Moving US-Russia Relations beyond Confrontation

Former Foreign Service officer Louis Sell reflects on the past and future of US-Russian relations in this op-ed inspired by the anniversary of 1991’s failed coup that ultimately led to the end of the USSR. Sell’s new book is From Washington to Moscow: US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR. You can also read a Q&A with him.

From Washington to MoscowTwenty-five years ago this month retrograde Communists failed to overthrow Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, hastening the disappearance of the USSR four months later and the onset of Russia’s tragically brief experiment with democracy under Boris Yeltsin. It was a heady time in Moscow. The former Soviet media exploded with exuberant freedom. People assumed that with Communism gone it would be easy to graft democratic institutions onto the Russian body politic. An outpouring of positive feeling toward the US accompanied the post-coup euphoria. Russia and the United States would remain the world’s two leading nations but now as friends, not rivals. To walk into a Russian office as an American was to be greeted by smiles and often a warm embrace.

A quarter century later Vladimir Putin rests his appeal on a narrative of Western perfidy. Many Russians believe that the US objective was to humiliate their proud country and keep it weak. In reality, Russians and foreigners alike underestimated the difficulties that needed to be overcome to usher in democracy. Institutions were created and elections were held but a genuine democratic culture, founded on toleration, transparency, and rule of law could not be created overnight. Russian reformers and their Western supporters over promised and under performed. Russians received a lot of well-meaning advice but too much of it amounted to applying formulaic outside models to stubborn Russian reality.

Now, when hopes for US-Russian global partnership have been replaced by almost equally unrealistic fears of a new Cold War, it is important to keep in proper perspective the scope of the Russian challenge and the scale of the US response. Russia remains far behind the US in almost every measure of global power. Its declining population is less than half the US while its economy is roughly one-quarter the size of the American. Putin’s impressive modernization revitalized the Russian military after decades of post-Cold War neglect but Russia lags the US in almost every category of armed might. On the other hand, aided by disarray in Washington and Europe, Putin is moving against the US on many fronts — in Ukraine and Syria, through disinformation and cyber subversion, and encouraging a global coalition of authoritarian, anti-Western regimes.

The US needs to protect its genuine interests while also seeking to understand Russia’s legitimate concerns. We should provide Ukraine aid to rebuild its economy and the real military assistance it needs to defeat pro-Russian rebels in the east — as long as it demonstrates it can use the aid effectively and according to democratic standards. A long-visible deal involving autonomy for eastern Ukraine will not become possible until Moscow is convinced it cannot achieve its aims through force. Similarly, in the murky world of cyber conflict, we need to be prepared to inflict equivalent damage on Moscow, as a first step toward regulating actions in this area.

The historical record provides no support for the claim, widely believed in Russia, that NATO expansion violated pledges made at the end of the Cold War. NATO membership helped integrate Eastern Europe into the West but it is time to acknowledge that expanding NATO into former Soviet republics was a bridge too far. NATO cannot honorably step away from the commitment it made to the Baltics. But NATO should acknowledge the obvious truth that no additional former Soviet republic, including Ukraine, will become NATO members even as we make clear that we will hold Moscow to its obligations to respect their independence.

Moving beyond confrontation would allow the US and Russia to cooperate in areas where they have common interests. Russia faces a far greater threat from radical Islam than does the US and both wish to minimize regional instability when the US finally withdraws from Afghanistan. Cooperation with Russia in Syria is pointless as long as Putin views the conflict there as a way to humiliate the US, but over the longer term a more effective US policy there could help Moscow understand the broader dangers it faces from violence across the Middle East.

It is unlikely that the US and Russia will ever return to the partnership that many in both countries desired after the end of the Cold War, at least as long as Putin and his cronies remain in power, but a measured US stance combining firm resistance to Russian offensive moves with a willingness to talk in areas where cooperation may be possible offers hope of eventually ending pointless antagonism.

You can order From Washington to Moscow from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16LSELLto save 30%!


#LochteGate, or It’s 1862 All Over Again

Daryle Williams is back from Rio, but he’s still following the Olympics news, including the latest scandals. Williams, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, is the co-editor of The Rio de Janeiro Reader. Follow him on Twitter @DaryleWilliams and with the hashtag #RioReader.

A group of young white male visitors, having traded uniforms bearing their home flag for civilian clothes, are out on the town in Rio de Janeiro. They spend time blowing off steam at a tavern frequented by foreigners. On their journey back to their lodgings, the group has a run-in with an armed Brazilian sentry. A discussion ensues, then blows are exchanged. The men end up being taken in by the Rio police, to answer charges of public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and insults to a uniformed officer. National and foreign authorities initially take measured tones in trying to resolve the issue, while the local press whips up hysteria, stoking nativist hostility to carousing, misbehaving, disrespectful, and all around boorish outsiders who treat Brazilian sovereignty with careless disregard. The foreigners are pilloried in the court of public opinion that flourishes in the fast-paced press. Popular culture quickly incorporates the miscreants into stage parodies, satirical jokes, and visual culture. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the charges and countercharges of injury to body and nation fail. International arbitration eventually finds no fault in the Brazilians’ actions. Rio’s authorities and residents feel vindicated, though their suspicions about the arrogance of white outsiders returns to its prior state of latency, primed for the next incident of drunkenness and insult. Life goes on.

Sure sounds like #LochteGate, the unexpected cause célèbre of the Rio Olympics, right? Actually, the events summarized above took place in the early 1860s, during a hallmark episode of nineteenth-century Rio history known as the Anglo-Brazilian Question. Also known as the Christie Affair, the period involved a two-year suspension of diplomatic relations between the British and Brazilian monarchies.

The Anglo-Brazilian Question was a signal (yet curiously overlooked) episode in the history of the Brazilian slave regime, but one of its chief precipitating events had ostensibly little to do with slaves and slaveholding. On the evening of 17 June 1862, three officers of the British frigate Forte, taking leave to dine at the hotel of British proprietor Robert Bennett in Tijuca, got into a physical altercation with Brazilian sentry Manoel Luis Teixeira. The Britons were arrested, detained overnight, and then paraded to the police corps barracks on Rua dos Barbonos (today’s Rua Evaristo da Veiga, near the Arcos da Lapa). In the ensuing investigation, the detained officers’ state of inebriation was disputed. The nature of the insults against the Brazilian officials was also contested. All parties admitted a debilitating language barrier. All parties invoked on numerous occasions a defense of national, manly honor.

The Brazilian government refused the demand of William D. Christie, chief British envoy to the Brazilian Court, to publish a statement expressing regret for the arrests. In the ensuing stalemate (exacerbated by a British blockade of the port and Christie’s obnoxious attitudes), entrepreneurial local playwrights had a field day with satirical send-ups of drunken, rapacious, and disagreeable Brits. In mid-January 1863, the naturalized Brazilian J.F.K. da Costa Rubim (1831-1866) published Os inglezes no Brasil. The prologue between Dona Cótinha, the Brazilian proprietor of the Hotel dos Estrangeiros, and Lord Botija, a visiting Englishman, sets the tone perfectly for a conflict between virtuous Brazilians and condescending Englishmen who come across as imbecilic drunkards and tricksters solely out for financial gain at the expense of the Brazilians. The one-act play progresses quickly through scenes which make fun of British social customs (an excess of personal servants, overdrinking), racial prejudices, and the exploitative economic relationship of Brazilian primary products bought on the cheap and then sold back as high-priced manufactures. Later in January, Francisco Correa Vasques (1839-1892), a mixed-race descent performer who was a fixture of the Rio’s comic and musical stage through the early republic, performed the one-act “scena comica” A questão anglo-brasileira. Like his many other works, the one-man play resonated with the intelligentsia of Brazilian capital. The themes of national honor spilled into Rio streets, where the crowd played an active role in defending the government against foreigners’ insults and aggressions on land and in territorial waters.


With lightning speed, LochteGate has introduced its own cast of foreigner rogues and aggrieved patriots. The case has given North American observers full license to plumb the complicated relationship between the United States and Brazil (see, for example, the complexo da vira-lata thesis) as well as the buffoonery of the misbehaved Ugly American (an instant classic begins “Ryan Lochte is the dumbest bell that ever rang.”) Like the sailors of the Forte, the four members of Team USA who misled authorities, the “Today Show,” and their mothers (!) with a fabricated story of a robbery at gunpoint have been pilloried in the media. (The comments section has been brutal.) In our Warholian future, we have been introduced to a motley crew of fame-seekers blowing through their fifteen minutes. Brazilians (and their allies) have nearly broken the internet with the ardent defense of the national cause, cheap take-downs of stupid Americans, and a bewildered sense of how this particular incident could consume so much media coverage and police investigative resources when the real story of real gun violence goes overlooked as everyday citizens, children, and security personnel are felled by bullets and bandits.

The story of the XXXI Olympiad and its host city is yet to be written, but an early draft might treat LochteGate as we treat what appeared to be an otherwise non-consequential, hyper local scuffle between a trio of English jerks and a Brazilian sentry — both parties puffed up on masculinity and chauvinism; both parties lacking the ability to communicate effectively without resort to violence; at least one party intoxicated — on the road from Tijuca in June 1862. The details may be forgettable and the truth inscrutable, but the incidents reveal the mindset of the moment and an era in Rio de Janeiro. The prevarications and self-serving explanations of LochteGate shall quickly fade away, but we will be left with tantalizing traces of Rio’s historical development as a cosmopolitan city of delights and conflicts, of work and leisure, of a rich public sphere, and of contested order and disciplinary regimes at an Olympic Time.

This history-to-be-written might explore why one of the Americans’ greatest transgressions was not the night of post-competition carousing (which, we learn via social media and face-to-face gossip, might have included an amorous escapade to one of Rio’s legal bordellos) but instead the everyday act of urination. In the era of mega-events, the Rio municipal government has taken a hard line against old-style anything-goes public urination, imposing fines (erratically) on offenders while installing permanent public urinals (named Unidades Fornecedoras de Alívio) at the Central do Brasil rail station, Praça Santos Dumont in Gávea, and Praça Saens Pena in Tijuca, among other locales. Victims to continual vandalism (not unlike the acts of property destruction that Lochte appears to have committed during those fateful moments at a Barra gas station), these relief stations have established the state’s front lines in a battle of body discipline. LochteGate, then, might help us better understand a historical shift in customs surrounding male comportment outside the home. By another token, the swimmers’ pee might be aligned with the trope of the Olympics of Filth, and the well-deserved attention to the flows of untreated human waste that have fouled numerous Olympic venues (and just about every waterway in Greater Rio).

The history-to-be-written might also unpack the geography of the swimmers’ excursions. In 1862, our British rouges traveled from Botafogo to Tijuca, returning in the direction of the port via Andaraí. Long before Olympic Rio, the oceanfront neighborhoods of the Zona Sul as well as the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas had displaced the hills leading into Tijuca Forest as a preferred destination for international pleasure-seekers. (In a city as large and diverse as Rio, variety remains: central Lapa has once again captured the imagination of the night, and samba school ensaios draw local and visiting revelers to the subúrbios.) According to press reports and surveillance video, Lochte’s travels began and ended in the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca, with a stop at the Sociedade Hípica (and possibly a detour to Jardim Botânico). This itinerary calls upon the urban historian to understand how these once-sparsely populated, former wetlands of the Zona Sul and Oeste, that were quite remote from one another until the 1960s, have been woven together by massive works of civil engineering, private property speculation, car culture, and patterns of consumerism that have shunned the cultural and class-mixed, walkable entertainment zones (including the theatre district where Vasques performed) closer to downtown. Otherwise inane, LochteGate might help illuminate the shifting geographies of pleasure, distinction, and the Carioca culture industries that have been accelerated by the explosive development of Barra da Tijuca.


Finally, the history of LochteGate has a complicated story of color and nation still to be told. The swimmers’ American whiteness and all the privileges that accrue to it have been the lede, but the meat of the story will likely uncover a cast of Brazilian men of color (perhaps some women as well) — the Ipiranga gas station attendants, the taxi driver, the private security personnel, and the public safety officers — who had direct contact with the swimmers as they traveled out and back from Barra and then through the gauntlet of civil police officers, Federal Police agents, and voracious press. Back in 1862, part of the contest of national honor surrounded the English officers’ condescension to locals of color [“but so far from molesting them, we gave several blacks coppers,” one stated to the British Rear-Admiral in self-defense]. The physical scuffle between Englishmen and Brazilian sentries was surely a corporeal enactment of the fraught tension of (perceived) black authority over white bodies. Neither in nineteenth-century Rio, nor in twenty-first century Rio, is there a direct line between color and nation, but in both instances, men of color — especially those entrusted with public security — attain and enact a sort of moral authority of nationhood that can be used against foreigners. White outsiders surely find this disorienting. Carioca whites, no doubt, also find estrangement in this arrangement. In this unsettled territory, we have one of the most interesting and vexing fault lines of Carioca civil society, national cultural identity, and race in the spotlight of the Olympics.

The history of #Rio2016 does not necessarily need #LochteGate, but LochteGate has sure made the Rio Olympics fun and interesting. For this, we can all be grateful that the ring of the dumbest bell has reached our ears.

Q&A with Louis Sell

Sell F16 Author PhotoLouis Sell is a retired Foreign Service officer who served twenty seven years with the US Department of State, specializing in Soviet and Balkan affairs. Sell also helped establish the American University in Kosovo and served as the Executive Director of the American University in Kosovo Foundation (AUKF). He has taught at the University of Maine at Farmington and is the author of Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (2002). His new book is From Washington to Moscow:  US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR, which draws archival sources and memoirs—many in Russian—as well as his own experiences to trace the history of US–Soviet relations between 1972 and 1991 and to explain what caused the Soviet Union’s collapse.

There are a lot of books about the Cold War. What’s different about yours?

From Washington to MoscowBooks about the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR would fill a good sized library but mine fills a niche occupied by few others. Many books discuss Soviet internal developments. Many others deal with the end of the Cold War. My book puts together in one narrative domestic and international affairs over the final decades of the USSR from the perspective of players on both sides. This is how history actually unfolds. Tip O’Neill once famously said “All politics is local” and my corollary is that all international politics are at least partially domestic. It is impossible to make sense of Gorbachev’s efforts to reduce Cold War tensions without understanding that escaping the crisis the USSR faced required sweeping internal changes which could only be accomplished if Moscow’s confrontation with Washington were relaxed. Similarly, the often debated question of why Gorbachev did not intervene in 1989 to block the collapse of neighboring Communist regimes is impossible to answer without understanding that by 1989 the Soviet leader was losing control of events inside the USSR and that ordering the tanks to roll in Eastern Europe would have played into the hands of Gorbachev’s hard-line domestic opponents and blocked any chance of Western economic assistance which by then had become Gorbachev’s only hope for rescuing perestroika at home.

What new, significant, or controversial material can readers find in your book?

Since the book is drawn largely from archival holdings and memoirs of participants on both sides, most of which in the Soviet case at least are not available in English, it contains a lot of material which is either new or not widely known in the general literature.  I include, for example, a discussion of the 1986 Reykjavik US-Soviet summit, drawn from official records on both sides and previously unpublished accounts of some key participants, that reveals the actual content of the deal on the table when the meeting collapsed, something that US accounts have obscured.  I also include a discussion of the facts around the 1983 Soviet shoot-down of the Korean civil airliner and Moscow’s subsequent cover-up; an informed discussion of the Soviet approach toward nuclear negotiations with the US, based on memoirs of Soviet participants and interviews with senior Soviet military officers conducted around the time of the end of the Cold War but which were not declassified until recently; a discussion of the politics and personalities around the Soviet human rights movements of the 1970s based on my experience working that beat at the US embassy; and new material on the scandal of the “bugged” US embassy in Moscow. Drawing on interviews with senior US officials in the US Embassy at the time of the August 1991 coup, the book dispels widely cited allegations that the US offered asylum and intelligence support to Boris Yeltsin. Finally, the book draws on official records from both sides to provide a detailed inside account of secret US-Soviet negotiations in the Nixon era, including on Vietnam where, in a meeting with Kissinger at the May 1972 US-Soviet summit in Moscow Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko finally understood just how cynical was what he called the “rather strange” US position and how, after this conversation, the Soviets began to encourage temporary flexibility by the North, one factor leading to the January 1973 agreement on US withdrawal.

In the first chapter, you note that with regard to the USSR, “things were not always the way they seemed.” What do you mean by that?

Visitors to the USSR were inevitably struck by the contrast between the image of the USSR as a nuclear-armed superpower and the reality of living standards that lagged far behind most other developed countries, a contrast that led German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to describe the USSR as “Upper Volta with missiles.” Secrecy shrouded almost everything in the USSR, often to absurd lengths. In 1983 General Secretary Andropov refused Gorbachev’s request to see the secret Soviet state budget, even though Gorbachev was by then the second-ranking official in the country and had been tasked by Andropov to write a report on the true state of the Soviet economy. It also shows how a visit to a US grocery supermarket led Boris Yeltsin, who had been a senior Soviet official for decades, to understand how badly the Soviet system had failed in providing the basic needs of its citizens. When Gorbachev’s glasnost opened the floodgates of truth, the flow of honest information undermined the foundations of the Communist system he was trying to reform not destroy.

During the early 1980s, tensions between the US and USSR seemed to be high enough that many Americans were fearful there would be a nuclear war. Were the two countries ever actually close to war?

In the early 1980s tensions between the two countries were high but actual conflict was never close. In September 1983, in response to the annual Able Archer staff exercise on the release of nuclear weapons, a few Soviet aircraft went onto heightened alert status. But after the end of the Cold War, senior Soviet military and civilian officials denied that conflict was considered imminent, in part because Soviet intelligence had good information on US military actions which would have accompanied any move toward war. As special assistant to the chief US nuclear arms negotiator in 1983 I was in a position to see virtually all US diplomatic and intelligence material relating to the USSR and there was never belief on the US side that war was close, no matter how heated was the rhetoric.

2016 is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the USSR. What was it like to be there in 1991?

The August 1991 coup in Moscow was aimed at rolling back Gorbachev’s reforms but it ended by destroying the Communist system and the USSR itself four months later. Despite the turmoil and hardship which accompanied Gorbachev’s final years, Moscow after the August coup was a place of hope and positive feelings towards the United States. Many Russians assumed their country and the United States would remain the world’s two leading nations but as partners. To be introduced as an American diplomat at this time was to be greeted by smiles, enthusiastic handshakes and often a warm embrace.

How did the way the USSR collapsed end up leading to the rise of authoritarianism with Vladimir Putin at the helm of Russia?

Vladimir Putin famously described the collapse of the USSR as “the biggest geopolitical tragedy of the [twentieth] century.” His remark illustrates why it is impossible to understand Putin and the country he leads without also understanding how Russians view the collapse of the USSR and its aftermath.

The Soviet Union fell in 1991 without any of the events which have generally accompanied imperial collapse in the past — military defeat, foreign invasion, internal revolution and the like. It came, moreover, only a short time after the country appeared to be at the pinnacle of international power and prestige. After he took office Putin constructed a narrative of Western perfidy which is the foundation of his appeal to the Russian people. In reality, plenty of mistakes were made in Moscow and abroad. Almost everyone involved in Russia after the Soviet fall—Russians as well as foreigners—underestimated the extent of the political, economic, and social difficulties that needed to be overcome. Similarly, everyone underestimated the difficulty in establishing a viable democratic culture in a society where it had never existed before. Institutions were created and elections were held but a genuine democratic culture, founded on toleration, transparency, and rule of law could not be created overnight.

Both Russian reformers and their Western supporters over promised and under performed. Largely for domestic political reasons US administrations exaggerated the size and significance of American assistance. Russians received a lot of advice—almost all of it well-meaning and some of it good—but too much of it amounted to applying outside models to stubborn Russian reality.

Where do you see US-Russian relations going in the next decade?

Alarmed warnings of a new Cold War between the US and Russia overstate the potential threat posed by Putin’s regime at the same time they underestimate the complexity of the current global situation. Putin’s regime is incapable of mounting the kind of broad global challenge to Western interests the USSR did over the nearly half a century of the Cold War. Russia holds important cards in many—but not all—geopolitical arenas but in most of these it will be only one of numerous players and seldom the most powerful.

With a declining population less than half that of the US and an economy roughly one-quarter the size of the American Russia’s underlying political and economic strength remains far below that of its former Cold war rival. In recent years Putin has invested heavily in modernizing the Russian military but this push comes after two decades of post-Soviet neglect and Moscow remains well behind the US in almost every quantitative measure of military power. Only in the nuclear arena does Russia truly stand on more or less equal military terms with the US, a sign of how little it has changed in some ways from the Cold War era where the USSR was, in fact, a superpower only in the military sense.

The application of countervailing power in every area of where genuine Western interest comes up against Russia is the only sure way to deter Moscow. Having in effect chosen to draw a line in Ukraine we must support Kiev politically, economically, and militarily to the extent it shows itself capable of using Western aid in ways consistent with democratic reform and Western interest. It makes no sense to provide only non-lethal military aid. Once Moscow recognizes that its aggression will not succeed the outlines of a deal involving autonomy for the east within a united Ukraine are already present in the framework of the Minsk accord currently on the table.

Over the longer haul, we need to find some way to show Russia that we are prepared to recognize its legitimate interests. If Moscow truly ceases its aggression and shows itself willing to treat Ukraine as a genuinely independent state, there is really no reason why we should persist in promoting the illusion that Ukraine will ever become a member of NATO. As for Crimea, the chances of it ever returning to Ukraine are as close to zero as anything is in the field of national security although no Western leader can say so openly. Probably the most that can be expected is for the US to formally refuse to recognize its forcible and illegal incorporation into Russia, in the same way that for half a century we refused to recognize Stalin’s forcible seizure of the Baltic states and hope that in the intervening period something will turn up – as it eventually did with the Baltics.

It is important to hold open a hand of cooperation in areas where working together with Moscow may be possible. Ultimately, the fight against radical Islam, a far greater potential threat to Russia than to the US, may well be one such area. Eventually, if Russia stops its dangerous meddling in the affairs of neighbors and stops its anti-Western global probes it may be possible to find some way to cooperate more broadly. The critical post-Cold War failure, for which both sides share some blame, was in not finding some way to incorporate Russia into the security system that emerged after 1991. The search for an alternative to endless confrontation will not be easy but given good will on both sides it should not be an impossible task.

You can order From Washington to Moscow from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16LSELLto save 30%!


Gender, Queerness, & Sports


Caster Semenya at the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Photo by Flickr user Citizen59CC BY-SA 2.0.

Runner Caster Semenya’s performance in the Olympics this year is significant not only for South Africa, the country she represents, but also for its implications for gender and sex in sports. Jennifer Doyle discusses the controversy surrounding Semenya in her introduction to “The Athletic Issue,” a special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies:

“Semenya’s sex was in question before she crossed the finish line in 2009. Her ‘case’ became the biggest story in women’s sports that year. …  When she powered past her opponents, it looked as if she were built of different stuff—as it does in a race that is not close. Such an increase in a man’s speed provokes questions about doping; in a woman it raises a different kind of suspicion. She was accused by many of being a man, of being not ‘100 percent’ woman; she was diagnosed in headlines as a hermaphrodite, as intersex, as a gender freak. She was subjected to diverse tests, the invasive nature of which we can only imagine. Her ‘case’—that of a gender-nonconforming woman who is also one of the fastest women on earth—inspired international bodies governing a range of sports to adopt problematic policies for deciding just what, exactly, makes a woman athlete female.”

ddglq_19_4Read the rest of Doyle’s introduction, “Dirt off Her Shoulders,” made freely available.

Contributors to “The Athletic Issue” address sport and the regulation of gender; gender and authenticity as refracted through race and class; queer feminist engagements with physical culture; and affect and the disorienting animality of the gendered, athletic body.

In her article “Court and Sparkle: Kye Allums, Johnny Weir, and Raced Problems in Gender Authenticity,” Erica Rand compares two 2010 controversies: one involving Kye Allums, the NCAA basketball player who came out as transgender with plans to remain on the women’s team, and another involving figure skater Johnny Weir, whose feminine presentation drew sexist and anti-gay responses.

“I think of putting these case studies together as staging a bit of a queer sports-studies date (and queer-sports-studies date) between two people whose sports profiles suggest little reason to bring them together. Allums plays a team sport firmly ensconced in educational, recreational, and professional realms and dominated at the top by competition among men. Weir competes in an individual sport pursued largely outside educational and professional contexts and with a shaky status as sport, partly because of the perceived dominance of females and feminine-coded characteristics like artistry and dance. Even the athletes’ 2010 gender ordeals differ in significant ways, including that Allums’s has been framed largely as serious business and Weir’s as cruel humor. … Yet as with many such unlikely meet-ups, connections emerge in the unfolding of their stories—You, too? Me, too!—that open up promising topics of shared import.”

Mary Louise Adams continues the exploration of sport and gender nonconformity in “No Taste for Rough and Tumble Play: Sport Discourses, the DSM, and the Regulation of Effeminacy.” Adams examines how gendered ideas about sport came to influence the diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder in Childhood that appeared in the third and fourth editions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual:

“In the DSM-IV, there were two parts to the diagnosis. Part A demanded that a child show a ‘strong and persistent cross-gender identification’ manifested by four of five listed diagnostic criteria. Only one of these criteria involved the child’s explicit statement that he or she was or desired to be the other sex. The other four involved behaviors related to dress or to play, including the ‘intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex.’ Part B of the diagnosis demanded that a child experience ‘persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.’ For a boy, the gender discomfort could be made evident by … ‘aversion toward rough-and-tumble play and rejection of male stereotypical toys, games, and activities.'”

To read more on gender, sex, queerness, and race in sports, check out the table of contents for “The Athletic Issue.” Subscribe to GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies at

Rio 2016: An Ethnomusicologist’s Dream

Today’s guest post is by ethnomusicologist Frederick Moehn, author of Contemporary Carioca: Technologies of Mixing in a Brazilian Music Scene, and Senior Lecturer at King’s College London.

978-0-8223-5155-9_pr“Fred, I’m in Rio and wherever you are, I hope you’re watching the Rio Opening Ceremonies. It’s an ethnomusicologist’s dream.”—email from a friend, Aug 5, 2016

Amidst the widely reported political and economic turmoil rocking Brazil, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games successfully kicked off in Rio de Janeiro last Friday. In the opening ceremony for these games music and musicians were as much a part of the narrative as the historical stories and ecological premonitions presented in the visuals. This was wise: what’s not to like about a scintillating samba school parade with the swinging drumming of a bateria, or Jorge Ben Jor leading the jubilant crowd through his classic “País Tropical” (Tropical country), or a duet between singers Zeca Pagodinho and Marcelo D2 that seamlessly slides back and forth between samba and hip-hop, or a solo voice and acoustic guitar performance of the national anthem by the urbane septuagenarian Paulinho da Viola?


I watched on television from tropical New York City, where I am working on a project about one of Brazil’s least athletic genres: bossa nova. This cool, middle class music emerged in Rio in the late 1950s and conquered the U.S. a few years later, particularly after the release of “The Girl from Ipanema” featuring João Gilberto and his wife Astrud on the classic Getz/Gilberto album of 1964.

Meanwhile at the Games, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen performed the “role” of The Girl in, as one NBC commentator put it, a “sultry walk” through the Maracanã soccer stadium. A long walk it was, so Bündchen had to balance grace with speed as she glided in a floor-length silvery dress toward a massive image of the young Tom Jobim, the prolific bossa nova composer who wrote the music to “Garota de Ipanema,” as the song is known in Portuguese. Jobim’s photograph was projected on a structure comprised of giant building blocks that jaggedly rose from the stadium floor for various scenes of the ceremony; perched atop one of these during Bündchen’s catwalk was Daniel Jobim at a grand piano. With his panama hat, wispy voice, and gentle articulations of the syncopated chords on the keys, Jobim quietly ventriloquized his grandfather.


An interesting aspect of Brazilian popular music, perhaps especially in Rio, is the way it often reflects upon its own history and pays homage to its “elders”: from 79-year-old samba diva Elsa Soares to 90-year-old percussionist Wilson das Neves, who “called” the spirits of Rio’s musical ancestors while accompanying himself with a matchbox shaker, to Tropicália legends Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, both in their 70s, singing a samba from the 1940s: Ary Barroso’s “Isso aqui, o que é” (What is all this?). It is what has been termed an “exaltation samba,” a type of radio-oriented song that celebrated the nation in the years of populist dictator Getúlio Vargas’s hold on power (1930-1945). In the lyrics, a brief reference to the happy, singing nation quickly shifts to phrases about a brown skinned woman (morena) who is adept at swaying her hips. For this performance, the rising star Anitta, from Rio, joined Veloso and Gil on the stage to sing the line, “Morena boa que me faz penar, põe a sandália de prata, e vem pro samba sambar” (roughly, “Nice brown woman who makes me suffer, put on your silver sandals and come dance samba”). Then the accompaniment mutated into a faster, driving rhythm as the major samba “schools” paraded through the stadium in brightly colored fantasias (carnival costumes). More recent musical tendencies privileging electronics such as the funk carioca tamborzão beat, or the techno-brega of Gang do Eletro from Belém do Pará, way up North, or São Paulo rap, were also woven into the intricate soundtrack of the event.


The creative director for the spectacle, filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (dir. City of God), spoke of tight budgets and keeping things simple. More modest than the London and Beijing openers, this one was also in a way more personal and charming. Not quite melancholy, neither was it exuberant. Meirelles said he didn’t want it to be about props and ceremony as much as heart and soul. It should serve as a kind of anti-depressant drug for Brazil, he hoped.

Much of the musical story, however, was lost on NBC’s producers (who evidently did not think to engage an ethnomusicologist). Even many Brazilians might not have noted the inclusion of Chico Buarque’s menacing 1971 song “Construção” during a scene featuring dancers leaping around rising stacks of colorful urban edifices as if doing parkour (choreographed by Deborah Colker). Lacking the vocal part, the song was recognizable in the driving bass ostinato from Rogerio Duprat’s original arrangement and the strains of its tense, high melodic line in timbres that evoked anti-establishment songwriter Tom Zé’s late work.

Buarque claimed that “Construção,” which narrates a brick layer’s fall to death, was not a protest song against the military dictatorship (1964-1985), but many contemporary listeners heard it that way. Perhaps this was because his 1971 recording segued directly into Buarque’s “Deus lhe pague” (May God reward you), to increasingly anxious music. Excerpts from Charles Perrone’s translation of that song’s lyrics give a sense of the significance of “Construção/Deus lhe pague” to some older Brazilians:

For this bread to eat, this floor to sleep on
A certificate to be born, a concession to smile
For letting me breathe, for letting me exist
May God reward you

For the free liquor that we have to swallow
For the curse of smoke that we have to cough
For the dripping scaffolding from which we fall
May God reward you

As I watched this scene of the ceremony, I imagined that Meirelles camouflaged a cautious admonition to Brazil’s political elite—who are ensnared in corruption scandals and the impeachment of the country’s first woman president—to preserve democracy and protect the rights of citizens, including those least privileged. But despite the brittle scaffolding buttressing the nation (and these Games), Brazilian music never seems to let gloom overpower pleasure; less pliant than gold, it may be the country’s sturdiest cement.

The Singular “They” and Trans* Studies

They used as a “gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person” was chosen as the Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society in January 2016. The so-called singular they has been used for centuries to replace he or she when referring back to a generic antecedent, although this makes some copy editors and grammar aficionados cringe. (Did you see this row between Merriam-Webster dictionary Twitter account and Andy Smarick? It all started with this tweet.) What’s new and was recognized by the society is the emerging use of they as a pronoun to refer to a specific known person, often as a conscious choice by someone rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.

Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, explains: “In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion. . . . While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”

ddasp_91_1In “Singular They: An Empirical Study of the Generic Pronoun Use,” published in American Speech volume 91, issue 1, author Darren K. LaScotte presents a study that explores which pronouns native English speakers use when writing about a hypothetical person of unspecified gender. LaScotte discovered the majority of participants use singular they when referring to the indefinite, singular, genderless antecedent “the ideal student.” In an optional write-in section of the study, participants were asked why they chose the singular they. Responses included mentions that they acknowledges those that fall outside of the gender binary.

These responses in LaScotte’s study highlight the relationship between the singular they and trans* studies. In TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly’s recent special issue “Trans*formational Pedagogies” (volume 2, issue 3), two articles delve into the use of pronouns and the trans* community.

ddtsq_2_3In “Trans* Disruptions: Pedagogical Practices and Pronoun Recognition,” Tre Wentling asks, “With the increasing number of trans* people who queer the gender binary, how does language affirm or deny their personhood?” In Wentling’s study, the results demonstrate that trans* students who identify as genderqueer tended to use gender-neutral and third-person pronouns. However, educators were less affirming when it came to gender-neutral pronoun recognition. “Accurate pronoun recognition supports trans* students’ identity development and honors their personhood,” Wentling says.

Susan W. Woolley’s “‘Boys Over Here, Girls Over There’: A Critical Literacy of Binary Gender in Schools” examines the ways teachers and students enact, respond to, and subvert practices that articulate and distinguish categories of boys and girls with three years of ethnographic research in an urban public high school. From the abstract:

Dividing students according to their socially recognized sex or gender reinforces the perceived stability of binary male/female sex and binary masculine/feminine gender categories while also exceptionalizing transgender identities. Students and teachers who challenge such practices engage in critical literacy readings of school spaces and of the mundane ways binary gender and sex are read onto bodies. Critical literacy provides a method through which students and teachers may engage in reflection and critical practice to raise awareness and challenge everyday practices in schools that construct boys and girls as stable, discrete categories.

For those who embrace, or are ready to embrace, the singular they, there’s a website for you:

The Other Olympic Big Ben

He’s on his way home now, but before he left Daryle Williams sent us another Olympic update from Rio. Williams is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland and co-editor of The Rio de Janeiro Reader: History, Culture, Politics.  Follow him on Twitter @DaryleWilliams and with the hashtag #RioReader.


“Ele é o nosso Big Ben.” “He’s our Big Ben.” That short phrase stuck with me when I heard it my first time in Rio in 1988 and it came back to me when I headed out to watch Olympic canoe slalom in the Deodoro X-Park. I knew little about this extreme sport, but I tried to make sense of the competition by thinking about an iconic clock tower in London and its Carioca counterpart. Neither the English Big Ben nor the 135-meter tower above Central do Brasil rail station is located anywhere near the white water stadiums of London 2012 or Rio 2016, but I figured the pair might serve as a shorthand guide to this Olympic experience.

In 2012, the Elizabeth Tower was a grand symbol of British traditions, familiar the world over. On Opening Day, the Union Jack and Olympic Rings were projected onto the Houses of Parliament, alongside the golden illuminated clock above the Thames. The Rio tower, completed in 1943 atop a train station that dates from the 1850s within sight of the Morro da Providencia, could have figured in the praiseworthy 2016 Opening Ceremonies that told the story of Rio to a global audience of 3 billion. The structure hung a huge banner for World Youth Day (2013) and the Rio state government has used the tower for a public campaign against homophobia. In August 2016, however, the quadrilinear spire remained outside the frame of a nighttime flight from Maracanã stadium across the illuminated city to the white sands of Ipanema.

That omission was not so surprising, as the symbolism of the Carioca Big Ben is hardly stirring. The Central do Brasil station is a crush of human, car, bus, and train traffic devoid of greenery, baristas, and chill. The tower fronts Avenida Presidente Vargas, a soul-sucking thoroughfare that runs from Candelária to flood-prone Praça da Bandeira. In February 2016, the notoriously unreliable clock face was vandalized by a 21-year old whose daring feat — posted on social media as an act of protest over earlier acts of police brutality — fed white upper-class disgust for disorderly, anti-social grafiteiros. Without having to see Walter Salles’ 1998 masterpiece Central do Brasil, most residents of Grande Rio could associate the tower with the scene when Dora (Fernanda Montenegro) is denied a seat on her miserable trip home to a shabby apartment along the suburban train tracks. Although an icon of the Olympic City, surrounded a great many landmarks of Rio’s development as independent city and national capital, the clock tower at Brazil’s Central Station keeps the time of urban alienation.

Accordingly, the SuperVia train trip to a new extreme sports park began in a decidedly un-marvelous way. Prior travel to the Olympic Park in Barra had been highly orderly, surveilled, and virtually commerce-free. Conversely, the trip to Deodoro began with a fend-for-yourself navigation through the gates, grates, and public urinals that surround the station entrance. Beyond the McDonald’s installed in a repurposed ticketing office, the station’s cavernous hall was filled with vendors, buskers, and hustlers. The air was filled with a cacophony of megaphone announcements for trains to Rio’s suburbs in the Zona Norte and Oeste and the far-flung municipalities of the Baixada Fluminense. Olympic signage, volunteers, security, and bilingual welcomes were plentiful, but it was impossible to overlook the muvuca of everyday commuters headed to and from work, home, shopping, assignations, errands, appointments, worship, and school. (Rio state schools would theoretically be on break, but a prolonged teacher strike had forced schools to make up lost time, Olympics notwithstanding).

IMG_7411While waiting for the train to depart, we passengers were bombarded with offers of Bauducco cookies, Kit Kat bars, Grapette, Guaraplus, Antarctica beer (ice cold, Olha a Boa!), iPhone covers, keychains, wallets, and knife sharpeners sold by a legion of casually-dressed, unlicensed vendors who walked up and down the train corridor barking off product names, promotional discounts (one for R$2, three for R$5!), and the promise of refreshment and problems solved. One man, dressed in slightly more respectable attire (a worn blazer and jeans) attested to his former life of sin, asking that we join him in salvation. Another demonstrated the amazing efficiency of a manual cheese grater (first carrots, then potatoes, and zucchini too). Just five reais. Cin-co re-ais! A saucy thirtysomething women talked of the fireworks to follow when her candy pop-rocks touched your tongue. Like the other vendors, she was a woman of color. Passengers were mostly pardos, morenas, and negros of varying skin shades, hair textures, and ages.

As the train pulled out of the station, into former industrial suburbs towards what remains of rural Rio, most Brazilian passengers looked on dispassionately, toying with their smartphones, reading, or sitting quietly. Before the Olympic visitors disembarked at the exceptionally militarized park adjacent Vila Militar, a handful of passengers gave in to the temptations of an impulse purchase.

As we passed gritty yet functional train stations that extended to Japeri, the faces of the Olympic tourists (also dressed casually, with a few tell-tale additions like money pouches and pocket maps) ranged from bemused to confused. It’s unlikely that the outsiders were specifically thinking of the train station that we had left behind, but I could guess that our journey confirmed preexisting expectations of a popular class, mixed-race, ingenuous, and slightly dangerous Rio. It was a glimpse into the lives of authentic Rio. It was an antidote to homogenized, globalized Rio in Barra. The Cariocas and Fluminense passengers surely had a much more nuanced read of the journey — making distinctions between Méier, Madureira, and Marechal Hermes, noting the cleverness of one vendor over another, perhaps identifying with the narrative of redemption. Yet together, locals and visitors shared a part of a Rio nowhere in sight of the warm oranges, yellows, and greens that frame Rio 2016’s visual identity of Cristo Redentor, Pedra da Gávea, the cable car at Sugarloaf, and the sinuous lines of Oscar Niemeyer and Roberto Burle Marx. Together, we moved to Carioca rhythms different from the pasteurized bossa nova piped into the frighteningly over air-conditioned MetrôRio line between Ipanema and Jardim Oceânico.


On the return from Deodoro, another legion of vendors sold their wares. The train was extra crowded, but a woman selling homemade empadas still managed to weave through the crowd, telling us about the quality of her fare. When the train slowed suddenly and those standing had to take a slight jump to regain balance, she began a little fancy footwork, half-laughing about the need to samba to get through life, before quickly moving on to the next sales pitch. Like the Opening Ceremonies, this mini-performance of Carioquice (Rio-ness) ended in samba. But in the shadows of nosso Big Ben, this Olympic-time samba spoke to something different from the postcards and panoramas of our television feeds from Copacabana, Lagoa, and Barra. For me, and perhaps for all of us heading out and back to Deodoro, nosso Big Ben and the Cariocas it serves shall form an equally indispensable part of the global imaginary of an Olympic City.

Learn more about The Marvelous City by reading The Rio de Janeiro Reader . Buy a copy now and save 30% with coupon code E15RIO or purchase an e-book from one of our partners.

Postcard from Columbus: Kendall McKenzie attends IFLA 2016


Library Sales Specialist Kendall McKenzie is attending the 2016 International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress in Columbus, Ohio, from August 13-19. We recently sat down with Kendall to chat about what she wants to learn from librarians, what she is excited to talk to attendees about, and what she is most interested in eating while visiting The Biggest Small Town in America.

What are the things you’d like to talk to IFLA attendees about?

I’m excited to talk about our two new e-book subject collections: the Latin American Studies collection and the Gender Studies collection. These subject collections are great resources for specialty schools or schools with a strong program in either Latin American studies or gender studies. I’d love to hear from librarians about their experience and thoughts when assessing a subject collection, and would appreciate any and all feedback. Oftentimes with our e-Duke Books and e-Duke Journal collections, we might be in conversation with universities, so I think we’ll have more chances to work with a full range of schools, including community colleges and specialty libraries.

What do you want to learn from librarians?

I’d like to talk about our open-access offerings, including Project Euclid, Environmental Humanities, and the Carlyle Letters Online. We want to learn what librarians would like to see for the future of open access in the humanities. I’d also be interested to hear about what kind of models for evidence-driven acquisitions (EDA) librarians have used and really like. And of course, I’d love to learn how international libraries are structured, and what kinds of content interests them.

What are you planning to do and see while you’re in Columbus?

I am most excited about walking around the city and taking a ton of photos. I like to try to be really subtle and not look like a tourist but still explore the city. I’m also really looking forward to the restaurants. I hear there’s a hot dog place that I have to try—Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace—that has a hot dog called Sarva’s Tot-cho Dog. It’s smothered in tater tots, cheese sauce, jalapeños, and onions. It looks delicious. The German Village Historic District is close to downtown and is full of restaurants and bakeries—I hope to visit and walk around.

Will you be attending IFLA 2016? Stop by and see Kendall at Booth E107 in Hall D during the conference.

The World Library and Information Congress is held each year in a different region of the world. 2016 marks the congress’ return to the US for the first time since 2001. Follow along with the 2016 IFLA congress on Facebook and Twitter. We’re looking forward to attending IFLA 2017 in Wrocław, Poland next year!


The (Big) Olympic City

Here is another Olympic update from Rio by Daryle Williams, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland and co-editor of The Rio de Janeiro Reader: History, Culture, Politics.  Follow him on Twitter @DaryleWilliams and with the hashtag #RioReader.


Brazilians (and Brazilianists) possess a deep fondness for top rankings. Brazil is the world’s fifth largest in territory. The Amazon is the world’s biggest river. The national soccer team has the most World Cup victories. The highly distressed national GDP still ranks above all but eight other countries. The City of Rio de Janeiro appropriately follows suit. Carioca Carnaval has branded itself A Maior Show da Terra [The Greatest Show on Earth]. The city was recently ranked third in the world for traffic congestion. By some measures, Rocinha is the largest favela in Latin America. The XXXI Olympiad has brought to Rio the largest contingent of female competitors in Olympic history.

At 486 square miles and approximately 6.5 million inhabitants, Rio is not the Brazilian federation’s largest in territory, population, or economic output. Nonetheless, The Marvelous City is Big. The Olympic City is Really Big.

Since arriving last Thursday, it’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around the size and scope of Olympic Rio. I was comfortable enough with the map of venues dedicated to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, archery, sailing, beach volleyball, and rowing  — an arc from the close-in neighborhoods of the Zona Norte and Zona Sul that basically map the Rio that I know as a historian and sometimes resident. From futebol at Maracanã to a samba school desfile in the Sambódromo, from the Brazilian National Archive off Av. Presidente Vargas to the Brazilian Historical and Geographic Institute in Glória, and between my former apartments in Laranjeiras and Copacabana, I can easily envision the principal locales and locals of the central Olympic zones. On the other hand, my grasp of the Olympic Park in far-away Barra da Tijuca is tenuous, having been to the region just a handful of times over the past quarter-century. My knowledge of Engenho de Dentro — home of track and field competitions at the Olympic Stadium (Engenhão) — is purely theoretical. Deodoro — site of dressage, pentathlon, and various extreme sports — is absolute terra incognita for me.


Since the start of competition, I have attended men’s gymnastics at the Rio Arena in Barra and watched Teams China and Japan roundly beat Italy and Cameroon, respectively, in women’s volleyball at Maracanãzinho. (The crowd was decidedly in support of the losing teams.) Although I was disappointed to witness a sudden wind storm scratch Sunday’s rowing competitions on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the setting was a pure picture postcard of a Rio known the world over. Engenho de Dentro is on the agenda for Friday morning, and I just purchased tickets to Thursday’s canoeing and kayaking in Deodoro. By week’s end, I will have stitched together a more expansive geography of Olympic Rio.

Thus far, we have traveled around on a familiar mix of bus, metro, taxi, and private car (hello Uber!). There’s been a sense of comfort with the streets and tunnels of my movement. I have tried to map Rio Antigo onto modern Rio. The recent wholesale reorganization of municipal bus lines has not squelched an obsessive urge to recall former routes and itineraries. A ride along the Aterro do Flamengo’s stunning combination of speed and beauty is still a thrilling journey through two centuries of urban evolution along Guanabara Bay.

rio light rail

Rio’s new light rail line, which began operating in June

But there’s been something new and disruptive to these travels through an Olympic City that appears ever bigger and larger. The 90-minute trip to Barra involved a new metro line between Ipanema and Jardim Ocêanico, followed by a rapid bus to the Olympic Park. “Where are we?,” I wondered aloud. “Where do we go now?” A evening stroll along the Boulevard Olímpico, in the renovated port region, revealed a once-prohibited streetscape liberated from a soul-destroying elevated freeway. The long-forgotten enchantment of Av. Rio Branco returned with a ride on the new light rail line. For me and my fellow passengers, including Cariocas who quizzically asked where to get off or how to use a transit pass, these travels afforded the opportunity to re-discover a familiar city in unfamiliar ways. (Whereas the revelation of the bay shore has been especially striking for a historian working on the nineteenth-century slave trade, the specialist of Belle Époque Rio will be struck by the restored rights to walk downtown streets without fear of being flattened by a truck.)

In combination with new signage and crowd control barriers, a legion of uniformed Olympic volunteers, ticket booth vendors, transit police, and Força Nacional soldiers impose a certain order and discipline to these itineraries of discovery. Nonetheless the trips from my hosts’ apartment in Laranjeiras to the competition venues to meals at Largo do Machado, Vila Isabel, and Botafogo have enabled an unscripted opportunity to grasp a cityscape upended by massive urban reforms and new means of urban mobility. With new eyes, we see a city that was already there, and one in the making. These travels show a metropolis 450 years in the making whose sites of historicity, cosmopolitanness, and Carioca-ness cannot solely be reduced to comparisons with my provincial circuit along MetrôRio’s Linha 1, from Tijuca to Ipanema. Olympic Rio is a city much bigger and more varied than any of us can grasp all at once.


A protest sticker found by the author

Yet the rights and delights of this Olympic flâneur have already unmasked the unfulfilled promise of a unifying Games of Inclusion. The impressive vastness of the Olympic Park in Barra makes known a larger truth of a city of physical separations and environmental injustices. Across long elevated walkways, tall iron fencing, wide streets turned over to automobiles, and sewage-choked canals, the Park and nearby Olympic Village isolate the Olympic City from the rest of the Zona Oeste. They exclude city residents without the proper means to get there in the first place. The destruction of the Vila Autodrómo, immediately adjacent to the Park, figures into the larger narrative of removals that have opened up spaces for competition venues, transportation corridors, public arts, high-end residential towers, and places of consumerist sociability.

Exclusionary urban renewal is hardly new to Rio. A more inclusive Olympiad would have still left behind a human landscape of social difference, layered upon the landscape of earlier reforms. I wonder if it’s even fair to measure inclusion at the Olympic Park and its highly specialized rules written by sporting federations, security officials, global media conglomerates, and corporate licensing. Perhaps the measure of the Games’ in/ex-clusivity is the way that Cariocas and Rio scholars will be drawing their own cartographies of the Big City once the Games conclude. For the present, we continue our itineraries of discovery in the Olympic City, both scripted and unplanned.

Learn more about The Marvelous City by reading The Rio de Janeiro Reader . Buy a copy now and save 30% with coupon code E15RIO or purchase an e-book from one of our partners.

Why I Loved My Internship at Duke University Press

FullSizeRenderHi everyone! My name is Sarah Kinniburgh and I am a senior at William & Mary. This summer, I was an intern in the Books Marketing Department. It’s been a blast, but I don’t want to reminisce too hard just yet! Instead, I want to share how I ended up at Duke in the first place and my main takeaway from the experience.

So, once upon a time, also known as December of 2015, I knew I wanted to write a thesis. With no concrete ideas beyond that, I took to the stacks of Swem Library for hours at a time. I was curious to see what I was curious about.

This free association was not the most efficient brainstorming strategy, but it worked. After a few spins, I had a list of books and authors that spoke to me. At the top: A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia by Tom Boellstorff and Cities From Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America edited by Brodwyn Fischer, Bryan McCann, and Javier Auyero. It blew my mind that books on totally unfamiliar subjects were so well-researched, so nice to look at, and so fun to read. So I checked out those two books, then as many other Duke University Press titles as I could find.

At this point, I was on the prowl for a paid internship. Based on one phone call with a manuscript editor at a university press and a few blog posts (one of which helpfully suggested, “Love editing? Be an editor!”), I focused on editorial departments at publishing houses, as well as communications departments at think tanks.

Duke University Press was the first place I emailed. I heard back within two days—a promising sign, to say the least. Books Editorial was all set with student interns for the summer, but had I talked to Laura Sell in Books Marketing? The way it all worked out, I had my phone interview with Laura on my birthday. At the time, I was taking Amtrak to New York City to spend the weekend with my family (and was in a ridiculously good mood, which couldn’t have hurt). Not long after, Laura contacted me to offer me the internship.

The best part? On my first day at the Press, I walked past a stack of Cities From Scratch, casually perched on a table in the front office.

All of this is to say, I ended up at Duke University Press because I wanted to work around books that I knew I liked reading. This summer, I had the chance to do just that. I also got to know the people and process behind the titles, which is just as fun. Another unexpected perk: I feel more prepared to write my thesis, though not about Latin America or Indonesia, having worked around serious scholarship all summer.

In the big picture, though, my favorite part about the internship has been learning what academic publishing really is. Books Marketing covers so much territory: exhibits at conferences and museums, advertising, author events at bookshops, social media, and more. By learning more about Duke University Press’s marketing strategies, I feel like I have learned about the industry as well.

My favorite, favorite part has been learning how university presses use social media. Twitter is a great way to support individual authors and to connect titles with current events. Instagram may be on the rise for presses who know we all sometimes judge a book by its cover. Even Pinterest factors into some press’s brands. But the humble blog especially is thriving. University press blogs can feature longer, original reads that frame their titles and topics in the context of current events. For example, University of Chicago Press shared how Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion on a recent case cited one of their titles, MIT Press posted a Happy Birthday message to Alan Turing, and NYU featured a guest post by an author on the private prison in Orange Is the New Black. And, for University Press Week two years ago, Columbia offered a manifesto explaining its weekly university press blog roundup and, like many other presses, sharing links to other themed posts from around the country. I especially like that university presses can play to their strengths and expertise with these posts, from incorporating guest posts to sharing the timeline of a particularly time-sensitive book from start to finish, like the University of Georgia does here.

And, as if these posts weren’t enough reason to show academic publishers some love, the Johns Hopkins University Press shared this tweet about the humble weasel. As I responded almost immediately, that is the kind of quality content that I have come to expect from our university presses.

My time at Duke University Press has come to an end, but—if my obvious heart-eyes for this entire experience didn’t give it away—I hope that I am just getting started with this complicated, exciting field.