Jared Gardner, The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture. Reviewed by Matthew Pethers
Nov09

Jared Gardner, The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture. Reviewed by Matthew Pethers

JARED GARDNER, The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2012), 203 pp. Reviewed by Matthew Pethers  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) In surveying the field that Jared Gardner’s essential new book intervenes into, an optimistic observer might adapt his chosen title to offer the headline: “The Rise and Rise of American Magazine Studies.” Whether best seen as an adjunct of the recent turn to book history, an outcrop of intellectual history, or, in Gardner’s view, as a consequence of the digital era’s “return [to] […] increasingly miscellaneous, anonymous, fragmented, collaborative and decidedly non-novelistic writing” (161), it is the case that a steadily growing scholarly interest in American periodical culture seems to be evident. The last few years alone have seen the publication of significant monographs such as James Landers’s The Improbable First Century of ‘Cosmopolitan’ Magazine (2010), Mark Noonan’s Reading ‘The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine’: American Literature and Culture, 1870-1893 (2010) and Susan Goodman’s The Republic of Words: ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ and its Writers, 1857-1925 (2011). Yet as the titles of these works clearly indicate, much of the focus of recent periodical research has been on single magazines. This is certainly true for the more specific domain of early American magazine studies, where perhaps the most widely-cited book of the last decade has been William C. Dowling’s Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson: Joseph Dennie and ‘The Port Folio,’ 1801-1812 (1999). The contemporary monographs to come closest to an overview of this period are: Mark Kamrath and Sharon Harris’s co-edited volume Periodical Literature in Eighteenth-Century America (2005), though as a collection of essays that is necessarily piecemeal; and Catherine O’Donnell Kaplan’s Men of Letters in the Early Republic: Cultivating Forums of Citizenship (2008), though that subordinates its myriad insights into a range of magazines to a broader argument about post-Revolutionary sociability. In short, what we lack for the late eighteenth century, as well as for other periods, are systematic, comprehensive accounts of American magazine culture that directly address the distinctiveness of periodical writing and production. Which is precisely why Gardner’s The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture deserves to be dubbed indispensable.   As the most sustained and persuasive analysis of the early American magazine’s cultural significance that we possess, and as the most detailed account of its repeated failure to prosper, Gardner’s book is notable for its ability to draw broad conclusions and strong claims from the material it treats. More specifically, Gardner develops the argument that late eighteenth-century American culture privileged what he calls the “editorial function” (x) over the more individualistic modes of self-expression we have...

Read More
Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism; Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812; Paul Gilje, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812. Reviewed by Jasper Trautsch
Nov09

Nicole Eustace, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism; Andrew Lambert, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812; Paul Gilje, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812. Reviewed by Jasper Trautsch

NICOLE EUSTACE, 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2012), xvii + 315 pp. ANDREW LAMBERT, The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812 (London: Faber and Faber, 2012), 538 pp. PAUL GILJE, Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 437 pp. Reviewed by Jasper M. Trautsch Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) The traditional American narrative of the War of 1812 emphasizes that British maritime practices—mainly interferences with American neutral trade and the impressment of seamen from American merchant ships on the high seas—caused severe Anglo-American tensions in the early nineteenth century such that Republicans—in power in the United States since 1801—felt the need to declare war against the former mother country in 1812 in order to defend the nation’s honor. In the following so called ‘Second War of Independence,’ the U.S. Navy was able to win some impressive naval battles against the hitherto undefeated Royal Navy, the traditional story continues, and thus made Great Britain acknowledge American sovereignty in the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. The War of 1812 produced military heroes such as James Lawrence, David Porter, Stephen Decatur, and Andrew Jackson and thus promoted American nationalism, such that the initially divisive war ushered in the so-called Era of Good Feelings, the classical American interpretation concludes.   On the occasion of the bicentennial of the conflict, three works appeared that fundamentally call the assumptions of this narrative into question. Nicole Eustace, Associate Professor of History at New York University, called the war “a grave American embarrassment” (31), in which diplomatically and militarily the United States achieved nothing and which was marked by disastrous military failures on the American side. Andrew Lambert, Professor of Naval History at King’s College, London, found that “after a litany of defeats all along the Canadian border, the capture and destruction of Washington, bankruptcy and the loss of several warships, including the national flagship; the peace settlement had been a fortunate escape” for the American government (1-2). As both authors concur that America did not ‘win’ the War of 1812, they seek to understand—yet in different ways—why it boosted American patriotism and why it has been publicly remembered as an American success story. Paul Gilje, Professor of United States History at the University of Oklahoma, in the third book under review in this article, by contrast, seems at first glance to keep up the traditional American narrative of the War of 1812 when emphasizing Britain’s violations of American neutral rights and impressment on the high seas as the causes for America’s declaration of war. Possibly without intending to...

Read More
Alison Clark Efford, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era. Reviewed by Frank Baron
Nov02

Alison Clark Efford, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era. Reviewed by Frank Baron

ALISON CLARK EFFORD, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 267 pp. Reviewed by Frank Baron  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   With persistent attention to the role of German-Americans before and during the Civil War, it is refreshing to see a study that encompasses this important era but also explores the decade that followed. Efford undertakes the critical examination of the German-American commitment to African American suffrage and citizenship. Her thoroughly documented research takes advantage of the entire range of published and archival resources and delineates an era that begins with the 1848 revolution and concludes with the contested presidential election of 1876. The study highlights the ‘German Triangle,’ Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin and, in particular, the metropolitan centers: Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. Efford considers this segment of the Midwest worthy of special attention because of a prevalent view that here German-Americans held the power of swing voters. The German newspapers of the Midwest, published in the cities of the ‘Triangle,’ provide valuable evidence of representative political positions and their evolution. Efford identifies an unexpected shift in what she considers the captivating image of the ‘freedom-loving’ German-American, “an immigrant man who asserted the value of cultural diversity while he took on slavery” (54). In the 1850s, the outspoken radicals were the major spokesmen for their ethnic community. They went beyond Abraham Lincoln’s moderate position on race; they demanded the abolition of slavery and advocated citizenship and voting rights for freed African Americans. Nationally, German-American Midwesterners had reshaped the party that brought Lincoln to power. During the Civil War, the reputation of Germans as ‘freedom loving’ increased. The momentum of such reputation advanced the voting rights for freed slaves, contributing in 1870 to the passage of the fifteenth amendment, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.   Ironically, the year 1870 can also be seen as a significant turning point in the German-American support for voting rights. It was the year of the Franco-Prussian War, in which Bismarck could claim a decisive victory over France. The Iron Chancellor took steps to unite Germany and thereby achieved one of the goals for which the Forty-Eighters had fought. A nationalistic fervor pervaded German immigrant communities throughout the United States. The strong empathy for the fatherland had consequences for the immigrants’ attitudes toward African Americans. Influenced by Germany’s successful unification, German-Americans retreated from their support of black voting rights and reframed the debate in favor of national reconciliation. The shift also involved a movement away from the focus on equality to a view of ethnic superiority. In Efford’s view, this shift relegates the popular image of...

Read More
Christine L. Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Reviewed by Franziska Schmid
Nov02

Christine L. Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Reviewed by Franziska Schmid

CHRISTINE L. RIDARSKY and MARY M. HUTH, eds., Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights (Rochester: U of Rochester P, 2012), 245 pp. Reviewed by Franziska Schmid  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) The nineteenth-century American cultural landscape bears witness to a large variety of reform movements. Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights, edited by Christine L. Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth, approaches the diverse field of American women’s involvement in these reform movements from a historical perspective. In outlining the multifaceted struggle for equal rights, the collection of essays focuses on the life and work of one outstanding figure among women reformers: Susan B. Anthony. The seven essays compiled in this volume explore the manifold sides of Anthony’s involvement in various reform movements such as women’s rights, temperance, and antislavery. While the collection successfully conveys a differentiated picture of the interconnectedness and involvement of this wide range of nineteenth-century reform movements and Anthony’s influence on them, it remains vague in positioning itself in existing scholarship. More direct theoretical explications and references would have been indispensable for demarking the innovativeness of the collection’s approach and for drawing a concise and distinguished picture of Anthony.   Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights is divided in four parts: ‘Constructing Memory,’ ‘Anthony and Her Allies,’ ‘Broadening the Boundaries of the Equal Rights Struggle,’ and ‘Reconstructing Memory.’ Four out of seven essays are concerned with portraying Anthony and her involvement in various reform movements, whereas the three remaining essays are devoted to shedding light on the lives and works of lesser known activists and their involvement with the struggle for equal rights of marginalized groups such as Native Americans or African Americans. The collection employs memory politics, both in the sense of constructing a certain story and reconstructing that story as history, as its structuring principle. The first essay by Lisa Tetrault investigates Anthony’s role as a historian and her fascination with creating and controlling future generations’ memory of the woman suffrage movement. In “We Shall Be Remembered,” Tetrault proposes to rethink the image drawn of Anthony and the suffrage movement along the lines of memory construction. The essay gives a careful account of the long and tedious process of compiling the History of Woman Suffrage, authored by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Susan B. Anthony. In unearthing “surprisingly unknown” (16) details about the editorial process of the History, Tetrault points to the importance of collaboration among women’s rights activists and to their collaboration with other reform efforts, such as the abolitionist movement, in achieving their cause of universal suffrage. While the collection initially...

Read More
Brenda Gayle Plummer, In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization, 1956 – 1974. Reviewed by Elizabeth West
Oct26

Brenda Gayle Plummer, In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization, 1956 – 1974. Reviewed by Elizabeth West

BRENDA GAYLE PLUMMER, In Search of Power: African Americans in the Era of Decolonization, 1956 – 1974 (New York, NY: Cambridge UP, 2013), 372pp. Reviewed by Elizabeth West  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   In this historical study of the overlapping but often presumed separate African American Civil Rights period and the Era of Decolonization, Plummer shows that these pivotal movements were related and that black leaders saw the future of African Americans tied to Africans in the future decolonized world. In Search of Power is a needed reminder to scholars and students focusing on this period and the aftermath that while we rightly examine the parallel struggles of blacks in America and those in Africa and the colonized Americas, the struggles were not identical and the failed expectations for African American rights in the United States can be better understood by looking at the relationship of these two struggles. Plummer’s study is a comprehensive one: the book is organized into nine chapters that are encased by introductory and concluding chapters that build the framework for the body of the book and offer a coda that reflects on the implications of the findings in this scholarship. The author methodically outlines the book’s aim to investigate how and why the anticipated changes for African Americans during the almost twenty year Decolonization Era, 1956 – 1974, went ultimately unrealized. Plummer’s study is grounded in careful research, evident in the vast primary and secondary sources from which she draws. This includes black newspapers and magazines from the era under study, government archives, private communications, and she also addresses the works of contemporary historians, sociologists, and political scientists to offer a highly critical look at this age.   Plummer cogently captures the milieu of her study’s beginning, particularly weaving a history that shows how academia, intellectualism, literature, politics, and economics of the late 1950s reflect “A Great Restlessness” as she entitles chapter one. Here she explains the historical setting that gave rise to leaders and institutions such as Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, and to reactions such as black expatriation. She then shows how these dynamics converged to influence black American interests in the affairs of continental Africans and Africans across the globe. Plummer’s insightful summation of Henry Kissinger’s assessment of the nation’s problem with racial discrimination underscores her reading of the eventual failure to realize the 60s aspirations for racial equity. Plummer cites Kissinger’s 1957 response to Urban League director Lester Granger regarding his policy paper on the race problem. Kissinger wrote to Granger that his paper suggested “‘the manner and method of presenting our case rather than to the...

Read More
Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Reviewed by Kristina Baudemann
Oct19

Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Reviewed by Kristina Baudemann

THOMAS KING, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2013), 287 pp; (originally published in Canada by Doubleday, 2012) Reviewed by Kristina Baudemann  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America is not a historical account of the indigenous peoples of North America, nor does it qualify as anthropological or socio-political study; it is a manifesto in the tradition of Charles Eastman’s The Indian Today (1915), D’Arcy McNickle’s They Came Here First (1949) and Vine Deloria Jr.’s Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) and as such a must-read for every student, scholar, and aspiring scholar of Native American and Postcolonial Studies. Discarding the cloak of objectivity usually required for writing that wants to be taken seriously, King provides a narrative of North American dealings with Native affairs that reaches from the past to the imagined future(s): after exploring the realm of legends (the 1861 massacre of 295 whites in Almo, Idaho, that never happened), simulacra (Hollywood policies, cowboys, and Indians), and political travesties (broken treaties, residential school grievances) King proceeds to shed light on the ongoing political repressions by asking “What do Indians want?” (193; 215).   The question is, of course, ironic. To King, the term ‘Indian’ amounts to Tolkien’s ‘One Ring.’ Thus, instead of answering the question, King subverts it, which is in line with the book’s general subversion of familiar history, and asks instead: What do whites want? The answer—“Land. Whites want land” (216)—is at the heart of colonialism and imperialism, which leads King to end his book on a critical commentary on two major land claims settlements, the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in the USA and the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Settlement Agreement in Canada that have influenced the life of every indigenous person in North America and that will have an impact long into the future.   The Inconvenient Indian is a book that professes a distinct consciousness of the reader. Thomas King’s narrative voice openly performs as an authorial instance that strings together selected moments of what has come to be commonly known as North American history to a surprisingly coherent whole in spite of (or because of) interjections of the thoughts and critical objections of King’s partner, Helen Hoy, and his son Benjamin, as well as King’s own anecdotes and sarcastic comments, all of which slow down the narrative pace and loosen up what would otherwise have been a dense web of historical facts. This is after all one of the remarkable things about King’s book: it can...

Read More
Keith Clark, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry. Reviewed by Julie Naviaux
Oct19

Keith Clark, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry. Reviewed by Julie Naviaux

KEITH CLARK, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2013), 264 pp. Reviewed by Julie Naviaux  Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) Clark begins his latest literary study, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry, with a claim that calls for a complete reframing of Petry’s oeuvre: that Boston University’s Ann Petry archive demonstrates, through Petry’s letters and records, that she was much more politically minded and involved than previous critics have acknowledged. Clark argues that Petry’s writings should not be pigeonholed in the genre of Naturalism, nor should she be endlessly compared and subordinated to male writers such as Richard Wright. Unlike many of her contemporary male writers, who were interested in representing African American male protagonists as equally masculine to their white counterparts, Clark argues for what he terms a “radical aesthetic agenda,” which includes questioning “essentialist definitions of gender for male protagonists” (4) and demonstrates how the lives of WASPs “can be as nightmarish and pathological as those blacks confined to a plantation” (5). This is just one among many new looks that Clark takes at Petry’s fiction that makes his study a must-read for students and scholars of American literature, particularly those interested in the understudied works of authors publishing between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement.   To date, Hazel Arnett Ervin’s 2005 The Critical Response to Ann Petry contains the most comprehensive collection of reviews of Petry’s work and criticism on her fiction from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Ervin’s collection captures the development in Petry criticism over several decades. Early Petry criticism focused on the inability of black, often female, characters to achieve the American Dream. Petry critics such as Vernin Lattin, Richard Yarborough, and Bernard Bell analyzed The Street against its contemporary texts If He Hollers Let Him Go and Native Son to assert that it was another example of a naturalist text but one authored by a woman writer and with a female protagonist. Later critics, such as Marjorie Pryse and Calvin C. Herton, began analyzing Petry’s black female characters in The Street in contrast to Lutie, the novel’s black female protagonist, addressing failures of Lutie’s and, more general, black women’s motherhood. More recently, Nellie McKay, Kimberly Drake, and Heather Hicks place Petry back in conversation with Wright, Himes, and Ellison claiming that, through her female protagonist, Petry demonstrates the complex meanings and double standards of women’s lives and experiences. Although The Street is by far Petry’s most analyzed text, some critics have examined Country Place and The Narrows for their critiques of whiteness as a race and therefore also a part of the social constructions...

Read More
Babette Bärbel Tischleder, The Literary Life of Things: Case Studies in American Fiction. Reviewed by Martin Brückner
Oct13

Babette Bärbel Tischleder, The Literary Life of Things: Case Studies in American Fiction. Reviewed by Martin Brückner

BABETTE BÄRBEL TISCHLEDER, The Literary Life of Things: Case Studies in American Fiction (Frankfurt: Campus, 2014), 292 pp. Reviewed by Martin Brückner Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014)   Of the current scholarship driving the material turn in literary studies, Babette Tischleder’s The Literary Life of Things is a major contribution to critical efforts intent on disentangling the complicated relationship between American fiction and material culture. Using a dual narrative trajectory, the study not only expands current theories informing thing studies and material culture but demonstrates the pervasiveness with which object-oriented ontologies informed American fiction from the mid-nineteenth to the twenty-first century.   In the first trajectory, the introduction offers a précis of current criticism discussing what is at stake when we as humans claim that the very things that are not human impact our lives but also have a life of their own. In a refreshing move that foregrounds the semantics of life over that of things (cf. 18-22), Tischleder calls attention to the psychological implications that inform the fictional representation of subject/object relationships as they unfold in both space and time. Thus positioned, the study takes measure of the mostly Marxist driven field of thing theories and their various object-centered arguments. Moving deftly from Arjan Appadurai and Igor Kopytoff’s take on commodification and the social life of things to Marcel Mauss and John Frow’s competing notions of gift economies—the author’s argument for the importance of matter’s agency is motivated by two thinkers in particular.   On the one hand, The Literary Life of Things gains much of its momentum from Bruno Latour’s almost giddy praise of literary studies in Reassembling the Social (2005), where he argues that unlike empirical data literature provides a ‘freer’ environment for exploring material life. On the other hand, Tischleder also takes a page from Hannah Arendt’s classic The Human Condition (1958) and its postulation that the tangibility of experience is a key feature of world-making just as the material process of reification is crucial for turning actions into the stuff of future memories. Calling on an array of theorists, ranging from D. W. Winnicott to Gaston Bachelard to Pierre Bourdieu, the book asks readers not only to find new ways that include nonhuman objects into our interpretive calculus of knowledge production but to consider the question of how fiction enables objects to come alive ‘in’ rather than ‘around’ us.   The study’s second trajectory consists of five case studies in which the author puts her working questions into action by tracking the nexus between the human and the material in select works of American fiction. The application of contextual sources and interdisciplinary methodologies...

Read More
Dieter Schulz, Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz
Oct13

Dieter Schulz, Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz

DIETER SCHULZ, Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism (Heidelberg: Mattes, 2012), 308 pp. Reviewed by Johannes Voelz Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.4 (2014) In 2013, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society bestowed its highest honor—the “Lifetime Achievement Award”—on Dieter Schulz and thus recognized him as one of a very small group of scholars whose work has fundamentally shaped our understanding of Emerson and the Transcendentalists. Schulz, who now finds himself in the company of such luminaries of Transcendentalist scholarship as Kenneth Walter Cameron, Robert Richardson, Barbara Packer, Stanley Cavell, and Lawrence Buell, is the first scholar from outside the United States to receive the award. The Emerson Society’s decision is all the more remarkable considering that Schulz’s writings on Emerson and Thoreau have so far not been widely available internationally. His monograph Amerikanischer Transzendentalismus: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller (1997), while considered a benchmark introduction in German-speaking countries, has not been translated into English, and even the majority of his numerous essays on the Transcendentalists have been published in venues that are most often dismally ignored outside of German academe. To make things more complicated, some of them were written in German without having been translated into English. While experts have long been in the know (as the choice by the Emerson Society’s award committee attests), the publication of Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves: Studies in Transcendentalism finally fills the urgent need of collecting the key essays of Schulz’s oeuvre on Transcendentalism in a nicely edited English-language paperback edition.   Emerson and Thoreau, or Steps Beyond Ourselves collects eleven of Schulz’s essays on Emerson and Thoreau written between the mid-1990s and 2010, two of which are published here for the first time. They are framed by two articles on Puritan precursors to Transcendentalism (Roger Williams and John Cotton) and two articles on twentieth-century followers (William Carlos Williams, and Martin Walser, whom Schulz presents as deeply indebted to Whitman). Schulz’s take on the Transcendentalists in these essays further develops ideas from his 1997 book, and, indeed, his critical project here is thematically continuous with his earliest publications from the early 1970s. Throughout this decade-spanning intellectual endeavor, Schulz has developed a mature, distinct voice, which comes to full fruition in these essays: he abstains from the attempt to score points with claims that are original at all cost and instead articulates positions that combine clarity—even a proclivity for the commonsensical—with at times unexpected insights gained from connections drawn to the Western philosophical tradition, including most centrally the Presocratics, Saint Augustine, George Berkeley, and Hans-Georg Gadamer.   While his early work was dedicated to the...

Read More