With the 2018 volume “Jewish Sports Heritage” will focus on writing on any aspect of Jewish involvement in the world of sports. The journal will no longer be published quarterly, just one time/year, so this will be an expanded volume. We seek compelling essays, insightful commentaries and critical analyses.
Jewish Sports Heritage Association is accepting the following kinds of submissions on topical issues or debates:
– Research essays, open to interpretation;
– Commentary: social scientific assessments of events, journalistic reportage;
– Conversations; interviews with athletes, coaches, others involved in sports;
– Photo essays;
– Book reviews.
We invite both proposals and submissions. Proposals should be submitted by December 1. Submissions are due by December 30. Expected publication of the journal is February 4, 2018.
Jewish Sports Heritage Association
At NEPCA’s October Executive Council meeting, two new areas were proposed: Media Literacy and Crime in Fact and Fiction.
Before launching, however, NEPCA wishes to gauge interest from those who might wish to serve as a chair for one of these areas.
A chair helps solicit and evaluate papers. A thorough job description can be found by consulting: https://nepca.blog/get-involved/job-descriptions/ Scroll down for the area chair description.
If you’d like to be considered, contact: Rob Weir: firstname.lastname@example.org
All area chairs must be active (dues-paying) members of NEPCA. You are active if you attended the last conference or have renewed your membership during 2017. If you forgot, you can renew by consulting: https://nepca.blog/payments-to-nepca/
THE SEEKING. By Will Thomas. Edited by Mark Madigan. University of New England Press, 344 pages, 2013 edited reprint of 1953 original.
The Seeking slipped under the radar, but deserves new attention. My copy literally got buried under an avalanche of titles that came my way and I failed to notice that my longtime Northeast Popular Culture Association colleague Mark Madigan, edited this volume. It should be considered a companion to Jane Beck’s Daisy Turner’s Kin (2015), which mines the same turf: experiences of African Americans in Vermont.
The Seeking is, at turns, fascinating and frustrating. It was penned by African American journalist, novelist, and scriptwriter Will Thomas, the nom de plume of William “Bill” Smith (1900-70). He’s a nearly forgotten writer whose best-known work was his 1947 novel God is For White Folks. The Seeking focuses on the years 1946 to 1953, after Thomas sold his home in Los Angeles and moved his young to Westford, Vermont, a small village is a remote corner of Chittenden County. His reasons for doing so, by his own admission, were not entirely logical, and the fact that he first contemplated relocating to Haiti instead is testament to his conflicted mind. Thomas was a contemporary of Richard Wright and, like he, struggled to make sense of the vagaries of race in America.
The Seeking is another challenge to viewing race as a simplistic binary. Thomas’ father was white and he didn’t begin to think of himself as black until after his father’s death. His mother moved the family from Kansas City to a black Chicago neighborhood, where Will assumed the last name of his African-American stepfather. Thomas later married Elise Leseur, who was 1/8th black, and they parented three children. The Seeking often feels as if Thomas is working out an identity crisis. It was a challenging time to do so. World War Two brought triumph over the perverse racial theories of fascism, yet American racial progress had scarcely advanced since the collapse of Reconstruction in the 1870s. By the time Thomas landed in Westford, he had abandoned Christianity as an oppressor’s religion and was on the cusp of losing his national faith as well.
Thomas spoke with the fervor of a Frederick Douglass as filtered it through the accommodationism of a Booker T. Washington. This probably explains why his work fell into obscurity during the Black Power-influenced late 1960s. Thomas’ personal bifurcation comes across during his Vermont sojourn. Fiery words and complaints of racism stand side by side with vigorous pursuits of white patronage, burning desire to be viewed as a serious writer, and efforts to fit into rural Vermont village life. He was a casual friend of Wright and knew James Baldwin, but spent more time with black intelligentsia such as Ralph Bunche, Horace Clayton, Jr. and Chester Himes. By 1953, when Thomas published The Seeking and appeared on Edward R. Murrow’s “This I Believe” program, This’ tone was more that of the optimist than the activist.
Thomas admits he was ready to take offense at every glance, frown, and stray word, yet he found warmth among flinty New Englanders. He does not make Vermont into a Utopia and notes casual animus towards Jews, Catholics, and French-speaking residents—not to mention the stray racial slur, but he found acceptance among his neighbors and respect from Vermont’s arts community. He is especially praiseful of Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the Green Mountain State’s grand femme de lettres. His account is out of synch with recent critics who charge Ms. Fisher was a bigot.
Whom do we trust? Thomas’ prose is old-fashioned and lacks the timeless qualities of Wright or Baldwin. Little of book’s dialogue rings true. In fact, much of it has been deliberately crafted to enhance self-perceptions of literary brilliance, manliness, wisdom, and steely head-of-family decision-making. Elise Thomas emerges as a nay-saying foil for her husband’s musings rather than an independent mind or helpmeet. As NPR’s Dan Gediman reveals in the afterward, there is much about Thomas/Smith to tarnish his exalted claims—multiple marriages, a peripatetic lifestyle, shaky finances, and poor health. The Thomases divorced in 1955, with Will staying in Vermont until around 1960. It took sleuthing to unearth the final decade of his life.
We are left with a tantalizing account of a black family in isolation in one of the whitest states in the Union. It makes a nice companion piece to Beck’s work on Daisy Turner, but what do we make of either book? My take away is that folks judge their neighbors differently than they categorize people in the abstract, that New Englanders respect honest effort, and a race-blind society remains elusive.
Robert E. Weir
University of Massachusetts Amherst
The Banjo: America’s African Instrument. By Laurent Dubois, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016.
Laurent Dubois, professor of Romance Studies and History and director of the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University, asks a seemingly simple question early on in his book: “What sound will accompany the end of days?” (19). The question serves as the beginning of the story of the banjo that draws upon the history of instrument making in tenth-century Spain and the prominence of lutes. Dubois notes that the lute began to transition during this time period from an instrument with a wooden body and an opening under the strings to a new instrument made of a hollowed wooden body that was round or oval and covered with animal skin. The new instrument became known as the banjo. A prolific author with books on Haiti (2004, 2011) and the politics of soccer (2012), Dubois completed his research on the banjo with support from a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Humanities Fellowship, and a Mellon New Directions Fellowship.
In his book, Dubois seeks to provide the reader with a biography of the banjo through its emergence in Africa to the folk music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger from the 1940s and beyond (though post-1970s uses are more of a coda). The descriptions of the banjo in West African culture provide the reader with a detailed history of how the creation of certain instruments has a major impact on cultural conventions. Dubois explains that the banjo was used to “connect with both the past and the present, to build a bridge of memory and recall. It welcomed different styles, generating solidarity and community through its sound” (52). While this description is offered as a reflection of the early days of the banjo, Dubois shows how the ability of the banjo to link the past to the present and to cross cultural divides continued as the instrument grew in popularity among certain populations, including the newly invented genre of bluegrass after 1946, and the (mostly) white folk music revival that stretched from the 1940s through the 1960s.
While one may be able to find a book on the history of the banjo for a certain period of time, Dubois breaks new ground by offering a thorough biography of an instrument riddled with a diverse history. One of the strengths of Dubois’ book is his ability to move from time period to time period while keeping his reader engaged. Dubois does not shy away from politically complicated topics as he reflects on the role of the banjo as an integral part of minstrelsy. Further, Dubois details the role of the banjo in slave culture and how this was used as a means of protest as well as a means of escaping slavery.
Dubois’ book would be most appealing to those interested in music and popular culture. However, his writing and his ability to weave multiple areas of popular culture including art and literature into his explanations, makes this book suited to a wider population. The execution of the research and writing on the banjo as America’s African instrument is appealing to those who may question how history intersects with artifacts of which we pay little attention. For example, it remains underappreciated that the banjo’s centrality in “white” Appalachian music from the 19th century on was an appropriation of black culture. While most people have seen and heard a banjo, learning about how this instrument played a significant role throughout history may make the reader believe that a banjo very well be one of the sounds accompanying the end of days.
Andi M. McClanahan
East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
The New York State Labor History Association is proud to announce that the 2017 Bernard Bellush Prize is being awarded to Luke Elliot-Negri for his essay, “Wall to Wall: Industrial Unionism at the City University of New York, 1972-2017,” and to Marc Kagan, for his essay, “An Early Challenge to the Age of Austerity and Inequality: Re-Examining New York City’s 1980 Transit Strike from the Bottom Up.” Both essays were very thoroughly researched and well-written. Both Elliot Negri and Kagan are doctoral students at the City University of New York and are active in the Professional Staff Congress, the union which represents full and part-time faculty, professional staff, and graduate student-workers at CUNY.
An abstract of these essays will be posted on the NYLHA website.
BARBARA WERTHEIMER PRIZE IN LABOR HISTORY
To recognize serious study in labor and work history among undergraduate students, the New York Labor History Association annually awards the Barbara Wertheimer Prize for the best research paper written during the previous academic year. Wertheimer was a leading labor educator and scholar.
BERNARD BELLUSH PRIZE
The Bernard Bellush Prize recognizes outstanding scholarship by graduate students in labor and work history. Please do not submit a full dissertation. The Bellush Prize honors the contribution to labor history made by Bernie Bellush, as a scholar and as an activist.
Both the Bellush and Wertheimer Prize provide an award of $250 for the best research paper written during the 2017-2018 academic year. An abstract of each paper will be posted on the NYLHA website. Please encourage your graduate and undergraduate students to submit their work. Entries will be evaluated on the basis of scholarship and literary merit.
Entrants should send (email acceptable) one copy of their paper to:
The deadline is June 15, 2018.
Dava Sobel. The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. New York: Viking, 2017. 324 Pg. $30.
Dava Sobel has written another wonderful book about women and science. The Glass Universe tells the story of the dozens of women who worked in the Harvard College Observatory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She lovingly narrates the biographies and contributions of these hard-working students, college graduates and family members who painstakingly interpreted the images of stars that the male astronomers of Harvard had captured on their glass plates. Sobel sings the praises of the patrons, human computers, spectographers, mathematicians and aspiring astronomers who worked long hours for very little pay to contribute to the growth of astronomy.
The story begins with Anna Draper, the generous widow who, in 1883, donated numerous telescopes and the glass plates containing stellar photographs to the Harvard Observatory. The director, William H. Pickering, another great hero of this story, recognized the potential of these instruments and hired as many willing assistants as he could regardless of gender. Dozens of young women applied and moved to Cambridge to begin logging long hours in the Observatory interpreting the glass plate images of stars and then creating new systems of classification and measurements of the stars. The women whose stories Sobel tells include: Willamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Henrietta Swan Levitt, Annie Jump Cannon and Cecelia Payne.
Pickering and his team of “computers”—those individuals capable of high-level mathematical computation—studied Draper’s glass plates, each of which contained an image of a star that had been captured from a long-exposure camera. At first, the images were used to help understand each star’s spectrum, which enabled useful categorization of stars. As the women worked, they were also able to use the plates to calculate the star’s matter and to also calculate the distance between stars. Pickering sent his male assistants (and later Annie Cannon) to the Andes and to California to take more photographs. This required that they lug expensive and sensitive equipment up mountaintops, treat the glass plates with photographic emulsion fluid, and then carefully pack the delicate plates to be loaded onto ships and sent back to Cambridge so that these women could analyze them. Although it took years, Harvard eventually created nearly half a million glass plate photographs that are still archived at the Observatory. Pickering’s ambitious project required great discipline, hard work, and a dedicated team willing to experiment with new methods and to ignore restrictive social convention. He seems to have recognized how fortunate he was to have such talented “ladies” on his staff.
Sobel writes beautifully. Her novelized style draws readers into the story and creates connections with each of the individuals she discusses. She frequently quotes letters and diaries and confidently ascribes emotions and an inner life to each of these women, thereby investing readers in their successes and challenges. Sobel describes complex scientific concepts and processes so deftly that any reader can understand them and get caught up in the excitement of these initial discoveries. Clearly, Sobel admires these pioneering young scientists who contributed so much and received so little recognition from Harvard during their lifetimes.
Sobel uses a diverse array of sources, including journal articles published from the findings of her subjects. In addition, she consults diaries, letters, lab notebooks, symposia proceedings, and newspaper advertisements written by the men and women who participated in these experiments. Her monograph includes eight pages of images that range from photographs, reprints of the glass plates, and portraits of the “ladies” themselves. This book also contains a useful glossary and timeline. Her meticulous research and inclusion of such personal images and sources contributes to the intimate feel of her text.
The Glass Universe is enjoyable and compelling. This book would be perfect for a women’s studies class or a history of science class.
Western Connecticut State University