Faculty Books

ocean of letters book cover

Ocean of Letters is a remarkable history of imperialism, language, and creolization in the largest African diaspora of the Indian Ocean in the early modern period. Ranging from Madagascar to the Mascarenes, the Comores, and South Africa, Pier M. Larson sheds new light on the roles of slavery, emancipation, oceanic travel, Christian missions, and colonial linguistics in the making of Malagasy-language literacy in the islands of the western Indian Ocean. He shows how enslaved and free Malagasy together with certain European colonists and missionaries promoted the Malagasy language, literacy projects and letter writing in the multilingual colonial societies of the region between the seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. Addressing current debates in the history of Africa and the African diaspora, slavery, abolition, creolization and the making of modern African literatures, the book crosses thematic as well as geo-imperial boundaries and brings fresh perspectives to Indian Ocean history.


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In this account of the Algerian War’s effect on French political structures and notions of national identity, Todd Shepard asserts that the separation of Algeria from France was truly a revolutionary event with lasting consequences for French social and political life. For more than a century, Algeria had been legally and administratively part of France; after the bloody war that concluded in 1962, it was other—its 8 million Algerian residents deprived of French citizenship while hundreds of thousands of French pieds noirs were forced to return to a country that was never home. This rupture violated the universalism that had been the essence of French republican theory since the late eighteenth century. Shepard contends that because the amputation of Algeria from the French body politic was accomplished illegally and without explanation, its repercussions are responsible for many of the racial and religious tensions that confront France today. In portraying decolonization as an essential step in the inexorable “tide of history,” the French state absolved itself of responsibility for the revolutionary change it was effecting. It thereby turned its back not only on the French of Algeria—Muslims in particular—but also on its own republican principles and the 1958 Constitution. From that point onward, debates over assimilation, identity, and citizenship—once focused on the Algerian “province/colony”—have troubled France itself. In addition to grappling with questions of race, citizenship, national identity, state institutions, and political debate, Shepard also addresses debates in Jewish history, gender history, and queer theory.


In this revelatory and genuinely groundbreaking study, François Furstenberg sheds new light on the genesis of American identity. Immersing us in the publishing culture of the early 19th century, he shows us how the words of George Washington and others of his generation became America’s sacred scripture and provided the foundation for a new civic culture—one whose reconciliation with slavery unleashed consequences that haunt us still. A dazzling work of scholarship from a brilliant young historian, In the Name of the Father is a major contribution to American social history.


vernacular-bodies book cover

Making babies was a mysterious process in 17th-century England. Fissell uses popular sources—songs, jokes, witchcraft pamphlets, prayerbooks, popular medical manuals—to recover how ordinary men and women understood the processes of reproduction. Because the human body was so often used as a metaphor for social relations, the grand events of high politics such as the English Civil War reshaped popular ideas about conception and pregnancy. This book is the first account of ordinary people’s ideas about reproduction, and offers a new way to understand how common folk experienced the sweeping political changes that characterized early modern England.


privilege-and-the-politics book cover

This book offers a lucid new interpretation of the Ancien Régime and the origins of the French Revolution. It examines what was arguably the most ambitious project of the 18th-century French monarchy: the attempt to impose direct taxes on formerly tax-exempt privileged elites. Drawing on impressive archival research, Michael Kwass demonstrates that the levy of these taxes, which struck elites with some force, not only altered the relationship between monarchy and social hierarchy, but also transformed political language and attitudes; attitudes that ultimately led to revolution.


In a sweeping synthesis of American history, Mary Ryan demonstrates how the meaning of male and female has evolved, changed, and varied over a span of 500 years and across major social and ethnic boundaries. She traces how, at select moments in history, perceptions of sex difference were translated into complex and mutable patterns for differentiating women and men. How those distinctions were drawn and redrawn affected the course of American history more generally.

Ryan recounts the construction of a modern gender regime that sharply divided male from female and created modes of exclusion and inequity. The divide between male and female blurred in the twentieth century, as women entered the public domain, massed in the labor force, and revolutionized private life. This transformation in gender history serves as a backdrop for seven chronological chapters, each of which presents a different problem in American history as a quandary of sex. Ryan’s bold analysis raises the possibility that perhaps, if understood in their variety and mutability, the differences of sex might lose the sting of inequality.


lenin and the making of the soviet state book cover

Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1870–1924) led the first successful revolt against market-based liberal democracy and founded the Soviet state in 1917, serving as the new nation’s chief architect and sole ruler for the next five years. He created an innovative political, economic, social, and cultural system that in its heyday would challenge the military, technological, and cultural might of the United States. This collection of primary sources allows readers to learn about Lenin through his own words and explores the complicated relationship between Lenin’s actions and his ideology. Jeffrey Brooks and Georgiy Chernyavskiy have translated newly available documents that make it possible to provide a more accurate portrait of this ruthless strategist. Document headnotes, a chronology, questions for consideration, and a selected bibliography offer additional pedagogical support and encourage students to analyze the actions and beliefs of a man who transformed world history and whose legacy continues to affect social and political movements throughout the world.


This brilliantly crafted narrative explores the roots of violence in Chinese rural society over the past 700 years, based on the study of a single highland county, Macheng, Hubei province, in the Great Divide Mountains separating the Yangzi valley from the North China Plain. Between the expulsion of the Mongols in the mid-14th century and the invasion of the Japanese in 1938, Macheng experienced repeated, often self-inflicted waves of mass “extermination” of segments of its population. This book argues that, beyond its strategic military centrality and ingrained social tensions, cultural factors such as popular religion, folklore, collective memory, and local historical production played key roles in the continued proclivity of the county’s population for massive carnage. In the process, the history of Macheng also provides a case study in the way events and trends of national significance in the history of China have been experienced at the local level.


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This fascinating exploration of a work that was the epitome of German literary modernism illuminates in chilling detail the death of the Weimar Republic’s left-leaning culture of innovation and experimentation. Peter Jelavich examines Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), a novel that questioned the autonomy and coherence of the human personality in the modern metropolis, and traces the radical discrepancies that came with its adaptation into a radio play (1930) and a film (1931). Jelavich explains these discrepancies by examining not only the varying demands of genre and technology but also the political and economic contexts of the media—in particular, the censorship practices in German radio and film. His analysis culminates in a richly textured discussion of the complex factors that led to the demise of Weimar culture, as Nazi intimidation and the economic strains of the Depression induced producers to depoliticize their works. Jelavich’s book becomes a cautionary tale about how fear of outspoken right-wing politicians can curtail and eliminate the arts as a critical counterforce to politics—all in the name of entertainment.


practicing history book cover

This essential collection of key articles offers a re-evaluation of the practice of history in light of current debates. Critical thinkers and practicing historians present their writings, along with clear and thorough editorial material, to examine the complex ideas at the forefront of historical practice.

This volume gives a synoptic overview of the last 25 years’ theoretical analysis of historical writing, with a critical examination of the central concepts and positions that have been in debate. The collection delineates the emergence of “practice theory” as a possible paradigm for future historical interpretation concerned with questions of agency, experience and the subject.

These complex ideas are introduced to students in this accessible reader, and for teachers and historians too, this survey is an indispensable and timely read.