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Inside the December Journal of American History

The December 2020 issue of The Journal of American History is currently available online for subscribers.

Our final issue of 2020 is filled with cutting-edge historical scholarship that we hope you find thought provoking and energizing. Included are articles by Michael A. Blaakman, Nicole Etcheson, Jennifer Lambe, and Joseph E. Hower, which span the chronological range of American history and engage with histories of politics, labor, women, diplomacy, and education. Etcheson’s “‘When Women Do Military Duty’: The Civil War’s Impact on Woman Suffrage” and Jane Kamensky’s review essay of the mini-series, Mrs. America, culminate our year-long Sex/Suffrage/Solidarities Series with exciting scholarship and commentary. This issue’s public history reviews are a multi-faceted look at documenting COVID-19. Finally, Benjamin H. Irvin’s “Editor’s Annual Report” reflects on the challenges of producing the Journal in 2020, provides an overview of scholarship published by the JAH and Process blog, and offers a glimpse of the year ahead.

Article Previews

Twenty-first-century corporations routinely pit state and local governments against each other to secure tax breaks, antiunion labor laws, and other incentives. Tracing land speculation schemes across state lines in the quarter century after U.S. independence, Michael A. Blaakman reveals that such a strategy is as old as American federalism itself. During an era of frenzied investment in expropriated Native American land, when states and the national government competed to sell the public domains they claimed, specula- tors manipulated the union’s federal structure to acquire land and attempt to make those investments profitable. Federalism’s economic implications, he argues, should challenge scholarship on capitalism and the American state to account for the political architecture of a nation with not one state but many.

The Civil War and Reconstruction eras created obstacles to the achievement of woman suffrage. The war made loyalty and military service important qualifications for suffrage. Black men’s military service was crucial to their suffrage claims, but white women failed to make the arguments that nursing and sanitary-commission work constituted military service. Once the Redeemers restored white supremacy, white southerners opposed woman suffrage for fear it would undermine African American disfranchisement and states’ rights. Nicole Etcheson shows that not until women in World War I used their war service to attain suffrage did women overcome the barriers the Civil War had created to their enfranchisement.

There is perhaps no more fraught term in the scholar’s vocabulary than objectivity. On what basis can we advance claims with universalizing pretensions, and what relationship should such claims bear to our own personal experiences? Jennifer Lambe takes up the controversy over Robert Carl Cohen’s 1963 documentary, Three Faces of Cuba, following its airing on National Educational Television in 1965. The film provoked outcry across the country, principally among Cuban exiles who objected to what they viewed as a favorable depiction of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Their campaign against the film brought together public television executives, politicians, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials, and diaspora Cubans in a battle over anticommunism and objectivity in broadcasting—and beyond.

Once dubbed the “issue of the 1980s,” pay equity rarely figures in histories of the decade. Joseph E. Hower reconsiders that striking silence through a case study of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Locating the union’s origins amid the intense, explosive organizing that swept through a younger, blacker, and more female working class during the 1980s, Hower shows how comparable worth emerged out of a surprisingly successful project to transform afscme into a vehicle for labor feminism and proved a remarkably resilient and robust focal point for postindustrial organizing deep into the Ronald Reagan era.