MyAmericanFuture

MyAmericanFuture
MyAmericanFuture

Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 31-September 1, 2013: August 2013 Recap

[A recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
August 1: American Families: The Holmes: The series on multi-generational families resumes with the father and son who illustrate two very distinct ways to achieve greatness—and one common thread.
August 2: American Families: The Lowells: The series concludes with the many different prominent members of a Boston family, and the poems that depict them.
August 3-4: American Families: The Railtons: A special weekend post highlights some of the posts through which I’ve paid tribute to my own multi-generational family.
August 5: Back to Virginia: Jamestown Today:  A series on my native state kicks off with three different sites through which we can engage with Virginia’s earliest multi-national histories.
August 6: Back to Virginia: Virginia Tech in Contexts: The series continues with a couple contexts for the state’s most horrific and tragic recent event.
August 7: Back to Virginia: Sorry, West Virginia: On more and less humorous ignorance and our northwestern neighbors, as the series rolls on.
August 8: Back to Virginia: The Valley Campaign: Stonewall Jackson, a youthful AmericanStudier, and the value and limitations of military history.
August 9: Back to Virginia: Macaca, Revisited: The series concludes with another look at the striking political moment with which I concluded my last Virginia series.
August 10-11: Crowd-sourced Virginia: The responses and Virginia connections of fellow AmericanStudiers—add yours, y’all!
August 12-18: 36 for 36: To celebrate my 36th birthday, a vacation week post on 36 favorite posts from the past year.
August 19: Still Studying: George Sanchez: A series on subjects about which I’m just learning begins with a seminal scholarly text I still need to read.
August 20: Still Studying: Foshay Tower: The series continues with the Minneapolis figure and building that embody an American icon.
August 21: Still Studying: Abenaki Histories: The many layers to the histories and stories of a northeastern tribe, as the series rolls on.
August 22: Still Studying: Melville at Work: A fellow scholar helps me recognize why we need to rethink our narratives on authors and work.
August 23: Still Studying: Known Unknowns: The series concludes with three examples of how much we can learn from a very 21st century resource.
August 24-25: Crowd-sourced Studying: Fellow AmericanStudiers weigh in on what they’re still learning about—add your thoughts in progress, please!
August 26: Fall Forward: NEASA Conference: A series on upcoming autumn events starts with communal connections at September’s New England ASA Conference.
August 27: Fall Forward: ASA Conference: The series continues with three things I’m looking forward to at November’s ASA Conference.
August 28: Fall Forward: Book Talks: Three different examples of upcoming presentations through which I’ll be sharing my third book with audiences, as the series rolls on.
August 29: Fall Forward: Next Book Question: As I return to work on my next book project, a key question about what to add to the chapters—one that needs your input!
August 30: Fall Forward: Three Years!: The series concludes with three memories on the occasion of this blog’s third anniversary.
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. What would you like to see in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute?

Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30, 2013: Fall Forward: Three Years!

[As part of my end of spring semester series, I blogged about my upcoming fall courses. But there are lots of other things going on this fall, so in this week’s series I’ll highlight a handful of other upcoming events and some of their meanings. Please share some of what your autumns will include!]
Three memories on the occasion of my blog’s upcoming third anniversary.
On November 6th, AmericanStudies will finally leave behind the Terrible Twos and turn three. It’s a big and happy occasion, and yes, I’ll be expecting cake. Or presents. Well, and/or presents. In the meantime, here are three of my strongest memories from the first three years:
1)      The Rizolis Weigh In: If I had to identify one moment when I began to recognize that I was reaching broader audiences than, y’know, my parents (Hi guys! Thanks for reading!), it was in late June 2011. That was when my repeat post on the histories of legal and illegal immigration (linked above) got a comment from Joe Rizoli, one of Framingham’s famous Rizoli brothers (anti-immigration activists and an SPLC-designated hate group). You can’t be a public scholar if you’re not willing to debate all perspectives, including those that couldn’t be more opposed to your own (in every sense), and since June 2011 I’ve always been ready for that possibility.
2)      An Editor’s Pick: For the blog’s first two years, I posted a mirror verson on Salon.com’s Open Salon blogging platform; I didn’t do a good enough job connecting to other bloggers there, and the subsequent lack of response, coupled with the site’s spam and slowness issues, finally drove me away late last year. But my time at Salon did yield one really great memory: my Memorial Day post on “Remembering Pat Tillman” (linked above) was chosen as an Editor’s Pick, and sat atop the Open Salon front page for a day. I got a ton of views and comments, and really felt part of the community and conversation there.
3)      Reader Response: I look (somewhat obsessively, I can’t lie) at the blog’s statistics, so I can tell that it’s getting views. But in the absence of comments—remember, I’d love for you to say hi and what brings you here in the comments!—it can be hard sometimes to feel that I’m really getting read. Which is why it was both surprising and incredibly inspiring when, at both January’s MLA conference and March’s NeMLA one, folks I didn’t know read my name tag and told me that they were readers of my blog. Pretty amazing 21st century moments, those, and more than enough to keep me going into year four.
August recap this weekend,
Ben
PS. You know what to do!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29, 2013: Fall Forward: Next Book Question

[As part of my end of spring semester series, I blogged about my upcoming fall courses. But there are lots of other things going on this fall, so in this week’s series I’ll highlight a handful of other upcoming events and some of their meanings. Please share some of what your autumns will include!]
On a question I’m pondering for my next book—and how you can help!
In last year’s Fall Forward series, I wrote about my next book-in-progress, Hard-Won Hope: How American Authors Find Light in Our Darkest Histories. Despite everything else that’s happened over the last year, inspiring and challenging, planned and unexpected, I’ve made some good progress on that project, and particularly on the extended readings of pairs of 20th and 21st century texts (mostly novels, with one play and one work of nonfiction thrown in) that currently comprise its chapters. By the time this post appears I should be finished with the last couple such readings (one on a pair of texts that deal with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, one on two 21st century texts about African genocides and refugees), and thus with a full draft of the book in that form.
But since I began this book, I’ve shifted much more fully and thoroughly to a public scholarship model, to the goal (however idealized it might be) that everything I write could connect and speak to broad public audiences. And while I certainly believe that the books on which my chapters focus should be read by American audiences, that in fact (to restate my project’s central argument) they offer vital lessons for how we can engage with our darkest histories and move into a more hopeful future, I also believe that my chapters will need more contextual materials around those extended close readings in order to engage with multiple audiences. There are a few main possibilities for what those contextual materials might entail: biographical and publication/response details about the authors and texts; further discussion of the historical and cultural themes on which the books focus; connections to current events or contemporary debates that relate to those themes.
I don’t think I could bring in all those contexts at equal length, and I do think I should be consistent across the chapter with what type I include (although if you disagree, feel free to say so!). So my question for you, AmericanStudies audience that you are, is which of those three contexts would be of the most interest to you, to frame readings of particular books. More about the authors and the texts’ publications and receptions? More about the histories and cultural issues to which the books connect? Or more about aspects of our current moment and society that make these books and themes particularly salient? I’d love to hear your take on what would help make those extended readings more interesting and meaningful, what would help make this book speak to you as fully as it could. If you have thoughts but don’t want to leave a comment, feel free to email me (brailton@fitchburgstate.edu). Thanks!
Final autumn event tomorrow,
Ben
PS. I’d love to hear your thoughts! And any fall plans of yours you want to share?  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28, 2013: Fall Forward: Book Talks

[As part of my end of spring semester series, I blogged about my upcoming fall courses. But there are lots of other things going on this fall, so in this week’s series I’ll highlight a handful of other upcoming events and some of their meanings. Please share some of what your autumns will include!]
Three events that exemplify the multi-pronged approach I’m taking to sharing my work.
In June’s book-release series, I wrote about my newest public scholarly project; scheduling different kinds of talks and presentations through which to share my book’s histories and stories, ideas and arguments, with multiple audiences. I’ve got many presentations in the works, and some are definitely scheduled; these three of the latter represent three main types:
1)      URI Diversity Week: On Thursday October 3rd, I’ll be talking about my book as part of the University of Rhode Island’s Diversity Week events (thanks to my colleague and friend Nancy Caronia). Sharing my work with college students, faculty, and communities is an essential goal of mine, and the chance to do so alongside numerous other speakers working on issues of American and world diversity is doubly exciting. I plan to focus here on my second and third chapters, and the broad and specific histories of American diversity they include.
2)      Plymouth Public Library: On Monday November 18th, I’ll be reading from and talking about my book as part of the Plymouth Public Library’s Wicked Local Read-A-Thon (thanks to the library’s Jennifer Harris). My central goal for these book talks, as for my public scholarship more broadly, is to connect to audiences outside of academia, to interested Americans and ongoing conversations; the chance to do so in historic American places such as Plymouth is doubly exciting. I plan to focus here on my first chapter, and the fundamentally inaccurate narratives of immigration to which it responds.
3)      Wilfrid Laurier University: In early January 2014, I’ll be speaking about my book to students and faculty in the North American Studies Program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada (thanks to my NeMLA colleague Jennifer Harris [not the Plymouth librarian!]). To be honest, the chance to share some of my work and ideas with international communities and audiences feels too good to be true; but I promise not to look the gift horse in the mouth, and instead to talk to him or her about my book. I plan to focus here not so much on what’s in the book as on connections of those histories and stories to Canadian immigration, diversity, and Asian Canadian communities.
I’ll keep you posted on these and all my other talks, and would love to hear your thoughts on what makes for a particularly compelling or meaningful presentation. Next autumn event tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Fall plans of yours you want to share?  

PPS. Since I wrote this post, I've scheduled some more events, including two that I wanted to add to these examples since they're really ideal spaces for sharing this work: a talk at the San Francisco Public Library's Chinatown branch, on Saturday November 2nd; and a talk at New York City's Museum of the Chinese in America, as part of their MOCACitizens program, on Thursday September 19th. Both are free and open to the public, so if you're in those areas, please come out and say hi! For a complete list of my currently scheduled talks, see this new page!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 27, 2013: Fall Forward: ASA Conference

[As part of my end of spring semester series, I blogged about my upcoming fall courses. But there are lots of other things going on this fall, so in this week’s series I’ll highlight a handful of other upcoming events and some of their meanings. Please share some of what your autumns will include!]
Three things I’m looking forward to at November’s American Studies Association conference.
My central reason for traveling down to Washington, DC for late November’s ASA conference is to deliver a talk, as part of a panel on public histories of dissent organized by Emory’s Sarah Van Horn Melton. I’m always excited to give talks (and hear fellow panelists’ talks), but in this case I’m particularly thrilled because I get to focus for the first time (outside of this space, that is!) on a couple of my favorite New England and AmericanStudies sites: Salem’s Witch Trials Memorial and Plimoth Plantation. It’s not always easy to be analytical and critical about things we love, but it’s also a very significant skill to work on; and I’ll certainly also be highlighting some of the reasons why I love these sites, and find them exemplary American spaces. I can’t wait to do so, and to hear what my fellow panelists and our audience has to say about these themes.
While I’m at the conference, I’ll also have the chance to attend my second Editorial Board meeting for the Encyclopedia of American Studies. The EAS, which was first edited by my graduate advisor Miles Orvell and has now moved to Penn State Harrisburg and the direction of Simon Bronner, represents the best of what AmericanStudies can be: academic and public, analytical and narrative, complex and engaging, contemporary and timeless. I’ve had the chance to contribute to it in small ways since my time at Temple, and am proud to be on the Editorial Board as the EAS moves forward toward even bigger and better things (which I can’t spoil yet but will mention here as soon as they’re finalized!). And on a more informal note, the Editorial Board meeting is—if last year’s was any indication—another example of my favorite part of academia: a group of colleagues coming together to share our passions and interests and ideas, to be communal in the best sense.
Those are two events and conversations I know will be inspiring—but I’m also looking forward to what I don’t know. Last year, as I wrote in this blog post, I discovered upon arriving at the conference that there would be a screening of John Sayles’ film Amigo, hosted by Sayles himself; needless to say, the event was a lifetime highlight. I’m not saying that I expect an impromptu Springsteen concert at this year’s conference (there’s only room for so much goodness in the universe, after all), just that I plan to remain open to surprises, to see what the conference and weekend might have in store, to attend at least one event that I know nothing about at the moment. As last year proved, the best-laid plans are infinitely better if we leave room for what we don’t plan at all.
Next autumn event tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Fall plans of yours you want to share?  

Monday, August 26, 2013

August 26, 2013: Fall Forward: NEASA Conference

[As part of my end of spring semester series, I blogged about my upcoming fall courses. But there are lots of other things going on this fall, so in this week’s series I’ll highlight a handful of other upcoming events and some of their meanings. Please share some of what your autumns will include!]
On the next steps in a scholarly organization’s growth.
One month from tomorrow, I’ll be headed down to Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center for the start of the New England American Studies Association’s Fall 2013 Conference. Over the nearly three years that I’ve been blogging here, I’ve traced NEASA’s ongoing development, including my 2011 conference at Plimoth Plantation, the Spring Colloquiua that we’ve instituted, and the summertime pre-conference blog that now precedes every conference. This year’s pre-conference blog is well underway, and it’s been really great to see this conversation become an annual tradition, and to share our NEASA participants and voices with scholars and audiences near and far.
I have other ongoing goals for NEASA, though—ones that parallel my public scholarly interests more broadly, and toward which I’m also trying to help the Northeast MLA (NeMLA) move—and I’m even more excited to see that this year’s conference is helping us move closer to them. For one thing, I believe that scholarly organizations, like scholarly publications, must connect not only to academic institutions and faculty (and students), but also to other interested and interwoven communities. The Museum itself represents one such community, full of voices and perspectives, past and present, with which NEASA can and must be in conversation; but even more, to my mind, does the Mashantucket Pequot tribal land on which it is located. Too often, it seems to me that academic conferences are located in hotels or conference centers with precious little connection to the place itself; this location could not be more distinct, more grounded in its environment.
I have another ideal goal for organizations such as NEASA and NeMLA, however; while it connects to that kind of communal grounding, it’s also more explicitly active, and significantly more radical, of a step. In short, I believe our scholarly organizations have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to make public service part of our mission—and that connecting annual conferences to public service initiatives in their localities is a particularly efficient and engaged way to do so. For NeMLA, I have the luxury to plan every aspect of my conference (which will be in Hartford in the spring of 2016), including this service component, far in advance; my hope is to connect to the city’s public education system in one way or another. I have not had the same kind of preparation time for NEASA, so any service component will have to be far more focused and partial—but nonetheless, I am determined to find out some way in which we can work with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and add our efforts to their community.
Next autumn event tomorrow,
Ben
PS. Thoughts on these questions? Fall plans of yours you want to share?  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24-25, 2013: Crowd-sourced Studying

[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this week’s series, I have highlighted—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. In this crowd-sourced post, fellow AmericanStudiers share some of what they’re still learning—please add your thoughts in progress!]
Todd Parry shares that, thanks to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, “in US law, Latinos are legally white.” And Todd adds that “the treaty was never ratified by the Mexican government, so technically is invalid.”
Kisha Tracy passes along one of the newest finds from the Slate Vault, this mid-20th century map of American folklore.
Steve Edwards highlights Dr. Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori, “the first American woman to win the Nobel,” whom he “learned about researching” his son’s “gastro issues & meds. Stories lurk around every corner.”
Susan Williams writes, “I have had a longstanding interest in Italian American city gardens and in fig trees in particular. Italian immigrants grew an amazing array of old world plants in their back yards to support their cooking and eating traditions, including tomatoes (of course), basil, garlic, other greens, peppers, eggplant, and lots of other stuff. Many (possibly most) of them had a fig tree growing in the back corner. Because figs are fussy about climate, preferring their native Mediterranean or California temperatures, they are hard, but not impossible to grow in the Northeast. I've read numerous stories about preparing the fig tree for winter, a procedure that typically involved either burying the tree in a pit of mulch or taking it inside. So a year ago, I ordered a little fig tree for myself from Logee Nursery to see what all the fuss was about. I had eaten fresh figs in Italy and loved them, but wanted to taste a fig right off the tree, my own tree. My little fig tree was unfortunately left out a bit too long last fall and dropped all of its leaves. At the time, I didn't realize that this was normal, but I didn't give up on my little upright (now) stick. I nursed it along all winter, certain that it was dead. Suddenly, with the return of light last spring, I noticed activity, buds even. It leafed out and by late spring had even produced a tiny fig! The fig has been growing all summer, turning a dark purple color, and I have been watching carefully for signs of interest from my local chipmunk population, gently squeezing the little fig and waiting for exactly the right degree of softness. Today was the day. I picked the fig, halved it, and was thrilled to see its interior pink figginess. I photographed it, quartered it, and ate it. If I had been more patient, I would have paired it with some prosciutto and a bit of homemade ricotta, drizzled with olive oil. But I wasn't. It was delicious as is!
Now on to the learning part. The fig story continues because my sister just presented me with another fig tree, a birthday gift, and it is much larger than my original tree and has about ten little figs on it. So today, I spent the morning searching for fig videos on YouTube to learn how best to care for this addition to my fig family. I learned that dropping leaves is normal, and that if you have a tree, you can even cut off the leaves to make your figs ripen before frost. I also learned various ways of wrapping the tree for winter, something any self-respecting Italian-American gardener already knows how to do. Finally, I learned that there is a whole world of fig-growing folks out there who have lots of advice for a fig newbie. I feel like I have just joined a new community that has long roots in the foodie world. Maybe some day I will even have figs to share!
Note: it always amazes me when my antennae are in tune with those of others. I just realized that there was an article on figs in the NYT last Friday, the day after my birthday fig tree arrived. Check it out: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/dining/the-fig-now-yields-its-charms.html?smid=pl-share.”
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. So what are you still studying?

Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23, 2013: Still Studying: Known Unknowns

[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On one of the best ways to learn new things in the 21st century.
Although it took me a good while to come around, I’m definitely a convert: Twitter serves multiple purposes, including very quick and efficient communication (even with folks we don’t know and who might well ignore or miss an email) and following events or conversations we can’t otherwise watch or attend. But it’s also exceptionally good at highlighting stories we might miss; mostly contemporary ones, to be sure, but also and most compellingly scholarly, cultural, and historical ones. To wit, here are three things I learned about from just a few minutes reading my Twitter feed on this random day (which I won’t divulge, so you don’t get too deep inside the belly of this blog-writing beast):
1)      Pauli Murray was a civil rights lawyer and the first African American female episcopal priest (thanks Shane Landrum!);
2)      These very interesting statistics about gender and families in academia, and specifically among history professors (thanks Vanessa Varin!);
3)      A nuanced and compelling take on disability and race in the TV detective show Monk (thanks Anne Jamison!).
It’s a brave new world out there—and for those of us still studying, which is to say all of us, a very exciting one to boot. Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
Ben
PS. So what are you still studying?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 22, 2013: Still Studying: Melville at Work

[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On a strikingly different way of reading one author—and all of them.
At this May’s American Literature Association conference, I had the opportunity to hear a number of interesting and inspiring talks. But one in particular stood out, partly because it was delivered in a humorous and engaging style (something that I, as someone who has shifted to the “talk” rather than “read” method of conference presentation, deeply appreciate), but mostly because it offered what seemed to me to be a radically new perspective on its subject. In this talk, on a panel focused on “Late Melville,” Oxford’s Peter Riley pushed back on the narrative that Herman Melville hated his late-career profession as a customs inspector; Riley argued instead both that the job was a meaningful one to Melville and that its details informed the poem “Billy in the Darbies” (which would evolve into Melville’s final novella, Billy Budd).
I’ll freely admit that I had always bought into the conventional wisdom about Melville’s job (inspired perhaps by Hawthorne’s description of the world and work in “The Custom House”), and I’d have to investigate far more before I could weigh in with my own take (although Riley at the very least marshalled enough evidence to suggest that the narrative needs to be complicated). But Riley’s broader point, and the focus of his ongoing book project, seems to me both strikingly innovative and very convincing: that too often we treat author’s non-writing work as at best a distraction from, and at worst an impediment to, their literary efforts. There are obvious exceptions—William Carlos Williams and medicine, Wallace Stevens and insurance—but I tend to agree with Riley that much of the time we literary scholars prefer to think of the creative process as happening in isolated and separate settings, rather than as caught up with, and thus informed by, the other aspects of an author’s life, which often (especially in the 19th century and earlier) included additional professional careers.
I’d have to think more fully and specifically about particular authors and texts to know where this distinct perspective might lead, and I look forward to Riley’s book as part of those continued thoughts. But no matter what, the idea just feels deeply right—perhaps especially because my own writing, here and in my books and elsewhere, is so inseparable from my teaching and other work at Fitchburg State, as it is from every part of my life. Final subject I’m still studying tomorrow,
Ben
PS. So what are you still studying?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 21, 2013: Still Studying: Abenaki Histories

[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On the many layers of history and identity within one northeastern tribe.
I dedicated significant sections of both my first and second book to Native American texts, identities, histories, and communities, and likewise include Native American authors on all my syllabi. But the truth, of course, is that “Native American” is a hugely simplified and in many ways nonsensical designation, an attempt to fold hundreds of distinct tribes and nations, and concurrently distinct languages and cultures and histories, into one overarching identity. I can’t claim to be any sort of expert on any (much less all) of those distinct communities—but I try to be specific as much as I can (talking about Laguna Pueblo rather than simply Native American identity in Silko’s Ceremony, for example), and I certainly try to keep learning about particular tribal histories and identities.
One tribe about which I have recently begun to learn, thanks in particular to my New England American Studies Association colleague Donna Moody, are the Abenaki. Donna’s brief thoughts, in the crowd-sourced post linked at her name, on the Abenaki histories that connect to both Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys and the Revolutionary War, are among the very first things I’ve learned about the tribe’s interconnections with broader American histories, and I won’t pretend that I know much more yet. But one interesting area I have begun to explore has to do with the tribe’s shifting participation in the 18th Century’s two central wars: having been forced into French Canada by Anglo settlement, the Abenaki fought alongside the French and against the American colonists in the French and Indian War; but two decades later, as Donna writes, some prominent “Abenaki warriors fought on the side of the colonists in the Revolutionary War.”
Those details only scratch the surface, of course, not only of these particular historical moments and alliances but also and more importantly of the trajectories of Abenaki histories, communities, and identities. I know that I’ll always rely on scholars such as Donna as I continue to learn about these subjects, and I welcome those conversations and connections. But as a public AmericanStudier, it’s also my job to learn as much as I can about any and all subjects, in order to pay those connections forward and continue sharing these histories and stories with audiences. Next subject I’m still studying tomorrow,
Ben
PS. So what are you still studying?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20, 2013: Still Studying: Foshay Tower

[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On the building and enterpreneur that bring an American icon to life.
The Midwest in general, and Minnesota in particular, occupy important places in Jay Gatsby’s story. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself had been born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the state’s capital and the twin city to Minneapolis; while Fitzgerald gives Gatsby an unspecified North Dakota birthplace, he has him attend college (briefly) at Minnesota’s St. Olaf College. And while Gatsby spends the rest of his tragically short life running away from those Midwestern origin points, Nick Carraway argues in the book’s concluding moments that the story has been a profoundly Western (by which, given the locations to which he’s referring, he means what we would call Midwestern) one.
I’ve recently learned about a Minneapolis history that reverses Gatsby’s geographic trajectory but seems in many ways to mirror his identity. Wilbur Foshay, born in upstate New York, moved to Minneapolis in the 1920s to pursue his dreams of wealth and success, and like Gatsby he embodied those dreams in a spectacular, garish edifice. For Foshay that building was not a mansion but a skyscraper, Foshay Tower; modeled after the Washington Monument, an early encounter with which Foshay credited with inspiring his dreams, the Tower was completed in 1929, at a dedication ceremony that included a march written for the occasion and conducted by John Philip Sousa. And Foshay’s dreams crashed as suddenly and nearly as dramatically as Gatsby’s: first with the Great Depression, which began only months after the dedication and left the Tower unoccupied; and then with a famous trial in which Foshay was convicted of mail fraud (for running a pyramid scheme) and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Foshay’s story doesn’t end there—President Roosevelt granted him a partial pardon, commuting 10 years off the sentence—and I’m interested to learn more about what seems to me just as iconic a story of the 1920s and the American Dream as Fitzgerald’s novel. America is full of such complex and compelling identities and stories—enough to spend a career AmericanStudying them! Next subject I’m still studying tomorrow,
Ben
PS. So what are you still studying?

Monday, August 19, 2013

August 19, 2013: Still Studying: George Sanchez

[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On the pioneering book that’s ever more relevant at twenty.
The June issue of the journal American Quarterly featured a 20th anniversary retrospective on George Sanchez’s Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 (1993). The piece, by African American scholar George Lipsitz, makes a compelling case for Sanchez’s book as a watershed moment, not only in Latino Studies specifically but in the evolution of Ethnic Studies and American Studies scholarship. It also sounds as if many of Sanchez’s focal points—Mexican American immigration, assimilation, and resistance; federal and state border and deportation policies; national and international labor and trade and their impacts on migrant workers; language and culture in diversifying but also stratified communities—are even more salient today than they were at the time of his book’s release.
I say “sounds” because, to my AmericanStudies shame, I have not yet read Sanchez’s book, and knew only the title before reading the Lipsitz piece. And I believe that my failure to do so to this point, while understandable given the plethora of works worth reading, does reflect in part a downside of the tendencies toward identity politics and scholarly specialization that have pervaded the academy (and the nation) for decades. That is, since I wasn’t studying Mexican or Latino American literature, history, or culture as an undergraduate or a graduate student, I didn’t put Sanchez’s book on my reading lists (literally or figuratively). But as Lipsitz persuasively argues, and of course as I believe to my core, any one ethnic American experience is also profoundly cross-cultural, both in practice (ie, in the interactions that impact any individual community) and in theory (ie, in what we all can learn and understand through engaging with each other).
Which is to say, it’s long past time that I read Sanchez’s book! Next subject I’m still studying tomorrow,
Ben
PS. So what are you still studying?

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 12-18, 2013: 36 for 36

[In keeping with my annual tradition, for my 36th birthday I wanted to highlight 36 of my favorite posts from the past year on the blog. Since I’m on vacation with the boys this week, I’ll leave the post up, and new posts will resume Monday the 19th. In the meantime, I’ll extend one more time the invitation to say hi in comments, to let me know what brings you hear and what you’d like to see or read on the blog, and to share your AmericanStudies perspectives. Thanks!]

1)      Bad Memories, Part Four: As part of a series on how we could better remember our darkest histories, I considered memoir, photography, and fiction of the Japanese Internment.

2)      Crowd-Sourcing Bad Memories: Perhaps my favorite of the crowd-sourced posts to date, as many fellow AmericanStudiers weighed in on the week’s theme.

3)      Books That Shaped AmericanStudier, Childhood: I began a series on books that have hugely impacted me with one of my first favorites, the Hardy Boys series.

4)      Isabella Stewart Gardner: A Gardner Museum-inspired series began with a post on Gardner herself, one of my favorite Americans.

5)      John Singer Sargent: Posts on Gardner and Sargent go together as perfectly as, well, Gardner and Sargent did!

6)      Augustus Saint-Gaudens: Any post that allows me to write more about the greatest American sculptor, and one of the most inspiring Americans period, is well worth sharing again.
7-11) The five posts in this series on American hope remain perhaps my most definitive statements of the complexities, contexts, and crucial importance of this elusive emotion.
12) Up in the Air, Part Five: Summer camps, childhood memories, and nostalgia—one of my more universal and, I believe, broadly relevant posts.
13) Ezra Jack Keats: This post, in a series on children’s books, expressed the importance of this pioneering author—and was linked to by the Keats Foundation!
14-18) Another series in which I need to highlight all five posts—this has been the longest and hardest year of my life, and writing these posts on how Americans have responded to adversity helped me get through it.
19) American Spooking, Part 3: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Grant Wood, and American Horror Story help me think about whether America can have homegrown horror, and where we might find it.
20) Extra Thanks: A Thanksgiving series concludes with a few reflections on one of my most unexpected and inspiring moments of the year.
21) American Winter, Part Four: The very different but equally American perspectives at the heart of two winter classics.
22) AmericanStudying the Pacific, Part Four: On the limitations and lessons of a childhood spent building models.
23) Lincoln, Culture, and History: Some of my thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s popular and important historical film (with this additional post after I saw it!).
24) Making My List (Again), Part Five: A series of wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves ends with the educational experience I wish all children could have.
25) AmericanStudying Our Biggest Issues: Climate Change: As I’ve shifted more fully to an emphasis on public scholarship, I’ve worked hard to find ways to connect my subjects to contemporary concerns—and this post exemplifies that goal.
26) American Homes, Part Four: The American narratives inside (perhaps deep inside) one of our silliest films.
27) Remembering Wheatley and Washington: A Black History Month series on conversations begins with the time the poet met the (future) president.
28) I Love Three Pages in Ceremony: I’ve always wanted to write about my single favorite moment in American fiction. Here I did!
29) Popular Fiction: Christian Novels: It’s always fun to write (and so learn) about subjects I myself know too little about, and this post definitely qualifies.
30) Supreme Contexts: Santa Clara County and Revision: Few Supreme Court decisions are as relevant to our contemporary moment, and thus worth remembering, as this one.
31) Spring in America: Children’s Stories: Two pioneering children’s classics that captures two opposing sides to a new season.
32) Baseball in America: The Black Sox: This whole baseball series was fun to research and write, so I’ll just highlight one of its posts (yes, the one that includes John Sayles!).
33) Comic Book Heroes: Wonder Woman: Ditto for this comic book series, but this post was the one for which I learned the most and had my eyes opened most completely.
34) Roopika Risam’s Guest Post: I could include any and all guest posts in this list—but Roopika’s was certainly a wonderful addition to the blog.
35) American Swims: Cheever’s Swimmer: Part of the fun of this blog is sharing American texts that I think we should all read, and Cheever’s short story is a great example.
36) Book Release Reflections, Part Four: I have to end the list with one of the things I’m most excited about in the year to come (and I now have at least 20 talks definitely coming up!).
Next series starts Monday the 19th,
Ben
PS. You know what to do! (Introduce yourselves, let me know what brings you here and what you’d like to see, share your own blog and/or perspectives, etc!)