Feb 18

Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South: Scholarship on Catastrophe, Risk, and Resilience

I grew up in Miami, Florida – a town that is no stranger to the effects of natural hazards – and for most of my life, the ever-present threat of disaster was never far away. In some ways, life in South Florida revolves around a cycle of annual hurricane seasons. Every year around May, the local supermarkets put out the information leaflets about the importance of preparing for the big storms that form in the warm waters of the North Atlantic Ocean from June through November (and nowadays, even later). In my experience, most of these tropical storms or hurricanes – and the strong winds, floods, storm surges, and tornadoes that can accompany them – would either bypass us, or cause relatively little damage (that “Never Forget” meme of a knocked-over yard chair comes to mind; it emerges each time a city is met with a weaker storm than expected). But this would not be the case on the night of August 24, 1992, when Hurricane Andrew barreled toward my hometown, eventually making landfall as a category 5 hurricane in Homestead, about 30 miles south from where I lived. To this day, that remains the scariest night of my life.

As a professor of history, my research usually focuses on the study of disaster and crisis in the eighteenth-century Atlantic World, but one of my objectives, both in my research and in the classroom, is to tie my work to the present as much as possible in order to emphasize the relevance and significance of historical study in the modern world. This volume, Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South, was thus born of these efforts, and of my personal experiences growing up in one of the world’s most disaster-vulnerable regions. The Gulf South region of the United States – which encompasses Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas – has a long history with environmental disasters, including not only sudden-onset hazards like hurricanes, floods, or disease outbreaks, but also slow disasters, like rising sea levels, disappearing wetlands, deteriorating infrastructure, among others. So my objective in compiling the collection of essays that make up this interdisciplinary volume is to draw lessons from the Gulf South’s experience with its environment, lessons that are applicable across the globe, as regions all over the planet struggle with the effects of climate change, coastal erosion, population growth, urbanization, poverty and environmental injustice, and so on.

Of course, this volume could not have been possible without the important work of scholars – historians, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, and others – whose work has contributed to the quickly expanding field of disaster studies. If you would like to learn more about this field, or more specifically, about the history of disasters in the Gulf South and beyond, here are some of the books that inspired me to compile Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South.

John M. Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Craig E. Colten, An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (Louisiana State University Press, 2005).

Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (Metropolitan Books, 1998).

Kevin Fox Gotham and Miriam Greenberg, Crisis Cities: Disaster and Redevelopment in New York and New Orleans (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Susanna M. Hoffman and Anthony Oliver-Smith, eds., Catastrophe and Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster (School for Advanced Research Press, 2002).

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador, 2007).

Scott Gabriel Knowles, The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister, eds., Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History (Lexington Books, 2009).

Ted Steinberg, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Cindy Ermus, assistant professor of European history at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, specializes in the history of disaster, crisis (including revolution), and the environment in the eighteenth century. A native of South Florida, she has also published on the history, culture, and environment of the Gulf South. You can find her on twitter as @CindyErmus.

Buy Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!

Feb 18

Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans

Writing is often a solitary and tedious process with innumerable hours tapping on a keyboard. But the journey to create Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans was a joyous purpose. I was driven to tell the truth with Eric Waters (photographer) about an African-American ritual and that both of us loved and knew well. The energy of SAPC members kept us working for years as we pored over thousands of photos to capture the beauty and communal joy of a Second Line parade. We pursued culture-bearers for interviews so that their voices could be heard.

The work was necessary because people from across the U.S. and around the world have witnessed or participated in a Second Line but didn’t know the rich and stunning history.   A Second Line is so much more than Black residents dancing in New Orleans streets just for kicks but is a direct line back to Africa; tribal memory by generations of those who have endured enslavement in America. The color and movement through neighborhoods are about maintaining a cellular connection – communitas – that bolsters people enduring the ‘new Jim Crow’ through systemic oppression, low-paying jobs and mass incarceration. It might be only a few hours on a designated Sunday parading with fellow club members, but this cultural phenomenon feeds psyches to face another day. It is truly a dance that is freeing for SAPC members and the community.

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Here are seven books that will assist bibliophiles interested in gaining more insight on SAPCs in New Orleans, one of the most African-retentive cultures in the United States.

Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans by Freddi Williams Evans (2011, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press). This area just outside New Orleans’ famed French Quarter – now designated as a historic location – is where slaves would gather every Sunday to meet, dance and sell their wares. It is the place where the precursor to the Second Line occurred, a showcase for African tribal dances. Congo Square details the resilience of those who were enslaved, determined to maintain Africa’s rituals in a foreign land and keep a sense of ‘self.’ Evans is a featured essayist in Freedom’s Dance.

Black Skin, White Masks (Peau Noire, Masques Blancs) by Frantz Fanon (1967, Grove Press). I read this book when I was in junior high in the early 1970s. As a child of integration raised on the East Coast by Southern parents, Black Skin illuminated some of the racial issues I faced at a critical point in my development. I witnessed segregation traveling south in the 1960s and when I saw my first Second Line in the mid-1970s, there was an immediate sense of belonging and being ‘home.’

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans by John Hope Franklin (1970, Knopf). Franklin created this comprehensive, academic view of being Black in America. The book outlined what it took for a race of people to rise above being treated as less than human and battle to thrive in a country that needed their bodies for economic development. An eye-opener read in my freshman year of college.

Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (1992, LSU Press). Hall detailed every aspect of an African’s life in the ‘New World’ but ensured that the enslaved weren’t nameless or faceless, toiling in a field picking cotton or cutting sugar cane. She offered a list of tribes, their origins in Africa, their tribal attributes and how that became the fabric of New Orleans and Louisiana.

Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina by Leonard N. Moore (2010, LSU Press). Moore’s book shows the continuum of resistance that began in Congo Square and continued unabated into the disaster that nearly wiped out New Orleans. African Americans in the city were never collectively docile or accepting of mistreatment. The warrior spirit from African tribes lives on in the city’s Black citizens.

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson (2005, Basic Civitas-Perseus Books). Dyson was one of the first nationally recognized academics to look at the decimation of a predominately African-American city. He delved into issues of class, caste and culture, and these same issues are explored in Freedom’s Dance.

Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny (2013, Duke University Press). Sakakeeny focused on a specific aspect of the Second Line culture – music delivered by brass bands. There cannot be an SAPC without the driving beat of a band comprised of – at minimum – a snare drum, trumpet, saxophone and tuba. It is a comprehensive look at a music culture that could only have been born and nurtured in New Orleans.

Freedom’s Dance offers a holistic view of a beloved ritual that screams ‘you are in New Orleans!’ The book honors a pure demonstration of dedication, pride and spirit.

Karen Celestan is executive writer and editor in University Advancement and adjunct professor of English at Texas Southern University in Houston. She is the co-author and editor of unfinished blues: Memories of New Orleans Music Man with Harold Battiste, Jr. (2010, Historic New Orleans Collection). unfinished received a BCALA Literary Award (Black Caucus of the American Library Association) for Contribution to Publishing. Celestan’s work has appeared in Carve Magazine, New Orleans Advocate, The Times-Picayune, Gambit Newsweekly and other publications.

Buy Freedom’s Dance today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!

Feb 18

January Roundup: News, Events, Reviews

January was another fantastic month here at LSU Press! We have lots of exciting news, and want to share it with you. On to Petersburg by Gordon C. Rhea was announced as a finalist for the 2018 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, and Reconstruction in Alabama by Michael W. Fitzgerald was chosen as a 2017 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title. Joelle Biele and Jennifer Atkins wrote fantastic posts for the LSU Press Blog. We also published new books by Cindy Ermus and Sylvie Dubois, Emilie Gagnet Leumas, and Malcolm Richardson.

Below you’ll find a list of our February titles, upcoming events with our authors, and some recent publicity and reviews of our books.  If you want to keep up with the press in real time, follow us on  TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!

New in February

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Selected Publicity and Praise

Schooling in the Antebellum South: The Rise of Public and Private Education in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama by Sarah L. Hyde

“This book should inspire further scholarship that connects this regional history on education with broader issues such as race and whiteness, gender, and slavery, specifically the tension between slaveholders and non-slaveholders over the establishment of state public school systems.”—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

The Slaveholding Crisis: Fear of Insurrection and the Coming of the Civil War by Carl L. Paulus

“By exploring the interrelated politics of fear and exceptionalism, Paulus contributes to a broader shift in historians’ understanding of slavery, nationalism, and sectionalism in the nineteenth-century United States.”—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Hispanic and Latino New Orleans: Immigration and Identity since the Eighteenth Century by Andrew Sluyter, Case Watkins, James Chaney, and Annie Gibson

“Because of the impressive scholarship seen in Andrew Sluyter, Case Watkins, James Chaney, and Annie Gibson’s Hispanic and Latino New Orleans, a better spatial history of these oft-forgotten communities now exists.”—Historical Geography

Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the American Civil War by Catherine Clinton

“Clinton should be commended for going places many scholars avoid.”—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 

The Army of the Potomac in the Overland and Petersburg Campaigns: Union Soldiers and Trench Warfare, 1864-1865 by Steven E. Sodergren:

“Steven E. Sodergren has produced a noteworthy book that uses a soldier-eye-view approach to describe the effect the last year of fighting had on the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac, and how they adapted to various changes.”—Civil War News

Legendary Louisiana Outlaws: The Villains and Heroes of Folk Justice by Keagan LeJeune:

“Those working on outlaws will find a resourceful study and an interesting gloss on contemporary intersections of legends, politics, and heritage.”—K. Brandon Barker, Journal of Folklore Research

The Atheist Wore Goat Silk: Poems by Anna Journey:

“Utilizing tactile poems that sweat on the page, from both a Texas and Mississippi past, The Atheist Wore Goat Silk acts as a prolonged fermata, where the speaker must reckon with her past and come to terms with it, although not gently.”—Alyse Bensel, The Pleiades Book Review

Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South by Michael Fitzgerald:

“Michael W. Fitzgerald’s new treatment of the story is an eye-opening reengagement with this period.”—Edwin C. Bridges, The Alabama Review

The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War edited by Brian D. McKnight and Barton A. Myers:

“What these scholars have done in this book is to take a fresh look at Civil War-era guerrilla warfare.”—Missouri Historical Review

In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America by Andrew F. Lang:

“The book argues that the Civil War era ushered in the long age of American wars of military occupation, and the work thus considers these occupations through the eyes of the occupier, revealing dynamic internal wars that were just as complex and consequential as those waged on the front lines.”—Andrew F. Lang in coversation on The Way of Improvement blog

Jan 18

The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920

One of my earliest Mardi Gras memories—I was five years old or so—is of my family costuming on Mardi Gras day and heading down to the French Quarter to claim a spot at the old police station. There, the convivial spirit was especially rich and we celebrated by drinking in the fabulously costumed revelers walking by and by dancing to the music wafting through the streets. The crowning moment was when my mother gifted me with my annual Mardi Gras treat: Italian fig cookies from Central Grocery, complete with sprinkles. Another memory from around the same time takes me to our other family Mardi Gras spot: Rampart Street. While waiting for a parade amidst a throng of spectators, I eagerly looked up and down the street and caught a glimpse of something amazing far in the distance: a man, dressed head-to-toe in magenta feathers, emerged out of the adjoining neighborhood and danced out onto Rampart. After the briefest of moments, he disappeared. I blinked and he was gone, but for a second I had seen a Mardi Gras Indian!

As I grew older, the details of my Mardi Gras festivities shifted but the customs themselves remained firmly in place. Whether I was celebrating Carnival with friends or family, watching a parade on the street or a krewe court at a bal masque, to me Mardi Gras meant costuming, community, and dancing.

While writing New Orleans Carnival Balls: The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920, I came to understand that my experiences echo the transatlantic, multicultural nature of New Orleans Mardi Gras, one that is both unique to the city (its geographical location, history, and people) while also global in scale, infusing ideas from Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean. And while masking and parading are central to these traditions, an often overlooked—but highly visible—Carnival ingredient is dancing. In New Orleans history, even in colonial histories, a main highlight of the Carnival season was dancing at masked balls (both private and public). In fact, the mighty trio of masking, parading, and Carnival balls pervaded each Mardi Gras history I read, but over and over I encountered the same predicament: while most histories discussed balls as important to Mardi Gras, there was little mention of actual dancing.

I trained in dance for over twenty years before studying history. I loved every moment I spent in technique class, in rehearsal, performing on stage, creating movement in my head, and dancing through life at every possible moment, in every possibly way. Dance is a lens through which to see the world and ask questions. The way we move carries information about our worldview and the physical choices we make crystalize those views, even if for a moment. Taken together, our movement practices create identity and, when we look closely at the dance and movement practices of Carnival balls, we see that there’s a whole untapped landscape of information and history at our fingertips. This is the world that I wanted to dive into with New Orleans Carnival Balls—picturesque tableaux vivants productions, regal grand marches and quadrilles, debutante call outs, and romantic ballroom dancing (from waltzes to ragtime).

The carnival balls I investigated existed in a private social sphere—an opulent, secret realm only accessible to the urbane men who belonged to the oldest New Orleans Mardi Gras organizations (krewes) of Comus, Proteus, Momus, and Rex, as well as their family, and equally prestigious friends. While being a dancer equipped me with useful tools for this project (especially movement description), my training as a historian ensured that I could delve deep into archival detective work to solve the main mystery: how do you investigate a secret? Among many diverse types of sources I perused, from court cases to costume sketches, the most revealing, pertinent materials I found were handwritten letters, diaries, and handmade scrapbooks. These sources were the ones that provided a rich foundation from which to understand the static customs or shifting rituals embedded in old-line secrecy. They described what old-line Carnival balls were like a hundred years ago or more and are their own magical Mardi Gras memories chock full of dancing adventures.

In celebration of Mardi Gras, here are six diverse books that focus on Carnival, history, and customs:

Brian J. Costello, Carnival in Louisiana: Celebrating Mardi Gras from the French Quarter to the Red River (LSU Press, 2017). Costello’s new book is a comprehensive look at Carnival history and mores throughout Louisiana. While New Orleans Mardi Gras history, including balls, comprise the first part, it’s exciting to learn about the rich and varied Carnival traditions, like Courir de Mardi Gras in Acadiana, or historic moments, like New Roads’ 1911 African American parade, led by King Snowball and his consort on the first float while a second float carried a brass band. From the Florida and River Parishes to Shreveport and Monroe, Costello not only provides historical accounts in accessible prose, but also suggests Mardi Gras exhibits around the state where you can immerse yourself in each area’s unique way of celebrating.

Samuel Kinser, Carnival, American Style: Mardi Gras at New Orleans and Mobile (University of Chicago Press, 1990). Kinser’s cultural history explores the historical ties (and tensions) between New Orleans and Mobile’s Carnival celebrations, but also links Mardi Gras to Caribbean, European, and African festivals. This multicultural approach highlights the contributions of Congo Square dances and quadroon balls or discusses commonalities with eighteenth-century Afro-Caribbean John Canoe maskers (among other cultural practices) to understanding Carnival culture in New Orleans. Kinser discusses a range of topics, from parades and balls to tourism and cultural codes.

Reid Mitchell, All on a Mardi Gras Day: Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival (Harvard University Press, 1999). Out of all the books on this list, Mitchell’s work was most inspirational to me when writing New Orleans Carnival Balls. His ability to weave together diverse perspectives into a synthesized narrative urged me to consider the multiple forces at play—and the seriousness of play—within the realm of old-line ritual. His work also encouraged me to open my chapters with historical vignettes. All on a Mardi Gras Day juxtaposes revelry and racism, elitism and immigration, as it crafts a nuanced social history that delves into the centrality of Africans, Creoles, and gay rights to Mardi Gras narratives. From American annexation and the emergence of old-line krewes to Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, and drag, Mitchell’s writing is a remarkable New Orleans history. Unsurprisingly, dance plays a key role.

Robert Tallant, Mardi Gras…As it Was (Pelican Publishing Company, 1989 reprint). To me, this book represents the “glossy” New Orleans histories: romantic, mysterious, slightly fantastical—everything that Mardi Gras is, for sure, but definitely written in a different era. Tallant continues to be one of the best-known Louisiana writers—his work on the Louisiana Writers’ Project of the WPA and publication of Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folktales (with Lyle Saxon and Edward Dreyer) in 1945 remains a cultural cornerstone. This work is no different; it persists in the canon of Carnival history. I recommend it for its tone and the evocative picture it creates: historical vignettes of nighttime parades, ball romances, and the like, but also advice of “how to get into a ball” or “become a queen.” Mardi Gras…As it Was is part history, part memory, all magic.

Henri Schindler, Mardi Gras Treasures: Jewelry of the Golden Age (Pelican Publishing Company, 2006). In this beautifully illustrated volume, Schindler explores the same period in Mardi Gras history—the Golden Age—as my own work. Mardi Gras Treasures moves through each of the old-line krewes (and the tableaux societies collectively), providing a brief history along with general ball descriptions. Sumptuous images of krewe court crowns, scepters, and other fine jewels, as well as an array of ducal badges, ball favors, costume sketches, and dance cards pepper the book. For me, though, the most exciting parts are the photographs of the people themselves—krewesmen in business suits or costumed as kings and court queens (sometimes with their attending maids) resplendent in their full dress, with trains, crown, and scepter. The past comes alive in these photographs and we have a chance to peer into the secret world of old-line balls for ourselves. The photographs are well worth lingering over. This is but one book in the Mardi Gras Treasures series, which also includes individual publications focusing on invitations, costume designs, and floats.

Kim Marie Vaz, The “Baby Dolls”: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Traditions (LSU Press, 2013). Except for Schindler, all of the books mentioned above touch in some way upon the Baby Dolls, a group of African American women from the red-light district, Storyville, who began costuming as baby dolls around 1912 and took to the streets during Mardi Gras with vivacious dancing. The original Baby Dolls dressed in short satin dresses with bloomers, bonnets, and garters (stuffed with money). They smoked cigars and “walked raddy” through the streets as they sang songs, drank, and claimed their turf through salacious taunt and boast dance battles. Today’s Baby Dolls, while still focusing on women and community, use dance to cultivate community education and outreach. Vaz’s book compiles remarkable primary historical documents alongside interviews with current Baby Doll maskers, detailing a tradition of spirited innovation, community bonds, ancestral survival, and of course, amazing dance.

Jennifer Atkins is associate professor in Florida State University’s School of Dance.

If you are interested in learning more about Mardi Gras Balls, buy New Orleans Carnival Balls: The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920 today! Jen Atkins and Brian Costello will also be speaking at the Barnes & Noble at Citiplace in Baton Rouge on Saturday, February 3rd at 1:30 p.m.

Jan 18

On to Peterburg by Gordon C. Rhea, 2018 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize Finalist

Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History have announced the finalists for the 2018 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, including On to Petersburg: Grant and Lee, June 4-14, 1864 by Gordon C. Rhea!

Co-founded in 1990 by businessmen and philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize is awarded annually to a work that enhances the general public’s understanding of the Civil War era. According to Gettysburg College, this year’s finalists were recommended to the board from over one hundred book submissions reviewed by a three-person jury: James Oakes, Elizabeth Varon, and Peter Cozzens. The other finalists include:

  • Edward Ayers, The Thin Light of Freedom:  The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (W.W. Norton and Company).
  • Ron Chernow, Grant (Penguin Press).
  • Tera Hunter, Bound in Wedlock:  Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Harvard University Press).
  • Cate Lineberry, Be Free or Die (St. Martin’s Press).
  • Graham Peck, Making an Antislavery Nation (University of Illinois Press).
  • Adam I.P. Smith, The Stormy Present: Conservatism and the Problem of Slavery in Northern Politics: 1846—1865 (University of North Carolina Press).

“We are pleased to see these books—the seven best works of the year on the Civil War period—chosen as finalists for the Lincoln Prize,” said Jim Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. “The Prize is in its 28th year and any of these outstanding books would make a worthy addition to our distinguished list of past Lincoln laureates.”

The winner of the 2018 Prize will be announced on Monday, February 12th—the 209th anniversary of the famed president’s birthday. All of the finalists will be invited to an event in April hosted at the Union League Club in New York City, where the winner will be recognized and awarded a $50,000 prize and a bronze replica of Augusts Saint-Gauden’s life-size bust “Lincoln the Man.”

Please join us in congratulating Gordon Rhea and wishing him the best of luck, as the judges and the board deliberate their final decision. If you are interested in reading more about Rhea’s Overland Campaign series, check out this interview he did recently with John Banks and buy On to Petersburg today!

Jan 18

Reconstruction in Alabama, a 2017 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

It is with great pleasure that LSU Press announces that Reconstruction in Alabama by Michael W. Fitzgerald has been selected as a 2017 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title.

Fitzgerald is a professor of history at St. Olaf College and the author of Urban Emancipation: Popular Politics in Reconstruction Mobile, 1860-1890 and The Union League Movement in the Deep South: Politics and Agricultural Change During Reconstruction.

In Reconstruction in Alabama, Fitzgerald offers the first comprehensive reinterpretation of that state’s history in over a century. The civil rights revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s transformed the literature on Reconstruction in America by emphasizing the social history of emancipation and the hopefulness that reunification would bring equality. Much of this revisionist work served to counter and correct the racist and pro-Confederate accounts of Reconstruction written in the early twentieth century.

Fitzgerald’s work not only revises the existing troubling histories of the era, it also offers a compelling and innovative new look at the process of rebuilding Alabama following the war. Attending to an array of issues largely ignored until now, Fitzgerald’s history begins by analyzing the differences over slavery, secession, and war that divided Alabama’s whites, mostly along the lines of region and class. He examines the economic and political implications of defeat, focusing particularly on how freed slaves and their former masters mediated the postwar landscape. For a time, he suggests, whites and freedpeople coexisted mostly peaceably in some parts of the state under the Reconstruction government, as a recovering cotton economy bathed the plantation belt in profit. Later, when charting the rise and fall of the Republican Party, Fitzgerald shows that Alabama’s new Republican government implemented an ambitious program of railroad subsidy, characterized by substantial corruption that eventually bankrupted the state and helped end Republican rule. He shows, however, that the state’s freedpeople and their preferred leaders were not the major players in this arena: they had other issues that mattered to them far more, like public education, civil rights, voting rights, and resisting the Klan’s terrorist violence.

After Reconstruction ended, Fitzgerald suggests that white collective memory of the era fixated on black voting, big government, high taxes, and corruption, all of which buttressed the Jim Crow order in the state. This misguided understanding of the past encouraged Alabama’s intransigence during the later civil rights era. Despite the power of faulty interpretations that united segregationists, Fitzgerald demonstrates that it was class and regional divisions over economic policy, as much as racial tension, that shaped the complex reality of Reconstruction in Alabama.

Reconstruction in Alabama is one of 504 books and digital resources chosen by the CHOICE editorial staff from among the over 5,300 titles reviewed by CHOICE during the past year.

These outstanding works were selected for their excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to the field, and their value as an importantoften firsttreatment of their subject. Constituting about nine percent of the titles reviewed by CHOICE during the past year, and two percent of the more than 25,000 titles submitted to CHOICE during this same period, Outstanding Academic titles are truly the “best of the best.”


Jan 18

Tramp: On Poetry, Women, and Wanderers

When I first started writing what would become Tramp, I had no idea what it would grow into. Playing with late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century newspaper articles about women who blew into and out of towns, sometimes on foot, sometimes by rail, was just a way to explore a subject I found compelling, women trying to break through social norms so they could determine their own lives. I typed passages from interviews, cut them apart, and laid them on the kitchen table in an effort to understand who these women were and what they had to do with me. Looking back, I think I was trying to find a new way into poetry, something more three-dimensional than the page, something that could capture the swift thrill and violence of experience.

In the simplest terms, Tramp started with my reading Trea Martyn’s Queen Elizabeth in the Garden, a tour of the gold-dusted landscapes that were designed to curry her favor during her annual progress. Reading about her travels, I began to wonder about the people who were cleared from her path, the poor who were not to be seen, and came across a 1753 reprint of a book with the handsome title, A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursetors, Vulgarly Called Vagabonds, a book which includes descriptions of twenty-four of the most common kinds of thieves and a glossary of their unusual dialect, helpful, perhaps, if, as a member of the gentry, you were to bump into one while inspecting your grounds. One book led to another, Elizabethan poor laws led to Victorian, and eventually, through Google Books’ search algorithm, I found a notice about a 1707 New York City ordinance declaring that churches providing clothes to the poor were to sew the mark “N : Y in blew or Red cloath” onto the garments, thereby branding each recipient with his or her own set of scarlet letters.

It was at this point my reading dovetailed with my family story. My great grandfather came to New York in 1900 from Benevento, Italy; he was seventeen years old with twelve dollars in his pocket. He later married, and my great grandmother died when their five children were under ten years old. Unable to provide adequate care, my great grandfather, a junk dealer who meandered the streets looking for scraps and cast-offs with his horse and cart, brought his daughter to family members elsewhere in the city and the boys to the massive Mount Loretto orphanage on Staten Island where they spent the bulk of their childhood. My grandfather only spoke about Mount Loretto in the broadest terms, mostly to say that he hated it, that the priests were mean, and that he would periodically run away. Later he worked on the docks, and as the story goes, got into a fight and killed a man, leading him to tramp his way south and get work on a ship that took him to Brazil. When I was in my twenties, living in Washington, D.C., he told me he was glad I was living there, that the people were “nice.” He liked to talk about a woman in Alexandria, Virginia, who gave him water when he was passing through, and as he lay dying and I was trying to get him to eat, he said, “I’ve been on this train a long time. It’s time to get off.”

My attempt to understand my family, the effect my grandfather’s wandering had on my father, the choices my father made so that I spent my childhood in one house, then another, and another, my attempt to understand my own experiences as a woman, the personal, cultural, and historic forces that told me to sit in place and be a good girl, that punished me each in their own way whenever I tried to push back, led to my kitchen table with three children dashing in and out and me musing over women tramps at the turn of the century, trying to find a way to make their stories come alive. At first the articles were the source of an essay, then a poem, then a long poem, then a play, then poems, an essay, a play, a play and poems, and on and on as I tried to find a shape that would make their voices sing. Below is a list of books that were important to me when I was writing Tramp.

Anne Carson, Nox (New Directions, 2010). Probably no other poet has been more important to me over the last few years in thinking about how to come at a poem than Anne Carson. Her monumental Nox has an accordion binding with pages that alternate between prose poems, found text, definitions of words from ancient Greek, and images that deal with the death of her brother. A meditation on loss and language, Nox lives most powerfully in its silences.

Deborah Digges, The Wind Blows through the Doors of My Heart (Knopf, 2010). Digges was my teacher in college, and she played a significant role in the writer I would become. This haunting book, her last, is full of gorgeous poems that grapple with the death of her husband in a grief that is near consuming.

Robert Hayden, Collected Poems (Liveright, 1985). There are poems you read that take the top of your head off. I can still feel this book’s vibration in my hands as I made my way through it as an undergraduate. “Middle Passage” is a poem that exploded my idea of what a poem could be.

Cynthia Hogue and Rebecca Ross, When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina (University of New Orleans, 2010). This book of interview-poems and photographs by Hogue and Ross artfully captures the displacement experienced by New Orleans residents in the months after the storm. Relocated to Arizona with few, if any, of their belongings, survivors try to take in their losses while Hogue and Ross bring to the surface what we owe each other in the aftermath of disaster.

Marie Howe, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (Norton, 2008). Howe was my other writing teacher in college, and I’m forever grateful to her for introducing me to Elizabeth Bishop and teaching me the sentence’s potential. I’m mesmerized by her poems’ light structures and the strength of their centers. Reflecting on momentary scenes from domestic life, her poems have an abiding integrity that balance the deeply spiritual with a keen humor.

Natasha Trethewey, Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002).  Trethewey’s second collection is one of my favorites. Written in the voice of a light-skinned Storyville prostitute, the book is divided into two sections; the first a series of letters home and the second a diary about the experience of being photographed by E. J. Bellocq. Trethewey explores the intersection of race, gender, and power in poems that are at once understated and heartbreaking.

Joelle Biele is the author of the poetry collections White Summer and Broom and the editor of Elizabeth Bishop and “The New Yorker”: The Complete Correspondence. She has taught American literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Goucher College, the University of Oldenburg, Germany, and Jagiellonian University, Poland.

Buy Tramp today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!

Jan 18

December Roundup: News, Events, Reviews

December is always a special time of the year. Here’s some news from LSU Press last month. Visitations by Lee Upton was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Indie Books of December. Books by Brannon Costello, Richard Campanella, and Kathryn Fontenot were included in holiday gift guides in the New Orleans Advocate and Forces of Geek. Philip Gould was awarded the 2016 James William Rivers Prize. Andrew F. Lang, Ed Falco, Michael Patrick Cullinane, and Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter wrote fantastic posts for the LSU Press Blog. And we published new books by Ed Falco, Michael Patrick Cullinane, Urmi Engineer Willoughby, Andrew F. Lang, April E. Holm, and James O. Heath.

Below you’ll find a list of our January titles, upcoming events with our authors, and some recent publicity and reviews of our books. If you want to keep up with the press in real time, follow us on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!

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Selected Publicity and Praise

Girl after Girl after Girl: Poems by Nicole Cooley

“You probably know someone who needs a wrapped copy of this weirdly fascinating book for the holidays, perhaps with a tiny doll half-strangled amid the ribbons.”—Kenyon Review

Armies in Gray: The Organizational History of the Confederate States Army in the Civil War by Dan C. Fullerton

“This very well documented work is an immensely useful reference for anyone seriously interested in the Civil War”—NYMAS Review

The Secret Life of Bacon Tait a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color by Hank Trent

The Secret Life of Bacon Tait opens a rare window into that dank and depressing world, and we are indebted to the author for the light he has shed on this dark corner of southern history. ”—Civil War Book Review

Promise: Poems by Sally Van Doren

“Sally Van Doren’s poetry is taut and honed, punctuated with tantalizing references to the senses and the sensual.”—Happening in the Hills

Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South by Michael W. Fitzgerald

“The book demonstrates a masterful synthesis of the era. Students of the Civil War Era will appreciate its admirable attention to detail and its judicious conclusions. It’s a book not to be missed. ”—Civil War Book Review

Images of Depression-Era Louisiana: the FSA Photographs of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott edited by Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter

Images of Depression-Era Louisiana offers a sweeping view of a Louisiana not so unlike our own, standing on the precipice of great changes, all the while fighting to keep its head above water and its traditions intact.”—Louisiana Cultural Vistas

The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War edited by Brian D. McKnight and Barton Myers

“an excellent collection”—Civil War Book Review

Devils Walking: Klan Murders along the Mississippi in the 1960s by Stanley Nelson

“Nelson and Phillips did not write for other historians, they wrote for the people of Forsyth County, Georgia and the Delta region of Mississippi and Louisiana. They wrote to hold a mirror up to their neighbors. They wrote for you and me. In doing so, they offer a lesson for historians on the purpose of writing history.”—Reviews in American History

Dec 17

Looking Across Vast American Spaces: Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter in Conversation

Recently, Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter shared with us what inspired them to write Images of Depression-Era Louisiana. Here is an excerpt of their conversation.

Bryan: The origin story of Images of Depression-Era Louisiana: The FSA Photographs of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott begins in another book, actually. I was writing a new introduction to E.P. O’Donnell’s Depression-era novel, The Great Big Doorstep. It’s a minor classic of humor writing, set in Plaquemines Parish, and Eudora Welty was very fond of it.  I wanted to show what the place looked like, and turned up a series of contemporaneous photos straight out of the novel’s world, right down to the Boothville orange groves that the author lived among!

I had to marvel at my luck. It’s unusual to land on such an exact match. The outer reaches of Plaquemines Parish weren’t exactly a densely populated area in the 1930s—O’Donnell writes about a flotsam-and-jetsam culture of cast-off people on the margins of nature, industry, and the waterways. It was sort of astonishing to find that they had been photographed at all at that time.  There was a variety about the subjects, places, and people that was unusually intimate and arresting.  Naturally I wondered, “Who took these? Where did they come from?”

I wondered if the photos were as striking to others as to me. It didn’t take me long to realize, from the reactions of others, that they were indeed something special.

Maria: I was also amazed when I first viewed the photographs. I was born and raised in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and as soon as I saw them I recognized the subjects captured on film. Even if I didn’t actually know their names, I had seen folks like them before. They are the people of Louisiana—then, now, and always.

So Bryan and I started to unravel the backstory and to literally map the byways and pathways that the photographers took. We had to untangle the Louisiana chapter from the bigger story, because some of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers’ work is well known. For example, Walker Evans worked with James Agee on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), and Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is perhaps the most famous of the images in the FSA-OWI collection. Both of them took a few photos on their way through Louisiana, in fact.

But it’s easy to forget that Evans and Lange were just two of the photographers Roy E. Stryker sent across the nation to record the need for and, later, the results of the Resettlement Agency (RA) and the FSA programs between 1935 and 1943. Stryker brought together an amazing group of photographers who not only shot federal programs in action but also documented on film the folkways, traditions, and customs of the areas they visited.

We realized that the three principal photographers that worked Louisiana for the FSA needed to be examined as a set. Images of Depression-Era Louisiana specifically addresses the work of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott and the incredible photographs they took in the state. The local culture of Louisiana has a texture and variety set apart from other parts of the south and the country, and they had captured some part of it. A series of Russell Lee’s negatives of the 1938 Crowley Rice Festival are preserved, along with Marion Post Wolcott’s images of Spanish muskrat trappers and their families in St. Bernard Parish. And those are but two series among the 4,000 Louisiana negatives still protected by the Library of Congress.

Bryan: My question is, What is like the FSA project today?  Can we imagine similar projects that help us to really see one another, across the vastness of American spaces, divisions, and social classes? Public policy is fundamentally about making choices, and the only way to make informed choices is with good information. In our image-saturated world, we forget that a picture is worth a thousand words, and there were a lot fewer pictures in the 1930s. The FSA photographers rendered invisible people and places suddenly visible. The boldness and vision of it are still inspiring.

To appreciate more thoroughly the FSA-OWI collection, its unprecedented achievement, and the remarkable dedication and vision of Stryker and the photographers, we recommend the following books:

Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan, eds, Documenting America, 1935–1943 (University of California Press, 1988). This book includes a general history of photography at the time, along with suggestions regarding how to read the larger FSA-OWI file. The editors focus on each photographer by choosing significant series they took and discussing these series in more detail, along with including memorable photographs from it. For example, they describe and explain Russell Lee’s photographs of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans in 1942.

Gilles Mora and Beverly W. Brannan, eds. FSA: The American Vision (Abrams, 2006). This book will prove especially useful for readers who want a more general history of the RA, FSA, and OWI. It also includes brief histories of Stryker and the individual photographers, along with some of their memorable photos.

Jack Hurley, Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties (LSU Press, 1972). Hurley’s focus specifically on Stryker allows for a more thorough account of the photographers’ fearless leader and his motivations for creating this unprecedented photographic collection.

Howard Greenfeld, Ben Shahn: An Artist’s Life (Random House, 1998). Greenfeld records Shahn’s life from childhood, including his family’s immigration to America, through his RA and FSA years and beyond. This book explains why Shahn, a painter, took photographs that are included in the FSA-OWI collection.

Jack Hurley, Russell Lee, Photographer (Morgan and Morgan, 1978). Hurley provides a more comprehensive biography of Lee, who continued to work with Stryker even after the FSA years.

Paul Hendrickson, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott. (Knopf, 1992). Hendrickson includes Wolcott’s responses to certain photos since he interviewed her decades after she took them. This book offers interesting insight into her personality and her experiences as a woman photographer at the time.

P. O’Donnell, The Great Big Doorstep, with an introduction by Bryan Giemza and an afterword by Eudora Welty (LSU Press, 2015). This Depression-era comic novel set in Louisiana inspired Images of Depression-Era Louisiana and our more in-depth inquiries into the photographers and the photographs they took of the state during this time.

John H. Scott with Cleo Scott Brown, Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana (University of South Carolina Press, 2003). This book is a must read for those interested in how the federal projects affected the Louisiana people as it records an African American’s experience of Separate but Equal policies as they pertained to federal projects in the South during the FSA years.

Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices (1941; Basic Books, 2002).  Edwin Rosskam curated from across the FSA collections the photographs in this collection reflecting black experience in that time and place.  The accompanying text from famed African American writer Richard Wright makes the volume even more memorable.

Bryan Giemza is director of the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Libraries. He is the author of Irish Catholic Writers and the Invention of the American South.

Originally from Thibodaux, Louisiana, Maria Hebert-Leiter teaches at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke.

Buy Images of Depression-Era Louisiana today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!

Dec 17

How Memory Alters History: Books on Heroes, Villains, and the American Past

When I heard John McCain invoke Theodore Roosevelt as his “favorite philosopher” during the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, it got me thinking: who else has praised Roosevelt as an inspiration? It turns out that countless politicians from both sides of the aisle summon Theodore Roosevelt as a political lodestar, but so do advertising agencies, artists, comedians, and impersonators. Over the last century, Roosevelt has inspired poets, architects, motion picture producers, theatre directors, and presidential biographers. Each representation of Roosevelt differs, not only in the actual depiction, but in the remembrance of the past and the rationale for doing so. Theodore Roosevelt’s Ghost: The History and Memory of an American Icon examines the portrayals of Roosevelt, the agency of memorializers, and the historical contexts that underpin commemoration. What emerges is a complicated portrait of a many-sided former president, created by successive generations of memorializers. Roosevelt’s legacy is not his own; it belongs to us because through the act of remembering the past, we create it.

Merrill D. Peterson’s work on legacy in American history drew me to this study of Roosevelt. His treatment of Jefferson, Lincoln, and John Brown as figures of changing meaning has defined the field. Since Peterson’s groundbreaking work,Roessner, Amber. Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America (LSU Press, 2014). several other historians have illuminated the prism of American history through memory studies of key individuals. Here are five recent works:

Roessner, Amber. Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America (LSU Press, 2014). Memorialization takes place in all walks of life, not least in sports, where athletes become deities or devils to fanatics. The American pastime has its share of characters and Roessner demonstrates how baseball’s sportswriters created public images of the games’ early heroes and villains. Like presidential biographers, Roessner shows the essential subjectivity of writers.

Greenberg, David. Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004). As for the leading books on presidential images, Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow ranks as a favorite. Eloquently written, and intensively researched, it depicts the changing portrait of Nixon from California populist to global statesman. What Greenberg adeptly explains is how dependent our modern political system rests on image construction and hero-worship.

Lengel, Edward. Inventing George Washington: America’s Founder, in Myth and Memory (Harper, 2011). While Nixon languishes at the bottom of most rankings of American presidents, Washington usually tops the same lists, yet his legacy has undergone as turbulent a time. Editor of Washington’s Papers Edward Lengel sketches the first president’s legacy and agents of commemoration in Inventing George Washington. From the “marble man” almost unblemished in early biographies, to the efforts of debunkers that knocked the Founder’s greatness, Lengel explains that even the most revered American heroes have their detractors and mythmakers.

Cook, Robert. Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (LSU Press, 2011). This book provided some inspiration around anniversaries. His examination of the Civil War centennial in the 1960s, during the ongoing civil rights movement, demonstrates the power of the present on the historical past.

Carwardine, Richard and Jay Sexton. Global Lincoln (Oxford University Press, 2011). Finally, American history exists in a wider, global context and the essays in Global Lincoln show the rail-splitter from an international perspective. In the twentieth century, Lincoln had meaning for Latin Americans, Russians, and Irish people, reminding us that American narratives of leadership go far beyond its own shores.

Michael Patrick Cullinane is a reader in modern U.S. history at Roehampton University, London, and the author of Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism, 1898–1909, and coauthor of The Open Door Era: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century.

Buy Theodore Roosevelt’s Ghost today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!