history, Uncategorized, women and gender studies

Book Review: Francoise Vergès, Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage (Duke University Press, 1999), Pp. 394.

 

Verges.jpgFrancoise Verges takes a different approach to discussing the political history of a non-inhabited space—well not until t the French brought slaves to the island of Réunion. Verges monograph entitled, Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage, discusses how the history of one Island, Réunion, was the “creation of a colonial act” (xiii). The history of Réunion starts as an island with no inhabitants whatsoever. By the seventeenth-century not only was their inhabitants but there was colonialism. The motivation to inhabit the small Indian Ocean Island was for potential possibilities of sugar plantations.

Verges ultimately wants to examine the differences of this locale but also points out the “emancipatory discourses disciplined there” (xi). Verges gives warning to the reader that this narrative focuses on male identities and citizenship, and is not about female history or even entirely non-fiction.This becomes the biggest problem of this book. The back and forth narrative of fiction and non-fiction could confuse readers. Especially readers that are not well versed in history but captivated by the title. I think this is a huge failing of this monograph. For the sake of this book review I will focus on the non-fiction narrative Verges offers.

The main themes that come out of this history of Réunion is the creation of class and race out of the sugar plantation industry. Until 1848 the way of life for colonial subjects was slavery (xiv).

So why is nostalgia of the days of French colonialism so prevalent to the history of Réunion? It is not uncommon for colonial spaces to have nostalgic thought and feeling. But the nostalgia in Réunion’s history is not only of  “fantasy” of colonial success but that of resistance and anti-colonialism. How verges tackles these abstract notions in colonial history is by relying on what he notes as the “family of romance” narratives. Verges notes the two different manifestations of this kind of narrative. The first is the “‘cololinial family romance’” which relied on this notion of “imaginary parents” and the ties to French empire (3). Second, “‘métissage was a term that spoke of the cultural and social matrix of diversity born of colonization and assimilation” (8).  This is another key attribute, the métis was the signifier of rebellion,  categories like these personified what kind of a person you represented in society. What ultimately came out of this category was fear of rebellion (by colonizers) but also that of hope for resistance. Verges discusses the “discourses of emancipation” that came out of Réunion and the nuances as well as the mimicry of Enlightenment discourse in France. After 1848, the abolition of slavery, the discourse had a new word that would come to mean so many different things—freedom.

This resistance and work towards emancipation was now the new fraternity, becoming a sort of new citizenship between colony and metropole. Another example of colonial contradictions, that Verges highlights,  is demonstrated through “blood politics” (Chapter 3). Verges calls upon Laura Ann Stoler to elaborate on this notion stating, “the ‘symbolics of blood’ and its reoccupation with legitimacy, madness, and pure blood,” was at the heart of the next step of colonial forces—the medical establishment (97). Unfortunately,  this history fails to meet certain nuances in providing an equitable narrative for women and men. Although that was not the project Verges set out to do, I feel the historical narrative falls flat, and leaves the reader wanting much more.  I would recommend this monograph to historians,  women and gender studies majors, as well as others who want to complicate their own historical knowledge of colonized and colonizer. Great book for book groups that can discuss the abstract concepts in these pages.

7/10

 

 

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cosmology, history, history of class, history of Italy, history of religion, macro-history, micro-history, Uncategorized

Book Review: Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1980), Pp. 179.

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Carlo Ginzburg demonstrates how history can take a very particular and fine-tooth comb approach to people, places and events in history. Ginzburg does this by focusing on one particular individual—an italian miller by the name of Menocchio. This detailed investigation of Menocchio is vibrantly articulated by Ginzburg, detailing an investigation of trial hearings in the sixteenth century.  An entire book is dedicated to the eccentric individual Menocchio. The story of Menocchio in short starts in September 1583 when Menocchio who was tried for heretical acts in the community of Friuli (2). This beginning takes major shape by specifically focusing on what Menocchio was claiming to his fellows. This ultimately lead him to be on trial for heresy. Grinzburg demonstrates the intricate life of this one man by discussing his cosmology, the trials, and the literature of Menocchio’s time. By focusing on the specific time period that Menocchio came into contact with the author is able to provide a specific and detailed historical account (27-28). One of the central points of Ginzburg’s micro-historical study, is the filter in which Menocchio looks at the world through. Ginzburg articulates this by stating, “What is important in the key to his [Menocchio’s] reading, a screen that he unconsciously placed between himself and the printed page…and this screen, this key to his reading, continually leads us back to a culture that is very different from the one expressed on the printed page— one based on an oral tradition” (31). This finding by Ginzburg, ends up using one figure in history to show what he calls “a substratum of peasant belief” (19).  Paradoxically, larger concepts come out of this micro-study such as: urban society, repression, religion, politics, and Italy’s geopolitical sphere (19).  Menocchio, ultimately looses his life and is burned at the stake for his prophetic beliefs and method of radical ideological. But what this historical protagonist provide is a historical record for more knowledge on mill workers and their religious questioning/beliefs in the sixteenth-century.

Ginsburgs approach takes on a very intimate and detailed account of one mans life, while still integrating the social landscape of Italy into the narrative. The use of micro-and macro-history in concert with one another makes for an exciting read. This fascinating account is an essential read for historians but I would recommend this book to anyone! 

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

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

american feminist literature, american literature, herstory, history, Inspiration, literature, short story, women

Book Review: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892),Pp. 24.

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A compelling and fascinating short story, Charlotte Gilman, takes the reader on an intense journey through the struggles of women’s autonomy over their minds and bodies. Set in Gilman’s historical moment this short story discusses the damaging consequences of women being treated secondary to their male counterparts. Gilman’s semi-autobiographical narrative discusses her experiences with depression, a controlling husband, lack of autonomy, and finally liberation.  Gilman tell’s a story of a woman who is given no name. This no name woman is experiencing something that she cant quite put her finger on. Her doctor, who is also her husband, tells her she is just acting “foolish” and “hysterical.” He prescribes her rest for three months in hopes of helping her feel more “normal.” This reference Gilman makes to the historical reality of how  women’s mental health was treated in the nineteenth-century is spot on. Gilman is pushing back at Silas Weir Mitchell’s “rest cure” approach that was prescribed to women who were acting “foolish” or “hysterical” in the 1800s.

Gilman narrates the no name woman resting, as prescribed, but in turn going stir crazy.  All the while, her husband continues to dismiss her and insists on her resting.  The woman with no name is left to secretly write wishes and desires down on paper.  If her husband found her writing it would be going against his prescribed rest.  Being locked up in her room the woman with no name becomes obsessed with the room—specifically the yellow wallpaper. The wallpaper becomes a simile for society. 

In a bizarre turn, the woman with no name starts to sees a woman inside the wallpaper.

Gilman allows her protagonist to discusses this woman she sees in the wallpaper as her true desire. A desire for friendship, companionship, and even a career.  By the end of the story she is angry and tired, maybe even “sicker” than before all the “rest” she was prescribed.  In a final act of rebellion, the woman with no name, pulls the wallpaper almost completely off the walls and liberates the woman behind the wallpaper. She liberates herself.

Finally, this texts becomes a stand in for discussing issues Gilman wants to illuminate in  1892. This short story becomes the platform to do just that. The author ultimately brings up topics that were quite racy for the times such as: women’s equality, mental health issues, female heath, women’s desires and career opportunities.  Gilman also pushes back on narratives that relegated women to “hysterical” beings and discusses the true nature of gender oppression in a toxic masculine society.  This is a must read for historians. I would also recommend this to anyone who is interested in a fascinating short read that examines the past and the legacy of male oppression and women’s liberation. 

10/10

feminist studies, feminist theory, philosophy, political theory

Essay Review: Louis Althusser, “Ideology and The Ideological State Apparatus,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971) 127-186.

How a nation-state is formed, sustains and then is able to acquires a legacy of nationalism is the driving question of theorist Lois Althusser. The author discusses in the selected pages entitled, “Ideology and The Ideological State Apparatus,” inner workings of institutions that manifest nationalism. This mode of thought engenders a Marxist theoretical lens, which produces an inquiry of nationalism, bodies, and production. Althusser is trying to explain the power of  idealogical forces in the history of capitalism, the infrastructure and superstructure; which he discusses through the notion of ideology and its apparatuses. Thus, Althusser’s “basic thesis” states, that in order to discuss the intricacies of power and production we must start “from the point of view of reproduction” (138). Although Althusser goes on to have a series of thesis[ “thesis 1: ideology” is an “illusion/allusion”…. “thesis 2: “ideoldogy has a material existence” ] the “basic thesis” and his central thesis will be discussed here (162 &165). The main entry points into his discussion of ideology is within the state. Althusser asserts, “the definition of the State as a class State, existing in the repressive State apparatus [such as: legal practice, police, courts, prisons, army, and gov.] casts a brilliant light on all the facts observable in the various orders of repression” (137 &139).

The major offering Althusser provides academics is his theoretical framework in identifying as two major societal systems. The first is the Ideological State Apparatus [ISA] such as: church, school, family, legal, political, trade union, press/radio/T.V., arts and sports (143). The second apparatus is defined as the Repressive State Apparatus [RSA] such as: police, jail, prisons, doctors, and politics— “which function by violence” (143).

Moreover, Althusser is quite helpful in understudying the inner or subversive vs. overt workings of state making and nationalism. Althusser offers an explanation in how an “independent” subjects become a subject of the state. Although the theoretical offing is dense, it is useful in the history of the state and understanding where ideas come from that promote radical and passive notions of sacrifice to the state. It is also important in theorizing  reproduction and the meaning making of citizenship, gender, race, and class. An essential read for theorists, feminists, and the like.

#magick, guide, herstory, how-to, Inspiration, Instructional, magick, religious studies, Spiritual Literature, spirituality, wicca, witchcraft, women

Book Review: Cassandra Larsen, Wicca: A Beginner’s Guide to Witchcraft, Spells, Rituals, and Magick (2015), Pp. 88.

 

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Wicca: A Beginner’s Guide to Witchcraft, Spells, Rituals, and Magick (Simple Witchcraft Series Book 1)

For a beginner, excited by the possibility of magic and ritual, this is a wonderful booklet to start with! Cassandra Larsen’s short booklet is more of a hands-on manual. It guides the reader in understanding the key concepts that traditional Wiccan spirituality practice. The booklet becomes interactive in nature by inviting the reader to begin on a journey of practicing Wicca for themselves. Larsen notes, “This guide will teach you the basics of Wiccan beliefs, along with meditation and visualization exercises designed to open your mind and expand your consciousness” (5). The author is able to accomplish this by breaking the book down by each chapter. Even though this a short booklet it is productive that there are chapters. The organization helps the reader to enjoy and also start to practice this new spiritual reality. Another productive feature of this booklet is that each chapter builds on each other. What is really nice is Larsen doesn’t assume you know anything, she is your guide, and that is what makes this booklet all the more enjoyable.

The first chapter is dedicated to introducing you to key concepts and quickly moves into the second chapter. Chapter two creates space for the practice of meditation, visualization, and energy work to be explored by the reader (13-21). Larsen then provides a handy third chapter on a glossary of tools and what they do. Larsen then takes the reader into a more practitioner’s position by discussing how to do “Circle Casting.” Larsen states, “Casting a circle is a way to create sacred space, preparing the area for magick…my purpose in this book is to teach easy, practical rituals and spells, I will outline a simple ritual for circle casting” (33).  The author moves on to chapter five and discusses the holidays or sabbat for each season. Discussing each sabbat and its meaning and ways you can practice celebrating these days. Lastly, chapter six was one of my favorite chapters in terms of how Larsen takes a list of days, moon phases, colors, stones, and different herbs and discusses what they provoke and how we can embody their energies and magick!

I would recommend this booklet to anyone who is interested in practicing Wicca.  I should mention there were times I had to stop reading and look some of the concepts up. I needed a little more insight than what was provided. I was left wanting a little bit more. One thing that might have taken this booklet to the next level would have been illustrations. I think not providing pictures was a missed opportunity by Larsen. Finally, I believe the author met her goal in this booklet. Larsen set out to create an accessible narrative on Wiccan tradition and practice and she accomplished that goal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this booklet and will probably read it again– I liked it that much!

10/10