New senior acquisitions editor at Cornell University Press

IMG_0967We are pleased to announce the appointment of Jim Lance as senior acquisitions editor for the social sciences. A graduate of Haverford College, he earned a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in African history from Stanford University.

Lance has over 18 years of experience in academic and trade publishing. He started his career as the African Studies Editor for Greenwood-Heinemann where he worked with the academic editors of the acclaimed Social History of Africa Series. He also was the North American contact for authors in the African Writers Series. After leaving Greenwood-Heinemann, Lance served as editor and publisher for Kumarian Press, acquiring books in comparative politics, international development, and globalization.

At Cornell University Press, Lance will be acquiring books in anthropology and related social sciences. He joins the press this Wednesday, July 1st.

“We are delighted to have Jim on board,” said editor-in-chief Peter Potter. “He brings precisely the sort of experience in scholarly, textbook, and trade book publishing that we were seeking. I am particularly excited at the prospect of having him join our team, working closely with Fran Benson and Roger Haydon as they continue to build the Press’s successful and award-winning social science publishing program.”

Please join us in congratulating Jim!

Hiding from History: South Carolina and the Confederate Battle Flag

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Meili Steele opened his 2005 book, Hiding from History, with an essay about South Carolina’s attempt in 1999 to neutralize the controversy over its flying of the Confederate battle flag. The state’s chosen solution, Steele argues in this brief excerpt, was an act of political expediency that cut short a necessary public debate—one that needed to include a serious examination of American history and culture.

Six years ago I was reading the local newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, and discovered that the state legislature was proposing to put the public understanding of history to a referendum. The focus of the referendum was whether the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the statehouse was a fitting memorial to past traditions or a symbol of the legacy of racism. The legislature had raised the flag over the statehouse in 1962 at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement; however, now that the flag’s presence had become controversial, many legislators wanted to avoid a public stand. By calling for a referendum on the flag, the legislators hid from what properly should have been a public debate by appealing to democratic procedures.

The ensuing discussion revealed that this interpretive vacuum was not an isolated example of political cowardice but part of the state’s educational philosophy. Public school teachers, like legislators, tried to ignore the interpretive issues surrounding the flag. For many legislators, educators, and the Chamber of Commerce, the controversy was an annoying distraction from the problems of the present. Education meant instruction in the basic skills and facts necessary for the global market along with the inculcation of respect for the law. The certainty of moral education could be divorced from historical ambiguity. Citizens did not need cultural or historical orientation for deliberation about their public lives. According to this way of thinking, there was no reason to get bogged down in the subjective self-understandings of individuals who could decide for themselves which interpretation of history to believe. If history were to go beyond facts, then this matter should be privatized—individuals could seek out their own interpretations, just as they could decide what novels to read or movies to watch.

When public pressure mounted—including an effective boycott by the NAACP—it became obvious that the flag issue was not going away and that business would be hurt by its continued presence. Then many of the legislators who had previously wanted to forget the flag started working to take it down for the same reasons that they had earlier wanted to ignore it—to get it out of the way of business. A compromise was finally worked out. The flag was to be moved from the top of the capitol dome to a place on the statehouse grounds, and an African American memorial monument was to be constructed on another part of the grounds.

The widespread satisfaction at resolving the debate helped everyone ignore the model of public deliberation that was dramatized. According to this model, conflicting historical interpretations should not raise questions about how a democracy should interpret its past; rather, the resolution of public disputes should be the result of a compromise among competing interest groups. Cultural difference and history were merely politically sensitive issues that needed to be handled strategically rather than through discussion about how citizens should reason. By giving each side its own memory site, the state tried to neutralize not only the conflict but history itself. Schoolteachers could thus continue their practice of giving a version of the past that had no conflicted legacies, that offered no interpretive political concerns for the present….

This local conflict over the flag resonates with the recent national debates over history in the United States, Germany, and France. In most parts of the United States, the source of controversy has been not the Civil War but multiculturalism and patriotism (Nash 1997). In Germany, we find the “Historians’ Debate” over how to give a proper account of the Holocaust (Baldwin 1990). In France, we find debates over the commemoration of 1789 and how to understand a multiethnic state (Kaplan 1995). However, the resonance of this local example does not stop here; it extends to the international debates about how to understand the ways that different societies negotiate cultural and political “transitions to modernity”—or, more precisely, to modern democratic culture. All these issues ask us to bring together what Western modernity has tried to keep apart—the explanatory work of social and cultural history and the philosophical work of practical reason.

This abbreviated excerpt, presented without footnotes, elides Steele’s larger project to challenge liberal and structural/poststructural philosophies of public reason. For Steele, public reasoning cannot be easily divorced from historical and cultural specificity.

Photo courtesy of Jason Lander via Creative Commons license.

The Director’s Cut: Voices in the Band

Never Forget the Voices by Dean J. Smith, Director, Cornell University Press

As I read Dr. Susan Ball’s memoir, Voices in the Band, about working in the trenches of the AIDS crisis, I remembered the searing lines from Henri Cole’s poem “Paper Dolls” that was published in The New Yorker in 1995: “Straight as candles/His legs exposed/The eroding candelabrum/That was his body.”

Ball’s account brings back the patients she cared for in all of their tragic beauty. You accompany her on daily rounds and inside the group therapy sessions where doctors were trying any technique possible to deal with a deadly contagion that had become a national health crisis. You learn that many hospitals and doctors didn’t want to deal with these patients. She arrived to find the shoddy work of medical residents who were afraid to touch them.

On some days, she’d had enough:

Luz and I wanted the same thing; she needed to feel better in order to move around and care for her son. I helped her do that. One the one hand, Olive wanted illness to excuse her from life; on the other Etta behaved as if she could avoid becoming ill just by her own obliviousness. They didn’t want what I had to offer them.

I lived in Chelsea from 1988 until 1997 and had minimal interaction with those suffering from the disease or its impact. Our city councilman, Tom Duane was the first openly gay councilmember in the US and had tested positive for HIV. Even in that neighborhood, a kind of ground zero, the details were scarce but the suffering as close as St. Vincent’s Hospital less than 10 blocks away. There were hints in the scads of mail addressed to people with male first names who were no longer living at my residence.

Had they died of AIDS?

I ran into my friend and fellow poet David Craig Austin from the Columbia MFA program frequently on 7th avenue during that time. His poems in workshop were like nothing I’d ever seen. He wrote love poems about the red light district in Provincetown. At 22, I didn’t even know where that was.  We met in Carolyn Forche’s loft apartment in Soho. Poet Bruce Craven would say in his critiques that we were all “bad in a good way.” We started out copying the styles of our heroes. Not Austin—he was already in a different league. I received a postcard shortly after seeing him on the street with the skeletons of elephants on the front. I had no idea he was sick. I asked a fellow writer after a reading at Man Ray Bistro if they had seen him recently.

“He died two months ago,” she said. “Bob Towers cried at this funeral,” referring to the director of the writing program.

I remembered the skeletons on the postcard. The postcard had been a goodbye.

The David Craig Austin Memorial Prize was started to honor him and has been given to some of the best poets in America: Moira Egan, David Yezzi and Emily Fragos to name a few. His career was cut short and we’ll never know how great a poet he would have been. Dr. Ball rekindled David’s memory for me.

In his poem, “The Gifts,” Austin writes: “I think of metaphors/for marking time: windows, the torn pockets/of winter coats and what falls through, lost/for good.

In Voices in the Band, Dr. Ball presents her patients in breathtaking detail and lets nothing fall through the pockets of her memory.

The Director of Cornell University Press, Dean J. Smith, will occasionally be contributing to the Sage House News blog.

Unbuttoning America in the Wall Street Journal

Unbuttoning America: A Biography of “Peyton Place” by Ardis Cameron is featured in the May 22 edition of the Wall Street Journal: A Book to Take to Bed. An excerpt appears below:

Unbuttoning America boasts a sizzling cover of a busty ’50s pinup girl resting a blue book on her sleek, gartered legs while flashing the reader a come-hither-quick look. . . . Cameron teases out the book’s significance as a bold exploration of sexual, political, gender and class questions rarely recognized in its time. For the general reader, the most rewarding parts of Cameron’s book are her pages about Grace Metalious herself, the sources of her material, and her fervent fans. Cameron had access to a trove of thousands of letters written by readers to Metalious. Most came from grateful women who felt that she had told their secret, anguished stories.”

John M. Schuessler on the Lead-up to the Iraq War

The sequence of events that lead to the 2003 Iraq War is receiving fresh attention as a result of Jeb Bush’s presidential aspirations. Here’s one take on the issue from James Fallows: The Right and Wrong Questions about the Iraq War.

In his forthcoming book Deceit on the Road to War: Presidents, Politics, and American Democracy, John M. Schuessler, Associate Professor of Strategy at the Air War College, writes on precisely this topic:

“George W. Bush faced a relatively permissive domestic political environment on the eve of war. With the public in a vengeful mood after the 9/11 attacks and Democrats in Congress not wanting to be seen as weak on national security, Bush had a relatively free hand in 2002–2003, although not so free as to allow for total candor. Accordingly, overselling played the leading role in his securing domestic support for the Iraq War. Misrepresenting the available intelligence, Bush and members of his administration suggested repeatedly that Saddam Hussein was an undeterrable madman, in league with al Qaeda, and on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. The overall effect was to obscure the preventive nature of the war by depicting Iraq as a clear and present danger when in fact it was a weak and isolated pariah.”

In his chapter “Overselling the Iraq War,” Schuessler writes:

“Why did Bush invade Iraq? The first point to make is that the Iraqi WMD programs and links to terrorism were not as crucial to the decision to invade as their prominence in the public debate would suggest. In other words, it is simply not the case that Iraq was an intelligence-driven crisis. Rather, Bush had already decided on a confrontation with Saddam Hussein by the time the relevant intelligence was scrutinized in detail. The movement toward war began almost immediately in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when hawks within the Bush administration, such as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, pressed for Iraq to be included in the initial phases of the war on terror. Although the decision was made to deal with Afghanistan first, attention turned to Iraq as soon as Kabul fell, with military planning for what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom beginning in late November 2001.”

Celebrating Our Cornell University Authors

As Commencement Weekend (May 22–24) fast approaches, it seems an opportune time to highlight some recent books whose authors and editors teach at Cornell University. The range of topics represented in this selection of books by Cornell professors published by the Press since 2013 (and forthcoming in Fall 2015) provides a glimpse of the broad scope of both our list and the university’s curriculum:

Mobilizing against Inequality: Unions, Immigrant Workers, and the Crisis of Capitalism, edited by Lee H. Adler (ILR School), Maite Tapia, and Lowell Turner (ILR School)

Cornell: A History, 1940–2015 by Glenn C. Altschuler (American Studies) and Isaac Kramnick (Government)

Introductory Food Chemistry by John W. Brady (Food Science)

Empire of Language: Toward a Critique of (Post)colonial Expression by Laurent Dubreuil (Romance Studies)

The American Way of Bombing: Changing Ethical and Legal Norms, from Flying Fortresses to Drones, edited by Matthew Evangelista (Government) and Henry Shue

Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China by Eli Friedman (ILR School)

An Introduction to Labor Law, Third Edition by Michael Evan Gold (ILR School)

The Great Wall of Money: Power and Politics in China’s International Monetary Relations, edited by Eric Helleiner and Jonathan Kirshner (Government)

The Fleeting Promise of Art: Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory Revisited by Peter Uwe Hohendahl (German Studies)

A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law during the Great War by Isabel V. Hull (History)

Labor Relations in a Globalizing World by Harry C. Katz (ILR School), Thomas A. Kochan, and Alexander J. S. Colvin (ILR School)

American Power after the Financial Crisis by Jonathan Kirshner (Government)

History, Literature, Critical Theory by Dominick LaCapra (History)

Brothers in Arms: Chinese Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979 by Andrew Mertha (Government)

Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired “Stagolee,” “John Henry,” and Other Traditional American Folk Songs by Richard Polenberg (History)

The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France by Camille Robcis (History)

War, States, and Contention: A Comparative Historical Study by Sidney Tarrow (Government)

Agricultural Product Prices, Fifth Edition by William G. Tomek (Applied Economics and Management) and Harry M. Kaiser  (Applied Economics and Management)