Reviewed: “Revising the Holocaust” (January 28, 2020), Hosted by the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University

(Photo taken by author on May 26th, 2019, at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany. The memorial opened on May 10th, 2005 and was designed by the architect Peter Eisenman. The exhibit features a field of 2,710 concrete “stelae” (upright stone columns), which rest on an uneven surface that covers 19,023 square meters. The memorial is located in central Berlin on Cora-Berliner-Straβe and the website for the memorial can be found here.)

By Kyle Scripko

On the night of January 28th, 2020, only a day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest held its fourth installment of their Revisionist History conversation series, “Revising the Holocaust,” in the Driscoll Auditorium at Villanova University. At the beginning of this lecture, Jason Steinhauer, the Director for the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest and mediator of the discussion, stated that, although the Revisionist History events seek to challenge historical topics, “we vigorously reject any effort to deny a well-documented history of that campaign of systematic mass murder.” The panel collectively embraced the idea that “revisionism” must avoid Holocaust denial and that “any honest intellectual discussion of the evolving scholarship on the Holocaust must start by acknowledging the basic historical fact of the Holocaust.”

panel image

(Screenshot by author, from the Villanova University video of the Revising the Holocaust Panel. This image shows the panelists, including: Dr. Paul Steege (far left), Associate Professor of History and Faculty Director of the Lepage Center at Villanova University; Dr. Devin Pendas (second from the left), Professor of History and the current Director of Graduate Studies in the Boston College Department of History; Dr. Jennifer Rich (second from the right), Associate Professor of Sociology at Rowan University and the Executive Director of the Rowan Center for the Study of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights; and Jason Steinhauer (far right), Director of the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest).

Steinhauer then introduced the first panelist, Dr. Jennifer Rich, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Rowan University. Dr. Rich focuses on Holocaust and genocide education and she is the Executive Director of the Rowan Center for the Study of Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights. The next panelist introduced was Dr. Devin Pendas of Boston College. Dr. Pendas is a Professor of History and the current Director of Graduate Studies in the Boston College Department of History. His research focus is on the criminal trials and the Denazification process of post-WWII Germany and Holocaust historiography. The last panelist introduced was Dr. Paul Steege, an Associate Professor of History and Faculty Director of the Lepage Center at Villanova University. Dr. Steege is a historian of everyday life and Berlin with a particular focus on violence and the ways it was integrated into the lives of ordinary people during the twentieth century.

The first half of the discussion focused on the historiographical debates of the Holocaust. Pendas began the discussion with what he called the “two strands of Holocaust historiography.” He stated that through much of the post-war era, the historiography of the Holocaust was largely broken into a “history of Jews” and a “history of the perpetrators.” Pendas claimed that, for a while, these two types of histories were “relatively agenda-driven” and often pinned against one another. It was not until the early 2000s, with the work Saul Friedländer, that the history of the Holocaust gained the perspective of “integrated histories of the Holocaust.” As Pendas asserted, “these were not separate events” but “were aspects of the same story.” He also brought up situating the Holocaust within the broader studies of genocide, which itself has sparked controversy among historians, as debates continue today about the differences and similarities between the Holocaust and other genocides.

Rich then joined the conversation with her view of how the Holocaust fits within the broader discussion of genocide. She asserted that the Holocaust cannot be situated in a binary of one or the other, asserting that “the Holocaust is both one of many and unique in its own way.” She then went on to discuss the difference between learning “from” the Holocaust and learning “about” the Holocaust, a point that served as a theme for other discussions later that night. The former is about learning and attaching “nebulous lessons” from the Holocaust to everyday life, while the latter is about the facts of the Holocaust. Both methodologies have their values and pitfalls, but Rich emphasized that the general term “human rights encompasses all of it,” and gives people “a broader umbrella in which to think about these things.”

Steege joined the discussion with his perspective on how the debates within scholarly circles manifest themselves within public discussion and interest. He specifically referred to the “Goldhagen controversy” that took place following the publishing of Daniel Goldhagen’s book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners. This book was a response to Christopher Browning’s book, Ordinary Men. The two Historians used many of the same primary sources but came to very different conclusions. Browning believes that the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 should be humanized and that historians should observe the pressures of a group setting when asking how ordinary men became mass killers.[1] Meanwhile, Goldhagen argues that, due to the nature of German society and antisemitism, a vast majority of ordinary Germans were prepared and willing to kill Jews.[2] A public debate filmed by C-Span at the Holocaust Research Institute in 1996 highlights the controversy starring these two historians and the question of what to call the perpetrators.

The second half of the panel discussion focused on public memory and teaching the Holocaust. The medium of film as an educational tool for teaching the Holocaust came into the conversation and Rich talked about her work with the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” Rich claimed that this movie is the number one movie watched in American classrooms for Holocaust education. However, this is simply because it is PG-13 and short enough to be shown in the average American classroom. Rich emphasized that, as a tool of Holocaust education, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is “almost completely ahistorical” as most of the events that happened in this film could have never happened during the Holocaust. Rich went on to say that the only “silver lining” of this movie is that it gets students interested in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, she fears that through watching the movie, students will feel “cleansed” and then “done” with learning about the Holocaust.

At this point, Pendas chimed in with his take on the risks of teaching and learning “from” the Holocaust. He felt that using “universalizing fables” of the Holocaust are problematic as they do little more than tell a moral tale for students to just “be nice” with a “backdrop of the Holocaust.” Rich came back into the conversation with another problem that comes out of teaching the Holocaust: teachers asking their students “how many people here think you would be a rescuer?” She affirmed that this is problematic as every kid in the class would raise their hand at the question. These types of questions fail to look at the gray areas of the Holocaust, such as the decisions people made to rescue or denounce their neighbors. Rich also countered Pendas’ point about the “be nice” lesson of the Holocaust and clarified that lessons about nationalism, racism, and xenophobia can still be learned “from” the Holocaust.

Steege came back into the conversation with the grounding statement that one of the most important things to consider with the Holocaust is the realization that “this, in fact, is possible.” He claimed that we have this assumption that we can identify with the victims of the Holocaust and therefore give ourselves the moral high ground. Steege brought up the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., as an appropriate example. The museum gives each visitor an identity card of someone who was a victim of the Holocaust and, although it is a humanizing experience, Steege suggested that the museum should give out identity cards without the guest knowing whether the person was a victim or a perpetrator. He said that this idea is a “provocative” one, but that it would “underscore the ways in which the lines between complicity and resistance are blurred,” and that this would help visitors “delve into these gray areas as opposed to acting as if they were absolute moral certainties.”

Steinhauer shifted the conversation to the confrontational questions people bring to the sites of the Holocaust and how this necessitates an educational challenge to combat denial and calls forth a need for effective teaching strategies. Steege spoke of the recent reports of students who were going to camps and asking questions linked to denial, as well as his first time visiting Auschwitz and the surreal feeling of hearing the phrase “Taxi? Taxi to Auschwitz? Taxi?” He said that this really gets at the “question of obligation” and how at one end people go to the camps to learn while others feel this sense of obligation to “check the box” on their European tour. “The lessons [at the camps] don’t go without saying,” said Steege. “And I think that’s precisely where historians and educators come in.” Rich suggested that one way to teach the Holocaust is by taking new scholarship and marrying it with effective pedagogic strategies. She argued that teachers should be using new integrated technologies, such as Instagram and YouTube, to teach about the Holocaust; as teachers, “we have an obligation for meeting our students where they are.”

This timely discussion of “Revising the Holocaust” was well informed and may have left the audience questioning some of their previous assumptions of what “revising” the Holocaust actually looks like. As Pendas asserted, the term “revisionist” has been “poached” by Holocaust deniers in order to downplay and lie about the facts of the Holocaust. Discussions similar to the ones held by the Lepage Center have potential for reclaiming the practice of revisionist history. The panel did not stray away from the facts of the Holocaust, in fact, they embraced the idea that there are still more facts to be discovered about the Holocaust. Before opening up the floor for questions from the audience, Steinhauer concluded the talk with a statement that not only gets at the constant pursuit of new information about the Holocaust, but also the difficult nature of revisionist history itself: “There is a whole universe of documents that we still have not fully explored… the documents and the artifacts are tremendous educational opportunities, but they also have pitfalls and challenges.”

For more information on teaching the Holocaust visit the websites for Facing History and Ourselves and the Shoah Foundation.

Unfortunately, the last two Revisionist History events, “Revising Women’s Suffrage” and “Revising the Planet,” were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you can still find the video for the panel discussion of “Revising the Holocaust,” as well as the previous three Revisionist History events here.

[1] Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harper Perennial, 2017), 184-185.

[2] Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 399-400.


Reviewed: The Experiential Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic, by Pablo F. Gómez

(Image from

Gómez, Pablo F. The Experiential Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. Pp. 314. $29.95.

By Micaela Miralles Bianconi

The Experiential Caribbean: Creating Knowledge and Healing in the Early Modern Atlantic, by Pablo F. Gómez, chronicles the history of the Caribbean in the long seventeenth century (1580-1720). The author explores the idea of creating knowledge through nature, bodies, healing, and diseases among the Caribbean inhabitants in the Atlantic world in correlation with the coasts of Latin America, Europe, and Africa and their populations. The main historical figures of the story are healers and practitioners from Africa or of African descent moving across the Caribbean spreading their knowledge to cure diseases and suffering.  One question, among others, drives the book: On what basis did people in the early modern Caribbean create authoritative knowledge and truth about nature and bodies? Here begins the path that leads the reader on a trip among the Caribbean islands.

The book is organized thematically into seven chapters that depict the main Caribbean cities. Gómez provides insight into the ways in which people’s bodies were imagined and healed. The journey through the Caribbean begins with the context of the seventeenth century in chapter 1.  In chapter 2 the author continues with a discussion of the sanitary conditions present in this context. He states, “this was a space where diverse historical actors advanced, in hundreds of languages, a bewildering variety of explanations concerning the nature of bodies, disease, health, and the natural world” (39-40).  In chapters three and four, Gómez continues by analyzing the idea of “black knowledge” based on the experiential, the mode in which people in the Caribbean could feel and be, and the main role of senses.  The final section of the text describes and analyzes how black practitioners created material culture in their day-by-day lives, and how some events shaped experiential black knowledge. The author explores this in order to illuminate how healers’ expertise about disease and bodies became defined as the truth.

Gómez uses the idea of the Caribbean in a specific way, as a region with distinct characteristics that differentiate it from the rest of the Atlantic World. Therefore the Caribbean is not only a historical category, but it is also an analytical one with its own particularities and characteristics.  The author depicts the Caribbean as a special region under the big umbrella that contained all the geographical spaces connected by the Atlantic Ocean. Gómez also specifies that the “long seventeenth century” in the Caribbean is different from subsequent centuries because the slave system had not been fully developed. Therefore, he contends that it could be possible to talk about the Caribbean as a specific topic in Atlantic History with its own periodization.

It is important to mark that the author highlights the cultural and geographical differences of the population existing between New Spain and Peru in comparison with the Caribbean. Gómez points out that the Native American presence is larger in the former than in the Caribbean. He explains that Natives in the Caribbean suffered from lethal diseases during the first years that the Europeans arrived in the Americas and that the Native population diminished. Another critical idea related to populations that Gómez dives into in every chapter is the importance of Africans and people of African descent around the “Caribbean world.” As Gómez says: “seventeenth century black ways of knowing represent an intellectual project that pointedly serves as a counterpoint to existing models for studying early modern Atlantic histories of knowledge making” (4). Even though black people did not always outnumber other social groups, they created an important cultural imprint that shaped ways of thinking and making regarding cultural and healing practices. In contrast to John Thornton’s book Africa and Africans, Gómez shows the diversity among African people, advocating that an African cosmopolitism existed in order to explain the differences among their cultural practices.[1] In The Experiential Caribbean the differences in rituals among West African, West Central African, North, and East African practitioners are evident.

The Foucauldian idea of “knowledge is power” is present throughout Gómez’s work and relates to Alejandra Dubcovsky’s book Informed Power.[2]  In Dubcovsky’s work, knowledge was the information and news and the ways Native Americans controlled paths and routes more efficiently than Europeans. Native Americans in La Florida had opportunities to control territories and situations and this became almost essential to European powers. Europeans needed Native American help to successfully navigate through rivers and lands. Gómez’s work suggests that knowledge was related to healing techniques and the knowledge about nature developed by black people in the Caribbean. They became acculturating agents that developed new forms of understanding nature and bodies, as well as new ways of putting them into practice.  This knowledge was the result of a cosmopolitan cultural milieu that was mostly represented by African healers and healers of African descent.

This book has many micro-stories about black practitioners. Gómez successfully put the different stories together as if they were pieces of a big puzzle. His analysis of diverse primary sources, including archives in Madrid, Seville, Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, and Portugal; inquisitorial trials; non-inquisitorial narratives; private accounts; personal narratives; and official and unofficial testimonies (like diaries), propel his argument. The Experiential Caribbean is a vivid trip to the seventeenth century Caribbean that offers complex ideas about the region and a different perspective about what knowledge and power were. This book is ideal for scholars interested in topics related to empires but is also a great book for popular audiences interested in Latin American History.

[1] John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

[2] Alejandra Dubcovsky, Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

The Legacy of Wattle and Daub Homes in Colonial Caribbean Architecture

(Image Courtesy of Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla).

By Lori Wysong

In his 1492 descriptions of the Caribbean, Christopher Columbus declared the houses of the indigenous people he encountered “could not be more graceful, or better made, more reliable, cleaner, or healthier and it is a pleasure to see them and live in them.”[1] Variations of the huts, or bohíos he described persisted well into the nineteenth and even twentieth centuries, not only among the indigenous groups and their descendants but also in communities of African and Mestizo (of European and indigenous descent) residents of the Caribbean. Many of the architectural materials and designs used by these groups were later adopted by European settlers. However, often, when groups like the British borrowed from other Europeans in the Caribbean, they indirectly appropriated materials and structural patterns used by African and indigenous populations and underestimated their contributions to Caribbean architecture. While the architectural legacies of these groups in the Caribbean have been obscured, Europeans learned architectural strategies from them and did not enter their colonial holdings with an automatic understanding of the best way to adapt to new climate and terrain.  This post will analyze how the architectural contributions of indigenous and African populations in the Caribbean were ignored and seek to understand the agency they had in creating architectural culture in Caribbean colonies.

Prior to European arrival in the Caribbean, most indigenous homes had low walls frequently made of wattle and daub (wooden strips “daubed” with a stucco-like mixture) with roofs usually constructed of thatched palms.[2] These materials were more suitable to the Caribbean climate than those initially tried by the European settlers. Stone, for example, might withstand hurricane-force winds, but it proved problematic in the heat and humidity, as well as during earthquakes, when it could rupture or crumble to the ground. Meanwhile, Wattle and daub houses could withstand hurricanes, and though the roofs might occasionally require replacement following a storm, they could be quickly and easily repaired with local materials.[3]

The Spanish, and later the British, adopted the practice of using these materials in the buildings of their Caribbean colonies. In the documentation of the British shift toward using these construction materials, there is a conscious effort to move away from impractical home designs and toward modes of construction that were more functional for the challenges and constraints of the environment. However, the British did not see themselves drawing from the people they enslaved or the indigenous people who preceded them in their colonies. Instead, many of the materials and construction styles they appropriated were attributed to the Spanish. In colonies like Jamaica, which the Spanish and British controlled at various points, colonizers highlighted the Spanish architectural legacy, while they ignored and demeaned the African and indigenous cultural contributions to the built environment.

Barbados, colonized by the British in 1627, depended heavily on enslaved African labor, and by the 1650s had developed an economy based on sugar cultivation and African slaves. Sugar planter Sir James Drax arrived along with this first wave of settlers and built his plantation home, Drax Hall, one of the earliest surviving plantation houses in Barbados and the Caribbean. The house was originally constructed in the 1650s in the Jacobean style of English manor houses.[4] This structure was very European and thus very impractical. Wayne Curtis, in his history of the sugar and rum trades in the Americas, observes that buildings like Drax’s three-story mansion, with massive staircases, fireplaces, and hallways, could easily have toppled over in a hurricane or gotten too little airflow in the warm weather.[5] Another visitor to Drax’s plantation in 1654, French priest Antoine Biet, thought the house was unusual for different reasons. He wrote, “The plantation master’s house is ordinarily handsome and has many rooms. Usually, however, there is only one bedroom off the hall; the whole house being built of timber and boards. I have only seen two or three houses built of stone in the island.”[6] Biet seems to attribute this choice to different levels of wealth, but the materials chosen by those with less money were often better for withstanding the Caribbean climate. However, from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century, even the most opulent plantation homes in Barbados gradually transitioned from tall, narrow, and built of stone, to wooden, low, and long with a large portico.[7]

In Jamaica, a similar architectural transition took place and was even encouraged. In 1774, over a century after the British conquest of Jamaica, visitor Edward Long remarked, “Of the houses erected by the Spaniards before the English conquest, upwards of fifty are still remaining, very little the worse for time or weather. We are not informed of the particular time when they were built…It is pretty certain they ought to be regarded as antient.”[8]

Long went on to gush about how the architecture of the Spaniards has survived every kind of natural disaster that English settlements, so far, had not been successful in withstanding. He compliments them for their innovative building materials and suggests a few adjustments and horizontal enlargements to suit English tastes, concluding with the following observation:

It is plain, therefore, that the English, in neglecting these useful models, and establishing no manufacture of tiles, but erecting lofty houses after the models in the mothercountry, and importing an immense quantity of North-American shingles every year for covering new roofs, and repairing old ones, consult neither their personal security, their convenience, their health, nor the saving of a most unnecessary expence [sic].[9]

Here, Long expressed a desire to learn from past architectural mistakes like those of the Drax family and prepare for challenges of the Caribbean climate. There was less of a desire, however, to acknowledge the possible roots of Spanish architectural adaptation. In 1722, the Weekly Jamaica Courant observed how the low houses of beams and mortar that the Spanish built 67 years earlier survived a hurricane, and stated “we may conclude that they had met their accidents of like Nature, that put them on that manner of building.”[10] No thought was paid to possible influence from African or indigenous sources.

Prevailing attitudes at the time might explain the reason for this. Edward Long, for example, believed that Africans within Jamaica were by their nature “without any skill in eloquence, poetry, music, architecture, sculpture, or painting, navigation, commerce, or the art military,” and asserted that people of African descent could not possibly be the same species as the rest of mankind, even if they were the same genus.[11] With such a terribly low opinion of the people who made up the enslaved population in the Caribbean, Long’s desire to emulate “Spanish” architecture, without any acknowledgment of its antecedents, makes more sense.

The houses in British Jamaica that Long describes, however, were framed with a series of posts, with bricks in between them, covered with what he calls “wattle,” a layer of “mortar.”[12] At the time, many assumed that this variation of wattle and daub housing originated in the minds of European architects across the Atlantic. However, not only was it already used by the Spanish in the Caribbean, but the indigenous population in the Caribbean used it for many years before Spaniards colonized it. West Africans in the Caribbean used wattle and daub houses supported by wooden posts as early as the seventeenth century.[13] Rather than carrying an architectural tradition with them across the Atlantic, their use of local materials renders these dwellings more similar to those built by the indigenous Taíno people.[14] Through the first half of the sixteenth century, Spaniards constructed the bohíos, or huts, throughout Havana out of plant materials and mud very similar to the wattle and daub structures already mentioned. [15]

Though affluent European merchants and planters eventually expanded upon the wattle and daub style of architecture, this building strategy persisted in the Caribbean countryside and on plantations even in the latter part of the nineteenth century. On a visit to a Cuban plantation in 1871, Samuel Hazard described traditional bohíos as:

of the most ordinary description, thatched with palm leaf or grass, and making no attempt at comfort, but simply serving as shelters from the rain. I thought, in my journeyings through the Southern States, that the miserable habitations called cabins were bad enough; but I must confess that these were worse.[16]

In focusing on the poverty of the inhabitants, whether intentionally or not, this description lessens enslaved peoples’ agency in construction and design. The presence of this traditional building style and materials well into the nineteenth century confirms the continued prominence of this architecture in the built environment of the Caribbean. Wattle and daub homes that survived and were occupied beyond emancipation, or even beyond the nineteenth century, should serve as a reminder of more than just the poverty of their inhabitants. They represent the architectural legacy of indigenous, enslaved African, and Mestizo communities in the Caribbean. The materials and structural designs of these dwellings were borrowed by settlers such as the Spanish, and later the English, and contributed to the survival of their plantation homes and the built environments they created in the colonial period.

[1] Francisco Pérez de la Riva, La habitación rural en Cuba (La Habana: El grupo guamá, 1952), 36.

[2] Louis P. Nelson, Architecture and Empire in Jamaica (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), 76.

[3]Nelson, Architecture and Empire in Jamaica, 76- 78.

[4] Jerome Handler, Searching for a Slave Cemetery in Barbados, West Indies–a Bioarcheological and Ethnohistorical Investigation (USA: Southern Illinois University, 1989), 2.

[5] Wayne Curtis, And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007), 18-19.

[6] Jerome Handler, “Father Antoine Biet’s visit to Barbados in 1654,” The Journal of the B.M.H.S., no. 437 (1967), 65.

[7] Henry Fraser and Ronnie Hughes, An Architectural History of Barbados (Barbados: The Barbados National Trust and Art Heritage Publications, 1986), 12-13.

[8] Edward Long, The History of Jamaica or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of the Island: with Reflections on its Situation, Settlements, Inhabitants, Climate, Products, Commerce, Laws, and Government (London: Printed for T. Lowndes, in Fleet-Street, 1774), 18-19.

[9] Long, The History of Jamaica, 19.

[10] Nelson, Architecture and Empire in Jamaica, 77.

[11] Long, The History of Jamaica, 356.

[12] Long, The History of Jamaica, 19.

[13] Nelson, Architecture and Empire in Jamaica, 74-75.

[14] Jay A. Levenson, ed.,Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1992), 511.

[15]Abel Fernández y Simón, La arquitectura colonial cubana (Havana, Cuba: Empresa nacional de producción del ministerio de educación superior, 1962), 30, 66.

[16] Samuel Hazard, Cuba with Pen and Pencil (Hartford: Hartford Publishing Company, 1871), in Slaves, Sugar, & Colonial Society-Travel Accounts of Cuba, 1901-1899, Louis A. Pérez, ed. (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1992), 77.

Reviewed: Love at Last Sight: Dating, Intimacy, and Risk in Turn-of-the-Century Berlin

(Image from

Carrington, Tyler. Love at Last Sight: Dating, Intimacy, and Risk in Turn-of-the-Century Berlin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. xi + 247 pg.

By Kim Webb (@kimedieval)

In June 1914, thirty-nine-year-old seamstress Frieda Kliem left Berlin to meet a man she had fallen in love with through personal ads in the newspaper. Despite its tragic ending, Tyler Carrington uses Frieda’s story as a microcosm for the history of dating and romance in Berlin in the first decades of the twentieth century. In turn, Carrington traces the evolution of a modernizing Berlin through the prism of dating, expertly blending narrative prose and original research. Simultaneously, the author argues that his exploration of romantic relationships traces a pining for middle-class respectability (4). Carrington succinctly and astutely explores how the love lives of turn-of-the-century Berliners reflected the modernization of the city.

Frieda Kliem arrived in Berlin around the turn of the century, at a time when the city was welcoming a growing number of young, “fluid” people—that is, people with no other attachments (9). Despite rapid population growth, city life had a reputation for its loneliness and alienation. Berliners pined for fortuitous romantic encounters, with popular literature exhibiting the trope of the “missed connection” fantasy of falling in love on the street or in a streetcar. Carrington asserts that, by and large, the fantasy of a chance meeting of one’s soulmate was just that—a fantasy. Berliners really fell in love with each other through increasingly modern modes, such as meeting through the workplace or living on the same floor or in the same apartment building and fostering these relationships through the boom of bicycling and the advent of telephones. Berliners looking for love also turned to riskier forms of meeting: personal advertisements taken out in newspapers and matchmaking bureaus (103, 119). At the same time, Berliners began casually dating by modernizing antiquated middle-class means, specifically the popular evening ball (64). Some young people no longer wanted to attend such functions because of their desires to find suitors, but simply because they wanted to dance, with new people, with people they knew, or with people they may be interested in taking home that evening (63-64).  Carrington does not neglect same-sex love in his analysis. Gay or lesbian Berliners subverted the restrictive Paragraph 175, an 1871 statute banning gay sex through casual dating, but often entered heterosexual-appearing marriages due to family and social pressures (74). Conversely, their straight counterparts were known as a marriage-averse generation, typically for financial or career-related reasons (91). This conflicted with the idea of marriage as a univocal entrance into middle-class stability sought by Frieda Kliem and her peers, highlighting the complexity of the contemporary thought processes around romance.

In his final two chapters, Carrington makes a sharp pivot to an immersive exploration of the case of Frieda Kliem, who was murdered by a man whom she fell in love with through personal newspaper advertisements. Paul Kuhnt, going by the alias of Adolf Mertens, lured the seamstress away from the city. He promptly murdered her and robbed her, using other women as stand-ins for Frieda to slowly empty her bank account (102). This turn in focus exhibits the flipside of modernization or the risk that one took in employing the “emerging technologies of love,” to borrow Carrington’s chapter title. This cautionary tale, though jarring in the readability of the book, highlights the author’s skill in interpreting and using a variety of primary source material.

These skills can be traced to the beginning chapters of the book, in which several written sources are examined and interpreted. The author draws primarily from newspapers, examining the ways that Berliners used periodicals to communicate with each other and express their thoughts, while columns, letters, and serial novels formed the basis for conversations around the dinner table or in the city’s cafes (8). In this, he is able to contextualize love within broader social processes of connection. Newspapers, therefore, were inherently social things. Carrington also employs popular literature, particularly short stories, to deconstruct the trends in the romantic desires of their audiences. The Berliner Morgenpost’s publication of the story “Loneliness,” for example, embodies the fantasy of one of the “missed connection” tropes, and Carrington juxtaposes it with historical reality (24). The main character, Felicitas, falls in love with the man who offers her his umbrella on a rainy day, though the “restrictive proscriptions of middle-class society ultimately prevent them from making it [their relationship] official or permanent” (24).

Love at Last Sight shifts away from traditional scholarship in that it focuses on intimacy not as purely sexual, but as romantic. The key players in this story of Berlin want to fall in love, be it for the socio-economic merits of marriage or in the pure desire for romantic intimacy. Further, this book focuses decisively on working and middle-class women, diverging from narratives of other countries that prioritize the voices of upper-class women, largely out of necessity due to extant source material. Carrington also pays special attention to same-sex populations, culminating in scholarship that prioritizes voices that are only beginning to receive representation in historiography. This reflects the sociological framework that Carrington places his work into–the search for emotional connection defined by Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim as the “passage to hope” (16).

The ways in which Berliners fell in love was, in their eyes, reflective of the fluid modernity of the city, something in which the city’s residents could take great pride (33). Through an expert interpretation of a variety of primary sources, especially newspapers and popular literature, Tyler Carrington successfully traces how Berlin evolved as an increasingly modern city during the early decades of the twentieth century. Despite this book’s successes, this reviewer believes that the author’s attempts to draw connections between love and the desire for upward mobility and a middle-class lifestyle seem more like speculative afterthoughts than solid connections. Regardless, Love at Last Sight artfully crafts a history of romantic intimacy in Berlin in a narrative that is ideal for scholars interested in tracing how periods of broader social and cultural change impacted daily life, while the accessible language appeals to a wider, popular audience. Carrington’s Berlin is one of modernity, complexity, and risk–an unmistakably human city that contemporary audiences can identify and place themselves within.

Reviewed: Selling Radio: The Commercialization of American Broadcasting, 1920-1934, by Susan Smulyan

(Image shows US radio listeners in 1928. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

Smulyan, Susan. Selling Radio: The Commercialization of American Broadcasting, 1920-1934. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1994. Pp. viii.- 223. $24.95.

By Christopher Mengel

A brief study into the early history of broadcasting in the United States, Susan Smulyan’s Selling Radio complicates the perception that the commercialization of radio was a natural and inevitable process of technological advancement in mass communication. She simplifies her arguments to a single phrase, “Who pays for Radio?” Convincingly, Smulyan contends: “Commercialized radio grew because of systematic, sustained sales effort and not because advertisers flocked voluntarily to a new outlet” (1, 166).

Smulyan expands scholarship arguing against the hegemonic development of commercial broadcasting, first introduced by Stuart Hall’s Notes on Deconstructing the Popular and Daniel Czitrom’s Media in the American Mind: From Morse to McLuban in the early 1980s, by exploring how social and cultural choices affect technology and that power and that social control is derived by more than economic factors (5). Her exploration of trade journals, publications for radio enthusiasts, and period broadcasting textbooks, enhances Smulyan’s interpretations. She adds to the historiography that lacks cultural interventions to demonstrate dynamic changes over a relatively short period in history. Smulyan builds upon the social and cultural history of broadcasting in the United States briefly introduced by Roland Marchand’s Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920-1940, and Elizabeth Cohen’s Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939.

Smulyan’s arguments are strengthened by a technical analysis often overlooked by past scholarship. Her evocation of David Sarnoff, vice-president of the Radio Corporation of America, who stated in 1924: “we broadcast primarily so that those who purchase [RCA radios] may have something to feed those receiving instruments. Without a broadcast sending station, the broadcast receiver is just a refrigerator without any ice,” illustrates her point. Smulyan’s analytical framework builds on her contention that radio manufactures were the predominant proponent of a national radio network and dispels the historical orthodoxy of radio’s organic growth in the 1920s (37).

Her excavations of federal proceedings and corporate documents related to the technological debates concerning super-power transmitters, shortwave broadcasting, and wired networks—as the three leading technologies to provide the network for national radio—reveal an indecisiveness by both broadcast companies and federal regulators. Nevertheless, her evaluation of AT&T’s emergence of “wired networks” validates her assertions that “regional needs and desires went by the boards as broadcasters sought to deliver the largest possible audiences for advertisers interested in national markets” (63).

Her cultural examination of pre-network radio listeners in the mid-1920s illustrates a public desire for nationally broadcasted radio programming. Smulyan analyzes the effectiveness of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s broadcast of its “market reports” sponsored by the U.S. Commerce Department, the popular rise of “hillbilly” music aired by urban radio stations, and a national fascination with the broadcasting of live sporting events. She conveys that these diverse uses of radio illustrate, “radio’s ability to unite listeners politically and culturally”  and “remained an important argument for national radio” (18). She highlights how listeners’ preference for national programs encouraged large broadcasting networks to develop a national audience and advance their financial stability through the development of direct advertising.

Her choice to contrast early, pre-networked radio shows to the more elaborate and expensive programming in the early 1930s, provides an excellent vehicle to showcase her arguments. Smulyan’s contention that broadcasters’ support of radio advertisements acted as an extension and promotion of a capitalist economy helps clarify her pursuit of cultural history to demonstrate a relationship between changes in radio programming and an increase in the monetization of the national airwaves. Conclusively, Smulyan asserts that “early sponsored programming provided the models on which the networks later built commercialized programming” (166). The interrelatedness of broadcasters’ need to identify and build a national audience directly relates to the network’s need for increased revenue to provide entertaining, daily broadcasts demanded by listeners.

Smulyan’s historical analysis of policy and politics is underdeveloped. Concentrated in chapter five, her analysis of the 1934 Communications Act reveals divisions between radio’s use as an instrument of progressive ideals, a capitalist push by broadcasters for monetary means, and the need to educate, entertain, and campaign to an uneducated electorate body. Smulyan does discuss “radio’s unrealized educational potential, the abuses of commercialism, the rights of alternative non-profit stations, and the neglected needs of specialized audiences” (167). However, her arguments do not elucidate how political and economic continuity shifted the control of national broadcasting to commercial interests. Smulyan surmises that commercial radio promotors of broadcast advertising lived in a world that included radio stations funded in many ways, yet the commercial interests designed network systems to generate ad-related revenue (166). Smulyan’s contentions are agreeable and thought-provoking; however, further evidentiary development could help strengthen her specific interventions.

Smulyan’s analysis of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), established under the 1927 Radio Act, presents a scholarly foundation related to the interference conferred by national broadcasting companies within a technically ignorant public representative body. She contends that “concerns about the competition in a tight business climate as well as a questioning of the efficiency and morality of capitalism underlay much of the criticism [against commercial radio]” (126). Additionally, Smulyan’s exploration of frequency allocation by the FRC is declarative. Smulyan concludes: “the reallocation process left non-profits stations feeling that they were running “on flat tires…the air is free all right, but try to get some of it”’ (130).

Smulyan’s analysis may have benefited from a more in-depth examination of hegemonic relationships of national broadcast companies versus local and regional non-profit broadcaster’s efforts to lobby for specific language and regulations enacted in the 1934 Communications Act. However, her cultural analysis extends the historiography into the “golden age” of radio. Smulyan builds a robust framework on the quick and varied changes during the rise of new technology. Perhaps outside the scope of her research, Smulyan’s terse treatment of the relationship and influences of women, African Americans, Latinos, and rural listeners with the commercialization of network radio needs further attention in future scholarship. Nevertheless, her initial attempt to include these often-silenced minorities is laudable and implores historians to strengthen this area of scholarship.

Reviewed: Recycling the Disabled: Army, Medicine, and Modernity in WWI Germany, by Heather Perry

(Image: This exhibit poster of American World War I veterans with disabilities illustrates how they could be “recycled” back into the workforce with mechanical prosthetic limbs. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

Perry, Heather. Recycling the Disabled: Army, Medicine, and Modernity in WWI Germany. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014. Pp. 228. $30.95.

By Moyra Schauffler

In Recycling the Disabled: Army, Medicine, and Modernity in WWI Germany, Heather Perry examines the shifting conceptions of the disabled and their place in German society from 1914 to 1918. She contends that the exponential increase in severely wounded and permanently disabled men caused by the extreme violence of the First World War generated long-lasting impacts on German medical, military, and industrial understandings of disability. Perry argues that the medical, cultural, and military processes developed to address the emergent population of severely disabled soldiers and veterans became tools that military and government officials used to address the country’s wartime challenges. Ultimately, she concludes that these processes resulted in concrete changes in the professionalization of orthopedists, the conceptualization of disability, and understandings of how the disabled could contribute to German society that lasted far beyond 1918.

By centering medical, cultural, and military processes, Recycling the Disabled successfully shows the impact of the First World War on medical inventions and social conceptions of disability in Germany. While this part of Perry’s argument is not necessarily new, her examination of the impact of medical advancement on Germany’s wartime organization makes doctors and the disabled inspiration behind military, government, and industrial decisions in the final years of the war. Thus, while the impact of violence on individuals and industries is an important consideration in this study, for Perry, recognizing medicine and disability as catalysts for specific policy decisions is the more significant contribution of this work. To come to this conclusion, Perry uses orthopedists’ “professional revolution” to trace the ways in which Germans conceived disability as a temporary condition that allowed an individual to contribute their labor power to society after short-term recuperation, rather than the permanent, inhibitive condition it was before the war (20). Through close readings of pamphlets, textbooks, and published works written by orthopedists such as Fritz Lange and industrialists at firms like Siemens-Schukert Works, as well as material analysis of prosthetic devices invented during the war, Recycling the Disabled employs an array of methods to connect the social history of medicine in Germany to military and industrial history.

In order to conclude that the professionalization of orthopedics ultimately led to specific military and government decisions regarding Germany’s war-disabled, Recycling the Disabled begins with a discussion of the field before 1914. In the late-nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, orthopedics was a marginalized field of surgery in Germany. Industrialization increased medical accidents that resembled the injuries soldiers would experience after 1914, but fields such as traumatology addressed such injuries, and orthopedists remained focused on congenital disabilities. Orthopedists dealt mostly with developing specific therapies for disabled children and performing surgeries meant to correct conditions like scoliosis and club feet. With the onset of war, however, Perry explains that orthopedists became leaders in wartime medicine because their “familiarity with paralysis, nervous disorders, tendon transplantations, and limb reconstruction…made them vital to the after-care and reconstruction of the wounded” (32).

This newfound success of orthopedists in guiding medical practice at the start of the First World War translated into the material care for wounded soldiers. As experts in the rehabilitation of the wounded, German orthopedists believed they could repair severe injuries and ensure a soldier’s ability to return to work after recuperating. This meant that soldiers and veterans in need of artificial limbs required newly designed devices that would allow them to labor, rather than older models of prostheses that ensured the disabled blended into society with a visually complete but functionally inadequate body. Therefore, orthopedists collaborated with engineers, mechanics, and other surgeons to develop prosthetic devices that would ensure the wearer’s productive labor. Here, Perry offers some of her most convincing analysis, as she examines how the materiality of new artificial limbs literally bounded wearers to their work through hooks, claws, and other tools attached to the end of prostheses.

This examination of the material culture of medicine propels Perry’s argument regarding the changing conceptions of disability; with limbs that functioned as work aids, wounded soldiers could continue to labor, and were thus no longer truly disabled. Orthopedists led this process of re-membering the wounded into German society by advising social programs such as vocational training, career counseling, and job placement. Through this work, they “increasingly [gained] influence over military and civilian policies regarding disabled welfare” (110). The ultimate remobilization of wounded soldiers in wartime industries and in the military is the process Perry calls recycling the disabled. The increase in industrial and military manpower required by the shift to total war in 1916 resulted in firms like Siemens-Schuckert employing blind soldiers and those who wore artificial limbs in munitions factories. By 1918, government officials considered implementing hiring quotas for disabled soldiers, and in the earliest days of the Weimar Republic they passed such a law.

These industrial programs and policy decisions regarding the place of wounded soldiers in German society bring Perry to her final point about recycling the disabled. This process, which started with orthopedists inventing ways to restore bodily function to the wounded, ultimately resulted in the militarization of disabled bodies. By demanding wounded soldiers return to work in wartime industries, Perry states that military and government officials viewed these bodies “as war materiel – a kind of raw resource to be deployed and used where needed” (205). This altered image of the disabled soldier from victim to agent and implementer of the state’s wartime goals requires a new conceptualization of the relationship between medicine and war. For Perry, medical innovation is a tool for war mobilization, rather than simply an outcome of conflict. Recycling the Disabled: Army, Medicine, and Modernity in WWI Germany thus offers historians of World War I, as well as scholars of medicine, disability, material culture, and industrialization a fascinating, well-researched take on the ways in which war catalyzes societal change.

Reviewed: The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 1840-1880, by Wendy Gonaver

(Image from Shows Eastern State Lunatic Asylum, Williamsburg, VA, in the 19th century).

Gonaver, Wendy. The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 1840-1880. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Pp. xi + 256. $32.95.

By: Katarina Haley Andersen

In The Peculiar Institution and the Making of Modern Psychiatry, 1840-1880, Wendy Gonaver chronicles how the life and death of the “peculiar institution” influenced the implementation of early asylum care in the United States. Gonaver primarily analyzes the “anomalous practices” of Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Virginia, which was the only Antebellum Era asylum to accept both enslaved and freed peoples as patients and enslaved African Americans as attendants. She illuminates how the meanings of freedom and enslavement were unstable yet foundational facets of professional discourse surrounding medical innovation and practice in the 19th century (4). Gonaver contends that slavery and racial ideology were foundational to the early formation of US psychiatry.

Gonaver’s analysis builds on the work of scholars such as Jim Downs and Martin Summers, who highlight the critical role of race in 19th-century ideological formations about medicine and madness.[1] She challenges scholars who have either prioritized northern and European institutions or failed to incorporate critical analysis of race in histories of institutions before the late nineteenth century when imperial powers opened asylums in Africa and Asia (4-5). Situating Eastern in the historiography of southern modernity, Gonaver highlights that information about how to manage asylums was transmitted through the same transatlantic circuits in which slavery was vital and profitable. By focusing on the experiences and private musings of “patients,” laborers, and administrators at Eastern and Central Lunatic Asylum, the first all African American asylum, Gonaver shows how slavery and racial ideology “shaped ideas about patient liberty, about the proper relationship between caregiver and patient, about what constituted healthy religious belief and unhealthful fanaticism, and about gender” (4).

Gonaver first analyzes the leadership of Superintendent John Galt of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum. She asserts that Galt’s experience as the head of the only asylum to accept free and enslaved patients and enslaved attendants prior to the Civil War prompted his advocacy for integrated asylums, the broad acceptance of black attendants, and for outpatient care. Less state funding was given to psychiatric institutions for the care of African Americans. Therefore, Eastern was dependent on the labor of enslaved peoples and attendants to operate. Galt’s promotion of outpatient care was inspired by the hiring out model of slavery in which slaves were allotted some liberties and mobility, so long as they labored for the profit of their master and returned without resistance or attempting to escape, risking punishment (48). Galt’s advocacy for outpatient and integrated care was vehemently rejected by other US institutions that either criticized the ability of African Americans to provide moral care or associated integration with “pauper disgrace,” which ultimately worked to bolster the authority of psychiatric institutions (6). Gonaver explains that notions of care often serve to maintain privilege. Caregiving from enslaved peoples at Eastern “was inherently political because it provided opportunities to counter the dehumanizing experience of bondage and defy racist stereotypes of black inadequacy” (53). In turn, black labor at Eastern was under-appreciated despite the institution’s dependence upon it. Enslaved women carried the greatest burdens in the institution given their vulnerability to sexual assault and abuse and their relegation to the toughest of jobs, which earned their masters a third of what men would make them (68).

Gonaver elucidates how Eastern’s “paternalistic mode of care” reinforced oppressive and racially specific sexual and gender norms that pinned white women as delicate and black women as vulgar. Physicians’ emphasis on female sexual organs as the cause of their mental illness, rather than experiences of sexual assault or systematic violence in a patriarchal slave society, normalized domestic violence perpetrated against women (15, 113, 144). Additionally, Gonaver asserts that the increased secularization of care in the 19th century and the increased correlation between insanity and “excessive enthusiasm,” which spurred from the fear of abolitionism and, more specifically, marginal religious sects, could have sparked rebellion against racial and gendered hierarchy (105). Gonaver’s final analysis of Central Lunatic Asylum unveils how ideologies of racial distinctiveness contributed to the abandonment of “moral methods” in the establishment of all-black asylums in the South following the Civil War when the obligation of the state to provide “care” for African Americans in institutions grew and whites grasped for ways to assert their own superiority (173).  Physicians increasingly suggested that black and white “patients” possessed distinct pathologies and pinned black “patients” as more prone to violence and perversion, and incapable of navigating freedom, thereby bolstering support for segregated facilities (170, 175). Asylums increasingly resembled prisons as “moral medicine gave way to moral hygiene,” with the rise of hereditarian thinking, and asylum “care” for African Americans focused on reasserting white authority over black bodies and citizenship following emancipation (197).

Gonaver’s analysis of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum archive, which she excavated from a storage closet in the patient library at the present-day Eastern State Hospital, skillfully links the role of ideas about slavery and race to the early development of psychiatric theory and practice. Though she provides an imperative contribution to the field, her analysis of the stringent separation of white women from black patients and attendants could have benefited from a discussion of the regular violence perpetrated by plantation mistresses against enslaved people in the intimate setting of plantation households which Thavolia Glymph covers in Out of the House of Bondage. This would have informed Gonaver’s discussion of white women’s extra sense of “diminution in their status” when cared for by African Americans (71). Regardless, Gonaver calls upon historians to think more critically about the complexities of race in asylums and state institutions over time. Her work is essential for any scholar interested in histories of race and gender in medicine and psychiatry.

[1] Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Martin Summers, “’Suitable Care of the African When Afflicted with Insanity,’” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 84 (Spring 2010): 58-91.

Reviewed: The Last Great Strike, by Ahmed White

(Image from

White, Ahmed. The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. Pp. xi, 398. $29.95.

By Collin Heatley

In The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America, Ahmed White eloquently argues that the Little Steel strike in 1937 showcased both the potential and shortcomings of the New Deal’s labor legislation. Despite the organizing power of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the Roosevelt administration’s labor protections in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Wagner Act, White contends that the Little Steel strike demonstrated the immense political and economic power that industrial capitalists retained in the midst of the economic crisis. The strike—wherein thousands of CIO members organized against several steel companies under the ‘Little Steel’ conglomerate—severely strained the relationship between the Roosevelt administration and the CIO and exacerbated the disillusionment among the CIO’s rank and file toward union leadership and the White House. Ultimately, White asserts that the Little Steel strike is symptomatic of the Roosevelt administration’s declining antagonism toward industrial capitalism at the end of the New Deal era.

White’s exposition of the political and social elements of the Little Steel strike adds a crucial element to historians’ understanding of the New Deal and the Roosevelt administration’s relationship with labor and capital. White refutes two opposing interpretations of the strike and its significance. First, he notes that some historians view the strike as a setback on the eventual triumph of industrial unionism because the companies eventually conceded to union recognition (5). Conversely, White illustrates, other historians are quick to dismiss the strike as a poorly timed maneuver by the CIO that only entrenched power in the hands of capitalists (6). While White clearly conveys the tragedy of the strike for labor, he does not place blame for its failure in either union leadership or the tactics of its rank and file. Rather, White suggests that the strike is emblematic of both the potential of the New Deal and industrial unionism but also the Roosevelt administration’s failure to capitalize on that potential. This insight puts White in company with the late historian Alan Brinkley, who argued that the New Deal in the late 1930’s “accommodated itself to unbroken corporate power” which deteriorated the relationship the administration had with organized labor (7).[1] Thus, The Last Great Strike is a nuanced and valuable addition to the historiography of the New Deal and is a testament to the importance of labor history.

White’s analysis of this historical episode begins with an in-depth examination of how the relations of labor, particularly in the steel industry, evolved from the late 19th century to the beginning of the Great Depression. White effectively communicates how the shift from ironworking to steel manufacturing diminished the need for highly skilled workers, and by extension, shop-floor power was increasingly transferred away from labor and into the hands of industrialists and managers (23). Moreover, White highlights the importance of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers’ (AA) failed strike in 1919 to facilitate a growing desire for industrial unionism (45). White uses this historical context to signify the Roosevelt administration’s drive to “redraw the role of government and law vis-a-vis basic labor rights” (69, 70). The self-described goals of the White House, White maintains, was to shift political and economic power away from private industry and toward labor, which was exemplified by the implementation of the NLRB and Wagner Act in 1935.

This historical context allows the reader to better understand the significance of the Roosevelt administration’s fight to curb industrial capitalists’ power. It also showcases how and why industrial unionism and the CIO were born out of the waning influence of craft unionism. Most importantly, White utilizes this historical background to communicate how the CIO heavily relied on the Roosevelt administration’s protection to advance the power of labor. But legislation like the Wagner Act had its limits, White persuasively argues, in part because it was designed to address critiques of the New Deal from the left but also discourage radical labor tactics like strikes (73). But “some unrest and disorder,” White adds, “might prove essential to advancing the very labor rights the statute endorsed” (75). In other words, the Wagner Act and NLRB attempted to empower labor, but restricted tactics that were necessary for labor to begin to redirect power away from industrial capitalists. White excels in arguing that the Wagner Act and NLRB had limitations on labor that would prevent them from advancing their own interests against industry.

In the second section of The Last Great Strike, White presents an astonishingly well-sourced play-by-play and analysis of the Little Steel strike and the Memorial Day Massacre in 1937. White’s description of the strike elucidates the organizing abilities and resiliency of the CIO and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) members that participated, but also encapsulated the overwhelming power of the steel industry that ultimately prevailed. For example, Republic Steel, one of the companies under the Little Steel umbrella, dispatched a large company police force to counter the strike and were also backed by the Chicago Police Department (122, 131). Although the Little Steel strike was characterized by violence—16 unionists died by the end of summer 1937—media outlets were quick to place blame on both sides. Coverage made “the union’s cause seem more problematic and its position less defensible” with headlines like “CIO Violence Told” appearing in The New York Times (190). White argues that the media’s response and the ever-present concern about radical and Communist participation in the CIO put the Roosevelt administration in a difficult position.

The final section of the book details the aftermath of the strike and its effects on the CIO, the White House, and the relationship between the two. Prior to its conclusion, Roosevelt denounced the strike as a “plague on both your houses,” effectively placing blame equally between Little Steel and the CIO/SWOC (202). Even though Roosevelt was “happy to ally with the CIO,” especially considering their enthusiastic political support, Roosevelt “was wary of being perceived as too closely associated with the federation, concerned that this might undermine his administration’s standing with conservative constituents” (193). White claims that the administration’s failure to intervene on behalf of the CIO/SWOC workers severed their political relationship. But anxieties about radicalism and leftist elements of the CIO reverberated within the organization itself, as its leaders blamed militancy for undermining the potential of the strike (242). While the NLRB was able to guarantee back pay to strikers and compel Little Steel to recognize the CIO, White notes, the agency extracted little to nothing in financial remedies from the companies and failed to prevent the companies’ use of strikebreakers (266). White contends that all of these dynamics demonstrate the waning power of labor in the Roosevelt administration. Above all, administration’s handling of the Little Steel strike it is a testament to how much power private industry retained during the second New Deal, and their ability to synthesize “violence and its effects with maneuverings in the fields of politics, law, and public relations, all while drawing on their overwhelming economic power” (229).

In formulating his analysis, White utilizes a rich array of primary source materials, including Legal Department records, transcripts of interviews from union officials and strike participants, photographs, and correspondence between union officials, primarily held at Penn State University’s Historical Collections and Labor Archives (PSU-HCLA). These sources highlight the organizing strategies and struggles of both officials and the rank and file in the CIO/SWOC. Moreover, the scope of the sources White employs allows him to encompass and analyze every strike against each of the Little Steel companies while maintaining a clear and concise narrative. White’s sources ultimately corroborate his position that the strike is demonstrable evidence of the survival of corporate hegemony during the New Deal.

In sum, White is overwhelmingly successful in proving that the Little Steel strike was emblematic of the steel industry’s sustained power, the deteriorating relationship between labor and Roosevelt, and the limits of the New Deal’s protections for workers.  However, White’s focus on the decades prior to the strike and its immediate aftermath leaves the reader with several questions. How did the onset of World War II change or entrench the administration’s acquiescence to private industry? How did the steel industry in particular change during the war? Did the CIO alter their organizing strategies after the strike? Despite these looming questions, The Last Great Strike is essential reading for historians and students of labor history studying the New Deal era.

[1] Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York: Random House, 1995), 226.

Reviewed: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, by Benedict Anderson

(Image from

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 2nd ed. New York City: Verso, 1991. Pp. xi, 224. $18.79.

By Matthew Reese

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities locates the origins of nationalism in the eighteenth-century Americas and then proceeds to trace nationalist manifestations throughout the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Once brought into historical existence, these “styles” of nationalism become “modular” and capable of being replicated in other parts of the world.  Anderson argues that the intersection of various historical phenomena over the course of the past three centuries is key to understanding how nationalism emerged onto the world stage and the ways in which new nations were imagined. For Anderson, the development of capitalism and the compression of time and space in the modern era precipitated a rupture in people’s perceptions of community. This rupture allowed nations to be conceived.  Although these imagined communities are constructed and abstract, they are tremendously real identifiers in people’s lives. They become real enough to die for.

In the early 1980s, Anderson was intrigued by post-WWII nationalist movements that employed the concept of nationhood, particularly Marxist revolutionary movements in East and Southeast Asia which eventually came into conflict with one another. These confrontations brought into question Marxist historiography’s preoccupation with international working-class solidarity and its frequent devaluing of nationalism in the historical process. In his work, Anderson challenges Eurocentric notions that nationalism first arose in Europe.  Anderson offers a compelling case for the New World origins of nationalism and the remaining relevance of “nation-ness” in all modern societies, even those following Marxist doctrine.

In the first three chapters, Anderson outlines his theory through various discussions on key terminology and historical moments that guide his research. In an “anthropological spirit,” Anderson defines nation-ness, nationality, and nationalism as “cultural artifacts” that were created towards the end of the eighteenth century (4-5). To make these points, Anderson leans heavily on scholars associated with the French Annales school. Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre are frequently cited. Here, the anthropological spirit is undeniably visible in Anderson’s framework. Although conceived as limited and sovereign, these imagined communities are products of developments in industrial capitalism, printing technology, language use and function, the conceptions of time and space, and bureaucratic structures, all of which worked together to facilitate national realization and subsequent nationalist movements. Thus, the nation, as a conceptual category, must be understood in terms of broader historical forces.

Anderson spends chapters 4 through 7 documenting various manifestations of nationalism in the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Using the elements of nations explored earlier in the text, Anderson explains the development of and distinctions between the New World nationalisms that arose in the Americas during the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, the nationalisms of Europe between 1820 and 1920, the reactionary “official nationalisms” of dynastic and imperial rulers, and the “last wave” of nationalisms that emerged in colonial states after World War II. Featured in these sections are the earliest New World nationalisms in Bolivia and Peru, European nationalisms in Greece and Norway, “official nationalism” in Russia and Japan, and “last wave” nationalisms in Indonesia and Vietnam.

Chapters 8 and 9 detail the conceptual qualities of nations and nationalism. Nationalism, like capitalism and revolution, is an “invention” (156). As for nations, they are perceived as interest-less. They invite outsiders into them. They inspire love and self-sacrifice. Although Anderson cites fewer sources here than in his more substantive chapters, the message conveyed ties in with Anderson’s introductory contemplation on why people sacrifice their lives for their nation. Anderson added chapters 10 and 11 in the second edition. These chapters offer updated areas of inquiry which include censuses, maps, museums, and memory. Similar to Anderson’s interpretation of philology, these additional areas of inquiry function as classification systems and have an immense impact not only on people’s daily lives but an entire population’s imagining of itself.

Anderson attempts to present nationalism in a comparative framework. Using a structural approach and the aforementioned categories of analysis, Anderson emphasizes the important role historical conditions have in the emergence of particular imagined communities. Thus, one might have to wait for the “arrival of print-capitalism” to be able to imagine a national “horizontal comradeship” (6-7). However, it was not just the development of print, languages, or even the modern school system themselves that engendered nationalisms, but the way all these functioned in a given society. For instance, once print-capitalism had arrived in the nineteenth century, national print-languages in Europe were of “central ideological and political importance” to national imaginings (67). European vernacular languages bonded people within a particular locality in a way that was incomparable to the way that vernacular languages in the Americas functioned. Although people in the latter part of the world also had national print-languages, these inhabitants were restricted by colonial policies to their own viceroyalty within the Spanish Empire. Sharing a language with neighboring regions could not, and did not, result in a trans-territorial imagined community as those horizontal connections were blocked by the colonial state. Anderson’s functionalism makes this kind of comparative analysis possible.

Instead of categorizing nationalist movements based on the region from which they emerged, such as Asian nationalist movements or European nationalist movements, Anderson provides a comparative framework that allows the reader to assess nationalisms based on universal historical processes that transcend regional classifications. However, although Anderson clearly defines a theory of how nationalism developed, his research does not sufficiently yield a result on why nationality is so strongly felt by people. His initial curiosity on why people would die for their nation is not thoroughly explored nor explained by the end of the book. Additionally, due to the structuralism of Anderson’s interpretation, one gets the sense that the observed nationalisms mechanistically spring from historical forces rather than being created by historical actors. This may be partly due to Anderson’s reliance on secondary sources, especially theoretical works on nationalism. Although extremely useful for Anderson’s purpose of providing a general and comparative account of nationalisms, the secondary sources could have been accompanied by additional use and contextualization of primary accounts, especially regarding Indonesia, Anderson’s own field of research. This could have bolstered and humanized Anderson’s arguments while elevating the theme of imagination. Readers are left a bit unsure about who or what is doing the imagining.

Nevertheless, Anderson’s Imagined Communities has sparked countless revisions of nationalisms in the years since its publication. These include works by Ernest Gellner, Partha Chatterjee, and Eric Hobsbawm.1 Other scholars have analyzed nationalisms left unexplored by Anderson. Rashid Khalidi and Yigal Schwartz both cite Anderson in their explorations of Palestinian nationalism and Zionism, respectively.2 There are also works that critique and expand on Anderson’s thesis. For instance, Kevin Olson’s Imagined Sovereignties: The Power of the People and Other Myths of the Modern Age discusses how imagination can be applied to political communities and how certain “myths” effect political formation.3 Anderson’s influential Imagined Communities undoubtedly offers keen insights into a complex topic and is essential reading for scholars interested in theories of nationalist development.


1 Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,1983); Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (London: Zed Books, 1986); and Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

2 Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Colombia University Press, 1997); and Yigal Schwartz, The Zionist Paradox: Hebrew Literature and Israeli Identity, trans. Michal Sapir (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2014).

3 Kevin Olson, Imagined Sovereignties: The Power of the People and Other Myths of the Modern Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Reviewed: The Return of Martin Guerre, by Natalie Zemon Davis

(Image from Wikicommons. This picture shows an artistic depiction of Martin Guerre for the 1982 feature film The Return of Martin Guerre.)

Davis, Natalie Zemon. The Return of Martin Guerre. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984. 11 figs.; xii + 162 pp. $28.50.

By Kimberly Webb

In 1548, a peasant from the French town of Artigat, Martin Guerre, left home, abandoned his wife, Bertrande de Rols, their son, Pierre Guerre, and a sizeable patrimony to join the Spanish army. In 1556, this same man supposedly made a dramatic return to his village life after an eight-year absence. He quickly became reacclimated to his role as a villager, a nephew, and, most notably, a husband. After three years, however, the identity of this “new Martin” was called into question. Despite his likeness to the original and intimate knowledge of the original’s life, this “new Martin” was no Martin Guerre. He was, in fact, Arnaud du Tilh, nicknamed “Panesette,” from the nearby village of Tilh. Through an anthropological, micro-historical study, Natalie Zemon Davis uses this famous case of imposture as a window through which historians can begin to reconstruct the social elements and the lived experience of the early-modern French peasantry. In doing so, she fulfills a crucial gap in scholarship, namely the lack of scholarship about the emotions of the early modern person and the ways in which these emotions guided their behavior.

In The Return of Martin Guerre, Zemon Davis expertly and succinctly weaves historical analysis and readable narrative to recreate this tale of imposture in sixteenth-century France. She pays special attention to exactly how this impostor could have become so successful: Arnaud du Tilh gained intimate knowledge about Martin Guerre’s life through conversations with Guerre himself and speaking with acquaintances and rural French gossip networks (39-40). Du Tilh looked like Martin and possessed information of his life and relationships within the village. Further, no painted portraits of Martin Guerre existed. Zemon Davis also reveals the reasons behind du Tilh’s downfall. In addition to the lack of a wooden leg, the new Martin did not have the same interests, had no knowledge of the Basque phrases of his youth, and was stockier than before (54). Beyond the logistics of imposture, Zemon Davis also uses The Return of Martin Guerre to explore the realities of everyday life in sixteenth-century French villages.

Despite a lack of first-person accounts written by the peasantry, Zemon Davis’s anthropological analysis of court documents, notarial records, and parliamentary registers elucidates the mechanisms of identity formation in 16th-century France. She also draws on information from jurist Jean de Coras’s Arrests Memorable du Parlement de Toulouse (1561) and Guillaume Le Sueur’s Admiranda historia (1561) to portray the lived experience of the early modern peasantry (1). She argues that the peasantry had little control over what happened to them and their contemporaries depicted peasants in the context of comedies; the peasantry was the comic relief of the nobility’s literature at the time. Zemon Davis turns this narrative on its head by giving the agency of feeling back to the peasantry. In The Return of Martin Guerre, she acknowledges the relief that Bertrande de Rols’ felt when she was free of her husband, Arnaud’s desire for a new life, and Martin’s anxiety about his role as father and husband. The players in Zemon Davis’s account of the case are more than just an impostor, a runaway soldier, and a beautiful wife. They were people trying to understand their world and dealing with human emotions. One of Zemon Davis’s goals for this book was to demonstrate that this rather extraordinary case was rooted in ordinary causes and that our three young villagers “are not too many steps beyond common experience” (4).

Natalie Zemon Davis expertly fulfills a gap in scholarship in the emotions and real, lived experiences of the early modern peasantry. Concurrently, Zemon Davis guides the reader through the existing scholarship of historians from the seventeenth century to the time of her writing. She cites Jacob Cats’s 1658 retelling of the tale through rhymed couplets and the entertainment value of the story of Martin Guerre (131). Zemon Davis uses an in-depth study of attitudes and emotions to complicate the notion first put forth by F. Gayot de Pitaval in 1734 that Bertrande knew of the imposture and was an accomplice by arguing that she was likely originally amongst those duped by the imposture (130). Zemon Davis also acknowledges two flawed accounts: Charles Hubert’s, which was “romanticized beyond recognition,” thus erasing the historicity of the story, and Janet Lewis’s, which was based on a nineteenth-century English report (131).     These pieces of scholarship, flawed in their methodology and source material, paint an incomplete picture of the case. The historicity of the case, therefore, becomes questionable through these sources. Davis fills another gap in the historiography around the story of Martin Guerre in providing a contemporary, academic account based primarily on French primary sources. In using French sources and approaching the story using a historian’s toolkit, Davis is able to be more accurate in her portrayal without Hubert’s over-romanticizing or the detached, anti-French bias in Lewis’s English source. These sources also allow for Davis to be wholly successful in her mission of reconstructing the French peasantry on a more human level by allowing her to contextualize her historical subjects in legal and written thought of their time.

Natalie Zemon Davis uses the case of Martin Guerre and his imposter to reconstruct the physical and social world of the Martin Guerre affair and depict the identity formation and lived experience of the actors in this story. The Return of Martin Guerre is most notable because of its place of prominence in the canon of microhistory. Zemon Davis’s focused work allows for a more intimate description of village life and allows readers to envision themselves in the position of Guerre, Bertrande, and du Tilh. The readable style and expert historical scholarship of The Return of Martin Guerre make it an ideal book for historians and non-historians alike. Davis’s clear, eloquent prose makes the text perfect for popular audiences. This book specifically appeals to the historian of the common person and those who view history as an inherently human and humanized subject.