Beyond the Bakesale: PTAs, Education Reform, & the Best of UHA 2014, Part 1

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Several times a year, the intrepid reporters of Tropics of Meta follow the academic conference beat, checking out panels on everything from the Illuminati to Asian American basketball leagues and sissy rap. At their best, conferences offer a window into the freshest and most innovative historical scholarship, and our reports on panels aim to give readers an early look at the groundbreaking articles and books of tomorrow.  This year's Urban History Association conference was the organization's eighth biennial meeting, and the world's hardest working urbanists braved the persistent drizzle of "always sunny" Philadelphia to attend panels and plenaries on the campus of the University of … [Read more...]

Beware of the Blond Woman: Gender, Sexuality and the State in Modern Germany

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Lola Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich in the 1930 film The Blue Angel (Der blaue Engel), regales the cabaret audience with this advice: “Beware of blond women.” (Nimm dich in acht vor blonden Frauen.). As the first German “talkie” and with the definition of masculinity in question during the interwar years, it’s no surprise how The Blue Angel incorporates sound as a cinematic device to represent the “victim” of Lola’s gaze, Professor Rath. After meeting this strong-willed sex symbol, Rath’s voice devolves from a respectable, crowing rooster to the castrated whimper of a cuckold. Lola Lola typifies the modern woman, the “new woman,” who experienced greater opportunity and freedom as a wage … [Read more...]

“A singularly intricate situation has developed in Washington”: Some Historical Background on Hobby Lobby

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If Progressive Era birth control reformer Mary Ware Dennett hadn’t been cremated in 1947 immediately following her death, she’d be rolling over in her grave today. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (or Burwell as the decision was handed down) has abruptly called forward again the long legal story of the fight for reproductive rights. Other landmark cases along this path have included Griswold v. Connecticut (1965); Roe v. Wade (1973); Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989); Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and somewhat more recently, Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). What’s Dennett got to do with all of this and why does it matter? We have to go … [Read more...]

Reasons for the Left to Be Optimistic

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Being a liberal/lefty/whatever in America has never been easy, and it has seldom involved optimism.  Ever since Werner Sombart wondered “Why is there no socialism in the United States?” the Left has often seen itself as a chronic loser in US history, and especially since the historic routing of the New Left in the 1960s and the right-wing counterrevolution of Reaganomics in the 1980s, progressives could be regularly counted on to outmatch Eeyore in a dolefulness contest. In recent years the triumphs of corporate power and the Christian Right have meant that most on the Left have focused on defending what they’d already achieved rather than imagining anything better—hence the slogan “Another … [Read more...]

Newsmax vs. Truthout: The Mind of the Right and Left in Your Inbox

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“Democrats,” the Cato Institute recently observed, “are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents…”  But it then described Republicans as “hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe… that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.”  What gives? The libertarian organization was simply filing a very funny amicus curiae brief (words not often seen together) in a Supreme Court case that deals with Americans’ right to say terrible things about each other.  The … [Read more...]

Does Rape Have a Color? Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby and the Racial Politics of Sexual Abuse

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Like so many over the past weeks, I have been following the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen conflagration that re-exploded in the media on February 1 with Ms. Farrow’s open letter to the New York Times. In the letter, Farrow accuses Allen in graphic and heart-wrenching detail of sexually abusing her when she was seven years old. This information wasn’t new since Maureen Orth at Vanity Fair had covered the story extensively when it first broke in 1992, but Farrow’s letter triggered new interest in the case, even beyond that of Orth’s November 2013 follow-up interviews with the entire Farrow clan. Apparently unable to stay silent amidst the firestorm, Allen followed Farrow’s letter one week later … [Read more...]

Bed-Stuy, the Illuminati, and the Importance of Fungus Identification: Best of AHA 2014, Part 1

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Going to conferences is one of the great mixed blessings of the academic life.  On one hand, it offers the chance to get away (to New York or LA, or sometimes even exotic destinations like Richmond, VA) and travel, like an Actually Important Person (AIP), sometimes with your department or university picking up the tab.  We get to reconnect with old friends and have more than the appropriate number of drinks--on the pretext, of course, of "getting a feel for the city" (or in Richmond's case, not). On the other hand, there is the actual conference itself--a dreary procession of monotonously recited presentations, ranging from the navel-gazingly esoteric to the merely boring.  And if it's … [Read more...]

Plan Ahead: A Historical Look at Rape Insurance in Michigan

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It’s a day that ends in “y” so there’s been another strike by the increasingly insane Republican Party against “ObamaCare” and women’s reproductive freedom – this time in Michigan. As reported initially in the Detroit Free Press, a Michigan state law just went into effect that will require women to purchase additional insurance if they want abortion coverage. In other words, girlfriends, be prepared for all possible consequences of rape, incest, birth defects, dangerous pregnancies and anything else you can think of! I mean, as a woman, you should expect these problems anyway. Don’t worry, though! We have in no way entered a bizarre dystopian universe already envisioned by Margaret Atwood … [Read more...]

Making Sense of North Carolina’s Political Mess

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As the late, great Larry Goodwyn might say, it all goes back to Populism.  The roots of today’s right-wing putsch in the Old North State, which has seen resurgent Republicans in the General Assembly and Governor’s Mansion push an extreme agenda against the poor, minorities, education, the environment, voting rights and reproductive freedom, stretches back over a century, long before the rise of Barack Obama or the Tea Party. It has been hard for many observers to square the state’s recent sharp turn to the right with its reputation as among the most moderate and even progressive of Southern states.  The long, ugly career of Jesse Helms notwithstanding, North Carolina could boast of its … [Read more...]

Every Country Deserves a Mulligan

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The United States government might be about to default on its debt, but nobody’s perfect.  Sure, this could be a mess of a magnitude that makes 2008’s black swan look like the lovechild of Mother Goose and Alicia Silverstone.  At least in 2008 a frightened world could rush to the impregnable redoubt of T-bills—investments backed by the one nation presumed to be the last man standing in even the worst of scenarios.  We are, of course, not so sure about that nowadays.  But we’ve made mistakes before and people have forgiven us. Consider the 1850s in general, and particularly the long winter of 1860-1.  The country was coming apart at the seams, the political system had broken down, and … [Read more...]

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