The Massive Missed Opportunity

school desegregation

Tanner Colby wants to use history to rethink liberal orthodoxy on questions of race and racism, but his stories so far reproduce as much rotten accepted wisdom as they challenge. Over at Slate, Tanner Colby is celebrating Black History Month with a series titled “The Massive Liberal Failure on Race.” The premise is simple: despite having been “ceded a monopoly on caring about black people” by the Republican right, liberals “hold on to some really bad ideas about race.” As a remedy, Colby prescribes a dose of history, a retelling of the “liberal establishment’s mishandling of this volatile issue” in order to encourage today’s liberals to “purge outdated orthodoxies, admit past mistakes, … [Read more...]

“Looking” for Identity: Gender, Sexuality, and a Brief History of LGBT America


When HBO premiered the first episode of its new series Looking in mid-January, the show, as noted by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour “launched a 1,000 think pieces across the internet.” While Looking remains a compelling, if admittedly “low key” viewing experience, noted one critic, the show’s existence points to a more complicated and nuanced reality regarding 21st century gay identity.  How did we get here and how have ideas about homosexuality and identity been formed? The answer, one might argue, hinges on a complex mix of personal and group agency, popular culture and public discourse, and government, local and federal, regulation. As established by Josh Sides in his excellent 2010 work … [Read more...]

13 of Our Favorite Posts from 2013

ToM Best of 2013 image 2

2013 was Tropics of Meta's biggest year yet, as we welcomed numerous new contributors (hello LG, Brian, Mark, Jimmy et al) and continued our collaboration with South El Monte Arts Posse, most notably with the East of East community mapping project.  Some of our pieces traveled far and wide online, such as Clement Lime's spirited defense of Howard Zinn.  Ryan's Minutemen piece got tweeted by Mike Watt, who is now our bestie (not really).  In any case, let's take a look back at some of the most interesting writing from the fourth installment of a five-year plan that just can't fail.  (When have five-year plans ever gone wrong?) The Spanish Roots of the 99% Jeffrey Lawrence explores the … [Read more...]

7 Books to Make You Grateful for Your Own Family on Thanksgiving

full house family

Visual media have the advantage of providing quick comfort; if you need a change of mood or just an easy distraction, a TV show or a movie or even a YouTube clip can get the job done without too much effort, so long as said visual media is not designed by Ingmar Bergman or Lars von Trier.  Earlier this week ToM offered up its suggestions for films that touch on the variegated vicissitudes of family, on the theory that watching Pan's Labyrinth or Rachel Getting Married might put the craziness of one's own family in gratifying context.  Books, however, don't offer the same kind of instant remedy.  As Meatwad once said, "Books is from the devil, and TV is twice as fast!"  However, we humbly … [Read more...]

Making Sense of JFK 50 Years Later

JFK sailing

In a previous post earlier this week, I lamented the mediocrity yielded by the manic rush of TV specials, movies, books and blogs about John F. Kennedy and the golden anniversary of his assassination.  Needless to say, the flood waters have continued rising.  Living presidents are in on the act.  At this point, having barely kept my head above water, I find meaning in small things.  Something important about JFK, his assassination, and how we might think about all of that in the aftermath of this anniversary comes to mind in looking at a couple of this week’s nuggets from The New Yorker and The Daily Beast. Though self-referential, “John F. Kennedy in The New Yorker” is worth a read.  It … [Read more...]

Mania and Melancholy in JFK’s Golden Anniversary

jfk cool

“You’re using this conspiracy theory as an excuse to avoid having sex with me.” Allison to Alvy Singer in Annie Hall If a comic line from Woody Allen’s classic 1977 film is any indication, the waning days of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy will witness mounting sexual frustration.  How can Americans addled with conspiracy theories about the president’s death in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 get any sleep, let alone sex, while their televisions vibrate amidst a broadcast blitzkrieg of anniversary specials – documentaries, made-for-TV movies, “investigations” and nostalgic commemorations?  Of course, not everyone shares Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s … [Read more...]

Reading Racecraft in Atlanta

asiatic folk

There’s a joke that everyone in New York who’s reading a book in public is just doing it to be seen reading that book.  This is not true in Atlanta, though, because no one here reads.  Part of it may be down to the dearth of public transportation; reading while driving is not an option, unless you want to put your life at even greater risk than you already have by the mere fact of getting behind the wheel in this city (and, of course, there is the matter of texting, as Werner Herzog reminded us). If Atlantans do read, it must be in secret, and most likely the Bible. But I have occasionally cracked a book in a bar in Atlanta, typically when I'm alone in the city and footloose, in the hope … [Read more...]

Race and Racism in the Early Medieval World

invention of racism in classical antiquity

Many people have a love/hate relationship with their undergraduate or graduate introductory historiography class.  I have taken three versions of the class now and each has had amazingly insightful weeks combined with dreadfully unhelpful weeks.   In the most recent iteration, a week spent discussing race allowed me to read some classic works, but also involved sitting mutely while modernists debated the intricacies of theory, particularly as it applies to the United States.  As an early medievalist, I had little to say.  After sitting mutely for most of the session, the professor turned to the pre-modernists in the room and asked, “what about the middle ages?” I only managed to muster a … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Why I Love Michael Holt, His Bowties, & the Whig Party

Academic celebrity death match

As an undergraduate student in Professor Michael Holt’s “Coming of the Civil War” class at the University of Virginia, I felt rather lost for the first part of the semester. It was a large lecture class that made it intimidating to ask questions or make comments (not that I would have anyway). Moreover, Dr. Holt was the quintessential university professor – impeccably dressed in a sport coat and bowtie (this was UVa after all) with a shock of white hair – and he treated us as though we already had an intensive handle on the history of antebellum America. Which I definitely did not. The central texts for the course were Holt’s own book, The Political Crisis of the 1850s and Eric Foner’s Free … [Read more...]

After the Fracture: An Age of Disaggregation and Reaggregation

goldwater reagan and nixon

In recent years, I have taken to calling the Sixties lecture in my U.S. history survey “The Age of Fracture.”  Of course, I start by telling my students that I borrow the title from a famous historian at Princeton, but then I explain that I beg to differ with his periodization and nomenclature. Here I will propose that the last quarter of the twentieth century mostly occurred after the fracture, and that the period Daniel T. Rodgers examines so masterfully in Age of Fracture might be better understood (using his own terms) as a transitional time of disaggregation and reaggregation. First of all, let me give credit where credit is due. Age of Fracture is a marvelous and thought-provoking … [Read more...]


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