daniel chester frenchToday marks the birthday of Daniel Chester French, in his day one of America’s most popular sculptors. The famed often seem to have known the famed, and French was no different. May Alcott, Louisa’s sister, was the person who encouraged him to take up sculpture. He also became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson upon settling in Concord, Massachusetts.

French’s works dot the American landscape. One even adorns the lettered, as he designed one side to the medal awarded to winners of the Pulitzer Prize.

But French remains one of the most-viewed practitioners of his ancient art mainly because he created the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is not unusual for those who stand before the work to feel that it somehow, indelibly, captures Lincoln’s soul. Lincoln himself might have wondered at such a thought, but then again, he might not have. The Railsplitter practiced a complex and contemplative spirituality, one argued over by historians for over 150 years.

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Dick Simpson, co-author of Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality, recently sat down with Dan Proft on the latest edition of Against the Current to talk about the history of Chicago politics and the reforms the city needs. Check out the interview below!



On April 19, 1928, Illinois held its last public hanging as bootlegger Charlie Birger went up the rope in Benton on a spring morning. (We’ve published a book that tells his story.) For years, he had fought it out with his violent rivals the Shelton Gang and with local Ku Klux Klan members determined to enforce Prohibition in the area. The struggle included an outrageous highlight in American history. Birger became the first target of an aerial assault in the continental United States when the Sheltons used a plane to drop dynamite on the Shady Rest, the combination speakeasy-way station Birger used in his bootlegging operation. (The bomb missed. More successful explosions did away with the Shady Rest in 1927.)

Born Shachna Itzik Birger in Lithuania, Birger accompanied his Jewish family to the St. Louis area in the 1880s. He spent his young manhood in the 13th Calvary, where he earned an honorable discharge and praise for both his courage and horsemanship. Mining back in southern Illinois failed to agree with him. Saloon-keeping fit better, and soon Birger pursued bootlegging and leading a criminal gang as the fastest route to riches and social respectability. Like many immigrant gangsters, Birger craved acceptance from the local bluebloods. And like many immigrant gangsters he put forth a respectable image, downplayed his ethnic origins, and kept his own town of Harrisburg free of crime. His felonious activities were part of a general pattern of lawlessness that afflicted southern Illinois at the time. Birger’s execution marked the end of an era. With the dry-obsessed KKK already out of business, thanks to the murder of its leader, and with Prohibition doomed, the local citizens soon returned to law-abiding ways.

As main man LeVar Burton can attest, you can go twice as high if you take a look, it’s in a book. Reading, though an essential skill to anyone outside politics, is also a topic of intense literary interest. Scholars across the land plumb what we get from our books, how and why we read them, and what the choices we make say about us and our society.

The University of Illinois Press, an institution founded on the search for knowledge and dependent on America’s increasingly precarious willingness to be literate, periodically publishes research on Reading with a big R, not just to advance various types of scholarship, but as an investment in ways to connect with our own loyal readers. The list below wanders back into the stacks of the immense UIP library to provide you with some reading on reading.

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Feel the breeze as you wander among the cottonwoods. To your left, the burble of the great river. To your right, forests busy with rabbit and beaver, where bald eagles build nests in the peaks, the better to keep an eye on the trout-heavy waterways that provide them with food. Ahead you see the Rockies. Behind? Your boss and phone calls from the bank and whatever that thing is that’s growing on your dog.

cripps et. alSuddenly, up ahead, you see it. A young “shaggy mane,” a Coprinus comatus, a most delicious mushroom if cooked up quickly. Basket in hand you spring forward. The bell-shaped delicacy will make you the toast of the campsite and it is time to seize culinary glory.

But wait! C. comatus looks too much like Coprinopsis atramentaria! The latter mixes poorly with alcohol and your camping companions are as soused as an aristocratic bear with the keys to the old Baron’s liquor cabinet.

Or could it be Chlorophyllum molybdites, another lookalike, one with so many human poisonings to its credit that Lucrezia Borgia plans to relocate from Florence to Boulder as soon as Leonardo da Vinci gets the family time machine working again?

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Join us on April 20 in room 106 Library for an insightful discussion on various opportunities and avenues for publishing at University of Illinois.

A panel of experts from the University of Illinois Press, eTexts at Illinois, the Scholarly Commons Undergraduate Research Journals program, and the Illinois Open Publishing Network (University Library) will discuss topics ranging from advice on submitting a proposal, the process of publishing in journals, creating online textbooks, and open access publishing.

Laurie Matheson, University of Illinois Press
Dawn Durante, University of Illinois Press
Clydette Wantland, University of Illinois Press
Harriett Green, University Library
Milind Basole, eTexts @ Illinois
Yury Borukhovich, eTexts @ Illinois
Merinda Hensley, University Library

DATE: Thursday, April 20, 2017
TIME:  4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
LOCATION:  106 Main Library

kirsch baseballI once tried to explain baseball to a British friend while we watched a Cubs game. By the sixth inning, after going aground on the dropped third strike and tagging up on a fly ball, I said that baseball, like a foreign language, is most easily learned in childhood.

Like cricket. An impossible game that as far as I can tell lasts days, like one of those ball games played by Aztecs, cricket baffles the outsider yet addicts those who can tell a yorker from a nurdle. Thus, it shares something with its greatest descendant, baseball. But why invent a new game in the first place? In discovering how and why Americans chose baseball over cricket as the national pastime, George B. Kirsch takes us back to amateur playing fields around the country to recreate the excitement of the early matches, the players, clubs, and their fans. Baseball and Cricket places the growing popularity of the two sports within the social context of mid-nineteenth century American cities. At the same time, Kirsch follows baseball’s transition from a leisure sport to a commercialized, professional enterprise and offers the first complete discussion of the early American cricket clubs.

Longing for that down home music? Looking for a shot of brilliance? Tryin’ to forget that you asked for water and your woman/man gave you gasoline? Then you must be celebrating the 100th birthday (or it might be the 102nd birthday) of McKinley Morganfield, a man reborn to serve humanity as Muddy Waters. An artist for whom the word genius falls laughably short, Waters recorded a bushel of blues classics, helped mainstream amplified guitar, and brought the blues mania to Britain that soon after birthed the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Eric Clapton, and half the other people in that iTunes folder your dad can’t figure out how to open.

GoinsF14An essential Muddy Waters sideman as well as a hitmaker in his own right, Jimmy Rogers pioneered the blues guitar style that launched a thousand songs. Blues All Day Long tells the untold story of a revered legend who was down by law with Muddy and whose groundbreaking guitar work bridged generations—and sends its electrifying echoes into our present day.

“Great work. Long, long overdue.” —Taj Mahal

“A great read. I loved it. What a nice tribute to the great Jimmy Rogers.” —Charlie Musselwhite

JackThe hit film Hidden Figures re-acquainted the zeitgeist with the idea that women in general, and African American women in particular, have long participated in scientific endeavor. Science on the Home Front tells women’s story during the critical years of World War II, when Leona Marshall and Katharine Way worked on the Manhattan Project while Lydia J. Roberts developed the Recommended Dietary Allowances.

Jordynn Jack lays out the obstacles faced by women scientists even as they answered the urgent call for their participation in the war effort. Even though newspapers, magazines, books, and films forecasted tremendous growth in scientific and technical jobs for women, the war produced few long-term gains in the percentage of women in the sciences or in their overall professional standing.

Jack shows how the very language of science—the discourses and genres of scientific communication—that helped to limit women’s progress in science even as it provided opportunities for a small group of prominent female scientists to advance during the war. The book uses the experiences of individual women to illuminate the broader limitations of masculine scientific culture and its discourses of expertise, gender neutrality, technical expediency, and objectivity. Focusing on genres of women scientists’ writing in the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, physics, and nutrition, Jack identifies key characteristics of scientific culture and rhetoric that continue to limit women’s advancement in science and to stifle their unique perspectives.

March 28 marks the date of a historic moment in the history of comedy. On that date in 1948, Jack Benny’s popular radio show aired one of the great exchanges in the long history of that beloved program:

Mugger: Your money or your life.
Mugger: Look bud. I said, your money or your life.
Jack: I’m thinking it over!

Born in Chicago in 1894 as Benjamin Kubelsky, or alternately in whatever year was 39 years before the air date of his show, Jack Benny grew up in Waukegan before heading to vaudeville in his teens. The “Your Money or Your Life” sketch took place long after the comedian had taken his place as the king of radio and a year before he famously jumped from longtime home NBC to anchor CBS’s entertainment bloc on the wireless.

For years, the skit was celebrated as getting the longest laugh in the history of The Jack Benny Program. Fans and biographers have since disproved the claim. The seven-second laugh in fact finished far behind other gags that provoked laughs over twenty and even thirty seconds long. But “Your Money or Your Life” and the skit on either side of it remains a beloved part of Benny lore.