Ben Parten on America’s Other Founding Father: Nat Turner

In the 2014 film Top Five, Chris Rock's character has set out to make a film called Uprize, about the Haitian Revolution.  He sees it as his way of changing his image and being a more serious artist, rather than merely the star of a series of ludicrous comedies about a bear who becomes a cop.  Little does he realize that much of America has little appetite for a movie that's basically about black people killing a bunch of white people.  It doesn't "play in Peoria." Ironically, two years later brought The Birth of a Nation, director Nate Parker's ambitious attempt to tell the story of another slave uprising: the 1831 revolt led by Nat Turner in Virginia. The movie met with a relatively … [Read more...]

Not One of Us: How a North Carolina Election in 1972 Presaged Today’s Politics

Remember the old saw about how history repeats itself, "first as tragedy, then as farce"? The 2012 political spoof The Campaign may be a farce, but it recalls a tragic election that changed the course of politics in America. In the film, Zach Galifianakis plays Marty Huggins, an eccentric upstart who challenges long-term Rep. Cam Brady, who expected to run unopposed. The film, directed by Jay Roach, mastermind of the execrable Meet the Parents series, does not offer sharp political satire, but it’s at least infected with a touch of Tea Party-era lunacy. Zach is not the first Galifianakis to run for office.  Forty-five years ago, his uncle Nick battled conservative commentator Jesse Helms … [Read more...]

A Dirty Guide to Academic Publishing

In one of my favorite 30 Rock episodes, Tracy Jordan refers to his son as “this little d-bag.” Tracy Jr. says, “I know what that means.” His father’s response is, “And yet you won’t tell me!” Academic publishing reminds me a bit of this bit. Everybody sort of knows what it is but we often aren’t exactly sure how it works. (Like sex, or the Internet.) And like most things in academia, from graduate admissions to comps to the job market, it seems opaque, mysterious, governed by unspoken rules and norms that it takes an Indiana-Jones-style quest to find out about.  As Oxford University Press editor Susan Ferber once put it: Perhaps the most critical step in the professional lives of … [Read more...]

Duke Contingent Faculty Speak Out for Fair Wages in Open Letter

We have been asked by organizers from Duke University's union for contingent faculty to publish this open letter, which speaks to Provost Sally Kornbluth about their frustration with ongoing negotiations with the university administration. Many of us at Tropics of Meta have experience with the labor movement, including the efforts to gain union representation for graduate student employees and adjunct instructors at a number of universities.  We believe strongly that the crisis of both academic employment and quality higher education can only be solved by workers themselves having a strong voice.  Otherwise, college and university administrators will continue to take advantage of academic … [Read more...]

A Trip through One Semester of Historical Methods and Theory

Almost everyone who goes to grad school in History has to do some variation on the Historiography of Everything class, where students hit the Foucault, Weber, and so forth and instructors pretend that the students will actually read Braudel's 1300+ age epic The Mediterranean. I had mine many years back at Columbia University, when I was extremely green and had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I had the opportunity to teach my own version of the course for the first time this Spring, and it required digging up all those old tomes and dusting off the syllabus from grad school.  We didn't cover everything (if that's even possible), but we had a great time chatting about the totemic … [Read more...]

The Exquisite Exquisiteness of Carol

We got this piece seven months ago and shelved it because, at the time, it didn't seem like it could be of any great relevance; the author just really, really likes a movie. And then we saw this piece in Wired on the rapid efflorescence of extreme Carol fandom online.  And we reconsidered. Go figure. Seldom has a movie so moved me as Todd Haynes's Carol. Haynes is an auteur's auteur, a throwback to the heyday of Great Directors in the 1970s.  His 1995 film Safe nearly inspired me to write a book, and his 2007 I'm Not There--a riff on the identity and iconicity of Bob Dylan--almost made me stop hating biopics. Indeed, the director's versatility and willingness to play with issues of gender … [Read more...]

Why the Civil War Happened

Slavery. … [Read more...]

Spinning through Arab America (and More) with Randa Jarrar

Despite being a slim volume, Randa Jarrar’s remarkable collection, Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, manages to take readers on a world tour of unlikely places: the shabby apartments of an Egyptian beach town, the mean streets of Yonkers, the tony Seattle home of a celebrity feminist academic.  Jarrar, who teaches creative writing at Fresno State, offers readers a dazzling array of perspectives and voices, at turns slangy and foul-mouthed and bittersweet and lyrical.  Throughout it all, though, Jarrar ties together her short stories with the thread of an Arab and Arab-American experience that is diverse and varied yet utterly distinctive. Her voice may change from story to story, but it remains frank, … [Read more...]

Atoms on the Savannah: Kari Frederickson’s Look at Cold War Dixie

University of Alabama historian Kari Frederickson’s new book offers a compelling and insightful account of the Savannah River Project, a truly epic undertaking in which the Atomic Energy Commission and the Du Pont corporation partnered to build a massive facility for producing nuclear material in the 1950s.  It offers a fascinating complement to such works as Margaret Pugh O’Mara’s Cities of Knowledge and Marko Maunula’s Guten Tag Y’all, which have explored the differing paths that Southern communities took to transform their economies after World War II.  Compared to Frederickson’s earlier book on the Dixiecrat revolt, Cold War Dixie spends relatively little time on politics.  The author’s … [Read more...]

How the Labor Movement Shot Itself in the Foot: Rock Edition

“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly,” Thom Yorke sneered on Radiohead’s seminal 1997 album OK Computer. He did not mean aesthetic ambition, of course—the band had that in spades—but the crass materialism of a yuppie careerist, the proverbial “kicking, screaming Gucci little piggy.” The next year, rapper Amil made a very different declaration on a classic Jay-Z track: “Ambition makes me so horny… My hoochie remains in a Gucci name.”  Their two perspectives on material aspiration could not be more different—the art-rocker disdains the trappings of consumerism, while Amil is totally frank about the fact that she wanted her art to succeed commercially, to bring the comforts that upward mobility … [Read more...]