Category Archives: Guest Post

‘What makes work meaningful?’: Q&A with ‘The Social Life of Inkstones’ author Dorothy Ko

The following interview originally appeared at Barnard News and is adapted and used with permission. (Courtesy of N. Jamiyla Chisholm, Barnard College, New York City.)


To honor Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, Barnard College professor of history Dorothy Ko offers a peek into ancient and modern-day Eastern culture and politics.

According to the Library of Congress, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month takes place in May for two reasons: May 7, 1843, marked the immigration of the first Japanese citizen to the U.S.; and on May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed, mostly by Chinese immigrant workers.

Credit: Marvin Trachetenberg

Dorothy Ko explores the subjects of gender and body in early modern China. In her books, Ko unravels the complex worlds of Chinese footbinding (Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding), fashion (Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet), and feminism (Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China). Her latest, The Social Life of Inkstones: Artisans and Scholars in Early Qing China, introduces the West to the world of ancient Asian stones and includes close to 100 images (see slideshow below). Ko explains the significance of this highly specialized art form.

What exactly is an inkstone and what is its significance in East Asian culture?

An inkstone is a piece of polished stone about the size of an outstretched palm. Before the invention of fountain pens, let alone laptops and iPads, every student, writer, or painter in East Asia had to grind a fresh supply of ink at the desk by dipping an ink-stick in water and rubbing it on the surface of the stone. This process was as instinctive to them as recharging our iPhones is to us. Day in and day out, the writers and painters developed deep attachments to their implements. More than an instrument for writing, the inkstone was a collectible object of art, a father’s gift to his school-bound son, a token of friendship, and even a diplomatic gift between states.

Why is this tool so unfamiliar to Western civilizations when it has represented so much for the East for more than a millennium?

Europeans drew ink from an inkpot so they had no use for an ink-grinding stone. Nor did the early European collectors appreciate its subtle beauty as the Chinese connoisseurs did. The color of the inkstone tended to be deep purple or black; it is small and does not display well in a stately home or fancy apartment. So it is no wonder that there is no notable collection of inkstones in Europe or America.

Your book shines a light on craftswoman Gu Erniang who became famous for her inkstone-making skills, which were refined between the 1680s and 1730s. What made her such a standout?

Her extraordinary skills. Gu Erniang was a remarkable woman who thrived in a field dominated by men; she became more famous than her male colleagues. Her name was associated with technical and artistic innovations as well as refined taste. It is also interesting to mention that she enjoyed more gender freedom than her genteel sisters in that she could receive male patrons in her studio to discuss commissioned projects face-to-face.

How has the significance of inkstone artisans changed over time?

Gu Erniang was one of the first inkstone makers in China to attach her signature mark on her work, suggesting a heightened respect that exceptional artisans like her enjoyed. Today, because the inkstone is no longer a functional object, all inkstone artisans have to present themselves as creative artists.

What interests you most in this topic area and what are some of the biggest “ah ha!” moments you had conducting research for the book?

I love all the modern conveniences we enjoy but increasingly feel the need to look back and reassess the heavy price we pay for such “industrial development” or “progress.” I became interested in the craftsmen because theirs was a sustainable livelihood that was environmentally responsible. Through their eyes, I arrive at tentative answers to my big question at the moment: What makes work meaningful? The craftsman’s answer: Making one-of-a-kind objects with attention and skill in a collaborative environment. Craft makes us more human by inspiring us to strive for perfection.

How does the research conducted for this book connect to research from your previous publications on footbinding and Chinese feminism?

As a historian of gender, I’m sensitive to power inequalities and trained to analyze the operations of power. In the same way that I had retrieved women in Chinese history in my earlier books, I set out to retrieve the artisans from erasure in the hands of male scholars. Little did I know that the latter turned out to be a far more difficult project.

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Photo Essay: Hidden Treasures and Surprising Views from ‘Seattle Walks’

In Seattle Walks, David B. Williams weaves together the history, natural history, and architecture of Seattle to paint a complex, nuanced, and fascinating story. He shows us Seattle in a new light and gives us an appreciation of how the city has changed over time, how the past has influenced the present, and how nature is all around us—even in our urban landscape. With Williams as your knowledgeable and entertaining guide, encounter a new way to experience Seattle. Here Williams shows us some of his favorite hidden spots and surprising views of the city. Do you know them all?

Learn more about Washington’s urban history and celebrate the publication of Seattle Walks at these events:

April 30 at 4 p.m., Eagle Harbor Books, Bainbridge Island, WA

May 21 at 4 p.m., Village Books, Bellingham, WA

Scroll down to the bottom of the post to enter for a chance to win a free copy of the book (US residents only).


Discovery Park Terra-Cotta Figure – This is one of three terra-cotta figures, all of which came from the White-Henry-Stuart Block, which was destroyed in 1978 for the Rainier Tower. This one is in Discovery Park (Walk 9). Native American heads of the same design can also be seen on the Cobb Building downtown (1301 4th Avenue; Walk 5). With their feather headdresses, these figures are not based on local Native Americans, though they were made by a local craftsman, Victor Schneider, who worked at the Denny-Renton Clay and Coal Company. Schneider also created the terra-cotta triptych on the Seattle Times Building.

Credit: David B. Williams

$15 million sundial – This small sundial is on the southeast corner of the house built by Samuel Hill, a lawyer and railroad executive who moved to Seattle in 1901 (E Highland Drive and Harvard Avenue E; Walk 13). Hill began work on his Capitol Hill home in 1908. The quote on the dial is from Rowland Hazard, a woolen manufacturer and friend of Hill’s from Rhode Island, who had a sundial on his house. The former Samuel Hill house is now on sale for $15 million.

Credit: David B. Williams

Great Seattle Fire Plaque – One of several panels in Westlake Plaza created by school kids. The panels, based on geographic and historic questions and answers, are oriented in three rows each consisting of four question tiles and one answer tile. In case you don’t know the date, the answer is on a nearby panel (Walk 4).

Credit: David B. Williams

Waah! – Located on the Interurban Building (167 Yesler Way), the carved figure was done by an unknown artist for an unknown reason (Walk 5). Perhaps it was a colleague or the carver was simply having fun. Walking Seattle’s downtown core reveals a vast urban safari of carved and molded creatures in stone and terra-cotta.

Interurban Building / Credit: David B. Williams

Octopus’ Garden – Artist Lezlie Jane designed several parks along Beach Drive SW, just south of Alki Point (Walk 17). This piece and a 32-foot-long tiled wall nearby highlight the nearshore wildlife in Puget Sound. The Constellation Park and Marine Reserve is also the best public place in the city to learn about the constellations visible from Seattle.

Credit: David B. Williams

Seattle Skyline View from Dr. Jose Rizal Park – One of the surprising views from north Beacon Hill toward Seattle (Walk 14). The small green space became park property in 1971. Three years later members of the local Filipino community, part of which centered on Beacon Hill, worked with city local government to name the park in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal, a Filipino social reformer, ophthalmologist, poet, and novelist who was executed in 1896 by the Spanish colonial authorities in Manila when he was 35 years old. If you want the best views, come in winter when the park’s forest of red alders and bigleaf maples have dropped their leaves.

Credit: David B. Williams

Last Bluff in Downtown Seattle – When settlers first arrived in Seattle, most of the shoreline surrounding Elliott Bay was high bluffs of sediment. This bluff is the last one remaining in the downtown area (2000 Alaskan Way at Lenora Street; Walk 1). If you imagine yourself here in 1850, just before the European settlers arrived, you would have been standing on the shoreline. Another way to consider this landscape is to realize that most of the land west of the fence did not exist in 1850. It is all made land, created primarily by the building of Seattle’s original seawall and the filling in of the area behind it with sediment.

Credit: David B. Williams

Fremont Bridge – The view from Streissguth Gardens on west Capitol Hill (10th Avenue E and E Blaine Street; Walk 13). Started by the Streissguth family, the garden is now owned by the city.

Credit: David B. Williams

View over Puget Sound – The hill with the brick building atop it on Alki Point exists because it is consists of a layer of 23- to 28-million-year-old sandstone, known as the Blakely Formation, that resisted erosion during the last ice age 16,400 years ago (55th Avenue SW and SW Charlestown Streets; Walk 17). Imagine standing here during the last movement of the Seattle Fault about 1,100 years ago, when the ground rose 20 feet. Prior to the earthquake, the mound would have been a seastack rising directly out of the water. Perhaps at very low tide, you could have walked across a beach to it. After the uplift though, the mound and its sandy surroundings would have been thrust up above the high-tide line to their present position.

Credit: David B. Williams


David B. Williams is a freelance writer focused on the intersection of people and the natural world. His most recent book was Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, which won the 2016 Virginia Marie Folkins Award, given by the Association of King County Historical Organizations to an outstanding historical publication. Other books include Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology and The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from the City. Williams is coauthor of Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal. He lives in Seattle and continues to explore and travel through the city by foot and by bike.


Furry Attractions: Polar Bears in the Zoo

International Polar Bear Day, which falls every year on February 27, raises awareness about the conservation status of polar bears in a warming Arctic. In this guest post, Ice Bear author Michael Engelhard shares this photo essay about the history of polar bears kept in zoos.

In the western hemisphere, polar bears have lived in our midst since the Middle Ages, a result of our fascination with these charismatic carnivores. From their very beginnings as cultural institutions, zoos have tried to balance entertainment and education. Today, with climate change and habitat loss from development threatening the polar bear’s natural habitat, many have added conservation to their mission, with captive breeding programs and scientific research. This gallery offers a brief stroll through zoos past and present, a glimpse at how we have kept and presented the Arctic White Bear.

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Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

The menagerie in the Tower of London, one of Europe’s oldest and longest-operating zoos, in an illustration from 1808. Already in 1252, Henry III of England kept a muzzled and chained polar bear there, which was allowed to catch fish and frolic about in the Thames.

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Courtesy of E. K. Duncan.

Polito’s Royal Menagerie at the Exeter ’Change in London, 1812. A collection of exotic animals owned by Stephen Polito, a touring showman in Georgian England of Italian descent who had come from his own country to find fortune in London and the provinces. The artist Edwin Landseer came here to study and paint polar bears “true to life.” Continue reading

10 things a clueless eater can do: Guest post by ‘The Deepest Roots’ author Kathleen Alcalá

DeepestRoots_AlcalaKathleen Alcalá is a Bainbridge Island writer who has long been one of the Pacific Northwest’s most powerful voices in fiction, essays, and memoir. Her most recent book, The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island, combines deep historical research and personal interviews in a rousing narrative that uses her home island as an example for exploring issues around sustainability and society. Alcalá meets Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II, and learns the unique histories of the blended Filipino and Native American community, the fishing practices of the descendants of Croatian immigrants, and the Suquamish elder who shares with her the food legacy of the island itself.

In the spirit of the New Year, this guest post from the author offers steps each of us can take to live more thoughtfully and sustainably, so we can take better care of ourselves and our communities—both now and for the future.

10 Things a Clueless Eater Can Do

Join us for this special author event:

January 10 at 7 p.m. // Elliott Bay Book Company co-presented with Friends of the Farms, Capitol Hill

Kathleen Alcalá makes her welcome Elliott Bay return with her newest book. Joining will be Heather Burger, director of Friends of the Farms, a nonprofit that helps the farmers tell their stories as well as market their products, and Bob and Nancy Fortner of Sweetlife Farm, who are eager to share their back to the land story.

1. Keep a garden!
Even if you have no land, or in our case, sun, you can borrow or rent land suitable for gardening. If not, keep potted herbs on your windowsill. Indoor plants also improve the quality of the air.

2. Save seeds.
If your garden grows in abundance, note which plants do especially well in your climate. Let a couple go to seed, and keep some of the seeds to be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for the following year. Be sure and label them with the date, and anything else you know about the plants. This means that the seeds best suited to your micro-climate will be preserved and passed on.

3. Join Community Supported Agriculture.
Subscribe to a local CSA that will provide you with groceries almost year-round. You can pick up your groceries once or twice a week, and many deliver to a location near you. Besides vegetables, many CSAs now offer dairy and meat products. Continue reading

From the Desk of Tom Helleberg: The Charleston Conference

2016_charleston-conferenceThe first week of November, I was fortunate enough to travel across the southeast visiting with printers in Tennessee and representing the University of Washington Press at the 36th annual Charleston Conference in South Carolina.

The Charleston Conference is billed as an “informal gathering of librarians, publishers, consultants, and vendors to discuss issues of importance to them all.” While the conference may have humble origins, with a scant twenty participants in early meetings, 2016 featured over 1,600 attendees spread across a dozen hotels and venues with a program as thick as a phone book and as many as twenty concurrent sessions at any given time. This was a big to-do, even in comparison to the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses.

Since 2014, there has been an increasing publisher presence at Charleston, with many attendees from the AAUP as well as academic publishers. This has been driven by publisher-focused pre-sessions; by an increase in publisher panels and presentations (such as the “What’s the Big Idea” talk by the directors of Michigan, Mississippi, and National Academies); and by the growing realization that university presses and libraries not only share a mission, but are often approaching the same challenges from different directions. Continue reading

Q&A with ‘Ice Bear’ author Michael Engelhard

The following interview originally appeared in the Smithsonian magazine newsletter and is adapted and used with permission. The product of meticulous research, Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon by Michael Engelhard traces and illuminates over 8,000 years of history between polar bears and humans. With more than 160 color illustrations, Engelhard brings into focus the powerful and elusive White Bear—and explains how and why it endures as a source of wonder, terror, and fascination.


What new angle does your book bring out about polar bears?

I am proud to say that Ice Bear is the only book available in any language that focuses entirely on the cultural aspects of polar bears—on 8,000 years of history shared between them and us.

Why have polar bears captured the human imagination?

For a number of reasons: From their physique to their behavior, they resemble us in many ways. They are big, charismatic top predators living in one of Earth’s most unforgiving environments. They are symbolic of the Arctic, one of the last frontiers of the human imagination. Lastly, we’ve long associated whiteness in animals with certain qualities: the rare, the pure, or the sacred.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about the polar bears?

That they’re ruthless “man killers.” I think they are just getting a bad rap, often getting in trouble for what only amounts to curiosity—a trait that, ironically, makes them survivors in a sparse environment. The statistics show that brown bears kill and maul more people per year than polar bears do. Of course their smaller numbers and remoteness also play a role there. Like most creatures, polar bears just want to eat, to keep living, and to protect their young.

"The bear gripped them both." Art by Adrien Marie and Barbant from "Le Docteur Ox" by Jules Verne (1874).

“The bear gripped them both.” Art by Adrien Marie and Barbant from “Le Docteur Ox” by Jules Verne (1874).

Which individual story or fact were you most surprised to uncover?

It’s hard to choose. But I enjoyed learning about a scheme to train polar bears to pull Amundsen’s sleds to the pole. It involved the German circus entrepreneur and animal trader Carl Hagenbeck, who also revolutionized zoo design. Also, the early medieval commerce in Greenlandic polar bear cubs, which Norse settlers traded to European royalty, for their menageries.

How has writing the book changed the way you see polar bears?

I only now realize the degree to which they have been instrumentalized, how we always have molded them to fit our agendas. With all the symbolic ballast and history, it is hard, perhaps even impossible, to see them objectively. That’s because hardly any other animal has been burdened more with our projections. It’s as if their whiteness and remoteness invited that.


fairbanks-art-association-reading_10-7-2016

Photo by Melissa Guy.

Michael Engelhard works as a wilderness guide in Arctic Alaska and holds an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His books include Where the Rain Children Sleep: A Sacred Geography of the Colorado Plateau, the anthology Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North, and a recent essay collection, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean. His writing has also appeared in Sierra, Outside, Audubon, National Wildlife, National Parks, High Country News, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

UP Staff Spotlight: Niccole Leilanionapae‘āina Coggins on community and food sovereignty

Today is UP Staff Spotlight day on the 2016 University Press Week blog tour. The fifth annual University Press Week of the American Association of University Presses (AAUP) continues all week (November 14 – 19, 2016) with the theme Community. Today’s blog tour posts feature staffers making good and doing interesting things in their local communities. Please share this and today’s other posts on social media with the #ReadUP and #UPWeek hashtags:

upweek2016_logosmallUniversity of Chicago Press

Johns Hopkins University Press

University Press of Mississippi

Seminary Co-op Bookstores

Wayne State University Press

University of Wisconsin Press

Our UP Staff Spotlight contribution to the #UPWeek blog tour offers a guest post from 2016-2017 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellow and assistant editor, Niccole Leilanionapae’aina Coggins.

Niccole Coggins staff news photoOn October 26, I attended a talk entitled, “hishuk’ish tsawalk—Everything Is One:  Revitalizing Nuu-chah-nulth Foodways and Ecological Knowledge,” by Dr. Charlotte Coté, Associate Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. Professor Coté’s lecture was about her community, the Nuu-chah-nulth-aht, and their history of colonialism and imperialism, as well as their resistance and revival. One way that communities, and indigenous communities in particular, resist colonialism and imperialism is through food sovereignty. The Nyéléni Declaration (2007) defines food sovereignty as, “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustained methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

Coté spoke of her mother teaching her to explore and try various wild plants—minus mushrooms—like qaalh qawi (wild blackberry), may’ii (salmonberry shoots), and quilhtsuup (wild celery), even t’uts’up (sea urchin) from the ocean. Coté shared stories of her aunt going blackberry picking; the family women fishing, in the traditional way, with a net for the first time, and the buckets of salmon they caught, and the hours it took to smoke (and how good salmon jerky is). Coté also talked about her community reclaiming traditional ways of fishing and preparing salmon, kuch’as (salmon cooked over an open pit fire); and reviving the tradition of a whale hunt and the environmentalists that protested.

As Coté talked I started thinking about other communities, especially those in “food deserts,” where it’s hard to access affordable, healthy, quality food, in particular fruits and vegetables. My cousin worked at the Kaiser Permanente Center in Watts where, with the leadership of the community, a weekly farmer’s market occurs. Other KP centers adopted similar programs to access locally grown produce.

I thought about my family and the blackberry bush behind gramma’s house. My aunts and uncles gathering to eat from the bounty of the ocean:  fish, ‘opihi (Hawaiian limpet), limu (seaweed), and wana (sea urchin).

I thought about the colonialism that changed Native Hawaiians’ relationship with food and language. Food was sacred before the missionaries arrived and made food secular. Since then words associated with food do not carry the same weight of sacredness as before. The literal translation of the word hānai (foster child) is “to feed.” When food is sacred, the relationship you have with that person is sacred and carries weight. It circles back to Coté’s talk about food sovereignty, and responsibility and relationships.

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