Welcome to Spring 2016!

rooney mara in carol

My name is Dr. Alex Sayf Cummings, and we will be discussing the history of media and technology over the next few months in HIST 3635 and 8885. This site should help you navigate your coursework, readings, and assignments this semester. (Most of the work for HIST 8885, however, can be found at Normal Accidents.)  Other than the required books, most of the other readings for class should be available on this webpage – look for the link to the syllabus for your course on the right.  If you have any questions about the class, please do not hesitate to contact me at alexcummings@gsu.edu.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

HIST 7010: Age of Fracture

Many conservatives fundamentally saw the Cold War as a war of ideas. As such, the last quarter of the twentieth century reflected this reality–think tanks, academic journals, and partisan media outlets proliferated. The Age of Fracture, by Daniel T. Rodgers, positions itself as “a history of the ways in which understandings of identity, society, economy, nation, and time were argued out on the last decades of the century, and how those struggles of books and mind changed the ways in which social reality itself would be imagined” (2). His understanding of this quarter century was an age of fracture, in which strong notions of society, and institutional arrangements reflecting these notions, gave way to less collective social arrangements and ideas. What we should look to is the discursive shift from a focus on “society, history and power” toward one focused about “individuals, contingency, and choice”–the political and social consolidation of the thirties, forties and fifties yielded to the disaggregation of the seventies, eighties and nineties (4-5). Rodgers says that it should be understood as a qualitative shift in ideas and understandings about society.

Rodgers identifies a shift away from aggregate macroeconomics that dominated the economics profession from Keynes through the 1960’s to a microfoundational approach to macroeconomics that stressed the reduction of macroeconomic analyses down to the individual as the unit of analysis. He starts with the impact of marginalism on the economic profession and its integration by Alfred Marshall at the end of the nineteenth century, a marginalism which he says brought a modern ideal of the market into the economic discourse. That is, until Paul Samuelson of MIT synthesized John Maynard Keynes’ macroeconomic insights into the profession, which focused on aggregates, not individuals engaging in exchange. Keynesian aggregates dominated the profession until the turmoil of the 1970s, and the failure of Keynesian models (Phillips Curve) to account for stagflation, brought with it a renewal of the dedication to individual understandings of macroeconomically significant phenomena from Monetarists like Milton Friedman–Friedman’s monetarist models didn’t hold up very well either. This debate would coincide with the influx of law and economics devotees like Ronald Coase and Richard Posner on to law faculties who incorporated an understanding of the market and efficiency into the study of law–an infusion that was not without its critics. Conservative supply-side economics also developed during this period.

Moving onto discourses of power in the latter half of the twentieth century, Rodgers notes that discussion about power and its sources became less concrete and more fragmented and dispersed. One important reading of power was rooted in game theory and economics and stressed that politics and politicians could be analyzed along the same lines of individual, rationally self-interested behavior as the market had been. The new field of public choice economics, led by figures like James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, William Riker, Garrett Hardin, Kenneth Arrow, and Mancur Olson stressed that self-interested behavior was prevalent in the field of politics and that it could bring about serious systemic inefficiencies–government failures usually more serious than so-called market failures. For the left, power was social, and for E.P. Thompson it was intimately connected to classes and an understanding of domination. Thompson rejected vulgar Marxist determinism in favor of an “active, contingent, historical element of class formation,” meaning the formation of the English working class depended on its circumstances and was not inevitable. Thompson infused the importance of culture in the formation of the working class, while Antonio Gramsci would see the impact of culture from the top down, asking the question of “How do the rulers rule?” and answering through a culture of hegemony, or the imposition of the ruling class culture of the rest of society, made to appear the natural order of things. Language and its influence became a dominant motif in the social sciences as well. J.G.A. Pocock described the American Revolution as a competition between systems of language, and Clifford Geertz read diverse societies, drawing expansive conclusions out of small, but rich ritualistic events that tried to find meaning in these anthropological recurrences, not explain their structures. Michel Foucault carried the obsession with power to a new level, beginning by studying institutional power in which power was projected by projected by authorities to discipline the body and then the mind of the individual, using the prison as his archetype, but also focusing on discourses of power which “classified” and “regulated” the individual by creating “regimes of truth” in which the individual both affected and was affected by power.

In the realm of race, Rodgers examines the changing understandings of race in the final decades on the twentieth century. Starting with the inclusion of African-American Studies classes on college campuses in the sixties, “African Americans took the language of race–with all its stigmas, its social disadvantages, its pains and injuries–and reshaped it as a point of pride”; from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, to Alex Haley’s Roots, each reshaped African American identities through recasting their history “as a story of generations of pride, unquenched desire for freedom, and heroic struggle”–a new consciousness of race (116-117). Underlying this was a conviction of a common experience that united African Americans, which would be questioned starting in the seventies. William Julius Wilson’s The Declining Significance of Race argued that middle class black Americans no longer shared the same experiences of domination that the rest of black America felt. Conservative Dinesh D’Souza argued that black culture was primarily responsible for the inability of blacks to catch up to whites, not overt racism.

Looking at gender, Rodgers finds a destabilization of marriage, a restructuring of the labor force that absorbed scores of women in the 1970s, and a variety of court decisions and legislative changes tackling gender inequalities in the law. We see the discussion of patriarchy evident in this outpouring of writings by feminists, a concept that could mean “a labor system rooted in men’s expropriation of women’s unpaid family labor; for others, it was a system through which men gained domination over women’s reproductive powers by trading women as commodities in marriage and kinship exchanges; for still others, it was a system of outright physical domination constituted in rape and sexual violence.” Overall, feminists during the sixties wanted to create a unified voice for women whose understandings of the world stemmed from their own experiences, rather than those of men. The problem was, of course, that there was fractures in the feminist camp, with differential focuses and goals that did not always reconcile with each other. There were also counterfeminist groups that opposed the Equal Rights Amendment and helped grind its state ratification success to a halt. By the 1980s, the women’s alliance had nearly collapsed, with a renewed focus by women on family and a rebuke against the homogenization of women’s experiences and desires they felt feminism was bringing about, especially along lines of race and class. Feminists searched for new modes of analysis, with many settling on the gendered nature of language, some focusing on literature, others establishing the new field of Critical Legal Studies that “unmasked the hidden arbitrariness of the law’s language.” French Poststructuralists focused on hierarchical power in opposing binaries like mind/body and male/female, where one side of the equation was given a default status of normal or natural, with the other subordinated to it–language disguised the arbitrariness and instability of language. Some of the cultural backlash came from conservative women and men who read into the equal rights amendment a denial of gender differences, an assault on the family, or an uncomfortable acceptance of homosexuality, which culminated in a conservative defense of the family to counter these trends.

The era was also one in which Americans rethought their concepts of community and collective obligation, coming to new answers than the preceding decades. John Rawls’ pivotal work, A Theory of Justice, was a political philosopher’s attempt to answer what justice requires that we owe each other, taking a thought experiment–the Veil of Ignorance–and concluding that in such a situation, self-interested individuals who knew nothing about their relative talents would choose an egalitarian system of justice that focused on the well-being of the least well-off in society, making sure no one was desperately impoverished. Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick challenged Rawls’ formulation four years later in 1975 with Anarchy, State, and Utopia, formulizing justice not as an end-state, which inevitably required coercion by the state into the autonomy and liberty of individuals, but as a process–if the given, or original, distribution was just, and exchanges were just, then the distribution resulting from the exchanges must be also just. Conservatives felt themselves torn between articulating a vision of community somewhere between Nozick’s perceived atomism (or leftist nihilism) and Communistic leviathan, ultimately settling on a “local” rhetoric praising the virtue of civil society and citizenship on a small scale–”little platoons of society”. They saw universities as an avenue for promoting common experiences that develop civic-minded and virtuous individuals, so they became distressed when they saw universities eliminating traditional common experiences such as teaching the “Great Books,” as well as promulgating political correctness and instituting speech codes that stifled free speech and open inquiry on campus.

Rodgers brings Age of Fracture to a close discussing school voucher implementation, textbook wars, Constitutional originalism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has an epilogue on 9/11 as a unifying force against the late twentieth century’s trend of fracture.

Discussion Questions

    1. In Chapter two, Rodgers frames the shift toward microeconomic foundations for macroeconomics and the increasing importance of economic concepts in social debate as “the puzzle of the age.” He says “the riddle is that so abstract an idea of efficient market action should have arisen amid so much real-world market imperfection,” in which he includes “worldwide ratcheting up of global oil prices during the Arab-Israeli War of 1977,” high inflation rates, deflationary actions taken by the Federal Reserve, the Mexican government’s default of 1982, and Carter’s oil and gas price controls; is this really a tale of market imperfection?
    2. What does it mean for the black experience that race is socially constructed and not essential? Does this draw into question black racial identity and their experience with racism? Is identity totally fluid, or are there limits to what identities we can embrace?
    3. Debate into the proper method of recourse for blacks who had been harmed by racism abounded in the latter portion of the twentieth century. Does justice require individual claimants with individual wrongs, or, as Thurgood Marshall put it, is it “unnecessary in twentieth-century American to have individual Negroes demonstrate that they have been victims of racial discrimination”?
    4. Does Rodgers identify a causal mechanism for this fracturing of America? Or does he only identify the ways these intellectual currents reflected the fracturing without truly explaining the causes
    5. Rodgers first looks to how Ronald Reagan changed presidential rhetoric from a Cold War emphasis on solidarity to a “psychic optimism” that emphasized America’s positive future and the boundless dreaming on Americans that produces that future. For Rodgers, this rhetorical shift is symbolic of the larger shifts occurring in the intellectual arena, in academic journals and newly established think tanks. As an introductory analogy, detailing the more individualist, disaggregated view of American society that was developing. Is this chapter only useful as an introductory analogy to the change in the intellectual sphere, and otherwise out of place in his work, or does it play a more significant role in his thesis?

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

HIST 2110: Final Exam Study Guide

winging_it

The Cold War

Containment

Levittown

McCarthyism

Sputnik

John F. Kennedy (JFK)

Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ)

“Daisy” ad

The Civil Rights Movement

Brown v. Board of Education (1955)

Betty Friedan

The Voting Rights Act (1965)

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Stokely Carmichael

The Rise of the New Right

The Vietnam War

Watergate

Jimmy Carter

Iran Hostage Crisis

Anita Bryant

Ronald Reagan

The War on Drugs

After the Cold War

Mikhail Gorbachev

Bill Clinton

Deindustrialization

The “New Economy”

Welfare reform (1996)

America in Globalization and War

2000 Presidential election

The Iraq War (2003)

“Weapons of mass destruction”

Hurricane Katrina

Global Financial Crisis (2008)

Barack Obama

Snooki

Essay Questions:

What was “containment”?  How did anxieties over Communism influence American foreign policy and life at home in the United States?  Give at least three explicit examples of how the US government acted to fight Communism at home and abroad during the Cold War, and the consequences these actions had.

What strategies did members of the civil rights movement use to combat racist oppression of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s?  What specific tactics were used to dismantle segregation and fight for greater political, social, and economic equality during this period, and what were the movement’s greatest successes?

What did Betty Friedan mean by “the problem that has no name”?  In what ways were women limited by law and tradition in the 1950s, and in what ways did the feminist movement fight to expand freedom for women in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s?  Give specific examples of laws, court rulings, and/or cultural attitudes that changed during this period.

Why did the Pruitt-Igoe housing project fail? What social, political, and economic factors contributed to the decline of this ambitious experiment in public housing?  Be sure to cite and explain at least three factors, outlining the consequences of each for residents of Pruitt-Igoe and greater St. Louis

What factors gave rise to the New Right in the 1960s, 1970s, and the 1980s?  Why did conservatism begin to appeal to more American voters during this period, following a long period of liberal dominance from the time of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s to LBJ’s Great Society/War on Poverty in the 1960s? Be sure to cite specific issues and/or events that led to greater political success for conservatives and the Republican Party.

limit

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

HIST 7010: Suburban Exceptionalism and The Silent Majority

From Andrew:

Until recently, a key feature of the historiography of the sixties in general and the Civil Rights era in particular was the idea of the “backlash,” where the triumphs and changes made by movements focused on race, gender and sexuality, and ending the Vietnam War eventually flew to close to the sun and alienated large portions of the white working and middle class, giving rise to an ascendant conservatism exemplified by the Nixon and ultimately, Reagan administrations. This perspective changed in the early 2000’s, as a growing number of historians began examining the rise of the New Right as a kind of parallel movement to the much more studied activism of the 1950s and 1960s. Alongside historians such as Lisa McGirr, Joseph Crespino, Kevin Kruse, and Rick Perlstein, Matthew Lassiter locates the fracturing of the New Deal coalition and the era of a “New South” not in an overtly racial backlash to the Civil Rights movement, but in the growth of suburbia as a major node of power in American Society. The Silent Majority primarily focuses on Atlanta and Charlotte as case studies of how “the primary demographic forces behind postwar political realignment in the New South became the sprawling middle-class suburbs and the expanding black electorate, not the defiant Dixiecrats and the defeated massive resisters” (Lassiter, 41). Lassiter expands his focus towards the end of the book to make a compelling case against the ideas of Southern Exceptionalism, the divide over de jure versus de facto segregation, and the successes of a “Southern Strategy” in electoral politics in lieu of an emphasis on the meritocratic ideal of the suburbs couched in the language of the rights of property owners and freedom of choice in terms of education.

Lassiter begins by looking at Atlanta. “The city too busy to hate” and “capital of the New South” provides a key window into postwar changes in the region. Following Brown v. Board, tensions in Atlanta existed not only between whites and African-Americans, but between the rural denizens espousing massive resistance against de-segregation, including shuttering all private schools, and the residents of Atlanta’s northern suburbs, who sought a program of peaceful one-way integration that would not tarnish the city’s reputation for corporate expansion (Lassiter, 45). Lassiter spotlights the grassroots nature of suburban activism by focusing on Help Our Public Education (HOPE), founded by two suburban mothers to prevent disruptions in their children’s education (61). HOPE was virulently castigated by proponents of massive resistance as it shattered their contention that all of white Georgia was united against the prospect of school desegregation (78). HOPE became an exemplar of “pragmatic segregation”, where a small handful of high-achieving black students would be admitted into white schools, meeting the bare minimum requirements of desegregation while avoiding outright integration. While these activists could be seen favorably compared to the demagoguery of massive resisters, Lassiter writes that “Atlanta’s open-schools movement never countered the segregationist crusade to preserve southern tradition with an alternative argument about the responsibility to atone for injustices of the past, but instead with a color-blind vision of a prosperous future liberated entirely from the burdens of southern history” (104). Lassiter ends his section on Atlanta by chronicling the failures of the city to annex the growing northern suburbs, leading to segregation along residential lines which shaped the future of the city. In switching the focus to Charlotte, Lassiter provides an example with similar origins but a different ending.

In switching to Charlotte, Lassiter explains the “Charlotte Way” as “a civic ideology that embraced the Sunbelt Synthesis of economic progress through racial moderation while managing to avoid the hubristic excesses of Atlanta Exceptionalism” (128). After an attempt at a limited, voluntary desegregation plan led to a white mob assaulting a black student, Charlotte’s civic and business leaders devised a new plan to ensure order and prevent violence while attempting to forge a biracial consensus (128-129). When the limits of one-way desegregation led to a push for two-way busing and integration, the Concerned Parents Association (CPA) fought back using language that stressed ideas of taxpayer rights and privileges, rather than outright racial animus, to try and thwart complete integration. Using the CPA as a prime example of “the Silent Majority” as coined by the Nixon administration, Lassiter notes how these “Forgotten Americans” managed to appropriate the language of individual freedoms and rights from Civil Rights leaders while simultaneously ignoring the origins of racial, residential segregation. An ahistorical viewpoint of color-blind individualism and merit that Lassiter states “underlay[s] a predisposition to reject-or more often to fail to even consider-the abstract proposition that the government’s culpability in concentrating black residents in a certain part of the city should have any personal impact on middle-class lifestyles” (142). Charlotte differs from Atlanta by the ability of the city to incorporate its growing suburbs, leading to an interracial alliance against upper class proponents of busing that were unaffected by its implementation (194-5). Following these case studies, Lassiter looks at the bigger picture of how the suburbs have shaped modern America.

As we noted in our last meeting, racial integration, busing in particular, is hardly a phenomena occurring solely in the South. As the suburban model spread throughout the nation, Lassiter puts a finger on why measures like busing lead to such virulent reactions. “The meritocratic ethos celebrated throughout America’s upper-middle-class suburbs has always contained two central contradictions: the refusal to acknowledge that any historical forces greater than individual accomplishment shaped the spatial patterns of the metropolitan landscape and the ‘neighborhood schools’ presumption that children of privilege should receive every advantage of the consumer affluence accumulated by their parents instead of competing on an egalitarian playing field” (217). This analysis repudiates the idea of de jure segregation being a different species than de facto segregation, where the former is Un-American and remediable while the latter is simply a product of circumstance. The failure of Bradley v. Richmond to withstand appeal, due in large part to a “massive resistance” of middle class families up to the Nixon administration prevented a wide-scale challenge to segregation resulting from residential patterns (292-3). Going forward, this allowed for a view that segregation was not a shame of the nation, but something that was triumphantly defeated and relegated to the past. Suburban politics have become the dominate politics of modern America, with a focus every electoral cycle on “soccer moms”, naïve or cynical declarations that racism is over, and the primacy of property rights over individual lives. Near the end of his work, Lassiter states that “the dominant ethos of American suburbia has always idealized the present and celebrated the future at the expense of any critical reflection on the past” (322-3). In many ways, this ethos has spread beyond the artificial boundaries of the gated communities where it spawned and became an ethos for national politics in the twenty first century. In short, we can never get away from the sprawl.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Throughout the book, opponents of busing speak in a “color-blind” language of meritocracy and the rights of taxpayers. How does this construction of rights fit in to our ongoing discussion about the nature of rights?
  1. On page 115 Lassiter writes “the resilience of Atlanta Exceptionalism lies in the futuristic amalgamation of pieces from across the American landscape: The Sunbelt growth ideology of Houston and Los Angeles, the Rust Belt poverty of Detroit and Newark, the elitist enclaves of Manhattan and Grosse Pointe, the consumer ethos of suburban privilege that extends from the subdivisions of Orange County to the townships of New Jersey and Connecticut.” Taken as a sum of its parts, can Atlanta be seen as a microcosm of post Civil Rights America?
  1. Most Americans are familiar with Brown v. Board and the 1964/1965 Civil Rights/Voting Rights Acts. Have other Supreme Court decisions mentioned in The Silent Majority such as Baker v. Carr, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Bradley v. Richmond, and Milliken v. Bradley been neglected in discussing the triumphs and shortcomings of the Civil Rights Era?
  1. Do you agree with Lassiter’s argument that “de-facto” segregation is a historical fiction?
  1. How does The Silent Majority demonstrate the limits of the American Constitutional system in addressing systematic issues such as racism and barriers to socioeconomic mobility? Is one of the jobs of The Supreme Court correcting the injustices of the past?
Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

HIST 2110: Lecture Slides

1059119

Below you will find the basic outlines for most of the lectures over the course of the semester. Please keep in mind these are only outlines; the lectures for the remainder of the semester are subject to change, and the material we cover will often diverge from the slides, meaning that regular attendance is critical. These slides offer a skeleton that you can flesh out by taking better and more extensive notes in class.  It would be ideal if you printed out or copied down these outlines before coming to class so you have the opportunity to take fuller notes on the lecture.

  1. Origins of American Settlement
  2. Slavery and the Atlantic World
  3. Spiritual America
  4. The Rights of an Englishman
  5. Nation or Confederation?
  6. Life in the Early Republic
  7. A White Man’s Country
  8. Democracy in Crisis
  9. The Second American Revolution
  10. Reconstructing a Nation
  11. Industrializing a Continent
  12. Thinking the People
  13. The Yen for Reform
  14. The Progressives’ War
  15. The World of the 1920s
  16. America: Back to the Drawing Board
  17. A Democratic Culture?
  18. The Ideological War
  19. Building a Free World
  20. The Third American Revolution
  21. Vietnam and the Rise of the New Right
  22. The Washington Consensus
  23. America in Globalization and War
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

HIST 7010: The Strange Career(s) of Jim Crow

From Anna Tucker:

Throughout the semester, we’ve discussed various representations of rights in U.S. history, including intellectual property rights and copyright, citizenship rights, labor union rights, and socioeconomic access rights. This week’s readings provide a broad platform of discourse where we can further engage in our conversations about rights and their formulation. In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, C. Vann Woodward presents rights as a non-fixed attribute of society, subject to contractions and expansions through a variety of legal and societal forces. Danielle McGuire’s “It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped,” meanwhile, explores how rights come in various forms – such as over your own body – and how they are often enforced (or denied) beyond the scope of the legal system.

The Strange Career of Jim Crow – C. Vann Woodward

The Strange Career of Jim Crow is based on a series of lectures C. Vann Woodward delivered in 1954 at University of Virginia directly following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education. Woodward argues that segregation was not a static or inevitable feature of the South, but instead, the South’s undulating history was already a succession of alterations to traditional norms and values. Throughout this oft-cited work, Woodward contends with William Graham Sumner’s determinist perspective that “stateways cannot change folkways” (103).

In its first edition, The Strange Career of Jim Crow provides a chronological overview of segregation’s fluid history using evidence from legal recourse and its social implications. Beginning with the experimental milieu of post-Civil War Reconstruction and moving into the heated political environment of the 1890s, the 1955 edition reviews the sudden expansion of segregation in the early twentieth century, culminating with impressive emotional force in the opening of rights for the black community during the “Second Reconstruction” (8). The 1966 second edition provides an overview of 1955-1965, championing the efforts of individuals and organizations who presumably nailed closed the coffin of Jim Crow. Yet the 1974 third edition, as noted by William McFeely, is a sobering perspective on the unraveling of these de-segregation efforts as federal support dwindled and identity crises sparked separatist initiatives among the black community.

Throughout his discourse, Woodward proposes several history-turning perspectives. Terming segregation as “physical,” not “social,” Woodward posited that segregation was not inherent in Southern antebellum slavery due to the physical closeness that was necessary to exert control as well as the unintended “intimacy” of “residential intermixture” (xi, 14). While acknowledging some extralegal forms of segregation, Woodward uses first person narratives to describe the flexible nature of this interracial closeness during a time period when white Southerners struggled to understand and exert dominance in a slaveless society (42, 25).

Additionally, Woodward presents a non-teleological proposal that there were several alternatives to early twentieth century segregation, reviewing how various political forces (Northern liberals, populists, and Southern conservatives) sought black votes, but whose ultimate abandonment of interracial political support resulted in the “South’s adoption of extreme racism […], due not so much to a conversion as it was to a relaxation of the opposition” (69).

Woodward’s lectures and subsequent publication of The Strange Career of Jim Crow sent waves through the historic profession and beyond, fanning the flames of historians’ interest in civil rights subjects and influencing others in nondeterminative racial discourse, including his doctoral student, Barbara Fields. Woodward’s narrative reverberated beyond the ivory towers, and even impacted Martin Luther King, Jr., who referenced Woodward before the crowd in Selma with his assertion that “racial segregation as a way of life […] did not come about as a natural result of the hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War” (231).

“It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped” – Danielle L. McGuire

Continuing a review of rights during segregation, McGuire presents stories of black women who were victims of sexual violence to illustrate how this form of attack is a “psychological and physical […] tool of oppression” and “reminded black women that their bodies were not their own” (907). This 2004 study is born out of a dearth of rape analysis in the civil rights history and uses the case of Betty Jean Owens as a structural framework. The young woman, attacked by four men in 1959 as she returned from a Florida A&M dance, testified publicly in a trial that resulted in the unprecedented conviction of white men for the rape of a black woman (910).

Black women were subjected to multiple and frequent forms of sexual violence during the civil rights movement and prior, including rape, public exposure, and forced hysterectomies (910). Despite this rampant and invasive violence, a “culture of dissemblance” intensified among the black community to “counter negative stereotypes” of miscegenation and sexual projection, thereby muzzling many rape survivors (and inadvertently, hindering historical review) (914). But this “culture of dissemblance” existed concurrently with a “tradition of testimony,” whereby black women spoke out about sexual violence despite the imposed moral imperative of silence (914). Speaking out served as a reclamation of the body, a public appeal to exhibit the terroristic nature of this oppression and galvanize opposition to it, as shown by the massive community response to Owens’ testimony (910).

Women were not the only members of the black community controlled by sexual violence; men were also subject to this societal persecution. Lynching and state execution were the South’s ways of dealing with black men accused of raping white women, and black men were subject to both stereotypes of the “black beast rapist” as well as rendered virtually helpless to protect themselves and black women from years of sexual violence (918, 919).

Within this tragically oppressive environment, Owens’ testimony proved to be monumental. The trial itself countered years of silence about racial sexual violence, disrobed the shame and assumption of “unchasteness,” and forced the nation to stand witness to this upset of traditional sexual stereotypes that “highlighted the bitter ironies of segregation and ‘social equality’” (919, 923). While many disagreed with the relatively toothless “guilty with the recommendation for mercy” verdict, others were hopeful at this turn of events that Owens claimed was “perhaps the first time since Reconstruction [that] southern black communities could imagine state power being deployed in defense of their respectability as men and women” (927, 908).

McGuire’s “It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped” presents so many opportunities for discourse about the civil rights era, including gender and sexual stereotypes; community identity and galvanization; sexual violence as a form of white supremacy control; conflicting tensions and traditions of public testimony; and even global influence and response to sexual violence in the South. While at times tangential, the article effectively argues the need to review sexual violence as a tool of significant control over black women and men during the civil rights era. As Princeton University historian Tera Hunter is quoted, “freedom was meaningless without ownership and control over one’s own body” (908).

Discussion Questions:

  1. In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Woodward states, “This is not to contend that the Negro’s status has been what one historian has called the ‘central theme’ or basic determinant of Southern history. There is in fact an impressive amount of evidence indicating that the Negro’s status and changes therein have been the product of more impersonal forces” (6-7). While this statement is a fairly obvious clue of Woodward’s influence on Barbara Fields’ later works, what evidence does Woodward present about these ‘impersonal forces,’ if any? Do you believe Fields would present this history differently?
  2. McGuire’s “It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped” presents sexual violence as a form of control during the civil rights and preceding eras. Are there other evidences of sexual control from our previous readings this semester, and how do we see evidence of this oppression today, specifically in Hunter’s view that “freedom [is] meaningless without ownership and control over one’s own body” (908)?
  3. Using evidence from both Woodward and McGuire, who do they believe controlled the power to extend or rescind rights? How is agency used, if at all, by these groups and/or individuals?
  4. William Graham Sumner believed laws cannot change a society’s supposedly inherent values. While Woodward disagrees with viewing values as a static part of society, his third edition expresses disappointment that even with the legal progress of the 1950s-60s, there were “genuine needs that the struggle against segregation had not fulfilled” (viii). To what extent do you believe laws can influence society’s perspective or direction?
  5. With Woodward’s need to create two additional updates to The Strange Career of Jim Crow within twenty years of his first edition, there is a sentiment that the civil rights timeline is challenging to encompass with no firm end. Since 1974, how do you feel the discussion about civil rights has changed?
Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

HIST 7010: The Straight State by Margot Canaday

By Leslie and Jodie

In The Straight State, Princeton University legal and political historian, Margot Canaday, examines the federal bureaucratic process in which U.S. citizens were labeled “others” and excluded from the rights of citizenry. Canaday examines three branches of the government, which construct American citizenry, including immigration, the military, and social/welfare programs. The growth in the permanent military and welfare state, with vastly expanded bureaucratic capabilities and controls, parallels America’s interest in homosexuality and its policing and proscription. Through an initially slow progress beginning in the Progressive era and WWI, federal agencies grew significantly with the New Deal before reaching a regulatory apex in the post-WWII years, when homosexuals were fully formulated as same-sex desiring and/or gender nonconforming threats to status quo heteronormativity and were targeted for exclusion from state benefits and full citizenship.

Canady’s analysis thus traces the political and legal history that helped crystalize the concept of “homosexuality” as both a legal status and identity. She explores the use of official coded language, as homosexuals were targeted for exclusion within American society, and that language was soon applied to policies that would impact immigration, military/civil service, and social service benefits.  Drawing upon copious archived federal records, she crafts her six chapters—divided equally into two parts—starting with immigration, moving to the military, and then centering two chapters about state benefits at the heart of the study, straddling parts one and two. The break in the book’s two sections reflects pre- and post-WWII eras, the former tracing a more vague and hedging reaction to queer Americans (and would-be Americans) while the latter era exhibited a more dramatic escalation in the federal policing of homosexuality. Her narrative thus follows an effective and interesting thematic pattern: immigration-military-state benefits-state benefits-military-immigration.

Early in the twentieth century the Bureau of Immigration linked the opportunity for citizenship to morality. Though not well defined, aliens who were considered morally inept were subject to denial of citizenship and deportation (24). While homosexuals were not targeted according to law and regulation (and codified language), specifically, nonetheless ostensibly queer individuals could be spotted by telltale physical attributes and would face deportation for being at risk of becoming a charge of the state—a sufficiently capacious allegation that could embrace almost anyone infirm or somehow undesirable and also lacking sufficient wealth and connections to get them off the hook.

Imperfections in the body combined with inquiries into the intimate details of an immigrant’s life provided an easy avenue of condemnation. Of particular concern were signs of effeminacy in males, anything suggesting queer or less than physically sound in a masculine sense.

Over the span of time Canady notes that although legislation related to and used to identify homosexuals and other queer social rejects shifted from perceived physical characteristics to the realm of mental disorders, the process for excluding homosexuals still required that psychiatrists were an integral part of the process. It would take another twenty years to eliminate the role of psychiatrists in deciding homosexual identity. Although, immigration officials are not allowed to questions aliens sexual preferences, aliens were still questioned indirectly regarding their sexual practices. If discrepancies were detected the immigration status of an alien could be affected.

Chapter 2 Canady analyzes the military industrial complex and discusses tactics utilized by the government to exclude citizens from military service. Similar to policies adapted by the Bureau of Immigration, the military deployed language that othered the citizenry out of service. Canady points out that the military made the jump to link homosexuality to psychopathic behavior whereas immigration linked the new-fangled sexual identity to degenerate behavior (57).

Due to vice activity near bases, the military launched campaigns aimed at keeping soldiers physically healthy and morally upright. The military employed similar requirements as immigration when inducing aliens for military service. Recruits were subjected examination which targeted perceived imperfections of the body (62). For example, men who were labeled as having effeminate characteristics were excluded from service. Some recruits were subjected to multiple examinations.

The military began to gradually shift its focus from physical characteristics to psychological ones. Based on psychological profiles, which were originally intended to place recruits in a job field, tests were developed to determine which recruits were eligible for service. The theory was that degenerate behavior was not necessarily linked to low intelligence. The military began to devise tests that relied on abnormalities in personalities as tool to exclude the citizenry from service.

Moving into the latter twentieth century, the military adopted similar language and exclusionary policies as other governmental agencies. That is, once homosexuality was no longer considered a mental disorder, the military no longer used psychological tests as a means to exclude homosexuals from service. With the passing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, gays were allowed to serve in the uniformed service so long as they kept their sexual preference hidden.

Lastly Canady delves into the federal world of social services. During the Depression the government established New Deal programs to address growing social welfare concerns. One of the programs was aimed primary at men who traveled hobo-style in search of employment, the much suspected and maligned Federal Transient Program. Another program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), was aimed at male youths and intended to prevent them from migrating to other areas of the country and potentially falling prey a queer lifestyle. The FTP was quickly disbanded by the Second New Deal, believed to be a hotbed for perversity among the unattached “bums” in gendered camps, but the latter lasted much longer. The CCC might still exist were conservatives in the 1940s not so determined to dismantle the New Deal social welfare state, to be replaced with the 1944 GI Bill. While some politicians at the time would have been happy to simply dismantle the welfare state and forgo the GI Bill, the abandonment of sixteen million returning veterans to an uncertain, potentially wanadering and unattached (read queer) life was essentially unthinkable. The GI Bill, however, selectively rewarded veterans and heteronormativity and did so at the expense of women, non-whites, and, most especially, homosexuals who did not completely closet their lifestyle. Homosexual was now a distinct legal and proscribed species, thanks to the expansion of a bureaucratic state that chose to legitimize and wield the term “homosexual” to create a brand of second-class citizenship.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1) Canaday sets out to “complicate what has now become a standard interpretation within the field of gay and lesbian history…that extreme state repression of sex and gender nonconformity in the mid-twentieth century was the result of the sudden visibility of gays and lesbians during and after World War II” (2). She posits instead that the constitution and persecution/prosecution of homosexuality only came about after a considerable period of time when the state had time to “puzzle before they power” (3). Do you agree? To what degree is her argument valid?

2) The author argues that “the state crafted citizenship policies that crystallized homosexual identity” (10), which is certainly true, but do you think she ever overstates her case? Is she downplaying the role of sexology, psychology, and religion?

3) The scope of the book stretches from the Progressive era of “muscular Christianity” and vaunting of all that is masculine to the post-WWII extreme of heteronormativity. Considering the fact that a considerable degree of same-sex sexuality and queerness was officially intentionally overlooked, excused, or even condoned, is Canaday overstating the binariness, as it were, of heteronormativity? In other words, is there more that is “queer” going on here, and thus her abstractions rob her subjects of agency?

4) It seems that LGBTs/homosexuals, however defined/labeled over time, have been USED to “other” and promote one or another political agenda. Deployments of “homosexual” or other such language and concepts are useful when the government desires to limit state benefits (FTP) and promote New Deal programs (CCC) or otherwise maintain and vaunt conservative ideals and anti-socialist, anti-communist agendas in the post-war era of the permanent military-industrial complex. Is her analysis of the evolution of the bureaucratizing of “homosexuality” overly boxy, like her sources, not faithfully considering political motivation and ORIGINS of homophobic sentiment, say, in psychology and religion?

5) Considering her sources and organization, did she give women short shrift? Were there really no records documenting, say, the Lumber Jills? Are the federal records so very silent on the topic of women and homosexuality pre-WWII?

6) On page 168 Canaday asks: “Did the specter of perverse sexuality cast a shadow on the idea of universal social provision?” And in a footnote she continues. “This is, of course, a highly speculative point, but one that I intend to suggest future avenues for research….Is there a relationship between the universal social citizenship provided by the Beveridge plan in Britain and the government’s 1957 Wolfenden Report, recommending the decriminalization of homosexual offenses (…enacted in 1967…) What should historians make of the fact that the most socially democratic welfare states (in Scandinavia) have generally been the most progressive in providing rights for sexual minorities? Closer to home, is it only a coincidence that the first state to enact same-sex marriage (Massachusetts) followed that legislation with a pathbreaking plan to provide to its citizens universal health care in the nation?”

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments