Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp.
Apr13

Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp.

Caroline Frank, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 257 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     According to data released by China and the U.S., by the end of 2015, the U.S. had become China’s second largest trading partner, its largest export market, and the fourth largest source of imports to China, and China has exceeded Canada to become the largest trading partner of the U.S. for the first time. Maintaining a good China-U.S. economic relationship is vital for the well-development and prosperity of economies in both countries. Leaders in both countries are well aware of that. That’s why U.S. President Barack Obama travelled to China for the first time on November 16, 2009, not long after his assuming of office. In the Museum of Science and Technology, Shanghai, President Obama held a town hall meeting with Chinese youth. In his remarks, Obama traced America’s early relationship with China to 1784 when the commissioned ship Empress of China sailed to Canton, China.   In 1784, our founding father, George Washington[1], commissioned the Empress of China, a ship that set sail for these shores so that it could pursue trade with the Qing Dynasty. Washington wanted to see the ship carry the flag around the globe, and to forge new ties with nations like China.  This is a common American impulse—the desire to reach for new horizons, and to forge new partnerships that are mutually beneficial.[2]   By tracing America’s economic relationship with China to the eighteenth century, Obama wants to display to Chinese people how the U.S. and China have been closely related in an economic sense since the very early period of America’s foundation. However, he could have done an even better job in appealing to his Chinese audience had he known Caroline Frank’s book Objectifying China, Imagining America published two years after his speech, which shows with much material evidence that America’s commercial engagement with China could be dated back to a much earlier time—the 1690s. When America won political independence from Britain in 1783, the economic situation was desperate as the young nation was cut off from the profitable trade with the West Indies by Britain. Therefore, American merchants began to look elsewhere for new trade—the Asian market—and began trade with China. The Empress of China, for example, achieved great commercial success. This is the conventional historical discourse. Frank, however, dates the story almost a century earlier to the late seventeenth century, proving with material evidence and occasionally with personal anecdotes and individual life stories that colonial Americans went to China, where a massive market was believed...

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Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp.
Apr13

Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp.

Mark G. Spencer, ed., The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 2 vols., xxxvi + 1215 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     As to its scope, substance, and usability, this new reference work deserves nothing but praise. Interdisciplinary in perspective and over ten years in the making, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia offers no fewer than 519 entries by 370 authors from sixteen countries on four continents[1]—an awe-inspiring achievement by Mark Spencer, a historian at Brock University in Canada, who edited and coordinated this megaproject. Of the 519 entries in the encyclopedia’s two hardcover volumes, 360 (almost 70 percent) are biographical, with considerable space being devoted to such leading figures as John Adams, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, David Ramsay, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Rush, George Washington, and John Witherspoon, but fortunately also including articles on “lesser lights of the American Enlightenment” (xxxii), such as the botanist Jane Colden. The remaining 159 entries (about 30 percent) are thematic, covering a broad spectrum of topics in fields as diverse as politics, religion, philosophy, education, literature, music, painting, architecture, philanthropy, geography, medicine, agriculture, science, or technology (cf. xxxiii-xxxiv). Taken together, these entries form a comprehensive source of reference and a welcome addition to the monographs, anthologies, journals, and electronic databases that have traditionally been used to study or teach the period between roughly 1720 and 1820.[2] As to thematic inclusiveness, conceptual depth, and theoretical topicality, there are some caveats however. Although one might argue that a project of such magnitude, by necessity, must be incomplete, which is true enough, some of the absences in The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia clearly have deeper structural causes. That one looks in vain for biographical entries on Richard Allen, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, Briton Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, John Marrant, Ignatius Sancho, Venture Smith, or David Walker, for instance—African American and Afro-British writers[3] presented and discussed in seminal collections such as Black Atlantic Writers of the Eighteenth Century ([ed. Potkay and Burr] 1995), Unchained Voices ([ed. Carretta] 1996), or Genius in Bondage ([ed. Carretta and Gould] 2001), some of them mentioned in John Saillant’s article on “African Americans” (22-30)—can be traced directly to the lack of a thematic and conceptual entry on the “black Atlantic,” a key paradigm of cultural analysis in American studies, introduced by Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Analogously, the neglect of the “red Atlantic”—explored in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750 (1987) by Marcus Rediker and The Many-Headed Hydra (2000) by Linebaugh and Rediker—helps...

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Peter Nicolaisen and Hannah Spahn, eds., Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Age of Jefferson (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), viii + 256pp.
Apr13

Peter Nicolaisen and Hannah Spahn, eds., Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Age of Jefferson (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), viii + 256pp.

Peter Nicolaisen and Hannah Spahn, eds., Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Age of Jefferson (Heidelberg: Winter, 2013), viii + 256pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Die Aufsätze, die hier zusammengetragen sind, basieren auf einer Konferenz, die zusammen mit dem Robert J. Smith International Centre for Jefferson Studies in Charlottesville, VA, vom John F. Kennedy Institut an der Freien Universität in Berlin organisiert wurde. Die Thematik ist durch den Titel vorgegeben. Neben einer Einleitung der Herausgeberin Hannah Spahn enthält der Band acht Beiträge, die eingerahmt sind durch einen allgemeineren Vortrag des US-amerikanischen Historikers Gordon S. Wood über „The Invention of the United States“ (23-41) und einem Epilog des gleichfalls in den USA beheimateten Historikers Peter S. Onuf zum Konferenzthema (S. 239-254). Wood[1] und Onuf[2] gehören zu den bekanntesten Historikern der US-amerikanischen Revolutionsgeschichte. Bedauerlicherweise beschränken sich beide auf Altbekanntes; und selbst da greift Wood gelegentlich daneben — etwa mit seiner Behauptung, dass die Benennung „Americans“ von den Briten 1775/76 erfunden worden sei; er nimmt dies auch als Beleg dafür, dass im Jahr der Unabhängigkeitserklärung die Kolonisten noch nicht zu einer eigenständigen Identität gefunden hätten (S. 25). Offensichtlich kennt er nicht die vielfältigen Ergebnisse und Thesen der Studie von Richard Merritt, der nachweist, dass die Kolonisten sich schon seit den 1740er Jahren in ihren Zeitungen „Americans“ nannten und Historiker der Kolonialzeit daraus richtig schlossen, die US-amerikanische Identität mit Nordamerika habe sich deutlich vor dem Siebenjährigen Krieg ausgebildet.[3] Überdies streift Wood die für die Konferenzthematik zentrale Problematik der regionalen, kolonialen und postrevolutionären Identitäten (S. 26) nur am Rande und thematisiert deshalb auch nicht die Problematik der Bewohner in den späteren Vereinigten Staaten als „Americans“ und Bürger ihrer Staaten. Meine eigenen Studien deuten darauf hin, dass sich der Amerikaner zuerst als Bewohner seines Staates, in zweiter Linie als Bewohner einer Region wie Neuengland oder den Süden und erst in dritter Linie als Bürger der Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika verstand. Die mangelnde Tiefenschärfe bei der Erörterung der Problematik nationaler, einzelstaatlicher, regionaler und lokaler Identitäten weist auf ein Grundproblem dieser Aufsatzsammlung hin: Aus der Sicht des Historikers fehlt ihr zu oft die historische Präzision und Tiefendimension. Dass die Beiträge darüber hinaus die konfessionelle Bindung der Bürger ausblenden, die im achtzehnten wie im neunzehnten Jahrhundert einen wichtigen Aspekt ihrer eigenen Identitätsbildung ausmacht, überrascht nicht.   Möglicherweise ist dieses Defizit der Thematik des Bandes geschuldet: Die Begriffe „Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood“ stehen für zwei Konzepte, die sich in der Historikerzunft, soweit sie sich auf geistesgeschichtliche Themen konzentriert, großer Beliebtheit erfreuen. Allein der Göttinger Universitätskatalog wirft zu dem Thema „national identity“ für die Zeit von 2000 bis 2015 mehr als 950 Titel (Monographien und einzelne Artikel) aus.[4] Geschärft wird...

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Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations: German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century (Frankfurt am Máin: Lang, 2015), 418pp.
Apr13

Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations: German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century (Frankfurt am Máin: Lang, 2015), 418pp.

Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations: German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century (Frankfurt am Máin: Lang, 2015), 418pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Usually, book reviews evaluate whether a study provides an original, innovative, or new contribution to scholarship.  However, Kurt Mueller-Vollmer’s book almost exclusively reprints chapters and essays previously published (since the 1990s; in both English and German).  Thus, the question changes from originality to enduring significance.  My review also assesses the volume’s brief introduction as Mueller-Vollmer’s attempt to unify these essays under a critical umbrella and arrange separate essays into a coherent whole.   In this case, however, the whole amounts to less than the sum of its parts, because Mueller-Vollmer’s retrospective critical framing results in an overbearing, field-encompassing critique that sadly diminishes the scholarly merit of the essays collected here.  Also, the compilation lacks either the authorial or editorial attention that could have fleshed out a coherent argumentative progression.  Instead, readers encounter overlapping investigations of several spheres of German-American cultural transfer that repeat and loop back to earlier discussions of critical concepts, such as cultural transfer, literary discourse, literary field, and inscription.  Explaining this pattern, Mueller-Vollmer uses the “notion of multiple reflexion or mirroring (Wiederholte Spiegelungen),” derived from Goethe, in order to “yield a different view of the same phenomenon, revealing a different aspect of it” (9). Granted, network theory must by definition eschew linear narratives in favor of multiple spaces of interaction, contact, and transfer—creating inevitable intersections and imbrications.  This book, however, very basically repeats critical formulations and even entire sections almost verbatim.  For example, in chapter two, “Anglo-American Literature and the Challenge of Germany: Transcendentalism as a Problem in Literary History,” Mueller-Vollmer critiques Perry Miller deriving the nationalist origins of U.S. literary history and culture from the singular regional beginnings of New England Puritanism in his “monumental study” (68) The New England Mind:   The new emphasis on regional history did not change the basic assumptions characteristic of the traditional teleological view of American history. Consequently, Transcendentalism, and Emerson in particular, represent for Miller an end-phase in the evolution of Puritanism, a process that comprises the Puritan orthodoxy of the seventeenth century, the neo-Calvinist fundamentalist position of Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth and the Unitarian movement of the early nineteenth century. (69)   Miller’s characterization of Emerson’s notion of original sin in his essay “From Edwards to Emerson,” Mueller-Vollmer further asserts, seems to be “[a] curious way of putting things, since the ex-minister Emerson knew only too well, as would his German reader Friedrich Nietzsche later, what the concept of original sin meant and why he...

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Kendahl Radcliffe, Jennifer Scott, and Anja Werner, eds., Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond (Jackson, Miss.: UP of Mississippi, 2015), 270 pp.
Apr13

Kendahl Radcliffe, Jennifer Scott, and Anja Werner, eds., Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond (Jackson, Miss.: UP of Mississippi, 2015), 270 pp.

Kendahl Radcliffe, Jennifer Scott, and Anja Werner, eds., Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond (Jackson, Miss.: UP of Mississippi, 2015), 270 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Fields as diverse as postcolonial studies, diaspora studies, African American studies, American studies, intellectual history, sociology, and rock music studies have been influenced by the publication of Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness in 1993. Introducing his conception of the Black Atlantic as a counterculture of modernity, Gilroy urged his readers to rethink their notions of race, ethnicity, nationality, hybridity, and diaspora. He drew attention to “the rhizomorphic, fractal structure of the transcultural, international formation”[1] he called the Black Atlantic. Moreover, throughout his text he not only underscored the multilayered complexity of “those mongrel cultural forms” (Gilroy 3) created in the Black Atlantic world; he also warned against the constant lure of ethnic particularism and nationalism that might degenerate into a version of African American exceptionalism. By doing so, Gilroy presented himself as part of a tradition of black cosmopolitan intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. Gilroy’s idea of the Black Atlantic has not only been praised, but also vehemently attacked for its alleged shortcomings and insufficiencies. Some critics, for instance, have advanced the idea that by discussing authors such as Martin Delaney, Du Bois, and Wright in detail, Gilroy’s conception of the Black Atlantic eventually only reinforces the powerful mechanisms of American cultural imperialism. The vulgarity of this critique can legitimately be termed refreshing. However, the claim that American cultural imperialism directs and shapes black diaspora studies has had a certain impact on attempts to conceptually grasp the cultural forms of the Black Atlantic.   Instead of offering a simplistic, moralizing critique of former conceptions of the Black Atlantic, the essays collected in Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond seek to expand the idea of the Black Atlantic, and they moreover intend to offer new perspectives on forms of self-creation and self-invention in the Black Atlantic and beyond. In other words, these essays try to achieve two things. First, they want to expand the categories that have hitherto been associated with the Black Atlantic, as well as broaden our understanding of the processes of cultural, intellectual, and social transformations in the Black Atlantic world. Second, they contribute to an urgently needed redefinition of black intellectualism and the black cosmopolitan intellectual. Regarding the question of geographical boundaries, the editors contend: “Expanding the idea of the Black Atlantic beyond its traditional geographical boundaries to grasp black experiences more thoroughly allows us, furthermore, to include...

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Elisabeth Bronfen and Daniel Kampa, eds., Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne: Drei Frauen berichten über den Krieg; Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller und Martha Gellhorn (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2015), 360 pp.
Apr13

Elisabeth Bronfen and Daniel Kampa, eds., Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne: Drei Frauen berichten über den Krieg; Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller und Martha Gellhorn (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2015), 360 pp.

Elisabeth Bronfen and Daniel Kampa, eds., Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne: Drei Frauen berichten über den Krieg; Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller und Martha Gellhorn (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2015), 360 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     Eine Amerikanerin in Hitlers Badewanne [An American Woman in Hitler’s Bathtub] features an intriguing collection of photographs and German translations of writings by three US-American women World War II correspondents. The reports by Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller, and Martha Gellhorn are complemented by introductions to each woman’s work and biography as well as an epilogue by Elisabeth Bronfen. As many of the compiled texts either had not been available in German at all or have only recently become accessible, one of the volume’s important contributions lies in enabling a broad German-speaking public to take a special look at World War II through the lens of popular American reportage. In the process, readers can observe how formative narrative and visual patterns were created by pioneering women. These patterns would have been considered foreign propaganda in Nazi Germany. Today, their striking familiarity to a German audience reveals the extent to which they have shaped the German collective memory of World War II. The volume makes a convincing case for the presence, persistence, and persuasive power of women correspondents who ventured into a traditionally male-centered and male-dominated space. While military action was still reserved for men, the present writings and photographs demonstrate how women lastingly influenced the international perception and understanding of the war, inverting what feminist scholars of visual culture have described as visual media’s tendency to reduce women to objects for male viewers.[1] In contrast to the many women who wrote and photographed in obscurity,[2] Bourke-White, Miller, and Gellhorn were not only accomplished writers and photographers but celebrities. Their carefully crafted public personae came across as patriotic heroines who bravely supported the war effort with pens and cameras rather than bombs and guns. The first part of the volume features photographs and writings by famous Life photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. In the selected excerpts, which were either taken from German versions of Bourke-White’s books[3] or specifically translated for this volume by Renate Orth-Guttman, she traces her journey from Moscow, where she was located when Germany first attacked the city in 1941, to North Africa, across Italy, and finally to Germany, where she visits Bremen, Kassel, Schweinfurt, Leipzig, and Dachau. Bourke-White’s reports for Life magazine served simultaneously as documentation of the cruelties of the war, as war propaganda, as entertainment, and as blatant self-promotion. Bourke-White describes how she strategically used her special status as an attractive, heterosexual woman in a male-dominated theater of war, creating a...

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Katja Kurz, Narrating Contested Lives: The Aesthetics of Life Writing in Human Rights Campaigns (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 271 pp. 
Apr13

Katja Kurz, Narrating Contested Lives: The Aesthetics of Life Writing in Human Rights Campaigns (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 271 pp. 

Katja Kurz, Narrating Contested Lives: The Aesthetics of Life Writing in Human Rights Campaigns (Heidelberg: Winter, 2015), 271 pp.  Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4       More than any other genre, life writing illustrates the interdependence of narrative strategies and cultural understandings of selfhood and recognition. Selves are performed narratively, through memories pieced together anew for an audience. To be believable, life narratives cater to cultural concepts of sincerity and authenticity; to evoke empathy, they employ culturally available plots from the literary realm. Treading this thin line between the literary and the sociocultural realms, a cast of interdisciplinary scholars from literary and cultural studies, rhetoric criticism, philosophy, and the social sciences have examined the narrative assemblage of cultured selves. Katja Kurz’s doctoral thesis, Narrating Contested Lives, contributes a new angle in this field. It examines life writing designed to incite activism, empathy, and involvement in international human rights campaigns. As vehicle of political activism, this form of autobiography builds on subjecthood in Western human rights laws and speaks for victimized groups.   Narrating Contested Lives develops an interdisciplinary view that roots in life writing and forages into philosophy, psychology and anthropology. The author locates the project in American Studies in a double sense, regarding, first, the reception context (human rights campaigns are directed at an American-European public), and second the transnational turn that views U.S. national culture in a greater continuum of cultural flows and mobilities (1, 43). Narrating Contested Lives thus demonstrates how literary studies lays bare the strategies of political activism. Kurz selects campaigns that deal with female genital mutilation (FGM), child soldiers, and sexual violence against women of ethnic minorities (6). She close-reads six cases of campaign-embedded collaborative life writing, including the books by Somalian top model Waris Dirie and Somali-German activist Korn, the child soldiers Ishmael Beah and Emmanuel Jal (the latter UK gospel musician and hip hop artist), and the women activists Halima Bashir in the “Save Darfur”-campaign and Somaly Mam, who became a media icon in the U.S. These are selected for their “contemporary, US-based production and reception, [as] bestselling auto/biographies […presenting] women and children as vulnerable groups in international law” (3-4). To show how life stories are made “legible to the public and how they attempt to gather support and empathy” (5-6), Kurz focuses on genre, narrative modes, and collaborations between activists and coauthors. She reads together the auto/biographies with the paratexts and the discourses of the campaigns at large to extrapolate the entanglement between lived experience, subjective truths, sincerity, trust, and authenticity (42). Narrating Contested Lives thus addresses how culturally remote and victimized identities are reassembled in conclusive narratives that present...

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Markus Nehl, Transnational Black Dialogues: Re-Imagining Slavery in the Twenty-First Century (Bielefeld: transcript, 2016), 212 pp.
Apr13

Markus Nehl, Transnational Black Dialogues: Re-Imagining Slavery in the Twenty-First Century (Bielefeld: transcript, 2016), 212 pp.

Markus Nehl, Transnational Black Dialogues: Re-Imagining Slavery in the Twenty-First Century (Bielefeld: transcript, 2016), 212 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.4     ‘Postslavery Studies’ might be a more appropriate denominator for this relevant study that appeared in Transcript’s Postcolonial Studies series and focusses on the ways in which “second generation neo-slave narratives” (32) address the histories of the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century North America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa from distinctly “twenty-first-century perspectives” (19).[1] As the title suggests, in five of its six chapters Markus Nehl’s compelling monograph—originally submitted as a dissertation to Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany, in 2015—analyzes five well-chosen anglophone neo-slave narratives published during the first decade of the new century, discussing the novels’ contributions to ongoing transnational dialogues about the African diaspora, the history of slavery, and the role of (anti-Black) violence afflicted on and resisted by enslaved women. Published in close succession between 2006 and 2009, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother, Yvette Christiansë’s Unconfessed, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, and Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women not only deal with the historically “white-authored […] archive of slavery” through fictional writing (16). All of the narratives also speak to what Saidiya Hartman has called “the afterlife of slavery” in the United States (and beyond) today (quoted in Nehl 12). Consequentially, Nehl begins his well-structured study by briefly embedding its literary corpus into the current social, cultural, and political climate of the United States at the beginning of the new century when the election of the first Black U.S. president in 2008 was followed by the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM)—under the leadership of the queer Black women Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi and as a reaction to numerous cases of fatal police violence against young unarmed African Americans, such as Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Michael Brown in 2014 (13-14). Nehl clearly understands the novels he analyzes as important critical interventions into the pressing debate about racism and anti-Blackness in the United States today, a debate that his monograph also inevitably partakes in. Before delving into the five case studies, the introduction of Transnational Dialogues also gives a comprehensive overview over the study of the genre of neo-slave narratives (23-30) and proposes the notion of “a second generation of neo-slave narratives” (23) as a useful concept to describe the corpus at hand and distinguish it from earlier contributions to the genre from the 1960s to the 1990s (30-32). Discussing this new generation of neo-slave narratives that exceeds national boundaries and boundaries between genres, fiction, and non-fiction as well...

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