Author: Laura Sell

Publicity and Advertising Manager, Duke University Press

Q&A with William Craft Brumfield

Brumfield with BookWilliam Craft Brumfield is Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University. Brumfield, who began photographing Russia in 1970, is the foremost authority in the West on Russian architecture. He is the author, editor, and photographer of numerous books, including Architecture at the End of the Earth: Photographing the Russian North and Lost Russia: Photographing the Ruins of Russian Architecture, both also published by Duke University Press. In 2019 he was awarded the Russian state Order of Friendship medal—the highest decoration of the Russian Federation given to foreign nationals—for his study and promotion of Russia’s cultural legacy. Brumfield’s photographs of Russian architecture have been exhibited at numerous galleries and museums and are part of the Image Collections at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. In this Q&A, he discusses his new book Journeys through the Russian Empire: The Photographic Legacy of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, a lavishly illustrated volume featuring hundreds of full-color images of Russian architecture and landscapes taken by early-twentieth-century photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky juxtaposed against those of his own.

Tell us about Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky and why he embarked on his photographic journeys.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was born in 1863 on his family’s estate in central Russia. As a member of the middle nobility, he received a good education with emphasis on technical subjects. Study in Germany and France deepened his research in chemistry, optics and color theory with the goal of creating a camera for color images. Taking a prototype developed by the German chemist Adolf Miethe, Prokudin-Gorsky devised a reliable, if cumbersome, camera.

978-1-4780-0602-2Yet Prokudin-Gorsky did not stop with the invention, which he saw as the means to an end. He conceived a grand project that would apply the technology to photographic documentation of the Russian Empire in its vast diversity. During the decade before World War I he engaged in a blur of activity in the sphere of professional photography, primarily in St. Petersburg.

For posterity, however, the main legacy was his documentary campaigns that extended from the Caucasus to Central Asia to the White Sea. Between 1903 and 1916 he traveled over a dauntingly large part of the Russian Empire and took some 3,000 photographs with the process, which involved three exposures on a glass plate. 1909 was a particularly significant year for his work. In May Tsar Nicholas II invited the photographer to the imperial residence at Tsarskoe Selo to show his images of Russia through an elaborate projector. Following this presentation, Prokudin-Gorsky gained the support of the imperial court to continue his travels. The august patronage accelerated the pace of the photographer’s work, which received essential logistical support from the Ministry of Transportation.

We can assume that Prokudin-Gorsky believed in the Russian Empire as a force for enlightenment and technical progress. At the same time, he could not have been unaware of fundamental threats to the empire’s stability, including the 1905 revolution. I explore this ambivalence in the book’s concluding essay, “Over the Abyss”. After the revolutions of 1917, Prokudin-Gorsky seems to have accommodated himself to the new Soviet regime, but with the assassination of Nicholas and his family in July 1918, the photographer left Russia the following month, never to return. (Shockingly, one of his Yekaterinburg photographs includes the house in whose basement the murders occurred.) He ultimately resettled in France and regained a large part of his collection of glass negatives. Following his death in Paris in September 1944, his heirs sold the collection to the Library of Congress in 1948.

What is special and unusual about Prokudin-Gorsky’s photographic techniques?

The exposure process required an elongated, chemically treated glass plate that dropped in three steps past a lens. Different color filters were placed in front of the lens for each of the three exposures. It was something of a Rube Goldberg device, but when the three exposures were combined (through a projector or in the lab), the process produced images of remarkable quality. The lens and the process had their inherent limitations, but Prokudin-Gorsky’s mastery transcended them.

Why do you think Prokudin-Gorsky’s work resonates so much with Russians today?

Many reasons. Pride that yet another Russian proved such an adept inventor. Then there is the fascination with the sheer unexpected beauty of the images. Most importantly, perhaps, his work allows them to reconnect on so many levels with their heritage, and especially with a vision of that heritage before the cataclysms of the 1917 revolutions, a massively destructive civil war and the upheavals that followed in Soviet history during the 20th century. The photographs allow them to reconnect with a profoundly important part of their identity. There is a great thirst among many Russians of whatever generation to regain a sense of cultural and historical connectedness. When the Prokudin-Gorsky collection was made available online by the Library of Congress, a floodgate of emotion and interest was opened. These pre-revolutionary images suggest something indelibly Russian that has persisted notwithstanding the cataclysms of the 20th century. To be sure, this reconnection is not a simple matter I discuss some of the ambiguities in the introductory essay, and I return to them in the conclusion.

What inspired you to juxtapose your own photographs with Prokudin-Gorsky’s? 

Actually, the project was an unexpected gift, a commission from the Library of Congress in 1985. Before then I had only a vague impression of his work; but after the appearance in October 1984 of my first book, Gold in Azure: One Thousand Years of Russian Architecture, word got around Washington that I had traveled widely in Russia and knew something about photography. One thing led to another, and in the summer of 1985 I was invited by the Library of Congress to curate the first exhibit devoted to Prokudin-Gorsky’s work. That exhibit opened at the Library in 1986, and subsequently traveled to museums around the country. From the first moments of work with his collection, I was astounded by the discovery that I had covered much of the same territory, including the fabled Central Asian cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. My mantra became, “I too have seen this.”

What challenges did you encounter while photographing these Russian landmarks?

 A thorough answer to this question would require a separate book. There have been so many improbable journeys during the half-century range of my work in the former Soviet Union and in Russia specifically—for example, my trip to Uzbekistan as a graduate student in May 1972. This greatest possible treasure was part of a final trip arranged at the end of the academic year by the Foreign Section of Leningrad State University. The itinerary, unimaginable today, included the astounding monuments of Islamic architecture in Uzbekistan, the three Caucasus republics, and the Ukrainian port of Odessa. I was the only American who joined the small group. Most of my compatriots were energetically completing archival research, microfilming, and additional scholarly duties. I, however, was giddy at the prospect of going to Central Asia. To this day I do not understand how anyone with an ounce of curiosity about the planet could not have gone.

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Gur Emir (Timurid mausoleum). West
view after thunderstorm. Brumfield, May 16, 1972.

For all the rigors of traveling on our risible budget, the trip proved from a photographic point of view to be one of the most rewarding in my life. Imagine my astonishment in the summer of 1985 when I opened the Prokudin-Gorsky albums of contact prints at the Library of Congress and saw his photographs of Samarkand and Bukhara taken some six decades before my own. I witnessed those architectural monuments in much the same state as he did at the beginning of the 20th century. With the appearance of Journeys, those 1972 photographs of Samarkand and Bukhara—a very different culture from the one I usually study—will finally reach the public.

Another challenging area in my photographic work was the Russian North, historically defined as the area around the White Sea, Here again, my documentary campaigns overlapped with the journeys of Prokudin-Gorsky almost a century earlier, including his final Russian journey in 1916 (the subject of Chapter Eight). Especially rich in wooden architecture, the North could be a difficult environment for photographic work, not only because of the distances over poor roads, but also due to the climate variations. The summer in that Arctic region has its own lyrical beauty (together with swarms of blood-thirsty mosquitoes), yet the extremes of winter yielded some of the most distinctive photographs. Days of trudging with cameras through snow in intense cold were followed with evenings near the crackling heat of wood-burning brick stoves. And there were  a few convivial toasts.

At the same time, during the late 1990s, I embarked on what in was in geographical terms by far the largest expansion of my regional field work. The vehicle for this expansion, which would ultimately take me through the Urals and Siberia to Russia’s Far Eastern port of Vladivostok, was an Internet project titled “Meeting of Frontiers,” initiated by James Billington, the librarian of Congress, with the support of the US Congress and major libraries of the Russian Federation. The project’s basic premise consisted of many parallels between the transcontinental destinies of the United States and Russia: the Russians move east, the Americans move west; they come into contact (occasionally violent and exploitative) with aboriginal peoples; they build railroads; and they create narratives—with substantial elements of myth—about their respective Pacific destinies.

In 1998, Billington asked me as a photographer and a specialist in Russian architecture to create a photographic component that would illustrate and illuminate this epic movement as reflected in the architecture of settlements along the way east. My relations with the library had always been productive and included my work in 1985–86 as guest curator for the first traveling exhibit of the photographs of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. I was, therefore, convinced of the program’s potential and its impact on my field work.

Between 1999 and 2002, I made five trips over territory that extended from the European approaches to the Ural Mountains to Vladivostok, at the southeastern tip of Russia. Each trip brought extraordinary gains in my knowledge of Russia, and each made exhaustive demands on my endurance. I should add that during my travels in Siberia, as in the Russian North, I was often met with a degree of generous hospitality that threatened to overwhelm my work. Not coincidentally, “Meeting of Frontiers” allowed me to expand my earlier Prokudin-Gorsky work at the Library by visiting the areas that he photographed in the Urals and Western Siberia.

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Children with Church of Saint Paraskeva in background.
Prokudin-Gorsky 21067. Summer 1909.

Do you have a favorite photograph by Prokudin-Gorsky?

It is difficult to choose one, because they are so varied and so rich. Favorite in what sense? In what category? I specialize in Russia’s architectural heritage, which is so vividly presented in his work. Yet the photograph that haunts my memory is the one with children sitting on a levee in Belozersk. They are squinting in the late afternoon sun. Behind them is the dome of the Church of St. Paraskeva, ruined during the Soviet period (as my corresponding photograph shows), His photograph was taken in 1909, and I could not help but wonder what happened to those children in the following decades, decades that brought such unending trials to Russia.

Read the introduction to Journeys through the Russian Empire free online and save 30% on the book with coupon code E20BRMFL.

Virtual Events in July

978-1-4780-0813-2We’re so sad that our authors still aren’t able to do live events at bookstores and on campuses, but are glad that some of them are choosing to do virtual events to showcase their books instead. Here are a few online events you can attend this month.

The Popular Music Books in Process Series is a collaboration between the Journal of Popular Music Studies, IASPM-US, and the Pop Conference, meant to offer writers and scholars with books that have recently been published, or books in progress, on all kinds of popular music a chance to connect with a deeply interested community of readers. Several of our authors are participating in the series. On July 14, catch Xavier Livermon, author of Kwaito Bodies. On July 28, David Grubbs will discuss his new book The Voice in the Headphones. Looking ahead to fall, be sure to tune in for talks with Emily Lordi, author of The Meaning of Soul, and Maureen Mahon, author of Black Diamond Queens.

978-1-4780-0824-8_prOn July 8, Imani Perry, author of Vexy Thing, will interview Ashon Crawley, author of The Lonely Letters. They plan to talk about loneliness, blackness, blackqueerness, joy, love, and friendship.

On July 16, the Albuquerque Museum will host an online launch for Margaret Randall’s memoir, I Never Left Home. Randall will read from the book and the museum will have copies available for sale on their website.

July 20, join Louise Amoore and Nick Seaver as they discuss Amoore’s new book Cloud Ethics in an event sponsored by the University of Warwick.

Follow us on Twitter to learn about events as they are added to the calendar.

Revisiting Written in Stone, A Guest Post by Sanford Levinson

svl55-largeSanford Levinson holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School. In today’s guest post he writes about how his 1998 book Written in Stone continues to be relevant but in constant need of updating. We published a 20th Anniversary Edition in 2018. Through August 31, 2020 we are offering a 40% discount on the book with coupon code STONE40. We hope you’ll consider adding it to your reading list or syllabus.

This fall, for the third time, I will be teaching a “reading course” at the Harvard Law School on “Monuments and Memorialization.” Needless to say, among the readings is my Duke University Press book Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies. Originally published in 1998, the Press published a second edition in 2018, with what turned out to be a new afterword of some 20,000 words, together with a new cover—a picture of Robert E. Lee’s statue being removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans—and a variety of other new photographs of controversial monuments. When the second edition was initially planned in 2016, the thought was that I would write a new afterword of about 5,000 words and that the new edition would be published in early 2018 (at the latest). As John Lennon famously sang, though, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Among the things that happened between initial plan and publication in September 2015 was the massacre in Charleston, the 2016 March in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the ensuing taking down of many monuments, particularly in the states of the Confederacy. And, of course, at the present time the entire country is experiencing the aftermath of the murder by a Minneapolis police officer of George Floyd in Minneapolis, including the renewed attention on monuments (and building names) across the country. For example, Lake Calhoun, in Minneapolis, named after John C. Calhoun, the leading defender of the slavocracy in his long career in American politics, was renamed, though not without controversy, Bde Maka Ska, described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as “its original Dakota name.

Written in StoneGiven events in Minneapolis; Richmond, Virginia; Bristol, England; and Brussels, Belgium, to name only and handful of recent locales where monuments have come down or places renamed, friends have encouraged me to prepare a third edition of Written in Stone. There is a good reason for not doing so at the present time: Such an edition, at least at this time, would have to be published in a loose-leaf version! As I prepare my syllabus for the course this fall, I find myself revising it almost literally every day, as new actions are undertaken and arguments presented. Just this week, toward the end of June, 2020, for example, it appears very likely that Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia, will drop Robert E. Lee’s name, though, no doubt, some students, both African-American and white, might at least wonder why the slaveowning George Washington deserves continued honor.

And Princeton University, after deciding in 2018 to retain Woodrow Wilson’s name for its eminent School of Public Affairs, announced that it would drop it. Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining his own change of mind. Eisgruber took note of “Wilson’s genuine achievements,” not to mention his centrality to the development of Princeton because of his service as one of Eisgruber’s predecessors. Wilson, therefore, “is a far different figure than John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, people whose pro-slavery commitments defined their careers and who were sometimes honored for the purpose of supporting segregation or racism. Princeton honored Wilson without regard to, and perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.” Eisgruber now believes that “ignorance” was “precisely the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored and turned a blind eye to racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against black people….”  There is nothing innocent about naming programs or buildings. “When a university names its public policy school for a political leader, it inevitably offers the honoree as a role model for its students. However grand some of Wilson’s achievements may have been, his racism disqualifies him from that role.” It is no longer possible to “disregard or ignore racism when deciding whom we hold up to our students as heroes or role models…. Our commitment to eliminate racism must be unequivocal, and that is why we removed the name of Princeton’s modern-day founder from its School of Public and International Affairs.”

Fortunately, Written in Stone, especially in its expanded second edition, pays extended attention to a number of analyses of policies about monuments that were prepared at a variety of universities, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, and the University of Texas, as well as by a special committee appointed by the Mayor of New York. I also treat at length an absolutely remarkable speech by former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu explaining his decision to remove a number of Confederate statues from the city’s public space, including the aforementioned one of Robert E. Lee.

At the present time, there are two central issues at the forefront of the controversy over monuments and memorialization. First, who exactly deserves the kind of public honor that is conveyed, say, by a statue in front of a major public building? In New York City, for example, a statue of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the New York Museum of Natural History that was explicitly considered by the Mayor’s Committee, which recommended against removing it, has now been slated for removal because it demeans African- and Native-Americans in placing them in a decidedly subordinate position to Roosevelt atop his horse. Many statues of Christopher Columbus are being removed, not to mention, of course, the myriad of statues honoring those who took up arms against the United States in 1861-65 and vigorously advocated the maintenance of white supremacy (including lynchings) thereafter. Some of these examples seem quite easy to resolve. Others, as with Roosevelt, Columbus, or Woodrow Wilson, appear considerably more difficult.

But, especially to a lawyer like myself, a second important issue involves the process by which decisions to remove (or maintain) statues or to rename buildings or, as in Minnesota, lakes, should be made. Even if one heartily approves, for example, of attempts to remove the slaveowning and anti-Native American Andrew Jackson’s statue from Lafayette Park, in Washington, one can, at the same time, be disturbed if that decision, in effect, is made by demonstrators (or, as some people might describe them, a “mob”). It is not simply that a structured process would give people an opportunity to make a variety of conflicting arguments, with the final decision made by bodies ranging from a city council to the voters in a local referendum; rather, it is almost certainly also the case that the losers who might lament the demotion of their own “heroes” from the public square might at least feel somewhat mollified if they felt they had a fair opportunity to make their arguments and they lost “fair and square.”

Final Day of Our Spring Sale

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It’s an unusual Memorial Day here in the US with many of us staying home instead of heading to beaches and picnics. But the bright side is that you still have one more day to take advantage of our 50% off Spring Sale. Stock up on your summer reading by midnight Eastern time if you want to save.

If you haven’t shopped since the sale began in March, you’ll definitely want to check back on our website for new books by Jane Bennett, Alex Blanchette, Wadsworth A. Jarrell, Louise Amoore, Eric Zolov, and many more. See what we released in April and May.

Here’s the usual fine print: The discount does not apply to journals subscriptions or society memberships. You can’t order out-of-stock or not yet published titles at the discount. Regular shipping applies and all sales are final.

Preview our Fall 2020 Catalog

F20-catalog-coverWe’re excited to unveil our Fall 2020 catalog. Check out some highlights from the season below and then download a copy for a closer read. These titles will be published between July 2020 and January 2021.

On the cover we’re featuring an image from artist Lorraine O’Grady’s Writing in Space, 1973–2019, which gathers her statements, scripts, and previously unpublished notes charting the development of her performance work and conceptual photography. The book is edited by Aruna D’Souza.

We lead off with Diary of a Detour by Lesley Stern, a memoir of living with cancer and the unexpected detours illness can produce. Poet Eileen Myles calls it “the most pleasurable cancer book imaginable.” It’s illustrated with delightful drawings of Stern’s chickens, who brought solace during her journey.

The Sense of BrownThe next pages feature a couple of queer studies superstars: Jack Halberstam and the late José Esteban Muñoz. Muñoz was working on The Sense of Brown when he died in 2013. Scholars Joshua Chambers-Letson and Tavia Nyong′o have edited his unfinished manuscript and added an introduction. The book is a treatise on brownness and being as well as Muñoz’s most direct address to queer Latinx studies. Jack Halberstam’s new book Wild Things offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the twentieth century. It’s sure to please fans of his bestselling previous books Female Masculinity and The Queer Art of Failure. LGBTQ studies scholars will also want to check out Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies by Cait McKinney and Sexual Hegemony, in which Christopher Chitty traces the 500-year history of capitalist sexual relations by excavating the class dynamics of the bourgeoisie’s attempts to regulate homosexuality. And Left of Queer, an issue of Social Text edited by David L. Eng and Jasbir K. Puar, offers a detailed examination of queerness and its nearly three-decade academic and political mainstreaming and institutionalization.

Two books on the fall list will be helpful to recent PhDs as they navigate the job market and the complicated world of academe. Putting the Humanities PhD to Work by Katina L. Rogers grounds practical career advice in a nuanced consideration of the current landscape of the academic workforce. And we announce a fourth edition of The Academic’s Handbook. This edition of the popular guide is edited by Lori A. Flores and Jocelyn H. Olcott and is completely revised and expanded. Over fifty contributors from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds offer practical advice for academics at every career stage, whether they are first entering the job market or negotiating post-tenure challenges of accepting leadership and administrative roles.

How to Go Mad without Losing Your MindBlack studies continues to be a strong part of our list. This winter we publish a new book by Katherine McKittrick. In Dear Science and Other Stories she presents a creative and rigorous study of black and anticolonial methodologies, exploring how narratives of imprecision and relationality interrupt knowledge systems that seek to observe, index, know, and discipline blackness. Dear Science is the first book in the new Errantries series, edited by McKittrick, Simone Browne, and Deborah Cowen. In Sentient Flesh R. A. Judy offers an extended meditation on questions of blackness, the human, epistemology, and the historical ways in which the black being is understood. And we’re also looking forward to La Marr Jurelle Bruce’s How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind, an urgent provocation and poignant meditation on madness in black radical art.

Latinx ArtFall brings some great new art and art history titles, including Latinx Art by Arlene Dávila, who draws on numerous interviews with artists, dealers, and curators to provide an inside and critical look of the global contemporary art market. Looking at Latinx aesthetics from a popular culture perspective, Jillian Hernandez’s Aesthetics of Excess analyzes the personal clothing, makeup, and hairstyles of working-class Black and Latina girl to show how cultural discourses of aesthetic value racialize the bodies of women and girls of color. And in ¡Presente!, Diana Taylor offers the theory of presente as a model of standing by and with victims of structural and endemic violence by being physically and politically present in situations where it seems that nothing can be done. In Liquor Store Theater, Maya Stovall uses her conceptual art project—in which she danced near her Detroit neighborhood’s liquor stores as a way to start conversations with her neighbors—as a point of departure for understanding everyday life in Detroit and the possibilities for ethnographic research, art, and knowledge creation. In Beyond the World’s End, T. J. Demos explores a range of artistic, activist, and cultural practices that provide compelling and radical propositions for building a just, decolonial, and environmentally sustainable future. And in Keith Haring’s Line, Ricardo Montez traces the drawn and painted line that was at the center of Keith Haring’s artistic practice, engaging with Haring’s messy relationships to race-making and racial imaginaries.

The Meaning of SoulIf you love music books, you’re in luck this fall. We offer Black Diamond Queens by Maureen Mahon, which documents the major contributions African American women vocalists such as Big Mama Thornton, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, and Merry Clayton have made to rock and roll throughout its history. And in The Meaning of Soul, Emily J. Lordi examines the work of Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Solange Knowles, Flying Lotus, and others in order to propose a new understanding of soul, showing how it came to signify a belief in black resilience enacted through musical practices.

We’re featuring a great group of Latin American studies titles this fall. In The Cuban Hustle, Sujatha Fernandes explores the many ways artists, activists, and ordinary Cubans have sought to hustle, survive, and express themselves in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. We also welcome back returning authors Brett Gustafson with Bolivia in the Age of Gas and Joanne Rappaport with Cowards Don’t Make History.

For a Pragmatics of the UselessWe welcome back a number of other returning authors as well. In History 4° Celsius Ian Baucom continues his inquiries into the place of the Black Atlantic in the making of the modern and postmodern world. Catherine Besteman offers a sweeping theorization of the ways in which countries from the global North are reproducing South Africa’s apartheid system on a worldwide scale in her new book Militarized Global Apartheid. Erin Manning’s latest book For a Pragmatics of the Useless explores the links between neurotypicality, whiteness, and black life. Joseph Masco returns with The Future of Fallout, and Other Episodes in Radioactive World-Making, which examines the psychosocial, material, and affective consequences of the advent of nuclear weapons, the Cold War security state, climate change on contemporary US democratic practices and public imaginaries. And in The Wombs of Women, Françoise Vergès traces the long history of colonial state intervention in black women’s wombs during the slave trade and postslavery imperialism as well as in current birth control politics.

Fall also brings essential new journal issues in political science and political history. In “Fascism and Anti-Fascism since 1945,” an issue of Radical History Review, contributors show how fascist ideology continues to circulate and be opposed transnationally despite its supposed death at the end of World War II. And “The ACA at 10,” a two-part issue of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, marks the tenth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with essays from prominent analysts of US health policy and politics that explore critical issues and themes in the ACA’s evolution.

There’s so much more! We invite you to download the entire catalog and check out all the great books and journals inside. And be sure to sign up for our email alerts so you’ll know when titles you’re interested in are available.

Watch our Virtual Poetry Reading

On Sunday, March 3, our book designer Aimee Harrison hosted an online poetry reading via Zoom. Poets David Grubbs, author of The Voice in the Headphones; Margaret Randall, author of the memoir I Never Left Home and editor of the poetry collection On the Road/ Solo el camino; and Renato Rosaldo, author of The Chasers. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author, most recently, of Dub: Finding Ceremony, pre-taped a contribution.

We invite you to watch a recording of this great event!

If you enjoy the poems, don’t forget that the authors’ books are all 50% off during our Spring Sale with coupon SPRING50!

Farewell to Tony Allen

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Photo by  Tore Sætre

We are sorry to learn of the death of pioneering afrobeat drummer Tony Allen last week. We published Allen’s autobiography, a collaboration with Yale University’s Michael E. Veal, in 2013. Allen, who was 79, died at his home in Paris.

 

Allen was one of the creators of the afrobeat genre and was best known for his collaboration with Nigerian artist Fela Kuti in the 1960s and 70s. He then had a thriving solo career and was still releasing albums and playing gigs through 2019. His latest album, Rejoice, a collaboration with trumpeter Hugh Masekela, was just released in March.

978-0-8223-5591-5_prTony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with the musician and scholar Michael E. Veal. Veal says, “I’m so grateful for our friendship. We spent a lot of time hanging out together, and most of it was spent laughing. I just spoke with him by phone two weeks ago and it was just as usual—we laughed and talked for an hour. I can truly say I had some of the best times of my life playing, writing and hanging with Tony.” Of Allen’s music, Veal says, “His groove was spectacular—extraordinary pocket, but loose and jazzy at all times. Kept it moving so beautifully. Knew just when to nail it and just when to let it flow.”

Senior Executive Editor Ken Wissoker acquired the memoir. He says, “Tony Allen was an absolute giant of late twentieth-century popular music, from the time when he was the engine of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 to his wide-ranging later collaborations. It was a complete honor to publish his memoir, a unique and indelible window into his life, afrobeat, and contemporary pop music.”

Tony Allen is remembered in obituaries in the New York Times, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, the BBC, NPR, Pitchfork, and many other prominent media outlets. We send our best to his friends and family and encourage everyone to seek out his music.

The Virus in Detroit: A May Day Post by Philip Conklin and Mark Jay

For May Day, here’s a guest post by Philip Conklin and Mark Jay, authors of the new book A People’s History of Detroit, which uses a class framework to tell a sweeping story of Detroit from 1913 to the present. 

Peoples History of DetroitSince the outbreak of the coronavirus, two notable strikes took place in the Detroit area. On March 17, bus drivers from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26 walked off the job in protest of fatal work conditions, shutting down Detroit’s public transit system. Among the workers’ complaints were unhygienic buses, lack of access to rest rooms, and forced close proximity to maskless passengers. Detroit is the poorest large city in the US, and due in part to the high cost of auto insurance more than a third of Detroiters can’t afford a car; the result is that, even as the pandemic ravages the city, hundreds of thousands of Detroiters are forced to rely on the underfunded, overcrowded bus system to get around. “This is death walking around here,” Roderick Nash, a city bus driver, said. “And nobody’s taking it serious.” The city government responded to the strike by suspending bus fare collection during the pandemic to limit passengers’ interaction with drivers, providing masks for passengers, and making more toilets (including porta potties) available for drivers. But days after the strike, drivers reported that conditions remained unsafe, with passengers still lacking access to masks. The government’s safety measures came too late for Jason Hargrove, a city driver who, just days after posting a video on social media complaining about safety conditions on his bus, died of coronavirus.

Two weeks after the bus drivers’ strike, 40 workers at an Amazon warehouse in nearby Romulus launched a protest action of their own. According to organizer Mario Crippen, Amazon treats their employees as “expendable.” “It’s a scary, scary place to be right now,” Crippen said. “There’s no hand sanitizer, no face masks given out. We’re limited on glove use. . . . They’re not worried about anyone’s safety, they’re worried about shipping out packages.” Amazon responded to a similar strike in Staten Island by firing the lead organizer and deriding him as “not smart.” Following a precedent set by Henry Ford a century ago, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has decided it’s simply better business to deploy harsh union-busting tactics than to acquiesce to the basic, humane demands of his workers.

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As we argue in our A People’s History of Detroit, Detroit has long served as a metonym for the myths and fantasies of urban life in the United States, a sort of endlessly generative symbolic backdrop for our national unconscious—from the industrial miracles of the early 20th century, when Detroit was the manufacturing hub of the world and the birthplace of the manufacturing middle class, to the deindustrialized landscape of poverty, crime, and decay from the latter third of the 20th century up to the present—or, rather, the recent past. Now, Detroit is being hailed as the “greatest turnaround story in American history,” as billions of dollars of real estate investments transform the derelict cityscape into an urban playground of consumption, entertainment, and white-collar industry. In light of this “funhouse mirror” effect (to quote local celebrity journalist Charlie LeDuff), one might wonder, what can the Motor City tell us about the coronavirus epidemic? Indeed, Detroit has also magnified the problems of this virus, as Michigan falls just behind New York and New Jersey in COVID fatality rates, with Detroit tallying 35 deaths per day in early April.

Crises, however universal they appear, have unequal effects, which reflect the inequalities of society more broadly. Much like “natural” disasters, epidemiological ones hit hardest among the most vulnerable sections of the population. On the other hand, crises can also serve as catalysts for coordinated action on the part of these groups. Detroit autoworkers took advantage of the high demand for labor during World War II to jockey for better working conditions at the notoriously dangerous and enervating auto factories that had been converted to produce military equipment, striking despite a nationwide strike ban negotiated by union leaders and government officials behind the backs of the rank-and-file. In early 1944 Detroit workers averaged a dozen strikes per week, making the Motor City the leading center of workplace militancy. That year one workplace death, five amputations, and one hundred serious injuries occurred per day in Michigan.

The two recent labor actions in Detroit highlight a similar dynamic of workplace unsafety and worker power during crises—the essential difference now is the severity of generalized precarity among the working classes. Amazon warehouses are particularly illustrative of the current situation. The corporation has opened several massive “distribution centers” in the Detroit area in recent years. Employees inside these behemoths have denounced their “inhumane” working conditions, decrying the company’s union-busting techniques, as well as productivity standards that force people to stay on their feet all day long and leave no time for bathroom breaks. One undercover reporter described “employees collapsing at work, suffering panic attacks, pulling muscles and more.” Even in the midst of the pandemic, Amazon continues to hire workers for its Metro Detroit warehouses, despite workers’ insistence that the work they’re doing is not essential. “People are ordering the same stuff as usual,” one employee who took part in the strike explained. “If it was purely medical supplies and if Amazon actually stepped up and did that then I’d be much more willing to put myself [on what feels like] the front lines because we get stuff from everywhere, but that’s not what’s going on. . . . It’s people ordering the same cat litter, toys, ramen noodles.” According to another worker, “We aren’t heroes and we aren’t Red Cross workers—we are working people who pack and deliver goods. We’re working through a crisis not by choice but by necessity.”

Although most of the media coverage surrounding these and other workplace concerns have understandably focused on the particulars of the coronavirus, it’s important to bear in mind that deadly work conditions and worker “expendability” are nothing new in Detroit. If there is an abiding truth of the past 100 years of Detroit’s history, it is this: the city’s prosperity is built on its workers, and its hardships have likewise been borne by them. And a cursory glance through the annals of the modern Motor City shows the high cost even of this “prosperity,” which at every turn was wrenched from the living grasp of labor.

A 1973 report by the US Department of Labor found that significantly more people died each year inside U.S. factories than on the battlefields in Vietnam. The report “estimated 65 on-the-job deaths per day among auto workers, for a total of some 16,000 annually.” These deaths pale in comparison to the toll of industrial diseases, which the Public Health Service estimated took a remarkable 100,000 lives each year at this time. Foundry workers, machinists, and coarse-metal finishers were at significantly greater risk of fatal heart disease and lung disease than other workers. These were the jobs that Detroit’s black workers were primarily assigned, making the city’s black population particularly vulnerable to premature death—just as black workers and those living near polluting factories are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus today.

In their struggle for safe and dignified living conditions, Detroit activists have not only come up against profiteering businesses, but also governments who have slashed public programs and the social safety net in favor of subsidies to these same businesses. For decades, organizers such as Maureen Taylor and Marian Kramer, have been leading the struggle for a universal living wage and adequate healthcare for impoverished Detroiters. If their basic demands had been met, non-essential workers would not have to risk their lives by getting on the bus each day to get to degrading, underpaid jobs throughout the metro area. But instead, tax breaks for big business and austerity for the masses have been the order of the day, compounding the devastation of the COVID-19 crisis.

To get a sense of the government’s priorities, consider the fact that in recent years, the Detroit government spent $547 per capita on police, whereas, throughout Michigan, per capita spending on food stamps was $22, and per capita spending on public health was less than $13.

Across the country, and the world, urban landscapes have been vacated to stop the spread of coronavirus, with images circulating online showing abandoned streets in usually bustling areas. The eerie emptiness of tourist traps and national landmarks is enough to spook even a nonbeliever. But ghostly landscapes are nothing new in Detroit. A New York Times writer recalled being “unnerved” by the emptiness of Detroit’s downtown back in 2001. “It felt like the beginning of a zombie apocalypse movie,” he wrote.

Starting in the 1940s, the “Big 3” auto companies fled Detroit precipitously, first to the suburbs, then increasingly to low-wage areas across the world. By the late 20th century, after decades of federal cutbacks and failed initiatives to lure investment to the Motor City, signs of this corporate abandonment were unmistakable. This dramatic situation led to a range of competing visions for the future Detroit.

One vision was to make the city a spectral theme park of decay. Camilo Jose Vergara, the famous Chilean photojournalist and author of American Ruins, made the following suggestion for Detroit in the April 1995 edition of the leading architectural magazine Metropolis: “As a tonic for our imagination, as a call for renewal, as a place within our national memory, a dozen city blocks of pre-Depression skyscrapers [should] be stabilized and left standing as ruins: an American Acropolis…Midwestern prairie would be allowed to invade from the north. Trees, vines, and wildflowers would grow on roofs and out of windows; goats and wild animals—squirrels, possum, bats, owls, ravens, snakes and insects—would live in the empty behemoths, adding their calls, hoots, and screeches to the smell of rotten leaves and animal droppings.” Coronavirus has given us a glimpse of this dramatic vision, as animals have ventured into urban spaces formerly occupied by humans.

Against this fetishization of decay, a second vision for Detroit’s future was proposed by the late activist Grace Lee Boggs, who saw in Detroit’s abandonment the seedbed of revolution. Boggs was inspired by the fact that, as Detroit hollowed out, activists were responding in a myriad of inspirational ways, by repurposing vacant buildings, creating communes, community schools, starting small businesses, and planting urban farms:

Detroit, which was once the symbol of miracles of industrialization and then became the symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization, is now the symbol of a new kind of society, of people who grow their own food, of people who try and help each other . . . When you look out and all you see is vacant lots, when all you see is devastation, when all you see—do you look at it as a curse, or do you look at it as a possibility, as having potential?

Boggs’s vision is a powerful one; but it was not only activists who saw potential in the city’s emptiness. “Detroit has bottomed out,” Dan Gilbert’s business partner John Linkner wrote in Forbes in 2012, “so now, there’s nothing but upside.” In recent years, investors have pounced. Gilbert has led the way, purchasing around 100 buildings in the city, making him the owner of more than half of downtown Detroit. Even after Gilbert wrangled hundreds of millions in government subsidies, at one point even threatening to move his company QuickenLoans to Cleveland, the corporate media has hailed Gilbert’s efforts. The Atlantic wondered if he was “Detroit’s New Superhero,” while the New York Times called him a “missionary.”

Repudiating Vargas’s American Acropolis, companies and wealthy individuals are buying up the quintessential subjects of ruin porn photography to enact their own vision. And there is no more dramatic ruin than Michigan Central Station, which, when it was built in 1913, was the tallest train station in the world. Closed in 1988, the abandoned train station has for decades been a mecca for urban spelunkers, the subject of myriad investigative reports, and a go-to backdrop for post-apocalyptic Hollywood action films. Now, in an almost too-perfect metaphor for the current remaking of Detroit, Ford plans to turn the train station and its surrounding area into a 1.2 million-square-foot “innovation hub” geared toward “mobility solutions that will shape the future of transportation.” According to a local columnist, “Ford’s act of faith in Detroit’s future with the enormous investment it will bring signals a new era.… From now on, redevelopment will occur as the natural and expected outcome in a city once again on the move.” Corporate investment is seen by those in power as the solution to Detroit’s abandonment. But even while these investments have failed to address the needs of poor Detroiters, the coronavirus epidemic has shown just how fragile this “solution” is even for those on the receiving end of its benefits.

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As workers in Detroit, and around the world, protest against deadly workplace conditions, capitalists are using the crisis as an excuse to justify automation. This is nothing new. There is a long history of capitalists using worker protests against inhumane conditions as a pretext to invest in labor-saving technology, leading to unemployment and an increasingly hectic pace of work, as human labor is forced to adapt to “the inhuman speed of the machine.” Under the banner of public health, the current wave of automation is sure to reproduce these same effects, barring coordinated government intervention or a robust response from workers’ movements.

As people around the world attempt to maintain their work and their lives during the pandemic, they are forced to find creative ways to adapt to the limitations imposed by the crisis. While the ensuing innovations are an encouraging sign of our collective imagination and resilience, one can’t help but wonder whether these adaptations will serve to further the encroachment of labor-saving technology into new realms. To give just one example, academic workers are being forced to find ways to provide instruction virtually. This happens amidst an already prevalent trend toward online education; as the CEO of online learning platform Coursera has explained, “The current crisis will accelerate this trend.” The implications for the casualization of academic labor attendant to this trend are already being felt. At UC Santa Cruz, the pandemic hit in the middle of a months-long labor action by underpaid graduate student workers, and the move to a virtual learning and working environment has undermined their ability to withhold their labor and to disrupt the functioning of the university, which insists on “business as usual” during the pandemic.

What first appear as “innovations” and “creative adaptations” to the pandemic, take on another valence: they are forced accommodations to a “leaner”, more exploitative regime of capital accumulation. In effect, workers are being compelled to participate in their own devaluation. In the last half-century, political elites of deindustrialized American cities dealt with its growing “surplus population” and the recalcitrance of radical labor activists by hounding them with police and throwing them in prison. With millions more workers slated for redundancy as the coronavirus accelerates automation, and amidst unprecedented (and ever-increasing) ecological catastrophe which threatens humans and ecosystems across the globe, we shudder to think how the coming crises will be resolved.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the fault lines of our unequal society, it’s no wonder that Detroit, which has long been a benchmark of the extremes of urban life in America, has been hit harder than most cities by the coronavirus, and also had already evinced many of the crisis tendencies wrought by this virus. Deadly working conditions, abandoned urban landscapes, structural unemployment due to automation, and extreme precarity—these have been the order of the day in Detroit for the better part of the last 100 years, coronavirus or not. Today in Detroit, a corporate revival is hailed as the answer to the city’s protracted decline, but this has proved tenuous for the Detroiters hardest hit by recent dispossessions. Even as the New York Times acknowledged that “there are no real assurances that gains will be spread democratically across the city, or that city planning and public resources will serve the needs of everyday Detroiters,” it found solace in the vague “hope . . . that private individuals will keep the greater good in mind.” If this hope seemed far-fetched before, in the midst of the devastations wrought by COVID-19 it now appears so remote as to appear ridiculous.

Leaving aside the fact that a primary source of pandemics lies in the ravages of the capitalist system, we can see that COVID-19 is an accelerator of global capital’s rampaging devastations. However, like other crises, it also presents an opportunity for workers to assert their power, for the animation of our political imaginary, and for a radical restructuring of society’s priorities. 52 years ago tomorrow, May 2, 1968, 4,000 workers walked off the job in protest of deadly conditions at the Dodge Main plant in Hamtramck. DRUM’s actions inspired dozens of other anti-capitalist unions to form across the city, and they all eventually coalesced into the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, an organization committed to challenging the power of the “parasitic, cannibalistic, vulturistic corporate elites who ruled Detroit. If the latter continue to have their way, crisis will remain the norm for most Detroiters.

Mark Jay is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Philip Conklin is a PhD student in the History of Consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. After attending the University of Michigan, they met while working as tutors in Detroit public schools. They lived and worked in Detroit for about seven years, during which time they founded a small literary magazine and continued their work with Detroit’s youth. A People’s History of Detroit is available for 50% off during our Spring Sale with coupon SPRING50.

Spring Sale Extended

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We are pleased to announce that we are extending our Spring Sale until May 25. With schools, offices and stores still closed, we hope this will make it easy for you to get new scholarship for your teaching and research.

All in-stock books and journal issues are still 50% off but our free shipping offer for orders over $100 will expire at 11:59 pm Pacific time tonight, May 1. So if you were planning a large order, place it today!

Just a reminder, journal subscriptions and society memberships do not qualify for the 50% discount. See all the fine print here.

Cooperation and the Creation of a National Emergency Library: A Post by John Sherer and Dean Smith

In the context of the unprecedented challenges associated with the spread of COVID-19, many of you will have read about an effort from the Internet Archive (IA) to launch a “National Emergency Library” (NEL). Essentially, the NEL was an effort to create unlimited access to digital editions of books in their collection. At a time when physical libraries were closing, this ambitious effort to open up content that had been previously limited or subject to paywalls was both praised and criticized.

At our presses we had already agreed to allow open digital access to our scholarly collections. At UNC Press, we opened our book collections in platforms like Project MUSEBooks at JSTOR, Ebsco, and ProQuest. Duke University Press offered free platform access to digital collections of books and journals to requesting libraries through June 30, 2020. Over 200 libraries have taken Duke up on this offer.  Duke University Press opened up content to the public in several timely syllabi, including Navigating the Threat of  Pandemic and Care in Uncertain Times. These arrangements had been made through dialog and discussion with those vendors who sought our perspective and permission.

The NEL was different in that the IA acted unilaterally and blurred legal arguments with extra-legal (read: emergency) justifications. This ignored the agency that authors and publishers legally and conventionally exercise. And as our colleague Karin Wulf from the Omohundro Institute wrote, it ignored the systems that invest in the production of these books.

After IA acted unilaterally in creating the National Emergency Library, we criticized the effort and presses began the process of withdrawing titles. However, after a conference call with the leadership of the IA and many university press directors, we realized our two presses shared many of the same goals of the NEL, but we simply disagreed with the process by which the main goal was being achieved.

After this conference call, we subsequently opened a separate line of communication with the IA and we’re pleased to announce that within a few days, we created a one-page Statement of Cooperation to allow our university press titles to participate in the NEL. The key features of this statement were:

  • Flipping the NEL from an opt-out to an opt-in arrangement where the Press provided affirmation and permission for titles to be included;
  • It gave the Press agency to determine when the “emergency” would be over (June 30);
  • It committed the IA to perform prompt take-downs (upon our individual author requests);
  • It ensured the sharing of usage data while protecting the privacy of patrons.

UNC Press and Duke University Press authors who do not want to have their books included in the NEL can write directly to info@archive.org with the subject line “National Emergency Library Removal Request.” Or they can reach out to us, and we’ll pass that communication to the IA.

We have shared the boilerplate language of the Statement of Cooperation with other university presses, but there remains significant (and justifiable) mistrust within our community for the Internet Archive. That mistrust exists among many publishers beyond university presses and precedes the NEL. There couldn’t be a worse time to be arguing about something like this. Possibly the most important part of the joint statement is the last line: “The Parties commit to a sustained, good-faith dialog about a long-term model for including the Press’s titles in the Internet Archive.” We have every confidence that we will make that happen.

John Sherer
Spangler Family Director, UNC Press
John.sherer@uncpress.org

Dean Smith
Director, Duke University Press
Dean.j.smith@duke.edu

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Statement of Cooperation

The spread of COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on scholarly communications. The entire creation and distribution chain for books (including authors, publishers, wholesalers, libraries, bookstores, students, teachers, and readers) has been upended. We agree that in this extraordinary moment, an unprecedented level of cooperation is required to address this crisis in order to meet the dire needs of readers—especially students and other readers who are at risk for losing access to their traditional sources of books.

The Press and the Internet Archive share a collective mission to distribute books and published materials as broadly and fairly as possible, while not adversely jeopardizing the ability of the Press and its authors to continue to produce such materials. During the spread of COVID-19, the Press and the Internet Archive have been contacted by countless teachers and students requesting access to materials, indicating a heightened and urgent demand.

Therefore, the Press agrees to allow the Internet Archive to temporarily remove the waitlist restrictions on its titles in the National Emergency Library through June 30. Within two weeks prior to that date, the Parties agree to consider an extension of this temporary lending policy.

The Internet Archive agrees to promptly remove titles published by the Press where the author or the Press has requested an exemption from the temporary policy.

The Internet Archive commits to sharing usage data to the Press and helping the Press determine whether books not already in the Internet Archive could potentially be added to the policy.

The Parties stipulate that nothing in this Statement of Cooperation shall be deemed a precedent or construed as support, acknowledgment or agreement to any legal position about the long-term presence of the Press’s books in the Internet Archive, including in Controlled Digital Lending.

The Parties commit to a sustained, good-faith dialog about a long-term model for including the Press’s titles in the Internet Archive.