PA Books features authors of books about Pennsylvania-related topics. These hour-long conversations allow authors to discuss both their subject matter and inspiration behind the books.
“George Washington” with David Stewart
George Washington’s rise constitutes one of the greatest self-reinventions in history. In his mid-twenties, this third son of a modest Virginia planter had ruined his own military career thanks to an outrageous ego. But by his mid-forties, that headstrong, unwise young man had evolved into an unassailable leader chosen as the commander in chief of the fledgling Continental Army. By his mid-fifties, he was unanimously elected the nation’s first president. From Virginia’s House of Burgesses, where Washington mastered the craft and timing of a practicing politician, to his management of local government as a justice of the Fairfax County Court to his eventual role in the Second Continental Congress and his grueling generalship in the American Revolution, Washington perfected the art of governing and service, earned trust, and built bridges. The lessons in leadership he absorbed along the way would be invaluable during the early years of the republic as he fought to unify the new nation.
David O. Stewart turned to writing after a career practicing law in Washington, DC, defending accused criminals and challenging government actions as unconstitutional. He is a national bestselling and award-winning author of four previous books on American history.
“The Deviant Prison” with Ashley Rubin
Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light anxieties and other challenges of nineteenth-century prison administration that helped embed our prison system as we know it today. Drawing on organizational theory and providing a rich account of prison life, the institution, and key actors, Ashley T. Rubin examines why Eastern's administrators clung to what was increasingly viewed as an outdated and inhuman model of prison - and what their commitment tells us about penal reform in an era when prisons were still new and carefully scrutinized
Ashley Rubin is an associate professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
“Back from Battle” with Jim Remsen
In the final year of the American Civil War, a special Union Army post was constructed just outside Philadelphia to handle a jumble of returning citizen-soldiers. Many soldiers bore bullet wounds, broken bones, and other scars of combat. Some had lost limbs. Some were laid low by illness. Hundreds arrived half-dead as survivors of wretched prison camps. Others were blessedly unscathed—but all grappled with the fresh, ferocious memories of their time at war. The post, known as Camp Discharge, did its best to move the young Union veterans on to their next assignment or, more often, back to civilian life. During its brief existence, it sat on a bluff overlooking what is today one of the nation’s busiest highways, the Schuylkill Expressway. The post was quickly dismantled, its story forgotten. The authors reclaim that remarkable history and trace the often tumultuous lives of the Pennsylvania volunteer soldiers who passed through Camp Discharge’s gates.
Jim Remsen is a journalist and author of "Embattled Freedom: Chronicle of a Fugitive Slave Haven."
“Frederick Watts and the Founding of Penn State,” with Roger Williams
Frederick Watts came to prominence during the nineteenth century as a lawyer and a railroad company president, but his true interests lay in agricultural improvement and in raising the economic, social, and political standing of Pennsylvania’s farmers. After being elected founding president of The Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society in 1851, he used his position to advocate vigorously for the establishment of an agricultural college that would employ science to improve farming practices. He went on to secure the charter for the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania, which would eventually become the Pennsylvania State University. This biography explores Watts’s role in founding and leading Penn State through its formative years. Watts adroitly directed the school as it was sited, built, and financed, opening for students in 1859. He hired the brilliant Evan Pugh as founding president, who, with Watts, quickly made it the first successful agricultural college in America. But for all his success in launching the institution, Watts nearly brought it to the brink of closure through a series of ruinous presidential appointments that led to an abandonment of the land-grant focus on agriculture and engineering.
Roger L. Williams served as Associate Vice President and Executive Director of the Penn State Alumni Association and as Affiliate Associate Professor in Penn State’s Higher Education Program.
“The Chiefs Now in This City” with Colin Calloway
During the years of the Early Republic, prominent Native leaders regularly traveled to American cities--Albany, Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia, Montreal, Quebec, New York, and New Orleans--primarily on diplomatic or trade business, but also from curiosity and adventurousness. They were frequently referred to as "the Chiefs now in this city" during their visits, which were sometimes for extended periods of time. Indian people spent a lot of time in town. Colin Calloway, National Book Award finalist and one of the foremost chroniclers of Native American history, has gathered together the accounts of these visits and from them created a new narrative of the country's formative years, redefining what has been understood as the "frontier." Calloway's book captures what Native peoples observed as they walked the streets, sat in pews, attended plays, drank in taverns, and slept in hotels and lodging houses. In the Eastern cities they experienced an urban frontier, one in which the Indigenous world met the Atlantic world. Calloway's book reveals not just what Indians saw but how they were seen. Crowds gathered to see them, sometimes to gawk; people attended the theatre to watch “the Chiefs now in this city” watch a play. Their experience enriches and redefines standard narratives of contact between the First Americans and inhabitants of the American Republic, reminding us that Indian people dealt with non-Indians in multiple ways and in multiple places. The story of the country's beginnings was not only one of violent confrontation and betrayal, but one in which the nation's identity was being forged by interaction between and among cultures and traditions.
Colin G. Calloway is John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professor of History and Native American Studies at Dartmouth College. He is the author of several books, most recently "The Indian World of George Washington," which was a National Book Award Finalist, and which won the Excellence in American History Book Award from the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the George Washington Book Prize.
“Sewn in Coal Country” with Robert Wolensky
By the mid-1930s, Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal industry was facing a steady decline. Mining areas such as the Wyoming Valley around the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Pittston were full of willing workers (including women) who proved irresistibly attractive to New York City’s “runaway shops”—ladies’ apparel factories seeking lower labor and other costs. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) soon followed, and the Valley became a thriving hub of clothing production and union activity. This volume tells the story of the area’s apparel industry through the voices of men and women who lived it. Drawing from an archive of over sixty audio-recorded interviews within the Northeastern Pennsylvania Oral and Life History Collection, Sewn in Coal Country showcases sixteen stories told by workers, shop owners, union leaders, and others. The interview subjects recount the ILGWU-led movement to organize the shops, the conflicts between the district union and the national office in New York, the solidarity unionism approach of leader Min Matheson, the role of organized crime within the business, and the failed efforts to save the industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Robert P. Wolensky places the narratives in the larger context of American clothing manufacturing during the period and highlights their broader implications for the study of labor, gender, the working class, and oral history.
Robert P. Wolensky is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and Adjunct Professor of History at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre. He is the coauthor of "Fighting for the Union Label: The Women’s Garment Industry and the ILGWU in Pennsylvania."
Was good now it just leans left
Like the title said there used to be all kinds of stuff on here. Now it seems like it all slants hard left. Whether it be historically or present day. And I like that every once and awhile but it just seems like your bludgeoning me with it. A little bit of balance or no slants at all could easy make this a five again
Mine eyes have seen
Local author Anthony Moulton published a book this year, you should interview him! He is a Marine Corps veteran from Lincoln University. His book “mine eyes have see” is a great book describing consequences of how we treat each other and moral obigation.
Thank You Brian Lockman
This podcast was hosted by Brian Lockman for many years and he was fantastic. Looking forward to more of the best interviews in podcasting.