What's in the October AHR?
Robert A. Schneider, October 2013
From the AHA Activities column in the October 2013 issue of Perspectives on History
The October 2013 issue of the American Historical Review should soon be in members' mailboxes and available online. Its five articles are an eclectic mix, illustrating the diverse approaches and topics that characterize contemporary historical writing at the professional level. The subjects of the pieces range from polygamy in early North America to serfdom in imperial Russia, medicine and mass culture in the United States in the interwar period, "modernity" in Africa, and decolonization in the post-WWII era. As usual, the issue contains our extensive book review section, which includes five featured reviews. As well, "In Back Issues" provides a glimpse of a few articles from 100, 75, and 50 years ago.
|Aleksei Venetsianov, Reapers (1820s). Oil on canvas. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. When serfs were manumitted in imperial Russia, they were required to choose a new official social status, and with it a new occupation. As a result, they were required to join an estate society. According to author Alison K. Smith, this means that freed serfs lived in a society without a category of "free people." This fact, she argues in "Freed Serfs without Free People: Manumission in Imperial Russia," has served to obscure both the former serfs themselves and the very conception of freedom, necessitating a reassessment of the many ways in which the linked concepts of authority and freedom were understood in late 18th- through mid-19th-century Russia. In the end, she says that manumission may have more to say about the quality of freedom than it does about the quality of serfdom.|
In "'Having Many Wives' in Two American Rebellions: The Politics of Households and the Radically Conservative," Sarah M. S. Pearsall examines households and in particular plural unions in the context of two rebellions in the far north of New Spain: the Guale Rebellion of 1597 and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Before exploring these familial and sexual arrangements, she considers the novel meanings of polygamy in Old and New Spain. For many Spaniards, polygamy represented resistance to Christianity, apostasy, desecration, political subversion, and violence among the indigenous population. For many Native Americans, however, it indicated masculine status and authority, as well as positive notions of labor organization, hierarchy, and political confederation. Revisiting textual evidence in conjunction with archaeological findings, Pearsall explores how and why transformations of households and gender roles occurred. Too often, she argues, scholars have been beguiled by calls for tradition, such as those heard in the Pueblo Revolt, thus failing to appreciate the transformative possibilities inherent in such appeals. Far from implying a return to precolonial ways, the rebels' schemes had the potential to effect a profound alteration in existing Pueblo cultures, especially in terms of gender. It is possible to trace how, in some contexts, both men and women made "radically conservative" choices, connecting themselves consciously to the past in innovative ways.
Alison K. Smith, in "Freed Serfs without Free People: Manumission in Imperial Russia," examines an understudied topic in the history of unfree labor. Her discussion of manumission practices of the late 18th and early 19th century illuminates the many different meanings of freedom and authority in imperial Russia. "Freedom" was not only an abstract principle; it had multiple, practical meanings, everything from a lack of responsibilities to others, personal autonomy, and the freedom to act as one wished, to vagrancy and idleness. These meanings played out differently among three different sets of actors-serf owners, serfs, and the state-but all were in some ways constrained or otherwise altered by the legal social statuses that structured imperial Russian society. The article concludes with the suggestion that manumission, which has generally been linked to discussions of the quality of serfdom in given societies, may have more to say about the quality of freedom.
In the interwar period, a host of physicians in both Europe and the United States claimed that an array of simple procedures (vasectomies, organ grafts, or the application of x-rays) could prolong life and renew a person's energy by stimulating the production of the body's hormones. In "Becoming Glandular: Endocrinology, Mass Culture, and Experimental Lives in the Interwar Age," Michael Pettit looks at this phenomenon, primarily in the United States. There were in fact two cultures of rejuvenation therapy: one evoked the nation's agricultural heritage, trafficking in populist politics, while the second prevailed in urban centers and looked for inspiration to the cosmopolitan culture of Vienna. In the US, the reception of endocrinology was refracted through both eugenics and a consumer culture oriented around self-improvement as both a civic obligation and a personal goal. Endocrinology thus functioned as a modernist technology of self, as people were encouraged to think of their minds and bodies as governed by invisible chemicals that were open to manipulation and experimentation. Focusing on how knowledge about these treatments traveled through circuits of mass culture brings to the fore a host of new actors in the history of endocrinology. In addition to clinicians and laboratory scientists, publishers, journalists, novelists, and most importantly their readers were central to the multiple looping effects that helped build self-talk around the glands of internal secretion. In "Drive-In Socialism: Debating Modernities and Development in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania," Laura Fair analyzes an element of popular entertainment as means of uncovering competing visions of modernity, socialism, and independence held by a range of Tanzanian government officials, party bureaucrats, and citizens in the 1960s and 1970s. While a drive-in cinema might seem like an odd investment for a socialist state, her article demonstrates the unlikely ways this enterprise embodied some of the central tenets of African socialism, from economic self-sufficiency to familyhood and the creation of a multiracial, intergenerational, cross-class public sphere. It illustrates that state socialism was far from monolithic, and that many stalwarts and citizens alike found great pleasure in evenings at the show. The last article in this issue is "International Socialism and Decolonization during the 1950s: Competing Rights and the Postcolonial Order," by Talbot C. Imlay, which looks at discussions between European and Asian socialists during the 1950s regarding the vexed issue of decolonization. These discussions were framed in terms of competing rights: national rights, minority rights, and human rights, thus providing an interesting perspective on the stakes involved in decolonization. Whereas Asian socialists insisted on the primacy of national rights, European socialists raised the issue of minority rights, arguing that most colonies were multiethnic societies in which minority groups needed to be protected. By the end of the 1950s, the leading European socialist parties had come around to endorsing national rights for colonial peoples, chiefly because the defense of minority rights became identified with the defense of colonialism. Unease with the abandonment of minority rights, however, fueled a growing interest in human rights, which European socialists seized upon in the hope of providing some protection to minorities in postcolonial states. The discussions between socialists draw attention, not only to the interconnected histories of minority rights, human rights, and decolonization after 1945, but also to some of the consequences of the triumph of national rights. December's issue will include articles on Huguenot refugees in North America, the invention of Latin America, changes in global conceptions of time and timekeeping, and art and education in 20th-century South Africa. There will also be an AHR Conversation, "How Size Matters: The Question of Scale in History."
-Robert A. Schneider (Indiana Univ.) is the editor of the American Historical Review.