Author Archives: UWP Publicity

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

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

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

By John Okada. Foreword by Ruth Ozeki

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

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

By Mark Fiege. Foreword by William Cronon.

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

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

By Bill Holm

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

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

By Carlos Bulosan

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

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

By Coll Thrush. Foreword by William Cronon

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

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

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

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

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

By C. Leo Hitchcock and Arthur Cronquist

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

Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics (2018)

Edited by Lynn Fujiwara and Shireen Roshanravan

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

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

By Cutcha Risling Baldy

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

Artisans in Early Imperial China (paperback published in 2021)

By Anthony J. Barbieri-Low

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

The Borders of AIDS by Karma Chávez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Black Independence by Robin J. Hayes

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

— Frederick Douglass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

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.

Jetha1

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.

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.

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.

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.

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