Peyton Place/Unbuttoning America Bundle on Sale Now!

smart&sexyThrough special arrangement with University Press of New England, Cornell University Press is pleased to offer a specially priced bundle of the Northeastern University Press Hardscrabble Books paperback edition of Peyton Place by Grace Metalious and the cloth edition of the new Cornell University Press book Unbuttoning America: A Biography of “Peyton Place” by Ardis Cameron. When purchased separately, Peyton Place and Unbuttoning America retail for $44.90. This limited-edition bundle may be purchased now for $29.95.

Contemporary readers of Peyton Place will be captivated by its vivid characters, earthy prose, and shocking incidents. Through her riveting, uninhibited narrative, Grace Metalious skillfully exposes the intricate social anatomy of a small community, examining the lives of its people—their passions and vices, their ambitions and defeats, their passivity or violence, their secret hopes and kindnesses, their cohesiveness and rigidity, their struggles, and often their courage. Ardis Cameron wrote the insightful introduction to the Hardscrabble Books edition of Peyton Place. In that introduction, she thoroughly examines the novel’s treatment of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and power, and considers the book’s influential place in American and New England literary history.

In Unbuttoning America, Cameron builds on the themes of her introduction to the novel. She mines extensive interviews, fan letters, and archival materials including contemporary cartoons and cover images from film posters and foreign editions to tell how the story of a patricide in a small New England village circulated over time and became a cultural phenomenon. She argues that Peyton Place, with its frank discussions of poverty, sexuality, class and ethnic discrimination, and small-town hypocrisy, was more than a tawdry potboiler. Metalious’s depiction of how her three central female characters come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings anticipated second-wave feminism. More broadly, Cameron asserts, the novel was also part of a larger postwar struggle over belonging and recognition. Fictionalizing contemporary realities, Metalious pushed to the surface the hidden talk and secret rebellions of a generation no longer willing to ignore the disparities and domestic constraints of Cold War America.

Crossing Broadway in the New York Times

The July 10, 2015, edition of the New York Times features a review by Sam Roberts of Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City by Robert W. Snyder: Sam Roberts on Books About the New York Public Library, Washington Heights, and the City’s First Black Police Officer. Here’s an excerpt:

“In Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City (Cornell University Press), Robert W. Snyder eloquently traces the demographic metamorphosis of Upper Manhattan and invokes what the sociologist Robert J. Sampson calls “collective efficacy” to explain the community’s uplifting but bittersweet comeback. Addressing the mixed blessing of gentrification, Professor Snyder, who teaches journalism and American studies at Rutgers, writes, ‘The people who saved Washington Heights in the days of crime and crack deserve more for their pains than a stiff rent increase.'”

Nitsan Chorev Reflects on the “Report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel”

An Assessment Panel assessing the response of the World Health Organization (WHO) to the Ebola crisis concluded, in no uncertain terms, that, “The Ebola crisis . . . exposed organizational failings in the functioning of the WHO,” and called for important organizational reforms.[1] While insightful, the analysis looks at the current situation with little attention to the historical context leading to existing deficiencies. Without understanding the sources of the current problems, it might be hard to fix them.

The WHO’s organizational difficulties today are not inherent or necessary aspects of this or any other international organization. Indeed, during most of its existence, the WHO was one of the more respected UN agencies. Instead, the WHO was thwarted by policy changes implemented over the past twenty years, which have undermined its operational capabilities and neglected poor countries’ health care infrastructure. The consequences of those changes today—lack of international alertness and a dire situation of health clinics in many countries—is why Ebola has turned into an international emergency, which could and should have been prevented.

Many of these changes at the WHO were made in response to forces beyond the organization’s control. Consider the issue of insufficient funds, for example. In addition to budget cuts demanded by member-states, the WHO was forced to increasingly rely on voluntary rather than mandatory contributions. These voluntary contributions are usually “earmarked” for specific causes, so that the WHO—and most of its member-states—have little say in how the money is spent and no ability to reallocate the funds as urgent needs arise. In turn, a limited budget and pressures to rely on cost-effective calculations have driven the WHO to increase its focus on non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes), often at the expense of communicable diseases. Where the WHO and other international organizations do continue to concentrate on communicable diseases, the available funds have been concentrated on AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and while there have been impressive gains in fighting these disease, often the programs bypass the existing local health systems and thereby weaken them.

Radical fragmentation in the international health world has also contributed to the neglect of local health systems. The WHO, which used to be the sole authority over international health issues, is now one actor amongst many, including large organizations like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and many smaller public-private partnerships, such as the GAVI Alliance. These smaller partnerships are often funded by private foundations, first and foremost the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Such fragmentation—where different organizations have responsibility over diverse specific goals—offers many advantages. The GAVI Alliance, for example, has been fundamental in improving access to vaccines, and would no doubt be a key player if and when a vaccine to Ebola is developed. But such organizational cacophony is particularly ill-equipped to support the kind of local health systems that have been so tragically missing in the current Ebola crisis, and is ill-equipped to do the kind of detection that the WHO has been responsible for. The Gates Foundation acknowledged as much by giving its first donation to fight the Ebola outbreak, in the amount of $5 million, to the WHO for emergency operations.

Some would argue that the incredible work done by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in its response to Ebola, and in many other cases as well, suggest, on the contrary, that a fragmented, from the bottom-up, response is the most effective one. In other words, then rather than fixing the WHO, we could rely on other agencies that might be more effective. But MSF is the solution only when there are no other solutions. Private donations and heroic volunteers have been extraordinary resources in the Ebola crisis—but what we really need is a well-functioning World Health Organization that has the funds and authority to prevent the reliance on donations and volunteers in the first place. The Assessment Panel is a good start for thinking seriously about how to reform the WHO. But for an effective reform, I argue, we need the collaboration of member-states and neighboring organizations, and an understanding of their own contribution to the current fate of the WHO.

Nitsan Chorev is the Harmon Family Professor of Sociology and International Studies at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies and author of The World Health Organization between North and South.

[1] See: http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/ebola/report-by-panel.pdf?ua=1

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.