history, history of africa, history of identity, history of language, socio-historical, Uncategorized, world history

📚 Book Review: Mark Horton & John Middleton. The Swahili: The Social Landscape Of A Mercantile Society. Sample City: Eastern Africa. Publisher: Blackwell Publisher Inc. Year: 2000. Pages: 282.

 

 Horton and Middleton discuss the history of identity and location in their text entitled, The Swahili: The Social Landscape Of A Mercantile Society. These author articulate the history of identity by focusing solely on the Swahili society. Although these authors are not writing this text as a historical narrative it becomes a narrative of Swahilian history. The authors do this by taking a “‘Swahilicentric’ and not ‘Eurocentric’ approach” (p.3). This becomes the methodology that drives this text and offers the current Indian Ocean and African historiography a more micro-history on identity. 

Horton and Middleton go about this text in breaking down major elements of  Swahili society and culture. The starting point is considering the Swahili people as a kind of nomadic folk, thus, creating a large historical footprint. This micro-history becomes a macro-historical narrative. The reader is lead down a path of chronology that includes the location and settlements that were involved in imports and exports of commodities. Trade becomes not as central in the discussion of long term historical relevance of the Swahili societies of today. I do critique the book for its misleading title. The title does lead the reader to think there is much more importance place on “mercantile” or trade elements in this history than actually is in the text. 

Interestingly, Swahilian language becomes another main theme in the identification and historical legend of the Swahili society. The authors state, “the Swahili are no longer a mercantile society of any importance; but their language has become a lingua franca of most of eastern Africa and beyond”(p.14). This is key to the work this book does in the account of Swahili history but as well as the discourse around Swahili identity.

In full this book is broken down into key aspects of Swahili history such as but not excluded to: the importance of Islamic theology, the interconnection of trade across the Indian Ocean, the topography, trade, and the legacy of diaspora. The bookends of this research, start and end with the key argument around identity. Within this central topic of identification, a critique can be made in regards to the pitfalls of reproductions of the Eurocentric narrative. This leaves the reader with a misnomer of agency and power that the Swahili society actually hold in history. Unfortunately, this undermines the central themes of this book. 

Overall,  Merton and Middleton’s text is easy to ready and does a enormous task of highlighting many elements of societal history of the Swahili people. The use of intersectional frameworks brings about a robust account of the past and present. This is identified in the Introduction of the book stating, “to write a history of this people with themselves at the centre we have tried to listen to and understand Swahili ideas of their own society as determined by their own view of the past…all these versions of history are central parts of present knowledge” (p.3).  This is a valued approach in writing histories. This text can be noted as a extensive, thorough, and easy to read socio-historical text that includes the past and present of a complex people and their endowment of language that inhabits most of Africa. 

9/10

Advertisements
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

folklore, history, history of europe, history of nature and science, science and technology, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Peter Mancall, Nature and Culture in the Early Modern Atlantic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), Pp. 197.

book .jpg

Much has been said by historians and scientists about the history of knowledge production in the United States and how that knowledge relates to the world at large. But most of those documents, that have something to say, are usually that of colonial rule. For Peter Mancall this isn’t necessarily the case. Mancall calls upon a plethora of differential source material. Using not only what he notes as “traditional sources,” but he also uses visual and oral histories as well (x). In doing so Mancall sets out to discuss “humans and nature in the sixteenth-century Atlantic basin” in a nuanced way (ix).  Mancall is arguing for an expansive more epistemological framework, within analysis, history, and knowledge production of the Atlantic basin in the sixteenth-century. Furthermore, Mancall looks at motivations and contextual circumstances to illustrate intentions for knowledge production in the first place. Using plenty of differing sources Mancall notes that economic, political, and technological motivations drove knowledge within the sixteenth-century to be constructed in a very particular way (xii). Methodologically, Mancall calls upon many different sources. Working a bit backwards, in favor of discussing methodology, the section entitled “Notes On Sources” discusses particularly how and why historians can use a more intersectional approach in utilizing sources. Mancall states, “The chapters in this book focus not on brad environmental changes but instead on specific relationships between nature and culture in the sixteenth-century Atlantic basin…[revealing] there was not a single moment of transition but instead myriad encounters” (140).

Chapter one entitled, “The Boundaries of Nature,” discusses “monsters.” What constituted a monster? What made a monster real rather than fake? Mancall notes monsters “were part of the real world, even if they were invisible or existed only in the stories told from an alleged eyewitness to credulous listeners” (6).  Mancall unearths the legacy of knowledge on monster in the region of Fréjus. It is here where the stories of monsters come to be. Out of painted panels Mancall notes, “Many panels feature iconography common across the continents in the late Middle Ages…A whole catalog of exotic beasts roamed above the heads of late medieval congregants” (7).  Dragons and mythical beasts were just some of the painted monstrosities on these panels that aided in a knowledge of non-human nature. Mancall discusses the influence of Mandevill’s work. In the fourteenth-century, Mandevill’s writing on monsters not only spread across Europe but one person in particular grabbed ahold of it…Christopher Columbus. Mancall speculates if Columbus may have been moved to write about monsters and men due to the exposure of  Mandevill’s work (13).  With literature, travel guides, and scientists in Europe producing the discourse of monsters it is safe to say that the New World was not the only place with supernatural understandings.

Just like the New World the Old World had their own set of monsters, but each place had their own relationship with “monsters.” Mancall notes, “While Europeans tried to understand monsters and demons in their own communities…Americans were not obviously concerned with how monstrous entities came to be” (27).  The obsession to know and control seemed relegated to the European documentation of monsters and demons. For Mancall, the Native communities possessed more knowledge to grow and work towards incorporating the spirit and material worlds. For example, Mancall discusses the Mandan cosmology in relation to North American beliefs about spirituality and the supernatural (29). Cosmology of the spirit world created the landscape and aided in explanations on ecology. Mancall does note, briefly, the stereotype of the Native environmentalist troupe, by discussing more of the “good relations with the deities” that Natives wanted to have for their own economic gains rather than the “conservationists” stereotypes that have become relegated to the Native body. Very similarly Europeans wanted to understand monsters to conquer or dispel them just as much as Natives wanted to understand the spirit world to avoid disrespecting and gain relations to it.

Chapter two entitled, “A New Ecology,” discusses the ways in which cartography aided in mobilizing knowledge production and depicted the ways in which maps “provide clues about the new ecology of the sixteenth-century Atlantic basin” (47).  Mancall discusses the ways in which map making was infused with not only the map makers ideas but also the political climate of the map makers time. This is the problematic feature of maps for Mancall. This theme also highlights the historical aspect of anxieties that played a part in European expansionist projects. Mancall states, “Maps, then, reflected their makers’ understanding of what they knew and imaginary depictions of what they did not. They also revealed what was important to their patrons” (55).  “Bountiful” is one of the narratives that comes out of the storytelling attributes of the map. Another narrative is the theological aspects and the stakes of body and soul saving. This is particularly true of the Spanish exploration and “conquest.” But for Europeans, Mancall notes, the New World was much more interested in projects of knowing, exploring, acquiring, and owning. This is indicative of a picture, that Mancall calls upon, wherein a man on a boat is in a body of water. The scene is portrayed as a bountiful and cornucopia of different fish in the waters around them and are all ripe for captured on his boat for a plentiful harvest (62). These illustrative narratives provided specific narratives about the New World to the Old world. This narrative was major theme at the heart of many of these map making motivations. The idea of the utopian landscape of abundance and bounty had to mobilize itself and what better way then maps.

Chapter Three entitled, “The Landscape of History,” notes the mass migration across the Atlantic Ocean from 1492-1600 (85).  This was impart to Europeans thinking that they had divine rights over the Americas. The example of John Winthrop illuminates this point in full. Mancall states, “English Puritan John Winthrop, shortly before sailing across the ocean where he would become the governor of Massachusetts, argued that the English has a legitimate right to settle where Natives lived” (86).  This claim to “legitimacy” would become the main argument for not only exploration and migration but as well as settlement and civilization. This is the start of European entitlement, for Mancall, not only for land but of people, nature, and knowledge. This chapter discusses more of the critical analysis in why Theodor de Bry depicted Natives and the Americas differently. The European gaze fell onto the objects with fascination and the spectacle in de By’s engravings read—bountiful/abundant. Mancall discusses this at length in the critique of the image labeled, “The manner of their fishing,” in which more of everything was added to add to the fantastical pictorial narrative of abundance. Mancall states, “Each revision of the images by de Bry’s workshop constituted a manipulation of the eyewitness visual information about coastal Carolina” (101).  What is clearly problematic is the natural history of the Americas and its representation. These images became more important than the authors realized. They would be representative “picture[s] of a haunted place whose inhabitants would soon succumb to the invisible bullets of European newcomers” (119).

Lastly the postscript entitled, “The Theater of Insects” discusses the English naturalist and physician Thomas Moffet’s work. This last section, of Mancalls monograph, discussed the importance of Moffet’s work as “spectacle” and its interpretations (121).  This work is important because it signified knowledge that was directed at specific peoples. Moffet’s book is written in Latin, originally, and was for European scholars. But the performative piece is much more interesting in the analysis of Moffet’s work by Mancall. Mancall discusses the ways in which nature is personified to have its own class and culture. For example the perforative element of transformation, or more specifically metamorphosis, becomes representative of  narratives in the possibilities of nature. Mancall discusses this by articulating on the ways metal becomes a vessel of these narratives (126).  Mancall demonstrates how Moffet’s work tantalizes the European mind towards explorative narratives of progress and expansion by way of science and discovery. In this way, insects would become linked not to monsters but to divinity. This brings Mancalls premies of this monograph full circle.  Mancall notes the ways in which “insects revealed the wondrous powers and infinite potential of God” for Moffet (128).  Insects would become economic producers in this sense and have their own labor to Europeans. This short but provocative narrative, on the illustrative powers of sixteenth-century work in the Atlantic basin, showcases the ways in which not only travel logs promoted ideology but so did pictures. Mancall also highlights how nature and humans were now in a state of hierarchy and categorical control by the ideological and pictorial construction.  Mancall brings up many interesting points that others have not in the field or history: science and nature. By illuminating different motivations and interpretations of nature, such as the “Theater of Insects” by Moffet, Mancall added a little something extra to the historiography on science and nature! I would recommend this to historians, scientists, and those interested in the transformation of fantastical narratives.

10/10

feminist studies, feminist theory, history, history of sexuality, lgbtq, philosophy, political theory, queer history, queer studies, science and technology, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1 (New York, Vintage Books, 1990), Pp.169.

IMG_6127.jpg

One of the most influential scholars in gender theory and history is Micheal Foucault. Not only does Foucault speak to ideas of resistant but also to the making of nation-states regimes. In this way, Foucault is interested in documenting legacy of medical body politics, knowledge-production, and discourse of the bodies and their taxonomy in history. Foucault thesis states, “I would like to…search instead for instances of discursive production,” “of the production of power,” “of the propagation of knowledge…I would like to write the history of these instances and their transformations” (12). Individuals become tied to discourse. Discourse then is the main taproot of how bodies and their identities get created for Foucault. Thus, the nation uses these discourses to produce a norm and to create its subjects.

Foucault specifically speaks to sex and sexuality in this narrative; addressing power through tracing the chronicling of  sex throughout the emersion and aggrandizement of societies. Foucault’s literary project in this book is to discuss the arenas of power and not only how power is used but also where it is coming from. For Foucault, power is not a repressed or muted entity. Power for Foucault is through the vocal and expressive. Foucault states, “the central issue, then…is not to determine whether one says yes or no to sex…but to account for the fact that it is spoken about” (11). This is fundamental to Foucault’s argument on power and thus sex. The importance of this, is in refuting the repressive hypothesis by Freud, and then moving forward looking/locating power from a different axis point. Foucault goes on to say, “to discover who does the speaking, the position and viewpoints from which they speak, the institutions which prompt people to speak about it and which store and distribute the things that are said” (11).  Again the significance placed not only on what is being, how its being said, but also on what come of it—ideology. This ideology begins to differentiate category and hierarchy.

Ideology, producing power, is the main theoretical investigation Foucault sets out to discover. Foucault clearly explains the realms in which power is mediated in, then what and how power is mobilized. Foucault states, “a transformation into discourse, a technology of power, and a will to knowledge…” (12). This explanation Foucault gives is insightful and pushes the critique of power further. Foucault uses a specific example of a “technology of power” which he arraigns as the confession. Foucault addresses this “technology of power” by stating, “for telling the truth of sex which are geared to a form of knowledge-power strictly opposed to the art of initiations and the masterful secret: I have in mind the confession” (58). This being another central idea that Foucault presents is knows as the “knowledge-power” ideology. This “knowledge-power”  idea questions the ways power works to control through individuals through spoken words, categorization, and then the production of knowledge that is derived from linguistic expressions. Foucault uses sexuality to present a critical analysis of power, as well as a historical reverberation, that can be woven in and out of time and spaces to demonstrate the power of construction of bodies.

It is imperative to rely heavily on the text in understanding the articulation of “knowledge-power” given by Foucault. Foucault elucidates his prime example, the confession, and how power is dispersed through the immersion of terminology, that gets spoken and then transformed. Foucault states, “the confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship…the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgive, console and reconcile…” (61-62). Foucault highlights how power relations are not only determined but then reappear.  Foucault states, “power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (93). Within this sphere, the confession serves as a space where the speaking and the spoken swirl into a production of power through the construction and manufacturing of “truths.” This objectification, categorization, and simplification of bodies and their experience through articulation is the very point Foucault points out in moving into the calling into consciousness—sexuality.  

Foucault also proposes an unveiling into the acknowledgment of power through sexuality by stating, “the history of sexuality—that is, the history of what functioned in the nineteenth century as a s specific field of truth—must first be written from the viewpoint of a history of discourses” (69). Keeping this in mind one can now consider why and how Foucault uses sexuality to bring a rich and robust analysis of power to the forefront.

Turning back the hand of time, Foucault looks into the past for evidence of power stating, “power mechanisms are, at least in part, those that, beginning in the eighteenth century, took charge of men’s existence, men as living bodies…methods of power whose operations is not ensured by right but by technique, not by law but by normalization” (89). A direct linkage to forms of power and domination is in the normalization of bodies and interpretations of acts. Again pointing out and falling back to the example Foucault uses, the confession, to really showcase that operation. Before one looks to the counterattack or if there is any agency in these matters it is important to point out once more, to make sure there is a clear understudying, of why again Foucault calls upon sex in the analysis of power. Foucault states, “sexuality…it appears rather as an especially dense transfer point for relations of power” (103). Again, Foucault allows for an opening of understanding into a form of power. Foucault points out the apertures in these power relations stating,“where there is power there is resistance” (95). It is paramount to point out Foucault’s statement about just how one can resist and recognize resistance.

In conclusion Foucault distinctly leaves the reader with a few answers on  general question about resistance. Foucault answers questions about resistance drawing on the importance of social construction and historical underpinnings. Foucault states: “sexuality is a very real historical formation, it is what gave rise to the notion of sex…The rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasure (157).” This important articulations offer a new way at looking at the history of sex, deconstruction of bodies and their domination through sex and sexuality history. In conclusion,  Foucault touches upon the history of control, in critiquing  bodies politics, through gaining knowledge of acts that people do and the categorization of these acts. Foucault’s  history of sexuality becomes a road map in discussing not only how sex is used for building of empires but how race and gender get deployed as well in the making of the nation-state. I would most definitely recommend this monograph to academics, philosophers, and historians!

10/10

american literature, feminist studies, history, history of the united states, History of the US, humanism, Inspiration, short story, Uncategorized, women and gender studies, world history

Book Review: Velma Wallis, “Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival (Harper Perennial, 1994), Pp. 128.

old ladies .jpg

 

Forgiveness…Patience…Unconditional Love…. These are all the themes Wallis brings forth through this remarkable tale of two women. What I want to do in this book review is give brief highlights of each chapter and then give my recommendations!

About the Author, Velma Wallis: “born in 1960 in Fort Yukon,  remote village of about 650 people in interior Alaska…Wallis later moved to her father’s trapping cabin, a twelve-mile walk from the village. She lived alone there intermittently for a dozen years, learning traditional skills of hunting and trapping…” (128). This story is a tale her mother told her that she has added some of her own flavor too.

Introduction: In the intro. Velma Wallis is recounting how she came upon the story of the two old women. In Alaska, where she is from, her family had a story that had been pasted down from generation to generation. Wallis states, “This story of the two old women is from a time long before the arrival of the Western culture, and has been handed down from generation to generation, from person to person, to my mother, and then to me…This story told me that there is no limit to one’s ability—certainly not age— to accomplish in life what one must” (xvii).

Chapter One: In chapter one were learn of a band of Native Americans in Alaska that are suffering from starvation and a harsh winter. Wallis refers to these people as “nomads were The People of the arctic region of Alaska” (1). In this band there were two old women who were basically taken care of by members in the band.  These two characters are the main characters of the story.  Ultimately, the band decides to leave the women behind, due to the lack of starvation and devastating winter conditions— they felt it was best for the band. So they decided to leave the elderly. The two women were heartbroken and in shock.

Chapter Two:  In chapter two the women are hopeful at least to give it their all to live rather than to sit and die. not trying at all. Tenacity and perseverance are other themes that permeate this story. The strength of these women is were the story begins to head.

Chapter Three: Chapter three thus becomes about mobility and creating a counter narrative that involves persistence and women working together to overcome obstacles and survive.  This narrative of women helping women to rise up and not giving up on one another is a contradictory narrative to Eurocentrism, deterministic and individualist narratives that are so common in history.

Chapter Four: The two old women make it to their destination and remember when they were younger how old women were left behind. By persisting, these two old women were breaking the chain of being left to die and dying they were surviving. Wallis writes, “the hunting skills they learned in their youth reemerged and each day the women would walk farther from the shelter to set their rabbit snares…” (63). The way that these women survived was by remembering how to take care of themselves—they were not hopeless even though The People had deemed them to be.

Chapter 5: Chapter five the two women begin to create their own society and new way of life but there was still something missing. The author writes, “soon the women fell into a daily routine of collecting wood, checking rabbit snares, and melting snow for water. They sat evenings by the campfire, keeping each other company” (83). But even so they were growing lonely…

Chapter 6: At this point The People are still struggling and did not transcend from a place of surviving to thriving. Instead they are struggling and turn back to the place where they had abandon the two old women (85). Wallis states, “The People were suffering, and this winter found them on the verge of hopelessness” (86).  As they returned to the place where they had left the old women the chief notices that something is off, so he sends someone to check and look around for the old women. The birch tree had strips off of the trees and this lent a clue to The People that there was someone, maybe another band, but regardless there was someone else out there (90).

Chapter 7: The two old women hear their names being called and decide to stand ready to be found. They are afraid of The People now but know they will be found. What becomes blatantly clear at this point in the tale is the themes of  transformation and strength. The two women, coming from a place of rejection, are now re-envisioned. Understandably, both the women are apprehensive of The People coming and finding them and taking all their took.  They set boundaries and limits to being discovered and how they now felt about their band. 

Chapter 8: The final chapter deals with respect. Wallis writes, “in this time of hardship the news of their [the two old women] survival filled the band with a sense of hope and awe” (112).  They are not just some old women. They are survivors and individuals to look up to and respect. “The People had thought themselves to be strong, yet they had been weak. And the two old ones whom they thought to be the most helpless and useless had proven themselves to be strong” (115). This speaks volumes to the way society not only sees elderly persons but women also.  This tale re-writes that narrative. Wallis states, “after everyone had been reunited, the chief appointed the two women to honorary positions within the band…they enjoyed their newly found independence. So The People showed their respect for the two women by listening to what they had to say” (122). Again, this is a different narrative and the two old women become an allegory for not only older women but any age of women.

I would recommend this to just about anyone. Some subjects in particular this book may pertain too may include but not limited to: women and gender studies, history, feminist studies, cultural theory/history, and social studies. This would be a great book for children as well as college students. Its expansive nature makes it a wonderful piece of literature.

10/10

 

 

american feminist literature, american literature, feminism, feminist studies, feminist theory, herstory, history, humanism, lgbtq, philosophy, politics, science and technology, sex reassignment, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Judith Butler, “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.4 (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001), 621-636.

JudithButler2013.jpg

(photo credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler)

Bodies and their artistic nature of gender, sex identity and expression is a complicated notion. In the essay entitled “Doing Justice to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,” Judith Butler discusses these complications in discussing the social construction of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler uses a Foucauldian framework to talk about body politics and the “regulatory regime” of medicine on bodies (621). Butler does this by specifically focusing on one individual in particular identified as “the case of Joan/John” (625).

The case of Joan/John is not a uncommon story but is an example of the ways in which the medical establishment constructs bodies that are “viable” and are coherent for the nation-state. In short the case of Joan/Joan is a story of an infant that goes through a botched circumcision, in which the doctor convinces the parents it will be better for the child to grow up with no penis and assume the identity of a female then to grow up with a deformed penis (622). The narrative gets more complicated as Joan/John grows up and ends up identifying more as a male than his produced female more identity (623). Through this case study, Butler identifies the debate between social and biological arguments for sex/gender (623) More important, this essay offers a theoretical framework for discussing the forced construction of gender on individuals and their bodies. Butler’s thesis states, “in recounting this story and its appropriation for the purposes of gender theory.…I hope to underscore here is the disciplinary framework in which Joan/ John develops a discourse of self-reporting and self-understanding…by which his own humanness is both questioned and asserted” (628-629).

Lasting thoughts from this piece are productive invitations to discuss the body and nation. Asking academics and intellects alike the question of what ultimately constitutes humanness?  Butler asserts there is  major “limits to the discourse of intelligibility [coherent/identification/taxonomy]” (635). If that is so, Butler’s contributions challenge the constructed categories of the nation-state and binary body politics. This essay highlights the nation-states perceived need for these categories to propel nationalism and its citizenship. I would recommend this essay to academics, intellectuals, and social activists. This is a perfect essay to sit down and discuss with like-minded thinkers. I guarantee you will engage in an exciting and stimulating conversation reading this and discuss it with peers or colleagues! 

10/10

feminist studies, history, history of africa, history of magic, history of the united states, History of the US, religious studies, spirituality, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Chireau, Yvonne P., Black Magic:Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (Berkley/Los Angels/London: University of California Press, 2006), Pp. 222.

small black magic.jpg

Coalescing religiosity and cultural tradition is an ever present reality in the history of  conjure tradition and practice of African Americans. Although Conjure practices are not relegated to African Americans, historians have located a direct lineage to the genealogical origin of conjure tradition and practice in Africa. The displacement of Africans, by way of the slave trade, opens up an aperture to discuss the mobility of  “slave religious tradition”(41).  Within this framework conjure was not only shaped by the slave trade but also was transformed by the diaspora of Africans in the United States. Chireau’s thesis states, “I have argued that African American Supernatural traditions, as dynamic products of black spirituality, are best understood within their actual social contexts”(151).  The author does an excellent job at contextualizing time, space, and social constructs that shape religious practices and legacy of tradition. Chireau also defines terminology in this book. For example Chireau defines conjure as, “A magical tradition in which spiritual power is invoked for various purposes, such as healing, protection, and self defense” (12). This is essential in understanding what the main point is of her book but also sets up the reader to read on and not have to stop to define terminology.

Chireau historicizes this subject by using wold history to propel her reader into a deeper understanding of how conjure’s tradition grew and shifted by region. The very nature of supernatural beliefs was as much apart of the Old World structure of African life as it was now for the New World that they had come into by force (33). Thus, the interweaving of history and culture is a fundamental aspect of conjuring history, practices and traditions. We cannot leave out the synthesis of Christian influence on African American spirituality that the author provides. Chireau identifies the early twentieth-century  and the “Eternal Life Spiritualist Church, founded in 1913 in Chicago,” as the  revival of the Spiritualist practices (114). These practices become apparent again in the late twentieth into the twenty-first century (139-140).

Interestingly, Chireau chronicles women within the conjure practice and traditional lineage as much as the men in this movement. Although there is a robust amount of women’s participation and representation the  question of why, women’s presence is so important, is neot addressed. The conclusion that can be made of these accounts are influenced by the statistics on slavery and the oppression that was felt by both women and men. As stated by Chireau, “the activities of such enslaved Conjure men and women have been well documented” (15). What the author does provide clearly is a clear picture of the female Conjure stating, “black female supernatural specialists were represented in a gamut of gender stereotypes in fiction and folklore, from the sinister, decrepit hag to the dangerous, bewitching mulatta. African American Conjure women inherited a legacy of powerful spiritual roles that had been instituted by their foremothers” (22).  Again, as for the specifics such as the “how” and the “why” of these women’s presence/practices, the reader may be left wanting more. I would recommend this to any reader that is interested in the movement of spiritual practices and black magic from Africa to the US. I would also recommend this to historians, women studies enthusiasts, and religious studies academics.

10/10