “We want you to feel that your job is to help make this planet safe and fit for human habitation.” As an informal example, journalists made sure to question Eisenhower frequently about nuclear weapons tests, their safety, and what the nation gained from such tests. And privately there are numerous examples of decision makers questioning each other about nuclear weapons policy and whether testing actually accomplished the goals laid out for it.

Now, can all that be considered “sustained” or “strong”? I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder. I would say that it was, even such criticism was frequently diffused. But it’s hard to discount people like Pauling, and his Nobel Peace Prize shows that it’s not just historians playing a trick on the past—his contemporaries found him influential too.

Q: What are two or three of the most enduring legacies of the 1945-58 period, in terms of both later and current federal and military environmental policy?

Neil Oatsvall: Am I taking comps again? Is this real life? In all seriousness, this is a difficult but worthwhile question.

I could say something specific: for example, Karl Brooks has argued for the modern-day implications of the 1946 amendment of the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, which required consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service when development on a body of water might cause damage to wildlife resources. Instead I want to briefly talk about two broad trends: the U.S. military’s increasing dependence on environmental science and the understanding that the Earth may not be unbreakable.

Earlier I talked about how the military came to see environmental science as a tool for better protecting the nation and improving its military capabilities—environmental science became more important to achieving national security goals. Some of my previous research has also shown how nuclear technologies, agriculture, and the Green Revolution melded to influence what the U.S. government perceived as its role in the world. In that sense, scientific knowledge of the environment combined with technology to influence U.S. geopolitical policy. In general, the early postwar years saw the U.S. military (and by extension the federal government as a whole) increasingly integrate environmental science and environmental understandings into policymaking. (This is largely the subject of my book manuscript, under advanced contract with the University of Alabama Press.) That’s had a lasting legacy on governmental and military policy.

In addition, the country started to learn that the planet is not some gutter into which we can dump whatever we want without consequence. There are many examples, but one that has stuck out to me occurred in 1957 when testing showed that wheat samples from Minnesota contained much higher concentrations of radioactive strontium 90 fallout than expected or permitted. That raised questions about what nuclear tests were doing to the natural world and, by extension, human bodies. It hit home because policymakers realized that nuclear tests “over there” in the Pacific could affect people and environments “over here” in the United States. I won’t go so far as to say that a true environmentalist consciousness existed, but I think during this time period we see the beginnings of the shift away from the idea that the planet is some unbreakable, indefatigable sewer toward the idea that the planet is much more delicate and something in need of protection. Without that idea the Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the Environmental Protection Agency—the bedrock of any modern governmental environmentalism that might exist—likely never would have come into being.

Q: What’s next for you, and with your research?

Neil Oatsvall: I’ve just taken a job as a history instructor at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, a residential high school for gifted 11th and 12th graders. The school is part of the University of Arkansas system and stresses an innovative curriculum based on interdisciplinary team teaching and concurrent university credit. The heavy teaching load means that researching in the near future will be more difficult, but I remain optimistic!

When I’m able, the next project will be an Envirotech examination of U.S. beer brewing. The Envirotech subfield of environmental history contends that environment and technology cannot be understood separately, and I think beer brewing is a great example of that. While brewing depends on natural entities and processes like grains, hops, and yeast-driven fermentation, humans attempt to dominate those beings and processes. To me, this ambivalent relationship between humans, technology, and the natural world says a lot about what it means to be a modern industrial human. It may seem like there’s a vast chasm between studying nuclear technologies and beer, but to me the projects have most of the same intellectual underpinnings.

A brief history of National Bike Month

The author (credit: Sue Lee, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)

The author (credit: Sue Lee, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse)

I love National Bike Month. It’s spring, and all is right in the world.  Matching the spirit of the season, the many local events of bike month are exercises in light-hearted and cheerful consciousness-raising. They encourage people to ride their bicycles in ideal conditions.

But is there more to it than just a good time? In my research for Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road, I chose to re-examine what some consider a toy and a plaything to find the more complex stories of urban, environmental, and policy history hidden below.  Can we do the same with National Bike Month?

Like many of our national holidays, National Bike Month is an invented tradition, created and modified for changing publicity, marketing, and educational purposes.  It’s part of a pattern of similar events, like Bike to Work Week and Bike to School Day. Some have come and gone, like the 1976 Bikecenntennial tour; others are brand new, like the National Bike Challenge organized by industry-supported People for Bikes.

While there was no national advocacy event in the first bike boom of the 1890s, activists and advertisers still knew that spring was when people wanted to ride. Ads in 1897 declared May “the best bicycle month of the year.” Lest Crescent Bicycles lose year-round sales, the advertisers reminded readers: “Every Month a Crescent Month.”

Advertisement, Harper’s magazine, 1897.

Advertisement, Harper’s magazine, 1897.

In the twentieth century, the postwar history of National Bike Month begins with the theme of safety. Local and state organizers promoted spring “Bicycle Safety Weeks” in the decades after WWII. Many such events were organized in April by elementary schools, police departments, and local chapters of the Optimist Club, a civic fraternal organization. Their intended audience was almost exclusively children.

The Bicycle Institute of America, the lobbying and promotional arm of American manufacturers, got involved in 1956. They designated the entire month of May as “American Bicycle Month,” and raised the event’s profile considerably. But the dominant theme was still safety, and the audience was still largely children: a Wilmington, North Carolina newspaper story citing the BIA assured concerned parents that “bicycling has the best vehicle safety record in the United States.”

April 15, 1956 story from the Palm Beach 'Post.'

April 15, 1956 story from the Palm Beach ‘Post.’

With the celebrated cardiologist Dr. Paul Dudley White as spokesperson by the early 1960s, the BIA began to include themes of infrastructure and adult health: “This day marks the beginning of American Bicycle Month, dedicated to expanding bicycle riding facilities in our Nation . . . that is, bicycle paths, trails, tracks, and better places to ride,” White said in an address read into the Congressional record.  “Let me say . . . that six decades ago when I was a boy, we cycled for convenience, economy, and fun, but not necessarily for fitness.”

By the 1970s and early ‘80s, the event was now National Bike Month, and the rhetoric had shifted to environmental and transportation goals.  For example, North Carolina’s Governor James Hunt “emphasized the bicycle’s role as a ‘valuable tool in saving energy resources and money’” in a 1981 declaration.[4]  The prime mover also changed from the industry-funded BIA to the newly resurgent (but still somewhat disorganized) membership organization the League of American Wheelmen.  Today, the renamed League of American Bicyclists promotes “the many reasons we ride,” and the language is explicitly inclusive: “Whether you bike to work or school; ride to save money or time . . . preserve your health or the environment; or simply to explore your community.”

2015 poster from the League of American Bicyclists.

2015 poster from the League of American Bicyclists.

Even this brief history shows significant change. In the 1950s, safety week events taught traffic rules to children, making it seem that adult cycling for recreation or transportation might be an aberration. New concerns about adult health and environmentalism were added in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but the BIA still continued the focus on children, the major market for American manufacturers. Today the League tries to build advocacy consensus by appealing to all riders: recreational or practical, child or adult.

These events changed according to the politics of the promoters and the concerns of their era. Really only one thing stayed the same: the season.  As the New York Times pointed out in 1957: “These are the days the bicyclist waits for, the warm days but not yet hot days, when clear skies and the burgeoning greenery welcomes people of all ages into the outdoors again.” Which reminds me, I have to go for a ride.

James Longhurst is associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and author of Citizen Environmentalists. His newest book, Bike Battles, is receiving national attention.

You can see Dr. Longhurst in our area next month:

When: Thursday, June 18, 7:30pm – 9:00pm
Where: Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Island, WA

When: Sat, June 20, 3:00pm – 4:30pm
Where: Seattle Public Library-Central Library, Seattle, WA

People of the Press: Lorri Hagman

Lorri Hagman, executive editor, acquisitions

Long before books become books at the Press, they have to be found.

That’s where Lorri Hagman comes in.

Much of her job involves patiently hunting for authors and their research, reading their manuscripts, going to conferences and generally keeping the academic pulse of fields as wide-ranging as history, art, anthropology, and literature.

As an acquiring editor, careful cultivation of relationships with both up-and-coming and established scholars pays off in the development of innovative, boundary-pushing book projects that are sometimes “way out in the future,” she says. She also works with authors who are in the midst of preparing manuscripts for submission to the Press, guiding them through the rigorous academic-review process, and helping them implement preliminary edits and other changes.

But with her future-focused mission, she faces an old tension found at all academic presses: finding books that will sell while also developing the best academic books on any given topic.

Hagman is no stranger to this challenge.

As a graduate student in the Institute for Comparative and Foreign Area Studies program, which would evolve into the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, and the Asian Languages and Literature Department, Hagman was studying traditional Chinese fiction when she got her first start in the field of academic publishing.

It was 1977, and she was also a student assistant at the Press. Soon, she was offered a position as a promotion assistant. Through the 1980s and early 1990s, Hagman worked for the marketing team part-time as the Press’ publicity manager. In 1994, she moved to the editorial side of the house.

“I had always been more interested in the editorial side, and while I was working half-time . . . had started doing freelance editing for other presses,” she says. These included Princeton University Press, the Princeton Art Museum, The Feminist Press, Oklahoma University Press, and the University of Idaho Press. She specialized in books on China. These required familiarity with Chinese, still a rare skill among U.S. book publishers and their editors.

When her children were young, working at the Press part-time and freelance editing helped her master copy editing and make some supplementary income, honing her skills in the process.

“This was in the days of green-pencil-on-paper copyediting,” she says. “I also did a few indexes on file cards in shoe boxes—Word hadn’t been invented yet—to see how it was done.”

In the 1980s, the Press didn’t have much turnover in its editorial staff—editors tended to stay on for long careers. But the Press’ director at the time, Don Ellegood, and Pat Soden, the marketing manager, thought Hagman would be a great fit for the editorial department. Hagman “was happy to migrate,” she says, and eventually increased to a full-time position.

Along the way, she’s seen the Press go through several major changes in location and personnel, as well as an increasingly trade-driven, profit-based model. With new pressures and competition, however, the role of an acquiring editor for an academic press remains pivotal, she says.

In “Monographs Adrift,” a 2010 essay reflecting on the changing academic-book marketplace, Hagman articulated some of the challenges involved in that delicate balancing act:

If monograph publication is to survive, academic tenure and promotion practices must be realigned with real-world business models, recognizing that publication isn’t free, or an end in itself. The academy—meaning academic authors themselves, along with department chairs, deans, and administrators who set policy—must either align publication practices with the marketplace or devise methods of routinely subsidizing publication in the way that other educational processes are supported. Publication should be reserved for content and formats that require distribution beyond a small circle of experts.

Ultimately, she says, “the long-range idea is that good books will bring in more good books.” Among these “good books” that she’s been most proud of recently are:

Claudia Brown’s Great Qing: Painting in China, 1644-1911, which is, she says, “the first comprehensive treatment of painting in China’s last dynasty.”

Michael Nylan and Griet Vankeerberghen’s Chang’an 26 BCE: An Augustan Age in China. Nylan and Vankeerberghen are the editors of the “first book-length study in a Western language of the ancient city of Chang’an, the capital of the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), which equaled Rome and Alexandria in achievements and influence.”

These are major contributions to China studies, she says.

But long before they went through the other parts of the Press, they were cultivated by her and the other acquisition editors. She reads them in hard copy or on her iPad, on the bus or plane, the latter on the way to conferences as part of her search for new authors. Hagman and her colleagues in the acquisitions department are, in many ways, the eyes and ears of the Press, thinking about what and who it’ll publish next.

Ultimately, she says, “my favorite parts of the job are reading the manuscripts and working with authors.”