Category Archives: Guest Post

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.

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.

Latinx Photography in the United States by Elizabeth Ferrer

I undertook the writing of a comprehensive survey of Latinx photographers from the nineteenth century to the present day to address a single issue: by and large, Latinx photographers have been excluded from the documented history of photography in the United States. Remarkably, there has been no single book on this subject before this one, no comprehensive museum exhibition, and no institutional collection, even though Latinx people number some 52 million people–18 percent of the US population. And while we are a vast and diverse population, whether with respect to race, region, language, or cultural heritage, we share the legacy of Spanish colonialism, bicultural outlooks, histories of immigration, and experiences with social, political, and economic marginalization. This latter fact has been a motivating force for generations of photographers to work with a deep sense of social and political commitment and to direct their creative efforts toward affirming the autonomy and values of their own communities.

Latinx Photography in the United States offers an introduction to photographers active in the late nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth century, but my primary focus is on the 1960s onward, beginning with the civil rights era, when an early generation of Latinx photographers were approaching their work with a sense of ethnic consciousness and pride. This is when politically motivated photographers documented the labor-organizing activities of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the San Joaquin Valley of California, the high school walkouts and demonstrations against the Vietnam War in East Los Angeles, and the protests and political actions against the inequities faced by citizens of Spanish Harlem and other economically marginalized neighborhoods in New York in those years.

As I studied images of social activism made across the United States I was struck by the parallels between the ways Latinx photographers on opposite sides of the continent chronicled movements that may have been aware of each other but had limited means to communicate and provide mutual support. The photographs here express the solidarity, perseverance, and resistance shared by newly politicized communities across the United States. This body of work also became a model for future generations of photographic artists. Even as the medium has evolved in later decades, as those working with photography began to manipulate or stage imagery, experiment with conceptual approaches, and eventually turn to digital tools, Latinx photographers have continued to manifest this deep sense of purpose, deploying their talents toward constructing and imagining a broader view of American identity.

Justo A. Martí, A Protest against Dictator Trujillo outside Rockefeller Center, Justo A. Martí Photographic Collection, 1948–85. Courtesy of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies Library & Archives, Hunter College, CUNY.

Working as a studio photographer as well as for New York’s principal Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario La Prensa, Cuban American photographer Justo A. Martí (1920–1990) documented the city in an era when Puerto Ricans and other Latinx people were arriving in the city in record numbers. His rich archive includes scenes of Fidel Castro in New York, parades and beauty pageants, and this early image of protest, a demonstration against the dictator Rafael Trujillo held by Dominicans in New York.

Cris Sanchez, strikers at the Paso Ranch, May 1973. Supporters of the UFW gather in the fields outside the Paso Ranch to wave flags during a strike. Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs.

Cris Sanchez was one of many photographers–Chicanx and others–who extensively documented the activities of the farmworkers’ labor struggles in California in the 1960s and 1970s. These photographers portrayed the daily activities of United Farm Workers leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, organizing meetings, migrant workers in the field, and protests across the state. Although Sanchez was a ubiquitous chronicler of the UFW, much of his archive was lost when he died in 1993.

Ben Garza, photograph of a female striker holding a UFW eagle flag and covering her face to hide her identity during the 1974 San Luis strike, Arizona. Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs. 
La Raza photographic staff, East LA high school walkouts, 1968. Courtesy of the artist and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center

The social justice newspaper (and later magazine) La Raza was published in Los Angeles from 1966 to 1977. A key early outlet for the dissemination of photographs made with a consciously Chicanx perspective, it operated with a volunteer staff of young activists. This photograph is part of the publication’s extensive documentation of the East Los Angeles high school walkouts, an early mobilization of Chicanxs and a protest against the substandard public schools in their neighborhoods. La Raza’s archive of over 25,000 negatives and slides is now housed at the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA.

Hiram Maristany, Procession, undated. Courtesy of the artist.

I was struck by the similar expressions of defiance in this and the final photograph, made within a year of each other in Los Angeles and New York. Hiram Maristany (b. 1945), born and raised in East Harlem, was the official photographer of the activist political party the Young Lords. He documented their demonstrations, rallies, working meetings, and the activities they carried out to improve access to education, healthcare, and better housing in their community. Here, Maristany captured the fervent expressions of young people taking part in the funeral of Julio Roldán, a member of the Young Lords who was arrested on trumped up charges and found hanging in his cell the following day. A victim of police brutality, Roldán became a martyr in the eyes of Puerto Rican nationalists.

George Rodriguez, LAPD arresting a Chicano student protestor, Boyle Heights 1970. Courtesy of the artist.

The Chicanx photographer George Rodriguez (b. 1937) played a central role in documenting the civil rights movement in his native Los Angeles. Once a Hollywood celebrity photographer, Rodriguez eventually gravitated to the city’s east side, where he photographed the 1968 high school walkouts as well as the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. This massive demonstration against the draft and the Vietnam War ended in violence, as heavy-handed police tactics resulted in numerous injuries and arrests, as well as the killing of four persons including Rubén Salazar, a prominent journalist and columnist for the Los Angeles Times.  


Elizabeth Ferrer, a writer, curator, and arts activist, is vice president of Contemporary Art at BRIC in Brooklyn. Her book Latinx Photography in the United States: A Visual History is available now.

COVID-19 and the Khora of Migration: Himalayan New Yorkers Respond to Crisis by Sienna R. Craig

In the first days of April 2020 I texted Nawang. One of my core research collaborators, Nawang Tsering Gurung is someone whose presence and insights are woven through my new book, The Ends of Kinship: Connecting Himalayan Lives between Nepal and New York. As forms of kinship go, he is “younger brother” to my “elder sister.” Like many from his home region of Mustang, Nepal, Nawang now lives in Queens, New York, not far from Jackson Heights–one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, if not the world. At that point in early spring, this part of New York had become the epicenter of the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Haven’t heard from Dolma, I wrote. Worried. Will call her tomorrow.

Two minutes later, my phone rang. It was Nawang. We’ve weathered a lot together: mutual family upheavals, the death of his father, destruction in his natal village during the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, as well as quieter moments of kyi-dug,this twinning of happiness and suffering that for many Tibetan and Himalayan people describes the nature of existence. But on this spring evening I could tell that something was desperately wrong.

Didi, I have some bad news to share,” he said after initial greetings. “Uncle died today.”

“At Dolma’s apartment?”

“Yes, didi.The very same. The rest of the family is there. With him. They are very scared.”


Over the ensuing hours and days I came to learn the details of how this man I will simply call Uncle–someone I have known in Nepal and New York for twenty-five years, a person in whose household I lived in the walled city of Lo Monthang, up near the Tibetan border, and in Kathmandu, a loving and responsible husband and father to a wife and two children he had not seen in person in twenty years but whose labor at restaurants and grocery stores in New York had made their lives in Nepal possible, a man with a streak of shyness and a broad smile–had died of the novel coronavirus in a tenement walkup in Woodside. 

I spoke with Dolma’s daughter the next day. My dear friend from Mustang was too distraught to talk. I was told that cough and fevers had passed through Uncle in waves for a couple of weeks, but they were never enough to keep him from work at the grocery store, a Manhattan establishment where he restocked want as if it were need and worried about what his boss would say if he didn’t show up. You see, unlike some of the other employees and the rest of his family, he was undocumented.

On Monday in the week of his death, Uncle seemed weak. Nobody in the household felt like eating–all five people living in the two-bedroom apartment had lost their senses of taste and smell–but everyone except Uncle forced themselves to drink hot water and tea, to slurp dal,andto stay home. Uncle reported to work onTuesday. He spent Wendnesday and Thursday searching for care, but the hospitals and clinics turned him away: Not sick enough. Not the right langauge. No space. By Friday morning he had succumbed.

A few days later, the family’s son-in-law forwarded a recording of the conversation he had with the coroner’s office. I listened to language strained on all sides by exhaustion and imperfect English, and learned that the cause of death was a “sudden influenza-like illness, most probably COVID-19.” Tests were in too short of supply to use on someone who had already died, to offer confirmation.

Despite this family’s descent into fear and grief–enfolded as it was within the much larger vortex of public health crisis and economic disaster–a translocal community of care encircled Uncle’s family. Cremation expenses were paid in New York. Tibetan Buddhist funerary rituals were arranged in Nepal. A lama close to this family beamed virtual practices of purification from Kathmandu into the Queens apartment where Uncle died. Voice memos sent through Messenger and WeChat moved around the world, offering love and lament, prayer and song. In so doing, people from Mustang tied the ends of kinship together once again, braiding their senses of duty–to culture, language, history, place–with their collective desires and individual aspirations for change as manifested by what I call the khora of migration.

Khora bespeaks both the (often daily) act of circumambulating sacred space and turning the wheel of life, abiding with our fellow sentient beings through samsara,cyclic existence. It is an imperfect English gloss for these two interlocking Himalayan concepts. It is a word that helps to theorize mobility and belonging and allows us to think about how such movements at once rely on and work on kinship. The Ends of Kinship weaves short fiction with narrative ethnography to tell stories of migration and social change between a small Himalayan kingdom and the heart of the American immigrant experience. These are stories told with devotion, in recognition of learning and friendship that span a quarter century. They are also told with the recognition that Mustang has experienced one of the highest rates of depopulation in contemporary Nepal–a profoundly visible emptying that contrasts with the relative invisibility of Himalayan migrants in hyper-diverse, populous New York.

Uncle’s death was a single tragedy that occurred within an urban sea of loss. For those from Mustang who now make their homes in New York–like so many marginalized and vulnerable Americans, many of them performing essential labor as healthcare workers, childcare providers, grocery store clerks, drivers–COVID-19 has caused sickness and death as well as brought into stark relief the tears in our social safety nets and the deeply uneven terrain on which we build our lives. This landscape of suffering is revealed not only through mortality and morbidity statistics, but also through language: some of the New York neighborhoods that have been most heavily impacted by the coronavirus are also the city’s most linguistically diverse spaces.

Over the past eight months, I’ve worked with Nawang, along with colleagues at the Endangered Language Alliance and the University of Britsh Columbia, building on past collaborations to help members of the Himalayan and Tibetan New Yorker communities document in their own languages and on their own terms the impacts that COVID-19 is having on their lives. For many Himalayan and Tibetan New Yorkers the pandemic has upended the assumptions upon which the khora of migration is based: ideas about economic stability and educational opportunity, the continued capacity for people and resources to circulate between Nepal and New York, the possibility of at once honoring and reimagining culture. It has brought into stark relief the epidemiological invisibility and structural inequality that affect Himalayan and Tibetan New Yorkers. As the city braces for a third wave, the toll that the virus is now taking on Nepal continues apace, not only through illness but also through dwindling remittances, labor curtailments, food shortages, derailed schooling, limits on travel, and limits to primary health care. Still, in and through forms of virtual khora, acts of compassion and senses of connection persist.


Sienna R. Craig is associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College and author of Healing Elements: Efficacy and the Social Ecologies of Tibetan Medicine. Her latest book The Ends of Kinship: Connecting Himalayan Lives between Nepal and New York is available now.

Pigs and People, The Other “Missing Link”: Thomas Fleischman on “Communist Pigs”

In February of 1922 Henry Fairfield Osborn, world-famous paleontologist, conservationist, and director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, received a package in the mail from Nebraska. Inside Osborn found a note and a carefully wrapped molar. A rancher and amateur geologist named Harold Cook had discovered the ancient tooth in a ten-million-year-old layer of rock bed in the Snake River near his home. Believing it to have “human type” features, Cook sent the tooth to Osborn to verify his assessment. Osborn was thrilled. The man who had christened the Tyrannosaurus Rex believed he now had evidence of another epoch-making discovery: a “missing link” fossil, evidence of man’s descent from apes. Studying the shape, size, and wear of the molar, Osborn determined the tooth belonged to a third genus of extinct hominids—and the first found in the Americas. He named this new primate ancestor Hesperopithecus, or “Ape of the Western World.” The press dubbed it simply “Nebraska Man.”

That same year Osborn published his findings in several prominent periodicals. Lest anyone doubt his claims, he also sent casts of the molar to museums and universities in the United States and Europe. It didn’t take long, however, before skeptics began to poke holes in his case. In response, Osborn sent crews back to Nebraska in the summers of 1925 and 1926 to scour the same riverbed deposits for more fossils. In the dry heat of summer they found fossils and bone fragments of numerous mammals, but none belonging to Nebraska Man. The expedition concluded that the molar belonged not to a hominid, but instead to an extinct species of peccary called Prosthennops, a primeval relative of the modern pig, Sus scrofa. Osborn was not the first person, nor would he be the last, to go looking for humans in the past and find a pig instead.

Osborn’s mistake can be forgiven. Pig bodies and human bodies have a great deal in common. Similarities include their teeth (like all omnivores, pigs and humans share a similar array of molars, incisors, and canines), but also much more. Pigs’ internal organs are nearly identical in ability and form to our own. When the first experiments in heart transplants began in the 1950s, researchers looked not to the ape but to the pig, whose heart was strong enough to pump blood through a human body. Today porcine valves and skin grafts are used regularly in surgery on people. Scientists have used stem cells from pig fat to grow human jawbones. Pig eyes have similar ocular power and see the same color spectrum as humans, and relative to other members of the animal kingdom pigs are remarkably nearsighted. People and pigs also share many ailments, including cancer, rheumatism, and arthritis. And most infamously, infectious diseases like H1N1 spread easily between our species and theirs. Osborn was right to intuit that his molar belonged to a genetic cousin of modern humans—he just chose the wrong family.

Even more significantly, people and pigs have lived closely alongside one another and in various degrees of cooperation for millennia. While not the first animal to give up its freedom in exchange for domestic living (dogs beat all animals there some twenty thousand years ago), pigs were never far away, lurking just beyond the reach of campfire lights, rooting through midden heaps for scraps. And when domestication of Sus scrofa began around nine thousand years ago, pigs proved so amenable to human society that they were domesticated over and over again. Paleogeneticists have pinpointed not just one site or moment for pig domestication, but multiple locations and dates, stretching over thousands of years and from what is now modern Turkey to southeast Asia. Pigs, it seems, were just as willing to live within human society as they were to cast off the human hand and live on their own in the wild.

Historians have also have homed in on this special relationship to raise new questions about the past. They have used pigs to explore the cultural and economic lives of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English small-holders, or as a synecdoche for medieval antisemitism among French peasants in Languedoc. They have identified pigs as agents of imperial conquest and dispossession, from the Columbian Exchange in North America to the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe. They have shown how the rise of scientific pig breeding in the nineteenth century inaugurated an ecological succession in the US Midwest, from old-growth forest and prairie grasslands to landscapes defined by corn and dotted with whiskey distilleries, piggeries, and slaughterhouses. And in the age of the factory farm, the lives, labor, and deaths of millions of pigs reveal that people remain ensnared in the same system of exploitation and degradation. In each case, pig bodies, behaviors, and diets provide clues about the human past.

My book Communist Pigs builds on these insights to tell the story of agricultural development in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, during the Cold War. It uses the pig’s propensity for adaptation and change to narrate a history of East Germany’s rise and fall. It analyzes three predominant archetypes of Sus scrofa in the GDR—the industrial pig, the garden pig, and the wild boar—to connect the complex environmental history of European communism with the industrial development of rural spaces around the world. Communist Pigs shows how this animal came to occupy a commanding place at the center of industrial agriculture. It explores how East Germans struggled to overcome the ecological constraints and obstacles of industrial hog farming. And it uncovers the surprising mixture of small-scale pig farming and boar hunting that emerged in response to environmental pollution and the limitations of a planned economy. Together, the GDR’s three pigs reveal how a communist regime was drawn rapidly into capitalist markets for cheap grain, meat, energy, and capital. This shift precipitated an ecological and political crisis that culminated in the collapse of East Germany and the end of the Cold War.

Pigs, like people, make their own histories. These histories are specific to the environments in which they occur and their moments in the past. Pigs can open new ways of considering the rigid frameworks—say, the divide between communism and capitalism—through which we interpret human histories. In the specific case of the twentieth century, pigs show us how industrial agriculture has physically remade the entire earth and all the things that live and die upon it to promote the production of meat. But just like any relationship, the one between pigs and people can be undone and remade anew. The pig may even survive us as the dominant species on the planet, if the resurgence of wild boar populations is any indication. And if in ten million years this porcine descendent species decides to excavate the rock bed formations of the Anthropocene in search of clues to their own prehistory, it may very well mistake the fossilized remains of Homo sapiens for its own “missing” genetic ancestor, which, as we know, is a very human error to make.


Thomas Fleischman is assistant professor of history at the University of Rochester. His book Communist Pigs is available now.

Sources

Anderson, J. L. Capitalist Pigs: Pigs, Pork, and Power in America. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2019.

Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Blanchette, Alex. Porkopolis: American Animality, Standardized Life, and the Factory Farm. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020.

Fabre-Vassas, Claudine. The Singular Beast: Jews, Christians, and the Pig. European Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Gibson, Abraham. Feral Animals in the American South: An Evolutionary History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Hicks, Lucy. “Pig Fat Can Be Used to Grow Jawbones for Humans.” Science, October 15, 2020, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/pig-fat-can-be-used-grow-jawbones-humans.

Malcolmson, Robert, and Stephanos Mastoris. The English Pig: A History. New York: Hambledon Press, 1998.

Pennisi, Elizabeth. “The Taming of the Pig Took Some Wild Turns.” Science, August 31, 2015, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/08/taming-pig-took-some-wild-turns.

Porter, Valerie. Pigs: A Handbook to the Breeds of the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Saraiva, Tiago. Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism. Boston: MIT Press, 2016.

Watson, Lyall. The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2004.

White, Sam. “From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History.” Environmental History 16 (January 2011): 94–120.

Grays Harbor Workers: Aaron Goings on “The Port of Missing Men”

History has not been kind to the Washington coast’s working class. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries thousands of the region’s workers toiled long hours in logging camps and lumber mills and in maritime trades—some of the country’s most dangerous industries. Those who acted collectively to improve their working and living conditions were targets of persecution, physically attacked by employers and their allies in the local, state, and federal governments. Vigilante businessmen beat, shot, and kidnapped activists, and deported them from towns, while police jailed them and raided their halls. Indeed, many of the most famous financially successful men in the history of the Olympic Peninsula and southwest Washington defended their wealth through a combination of violent anti-labor activism and support for anti-union legislation. Stories of vigilantes and cops brutalizing working-class women, men, and children fill early twentieth-century newspaper columns—providing potent reminders that the scenes playing out across the United States in 2020 are part of a long history of violent reactions against workers’ movements.

In the past forty years, many of the region’s workers have faced a fresh round of horrors: layoffs and mill closures, as parts of southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula began to resemble a Pacific Northwest “Rust Belt.” A recent gut punch came in June 2018 when the Aberdeen Museum of History burned. The fire destroyed priceless labor history collections—virtually the entire archive of Grays Harbor’s rich working-class history is now lost to posterity.

The archive told the important history of collective action in the heart of lumber country. Highlights included huge collections from the International Woodworkers of America and locals of the Cooks and Waiters’ Union—the latter an important source of women’s working-class activism before women won the right to vote. The fire also turned to ashes a collection of records from maritime unions—groups of workers that persistently fought for the types of work-life improvements Americans celebrate on Labor Day.

One of the most important (and certainly the most famous) labor activists from Washington’s coast was William “Billy” Gohl, subject of my new book from the University of Washington Press, The Port of Missing Men: Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest. Gohl served as agent for the Aberdeen branch of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific between 1903 and 1910, when Grays Harbor ranked as both the world’s most prolific lumber port and Washington State’s most densely unionized area.

Gohl was the best-known and most effective union activist in Grays Harbor. His fellow unionists twice elected him president of the local labor council, and he led efforts to force ship captains to follow union contracts and workplace safety laws. Gohl’s activism extended well beyond the shop floor: he was also a community activist committed to improving the lives of maritime workers and making the local waterfront safer.

Not surprisingly for anyone who has done much reading in US labor history, Gohl’s lasting fame has nothing to do with his community activism. Instead, Gohl’s life has long interested journalists and true-crime junkies, because “Billy” is widely known as the “Ghoul of Grays Harbor.” Dozens of true-crime tales—and popular memory—blame Gohl for the deaths of dozens of working men whose corpses were found floating in the Chehalis and Wishkah Rivers. Journalist and popular historian Murray Morgan wrote, “These anonymous dead men, culled from the hordes of migrant laborers who had flocked to Grays Harbor to cut trees, came to be known as the Floater Fleet. Billy Gohl was credited with launching most of them. If he was responsible for even half of the floaters found in the harbor during his day, Gohl was America’s most prolific murderer. Over a ten-year period the fleet numbered 124.”

Arrested and charged with murder in early 1910, Gohl became the subject of a massive campaign by local employers and their allies in the mainstream press to pin the region’s entire history of violent crimes on him and “his gang.” On the day of his arrest the Aberdeen Daily World blamed Gohl “for many of the members of the ‘floater fleet,’ comprising more than 40 bodies.” Three months after his arrest, Gohl was convicted of one murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Gohl was not the only convicted murderer in early Grays Harbor history, and the jury had difficulty coming to a decision about his guilt. Yet by the time the jury convicted him of a single murder Gohl already had been convicted in the public mind of being a cold-blooded killer who spent seven years ravaging Grays Harbor. The case against him appeared to be “the dream of some dime store novel writer,” said Gohl, as employers and the state conspired to remove Gohl from his place in the labor movement. Media accounts of Gohl’s “crimes”—like subsequent stories about Gohl—omit the important historical context that shows employers acting collectively and often brutally to eliminate labor activists in Grays Harbor and throughout the United States.

The Port of Missing Men bears little resemblance to earlier writings about Gohl. I strove to avoid portraying him as a caricature, instead placing Gohl in his historical context. Unfortunately, like Billy the Kid, Gohl has reached the status of a legend. He is now a part of Wild West mythology that often casts imagined “monsters” like him—rather than larger forms of structural oppression—as responsible for violence.

The myth of Billy Gohl the mass murderer has proved remarkably resilient, and rare indeed is the person who, when asked about their knowledge of Billy Gohl, fails to mention the term “serial killer.” But Gohl was a militant labor leader and local bosses saw him as a dangerously effective enemy who needed to be silenced. My new book returns Gohl—the labor and community activist—to the center of a region’s working-class history, a history that, like the materials lost in the Aberdeen museum fire, often ends up in the dustbin.

 

Aaron Goings is associate professor of history and chair of the History and Political Science Department at Saint Martin’s University. He is coauthor of The Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-radicalism in Southwest Washington and Community in Conflict: A Working-Class History of the 1913–14 Michigan Copper Strike and the Italian Hall Tragedy. His latest book, The Port of Missing Men: Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest, is available now.

A Newcomer to the Big Empty: Sam Waterston on Ellen Waterston’s “Walking the High Desert”

We’ve all noticed how sharp our sensations, perceptions and observations are when visiting a place for the first time, from the Grand Canyon to the manmade canyons of New York City. We take in the sounds, smells, and sensations more acutely, more vividly, before familiarity moves in on our guilelessness, bringing its partner, contempt, along with it, the deadening “taking for granted” of the inherent and unique beauty of a place.

My brother Sam has visited me at various locations in the high desert: when I was ranching on the Crooked River; in Bend, at the foot of the Cascades mountains where I run a literary nonprofit; and in the wilds of Oregon’s Outback, during my research for Walking the High Desert. His below comments illustrate his capacity for experiencing this grand space each time as if for the first time. He brings, as he does to all he does, a fresh eye, an open mind and heart, and then extrapolates to a bigger invitation, tuning in to the plea of the place or the circumstance. Covid-19 has upped our appreciation game as everything seems more precious, fleeting. The pandemic has reminded us to appreciate what is right in front of us, what, perhaps, we have heretofore taken for granted; and, as Sam’s generous comments advocate, to take action to protect what is “fierce, fragile, beautiful,” the high desert and the earth itself.

Ellen Waterston


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Ellen Waterston and her brother Sam Waterston in Washington, D.C. in a Fire Drill Friday rally in support of legislation that protects the environment. January 2020

The high desert is like the ocean or the mountains of the moon: by itself, the name calls up space, the vast sky, the nearby stars, the one-hundred-mile gaze, the place where things and people stand out. It’s amazing. Many born and raised in it know this and never lose their awareness. After a lifetime of living in it, some still have the cowboys’ long horizons in their eyes. Some others, working to make it yield and bend to their needs, temporarily or permanently lose their amazement . . . Even an amazing place can become commonplace, merely where you do what you do; even here, a person can forget where they are. And isn’t that the way of it for most of us, wherever we live?

Most visitors do feel the wonder of the high desert at first, like babes in the woods, and that astonishment can last and last. It has with me. I first came out here to see my sister Ellen, who wrote Walking the High Desert. There aren’t so very many places where a hay field is measured by the thousand acres, where your front yard is fifty acres of wild iris, and the view is of the moon.

My sister was a newcomer to the Big Empty once. Because of the life she led and the person she is, her amazement at the wonder of the place she had come to never left her…and she went deep, looked deep. She is a poet and a journalist. She spent a lot of her time out in the desert, recorded what she witnessed, and brought the place to second life in words. This book is one fine example. She has a lot to say about the high desert. The high desert has a lot to tell. Almost inevitably, the long walks Ellen Waterston took out there over all those years landed her on the Oregon High Desert Trail—and she brought out for us the gold, the story of the place, entwined in her own story.

The earth is like the high desert, a fierce, fragile, beautiful, amazing place. We can’t afford to take it for granted anymore. There are as many opinions about what to do with it and for it now as there are interested parties . . . and we are all interested parties where the fate of the earth is involved. At least, we need to be. There is no place left for bystanders now. We all have to put our heads into this. My sister’s book will get you in the right state of mind.


Sam Waterston is an American actor, producer, and director. Waterston is known for his work in theater, television and film as well as his environmental activism.

Ellen Waterston is author of Where the Crooked Desert Rises: A High Desert Home, a memoir, and four poetry collections including a verse novel. She is the founder and president of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and the founder of the Writing Ranch in Bend, Oregon. Her latest book, Walking the High Desert: Encounters with Rural America along the Oregon Desert Trail, is available now.

The Future of Diversifying Publishing: Reflections from Hanni Jalil, the 2019-2020 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellow

Academic publishing is a fascinating world, as my time as the Mellon University Press Diversity Fellow at the University of Washington Press has shown me. During my fellowship, I have met and worked with intellectually curious and critical individuals committed to collaborative work, to producing scholarship and knowledge as a public good, and to opening doors to diverse voices in publishing and in the academy. But what should commitment to diversity really look like in an industry that is still 76 % White? When we look at editorial departments, the numbers are less encouraging: a recent survey on diversity in publishing revealed that Black/Afro-American/ Afro-Caribbean colleagues in these departments make up only 1% of all editorial positions. Folks that identify as Latinx/Latino/Mexican make up only 2%, and Native Americans or First Nations colleagues represent less than 1% of all editorial jobs.

The Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship, spearheaded by Larin McLaughlin, editor in chief at the University of Washington Press and this year’s AUPresses Constituency Award winner, is a pipeline program designed to address this problem, with a particular emphasis on diversifying acquisitions departments at participating presses and beyond. “Fixing” the diversity problem in publishing necessitates more than increasing representation of BIPOC people across the industry. We should also reflect about diversity in terms of representation for our LGTBQ+ colleagues as well as in terms of neurodiversity and ability. However, here, I want to focus on the need to provide spaces and retention practices that encourage BIPOC folks to enter, stay, and thrive in the publishing industry.

Undoubtedly, those of us who have participated in this fellowship have benefited from this opportunity. During the fourteen months I worked at the press, I learned about the acquisitions process through formal and informal mentoring opportunities and conversations with my colleagues Mike Baccam, Lorri Hagman, Neecole Bostick, Andrew Berzanskis, and Larin McLaughlin. I have also had the privilege of sharing this experience with an incredible cohort of fellows past and present, whose support and mentorship has been invaluable. Because of the UW Press’s incredibly collaborative spirit, I also had the opportunity to learn from other colleagues in editorial design and production, marketing, and in rights and contracts.

I’m leaving the fellowship with experiences and lessons that will continue to shape my professional journey, so in my mind there is no question that the Mellon Fellowship is a significant resource and intervention to challenge the industry’s inequities and an amazing opportunity. But what will happen when the program ends? What happens at presses where there are no analogous programs? We need more than programs like this fellowship to fix problems that are structural and for which there are no easy solutions. Coming up with ways to solve the lack of diversity in publishing requires an industry-wide commitment to radically transform the visible and invisible structures that make academic publishing a predominantly white industry. In this post, I would like to focus on three types of barriers to inclusion, which the industry must face head-on. The first, the need to reimagine our outreach and hiring practices across departments; the second, the need to build meaningful and engaged mentoring relationships with BIPOC folks who enter publishing; and the third, the need to establish pay equity across the industry.

The first barrier speaks to the question of how to make diversity not a platitude or afterthought but a central goal in our outreach and hiring practices. Make this an intention and purpose in all of your efforts. What would happen if we gave the candidate’s engagement with and commitment to diversity the same weight we give the rest of their professional experience? Think about the transformative potential of these considerations and make them central to your outreach and hiring practices.

The second barrier speaks to the value of fostering meaningful and engaged mentoring relationships with BIPOC folks in publishing. Mentorship can make a difference as an effective retention strategy. Consider how your BIPOC colleagues feel about entering and working in an industry where the majority of folks who work in it are white. Here are some possible fears: Will I be tokenized? Will I face micro-aggressions? Will I be encouraged to speak-up? Will my opinion and viewpoints matter? The most effective pedagogies are those where educators think about and design their courses not with the average student in mind (thinking in terms of “average” is a fraught concept, anyway), but in ways that unlock individual potential, while acknowledging that the diversity of our life experiences is a constituent part of how we learn. Meaningful and engaged mentorship is similar to the role of instructors and facilitators in that it requires intentionality and cultural responsiveness. Make establishing a mentoring relationship intentional, provide guidance, be proactive about meeting the needs of your mentee, and, lastly, open spaces for your mentee to approach you with uncomfortable or hard conversations.

Lastly, think about the urgency of establishing pay equity across the industry, particularly for folks in entry-level positions. Retention strategies require us to think about our colleagues’ material realities. Should we be asking our colleagues in entry-level positions to sacrifice their financial stability and well-being in order to stay in publishing? Most of us would agree the answer is no. Let us go a step further: because publishing is an apprenticeship-based industry, where moving from entry-level positions to mid-career or managerial positions takes a considerable investment of time, are there expected sacrifices ultimately matched in compensation, possibilities of advancement, and job security? Can BIPOC people or folks who come from low-income families, folks who are first-generation students, who have familial responsibilities, or who do not have networks of financial support really assume this sacrifice? Now think about the ways that oppression and exclusions intersect and overlap, and ask yourself if promoting pay equity and paying higher livable wages is not also a necessary component of the industry’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We all have privileges, some more than others, but if publishing is serious about overcoming the historical and structural barriers that keep the industry predominantly white, we need to take action. While implementing diversity initiatives like the Mellon Fellowship is a step in the right direction, it must be one of many steps on the path to transformative change.


Hanni Jalil migrated with her siblings to the United States from Cali-Colombia; she is the 2019-2020 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellow. This fall, she will join California State University Channel Islands as an assistant professor of Latin American history.

What keeps us calm during the chaos: Nozomi Naoi on “Yumeji Modern” and finding the “moon-viewing” moment

In such uncertain times, it is important to remember the things that keep us human, keep us who we are, and allow us to persevere.

My book, Yumeji Modern: Designing the Everyday in Twentieth-Century Japan, has a chapter on the artistic reception and visualization of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 (Chapter 5). As tempting as it is to focus on the disaster and suffering, I want to introduce one newspaper illustration and accompanying text that focuses on a moment of serenity, beauty, and humanity amidst the chaos and wreckage.

The modern Japanese artist and main subject of the book, Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934), wrote and illustrated a newspaper series called Tōkyō sainan gashin (“Sketches of the Tokyo Disaster”), which was published daily in the newspaper Miyako shinbun. Comprising both texts and images, Yumeji’s series records his reactions to the catastrophe and its aftermath and participate in a collective making of memory in modern Japanese history. His visual and literary observations showcase feelings of empathy and shock, as well as disappointment due to the inaction on the part the Japanese government in helping its citizens. Tokyo Disaster began its serialized, daily release merely thirteen days after the earthquake struck, running from September 14 to October 4, and the series presented some of the earliest responses to reach the public.

Out of the twenty-one issues in the series, one stood out: the twelfth issue from September 25, Chūshū no meigetsu (Moon-viewing; fig. 5.09, p. 161). It is a tranquil night scene with a mother and her two children, seen from behind, sitting in a field and looking up at the moon. It is a poignant scene and all the more so with Yumeji’s sensitive portrayal of the woman, as his interest in the female image made him popular with his iconic “Yumeji-style beauty.” The romanticized natural setting and the figures communicate a beautiful moment even within a series that dwells on the theme of destruction.

Moon-viewing

The text recounts how people had to spend many nights in the open due to a lack of shelter and then describes the mother:

I saw a woman pulling pampas grass in the field at Aoyama. I passed by casually, then realized that tonight was “moon-viewing” (chūshū no meigetsu). Some do not forget the offerings to the full moon even in such destitute times when people are living in shacks. Tonight there must be people gazing at the bright moon from the eaves of the galvanized iron roofs, grateful for their survival . . . (pp. 160-161)

Moon-viewing festivities celebrated the beauty of the autumnal moon and prayed for an abundant harvest. The appreciation of mother nature, which had just struck against humanity is nonetheless breathtaking. By homing in on the attempts of one woman to preserve the tradition of moon-viewing for her children despite the tragedy, the image and text also reflect Yumeji’s focus on the experience of the individual in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster.

The desire for people to recreate and preserve normalcy even during a time of trauma touched Yumeji.

Serialization also allowed Yumeji’s reactions to the earthquake to reach a broad audience every day for three weeks, and the series became a platform that expanded and built upon itself, enabling a kind of memoristic journey that the artist and his audience experienced together.

The series finds its source in Yumeji’s artistic beginnings as an illustrator for socialist bulletins during the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and demonstrates on a more personal level his concern for the place of the common people, of the voiceless within a climate of mounting government oppression and militarism. In addition, his keen observation and focus on the figure and its interiority was germane to his development in the portrayal of the female figure, one that evolved from his prolific production of bijinga (beautiful women) imagery, mostly for publications targeting a female audience.

Tokyo Disaster is an important series in the examination of the artist Yumeji and his role in the early twentieth-century mediascape. But it also holds a more personal meaning.

While doing research for this book in Japan, the Tōhoku Earthquake struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, followed by countless aftershocks and a massive tsunami. It was in the aftermath of this event and during Japan’s collective efforts to restore, reconcile, and narrate this disaster that led me to Yumeji’s responses to the Great Kantō Earthquake, the greatest natural disaster during his lifetime. This experience permitted me to approach this series with a better understanding of and insight into Yumeji’s heartfelt reactions to the 1923 earthquake, and I decided to devote my last chapter of the book on this series and include the entire series translation in the appendix. I completed the translations and analysis of this series with the 2011 disaster in mind, which even years later affects the many people who are still unable to return to their homes.

In our current circumstance in 2020, I now feel that the many reactions and critiques seen in this series are ever more relevant, and I hope that in our times today each and every one of us is able to find our own “moon-viewing” moment.


Nozomi Naoi is assistant professor of humanities (art history) at Yale-NUS College and author of Yumeji Modern.

 

 

 

 

 

Hyung-A Kim on “Korean Skilled Workers”

The Korean case of national development is an outstanding one. South Korea rose from one of the poorest countries in the world to the twelfth largest economy in terms of gross domestic product with innovative technology (innotech) development, which ranks globally in the top three countries. Although not entirely without its flaws and idiosyncrasies, Korea has indeed succeeded in a dual industrial and democratic revolution together with innotech development within just six decades since the mid-1960s, surviving several traumatic global financial crises, including the Asian financial crises in 1997 and 2008.

Some of Korea’s large family-owned conglomerates, or chaebŏls, in particular, have become the world’s preeminent manufacturing brands. Samsung Electronics’ smartphones, Hyundai Motors’ automobiles, Hyundai Heavy Industries’ shipbuilding, LG’s electronic home appliances, and various Korean telecommunication brands, not to mention K-pop and cosmetics, all boast global reputations and associated market power. Chaebŏls thus quite rightly feature in developmental literature on Korea.

Unlike the prominent chaebŏls, Korea’s highly disciplined and technologically savvy skilled workers are little known, other than for their union militancy that has branded them a “labor aristocracy” and an object of social criticism for their collective “selfishness.” Affiliated with the radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, king of unions in the country, the Korean skilled workers’ unions have in fact become one of the most powerful forces. They, in the eyes of the Korean public, pursue only power and vested-interests in the name of “progress” in Korea’s highly polarized society today.

Herein lies a new narrative that I tell in Korean Skilled Workers: Toward a Labor Aristocracy, a story that recounts not only their critical contribution to South Korea’s rapid development but also their controversial roles in Korea’s democratic working class movement and its current economic status in the world.

My book is the first comprehensive study of Korea’s first generation of skilled workers in the heavy and chemical industries (HCI) sector, tracing the intriguing transformation of the skilled workers’ collective image and character, which have dramatically changed over more than four decades since the early 1970s. This story involves their socio-political trajectory of dramatic transformation, tracking how they initially became patriotic and obedient “industrial warriors” of the Korean state-led HCI program since the 1970s, and then changed into self-proclaimed “Goliat warriors” during South Korea’s democratic transition from 1987 to the early 1990s.

During this period, the first generation of Korean skilled workers in the HCI sector represented the democratic labor union movement and the solidarity movement of the Korean working class in their partnership with radical university students and intellectuals. The book then shows how they finally became a “labor aristocracy” by consolidating their collective status in Korea’s dual labor market as regular workers at large HCI firms. Since the 2000s, they have become a distinct class of a labor aristocracy in Korean society.

In this book I have challenged hitherto prevalent approaches to the study of the Korean case of development by analyzing the lived experience of Korea’s first generation of skilled workers, speaking directly to several dozens of skilled workers and many prominent leaders of the various skilled workers’ labor movements and unions, and corporate CEOs, among others, including academics, journalists, and labor experts. I analyzed newly declassified sources from Korea’s presidential and national archives, among other internal documents, as well as data on Korean workers’ views on the role of unions taken from surveys conducted in 1978, 1987, and 2005. I also conducted in-depth interviews during 2014 and 2015 to obtain up-to-date information on the individual situations and perspectives of HCI workers. This book alerts us to the need to rethink the conventional understanding of the East Asian model of development espoused by elite development theory (EDT) traditions.

This book is a must-read in coming to understand not only how necessary skilled workers are to enabling a nation’s development, but also how they as a newly emerged “labor aristocracy” need to move beyond collective selfishness, especially in this global era of labor market polarization between precarious workers and highly-paid regular workers in many developing and advanced countries throughout the world.


Hyung-A Kim is associate professor of Korean history and politics at the Australian National University. She is author of Korea’s Development under Park Chung Hee: Rapid Industrialization, 1961–1979. Her new book Korean Skilled Workers: Toward a Labor Aristocracy is available now.