Celebrating faculty books

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Before dispersing for the summer, friends of the Program in American Studies gathered to celebrate books published by teaching faculty and executive committee members during the 2017-18 academic year. The books engage with texts and narratives from the 1600s to the present that, though in many cases long absent from public discussion, have left their imprints in American law, language, landscape, iconography and ideas.

Professor of English and American Studies Sarah Rivett’s Unscripted America (Oxford University Press, 2017) explores the linguistic and literary consequences of indigenous and European peoples’ encounters, and of early missionary translators’ recognition of language as an encoding of culture, of distinct ideas and cosmos. Rivett has noted that “[t]his project is more about the failures than the successes of translation.”

Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty Hendrik Hartog, in The Trouble with Minna: A Case of Slavery and Emancipation in the Antebellum North (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), follows an obscure 1840 lawsuit by one white slaveholder of another for recompense for the cost of care eventually deemed “mere voluntary courtesy” by the New Jersey Supreme Court — a phrase which, Hartog details, was later cited as precedent for legal principles that long outlasted the circumstances of its writing.

Assistant Professor of History Rosina Lozano’s An American Language: The History of Spanish in the United States (University of California Press, 2018) tells how Spanish, between 1848 and 1945, went from being a language of colonial rule in what became the American Southwest to being a language associated with immigrants and the indigenous, outside some definitions of American identity and used to define them.

In The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America (Harvard University Press, 2018), Assistant Professor of History Beth Lew-Williams shows how mid- and late 19th-century American immigration policies incited anti-Chinese violence, and how governmental choices of expulsion and exclusion in response produced modern American concepts of the “alien.”

Alison Isenberg, professor of history, writes in Designing San Francisco: Art, Land and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay (Princeton University Press, 2017) of redevelopment efforts led not by architects and planners but by artists, preservationists, photographers, public interest lawyers and numerous allies in the arts who debated and disputed public land use more than they assessed design and landscape aesthetics. Isenberg tells of a cast of actors and a narrative largely absent from histories of preservationists versus developers in the years between the 1940s and ’70s.

In subsequent decades, proposes Professor of Dance Judith Hamera in Unfinished Business: Michael Jackson, Detroit, and the Figural Economy of American Deindustrialization (Oxford University Press, 2017), the highly mediated spectacle of Jackson and Detroit fallen on hard times exemplified the erasure of African Americans’ creative agency in imaginings of an industrial era seen to be passing.

All of the books are available in print and electronically.