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

The cover of the June issue of The Journal of American History.The June 2018 issue of The Journal of American History is now available online for subscribers.

Included are articles by David Weinfeld, Brent Cebul, Garrett Felber, and Gabriel Winant. We are also excited to feature book reviews, movie reviews, and digital history reviews. The digital history projects reviewed in this issue include Voting Viva Voce: Unlocking the Social Logic of Past Politics; several Bookworm projects including Introduction to Bookworm, Robots Reading Vogue, Bookworm: HathiTrust, Bookworm: Open Library, and Building a Bookworm; and Tropy.

Preview of Articles

David Weinfeld examines the American philosopher William James’s reaction to the Dreyfus affair in France (1894–1906). When the French Jewish military captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely imprisoned for treason, James celebrated les intellectuels such as Émile Zola who argued for Dreyfus’s innocence and criticized establishment institutions such the government, the military, and the church. Not content as a scholar, James helped bring the idea of the politicized intellectual to the United States but crafted it in his own image. While French intellectuals concerned themselves with universal values, absolute truth, and the “soul of France,” James’s pragmatist intellectual embraced multiple truths, pluralism, and cosmopolitanism.

Rural America is the beating heart of the Wal-Mart consumer economy, where the gospel of cheap goods and gadgets is practically sacrosanct. Yet on the eve of that economy’s birth, rural southerners lacked essentials tools for modern mass consumption: cheap energy and purchasing power. Brent Cebul explores how the New Deal state stimulated the construction of private markets for rural energy and consumer finance, teaching private electric utilities to capitalize on untapped regions. By exploring corporate records, local chamber of commerce archives, and the letters of rural female consumers and homemakers, Cebul illuminates the possibilities of direct public sector competition with private companies. But private electric utilities did more than just profit through competition with the New Deal state. By emulating and privatizing New Deal community and industrial development programs, southern electric utilities played an essential role in building the sun belt.

Historians of mass incarceration and the carceral state have documented the legislation, federal policies, and electoral shifts that make the United States the greatest incarcerator the world has ever known. They have also highlighted the formal and informal grassroots political struggles, especially by those incarcerated, against the escalating forms and scope of state punishment. While it is axiomatic that the Nation of Islam was crucial to the rise of the prisoners’ rights movement, Garrett Felber explores prison repression against Islam and against Muslin prisoner radicalism. That repression, paradoxically, helped develop protest strategies and the legal framework for the prisoners’ rights movement while fortifying and accelerating the expansion of the carceral state through new modes of punishment and surveillance. Felber suggests reperiodizing the effort for prisoners’ rights as a concurrent and ongoing form of black freedom struggle with its own intellectual tradition rather than as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement with mass incarceration as its backlash.

Gabriel Winant investigates episodes of elder abuse in a public Pittsburgh nursing home—part of a national wave of institutional abuses in the 1970s. Abuse occurred as a symptom of the changing economy of the 1970s: deindustrialization destabilized care systems as well as manufacturing employment. In Pittsburgh, activists from a socialist-feminist organization, the New American Movement, exposed the scandal and then organized successful resistance to privatization. Their cause was aided by increasing reliance on the health care system to manage old age. The article shows how deindustrialization caused the growth of paid care work to manage “surplus bodies”—an analogous process to the concurrent rise of mass incarceration.

Looking for older issues of The Journal of American History? See previews of past issues and articles. Looking for other great publications? Explore The American Historian.

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