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

economic history, eurasian history, history, history of asia, history of capitalism, history of europe, history of the united states, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press), Pp. 416.

Narratives about world history have been riddled with complication, debate, and imbalance. Some historians have decided to take a European centered approach, known as Eurocentrism. This approach has been noted, and is agreed upon by many scholars, as extremely problematic. Are their alternative way to write or discuss world history? This weeks author, Andre Gunder Frank discusses and offers an alternative to this complicated debate. In Franks book entitled, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, there is a major change in the world history narrative. Frank takes old narratives, Eurocentric approachs, and uses a different approach entirely which “instead works from the whole world inward” (51). This can be understood as taking the entire historical normative, static, and flattened world history narrative and repositioning the center as Asia; refashioning the narrative “which is thereby turned on its head” (51). This advent takes on a different focal point, in which Europe is exposed as behind not forward in the advances of the times.

Frank takes on the narrative project of world history by not only starting with Asia as center but also by pointing out the faulty foundation of European expansionism. Frank states, “It is completely counterfactual and antihistorical to claim that…. ‘Europe built a world around itself.’ It did not; it used its American money to buy itself a ticket on the Asian train” (xxiv-xxv). One of the authors central points is in highlighting European’s access into Asian market economy. By doing this, Frank shows how Asia really was interested in one commodity in particular—silver. Frank states, “Asians would buy nothing else from Europe other than the silver it got out of its colonies in the Americas” (134). This was the in for European market economy. This was particularly true in 1492 and 1498. Frank notices the gain in access from Europeans to Asian markets via American silver gave access to Europe becoming a major player (59). But one may ask why silver? If silver is the major commodity that shifts the market, why and how does this happen in the first place? Frank explains by situating the importance of coin vs paper economics  in the Ming dynasty. Frank discusses the important element of supply and demand stating, “Chinese public demand for silver and the large size and productivity of the Chinese economy and its consequent export surplus generated a huge demand for, and increase in the price of, silver worldwide” (112). This shifting importance drove to major contributing factor in supply and demand within the market. Europe had an in (silver)  and this would now be their one commodity that they could sell and also gain a position in the global economy. Before that Europe wasn’t even a main player in the global economy and certainly not among Asian markets.

This analysis that Frank gives highlights Europe’s weakness. Frank asserts this notion stating, “That it may have been the other way around, that maybe it was the world that made Europe” (3). Europe had no special or innate characteristic in their historical relevance. Frank drives home this point stating, “Despite their access to American money to buy themselves into the world economy in Asia, for the three centuries after 1500 the Europeans still remained a small player” (185). Frank ultimately wants to challenge and highlight  a “temporary” situation (258). By relying on a more inclusive approach to historical analyses by critiquing the binary of traditional vs modern Frank, most interestingly, tries to answer the question on how and why Europe got into a position of power.  Frank states, “Why the West won (temporarily)…One answer is that the Asians were weakened, and the other answer is that the Europeans were strengthened” (258). Frank asserts one of the reasons of “growing economic and political strains in Asia” (267). This may have put Asia at a disadvantage when delegating world power and domination in the world economy. Fusion of economic and political structure was critical to the shift in Asia to European power relations. Frank states, “Economic advantage of Asia between 1400 and 1800 may have been turned to its own disadvantage and to the advantage instead of the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (259). This is accounted for in the events of the Chinese opium trade. Frank asserts, “In China, rapid economic dislocation occurred only in the early nineteenth century, via the opium trade and its bullion drain of silver out of China, which destabilized the entire economic system” (274).

Frank concludes his book driving home his point that Europe didn’t hold any particular advantage to the rest of the world. Frank states, “The Europeans had no exceptional, let alone superior, ethnic, rational, organizational, or spirt-of-capitalist advantages to offer, diffuse, or do anything else in Asia” (283). This alternative narrative that Frank offers is directly critiquing Eurocentric or diffusionist approach that many historians have taken when discussing world history. One of the most sought after explanations in European dominance is the technological advances arguments. Frank goes after this argument by stating, “These technological developments of the industrial revolution should not be regarded as only European achievements. Instead, they must be understood more properly as wolf developments whose spatial locus moved to and through the West at the time after having long moved about the East” (285). Movement rather than an intrinsic or special attribute of Europe is Franks focus. Franks final conclusion, or even seen as a prediction, asserts, “Therefore, it is conceivable that the West and the East will again trade places in the global economy and in world society in the not to distant and already dimly foreseeable future” (320). Taking world history on a route in tracking the historical direction, center, and re-shiftings in the future is an alternative offering in world history. Alternative narratives of world history add to a more expansive and conclusive rendering of the past, present, and provokes intrigue into the future historical possibilities. I would suggest all historians expose themselves to this monograph as well as anyone who wants a reference to argue against problematic diffusionist and Eurocentric narratives.

 

 

 

10/10

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

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.

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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