Reviewed: Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, by Christopher Capozzola

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Capozzola, Christopher. Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. 334. $30.95.

By Thomas Harvell-DeGolier

In Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, Christopher Capozzola argues that World War I changed the political relationship between American citizens and the state. Capozzola illustrates how state demands to support the war effort during World War I refashioned America’s “culture of obligation” to serve the state (214). He does this by providing evidence that this culture of obligation—which he roots in factors including republicanism, “utopian visions of community” and Christian beliefs that reinforced social hierarchies—followed, and surpassed, “federal war aims” (6). Concurrently, Capozzola discusses how this union, which utilized “coercive volunteerism,” engendered a backlash rooted in a language of individualistic liberties (10-11). Capozzola thus shows that World War I changed American political culture by altering state-citizen relationships (214).

This book builds upon scholarship on the development of American civic and political obligations, such as  Linda Kerber’s No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship, Judith Shklar’s American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion, and Robert Westbrook’s Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II.[1]  Cappozzola builds on these books to specifically argue that World War I changed the bonds of citizenship and the relationship between American citizens and the state.

Capozzola structures the book around multiple contemporaneous interactions between the government and citizens, rather than tracing a single incident temporally.  To do this, Capozzola uses chapters on the draft, religious objections to war, women’s volunteerism, policing, speech, and the treatment of German-American culture. These chapters provide snapshots of how the state and citizens worked in concert to support the war effort and how this created a social dynamic that pressured citizens to participate while demonizing opposition to the war.

Throughout the text, Cappozola elucidates how different levels of government pursued American war goals. In Chapter One, he shows how the unified goals of multiple levels of government encouraged individual and civic organization vigilantism. War fervor inspired the formation of the American Protective League (APL), a government-sanctioned civic association that enforced draft regulations (41-43). Capozzola argues that the APL’s extralegal methods led to the recognition that legal enforcement demanded “due process of law” (48-50). He links due process to the idea that the government’s legal enforcer must be a legitimate state representative (54). This provides a poignant example of how public political culture cultivated another developing discourse rooted in individual rights.

Capozzola’s ability to depict America’s martial culture and the individualistic backlash to this culture is also illustrated in Chapter Six. Chapter Six focuses on “the obligation of loyalty” and the efforts of the government and individuals to police German Americans in the United States, alongside German American attempts to maintain their culture (173). According to Capozzola, individuals who spoke multiple languages or possessed dual citizenship were perceived as insufficiently loyal to America or even disloyal. Capozzola connects this portrayal to the suppression of German culture (176-177). To do this, he emphasizes that three separate levels of government— federal, state, and local—worked together to discourage the expression of German culture and instill Americanism into German populations (176, 179, 191). This framework connects popularly held ideas of a citizen’s obligations to the state with the subsequent demonization of individuals who failed to uphold these obligations. This theme, while uniquely evident in Chapter Six, is a thread throughout the book.

At the same time, Cappozola shows how individual and civic attempts to uphold American war goals changed American political culture. He demonstrates that World War I’s political environment encouraged individuals and civic societies to excise German culture and language from the public sphere. He shows that individuals took initiative by “[targeting] German singing societies for intimidation, arson, and destruction” (183). While German culture faded from the public, Capozzola implies that anti-German actions created a backlash that helped develop a language rooted in individual protections and civil liberties, a point that strengthens Capozzola’s argument about World War I’s long-term effects (196, 200-203).

Capozzola uses a wide range of sources, from the Ladies Home Journal, smaller publications such as the Pocatello Tribune and the Red Cross Magazine, and German-American publications like the New Haven Anzeiger. Capozzola’s amalgam of sources contributes an inclusive argument to the greater historiography of World War I (85, 92-93,180-181).  Alongside these smaller newspapers, Capozzola utilizes more widely known publications like the New York Times, alongside research within personal papers. This widespread approach allows Capozzola to incorporate the experiences of women, African Americans, and other oppressed groups. Ultimately, he weaves a comprehensive story about how different citizens interacted with the government during World War I. Considering Native peoples, who did not gain formal citizenship until 1924, would facilitate a deeper examination of the symbolism of citizenship during World War I by contextualizing how the war changed its very meaning.[2]

Capozzola makes incisive points about how World War I transformed and complicated the meaning of citizenship. By showing how different citizen-government interactions unfolded, Capozzola reveals how World War I refashioned popular understandings of the obligations of citizenship and changed American political culture. His examination of distinct interactions and separate groups fostered a thorough analysis of a broad spectrum of American society and the various responses to America’s war effort.  Overall, Uncle Sam Wants You is an invaluable book for people studying the development of American political culture in the 20th century, the development of civil liberties, and government-citizen relationships.

[1] Linda K. Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); Judith N. Shklar, American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991); Robert B. Westbrook, Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004).

[2] Spencer C. Tucker, James R. Arnold, and Roberta Wiener, “Documents Concerning the Indian Citizenship Act, 1924 and 1933,” in The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607-1890 : A Political, Social, and Military History (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011), 1226–27,

Reviewed: Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana, by George Edward Milne

(Image: “The Natchez Rebellion,” from

Milne, George Edward. Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2015. Pp. 293. $25.00.

By Summer Abukhomra

George Edward Milne’s Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana discusses the Natchez creation of a new Native identity (“red men,” as they called themselves) and how it was used to maintain a centralized political system within the tribe and exert a show of power over the new French settlers and African slaves. Milne opens the discussion by providing a narrative of the Natchez Revolt of 1729, during which the Natchez raided Fort Rosalie and the nearby plantation of French colonial commandant Sieur de Chépart which led to the eventual mass murder and enslavement of the entire Natchez Tribe a year later. After painting a picture of the raid, Milne retraces the steps of the French and Natchez, showing what led them up to this point. He discusses the role of the “other-than-human-powers,” as understood by the French serving under the “Sun King” Louis XIV and the Natchez people serving under the Great Sun. Most importantly, Milne seeks to illustrate the values of social organization, leadership, and identity of both the Natchez and the French and how their misinterpretations and often misperceptions of each other’s culture led to hostility (16).

Milne begins by debunking a common view in Natchez historiography that the Natchez revolt, like other European conflicts with Native Americans, was inevitable. Like Daniel Usner, Milne argues that the Natchez held more power over the French as they were native to the land and the small group of French settlers were completely unfamiliar with it. In order to flesh out what he believes are the causes for the revolt, Milne argues that we must first explore the complex identity and formation of social ranks. The Natchez categorized themselves in the ranks of “suns, nobles, honored men, and stinkards,” who were ruled by the power of the Great Sun, a leader who maintained absolute control over the tribe. During the initial influx of French settlers, the Great Sun welcomed the Frenchmen, seeing them as potential subjects who could join the Natchez tribe and live under the polity of the Natchez people and under the rule of the Great Sun himself. Milne emphasizes that these were the first outsiders the Natchez had ever encountered, and they did not have the same concept of racial differences that European settlers had forged.

Despite differences in their understanding of race, Milne claims that the French and Natchez shared a lot of similar traditions and beliefs. Both the French settlers and the Natchez believed their respective leaders were chosen to lead by divine mandate that was passed down through blood or marriage relations. In addition to lineage of leadership, the social organization of people was also passed through bloodline and shared similarities with that of the Old World. Despite these similarities, the competition for resources between both forces pushed the Natchez to lead a series of three raids on the French, hoping that the French would give in as subordinates to the Great Sun. It was not long until the Great Sun realized that the settlers had no intention of recognizing his authority or adopting the Natchez identity. The Great Sun then evoked the term “red man” as means of creating a Native identity distinct from the French settlers or African slaves with the purpose of mobilizing indigenous people in an attack on the French.

Through the use of colonial maps and archaeological findings, Milne successfully unveils how the French-Natchez conflict was not inevitable, as some historians have previously thought. In chapter four, Milne is able to reconstruct the Fort Rosalie-Natchez Village region to discuss how the groups quarreled over shared land use after a period of coexistence. Like the French, the Natchez also had slaves, but slavery for the Natchez was based on tribal superiority rather than ideas of racial superiority, as slaves were taken by the Natchez from regional tribes they had conquered in battles. This slavery was based on the self-perceived supremacy of the Natchez, and the perceived insubordination or weakness of the other tribe. In addition, he shows that while many historians were on what he believes was the right track in understanding the Natchez-French conflicts, many also overlooked the way the Natchez and the settlers perceived similarities and differences in each other’s traditions of social organization, authority, and identity.

This text successfully argues for the agency of the French and Natchez which can be clearly seen through the earlier interactions between the two groups. Milne demonstrates how their relationship was initially seen by both parties as mutually beneficial. The Natchez welcomed the French settlers into their tribe and the French found fast allies with the Natchez who would help them to build their settlement. Neither greeted the other with great hostility upon their initial encounter or in the several months that followed, as was the case in some other Native-European exchanges. Rather, each party recognized a potential partnership, which would soon be taken advantage of by the French. This text is would be a great compliment to the works of Daniel Usner, is thoroughly researched, and provides a fresh perspective on Native-European exchanges.

Reviewed: The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, by Robert Darnton

The Great Cat Massacre

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Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. New York: Basic Books, 1984. Pp. 313. $24.95 (cloth).

By Lori Wysong

It may seem difficult to find a common thread between French folk tales, the slaughter of cats, a policeman’s records, and the writing and reading of intellectual theorists.  For Robert Darnton, that is the point. The Great Cat Massacre’s examination of seemingly disparate texts in Old Regime France (before the fall of the monarchy in the French Revolution) includes stories from various viewpoints and tiers of society. Darnton ties these strands together in a series of essays, arguing for the analysis of culture to understand the ideas that elites and commoners, intellectuals and laborers encountered in their daily lives in the eighteenth century prior to the French Revolution (7).

To achieve this, Darnton focuses primarily on how people thought—“l’histoire des mentalités.” He strays from previous Enlightenment histories that give import only to “high” culture and the publications of famous philosophers and concentrates on accounts of and by ordinary people. Darton makes a critical intervention by showing how scholarship of this period overlooks the possibility of “modern” ideas emerging from the lowest rungs of society. He further avoids a “total” history of interacting economic, social, and cultural tiers that react to produce class consciousness (111). Darnton contends that this method results in histories segmented by class, influenced by Marx and Gramsci, and disproportionately focused on the bourgeoisie.  The goal of the book is to approach its subjects as “the other,” without preconceived understandings of their class or worldview (111-112). For example, Darnton goes beyond the data recorded in a policeman’s report to consider the man’s writing for the stories he tells and their literary merit (154).

Darnton’s analysis is structured thematically, beginning with French folk tales (and comparable ones from other cultures), and finishing with a detailed correspondence of a merchant about the books he wished to purchase. He incorporates a literary element throughout the book. Darnton is preoccupied with what the French read and wrote (and the stories they told one another) in addition to why and how. He uses these texts and stories to gain insight into the thought processes of the people who produced and consumed them.  The questions of “why” and “how” are also applied to thought processes; in the book’s namesake chapter, Darnton’s entire goal is to “get the joke” of why printers in a particular town found the massacre of cats to be a hilarious and momentous event (62).  Throughout the text, he emphasizes that numbers and statistics are not paramount. Rather, he interprets the massacre as a symbolic method of societal commentary and a subversive insult to their employers (79). Symbols are important to Darnton, who critiques some of his contemporaries for being overcommitted to the Annales school of history and not invested enough in investigating the symbolic (257).

Throughout The Great Cat Massacre, Darnton argues for further application of anthropology in the study of cultural history to understand symbols. He borrows from anthropological methods and sources to approach his subjects with an expectation of culture shock rather than familiarity, attempting a detailed description of French culture, or ethnography from the perspective of a historian. His reading of ritualized events (such as the cat-killing) as texts reflect the thought of Clifford Geertz (3-5).[1] However, rather than reading events or objects from the era directly, Darnton looks at tales and descriptions in written form. He admits that he is unsure of whether he chose the “right” sources, but always considers them as embedded in the social or cultural world in which they were created (64, 262). For example, in one chapter, Darnton reuses a text he is already familiar with, the Encyclopédie (the topic of his 1979 study of the book’s publication). In The Great Cat Massacre, Darnton goes beyond a book’s physical origin to question its production of knowledge, its philosophical origins and directions, and the reasons its authors were perceived as dangerous. To achieve this, Darnton examines the Encyclopédie for what it symbolizes rather than what it says, searching for the “mentalités” of its authors, readers, and detractors.

Darnton concludes by advocating for a move toward anthropology in cultural history, or for historians to try to see things from their subjects’ perspectives and to seek out the “social dimensions of meaning” in what they know of them (260). In his attempt to get inside the heads of French citizens, he successfully uses a wide range of sources produced by different members of society. Darnton’s source base covers the actions and thoughts of people of different ages, religions, occupations, and socio-economic statuses. Darnton clearly attempts to distance himself and his prior knowledge of French history from the analysis. His familiarity with Old Regime France is evident, however, in his use of the cultural context to “get the joke” (62). His examination of how people thought about common problems raises questions about the importance of psychological theory—especially the section on folk tales. He rightly points out that analysts like Fromm and Bettelheim might anachronistically apply psychoanalysis to past tales. However, Darnton’s preoccupation with thought and symbols makes his exploration of Jung and the theory of universal archetypes (or alternatively the means of transmission of these tales from one locale to another) seem insignificant. This is especially true when arguing for the “Frenchness” of the stories he examines, which might not be as obvious to the average reader as to a French historian (10-11). This leaves room in the future historical study of thought and symbols for a deeper discussion of psychological theory. Just as he asks future historians to pick up where he left off in determining the relevance of cultural theory to history, decisions must be made about what psychological methods can and should be applied.

Darnton’s anthropological and historical analysis of the people in Old Regime France holds an interdisciplinary appeal. Yet, The Great Cat Massacre is of value to more than just cultural historians and anthropologists. Anyone with an interest in folktales, philosophy, law, or economy, will value and enjoy the critical intervention and artful prose of this text.

[1] In Clifford Geertz’s “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” he treats a ritual as text, “reading” it for sociological meaning. He argues that anthropologists can understand objects and events as describing a culture. For further reading, see: Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” In The Interpretation of Cultures, (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 449.

Reviewed: The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq, by Derek Gregory

(Image: Steve Bell, “Outa Town Iraqi,” Guardian, July 2, 2003).

Gregory, Derek. The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2004. Pp.392. $49.75.

By Summer Abukhomra

Derek Gregory’s The Colonial Present offers an analysis of the economic, political, and militaristic forces in the modern Middle East and their connections to the lives of ordinary people. While acknowledging the agency of ordinary individuals, Gregory also acknowledges the presence of determination or that their lives are shaped by circumstances largely beyond their control. His book focuses primarily on these connections in the countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, whose present histories and geographies “have all been made in the shadow of colonialism” (7).  Gregory aims to demonstrate how the effects of colonialism are still presently occurring, particularly after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Largely reliant upon the works of Karl Marx, Edward Said, and Michael Foucault, The Colonial Present aims to deconstruct the theories related to postcolonialism, such as the creation of an “other” used to exoticize societies as a means of reaffirming one’s own values and beliefs. The creation of familiar and unfamiliar societies is called “imaginative geographies,” a term coined by Edward Said to convey the perception of space through the use of language and imagery. In the case of the Middle East, Gregory argues that power lies in Western attempts to frame the region as uncivilized and uncreative.

Throughout the text, Gregory uses the events of September 11th to mark the turning point into the colonial present, during which the effects of postcolonialism come full circle and become obvious in the present-day just as much as they were one hundred years ago. While he uses the first third of the text to continue his discussion of space and power, the remainder of the text provides a deeper analysis of the role space and power play in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq.  In Afghanistan, the colonial present is marked by the “war on terror” campaigns against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In Palestine, it is marked by the continued growth of the state of Israel and the continuing dispossession of Palestinians. In Iraq, it is marked by the British-American invasion of the country in 2003. All three countries have experienced recent conflicts associated with the idea of power, space, and imagined geographies.

Gregory uses September 11th to marks the date from which the legacy of colonialism came full circle, or as the date in which Middle Easterners were condemned and “othered” in an effort to reaffirm the values and beliefs of certain Westerners trying to take political advantage of the fear caused by the tragedy of a terrorist attack in the United States. By “othering” Iraq and Afghanistan (who were thought to somehow supposedly be connected to weapons of mass destruction and Al-Qaeda), the United States was able to build up support for the coming wars through a dramatic increase in military enlistment by American citizens and by combat and financial support from Western allies. By aligning Israel with the West, the United States successfully built support for the strengthening of the Israeli state at the expense of the lives of ordinary Palestinians. Following the events that occurred on September 11th, American and British news agencies regularly posed the question: “Why do they hate us?” (13). This question strategically cultivated a discourse among Western colonial forces that emphasized the other, alien group and implied that any ill feelings between the East and the Islamic World were spontaneous and unwarranted. Many of Gregory’s primary sources include journalistic or media material and speeches by political leaders, and he elucidates the effect knowledge and the ability to distribute it has on power.

Gregory’s work revisits the theories of “the clash of civilizations” of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington’s, which illustrates the ways in which they believed the Islamic World has prevented itself from coexisting with the West (56). Huntington believed that Islam became the hindrance that prevented the East from modernizing while much of the world became more secularized. Huntington made clear that it was not Islamic fundamentalism that was a threat to the West, rather, it was Islam itself. The group responsible for the September 11th attacks was formed of mostly Saudi nationals. None were of Iraqi or Afghani origin. Gregory makes it clear that while much of the United States, including President Bush himself, was unsure of whom they -the September 11 attackers- really were, they were sure that the enemies were linked to Iraq and Afghanistan. In the West Bank, many Palestinians believed the September 11 attacks were orchestrated by Sharon as a pretext to encourage Israel and the West to take all remaining land from them. Said criticized Israel for taking advantage of the attacks and using it as a tool to intensify its occupation of Palestinian land.

Throughout this text, Derek Gregory demonstrates the threat of a colonial present, showing that while colonialism is turning to more secretive measures in more recent history, colonialism is still present in the Middle East and other colonized parts of the world. By examining the recent Western involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, Gregory shows that the use of imaginative geographies and other tools are successfully creating an enemy that is the antithesis of the West. Gregory says the only way to stop the endless cycle of oppression and resistance is for us to “cease turning on the treadmill of the colonial present” (262). This text is crucial for historians, geographers, and anthropologists, particularly for those interested in theories of power and the Middle East.


Reviewed: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, by Heather Ann Thompson

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Thompson, Heather Ann. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. New York: Vintage Books, 2016. Pp. 571. $17.95.

By Katarina Haley Andersen

In Blood in the Water, Heather Ann Thompson introduces her readers to one of the most inhumane assaults on vulnerable peoples in United States history. Thompson illuminates the legacy the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 by showing: (1) How the uprising came to fruition; (2) How New York State authorities allowed untrained men to use excessive force to retake the prison; (3) How prison authorities tormented, tortured, and violated inmates following the assault; and (4) How, to this day, New York State tries to keep many of the records of the event from public sight. New York State’s silencing of this history is so aggressive, that the documents Thompson used to craft Blood in the Water have disappeared. Thompson makes three major arguments. She asserts that the refusal of Attica prisoners to stay silent about their poor treatment in the prison in the early 1970s prompted reforms and lead to greater standards of living within the US prison system. However, the lies told about the uprising, which depicted the prisoners as sadistic, out-of-control animals, fueled the feverous War on Crime and Law and Order politics supported by the late Twentieth-century conservative revolution. Finally, Thompson’s work is a call-to-action. She contends that New York State has an ethical responsibility to own up to the true horrors of the assault on Attica, for, the public, victims, and their families deserve transparency from their government about wrong-doing. Yet, she declares that America’s incarcerated and most marginalized people have never stopped fighting for recognition and respect for their own humanity, which is the history of Attica’s true legacy.

Previous historical scholarship on United States prisons elucidates the ways in which white supremacist’s politics fueled the feverous ‘Law and Order’ rhetoric meant to criminalize Black and Brown bodies, which transformed the United States into the most oppressive carceral state in the world today.[1] However, Thompson’s work shows how the activism of the prisoners at Attica, and the list of demands they crafted during the uprising, helped guide later prison reforms. This led to greater resources and dignity within the US prison system, even if egregious abuse still occurs and disenfranchisement today mirrors the end of the nineteenth century due to mass incarceration. Thompson’s book is primarily organized chronologically into ten parts. In the first four sections, she depicts how vulnerable prisoners and guards were in prisons in 1971. Not only were the prisons overcrowded, but prisoners lived with other inhumane conditions, such as lack of sanitation, recreation, and excessive isolation. Also, correctional officers were undertrained and responsible for too many prisoners at once. Guards were often irrational, racist, and abusive towards prisoners, which chafed at prisoners who were increasingly conscious of the rhetoric of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. People in Attica were also aware that in several, then recent, prison uprisings, prisoners had spear-headed successful negotiations for better conditions with prison administrators. Thompson’s narrative relays how when the tension inside Attica finally peaked, prisoners were able to take control and take a dozen guards hostage. However, Thompson shows how the prisoners developed a leadership base that was devoted to transparency, solidarity, and the well-being of the prisoners and hostages within the prison. Men imprisoned in Attica were determined to force change in the institution that had long demonized them as an inhumane underclass.

The remainder of Thompson’s narrative depicts the vicious brutality of the angry and untrained officers sent in to re-take the prison, the subsequent abuse in wake of the takeover, and the many investigations and lawsuits related to New York’s handling of the assault. Not only were prisoners abused and murdered by the state, but correctional officers and state employees were caught in the crossfire or purposefully targeted. Additionally, the families of the prisoners and state employees were left without an explanation of the events, without breadwinners, and with insurmountable grief, which, to this day, the state refuses to ease by unveiling the complete details of the event. Throughout her narrative, Thompson clearly shows how the egregious lies that permeated government intelligence and the media, which demonized the prisoners as wild sadists, led to the brutality of the assault and helped crystalize the Law and Order philosophy of the last 50 years. Most importantly, she emphasizes that New York State first put the responsibilities of investigating the brutality and abuse of the Attica takeover right back into the hands of the law enforcement officers who perpetrated the massacre. To this day, New York refuses to apologize for the massacre. Thompson not only names names, she demands the state bring the details of these events to light so that the victims and family members can finally have some pathetic form of the closer denied to them for almost 50 years now.

Using newspapers, interviews, court transcripts, and materials from the slaughter, that the state surely meant to keep out of her hands, Thompson crafted a cohesive, engaging, and controversial narrative. Though her work engages minimal outside scholarship within the body of the text and reads as of a work of investigative journalism, she not only honors the Attica victims by meticulously bringing their history to light and making their political agency and humanity the foci of the retelling, she also calls out those who did everything in their power to silence them. Blood in the Water is essential for scholars of civil rights and mass incarceration and highly accessible for mature wider audiences.

[1] For more on the historical context of mass incarceration and racial solidarity in resistance to cruel and unusual punishment in the United States, see: Michael Flamm, In the Heat of the Summer: From the Harlem Riot of 1964 to the War on Crime and America’s Prison Crisis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016; Elizabeth Kai Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016); Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); and Dan Berger, Outlaws in America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2005).

Reviewed: Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America, by Micki McElya

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Micki McElya. Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. Pp. 322. $31.21.

By Sarah Marcinik

In Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-century America, Micki McElya primarily chronicles the early twentieth century legacy of “mammy,” the fictitious image of an enslaved woman who was devoted to the white family she served and was in return treated with great distinction and affection. Though white American society had developed this concept during the years of slavery, it resonated strongly in American culture during the twentieth century by painting a mythical caricature of a common household African American women that enjoyed enslavement. McElya tells the stories of diverse phenomenon that were strung together by their reliance on the mammy concept and demonstrates the adverse effects the myth had on race-making in the United States. Focusing on the early decades of the twentieth century, McElya argues that many whites, through the mediums of literature, commercial and institutional power, the press, law, and memory-making, used the “mammy” stereotype to sterilize the national memory of slavery as a benevolent institution and thereby delegitimize larger African American efforts for equality.

Clinging to Mammy covers a wide array of situations in which the mammy idea was used and builds off of scholarship as varied as Marilyn Kern-Foxworth and M.M. Manring, who have already addressed the invention of “Aunt Jemima;” Kirk Savage’s examination of the portrayals of African Americans in public memorials; and Karen Cox’s work on southern women’s memory-making of slavery. In addition, McElya’s overarching themes of the development of white racial attitudes and African American resistance have been discussed by historians such as Grace Hale and Tera Hunter. McElya effectively builds off of the historiographical and scholarly foundations of the scholars mentioned above to show how the myth and imagery of the mammy was used to stem the tide of African American dissent well into the twentieth century.

Though the book is primarily chronological, its progression is mostly based on the recounting of a series of diverse and largely independent episodes of the manifestation of the mammy idea. McElya begins by showing the concept at work in the commercial and press portrayals of Nancy Green, an African American woman who played the role of “Aunt Jemima” at expositions at the turn of the century. She then proceeds to show how upper-class southern women used the mammy in memoirs and theatrical presentations, and constructed an image of a platonic, devoted, and happy slave woman, which also allowed poor white women to assert themselves into a higher social stratum by also claiming an intimate knowledge about blackness and slave-owning through performance. Here, McElya emphasized how “class was built through blackness,” or rather, how whites of all classes benefited from the manifestation of the mammy myth (228). The image of a contented slave helped crystalize a racial social hierarchy that allowed poor whites to rank themselves above black Americans.

McElya also tells the story of how the press rewrote the story of a custody battle, relegating a black woman named Camilla Jackson to the role of “mammy” rather than the devoted adoptive mother of a young white girl. It is through the story of Camilla Jackson that McElya demonstrated the ways white denial of the legitimacy of black families, which has its roots in slavery, continued to serve as an effective tool to deny basic human rights to African Americans. Finally, McElya presents conflict between white elites who wanted to solidify the mammy concept with a national memorial and distract from the reality of racial violence and African Americans who, either as activists or domestic laborers, resisted confinement of the African American image to that of the mammy.

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(This image is of the first model crafted as a potential design for a mammy monument in Washington DC, titled “Mammy O’Mine.” Photo from

Image result for mammy monument

(This image is of an updated version of the mammy monument model. This image actually portrays an enslaved “mammy” caring for white children, when her own children are wanting for attention. Photo and further visual analysis, by Ligon, can be found  at

The primary sources from which these stories are drawn consist primarily of newspapers, periodicals, the papers of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, memoirs, political records, and some private correspondence. The majority of these sources demonstrate the elite white perspective of the mammy and portrayals of African Americans. However, McElya also draws from the sources highlighting black resistance and diversity in thought, such as articles from African American publications such as the California Eagle, to counter the white perspective.

While Clinging to Mammy does not present many new stories or previously unexamined evidence, it nevertheless presents a strong argument based on primary sources and previous scholarship, and, overall, Clinging to Mammy is a strong text with few drawbacks. McElya uses an almost story-like style that makes for smooth reading. The only difficulty with this style is that the chapters tend to function as independent stories, held together by the mammy concept and not by continuity of time, place, or subject. Further, the book is subtitled “The Faithful Slave in the Twentieth Century,” but it begins just before the turn of the century and primarily examines the first three decades of the twentieth century, only exploring the rest of the century in the last chapter. Clinging to Mammy does not provide a comprehensive history of the use of the mammy image throughout the entirety of the 20th century, but nevertheless, it is an important work. In a time of continued conflict over race and memory, McElya’s conclusion that “we are still clinging to Mammy” is salient (260). Clinging to Mammy is perfect for researchers and graduate students interested in African American history, post-emancipation studies, visual culture, and memory. Further, McElya’s engaging prose and clear analysis make the book perfect for larger popular audiences.

Reviewed: Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, by Kristin Hoganson

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Hoganson, Kristin. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. Pp. 305. $25.00

Reviewed by Collin Heatley (@cmheatley)

In Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, Kristin Hoganson argues that the performance of gender within electoral politics shaped foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The elevated involvement of women in politics, the closing of the Western frontier, and a heightened level of prosperity from the growth of industrial capitalism after the Civil War led to anxieties concerning a dwindling expression of masculinity in the country’s civic life. Ultimately, conflict in Cuba and the Philippines provided an avenue for imperialists in the United States to reassert and revitalize their perception of the masculine nature of civic virtue.

Hoganson’s examination of how gendered discourse shaped American imperialism at the turn of the century adds a crucial element to historians’ understanding of the dynamics of the Spanish-American war and its aftermath. As Hoganson notes, the historical debate concerning the causal forces behind the American imperialist drive has traditionally been cast in economic terms or in the framework of an impetus to fill a void of foreign influence as the colonial empires of Spain and Britain began to dissipate (7).  Regardless, Hoganson contends, these foreign policy decisions were shaped by gender presuppositions that cast the entirety of U.S. interventionism in gendered terms. The author stresses that international relations, whether in contemporary politics or in history, is an interaction among cultural systems (205). By examining American imperialism through a gendered historical lens, Hoganson effectively demonstrates that the political, economic, and cultural elements of foreign intervention was often cast in gendered terms.

Hoganson effectively demonstrates how the entire process of U.S. imperialism was influenced by gendered rhetoric – from internal debates between imperialists (known as ‘jingoes’) and anti-imperialists, the ideal of war being an expression of civic virtue and a duty of citizenship, and the eventual U.S. occupation of Cuba and the Philippines. Hoganson notes how economic conditions and the prominence of women’s activist groups created anxieties over the place of manly character in U.S. politics, which contemporaries viewed as vital to the health of the nation as a whole (35). American jingoes romanticized Cuban resistance to Spanish occupation as a struggle between masculine revolutionaries and a feminized mother country in Spain, and the sinking of the USS Maine presented an opportunity for Americans to assist Cubans in restoring a gendered order to the island (51, 68). While some American anti-imperialist groups and politicians dissented from the push towards war, jingoes framed the resistance to interventionism as an effeminate action, thus creating political incentive to support engaging in war with Spain (82). The Spanish-American war was overwhelmingly popular, which fostered a political climate where the capacity for entering in and succeeding in politics was connected to military prowess and willingness to become an imperial world power (117).

At the conclusion of the war, America came to possess the Philippines, and jingoes advanced the idea that Filipinos were unsuited for independence and needed the United States as guardians (136). Drawing on paternalistic and racist assumptions about their lack of capacity for self-government, Filipinos were portrayed as effeminate in U.S. political discourse which validated the government’s occupation of the islands (137). Furthermore, imperialists held that foreign expansion and the allure of the Philippines would build manly character and prevent a fall into degenerate behavior (140). However, as reports of rape, sex trafficking, soliciting prostitutes, and homosexuality by American men in the Philippines made its way back to the United States, anti-imperialists argued that occupation of the islands was actually encouraging degeneracy (184). If the United States was concerned with facilitating masculinity in Filipinos, they argued, then independence would be the best course of action to develop the traits they deemed necessary for self-governance (197). As Hoganson notes, anti-imperialists drew on anxieties over miscegenation to make their case (189). One of the most effective points Hoganson makes is that convictions about gender and the place of masculinity in the political landscape did not always benefit imperialists; in this case anti-imperialists utilized gender discourse to their advantage (193).

In her exposition of the turn of the century political landscape, Hoganson shows how gender was a primary lens through which imperial debates were cast by drawing on, among other materials, editorials in the press as well as political cartoons. For example, reactions to the ‘de Lome letter,’ in which a letter written by Spain’s ambassador to the United States that characterized President McKinley as ‘weak’ was leaked to the imperialistic New York Journal, demonstrate that jingoes interpreted the remark as an insult not only to the president’s masculinity, but that of all Americans (89). However, Hoganson notes that editorials by McKinley’s political opponents in publications like the Atlanta Constitution illustrate that while potentially offended by the remark, the president’s opponents seized the opportunity to point out that McKinley’s reluctance to retaliate proved the ambassador’s characterization correct (90). Additionally, Hoganson’s utilization of a wealth of political cartoons to reveal the gender dynamic at play in U.S. politics is particularly poignant. The political cartoons include: a forecast of the potential political ramifications of including women in politics, a depiction of Spain as a feeble old woman, and feminizations of opposition to war (31, 54, 79). In combination with extensive use of newspaper editorials, Hoganson’s use of political cartoons corroborates her assertion that gender was central to late 19th century politics and is a testament to the role of the press in both formulating and complimenting political opinion.

By drawing on various publications in the United States, Hoganson is able to provide a comprehensive picture of how international diplomacy was interpreted in gendered terms. In sum, Hoganson is overwhelmingly successful in proving that the politics of imperialism were infused with a gender dynamic that encouraged expansion and military intervention as an avenue to foster masculinity. This book is essential reading for students and scholars interested in the history of the Spanish-American war, gender history, and the history of United States imperialism.