NEPCA’s 2017 conference will take place on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Friday October 27 and Saturday October 28, 2017.
Periodic updates and information will be made on this site and can be viewed by clicking on the Fall Conference tab above.
Here’s a link for Intellect’s latest newsletter that will inform you of new cultural studies books and journals.
Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI.
By David Grann, Doubleday, 2017, 352 pp.
History books tell us that the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre and the slaughter of at least 150 Indians* was the final episode in the wars between Native Americans and whites. Perhaps we should revise the texts to take into account the “Reign of Terror” against the Osages in Oklahoma in which as many as sixty Osages were murdered between 1921 and 1925. David Grann’s new book on the subject reads like a detective novel but, alas, everything in it really happened.
Grann focuses on the extended Lizzie Kyle family to spin his tale of how history collided with ethnicity, paternalism, and greed. The 1830 Indian Removal Act—of which the Trail of Tears was a tragic subchapter—reserved much of modern-day Oklahoma as Indian Territory, a vast repository for conquered Indians. The Osages were confined there in the 1870s, after ceding lands in Arkansas and Kansas. The 1887 Dawes Act allowed Indians to own land as individuals and, six years later, the government opened non-reservation land to land-hungry whites. By 1900, whites dominated the territorial government, but few gave heed to a 1906 act giving the Osages, as a tribe, ownership of underground minerals. The next year Oklahoma entered the Union as the 46th state, with whites and Indians living side-by-side. Partial Osage assimilation occurred through intermarriage, forced schooling of children, and chosen adoption of white culture.
In 1917, oil was discovered in Oklahoma, an event that coincided with the takeoff period for automobiles. Suddenly, the Osages were the richest people in the United States. In 1923 alone, the Osages collected royalties on the magnitude of $400 million (2016 value). Intermarriage rates soared and some Osages engaged in ostentatious displays of wealth. Several reportedly purchased new automobiles, to use as makeshift hothouses as their owners didn’t drive. More controversially, numerous whites found themselves working for Osage masters. Alas, the same act that made the Osages wealthy also led their downfall. Each Osage property owner got a “headright” based on the amount of land owned, but the U.S. government could hold royalties in trust, and the bill ominously stipulated the right of non-Osages to inherit headrights.
Grann unveils a tale of fraud in which real and mythical cases of conspicuous consumption justified placing Osages under a 1921 white guardianship law requiring Osages to “prove” their competency; until then, guardians doled out royalties like a teenager’s allowance. Some, such as William Hale, the “King of Osage Hills” and a perceived friend of the Osages, persuaded male relatives to take Osage wives and act as their guardians. Hale’s nephew, Ernest Burkhart, married Lizzie Kyle’s daughter, Mollie—who lost much of her family to oil greed. In quick order, Mollie lost her sister Anna, her cousins Charles Whitehorn and Henry Roan Horse, her mother, and—in a massive explosion— her sister Rita, her husband, and their white housekeeper.
Grann presents the violence as a veritable war against the Osages waged by whites that lusted after oil wealth and felt it was their race privilege to possess it. That oil and murder were linked was fairly obvious, but untangling a multi-stranded web was another matter. Local detective James Monroe Pyle sided with his Osage neighbors, but the investigative powers of Bureau of Investigation (BOI) agent John Wren proved invaluable. Wren was often too undisciplined and independent for his superiors, but he was half Ute and an able investigator. To the degree in which the cases were ever solved, Wren and Pyle get the credit. One of Wren’s supporters was J. Edgar Hoover. The Osage murders were instrumental in Hoover’s plan to evolve the BOI into the nation’s primary law enforcement agency, which occurred in 1935 when it became the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Grann’s book has it all: mystery, graft, poison, nitroglycerin, crooked lawyers, and wolves in lambs’ clothing. The pity is that it’s a non-fiction book. Indians became U. S. citizens in 1924 and a year later, the Osage Allotment Act was amended to disallow non-Osages from inheriting headrights. Not that it did the Kyle family much good. Grann’s book puts a punctuation mark to the sad saga of how the West became white. Read the book now, as it has been optioned for a movie that promises to be a more accurate look at history than the fanciful 1959 film The FBI Story.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
* Contrary to the perceptions of those seeing to be respectful, many indigenous peoples from the Great Plains westward prefer the term “Indian” over “Native American.”
American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity. By Christian G. Appy, Penguin, 2016.
Nations seldom exit wars as they entered them. In an important new book, University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Chris Appy argues that, though the Vietnam War ended thirty-two years ago, the United States continues to struggle with its results. He even asserts that with “the possible exception of the Civil War, no event in U.S. history has demanded more soul-searching than the war in Vietnam,” a conflict that “provoked a profound national identity crisis, an American reckoning” (x). A short list of its impact includes the shattering of “the central tenet of American national identity–the broad faith that the United States is a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power, but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life” (xi-xii).
Few scholars have a better grasp of Vietnam and the workings of the military-industrial complex than Appy. He mines an array of primary sources in this study, but he also understands that popular culture frequently embodies a better understanding of how Americans see their past. Hence, Appy also draws upon movies, advertisements, novels, music, and other such sources in a book that begins with the question, “Who Are We?” and ends with observations of “Who We Are.” The book is divided into three sections: “Why Are We In Vietnam?”, “America at War,” and “What Have We Become?”. An example of Appy’s unorthodox but deeply enlightening approach comes in a chapter titled “Saving Vietnam.” It builds upon Deliver Us From Evil, a 1956 best-selling book from Thomas A. Dooley, which Appy uses to show the deep roots of U.S. misunderstanding of Vietnam, and to place under the microscope Americans’ self-deceptions. This journey takes Apply into the geopolitics of post-World War II, as well as into the sermons of Fulton Sheen, Cecil B. DeMille’s rants on “godless communism,” the exceptionalist pronouncements of Henry Luce, and the naïveté of films like South Pacific.
Scholars won’t find much new in what Appy relates about the illogic of American reasons for entering Vietnam or the inappropriateness of how the war was conducted. His revelations lie in his innovative narrative and in the depth of how various missteps continue to impact society. For example, in his look at American soldiers (“Our Boys”) he sets the stage for understanding the gap between admiration for U.S. warriors and rejection of their cause. It’s hard to find common ground between —on one hand, the film The Green Berets, Barry Sadler’s hyper-patriotic ballad of that title, and Merle Haggard’s middle finger to the counterculture and — on the other hand —revelations of My Lai, the rise of the antiwar movement, former Green Beret Donald Duncan’s excoriation of the American way of war, and the spate of songs and movies critical of the conflict and those who conducted it.
In his final section, Appy turns his capacious mind to Vietnam’s impact. Among its effects is the “Victim Nation” (221-49), a simultaneous sense that American ideals have always been under attack, “willful amnesia” (224) concerning Vietnam, a loss of faith in American institutions, a reconfiguration of GIs as “the primary victims” of the war (241), and a contradictory go-it-alone attitude as seen in films such as Rambo.
Conservatives from Ronald Reagan on have fanned post-Vietnam disillusionment and disunity to argue for a reinvigoration of American supremacy. Indeed, though Appy’s book went to press before the 2016 election, it’s easy to cast Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan in this light. But Appy incisively captures the problem facing the sloganeering of both right and left in his chapter “No More Vietnams.” As he captures it in vignettes, such bromides can justify both the 1983 mass force invasion of Grenada and the antiwar activism of Brian Willson four years later.
Appy ends his book with bleak notes and a clarion call. He sees Vietnam in the war in Iraq, noting that it took President Obama three years “to find an exit” for a “war that began in March 2003 with ‘shock and awe’ [and] ended almost nine years later in head-shaking silence” (305). 9/11 brought back American exceptionalism, even support for the idea of empire. These took their place aside new contradictions: the national security state and attempts to manage the news versus leaked revelations of misconduct such as that of David Petraeus and troops at Abu Ghraib; the valorization of Pat Tillman versus a lack of public support for the mission in Iraq; and belief in “global hegemony” versus critiques on the right and left that see it as “expensive, destructive, and antithetical to republican institutions” (319). By 2009, a scant 24% of Americans saw any value in the Iraqi conflict. Shades of Vietnam indeed! But how does one reconcile this with a 2010 poll in which 80% affirmed that the USA has a responsibility to lead the world? You don’t. In Appy’s words, “As long as we continue to be seduced by the myth of American exceptionalism, we will too easily acquiesce to the misuse of power….” Our best hope is to “seek a fuller reckoning of our role in the world that the Vietnam War so powerfully awakened…. It is our record; it is who we are” (335).
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America’s Youngest Serial Killer. By Roseanne Montillo. New York: William Morrow, 2015.
Gilded Age Boston and Chicago shared a lot in common. Both had World’s Fairs: Boston in 1883, and Chicago ten years later. Each suffered devastating fires, with Chicago being nearly destroyed in 1871, and Boston losing most of its commercial district in 1872. Both also had notorious serial killers, with Boston holding the dubious distinction of producing Jesse Pomeroy, the first juvenile serial killer to be sentenced to hang. Pomeroy’s story is the subject of Roseanne Montillo’s sometimes fascinating, sometimes frustrating The Wilderness of Ruin.
Montillo, who teaches literature at Emerson College, has an eye for a good saga, and that of Jesse Pomeroy (1859-1932) certainly qualifies. Jesse’s is a biography that would challenge the fictive powers of an imaginative crime writer. He was born into an economically marginal working-class family in Charlestown, a seedy neighborhood best known for its grimy waterfront. A childhood illness damaged Jesse’s right cornea and left him with a distinctive cloudy eye. He was taller than peers and, from an early age, demonstrated disturbing characteristics: social isolation, fascination with his father’s butcher knives, a love of violent dime novels, and acts of animal cruelty. His waterfront jaunts yielded the revelation that twelve-year-old Jesse was responsible for a serious of brutal attacks on boys as young as four. His first victim was stripped naked, tied, hoisted ahigh, and whipped; subsequent victims were cut, stabbed, pricked with pins, and brutalized–often in their genitals. Because there were no known deaths, Jesse was sent to a reformatory where he was supposed to remain until his 18th birthday.
Pomeroy was out in 14 months, paroled to his mother’s care in South Boston, where the family had moved to escape ostracism. Jesse was released in February of 1874, and in March, nine-year-old Katie Curran went missing. In April, the body of four-year-old Horace Millen was discovered, and Curran’s body shortly thereafter–each mutilated in ways suggestive of Pomeroy’s earlier spree. Pomeroy was convicted of first-degree murder in December, and was sentenced to hang. Governor Gaston’s refusal to sign execution orders led to a year and half of legal wrangling before Jesse’s sentence was commuted to life in solitary confinement. Three months before he turned seventeen, Pomeroy was transferred from Suffolk County Jail to the state prison in Charlestown, where he spent the next forty years in a ten-by-ten-by-eight cell. During that time, he made a dozen serious escape efforts, exhausted the prison library, learned numerous languages, wrote a self-serving autobiography, and badgered a dozen governors with pardon requests. In 1917, he was allowed to intermingle with the general prison population, but showed no interest in doing so. Much to his chagrin, he was sent to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane in 1932, and died there in 1934. Only two murders were directly tied to Pomeroy, though rumors–sometimes from Jesse and sometimes denied by him–suggest he was responsible for as many as nine.
This is dramatic stuff that Montillo wisely opts to tell in a novelistic voice. This makes swaths of the book highly readable. Her instincts are sharpest when she connects Pomeroy to his broader social milieu, as Erik Larson did in his masterful The Devil in the White City (2003), the tale of mass murderer Dr. Henry Holmes (Herman Mudgett). Larson placed Holmes within a grand narrative stretching from Chicago’s 1871 fire through the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Montillo uses Boston’s 1872 fire as a partial explanation of how Pomeroy’s first spree took so long to solve, and she is in good form when describing the tawdry waterfronts and grimy neighborhoods of Jesse’s youth. Especially crisp is her account of Jesse taking his first and only automobile ride in 1932; she puts herself inside his eyes to “see” how Boston had changed during his 58 years of confinement.
Alas, she dowses her literary fires when she tries to connect Pomeroy to Boston glitterati such as Herman Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes. She wants us to view Jesse’s monomania as analogous to Ahab’s and launches into discursive and unconvincing analyses of Moby Dick. She also delves deeply into Holmes’ biography, though he was peripheral to Pomeroy’s case. There are also detours into Camus, Dickens, Irving, Poe, and others attracted to the dark side of the psyche. By the time I finished, I was reminded of times in which I was dazzled by the sight of a restaurant meal, only to taste it and conclude that the chef spoiled the dish by adding too many ingredients.
I wanted The Wilderness of Ruins to be a Boston version of The Devil in the White City; instead, it is more about Montillo than her subject. Note the subtitle. The “madness” part is mostly perfunctory unresolved psychological speculation; the “fire” offers little insight into a lad whose spree began a year earlier; the “hunt” was brief; and Pomeroy isn’t “America’s youngest serial killer,” only the Bay State’s. Too many ingredients! My advice is to borrow juicy material for your lectures, but only if it makes them more savory.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
ANNOUNCING THE POPULAR CULTURE SUMMER RESEARCH INSTITUTE AT BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY
MAY 21-25, 2017
Reminder: Travel Grant applications are due 24 March 2017.
“Exploring the Archives: Fifty Years of Popular Culture”
For the second time, the PCA/ACA and Bowling Green State University are jointly sponsoring a summer research institute on the Bowling Green, Ohio campus from Sunday, May 21 through Thursday, May 25, 2017. This institute will introduce a small group of scholars from across the country and abroad to the research and pedagogical treasures of BGSU’s very special collections.
The staff of these exceptional collections will assist institute participants in locating unique resources for use in their teaching and research in accordance with Fair Use guidelines. In addition, volunteer faculty scholars from both BGSU and PCA/ACA will lend their time and expertise to help participants with their own individual projects.
A limited number of $400 travel grants are available for participants. Applications for Travel Grants are due by 24 March, 2017.
For more information, please visit the following link(s):
Please contact Dr. Lynn Bartholome, PCA/ACA Treasurer ( email@example.com ), if you have questions or need additional information.
Don’t miss your chance for a once in a lifetime experience. SPACE IS LIMITED!
Questions: Contact us!
Popular Culture Association
American Culture Association
Call for Papers for Film and History area for the October 27-28, 2017 Northeast Regional Popular / American Cultural Association (NEPCA) annual conference.
Dr. Carol Mitchell; Area Chair of Film and History
Call for Papers: Film and History. The annual fall conference of NEPCA will be held at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA on October 27-28, 2017. Deadline for proposals is June 1, 2017. Visit the NEPCA website at: https://nepca.wordpress.com/2017-conference for full information on proposal submission and registration.
Film and History welcomes presentations on a wide range of film topics contributing to popular culture.
Suggestions for topics include:
- Films portraying historical events with great accuracy or which provide fresh or controversial perspectives (e.g., Spotlight; F.K.)
- Films exploring the nature of complex characters or incorporating social, political, and cultural themes (e.g., heroism, friendship, injustice, racism, betrayal, ambition)
- Film adaptations of other media, (i.e., novels, short stories, theatre) or from real life
- Film genres, such as comedy, crime film, the Western, war film, or science fiction
- Filmmaking and film directors (e.g., Scorsese’s portrayal of women)
- History of the cinema and economic and cultural impacts of film on society
- Academy Awards’ nominations, policies, and practices
Please submit your paper proposals by following the 2017 Paper Proposals link at https://nepca.blog/2017-conference/ by June 1, 2017.
NEPCA presentations are generally 15-20 minutes in length and may be delivered either formally or informally. As Area Chair of Film and History, I am happy to preview your proposal. However, all final submissions should be “CC’d” to me at firstname.lastname@example.org in addition to your submission to the program chair.
NEPCA prides itself on holding conferences that emphasize sharing ideas in a non-competitive and supportive environment consisting of graduate students, independent scholars, junior faculty, and senior scholars.
The nominations committee, headed by Sue Matheson, has issued this call for nominations for the 2017 PCA Elections.
Nominations and self-nominations may be sent to
Sue Matheson, Chairperson of Elections Sub-Committee (email@example.com).
CC Brendan Riley, Executive Director of Operations (firstname.lastname@example.org)
All nomination statements must be limited to two pages in length. Each nomination statement must include the following:
Nomination packets should also include
4) An attached, updated CV.
Important note: For those nominations other than self-nominations, a two-stage process will be used. Individuals who are nominated by a second party will be contacted by the EDO to provide the above required information contained in the nomination form in a timely manner to Sue Matheson. If you intend to nominate someone else, please do so as early as possible to give them time to prepare their materials.
Nominations must be received by February 20, 2017. All follow-up nomination materials must be received by February 22, 2017.