Interviews with University of North Carolina Press Authors
Daniel T. Fleming, "Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day" (UNC Press, 2022)
Living the Dream: The Contested History of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (UNC Press, 2022) tells the history behind the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the battle over King's legacy that continued through the decades that followed. Creating the first national holiday to honor an African American was a formidable achievement and an act of resistance against conservative and segregationist opposition. Congressional efforts to commemorate King began shortly after his assassination. The ensuing political battles slowed the progress of granting him a namesake holiday and crucially defined how his legacy would be received. Though Coretta Scott King's mission to honor her husband's commitment to nonviolence was upheld, conservative politicians sought to use the holiday to advance a whitewashed, nationalistic, and even reactionary vision of King's life and thought. This book reveals the lengths that activists had to go to elevate an African American man to the pantheon of national heroes, how conservatives took advantage of the commemoration to bend the arc of King's legacy toward something he never would have expected, and how grassroots causes, unions, and antiwar demonstrators continued to try to claim this sanctified day as their own.
Daniel T. Fleming is lecturer at the University of New South Wales and an Honorary Post-Doctoral Fellow at Macquarie University.
E. James West is a UK-based historian and writer. He is the author of Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America (Illinois, 2020), A House for the Struggle: The Black Press and the Built Environment in Chicago (Illinois, 2022) and Our Kind of Historian: The Work and Activism of Lerone Bennett Jr. (UMass, 2022).
Traci Parker, "Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s" (UNC Press, 2019)
In Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s (UNC Press, 2019), Traci Parker examines the movement to racially integrate white-collar work and consumption in American department stores, and broadens our understanding of historical transformations in African American class and labor formation. Built on the goals, organization, and momentum of earlier struggles for justice, the department store movement channeled the power of store workers and consumers to promote black freedom in the mid-twentieth century. Sponsoring lunch counter sit-ins and protests in the 1950s and 1960s, and challenging discrimination in the courts in the 1970s, this movement ended in the early 1980s with the conclusion of the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. affirmative action cases and the transformation and consolidation of American department stores. In documenting the experiences of African American workers and consumers during this era, Parker highlights the department store as a key site for the inception of a modern black middle class, and demonstrates the ways that both work and consumption were battlegrounds for civil rights.
Ricardo A. Herrera, "Feeding Washington's Army: Surviving the Valley Forge Winter of 1778" (UNC Press, 2022)
In Feeding Washington's Army: Surviving the Valley Forge Winter of 1778 (University of North Carolina Press, 2022), Dr. Ricardo Herrera presents a major new history of the Continental Army’s Grand Forage of 1778. Dr. Herrera uncovers what daily life was like for soldiers during the darkest and coldest days of the American Revolution: the Valley Forge winter. Here, the army launched its largest and riskiest operation—not a bloody battle against British forces but a campaign to feed itself and prevent starvation or dispersal during the long encampment. Dr. Herrera brings to light the army’s herculean efforts to feed itself, support local and Continental governments, and challenge the British Army.
Highlighting the missteps and triumphs of both General George Washington and his officers as well as ordinary soldiers, sailors, and militiamen, Feeding Washington’s Army moves far beyond oft-told, heroic, and mythical tales of Valley Forge and digs deeply into its daily reality, revealing how close the Continental Army came to succumbing to starvation and how strong and resourceful its soldiers and leaders actually were.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.
Christina Ramos, "Bedlam in the New World: A Mexican Madhouse in the Age of Enlightenment" (UNC Press, 2022)
In Bedlam in the New World: A Mexican Madhouse in the Age of Enlightenment (UNC Press, 2022), Cristina Ramos tells us the story of Mexico city’s oldest public institution for the insane, the Hospital de San Hipólito. This institution, founded in 1567, was the first mental hospital in the New World. Remarkable as this fact may be, this book is not simply about the singularity of this institution––though by placing this institution au pair with similar ones in the European context Ramos reframes traditional narratives in the history of psychiatry. What makes this book truly remarkable is that Ramos presents San Hipólito as both a microcosm and a colonial laboratory of the Hispanic Enlightenment. According to Ramos, during the late eighteenth-century madness became understood in increasingly medical terms, and San Hipólito served as a site of care, confinement, and knowledge production.
Heeding the call of scholars who ask that histories of medicine take a more complex view of religion, Ramos traces the medicalization of madness that took place under the Hispanic Enlightenment and shows that the main agents of medicalization were not philosophers or physicians, but the clergy and more surprisingly still, inquisitors. Transcending the walls of the hospital, Ramos takes us to other colonial institutions such as the Holy Office and the criminal secular courts and shows us the stories of the individuals who were taken to San Hipólito. Inquisitors were fundamental actors in this story because, in their purpose of establishing veracity, they were at the forefront of devising new models for undertaking the complexities of human reasoning and the nuances of intent. Bedlam in the New World is a book beautifully written and poignantly argued and will captive listeners who are interested in histories of medicine, madness, colonialism, and religion!
Lisette Varón-Carvajal is a PhD Candidate at Rutgers University. You can tweet and suggest books at @LisetteVaron
G. Ronald Murphy, "Brecht and the Bible: A Study of Religious Nihilism and Human Weakness in Brecht's Drama of Morality and the City" (UNC Press, 2020)
In Brecht and the Bible: A Study of Religious Nihilism and Human Weakness in Brecht's Drama of Morality and the City (UNC Press, 2020), Father G. Ronald Murphy argues that Brecht, atheist and Marxist though he was, was also a sensitive reader and interpreter of the Bible. Murphy persuasively shows that Brecht's use of Biblical texts was not only satirical, but was at times deadly serious, particularly concerning the theme of death itself. For Brecht, the Bible provides eloquent reminders of the finitude of life and of the necessity of work, of eating by the sweat of one's brow. The conflict between work and life, for example in the case of Mother Courage's paradoxical dependence on the war for her survival even as it kills her precious children, proves a major theme in Brecht. This is a work that should appeal to scholars of German literature, but also to anyone interested in the interpretation of Brecht, whether for scholarly or artistic reasons.
Andy Boyd is a playwright based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of the playwriting MFA at Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Arizona School for the Arts.
Mahshid Mayar, "Citizens and Rulers of the World: The American Child and the Cartographic Pedagogies of Empire" (UNC Press, 2022)
In this episode of New Books in Literary Studies, John Yargo spoke with Mahshid Mayar about how children’s puzzles and schoolbooks at the turn of the 20th century helped shape U.S. political relations with the world. Professor Mayar is an assistant professor of American Studies at Bielefeld University and research associate at the English Department, Amherst College. Mahshid has just published Citizens and Rulers of the World: The American Child and the Cartographic Pedagogies of Empire, with the University of North Carolina Press. Citizens and Rulers of the World recovers how American children at the turn of the 20th century navigated knowledge about world geography in the shadow of the rapidly expanding American empire.
John Yargo recently received his PhD in English literature from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, specializing in the environmental humanities and early modern culture. His articles have been published or are forthcoming in the Journal for Early Modern Culture Studies, Studies in Philology, and Shakespeare Studies.