As the weather cools and the holiday season approaches, treat yourself to one of our great new December titles!
In On Paradox, Elizabeth S. Anker contends that the faith in the logic of paradox has been the watermark of left intellectualism since the second half of the twentieth century, showing how paradox generates the very exclusions it critiques and undercuts theory’s commitment to social justice.
Piro Rexhepi explores the overlapping postsocialist and postcolonial border regimes in the Balkans that are designed to protect whiteness and exclude Muslim, Roma, and migrant communities in White Enclosures.
The contributors to Turning Archival, edited by Daniel Marshall and Zeb Tortorici, trace the rise of “the archive” as an object of historical desire and study within queer studies and examine how it fosters historical imagination and knowledge.
In Feltness, Stephanie Springgay considers socially engaged art as a practice of research-creation that germinates a radical pedagogy she calls feltness—a set of intimate practices of creating art based on touch, affect, relationality, love, and responsibility.
Ain’t But a Few of Us, edited by Willard Jenkins, presents over two dozen candid dialogues with Black jazz critics and journalists who discuss the barriers to access for Black jazz critics and how they contend with the world of jazz writing dominated by white men.
In Poverty and Wealth in East Africa, Rhiannon Stephens offers a conceptual history of how people living in eastern Uganda have sustained and changed their ways of thinking about wealth and poverty over the past two thousand years.
Examining a wide range of photography from across the global South, the contributors to Cold War Camera, edited by Thy Phu, Erina Duganne, and Andrea Noble, explore the visual mediation of the Cold War, illuminating how photography shaped how it was prosecuted and experienced.
Through close readings of slave narratives, scrapbooks, travel illustration, documentary film and photography, as well as collage, craft, and sculpture, Jasmine Nichole Cobb explores Black hair as a visual material through which to reimagine the sensual experience of Blackness in New Growth.
The contributors to New World Orderings, edited by Lisa Rofel and Carlos Rojas, demonstrate that China’s twenty-first-century rise occurs not only through economics and state politics, but equally through its relationships and interactions with the Global South.
Focusing on his personal day to day experiences of the “shelter-in-place” period during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, Alberto Moreiras offers a meditation on intellectual life and the nature of thought under the suspension of time and conditions of isolation in Uncanny Rest.
In Ruderal City, Bettina Stoetzer traces the more-than-human relationships between people, plants, and animals in contemporary Berlin, showing how Berlin’s “urban nature” becomes a key site in which notions of citizenship and belonging as well as racialized, gendered, and classed inequalities become apparent.
Veit Erlmann examines the role of copyright law in post-apartheid South Africa and its impact on the South African music industry in Lion’s Share, showing how copyright is inextricably entwined with race, popular music, postcolonial governance, indigenous rights, and the struggle to create a more equitable society.
Rumya Sree Putcha uses the figure of the Indian classical dancer to explore the complex dynamics of contemporary transnational Indian womanhood in The Dancer′s Voice.
In Feminism in Coalition Liza Taylor examines how U.S. women of color feminists’ coalitional collective politics of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s is an indispensable resource to contemporary political theory, feminist studies, and intersectional social justice activism.
Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart charts the social history of ice in Hawaiʻi in Cooling the Tropics, showing how ice and refrigeration underpinned settler colonial ideas about race, environment, and the senses.
The contributors to Siting Postcoloniality, edited by Pheng Cheah and Caroline S. Hau, reevaluate the notion of the postcolonial by focusing on the Sino-sphere—the region of East and Southeast Asia that has been significantly shaped by relations with China throughout history.
Rupal Oza follows the social life of rape in rural northwest India to reveal how rape is a language through which issues ranging from caste to justice to land are contested in Semiotics of Rape.
Penny M. Von Eschen is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Studies and Professor of History at the University of Virginia. In her new book, Paradoxes of Nostalgia, Von Eschen offers a sweeping examination of the cold war’s afterlife and the lingering shadows it casts over geopolitics, journalism, and popular culture.
Your introduction discusses the many ramifications of the dissolution of the Soviet Union on American domestic politics, from the rise of family-values conservatism in the 1990s to the War on Terror to Trump’s appropriation of alt-right nationalism a few years ago. What do you think it was about the American experience of the cold war that created such a lasting impact on American society?
Cold war ideology and practices encouraged an American identity structured around an enemy and a deep sense of an existential threat to the American way of life. With the disappearance of the Soviet bogeyman, prominent politicians set about the construction of new enemies at home and abroad. Looking outward, academics, policymakers, and popular culture (think of Tom Clancy and Hollywood) turned to a clash of civilizations frame where Muslim peoples in particular were seen as constituting a threat to the “West.”
Looking inward, with declining standards of living for the middle class and accelerating inequality in the global economy, many Americans began turning on each other. The conservative rhetoric of “family values” had long been a staple of the New Right but escalated dramatically in the early 1990s. Now that the US government (really New Deal/Great Society liberalism) was no longer held as a superior model to the Soviet state, government itself became the enemy, pitted against the family in the minds of Pat Buchanan and leaders of the Christian right. Since the late 1940s, cold war attacks against “godless communism” mobilized an anti-communist consensus premised on the idea that the US was a Christian nation. Those key conservative tenets of the Reagan era, the Christian right and antigovernment ideology, accelerated after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The roots of a later convergence between American and Russian conservatives can be seen in the early nineties. With the Soviet enemy gone, “family values” conservatives scapegoated Black Americans, immigrants, and LGBTQ people, and discredited government as protecting the lives and livelihoods of these undeserving groups. Rebooting the cold war notion that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, anti-government Americans found new, if unexpected cultural bedfellows from right wing Russians.
And critically, the lasting impact of the cold war on American society lies in the decisions made—and the roads not taken—in the years surrounding the collapse of the Eastern bloc. Widespread calls for political openness, a serious reckoning with the cold war past and proposed reforms to address the social, economic, and environmental costs of cold war policies were largely ignored. Instead, US foreign policy was defined by the projection of unipolar military force and a doubling down on the extractive and ecologically destructive industries that had sustained cold war militarism.
The cold war is commonly understood to be a conflict between American capitalism and Russian communism. Does this obscure the nature of the conflict and its aftermath? What other forces affected the development of the post-cold war world order?
Indeed, that view distorts both the conflict and its aftermath, and in both cases conflates democracy and capitalism in a way that doesn’t hold up under serious scrutiny. Capitalism, the pursuit of profit, entailed control of global resources that was inherently undemocratic, leading to US overt and covert interventions in countries where the US access to resources was at stake. In terms of the conflict itself, the Reagan administration had justified its support of brutal right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, Asia, and Africa—one example of many is General Augusto Pinochet’s in Chile—arguing that supporting right–wing authoritarian governments was acceptable as long as they were anticommunist. Policymakers justified such anti-democratic policies by claiming that such dictatorships could be reformed from within, whereas left “totalitarian” governments could not.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc, US policy makers began to justify interventions into sovereign nations in the name of “democracy.” But triumphalism’s conflation of capitalism and democracy helped justify radical deregulation of industry and banking, leading to the outsized influence of money in politics and severely undermining democratic institutions. There had been a genuinely utopian aspect to the cold war, with each side promoting universal values and claiming that its system could bring prosperity and happiness to its citizens and the world. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc, instead of viewing government as responsible for protecting the well-being of society, US state policies shifted to deregulation, privatization, and increased incarceration. As economic inequality increased, these shifts led to disinvestment in public infrastructure, underfunded public education, and media consolidation, making daily newspapers and independent media a vanishing resource. In the United States, politicians and journalists saw voter suppression as compatible with the idea of free elections. Economic inequality on a global scale set the stage for anti-democratic resentment in the United States and a global turn to the right. Cold war triumphalism fueled the hubris of American exceptionalism, free trade, and catastrophic wars in the Middle East. Before and after 9/11, anti-immigration policies fueled a politics of blame and xenophobia, distracting many Americans from examining the forces undergirding economic inequality.
You write that the vision of the cold war was and is constantly contested, both by prominent political figures but also by the public. How has one particular vision of this past come to be solidified?
The past is always being rewritten for the aims and perceived needs of the present, so in that sense, the history of the cold war has never solidified; but two dominant threads have profoundly shaped US politics. First, conservatives in the early 1990s declared that with global communism defeated, the “real cold war” has only begun. This time, the targets in what increasingly came to be viewed as a Manichean struggle, were government social programs, and in the right’s “culture wars,” all who did not fit the mold of a white, heteronormative Christian nation.
The afterlife of the cold war has shaped foreign policy, as well. Cold war triumphalist narratives—the idea that the United States “won” the cold war through military might, have shaped justifications for war from the earliest post-cold war interventions in Panama and Iraq, through the war on terror, and even to this day in Ukraine. Above all, this idea of US “victory” though military strength has elevated military responses over diplomatic solutions. This is starkly illustrated in responses to Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine. The western response has shifted from the immediate goal of defending Ukraine against the Russian invasion—a strategy where diplomacy could and should have been the centerpiece—to an expansion of war aims approaching the totalizing logic of the cold war.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to bring this discussion out of the realm of memory. How do you see nostalgia for the cold war affecting responses to the invasion?
The war in Ukraine is very much a contest over memory. Putin seeks to mobilize an invented and mythologized history harkening back to sixteenth century Tsarist Russia. He sees Ukraine as an integral part of Russia. Putin rewrites history, asserting a Russian, not a Soviet past. In his view, the Soviet Union betrayed Russia’s legitimate imperial claims by giving too much autonomy to Ukraine and other regions. Needless to say, his self-serving view of the past is perverse and contradictory. Putin attempts to court African countries and the global south more broadly, by claiming the legacy of past Soviet support of anti-colonial and independence movements. At the same time, he rejects the egalitarian values that these movements stood for.
It seems like, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tensions between Russia and NATO have been rising over the past decade. What was your experience like in writing this book during these developments?
The experience? Ongoing distress. It was claims about NATO expansion along with the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that prompted my investigations into triumphalism and nostalgia. Like the justifications for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, calls for the expansion of NATO relied on distortions of history; both exemplify the dangers of US triumphalism. At every juncture during the expansion of NATO, diplomatic alternatives were available. When George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev declared the end of the cold war in 1989, Gorbachev, like US Secretary of State James Baker, believed that there had been a clear understanding that NATO, viewed by both sides as a cold war creation, would not expand, and certainly not to Russia’s borders.
The expansion of NATO epitomizes the rejection of a vision of a multipolar demilitarized world in favor of the assertion of US unipolar power. Another path not taken was a burgeoning environmentalism. Instead, US policymakers doubled down on support for fossil fuel industries. In the very same week Germans dismantled the Berlin Wall, the US denounced a global climate agreement by attacking climate scientists. As US policymakers pursued control of oil reserves in the former Soviet sphere, they sought to weaken the United Nations and other multi-national organizations. Indeed, NATO expansion and undermining the UN constituted the two foreign policy pillars of the Republican Party’s Contract With America in 1994. In the victor’s history version of the cold war, diplomacy was suspect by definition, portrayed as appeasement and weakness, leaving militarism as the only solution to conflict.
In 2014, when tensions over Ukraine led to the collapse of the Obama administration’s 2009 reset with Russia, Jack Matlock Jr., the last US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, drew an analogy between the active American role in organizing street protests in Kiev, and the hypothetical prospect of foreigners leading Occupy Wall Street movements. His point was that American policy, in expanding NATO and placing military bases near its borders, had needlessly provoked potential retaliation from Russia. None of this, of course, justifies Putin’s brutal invasion of a sovereign country. But if the United States is to have any constructive role in ending rather than expanding the conflict, it would have to begin with an honest account of its post-1989 role in the region. In addition to the tragedy for the people of Ukraine and Russia, the war highlights the utter failure of the post-cold war global order to wean itself off oil, and the failure to create strong multilateral institutions that could meaningfully address global climate, health and inequality.
Trump supporters crowding the steps of the Capitol after displacing police shield wall preventing access, January 2021. by TapTheForwardAssist
Demonstrators in Leipzig.1991. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1113-048
Five years ago, I began writing a series of essays and short stories to reflect on the upcoming centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. I wanted to better understand the contemporary legacies of 20th century state socialism in Eastern Europe. At the time, I was living in the city of Jena where the long, dark days of the Eastern German winter kept me huddled indoors listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar on autorepeat.
I’d been reading about the post-WWII denazification process and comparing it to the later de-communization programs that allowed government officials of newly reunified Germany to purge thousands of former members of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) from their jobs after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. These state-organized lustration efforts targeted professors in East German universities, and even mathematicians and natural scientists found themselves summarily dismissed and replaced by West German academics considered untainted by the Marxist politics of the previous regime.
At stake was the moral standing of professors who had either actively or passively collaborated with totalitarianism and whether they could be trusted to educate the next generation of East Germans into the habits of mind necessary for liberal democracy and free market capitalism. Many East German scholars had only joined the SED because they had no choice; professors and academic researchers were expected to be party members in good standing. But during the lustration process, West German leaders insisted that no educators tainted by the previous ideology should have an opportunity to corrupt the minds of the young.
At the same time, I watched the American presidential primaries from afar. An ever-sinking premonition had me convinced that Donald Trump would win the Republication nomination. My German colleagues chastised me for being paranoid and opined that Americans would never be so reckless as to elected someone like Trump to the White House. But by March 2016, when only Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich remained in the race, I had recurrent nightmares about my country under a Trump presidency even as my German and American peers continued to roll their eyes at my alarmist predictions.
I began writing “Interview with a Former Member of the United States Democratic Party” as a way of working through my political despondency. I imagined myself as someone being judged for their lack of resistance to (and thereby tacit collaboration with) a political regime which had been subsequently deemed “evil.” I set the story in 2029, make-believing that someone named Daniel Drumph, Jr. had passed a constitutional amendment allowing him to remain president indefinitely. National Guardsman massacred peaceful demonstrators in Washington and a wave of American intellectuals and anti-Drumph dissidents were seeking political asylum in Germany.
I sat in judgment on myself the way I imagined so many East European intellectuals might have been judged after 1989. The story takes the form of a letter written by a representative of the “Federal Ministry of Immigration and Resettlement” who is reviewing my case. Based on two interviews with me, he works up a recommendation about whether I should be allowed to hold an academic post in a German university even though I was a “former member of the United States Democratic Party.”
I included the story in the manuscript submitted to Duke University Press in May after Trump had clinched the nomination but most observers still believed that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. The reactions to the story by the anonymous reviewers were mixed. One reviewer felt that the story painted a dystopian and apocalyptic scenario. Although this reader shared my “dark, neurotic forebodings” and “the same creepy Weimaresque feeling” about current political events, they also felt that the story would be “very controversial.”
The second reviewer felt the piece did not fit well into the overall collection. Although they agreed that the story provided “a useful tool for revealing how easy it is for a citizenry to be complicit with state actions,” they felt it also ran “the risk of apologism” for state socialism.
After a thoughtful conversation with my editor, Courtney Berger, I decided to cut the story. We agreed that it was perhaps too controversial and that no one would remember that Donald Trump was the Republican nominee by the time the book came out in October 2017. Scholarly prudence demanded that I keep my “dark, neurotic forebodings” to myself.
Then on November 10, 2016, I emailed Courtney this note: “So as I crawl out from under the mountain of despair, I am thinking about my “Interview” story. I know the book is already in production, but is there any possible way to reinsert the story, even as an afterword? Just feeling like this nightmare is going to get a whole hell of a lot worse before it gets better.”
Last week, almost exactly five years after I began writing Red Hangover, I watched live footage of a pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol building in what felt eerily reminiscent of the colored revolutions that once brought regime change to Eastern Europe. When I look back at the “Interview” story today, I think we are even closer to regime change in the United States than we were then. My forebodings remain decidedly dark and neurotic. For those of us who study the histories and societies of state socialism in Eastern Europe, we know that superpowers can collapse without warning and that the human costs of these collapses are severe.
Lately, I’ve been listening to Pete Seeger’s “My name is Lisa Kalvelage” on autorepeat, still struggling with that “creepy Weimaresque feeling.” If our democracy collapses and these United States of America cease to exist as a unified and functioning country, I will be forever grateful to Courtney for letting me slip the “Interview” story into the book at the last minute.
I think it highlights the importance of ethnographic fiction, a genre that allows us to enrich our critical imaginations by conjuring potential futures through the creative interplay of history, politics, and cultural interpretation as a supplement to theoretically driven empirical analyses. Duke University Press has kindly agreed to make this story freely available on its website. I hope it inspires other ethnographers to write more experimentally (and that we’ll all be granted political asylum somewhere when the time comes).
Since his death nearly two decades ago, W. G. Sebald’s literary star among academics and critics has risen to astounding heights. In this special issue, contributors assert that Sebald’s transformation from controversial yet obscure Germanist to seemingly permanent fixture of scholarly monographs, articles, reviews, syllabi, and conference proceedings offers an instructive glimpse behind the velvet rope of global literary eminence.
His meteoric rise, they argue, shines a light on the hegemonic role the Anglophone literary market plays in the processes that authors and their texts undergo when they migrate from a national literary market to a planetary readership.
Literally Swiss, the European Literature Network and Pro Helvetia have launched the first French Book Week, an online forum dedicated to French literature, translation and publishing in the UK. We’re happy to share our new and upcoming French Studies titles as part of the celebration. UK customers can purchase these books from our European distributor, Combined Academic Publishers.
The Birth of Solidarity: The History of the French Welfare State by François Ewald is edited by Melinda Cooper and translated from the French by Timothy Scott Johnson. The Birth of Solidarity—first published in French in 1986, revised in 1996, with the revised edition appearing here in English for the first time—is one of the most important historical and philosophical studies of the rise of the welfare state. It’s is a classic work of social and political theory that will appeal to all those interested in labor power, the making and dismantling of the welfare state, and Foucauldian notions of governmentality, security, risk, and the limits of liberalism.
Paris in the Dark: Going to the Movies in the City of Light, 1930–1950 by Eric Smoodin takes readers on a journey through the streets, cinemas, and theaters of Paris to sketch a comprehensive picture of French film culture during the 1930s and 1940s. Judith Mayne says, “Paris in the Dark is an outstanding study of the spaces and places of Parisian filmgoing and a major contribution to French film studies.”
The Wombs of Women: Race, Capital, Feminism by Françoise Vergès will be published in August. Translated by Kaiama L. Glover, The Wombs of Women examines the scandal of white doctors forcefully terminating the pregnancies of thousands of poor women of color on the French island of Réunion during the 1960s, showing how they resulted from the legacies of the racialized violence of slavery and colonialism. 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. She examines the women’s liberation movement in France in the 1960s and 1970s, showing that by choosing to ignore the history of the racialization of women’s wombs, French feminists inevitably ended up defending the rights of white women at the expense of women of color.
We also invite you to check out our journal French Historical Studies, the leading journal on the history of France, which publishes articles and commentaries on all periods of French history from the Middle Ages to the present. The journal’s diverse format includes forums, review essays, special issues, and articles in French, as well as bilingual abstracts of the articles in each issue. Also featured are bibliographies of recent articles, dissertations, and books in French history and announcements of fellowships, prizes, and conferences of interest to French historians.
William 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.
Yet 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.
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.
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.
Summer is just around the corner. As this new season begins, we’re releasing some exciting titles in history, art, anthropology, and more. Check out these brand new books arriving in June!
A Primer for Teaching Pacific Histories is a guide for college and high school teachers who are teaching Pacific histories for the first time or for experienced teachers who want to reinvigorate their courses. It can also serve those who are training future teachers to prepare their own syllabi, as well as teachers who want to incorporate Pacific histories into their world history courses.
In Disordering the Establishment, Lily Woodruff examines the development of artistic strategies of political resistance in France in the decades following World War II, showing how artists countered establishment ideology, challenged traditional art institutions, appealed to direct political engagement, and grappled with French intellectuals’ modeling of society.
Pointing out that presumptions of solidarity, antagonism, or incommensurability between Black and Native communities are insufficient to understand the relationships between both groups, the scholars, artists, and activists contributing to Otherwise Worlds investigate the complex relationships between settler colonialism and anti-Blackness to explore the political possibilities that emerge from such inquiries. This volume is edited by Tiffany Lethabo King, Jenell Navarro, and Andrea Smith.
In Trafficking, Hector Amaya examines how the dramatic escalation of drug violence in Mexico in 2008 transformed how people discussed violence and the rules of participation in the public sphere.
Sa’ed Atshan and Katharina Galor draw on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews in The Moral Triangle to explore the asymmetric relationships between Germans and Israeli and Palestinian immigrants in the context of official German policies, public discourse, and the impact of coming to terms with the past. You can watch Assistant Editor Sandra Korn interview Atshan and Galor here.
We know that many of you look forward to stocking up on new books at special discounts at our conferences, so we are pleased to extend a 30% discount on all in-stock books and journal issues. Use coupon code BERKS20 to save 30% when ordering online. Journal subscriptions and society memberships don’t qualify for the 30% discount.
Check out some of the exciting titles we would have featured in our booth at the Berks.
In I Never Left Home, poet and revolutionary Margaret Randall tells the moving, captivating, and astonishing story of her life, from her childhood in New York to joining the Sandanista movement in Nicaragua, from escaping political repression in Mexico to raising a family and teaching college. Watch a video of Margaret Randall discussing her memoir here.
In Second World, Second Sex, Kristen Ghodsee recuperates the lost history of feminist activism from the so-called Second World, showing how women from state socialist Bulgaria and socialist-leaning Zambia created networks and alliances that challenged American women’s leadership of the global women’s movement. Listen to an interview with Kristen Ghodsee here.
Jennifer C. Nash reframes black feminism’s engagement with intersectionality in Black Feminism Reimagined, contending that black feminists should let go of their possession and policing of the concept in order to better unleash black feminist theory’s visionary and world-making possibilities. Read an interview with Jennifer Nash here.
Lynn M. Thomas constructs a transnational history of skin lighteners in South Africa and beyond in Beneath the Surface, theorizing skin and skin color as a site for antiracist struggle and lighteners as a technology of visibility that both challenges and entrenches racial and gender hierarchies. Watch an interview with Lynn Thomas on South African TV here.
From The Guiding Light to Passions, Elana Levine traces the history of daytime television soap operas as an innovative and highly gendered mass cultural form in Her Stories. Read an interview with Elana Levine in Jezebelhere.
In Mafalda, Isabella Cosse examines the history, political commentary, and influence of the world-famous comic character Mafalda from her Argentine origins in 1964 to her global reach in the 1990s. Recently, the Argentinan goverment has been using Mafalda to educate citizens about wearing face masks during the pandemic. Read Cosse’s blog post on the campaign here.
The contributors to Spirit on the Move examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities. This volume is edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard.
Ana María Reyes examines how the polarizing art of Beatriz González disrupted Cold War aesthetic discourses and the politics of class and modernization in 1960s Colombia in The Politics of Taste.
In Vexy Thing, Imani Perry recenters patriarchy to contemporary discussions of feminism through a social and literary analysis of cultural artifacts—ranging from nineteenth-century slavery court cases and historical vignettes to literature and contemporary art—from the Enlightenment to the present. Read an interview with Imani Perry here.
If you were hoping to connect with one of our editors about your book project at the Berks, please reach out to them by email. See our editors’ specialties and contact information here and our submissions guidelines here. We are now accepting submissions online!
Our journal issues in women’s and gender studies are also included in our 30%-off sale.
Sa’ed Atshan is Assistant Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College. He is the author of Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique. Katharina Galor is Hirschfeld Visiting Associate Professor of Judaic Studies and Urban Studies at Brown University. She is the author of Finding Jerusalem: Archaeology between Science and Ideology. In their co-authored book, The Moral Triangle: Germans, Israelis, Palestinians, they draw on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews to explore the asymmetric relationships between Germans and Israeli and Palestinian immigrants in the context of official German policies, public discourse, and the impact of coming to terms with the past.
We invite you to watch Sa′ed Atshan and Katharina Galor’s interview with their acquisitions editor, Sandra Korn.
Read the introduction to The Moral Triangleand save 50% off of this book and all in-stock books and journal issues through May 25th using the code SPRING50.
We’re pleased to announce that we’ve extended our Spring Sale through May 25, which will allow you to pick up some new titles at 50% off this month. Use coupon SPRING50 to save.
In the beautifully illustrated, full-color book AFRICOBRA, painter, photographer, and cofounder of Chicago arts collective AFRICOBRA Wadsworth A. Jarrell tells the definitive history of the group’s creation, history, and artistic and political principles and the ways it captured the rhythmic dynamism of black culture and social life to create uplifting art for all black people.
Eric Zolov presents a revisionist account of Mexican domestic politics and international relations during the long 1960s in The Last Good Neighbor, tracing how Mexico emerged from the shadow of FDR’s Good Neighbor policy to become a geopolitical player in its own right during the Cold War. Look for a Q&A with Zolov on our blog later this month.
Through innovative readings of gay and lesbian films, Lee Wallace offers a provocative argument in Reattachment Theory that queer experiments in domesticity have profoundly reshaped heterosexual marriage to such an extent that now all marriage is gay marriage.
François Ewald’s The Birth of Solidarity—first published in French in 1986 and appearing here in English for the first time—is one of the most important historical and philosophical studies of the rise of the welfare state. This edition is edited by Melinda Cooper.
Louise Amoore examines how machine learning algorithms are transforming the ethics and politics of contemporary society in Cloud Ethics, proposing what she calls cloud ethics as a way to hold algorithms accountable by engaging with the social and technical conditions under which they emerge and operate.
In Re-enchanting Modernity, Mayfair Yang examines the reemergence of religious life and ritual after decades of enforced secularized life in the coastal city of Wenzhou, showing how local practices of popular religion, Daoism, and Buddhism influence economic development and the structure of civil society.
In Writing Anthropology, fifty-two anthropologists reflect on scholarly writing as both craft and commitment, offering insights into the myriad roles of anthropological writing, the beauty and the function of language, the joys and pains of writing, and encouragement to stay at it. This collection is edited by Carole McGranahan.
In Beijing from Below, Harriet Evans tells the history of the residents in Dashalar—now redeveloped and gentrified but once one of the Beijing’s poorest neighborhoods—to show how their experiences complicate official state narratives of Chinese economic development and progress.
Alex Blanchette explores how the daily lives of a Midwestern town that is home to a massive pork complex were reorganized around the life and death cycles of pigs while using the factory farm as a way to detail the state of contemporary American industrial capitalism in Porkopolis. As the coronavirus tears through meatpacking plants around the U.S., Blanchette’s analysis is highly relevant. We’ll feature a Q&A with him on our blog later in the month.
Drawing on examples of things that happen to us but are nonetheless excluded from experience, as well as critical phenomenology, genealogy, and feminist theory, Cressida J. Heyes shows how and why experience has edges, and analyzes phenomena that press against them in Anaesthetics of Existence.
InThe Government of Beans, Kregg Hetherington uses Paraguay’s turn of the twenty-first century adoption of massive soybean production and the regulatory attempts to mitigate the resulting environmental degradation as a way to show how the tools used to drive economic growth exacerbate the very environmental challenges they were designed to solve.