Book Review: American Niceness: A Cultural History by Carrie Tirado Bramen

When the current U.S. president, as Bramen puts it in her wide-ranging cultural study, ‘epitomizes the bombastic chauvinism of the Ugly American’ (1), the concept of American niceness sounds at best like an out-dated but innocuous cliché and, at worst, like a dangerous fiction. As American Niceness sets out to prove, the trope of the kind and generous American has yet to fall out of fashion and the role that it has played in disguising a long history of ugly violence might account for its unstinting survival. Continue reading

Book Review: James and Esther Cooper Jackson: Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement by Sarah Rzeszutek Haviland

In this dual biography, Sarah Haviland traces the political and intellectual career of activist couple James and Esther Cooper Jackson. Utilising a combination of personally-conducted oral history interviews and archival material, she argues that an analysis of the couple demonstrates that communist-affiliated activists of the 1930s Popular Front era were able to adapt their activism and influence the trajectory of the modern civil rights movement that emerged in the 1960s. Continue reading

“Coward, take my coward’s hand”: Mudbound (2017) and the legacy of Hollywood’s anti-racist returning veteran films

On a dusty, unpaved main street veteran Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) leaves the local general store serving the outpost Mississippi Delta community near his brother’s farm. Suddenly, he drops to the ground. The noise of a car backfiring has returned him to his recent combat experience as a bomber pilot. As local men eye him suspiciously, help is offered in the form of the outstretched hand of Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). The offer draws reproach from the onlookers for its disruption of local customs and hierarchy. It is 1946 and, while Jamie is white, Ronsel is black. Continue reading

Veiled Interpretations of Du Bois’s ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ (1903)

Du Bois’s work The Souls of Black Folk (1903) attempts to capture the quintessential twentieth century problem “of the color-line” (713), that is the problem of racial belonging and identification. In these terms, Du Bois cautiously steps within the “Veil” of his racial segregation, a capitalized term he coins to help readers visualize the obscure barrier that separates the two worlds, and attempts to decipher the subliminal fluctuations of a blackness vastly treated as a flaw. This is the exact point which Du Bois delves into in order to staple together multiple thematic concerns. Continue reading

Book review: Japanese American Ethnicity: In search of Heritage and Homeland across Generations by Takeyuki Tsuda

While the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is an established focus of historical study, little attention has been paid to Japanese Americans regarding their status as one of the longest-standing Asian minority groups in the US. Tsuda seeks to remedy this, and shows how historical events have influenced the perception of Japanese Americans over time. In this book he draws on first-hand accounts and his own interviews with Japanese Americans, which are helpfully synthesised to show differences both within and between each distinctive historical cohort. Continue reading

Book Review: The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection by Dorceta E. Taylor

Dorceta E. Taylor, The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection (Duke University Press, 2016) pp. 486. $29.95. Dorceta E. Taylor introduces The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection as the second book in a series of three, although they were not … Continue reading

Review: HOTCUS Annual Conference 2017

The tenth annual meeting of Historians of the Twentieth Century United States (HOTCUS) took place in an uncharacteristically balmy Dublin, hosted by University College Dublin situated in the fair city’s south side. The event attracted delegates from Melbourne to Oslo and seemingly everywhere in between, a fitting testament to its growing international appeal Continue reading

Hannah Murray: My Reflections on winning the 2016 USSO Keynote Competition

The competition posed a welcome challenge disseminating my research for different audiences. It encouraged me to write for an audience that, whilst sharing a broad base of knowledge, are not experts in my specific field of nineteenth-century literature. Furthermore, it challenged me to think beyond the narrow focus of my PhD thesis. Instead of the granular work I often present in a 20-minute paper, the keynote made me think of my work in much broader terms and make connections outside the thesis. Continue reading

Review: Special Relationships: Poetry Across the Atlantic Since 2000

The one-day symposium held at the Rothermere American Institute (RAI) at the University of Oxford on ‘Poetry Across the Atlantic Since 2000’ featured an arresting array of speakers from both sides of the Atlantic. Ultimately, the conference served to highlight not only the multifariousness of poetic production since the year 2000, but more importantly, how poets and literary critics from the U.S.A., Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa conceive of their evolving literary concerns and cultural relationships in a rapidly globalizing world. Continue reading

Book Review: Whiteness on the Border: Mapping the U.S. Racial Imagination in Brown and White by Lee Bebout

The work of Arizona State Associate Professor, Lee Bebout, in Whiteness on the Border is certainly topical. To date, the current U.S. administration plans to build a multi-billion-dollar border wall between Mexico and the U.S., solidifying a line in the sand across which ‘Mexican chaos south of the border must not cross’ (63). Those Americans supporting such a project are likely influenced to varying degrees by the very stereotypes about which Bebout writes. He suggests that theirs ‘is a fear not of military invasion per se but of cultural and biological influence and takeover’ (69). Continue reading