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What’s in the December Issue of The Journal of American History?

The cover of the December Journal of American History.The December issue of The Journal of American History is now available online for subscribers.

Included are articles by authors Donald F. Johnson, Beth Lew-Williams, Anne S. Macpherson, Michael Staudenmaier, and Michael Kazin. We are also excited to include Nancy F. Cott’s presidential address.

This issue also includes a host of book reviews, exhibition reviews, movie reviews, and digital history reviews. The digital history projects reviewed include O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family; A Red Record: Revealing Lynchings in North Carolina; Million Dollar Hoods; and Clio.

Preview of Articles

“Deprive the populace of real news—and you disarm it.” So said the well-known journalist Will Irwin, in 1936. More than a dozen years earlier Walter Lippmann had warned that “the present crisis of western democracy is a crisis in journalism.” The close connection between democratic governance and the availability of public knowledge through free and factual media, so much in the news today, echoes a similar alertness to danger during the interwar years. The troublesomeness of publicly known “facts” was on the table in the 1920s and 1930s in a potential forewarning of today’s alarm at the Trump administration sowing confusion about what is true and what is not. In her presidential address to the 2017 Organization of American Historians annual meeting, Nancy F. Cott considers the parallels and what we can learn from them.

Donald F. Johnson reconceptualizes personal loyalty during the American Revolution. Moving away from static categories of loyalist and patriot, he argues that men and women living under military rule maintained deliberately vague and ambiguous allegiances to survive under the harsh social and material conditions brought on by British occupation. Further, by appropriating for their own advantage a carefully crafted language of loyalism intended to sway civilians to return their allegiance to the king, these people undermined the effectiveness of British occupation regimes, frustrated attempts to restore imperial rule, and ultimately hastened the fall of the British Empire in America.

At the height of Chinese exclusion and Jim Crow, two young white sisters in rural California formed startlingly intimate relationships with two Chinese men. Their extensive interactions across the color line, which resulted in statutory rape cases in 1904, trouble scholarly assumptions about the racial geography of the Progressive Era. While Chinese migrants faced systemic exclusion at the national border, they often encountered an uncertain and permissive racial etiquette in the interior. Through a microhistory of Chinese sexual and racial transgression, Beth Lew-Williams shows why the Chinese-white color line cannot be understood as simply an extension of Chinese exclusion or a variant of Jim Crow.

Anne S. Macpherson recasts debates about the late New Deal, documenting the fierce struggle in Puerto Rico between organized labor and U.S. and local employers over the minimum wage provisions of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Militant labor rallied to its defense, and New Dealers prevented conservatives from decimating the law, but shared imperialism—of both New Dealers and conservatives—intensified by war preparations, facilitated an amendment that allowed lower minimum wages in colonial holdings. Macpherson launches a reappraisal of the importance of Puerto Rico, the FLSA, and the 1938–1941 period to New Deal scholarship and U.S. labor history, and of the New Deal period to the history of U.S. empire.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico and its diaspora have been much in the news. The devastation will likely accelerate the current outmigration to the mainland, made easier by islanders’ U.S. citizenship. But historical examination of earlier Puerto Rican migrations calls into question the benefits of citizenship. Michael Staudenmaier revisits a time before the emergence of “Latina/o” as a broad ethnoracial category and examines Puerto Ricans arriving in Chicago after World War II. Drawing on archives in Chicago and Puerto Rico, as well as scholarship on racial formation, he highlights the role of migration and citizenship in how races are made. Such lessons will be particularly timely in the post-Maria era.

How does one balance the limited achievements of John F. Kennedy’s presidency against the persistence of the saga of a celebrity politician whom many Americans have never stopped celebrating? The only sensible approach is to evaluate JFK’s achievements and his myth together, to understand how each abetted the other. In his review essay Michael Kazin evaluates how the arguments of major works on Kennedy’s life, politics, and governance have changed since his assassination in 1963. However unintentionally, JFK created a popular expectation about how American presidents should speak and act that has become an unchallenged norm in the years since his death.

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