The Deep, Frustrating, Complicated History of the Anti-Vax Movement

Do you feel feverish? Impotent? Suffer from ADD? You might have been vaccinated! Call the attorneys at Tropics of Meta at 976-HOT-TOMS to join our class action lawsuit against Big Science. In the latest episode of our sister podcast Doomed to Repeat, we delve into the gory glories of the anti-vaccination movement.  We obviously have strong feelings about the issue (all of our kids are enrolled at Los Feliz Daycare, after all).  But we wanted to talk to some bonafide historians of science, medicine, and public health to understand the contemporary movement to get to the bottom of this problem, and really understand the deeper historical and cultural roots of vaccine skepticism.  In the … [Read more...]

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...]

Looking Back at American Studies on the 4th of July

Lady Liberty has, admittedly, seen better days--bring us your awesome, bring us your amazing, bring us your winners, but not your losers, not your bleeding Syrian refugee children, please, OK? Sad! But those of us who are native-born or newly minted Americans still find the country fascinating, infuriating, and crazy.  On this most festive of days, it is good to keep in mind all that is decent, inspiring, creative, and complex about the United States and its culture. Over the years, ToM has covered a wide range of issues, from copyright to foreign policy to sports (the latter thanks mostly to our senior dude correspondents, Ryan Reft and Adam Gallagher). Our instincts have always run toward … [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...]

Katherine Dunham: The Artist as Activist During World War II

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was a world-renowned choreographer who broke many barriers of race and gender, most notably as an African American woman whose dance company toured the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia for several decades. In Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora (Oxford, 2017), author Joanna Dee Das argues Dunham was more than a dancer; she was an intellectual and activist committed to using dance to fight for racial justice. At the same time, Dunham struggled to balance these social justice goals with her artistic career, financial needs, and personal desires. The following excerpt is the introduction to Chapter Four, which explores how … [Read more...]

The Long History of Americans Getting Their Drink On: Our Interview with William Rorabaugh

Last week, we talked with Jonathan Baker of Atlanta's Monday Night Brewing about the ins and outs of getting into the beer business, amid the revolution in American drinking habits over the last decade or two.  We also pondered broader shifts and currents in Americans' attitudes toward booze over time, especially regionally within the United States and as compared to other countries. To go a little deeper, we also decided to talk to the great historian William Rorabaugh of the University of Washington, whose seminal 1979 book The Alcoholic Republic is basically the Citizen Kane of historical whiskey bingeing.  Alex's interview can be found here, with some really fascinating insights … [Read more...]

The Real Drunk History: Exploring the Rise of Craft Beer in Atlanta

Episode 2 of Doomed to Repeat Live from Young Augustine's, the great professor haunt in Atlanta's Grant Park, we delve into the history of beer and the revolution in American drinking habits in the last thirty years.  People have become beer snobs in just the way people have always been wine snobs, but the upside is that we all have a vastly greater range of tastes to sample, from double IPAs to goses to summer ales.  What prompted these changes in the beer market, and how have they changed American culture? We talk the long history of booze and politics in American life, such as the stigmatization of drinking with respect to immigrant and religious groups and rural … [Read more...]

Remembering–and Not Forgetting–on Memorial Day

We recognize that Memorial Day is primarily a holiday to commemorate those who have died fighting to defend their country.  It grew out of the complex and sensitive process of how Americans, North and South, would figure out how to recognize the sacrifices of soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War.  And Americans have given their lives in many causes--some that were just, some that were, alas, transparently fraudulent--but almost always with dignity and courage, often at extraordinary cost to themselves and their families.  Frankly, most of us today are not as brave as those who have risked life and limb in uniform, remaining content to let others fight our wars for … [Read more...]

White Poverty and the Legacy of Slavery in the US South

While the moonlight-and-magnolias myth of the Old South continues to persist, the region’s history actually is much more sinister and grim – even for many white Southerners. Recently scholars have revealed the brutal, bloody realities of slavery in the late-antebellum Deep South. Yet to truly understand the gross inequalities endemic to slave societies, it is also important to acknowledge what happens to excess workers when a capitalist system is predicated on slave labor. With the rising global demand for cotton, and thus, slaves, in the 1840s and 1850s, the need for white laborers in the American South was drastically reduced, creating a large underclass who were unemployed or … [Read more...]

Why the Civil War Happened

Slavery. … [Read more...]