herstory, history, history of capitalism, history of class, history of europe, history of gender, history of identity, history of language, history of race, history of religion, history of sexuality, Uncategorized

Book Review: Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton University Press, 2009), Pp. 316)

ann.jpgAnn Stoler presents a twist to the readily acceptable “truth” of many archival documentation. In her monograph entitled, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense, Stoler discusses the hidden secrets of colonial archival documentation. Stoler specifically looks at colonial documents from the Dutch and critiques archival colonial discourse; or what she calls a “material force” (1-2).  Stoler’s central argument discusses the epistemological and ontological evidence of what she means by “colonial commonsense,” as well as those who may have had un-common sense, and how this was documented (3). In doing this kind of work Stoler looks at what she describes as “epistemic practices” in the nineteenth and twentieth century Indo-European culture (5). For Stoler, the colonial character becomes an aperture into the ways in which there was an “un-common sense” in the readily accepted “common sense” of archives.

This monograph is compelling and is a productive critique. I would recommend this book to historians and anyone who is interested in a solid critique of colonialism.

10/10

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#anthropology, american studies, history, history of nature and science, history of race, history of the united states, Uncategorized

Book Review: Ann Fabian, The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead (University of Chicago Press, 2011), Pp. 270.

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Much can be said about conceptions and manifestations of racism in America. But where did these legacies and violent realities originate from? In an informative and well documented monograph by Ann Fabia entitled, The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead, readers are provided with origins of racism and how science is linked to these roots. Looking specifically at groups of naturalist, craniologist, anthropologists, brain mappers and ethnographers; Fabia is able to document the work of eighteenth century ideological discourse, work, and legacy on tropes on race. This essay will discuss Fabia’s book in length and discuss the kind of work Fabia is doing in this book. I will also discuss the productive nature of this book and any shortcoming of this book as well.

This book invites historians to expand on this book. The strengths of this book are not only in the recovery of history but in the history of skulls and the link to scientific racism. Fabia also demonstrates the ways in which taking one key actor in the field can open up a lens for a solid narrative on the history and legacy of big ideas. The way in which Fabia backs up this narrative with strong examples of how skulls were linked to race and then ultimately to racism boasts her final conclusion about the legacy of skull collecting to scientific racism. The shortcomings in this book are few, but it should be noted that it may have made Fabia’s argument stronger to constitute and define what scientific racism is early on in the reading. Unfortunately, Fabia uses this term and uses a few footnotes to really unpack the definition of scientific racism. This was a major shortcoming in terms of driving home one of her main claims. Overall, Fabia provides an interesting and important narrative on the constructs of race, body, and later what would be identified as racism/scientific racism. I would recommend this book to historians, women and gender studies, ethnic studies, scientists, and anyone who wants or needs to understand the legacy of institutions and their hand in categorical construction.

10/10

history, history of africa, history of capitalism, history of europe, history of nature and science, history of race, history of the united states, neoliberalism, science and technology, socio-historical, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Sidney W. Mintz entitled, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Penguin Publishing, 1985), Pp. 274

book .jpg Sidney Mintz takes an anthropological approach to discuss the rise of economic gains of the production and consumption of sugar. An important component of this economic feature is in the labor that is used in the manufacturing of sugar. Mintz ultimately tracks “the ways power was exercised” by following the development of one commodity—sugar (xvi). Sugar became a status symbol of “wealthy, power, and status…by eating these strange symbols of his power” (90). This commodity becomes a marker and is a cite that anthropologists and historians can use to locate conceptions and legacies of power, labor, and goods. Mintz states, “Sugar began as luxuries, and as such embodied the social positions of the wealthy and powerful” (140). The author identifies a sociological aspect to the history of sugar as well as a physiological, environmental, cultural and economic  factors that drove this commodity to be purchased and desired.

Sociological: The sociological side for this increased desire for sugar may have been a status or class privilege ambition. Mintz also argues there is also another component to the desire for copious amounts of sugar.

Physiological: The component of a physiological side to this desire and consumption of sugars. Mintz discusses that sweetness would have been known to our primate ancestors and to early human beings in berries, fruit, and honey” (16).

Environmental: This is important in understanding some of the environmental factors in sugar consumption. But what seems to be more profound is the cultural or constructed side of the history of sugar.

Cultural:The definition of culture for Mintz is asserted as, “Culture must be understood ‘not simply as a product but also as production, not simply as socially constituted but also as socially constituting’” (14).

Economic:  Labor and economics of sugar have a deep and significant history that Mintz documents.  It has been asserted by Mintz that, “Using imported slaves—perhaps Europe’s biggest single external contribution to its own economic growth” (55). With the manipulation of labor and creating situations in which labor would become slave labor led to the increase of exploiting resources, labor, and commodities by Europeans.  Mintz discusses this by stating, “Slaves and forced labors, unlike free workers, have nothing to sell, not even their labor; instead, they have themselves been bought and sold and traded” (57). Mintz illuminates the cruel reality of Europe’s commodity history. Commodity of bodies and sugar in concert with one another provided an exotic component to how individuals who labored and those who purchased sugar were positioned. This text provides a inter-disciplined narrative on the history of one commodity and its affects on the world. This is a text anyone could read!

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10/10

feminist studies, herstory, history, history of class, history of gender, history of race, history of sexuality, history of the united states, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Massachusetts:Harvard University Press, 1999), Pp.416.

book.jpgLinda Gordon’s historical monograph entitled, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, discusses the shifting ideas about race, class, and gender in twentieth-century Arizona.  This book investigates a case that involved Irish children, from New York,  who were being taken to Arizona in hopes of a better life. This “better life” was more invested with class and preventing poverty than it was about race. Gordon’s central theme of the book discusses the intersection of “Mexican-Anglo relations” (x). Gordon presents this story in a multifaceted way by looking at the Anglo’s motive and intentions, while also discussing how race and class differed within the same nation. The story starts out with a grim depiction of immigrant life in New York. Children were suffering at the hands of poverty and were struggling to survive. In the nineteenth and twentieth-century religious organizations, specifically the Catholic Church, were intervening and removing children from impoverished living conditions and re-locating them with different families. Gordon discusses these particular event in 1904 in North Clifton Arizona. In this particular event Gordon focuses took Irish immigrant children to new families that could provide an adequate life for them in Arizona. The one difference was the race of the children did not match the race of their new families. Instead it matched their socio-economic status.

This is where we see the intersection of race, class, and gender in this monograph. 

 In Arizona the potential parents were Mexican and the type of labor that was common among this group seemed to be the best fit for the orphan immigrants. This was not seen as an improper race placement but a proper class and religious placement. The immigrant children were being placed with class appropriate family structure. Gordon notes this as the “‘wageworkers’ frontier,’” in which the affiliation to ones class would structure the whole way of life (25). The national movement to find better jobs and more opportunity was not only in the working class adults frontier but also in children’s frontier history.

Out of competitive class structures race and gender became more solidified and produced a ridged rhetoric by the twentieth-century. In the case of the orphan train from New York to Arizona, race was being constructed in a very gendered way. The train pulled up to Clifton Railroad Station on the evening of October 1, 1904, with the children prepared to enter their new lives, with the families that would best fit them in terms of class and religion. But something in particular happened on that night, a racialized lens of ownership came upon those children by Anglo women who watched these children come off the train and go home with their new Mexican parents. The Anglo women noticed their light skin and proposed that the children needed to be with them and not the Mexican women and families (41).  This started a several month long battle that would end up constructing notions of race, class, and gendered politics for Clifton Arizona. Race was dictated in this case not only by looks but in how these children should be raised, ultimately by white mothers. Motherhood then became one of the most controversial constituter of race in the case of the orphan abduction of Arizona in 1904. This is a provocative historical case study and would be interesting for those interested in United States history and women and gender studies history. I will warn it is a long text but it is filled with historical details that provide to her overall study and thesis.

10/10